1 The Islamic Concept of Life 3
1 Basic Principles 3
2 Iman : Its Nature and Character 5
3 The Scheme of Life 7
4 Objectives and Characteristics 8
Some Other Characteristics 10
2 The Moral System of Islam 10
Why Differences? 11
The Islamic Concept of Life and Morality 12
The Goal of Moral Effort 13
Sanction Behind Morality 13
Motives and Incentives 14
Distinctive Features 14
3 Essential Features of the Islamic Political System 15
Democracy in Islam 16
Purpose of the Islamic State 17
Fundamental Rights 18
Executive and Legislature 19
4 The Islamic Social Order 20
Equality of Mankind 20
Institution of the Family 21
Relatives and Neighbours 22
5 The Economic Principles of Islam 24
Right of Property 25
The Problem of Equality 26
Social Justice 26
Obligations and Restrictions 28
6 The Spiritual Path in Islam 29
Body-Soul Conflict 29
Criterion of Spiritual Development 30
The Road to Spirituality 31
During January - March, 1948, Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903 - 1979) gave a
series of five talks, in Urdu, on Radio Pakistan, in which he dealt with the broad and basic
principles of moral, political, economic, social and spiritual teachings of Islam. They were
immediately published in books and have also been translated into several different languages,
the first English translation appearing in 1950. A greatly improved version was published by the
Islamic Research Academy, Karachi under the title The Islamic Way of Life (Lahore, 1967). It
contained a new translation and an additional chapter on the Islamic Concept of Life,
compiled from various writings of Sayyid Mawdudi and providing a concise introduction to
the view of man and universe as given in the Divine guidance, which forms the basis of the
Islamic way of life. This additional material (contributed by Khurshid Ahmad) was intended to
guide the reader to a clearer and better understanding of the basis and content of Sayyid
Mawdudi’s short radio talks.
This present special edition for dawah purposes has been taken from the new English
version published by the Islamic Foundation.
The Islamic Way of Life is an immensely important book. It has been widely acclaimed
and used as one of the best and most concise primary introductory texts on Islam in
contemporary times. Within the limits of five very short talks, Sayyid Mawdudi has said,
succinctly and effectively, what others might have needed volumes to express. He has brought
together most of the essential, salient teachings of Islam on the major human responsibilities.
Whether it be morals and ethics, politics and economics, family and social life, or spirituality and
worship, the reader will find here a comprehensive and coherent introduction to underlying
principles as well as the broad outlines of how these are to be translated into concrete terms.
Perhaps it may not be an exaggeration to say that no other work, in any language, deals with so
wide a range of themes in so short a space as does this work of Sayyid Mawdudi.
Sayyid Mawdudi was blessed not only with erudition and scholarship but brilliant gifts of
exposition. Hence, despite the enormous agenda he set for himself, this brief work nevertheless
exhibits all the passionate lucidity and the persuasive logic so characteristic of his style. That
style has its own charm, yet the argument it carries remains deeply convincing and compelling
in its appeal. Such a discourse does not take long to penetrate and capture hearts and minds.
Its impact has not been limited to merely intellectual persuasion, nor was it the author’s
intention that it should. It has inspired many to commit themselves to their Creator and strive to
shape their total lives by His guidance. They have all found it extremely useful to educate and
enrich themselves, and have widely usde it as such.
The Islamic Concept of Life
The chief characteristic of Islam is that it makes no distinction between the spiritual and
the secular in life. Its aim is to shape both individual lives as well as society as a whole in ways
that will ensure that the Kingdom of God may really be established on earth and that peace,
contentment and well-being may fill the world. The Islamic way of life is thus base on a unique
concept of man’s place in the universe. That is why it is necessary that, before we discuss the
moral, social, political and economic systems of Islam, we should have a clear idea of what that
1. God, who is the Creator, the Ruler and the Lord of the universe, has created man
and provided him with a temporary home in that part of His vast kingdom which is the earth. He
has endowed man with the faculties of thinking and understanding, and has given him the power
to distinguish right from wrong. Man has also been invested with free will and the power to use
the resources of the world however he likes. That is, man has a measure of autonomy, while
being at the same time God’s representative on earth.
2. Before assigning to man this vicegerency (Khilafat), God made it clear to him that He
alone was the Lord, the Ruler and the Deity. As such, the entire universe and all the creatures in
it (including man) should submit to Him alone. Man must not think himself totally free and must
realise that this earth is not his permanent abode. He has been created to live on it only for a
probationary period and, in due course, he will return to his Lord, to be judged according to the
way he has spent that period. The only right course for man is to acknowledge God as the only
Lord, the Sustainer and the Deity, and to follow His guidance and His commands in all he does.
His sole objective should be to merit the approval of Allah.
If man follows a course of righteousness and godliness (which he is free to choose and
follow) he will be rewarded in this world and the next: in this world he will live a life of peace
and contentment, and in the Hereafter he will qualify for the heaven of eternal bliss, al-Jannah. If
he chooses to follow the course of godlessness and evil (which he is equally free to choose
and follow), his life will be one of corruption and frustration in this world, and in the life to come
he will face the prospect of that abode of pain and misery, which is called Hell.
3. After making this position clear, God set man on earth and provided the very first human
beings (Adam and Eve) with guidance as to how they were to live. Thus man’s life on this earth
did not start in utter darkness. From the beginning a bright torch of light was provided so that
humanity could fulfil its glorious destiny. The very first man received revealed knowledge from
God Himself, and was told the correct way to live. This code of life was Islam, the attitude of
complete submission to Allah, the Creator of man and the whole universe. It was this religion
which Adam, the first man, passed down to posterity.
But later generations gradually drifted away from the right path. Either they lost the
original teachings through negligence or they deliberately adulterated and distorted them. They
associated God with innumerable human beings, material objects and imaginary gods. Shirk
(polytheism) became widespread. They mixed up the teachings of God with myths and strange
philosophies and thus produced a jumble of religions and cults; and they discarded the Godgiven
principles of personal and social morality, the Shari’ah.
4. Although man departed from the path of truth, dis- regarded or distorted the
Shari’ah or even rejected the code of Divine guidance, God did not destroy them or force them
to take the right course. Forced morality was not in keeping with the autonomy He had given to
man. Instead, God appointed certain good people from among the human society itself to
guide men to the right path. These men believed in God, and lived a life of obedience to Him.
He honoured them by His revelations, giving them the knowledge of reality. Known as
prophets, blessings and peace be on all of them, they were assigned the task of spreading
God’s message among men.
5. Many thousands of these prophets were raised throughout the ages, in all lands and
in all nations. All of them brought the same message, all of them advocated the same way of
life, (din), that is, the way which was revealed to man on the first day of his existence. All of
them had the same mission: they called men to Islam - to submit to God alone, asked those who
accepted the Divine guidance to live in accordance with it and organised them into a movement
for the establishment of the Divine law, and for putting an end to all deviations from the true
path. Many people, however, refused to accept their guidance and many of those who did
accept it gradually drifted away from their initial commitment.
6. Lastly, God raised the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, in
Arabia to complete the mission of the earlier prophets. The message of Muhammad, blessings
and peace be on him, was for the whole of mankind. He presented anew the teachings of Islam
in their pristine form and provided humanity once again with the Divine guidance which had been
largely lost. He organised all those who accepted his message into one community (Ummah),
charged with living in accordance with the teachings of Islam, with calling humanity to the path of
righteousness and with establishing the supremacy of the word of God on earth. This guidance is
enshrined in the Holy Our’an .
Iman: Its Nature and Character
The Qur’an deals in many passages with man’s relationship to Allah and the concept
of life which naturally follows from that relationship. Its message is epitomised in the following
Verily Allah hath bought of the Believers their lives and their properties for the price that
theirs shall be the Paradise: so they fight in the way of Allah and slay and are slain. It (i.e. the
promise of Paradise) is a covenant which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Injil and the
Qur’an. And who is more faithful unto his covenant than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain
that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph. (al-Tawbah 9: 111)
In the above verse the nature of the relationship which comes into existence between
man and God because of Iman (the belief, trust and faith in Allah) is called a ‘bargain’. This
means that Iman in Allah is not a mere metaphysical concept; it is in the nature of a contract
by which man barters his life and his possessions in exchange for the promise of Paradise in the
Hereafter. God, as it were, purchases a Believer’s life and property and promises, in return,
the reward of Paradise in the life after death. This concept of a bargain and a covenant has
important implications, and needs to be clearly understood.
Everything in this world belongs to Allah. As such, man’s life and wealth, which are part
of this world, also belong to Him, because He has created them and has entrusted them to every
man for his use. Looked at from this angle, the question of `selling’ or `buying’ may not seem
to arise at all; God does not need to buy what is already His and man cannot sell what is not
But there is one thing, which has been conferred on man, and which now belongs fully
to him, and that is free will, which gives him freedom to choose between following or not
following the path of Allah. This freedom of will and choice does not automatically make man
the real owner of all the power and resources over which he has command, nor does it give him
the right to use them just as he likes. Yet, because of this free will, he may, if he likes, consider
himself free of all obligations to the Lord and independent of any higher authority. It is here that
the question of bargain arises.
