Worldly Life: Meaning & Purpose

Worldly Life: Meaning & Purpose

Introduction

‘What is the meaning and purpose of life?’  This is, perhaps, the most important question that has ever been asked.  Throughout the ages, philosophers have considered it to be the most fundamental question.  Scientists, historians, philosophers, writers, psychologists and the common man all wrestle with the question at some point in their lives.

Is Reason a Sufficient Guide?

‘Why do we eat?’  ‘Why do we sleep?’  ‘Why do we work?’  The answers we would get to these questions would be similar.  ‘I eat to live.’  ‘I sleep to rest.’  ‘I work to support myself and my family.’  But when it comes to what the purpose of life is, people are confused.  We see their confusion by the type of answers we receive.  Youths may say, “I live for booze and bikinis.”  The middle aged professional might say, “I live to save enough for a comfortable retirement.”  The old man would probably say, “I’ve been asking why I’m here most of my life.  If there’s a purpose, I don’t care anymore.”  And perhaps the most common answer will be, “I really don’t know!”

How, then, do you discover the purpose of life?  We basically have two options.  The first is to let ‘human reason’ – the celebrated achievement of the Enlightenment – guide us.  After all, the Enlightenment gave us modern science based on careful observation of the natural world.  But have post-Enlightenment philosophers figured it out?  Camus described life as “absurd”; Sartre spoke of “anguish, abandonment and despair.”  To these Existentialists, life has no meaning.  Darwinians thought the meaning of life was to reproduce.  Will Durant, capturing the predicament of postmodern man, wrote, “Faith and hope disappear; doubt and despair are the order of the day… it is not our homes and our treasuries that are empty, it is our ‘hearts’.”  When it comes to meaning of life, even the wisest philosophers are just guessing.  Will Durant, the most noted philosopher of the last century, and Dr. Hugh Moorhead, a philosophy professor at Northeastern Illinois University, both wrote separate books titled ‘The Meaning of Life.’[1] They wrote to the best-known philosophers, scientists, writers, politicians, and intellectuals of their time in the world, asking them, “What is the meaning of life?”  Then they published their responses.  Some offered their best guesses, some admitted that they just made up a purpose for life, and others were honest enough to say they were clueless.  In fact, a number of famous intellectuals asked the authors to write back and tell them if the purpose of life was discovered!

Let the Heavens “Speak”

If the philosopher has no definitive answer, perhaps the answer can be found within the heart and mind that we ourselves possess.  Have you ever looked at the open sky on a clear night?  You will see an incalculable number of stars.  Look through a telescope and you will see gigantic spiral galaxies, beautiful nebula where new stars are being formed, the remnants of ancient supernova explosion created in a star’s final death throes, the magnificent rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.  Is it possible not to be moved by the sight of these countless stars in the night sky shining like diamond dust on a bed of black velvet?  Multitudes of stars beyond stars, stretching back; becoming so dense that they appear to merge into delicate wisps of sparkling mist.  The grandeur humbles us, thrills us, inspires a craving for investigation, and calls for our contemplation.  How did it come into being?  How are we related to it, and what is our place in it?  Can we hear the heavens “speak” to us?

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day, there are surely signs for all who are endowed with insight, who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Lord, You have not created this without meaning and purpose.  Limitless art You in Your glory…” (Quran 3:190-191)

 

 

When we read a book, we accept that an author exists.  When we see a house, we accept that a builder exists.  Both of these things were made with a purpose by those who made them.  The design, order, and complexity of the universe as well as the world around us are evidence of the existence of a supreme intelligence, a perfect designer.  All the heavenly bodies are controlled by precise laws of physics.  Can there be laws without a lawmaker?  Rocket scientist Dr. von Braun said: “The natural laws of the universe are so precise that we have no difficulty building a spaceship to fly to the moon and can time the flight with the precision of a fraction of a second.  These laws must have been set by somebody.”  Paul Davies, a professor of physics, concludes that man’s existence is not a mere quirk of fate.  He states: “We are truly meant to be here.”  And he says regarding the universe: “Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.  There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation.”  The universe, the earth, and living things on the earth all give silent testimony to an intelligent, powerful Creator.

 

 

 

Figure 2 Central region of the Trifid Nebula taken by the Gemini Telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, June 5, 2002.  Located in the constellation of Sagittarius, the beautiful nebula is a much-photographed, dynamic cloud of gas and dust where stars are being born.  One of the massive stars at the nebula’s center was born approximately 100,000 years ago.  The nebula’s distance from the Solar System is generally agreed to be somewhere between 2,200 to 9,000 light years away.

Image courtesy of Gemini Observatory Image/GMOS Commissioning Team.

If we were made by a Creator, then surely that Creator must have had a reason, a purpose, in creating us.  Thus, it is important that seek to know God’s purpose for our existence.  After coming to the realization of this purpose, we can choose whether we want to live in harmony with it.  But is it possible to know what is expected from us left to our own devices without any communication from the Creator?  It is natural that God Himself would inform us of this purpose, especially if we are expected to fulfill it..

 

Alternative to Speculation: Ask God

This brings us to the second option: the alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life is revelation.  The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the inventor.  To discover the purpose of your life, ask God.

 

Can Christianity Answer the Question?

In Christianity, the meaning of life is rooted in faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in finding Jesus as Savior.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  However, the proposition is not without serious problems.  First, if this is the purpose of creation and the precondition for eternal life, why was it not taught by the prophets to all the nations of the world?  Second, had God turned into man close to the time of Adam all mankind would have had an equal chance to eternal life, unless those before the time of Jesus had another purpose for their existence!  Third, how can people today who have not heard of Jesus fulfill the Christian purpose of creation?  Naturally, such a purpose is too narrow and goes against divine justice.

The Answer

Islam is the response to humanity’s search for meaning.  The purpose of creation for all men and women for all times has been one: to know and worship God.

The Quran teaches us that every human being is born conscious of God,

“(Remember) when your Lord extracted from the loins of Adam’s children their descendants and made them testify [saying]: ‘Am I not your Lord?’  They said: ‘Yes, we testify to it.’  (This was) in case you say on the Day of Judgment: ‘We were unaware of this.’  Or you say: ‘It was our ancestors who worshipped others besides God and we are only their descendants.  Will you then destroy us for what those liars did?’”(Quran 7:172-173)

The Prophet of Islam teaches us that God created this primordial need in human nature at the time Adam was made.  God took a covenant from Adam when He created him.  God extracted all of Adam’s descendants who were yet to be born, generation after generation, spread them out, and took a covenant from them.  He addressed their souls directly, making them bear witness that He was their Lord.  Since God made all human beings swear to His Lordship when He created Adam, this oath is imprinted on the human soul even before it enters the fetus, and so a child is born with a natural belief in the Oneness of God.  This natural belief is called fitra in Arabic.  Consequently, every person carries the seed of belief in the Oneness of God that lies deeply buried under layers of negligence and dampened by social conditioning.  If the child were left alone, it would grow up conscious of God – a single Creator – but all children are affected by their environment.  The Prophet of God said,

“Each child is born in a state of ‘fitra’, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian.  It is like the way an animal gives birth to a normal offspring.  Have you noticed any young born mutilated before you mutilate them?”[2]

 

Figure 1 The marvel of life.  An unborn fetus sucking its thumb.

