What is Islam?


Islam teaches belief in one god, and that this God is not some arbitrarily chosen god amongst other gods, but the beginninglessly eternal reality, the Only God, Who did not beget, nor was He begotten.
The seven heavens and the earth, and all that is in them glorify Him; and there is nothing but that it proclaims His praise, but you do not understand their glorification. Surely He is All-clement, All-forgiving. (Qur’an, “the Chapter of the Night Journey” 17:44)
He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; … He is with you wherever you are. (Qur’an, “the Chapter of Iron” parts of 57:3-4)
A town cannot be without a mayor, a needle without a maker or an owner, nor a letter without a writer. (Said Nursi, The Book of Light, the Resurrection Epistle)
Islam teaches belief in one god, and that this God is not some arbitrarily chosen god amongst other gods, but the beginninglessly eternal reality, the Only God, Who did not beget, nor was He begotten (Qur’an 112:3). Familiar causal concepts of coming into existence from nothing, and then leaving existence because of physical or other forms of deterioration, apply to us but not to Him, for He is the Author of nature (and thus the Author of causality itself): He is Reality Itself.
Some in modern times may ask “how do we know that such a ‘Reality Itself’ actually exists?” or even “who created God?” Yet only someone who has not understood the fundamental claim of theism could ask the latter question in seriousness, for as we have just seen, God is non-composite, eternal and timeless, and is the source of cause and effect itself – some necessary being must account for the fact that the causal world exists in the first place, and that being is God.
The answer to the former question – that of how we can know that God exists – is that our knowledge of the existence of God has two sources. On the one hand, logic and reason tell us (amongst many other rational proofs) that the physical beings (individually or taken as a whole) in the cosmos in which we live cannot be the source of their own existence. It is no accident then that the great sages of Ancient China and India independently came to the same conclusion as did Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (not to mention Plotinus, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Planck, Gödel and many others): a timeless and infinitely rich Being is the source of the world of phenomena that we are each a part of and that we each experience over the course of our lives. Without a Necessary Being, without there being “Being Itself”, how could there be anything at all? And once we see all of the individual, intelligible, coherently meaningful and beautifully balanced creatures and things around us, how could we possibly ascribe them to unconscious forces? As Imam Nursi says in the “Second Impossibility” of his Epistle on Nature:
If an existent being constitutes a unity [i.e one particular thing – Nursi is here referring to the existence of individuals and individual identities], there is no doubt that it has its origin in one being and one hand; this truth comes  on the authority of the principle that states ‘a unity can only issue from that which is itself unity’. This is especially the case if the specific existent being in question happens to be harmoniously ordered to exceptional perfection, and is sensitively balanced – and if its mode of life is all-inclusive. The ascription of this wondrous, masterful, and finely balanced being to the chaotic hands of a limitless number of inanimate, wayward, unconscious, blind and deaf and brute physical causes is as far from being rationally defensible as one’s assent to a hundred [obvious] logical impossibilities would be. This quite apart from the fact that in their extremely violent state of chaos, the blindness and deafness of these causes becomes even more accentuated, as they become amalgamated and mingle within the endless routes down which possibility may take us. [Each individual] being itself self-evidently shows that it is not the cause of many hands, which would have caused disharmony and chaos, but rather that is issued from one, omnipotent and surpassingly wise hand.
Revelation is the other source of our knowledge of the existence of God. Revelation, a concept which has been central to the majority of human lives for tens of centuries, is the Divine disclosure to human beings of the nature of human existence, the universe, and God Himself.
