By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
10 April 2019
Allah’s religion was revealed step by step spread over an estimated 70000 years. Mankind is different from every other creation in its cognitive abilities which makes it capable of immense good as well as immense evil. Unlike every other creation that is governed primarily by instinct, man can free himself from even his instinct to make moral choices based on a learned moral code. The instinct of every creation is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Man, while following a moral code, makes choices that avoid seeking pleasure such as consuming intoxicants or indulging in adulterous sex and disregard pain when sacrificing self-interest for the greater good of society. The purpose of a moral code is to restrain man from indulging in pleasure seeking activities that harm the society or self, and encourage making sacrifices for the good of society, while allowing seeking pleasure which is good for self and society and avoiding pain which is harmful to self without any benefit to the society. The moral code from religion enabled us to develop trust in strangers through shared values from religion and cooperate in large numbers without which we may not have survived as a species, let alone made such progress.
The moral code is counter intuitive as it goes against our instinct. The benefits from following it became known only after following it for thousands of years as a religious duty. To implement the moral code, required coercing people through a system of harsh punishments for contravention which is why many of the prophets were also rulers. The revelations from Allah from time to time, were appropriate for each period and limited by the stage of civilizational development. Initially, it was the bare law, and very few rules, then came the fuller law followed by teaching man to connect with God through prayers, followed by a fuller explanation of the law and the best way to follow it. This process came to an end with the revelation of the Quran which contains the perfected and complete religion.
(16:101) When We substitute one revelation for another,- and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),- they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not.
By the time the Quran was revealed, the benefits to the individual and the society from following the moral principles from religion were understood, and mankind became grateful to God for the guidance and followed it out of reverence for and love of God. Coercion was no longer necessary and therefore Allah decreed in the Quran:
(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.(257) Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).
It is now no longer necessary to blindly follow the religion of Allah or to be coerced into following it. It is now possible to wilfully and deliberately choose to follow it based on firm conviction in its truth from the clear evidence of the progress mankind has made step by step, by following the progressive revelations from Allah. A person who chooses to do so, is a Momin.
Before the Quran was revealed, belief was blind and coerced to a lesser or greater degree, depending upon the stage of civilizational development. The meaning of Momin then was one who believes and has faith in Allah and His religion.
After the revelation of the Quran, compulsion and blind belief is no longer necessary as “Truth is made to stand out clear from Error”. Momin therefore now means a person who has conviction in the truth of Allah, His religion, His Messengers, His angels, His Books, and the Day of Judgment, based on reason and the Signs or Ayats of Allah in the Quran.
The meaning of “Taqwa” was similarly “fear of Allah” earlier, but in the Quran, it more appropriately means “heedfulness”
Claims of belief, faith and conviction are not enough, and must be reflected in complete submission to the religion of Allah which is what makes a person a Muslim. A Momin can yield to temptation and become a kafir which is the opposite of Muslim. The prayer is therefore always to die as a Muslim because that is the ultimate goal of a Momin.
(7:126) …Our Lord! pour out on us patience and constancy, and take us in death unto you as Muslims!
(15:2) Again and again will the kafaru wish that they had been Muslim.
(16:89) One day We shall raise from all Peoples a witness against them, from amongst themselves: and We shall bring thee as a witness against these (thy people): and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims.
(16:102) Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims.
(27:38) He said (Solomon to his own men): "Ye chiefs! which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me as Muslim (in submission)?"
(28:53) And when it is recited to them(the devout Christians), they say: "We believe therein, for it is the Truth from our Lord: indeed we have been Muslims from before this.
(41:33) Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness, and says, "I am of those who are Muslim "?
(43:69) (Being) those who have believed (amanu) in Our Signs and been Muslim.
(46:15) …."O my Lord! Grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou has bestowed upon me, and upon both my parents, and that I may work righteousness such as Thou mayest approve; and be gracious to me in my issue. Truly have I turned to Thee and truly I am Muslim."
