The Global Message of Islam:
Essentials for Inclusive Society
M Riaz Khan, PhD*
Any message that intends to guide people fully and inclusively how to shape and conduct life with focus to achieve the purpose of the earthly existence by addressing social, economic, family, personal, and interpersonal issues in a balanced and coherent way across racial, ethnic, religious, political, and other divides, is a global message in character. However, for such a message to be effective, appealing and lasting, it must anchor the whole spectrum of people into a galvanizing ideology that is consistent with human intellect and rationality and rooted in the ultimate Truth nobody can deny. The human mind is incapable of even contemplating such a model. It has to be originated by the higher authority that is above human limitations, all-wise, all-knowing, and who can see the past, present and the future at the same time with a global vision. There is no disagreement that such a system is in every human conscience and highly aspired, but not humanly possible to formulate. It then stands to reason that only a divinely revealed message can be global and universal.
Thus, all revealed messages were global in nature because they all confessed the shared belief that: “Your God is One God; there is no god but He, the Merciful, the compassionate” [Q, 2: 163]. They all were driven by the force of moral principles and a sense of right and wrong instilled in every soul. The cardinal principle that distinguished them from others was Justice and its uniform application. Justice being in every psyche, the first and the foremost act of justice is to recognize the One and only Originator of this universe – call him God, Lord or Allah in Arabic. By the same token, the greatest injustice is to associate partners with Him who have no contribution to the creation, as they themselves were created much later. Fundamentally, the human intelligence cannot accept the concept of multiple sovereigns. It’s simply against reason and sanity. So, after much pondering and soul searching for the Truth, Prophet Ibrahim finally declared: “Behold, I have turned my face in exclusive devotion to the One Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am certainly not one of those who associate others with Allah in His divinity” [Q, 6: 79].
A fair minded review of all Divine Messages revealed periodically to a series of Prophets, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), David (Dawud), and Jesus (Esa) , discloses that they all had the same bone-structure built on the concept of Oneness of Allah, life after death, Accountability by Him, and obedience to Him during the span of earthly life for success in the next. In fact, from the beginning, there has been only one divine code of life – all narrations being versions of the same theme; not so surprisingly, though, because they all originated from the same source solely for man’s success in the next life through effort in the existing one.
Though each previous message was global in character, but since human civilization was yet to go through developmental phases, the prevailing conditions could not facilitate its wide spread dissemination. Consequently, it remained localized without check and balance for an extended period of time over which it was either distorted or modified for selfish motives, or was simply lost. Nonetheless, the message was binding as far as it could reach intact. Each time that happened, a new messenger came to revive the guidance for his contemporaries and beyond. Finally, and again for the same reasons, nearly 570 years after Prophet Esa, the advent of the Prophet Muhammad occurred to continue the message conveyed by all his predecessors at a time when the means of communication and transportation had vastly improved and man had become immensely mobile. This message is contained in the Qur’an and it meticulously summarizes and integrates all previous versions in the current and final form: “…It (Qur’an) is a confirmation of the revelations made before it and a detailed exposition of the Book…” [Q, 10: 37]. The Qur’an has survived the tests of time with increasing global reach; it remains complete and intact; its original text has been preserved with translations in every major language people speak around the world. The role of technology in transmitting the original contents of the Qur’an to every spot of the world is undeniable; and its attained level that has secured the original text a permanent place in the public domain cannot be reversed.
The Qur’an is the Word of Allah, Who had guaranteed at the time of its revelation that He would protect its integrity, with or without any means, and it would not be humanly possible to tamper with it in any form or manner (see Q, 15: 9). No wonder, it’s a living miracle of the Qur’an that millions around the world have memorized it in every generation when most of them don’t even speak the language – a tradition that continues today for the preservation of the text. Allah SWT has Himself named the way-of-life the Qur’an advocates as ‘Islam,’ meaning the path to peace by believing in the Unity of Allah and conducting life in accordance with the guidelines contained in His Book and fearing accountability by Him. The message of the Qur’an is universal. It addresses the entire human race: “This is a plain exposition for people, and a guidance and admonition for those who those who fear Allah” [Q, 3: 138]. And it invites the people of the world: “O mankind, Obey your Lord Who has created you as well as those before you; do so that you are saved” [Q, 2: 21].
