How Does Islam Differ from other Faiths? (part 2 of 2)
Description: Some of the unique features of Islam not found in other belief systems and ways of life. Part two.
- By Khurshid Ahmad
- Published on 29 Oct 2007
- Last modified on 04 Oct 2009
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Balance between the Individual and Society
Another unique feature of Islam is that it establishes a balance between individualism and collectivism. It believes in the individual personality of man and holds everyone personally accountable to God. The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, says:
“Everyone of you is a guardian, and responsible for what is in his custody. The ruler is a guardian of his subjects and responsible for them; a husband is a guardian of his family and is responsible for it; a lady is a guardian of her husband’s house and is responsible for it, and a servant is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it.”
I heard that from God’s Apostle and I think that the Prophet also said, “A man is a guardian of is father’s property and is responsible for it, so all of you are guardians and responsible for your wards and things under your care.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
Islam also guarantees the fundamental rights of the individual and does not permit anyone to tamper with them. It makes the proper development of the personality of man one of the prime objectives of its educational policy. It does not subscribe to the view that man must lose his individuality in society or in the state.
In Islam, all men are equal, regardless of color, language, race, or nationality. It addresses itself to the conscience of humanity and banishes all false barriers of race, status, and wealth. There can be no denying the fact that such barriers have always existed and continue to exist today in the so-called enlightened age. Islam removes all of these impediments and proclaims the ideal of the whole of humanity being one family of God.
Islam is international in its outlook and approach and does not admit barriers and distinctions based on color, clan, blood, or territory, as was the case before the advent of Muhammad. Unfortunately, these prejudices remain rampant in different forms even in this modern age. Islam wants to unite the entire human race under one banner. To a world torn by national rivalries and feuds, it presents a message of life and hope and of a glorious future.
The historian, A. J. Toynbee, has some interesting observations to make in this respect. In Civilization on Trial, he writes: “Two conspicuous sources of danger - one psychological and the other material - in the present relations of this cosmopolitan proletariat, i.e., [westernized humanity] with the dominant element in our modern Western society are race consciousness and alcohol; and in the struggle with each of these evils the Islamic spirit has a service to render which might prove, if it were accepted, to be of high moral and social value.
The extinction of race consciousness between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue ... It is conceivable that the spirit of Islam might be the timely reinforcement which would decide this issue in favor of tolerance and peace.
As for the evil of alcohol, it is at its worst among primitive populations in tropical regions which have been ‘opened up’ by Western enterprise. The fact remains that even the most statesmanlike preventive measures imposed by external authority are incapable of liberating a community from a social vice unless a desire for liberation and a will to carry this desire into voluntary action on its own part are awakened in the hearts of the people concerned. Now Western administrators, at any rate those of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ origin, are spiritually isolated from their ‘native’ wards by the physical ‘color bar’ which their race-consciousness sets up; the conversion of the natives’ souls is a task to which their competence can hardly be expected to extend; and it is at this point that Islam may have a part to play.
In these recently and rapidly ‘opened up’ tropical territories, the Western civilization has produced an economic and political plenum and, in the same breath, a social and spiritual void.
Here, then, in the foreground of the future, we can remark two valuable influences which Islam may exert upon the cosmopolitan proletariat of a Western society that has cast its net around the world and embraced the whole of mankind; while in the more distant future we may speculate on the possible contributions of Islam to some new manifestation of religion.”
Permanence and Change
The elements of permanence and change coexist in human society and culture and are bound to remain so. Different ideologies and cultural systems have erred in leaning heavily towards one or other of these ends of the equation. Too much emphasis on permanence makes the system rigid and robs it of flexibility and progress, while a lack of permanent values and unchanging elements generate moral relativism, shapelessness, and anarchy.
What is needed is a balance between the two – a system that could simultaneously cater for the demands of permanence and change. An American judge, Mr. Justice Cardozo, rightly says that “the greatest need of our time is a philosophy that will mediate between conflicting claims of stability and progress and supply a principle of growth.” Islam presents an ideology, which satisfies the demands of stability as well as of change.
Deeper reflection reveals that life has within it elements of permanence and change - it is neither so rigid and inflexible that it cannot admit of any change even in matters of detail, nor it is so flexible and fluid that even its distinctive traits have no permanent character of their own. This becomes clear from observing the process of physiological change in the human body, for every tissue of the body changes a number of times in one’s lifetime even though the person remains the same. A tree’s leaves, flowers, and fruits change but its character remains unchanged. It is a law of life that elements of permanence and change must co-exist in a harmonious equation.
Only such a system of life that can provide for both these elements can meet all of the cravings of human nature and all of the needs of human society. The basic problems of life remain the same in all ages and climes, but the ways and means to solve them as well as the techniques of handling the phenomenon undergo change with the passage of time. Islam brings to focus a new perspective on this problem and tries to solve it in a realistic way.
The Quran and the Sunnah contain the eternal guidance given by the Lord of the universe. This guidance comes from God, who is free from the limitations of space and time and, as such, the principles of individual and social behavior revealed by Him are based on reality and are eternal. But God has revealed only broad principles and has endowed man with the freedom to apply them in every age in the way suited to the spirit and conditions of that age. It is through ijtihad (intellectual effort to arrive at the truth) that people of every age try to implement and apply the divine guidance to the problems of their times. Thus the basic guidance is of a permanent nature, while the method of its application can change in accordance with the peculiar needs of every age. That is why Islam always remains as fresh and modern as tomorrow’s morn.
Complete Record of Teachings Preserved
Last, but not least, is the fact that the teachings of Islam have been preserved in their original form. As a result, God’s guidance is available without adulteration of any kind. The Quran is the revealed book and word of God, which has been in existence for the last fourteen hundred years. It is still available in its original form. Detailed accounts of the life of the Prophet and of his teachings are available in their pristine purity. There has not been even one change made in this unique historic record. The sayings and the entire record of the life of the Prophet have been handed down to us with unprecedented precision and authenticity in works of the Hadith and the Sirah (the Prophet’s Biography). Even a number of non-Muslim critics admit this eloquent fact.
These are some of the unique features of Islam that establish its credentials as the religion of man the religion of today and the religion of tomorrow. These aspects have appealed to millions of people in the past and the present and have made them affirm that Islam is the religion of truth and the right path for mankind. There is no doubt that these aspects will continue to appeal to even more people in the future. Men with pure hearts and sincere longing for truth will always continue to say:
“I affirm that there is none worthy of worship except God, that He is One, sharing His authority with no one, and I affirm that Muhammad is His Servant and His Prophet.”
Here, we’d like to conclude with the following words that George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said:
I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phases of existence, which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - the wonderful man - and in my opinion far from being an Antichrist, he must be called the Savior of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness. I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.