Approach to Life: The Foundations
We are living in a period of cultural crisis. It seems as if the
very foundations of contemporary society are being threatened from
within and without. The family, as a basic and most sensitive institution
of culture, is being undermined by powerful and destructive forces.1
All the symptoms suggest that the crisis in general is deepening
and the institution of the family is, in particular, weakening,
even disintegrating in Europe and America.2
It is time to pause for a while and re-examine the foundations on
which family life is built in the contemporary west and also to
study alternative foundations and structures in other cultural traditions.
This will include the contemporary man to identify the nature of
the crisis that confronts him today and will also point to some
of the possibilities that are still open to him. I would like to
discuss in the following pages the concept of family life in Islam,
its foundations, structure and principles.
We shall be in a better position to understand the institution
of the family in Islam if we start by a brief statement about the
Islamic approach to life, religion and culture.
Tawhid: The Unity of God
Islam affirms the Unity of God and His indivisible sovereignty
over the Universe. God is the Creator, the Master, the Sustainer
of all that exists. Everything is operating according to His plan.
He has revealed, through His prophets, the Right Path for the guidance
of mankind. All prophets (peace be upon them) have preached the
same message - that of acceptance of God's sovereignty. They invited
men and women to a life committed to virtue, purity, justice and
peace, and to act according to the guidance He has revealed. All
prophets, from Adam, Noah and Ibrahim (Abraham) to Musa (Moses),
Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be on them)
taught the same religion of acceptance of and submission to God
and commitment to peace i.e. Islam.3
Man's failure lies in not protecting and preserving the teachings
of the earlier prophets. As such, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him) was raised to restate the- original message, to present it
in its perfect form and to preserve it in such a way that the word
of God would no longer be confused with the word of man.4
If tawhid (Unity of God) constitutes the ideological foundation
of Islam, the concept of mans' Khilafah (vicegerency/caliphate)
provides the operational framework for the Islamic scheme of life.
The story of Adam and Eve is found in almost all religious and
major cultural traditions. But in these narration's, fact and fancy
are found intermingled. The way the Quran narrates this event is
crucial to the understanding of the Islamic world-view.
The main outline of the Qur'anic narration is as follows:
5 God declared
His intention to send a vicegerent (Khalifah) to the earth. He created
Adam and Eve from the same substance. They were destined to play
this role of vicegerency and were endowed with the 'knowledge of
the things' to do the job well. Then they were put to a test end
were asked not to approach a certain tree. They fell victim to the
evil persuasions of Satan and committed sin. But immediately after
sinning they repented their mistake, sought God's forgiveness and
were forgiven. It was after they were forgiven and redeemed that
they were sent down to the earth to play their role as vicegerents
of God. They were promised Divine Guidance and were assured that
those who foIIowed that Guidance would be successful. Adam was the
first man to receive this guidance and convey it to his progeny.
Some very important inferences follow from this:
(a) Islam does not contribute to any theory of the "fall of Adam"
symbolizing the fall of man. There was no "fall" at all in that
sense. Man was created for the purpose, of acting as vicegerent
on the earth and he came to the world to fulfil this mission. It
represents the rise of man to a new assignment, his tryst with destiny,
and not a fall.
(b) The role and status of vicegerency is conferred upon the
human being as such, and it is shared by man and woman alike. This
lays the foundations of their essential equality as human beings,
as vicegerents of God on the earth, whatever their different roles
(c) Islam does not subscribe to the view that woman led man (Eve
leading Adam) to sin and disobedience. According to the Qur'an "Satan
caused them both to deflect therefrom". Both were held responsible
for the act, both repented their transgression and both were forgiven.
They entered the world without any stigma of original sin on their
(d) Human nature is pure and good. Man has been created in the
best of the forms.6Man
and woman are made from the same substance. Every one is born in
a state of purity and innocence. Success or failure depends entirely
on one's own beliefs and behaviour.7
No one is to be responsible for the shortcomings of others.8
(e) Man has been given freedom of choice. He is free to accept
or deny the Reality. He is responsible for his actions, but is not
to be deprived of this freedom, even if he makes mistakes and abuses
it. The uniqueness of the human situation lies in his psychosocial
volition. This is the mainspring of human potential - this is what
enables him to rise to the highest pinnacle or to fall into the
(f) The dangers of misuse of freedom continue to confront man
throughout his career on the earth. The challenge from Satan is
unceasing. To safeguard man against this, Divine Guidance is to
be provided. The trial of Adam and Eve reveals, on the one hand,
the essential goodness of their nature and on the other, their susceptibility
to error. This demonstrates man's need for Divine Guidance.
(g) Man has not been totally protected against error. This would
involve negation of the freedom of choice. He may commit errors;
his redemption lies in his realization of that error, in seeking
repentance and in turning back to the right path.
The theory of vicegerency affirms that God's creation is deliberate
amid not fortuitous. Man has been created with a purpose. Everything
else in the creation has been harnessed to his service. His career
on the earth begins with the consciousness of a mission, not through
gropings in darkness. The ideal was set before him through Divine
revelation. The criterion for success has been laid down in clear
terms. The signposts of the Right Path have been made manifest.
