How is it that the understanding of Islam has changed so completely in the mind of the average person from an all-embracing life system to merely a few acts of worship – often done half-heartedly in an automatic way or not even done at all? Today we find Muslims, most in fact, who consider that being a Muslim involves praying and fasting, but that otherwise they are free to live their lives according to any social, political or economical system they please. We also find those that claim to love Allah but profess that good feelings and intentions are sufficient as proof of Islam.
How was such an idea ever adopted – the notion that one’s loyalty to Islam is unrelated to his behavior? How did a Muslim come to imagine that he could oppose the teachings of his Lord and betray His trust; that he could lie, cheat and deceive; that he could refuse what is lawful, preferring what is unlawful; that he could accept humility and humiliation in order to preserve his status in a society based on immorality and oppression… and still claim allegiance to Islam? How could a Muslimah come to imagine that she could oppose the teachings of her Lord and betray His trust; that she could lie, cheat, deceive, covet and backbite; that she could go out, exposing herself to every eye; that she could willingly raise her children as contended members of an un-Islamic society… yet still imagine that the “good intention” in her heart would cancel all of that before Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta`ala)?
From the very outset of Prophet Muhammad’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) call to the worship of Allah alone and in the days when Islam was a vital movement attracting most of those who came in contact with it (which was a long period in history), the average Muslim was quite a different example than what we have today. When he said, “La ilaha ill Allah” and“Muhammadun Rasoolullaah,” he did not consider those words as something to be pronounced and repeated without leaving any effect upon his thinking and behavior. He understood them to mean that Allah, the Creator, is the rightful governor of this universe. He understood that from the time Adam was set upon the earth, Allah had sent an eternal message to mankind, stating that whoever follows His guidance will be guided for his own benefit, but those who turn away in rejection will harm their own souls; and every soul will bear the consequences of its choice. He understood that Allah, God of the universe, is alone worthy to be worshipped and obeyed and that He alone has the right to direct one’s life. He understood that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, chosen by Him to relay the guidance that was meant to reach mankind, and that he was a living example of this guidance – a teacher to be followed and obeyed.
No one ever imagined that sincerity was enough. How could it be when the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam) had made clear that faith is neither by desire nor by adornment, but it is what has settled in the heart and is proven by deeds.
One might imagine while seated comfortably in his chair that he could move the universe. But when he reaches out to move a nearby table, he finds that the effort needed to do so may require that he arise from his seat; and if the table is large, it may require even greater exertion on his part. Thus, the belief that sincerity alone suffices is deception. No doubt, there can be no deliberate or fruitful action without prior intention. But what good is sincerity or intention in practical terms? Unless it is translated into effective behavior, what is gained? There will be no reform, no progress, no accomplishment – no change at all.
And so Allah (subhanahu wa Ta`ala) repeats over and over in the Qur’ân that His reward will be for those who believe and do righteousness. He never said that faith alone or intention is sufficient. Faith must become a motive to positive action – to doing as one is directed. That means putting the word of Allah above all else – above customs and traditions, above the opinions of man, above one’s own desires, laziness or reluctance.
All of this was apparent and self-evident to early Muslims. It was not their idealism alone which changed the course of history – it was action. They knew the laws of Allah had been sent down to be followed, and that was the true meaning of worship.
Among the contemporaries of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam) were those who erred and those who were wrong some time, They were never free of human feelings or human weaknesses. They knew fear and anger and worldly temptation. The material of their creation was no different from our own. But the ever-present consciousness of Allah and the firm relationship with Him prevented them from decline, protected them from despair and continually renewed their hope. The first Muslims became unique examples of human excellence while never losing their human nature. Their society was one in which human potential was utilized to the utmost as simply a reflection of their understanding of Islam.