Fundamental Thoughts and Beliefs

(Book by Syed A.A. Maududi (RA): Understanding Islamic Civilization (Chapter 3: part 1)

What Is Iman and Its Importance? We have already discussed the concept of life and the goal of life. Now we have to discuss the question: On what basis does Islam build the character of its followers?

Character and Its Intellectual Base

The mind and intellect are the source of instruction, and the controlling power over all of man’s actions. Human mind has two conditions. The first is to be void of any particular thoughts, its door is open to all types of thoughts and man acts under the influence of a dominating thought. In other words, he is swept by a powerful wave of thoughts. Such a person is quite unpredictable, you cannot guess what he will be doing in a particular situation. He might act as an angel or as a monster. Humans who have such conditions of mind are labelled unstable in disposition. In contrast to this there are people who think in an organized way. Their minds are not like a road open for all. Thoughts against their beliefs and doctrines do not assail their minds, or, if they do, they are rejected immediately. It is easy to predict how these people will act in a particular situation; they are called men of character because they have a firm base of thought and they are constant in their way of thinking. They are not like dry leaves at the mercy of a powerful gust of wind.

The First Condition for an Organized Life

With this discussion it has become clear that thoughts and actions are deeply interlinked. They are the foundation of character building. The inconsistent thoughts and unorganized actions cannot build a trustworthy character. A strong character is always the product of firm beliefs, constant thoughts, and an organized way of thinking. The buzzing of adverse thoughts at the door of your mind is quite natural, but opening the door and letting them in depends on you. If you are weak in your beliefs and are not able to avoid the distractions, they will get hold of your mind. You might compromise with them and act against your own belief. This condition of mind will create a weak and untrustworthy character. For a strong character it is necessary to have a strong resisting power against adverse thoughts and temptations.

The Meaning of Faith

According to the terminology of the Qur’an, the intellectual basis of human character is called “Im’an.” The root of this Arabic word is “Aman.” The actual meaning of “Aman” is a condition of contentment and fearlessness. From the same root comes the word “Amanat” (trustworthiness), the opposite of it is the word “Khianat” (treachery). In other words, “Amanat” is the quality that has no fear of “Khianat.” The person who has the quality of “Amanat” is called “Ameen” and it is believed that he will not cheat. The obedient and mild-natured she-camel is called “amun,” because there is no fear of rebellion from her. The word Im’an comes from the same root. It means that a particular belief, thought, or doctrine has been rooted so deep and strong in the mind and heart that there is no place for any adverse thought. When we talk of the weakness of “Im’an,” it means that the mind is not fully convinced and satisfied about the truth of the belief. This weakness gives way to adverse thoughts and produces a weak character. On the contrary, when we talk of strong “Im’an”, we mean that the character has a firm base, which may be called “trustworthiness” (Amanat). We cannot expect from such a character any action inconsistent with belief. You can predict how a person with this character would act in a particular situation. You can trust that he will act according to the firm belief that has become the strong foundation of his thinking and action.

The Role of Iman in Building a Civilization

It is an accepted fact that a cohesive body cannot be formed with individuals who believe in different dogmas and ideologies, and have characters of various kinds. They will be like scattered stones on the ground. No doubt, each stone is strong but there is cohesion among them. On the contrary, if a single thought is rooted firmly in the minds and hearts of people as Iman, then the strong bond of Iman will forge them into a nation. In other words, when the scattered stones are assembled and cemented, they can form a formidable wall. In the same way a common belief as “Iman” brings the people together and creates in them a model character and uniformity in their thoughts and actions and finally turns them into a nation, a culture, and a civilization.

The Two Types of Iman

Now we have to study how “Iman” affects the different civilizations. Actually, Iman is a religious term. However, here we are using this term in the sense of “basic concept.” In this way, we may have two types of Iman. One religious “Iman” and the other, worldly “Iman.” If a civilization is built on the religious “Iman” then the “Iman” will govern both the religious affairs and the worldly affairs. If a civilization is not built on religion then, the worldly “Iman” separates itself from the religious “Iman” so it loses control on both the individual and the national life.

Religious Iman

Religious “Iman” builds the character on a spiritual and moral basis. Here are a few examples of such bases.

The first is faith in one or more gods with their particular attributes. The second are the books accepted as inspired books. The third are religious leaders whose precepts and examples become the basis of beliefs and actions. These above-mentioned are three bases on which human character can be built spiritually and morally. The question is how far these beliefs can prove successful. We can find the answer to this question by examining the beliefs through a religious point of view or through the purely worldly point of view. Put aside the religious point of view, examine purely through the worldly point of view, it will become obvious that the success of such beliefs depends on two conditions.