So, just as the child’s body submits to physical laws, set by God in nature, its soul submits naturally to the fact that God is its Lord and Creator.  However, its parents condition it to follow their own way, and the child is not mentally capable of resisting it.  The religion which the child follows at this stage is one of custom and upbringing, and God does not hold it to account for this religion.  When a child matures into an adult, he or she must now follow the religion of knowledge and reason.  As adults, people must now struggle between their natural disposition towards God and their desires in order to find the correct path.  The call of Islam is directed to this primordial nature, the natural disposition, the imprint of God on the soul, the fitra, which caused the souls of every living being to agree that He Who made them was their Lord, even before the heavens and earth were created,

“I did not create the jinn and mankind except for My worship.” (Quran 51:56)

According to Islam, there has been a basic message which God has revealed through all prophets, from the time of Adam to the last of the prophets, Muhammad, may God praise them all.  All the prophets sent by God came with the same essential message:

“Indeed, We have sent a messenger to every nation (saying), ‘Worship God and avoid false gods…’” (Quran 16:36)

The prophets brought the same answer to mankind’s most troubling question, an answer that addresses the yearning of the soul for God.

 

What is Worship?

‘Islam’ means ‘submission’, and worship, in Islam, means ‘obedient submission to the will of God.’

Every created being ‘submits’ to the Creator by following the physical laws created by God,

“To Him belongs whosoever is in the heavens and the earth; all obey His will.” (Quran 30:26)

They, however, are neither rewarded nor punished for their ‘submission’, for it involves no will.  Reward and punishment are for those who worship God, who submit to the moral and religious Law of God of their own free will.  This worship is the essence of the message of all the prophets sent by God to mankind.  For example, this understanding of worship was emphatically expressed by Jesus Christ,

“None of those who call me ‘Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

‘Will’ means ‘what God wants human beings to do.’  This ‘Will of God’ is contained in the divinely revealed laws which the prophets taught their followers.  Consequently, obedience to divine law is the foundation of worship.  Only when human beings worship their God by submitting to His religious law can they have peace and harmony in their lives and the hope for heaven, just like the universe runs in harmony by submitting to the physical laws set by its Lord.  When you remove the hope of heaven, you remove the ultimate value and purpose of life.  Otherwise, what difference would it really make whether we live a life of virtue or vice?  Everyone’s fate would be the same anyway.

Who Needs Worship?

God is in no need of our worship, it is mankind that needs to worship God.  If no-one were to worship God, it would not take away from His glory in any way, and if all of mankind were to worship Him, it would not add to His glory.  It is we, who are in need of God:

“I need no provision from them, neither do I need that they should feed Me for, surely, God Himself is the Provider of all sustenance, the Possessor of mighty power.” (Quran 51:57-58)

“…But God is Rich, and it is you that are poor…” (Quran 47:38)

How to Worship God: And Why.

God is worshipped by obeying the laws He revealed through the prophets.  For example, in the Bible, Prophet Jesus made obedience to the divine laws the key to paradise:

“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17).

Also Prophet Jesus is reported in the Bible to have insisted on strict obedience to the commandments, saying:

“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Why do human beings need to worship God by obeying the divinely revealed laws?  The answer is simple.  Obedience to divine law brings peace to this life and salvation in the next.

Divine laws provide human beings a clear code to guide every sphere of human life and interaction.  Since the Creator alone knows best what is best for His creation, His laws protect the human soul, body, and society from harm.  In order for human beings to fulfill their purpose of creation, they must worship God by obeying His commandments.

The False Gods of Modernity

God is Who gives meaning and orientation to life.  On the other hand, modern life lacks a single center, a single orientation, a single goal, a single purpose.  It has no common principle or guideline.

Since Islam considers a god to be an entity that is served out of love, deep respect, and anticipation of reward, one can say that the modern world serves many gods.  The gods of modernity give meaning and context to the life of modern man.

We live in a house of language, and our words and expressions are the windows through which we look out at the world.  Evolution, nationalism, feminism, socialism, Marxism, and, depending on how they are employed, democracy, freedom, and equality can be listed among the indefinable ideologies of modern times.  “Plastic words,” to borrow the words of Uwe Poerksen, a German linguist, have been used to usurp God’s power and authority to shape and define the goal of society, or even of humanity itself.  These words have connotations with a ‘feel good’ aura.  Indefinable words become a limitless ideal.  By making the ideal limitless, unlimited needs are awakened, and once these needs are awakened, they appear to be ‘self-evident.’

As it is easy to fall into the habit of worshipping false gods, people then have no protection against the multiplicity of gods that modern ways of thinking demand that they serve.  The “plastic words” give great power to those ‘prophets’ who speak on their behalf, because they speak in the name of ‘self-evident’ truths, so other people keep silent.  We must follow their authority; the axiomatic pundits who lay down the Law for our health, welfare, well-being, and education.

The window of modernity through which we perceive reality today is marked by cracks, smudges, blind spots, and filters.  It covers the reality.  And the reality is that people have no real need except toward God.  But nowadays, these empty ‘idols’ have become the objects of people’s devotion and worship, as the Quran states:

“Have you not seen the one who takes his desires as his god?…” (Quran 45:23)

Each of these “plastic words” makes other words appear primitive and out-of-date.  ‘Believers’ in idols of modernity are proud of worshipping these gods; friends and colleagues consider them enlightened for doing so.  Those who still insist on holding onto the “old” God can cover up the embarrassment of doing so by worshipping the new ‘modern’ gods along with Him.  Obviously, many people who claim to worship the “old-fashioned” God will twist His teachings in this event, so that He also seems to be telling us to serve these “plastic words.”

The worship of false gods entails the corruption not only of individuals and society, but also of the natural world.  When people refuse to serve and worship God as He has asked them to serve Him, they cannot fulfill the functions for which He has created them.  The result is that our world becomes ever more chaotic, just as the Quran tells us:

“Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea because of what the hands of people have earned.” (Quran 30:41)

Islam’s answer to the meaning and purpose of life fulfills the fundamental human need: a return to God.  However, everyone is going back to God willy-nilly, so the question is not merely going back, but how one goes back.  Will it be in shameful agonizing chains awaiting punishment, or joyful and grateful humility for that which God has promised?  If you await the latter, then through the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, God guides people back to Him in a manner that will ensure their eternal happiness.


Footnotes:

[1] “On the Meaning of Life”  by Will Durant. Pub: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc. New York 1932 and “The Meaning of Life”  by Hugh S. Moorhead (ed.). Pub: Chicago Review Press, 1988.

[2] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim. The Arabs would cut the ears of camels and the likes as a service to their gods in pre-Islamic times.

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Tips for Staying Healthy While Observing Fasting

Tips for Staying Healthy While Observing Fasting

By Truth Seeker Staff

Staying Healthy

To stay in shape during a fast, it is also advisable to stay out of the sun, spend most of the day in cool places and avoid strenuous exercise.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Observing Fasting

During Ramadan, practicing Muslims change their eating habits dramatically.

Questioned by Relaxnews, nutritionist Charlotte Debeugny provided her recommendations to religious fasters looking to make the most out of this festive time of year.

Pack in fibre and protein at Suhoor

Suhoor and Iftar, the two daily meals during Ramadan, are taken before dawn and after dusk, respectively. Suhoor is crucial, as it is the faster’s last meal before facing the day. So it is important to make sure this pre-dawn meal contains protein (found in eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts, etc.) and fibre (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, etc.), both of which help stave off hunger over a long period.

