Why do we need a Religion?

Lecture delivered at UWA, Western Australia on 14 September 2002

The question posed in today's lecture is "Why do we need a religion?" I am not going to answer this particular question directly. In fact, I view the "religion" itself as being offensive. It is a misrepresentation of the word "deen", which means a complete, structured, divinely ordained way of life. Therefore the topic today is "Why are we in need of a correct way of life?"
We have been placed on this earth for a special purpose, and one day we will be questioned regarding the fulfillment of that purpose, and whether we have fulfilled our obligations to God, society and to ourselves.
Religion must address essential humanistic needs - physical needs, societal needs, emotional needs and psychological needs. My mission today is to show you what Islam puts forward in relation to these needs.
It is not my purpose to "win you over to Islam." We hold firmly that your entering Islam will not benefit Allah in all His Glory in any way, and His Glory will not be diminished by your rejection of Islam. My mission is simply to get you acquainted with what one-fifth of the world's population espouse as being the Ultimate Truth. It is to clarify your doubts, address your stereotypical assumptions and to call you to the realization that Allah calls you to worship Him Alone.

Physical needs
Turning first to physical needs - it is essential that a person's physical needs be met, regardless of the individual's place or situation. Examples of physical needs include food, the quenching of one's physical thirst, the displacement of one's sexual drive, the need for freedom, security and peace. Islam touches upon all of those essential aspects of our physical life - what we eat, how we eat, why we eat, with whom we share our food, etc. It is a complete way of life. The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) gave the example of an individual who is in the middle of the desert, and his camel runs away, taking with it all his provisions. He will raise his hands in supplication and will say, "O Allah, feed me", but his food that he had was from haram or unlawful sources, and his clothing was from haram or unlawful sources. The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) asked, how can this man expect that Allah will accept his supplication and prayers? This shows the importance in Islam of fulfilling our physical needs in the correct manner. As Muslims we do not simply seek out sustenance and nourishment. Rather we seek out lawful means to earn the wealth with which we purchase our foods. A true Muslim would prefer to forgo special foods purchase from illicit sources and eat in its place bread and water.
In Islam, the difference between halal (lawful things) and haram (unlawful things) is the articulation of a word and the righteous intention that accompanies it. A good example is marriage. The difference between halal and haram personal relations between a man and a woman is that the bride and the groom saying "I accept" - that utterance governs the entire future of those two people. In Islam, marriage is essential, and having relations outside of marriage is haram - it is a social vice that is deemed worthy of punishment. Therefore we see that the discharge of ones' physical needs - food, water, and lusts - are governed by the Laws of Allah.
As such, we begin to now see that Islam means to submit to Allah to attain peace with Allah. The scholars of Islam have stated that the essence of Islam is captured in the Qur'an. The essence of the Qur'an in turn is encompassed in the opening chapter of the Qur'an wherein Allah states:
With the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the 'Aalmin (all that exists).
The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection).
You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).
Guide us to the Straight Way
The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.
And the essence of the opening chapter of the Qur'an is contained in one verse of the opening chapter: Iyyaaka na'budu wa iyyaaka nasta'een - You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything). Thus, the essence of Islam to is to submit only to Allah.
It is also important to note that Islam contains a martial law that dictate the mannerisms of warfare - laws that are so strict that if a Muslim breaks them against a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim is viewed as being oppressed, and the Muslim is the oppressor. In Islam we hold firmly that if in such a situation the Muslim would be deemed a sinner and at risk of being worthy of Allah's Wrath and punishment.
As human beings we understand the necessity of a person's way of life being fluid - inflexible in some circumstances, but malleable in others. Muslims come from many, many different nationalities - but they all believe in the same thing, perform the same acts and submit in unison to Allah. Islam is fluid, and accessible to all nationalities. The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) informed that he came to teach both the light and the dark in complexion. And the Qur'an states that:
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa (piety). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware." Al-Hujurat (49:13)

Societal needs
In Islam, it is an individual's responsibility to his Creator that he lives among the people according to Islam. Therefore, for example, an employee should be diligent, punctual and perform his duties correctly - not because he is afraid that he will be fired or he may suffer a pay cut, but only because he fears Allah. He or she knows that Allah is judging them in how well they fulfill their duties and the obligations that they have been delegated. Similarly, the family situation is based on love, trust, caring and openness, not because a person is a mother or father, but because their Creator directs them to treat their family members with love, respect and justness.

