What are the main Acts of Piety in Islaam?

The Various Acts Of Piety in Islaam

Islam does not have the concept of secularism. All human activities must be either in accordance of the law (the shariah) or the prescribed code of conduct. An act which accords with either is an act of piety.

A muslim's must consider his life on this earth as a journey from his Maker to his Maker and must strive to gain the pleasure of his Maker. "Give glad tidings to the steadfast who say........`We are from Allah and to Him we return'. Such are they upon whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided." (II:155-157).

The purpose of every creation, other than humans) is to serve mankind (XXXI:20; XLV:13; LXVII:5). Man, who has been created of the best structure (XCV:4), must serve none other than Allah.(LI:56-58). It will be beneath the dignity and status of man to worship any being, thing or power other than Allah.

The doctrine of the Unity of God is not just an article of faith. It is an important factor in man's comprehension of himself and his raison d'etre. God the One, the Indivisible must be his sole Guide in his journey on this earth.

The sixth Imaam explaining the Unity of God said, " The true ibaadah is for the human being to ensure that the essence of the unity of God lies between his intent and his deed.

The Prophet has said, "Man's every action must incline towards Allah".

The Islamic ethical code is too vast and extensive to permit a full discussion in this course. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to a cursory glance at a few aspects of the code of conduct.

Pursuit of Knowledge:
Islam regards ignorance as impure (najasah) and the acquisition of knowledge as a great act of piety. "One who has knowledge can never be equal to the one who is ignorant" (XXXIX:9).

The Prophet has said:

"It is the duty of every muslim male and every muslim female to seek knowledge".

"Seek knowledge even if you have to travel as far as China for it."

"Sitting an hour in a learned gathering is better than a thousand nights spent in performance of (optional) salaah, and better than engaging in a battle for the sake of God on thousand occasions. If one leaves one's house with the intention of gaining knowledge, for every step that he takes God shall bestow upon him the reward reserved for a prophet."

Respect for, and obedience and kindness to, parents are enjoined upon Muslims. Obedience is, however, excused where the parents require injustice to be perpetrated. (XVII:23, XXIX:8, XXXI:14, XLVI:15-18).

The Prophet has said:

"It is an act of worship to look at either parent with affection and kindness".

"Allah is pleased when one has pleased his parents, and Allah is angry when one has angered either parent".

"Paradise lies under the feet of your mother".

Quraan enjoins the spending of one's wealth in the cause of Allah, for the poor, the needy, the freeing of slaves, the curing of the sick and other good causes. Charity is a precondition to the attainment of piety. (II:195, 215, 245, 254, 261, 262-273; III:92; XXXVI:47; LVII:10, 11; LXIV:15-18)

There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams on the merits of charity. In one of these it is said, "If you have nothing to give, give a kind word or even just an affectionate smile."

Dissemination of knowledge by a scholar is an act of charity. So is the visiting of a sick.

Caring for the bereaved is also a great act of piety. There is a tradition which requires the extended family or the community to feed the immediate family of the deceased for at least three days after the death has occurred and to offer them solace and comfort.

Resisting Oppression:
Imaam Ali has said:

" To suffer oppression passively is as bad as to commit oppression".

"He who makes no effort to alleviate the suffering of an oppressed one is an oppressor".

A muslim is required to act with justice in all his dealings with other human beings and in all circumstances. (IV:58, 105, 135; VII:29; XVI:90).

In IV:135 the Quraan says:

"O You who believe, be staunch in justice.......though it may be against your interests, or the interests of your parents or near relatives, and whether you are dealing with a rich person or a poor person. Remember Allah is nearer to them both in compassion. Therefore do not follow your low desires."

Lewdness And Indecencies:
These are totally forbidden. (XVI:90)

Idle Chatter, Slander and Infringement of Privacy:
These are totally forbidden. (XLIX:11 & 12)

The Freeing of Slaves:
This is not only an act of piety but is also prescribed as the primary penalty for certain wilful acts or omissions e.g. failure to fast or repay a lapsed fast, infringement of any regulation required to be observed during pilgrimage etc.

Liberation of slaves was also highly recommended as an atonement for various sins.

Ill treatment of slaves and servants is also forbidden.

It is highly recommended that zakaah and other alms be spent for liberating slaves. (XXIV:33; IX:60; II:177; XC:12, 13).

Reasoning And Reflection:
"Will they not reflect and ponder on the Quraan or are there locks on their intellect ?" (XLVII:24)

"Say unto them, O Muhammad: I exhort you unto one thing only. That you awake for Allah's sake, by two or singly, and then reflect." (XXXIV:46)

"In the creation of heavens and earth and in the difference between night and day are tokens for men of understanding. These are those who remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and then cry out): Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain. Glory be to Thee !" (III:190-191).

