For Muslims, Islam is a belief system with moral and practical principles that have their source in the Qur'an.
For the majority of people, the only goal in life is the pursuit of happiness and pleasure - which manifests itself in much the same way as love of ease or wealth. Although some individuals seem to reject this happiness, for example, by ending their lives in suicide, or by turning away from a life of leisure, they too, in their own way, confirm this principle of happiness; for, in seeking an end to their life or of material pleasure, they are still asserting their own personal choice of what happiness means to them.
"Indeed this Qur'an guides to the path which is clearer and straighter than any other." (17:9)
Human actions, therefore, are directed largely by the prospects of happiness and prosperity offered by a certain idea, whether that idea be true or false.
What's your purpose
Man's activity in life is guided by a specific plan or programme. This fact is self-evident, even though it is sometimes concealed by its very apparentness. Man acts according to his will and desires; he also weighs the necessity of a task before undertaking it.
In this he is promoted by an inherent scientific law, which is to say that he performs a task for "himself" in fulfilling needs which he perceives are necessary. There is, therefore, a direct link between the objective of a task and its execution.
Any action undertaken by man, whether it be eating, sleeping or walking, occupies its own specific place and demands its own particular efforts. Yet an action is implemented according to an inherent law, the general concept of which is stored in man's perception and is recalled by motions associated with that action. This notion holds true whether or not one is obliged to undertake the action or whether or not the circumstances are favourable.
Every man, in respect of his own actions, is as the state in relation to its individual citizens, whose activity is controlled by specific laws, customs and behaviour. Just as the active forces in a state are obliged to adapt their actions according to certain laws, so is the social activity of a community composed of the actions of each individual. If this were not the case, the different components of society would fall apart and be destroyed in anarchy in the shortest time imaginable.
If a society is religious, its government will reflect that religion; if it is secular, it will be regulated by a corresponding code of law. If a society is uncivilized and barbaric, a code of behaviour imposed by a tyrant will appear; otherwise, the conflict of various belief-systems within such a society will produce lawlessness.
Thus man, as an individual element of society, has no option but to possess and pursue a goal. He is guided in the pursuit of his goal by the path which corresponds to it and by the rules which must necessarily accompany his programme of activity. The Qur'an affirms this idea when it says that "every man has a goal to which he is turning, so compete with each other in good action." (2:148)
In the usage of the Qur'an, the word din is basically applied to a way, a pattern of living, and neither the believer nor the non-believer is without a path, be it prophetic or man-made.
God, may He be exalted, describes the enemies of the divine din (religion) as those
"who prevent others from the path of God and would have it crooked" (7:45).
This verse shows that the term Sabil Allah- the path of God - used in the verse refers to the din of fitrah - the inherent pattern of life intended by God for man. It also indicates that even those who do not believe in God implement His din, albeit in a deviated form; this deviation, which becomes their din, is also encompassed in God's programme.
The best and firmest path in life for man is the one which is dictated by his innate being and not by the sentiments of any individual or society. A close examination of any part of creation reveals that, from its very inception, it is guided by an innate purpose towards fulfilling its nature along the most appropriate and shortest path; every aspect of each part of creation is equipped to do so, acting as a blueprint for defining the nature of its existence. Indeed all of creation, be it animate or inanimate, is made up in this manner.
As an example, we may say that a green-tipped shoot, emerging from a single grain in the earth, is "aware" of its future existence as a plant which will yield an ear of wheat. By means of its inherent characteristics, the shoot acquires various mineral elements for its growth from the soil and changes, day by day, in form and strength until it becomes a fully-matured grain-bearing plant - and so comes to the end of its natural cycle.
Similarly, if we investigate the life-cycle of the walnut tree, we observe that it too is "aware", from the very beginning, of its own specific purpose in life, namely, to grow into a big walnut tree. It reaches this goal by developing according to its own distinct inherent characteristics; it does not, for example, follow the path of the wheat-plant in fulfilling its goal just as the wheat-plant does not follow the life pattern of the walnut tree.
Since every created object which makes up the visible world is subject to this same general law, there is no reason to doubt that man, as a species of creation, is not. Indeed his physical capabilities are the best proof of this rule; like the rest of creation, they allow him to realize his purpose, and ultimate happiness, in life.
Thus, we observe that man, in fact, guides himself to happiness and well-being merely by applying the fundamental laws inherent in his own nature.
This law is confirmed by God in the Qur'an, through His Prophet Moses, when he says,
"Our Lord is He who gave everything its nature, then guided it" (20:50).
