A person’s character and morals (akhlaq), coupled with his level of God-consciousness (taqwa), are his real legacy of which he will be either proud or ashamed on the Day of Judgment. A person’s refined character and morals (akhlaq), as well as a high level of God-consciousness (taqwa), denote the ultimate goal at which all the Islamic religious rituals and rites in unison point, and towards which they all as one lead.
The actual spiritual state of those religious rituals and rites are conditioned by their impact on one’s akhlaq and taqwa. Therefore, the religious rituals and rites are not an end in themselves. Rather, they are a means and facilities which facilitate and lead to the achieving of the desired ends and goals. This means that merely performing a religious ritual does not denote its end. It is only a job half-done, for after a ritual, its effects are to be ascertained on its executor’s overall conduct. A ritual’s effects on one’s general conduct constitute a major factor in determining whether a ritual is a job well-done or otherwise. Along these lines, as a collective of pious and God-conscious individuals, the ultimate goal of the Islamic community (ummah) is the creation of a righteous, just and enlightened society which, in turn, will lead to the creation of a virtuous and prolific Islamic culture and civilization.
In light of the above, Allah says, for example, about prayer (salah), which is the most important pillar of Islam, and so most recurring: “Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to you, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that ye do.” (al-‘Ankabut, 45)
“So woe to the worshippers, who are neglectful of their prayers, those who (want but) to be seen (of men), but refuse (to supply) (even) neighborly needs.” (al-Ma’un, 4-7)
Consequently, what is expected from prayer (salah) is to restrain its doer from all the shameful and unjust actions, on the one hand, and to propel him towards a life of continuous praiseworthy and honest initiatives and actions, on the other. Since prayers are to be performed five times a day, they are seen as a powerful engine of one’s spiritual refinement and growth. If this is not the case with one’s prayers, however, not only will the validity and acceptance of those prayers be in jeopardy, but also their doers will become a target of Allah’s threats for their gross wrongdoing and negligence, which under some unfavorable conditions can develop into outright hypocrisy.
Moreover, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali said about fasting (siyam) which is the second most important pillar of Islam: “It should be known that there are three grades of fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special. Ordinary fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction. Special fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet — and all other organs — free from sin. Extra-special fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. As for special fasting, this is the kind practiced by the righteous. It means keeping all one’s organs free from sin.”
About qurban or offering sacrifices, Allah says: “It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety (taqwa) that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify Allah for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right.” (al-Hajj, 37)
Allah explicitly says that He only accepts the deeds of those who are righteous and God-conscious, and who perform their deeds in the like manner. (al-Ma’idah, 27) Deeds, including religious ceremonies, which are devoid of righteousness and God-consciousness, it goes without saying, are questionable and might not merit Allah’s satisfaction and acceptance.
Having said this, furthermore, the following traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) could be properly conceptualized and understood. Otherwise, a person might face some difficulties to do so.
The traditions are as follows:
“The best of you are those who are best to their own families, and I am the best of you towards my family.”
“The most perfect of the believers in faith are the best of them in moral excellence, and the best of you are the kindest to their wives.”
“The best of you, or best amongst you, are those who are best in paying off debt.”
“The best of people are those who are most learned and most pious, who are best in enjoining good and forbidding evil, and who are best in maintaining family ties.”
“The dearest and nearest among you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be one who is the best of you in conduct; and the most abhorrent among you to me and the farthest of you from me will be the pompous boastful braggarts, and al-Mutafaihiqun.” The companions asked the Prophet (pbuh): “O Allah’s Messenger! We know about the pompous boastful braggarts, but we do not know who al-Mutafaihiqun are.” He replied: “The arrogant people.”
“A woman was sent to Hell because of a cat. She imprisoned her and neither fed her nor set her free to feed upon the rodents of earth.”
“He who says ‘there is no god but Allah’ will enter Paradise.”
A man once asked Allah’s Messenger: “Which act in Islam is the best?” He replied: “To feed (the poor and the needy) and to salute everyone, whether you are acquainted with them or not.”
The Prophet (pbuh) has said that whosoever cuts for no valid reason a Lote-tree (sidrah) in a desert, under which both travelers and animals used to shade themselves, Allah shall direct him to Hellfire.
The Prophet (pbuh) also related the story of a woman from among the Children of Israel guilty of fornication, who found a dog near a well panting with thirst. She took of a shoe, tied it with her veil, and then managed to collect some water for the dog which it drunk. The dog’s thirst became quenched, and as a consequence Allah forgave her.
The Prophet (pbuh) was once asked: “O Messenger of Allah, such-and-such a woman spends her nights in prayer, fasts during the day, and so on, and she gives in charity, but she offends her neighbors with her sharp tongue.” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Her good deeds will be of no avail: she is among the people of Hell.” They said: “And so-and-so prays only the obligatory prayers, gives charity in the form of left-over curds, but does not offend anyone.” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “She is among the people of Paradise.”
About the genuine meaning of righteousness in Islam where faith and comprehensive practical deeds trigger and sustain each other, Allah says: “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness — to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.” (al-Baqarah, 177)
Finally, Allah brands Muslims, those who genuinely follow Islam, as the best community that has been raised up for mankind (Alu ‘Imran, 110), because what Islam makes of them, and a culture and civilization that they inexorably generate, are good and beneficial materials not only for them and their wellbeing, but also for the wellbeing of non-Muslims and the wellbeing of the whole earth and everything that lives on it. The eternal supreme objective of such people’s existence is the establishment of the reign of the truth, justice and social egalitarianism deeply embedded in strong faith and enlivening religious practices. Their modus operandi can be summed up in the enjoining of what is right and good, and the forbidding of what is wrong and evil (Alu ‘Imran, 110), in exhorting one another to truth and exhorting one another to endurance (Al-‘Asr, 3), as well as in helping one another in goodness and piety, and not helping one another in sin and aggression, and keeping their duties to Allah (al-Ma’idah, 2).
Due to the notable importance of this civilizational style and attitude – which is the only acceptable proposition from man, Allah’s vicegerent on earth — the Holy Qur’an reminds that curses were pronounced by the tongues of prophets Dawud (David) and ‘Isa (Jesus) on those persons among the Children of Israel who rejected faith, because they failed to reconcile themselves and their life aspirations to the substance of faith, and did not “forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did.” (al-Ma’idah, 79) This misconduct, certainly, was a major cause of the failure of the Children of Israel to fulfill the heavenly spiritual, cultural and civilizational trust which Allah had placed on them by choosing them over other communities and by continually sending to them His prophets and saviors (al-Baqarah, 47). Indeed, where the Children of Israel had failed, Muslims, the followers of Muhammad (pbuh), the seal of prophets, succeeded. At the same time, however, the Children of Israel were thus given another and the last chance of redemption by following Muhammad (pbuh) who, among other things, came to confirm the prophethoods of all the former prophets and their teachings, including Musa (Moses) and ‘Isa (Jesus). Allah says about this: “Say: “O People of the Book, come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.” If then they turn back, say: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).” (Alu ‘Imran, 64)
“And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you; for every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed.” (al-Ma’idah, 48)
“And verily we gave the Children of Israel the scripture and the command and the prophethood, and provided them with good things and favoured them above (all) peoples; and gave them plain commandments. And they differed not until after the knowledge came unto them, through rivalry among themselves. Lo! Your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein they used to differ.” (al-Jathiyah, 16, 17)
Check Part I
By: Dr. Spahic Omer is Assoc. Prof.
College of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Posted on: November 10, 2011