Avoid overeating after sundown

After a day of deprivation, there is a strong temptation to overindulge at Iftar. To curb the pangs of hunger before reaching for calorie-rich foods, try having a bowl of cold soup or a healthy salad. The evening meal should also include protein, whole grains, and vegetables.

Especially during Ramadan, it is important to avoid empty calories and junk food, to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, and to ensure that each meal includes healthy portions of protein and dairy products.

Eat almonds and dates instead of rich desserts

While Ramadan is a festive time of year, it has the potential to negatively impact one’s health. Eating at night rather than during the day affects the body’s metabolism, thus increasing the risk of weight gain. Fasting can also lead to cravings for foods that are high in sugar and fat, which can also impact your waistline. Charlotte Debeugny recommends eating a few dates or almonds instead of the extremely calorie-rich pastries served during Ramadan, such as baklava or halva.

Avoid the sun and stay hydrated

To stay in shape during a fast, it is also advisable to stay out of the sun, spend most of the day in cool places and avoid strenuous exercise. Eating fruit before sunrise is a good idea, as the water it contains helps to hydrate the body during the day. Be careful not to drink too much water at once. Coffee and tea are to be avoided, as they can actually lead to increased thirst and dehydration. For additional energy, try drinking smoothies or fruit juice diluted with water.

Adapt fasting to your physical condition

Before starting a fast, it is necessary to talk to a doctor, particularly for seniors, diabetics taking medication to control their insulin levels, pregnant women and pre-adolescent children. Those with compromised health who still wish to fast for Ramadan should consult their doctor to develop a fasting plan adapted to their condition. At the first symptom of failing health, it is important to stop fasting.

 

Note from the Editor:

Along with having healthy food while we are fasting during the month of Ramadan, we should not forget the core essence of the ritual of fasting in Islam, namely to obtain Taqwa (piety) and fear of Allah, the Creator of all and everything. Allah the Almighty says in the Ever-Glorious Qur’an what means,

“O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God. [Fasting] during a certain number of days. But whoever of you is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days; and [in such cases] it is incumbent upon those who can afford it to make sacrifice by feeding a needy person. And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves – if you but knew it. It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was [first] bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it; but he that is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days. God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but [He desires] that you complete the number [of days required], and that you extol God for His having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks [unto Him].” (Al-Baqarah 2: 183-185)

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Taken with slight editorial modifications from AFP Relaxnews: http://malaysiandigest.com

 

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Al-Wadoud: The All-Loving God

Al-Wadoud: The All-Loving God

By Dr. Muhammad Ratib An-Nabulsi

godAl-Wadoud: The All-Loving God

Allah’s divine name “Al-Wadoud” (The All-Loving), is an emphatic name derived from the Arabic word “Woudd”, which means “Houbb” (Love) as Allah says:

“And He (Allah) is the All-Forgiving, the All-Loving.” (Al-Buruj 85:14)

The Arabic word “Houbb” is, in turn, derived from “Habab Al-Asnan”, which means “whiteness, cleanliness and purity of teeth”. This means that those who love Allah, Most Gracious, are pure, chaste, sincere, and faithful. The word “Houbb” also indicates submission and obedience to the beloved. Hence, those who love Allah, Most Gracious, are dutiful and obedient to Him. They are modest, humble and submissive to the Lord, Exalted and All-High.

The word “Houbb” also means “instability”, which, in turn, means that those who love Allah are in constant instability as regards their relationship with their lord. True believers, who really love their Lord, undergo constantly changing feelings as regards their relationship with Him; while hypocrites, whose hearts are dead and, hence, emotionless, remain stable and unchangeable. Also, the word “Houbb” or “Habb” refers to a seed from which we get good fruits.

This means that those who love the Lord their love is like a seed that produces a shady tree that, in turn, yields good fruits. In fact, the word “Houbb” (love) embraces all of the foregoing meanings: purity, chastity, submission, humbleness, instability, growth and good …etc.

Love into Action

Undoubtedly, there is a delicate difference between both words. “Al-Houbb” means love as a noble feeling dwelling in the heart; while “Al-Woudd” means love substantiated by action. In other words, if you love someone, your inner feelings towards him are called “Houbb” (i.e. love that exists in your heart), but when you translate such love into action by smiling to him, for example, or doing him a favor, this is “Woudd” (i.e. love that you put into action).

If you offer him a present, it is “Woudd”. If you help him out of a problem, it is “Woudd”. If you visit him when he is ill, it is “Woudd”. If you offer him a present when he gets married, it is “Woudd”. In short, inner feelings of love are “Houbb”; while ostensible substantial acts of love are “Woudd”.

All those who have “Woudd” must necessarily have “Houbb”, but not vice versa. This means that someone might love another but does not show that in his behavior, but if someone shows love to another, this means that he loves him.

This means that the whole universe, that is, with its heavens, stars, planets, galaxies, the sun, the moon, rain, fishes, birds, animals, plants, flowers, is but a substantiation of Allah’s “Woudd” (Love) for mankind. Children, who fill the home with life and movement, are of Allah’s “Woudd”. The great many kinds of fruits are of Allah’s “Woudd”. Wives, whom Allah created especially for men’s psychological and physical comfort, are of Allah’s “Woudd”. Husbands, whom Allah created especially for women’s comfort, are out of Allah’s “Woudd”. Wool, which Allah created to protect us from cold is out of Allah’s “Woudd”. All things that Allah has subjected for mankind are out of Allah’s “Woudd”. The whole universe is subjugated for man as a kind of “Woudd” from God.

And when God loves someone He honors and mercies him/her. However, Allah’s love for true believers is confirmed in the Qur’an.

Allah’s divine love for man is manifested by His divine protection, help, victory, success, sending down mercy upon his heart, sending down peace and tranquility upon him, providing him with all the things he needs. This is Allah’s divine love for man. But man’s love for Allah is substantiated by inclination and attachment, because if Allah forsakes him, or deprives him of His divine light, he feels unbearable pain and sorrow.

Once man loves God he gets inclined to Him, seeks refuge in His divine shade, light, holy manifestations, peace and tranquility, and he feels that Allah is always protecting and helping him. But Allah’s divine love for man means protection, help, support…etc. And “Al-Woudd” is the practical substantiation of both kinds of love.

Allah Is All-Loving

1- The first point concerns Allah’s name “Al-Wadoud” (The All-Loving) is that He endears Himself to His slaves by bestowing His innumerable divine favors upon them. Therefore, logic and good reason show that the entire universe is nothing but a manifestation and substantiation of Allah’s Divine “Woudd” (i.e. Love) for mankind.

Thus Allah favors you with His never-ending favors and graces: good health, fresh water, delicious food and drink, fruits, fishes, birds…etc. When your heart and all other parts of your body work properly, this is one of Allah’s uncountable Divine Favors and Graces. Therefore, true believers should say what Allah’s Prophets taught us to say:

“Say: ‘Truly, my prayer, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, Lord of all worlds.” (Al-An`am 6:162)

Before Allah created you and brought you into existence, you were nothing at all. But from the moment He brought you into existence, He bestowed on you a couple of Priceless Divine Favors:

“Have We not made for him (Man) a pair of eyes, a tongue and a pair of lips, and shown him the two Ways (of good and evil)?” (Al-Balad 90:2-4)

The first divine gift man that receives from his Lord upon his birth is a very complicated operation, namely the so-called “Suck reflex”, which enables him, from the moment of birth, to take his mother’s breast tightly with his small mouth and start sucking. Without such reflex, human life would be impossible! Your mother is one of Allah’s great divine signs and favors, for she is naturally pre-disposed to consecrate, and even sacrifice, all her existence for her baby. She devotes all herself, her nerves, her feelings and emotions, her powers, and her efforts, for the sake of her baby.