Islam strives to establish and promote a just and peaceful society in which people could live in human fellowship with dignity, protection of life and property, opportunity to excel, freedom of speech and choice with responsibility, and justice for all by universal standards. As alluded to earlier, justice is the bedrock of stable and peaceful human alliances that allow all other aspects of life fall in place; and a lack of it is the seedbed of disorder at every level of the society. Injustice has been at the root of all human miseries and bloodshed throughout history and it continues today unabated – only the hands keep changing with increased crushing force.
Further, Islam requires that everybody must be subject to the same standards of justice: “…Be you steadfast in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it may be against yourselves or your parents or your kindred, whether rich or poor…” [Q, 4: 135] The right of people to exercise their freedom of speech and pursue their political or religious inclinations must also be recognized. The followers of Islam have been instructed that, even when harm is caused by adversaries, they must not compromise the standards of justice and must react instead with wisdom, rationality and fear of Allah: “…Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people stray you away from justice; deal justly, that is closer to piety, fear Allah…” [Q, 5: 8]
The world view of Islam is that humanity is one global family. This is how Allah SWT describes the children of Adam: “O mankind, We created you from one man and one woman, and then divided you into nations and tribes so that you may recognize one another. Indeed, the most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is the one who fears Him the most” [Q, 49: 13]. In this piece the whole mankind is being warned against the greatest evil that has caused so much disruption within the family. The prejudices due to race, color, language, country, and nationality are toxic social diseases that have kept mankind divided into small cells and at each other’s throat. These cells have been drawn purely on the basis of accidental birth rather than on any rational or moral grounds over which individuals do have control. Then the discrimination has taken the worst form of hatred, greed, persecution, and occupation. New philosophies have been expounded, new religions invented, new codes of law framed, and new moral standards set up to rationalize self-serving social, political, economic, and religious ambitions.
Discrediting the tendencies of prejudices and feelings of superiority based on superficial norms, the verse highlights three essential pieces of truth, namely, our origin is one, our natural distinctions are for cooperation in worldly affairs, and the moral excellence is the only criterion for judging people. If followed, this paves the way for unifying humanity as one family. The Prophet Muhammad eloquently reinforced the concept of the global family in his Final Address: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” His inspiring sermon reflects the nobility and grace of the Prophet’s thoughts and the beauty of the language he spoke. He advised for faith in Allah, non-aggression and rising above the considerations of race, color and origin. He made an impassioned plea for the observance of human rights enjoined by Islam. Included among them, give women a fair deal, he said, they have rights on you just as you have on them; pay the worker his wage before his sweat dries up; and free the slave.
The Prophet cautioned his followers that good conduct is better than any form of worship. He frequently reminded that loving and caring for fellow humans is the essence of Islam. He called himself a slave of Allah and a servant of humanity. He described humanity as family of Allah and the most beloved of Allah is he who loves Allah’s family. The best among you, says the Prophet, is he who is best to his fellow humans. He warned that the faith is not complete if your neighbor is suffering and you take no notice.
The Islamic concept of One Sovereign Allah, in particular, provides an atmosphere suitable for better understanding among the followers of monotheistic religions. It is also in this spirit that the Qur’an invites the Jews and the Christian to come together to bridge the gap: “…People of the Book! Come to a word common between us and you: that we shall serve none but Allah…” [Q, 3: 64]. The Prophet gave a practical meaning to this universal concept to assimilate all members of humanity into one natural unit. The Islamic concept of social justice and security and its efforts to fight aggression in all its forms makes Islam a pioneer system to adopt for tackling common problems and to bring about universal peace through mutual understanding. The Prophet was the first to allow the virtues of democracy to enrich the society and advance the human civilization. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the pluralistic Islamic State founded by him around 630 is that he granted social and judicial autonomy to every non-Muslim community to run their own affairs. Pluralism, education, and open markets were the values for a rising cosmopolitan society where broadmindedness began to foster unprecedented creativity and invention that would soon transform the world forever.
The Prophet has expressed his utmost disapproval of any mistreatment accorded to the non-Muslims population in an Islamic state. He says: “Whoever oppresses the non-Muslim subjects shall find me to be their advocate on the Day of Judgment” (Abu Dawud).
* M Riaz Khan is a professor of Operations Research at the University of Massachusetts Lowell