(51:36) But We found not there any just Muslim persons except in one house(house of prophet Lut):
(68:35) Shall We then treat the Muslimeen like the Mujrimin (People of Sin)?
One Who Is Not A Muslim Is Not A True Momin
(24:47) They say, "We believe and have faith (aamanna) in Allah and in the messenger, and we obey (wa atana)": but even after that, some of them turn away: they are not (really) Momineen.
(29:11) And Allah most certainly knows those who believe (aamanu), and as certainly those who are Hypocrites.
A true Momin is also a Muslim. A Momin may or may not be a perfect Muslim, if swayed by temptation, arrogance or selfishness to transgress the limits prescribed by Allah, which is why the verses address the believers and warn them against becoming kafir by their behaviour.
(9:90) And there were, among the desert Arabs (also), men who made excuses and came to claim exemption; and those who were false to Allah and His Messenger (merely) sat inactive. Soon will a grievous penalty seize the Kafaru among them.
The Kafaru referred to in the verse are those who professed belief and called themselves Muslim. They were disobedient rebels.
(2:254) O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining (Will avail), nor friendship nor intercession. And the Kafirun, they are the Zalimun.
Who are the Kafirun and the Zalimunin in this verse? Those who do not spend out of the bounties provided by Allah. The Kafirun and Zalimun refers to the addressees of the verse who are the believers who show their ingratitude to Allah for the bounties provided to them by not spending. They are ingrate rebels.
(2:264) O ye who believe! cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury,- like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil: on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (Just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guideth not the Kafirin.
The Kafirin in this verse are otherwise believers, but those who spend their substance to be seen of men. Such men will not be guided
(4:37) (Allah loves not) those who are niggardly or enjoin niggardliness on others, or hide the bounties which Allah hath bestowed on them; for We have prepared, for the Kafirin a grievous punishment.
The verse 4:29 begins by addressing the believers and verse 4:37 is covered by the same address to the believers in 4:29.
(3:130) O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied; but fear Allah; that ye may (really) prosper.(131) Fear the Fire, which is prepared for the Kafirin:
It is the believers who devour usury who are asked to fear the fire and such believers who devour usury are the Kafirin.
In all the verses above, most translators translate Kafirin as “those who reject faith” or as “disbelievers” which is incorrect because the addressee is the believer and he cannot be a both a believer and one who rejects faith or a disbeliever! The fact of the matter is that, since the addressee of the verse is the believer, Usury etc is Kufr for him but not for the disbeliever. Else the addressee would have been all of mankind or “the Children of Adam”.
Why Is There Not A Single Verse Of The Quran Addressing The Muslims?
The Quran provides guidance to those who need guidance and a Muslim is by definition one who submits to the religion of Allah. The Quran therefore addresses the “Believers” to tell them what they need to do and avoid doing to become Muslim. We can therefore speak of non-practicing believers, but a non-practicing Muslim is an oxymoron.
Those who are Muslim but not yet Momin
A person may be attracted to Islam while not yet a believer and may accept (Aslamna) to follow its tenets. Such a person is a Muslim while not yet a Momin. This is why even one who is an agnostic, can be a Muslim, if he follows the moral code like any believer.
(49:14) The desert Arabs say, "We believe (āmannā)”. Say, "Ye have no faith (lam tu'minū); but ye (only)say, ´We have submitted our wills to Allah (aslamnā),´ For not yet has Faith (l-īmānu)entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
It is better therefore to be a Muslim but not a Momin, rather than be a Momin but not a Muslim. The deeds are more important than belief. The best is of course to be a Momin as well as a Muslim for belief and conviction make our deeds better.
Man’s Moral Equipment
What guides man in making choices are his instincts, emotions, beliefs of right and wrong and reason. The Quran is also called the “Furqan” or the Book containing the criterion or distinction between right and wrong. The moral principles from religion have permeated society and are the basis for all our laws. A child learns moral behaviour the same way it learns a language through interaction with its environment. The parents and the people around teach through verbal and non-verbal cues, behaviours that meet with their approval or disapproval, which gives the child the sense of right and wrong. The study of the Scriptures is a formal form of learning from an authentic source.
