Message of Islam

19 MESSAGE OF ISLAM (Mrs Rashidah Hargey) (Lecture given on the occasion of Ladies Seminar on different Religions on 18th February, 1990, in Cape Town, South Africa.) Islam is the last .of the great revealed religions and contains in itself the essential principles of all earlier religions. Islam is a strongly monotheistic religionjwith the worship of One God as its central theme. Islam requires its followers to believe in all earlier prophets and scriptures, because according to Islam, all the great religions that preceded it were revealed by God. Sadly, most of the old scriptures have been changed and tampered with, leaving them doubtful. The word ISLAM in the Arabic language is derived from the root SLM and means peace and obedience. God Himself has named this religion Islam through revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing . of God be with him (Holy Quran 5:4). The religion is called Islam because it offers peace and requires complete submission to the Will of God. Islam is not a religion of an ethnic group or a specific nation, rather it is the religion for all mankind. Some of the teachings of Islam were already preached by the earlier prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc., peace be on them. Islam was perfected at the time of prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be on him, as a favour unto mankind by God. REVELATION OF THE HOLY QURAN TO THE MESSENGER OF ISLAM: Hirst of all, what is revelation? Muslims’ believe that God speaks to His chosen servants through the process of revelation. It is through this process that spiritual knowledge and wisdom is given to man by God. Revelation can be of many kinds. It may comprise ordinances (i.e. established rules, rites and ceremonies), laws and injunctions. Revelation • may be prophetic in nature and bring knowledge of future events. Revelation may bring, great insight into matters of material or spiritual nature. Revelation may also convey God’s goodwill, pleasure and love; or it may be the medium of God’s warning, displeasure and rebuke. The nature of revelation varies according to circumstances and the 20 REVIEW’ OF RELIGIONS spiritual station of the recipient. Muslims believe that of all revelations and divine communications, the most complete, the most perfect and the most comprehensive is the Holy Quran which contains all the types of revelations that I have just explained. Now let us turn to the person who received the Quranic revelation. For one to receive such revelation from God, the person has to be honest, truthful, kind and. compassionate, and these qualities should stem from early childhood until death. In other words, this person’s character should be impeccable, faultless and incapable of sin. This person, we believe, was his Holiness, Muhammad Mustapha, the Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings of Allah be on him. There are some religions which proclaim that their prophets committed sins. Islam teaches us that all the prophets of God throughout the ages were faultless and sinless and the Quran clears them from any sins that’ were attributed to them. Some of these prophets were Moses, Noah, Job, Jonah, John, Ezekiel, etc. . You must keep in mind that when God reveals to a chosen servant His further plans designed for a long time ahead, then they are fulfilled. Sometimes prophets foretold of future prophets to come so these chosen servants of God will have a background of nobility, truthfulness and honour; and, of course, they will be righteous and God-fearing. The Holy Prophet of Islam is described in the Holy Quran as an excellent exemplar. He was commanded to announce: If you love God, then follow me, God will then love you and forgive you your faults. God is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. (3:32) It was necessary that the life of the Holy Prophet should be open for all to witness. It was also necessary that his life should be multifaceted, in the sense that he should be called upon to fill a diversity of roles, and that he should fill them to perfection, The_Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be oil him) was born in the year 570 A.D. He belonged to a noble Arabian tribe, the Quraish, who were amoiig the Chiefs of Mecca. His family was highly respected and honoured. We have a full and detailed account of his childhood, youth and adulthood till his death in the year 632 A.D. when his mission was completed. However, the time limit here makes it impossible for me to go into detail since I have other teachings of Islam to discuss as well. I intend REVIEW OF RELIGIONS • 21- to highlight only some very important factors of this great Prophet. He was ‘since his childhood, truthful, sincere, honest, kind and compassionate. He was loved by so many people because of these qualities. Since most of the Arabs in those times had very low morals, their major interest in life was drinking wine, fighting and womanising. They had no time for honest courtesy and most of all for rememberance of God. Most ‘of them were idol worshippers. Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him), therefore was indeed an outstanding person with dignity. At every stage and every step of his life, the hand of God was clearly visible as His Protector, his Guide and his Helper.” All this could not have been contrived by the Holy Prophet on his own. Under his influence Mecca underwent a tremendous change which many of his opponents did not like at all because of the equality and freedom he taught. He introduced the freedom of slaves, taught people to be kind to the needy and poor, that all men are equal irrespective of their race, creed or colour. He encouraged the proper upbringing of orphans ‘and not to usurp their rights, to hand over what rightfully belonged to them when they .reached maturity. He discouraged usury and he was a champion for women’s rights and exalted their status, which had up till then been that of a mere possession of man. Women at that time were treated like cattle, no respect was shown to them and some were even won as prizes in their games of chance. STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM: It is often wrongly believed by Westners that Muslim women are degraded