Air that we breathe and water that we drink are great Divine Favors. What would you say about the different kinds of fruits?! Even more, God has endowed you with an intelligent mind with which you think and take up a certain vocation or profession and do it properly.

2- When in the Qur’an Allah says: “And He (Allah) is the All-Forgiving, Al-Wadoud (the All-Loving)”, the word “Al-Wadoud” here means that Allah loves and honors His righteous slaves. It also means that His favors and blessings are but substantiations and manifestations of His Divine Love for them:

“On those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, will (Allah) Most Gracious bestow love.” (Maryam 19:96)

3- Allah is “Wadoud” (All-Loving) for His slaves in the sense that He creates love and casts it among His slaves.

Who casts love for children in the hearts of mothers? If you go to an infant-hospital, you see something really amazing: different mothers from all walks of life cry for their babies. In fact, all mothers, Muslim and non-Muslim, without any exception, cry for their babies if anything goes wrong with them. Undoubtedly Allah, most gracious, has cast such love for children in the hearts of mothers!

Therefore, Allah “Al-Wadoud” (the All-Loving), creates love and casts it among His slaves: fathers, mothers, husbands, mothers, siblings, and friends. They all enjoy love among them. To the same effect, Allah, Most Gracious, says:

“And among His Signs is that He has created for you wives from among yourselves that you may find repose in them; and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed Signs for a people who reflect.” (Ar-Rum 30:21)

Who creates such affection and mercy? It is Allah, Most Gracious!

4- Allah is All-Loving in the sense that He seeks love of His slaves, just as they seek His divine love. And He casts love into their heart for one another and for Him. In this sense, this name has three meanings: love from the Lord for His slaves, love from slaves to their Lord, and love among slaves for one another. That is why Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, says “The zenith of wisdom, after belief in Allah, is to seek people’s love.”

Therefore, the wisest, cleverest and best thing a believer can do, after having believed in Allah, is to seek people’s love and friendship, in order to help them know the truth. To this, Allah says:

“And by a Mercy from Allah you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from around you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them, and consult them in the affairs. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. Certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).” (Aal `Imran 3:159)

Here emerges a difference between “Al-Woudd” (Practical love) and “Ar-Rahmah” (mercy) as the latest is offered to a weak, helpless, miserable, ill, suffering person who is inferior to you, and, hence deserves your mercy; while “Al-Woudd” (love) is offered to others not because they are inferior to you or are in need of your help.

In other words, “Al-Woudd” is offered without request or imploration, but “Ar-Rahmah” is offered upon request, imploration or inferiority. When God created us, He was “Wadoud”, i.e. loving. We were nothing, but He created us, honored us, and bestowed His Innumerable divine favors and graces upon us: “O man! What has made you careless about your Lord, the Generous, Who created you and made you in due measures? In whatever shape He desires He constructs you.

“Be cursed (the disbelieving) man! How ungrateful he is! From what thing did He (Allah) create him? From a semen He created him and then set him in due proportion. Then He made the Path easy for him. Then He caused him to die and caused him to be put in a grave. Then, when He wills, He will resurrect him. Nay! But he (man) has not done what He (Allah) commanded him.” (`Abasa 80:17-23)

———–

This article is a summarized version of the article (Al-Wadoud) by the author, published at his web site www.nabulsi.com.

Dr. Muhammad Ratib An-Nabulsi is a Muslim Syrian preacher and writer. He has written a number of Islamic books, most remarkable of which are: “Encyclopedia of the Beautiful Names of Allah”, “Encyclopedia of Scientific Miracles of the Holy Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah” , “Outlooks on Islam” and “Contemplations on Islam”. He delivers a number of lessons, orations, symposiums and chat programs broadcasted on the Syrian, Arab, and Islamic radios and Televisions.

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Story of the Prisoners of the Battle of Badr

Story of the Prisoners of the Battle of Badr

By Safi Ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri

Battle of BadrStory of the Prisoners of the Battle of Badr

On their way back to Madinah, at a large sand hill, the Prophet (PBUH) divided the spoils equally among the fighters after he had taken al-khums (one-fifth). When they reached as-Safra’, he ordered that two of the prisoners should be killed. They were an-Nadr ibn al-Harith and ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt, because they had persecuted the Muslims in Makkah, and harboured deep hatred towards Allah and His Messenger (PBUH).

In a nutshell, they were criminals of war in modern terminology, and their execution was an awesome lesson to oppressors. ‘Uqbah forgot his pride and cried out, “Who will look after my children O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet (PBUH) answered, “The Fire (of Hell).” Did ‘Uqbah not remember the day when he had thrown the entrails of a sheep onto the head of the Prophet (PBUH) while he was prostrating himself in prayer, and Fatimah had come and washed it off him? He had also strangled the Prophet (PBUH) with his cloak if it had not been for Abu Bakr to intervene and release the Prophet (PBUH). The heads of both criminals were struck off by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.

The Prophet (PBUH) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners so well to such an extent that the captors used to give the captives their bread (the more valued part of the meal) and keep the dates for themselves.

Prisoners of war constituted a problem awaiting resolution because it was a new phenomenon in the history of Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) consulted Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab as to what he should do with the prisoners. Abu Bakr suggested that he should ransom them, explaining this by saying: “They are after all our relatives, and this money would give us strength against the disbelievers, moreover, Allah could guide them to Islam.”

‘Umar advised killing them, saying, “They are the leaders of kufr (disbelief).” The Prophet (PBUH) preferred Abu Bakr’s suggestion to that of ‘Umar’s. The following day, ‘Umar called on the Prophet (PBUH) and Abu Bakr to see them weeping. He showed extreme astonishment and inquired about the situation so that he might weep if it was worth weeping for, or else he would feign weeping.

“It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise. Were it not a previous ordainment from Allah, a severe torment would have touched you for what you took.” (Al-Anfal 8:67-68)

The previous Divine ordainment went as follows:

“Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them without ransom) or ransom.” (Muhammad 47:4)

Which included an area providing permission to take ransom, that is why no penalty was imposed. They were rebuked only for taking prisoners before subduing all the land of disbelief. Apart from this, the polytheists taken to Madinah were not only prisoners of war but rather arch-criminals of war whom modern war penal law brings to justice to receive their due sentence of death or prison for life.

The ransom for the prisoners ranged between 4000 and 1000 dirhams in accordance with the captive’s financial situation. Another form of ransom assumed an educational dimension; most of the Makkans, unlike the Madinese, were literate and so each prisoner who could not afford the ransom was entrusted with ten children to teach them the art of writing and reading. Once the child had been proficient enough, the instructor would be set free.

Another clan of prisoners were released unransomed on grounds of being hard up. Zaynab, the daughter of the Prophet (PBUH), paid the ransom of her husband Abul-‘As with a necklace. The Muslims released her prisoner and returned the necklace in deference to the Prophet (PBUH) but on condition that Abul-‘As allow Zaynab to migrate to Madinah, which he actually did.

In captivity, there was also an eloquent orator called Suhayl ibn ‘Amr. ‘Umar suggested that they pull out his front teeth to disable him from speaking, but the Prophet (PBUH) turned down his suggestion for fear Quraysh should retaliate in the same manner on one hand, and on the other for fear of Allah’s Wrath on the Day of Resurrection.