When faced with a choice, a person may be pulled by his emotions in the opposite direction to what his beliefs tell him is right. The person experiences cognitive dissonance. If he chooses what is right, his resolve to choose what is right is strengthened. Always choosing what is right overriding his desires, makes the person progressively develop a liking for what is right and a dislike for what is wrong. Acting like a Muslim then becomes his nature or instinct. However, if he succumbs to temptation, and assuages the cognitive dissonance experienced by rationalising his choice, and continues to do act in this manner always, he becomes a hypocrite, and over a period starts believing that what he is doing is right and more enlightened than what the “foolish Muslims” do. In between are persons who succumb to temptation but are filled with remorse, repent, and correct their behaviour.
Both behaviours lead to permanent changes, and the right behaviour makes a person a Muslim and the wrong behaviour a Kafir. The Kafir progressively becomes immune to all evidence and arguments of what is right and wrong and it is as if he has become “deaf, dumb and blind”.
What Motivates A Muslim To Do Right And Avoid Wrong?
Progressively, a Muslim develops a liking for all that Allah likes and a dislike for all that Allah dislikes and his moral equipment then is in perfect harmony with his Muslim self. The more he acts as a Muslim, the happier he becomes and any shortcoming becomes distressful.
What Is The Function Then Of The Dire Warnings Of Punishment And The Good Tidings Of Rewards In The Quran?
There cannot be a punishment in the Hereafter without a warning in this life and therefore the warnings are necessary if there is to be punishment in the Hereafter.
The description of rewards and punishments serve as a measure of relative merit/demerit of the act for a Believer/Muslim. It helps in scrupulously avoiding the more heinous crimes/sins and practising the more virtuous deeds. For example, the two most heinous sins/crimes for a believer are as follows:
Associating partners with Allah is an unforgivable sin although not a punishable crime.
Shameful deeds and especially adultery.
The minimum requirements to be considered a Muslim are:
Devoutly offering Salat
Freely spending in charity with grace.
That the above are the most important is not self-evident and cannot be known unless informed through the consequences of not practicing what is commanded and not avoiding what is prohibited.
A Believer/Muslim is also human and not perfect and subject to forgetfulness, laziness, carelessness, self-indulgence etc., and he must know what is important from what is less important so that he scrupulously practices what is important and avoid what is most heinous. He also knows that no matter how much of a Muttaqi he is, he is still imperfect and needs Allah’s forgiveness.
The primary motive for all human action remains his pleasure-seeking nature and avoidance of pain and suffering. The desire to excel in all virtuous deeds and avoid what is prohibited is also a desire to maximize his pleasure in the Hereafter in the rewards of Heaven and avoid the suffering from Hell-fire. These good tidings of rewards and warnings therefore function as incentives and disincentives.
Are The Good Tidings And Dire Warnings Then A Form Of Compulsion?
Only a disbeliever who has absolutely no idea of what motivates a believer will argue that the good tidings and dire warnings act as “compulsion”, and therefore, there is compulsion in religion. As explained, a Muslim progressively develops a liking for all that Allah likes and a dislike for all that Allah dislikes and his moral equipment then becomes perfectly tuned with his Muslim self. The more he acts as a Muslim, the happier he becomes and any shortcoming becomes distressful. He is driven by a desire to excel and focuses on all that is most important without wilfully neglecting anything.
The evil persons or the Kafir are also driven similarly, but they repose their faith in what gratifies them in the immediate, and by the “virtues” of selfishness, of self-centeredness, of individualism, the benefits of thieving, cheating, grabbing, defrauding, self-indulgence, lying, hypocrisy etc. The difference between the two is that while the Muslim is driven by virtue, the Kafir is driven by vice, and each one is satisfying his cultivated self which is why the Quran says that it is not Allah who wrongs the Kafir but they wrong themselves.
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
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