Weaving Theologies

Weaving Theologies

The Web of the Primary Tenets of Islam

by Zoë Kushlefsky


The religion of Islam is one with a beautiful and dynamic history. One can learn about the worldviews and paradigms of practicing Muslims, but it is a different thing entirely to be an actual participant in the devotional rituals of the religion, and to have those rituals and beliefs shape your worldview and determine the kind of person you are and how you interact with the world and with others. Reading scholarly texts on the beliefs and ethics of Islamic society may give one a factual, historical-analytical understanding of devotional rituals and central worldviews, but stories and personal experience make everything so much clearer. What has stuck with me the most in learning about the worldviews and perspectives of Islamic culture have been the personal details and stories that Professor Mahallati has brought into the conversation; hearing the attributes from a textbook can not convey the dynamics and nuance of real narrative. Based on my understanding of the values and rituals of Islam, learned both from reading and from hearing Professor Mahallati’s thoughts, I come to the conclusion that the paradigms and elements of the Islamic worldview, ethics, and devotional rituals are all related to human’s relationships to God as an all-encompassing, singular entity, devoting oneself to this relationship and to self-improvement, a high value placed on community, and the autonomy of the self within a greater religious confine. With all of these facets at the center of Islam, God is at the absolute center, with every other quality relating back to creating the most trusting, devotional relationship to God possible.

Personal autonomy/choice and self-regulation is not a premise that is altogether unique to Islam, as a similar system of self-improvement and regulation exists within the Buddhist conception of Karma. That said, the specifics of this worldview within Islam are due to the fact that this premise holds a lot of nuanced weight—as I understand it, it is both a result of the relationship practitioners are supposed to have with God, and has its effects on that relationship as well. For example, the fact that people are held accountable for their own actions and the intention is the most important part of a Muslim practitioner’s actions[1] leads to the notion that “Islam has no orthodoxy, only orthopraxy, right practice.”[2] In this case, the idea of intentionality and self-understanding and improvement creates this larger cultural and societal milieu of the lack of a religious orthodoxy within the religion at large, rather a right way to be Muslim and a wrong way. The right way, understandably, includes several virtues that a Muslim practitioner should strive to in an effort to always be improving. Further, why do the right thing if everything is predestined? Why work on one’s self. Contrapuntally, on the end of facets of Islam that lead to this notion of self-improvement and awareness of intention, the center of this, and probably every Islamic issue, is God. One’s relationship to God seems to be the most important piece of Islam, with God being a central and singular power. The argument for this condition of humanity being responsible to their own actions traces to an argument made for a trust in the justness of God. If God is to be treated as absolutely benevolent, just, and all encompassing,[3] humans must be free. If humans are not seen as free and having free will, then God would not be fair to punish and reward. Therefore, the idea of predestination takes a backseat to the notion of freewill, in order to solidify one’s relationship with God and the implicit trust that must exist, ideally both ways.

A good way to understanding the absolute fundamentals of the Islamic worldview can be found by looking to the basic requirements for one to be considered converted to Islam officially. All this requires is a statement of faith in the oneness of God and in Muhammed as the prophet. “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God…”[4] This, then, can be seen to be the main tenet of the Islamic belief system, and everything else can perhaps be said to revolve around the profession of faith. Professor Mahallati explained that the nuance of this profession includes three main facets of this faith declaration, the Three Principals of Faith. There is tawhid, which is explained as the unicity of God. In Judaism we say Adonai ehad or God is One—I assume tawhid is a close equivalent to this idea. Nabuwa is the belief in the prophecy of Muhammed, an important tenet as Muhammad’s prophecy jumpstarted the whole religion and without belief in the legitimacy of these prophecies the entirety of the rest of the religion—practices, devotional rituals, understandings of the world and the cosmos—is placed on shakier ground. Lastly, muaad, or belief in the day of judgement. This goes back to the aforementioned free will, as muaad is another piece of the puzzle of Islam that ties together intimately with this idea; if one does not believe they have free will, they need not believe in this day of judgement, and vice versa.

While this relationship to God and all it’s subsequent virtues are central to Islamic ideology, there are also more philosophical questionings that are central to the religion. The spirit of self-improvement leaks into the idea of questioning and exploring, or unveiling[5], yet another prominent tenet of Islam. Professor Mahallati explained the method of kashf (unveiling) by ilham (inspiration.) The idea that what we see is real, but that there are also many dimensions hidden to us that we must attempt to see, explore and understand, and that is how one moves closer to God. Supra-rationality can be explained as a way of using rationality but going a step further to attempt to make sense of the cosmic hidden realities at the center of the universe. These realities are light, or God, which it seems in Islam are nearly one and the same.[6]

One could write books and books on the various implications and connections found in Islamic thought and central ideas, and there are so many more interesting and beautiful pieces of Islam, such as the Islamic eschatology, wherein there are a few ideas of what happens after you die, but I have outlined what I believe to b

[1] Professor Mahallati, Class Lecture.

[2] Brown, Daniel W. A New Introduction to Islam. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2017, 195.

[3] Ibid., 210.

[4]Ibid., 201.

[5] Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Gulshan Books Kashmir, 2015, 238.

[6] Professor Mahallati, Class Lecture.