Modern man is at a loss except those who do good deeds, and are firmly established on truth and steadfastness. In his zeal to appear secular, materialistic and modern, he has forgotten that he is not composed of material, physical elements like flesh and blood alone, but also of immaterial, metaphysical elements like nafs (soul, carnal self) and ruh (spirit). As a result, like a pendulum he went from one extreme experiment of ideology to another. Thus, when he got tired of the tyranny of the medieval Church, which had become unbearable with its degradation of man, his essence and status in the universe, it was all too natural to witness his unquestioning embrace of western fallacies like Marxism and secular humanism in which God was rebuffed or played petite role. But then again he realized that he was missing something too fundamental to his innate nature. So, he rushed to bury Marxism. We are, therefore, not surprised today to witness an onrush of religion in once Godless, communist societies.
In his zeal to control nature, modern man has also forgotten that science cannot be a substitute for faith. Science without faith is like a sword in the hands of a drunkard. Similarly, faith without science results in fanaticism and stagnation. He needs to find equilibrium between these competing elements.
We have also witnessed the tyranny of the powerful over the weak and powerless. The exploiters are few, and yet they have managed to control people, power and policy. The exploited are many, and yet they are captivated to satisfy growing demands of the few. The gap between these two groups is ever widening.
There is no denying that modern man needs an ideology that is natural, harmonious, comprehensive and easy to follow whose main objective is man’s perfection and happiness of all. A reading of history would testify to the fact that vast majority of human beings has always craved to live in a just and balanced society — both inwardly and outwardly — in which the roles and responsibilities, do’s and don’ts are clearly defined.
What ideology or religion can fulfill man’s needs by satisfying reason and nourishing thought?
In order to understand any religion one must first know its God(s), its Books and its Prophets. One must also understand the status of man in that religion. Does it empower him or enfeeble him; does it impart nobility in him or degrade him?
The ideal that Islam has been seeking for the past fourteen centuries is also a universal one – the establishment of a just society. Truly, in this pursuit, the mission of Muhammad (Sallal-lahu alayhi wa sallam: peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the Prophet of Islam, was very similar to those of all the prophets and sages that came before him. Islam considers itself to be the ‘primordial’ religion, din al-hanif. And yet, its message is the latest of all the monotheistic religions in which Muslims –” the believers –” are commanded to believe that God out of His infinite wisdom and mercy sent a multitude of prophets from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Jacob to Moses to David to Jesus to Muhammad (S) for guidance of mankind (Qur’an 2:213, 10:47, 4:152).
As carriers of the Divine message, the Prophets form one brotherhood. Muslims don’t make distinction between them. (Qur’an 2:136)
The God of Islam has the aspect of YHWH, the God of the Children of Israel, who interests Himself in human society, in the affairs of this world, who is stern and severe in punishment, and also the aspect of the God of Jesus, who is compassionate, merciful and forgiving. All of these divine attributes can be found in the Qur’an. For instance, the Qur’an says of Allah:
“The Forgiver of sin, the Accepter of repentance, the Stern in punishment, the Bountiful. There is no Allah save Him. Unto Him is the journeying.” (40:3)
The Book of Islam, the Qur’an, was revealed to Muhammad (S) by Angel Gabriel (Jibril) in piecemeal over a period of 23 years of his prophetic life. It is a blessed Scripture that like the Torah contains social, political and military provision, even the instructions for the conduct of warfare, the taking and setting free of prisoners, that is interested in life, in building, in prosperity, in struggling against enemies and negative elements; but it is also a book that concerns itself with refinement of the soul, the piety of the spirit, and the ethical improvement of the individual. (Qur’an 6:92, 17:9-10, 17:82, 17:89, 31:3) Its message is universal for all creation. (Qur’an 81:27)
For instance, the Qur’an instructs: “… Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts: If ye do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence). And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard’s) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. Verily thy Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleaseth, and He provideth in a just measure. For He doth know and regard all His servants. Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). Nor take life –” which Allah has made sacred –” except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him nor exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). Come not nigh to the orphan’s property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength; and fulfill (every) engagement, for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. Of all such things the evil is hateful in the sight of thy Lord. These are among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee. Take not, with Allah, another object of worship, lest thou shouldst be thrown into Hell, blameworthy and rejected.” [17: 22-39]
Zealous to preserve the authenticity of the Divine message, from the very first day of revelation to this very day there never has been any scarcity of Muslims who memorized the entire Qur’an by heart. It is the only Scripture that has retained its textual purity since day one of its revelation. It is the most read and memorized Book in its original language in our world. Allah Himself guarantees its protection from adultery or distortion. (Qur’an 41:42) It is the Scripture that makes things clear, and yet, like the Bible, it has its share of allegorical verses (Qur’an 3:7).