This bargain thus does not mean that God is purchasing something which belongs to
man. Its real nature is this: all creation belongs to God but He has bestowed certain things on
man to be used by him on trust. God wants man to willingly and voluntarily acknowledge this.
A person who voluntarily renounces his freedom to reject God’s supremacy and instead
acknowledges His sovereignty, and, in so doing, ‘sells’ his ‘autonomy’ (which, too, is a gift from
God) to God, will get in return God’s promise of eternal bliss in Paradise. A person who makes
such a bargain is a Mu’min (Believer) and Iman (faith) is the Islamic name for this contract; a
person who chooses not to enter into this contract, or who, after making such a contract, does
not keep to it, is a Kafir. The avoidance or abrogation of the contract is technically known as
Such is the nature of the contract. Now let us briefly study its various aspects and
1. God has set us to account for ourselves in two areas:
(a) He has left man free, but nonetheless wishes to see whether he will remain
honest and loyal to Him, or whether he will rebel against his own Creator, whether he will
behave nobly or start ‘playing such fantastic tricks as make the angels weep.
(b) He wants to see whether man is prepared to have enough trust in God to offer
his life and wealth in return for a promise about the next world.
2. It is a principle of Islamic law that Iman consists in adherence to a certain set of
doctrines and anyone who accepts those doctrines becomes a Mu’min. No one has the right to
call such a man a disbeliever or drive him from the fold of Ummah, unless there is clear proof
that faith has been abandoned. This is the legal position. But in the eyes of the Lord, Iman is
only valid when it entails complete surrender of one’s will and freedom of choice to the will of
Allah. It is a state of thought and action, coming from the heart, wherein man submits himself
fully to Allah, renouncing all claims to his own supremacy.
A man may recite the Kalimah, accept the contract and even offer Prayers and
perform other acts of worship, but if in his heart he regards himself as the owner and the master
of his physical and mental powers and of his moral and material resources, then, however much
the people may look upon him as a Mu’min, in the eyes of God he will be a disbeliever. He will
not really have entered into the bargain which the Qur’an says is the essence of Iman. If a man
does not use his powers and resources in the way God has prescribed for him, using them
instead in pursuits, which God has forbidden, it is clear that either he has not pledged his life and
property to Allah, or has nullified that pledge by his conduct.
3. This aspect of Iman makes the Islamic way of life the very opposite of that of the
non-Muslim. A Muslim, who has real faith in Allah, makes his entire life one of obedience and
surrender to His will. He never behaves arrogantly or selfishly or as if he were master of his
own destiny, save in moments of forgetfulness. And as soon as he becomes conscious of such a
lapse, he will submit himself to his Lord and ask forgiveness for his error.
Similarly, a group of people or a society which consists of true Muslims can never
break away from the Law of their Lord. Its political order, its social organisations, its culture,
its economic policy, its legal system and its international strategy must all be in tune with the
code of guidance revealed by Allah. Any unwitting contraventions must be corrected as soon as
they are realised.
It is disbelievers who feel free from God’s guidance and behave as if they were their
own master. Anyone who behaves like this, even though he may bear a name similar to that of a
Muslim, is treading the path of the disbelievers.
4. The will of God, which it is obligatory for man to follow, is the one which God Himself has
revealed for man’s guidance. Man himself cannot determine it. God has Himself explained it
clearly and there is no ambiguity about it. Therefore, if a society sticks honestly to its contract
with Allah, it must shape its life in accordance with the Book of God and the Sunnah of the
Prophet, blessings and peace be on him.
It is clear from the foregoing discussion why the payment of the ‘price’ has been
postponed till the life after death. Paradise is not the reward for the mere profession of the
bargain, it is the reward for the faithful execution of it. Unless the behaviour of the ‘vendor’
complies with the terms of the contract he will not be entitled to the reward. The final act of the
‘sale’ can only be concluded after the last moment of the vendor’s earthly life.
There is another significant point, which emerges from the study of the verse quoted
above when it is read in its context in the Qur’an. In the verses preceding it, reference is
made to the people who professed Iman and promised a life of obedience, but who, when the
hour of trial came, proved unequal to the task. Some neglected the call of the hour and
betrayed the cause. Others refused to sacrifice their lives and riches in the cause of Allah. The
Qur’an, after criticising their insincerity, makes it clear that Iman is a contract, a form of pledge
between man and God. It does not consist in a mere profession of belief in Allah. It is an
acknowledgement of the fact that Allah alone is our Lord, Sovereign and Ruler and that
everything that man has, including his own life, belongs to Him and must be used in accordance
with His directives. If a Muslim adopts a different course, he is insincere in his profession of
faith. Only those who have really sold their lives and all that they possess to God and who
follow His dictates in all spheres of activity can be called true Believers.
The Scheme of Life
In Islam, man’s entire individual and social life is an exercise in developing and
strengthening his relationship with God. Iman, the starting point of our religion, consists in the
acceptance of this relationship by man’s intellect and will; Islam means submission to the will of
God in all aspects of life. The Islamic code of conduct is known as the Shari’ah. Its sources are
the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him.
The final Book of God and His final Messenger stand today as the repositories of this
truth. Everyone who agrees that the concept of Reality stated by the Prophet, and the Holy
Book is true, should step forward and surrender himself to the will of God. It is this submission
which is called Islam, the result of Iman in actual life. And those who of their own free will
accept God as their Sovereign, surrender to His Divine will and undertake to regulate their lives
in accordance with His commandments, are called Muslims.
All those persons who thus surrender themselves are welded into a community and that
is how the ‘Muslim society’ comes into being. It is an ideological society, radically different
from those which are founded on the basis of race, colour or territory. It is the result of a
deliberate choice, the outcome of a `contract’ which takes place between human beings and
their Creator. Those who enter into this contract undertake to recognise God as their
Sovereign, His guidance as supreme and His injunctions as absolute Law. They also undertake
to accept, without question, His word as to what is good or evil, right or wrong, permissible or
prohibited. In short, freedoms of the Islamic society are limited by the commandments of the
Omniscient God. In other words, it is God and not man whose will is the primary source of Law
in a Muslim society.
When such a society comes into existence, the Book and the Messenger prescribe for
it a code of life called the Shari’ah, and this society is bound to conform to it by virtue of the
contract it has entered into. It is, therefore, inconceivable that a real Muslim society can
deliberately adopt any other system of life than that based on the Shari’ah. If it does so, its
contract is ipso facto broken and it becomes ‘un-Islamic’.
But we must clearly distinguish between the everyday sins of the individual and a
deliberate revolt against the Shari’ah. The former may not mean a breaking up of the
contract, while the latter most certainly would. The point that should be clearly understood is
that if an Islamic society consciously resolves not to accept the Shari’ah, and decides to enact
its own constitution and laws or borrows them from any other source in disregard of the
Shari’ah, such a society breaks its contract with God and forfeits its right to be called ‘Islamic’.
Objectives and Characteristics
The main objectives of the Shari’ah are to ensure that human life is based on ma’rufat
(good) and to cleanse it of munkarat (evils). The term ma’rufat denotes all the qualities that
have always been accepted as ‘good’ by the human conscience. Conversely, the word
munkarat denotes all those qualities that have always been condemned by human nature as
‘evil’. In short, the ma’rufat are in harmony with human nature and the munkarat are against
nature. The Shari’ah gives precise definitions of ma’rufat and munkarat, clearly indicating the
standards of goodness to which individuals and society should aspire.
It does not, however, limit itself to an inventory of good and evil deeds; rather, it lays
down an entire scheme of life whose aim is to make sure that good flourishes and evils do not
destroy or harm human life.
To achieve this, the Shari’ah has embraced in its scheme everything that encourages the
growth of good and has recommended ways to remove obstacles that might prevent this
growth. This process gives rise to a subsidiary series of ma’rufat consisting of ways of
initiating and nurturing the good, and yet another set of ma’rufat consisting of prohibitions in
relation to those things which act as impediments to good. Similarly, there is a subsidiary list of
munkarat which might initiate or allow the growth of evil.
The Shari’ah shapes Islamic society in a way conducive to the unfettered growth of
good, righteousness and truth in every sphere of human activity. At the same time it removes all
the impediments along the path to goodness. And it attempts to eradicate corruption from its
social scheme by prohibiting evil, by removing the causes of its appearance and growth, by
closing the inlets through which it creeps into a society and by adopting deterrent measures to
check its occurrence.
The Shari’ah divides ma’rufat into three categories: the mandatory (fard and wajib), the
recommendatory (mandub) and the permissible (mubah).
