Islam: Faith, Practice & History

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  • Islam: Faith, Practice & History




    In the name of Allāh, the Beneficent, the Merciful

    O Allāh, send Your blessings upon Muhammad & his Progeny

    The book in your hand is an introductory treatise on Islamic beliefs,

    laws and ethics as well as the early history of the faith in fifty lessons.

    These lessons were part of the Islamic Correspondence Course that I

    compiled, wrote and edited for the Islamic Education and Information

    Centre, Toronto, in the early nineties.

    The course consists of three parts: Part I (twenty lessons) on Islamic

    theology outlines the basic beliefs of the faith; followed by Part II (fifteen

    lessons) on Islamic jurisprudence explaining the spiritual and financial

    issues as well as the social and familial aspects of life; it concludes with

    Part III (fifteen lessons) on the brief history of the first three centuries

    covering the lives of the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter, Fātima, and

    the Twelve Imams of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). Each lesson is

    followed by a question paper.

    Besides my own writings, the sources used in preparing this course

    have been duly mentioned at the end of each lesson. nulltheless, I

    would like to acknowledge here the writings of my late father ‘Allāmah

    Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, the board of writers of Dar Rāh-e Haqq Insti-

    tute (Qum, Iran), the late ‘Allāmah S.M. Husayn Tabātabā’i, and

    Ayatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzi. I also would like to thank Br. Haider

    Ali Khoja, a lecturer at Humber College, for preparing the question pa-

    pers for the initial lessons which helped me in preparing questions for

    the remaining lessons in the same pattern.

    I pray to the Almighty Allāh that this book may prove as useful and

    helpful for seekers of truth as did the Islamic Correspondence Course

    2 which soon became popular on a world-wide basis: an Islamic Centre in

    Houston, Texas, included it in its tablīgh program for new Muslims; a

    prominent organization in the United Kingdom plans to put it on-line;

    and the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania has translated it into Swahili

    and has included it as the intermediary level of its correspondence


    Wa mā tawfīqī illa bi’l-lāh.

    Toronto, Canada

    Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

    Safar 1425 / April 2004

    3 Part 1

    Why Religion?

    4 1. Why Study Religion?

    Why should we investigate about religion and study about God? What

    provokes us to consider religion? There are three reasons:

    5 (A) Love Of Knowledge:

    We all want to know the truth about the world in which we live: Did the

    heaven with its beautiful stars, the earth with its glorious landscapes, the

    beautiful birds, the colourful fish, the blue oceans and the high moun-

    tains—did all these come into being by themselves or are they the

    product of an All-Knowing and Powerful Creator?

    Besides all this, the first question that comes to mind for all of us is the

    origin of ourselves: Where did we come from? Why are we in this

    world? Where are we heading to? The love of knowledge and the search-

    ing spirit within us dictates that we must not rest until we find the an-

    swers to these questions.

    Thus the first reason that compels us to inquire into religion is our

    thirst and love for knowledge.

    6 (B) The Sense Of Thankfulness

    The world around us and the world within ourselves is full of marvelous

    things. The sun and moon, the plants and trees, the mines and minerals

    hidden deep in the heart of the earth; all of them are of great benefit to


    Within ourselves, we have the digestive system, the respiratory appar-

    atus, the heart and other organs of the body; but the greatest of all,

    however, is the intellectual ability of man himself through which he can

    make a mighty mountain crumble into pieces, and create from water and

    iron enormous power and the most delicate objects.

    Now this question poses itself: Should we not engage ourselves in re-

    search and inquiry until, if there is a benefactor, we acknowledge that

    benefactor, to fulfill our duty and offer him our thanks?

    This is the second reason why we should inquire into religion.

    7 (C) Preventing Possible Danger

    If a child were to come and tell you that he saw a poisonous snake go in-

    to the room you were in, you would immediately jump up from your

    chair and undertake a thorough search of every nook and cranny until

    you found it, or until you were satisfied that it was not there.

    Similarly, while traveling by night in a dangerous country, if you

    learnt that bandits were waiting on the road ahead to ambush you—you

    would without any doubt wait until the way ahead was clear of danger,

    and would not take a single step forward until then.

