Chapter 8: Distinguishing Features of Islam

Islam is the name of the religion of Allah. That is the religion preached by all Prophets. The most perfect form of it was conveyed to people through the last Prophet, Muhammad bin Abdullah. (May peace and blessings of Allah be on him and his progeny) With him the Prophethood came to an end. The message given by him is now known by the name of Islam throughout the world.

The Islamic teachings conveyed through the last Prophet, being the everlasting guide and the most perfect form of the religion of Allah, have certain special features consistent with the period of finality. These features in their totality could not exist during previous ages, the period of the minority of people.

Each of these features is a means of knowing Islam, and represents one of its basic doctrines. These features help forming a picture of Islam, though it may be a bit vague. They are also a criterion by which it can be judged whether a particular teaching is or is not a part of Islam.

We do not say that it is possible for us to mention all these features, but we will try to present an overall picture of them.

We know that every ideology, or for that matter, every school of thought, which offers a programme for the salvation, perfection and prosperity of man, also puts forward certain values and prescribes certain do's and don'ts, should and shouldn'ts on the level of the individual or society. Every ideology says what should happen and what should be done, and determines the general policy and the aims to be pursued, for example it may lay down that everybody should be free and should live a free life.

Everybody should be bold and brave and should make continuous progress in order to attain perfection. A society should be built on the basis of justice and fair play, making an advance towards proximity to Allah.

These 'do's' and 'don'ts' should naturally be based on some philosophy capable of explaining them. In other words it is but natural that the injunctions of an ideology should be based on a particular conception of the world, man and society according to which it may be said that such and such should be like this or like that, because the world or man or society is like this.

A conception of the world means the sum-total of the views and interpretations regarding the world, man and society. In regard to the world it covers such views as: the world is like this or like that; it has such and such a law; it goes forward in such and such a way; its pursuer does not pursue such and such objective; it has or has not an origin;

it has or has not a purpose. In regard to man the views which constitute the conception of the world are such as whether man has any innate nature; whether he is free or predestined; whether he is, in the words of the Holy Qur'an, a chosen being. As regards man the questions are: Whether society has a law independent of the laws governing the individuals; what laws govern society and history; and similar other questions.

As ideology is always based on a particular conception of the world which explains why the world, society or man is like this or like that, and determines what actions man should take and what sort of life he should lead. The answer of every 'why' of an ideology underlies the world conception on which it is based. Technically every ideology is a sort of 'practical wisdom', whereas every conception of the world is a sort of 'theoretical wisdom'.

Naturally every practical wisdom is based on a particular theory. For example, the practical wisdom of Socrates is based on his particular outlook on the world, which forms his theoretical wisdom. Similar is the relation between the practical wisdom of Epicurus and others and their theoretical wisdom.

As various people have different conceptions of the world naturally their ideologies vary.

Now a question arises why there are so many conceptions of the world or so many cosmologies? Why should one school of thought look at the world in one way and another school in another way?

The answer to this question is not so simple. Some people have gone to the extent of asserting that it is the class position of an individual that determines his attitude and outlook and puts special glasses on his eyes through which he sees the world. According to this theory the methods of production and distribution create reactions that shape the mentality and the views of an individual in a certain fashion depending on how favorably or adversely he is affected by these methods. The views thus formed affect his judgement and his evaluation of the things. Mowlawi says:

"If you feel giddy, you will find the whole house whirling round; if you travel in a boat, you will find the shore moving along with you; if you are distressed on account of some bad event you will find the whole world boring; if you are happy, you will find everything pleasant. You being a part of the world, you see as if the whole world is like you".

According to this theory nobody can claim that his view alone is correct and the view of others is wrong, for the views are a relative matter only. They are the outcome of an individual's contact with his natural and social environment. Hence everybody's views may be presumed to be correct as far as he himself is concerned.

Anyhow, the matter is not so simple. There is no denying the fact that a man's thinking is greatly influenced by his environment. But it also cannot be denied that man is endowed with a faculty of independent thinking free from any influence. It is this faculty which has been termed by Islam as the innate nature of man. We may deal with this question in detail on some other occasion.

Even if we hold that man has no independent, in fact, realistic thinking, it is still too early at this stage of cosmology to blame him.

What the modern philosopher who have made a close study of this question admit that the root-cause of the variety of conceptions of the world should be looked for in what is called the theory of knowledge.

The philosophers have paid enough attention to this theory. Some of them have asserted that philosophy is not cosmology. It is only the methodology of the pursuit of knowledge. The reason why there are so many cosmological theories is that there are several methods of knowing the world.

Some say that the world should be known through reason. Some others are of the opinion that the knowledge of the world can be acquired only through illumination and inspiration. So there is a difference of opinion about the method, the source and the criterion of attaining the knowledge of the world. According to some reason has a very limited role in this respect, but according to others its role is unlimited.

In short, the ideology of every school is based on its conception of the world, which in its turn is based on its theory of knowledge. How far an ideology is progressive depends on how far its conception of the world is progressive, which in its turn depends on how far its method of attaining knowledge is progressive.

In fact the practical wisdom of every school depends on its theoretical wisdom that is its way of thinking. Therefore it is necessary that every school must in the first instance make its way of thinking clear.

Islam is not a school of philosophy and has not talked in philosophical terms. It has its own terminology, which is intelligible to all classes in accordance with their particular level of understanding. It is astonishing that though it has referred to these questions only in between other subjects, its ideology in the form of practical thinking and its world conception in the form of a logical doctrine can easily be deduced from its teachings.

Evidently here we have to be contented with making a reference only to Islamic world conception, and cannot dwell at length on the valuable views expressed by Muslim scholars such as jurists, philosophers, mystics and other thinkers on the questions of Islamic Ideology, Islamic World Conception and the Methods of Acquiring Knowledge. Should we make such an attempt, the task is likely to be voluminous.

At the most we can produce a list, though incomplete, of the main features of Islamic views on these questions. We may be able to complete the list on some other occasion.

A list of the main features of the views of Islam under their appropriate headings, viz. The -Methods of Knowing, Conception of the World and the Ideological Features of Islam is as under.