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Islam in Brief

A talk by Dr Zahid Aziz
at Columbus, Ohio, August 1992

Everything has a name which is supposed to tell us in brief what that thing is. If that is the purpose of a name, then the name Islam fulfils that purpose perfectly. It tells us the basic principle of this religion, what is required of its followers, and what goal they are meant to achieve by following this religion.

The Arabic word islam means ‘to submit’ or ‘to surrender’, and ‘to enter into peace’. As the name of this religion, it means submitting and surrendering oneself to God and thereby entering into peace. But what is meant by submitting and surrendering to God? Is it to blindly obey the instructions of a religious teacher, or the commandments given in a scripture, without the use of any thinking, sense or intelligence on our part? And is this submission and surrender forced on us by anyone? The answer to both is: No.

You submit yourself to God after having pondered and thought and realised that acting on His guidance will benefit you. And you surrender to Him willingly and cheerfully, not out of fear of a religious leader or a human authority, nor trying to please someone. You give up your desires and submit yourself to what God wants you to do. You should feel in your heart that what you are doing is right.

Islam teaches that the whole of the universe around us, the earth, the stars, the sun, the trees, everything is in a state of submission to God. The Holy Quran says:

“To Him submits whatever is in the heavens and the earth” (ch. 3, v. 83).
This means to say that everything in nature is working according to fixed laws and cannot deviate from those laws. Your own body, and all its parts and organs, are working subject to the laws of nature, and have no choice but to work as they are intended to. But God has given the human soul freedom whether to submit to Him or violate His laws. And then through His Prophets, God revealed what that guidance is, to which man must submit.

So, according to Islam, God sent His Prophets to various nations of the world. Each one of these Prophets taught man how to submit to God. They all taught the worship of the one and only God Who created everything and is above all creation. Nothing which is a part of creation can be God. No heavenly body in the sky, no huge mountain or river on earth, no human being however great and powerful, no man however holy and revered, can be God. On the contrary, all these things are subject to the laws of God. God has no material or human needs. He needs no son and had no father. Anything which is dependent on something cannot be God. Nothing can be likened to God.

So the Prophets who appeared in various nations, before the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, taught their people the Oneness of God and how to submit to Him. All Prophets were themselves mortal human beings, like us, but of a great moral and spiritual stature.

After a long passage of time, each nation, such as the Israelites, the people of India, etc. came to believe that only they had been chosen by God to receive His guidance. Each nation only knew about and believed in its ways and Prophets. Each nation thought of God as just their God who cared for them only. Moreover, they did not remain true to the original concept of the One God, but raised other things and human beings to the status of gods alongside the One God.

Then God sent the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and the blessings of God be upon him) as the Prophet for not just his land and people of Arabia but for the whole world. He brought from God the message which restored the belief in One God in its fullest purity. The Quran says:

“God is one, He is the one on whom all depend, He depends on none, He begets not, nor is He begotten, and nothing is like Him” (ch. 112).

The Quran also says:

“Allah — there is no God but He. His are the most beautiful names” (ch. 20, v. 8).

Allah is the Arabic word for the One True God. It is a unique name of God because it has always been applied only to His Being. Words such as God and Lord, or any other word in any language for God, do not have this distinction, nor do any of them have the same depth of meaning as the word Allah.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad taught that the same One God Who had sent him had also sent the previous Prophets, to each and every country. He had sent Abraham and Moses and Jesus, and also the Prophets to other nations. All had come for their respective peoples with the message of the Oneness of God and submission to Him. They were all true and righteous. Now God sent the Prophet Muhammad with the same message, but in the broadest, the most complete and the most perfect form so that it could meet the needs of all humanity for all time. For example, it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, for the first time ever in human history, that Allah is Lord of all the worlds . This statement is placed at the beginning of the Holy Quran. Allah treats all nations, peoples and races equally, cares for their physical and spiritual welfare equally, and does not favour or disfavour any nations unjustly.

All nations have the same Lord, so why fight with one another, and why consider some nations as created superior and others as created inferior? Allah says in the Quran: “We have created the human being in the best make” (ch. 95, v. 4). All human beings have the highest potential. It is their use or neglect of that potential which makes them superior or inferior.

So Allah, being the Lord of all nations, first sent Prophets to each and every people, not neglecting anyone, for their guidance, and then to bring all nations together He sent the Prophet Muhammad for all the world with an all-comprehensive message. And He named it Islam to show that its teachings are not named after, nor attributable to, any individual or to any nation or to any geographic land. But rather this name tells us the principle of the religion. The Quran also teaches us that true religion does not consist of doctrines artificially forced on man, but rather it is in harmony with the inner nature of man. The Quran says:

“So set up your face for religion, in an upright way. The nature made by God in which He has created human beings — there is no altering God’s creation. That is the right religion.” (ch. 30, v. 30)
The right religion is ingrained in human nature, and your inner self will testify to the truth when it sees it.

To enter the fold of Islam, a declaration is made, known as the Kalima Shahada. This consists of two parts as follows:

Ash-hadu an-la ilaha ill-Allah,

wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar rasul-ullah.

“I bear witness that there is none to be worshipped except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

In other words, Allah is the one and only God, and Muhammad is the mortal, human messenger who brought Allah’s message and who set the highest example in acting on it, the example which we must follow.

As Islam taught us all the ways of our spiritual development, and as the Holy Prophet Muhammad possessed and displayed the whole range of moral qualities required in any sphere of human life, it follows that the Holy Quran is the last scripture for mankind and the Prophet Muhammad is the last and final Prophet of God.