Sa’d ibn an-Nu’man, a lesser pilgrim detained in Makkah, was released in return for setting Abu Sufyan’s son, a captive, free.

———–

Adopted with editorial adjustments from Ar-Rahiq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar).

 

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9 Muslim Teen Leaders

9 Muslim Teen Leaders

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani

9 Muslim Teen Leaders9 Muslim Teen Leaders

A few days ago, while waiting for a bus to take me downtown, I met an elderly Canadian lady. She wore a red poppy as a sign to remember the members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty during the past world wars.

Spontaneously, I said, “This is a great thing about you, Canadians!”

Enthusiastically she asked, “What is it? What do you mean?”

I said, “You, unlike many other people, never forget your heroes; those who have sacrificed themselves for the sake of their country! That is why, when your soldiers go to battle, they do their best as they know they would always be remembered!”

While on the bus, I thought of the many heroes who have been exceptional examples in terms of bravery and self-sacrifice throughout our Islamic history. But almost no one remembers them or cares about commemorating them in any way.

I decided I would write a brief account of some of the heroes who were young but influential.

Let me introduce you to 9 of the youngest leaders in Islamic history, many of whom are unknown to many.

Al-Arqam ibn Abi Al-Arqam (16 years old)

Though very young, Al-Arqam ibn Abi Al-Arqam turned his home into the Prophet’s headquarters for 13 consecutive years.

In doing so, he helped raise the first Muslim generation who protected the Prophet, defended the faith, and spread the Word of Allah across the globe.

Talha ibn Ubaid Allah (16 years old)

He embraced Islam in his teenage years and was one of the very first to believe in the new faith. Talha was also one of the most generous people amongst the early Muslims.

In the battle of Uhud, he made a pledge to the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he would die in the cause of Allah and, thus, protect the Prophet from the disbelievers.

He shielded the Prophet from flying daggers and arrows with his own body until one of his fingers was paralyzed. However, he managed to save the Prophet’s life. He was also one of the six people Umar Ibn Al-Khattab nominated to decide who’ll be the next Caliph.

Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas (17 years old)

At the age of 17, Sa`d was one of the very first people to believe in the Prophet and accept Islam.

He was also the first to shoot an arrow for the defense of Islam. He was one of the ten people who received the glad tidings from the Prophet as to enter Paradise.

Also, he was one of the six nominated by Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab to choose amongst themselves as his successor after his death.

One day, the Prophet (peace be upon him) referred to him as saying, “This is my maternal uncle Sa`d. Is there anyone who has an uncle like him?”

Az-Zubair ibn Al-Awwam (15 years old)

Az-Zubair ibn Al-Awwam was the first Muslim to unsheathe his sword in the cause of Allah.

He was one of the close disciples of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Besides that, he was among the six people that Umar Ibn Al-Khattab nominated to succeed him as Caliph.

Osama ibn Zayd (18 years old)

Although he was only 18, he was qualified enough to be appointed by the Prophet as the leader of the last army he dispatched before he passed away.

The army was comprised of prominent Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) such as Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq and Umar ibn Al-Khattab and many others.

The army was to confront the Roman army, one of the mightiest armies on earth at that time.

Zayd ibn Thabit (13 years old)

Zayd was one of the scribes of the Divine Revelation. He reportedly learned Syriac and Hebrew in 17 days and became the Prophet’s interpreter.

Practicing until he perfected it, Zayd committed the Noble Qur’an to his heart.

He contributed to the compilation of the Sacred Word of Allah during Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq’s Caliphate.

Mu`adh ibn Amr ibn Al-Jamuh (13 years old) and Mu`awwadh ibn Afraa’ (14 years old)

In modern-day terms, these two were only kids! However, more than 1400 years ago, they managed to put an end to the life of one of the biggest enemies of Islam, who spared no effort to harass the Prophet companions. They killed Abu Jahl (Amr ibn Hisham) in the battle of Badr while he was commander of the polytheists.

Muhammad ibn Qasim Al-Thaqafi (17 years old)

Muhammad ibn Qasim Al-Thaqafi was a prominent leader. During the Umayyad era, he brought Islam to the Sindh and Multan regions along the Indus River, which is now a part of Pakistan.

He was one of the greatest military leaders of his time. Bin Qasim Town in Karachi is named after Muhammad ibn Qasim.

A final word

How are our youth today? What sort of role models do they have to cherish? What do they aspire to do or achieve?

I have heard some of the youth today speak of a few of these prominent figures with admiration, but sadly, many others have never even heard of them.

Our heroes can be a wonderful source of inspiration; let us read about them and learn from their courage and sacrifice!

———

Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation Studies. He is an author, translator, and writer based in Canada. To date, Al-Halawani authored over 400 original articles on Islam and Muslims, most of which can be accessed on www.truth-seeker.info and other famous websites. He has recently started to self-publish his articles and new books, which are available on Amazon and Kindle. You can reach him at alihalawani72@hotmail.com.

 

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As-Samad – Allah Is Self-Subsisting

As-Samad – Allah Is Self-Subsisting

By Salman Al-Oadah

Allah

Only those who reflect on the purpose of the creation around them, who have a clear faculty of discernment, who apply their minds and use their conscience, can recognize the truth that which these signs imply

As-Samad – Allah Is Self-Subsisting

This name of Allah appears only once in the Qur’an, in the second verse of the chapter entitled al-Ikhlas:

“Allah, the Self-Subsisting.” (Al-Ikhlas 112:2)

It appears in the Prophet’s Sunnah on a number of occasions, particularly in the aforementioned tradition pertaining to Allah’s greatest name, where Buraydah ibn al-Husayb relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard a man beseeching his Lord in the following words:

“O Allah! I beseech You by affirming that You are Allah, there is no god besides You, the One, the Self-Subsisting, who begets not and is not begotten, and who no one else resembles in any way.”

After the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard this, he said:

I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, this man has beseeched Allah with His greatest name, which if anyone supplicates with it, that supplication will be accepted, and if anyone asks by it, it will be granted.” (At-Tirmidhi, 3475; Ibn Majah, 3857)

The name As-Samad has many aspects to its meaning. It refers to one who is Lord, who possesses and disposes of all affairs, one whom people come to with their needs, but who at the same time is complete and self-sufficient, needing and depending upon no one else.

Ibn `Abbas, the eminent companion, defined the word samad as follows:

“A chieftain whose chieftaincy and pre-eminence is absolute; a noble whose nobility is complete and impeccable; someone who is mighty, possessing absolute power, but clement in the utmost; someone who is wealthy without limit, able to compel at will; with full knowledge and wisdom. It is only Allah who has complete nobility and dominion, and this attribute – samad – belongs to Him alone. No one else is worthy of it.

The word samad is also defined as: “One whom everyone depends to fulfill their needs, but who needs no one and depends upon no one else.”

Allah says:

“Shall I take for my protector any other than Allah, the Bringer into Existence of the heavens and the Earth? – He who gives sustenance and is never given sustenance?” (Al-An`am 6:14)

Allah provides everything for His creatures, but He is not dependent on them for anything:

“I have only created humanity and the Jinn to worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should provide Me with sustenance.” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56-7)

Allah did not create us to enrich Him or empower Him. He created us merely to worship Him. He is free from all deficiency and dependency. He begets not, nor is He begotten.