The observance of the mandatory is obligatory on a Muslim society and the Shari’ah
has given clear and binding directions about this. The recommendatory ma’rufat are those which
the Shari’ah expects a Muslim society to observe and practice. Some of them have been very
clearly demanded of us while others have been recommended by implication and inference from
the sayings of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him. Besides this, special arrangements
have been made for the growth and encouragement of some of them in the scheme of life
advocated by the Shari’ah. Others again have simply been recommended by the Shari’ah,
leaving it to the society or to its more virtuous elements to look to promote them.
This leaves us with the permissible ma’rufat. Strictly speaking, according to the Shari’ah
everything which has not been expressly prohibited is a permissible ma’ruf. Consequently, the
sphere of permissible ma’rufat is very wide, so much so that except for the things specifically
prohibited by the Shari’ah, everything is permissible for a Muslim. And in this vast sphere we
have been given freedom to legislate according to our own discretion to suit the requirements of
our age and conditions.
The munkarat (the things prohibited in Islam) have been grouped into two categories:
things, which have been prohibited absolutely (haram), and things which are simply
Muslims have been enjoined by clear and mandatory injunctions to refrain totally from
everything that has been declared haram. As for the makruh, the Shari’ah signifies its
disapproval either expressly or by implication, giving an indication also as to the extent of such
disapproval. For example, there are some makruh things bordering on haram, while others are
closer to acts which are permissible. Moreover, in some cases, explicit measures have been
prescribed by the Shari’ah for the prevention of makruh things, while in others such measures
have been left to the discretion of the society or individual.
Some Other Characteristics
The Shari’ah thus prescribes directives for the regulation of our individual as well as
collective lives. These directives affect such varied subjects as religious rituals, personal
character, morals, habits, family relationships, social and economic affairs, administration, the
rights and duties of citizens, the judicial system, the laws of war and peace and international
relations. They tell us what is good and bad; what is beneficial and useful and what is injurious
and harmful; what are the virtues, which we have to cultivate and encourage and what are the
evils, which we have to suppress and guard against; what is the sphere of our voluntary,
personal and social action and what are its limits; and, finally, what methods we can adopt to
establish a dynamic order of society and what methods we should avoid. The Shari’ah is a
complete way of life and an all-embracing social order.
Another remarkable feature of the Shari’ah is that it is an organic whole. The entire way
of life propounded by Islam is animated by the same spirit and hence any arbitrary division of
the scheme is bound to affect the spirit as well as the structure of the Islamic order. In this
respect, it might be compared to the human body. A leg separated from the body cannot be
called one-eighth or one-sixth man, because after its separation from the body the leg cannot
perform its function. Nor can it be placed in the body of some other animal with the aim of
making it human to the extent of that limb. Likewise, we cannot form a correct judgement about
the utility, efficiency and beauty of the hand, the eye or the nose of a human being outside the
context of their place and function within the living body.
The same can be said about the scheme of life envisaged by the Shari’ah. Islam signifies
a complete way of life which cannot be split up into separate parts. Consequently, it is neither
appropriate to consider the different parts of the Shari’ah in isolation, nor to take any particular
part and bracket it with any other ‘ism’. The Shari’ah can function smoothly only if one’s whole
life is lived in accordance with it.
The Moral System of Islam
A moral sense is inborn in man and, through the ages, it has served as the common
man’s standard of moral behaviour, approving certain qualities and condemning others. While
this instinctive faculty may vary from person to person, human conscience’ has consistently
declared certain moral qualities to be good and others to be bad.
Justice, courage and truthfulness have always found praise, and history does not record
any period worth the name in which falsehood, injustice, dishonesty and breach of trust have
been praised; sympathy, compassion, loyalty and generosity have always been valued, while
selfishness, cruelty, meanness and bigotry have never been approved of by society; men have
always appreciated perseverance, determination and courage, but never impatience,
fickleness, cowardice and stupidity. Dignity, restraint, politeness and friendliness have
throughout the ages been counted virtues, whereas snobbery and rudeness have always been
looked down upon. People with a sense of responsibility and devotion to duty have always won
the highest regard, those who are incompetent, lazy and lacking in a sense of duty have never
been looked upon with approval.
Similarly, in assessing the standards of good and bad in the collective behaviour of
society as a whole, only those societies have been considered worthy of honour, which have
possessed the virtues of organisation, discipline, mutual affection and compassion and which
have established a social order based on justice, freedom and equality. Disorganisation,
indiscipline, anarchy, disunity, injustice and social privilege have always been considered
manifestations of decay and disintegration in a society. Robbery, murder, larceny, adultery and
corruption have always been condemned. Slander and blackmail have never been considered
healthy social activities, while service and care of the aged, helping one’s relatives, regard for
neighbours, loyalty to friends, aiding the weak, the destitute and the orphans, and nursing the
sick are qualities, which have been highly valued since the dawn of civilisation.
Individuals who are honest, sincere and dependable, whose deeds match their words,
who are content with their own rightful possessions, who are prompt in the discharge of their
obligations to others, who live in peace and let others live in peace, and from whom nothing but
good can be expected, have always formed the basis of any healthy human society.
These examples show that human moral standards are universal and have been wellknown
to mankind throughout the ages. Good and evil are not myths, but realities well
understood by all. A sense of good and evil is inherent in the very nature of man. Hence in the
terminology of the Qur’an good is called ma’ruf (a well-known thing) and evil munkar (an
unknown thing); that is to say, good is known to be desirable and evil is known not to commend
itself in any way.
As the Qur’an says:
God has revealed to human nature the consciousness and cognition of good and evil.
(al-Shams 91: 8)
The question that now arises is: if what constitutes good and evil is so clear and
universally agreed, why do varying patterns of moral behaviour exist in the world? Why are
there so many conflicting moral philosophies? Why do certain moral standards contradict each
other? What lies at the root of their differences? What is the unique position of Islam in the
context of other ethical systems? On what grounds can we claim that Islam has a perfect moral
system? And what exactly is the distinctive contribution of Islam in the realm of ethics?
Although these are important questions and must be squarely faced, justice cannot be
done to them in the brief span of this talk. So I shall restrict myself to a summary of some of the
points crucial to any critical examination of contemporary ethical systems and conflicting
patterns of moral behaviour:
(a) Through their failure to prescribe specific limits and roles for the various moral
virtues and values, present-day moral structures cannot provide a balanced and coherent plan of
(b) The real cause of the differences in the moral systems seems to lie in their
offering different standards for judging what constitutes good and bad actions and in their laying
down different ways to distinguish good from evil. Differences also exist in respect of the
sanction behind the moral law and in regard to the motives which impel a person to follow it.
(c) On deeper reflection we find that the grounds for these differences emerge from
different peoples’ conflicting views and concepts of the universe, the place of man in it, and of
man’s purpose on earth. The various systems of ethics, philosophy and religion are in fact a
record of the vast divergence of views on such vital questions as: Is there a God of the universe
and, if there is, is He the only one or are there many gods? What are the Divine attributes?
What is the nature of the relationship between God and human beings? Has He made any
arrangements for guiding humanity through the vicissitudes of life or not? Is man answerable to
Him or not? And if so, in what spheres of his life? Is there an ultimate aim of man’s creation,
which he should keep in view throughout his life? Answers to these questions will determine the
way of life, the ethical philosophy and the pattern of moral behaviour of the individual and
It is difficult for me, in this brief talk, to take stock of the various ethical systems in the
world and indicate what solutions each one of them has proposed to these questions and what
has been the impact of these answers on the moral evolution of the society believing in these
concepts. Here I have to confine myself to the Islamic concept only.
The Islamic Concept of Life and Morality
The viewpoint of Islam is that the universe is the creation of God who is One. He alone
is its Master, Sovereign and Sustainer, and it is functioning under His command. He is All-
Powerful and Omniscient, He is Subbuh and Quddus (that is, free from all defects, mistakes,
weaknesses and faults and is holy in every respect). His godhood is free from partiality and
Man is His creature, subject and servant and is born to serve and obey Him. The
correct course of life for man is to live in complete obedience to Him. And it is for God, not
man, to determine the mode of that worship and obedience.
At certain times God has raised Prophets for the guidance of humanity and has revealed
His books through them. It is the duty of man to live his life according to the dictates of God
and to follow the Divine guidance.
Man is answerable to God for all his actions and will be called on to render an account
of them in the Hereafter. Man’s short life on earth is really an opportunity to prepare for that
great test. He will be impartially assessed on his conduct in life by a Being who keeps a
complete record not merely of his movements and actions and their influence on all that is in the
world - from the tiniest speck of dust to the highest mountains - but also of his innermost
thoughts and feelings and intentions.
