The long standing political and moral decline of the Muslim Ummah has reslted, among other things, in a serious distortion of our very concept of Islam itself. We have grown accustomed to viewing Islam as a mere “religion,” instead of using the original Qur’anic term “Deen.” This apparently minor change in semantics is actually a huge leap backwards. This is because the word religion is commonly used in a rather narrow sense, its scope being limited to a set of dogmas, some rituals for worship, and a number of social customs to celebrate important life-events. Deen, on the other hand, is a system of life in which human beings consciously surrender to the sovereignty of a higher authority, and live a life of total obedience to that higher authority. In this sense, the term Deen can be applied to monarchy, where the king is accepted as the final authority, or to democracy, where the people as a whole act as sovereign. Thus, when the term Deen is used for Islam, it obviously means a system of life where the Almighty God is worshipped and obeyed, not just in the narrow religious sense, but in a manner that includes all aspects of human of life.
A well-integrated set of beliefs describing the nature of existence as it really is (Iman), modes of worship including Salat, Zakat, Saum, and Hajj, as well as social customs and ceremonies — all comprise indispensable and integral parts of Islam. However, in addition to these “religious” features, we are also provided by the Almighty God all the relevant instructions regarding our social, economic, and political existence (generally considered to be the “secular” elements of life), and this is what really distinguishes Islam from other religions, say, Christianity or Buddhism. Unfortunately, the majority of our masses are simply, and perhaps blissfully, unaware of what it really means to be a Muslim; thus, their concept of religious duties is usually very narrow and limited. But, as Allama Iqbal has so correctly observed, you begin to shudder with the fear of accountability once you realize the tremendous responsibilities that come with being a Muslim.
When Islam loses its political authority, it is relegated and dethroned to the status of a mere religion — a private affair of the individual; and if any particular generation is to revive the teachings of Islam in the social, economic, and political spheres, then this is impossible without adopting the same methodology as was adopted by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). After the independence of the Muslim lands from direct subjugation of Western Imperialism, it was naively believed that since political authority now belongs to the Muslims, the next step, that of implementing the Islamic values, won’t be all that difficult. However, it has been proved during the last half century or so that the ideal Islamic State is still very much a dream, and since no short-cuts are available, we have no alternative except to start at the very beginning. We must remind the Muslims of their responsibilities. The significance of this subject is quite clear: We cannot hope to achieve salvation in the Hereafter without fulfilling all our obligations. Moreover, we cannot even think about the revival of the Muslim Ummah and the Renaissance of Islam without first inculcating the true concept of our Divinely ordained obligations in a significant portion of the Ummah.
OUR FIRST OBLIGATION as a Muslim is to develop real faith and true conviction (or Iman) in the teachings of the Qur’an as explained by to us by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The faith must not be a mere dogma which has little or nothing to do with the practical aspects of one’s life, but it must be a deeply-felt certitude that changes the whole system of values, ambitions, and behavior in favor of Islam. Iman can be gained by reading, comprehending, and pondering over the meaning of Holy Qur’an with a genuine search for truth. The knowledge of Arabic language is indispensable for this purpose.
OUR SECOND OBLIGATION is to live a life of total obedience to the Almighty God. This duty is described in the Holy Qur’an as Ibadah, which is often inaccurately translated as worship or prayers. However, the true meaning of the term Ibadah can only be understood if we combine two apparently unrelated concepts: one is surrender, obedience, submission; the other is love, adoration, devotion. Total and unconditional compliance to all Divine injunctions is obviously required; at the same time, this compliance ought to be with a spirit of wholehearted devotion and love for the Creator.