God’s own words are revealed to a Messenger that He has appointed from amongst mankind, a person made by God to serve as a perfect example of all that men and women should aspire to, both in terms of the beautiful character and treatment of fellow man that the Messenger embodies (which fulfils mankind’s moral and ethical dimension, and in Islam is formulated through the Sacred Law or sharīʿa) and in terms of the closeness to God with which the Messenger has been personally blessed, and which through his teachings, he makes available to those who follow him. In Islam, this revelation comes in the form of the Qur’an, and the message of the Qur’an is exemplified in the life and person of the Holy Prophet Muḥammad, may the blessings and peace of God be upon him. You have a beautiful example in God’s Messenger, for whosoever hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God often (Qur’an, the Chapter of the Clans 33:21). This “beautiful example” is a practical, lived example of a life of both action and contemplation, one of complete devotion to God and dedication to fellow man; a life of spiritual and moral perfection, because it is the life of the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil). Authentic sayings of the Holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, indubitably provide great inspiration for Muslim altruism, self-sacrifice and spiritual endeavor, words like “Be joined to those who cut you off, give to those who withhold from you, and forgive those who oppress you.” Yet it is actual examples of the moral conduct of the Holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, that are perhaps the greatest motivating force for Muslims. One of his Companions famously recounted, “I served the Prophet for ten years, and he never once said to me “why did you do such and such,” or, “why did you not do such and such?” The Holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, never retired for the night while there was still any wealth in his possession; he would not rest until it had been distributed to those in need. And famously, when he conquered Mecca with an army of ten thousands Muslims, after two decades of the persecution, torture and killing of his people at the hands of its inhabitants, he forgave them, and guaranteed them their safety, and indeed comforted them, blessings and peace be upon him.
Yet it is not just the moral conduct of the Holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, that is the main human source of inspiration for Muslims; his ongoing spiritual effulgence is also a constant source of comfort and internal joy for believers. All of the Sufi orders – and other sources of Islamic spirituality, such as the followers of the great Kurdish sage Imam Said Nursi – trace their spiritual lineage to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil). Through the “Prayer on the Prophet” (for which numerous formulas exist, and by means of which a believer sends blessings on the Prophet in accordance with the enjoinder in the Qur’anic verse Verily God and His angels invoke blessings upon the Prophet. O you who believe, invoke blessings upon him and greetings of peace (the Chapter of the Clans, 33:56)), Muslims stay ever connected to the light of the spirit of the Holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, who Muslims believe is spiritually alive in the “isthmus” world (al-barzakh) (to which human souls depart after they leave this world, and dwell for a time before they journey to their final abode in the Hereafter) whence he can communicate with and, by God’s permission, provide spiritual support to some of the elect of God’s saints, and even those who although not having attained sainthood, sincerely travel the path of Islamic spirituality.
Islam teaches that Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were all messengers from God (may peace be upon them all!); these and many others are mentioned specifically by name in the Qur’an. Yet the number of messengers sent by God is not limited to those directly mentioned in the Qur’an, for in the Qur’an itself God tells the Prophet Muḥammad, blessings and peace be upon him, We have sent revelation to you just as We sent revelation to Noah, and the Prophets after him. And We sent revelation to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, Jesus and Job, Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David Psalms;  Messengers We have already told you of before, and Messengers We have not told you of; and to Moses God spoke directly (Qur’an The Chapter of Women, 4:163-164). Elsewhere in the Qur’an, we are told that all of the nations of the world have had a warner sent to them We have sent you with the truth as a bearer of good news and as a warner; every nation has been sent a warner (35:24).

Islam teaches that Judaism and Christianity were both originally religions revealed by God – they were the “islams” of their own time, but in the course of time came to be distorted. Many of the Jews allowed their religion to become excessively formalistic and legalist; when Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, came to purify and renew God’s religion, and usher in a new dispensation, many Jews disbelieved in him. In time’s fullness true Christianity too would be distorted. It was not until the 4th century that consensus was reached amongst Christians as to the nature of Christ, but for both Jews and Muslims (and until the 5th century, around half of all Christians), the conclusion they reached – that Jesus is God and that God is three persons – is unacceptably polytheistic.

Will your consciousness survive your own bodily death? Will there still be a “you” after you die – which is to say, will you continue to have conscious experiences in an incorporeal state (in a similar state, for example, to dream-consciousness)? Moreover, if the “heart” of human consciousness does survive the cessation of the beating of the physical heart, will the state in which it subsequently finds itself be determined by the way that your individual consciousness had, in life, interacted with others in the physical world, and by the way it had used your own body? The traditional monotheistic religions are of course in agreement about the reality of life after death, and they are also in agreement about the intimate relationship that exists between one’s moral conduct in this world and one’s state in the Hereafter – and they thus agree that Paradise and Hell are both real.