Rahmah or mercy, ‘adl or justice, ihsan or kindness, and ma’ruf or goodness –” are the overall moral thrust of the Qur’anic message. However, the Qur’an, like all other Scriptures, has its share of violent passages that are open to many interpretations. Any interpretation of such Qur’anic passages without the context of 3P’s (people, period and place), as if moral imperatives and historical context are irrelevant, would surely be disingenuous!
The Qur’an admonishes rejecters of the Divine message and renders good news to followers. (17:9-10)
The Prophet of Islam –” Muhammad (S) – also possesses two contrasting aspects –” aspects that would be contradictory in other men, but in him have been joined in a single spirit. For he was a man constantly engaged in political struggle against his enemies and the disruptive forces in society, concerned with building a new society and a new civilization in this world; and also a guide, leading men to a particular goal; that is, also a man of prayer, piety, love, mercy and devotion. He was a mortal being like other prophets, sent as a warner and bringer of glad tidings to those who have faith and do good deeds. (Qur’an.3:148, 7:188, 9:128)
The Qur’an proclaims that Muhammad (S) was foretold by both Moses and Jesus (46:10, 61:6). He was the last of God’s illustrious prophets, sent as a mercy to all humanity (Qur’an 33:40, 21:107). His message was universal, i.e., not constrained by time or territory. (Qur’an 34:28) In him, there is an illustrious model for all the believers to follow. (Qur’an 33:21)
The status of man is crucial to understanding any religion. In Islam, man is viewed to be made of mud and divine spirit. (Qur’an 15:26-29) He is a bi-dimensional being, a creature with a dual nature. Every man is endowed with these two dimensions, and it is his will that enables him to decide either to descend toward the pole of lowliness of earth, or to ascend toward the pole of exaltation of the heavens, and the spirit of God. Islam teaches that man’s genuine humanity lies in subduing the carnal self, in order to uplift the spirit, and not in being enslaved by the former.
Man is Allah’s vicegerent on earth. (Qur’an 2:30) After creating Adam, Allah endows knowledge unto Adam, tests the angels to say the ‘names’, but they do not know while Adam recounts them all. So Allah commands angels to bow down to show their respect to him. This is true humanism. See how great is the dignity and stature of man; so great, indeed, that all the angels, despite their inherent superiority to man and the fact that they are created of light while he is created of mud and clay, are commanded to fall down before him. (Qur’an 6:2, 15:26-33)
Islam proclaims that man was not created to serve nature, but that the universe was created for serving him. (Qur’an 2:22, 29; 16:5-8, 14-18, 65-69, 80-81; 36:80, 14:33-4; 45:13)
Islam teaches that privilege comes with obligation. As Allah’s vicegerent, man must accept higher responsibility and deliver the Trust (amanah). Allah, therefore, summons all of His creation, all the phenomena of nature –” animate and inanimate objects, and tells them: "Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens, and the earth and the mountains, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it." (Qur’an 33:72) That is, they all refused to accept the Divine trust, but man accepted it. 
As keeper of that Divine amanah, man’s final goal is to become on the one hand the master of the universe as Allah’s vicegerent on earth, and on the other hand to recognize that he was created solely for the purpose of serving Allah (Qur’an 2:30, 51:56). Worship (‘ibadat) in Islam is, therefore, not confined to man’s fulfilling the rights of Allah — Huququllah (Qur’an 6:162-3), but also includes those of his fellow human beings (himself included), other creatures, and nature or environment (Huququl ‘ibad).
The Qur’an talks about two sons of Adam — Habil (Abel) and Kabil (Cain), the latter murdering the former. Habil represents the exploited class, and Kabil the exploiting class symbolizing greed, materialism, exploitation, murder, crime and tyranny (5:27-31). The class of Kabil has 3 faces –” Fir’aon or Pharaoh and Haman (for power), Qarun (Korah) or Croesus (for wealth) and Balam (for creed). The Qur’an makes it obligatory to help the class of Habil (4:75). Verily, serving or helping those in destitute (Qur’an 2:43) and fighting for the rights of the oppressed are equivalent to serving Allah.
Complete contentment, complete satisfaction and complete peace of mind are byproducts of how effectively one was able to fulfill that divine mission for which he was created.
According to the Qur’an, Allah created men and women out of the same substance and material. (Qur’an 4:1) They share the same lineage, and are brothers and sisters to each other – descended from the same mother (Eve) and father (Adam), race and origin. In Islam: all men are not simply equal; they are brothers.
In his farewell hajj (pilgrimage) speech, Muhammad (S) said, “O people, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in zakat. Perform hajj if you can afford to. You know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are all equal. Nobody has superiority over the other except by piety and good deeds.”