All of us need someone or something to love, admire, and adore. Usually, our lack of knowledge of the one Being worthy of all our love, admiration, and adoration lead us towards other, less than perfect, ideals. We start loving various ideologies, like Socialism, or Liberalism, or Humanism; we sometimes start loving our tribe, our nation, or our race as the ultimate ideal. The Holy Qur’an teaches us that the faithful are those who love the Almighty God over everyone and everything else. When we love our Lord, we find it easy to obey Him. Sometimes we slip and forget, committing a sin; the point is to immediately turn back towards the Almighty God with genuine remorse, and to repent; if we can do this, Divine forgiveness is guaranteed.
OUR THIRD OBLIGATION as a Muslim is to preach and disseminate the word of Almighty Allah (SWT) — the Holy Qur’an — and the teachings of his last messenger Muhammad (SAW) to the whole humanity. What does it involve? Calling people towards the light of Islam and Iman; enjoining and encouraging all that is good and just and moral, forbidding all that is evil and unjust and sinful; exhorting the common people, explaining the philosophy and wisdom of Islam to the educated and intelligent classes, debating with the stubborn and the rigid; testifying to the truthfulness of the message with our behavior and conduct, our character and morals.
It is significant to note that communicating and explaining the teachings of Islam to others is not, as we have erroneously come to believe, the “profession” of the Mulla alone, but this is actually a duty of anyone who claims to be a Muslim. As Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has ordered, “Convey on my behalf, even if it is only a single verse (of the Qur’an that you know).”
This is because preaching and delivering the message of God to the entire humanity is actually the responsibility of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), but now, after his departure and due to the termination of Prophethood, that sacred obligation has been transferred on to the shoulders of the Ummah as a whole. This, incidentally, is the purpose for which the entire Muslim Ummah was created in the first place, as mentioned in a most emphatic fashion in the Holy Qur’an: “You are the best of people raised for the (guidance of) mankind; You enjoin the good, forbid the evil, and believe in Allah” (3:110).
Of course, you cannot convince anyone unless you understand yourself the message you are trying to preach. Thus, according to another saying of the Prophet, “The best among you are those who learn (and comprehend) the Qur’an, and then teach (and propagate) its message.”
OUR FOURTH OBLIGATION as Muslims is to try our utmost in establishing a polity based on Qur’an and Sunnah and the Islamic System of Collective Justice, initially in our own homeland and then, ultimately, over the entire globe. The teachings of Islam vis-à-vis human society, law, economics, and politics cannot be implemented without a true and ideal Islamic state in existence. There are numerous terms to describe this highest of all our duties: establishing the Deen of Allah, achieving the domination of Islam, creating on earth the kingdom of God, bringing about an Islamic Revolution; different phrases, same meaning. Unless we succeed in creating a real model of what an ideal Islamic state should look like, all our adulations and glorifications of Islam would continue to be dismissed by the world as mere Utopian claims.
What are we talking about in practical terms? An ideal Islamic state is neither a monarchy nor a theocracy. Instead, we have a vision of a democratic welfare state, where the sovereignty of the Almighty God is accepted and enforced at all levels of the state — executive, judiciary, and legislature; where no law can be formulated repugnant to the Qur’an and the Sunnah; and where the elimination of all forms of injustice, exploitation, and repression is the primary aim of the government.
The process of an Islamic Revolution will start from a single country, and then it would spread to the rest of the globe. Muslims are obliged to struggle tirelessly in establishing the de facto soverignty of Almighty God, first in the country where they live, and ultimately all over the world.
This comprehensive view of the duties of a Muslim can be very easily understood by a simple analogy. Consider a three-storied building which is supported by four pillars. The underground foundation represents faith or Iman, which remains hidden from the spectators; the plinth of the building represents Shahadah, or the testimony of faith on a legal level; the four pillars of the building are obviously Salat, Zakat, Saum, and Hajj. The first floor represents our first level of obligation as a Muslim, i.e., to live a life of total obedience to Almighty God; the second floor is a symbol for our second level of obligation, i.e., to preach and disseminate the teachings of Islam; and, finally, the third floor represents our third level of obligation, to try our very best in establishing the Deen of Allah in its entirety on a socio-political level.