Benefits of Knowing This Name of Allah

When we believe in our hearts that God is Self-Subsisting, needs no one but able to fulfill the needs of all, it becomes natural for us to turn to Him and pin our hopes in Him alone.

Ibn `Abbas relates:

“I was with Allah’s Messenger one day, when he said to me:

Young man, I will teach you something: Remember Allah and He will remember you. Keep Him in your heart and you will find Him with you. If you beg of someone, beg of Allah. If you rely on someone, rely on Allah.

Know that if the whole world united in order to provide you with some benefit, they could only benefit you with what Allah has already decreed for you. And know that if the whole world united in order to bring you harm, they could only harm you with what Allah had already decreed to befall you.

The pens have been lifted from the pages and the ink has dried.” (At-Tirmidhi, 2516)

We should turn to Allah with our hopes and fears, with our worldly concerns as well as our spiritual aspirations, in all matters great and small.

“And there are some among them who say: ‘Our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and save us from the chastisement of the Fire’.” (Al-Baqarah 2:201)

Our faith in Allah’s names and attributes should not be reduced to some rote recital of words, but must be something that actively informs and shapes our approach to life. When this is the case, we become empowered by our faith and more independent in our outlook.

Such faith should at the same time provide a vitality to our efforts and embolden us with confidence when we actively strive to reach our goals. It should make us more productive – as well as more patient – in realizing the things in life we are trying to achieve.

It should make it easier for us to weather the difficulties that we face and surmount the obstacles that come our way. It should keep us from despair when we have done everything that we practically can do, but more is still required.

We need to contemplate on the fact that Allah is Self-Subsisting. We are very different than other animals. Many of them have been given strength and sensory perception far exceeding our own.

However, we have been blessed with the faculty of reason. We have been made accountable for our beliefs and our actions. One thing our minds can discern is the awareness of Allah.

We can come to know our own weakness and discern our limitations. We recognize our own smallness and insignificance before the vastness of Allah’s creation, and realize the greatness of Allah. When we have this awareness of Allah, believe in Him, and recite His scriptures, we keep the remembrance of Allah alive. This is a great honor that Allah has blessed us with.

This is why Allah says:

“In houses where Allah has permitted His name to be often invoked and remembered.” (An-Nur 24:36)

It is indeed a great honor that Allah has permitted us to be aware of Him and to remember Him.

—————

Taken with slight editorial modifications from the author’s website, Islam Today: http://en.islamtoday.net.

Salman Al-Oadah is a prominent Saudi scholar. He supervises the website Islam Today (www.islamtoday.com).

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Names & Attributes of God in Surah Ya-Sin

Names & Attributes of God in Surah Ya-Sin

By Raya Shokatfard

attributes of godNames & Attributes of God in Surah Ya-Sin

Ya-Sin, the thirty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an, is very popular among Muslims due to the many special merits associated with reading it, according to various statements attributed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It is incumbent upon every Muslim to know and understand God’s names and attributes. It is only through better understanding Him that we gain closeness to Him, and move from worshiping an abstract God to one we are trying to come to know.

As for non-Muslims, this step will certainly bring a better understanding of the God Muslims worship. One will easily find many of these attributes are also alluded to Him in the Old and New Testament of the Bible. He is one God for all and His attributes do not change based on various religions.

The aim of this article is to highlight various names and attributes of God mentioned in some of the verses of this chapter and elaborate on them for a better understanding toward knowing our Creator.

Each attribute is at the end of each verse which in essence explains the verse itself.

The chapter begins with:

“In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” (Ya-Sin 36: 1)

God is the most merciful, therefore, it is proper to start everything with His great name and attribute Ar-Rahim. Likewise Ar-Rahman is another great attribute of God, both of which are derived from Rahman.

Ar-Rahman is one which God encompasses with it all His creation, whereas Ar-Rahim is only for the believers.

One would be at awe about His mercy and compassion for His creation. God has instructed us to start all chapters of Qur’an with His name, except chapter 9 (At-Tawbah). This reminds us that while we read the chapters of the Qur’an, we should remember His compassion and mercy.

“By the Qur’an, full of Wisdom.” (Ya-Sin 36:2)

God swears by the Glorious Qur’an which is full of laws, evidences and proofs. According to Ibn Kathir, Al-Hakeem (full of Wisdom) means Al-Muhkam (perfect) which cannot be damaged by falsehood in any shape or form.

God swears by the Qur’an which is perfect in order to emphasize its incredible importance.

“It is a revelation sent down by the Almighty, the most Merciful.” (Ya-Sin 36:3)

For those who may doubt about God’s power and might, this verse serves as a reminder, especially to the disbelievers about who is behind sending down the mighty revelation to the last Prophet of God.

Yet, to His believing servants, He reminds them how merciful He is to them, while he is most powerful against His enemies.

This verse should be a strong reminder to both believing and disbelieving creatures of God.

He shows in the Qur’an and through His mercy that He guides, protects and nurtures His creatures.

It is important to note that God only guides to the straight path for which He has sent down many verses like the ones below:

“… if I am on the right path, it is but by the virtue of what my Sustainer reveals unto me.” (Saba’ 34: 50)

“…and verily, you are indeed guiding (mankind) to the straight path. The path of Allah to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth. Verily, to Allah all matters return.” (Ash-Shura 42:52-53)

“You (O Prophet!) can only warn him who follows the Reminder (i.e. Qur’an) and fears the Most Beneficent (Allah), unseen. Then bear the glad tidings of Forgiveness to such a one, and a generous reward (i.e. Jannah).” (Ya-Sin 36: 11)

Here, Karim (generous) refers to another attribute of God which He uses here as means to show a reward – a generous reward for those take heed to the warning and fear God when no one sees them, except God. He does righteous deeds because he knows God is watching him.

In another similar verse, God says:

“Verily, those who fear their Lord unseen, theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward.” (Al-Mulk 67: 12)

Only a believer is looking forward to receive a generous reward for doing good acts while not being seen. The wicked does not see, or care about any reward, as he is heedless of his Creator in the first place. His aim is only satisfaction of his desires of this world.

In as much as warnings that are given to the disbelievers for heedlessness of their evil deeds, the believers are given glad tidings of great reward and in each verse of the Qur’an the promise of reward is preceded by the acts that would deserve such rewards.

So, Prophet Muhammad is given order to warn the believers while promising him great reward:

“ (It will be said to them): “Peace be on you”, a Word from the Lord, Most Merciful.” (Ya-Sin 36: 58)

Rahim” again, is a reminder to such believers about the Most Merciful.

Can one imagine receiving ‘Salam’ or greeting from His Lord personally?

Would there be a higher honor than this?

This is when one must contemplate on this attribute of God, Ar-Rahim who gives glad tidings of His presence with the believers.

Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said:

“Allah will say to the people of Paradise, “O the people of Paradise,

They will say, ‘Labbaik, O our Lord, and Sa`daik!’

Allah will say, ‘Are you pleased?

They will say, “Why should we not be pleased since You have given us what You have not given to anyone of Your creation?’

Allah will say, ‘I will give you something better than that.’

They will reply, ‘O our Lord! And what is better than that?’

Allah will say, “I will bestow My good pleasure and contentment upon you so that I will never be angry with you after this forever.” (Al-Bukhari)

“Say: (O Prophet!): “He Who created it (the bones) for the first time will give life to it. And He (Allah) is the All-Knower of every creation.” (Ya-Sin 36: 79)

Al-Alim (the All-Knower), surely is manifested in this verse, pointing to the one who created human from just a drop and certainly after death, He knows how to revive him and bring him into account.