The Goal of Moral Effort
This concept of the universe and of man’s place in it indicates the real and ultimate good
which should be the object of all mankind’s endeavours - ‘seeking the pleasure of God’. This is
the standard by which Islam judges all conduct. It means that man is not left like a ship without
moorings at the mercy of winds and tides; instead, we have a set of unchangeable norms for all
moral actions. Moreover, by making the ‘pleasure of God’ the object of man’s life, unlimited
possibilities are opened for man’s moral evolution, untainted by narrow selfishness or racism or
Islam also furnishes us with the means to determine good and evil conduct. It does not
base our knowledge of evil and virtue on mere intellect, desire, intuition or experience
derived through the senses, which constantly undergo changes and modifications and thus fail
to provide definite and un-changing standards of morality. Instead, it provides us with an
objective source, the Divine revelation, as embodied in the Book of God and the Sunnah (way
of life) of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him. This source prescribes a standard of
moral conduct that is permanent and universal and holds good in every age and under all
circumstances. The moral code of Islam ranges from smallest details of domestic life to the field
of national and international behaviour. It guides us at every stage in life and makes us free from
exclusive dependence on other sources of knowledge, although we may, of course, use
these as an aid to this primary source.
Sanction Behind Morality
This concept of the universe and of man’s place in it also provides the sanction that must
lie at the back of every moral law, that is, the love and fear of God, the sense of accountability
on the Day of Judgement and the promise of eternal bliss and reward in the Hereafter. Although
Islam aims to cultivate a mass ethos which may induce individuals and groups to observe the
principles of morality it lays down as well as helps the evolution of a political system, which
will enforce the moral law through its legislative and executive powers, Islam’s moral law does
not really depend on these external factors. It relies on the inherent desire for good in every man
which is derived from belief in God and the Day of Judgement. Before laying down any moral
injunctions, Islam seeks to implant firmly in man’s heart the conviction that his dealings are with
God, who sees him at all times and in all places; that he may hide himself from the whole world
but not from God; that he may deceive everyone but God; that he can flee from the power of
any person but not from God; that while the world can see only man’s outward life, God knows
his innermost intentions and desires; that while man may, in his short sojourn on earth, do
whatever he likes, he has to die one day and present himself before the Divine court of justice
where no special pleading or deception will be of any avail and where his future will be
decided with complete impartiality. It is this belief in accountability to God which is the real
force behind the moral law of Islam. If public opinion and the powers of the state give it
support, so much the better; otherwise, this faith alone can keep a Muslim individual and a
Muslim community on the straight path of virtue.
Motives and Incentives
The fact that a man voluntarily and willingly accepts God as his Creator and
obedience to God as the aim of his life and strives to seek His pleasure in his every action
provides sufficient incentive to obey the commandments which he believes to be from God.
Belief that whoever obeys the Divine commands is sure to be rewarded in the Hereafter,
whatever difficulties he may have to face in his life on earth, is another strong incentive for
leading a virtuous life. And the belief that breaking the commandments of God will mean eternal
punishment is an effective deterrent against violation of the moral law, however tempted a man
may be by the superficial attractiveness of a certain course of action. If this hope and fear are
firmly ingrained in one’s heart, they will inspire virtuous deeds even on occasions when the
immediate consequences may appear to be very damaging, and they will keep one away from
evil even when it looks extremely attractive and profitable.
This clearly indicates that Islam possesses a distinctive criterion of good and evil, its
own source of moral law, and its own sanctions and motivating force; through them it shapes
the generally recognised moral virtues in all spheres of life into a balanced and comprehensive
scheme and ensures that they are followed. It can therefore be justifiably claimed that Islam
possesses a perfect moral system of its own. This system has many distinguishing features and
I shall refer to three of the most significant ones which, in my opinion, form its special
contribution to ethics.
1. By setting Divine pleasure as the objective of man’s life, Islam has set the highest
possible standard of morality, providing boundless possibilities for the moral evolution of
humanity. By making Divine revelation the primary source of knowledge, it gives permanence
and stability to moral standards, while at the same time allowing scope for reasonable flexibility
and adjustment, though not for perversions or moral laxity. The love and fear of God become
the real motives, which impel man to obey the moral law without external pressures. And
through belief in God and the Day of Judgement, we are motivated to behave morally with
earnestness and sincerity.
2. The Islamic moral order does not, through a mistaken love of originality and
innovation, seek to lay down any new moral standards; nor does it seek to minimise the
importance of the well-known moral standards, or give exaggerated importance to some and
neglect others without cause. It takes all the recognised morals and assigns a suitable role to
each within the total scheme of life. It widens the scope of their application to cover every
aspect of man’s private and social life - his domestic associations, his civic conduct, and his
activities in the political, economic, legal and educational fields. It covers his life at home
and in society, literally from the cradle to the grave. No sphere of life is exempt from the
universal and comprehensive application of the moral principles of Islam. These ensure that the
affairs of life, instead of being dominated by selfish desires and petty interests, are regulated by
the dictates of morality.
3. The Islamic moral order guarantees for man a system of life which is free from all
evil. It calls on the people not only to practice virtue, but also to eradicate vice. Those who
respond to this call are gathered together into a community (Ummah) and given the name
‘Muslims’. The main purpose underlying the formation of this community is that it should
make an organised effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil. It
would be a day of mourning for this community and a bad day for the entire world if its efforts
were at any time directed towards establishing evil and suppressing good.
Essential Features of
the Islamic Political System
The political system of Islam is based on three principles: Tawhid (unity of God),
Risalat (prophethood) and Khilafat (vicegerency). It is difficult to appreciate the different
aspects of Islamic polity without fully understanding these three principles. I will therefore
begin with a brief exposition of what they are.
Tawhid means that only God is the Creator, Sustainer and Master of the universe and
of all that exists in it - organic or inorganic. The sovereignty of this kingdom is vested only in
Him. He alone has the right to command or forbid. Worship and obedience are due to Him
alone, no one and nothing else shares it in any way. Life, in all its forms, our physical organs and
faculties, the apparent control which we have over nearly everything in our lives and the things
themselves - none of them has been created or acquired by us in our own right. They have
been bestowed on us entirely by God. Hence, it is not for us to decide the aim and purpose of
our existence or to set the limits of our authority; nor is anyone else entitled to make these
decisions for us. This right rests only with God, who has created us, endowed us with mental
and physical faculties, and provided material things for our use. This principle of the unity of
God totally negates the concept of the legal and political independence of human beings,
individually or collectively. No individual, family, class or race can set themselves above God.
God alone is the Ruler and His commandments are the Law.
The medium through which we receive the law of God is known as Risalat. We have
received two things from this source: the Book in which God has set out His law, and the
authoritative interpretation and exemplification of the Book by the Prophet, blessings and peace
be on him, through word and deed, in his capacity as the representative of God. The Prophet,
blessings and peace be on him, has also, in accordance with the intention of the Divine Book,
given us a model for the Islamic way of life by himself implementing the law and providing
necessary details where required. The combination of these two elements is called the Shari’ah.
Now consider Khilafat. According to the Arabic lexicon, it means ‘representation’.
Man, according to Islam, is the representative of God on earth, His vicegerent. That is to say,
by virtue of the powers delegated to him by God, he is required to exercise his God-given
authority in this world within the limits prescribed by God.
Take, for example, the case of an estate which someone has been appointed to
administer on your behalf. You will see that four conditions are invariably met. First, the real
owner- ship of the estate remains vested in you and not in the administrator; second, he
administers your property only in accordance with your instructions; third, he exercises his
authority within the limits prescribed by you; and fourth, in the administration of the trust he
executes your will and not his own. These four conditions are so inherent in the concept of
`representation’ that if any representative fails to observe them he will rightly be blamed for
breaking the covenant which was implied in the concept of `representation’. This is exactly what
Islam means when it affirms that man is the vicegerent of God on earth. Hence, these four
conditions are also involved in the concept of Khilafat.
A state that is established in accordance with this political theory will in fact be a human
caliphate under the sovereignty of God and will do God’s will by working within the
limits prescribed by Him and in accordance with His instructions and injunctions.
Democracy in Islam
The above explanation of the term Khilafat also makes it abundantly clear that no
individual or dynasty or class can be Khilafah, but that the authority of caliphate is bestowed on
any community which accepts the principles of Tawhid and Risalat. In such a society, each
individual shares the God- given caliphate. This is the point where democracy begins in Islam.
Every person in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of the caliphate of God
and in this respect all individuals are equal. No one can deprive anyone of his rights and
powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be established in accordance with the
will of these individuals, and the authority of the state will only be an extension of the powers of
the individual delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the Government,
which will be run with their advice and in accordance with their wishes. Whoever gains their
confidence will carry out the duties of the caliphate on their behalf; and when he loses this
confidence he will have to relinquish his office. In this respect the political system in Islam is as
perfect a democracy as ever can be.
What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy is that while the latter
is based on the concept of popular sovereignty the former rests on the principle of popular
Khilafat. In Western democracy the people are sovereign, in Islam soveignty is vested in God
and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own
laws; in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (Shari’ah) given by God through His
Prophet. In one the Government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people; in the other the
Government and the people alike have to do the will of God. Western democracy is a kind of
absolute authority which exercises its powers in a free and uncontrolled manner, whereas
Islamic democracy is sub- servient to the Divine Law and exercises its authority in accordance
with the injunctions of God and within the limits prescribed by Him.