  • The first condition is whether those dogmas, that a religion demands its followers to believe, are acceptable to reason.
  • The second is whether a faith and its doctrines have the strength to build a moral system of a higher standard, and whether its ethics are so pure and clean that they can prepare people for success in their worldly life.

The first condition (dogmas should be acceptable to reason) is a must because, if beliefs are merely a bundle of fiction, or more superstitious than rational, they will find a place only in the minds of ignorant people. But this net of superstition will be torn apart, as soon as humanity advances in reason, education, and scientific knowledge. Then the whole system of ethics and spirituality on which an edifice of individual and national character had been built will be shaken. In support of this thesis, we can produce evidence from the beliefs presented by polytheistic religions about their deities, gods, and religious leaders. Feats and stories fabricated around them are not acceptable to reason. History shows that the nations that believe in such fictitious beliefs lose the strength to advance or to play a dominant role in the world. The fictitious thoughts and beliefs create such a bad effect on their minds that their best skills become dull, they lose courage in their feats, intensity in their determination, vastness in their vision, enlightenment in their minds, valour in their hearts, and at last they fall into the abyss of everlasting disgrace, misfortune, slavery, and oppression. On the contrary, the developed nations, with the advancement of knowledge and wisdom, start losing faith in their deities and religious leaders. In the beginning, to keep their national system intact, they try to cling to their wrong beliefs, but gradually their repulsion to them becomes so intense that they totally abandon them. Only a small group of spiritual leaders keep themselves attached to the fictitious beliefs, while the whole nation comes under the dominance of the other type of faith (Iman) which we may call “The worldly Faith” (Dunyavi-Iman).

It is obvious that the second condition also is necessary. The influence of beliefs that are unable to prepare their followers for success in worldly life remains limited to the spiritual and ethical sphere of life, and does not reach the people’s worldly life. The result of this appears in two ways: either the nation that is overloaded with fictitious beliefs will lose its ability to advance, or else its progress will be only for a short period. It is sure that such a nation will soon free itself from fictitious beliefs, then the “religious faith” (Dini-Iman) will vacate its place in favour of “worldly faith” (Dunyavi-Iman) and when the nation becomes very busy, its worldly life, its worldly type of ethics and spirituality will reject the influence of religious faith (Dini-Iman).

It is not my intention to show flaws in any religion; rather I would like to discuss the beliefs of different religions in detail. When you study the religions deeply, you will understand very well how the beliefs of some religions slowed down advancement and blocked the way of development of their followers in their worldly life and how those beliefs could not keep pace with the advancement of knowledge and intellect. Another aspect also will come to your knowledge: the fact that so many nations were strong in their religious beliefs while they were declining in their worldly life. In contrast, when they were advancing and progressing in their worldly life, they deserted their religious beliefs. Quite contrary to this, Muslims were very strong in their beliefs when they were at their zenith of advancement in their worldly life. They became weak in their beliefs when they lagged behind in the way of progress and surrendered to the dominance of other nations. Today Muslims wallow their worst decline and have also become weak in their beliefs, while they were very strong in their religious belief during the first 1200 years of their highest advancement.

Contrarily, the Christians of Europe and the Buddhists of Japan were staunch Christians and zealous Buddhists, respectively, when they were living in material decline, but they lost belief in their faith when they became developed nations. This is the great difference between Islamic beliefs and the beliefs of other religions. Any person who possesses some wisdom and insight into the matter may easily see this difference.

Worldly Beliefs

Now we have to look at worldly beliefs. Beliefs of this kind have no religious element in them. There is no God, no religious leader, no inspired book, and none of the kind of education that builds human character on a spiritual and ethical foundation. These worldly beliefs create idols.

The concept of “Nation”, the biggest among them, is worshiped by the people who live within particular geographic boundaries. All nations promote the idea that they are the master and controllers of their citizens’ lives and properties. To serve it and to protect the nation is an incumbent duty and obligation. To sacrifice life in serving it and to spend in its way, whatever you have, is a great accomplishment. But it is not enough, the nationalists have to believe that their nation is never wrong, it is always right, and their nation is the rightful owner of the entire Earth. All the other countries of the world are their plundering ground. It is the duty of each citizen to hoist the flag of his nation all over the world.

