Although it is very often portrayed as being complex, unaccommodating, unrealistic and a difficult religion, Islam is actually very simple to understand and practice; its simplicity is its main strength since it is a religion of common sense and natural way known as fitrah.
Islam is the religion that all the Prophets and Messengers of God had preached and taught to people of different nations in different contexts and times. Their message was one, “Worship none but God”. The Qur’an teaches that all the Prophets and Messengers were Muslims and transmitted this Divine Message, which calls people to submit and commit themselves to their Creator, Sustainer, and Lord. The latter is called by Muslims and Arab Christians Allah. The Jews and Christians call him Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai or Jehovah. Other nations and religions may refer to Him as the Creator, the One in Heaven…etc.; He is the same God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (Peace be upon all of them). There are many more that we do not know as God/Allah did not mention all of them to us. They were all sent by God to teach people how to get to know about Him, the purpose and truth about this life and also to improve their relationship with the Creator and all of His creation. They manifested the will of God in their actions and were the best examples on how to live in this life and be successful both in this world and in the Hereafter. In a nutshell, they came in different times and contexts with the same message and mission: (1) To bring people closer to their Creator and (2) To bring people closer to one another at all levels (family, society, nation, humanity…).
The message of Islam is the message of the Qur’an, the Holy Book revealed to Muhammad (S) in the 7th century. The central story of this message is to answer three fundamental and universal questions that all humans ask themselves and others instinctively during their life:
Where do we come from?This question tries to find out about our origin and substance. Are we only physical bodies – matter – or is there something more important than that? Are we a blend of souls and bodies? Who is our maker? Were we created or did we evolve from something else? What is life and what is death?
Why are we here?Is there a purpose for this life? Why do we have to come out of death and become alive then grow then die again? Why do we have to face problems, sorrows, calamities, ups and downs and feel pain, joy, comfort? If we were created then where is Our Creator and how is He helping us? What is our relationship with God? Why do we have to worship God? Why some have and some don’t? Why are there evil things in the world? Is God Just and Merciful? Why does He give to some more than others?
Where are we heading to after this life? Is there another life after death? Is the life of the Hereafter better or worse than this one? Why do we have to die? Will there be peace and justice there? Are we responsible for our actions in this world? Are the good ones and the bad ones alike in the Hereafter? What should we do to earn happiness for both in this life and Hereafter? Will God punish us for all bad things we do in this life?
There is an absolute truth that Islam teaches and it is embedded in the following Qur’anic statement: “To Allah we belong and to Him we will return!”
This statement answers in a concise manner the above universal questions. It is revealing the consciousness and awareness of the Maker. In the Qur’an we read,
“ And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones who, when afflicted with calamity, say “Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” They are those on whom are blessed and those who receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones.” (2:155-57)
The Straight Path
Islam is the natural state accepted by human instinct. It never and should never contradict common sense. It is described in the Qur’an as a straight path with no deviation. By nature, humans recognize – and do not like – deviation even if they fall in it. Humans are not evil by nature; they are good but because of the miss-guidance of Satan through the weakness caused by desire and lust they do evil deeds.
The main message of the Qur’an – the book revealed from God to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) over a period of twenty three years – is to do one’s best to stick to the straight path known as al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem, which eventually leads and guides to happiness and fulfillment in this world and to the eternal bliss in the Hereafter. Muslims are ordained to pray for this guidance more than seventeen times a day in their daily prayer known as Salat saying the first and opening chapter of the Qur’an known as al-Fatihah:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1)
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds (2)
Most Gracious, Most Merciful (3)
Master of the Day of Judgment. (4)
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. (5)
Show us the straight way. (6)
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath and who go not astray. (7)
This principle of straight path is universal and known by instinct. In almost every culture, the concept of righteousness and piety is very often described as the straight way, path, or road. On the other hand, swerving and going astray is seen as a negative thing. Right is straight and wrong is crooked.
Allah Almighty says,
“So set your face truly to the religion being upright. The nature in which Allah has made mankind: There is no change in the work wrought by Allah: that is the true religion, but most among mankind do not know” (30:30)
In the pre-Islamic times, there were a few who did not follow the “majority”, which fell in deviation and distortion of the divine teachings sent through prophets Abraham and Ishmael (Peace be upon them). They were known as “Hanifs” meaning those who preserved pure and genuine belief and refused to add anything to the original teachings of the Prophets. Prophet Abraham (P.b.u.h) was also called a Hanif. Allah also repeatedly tells to Muhammad (P.b.u.h) and to his followers to stick to the religion of Abraham (P.b.u.h). For instance we read,
“Say (O Muhammad): verily, my Lord has guided me to a way that is straight, a religion of right, the path followed by Abraham the true in faith, and he certainly did not join gods with Allah” (6:161)
“Abraham was indeed a model Devoutly obedient to Allah, (and) true in faith, and he joined not gods with Allah: He showed his gratitude for the favours of Allah Who chose him and guided him to a straight way. And We gave him Good in this world, and he will be, in the Hereafter, in the ranks of the righteous. So We have taught thee (O Muhammad) the inspired (message), “Follow the ways of Abraham the True in faith, and he joined not gods with Allah.” (16: 120-3)
However, in this journey of life humans face many challenges, tests and trials through which they prove the strength of their faith and their attachment to their Creator. They also encounter negative energies and distractions originating from an evil creation called Satan (Shaytan). The latter and his followers have dedicated their lives to destroy the lives of humans at all levels and in every aspect because God Almighty has favoured Adam and Eve (Peace be upon them) and their progeny with the stewardship and vicegerency on earth. The Qur’an repeatedly instructs humans to be cautious and conscious of the plots and tricks of Satan. We read for instance,
“Verily Satan is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents, that they may become Companions of the Blazing Fire.” (35:6)
The Qur’an also relates to us Satan’s determination to do his utmost effort to destroys us when he says,
“Because you have thrown me out (of Heaven), I will lie in and wait for them (humans) on your straight path, then I will assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left. You will not find in most of them gratitude for your mercies” (7:16-7)
These continuous warnings from Our Creator to be constantly mindful and alert help us humans to remind each other to do good and forbid evil as well as to be patient and not lose faith, hope and strength. One chapter in the Qur’an summarizes all of that as follows,
By (the Token of) time (through the Ages), (1)
Verily Man is in loss, (2)
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy. (3)