Purpose of the Islamic State
The Holy Qur’an clearly states that the aim and purpose of this state, built on the
foundation of Tawhid, Risalat and Khilafat, is the establishment, maintenance and development
of those virtues which the Creator of the universe wishes human life to be enriched by, and the
prevention and eradication of those evils which are abhorrent to God. The state in Islam is not
intended for political administration only or for the fulfilment through it of the collective will of
any particular set of people. Rather, Islam places a high ideal before the state for the
achievement of which it must use all the means at its disposal. The aim is to encourage the
qualities of purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, success and prosperity which God wants to flourish
in the life of His people and to suppress all kinds of exploitation and injustice. As well as placing
before us this high ideal, Islam clearly states the desired virtues and the undesirable evils. The
Islamic state can thus plan its welfare programmes in every age and in any environment.
The constant demand made by Islam is that the principles of morality must be observed
at all costs and in all walks of life. Hence, it lays down an unalterable requirement for the state to
base its politics on justice, truth and honesty. It is not prepared, under any circumstances, to
tolerate fraud, false- hood and injustice for the sake of political, administrative or national
expediency. Whether it be relations between the rulers and the ruled within the state, or relations
of the state with other states, precedence must always be given to truth, honesty and justice. It
imposes obligations on the state similar to those it imposes on the individual: to fulfil all contracts
and obligations; to have consistent standards in all dealings; to remember obligations as well as
rights and not to forget the rights of others when expecting them to fulfil their obligations; to use
power and authority for the establishment of justice and not for the perpetration of injustice; to
look on duty as a sacred obligation; and to regard power as a trust from God to be used in the
belief that one has to render an account of one’s actions to Him in the Hereafter.
Although an Islamic state may be set up anywhere on earth, Islam does not seek to
restrict human rights or privileges to the geographical limits of its own state. Islam has laid down
universal fundamental rights’ for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed and respected
in all circumstances irrespective of whether a person lives on the territory of the Islamic state or
outside it and whether he is at peace with the state or at war. For example, human blood is
sacred and may not be spilled without justification; it is not permissible to oppress women,
children, old people, the sick or the wounded; woman’s honour and chastity must be respected
in all circumstances; and the hungry must be fed, the naked clothed, and the wounded or
diseased treated medically.
These, and a few other provisions, have been laid down by Islam as fundamental rights
for every man by virtue of his status as a human being, to be enjoyed under the constitution of
an Islamic state. The rights of citizenship in Islam, however, are not confined to persons
born within the limits of its state but are granted to every Muslim irrespective of his place of
birth. Muslim ipso facto becomes the citizen of an Islamic state as soon as he sets foot on its
territory with the intention of living there; he thus enjoys equal rights of citizenship with those
who are its citizens by birth. Citizenship must therefore be common to all the citizens of all the
Islamic states that exist in the world; a Muslim will not need a passport for entry or exit from any
of them. And every Muslim must be regarded eligible for positions of the highest responsibility
in an Islamic state without distinction of race, colour or class.
Islam has also laid down certain rights for non-Muslims who may be living within the
boundaries of an Islamic state, and these rights must necessarily form part of the Islamic
constitution. According to Islamic terminology such non- Muslims are called dhimmis (the
covenanted), implying that the Islamic state has entered into a covenant with them and
guaranteed their rights. The life, Property and honour of a dhimmis is to be respected and
protected in exactly the same way as that of a Muslim citizen. There is no difference between
Muslim and non-Muslim citizens in respect of civil or criminal law; and the Islamic state shall not
interfere with the personal law of non-Muslims. They will have full freedom of conscience and
belief and will be entitled to perform their religious rites and ceremonies. As well as being able
to practice their religion, they are entitled to criticise Islam. However the rights given in this
respect are not unlimited: the civil law of the country has to be fully respected and all criticism
has to be made within its framework.
These rights are irrevocable and non-Muslims can only be deprived of them if they
renounce the covenant which grants them citizenship. However much a non-Muslim state may
oppress its Muslim citizens, it is not permissible for an Islamic state to retaliate against its non-
Muslim subjects. This injunction holds good even if all the Muslims outside the boundaries of an
Islamic state are massacred.
Executive and Legislature
The responsibility for the administration of the Government in an Islamic state is
entrusted to an Amir (leader) who may be likened to the President or the Prime Minister in a
Western democratic state. All adult men and women who accept the fundamentals of the
constitution are entitled to vote in the election for the leader.
The basic qualifications for the election of an Amir are that he should command the
confidence of the largest number of people in respect of his knowledge and grasp of the spirit of
Islam; he should possess the Islamic attribute of fear of God; he should be endowed with the
quality of statesmanship. In short, he should be both able and virtuous.
A Shura (consultative council), elected by the people, will assist and guide the Amir. It
is obligatory for the Amir to administer the country with the advice of his Shura. The Amir can
retain office only so long as he enjoys the confidence of the people, and must resign when he
loses this confidence. Every citizen has the right to criticise the Amir and his Government, and all
reasonable means for the expression of public opinion should be available.
Legislation in an Islamic state should be within the limits prescribed by the Shari’ah. The
injunctions of God and His Prophet are to be accepted and obeyed and no legislative body can
alter or modify them or make any new laws which are contrary to their spirit. The duty of
ascertaining the real intent of those commments which are open to more than one interpretation
should devolve on people possessing a specialised knowledge of the law of Shari’ah. Hence,
such matters may have to be referred to a sub-committee of the Shura comprising men learned
in Islamic law. Great scope would still be available for legislation on questions not covered by
any specific injunctions of the Shari’ah, and the advisory council or legislature is free to
legislate in regard to these matters.
In Islam the judiciary is not placed under the control of the executive. It derives its
authority directly from the Shari’ah and is answerable to God. The judges will obviously be
appointed by the Government but, once appointed, will have to administer justice impartially
according to the law of God. All the organs and functionaries of the Government should come
within their jurisdiction: even the highest executive authority of the Government will be liable to
be called upon to appear in a court of law as a plaintiff or defendant. Rulers and ruled are
subject to the same law and there can be no discrimination on the basis of position, power or
privilege. Islam stands for equality and scrupulously adheres to this principle in the social,
economic and political realms alike.
The Islamic Social Order
The foundations of the social system of Islam rest on the belief that all human beings are
equal and constitute one single fraternity.
Equality of Mankind
God created a human couple to herald the beginning of the life of mankind on earth, and
everybody living in the world today originates from this couple. The progeny of this couple were
initially a single group with one religion and the same language. But as their numbers gradually
increased, they spread all over the earth and, as a natural result of their diversification and
growth, were divided into various tribes and nationalities. They came to speak different
languages; their modes of dress varied; and their ways of living also differed widely. Climates
and environments affected their colour and physical features. All these differences exist in the
world of reality and Islam does not seek to ignore them. But it disapproves of the prejudices
which have arisen among mankind because of these differences in race, colour, language and
nationality. Islam makes clear to all men that they have come from the same parents and are
therefore brothers and equal as human beings.
Islam says that if there is any real difference between man and man it cannot be one of
race, colour, country or language, but of ideas, beliefs and principles. Two children of the same
mother, though they may be equal from the point of view of a common ancestry, will have to
go their different ways in life if their beliefs and moral conduct differ. On the contrary, two
people, one in the East and the other in the West, even though geographically and outwardly
separated by vast distances, will tread the same path in life if they share the same code of moral
behaviour. On the basis of this fundamental tenet, Islam seeks to build a principled and
ideological society very different from the racial, nationalistic and parochial societies existing in
the world today.
The basis of co-operative effort among men in such a society is not the place of one’s
birth but a creed and a moral principle. Anyone, if he believes in God as his Master and Lord
and accepts the guidance of the Prophets as the law of his life, can join this community, whether
he is a resident of America or Africa, whether he belongs to the Semitic race or the Aryan,
whether he is black or fair-skinned, whether he speaks a European language or Arabic. All
those who join this community will have the same rights and social status. They will not be
subjected to any racial, national or class distinctions. No one will be regarded as high or low.
There will be no untouchability. There will be no special restrictions upon them in making
marriages, eating and drinking and social contacts. No one will be looked down upon because
of his birth or work. No one will claim any distinctive rights by virtue of his caste, community or
ancestry. Man’s merit will not depend on his family connections or riches, but only on whether
he is better than others in moral conduct or excels others in piety and righteousness.
Such social order, transcending as it does geographical boundaries and the barriers of
race, colour and language, is appropriate for all parts of the world; on its foundation can be
raised the universal brotherhood of man. In societies based on race or nationality only those
people can join who belong to a particular race or nation, but in Islam anyone who accepts its
creed and moral standards can become a member, possessing equal rights with everyone else.
Those who do not accept this creed, while obviously not being received into the community, are
treated with tolerance and humanity and guaranteed all the basic human rights.
It is clear that if two children of the same mother differ in their ideas, their ways of life
will be different; but this does not mean that they cease to be brothers. In the same way, if two
nations or two groups of people living in the same country differ in their fundamental beliefs,
principles and ideology, their societies will also certainly differ; yet they will continue to share
the common ties of humanity. Hence, the Islamic society offers to non-Muslim societies and
groups the maximum social and cultural rights that can possibly be accorded.
