This is Islam - English Universality of Islam April 29, 2021 Posted by Dr Ramzi 25 Apr Universality of IslamUniversalityof Islam Taking Care of the Environment Is a Part and Parcel of Faith Some philosophers consider man the absolute master of the universe who can dispose of its resources for his own benefit and in fulfilment of his desires. As the absolute master he could do whatever he pleases with impunity, even if it means the destruction of the universe or the species within. In stark contrast to this, others regard man as having no advantage over others and that he is amongst millions of other species who inhabit the earth. How does Islam then view man’s relationship with the universe?The Islamic view of the nature of man’s relationship with the universe is grounded in faith and intellect, resulting in detailed provisions to govern the relationship with fellow human beings, animals, Natural sources and the Earth.The first thing that draws attention to this relationship is the balance the Qur’an strikes between man and the universe. In fact, God has honoured man and favoured him above the rest of the creatures (17: 70); He has subjected to man the universe and the creatures around him to benefit from and to care for (14: 32-33). Thus, man is not merely a creature amongst the millions of other creatures; rather, he is an honoured and dignified creature for whom nature has been subjected for his own benefit (2: 29).At the same time, the Qur’an stresses that man is not the absolute master of the universe who can do as he pleases. The lofty position man occupies in no way authorises him to destroy the Earth and its natural resources. It emphasises that the Sovereign is the True God and Creator, and that man’s role and position lies in being a vicegerent of God in the world. This means that God has appointed man custodian, a right entitling him to utilise resources and serve as the Earth’s caretaker. God has also commanded man to engage in development and production of the Earth for the general welfare of humankind without harming fellow human beings or other creatures (2: 30; 11: 61).To highlight this fact, Islamic Law, or Shari‛ah, has laid down detailed regulations to govern this close relationship between man and the universe. The following are examples of such regulations: It is amazing that the word ‘Arab’ is not mentioned in the Qur’an despite the fact that the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic to Prophet Muhammad (PUBH), who was sent from amongst the Arabs. Arabs today constitute a minority totalling less than 20% of the world’s Muslim population. In fact, the most populous Muslim majority nation is Indonesia, a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. Even Muslims of India alone, still a religious minority in the country, account for approximately double the population of the largest Arab country.This is essentially due to the fact that Islam was introduced as mercy and guidance to all nations of the world, regardless of their nationality, race, gender and traditions. As the Qur’an (21:107) states, “We have only sent you [O Muhammad] as a mercy to the worlds.” In fact, Islam presents a global view of human diversity unparalleled to other religions and totally unknown to other nations of the world.Let us carefully consider the following divine statement in which God addresses all people without exception, regardless of their race and beliefs. The Qur’an (49:13) says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from a male and a female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is All-Knowing and Aware.” In this verse, the Qur’an stresses that all people, regardless of their color and race, are all descended from Adam and Eve, and that the differences between them are not meant to favor one over another, but rather to get them to know and cooperate with one another. It further states that superiority and honor belong to those who worship God and lead a pious life.The Qur’an (30:22) even draws our attention to the fact that language diversity, skin color and cultural differences constitute a divine blessing and one of the signs of God’s creative power in this universe, similar in its greatness to the creation of the heavens and the earth. It also mentions that only sensible people who have knowledge perceive and reflect on these signs.While it is true that Article 1, arguably the most significant article, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) — which provides that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — was adopted in 1948 and was implemented later, it is equally true that, over 1,400 centuries ago, Prophet Muhammad turned a new chapter in human history when he made a statement pertaining to human rights. He said while delivering a historical speech, “O people! Your Lord is one and your father [Adam] is one. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white person has no superiority over a black person, nor does a black person have any superiority over a white person except in piety.” (Ahmad: 23489)1. Caring for Animals Numerous statements are attributed to Muhammad (PBUH) promoting animal rights, promising those who show kindness to animals a great reward in the hereafter. The Prophet (PBUH) warned against animal abuse and cautioning against severe divine punishment awaiting perpetrators of animal cruelty.The first society promoting animal welfare, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), was founded in Great Britain in 1824 and the first bill criminalising animal abuse was approved in 1949. The law protecting animals outside of Islam is a modern development. In comparison, Islam forbade and criminalised animal abuse and cruelty more than 1,400 years ago. Numerous practices are attributed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who warned against animal abuse. Acts such as starving, torturing, over-burdening, injuring, and slapping animals across the face for personal amusements. All such acts of cruelty are forbidden in