It is further explained as:
"He who created and fashioned in balanced proportion and He who measures and guides" 87:2-3
As to the creation and the nature of man, the Qur'an says,
By the soul and Him who fashioned it and then inspired it with wrong action and fear of God; he is truly successful who causes it to grow and purifies it and he is a failure who corrupts and destroys it. (91:7-1O).
God enjoins upon man the duty to "strive towards a sincere application of the din," (that is, the fitrah of God, or the natural code of behaviour upon which He has created mankind ), since "there is no changing the laws of the creation of God" (30:30).
He also says that "In truth, the only deen recognized by God is Islam" (3:19).
Here, Islam means submission, the method of submission to these very laws. The Qur'an further warns that "The actions of the man who chooses a din other than Islam will not be accepted" (3:85).
The gist of the above verses, and other references on the same subject, is that God has guided every creature - be it man, beast or vegetable - to a state of well-being and self-fulfilment appropriate to its individual make-up.
Thus the appropriate path for man lies in the adoption of personal and social laws particular to his own fitrah (or innate nature), and in avoiding people who have become "de naturalized" by following their own notions or passions. It is clearly underlined that fitrah, far from denying man's feelings and passions, accords each its proper due and allows man's conflicting spiritual and material needs to be fulfilled in a harmonious fashion.
Thus, we may conclude that the intellect 'aql should rule man in matters pertaining to individual or personal decisions, rather than his feelings. Similarly, truth and justice should govern society and not the whim of a tyrant or even the will of a majority, if that be contrary to a society's true benefit.
From this we may conclude that only God is empowered to make laws, since the only laws useful to man are those which are made according to his inherent nature.
It also follows that man's needs, arising from his outward circumstance and his inner reality, are fulfilled only by obeying God's instructions (or laws). These needs may arise through events beyond man's control or as a result of the natural demands of his body.
Both are encompassed in the plan of life that God has designated for man. For, as the Qur'an says, the "decision rests with God only," (12:40,67)
Which is to say that there is no governance (of man or society, of the inner or the outer) except that of God. Without a specific creational plan, based on the innate disposition of man, life would be fruitless and without meaning. We may understand this only through belief in God and knowledge of his Unity, as explained in the Qur'an.
From here we may proceed to an understanding of the Day of Judgement, when man is rewarded or punished according to his deeds. Thereafter, we may arrive at knowledge of the prophets and of prophetic teachings, since man cannot be judged without being first instructed in the matter of obedience and disobedience. These three fundamental teachings are considered to be the roots of the Islamic way of life.
To these we may add the fundamentals of good character and morals which a true believer must possess, and which are a necessary extension of the three basic beliefs mentioned above. The laws governing daily activity not only guarantee man's happiness and moral character but, more importantly, increase his understanding of these beliefs and of the fundamentals of Islam.
It is clear that a thief, a traitor, a squanderer or a libertine do not possess the quality of innocence; nor can a miser, who hoards money, be called a generous person. Similarly, some- one who never prays or remembers God cannot be called a believer in God and the Last Day, nor be described as His servant.
From this we may conclude that good character flourishes when joined to a pattern of correct actions; morals are to be found in the man whose beliefs are in harmony with these fundamentals. A proud man cannot be expected to believe in God nor be humble in respect to the Divine; nor can the man, who has never understood the meaning of humanity, justice, mercy or compassion, believe in the Day of Rising and the Judgement.
Chapter 35: 10 speaks of the relationship between a sincere system of belief and a fitting character:
Pure speech rises up to Him and He raises up good deeds still further.
In chapter 20: 10 we learn again of this relationship between belief and action:
Then evil was the consequence of those who do wrong action because they denied the signs of Allah and they made a mock of them.
To summarize, the Qur'an is composed of the following Islamic fundamentals which together form an interlocking whole: a primary system of belief in the Unity of God, Prophethood and the Day of Reckoning, accompanied by a second group of beliefs, namely, belief in the Tablet, the Pen (which delineates the sequence of cosmic events), the rule of destiny and the decree (without implying pre-determination), the angels, the throne of the Creator, and, finally, in the creation of the sky, the earth and everything between them.
Thereafter, we observe that man's well-being lies in his character being in harmony with these principles.
The shari'ah, namely the laws and code of behaviour explained in the Qur'an and commented upon in every detail by the model of the Prophet's life, is the means whereby a man may practise these principles.
At this point we should add that the Prophet's family are his chosen heirs and are entrusted with the task of exemplifying and explaining further the prophetic message and the shari'ah after the Prophet's death. The Prophet himself has shown that the tradition, hadith, known as the hadith al-thaqalayn which all sects of Islam accept, refers specifically to this matter of succession.