The True Concept of Islam
His Eminence’s lecture at
The Islamic conference
Buffalo, New York
23–27 May 1997
In the name of God,
the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All Praise be to God, the Lord and Sustainer of all worlds, and may God’s blessings and peace be upon our masters Prophet Muhammad, his forefather Abraham, his two brothers Moses and Jesus and upon all prophets and messengers. May the same peace and blessings be upon their households, companions and true followers until the Day of Judgment.
Islam came to complete humans’ happiness and guidance. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“We did not send you except as a mercy for all creation.” T.Q., 21:107.
Islam cares for all humanity. It aims at turning the world into a better and more virtuous place by guiding humanity towards those things that make it happy. This is evident in Islam’s guarantee of rights and freedoms in the fields of knowledge, education and well-being. It is further evident in Islam advocating the unity of humanity, and in its overall care for human rights, starting with supporting and liberating women, defending freedom of thought and belief, and advocating peaceful coexistence between Muslims and members of other religions.
Islam’s Guarantee of the Right to Knowledge
Islam has come to awaken people from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge. The messenger of God, Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.’ Sunan Ibn Majah. He also said, ‘My followers are all either learned or learners.’ Ibn Al-Najjar.
Through such a guarantee, Islam has set a great rule by making knowledge available for everyone and not limiting it to a certain group. This great rule is clearly revealed when the prophet asked, ‘Why do some people not educate, call and give advice to their neighbours? Enjoin good and forbid evil!’
In this tradition, the Prophet clearly shows that scholars are responsible for teaching, educating and enjoining good and forbidding wrong. There is also an obligation and responsibility on the ignorant to learn and get knowledge since the Prophet asked, ‘Why do some people not learn and seek understanding from their neighbours? If they don’t, God will surely punish them in their worldly life before they die.’ Al-Tabarani.
This prophetic guidance shows the obligation to learn and teach in the Islamic system. Not only that, Islam makes clear the negation of good from those who do not learn. The Prophet said, ‘Two categories of people share the same reward: the teacher and the learner, and there is no good in anyone other than them.’ Al-Tabarani.
Islam’s Guarantee of the Right to Education and Morality
Islam considers moral education and fighting evil as social obligations, which can be attained by all individuals working together in society. Therefore, the knowledgeable should teach others, and the rich should pay money to the poor. Almighty God says:
“Let those with plenty spend according to their abundance.” T.Q., 65:7.
Islam’s Guarantee of Decent Living and Well-Being for Citizens Regardless of their Religion
Islam aims to turn people from being poor into being rich, so it fights against poverty rather than the poor in the same way as it does against disbelief. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Poverty was about to be a kind of disbelief,’ and in another narration, ‘Being in need was about to be a kind of disbelief.’ Sunan Al-Baihaqi.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once reminded his noble companions of the favour of becoming rich through accompanying him and following his guidance sent from God. He said, ‘Did I not find you poor and God made you rich through me?’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
He also turned society into a cooperating power and a force for mutual assistance in struggling against poverty and helping the poor. He said, ‘He who goes to bed with a full stomach, knowing that his close neighbour is starving, has never believed in me.’ Musnad Al-Bazzar.
This rule is considered as a law and a belief for people to embrace and act upon. In addition, part of his legislation was to enrich the poor by assigning them a prescribed portion of the money of the rich. He said, ‘A charity is to be taken from the rich and be given to the poor.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Islam does all of that not only for poor Muslims but also extends it to members of other religions living in the Muslim state. Once when Prophet Muhammad was giving charity to people, a Jew came up to him and asked for a share. The Prophet refused to give him any, saying, ‘You cannot have any share from the charity of Muslims!’ The man went sadly away. How could the Prophet refuse to give to the poor Jew while he was sent as a mercy for all creation? Immediately, the Prophet received a revelation with new legislation supporting human rights and announcing the universal brotherhood of the human race:
“It is not for you [O Muhammad] to set them on the right path, but God sets on the right path whom He pleases. Whatever you spend in good will benefit yourselves, provided that you spend only to seek God’s pleasure. And whatever you spend in good will be paid back to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” T.Q., 2:272.