Islam. Narrations to these teachings are well known and can be found in texts on Islamic law.Perhaps the reader may realise the extent to which Islam promotes animal welfare by reading Muhammad’s (PBUH) narratives, in which he speaks of a female prostitute who once saw a dog panting out of excessive thirst. Feeling a surge of pity for it, she filled her shoes with water from a nearby well and gave the dog a drink. God forgave her because of the act of kindness even though prostitution is forbidden (Al-Bukhari: 3280).2. Caring for Plants Islam urges its adherents to care for plants and agriculture, whether for one’s own benefit or for the benefit of fellow man as well as other creatures.In one narration, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) informs us that if a person plants or helps plant something that is of benefit to others such as a bird, a person or a beast and he eats from it, this will be considered charity on his behalf for which he will be rewarded (Al-Bukhari: 2320).Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), even goes as far as calling Muslims in the darkest and most challenging times to leave no stones unturned in caring for the environment and developing the earth even if they are certain they will not benefit from doing so. In one narration, he mentions that if the Day of Judgement takes place while someone is still holding a palm-tree seedling to plant it, he should plant it as much as possible, so that this act is counted for him as an act of charity (Ahmad: 12981).The tradition considers earth development in the darkest and most challenging times as one of the goals of Islam and an act of worship. It further stresses that nothing should prevent one from engaging in such a noble deed, even in times of great turmoil and terrifying circumstances.3. Caring for natural resourcesTaking good care of the environment is, as the Messenger of Islam once declared, part and parcel of faith.Islam also stresses the importance of caring for the environment. The emphasis on taking care not to squander, destroy or pollute its resources is obvious in the teachings of Islam. In respect, it provides a comprehensive plan based on the principle, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” The plan, amongst other things, details the importance of personal care, conservation of natural resources and criminalisation of those who abuse them.Islam forbids wasting natural resources, foremost the wasting of water, even if one intends to use it as an act of worship for ablution before performing the prayers.It also prevents the influential people from monopolising natural resources in such a way as to cause harm to others. Thus, it forbids denying others water (natural resource), fire (energy) and pasture (food). (Abu Dawud: 3477)Islam also forbids anything that is bound to spoil the environment. Examples include the prohibition of urinating in stagnant water which leads to water pollution. The prohibition extends to relieving of oneself on pathways and places frequented by people, such as shades where people walk and rest.These are but a few examples from a long list of practices that are not alien to Islam. The messenger considers caring for the environment and taking an active part in performing simple acts such as removing harm from one’s path, not only a righteous deed but also part and parcel of true faith (Muslim: 35).Islam Promotes Knowledge and ScienceThe majority of Muslim scientists and doctors started their lives by studying and memorising the Qur’an, which urged them to excel in the various sciences and fields of interest.It is no coincidence that the first Qur’anic word revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was ‘Read’. The Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition stresses the importance of acquiring all forms of knowledge in the vast fields of human interests. It considers the path that a Muslim follows in seeking knowledge a path that eventually leads to Paradise. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once observed, “God will ease the way to Paradise for him who treads a path in search of knowledge” (Muslim: 2699).The Prophet (PBUH) also demonstrated through illustration, that the superiority of a learned person over a devout worshiper is like his own superiority over the least virtuous of all Muslims (At-Tirmidhi: 2685).It is for this reason that Islam has never witnessed a conflict between religion and science, as in other religions. Scientific inquiry has never been stifled, nor have scientists been persecuted due to their scientific opinions and conclusions. During the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, and described as the period of intellectual darkness and economic regression, numerous scientists were persecuted and imprisoned or lost their lives in Europe for their scientific curiosity. On the contrary, Islam has always promoted science and knowledge and has called its adherents to acquire it and teach it to others as long as it is bound to benefit humanity.It is not surprising, then, that most Muslim scientists started their education by studying and memorising the Qur’an and understanding their religion. After that, they excelled in their respective fields of specialisation.Islam honours knowledgeable people who enlighten others and impart knowledge to them. It holds them in high esteem and confers the highest honour upon them, so much so that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), once remarked that all God’s creation pray for those who enlighten and teach people (At-Tirmidhi: 2685).Notable Muslim Scientists Al-Khawarizmi (Baghdad, 850-790): A renowned mathematician, astronomer and geometer. He is indisputably the original inventor of algebra and it was through him that such Arabic words as algebra and zero were borrowed by European languages.Ibn Al-Haytham (Cairo, 965-1040): Known by his Latinised name, Alhazen: He was a physicist, a mathematician and an astronomer who made significant contributions to the