Not only that, God knows all the intricate properties of each of His creation. So, He is indeed All-Knower of each and every creation He has ever created.

“Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth, able to create the like thereof? Yes, indeed! He is the All-Knowing Supreme Creator.” (Ya-Sin 36: 81)

As in the previous verse, again we refer to the unimaginable, ever encompassing knowledge of God.

He has informed us that the creation of the heavens and the earth is much greater than the creation of humans and he can recreate the like of it as He wills. He is the All-Knowing, Supreme Creator.

If one were to contemplate about the vast creation of heavens and the earth, he cannot but be awed at the incredible knowledge of the Creator for what He has created, known or unknown to us.

“The creation of the heavens and the earth is indeed greater than the creation of mankind. Yet most men understand not.” (Ghafir 40: 57)

————-

Taken with slight editorial modifications from onislam.net.

Raya Shokatfard holds an MA in Journalism/Mass Communications and an M.A.D. in TV journalism. BA in Communication and BA in Islamic Studies in progress. She has been Islamic propagator in the U.S and Egypt for many years and academic lecturer, writer, international presenter, consultant, foreign correspondent, and former Editor in Chief for Reading Islam website. She can be reached at: raya4peace@gmail.com

 

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“No Religion” 3rd Group After Christians, Muslims

“No Religion” 3rd Group After Christians, Muslims

By Tom Heneghan

No Religion

The study showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.

“No Religion” 3rd Group After Christians, Muslims

(Reuters) – People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world’s faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus.

The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.

It showed Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India.

Overall, 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants identify with a religion, according to the study entitled “The Global Religious Landscape” issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Tuesday.

The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith.

“Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed.

“Belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults,” it said.

Islam Expands

Exact numbers for religious populations are impossible to obtain and estimates for the size of the larger faiths can vary by hundreds of millions. This study by the Washington-based Pew Forum appears to be one of the most extensive to date.

Pew Forum demographer Conrad Hackett said the 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers used to compile the report did not allow a further breakdown to estimate the world population of atheists and agnostics.

“It’s not the kind of data that’s available for every country,” he said. “A census will typically ask what your religion is and you can identify a number of particular affiliations or no religion.

An age breakdown showed Muslims had the lowest median age at 23 years, compared to 28 for the whole world population. The median age highlights the population bulge at the point where half the population is above and half below that number.

“Muslims are going to grow as a share of the world’s population and an important part of that is this young age structure,” Hackett said.

By contrast, Judaism, which has 14 million adherents or 0.2 percent of the world population, has the highest median age at 36, meaning its growth prospects are weakest.

Hackett noted that Israel, which has 40.5 percent of the world Jewish population, had a younger age structure than the United States, where 41.1 percent of the world’s Jews live.

Global Christianity’s median age is 30 and Hinduism’s 26. With a median age of 34, the growth prospects for religiously unaffiliated people are weak, the study showed.

Worldwide Breakdown

The study estimated Christianity was the largest faith at more than 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world’s population.

The Roman Catholic Church makes up 50 percent of that total, with Protestants — including Anglicans and non-denominational churches — at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, or 23 percent of the global population. “The overwhelming majority (87-90 percent) are Sunnis, about 10-13 percent are Shia Muslims,” the study said.

Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population.

Japan comes next with the second largest unaffiliated population in the world with 72 million, or 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, 51 million people — 16.4 percent of all Americans — said they have no link to an established faith.

The world’s Hindu population is concentrated mostly in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Half of the world’s Buddhists live in China, followed far behind by Thailand at 13.2 percent of the world Buddhist population and Japan with 9.4 percent.

The study found that about 405 million people, or about 6 percent of the world population, followed folk religions such as those found in Africa and China or among Native American and Australian aboriginal peoples.

Another 58 million, or nearly 1 percent of the world population, belonged to “other religions” including Baha’i, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism. Most were in the Asia-Pacific region.

The study said that 97 percent of the world’s Hindus, 87 percent of its Christians and 73 percent of its Muslims lived in countries where they were a large to overwhelming majority.

Christians make up the majority in 157 countries and Muslims in 49, including 19 of the 20 states in the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of Israel.

By contrast, Hindus are in the majority only in India, Nepal and Mauritius.

————–

Courtesy onislam.net with slight editorial modifications.

Tom Heneghan is Reuters’ Religion Editor, Paris. He received the following awards: European Religion Writer of the Year, 2006; Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow, 2006; Coolidge Scholar ARIL, 2008, 2010; RNA Best Online Section 2012.

 

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Clash or Peaceful Coexistence?

Clash or Peaceful Coexistence?

By Jaafar Sheikh Idris

CoexistenceClash or Peaceful Coexistence?

Are Muslims and the West bound to clash?

Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris, professor of Islamic studies, Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences, Washington, gives an answer which supports the idea of peaceful coexistence.

Is it possible for the inhabitants of our global village to live peacefully together and reap the fruits of science and technology whose pace of advancement is ever increasing? Or are their religious, cultural and civilization differences bound to create clashes and wars among them? The matter is so important that it behooves Muslim intellectuals and statesmen to give it serious thought.

Western intellectuals are very much concerned with this question. But they are by no means agreed on the answer. One view is that the clash between Western civilization and others is inevitable, nay that it is already underway. Another view is that the real clash is within the Western culture itself.

A third view is that people all over the world are heading toward Western political liberalism and economic capitalism and that these systems constitute the end of history in these respects. A fourth view is that peaceful coexistence among people of different cultures and civilizations is possible provided they adopt secular pluralistic democracy.

What is the Islamic standpoint on this important and urgent issue? This paper is an attempt to give a brief answer to that question. But I am not speaking here as a social scientist who describes and explains actual reality; rather I am attempting to describe only theoretically what I consider to be the Islamic standpoint on this issue in our present circumstances. And my short answer is that it is a standpoint that is unequivocally on the side of peaceful coexistence. But to live peacefully with others you need sometimes to be fully prepared for war against them.