Plato argued that since human consciousness is uniquely able to apprehend eternal, indestructible truths, i.e. mathematical, logical and moral truths, personal consciousness itself must be indestructible, because it must be of like nature to that by which it can become characterised, i.e. timeless, incorporeal truth. As fundamentally incorporeal, consciousness is inherently not subject to the physical death to which the body is condemned.
Over the centuries, thinkers of all stripes and from all religious traditions have discovered hundreds of reasons to believe that consciousness will continue after bodily death. Said Nursi is especially distinguished in this domain, as he wrote a whole book, entitled The Resurrection Epistle, to prove the immortality of the human self.
Since beauty is endless and eternal, it requires the perpetuation of the existence of those who yearn for it
Beauty involves a relation – there must be an observer to perceive it. God, Who is Absolutely Beautiful, could never be “content with a transient yearner”, that is a transient yearner after beauty – thus, God will cause human consciousness to endure eternally.
Another of Said Nursi’s arguments starts from the preservation of information that we see throughout nature: the memory of a human being, the kernel of a fruit and the seeds of a flower “all indicate the sublimity of the all-encompassing nature of the law of preservation”.
Do you not see that all flowering, fruit-giving beings in the vast spring, and the scrolls particular to them of their actions, and the laws governing their creation, formation and the samples of their forms, are all written and preserved within only a limited number of tiny seeds? The following spring, in spreading open the scrolls of their actions within the account particular to them, with perfect wisdom and order He forms another vast world of spring … Now, if such preservation takes place within such temporary, run-of-the-mill, transient, trivial things as these, is it conceivable that … the actions of man would not be carefully recorded – actions that bear important fruit in the unseen world, the world of the Hereafter, the world of spirits and in universal lordship?
Now, this preservation points to the fact that a momentous accounting book of actions is going to be opened, recording especially the great deeds and pivotal actions of man … how could man possibly depart to non-existence, thereby fleeing from the Almighty Possessor of Majesty whose past actions – miracles of His power – testify that He is able to create all of the possible beings that are going to come into existence in the future? He that brings into existence the winter and the spring, both of which greatly resemble the Resurrection  – how could man flee from Him, and go into the earth and conceal himself? Since he is not taken to account befittingly in this world, he must therefore be going to a supreme court of justice, and ultimate felicity.
Moreover, man has an innate sense of his capacity for eternal life, of the fundamentally indestructible nature of his consciousness, and this is why (as the history of human societies proves to us) he expects to live on forever in an afterlife.
It is because of his capacity that the hopes of man extend into endless eternity, and that his thought encompasses the whole universe, and that his desires stretch out right unto the many varieties of the future happiness [that he anticipates]. All of this indicates that man has been created for eternity, and that he will move away to eternity – and that this world is [merely] a guest house for him, and a waiting room for his [life in the] hereafter.
That it is to say, just as we have been blessed with proper objects corresponding to each of our senses, spectacular sights for our eyes, sublime fragrances for our sense of smell, stirring music for our sense of hearing, and so on, so does our natural “sense of eternity” require a corresponding object – and this will be actualised in the realm of the Hereafter.
The prevailing general attitude today in most parts of Western Europe, regarding the idea that human life continues after bodily death, tends towards a scepticism ostensibly derived from a scientifically-guided, if grim realism, and common sense Is there any evidence that this default scepticism is in fact justified? The idea that human consciousness ends at death necessarily involves the assumption that consciousness is entirely rooted in and dependent upon the physical body: that our sense of our selves as well as of good and evil, and abstract concepts like mathematical entities, universal concepts (like “necessary”, “possible”, “unity” and “beauty” and so on), are all merely incidental by-products of electrical neural impulses, transmitted by chemical changes taking place in the brain.
This profoundly unattractive worldview (known as “epiphenomenalism”) is happily completely lacking in any scientific evidence whatsoever, and enjoys very little support amongst the vast majority of scientists philosophically-minded enough to understand the absurd implications of the theory (which involves the complete subjectivisation of human knowledge, therefore rather putting the objective credibility of the theory itself in danger!). What is touted as evidence – the fact that there is an empirically-verifiable link between brain events and conscious experience – only proves that in so far as consciousness inhabits a body (i.e. during one’s lifetime), it is linked to the body (which is surely obvious in any case). On the other hand, it does nothing whatsoever to indicate that consciousness itself arises out of, or is “reducible” to electrical events in the brain. Indeed, matter and physicality are so radically different to “intelligible” entities (by which I mean the objects of conscious experience) that it is extremely difficult to see how consciousness could simply “emerge” from matter – it seems about as likely as the ocean floor being the origin and fundamental nature of the ocean’s water, or fuel of fire, and so on. Of course, these things seem to be inextricably linked to one another, but this does not mean that they are reducible to one another. Of course, water can be taken out of the sea, but innumerable testimonies of both out-of-body spiritual experiences, and of near-death experiences, provide strong indications that it is also possible to take consciousness out of the body (and consequently, out of the brain).