principles of optics, astronomy and mathematics, among other sciences. The principles in the invention of the camera are attributed to him. In fact, many researchers in the field of physics, mathematics and astronomy have proven that the word camera comes from the Arabic qumra, or dark room, which he is also given credit for inventing. Ibn al-Haytham devised the camera obscura, which is a darkened box with a convex lens or apature to illustrate the principle that rays of light, reflected from an illuminated object will pass through a tiny hole in a dark room and project an image of the object upside down on a white wall inside the room.Al-Biruni (Chorasmia, 973-1048), known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English: He was one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well-versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy and natural sciences, among other scientific fields. He described the Earth’s gravity and was the first scientist to introduce the theory that the earth spins around its axis as it orbits the sun.Az-Zahrawi (Andalusia, 936-1013), known in the West as Albucasi: He was a Muslim surgeon who has been described by many as the father of modern surgery. His works, which were translated into multiple languages provided major references for books in medicine and surgery for centuries. In fact, his pioneering contributions to the field of surgery, including the instruments used in surgical procedures have been captured in numerous books. Az-Zahrawi’s books had an enormous impact in the East and West, where some of his discoveries are still applied in medicine today.Ibn Sina (Bukhara, 980-1037), known by his Latinised name Avicenna: He was a distinguished doctor and philosopher whose talents and skills were at a level far beyond his time in which he lived. He described numerous medical phenomena and prescribed treatment that were previously unknown. In addition, he also promoted scientific research in medical studies and made remarkable discoveries which are still valid today. This is clear in his famous work, The Canon of Medicine, which remained the standard medical authority for seven centuries. The Canon of Medicine continued to be the standard medical text in Europe until the mid-17th century.As a famed leading figure in the field of medicine, Ibn Sina provided free medical treatment to patients, both as a humanitarian gesture and as a way of expressing gratitude to God for conferring the gift of knowledge upon him.Ibn An-Nafees (Damascus, 1213-1288): He was an eminent scholar of Islamic law as well as one of the most remarkable doctors and physiologists in human history. He is famous for being the first to discover and describe the pulmonary circulation. He also put forward a number of medical theories that are still valid today.Islam Promotes Communication with Others The manuscript written by Ahmad Ibn Fadhlan, the renowned Muslim traveller, represents the earliest known eyewitness account of Russian and Viking life and its societies. In the manuscript, he describes events that occurred in these societies in vivid detail.In 921 CE, Ahmad Ibn Fadhlan set out on an amazing journey, which may be considered the most important journey of cultural communication in the Middles Ages. He left Baghdad, known as the capital of science and civilization at that time, and visited a large number of countries and encountered numerous peoples. He documented the events he had witnessed in his manuscript, which was later found in Russia. His experiences were published for the first time in book form in 1923.The importance of Ahmad Ibn Fadhlan’s writings, as American author Michael Crichton describes in his book, Eaters of the Dead, lies in the fact that the Arabs of Baghdad “were Muslim and fiercely dedicated to that religion. But they were also exposed to peoples who looked, acted and believed differently from them. The Arabs were, in fact, the least provincial people in the world of that time, and this made them superb observes of foreign cultures.” (HarperCollins publishers, 1976, p. 10)Islam, therefore, requires its adherents to join hands with others and take an active part in reform and building the civilisation, as well as mingle and communicate at the highest degree of ethical behaviour despite cultural and religious differences. It stresses that isolation and social aloofness is not a characteristic of true Islam. It is for this reason that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) observed that a person who mingles with people and endures their Annoyance with patience is far better than one who does not mingle with people and endure annoyance with patience (Ibn Majah: 4032).Islam Embraces all Aspects of Human EndeavourIslam is a comprehensive way of life, which covers all aspects and dimensions of life without exception.Much to the surprise of many people, Islam is not merely a set of rituals acts and general moral teachings, as is the case with many familiar faiths.Indeed, Islam is not simply a spiritual need fulfilled by Muslims in mosques through prayers and supplications.Nor is it a mere set of views and beliefs espoused by its adherents, comprehensive economic and environmental system, set of rules and principles for building society and a system, nor a set of moral values and manners for dealing with others.Islam is a comprehensive way of life. It covers all aspects of life and more. Despite this, Islam does not restrict people’s freedom inasmuch as it eases their lives so that efforts are geared towards creativity and building of civilisation. In fact, it is one of the greatest blessings, as the Qur’an (5:3) stresses, that God has ever bestowed upon humanity.Once, a non-Muslim sarcastically said to the Prophet’s companion Salman Al-Farisi, “Your Prophet has taught you everything even the proper manner of urinating and defecating.” Salman replied, “Yes, he did indeed.” Then he went about showing him the etiquette of using the toilet (Muslim: 262).Islam Embraces this Life and the