Islam...What is it? A religion? A way of life? It’s a word
we, as Muslims, take very much for granted. Being born Muslims in a Muslim
country we don’t bother to look beyond the fact of our being followers of Islam.
We assume that just by offering prayers five times a day, fasting in the holy
month of Ramadān, paying Zakāh, performing Hajj or Umrah as the case may be,
and, in case of us females, by keeping our heads covered, we become very good
Before I go on, let’s take the word ‘Islam’ and look up
it’s meaning. The word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission to the will of Allah’. As a
proper noun, Islam is the religion revealed through the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
I would say that when we declare ourselves as Muslims, we recognise Allah as the
All-Powerful – the only One who is worthy of our obedience and worship. The
effect of this recognition on our conduct and mental attitude is where the
significance of Islam in our lives lies. Islam gives us the message of love,
peace and tolerance. It is only through a particular system of faith and worship
that we can come to understand our religion.
When I was leaving school, as is the common custom, I took
autographs from my friends and teachers. We were quite a mature bunch I must say
because I got a wonderful collection of quotations as a result, (not the usual
trash exchanged on such occasions) which I still treasure. What my Islamic
Studies teacher wrote for me has remained stuck in my mind like anything. I’ve
often pondered over it and very frankly it was only recently that I came to
understand the significance of it. It read: ‘Religion is behaviour and not mere
belief.’ It is through our behaviour in little everyday matters that we can
declare ourselves to be Muslims. Just having said the Kalimah, rolling the beads
of the Tasbīh or banging our heads on the floor in prostration does not signify
anything. We ought to know what we’re doing and why.
I’ll take the case of the Salāh, our ritual daily prayer,
to explain why I believe in the statement quoted above. Most of us try our level
best to offer our prayers five times a day, and no doubt develop a very bloated
opinion of ourselves as a result. During our conversations, we make a point of
mentioning just how regular we are in the prayer and we want to be told in our
face just how great we are. The only logic we can present for all our zealous
efforts is the great stress that has been laid on the importance of establishing
the prayer in the Holy Qur’ān and Hadīth. Of course there’s absolutely nothing
wrong with that, but have we ever paused to ponder on the reason so much stress
has been laid on the prayer by the Almighty.
Have we ever thought that Allah doesn’t need our prayers?
Why then is so much importance given to them? Our five or more prayers, as the
case may be do not add to any dimension to Him. He is the Almighty. He needs
nothing from us. It is He who sustains and provides for us. Through the system
of regular prayers, Allah just wants to teach us a little something. We all have
very busy lives, whether inside the house or out. There are a dozen and one
things that constantly have to be done. In the midst of all this activity, when
we take out a couple of minutes to remember our Lord and our Benefactor, we are
exerting a little bit of self-control. The more we discipline ourselves to take
time out for our prayers, the more self-control we learn. The spirit of Islam
lies in the control of our Nafs (soul). That is the spirit of the prayer -- to
teach us the self-control needed in our day to day dealings. If despite being
regular in praying, we don’t develop the tolerance and humility taught by our
religion, then dare we call ourselves good Muslims?