Almighty God is reminding His Prophet that his mission is only to convey the message not to judge people or punish them.
In another verse Almighty God says:
“And they give food, in spite of their need for it (seeking God’s love), to the indigent, the orphan and the captive.” T.Q., 76:8
though captives in the Muslim state are not Muslim.
Islam’s Guarantee of the Unity of People
Islam came to convert the Arabs from a state of disunity into a state of unity. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘Believers are similar to one body in their love, mercy, sympathy and feeling for one another. If one part of it feels pain, the whole body suffers from fever and lack of sleep.’ Sahih Muslim.
The Prophet (pbuh) also mentioned the favour of Islam on Arabs because it united them after they were scattered tribes. He said, ‘Did I not find you going astray and disunited, and then God guided you and united you through me?’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Islam’s Guarantee of Human Rights
In this field, the Prophet (pbuh) taught us to respect human beings. Once a funeral procession for a Jew passed by the Prophet, so he stood up. The companions of the Prophet told him, ‘O Messenger of God, the deceased is a Jew.’ Prophet Muhammad replied, ‘Isn’t he a human being?’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
By this response, the Prophet (pbuh) educated the whole society to respect human rights as an Islamic law and behaviour and a reality in the life of the Muslim society.
Islam’s Guarantee of Liberating and Supporting Women
For the first time in history and just with the advent of Islam, oppressed women, who were always deprived of their rights, came to the stage of being liberated and given their rights. It was something new and unique in history; it had never happened before.
Before Islam, some female babies used to be buried alive while others were deprived of their rights in sharing the family property and inheritance. When Islam came, killing females was strongly disapproved of and forbidden. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“When the infant girl, buried alive, is questioned for what crime she was killed.” T.Q., 81:8–9.
Also, Islam gives women their rights in family inheritance. Almighty God says:
“There is a portion for men and a portion for women from what is left by parents and nearest relatives; an assigned portion of whatever there is of it, be it a little or a lot.” T.Q., 4:7.
Almighty God also promises a great and distinctive reward for those who honour girls. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘He who has three daughters and endures the difficulties of raising them up patiently will be rewarded with Paradise because of his mercy towards them.’ A man asked, ‘O Messenger of God, what if I have only two daughters?’ Another asked, ‘Or only one daughter?’ The Prophet said, ‘Even if it is only one daughter.’ Mustadrak Al-Hakim.
This brief tradition, which is very great in its implications, has changed society so drastically that believers always prefer to have girls in order to get that great reward from God.
Islam has also given women the right to claim their rights. It happened that Khawlah bint Th’alabah, the wife of Aws bin Al-Samet, complained to the Prophet about her husband saying, ‘O Messenger of God, Aws married me when I was a beautiful young lady, and now that I have got old and my looks have changed through having many children, he has divorced me by zihar (saying, ‘You are to me like my mother’s back,’ which means unlawful), and he has deserted me.’ This was a common nasty habit among pagan Arab husbands who wanted to desert their wives at home before the advent of Islam. So she asked the Prophet to help her by finding a solution or permission, but the Prophet (pbuh) told her that he thought she was divorced, and that was it. Yet, she kept arguing with the Prophet, telling him that her husband did not utter the words of divorce. Then she complained directly to God, raising her head to heaven and supplicating God in the following words: ‘O God, to You I complain about my distress. O God, send your Prophet a solution for me.’ She did not leave until God revealed some verses concerning her problem. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘O Khawlah, be happy and rejoice.’ She asked, ‘Why?’ He recited to her the newly revealed verses at once:
“God has indeed heard the statement of the one who pleads with you concerning her husband and carries her complaints [in prayer] to God. God has heard the argument between both sides of you for He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. If any men among you divorce their wives by zihar (saying, ‘You are to me like my mother’s back’), should know that they cannot be their mothers. None can be their mothers except those who gave birth to them. In fact, they use words both ill and false, but truly God is Most Pardoning, Most Forgiving. As for those who divorce their wives by saying, ‘You are to me like my mother’s back,’ but then go back on the words they uttered, they are to free a slave before the couple touch each other again. That is what you are admonished with, and God is All-Aware of whatever you do. And if any has not [the means], he should fast for two months consecutively before they touch each other. But whoever is unable to do so, he is to feed sixty indigent people. That is in order that you may show your faith in God and His Messenger. Those are the limits set by God, and there is a grievous penalty for those who reject.” T.Q., 58:1–4.