Institution of the Family
The foremost and fundamental institution of human society is the family unit. A family is
established by the coming together of a man and a woman, and their contact brings into
existence a new generation. This then produces ties of kinship and community, which, in turn,
gradually develop further ties. The family is an instrument of continuity, which prepares the
succeeding generation to serve human civilisation and to discharge its social obligations with
devotion, sincerity and enthusiasm. This institution does not merely recruit cadets for the
maintenance of human culture, but positively desires that those who are to come will be better
members of society. In this respect the family can be truly called the source of the progress,
development, prosperity and strength of human civilisation. Islam therefore devotes much
attention to the issues relating to the family and strives to establish it on the healthiest and
strongest possible foundations.
According to Islam the correct relationship between man and woman is marriage, a
relationship in which social responsibilities are fully accepted and which results in the emergence
of a family. Sexual permissiveness and other similar types of irresponsible behaviour are not
dismissed by Islam as mere innocent pastimes or ordinary transgressions. Rather, they are acts,
which strike at the very roots of society. Hence, Islam holds all extra-marital sex as sinful and
forbidden (haram) and makes it a criminal offence. Severe punishments are prescribed to deter
Purdah, which regulates the free association of men and women, restrictions on erotic
music and obscene pictures and the discouragement of the spread of all forms of pornography,
are other weapons used in the fight to protect and strengthen the institution of the family.
Islam does not look on adult celibacy simply with disfavour - it calls on every young
man to take upon himself the social responsibilities of married life just as his parents did in their
time. Nor does Islam regard asceticism and lifelong celibacy merely as being of no benefit; it
sees them as departures from the nature of man and as acts of revolt against the Divine scheme
It also strongly disapproves of those rites, ceremonies or restrictions which tend to
make marriage a difficult affair. Islam tries to make marriage the easiest and fornication the most
difficult thing in society - and not vice versa as it is in most societies today. Hence, after
debarring certain blood relatives from entering into matrimony with one another, it has legalised
marriage with all other near and distant kith and kin. It has removed all distinctions of caste and
community, and permitted matrimony of any Muslim with any other Muslim. It has urged that the
mehr (dower) should be fixed at a figure which can be easily borne by both sides. It has
dispensed with the necessity of priests and register offices. In an Islamic society marriage is a
plain and simple ceremony which can be performed anywhere before two witnesses, though it is
essential that the proceedings should not be kept secret. Society must know that the couple are
now going to live as husband and wife.
Within the family itself Islam has assigned to the man a position of authority so that he
can maintain order and discipline as the head of the household. Islam expects the wife to obey
her husband and look after his well-being; and it expects the children to behave accordingly to
their parents. Islam does not favour a loose and disjointed family system devoid of proper
authority, control and discipline. Discipline can only be maintained through a central authority
and, in the view of Islam, the position of father in the family is such that it makes him the fittest
person to have this responsibility.
But this does not mean that man has been made a household tyrant and woman has
been handed over to him as a helpless chattel. According to Islam the real spirit of marital life is
love, understanding and mutual respect. If woman has been asked to obey her husband, the
latter has been called on to treat the wife with love, affection and sweetness and to make the
welfare of his family his top priority.
Although Islam places great emphasis on the marital bond, it only wants it to remain
intact as long as it is founded on the sweetness of love or there exists at least the possibility of
lasting companionship. If neither of these two conditions obtain, it gives man the right of divorce
and woman the right of separation; and under certain conditions, where married life has become
a source of misery, the Islamic courts of justice have the authority to annul the marriage.
Relatives and Neighbours
After the limited circle of the family, the next social sphere is that of kinship and blood
relationship. Islam wants all those who are related through common parents, common brothers
and sisters or marriage to be affectionate, co- operative and helpful to each other. In many
places in the Qur’an good treatment of the near relations (Dhawi-al-Dhawi-al-qurba) is
enjoined. In the Hadith of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, proper treatment of
one’s blood relations has been strongly emphasised and counted among the highest virtues. A
person who cold-shoulders his relations or treats them indifferently is looked on by Islam with
But this does not mean that it is an Islamic virtue to favour one’s relations. If such
support or bias towards one’s relations results in injustice, it is repugnant to Islam, and is
condemned as an act of Jahiliyyah (ignorance). Similarly, it is utterly against the principles of
Islam for a government official or public servant to support his relations at public expense or to
favour his kith and kin in his official decisions: this would actually be a sinful act. Fair treatment
of one’s relations, as enjoined by Islam, should be at one’s own expense and within the limits of
justice and fair play.
After relations come one’s neighbours. The Qur’an has divided them into three
categories: a neighbour who is also a relation; a neighbour who is a stranger; and a casual or
temporary neighbour with whom one happens to live or travel for a certain time. All of them are
deserving of sympathy, affection, kindness and fair treatment. The Prophet, blessings and peace
be on him, once said that the rights of the neighbour were so strongly emphasised by the angel
Gabriel that he thought neighbours might even share one’s inheritance. (Bukhari and Muslim)
In one Hadith the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, said: Anyone whose
neighbour is not safe from his misdeeds is not a true Believer. (Bukhari and Muslim) Again, he
said: A person who enjoys a meal while his neighbour is starving is not a true Believer. (Ahmad,
Baihaqi) The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, was once asked about the fate of a
woman who performed many Prayers and fasted extensively and who was a frequent
almsgiver, but whose neighbours complained of her abusive tongue. He said: Such a woman
shall be in the Hell-fire. He was, then, asked about another woman who did not possess these
virtues but did not trouble her neighbours either, and he said: She would be in Paradise.
(Ahmad, Baihaqi) The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, has laid so much emphasis on
being considerate to neighbours that he has advised that whenever a Muslim brings home fruit
for his children he should either send some to his neighbours as a gift, or at least take care not to
offend them by throwing the peelings away outside their door.’ On another occasion he said: A
man is really good if his neighbours regard him as such, and bad if they consider him so. (Ibn
Islam, therefore, requires all neighbours to be loving and helpful and to share each
other’s sorrows and happiness. It enjoins them to establish social relations in which one can
depend upon the other and regard his life, honour and property safe among his neighbours. A
society in which two people, separated only by a wall, remain unacquainted with one another
for years, and in which those living in the same area of a town have no interest or trust in one
another, can never be called Islamic.
Next to these come the wider relationships covering the whole of society. The broad
principles on which Islam wants people to structure their social lives are:
To co-operate in acts of goodness and righteousness and not to co-operate in acts of
sin and injustice. (Al-Maidah 5:2)
One’s friendship should be only for seeking the pleasure of God: whatever you give
should be given because God likes it to be given, and whatever you withhold should be withheld
because God wishes so. (Tirmidhi)
You are the best community ever raised among man- kind; your duty is to command
people to do good and prevent them from committing evil. (Al `Imran 3:110)
Do not think evil of each other, nor probe into each other’s affairs, nor incite one against
the other. Avoid hatred and jealousy. Do not unnecessarily oppose each other. Always remain
the slaves of Allah, and live as brothers to each other. (Muslim)
Do not help a tyrant, knowing him to be such. (Abu Da’ud)
To support the community when it is in the wrong is like falling into a well while catching
the tail of your camel which was about to fall into it. (Abu Da’ud; Mishkawt)
No one among you shall be a true Believer unless he likes for others what he likes for
himself. (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Economic Principles of Islam
Islam has laid down certain principles and limits for the economic activity of man so that
the entire pattern of production, exchange and distribution of wealth may conform to the Islamic
standard of justice and equity. Islam does not concern itself with time-bound methods and
techniques of economic production or with the details of organisational patterns and
mechanisms. Such methods are specific to every age and are evolved in accordance with the
needs and requirements of the community and the exigencies of the economic situation. Islam’s
concern is that whatever the particular form of economic activity in operation, its underlying
principles should always be the same.
According to the Islamic point of view, God has created for mankind the earth and all
that it contains. It is, therefore, the birthright of every human being to try to secure his share of
the world’s wealth and sustenance. Islam does not allow a particular person, class, race or
group of people to create a monopoly in certain economic activities: equal opportunities for all is
Right of Property
Resources which are provided by nature and which can be used directly by man may be
utilised freely, and everyone is entitled to benefit from them according to his needs. Water in the
rivers and springs, timber in the- forests, fruits of wild plants, wild grass and fodder, air, animals
of the jungle, minerals under the surface of the earth and similar other resources cannot be
monopolised by anyone nor can restrictions of any sort be imposed on their free use by God’s
creatures to fulfil their own needs. Of course, people who want to use any of these things for
commercial purposes can be required to pay taxes to the state. Or, if there is misuse of the
resources, the Government may intervene. But there is nothing to prevent individuals availing
themselves of God’s earth as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others or of the
It is not right that things created by God for the benefit of mankind should be taken
possession of, and then kept idle and useless. One should either benefit from them oneself,
or make them available to others. On the basis of this principle Islam holds that no one can keep
his land unused for more than three years. If, during this period, he does not himself use it for
cultivation or for construction of buildings or for some other purpose, such land shall be treated
as `vacated’, and anyone else who makes use of it shall not be liable to be proceeded against in
law, nor shall the Government have any authority to hand it over to someone else (including the
Anyone who takes possession of the earth’s natural resources and puts them to good
use acquires a rightful title over them. For instance, if somebody takes possession of an
uncultivated piece of land, on which nobody has a prior right of ownership, and makes
productive use of it, he cannot be arbitrarily dispossessed of that piece of land.