Reasons for Peaceful Coexistence

  • Rationality is an inseparable part of the Islamic religion, and its rationality does include that important ingredient of judging actions by their consequences. but it is, of course, rationality which is guided by other Islamic values. The preferred action is always the action that results in the greatest good, or the least evil. The main goods to be achieved in Islam for example, are ones that would be acceptable, in their general sense, to most people. These are Spiritual well-being, mental well-being, human life, human wealth and honour. Judged by this rational standard and those values, peaceful coexistence and cooperation is definitely to be preferred over wars and clashes in normal circumstances.
  • While some religions, secular ideologies and psychological theories teach that the human person is born evil; while some teach that he is born neutral between good and evil and it is society which directs him one way or the other; and while yet others believe that there is no such thing as human nature; while some brazenly racist and others are discriminatory in other respects, the Islamic position in the words of its Prophet is that every child is born good. Whatever his or her present beliefs or cultural milieu, every human person is a potential Muslim. In viewing people of other beliefs and cultures, Muslims should not forget to see the original nature which lies behind the facade of those cultures.
  • The best favour that a Muslim can, therefore, do to a non-Muslim is to invite him to Islam, to persuade him or her to come back to their original nature. But in doing so a Muslim is required to bear in mind certain facts and to abide by certain principles, among which is the fact that since faith is a matter of the heart, no one can be compelled to accept it. This is understood from the verse which reads, “And invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom, and good admonition, and argue with them in the best of ways“. How can this be achieved except in a peaceful atmosphere?
  • God tells his Prophet that however keen he is on people accepting the faith, most of them will not. All the same, He tells His Prophet that he is sent as a mercy to them and that his main task is to never tire of inviting them to the truth.
  • Peaceful coexistence among people belonging to different religions and civilizations makes it easy for them to exchange material and intellectual benefits. It also helps them to cooperate in solving the problems which face them as inhabitants of a global village: Drugs, diseases, pollution, etc. But his ideal picture of peaceful coexistence and cooperation cannot be realized if the West lives in constant fear lest its hegemony be lost, and therefore do its best to prevent others from developing.
  • No rational person who has an idea of the number of destructive weapons available in the world and the extent of the damage they can cause would hesitate to be against all kinds of wars, local or worldwide. To avoid wars however we must try to eradicate as many of their causes as we can. We must thus stand for justice and against all kinds of unfair treatment and aggression.
  • Muslims should play a big role in this because they are qualified to do so. Islam is a religion which does not compromise on moral values like truth and justice. Believers in Islam are urged to be allies to each other irrespective of race or time or place.
  • Muslims, in my view, have a special stake in peace. If peace prevails, Islam will have a better chance of being heard and accepted in the West, and elsewhere. Many people in the West and other parts of the world are coming back to religion so much so that what is called fundamentalism has become a universal phenomenon. People have discovered that science much as it is respected and valued by them cannot replace religion.

Reasons for Being Powerful

Islam is however too realistic a religion to be a pacifist. It is one thing to want to live peacefully with others, but quite another to make them have the same attitude toward you. On the whole, people of every culture desire to be more powerful than those who are culturally opposed to them. They take all steps which they deem necessary for the preservation of their cultural identity, and for the subjugation of others.

In his new classic paper on the clash of civilizations, Huntington tells us with an unusual candidness that, “The West is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. Apart from Japan, the West has no economic challenge. It dominates international political and security institutions, and with Japan economic institutions.”

And: “In the post-Cold War, the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that would threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.”

Muslims are therefore enjoined to be materially powerful so as to deter those who might resort to aggression against Muslims or who are prone to use force to subjugate others. Material power can and should thus be an ally to the cause of spiritual development and not a contradiction of it.

———

Adapted with editorial adjustments from Islamic Future, July 1996.

 

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The Decimal and Islamic Mathematics

The Decimal and Islamic Mathematics

By J. L. Berggren

Islamic MathematicsThe Decimal and Islamic Mathematics

Muslim mathematicians were the first people to write numbers the way we do, and, although we are the heirs of the Greeks in geometry, part of our legacy from the Muslim world is our arithmetic. This is true even if it was Hindu mathematicians in India, probably a few centuries before the rise of Islamic civilization, who began using a numeration system with these two characteristics:

  • The numbers from one to nine are represented by nine digits, all easily made by one or two strokes.
  • The right-most digit of a numeral counts the number of units, and a unit in any place is ten of that to its right. Thus the digit in the second place counts the number of tens, that in the third place the number of hundreds (which is ten tens), and so on. A special mark, the zero, is used to indicate that a given place is empty.

These two properties describe our present system of writing whole numbers, and we may summarize the above by saying the Hindus were the first people to use a cipherized, decimal, positional system, “Cipherized” means that the first nine numbers are represented by nine ciphers, or digits, instead of accumulating strokes as the Egyptians and Babylonians did, and “decimal” means that it is base 10. However, the Hindus did not extend this system to represent parts of the unit by decimal fractions, and since it was the Muslims who first did so, they were the first people to represent numbers as we do. Quite properly, therefore, we call the system “Hindu-Arabic”.

As to when the Hindus first began writing whole numbers according to this system, the available evidence shows that the system was not used by the great Indian astronomer Aryabhata (born in A.D. 476), but it was in use by the time of his pupil, Bhaskara I, around the year A.D. 520. (See Van der Waerden and Folkerts for more details.)

News of the discovery spread, for, about 150 years later, Severus Sebokht, a bishop of the Nestorian Church ( one of the several Christian faiths existing in the East at the time), wrote from his residence in Keneshra on the upper Euphrates river as follows:

I will not say anything now of the science of the Hindus, who are not even Syrians, of their subtle discoveries in this science of astronomy, which are even more ingenious then those of the Greeks and Babylonians, and of the fluent method of their calculation, which surpasses words. I want to say only that it is done with nine signs. If those who believe that they have arrived at the limit of science because they speak Greek ad known these things they would perhaps be convinced, even if a bit late, that there are others who know something, not only Greeks but also men of a different language.

It seems, then, that Christian scholars in the Middle East, writing only a few years after the great series of Arab conquests had begun, knew of Hindu numerals through their study of Hindu astronomy. The interest of Christian scholars in astronomy and calculation was, in the main, due to their need to be able to calculate the date of Easter, a problem that stimulated much of the Christian interest in the exact sciences during the early Middle Ages. It is not a trivial problem, because it requires the calculation of the date of the first new moon following the spring equinox. Even the great nineteenth-century mathematician and astronomer C.F. Gauss was not able to solve the problem completely, so it is no wonder that Severus Sebokht was delighted to find in Hindu sources a method of arithmetic that would make calculation easier.

We can perhaps explain the reference to the “nine signs” rather then the ten as follows: the zero (represented by a small circle) was not regarded as one of the digits of the system but simply a mark put in a place when it is empty, i.e. when no digit goes there. The idea that zero represents a number, just as any other digit does, is a modern notion, foreign to medieval though.

With this evidence that the Hindu system of numeration had spread so far by the year A.D. 662, it may be surprising to learn that the earliest Arabic work we know of explaining the Hindu system is one written early in the ninth century whose title may be translated as The Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation. The author was Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi who, since the was born around the year A.D. 780, probably wrote his book after A.D. 800.

We mentioned in Chapter 1 that al-Khwarizmi, who was one of the earliest important Islamic scientists, came from Central Asia and was not an Arab. This was not unusual, for, by and large, in Islamic civilization it was not a man’s place (or people) of origin, his native language, or (within limits) his religion that mattered, but his learning and his achievements in his chosen profession.

The question arises, however, where al-Khwarizmi learned of the Hindu arithmetic, given that his home was in a region far from where Bishop Sebokht learned of Hindu numerals 150 years earlier. In the absence of printed books and modern methods of communication, the penetration of a discovery into a given region by no means implied its spread to adjacent regions. Thus al-Khwarizmi may have learned of Hindu numeration not in his native Kharizm but in Baghdad, where, around 780, the visit of a delegation of scholars from Sind to the court of the Caliph al-Mansur led to the translation of Sanskrit astronomical works. Extant writings of al-Khwarizmi on astronomy show he was much influenced by Hindu methods, and it may be that it was from his study of Hindu astronomy that he learned of Hindu numerals.

Whatever the line of transmission to al-Khwarizmi was, his work helped spread Hindu numeration both in the Islamic world and in the Latin West. Although this work has not survived in the Arabic original (doubtless because it was superseded by superior treatises later on), we possess a Latin translation, made in the twelfth century A.D. From the introduction to this we learn that the work treated all the arithmetic operations and not only addition and subtraction as the title might suggest. Evidently, al-Khwarizmi’s usage is parallel to ours when we speak of a child who is studying arithmetic as “learning his sums”.

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This article is excerpted from the book “Episodes in the Mathematics of Medieval Islam” by J. L. Berggren.

 

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