Islam preaches unalloyed and absolute unity of God and rejects every form of anthropomorphism. Still, it employs this similitude to drive home the rank and dignity of man in the eyes of God. Has any other religion or philosophical thought accorded a nobler place to human beings than Islam?
The Prophet of Islam taught that the surest way to attract blessings of God was to be kind and considerate to others.
“The Most Compassionate (God) is kind on those who are kind to others. If you would show kindness to those who live on the earth, He who lives in the Heaven, shall shower His blessings on you.” (Abu Da’ud)
You can very well imagine the pitiable condition of man in the days when this powerful voice of human dignity had not been raised in the world. A mere whim of a king or emperor could then cost the life of a thousand men. It was then not unusual for an ambitious adventurer to put to sword the entire population of a conquered land. Alexander converted all the countries from Greece to India into a vast battlefield. Caesar played with the lives of human beings as if they were wild beasts. The two World Wars fought only recently had cost the lives of millions merely for securing markets for the industrial produce of advanced nations or to establish national or political ascendancy of certain nations over all others. Iqbal has correctly assessed the political ambitions of man in this verse.
Man is still possessed by the imperialistic lust,
What a pity ! Man prowling after man as yet.
At the time when Muhammad was invested with the mantle of prophethood, a general sense of pessimism springing from the worthlessness of human nature and hopelessness of Divine succour filled the air. The ancient religions of the East and the mutilated Christianity, especially in the West, had an equal share in producing that mental climate. The philosophy of re-birth, preached by the religions of ancient India, which assigned no place to the will and decision of man, meant that the present life was but a form of retribution for one’s actions during his previous life with which the Christian doctrine of Original Sin and Atonement had joined hands to shake the confidence of millions, all over the world, in the respondence and amenability of human actions. Mankind had lost faith in the mercy of God whose eternal and immutable decree seemed to have condemned man to a pre-determined destiny without reference to his evil or virtuous behaviour. But Muhammad affirmed that man was born with a clean slate and perfect freedom of action. He was, declared the Prophet, the author of his actions, both good and evil, and deserved reward or punishment in accordance with his own decision to shape the course of his actions. Discarding the theory of vicarious Atonement, the Quran established once for all that every man was his own redeemer.
“And that for man shall be naught,
Save that wherefor he maketh effort,
And that his endeavour shall be presently observed.” (LIII : 39-40)
This was a message of salvation to man which gave him a new confidence in himself and in his ability to chart out his destiny. He applied himself with a renewed vigour, confidence and determination to shape up his own life and brighten the future of humanity.
The Prophet of Islam also declared that sins were but temporary deviations from the right path, inherent in the nature of man, and were brought about by ignorance, mistake and the promptings of the devil or man’s own sensual desires. But the innate desire of man was to regret his mistakes and seek pardon of God with a contrite heart. To be broken in spirit by a sense of the guilt and to seek the forgiveness of God showed the goodness of human Feature and attracted mercy of the Lord. This gospel of hope and good tidings was a revolutionary message to the despondent humanity condemned for ever by the guilt of Original Sin and his past misdoings. What a great change it meant in the prevailing atmosphere of gloom and depression of spirits is illustrated by the fact that the Prophet came to be known as ‘Apostle of Repentance’. Repentance, he said, did not involve faintheartedness, nor did it arise from fear of disapprobation, but was a bold and a daring step of the first man, Adam, who had thus shown the nobility of his innate nature. The Prophet of Islam endued repentance with the sacredness attached to the acts of devotion to God. He preached the virtues of seeking pardon so forcefully that even the irredeemable sinners, who had lost all hope of forgiveness, resolved to turn away from the sinful ways and to begin a new life of virtue and uprightness, and many of them attained a sublimity of spirit that was envied by others.
Describing the clemency of God which is ever willing to forgive the sinners, the Quran employs a diction so alluringly charming that one wonder & whether God loves them more who seek His forgiveness after deviating from the path of virtue. The Quranic verse quoted here shows how forbearing, how long-suffering and how magnanimous God is to the man who cares to turn towards Him for exoneration of the sins. Says the Quran:
“Say thou : O my bondman who have committed extravagance against themselves, despair not of the mercy of Allah; verily Allah will forgive their sins altogether. Verily He! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” ( XXXIX: 53)
Some other verses of the Quran exhorting the believers to acquire positive merits and to win their way to the everlasting Bliss, address them in these words :
“And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and toward the Garden as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil) : “And those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who -control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind;. Allah loveth the good -And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins. Who forgiveth sins save Allah only ?- and will not knowingly repeat (the wrong) they did.
