Ilan Ackelsberg: Elements of the Islamic Worldview

Over the last thousand years, the Islamic worldview has been shaped and formed by many important factors. As early as the years of prophet Muhammad, Muslim society has been shaping a very special worldview and drawing from a variety of different sources. Over the many years of Islamic scholarship and thought, Muslims have drawn from the Qur’an, from Hadith, and from the texts of other major monotheistic religions, eventually creating a worldview that had many similarities with Judaism and Christianity, but also many key differences. Islamic worldview is build on so many different important factors, but I would argue that the most important elements of the Islamic worldview are the belief in tawhid, or the oneness of God, the belief in the prophecy of Muhammad, the belief in Islamic eschatology, or belief in the next life, and the unification of the divine and the mundane. When it comes to Ethics, there is so much that is important, but I would argue the most important elements of Islamic ethics comes from the law of the Qur’an and the discourse and study of the Hadith. Islamic devotional rituals are also reflective of the Islamic worldview.


In order to understand the Islamic worldview, it is integral to understand the concept of tawhid. The word tawhid comes from the Arabic three letter root “w – H – d,’’ which means “one.” From this root, the word tawhid means “oneness.” Tawhid proclaims that God is the only God, and that Muslims shall not worship any other God but God. Essentially, tawhid is the rejection of paganism and idolatry and a proclamation of monotheism. This does not mean that Muslims believe in a different God that Jews and Christians. Muslims believe that “Allah” is the same God that Jews and Christians worship, they just also believe that the God of Moses and Jesus have also communicated to the prophet Muhammad, who was the last of the prophets. In addition to the oneness of God in relation to any other possible false gods, tawhid also describes the total combination of seemingly contradicting aspects of God. The concept of tawhid describes how God can be both merciful and close, but at the same time distant and wrathful. It ecompesses how God can be both imminent and transcendent at the same time.


Another core aspect of the Islamic worldview is the belief in the end of days, the coming of the messiah, final judgement, and eternal hellfire and paradise. Much of the Qur’an is spent talking about the afterlife in great detail. In fact, much more of the Qur’an involves elaborate details on the afterlife than on jurisprudence or law. That doesn’t mean that Muslims are not concerned with the mundane, it just goes to show the importance of Islamic eschatology in Muslims’ worldview. How do Muslims think about the afterlife? Some muslims view the next life as a plot of land that one cultivates during one’s life. Every positive thing one does on Earth that helps another or fulfills one of God’s commandments is like cultivating that plot of land that one will receive in the afterlife. In contrast, every time one sins he or she is destroys that plot of land in which he or she has been given to cultivate for the next life. At the end, one’s plot of land reflects a combination of his or her sins and virtues. Another important story in Islamic eschatology is the story of the narrow bridge to paradise. The story expresses the Islamic worldview that the path to paradise is not easy to cross, and even minor sins can throw someone off the path to righteousness. Additionally, it is very important to discuss the idea of sin and forgiveness. The Islamic worldview maintains that when one sins against God, one can ask for God’s forgiveness through repentance. However, if man sins against a fellow man, he must ask for his forgiveness, and cannot ask for forgiveness from God. This is one of the reasons why people ask for forgiveness before going on Hajj, and one of the reasons why the sanctity of contract is so important in the Muslim world. One can not be totally pure until he or she has made things right with everyone he or she harmed on Earth.


Islamic Ethics are also reflective of the Islamic worldview as a whole. All Muslims look at the Qur’an and the Hadith for answers to ethical questions. However, there are some differences between how Sunni and Shia’ Muslims look attempt to answer ethical questions that cannot be answered by looking directly at the Qur’an or prophetic hadiths. Sunni Muslims use analogy to try to answer these questions, while Shia’ Muslims use reason. For example, let us look at the Muslim world’s relationship to coffee. In the Qur’an, alcohol is strictly forbidden. When coffeehouses began to open up all over the Muslim world, there was a lot of discourse in the world of Islamic jurisprudence about whether or not coffee was halal, or “permitted.” In the Sunni world, scholars drew analogies between coffee and alcohol. Because of this, it took many years of debate until coffee was deemed okay to consume. In the Shia’ world, on the other hand, reason was used to determine that coffee is a totally different thing from alcohol, thus, there was never any controversy surrounding coffee’s consumption.


There is one more key difference between Sunni and Shia’ Islam that is seen in certain devotional rituals. In Shia’ Islam, the martyrdom of Husayn is one of the more fundamental moments in Shia’ history. As a result of this event, Shi’ites around the world mark the day of Husayn’s martyrdom as a day of mourning. This event is representative of one of the most foundational aspects of Shia’ Islam, universal justice. Shi’ites view Husayn’s martyrdom as representative of how one should stand in the face of injustice. As a result, divine justice has been cemented as a core aspect of the Shia’ worldview. Additionally, some argue that Shia’ focus on justice is a bi-product of their minority status in the Muslim world.

All in all, the Islamic worldview is centered around the tawhid of God, the prophecy of Muhammad, the centrality of eschatology, and the importance of devotional rituals. Muslims carry their worldview with them through everyday life, which is reflected in the combination of the divine and the mundane, all over the Sunni and Shia’ world. Although Sunnis and Shi’ites disagree on some issues, such whether or not to use reason or analogy to answer questions not elucidated in the Qur’an, all Muslims share the same core beliefs, and the same fundamental worldview.