    In these two examples, we have made clear that reason compels us to

    investigate conceivable dangers. It is possible that some of the harmful

    things may turn out to be nothing at all, and that other people may not

    pay any attention to them; but if an inquiry carries the price of a human

    soul, then it cannot be ignored.

    In the history of mankind, we learn of people who were famous for

    telling the truth and who lived an honest life. They claimed that they

    were messengers of God, and they called people towards God and to act

    in certain ways. As a result of the efforts and the constant sufferings of

    these special people in all corners of the world, many groups believed in

    them. Thus the birth of Jesus became the beginning of the Christian cal-

    endar and the migration of the Prophet Muhammad was taken by the

    Muslims as the beginning of their calendar.

    Now, we see that these messengers attracted men to religion and to

    follow particular rules, caused them to fear punishment of their bad

    deeds and convinced them that they would be tried in the Great Court of

    Justice before the Righteous and Wise Judge. They trembled at the hard-

    ships and perils of Resurrection and the harshness of the punishment

    there, and warned men of the dire consequences of evil deeds.

    The question is: Do the warnings of these people make us realize the

    possibility of harm and danger in the same way as did the warning of

    the small child in the example mentioned above? Is it right to ignore the

    words of the messengers of God who, after all, were men of high moral

    standards and who made greatest sacrifices for their cause?

    8 Clearly, the words of the messengers —if they do not make a man cer-

    tain— at least provoke him to think: perhaps what they say is true. If

    what they say is true, then what is our duty? What answer will we have

    in the Court of the Great Judge?

    Common sense reckons the necessity of preventing this “possible

    harm”. What is more, these messengers and prophets call man to a

    healthy and civilized life, and they also say that after death an extensive

    new world and everlasting blessings await one who has performed his

    duty. Does reason allow us to ignore this important message?

    * * *

    There is a similar argument known as the “Pascal's Bet,” named so

    after the famous French mathematician, Pascal (d. 1662 CE). Pascal

    proved the importance of inquiring about religion in the following way:

    If you believe in the life-hereafter, you will gain everything if it really

    exists; and you lose nothing if it does not exist. Therefore, it is better to

    bet that it does exist.

    The theme of this argument was presented by the Shi‘a Imams long

    before Pascal. We also know that Pascal had read Abu Hāmid al-

    Ghazāli's works. It, therefore, seems quite possible that Pascal might

    have read this argument from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), the first Shi‘a Imam, as

    quoted in Mizānu 'l-A`māl of al-Ghazāli. Imam ‘Ali said:

    The astrologer and the physician both say, `The dead will never be


    I say: `Keep your counsel. If your idea is correct, I will come to no harm;

    but if my belief is correct, then you will surely lose.'

    9 2. Some Necessary Qualities Of Religion

    The religion which can fulfill the needs of mankind must have the fol-

    lowing qualities:

    (a) It must satisfy the intelligence and intellect of human beings.

    Islam gives foremost importance to human intelligence. Islam emphas-

    izes that you must understand the faith and then believe in it. Belief fol-

    lows understanding, and not vice versa.

    (b) It must teach and demonstrate dignity of human beings.

    Islam places human beings over and above all other creations of God;

    it promotes equality among human beings. Islam does not allow human

    beings to lose their dignity by bowing down in worship to a fellow man,

    animal or an inanimate object.

    (c) It must be a complete guide to develop the body, mind and spirit of hu-

    mans as a whole.

    Islam does not only develop the soul at the expense of the body; nor

    does it promote the care of the body at the expense of the soul. It pro-

    motes development of all aspects of human life in a balanced way. Islam

    not only talks in general terms about the code of life; it gives specific de-

    tails and also provides examples in the lives of the prophets and imams.

    (d) It must conform with human nature.

    The teachings of Islam takes the human nature into consideration. It

    does not promote, for example, celibacy which is completely against hu-

    man nature.

    (e) It should not be a tool in the hands of oppressors to suppress the masses.

    Islam promotes social justice and rejects the theory of predestination.

    The oppression of a tyrant ruler is not predestined by God. This leaves

    no room for the tyrant rulers and oppressors to say that the masses have

    been predestined for serving the ruling class.


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