Muhammad’s (S) credit lies in putting this manifesto of survival of mankind into actual practice by transforming the lives of tens of thousands of individuals, who had hitherto a history of fighting wars for generations, in his lifetime. Following his teachings people buried their jealousies and discarded their vendetta and blood feuds. He made humanity realize and achieve the principle and practice of brotherhood of man, and to give up intrigues and conspiracies against truth and justice.
As is now clear, Islam is not just about spirit, but encompasses faith, action, idealism, spirituality, brimming over with vitality and life-giving factors whose ruling spirit is justice and equality. This is beautifully said in the Qur’an: "O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do." (5:8)
Faith minus action or conduct has no place in Islam (Qur’an 17:36, 2: 44-46). Truly, Islam’s most basic tradition is shahadah and human activity, mixed with a history of struggle against oppression and establishment of justice and protection of human rights.
Unlike some religions that are individualistic in their orientation and preach seclusion and try to divert their adherents’ attention from this life’s practical affairs to metaphysical preoccupations and supernatural ideals, Islam is a practical religion. Islam has a clear outlook on life and does not divorce itself from the realities of life and offers its solution to all man-made problems. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear what one of the greatest minds of the last century, Bernard Shaw, had to say about the founder of Islam: "If Muhammad were alive today, he would succeed in solving all those problems which threaten to destroy human civilization in our times."
Islam preaches individual accountability for oneself (Qur’an 6:164, 53:38, 82:19). In addition to his belief in God, a believer in Islam must enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency (Qur’an 3:110). The lowest degree of faith is that when he sees or knows of something wrong, he only feels in his heart that such was wrong [and does not stop such from happening either by his hand or tongue]. Condoning a wrong or crime is, therefore, equivalent to losing one’s faith. As can be seen, Islam is militant when it comes to resisting oppression. It encourages people to overthrow despotic rulers and to come to the aid of the oppressed people (Qur’an 4:75). It has quite naturally remained a religion of the downtrodden masses –” the Abils amongst the children of Adam. As a matter of fact, no religion comes anywhere close to Islam in uplifting the status of the oppressed and humbled, of the conquered and subdued, and of the overpowered and subjugated individuals and nations. Islam, due to its revolutionary and militant character, has also checked the arrogance, haughtiness, vanity and brutal desires of tyrants, despots and oppressors.
Islam teaches that real peace cannot be attained without justice. So long there is oppression in this world where the rights of the people are violated and justice is denied to the oppressed, peace with the unjust and the oppressor is not even a beautiful dream, but only a hallucination. Tolerating exploitation or injustice is tantamount to promoting or helping it spread. Hence, in Islam there is no turning "the other cheek." Confirmation of truth and justice are tenets of Islam; to expect and to face death boldly for truth and justice is one of its main teachings. That is why there has never been a shortage of martyrs in the Islamic world. In recent centuries, Europeans conquered vast territories of land in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but it was in Muslim territories that the colonizers encountered the most bitter opposition and resistance. History is a testament to the fact that Muslims have never accepted foreign domination and at the end, no matter how great the price was for liberation, the invaders, occupiers, and colonizers had to leave. The struggle for freedom, human rights and dignity as against occupation, abuse and an imposed barbarism still goes on in various lands. I am aware of the fact that this militant side of Islam has quite often frightened many non-Muslims.
Islam is a gospel of work; outcome of the Next World is based upon the inputs and efforts of this life. Unlike some religions that justify poverty, Islam condemns it. Abu Dhar Ghiffary (RA), a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad (S) said, "When poverty enters a house [through the front door], religion exits through the rear door." An empty stomach is desperate. In poverty-stricken societies, morality and ethics are nothing more than deviant illusory traditions. Such an Islamic stand on poverty might seem quite opposite to how the Prophet (S) and his companions, including Abu Dhar (RA), led their own lives. It is true that the Prophet embraced poverty but his choice was voluntary. If he had wished he could have passed his life as a rich man. Remember that before the prophetic mission, he was already a very successful businessman and was married to one of the richest ladies in Makkah. In his prophetic heyday, when the entire Arabian Peninsula was brought under the Islamic rule, as the head of the state, if he had wished, he could have lived a very comfortable life, comparable to those of the Roman and Persian Kings; instead, he opted for the life of a pauper.  This was not only a sign of humility, but also a mark and emblem of greatness. How often the pleasures of life were presented to him, and he refused to accept them. Moderation in life was his disposition and character. He used the worldly things only for the barest necessities of life, and never thought of obtaining any comfort or ease in life even temporarily. He was the most charitable man and gave away everything he received. His embracing of poverty was, therefore, his own choice –” neither out of necessity nor was it forced upon him.
