The Religion of Humanity (Part 1)
Article of Faith, Prayer and Fasting
The Light (Pakistan), 16th April 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 9, pp. 2–4)
“Surely the (true) religion with Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Book differed only after knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the messages of Allah — Allah indeed is Quick at reckoning” (The Holy Quran, 3:19).
The above-quoted verse of the Holy Quran contains a very big claim in these words:
“Surely the true religion with Allah is Islam.”
Muslims believe that the Holy Quran is the word of God, and Islam the last religion of humanity. But unless we substantiate this statement, mere belief is of no avail. It is therefore the duty of one who is devoted to the comparative study of religions to see what are those things in Islam which can justify its claim to be the only religion for humanity. The Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is reported to have said that
“Islam is based upon five principles,”
which are known in Islamic literature as the five fundamentals or five Pillars of Faith. Let us therefore study these principles and find out if they have something to make Islam the universal religion.
1. Principle — the Article of Faith:
The first principle of Islam is an article of Faith, which consists of two parts and runs thus:
- There is no god but Allah; and
- Muhammad is His apostle.
Before I say something about this formula I must explain one point which is this: The conception of God or Allah in Islam is not of a tribal or national deity, but that of a Universal God Who is the Cherisher, the Sustainer, the Evolver of the whole universe, which consists of so many worlds. This catholic conception of the Deity has been thus laid down in the very first chapter of the Holy Quran:
“All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the nations and all the worlds.” [The Holy Quran, 1:1]
From these words we can easily judge that the conception of Allah in Islam is as wide as the Universe itself. Whatever the world consists of has emanated from Him; and He is the Lord of all things — animate and inanimate. Thus, in the first part of the Formula it has been laid down that the whole of humanity, nay, even the whole Universe, consisting of so many divergent elements, is one, as it has emanated from and is under One Providence — Allah.
The second part deals with the prophethood of Muhammad (may peace and blessings of God be upon him), who is again the Universal Prophet, his mission extending to the whole of humanity. It is admitted on all hands that the Holy Prophet was not a tribal or sectarian Prophet, like Moses and Jesus, but he was sent to all mankind, and his teachings were meant for the guidance of humanity at large.
It is true that before the advent of the Holy Prophet, divine messengers were sent to every nation separately, and its reason is quite apparent. In the early days of the human race, mankind was divided by natural barriers, and the means of communication were almost unknown. Humanity was, so to speak, in its infancy. Its material progress was circumvented. Its intellectual and spiritual advancement was yet to be accomplished. Hence the religion that was given to different peoples at different times was local and incomplete, only suitable for the circumstances obtaining at certain places at certain times. But the Unity of God demands that the whole mankind may be united into one homogenous whole, as the Unity of the Creation, in keeping with the Oneness of the Great Creator.
The old prophets of the Israelites brought the divine message and elevated a section of people to high morals, but they could not bind the whole of mankind into one compact of fraternity, nor could they teach it the whole truth, the complete religion, as it was not fit for that. It would be very inadvisable for a teacher to dole out the whole store of his knowledge over an infant class. Similarly, it was impossible for the early prophets of the Israelites to teach the complete religion or communicate the divine message to the whole of mankind when it was in infancy. Their work was therefore limited, not for any fault of their own but for the limited capacity of the people to which they were sent.
The Prophet Muhammad, on the contrary, came at the time when the world had advanced sufficiently, when human intellect had reached its final stage, and when the whole world was going to be made into one through the easy means of communication. It was at this time that the complete religion for humanity was needed. Accordingly, it was revealed to the Holy Prophet, who was sent to all mankind. He therefore in the very first principle of his Faith announced that humanity was one, and thus cemented the brotherly relations among different nations of the world.
It may however be said it is only an article of Faith, a lip belief or profession, which does not amount to much. True; at best Islam does require mere lip belief. As a matter of fact, the significance of belief in Islam always carries with itself the actual practice. Islam does not only put up theories, but it invariably carries them into practical life.