The story finished, but the verses have been kept by God in the Holy Qur’an as a deterrent to every husband who thinks or tries to do the same to his wife.
Islam and Other Heavenly Religions and Freedom of Thought
Brothers and sisters, Almighty God sent Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with the message of knowledge and human civilisation. That message is complementary to the previous heavenly messages; it is the seal and last of them. The Prophet (pbuh) expressed this meaning when he said, ‘The likeness of me and the other prophets before me is that of a man who built a house and beautified it except for a place of one brick in a corner. People went around it and wondered at its beauty, but said, “If only this brick were put in its place!” So I am that brick, and I am the final prophet.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
So, Islam came to complete what previous prophets started. It did not come to take Christians and Jews away from their Scriptures or religions. On the contrary, it glorifies Jesus, Moses and their revealed Books and presents their heavenly, true and genuine versions. Almighty God says:
“O you who were given the Scriptures, believe in what We have revealed [now to Prophet Muhammad], confirming what was [already] with you.” T.Q., 4:47.
He also says:
“It is the truth, confirming what is with them.” T.Q., 2:91.
Brothers and sisters, this is Islam, which has completed what previous prophets started. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“This day I have perfected your religion for you.” T.Q., 5:3.
So Islam is the assembly of heavenly messages since it placed the last brick in that great divine mansion, just as the Prophet said: ‘So I am that missing brick, and I am the final prophet.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
This Islam with its pure essence and perfect legislation has been unknown and lost even for some Muslims. Muslims have been negligent in understanding, learning and practising their religion.
Islam aims at building a perfect and virtuous Muslim society that becomes the centre of attraction for the whole world in all fields — a society whose members enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, embodying the following two Qur’anic verses:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. It is they who are the successful.” T.Q., 3:104.
“Invite all to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful advice.” T.Q., 16:125.
When the Arabs accepted Islam and made it their way of life, their enmity changed into harmony and love, their brutality and savagery into leniency and mercy and their illiteracy and ignorance into knowledge. Thanks to their first teacher, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they became as God describes them in the Holy Qur’an:
“You are the best community ever raised up for humankind: you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and you believe in God.” T.Q., 3:110
and as described by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he said, ‘They are so scholarly and wise that they are almost prophets.’ Mustadrak Al-Hakim.
Shouldn’t Muslims answer the call of God and follow His orders in practising the following Qur’anic verse:
“Invite all to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful advice.” T.Q., 16:125.
Brothers and sisters, the understanding of Islam has been distorted over the previous centuries even among some of its own followers. After being united, Muslims have broken into many groups. Most followers of one Muslim group or school of thought see the followers of another group or school of thought as followers of a different religion, as if every school has become a different and independent Islam, even though the imams of those Islamic schools were not fanatic. All of them invited followers to seek the truth. They used to say, ‘When the tradition that is transmitted to me is authentic, it is my school of thought.’ They considered their schools and the schools of others as schools for interpretations which are fallible; they might have some wrong opinions, yet all of those schools can be of a great benefit for Muslims.
So, we should go back to the true Islam, which is derived from the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s authentic words and acts), and we should address people at the right time, place and circumstances, following the Qur’anic wisdom and using the prophetic way of education, whose fruit is what the Prophet says about his companions: ‘They are so scholarly and wise that they are almost prophets.’ Mustadrak Al-Hakim.
This is the pure concept of Islam in its reality and essence. I pray to God to inspire us to feel this duty, the duty of introducing the true Islam to others and calling them to God for the community of knowledge, wisdom and purity to be established, not only in one country but in the whole world.
Finally, I pray to God to respond to our hopes.
All praise be to Him, the Lord of all worlds.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)