<%-- Page Title--%> Religion <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 154 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 14, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

Understanding the Nature of Submission

Samia Huq

When we ask around for a definition of religion, we are faced with various kinds of simple as well as complex answers. Underlying these answers are multiple notions of the divine, as indeed of society and self. The different notions of the divine range from polytheism and monotheism, with adherence to different messengers/prophets, to purely sociological explanations offered by social thinkers such as Marx and Durkheim, which result in an ultimate relegation of the divine to the social. These varied ways of understanding a supernatural force bring two questions to mind: who/what is the divine, and in conjunction, who am I, and what should be the limits of the virtues and evils in the social and cultural parameters within which my life is acted out? The different ways in which individuals and groups answer these questions not only influence the depths of our consciousness, they also inform the ideologies of behaviour and attitudes, practice and institution-- ranging from the family to the state. What is important here is to examine the source of these answers.

Much research and thinking, especially in the social sciences, have carefully demonstrated that in the unfolding of history, the placement of different actors in different temporal, territorial and socio-economic locations has led to the differences in the formation of different worldviews, which include the conceptualisation of the supernatural, and in relation to that, the self, society and the world. Thus, for Muslims as well as followers of other creeds, the multiplicity in understanding of the divine, is a product of personal, national and international history. However, most believing Muslims, whether or not practicing, religiously educated, liberal or orthodox, find it difficult to refute the eminence of the Qur'an as the central source of information on matters pertaining to religion, and perhaps life on earth. Thus, regardless of the multiplicity in expression and practice, most believing Muslims do not refer to multiple sources, but one source, i,e; the Qur'an, whether it be with a sense of pride, joy and confidence, or fear and trepidation or doubt and skepticism. There is then method to the madness, or rather uniformity behind the multiplicity. My starting point in the article was centred around understanding religion. What does this singular source say about the normative in the perception of religion? I will argue for three interconnected frameworks which supplement each other in order to provide us with a coherent understanding of the much debated, and problematised concept-- religion.

The first framework is "Tawheed"-- a concept lying at the heart of Islamic monotheism. The noun Tawheed, the literal translation of which is "unification" stems from the Arabic verb "wahada", which means to unite, unify or consolidate. What gives this term pulse is its application in reference to the creator, Allah for the Muslims. "Tawheedullah" means the realisation and maintenance of Allah's oneness in all of man's actions that directly or indirectly relate to Him. While every few ayat(verse) of the Quran pronounces Tawheed, I feel the best summary appears in none other than the greatest verse in the Qur'an, the "Ayatul Kursi", The ayat reads: "None has the right to be worshipped but He (maintaining His oneness in worship); The one Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him (understanding that He is like nothing in this world and the limitations of human attributes cannot describe Him); To Him belongs whatever is in the Heavens and whatever is on the Earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knowns what is in front of His creature, and what is hidden from them. And they will never compass anything of His knowledge except that which He wills. His Kursi (throne) extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is the Most High and Most Great (unlike anything in the universe, He does NOT share his might and majesty with anyone else) (2:254).

How does one come to have this understanding of the Creator. Here, we find answers in the second framework that furnishes our understanding of the term religion-- Risalat. The importance of risalat or prophethood is stated amply in the Qur'an. It is interesting that while the Qur'an dictates the Muslims' belief that Muhammad (Pbuh) is the last prophet, he is not the one who brought Islam. Islam, which very simply means submission to the will of the Creator is, according to the Quranic ideology, a state in which all prophets were created, starting from the first man and prophet, Adam. Regarding Abraham, who is also considered to be the father of two other major religions, the Quran says, "Abraham was not a Jew nor was he a Christian, .but a true Muslim and not among those who joined partners with Allah (3:67). All messengers and prophets came at different phases in time to bring the message of Tawheed and following from it submission, to their people. The Quran continues, "We have sent among every nation a messenger proclaiming, "worship Allah alone and avoid all false deities"(16:36). While many prophets have come at different stages of history, the significance of Muhammad (Pbuh) in light of submission is that he is the last of the very long chain of message bearers and guides to the truth of the oneness of the Creator. He is, therefore, not the initiator but rather the final restorer of the message of Tawheed that the creator has been sending to humanity since time immemorial. It is with what was revealed to him that humanity receives the most complete and therefore final word on the creator and the purpose of creation. The Qur'an says, "O people of the scriptures, now has come to you Our messenger, explaining to you much of that which you used to hide from the scriptures. Indeed there has come to you from Allah a light (Prophet Muhammad,Pbuh) and a plain book (the Qur'an).This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion. (5:15,5).

The purpose of creation is encapsulated in the third framework, which is akherat or afterlife. Let's take the Arabic word for religion-- Deen. The root word of the word deen is dayn, which means debt. The religion of Islam or Deenul Islam therefore very simply means the debt of submission. If a debt is owed, the debtors will have to repay it. The failure in doing so is not only condemnable, but also punishable. In the case of Islam, the debt is owed to the One who creates, it is to be repaid in life and to be accounted for after death. The Quran says, "every person is a pledge for what he has earned" (74:38). The first step and a prerequisite to repaying the debt is knowing and acknowledging who it is owed to. Thus, imaan or belief in Allah, the way He has revealed himself to mankind, begins the process of relieving the self of the debt which is owed .

However, it does not end there. The remaining actions that are outlined as ways of somewhat crediting the debt, and therefore attaining the Creator's pleasure range from the personal to the communal. The personal (not necessarily individual) include praying and fasting, while the communal embrace many actions such as performing the Hajj, and engaging in charitable work, such as zakat or any other kind of giving. The amazing connections between these seemingly disparate actions are beyond the scope of the current article. However, I would like to draw your attention to the two sets of dyadic relationships these actions establish. One is that between the creator and man and the other is that between man and man. There is a common thread running through the two sets of relationships, and that is service. Man's service towards man and his service and worship towards his Creator are required to occur simultaneously, without one being collapsed into the other, without the equation of one with the other. Thus, worship of the Creator is complete when it accompanies the service to humanity, and the virtues resulting from the service to humanity are left incomplete, and devoid of direction without due deference to the Creator. The link is logical given that the recipients of man's service and all the rest of humanity was created by Him and to Him will they all return. The Qur'an says, "Verily man is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous good deeds and recommend one another to the truth, and patience"(103:2-3).

Islam or submission has a breadth of vision and a depth of meaning. It is a religion based on the premise that creation entails a sharp distinction between the One who creates and all that is created. Its greatness lies in being inclusive of all prophets from all times. Its beauty shines through the rational philosophy-- the ideology that based on the repayment of the debt. The guidelines for living a connected, directed and purposeful life curb individual arrogance and intolerance by fostering self-reflection and hope, responsibility and sharing, learning and enlightenment. The notion of a debt owed gives new meaning and direction to all likes and dislikes, whims and impulses. The sense of direction focuses the individual's attention to an afterlife, thereby making the concept of life not finite, but moving through a continuum in different spatial dimensions. The self is then an entity who is brought into creation, amidst many avenues and opportunities, through which he ponders over and realises the purpose of his creation. He then finds grounding in the understanding that there is always something better than him. The grounding brings him peace and elation in the hope that there can always be better for him. The Qur'an says, " It will be said to such a self (the nafs-e-mutma'inna):"Oh you, self at peace, return to your lord content in His pleasure, thus enter amongst my bondsmen, and enter my paradise"(89:27-30).




(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star