The other deity is the “law.” They themselves are its maker and also its worshiper, and it is the worship which binds them together. The third idol is their own self, whose nourishment and fulfilment of needs and desires is the foremost priority. The fourth deity is knowledge by whose guidance they march on the way of progress toward their goals.

No doubt, these beliefs are beneficial to some extent in worldly life. We put aside the question, “what value have these beliefs on the scale of truth?” And even seeing the matter from purely worldly points of view, we can say that the benefits of these beliefs are neither real nor lasting. The glaring defect is that they have no element of spirituality and morality in them. The result of this is that when the hold of religion is loosened on society, the door of immorality opens widely. It is not within the jurisdiction of law to change the hearts of people and fill them with moral sense and to create a model of good behaviour; neither does the law have power to protect the morals in people’s corporate life. The effectiveness of law and its circle of action are limited. Especially, man-made law is weaker because to loosen and tighten the grip of law is itself in the hands of the people. With the increase of the desire for freedom in action, the old moral bindings become unbearable and when the majority of people start opposing any of the moral bindings that seems a barrier in the way of freedom of action that is removed. This is the beginning of moral downfall. The moral downfall is the worst thing, whose fatal effects cannot be stopped by the authority of government, or abundance of wealth, or even by the vast resources of power, and not by knowledge either. It is like an evil, or the termite, which eats from inside and pulls down the whole structure. Besides all this, the evils of being nationalist are so obvious that there is no need of mentioning them in detail. Now they are not merely an object of speculation, they are observed clearly and in fact we are looking at them with our own open eyes. We see how a great civilization is about to fall because of these evils and the whole world is trembling with the fear of dire consequences, which seem sure to become a reality in the future.

A Few Universal Principles

Out of all this discussion, a few universal principles can be derived. Before proceeding further, it is better to understand them properly with their just sequence.

1. The organized deeds of a human depend on his determined character. Without a solid and strong character, the practical life of man is nothing but chaos of fickleness and untrustworthiness.

2. The character is built on those conceptions that are rooted so deep in man’s mind that all his practical powers work under their influence. Such concepts are given a name by us as “Imaniat.”

3. The soundness and weakness of human character, its strength, goodness and badness all depend on fundamental concepts. If the concepts are wrong the character goes wrong, if the concepts are right the character is developed in the right direction. If fundamental concepts (we call them “imaniat”) are strong, the character will also be strong; otherwise the whole thing will be upside down. To make a human’s life an organized life, it is necessary to build his character on a sound concept and firm faith.

4. “Imaniat” is an essential need to organize scattered people into a united group, party, or nation. “Imaniat” should not be limited to people’s individual lives. “Imaniat” should be a common and fundamental concept of a group or a nation. As a common and fundamental ideology or concept it is a basic need of any civilization and culture. The interest of culture is not in limiting the faith to individual life, its interest lies in extending the faith to the whole national life.

5. When “Imaniat” creates a special model of national character, then a civilization is established and a peculiar shape of it takes place. Now it has become clear that the fundamental concepts play an important role in creating and strengthening the national character.

6. In a nation whose fundamental concepts are based on spiritual beliefs, its religion and civilization are unified. Contrary to this, if its fundamental concepts are based on purely worldly things, then its civilization severs from its religion, and religion loses its hold on individual and national life.

7. When religion does not have any control over the civilization, downfall swamps to the morals of the nation, which results in its total ruin.

8. Keeping the civilization under the influence of religion depends on the religion’s spiritual beliefs. But these beliefs should be able to go along with the advancement of reason from the lower to the higher plane. They also should be able to shape the human’s character in such a way that the individual could be a highly religious as well as a worldly person simultaneously. In other words, his worldliness should match his religiosity and his religiosity should parallel his worldliness.

9. Any nation whose faith and civilization both are one, its belief will not be merely religious belief, it will be the same as its worldly belief. The weakness in belief will be destructive to its religion as well as to its civilization; it will be ruinous for its worldly life as well as religious life. Keeping in view these basic principles, we have to look critically at the stand point of Islam about ‘Iman.’

After noting these points about “Iman”, we should address the question: What importance does it have in building the individual character? What basic role does “Iman” play in erecting the edifice of civilization? We will now address the things Islam has invited the people to believe in. How far do Islamic beliefs prove to be right and perfect on the rational plane? What status has belief in Islam’s whole system? What effects does belief imprint on man’s individual character and his national character?

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