The Islamic Concept of Life
by Abul Ala Maududi
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 Allah may really
be established on earth and that peace, contentment and well-being may fill
the world. The Islamic way of life is thus based 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 concept is.
1. Allah, 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 Allah’s representative on earth.
2. Before assigning to man
this vicegerency (Khilafat),
Allah made it clear to him that He alone as 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 Allah
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, Allah 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 fulfill its
glorious destiny. The very first man received revealed knowledge from
Allah 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 Allah with innumerable human beings, material
objects and imaginary gods. Shirk (polytheism) became widespread.
They mixed up the teachings of Allah with myths and strange
philosophies and thus produced a jumble of religions and cults; and they
discarded the God-given principles of personal and social morality, the
4. Although man departed from
the path of truth, disregarded or distorted the Shari‘ah or even rejected
the code of Divine guidance, Allah 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 Allah, 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 Allah’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 ¾ to submit to Allah alone, asked those who accepted 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, Allah
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 world of Allah on earth. This guidance is enshrined in the Holy
Man: 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
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 Allah
because of Man (the belief, trust and faith in Allah) is
called a ‘bargain’. This means that Man 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; Allah
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
This bargain thus does not
mean that Allah is purchasing something which belongs to man. Its
real nature is this: all creation belongs to Allah but He bestowed
certain things on man to be used by him on trust. Allah wants man to
willingly and voluntarily acknowledge this. A person who voluntarily
renounces his freedom to reject Allah’s supremacy and instead
acknowledges His sovereignty, and, in so doing, ‘sells’ his ‘autonomy’
(which, too, is a gift from Allah) to Allah, will get in
return Allah’s promise of eternal bliss in Paradise. A person who
makes such a bargain is a Mu’min (Believer) and Man (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
Such is the nature of the
contract. Now let us briefly study its various aspects and stipulations.
1. Allah 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 Allah to offer his life and
wealth in return for a promise about the next world.
2. It is a principle of
Islamic law that Man 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, Man 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
claim 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 Allah he will be a disbeliever. He will not really have
entered into the bargain which the Qur’an says is the essence of Man. If a
man does not use his powers and resources in the way Allah has
prescribed for him, using them instead in pursuits which Allah 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 Man
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 Allah’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 Allah,
which it is obligatory for man to follow, is the one which Allah
Himself has revealed for man’s guidance. It cannot be determined by man
himself. Allah 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 Allah
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 Man is a
contract, a form of pledge between man and Allah. It does not consist
in a mere profession of belief in
Allah. It is an acknowledgment 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 Allah 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 Allah. Man, 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 Allah 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 Allah
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 Allah. It is this submission which is called Islam, the
result of Man in actual life. And those who of their own freewill
accept Allah as their Sovereign, surrender to His Divine will and
undertake to regulate their lives in accordance with His commandments, are
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 Allah 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 Allah. In other
words, it is Allah 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 is 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 Allah and forfeits its right to be
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 world 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 for which individuals and society
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 of 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
The Shari‘ah divides
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 practise.
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 "time and its dictates."
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 undesirable (makruh).
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
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 judgment 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.