HereafterDeath is definitely the ultimate truth that is universally acknowledged to be beyond doubt and is awaiting all of us without exception — whether we believe in a life hereafter, or whether our beliefs are confined only to the material world we perceive with our senses.All followers of divine religions believe in life hereafter and in reward and punishment.Islam stresses the importance of leading a well-balanced life. While it urges people to hasten to worship God to be rewarded in the hereafter, it prompts them, at the same time, to strive hard in this world to seek God’s bounty and earn a living.The Ancient Egyptians mummified their dead and buried along with them all their precious possessions because they believed that they would need them in the afterlife.Tibetan Buddhists still practise sky burial where the body of a dead person is dismembered and scattered atop of mountains for vultures and scavengers to eat. Hindus still cremate their dead because they believe that the burning of a dead body signifies the release of the spirit.These are but few examples of funerary rites practised by followers of various faiths to bid farewell to their dead. These practices have changed and varied according to time and in accordance to the religious beliefs held by people regarding life after death. Such practices give rise to a number of questions that require convincing answers: Is there life after death? If yes, what is its nature, and what will we need there?The answers are of paramount importance because death is the ultimate truth that is universally acknowledged to be beyond doubt and is awaiting all of us without exception. This is the case whether or not we believe in a life hereafter, whether or not our beliefs are confined only to the material world we perceive with our senses, and whether or not we are prepared for that crucial moment or try to ignore it by engaging distractions and amusements.Despite all attempts to ignore this ultimate truth, the question persistently imposes itself whenever we stop and think: is death the ultimate end therefore, there is nothing else after it? To put it simply, is our existence in vain?This question frequently comes to our minds, and repeated in the Qur’an in different ways, stating at the same time that many people on the Day of Judgement will regret not stopping and thinking about it and thus failing to make the necessary preparations to depart this world. Some will remorsefully say, “Oh, if only I had prepared in advance for this life of mine!” (89:24); others will lament their fate, saying, “Oh, if only I were dust!” (78:40)It is a known fact that all followers of divine religions believe in the life hereafter. They believe in reward and punishment, for indeed this is the intent of the message with which all messengers were sent. In addition, the intellect testifies to the fact that life, religion and moral values will be meaningless and futile in absence of another life in which people will be rewarded or punished according to their deeds.Many people, however, mistakenly believe that religion and worship cannot go hand in hand with acquiring wealth, entertainment and development. The misconception is that one must live either for this life or for the hereafter, given that this life and the afterlife cannot come together, just as day and night can never come together.In fact, their amazement knows no end, and it is even hard for some to believe that the apparent barrier between worship and entertainment, or between worship and wealth does not exist in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) informs us that one will be rewarded for whatever right one does as long as it is with the best of intentions. Even the simplest of acts such as removing a harmful object, like a thorn, from the road or putting a morsel of food into the mouth of one’s spouse (Al-Bukhari: 56).When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), once informed his companions that ways of doing good are endless and he gave them an example, much to their great amazement. He said, “… and in the very sexual act of each of you there is a charity.” They asked, “How can we be rewarded for satisfying our sexual desire?” He replied, “If you satisfy it unlawfully, will you be committing a sin?” “Yes,” they replied. “Likewise,” he said, “by satisfying it lawfully [with your spouses], you will certainly be rewarded for it” (Muslim: 1006).Hence, anyone who learns about Islam notices from the first moment that he is introduced to this faith, the balance Islam strikes between the present life and the afterlife, as clearly described in the Qur’an. While the Qur’an prompts people to hasten to worship God for rewards in the hereafter, it stresses, at the same time, the importance of striving hard in this world to seek God’s bounty (62:9-10). Thus, they are worthy of reward as long as they intend to do so, thereby seeking the good pleasure of God. Since Islam encompasses all aspects of life, all human acts are considered acts of worship as long as they are done with this intention. A Muslim is required to worship God by doing his job properly to earn a living, raising his children, taking care of his health and his environment and improving society, just as he worships God through prayers, fasting and giving to charity.This constitutes one of the secrets behind the psychological well-being and inner peace within a Muslim, when he perceives the harmony that exists in Islam. The harmony between this life and the life hereafter and amusement and worship as there are no conflicts between these; rather, they complement each other.Therefore, Islam stresses a Muslim’s motto, which encompasses Islam’s viewpoint in this respect and commands him to avow: I dedicate my life in all its aspects to the worship of God, and not only prayers and my devotions, and I anticipate reward from Him for doing so. He alone will judge my deeds and will reward me for them after death, thereby adhering to God’s commands and His religion, Islam (6:162).