The reward of such will be forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide for ever-a bountiful reward for workers!” (III : 133-36 )
Among the characteristics of the true believers, enumerated in another verse, repentance takes precedence of all others.
“They are those who repent, who worship, who praise, who fast constantly, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who command the reputable and restrain from the disreputable and who keep the ordinances of Allah : and bear thou glad tidings to the believers!” ( IX : 112)
The place of honour accorded to those who repent of their sins is illustrated by the verses of the Quran revealed on the occasion of the forgiveness of three companions (The companions were Kab ibn Malik, Hilal ibn Ummayya and Mirara ibn Rabi who merely out of lethargy failed to join the expedition. They confessed their weakness openly) of the holy Prophet, who bad been excluded from other followers for their failure to accompany the Prophet in the expedition of Tabuk, Before the verse alludes to the mistake of these companions being condoned by God, it mentions the Prophet and the Ansars and Muhajirs in order that no stigma wag attached to them after their mistakes had been pardoned. The Quran, in this way, teaches all believers, who take the companions of the Prophet as models of virtue, that no ignominy attaches to a man after a genuine change of heart. The way these verses explain the consequences of blotting out of the sins and elation of the repentant sinners can hardly be found in the scriptures of other religions or treatises on ethics. These verses read:
“Allah hath turned in mercy to the Prophet, and to the Muhajirin and the Ansar who followed him in the hour of hardship. After the hearts of a party of then! had almost swerved aside, then turned He unto them in mercy. Lo ! He is Full of pity, Merciful for them.
“And to the three also (did He turn in mercy) who were left behind, when the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for them, and their own souls were straitened for them till they be thought them that there is no refuge from Allah save toward Him. Then turned He unto them in mercy that they (too) might turn (repentant unto Him). Lo ! Allah! He is the Relenting, the Merciful.” (IX: 117-118)
Remission of sin leads us to one of the chief attributes of the Divine Being, that is, His mercy and compassion. The bounty of God’s mercy is the constant theme of the Quran. Says God: “My mercy embraceth all things” (VII: 156) while a celestial Tradition of the prophet tells us: “Verily my Mercy overcomes My anger.” ( XII: 37) To despair of the God’s mercy was made a cardinal sin. Quoting Jacob and Abraham, two great Prophets of God, the Quran announces “Verily none despaireth of the comfort of Allah except a people disbelieving” (XII: 37) and “who despireth of the mercy of his Lord save those who are astray ?” (XV: 56)
The misery and suffering the human race endured upon earth was, according to the Jewish and Christian doctrines, but a feeble image of the never-ending agony which awaited man in the future world. The monastic orders of the Medieval Ages had taken up this doctrine, which, in itself, was sufficiently revolting, but they bad developed it with an appalling vividness and minuteness. The humanity scared by these ghastly visions and glimpses of eternal suffering, was relieved by the Prophets’ emphasis on God’s all embracing mercy and the efficacy of repentance which could wipe the slate clean of even the most vicious among the castaways of society.
And now we come to yet another gift of the prophet- hood of Muhammad which is still more far-reaching, more beneficial to the humanity at large. This was the concept of the unity of spirit and matter, the harmony of the sacred and the mundane. He taught that the distinction made between, the two was superficial and formal for every action of man, his behaviour and moral, was guided by his motive or mental attitude which, in the terminology of religion, was known as niyat or intention. For no religious belief is entirely divorced from the realities of human experience in its manifold practical aspects, the intention or purpose with which any act is done sets the test of its being good or bad. It does not recognise the division between the temporal and ecclesiastical since man’s desire to propitiate God and to follow His commands sincerely permeates into every fibre of human activity, no matter whether it is the art of government or war, availing oneself of one’s earthly possessions or satisfaction of one’s natural desires or earning one’s living or leading a married life. With a noble intention every mundane act is turned into a virtuous deed and a means to attaining propinquity to God. On the contrary, no merit whatsoever attaches to acts like devotion to God or fighting in the path of God if the sincere desire to attain the will and pleasure of God were absent.