In life, those with wealth usually attract people. If Muhammad (S) had donned the garb of the Caesar or the Khoshru, he could have easily attracted people, both the haves and the have-nots, to his cause. But in that case, too many would have been allured by the splendor and pomp of this life or drawn through fear for their lives. Very few would have, out of their free will, accepted his teachings and displayed genuine love of or submission to God, which Muhammad (S) tried to inculcate in the human mind. Living a self-imposed life of poverty, he showed the impermanence of this worldly life so that people can know that there is a higher purpose in this life, which they should covet for, rather than something which is temporary. During his life, circumstances changed, but Muhammad (S) did not. In victory or in defeat, in power or in adversity, in affluence or in poverty, he was the same man displaying the same character.
Who can deny the impact of such a dynamic personality in transforming a nation? Muhammad (S) transformed Arabia by transforming the personality of those who followed him. He inspired the illiterate Arabs of the desert to excel and become the purveyors of knowledge. John William Draper commented in his book, A History of Intellectual Development of Europe: "Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born at Mecca, in Arabia the man who, of all men exercised the greatest influence upon the human race… Mohammed…" In his book "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History", Michael Hart ranked him as the most influential person because, in his opinion, he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level. Essentially, Muhammad (S) brought about a just society that was inherently balanced –” inwardly and outwardly.
In Islam, man is Allah’s vicegerent, His co-worker, His friend, His trustee –” to whom all the angels have bowed down. Bi-dimensional by nature, he needs a religion that can provide him that equilibrium between two opposing poles –” worldliness and asceticism –” so that he can actualize his mission on earth. From the brief discussion above, it is clear that Islam is that religion. The legacy of Islam is the legacy of mankind seeking to return man to his original, true state of fitra — an innate disposition towards virtue, knowledge and beauty — that is in harmony and peace with the rest of the creation by doing what is good, beneficial and just and forbidding what is bad, harmful and unjust, and confirming the Oneness of God. Islamic wisdom is essentially the collective wisdom of mankind.
Islam is a humanistic school based on human values. It precisely fulfills the purpose for which human beings were created. It is the natural religion as it fulfills the innate quest of human nature. It is the religion of peace because it is in harmony with the creation and the Creator. It is the religion of balance and moderation, and not of extremes that betray human nature. It is the religion of brotherhood and sisterhood of human beings. It is a liberating ideology that frees humanity from bondage of every created being. It is for the masses –” the Habils of humanity. It is a practical religion that encompasses every aspect of human life –” earthly and divine, physical and spiritual, rational and emotional, individual and social. It is a religion that epitomizes tolerance and pluralism. It is the formula of humanity’s victory over animality, victory of knowledge over ignorance, of justice over injustice, of equality over inequality, of virtue over corruption, of piety over faithlessness, of the oppressed over the oppressor. Islam is the universal religion whose message is not limited to any particular race, color, region or time. In brief, Islam is a deen, a comprehensive way of life.
Naturally, Islam is, today, the fastest growing religion in the world. In spite of being the youngest of the monotheistic religions, almost a quarter of world’s population is Muslim. Islam came to reform society, perfect morality and establish social justice. And this it demonstrated within a very short period of time by transforming a nation, once steeped in barbarism and immersed in moral darkness, to become the torch-bearers of civilization and learning. It used science to benefit humanity and not to destroy it.
Fourteen centuries ago, Raba’y bin ‘Aamir, a Muslim Companion of the Prophet Muhammad (S) addressed the general of the Persian garrison in the following words: "[Islam summons] mankind from the lowliness of the earth to the heights of the heavens, from the servitude of each other to the service of the Lord of the Universe, and from the oppression of the religions to the justice of Islam." Yes, that has been precisely the role that Islam tried to play in the global arena. Through its concept of tauhid or pure monotheism and universal brotherhood, it offered the world a road to salvation. Instead of making God manlike, it tried to make man godlike. And this it tried by providing three basic elements – faith in God, reform of the self and reform of the society at large. Islamic movements around the globe over the centuries, therefore, remained as a religious commitment, a socio-economic-political program, but above all, a vehicle for the continuous reform of the society.
At this age in our world, who can deny the dire need of such an ideology which Muhammad (S) advocated and brought about? Neither ignorance nor bigotry should stand along one’s way to dive into and enrich oneself with the collective wisdom of mankind that is preserved in Islam.
Notes:. For a detailed analysis on this theme, see Dr. Ali Shariati’s “Man and Islam,” tr. Ghulam M. Fayez, University of Mashhad Press, Iran, 1982. . Islam: The Misunderstood Religion by James A. Michener, Reader’s Digest (American Edition), May (1955