Andrew Seligson: Three Components of Islamic Practice and Worldview

I have identified three primary teachings within the Qur’an itself, each of which points to key moral lessons that are meant to be expanded upon in the life of the believer. The first is that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet. The second is that there is going to be a Day of Judgment, in which all people’s sins are accounted for, and they are either rewarded with paradise, or punished with hellfire. The third is that in our lives, we are in a constant dialogue with Allah, who is meant to guide us in the way of the good and moral life so that we can attain paradise. While none of these core doctrines, one concerning God and messenger, one concerning justice and moral judgment, and one concerning ethics and community, is a literal moral teaching in itself, each doctrine has very real and lasting moral implications for the life of Muslims who accept these core doctrines.

As we learned in class discussion, one of the five pillars of Islam is the belief that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet. In order to convert to Islam, these are two key components that must be accepted, and ideally, accepted in the presence of other Muslims. This acceptance is key in the socialization into and acceptance of the Muslim ethical system. In Sura 39, The Throngs, for example, it states: “As for those who take up masters instead of Him, saying, ‘We only worship them to bring us close in nearness to God’, God shall judge between them as to what they disputed about. God guides not the lying blasphemer”[1]. Similar to the way certain Catholic liberation movements worked in South America, rejecting other value systems that do not lead to a community of people who share the same ethical value system is a key component of resisting temptation and entering into paradise within Islam. However, it is also important to note that Islam has deeply universalist strands of thought, meaning that it is open to all, and seeks to transcend normal tribal and group boundaries for the sake of a universal message. The reading The Word Enters the World suggests that “The Qur’an is God speaking, not merely to Muhammad in seventh century Arabia, but from all eternity to humankind”[2]. In short, initiation into the culture and way of life of Islam is based in a key way on accepting the rule of God in one’s life and the message that Muhammad received on behalf of humanity.

In terms of the Day of Judgment, this concept is meant to keep Muslims on the straight and true moral path. As is stated in Sura 55 The All Merciful, “Hurled upon the two of you shall be flames of fire and brass, and none shall come to your aid. So which of your Lord’s blessings will the two of you deny?”[3]. On the other side of the danger of punishment is the promise of reward for following the ways of Allah. A consistent theme throughout the Qur’an is the image of a garden with waters and rivers flowing, indicative of biblical imagery of Genesis and the Garden of the Lord: “Below these two are two other Gardens. Over shadowing. In them are two fountains”[4]. These key components of Islamic teaching are meant to lead believers away from the indulgences and pleasures of this world in order that they receive the greater reward of the next life. In the Last Revelations section of our reading, it is notable that “While there is some unanimity regarding the first revelation among Muslim scholars, none exists a bout the final revelation”[5]. However, one theme running through the final revelations is the idea that human beings ought to remain faithful of God and to pursue justice in this world. One such verse, accepted by numerous scholars as the final revelation, commands us to “be conscious of the day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he [she] has earned and none shall be wronged”[6].

The final and perhaps the most important component of Muslim doctrine is that paradise can not be attained outside of living an ethical and moral life. One could, technically, accept the Prophet Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet, live with the belief that there will be a day of judgment, but if one does not treat others according to the ethical precepts of Islam, then paradise is lost to that individual. Muhammad, as a conflict resolver, always sought to create a society based on “faith rather than tribe”[7]. As stated in the Sura 39 The Throngs: “We sent down on you the book for mankind, in truth. Whoso follows guidance does so for the good of his soul; whoso strays in error does so to its detriment”[8]. In other words, the reason the book was given to Muhammad and then given to all mankind, the reason for punishment, and the reason for the importance of accepting the unity and oneness of Allah was for the creation of the ideal ethical community based upon the wisdom and guidance of Allah. As we discussed in class, there are numerous stories of great Muslim teachers and scholars who hold that they want to live a life in dialogue with God. It is through this dialogical life that we maintain the sense that although the Qur’an was written many years ago, it is eternal and therefore applicable to all times and contexts.

[1] Sura 39:1-2

[2] Farid Esack, “The Word Enters the World” in The Qur’an: A User’s Guide, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005), 31

[3] Sura 55:36-37

[4] Sura 55:62-64

[5] Farid Esack, “The Word Enters the World” in The Qur’an: A User’s Guide, 52

[6] Ibid, 53

[7] Ibid, 47

[8] Sura 39:41-42