The first of the Five Pillars is the necessary condition for the spiritual validity of all of the rest, for through it, one becomes a Muslim. This is the Testification (shahāda – lit. “witnessing”) that there is only one God, that is, that there is nothing worthy of worship other than God. In practice, many human beings worship – in the sense of maximal devotion and adoration – imagined perfect worldly, material circumstances – the perfect home, career, spouse and so on; they worship the people in whose hands their material prosperity lies, they worship being seen a certain way in the eyes of others, and a kind of material vision of happiness – which can however never be true happiness. Islam teaches that this form of maximal devotion and adoration should never be directed towards material things; it should be solely for the Creator of those things, Who brought them and the whole world into existence, a world the structure and interrelationality of which bears the mark of His wisdom and compassionate plan for humanity. All that we know and love and desire in this world and throughout our short lives is good when it is sought after and enjoyed for His sake, and – as He has prescribed – for the common good of our fellow human beings. Yet in themselves, without reference to the meaning bestowed upon them by the Source of their being, material things are of no value – how, after all, can something that is devoid of all meaning be valuable? As Imām Nursī says in the First Word:
It would be foolishness to kiss the feet of a poor man coming to give you a gift from a king, without recognising who the gift has been sent by. Praising and showing affection for the people apparently bestowing blessings, while forgetting the ultimate, real Benefactor, is, however, an example of foolishness a thousand times more extreme.
The Testification, saying there is nothing worthy of worship but God, then, is recognition, adoration and devotion to the Source of all being, Reality Itself, Who gives and takes away as part of His plan for the human soul; we human beings who, through the ups and downs of the test of our lives, develop and grow, and mature in soul, such that in the Hereafter we can bear the fruits concealed in the seeds of our life and actions, and fulfil, for all eternity, our true natures.
The second pillar is prayer, or more properly, the Prayer, a Muslim’s spiritual link with his Lord; five times a day, all Muslims, men and women, turn to Mecca in a rhythmic series of prostrations and recitations that are as it were the meditative eye of the storm of the hectic bustle of daily human life; an internal oasis of calm and spiritual light, through which Muslims refocus, take stock and remind themselves of the purpose of the lives that they return to at the end of the Prayer.
The third pillar is the giving of charity – what is called the poor tax (zakāt); that the more fortunate give those less fortunate some of the wealth that God has given them. And give them of God’s wealth, which He has given you (Qur’an, the Chapter of Light, 24:33) – the wealth is fundamentally God’s – He is its Creator and Bestower – and He tests the rich by asking them to give 2.5 % of their wealth (required to be given to the poor by individuals who have had over a minimum amount of money saved for an entire year) in order to completely abolish poverty. Islamic societies were the first “welfare” societies; where the poor were entitled to have their difficult circumstances alleviated. It is the sharīʿa that guarantees this – money is to be taken from the rich, if they will not willingly give it, in order to be given to the poor, because receiving the poor tax is seen as a right granted by the Divine, the Bestower of wealth.
The fourth pillar is fasting in the month of Ramadan, the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, in solidarity with the poor, and as a spiritual exercise cultivating qualities of discipline, self-denial and non-indulgence. This is the month in which Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activity between dawn and dusk, and busy themselves with the practice of the Divine Remembrance (dhikr), and reading and reflecting upon the Qur’an. Yet it is also a month of material blessings and joy, and after dark, a festival month of gatherings of families and friends, and of true appreciation of the gift of food and drink. As a hadith states “a person who fasts has two joys; joy when he breaks his fast, and joy when he meets his Lord” that is, in the Hereafter.
The last pillar is that of the Pilgrimage (ḥajj) to Mecca.


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