Man's life on earth is in the nature of a trial. It is time-bound.
This Iife will be followed by an eternal life wherein man shall
reap rewards of his performance in this life. And in this lifelong
trial, men and women are equal participants and will be judged as
such. No one is a mere shadow of the other, but both are active
co-partners. The Qur'an explicitly states that man and woman will
get whet they strive for and that the same standard is set for them
both as the ultimate criterion for their success. "And the believers,
the men and the women, are friends protecting each other; they seek
and enjoin good and forbid evil and offer the prayer and pay the
Zakat (poor-due): and they obey God and His Messenger. It is on
these whom Allah will have mercy. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.
Allah has promised to the believers, men and women, gardens underneath
which rivers flow, forever therein to dwell, and goodly dwelling-places
in the gardens of Eden, and greater than anything else, God's good
pleasure (and acceptance from Him). That is the supreme triumph."9
And whosoever does a righteous deed, be they male or female, and
is a believer, we shall assuredly give them a goodly life to live;
and We shall certainly reward them according to the best of what
"Men who surrender to Allah and women who surrender to Allah,
and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and'
women who obey, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women
who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble,
and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast
and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who
guard their modesty, and men who remember Allah much and women who
remember - Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty
This is how the Quran describes the ideal and the model for men
and women and the criterion for day of judgement. This defines what
is expected of them as God's vicegerents. This lays the foundation
of their equality as human role in the world.
A Complete Way of Life
Islam affirms God's Sovereignty over the entire gamut of man's
life. It is opposed to asceticism, monasticism and creeds of life-denial
and annihilation. It stands for life-affirmation and life-fulfillment.
It refuses to divide life into watertight compartments of the sacred
and the secular, of the holy and the profane. It invites man to
enter wholly the fold of Islam and regards the division of life
into religious and secular as deviations from the Right Path.12
It gives an integrated view of life and reality. The teaching of
Islam cover all fields of human activity, spiritual and material,
individual and social, educational and cultural, economic and political,
national and international. They cater for the aspirations of the
soul as well as for the demands of the law and social institutions.
Islam's uniqueness lies in spiritualizing the whole matrix of life.
Every activity, whether related to things like prayer and fasting,
or to economic transactions, sexual relationships, diplomatic dealings
or scientific experimentation's, is religious if it is undertaken
with God consciousness and accords with the values and principles
revealed by Him; and it is irreligious if it is in violation of
them. Activities related to matters of economy, politics and law,
or of sex and social manners, are a part of man's religious behaviour
and do not fall outside its scope. Life is an organic whole and
the same principles should guide and govern it in all its ramifications.
The Shar'iah is the Islamic code which guides life in its entirety.
The example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the model
which a Muslim tries to follow and in his life-example one can seek
guidance in all aspects of human life, from the highly personal
to the purely social - as a man, a son, a husband, a father, a preacher,
a teacher, a trader, a statesman, a commander, a peace-negotiator,
a judge or a head of the state. The Islamic outlook on life is revolutionary
as it gives a new dynamism to what has been traditionally regarded
as religious. What makes an activity religious is the attitude with
which it is undertaken and its conformity or otherwise with the
values enunciated by God and His Prophet. With this revolutionary
outlook, the entire realm of life is won over for God and Godliness.
Nothing is left for Caesar.13
Faith as the Basis of Society
Islam makes faith and religion the basis of the entire human
society and the mainspring for the network of its relationships.
Social groups and communities have been founded on race, blood,
tribe, geography etc., but in Islam all these differences have been
subordinated to a new form of organization emanating from the faith.
Commitment to Islam integrates man not only with God but also with
the community of believers. These two relationships branch out from
the single act of faith. The Islamic concept of nationhood is not
based on race, language, colour, territory or politico-economic
affinity. Islamic community is a fraternity of faith - anyone who
believes in the Islamic religion and ideology is an inalienable
part of this nation - whatever his race, colour, language or place
This is a new principle of human organization; it is rational
and ideological in nature and is capable of embracing the entire
This concept of an ideological community is not a mere moral
precept; it has its social, political and legal dimensions. It produces
a new infrastructure for human relations. Faith is the decisive
force in this system. It gives birth to social institutions, from
the family to the state. Islamic culture grows from this faith in
the same way as a tree grows from a seed. To some extent it is affected
by external forces, but ultimately it is the potential of the seed
which is fulfilled. This is a unique principle of organization.
The Islamic society and culture are ideological and universal in
their origin and orientation.
These submissions, I believe, help us in understanding the nature
of the Islamic system of life. The Islamic culture cannot be understood
if some of its parts are studied in isolation, or in the perspective
of cultures based on foundations diametrically different from its
own. The Islamic institution of the family should also be studied
and examined in the perspective of the Islamic outlook on life and
the ethos of the Islamic culture.
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