with no rights and are kept hidden away. This type of criticism is entirely the result of ignorance and misconception because Islam liberated women fourteen centuries ago by giving them their full rights. Islam did not wait till women rebelled and demanded their rights as in today’s world. Fourteen hundred years ago while other Western and Eastern civilisations still-treated their women as having no rights, treated them as . their property and laid the responsibility of man’s, sinful fall upon a woman and declared her to be an instrument of the devil (as in the case of Adam and Eve), the Holy Quran testified to the spiritual equality of men and women. Sadly there are still some people who regard their sons as their great accomplishment and good future while regarding their daughters as unimportant and as an unwanted liability. I can assure you 22 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS that they do not act upon the teachings of Islam, rather they are still following ancient customs and traditions which have been abolished by Islam. The Holy Quran teaches that men and women complement one another and are the means of mutual fulfilment. It also teaches that the rights and responsibilities of men and women produce a harmonius effect emphasizing the equal importance of.both sexes. At the same time it does not ignore or overlook their different capacities and, therefore, their diffetrent roles in life. Islam has given women complete economic independence. At the time when Western and Eastern civilizations disregarded women as rightful heirs, Islam gave them the right to inherit money and property. Even after marriage they have the right to retain it independently. Also, part of the Islamic marriage contract states that the husband should offer a substantial amount of dowry, according to his means, to his wife, which becomes her sole property. Amongst other rights, Muslim women may pursue a professional career or business. However, this should not be carried out at the expense of her marital and domestic obligations and of course, keeping in view her circumstances, Islam teaches that the family unit is sacred and has priority and its safety and true prosperity in every respect should be considered inviolable.. A woman is naturally more caring and protective in nurturing her children. A woman is also more vulnerable and needs man’s protection, strength and support. God has designed women to bear children. God designed nature to function this way. Even animals bear witness to the different roles of males and females. The task, therefore, of upbringing children largely falls on the shoulders of mothers. In any case a young child learns mostly from its mother since it spends more time with her in the early years, than with the father. In their turn, children are taught by Islam to respect and honour their parents and to treat them with kindness and compassion, to care for.them in their old age and to always pray for them. Here, Islam puts special emphasis on treating mothers with dignity, kindness, love and respect, so much so that one may attain paradise through it. The Holy Prophet said that Paradise lies at the feet of mothers. Does not this make clear the high’, status of women in Islam? Another right- given to women by Islam is that not only did women become entitled to education but it is essential that they be educated to the highest level. In some respects the education of women is more important • • ‘ REVIEW OF RELIGIONS ‘ – 23 than that of men because it is the mother whose influence most effects the next generation and is therefore, of vital importance. Islam has never stood in the way of education, rather it promotes it. The Holy Prophet has said to acquire knowledge -is the duty of every man and woman, and seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. • . • Now coming to another important aspect that the West does not understand is why Muslim women should be veiled and the segregation of men and women. First of all, Islam lays great emphasis on purity and chastity for both men and women. This is called Purdah. A woman especially is taught to cover her ornaments -these may be her hair, neck, bosom, legs, etc.-to guard’and protect herself against-the evil inclinations it might arouse in the mind of man if he sees her uncovered. This has been proved over and over in today’s world where rape, incest and murder is reported daily in the newspapers. By displaying her beauty and making herself provocative and sensual for anyone else other than her husband, it will most certainly cause attraction, disturbance and excitement in other men. The same applies to the free intermingling of the two sexes.. So as you can see now, there is difinite’reason and logic behind the Islamic teaching for covering up. In any case, if you go backto history you will, find that in the majority of civilisations that existed women always dressed in such a way that their ornaments were covered and this applies to Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism as well. There must have been very good reasons for this. • Another important right given to’women fourteen hundred years ago by Islam was her right to divorce her husband. Up to then in all history only men could divorce their wives if they wished. As I have already explained, Islam-lays great importance on the special treatment .of women. If a husband maltreats his wife severely and does not look after her needs properly and there is severe incompatibility, she has the right to divorce her husband. Though I also have to make it absolutely clear that generally divorce is not encouraged in Islam because-of-the-davastating— effect it has on both parties, as well as on the children. Divorce is described as being hateful in the eyes of God and this applies to ‘both a man seeking divorce from his wife and to a wife seeking divorce from her husband. But stiUthe right of divorce was given to. women so that they do riot have to spend the rest of their lives in a living heU. • • ‘. In conclusion, I trust that those who are present here today, have become somewhat enlightened about the peaceful teachings of Islam and especially on the status, rights and responsibilities of Muslim women. (continued on page 32)