The eighth Imaam has said:

"Worship does not lie in engaging oneself in saying prayers endlessly or in fasting copiously, but in engaging oneself in the contemplation of the works of Allah."

The Prophet has said, "Allah has endowed man with the most precious gift, the reason. The slumber of a man of reason is better than the movement of the ignorant."

Other Good Deeds:

1. Respect for the elders.

2. Respect for teachers and scholars.
The Fourth Imaam has said, " Your teacher has the following rights. Firstly, total respect from you. Secondly that you listen attentively when he speaks. Thirdly, that you never raise your voice in his presence".

3. Hospitality.

4. The keeping of promises, adhering to contracts and covenants, and repayment of debts. All these are mandatory. In V:1 God says, " O you who believe, fulfil your undertakings".

5. The forgiving of any debt owed to one by a person unable to repay.

Women in Islam:
Islam does not accept that the first woman was created of any inferior composition (IV:1) or that it was Eve who fell to the promptings of Satan in disobeying God. Both were equally to blame. (VII:20-21).

Women play an important role and are equal partners of men.

"The women are raiment (comfort, embellishment and protection) for you and you are raiment for them." (II:187; IV:1).

As a daughter, she is to be shown greater affection than a son. The Prophet commands that a daughter must receive twice as much love and affection as a son.

As a wife, the woman has no obligation to provide for her husband or the children out her income or wealth. The husband has this responsibility. What a woman earns, or receives by way of inheritance or gift, is her own property over which she has sole control.

It is injustice for the husband to require the wife to do the house-hold chores. It is for the parties to agree on the division of labour.

The wife, however, is under a duty to obey the lawful and just commands of her husband.

As a mother the woman occupies a unique position. She is placed upon an almost divine pedestal. She must be obeyed (save where obedience would lead to injustice), revered and her feelings never hurt. The Prophet has said that while both parents must be obeyed and respected, the father's place is three rungs below that of the mother.

The woman is the pivot of the family, and Islam holds the family as being the most important unit of the society. From the moment of conception to birth and up to the attainment of puberty, it is the mother who shapes the mind, the thinking and the behaviour of that future member of the society. The Prophet repeatedly emphasised the importance of the upbringing of children and the role of the mother.

He is reported to have said:

"It is better to bring up your children so that they have good manners and morals than to spend your wealth for the pleasure of Allah."

There are also several traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams about the treatment and conduct of pregnant mothers.

The Quraan commands both men and women to `lower their gaze and be modest'.

The women have been further commanded `not to display their ornaments except what appears thereof and to wear their head-coverings over their bosom and not to display their ornaments except to their husband (and other members of their family within the prohibited degree of marriage e.g. a son, father, brother, uncles excluding uncles by marriage etc.)'. (XXIV:30 & 31).

Again in XXXIII:59 God says:

"O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments. This will be more proper. They will be known and will therefore not be given trouble."

The above verses have been interpreted by some jurists as requiring a veiled face and body and others as requiring a scarf over the head to conceal the hair (an essential ornament) and the rest of the body, except the face, the hands and the feet, to be covered by a loose fitting outer garment. In different cultures different forms of women`s dress, or veil or "purdah" have evolved.

The Quraanic object clearly appears to be protection of women from molestation and disrespect, and not their treatment as inferior beings.

Marriage is a solemn contract between a man and a woman, each giving his or her consent freely and without any duress, to become life partners and enjoy the rights conferred and fulfil the obligations imposed by the shariah.

The basic requirements are free consent, the mahr (dowry) and the recitation of the marriage formula (the aqd) in the prescribed form and perfect Arabic. The mahr is the giving or a promise to give any sum of money to the bride and/or to fulfil any condition or obligation that the bride may impose.

The parties may recite the aqd themselves or appoint agents to do so on their behalf.

According to some Shiah jurists the bride may, in the mahr, confer upon herself a right to divorce, or provide for the division of property of property in the event of divorce or any other condition to reserve for herself any right or benefit which under the shariah she would not normally enjoy.

The relationship between husband and wife must be founded upon love and mutual tolerance:

"And of His (God's) signs is that He has created for you mates from amongst yourselves so that you might find comfort and solace in them, and He has ordained between you love and mercy." (XXX:21)

There are many traditions and sayings on thios subject. Two are given below:

1. May Allah bless the man who lays the foundation of his relations with his wifeon goodness. (Imaam Ja'far Sadiq)
2. A man must honour and love his wife. (The Prophet)

A marriage with up to four wives is permitted. There are, however, strict conditions as to equal and just treatment of all the wives.

