Pragmatic religion preaches good human values

Eid al Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, is a time of joy and piety for Muslims across the globe.

The daily fasting would end and many of us would spend much time reading and reciting the Holy Quran. Zakaah Al Fitr (charity) is distributed to the poor and needy.

However, we should not be complacent or self-satisfied on the day of Eid.

Life commitment

Islam might be defined as a commitment to live both the physical and the spiritual life.

Muslims are supposed to engage in a particularly specific set of ritual practices on a steady basis. It is because of this orientation towards the practical side of religion and faith that Islam is known as a religion practicing ‘Orthopraxy’ rather than ‘Orthodoxy.’

In other words, there is a greater emphasis on conformity to ritual practice than adherence to a uniform set of theological beliefs.

Whilst affirming the dignity of man in general terms, Islam is very pragmatic – one might almost write ‘antiheroic’ – when discussing man as an individual unit.

It requires him to take responsibility for his own actions and does not impose ideals of unnecessary asceticism or poverty.

The conundrums we are elucidating are the issue of man’s harmony with both himself and the society – his personal ideals and his natural desires (social, intellectual and so on).

We note during our intense reading of the Holy Quran throughout Ramadan that individuals are seldom addressed directly. The appeal is more often to mankind (‘Ya Ayyuha Allatheena Amaano’).

Man is a member of society.

“Oh you who believe! Fasting is enjoined upon you as it was upon those before you, that you may become pious, God-fearing” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:183).

Mandatory practice

Historically fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar was made obligatory in the second year after the Hijrah from Mecca to Medina. The abstinence was undertaken solely to serve Allah.

Islam tries to reinforce our fundamental humanity; it never strives to turn us into angels or to nurse properties not rooted in our very human nature.

Mankind is ever good or bad, but seldom entirely innocent.

It is a faith that encompasses an entire system of wholesome principles for the organisation of all branches of life, for all times and places, ideally. Is it not the most definite and brilliant proof that true personal freedom and happiness lie in liberating ourselves from the dominant sway of our lower physical impulses by fasting during Ramadan?

There is no Original Sin in Islam, nor should Muslims or other pious folk be absorbed into the current Consumer culture and celebrity Fetishism (idolatry?) dominating Western societies presently like the Black Plague.

Complex synthesis

Not that Muslims should repudiate Western civilisation in its entirety.

Modern culture is the product of a complex synthesis of a continuous intellectual endeavour by generations and generations of folk, that lived on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Muslim share in this alleged Western culture is essential, considerable and deeply rooted.

It is widely acknowledged that the European Renaissance and Humanism were the direct result of Europe’s interaction with the Muslim world and Islamic philosophies.

One only needs to look at the contribution of Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037) or the inclusion of Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198) in the painting ‘The School of Athens’ by the Italian artist Raphael to grasp how central this point is (albeit ignored in the current era).

As the Muslim author Alijah Izetbegovic wrote many years ago, “Civilisation educates; culture enlightens. One needs learning, the other meditation.” (Islam between East and West).

Preceding order

According to the Noble Quran, before the creation of mankind, there already existed the physical world governed by an immaculate order and total harmony.

The basic concept that man was created from the elements of the earth is repeated in several places in the scriptures.

The question arises, naturally, as to what qualities enable mankind to be Gods exulted deputy on this earth? It would be certainly neither physical strength and size nor intelligence if human politics are any measurement of such things.

The answer of course is the Will of Allah. God wills it and it has to be.

Gentle reminders

Ramadan and Eid al Fitr remind us that our task is only to worship Him to the best of our ability.

We can agree that the past few weeks have been an excellent opportunity to sharpen our personal spiritual focus. Ideally, we should live by these pious virtues throughout the year and try to be worthy of being called Muslims.

The Holy Quran is our guide in this hectic world and Islam provides us hope for a better future.

Hajji Abdullah Drury lives in Hamilton and writes on a variety of issues. He is a moderate thinker and writer. His book, ‘Islam in New Zealand’ is currently on sale. For copies, please write to abdullah@xtra.co.nz

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