Therefore, the remaining four principles of Faith represent the realisation of the first principle along with the respective significances of their own.
2. Principle — Prayer:
The second principle, for instance, is Prayer. Everyone who has happened to see Muslims in prayer must have realised that this mode of worship represents a beautiful scene of perfect equality and brotherhood of man. In prayer, we stand respectfully for the worship of One God, in Whose sight a peer and a peasant are equal, and hence there is no distinction of rank and file, of high and low, at the prayer time. The poorest Muslim can stand side by side with the King in the prayer line. Thus, the brotherhood of man which was established in theory in the first article of Faith is practically realised in Prayer.
3. Principle — Fasting:
The third principle of Islam is fasting, and every Muslim is enjoined to fast during the month of Ramadan. It may be asked: What is the use of fasting, which is but another name of starvation? In reply, we will say that in the first place it creates a sort of fellowship with and sympathy for those who actually starve. It is an indisputable fact that there are hundreds and thousands of our fellowmen who, through adverse circumstances, are compelled to starve; and it is our sacred duty to help them and to sympathise with them.
But it is a feature of human nature that we cannot realise the sufferings of others unless we ourselves go through them. A wealthy man who has never had the ill luck of going without his dainty dishes is not in a position to understand the sad plight of his brothers who often go without the coarsest food. The first advantage of fasting therefore is that Muslims become alive to the sufferings of their fellowmen and are thus stimulated to lend them a helping hand.
That is why the Holy Prophet and his Companions [rta] are reported to be exceedingly charitable in the month of Ramadan. Muslims are expected to give alms more generously in this month than usual; and it cannot be denied that this practice goes a long way to mitigate the suffering of humanity.
It has been truly said that Islam has got a levelling effect, and that is more conspicuous during the fasting month. A king with all his means of subsistence and stores of provisions starves like a poor man, and is thus brought face to face with the realities of life. From this he can learn a great lesson of sympathy for his subjects.
This is only one phase of fasting. It has got many other advantages as well. For instance, we learn abstinence, under the command of God, for a certain specified period of time from those things which are perfectly lawful, and obedience to this command makes us doubly fit to give up or abstain from those things which are unlawful. It is, in a way, a training, a schooling which cultivates in us the habits of abstinence, perseverance, patience and sympathy.
Physically, too, fasting has a wholesome effect on our constitution. It is a thing of common experience that after fasting our health is improved and Ramadan seems to give a tone to our health. The reason is very simple: our physical organs — the liver, the stomach, etc., have taken rest, and have begun to work afresh with more vigour and energy. The food we take is properly digested and assimilated to our physique.
Those who have some experience in the realm of vision and spiritual flight agree on this, that the practice of fasting quickens their spiritual power and they see wonderful visions during the period of fasting. The explanation of this phenomenon is to be found in the fact that by subjection [subjugation] of our physical faculties our spiritual faculties are strengthened and therefore we begin to soar higher and higher in the regions of spirituality.
This all-round growth and welfare, which is aimed at by fasting, is described in the Holy Quran by the Arabic word tattaqun, which means
“so that you may be careful of your duty.”
This implies the duty towards our fellow beings, and also duty to ourselves, which lies in keeping our body and soul in a sound state; that is, keeping our various God-given faculties in the right proportion.
It may also be mentioned that fasting is a religious institution which was, according to the Holy Quran, enjoined in the older Scriptures as well. And it is a remarkable fact that the Holy Prophet, who could not read or write, gives this information to the world, which is exactly corroborated by the study of the older Scriptures. For instance, in the New Testament we find:
“Then came to him, the disciples of John, saying: Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them; but the day will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them; and then shall they fast” (Matthew, 9:14–15).
And then again:
“Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of sad countenance. But then when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face” (Matthew, 6:16–17).
And we have also:
“How be it, this kind goeth not but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew, 17–21).
From these quotations it is evident that Jesus enjoined fasting upon his followers; but we do not know if his injunctions are carried out into practice by his so-called followers.
(To be continued.)