Islam permits divorce where the marriage has irreparably broken down. But first there must be a process of reconciliation in which the elders of the two families as well as of the community must strive to get the parties to reconcile.

The Prophet has said that of all the permissible things divorce is the most detestable to Allah.

Political Science
Sovereignty belongs to God. The ruler, whether a king or an elected or nominated representative, can only rule as His vicegerent and in accordance with His laws. (XLII:38; XXII:41).

When Imaam Ali was finally elected the khalifah he endeavoured to establish an Islamic government but alas he was not permitted to rule for long.

However, during the five years of Ali's reign he wrote several letters to his Governors and Commanders restating the principles of governance in Islam. These letters and instructions have been compiled into a book called `Nahjul Balaagah', English translations of which are available. The most famous of these documents is Ali's letter to his Governor in Egypt, Maalik Ashtar, which deals with a variety of subjects including administration, judiciary, treatment of non-muslims, the army and the conduct of a ruler or his representative. In the preamble of the letter Ali says:

"This is what Allah's servant Ali has ordered Malik ibne al-Harith al-Ashtar when he appointed him Governor of Egypt, for the collection of its (Egypt's) revenues, fighting against its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities properous."

The Quraan & Modern Science
The French author Maurice Bucaille has written a book entitled `La Bible, le Coran et la Science', which has been translated into English. In this book the author writes:

"The relationship between the Qur'an and science is a priori a surprise, especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord........The totally erroneous statements made about Islam in the West are sometimes the result of ignorance and some times of systematic denigration."

The author then proceeds to take various scientific subjects and give Quraanic references which fully accord with the modern scientific conclusions. While it is not proposed to deal with the subject in any detail in this course, it might be interesting to give here a few of the scientific subjects dealt with by Bucaille and the corresponding Quraanic verses cited by him:

The sky:  (L:6; XIII:2; XLV:13; X:5).
The Planets:  (XXIV:35; XXXVII:6).
Celestial organization:  (XXXVI:40; XXXV:13; LI:47).
Conquest of space:  (LV:33; XV:14 & 15).
The earth:  (II:22; XX:53 & 54).
The water cycle:  (XXX:48; VII:57; XXV:48 & 49).
Origin of life in water:  (XXI:30; XX:53).
Vegetable and animal reproduction:  (XX:53; XII:3; LIII:45 & 46).
Animal communities:  (VI:38).
Bees:  (XVI:68 & 69).
Spiders:  (XXIX:41).
Human reproduction:  (LXXXII: 6-8; XVI:4; LXXV:37; XXIII:13; XXII:5; XXIII:14; LIII:45 & 46; XXXV:11).

Islamic Jurisprudence
This too is a subject beyond the scope of this course. The main sources of Islamic Jurisprudence are the Quraan and the sunnah, and encompasses inheritance, marriage, divorce, paternity, waqfs (trusts), contracts, penal laws, evidence and procedure.

Islamic Culture ?
Culture has been defined as "the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or a population. It is the set of shared beliefs, attitudes, values, and behavioral patterns of a group or organisation." (Readers Digest Universal Dictionary)

Religion on the other hand is "the expression of man's belief in and reverence for God or gods who created the Universe and Govern it."

It is as naive to think that any religion encompasses the totality of culture as it is to think that any culture is solely the product of a religion.

Islam like many other religions claims to be universal accommodating within its fold the cultures of all its adherents provided that the bounds of the religious laws are not transgressed.

Islam has broad parameters of rules and regulations and within these parameters an African can remain as much a Muslim as a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi or an English-man or Scots-man or an American or Chinese or any individual from any country anywhere in the world.

Nevertheless there is a difference of opinion on whether Islam has its own distinct culture. Scholars are divided on whether there is a central cultural theme in Islam.

Some vehemently argue that there is such a central theme.

Others maintain that because of the universality of Islam it is wrong to insist upon a common cultural theme.

This latter school of thought argue that culture is an historical heritage of a nation, people or society in the fields of art, architecture, dress, cuisine, language, literature and other cultural norms and pursuits. Islam, on the other hand, consists of beliefs, acts of worship, a code of conduct and jurisprudence. So long as the culture of a society lies within the parameters of Islamic beliefs, acts of worship, code of conduct and the shariah, that culture would be acceptable in Islam. Many an artist, architect, poet, author and chef has, upon acceptance of Islam, adjusted himself/herself so as conform to the Islamic requirements.


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Arnold J. Toynbee on Islam

(1889-1975) British historian, Lecturer at Oxford University.

      "The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue."

[Civilization On Trial, New York, 1948, p. 205]