This is how every right of ownership originated in the world. When man first appeared,
everything was available to everyone, and whoever took possession of anything and made it
useful in any manner became its owner; that is to say, he acquired the right to use it specifically
for his own purpose and to obtain compensation from others if they wanted to use it. This is the
natural basis of all the economic activity of mankind.
The rights of ownership are to be honoured, though it is always open to ascertain if a
particular ownership is legally valid or not. Islam cannot approve of economic policies which
destroy the rights conferred by the Shari’ah, however attractive their names may be and
whatever welfare pretensions they may make. Social justice and collective good are very dear
to Islam, but in their name the rights given by the Shari’ah cannot be trampled. It is as unjust to
reduce or remove the restrictions placed by the Shari’ah, for the sake of the good of the
community as a whole, on the rights of individual ownership as it is to add restrictions and
limitations on them which do not fit into the Shari’ah. It is one of the duties of an Islamic state to
protect the legal rights of individuals and, at the same time to compel them to fulfil their
obligations to the community as enjoined by law. That is how Islam strikes a balance between
individualism and collectivism.
The Problem of Equality
God has not distributed His gifts and favours equally among mankind but, in His infinite
wisdom, has given some individuals more than others. Just as this is true of pleasantness of
voice, excellence of physique and intellectual power and so on, so, too, is it the case with the
material conditions of life. Human existence has been so ordained that divergence, variety and
inequality among men in their ways and standards of living seems to be natural. Variety is the
spice of life, and the driving spirit behind human endeavour and excellence.
Consequently, all those ideologies which want to force an artificial economic equality on
mankind are mistaken, unrealistic and impossible to realise. The equality which Islam believes in
is equality of opportunity to secure a livelihood and to climb the ladder of success and
prosperity. Islam desires that no obstacles should exist in society to prevent an individual from
striving for a living according to his capacity and talents; nor should any social distinctions exist
with the object of safeguarding the privileges of a certain class, race, dynasty or group of
All those ideologies which serve vested interests, or which seek to perpetuate the
power of a certain group, are also repugnant to Islam and can have no place in its scheme of
things. Such movements seek to establish, through force if necessary, an unnatural inequality in
place of the natural limited inequality which provides incentive to effort in society. At the same
time, Islam does not agree with those who want to enforce complete equality in respect of the
means of production and the fruits of economic endeavour, as they aim at replacing limited
natural inequality by an artificial equality.
Only that system can be the nearest to human nature in which everyone joins the
economic struggle at his own level and in the circumstances in which God has created him. He
who has inherited an aeroplane should make use of it; while he who has only a pair of legs
should stand on his feet and try to improve his lot. The laws of society should neither be such as
would establish a permanent monopoly for the aeroplane- owner (over his aeroplane) and
make it impossible for the bare-footed to acquire an aeroplane nor such that the race for
everyone should compulsorily begin from the same point and under the same conditions so that
they would all be tied to each other right till the end of the race. On the contrary, economic laws
should be such as to make it possible for the bare-footed, who started his race under adverse
conditions, to possess an aeroplane, if he can do so by dint of his effort and ability, and for he
who inherited the aeroplane to be left behind in the race and to lose it, if he does not have the
ability or efficiency to keep it. Effort should be rewarded and laziness penalised.
Islam does not want this economic race to take place in an atmosphere of moral
neutrality and social apathy. The participants should be just and kind to one another.
Islam, through its moral injunctions, aims at creating a feeling of mutual love and affection among
people, through which they may help their weak and weary brethren, and at the same time
create a permanent institution in society to guarantee assistance to those who lack the necessary
means and abilities to succeed. People who are unable to take part in the economic race and
those who need help to get started in it should receive their share of the blessings of life from this
social institution. To this end Islam has commanded that Zakat should be levied at the rate of
two and a half percent per annum on the total accumulated wealth (of each individual) in the
country, as well as on invested capital; five percent or ten percent, depending on the method of
watering, should be collected on agricultural produce; and twenty percent on certain mineral
products. The annual Zakat should also be levied, at a specified rate, on cattle owned by
anyone who has more than a certain minimum number. The amount of Zakat thus collected is to
be spent on the poor, the orphans and the needy.
This system provides a means of social insurance whereby everyone in an Islamic
society is provided with at least the necessities of life. No worker can ever be forced, through
fear of starvation, to accept conditions of employment which may be unfairly imposed on him by
his employer. And nobody’s physical health is allowed to deteriorate for lack of proper medical
care and hospitalisation.
Islam aims at striking a balance between the individual and the community, which will
promote individual freedom and at the same time ensure that such freedom is positively
conducive to the growth and tranquillity of the community as a whole. Islam does not approve
of a political or economic organisation which aims at submerging the identity of the individual
beneath that of the community, and depriving him of the freedom essential for the proper
development of his personality and talent. The inevitable consequence of nationalising a
country’s means of production is the annihilation of the individual by the community; in these
circumstances the existence and development of his individuality becomes extremely difficult, if
Just as political and social freedom is essential for the individual, economic freedom
is necessary for a civilised moral existence. Unless we desire to eliminate completely the
individuality of man, our social life must have enough freedom for an individual to be able to earn
his living, to maintain the integrity of his conscience and to develop his moral and intellectual
faculties according to his own inclinations and aptitudes. Living on the dole or on charity at
the hands of others cannot be very satisfying, even if the sums involved are generous: the
retardation of mental, moral and spiritual development which it ultimately leads to can never be
counteracted by mere physical welfare and prosperity.
Nor does Islam favour a system of unbridled economic and social freedom which gives
individuals a blank cheque to achieve their objectives at the possible cost of the good of the
community as a whole, or which enables them to misappropriate the wealth of others. Between
these two extremes, Islam has adopted the middle course according to which the individual is
first called upon, in the interest of the community, to accept certain restrictions, and is then left
free to regulate his own affairs. He has freedom of enterprise and competition within a
framework which guarantees the good of both the individual and society. It is not possible to
explain all these obligations and restrictions in detail and I shall, therefore, content myself with
presenting a bare outline of them.
Obligations and Restrictions
Take first the example of earning a living. The meticulous care with which Islam has
distinguished between right and wrong in respect of the means of earning wealth is not to be
found in any other legal and social system. It condemns as illegal all those means of livelihood
which injure, morally or materially, the interests of another individual or of society as a whole.
Islamic law categorically rejects as illegal the manufacture and sale of liquor and other
intoxicants, adultery, professional dancing, gambling, transactions of a speculative or fraudulent
nature, transactions in which the gain of one party is absolutely guaranteed while that of the
other party is left uncertain and doubtful, and price manipulation by withholding the sale of the
necessities of life.
If we examine this aspect of the economic laws of Islam, we will find a long list of
practices declared illegal, most of which can and are making people millionaires in the capitalist
system. Islam forbids all these by law, and allows freedom of earning wealth only by those
means through which a person renders some real and useful service to the community and
thereby entitles himself to fair and just compensation for it.
Islam accepts the right of ownership of an individual over the wealth earned by him by
legitimate means; but these rights are not unrestrained. A man can only spend his legitimate
wealth in certain specified ways. He may not waste his riches on idle luxury, nor may he use his
wealth to behave arrogantly towards his fellows. Certain forms of wasteful expenditure have
been unequivocally prohibited while some others, though not expressly banned, may be
prohibited at the discretion of an Islamic Government.
One is permitted to accumulate wealth that is left over after meeting one’s legitimate
and reasonable commitments and these savings can also be used to produce more wealth; there
are, however, restrictions on both these activities. A rich man will, of course, have to pay Zakat
at the rate of two and a half percent a year on the accumulation exceeding the specified
minimum. He can only invest it in a business which has been declared legitimate. In this
connection, he may own the legitimate business himself or he may make his capital available to
others on a profit-loss sharing basis.
