Chamden Henzler-Lhaswa: The Islamic World View

A worldview is a set of fundamental principles about reality and life that inform a person or people’s beliefs, thoughts, and actions. The Islamic worldview is founded on the philosophy of monotheism. Islamic ethics are underlying part of the Islamic worldview; while the Islamic worldviews describe the relations of Muslims to the world, Islamic ethics describe the morality and character Muslims should try to emulate. This worldview is transferred to humanity through the Qur’an and the Hadith. Within the Islamic worldview, there are three primary elements: Tawhid (monotheism), ‘abd (servant) and ‘adl (justice). The first pillar of Islam and most significant element of the Islamic worldview is the idea of Tawhid.

Tawhid (monotheism) is the central idea of Islam on which all other philosophies are built; it is the essence of Islamic civilization and the foundation of social order.  The idea of the Tawhid is not unique to Islam, and we see its message with all Abrahamic prophets. God in Islam encompasses everything in the universe and is the only thing that can be worshiped. The Tawhid is understood through the Qur’an, the direct word of God. Throughout the Qur’an the idea of oneness in god in abundant: “Your god is one god, so submit to Him” 22:34. The Tawhid is best characterized in the first Shahadah “There is no god but God,” arguably the most important testaments in Islam. In the Islamic worldview, the Tawhid is given to humanity to rid the world of evil and free humans from the chains of ignorance and polytheism. The Qur’an is critical of those who worship anything but God, “[The Qur’an] stigmatizes those who worship their own inclinations and moods as gods” (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, 48). The Qur’an refers to those who worship anything but god as shirks, translated as “[those who] associate others (with God)” (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, 49). While the Tawhid is the foundation of the Islamic worldview, ‘Adl (justice) is an extremely important part every Muslim’s life, one that directly affects the Islamic worldview.

In Islam ‘adl is “a divine attribute, defined as putting a thing in its proper place”  (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, 113). In the Shia tradition, justice–seen as the justice of god–is one of the foundational principles. God shows his justice is through trial, by creating people to prove themselves through their faith. By demonstrating faith through bala’ (trial) a human is allowed into paradise. The opposite of ‘adl is zulm (wrongdoing), defined as putting things in the wrong place. Zulm is spoken of very badly in the Qur’an; when zulm is mentioned, “it almost always employs the word nafs (self),” suggesting people cannot wrong God but only themselves  (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, 113). In the Islamic worldview, God is seen to have dual qualities: merciful and wrathful. God is both qualities because God is one, and He interacts with every creature in a different manner. An important display of justice in the Islamic worldview is the two Kiraman Katibin, Raqib and Atid, (honorable scribes). The Kiraman Katibin are angels which sit on the shoulders of every person recording their good and bad feelings, thoughts, and actions in two books. After death, each book is weighed. The outcome sends a person either to Jannah (heaven) or Jahannam (hell). While the two books are important to whether a person goes to Jannah or Jahannam, humans are allowed to negotiate with god and it is up to His mercy to decide their fate.

A crucial element to the Islamic worldview is ‘Abd (servant) to god. People who choose to serve God are referred to as ‘Abd (servant). While god is the ultimate ruler, he entrusts humans to be the vicegerents of the earth after they’ve proven their servitude. There are two types of vicegerents “one pertaining to all human beings, and the second pertaining only to those who have voluntarily chosen to serve God” (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, 124). The ‘Abd must do the bidding of god, by reading the Qur’an and deducing from it the proper way to live. The greatest embodiment of the ‘Abd is the Prophet Muhammad earning the title:‘Abd Allah (servant of God). Jesus is also referred to as ‘Abd Allah illustrating another parallel between the Islamic and Christian worldviews. In Islam, it is the highest honor to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and be a servant of God. However in order to submit and become a servant of god one must first follow the Islamic ethics.

Islamic ethics are a major element of the Islamic worldview. There is presently twenty-four ethical schools. The source of Islamic ethics is the Qur’an, Hadith and pre-Islamic traditions throughout the Muslim world. While the ethics of Islam are the same for all humans, the level of piety differs depending on the human, this is best illustrated through the first seven steps of Sufism. During each stage, there are three levels of piety. The first level, for those who maintain an average level of piety, repent for bad deeds. The second level, for the very pious who repent for good deeds because they know they could have done better. The third level is for the most pious who repent for repentance because they are ashamed that for even giving themselves that credit. Throughout all of Islamic ethics there is one element that remains true for all people: becoming is more important than what you’ve done, essentially in the Islamic worldview it is more important to constantly be striving for better rather than focusing on the bad deeds you’ve done in the past.

The Islamic worldview is dictated by three elements: Tawhid (monotheism), ‘abd (servant) and ‘adl (justice). While Tawhid is the foundation on which ‘abd and ‘adl are built upon each is crucial in developing the worldview throughout the Muslim world. While these elements prescribe a Muslims relation to the world, Islamic ethic demonstrate the character and morality each Muslim should try and follow.

Murata, Sachiko., Chittick, William. The Vision of Islam. Cairo: American University, 2006.