Adam Jussila: The Essentials of the Islamic Worldview

The Islamic faith derives its ideas about both how its followers should live and how they understand the universe that they live in from a variety of sources, particularly the Qur’an, the Hadiths, and from the reasoning of the great ulama thinkers. This has led to many varying schools of thought, but at the core of it all there is a definitive worldview and idea of ethics of the Islamic people. This includes ideas of Islamic eschatology and ideas of repentance, the Pillars of Islam, sharia (Islamic law), the understanding of the nature of God, and the ethical ideas derived from the teachings of Muhammad and the early Muslims. It is important to acknowledge that the Islamic worldview encapsulates much more than what can be addressed here, including things from philosophy to theology to Sufism and beyond.

The Five Pillars of Islam are one of the most important aspects of the Islamic worldview. The five pillars uphold the Islamic faith. Some would claim that they are the defining characteristics of what makes someone a Muslim.[i] First among these is the Shahadah, in which a Muslim verbally acknowledges the reality and unity of God. This acknowledgment of God is necessary in order for one to have their faith accepted by Allah. The second pillar is Salat, or ritual prayer, which happens five times per day, and is essential and important for daily life as a Muslim. The third pillar is Zakat, the ritual tax on each and every Muslim that they are encouraged to pay in order to purify their wealth and make it more pleasing to God. This is more flexible than some of the other pillars but is highly advised. Fourth is the pillar of fasting during the month of Ramadan, which means abstaining from smoking, drinking, eating, and sexual activity during the 30 days of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. The last pillar of Islam is that of Hajj. This pillar tells Muslims worldwide that if they are able they must take at least one trip to the house of God in Mecca at least once in their lives. This is something of a rite of passage for everyone who has the means to go there.[ii] These five things are what largely define the Islamic faith for each Muslim. These are far from the only shared beliefs among Muslims, though.

Another important aspect of the faith involves the ideas that the Qur’an preaches regarding eschatology. The Qur’an promises another life after death, one where a person will reside in either paradise or in hell.[iii] It is stated in the Qur’an that a human’s life is a test of their faith to decide where they deserve to belong in the afterlife. On the Day of Judgment, God decides where you will go by judging your deeds and seeing whether your good deeds outweigh your sins.[iv] Islamic scholars believe that the Day of Judgment is characterized by complete transparency, accountability, and accessibility of all positive dreams and negative intentions. To elaborate, this means that when you face God, you can see your whole life laid out before you. Everything is transparent and nothing can be hidden when you are being judged. You are completely accountable for your actions in life, and you cannot escape it. The last part means that God can access and see all of your thoughts and intentions throughout life, judging you not just based on actions, but also intentions. Through weighing your life, your path in the next life will be decided. There is one exception to this, however. The idea of intercession allows for your family members and other people to buy or ask for leniency in the afterlife for you. For example, one practice is to pay someone to fast in the name of your deceased family member in order for the family member to get additional favor when being judged by God.

As with every major religion, questions about ethical approaches are a very controversial debate. There are currently over 20 schools of ethics in the Islamic tradition, including teleological ethics, role ethics, social ethics, and intention ethics (to name a few). These ethics each derive their ideals from slightly different sources. Teleological ethics, for example, is utilitarian in its approach, emphasizing the value in doing the most good for the largest number of people instead of focusing on doing something for the individual. Most people combine multiple schools together in order to create a more widely applicable ethical viewpoint. These ethical ideas are all derived from the same sources, specifically Hadiths, the Qur’an, reasoning of great Islamic thinkers, and social ideals of a given time period.[v] Some groups may depend more on specific sources. For example, fundamentalists rely more heavily on the literature directly from the Prophet and his early followers. On the other hand, there are modernists who may focus more on social obligations and personal reasoning in order to decide right and wrong in their daily lives. All of these ethical perspectives heavily inform the study of Islamic law, known as Sharia.

Sharia is widely debated by Muslims around the world, as there is startlingly little written by the prophet himself on the topic. Less than five percent of the Qur’an is actually on topics that pertain to law in an Islamic society.[vi] Despite this, much of Islamic law is based equally off of the Qur’an and the Sunna, the life and example of the prophet, but unfortunately there are also things that never were mentioned in the time of the prophet, such as his views on consumption of coffee. Coffee was not something that was in Saudi Arabia in the time of the prophet, so they didn’t know what to do, and it was left to the scholars of the time period to decide what the law on it would be.[vii] This is often how sharia works in a modern Islamic society. The approach to problems is typically the same for a given group of practicing Muslims. From these types of debates different schools of law arose, just like they did in ethical debates.

At its core, the Islamic community contains a wide diversity of opinions and viewpoints, along with certain fundamental concepts that all Muslims believe to be true. Through eschatology, sharia, ethics, and the Pillars of Islam, Muslims are able to live their lives in a way that is moral and pleasing to God. These principles define much of the important parts of the Islamic worldview, though they fail to delve into it in its entirety.

[i] Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. London [u.a.]: Tauris Publ, 1996. pg 8.

[ii] Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. London [u.a.]: Tauris Publ, 1996. pg. 9-20.

[iii] Mahallati, Jafar. The Islamic Eschatology, Lecture. Edited by Adam Jussila, 9/26/16.

[iv] Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. London [u.a.]: Tauris Publ, 1996. pg. 111-113.

[v] Mahallati, Jafar. Islamic Virtues and Vices, Lecture. Edited by Adam Jussila, 9/30/16.

[vi] Mahallati, Jafar. Islamic Law, Jurisprudence, and Scholarship, Lecture. Edited by Adam Jussila, 9/21/16.

[vii] Brown, Daniel W. A New Introduction to Islam. 2. ed. ed. Malden, MA [u.a.]: Blackwell Pub, 2009. pg. 149-156.