It is not at all objectionable in Islam if, working within these limits, a man becomes a
millionaire; rather, this will constitute a Divine favour. But in the interests of the community as
a whole, Islam imposes two conditions on the individual: first, that he should pay Zakat on his
commercial goods and `Ushr (one tenth) on the value of agricultural produce; second, that he
should deal fairly and honestly with those he does business with in trade, industry or agriculture,
with those he employs and with the Government and the community at large. If he does not
voluntarily act justly to others, particularly his employees, the Islamic State will compel him to
Even wealth that is accumulated within these legal limits is not allowed by Islam to be
concentrated at one point or in one place for a long time. Through its law of inheritance
Islam spreads it among a large number of people from generation to generation. In this respect
the Islamic law is different from that of other inheritance laws; most of them attempt to keep the
wealth once accumulated by a person concentrated in the hands of one main beneficiary from
generation to generation. In Islam, wealth accumulated by a person in his lifetime is distributed
among all of his near relatives soon after his death. If there are no near relatives, distant relatives
benefit from it in the proportions laid down by the law for each one of them. And if no distant
relative is forthcoming, then the entire Muslim society is entitled to share in the inheritance.
Under this law the creation or continuance of any big family of capitalists or landlords becomes
The Spiritual Path in Islam
What is the spiritual path in Islam and what is its place in the life as a whole? To answer
this it is necessary to study carefully the difference between the Islamic concept of spirituality
and that of other religions and ideologies. Without a clear understanding of this difference it
often happens that, when talking about the spirituality in Islam, many of the vague notions
associated with the word `spiritual’ unconsciously come to mind; it then becomes difficult for
one to comprehend that this spirituality of Islam not only transcends the dualism of spirit and
matter but is the nucleus of its integrated and unified concept of life.
The idea which has influenced most the climate of philosophical and religious thought is
that body and soul are mutually antagonistic, and can develop only at each other’s expense. For
the soul, the body is a prison and the activities of daily life are the shackles which keep it in
bondage and arrest its growth. This has inevitably led to the universe being divided into the
spiritual and the secular.
Those who chose the secular path were convinced that they could not meet the
demands of spirituality, and thus they led highly material and hedonistic lives. All spheres of
worldly activity, whether social, political, economic or cultural, were deprived of the light of
spirituality: injustice and tyranny were the result.
Conversely, those who wanted to tread the path of spiritual excellence came to see
themselves as `noble outcasts’ from the world. They believed that it was impossible for spiritual
growth to be compatible with a `normal’ life. In their view physical self-denial and mortification
of the flesh were necessary for the development and perfection of the spirit. They invented
spiritual exercises and ascetic practices which killed physical desires and dulled the body’s
senses. They regarded forests, mountains and other solitary places as ideal for spiritual
development because the hustle and bustle of life would not interfere with their meditations.
They could not conceive of spiritual development except through withdrawal from the world.
This conflict of body and soul resulted in the evolution of two different ideals for the
perfection of man. One was that man should be surrounded by all possible material comforts
and regard himself as nothing but an animal. Men learnt to fly like birds, swim like fish, run like
horses and even terrorise and destroy like wolves - but they did not learn how to live like noble
human beings. The other was that the senses should be not only subdued and conquered but
extra-sensory powers awakened and the limitations of the sensory world done away with. With
these new conquests men would be able to hear distant voices like powerful wireless sets, see
remote objects as one does with a telescope, and develop powers through which the mere
touch of their hand or a passing glance would heal the unhealable.
The Islamic viewpoint differs radically from these approaches. According to Islam, God
has appointed the human soul as His Khalifah (vicegerent) in this world. He has invested it with
a certain authority, and given it certain responsibilities and obligations for the fulfilment of which
He has endowed it with the best and most suitable physical frame. The body has been created
with the sole object of allowing the soul to use it in the exercise of its authority and the
fulfilment of its duties and responsibilities. The body is not a prison for the soul, but its workshop
or factory; and if the soul is to grow and develop, it is only through this workshop.
Consequently, this world is not a place of punishment in which the human soul unfortunately
finds itself, but a field in which God has sent it to work and do its duty towards Him.
So spiritual development should not take the form of a man turning away from this
workshop and retreating into a corner. Rather, man should live and work in it, and give the best
account of himself that he can. It is in the nature of an examination for him; every aspect and
sphere of life is, as it were, a question paper: the home, the family, the neighbourhood, the
society, the market place, the office, the factory, the school, the law courts, the police station,
the parliament, the peace conference and the battlefield, all represent question papers which
man has been called upon to answer. If he leaves most of the answer-books blank, he is bound
to fail the examination. Success and development are only possible if man devotes his whole life
to this examination and attempts to answer all the question papers he can.
Islam rejects and condemns the ascetic view of life, and proposes a set of methods and
processes for the spiritual development of man, not outside this world but inside it. The real
place for the growth of the spirit is in the midst of life and not in solitary places of spiritual
Criterion of Spiritual Development
We shall now discuss how Islam judges the development or decay of the soul. In his
capacity as the vicegerent (Khalifah) of God, man is answerable to Him for all his activities. It is
his duty to use all the powers, which he has been given in accordance with the Divine will. He
should utilise to the fullest extent all the faculties and potentialities bestowed upon him for
seeking God’s approval. In his dealings with other people he should behave in such a way as to
try to please God. In brief, all his energies should be directed towards regulating the affairs of
this world in the way in which God wants them to be regulated. The better a man does this, with
a sense of responsibility, obedience and humility, and with the object of seeking the pleasure of
the Lord, the nearer will he be to God. In Islam, spiritual development is synonymous with
nearness to God. Similarly, he will not be able to get near to God if he is lazy and disobedient.
And distance from God signifies, in Islam, the spiritual fall and decay of man.
From the Islamic point of view, therefore, the sphere of activity of the religious man and
the secular man is the same. Not only will both work in the same spheres; the religious man will
work with greater enthusiasm than the secular man. The man of religion will be as active as the
man of the world - indeed, more active - in his domestic and social life, which extends from the
confines of the household to the market square, and even to international conferences.
What will distinguish their actions will be the nature of their relationship with God and
the aims behind their actions. Whatever a religious man does, will be done with the feeling that
he is answerable to God that he must try to secure Divine pleasure, that actions must be in
accordance with God’s laws. A secular person will be indifferent towards God and will be
guided in his actions only by his personal motives. This difference makes the whole of the
material life of a man of religion a totally spiritual venture, and the whole of the life of a secular
person an existence devoid of the spark of spirituality.
The Road to Spirituality
The first necessity for progression along the path of spiritual development is iman (faith).
The mind and heart of a man should always be aware: God alone is His Master, Sovereign and
Deity; seeking His pleasure is the aim of all his endeavours; and His commands alone are the
commands that are to be obeyed. This should be a firm conviction, based not merely on the
intellect, but also on acceptance by the will. The stronger and deeper this conviction, the more
profound a man’s faith will be.
The second stage is that of obedience (ita’at), meaning that man gives up his
independence and accepts subservience to God. This subservience is called Islam (submission)
in the language of the Qur’an. Thus, man should not only acknowledge God as his Lord and
Sovereign but should actually submit before Him and fashion his entire life in obedience to Him.
The third stage is that of taqwa (God-consciousness). It consists in a practical
manifestation of one’s faith in God in one’s daily life. Taqwa also means desisting from
everything which God has forbidden or has disapproved of; man must be in a state of readiness
to undertake all that God has commanded and to observe the distinctions between lawful and
unlawful, right and wrong, and good and bad in life.
Let us now look at the mechanism of spiritual training which Islam has laid down to
prepare individuals and society for this process.
The methods that Islam lays down for spiritual development rest, in addition, obviously,
to faith (iman), on five pillars. The first is the Prayer (Salat), which brings man into communion
with God five times a day, reviving his rememberance, reiterating his fear, developing his love,
reminding him of the Divine commands again and again, and thus preparing him for obedience to
God. It is obligatory to offer some of these Prayers in Congregation as well so that the whole
community and society may be prepared to journey on the path of spiritual development.
The second is the Fast (Sawm), which for a full month every year trains each man
individually, and the Muslim community as a whole, in righteousness and self-restraint; it enables
society, the rich and the poor alike, to experience hunger, and prepares people to undergo
any hardships in their search to please God. The third is the Almsgiving (Zakat), which develops
the sense of monetary sacrifice, sympathy and co-operation among Muslims. There are people
who wrongly interpret Zakat as a tax; in fact, the spirit underlying Zakat is entirely different from
that of a tax. The real meaning of Zakat is sublimity and purification. By using this word, Islam
seeks to impress on man the fact that, inspired by a true love of God, the monetary help, which
he renders to his brethren, will uplift and purify his soul.’
The fourth is the Pilgrimage (Hajj), which aims at fostering that universal brotherhood of
the faithful which is based on the worship of God, and which results in a world-wide movement
that has been responding to the call of Truth throughout the centuries and will, God willing, go
on answering this call till eternity.
The last is Jihad, that is, exerting oneself to the utmost to disseminate the word of God
and to make it supreme, and to remove all the impediments to Islam - through tongue or pen or
sword. The aim is to live a life of dedication to the cause of Allah and, if necessary, to sacrifice
one’s life in the discharge of this mission. This is the highest spirituality, rooted in the real world,
which Islam wants to cultivate. Life-affirmation based on goodness and piety, and not lifedenial,
is what Islam stands for. And this lends a unique character to Islam.