Environmental laws
Islam also dictates that we share what Allah has given us on this earth. Islam contains more specific laws relating to the physical environment than any other faith. For example, the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said: "A woman has been brought to the door of Hell because she was cruel to a cat." His companions asked, "How could this be?" He replied, "She confined the cat to a cage so it could not go out and find food, and she did not feed it herself."
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) also said, "A man has been granted admission to Paradise because he gave water to a thirsty dog."
Once the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) saw a camel with tears in its eyes. The Prophet consoled the camel, and noticed that it had an excessive load of burden on its back, which was causing it to be distressed. The Prophet ((sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) admonished the person who had done this to the camel.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) would often give his lessons under the shade of a tree. He informed his that the tree can hear him and benefits from his nearness.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said, "If an individual has an opportunity to plant a tree, even if he knows the Day of Judgment is imminent, let him plant the tree." The Prophet ((sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) taught us that we would be rewarded for planting a tree even if the fruits of the tree were stolen - because planting the tree itself is an act that is sanctioned by Allah.
We are Allah's vicegerents on the earth; it has been given us in trust. Just as we are not the lords of nature and the world, so the world is not our property which we can dispose of as we wish or as we are able. Allah created nature and it belongs to Allah. Everything in nature is a sign of Allah's existence; that is, a token or missive. The Qur'an expresses this truth as follows:
"We shall show them our signs in the [furthest] regions [of the earth], and in their own souls." Fussilat 41:53
"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds subjugated between the sky and earth - [here] indeed are signs for a people who think." Al-Baqarah 2:164
Emotional needs and the Importance of family relationships
Islam also teaches us the importance of the family relationship. The relationship in the home is a relationship that builds communities. The first people that the Prophets would tell of their Divine Message were their own family members - for example, after seeing the burning bush, Moses first went home and told his immediate family of what he had seen; when Noah heard that the flood was about to come, he first went and told his family. The same was true of the Prophet Mohammad (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) - the first people that he told about his message were his wife, his best friend, his cousin and his adopted son.
The Muslims must follow this example. When Muslims give anything - whether it be knowledge or material things - they must begin first with their immediate families, and spread from there to their friends, neighbours and extended families.

Rules for living in society
Islam seeks to stamp out all vices. So intoxication is forbidden in all its forms - alcohol, drugs, cigarettes etc - because intoxication leads to decay in society. Extra-marital activities are also forbidden for a similar reason. The taking of a human life without due cause is forbidden. The Qur'an states - as does the Torah - that the one who gives life to an individual - that is, saves a human life - it is as if he has brought life to all of humanity; and the one who kills an individual, it is as if he has brought death to all of humanity. But the Qur'an also states - as does the Torah - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The one who begins the aggression is the oppressor.
Islam has a shari'ah - a set of laws or rules which Muslims must follow. In Islam, one cannot say that man-made laws could ever be better than laws ordained by Allah. The Qur'an states: "Should not He Who has created know (what is best for His Creation)? And He is the Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves) All-Aware (of everything)." Al-Mulk 67:14

Why Islam?
Why do we have to follow a shari'ah or divine law? Why this way of life? What is so valuable about this way of life that would cause people to leave the path they have known their whole life and join Islam?
The answer is simple. It is not always a person's own choice, but a guidance from Allah. The Qur'an says that the example of one who receives guidance is as of one who has life. And the example of one who does not receive guidance is as one who is dead.
Success is not tangible or measurable - one can never be rich enough, or pretty enough, or ever have enough things. As the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said, "If a man was given a valley of gold, he would search for another one."
But in Islam, the individual recognises that no matter how high he is, he can never be free of need. No matter how high he is, it can be taken from him instantly - especially if his status and position is ill-gotten. Also - and perhaps more importantly - the individual realises that no matter how depressed he is, there is always Allah watching over him, and it could always be worse. The individual knows that there is something more than the 60 or 70 years on this earth, and that there will come a day when he will be asked about how he fulfilled his obligations.

There are three essential elements to belief in Allah:
Belief that there is a Creator and a Rabb - Lord.
Belief that the Creator is singular and the only one deserving of worship since He Alone is the sole Creator. As well if there was more than one, they would compete with each other. Allah is the only One solely worthy of worship.
3) Belief in the attributes of the Creator - this entails learning about who Allah is and how He describes Himself to us through study of the scriptures so as to recognize Him and maintain our duties to Him.
I challenge you to pick up any copy of the Qur'an and read it, see why it attracts so many. Feel its resonance in your heart. This is not different from the method of those at the time of the Prophet Mohammad (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him): a group of people would walk past and hear the recitation of a passage from the Qur'an, and it would bring tears to their eyes. The method is the same as that which worked to bring people to the truth at the time of Jesus (alihi as Salaam- Peace be upon him) - he would say to people "Follow me", and they would follow him, because they would hear the truth in what he said.
Think of the power of the testimony of Faith that Muslims constantly affirm in word, inner belief and outward action. The Shaahaada - Testimony of Faith is simple yet complex. In it we show our complete belief in the fact that Allah - we bear witness that He is the only one worth worship. You cannot bear witness to something unless you have seen it. None of us have seen God, or the Prophet Mohammad (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him), but we bear witness based on the certainty of our faith that there is a God, and Mohammad (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) is His Messenger.
We pray five times a day - not when we want to, but at prescribed times throughout the day. We fast - even from the things that are lawful, such as water and food - simply to show God that we are willing to sacrifice anything to please Him.
We give charity - 2.5% of the money saved from throughout the year - to aid those in need.
We perform pilgrimage - the pilgrimage that changes lives. Malcolm X hated the concept of integration of races. For him, "the white man was the devil". This was a product of the intense oppression suffered by racial minorities in many countries, especially in the USA. Allah blessed this man who was full of hatred with pilgrimage.
Malcolm X wrote a letter from Hajj to his wife, Betty:
"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colours and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
"I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Makkah, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
"America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colours together, irrespective of their colour."
"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."
"We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behaviour, and the white from their attitude."
"I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their 'differences' in colour."
"With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."
"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."
"Never have I been so highly honoured. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honours - honours that in America would be bestowed upon a King - not a Negro."
"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.
Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
(From the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with assistance from Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS)
Such is the power of the pilgrimage. People from all countries come to Makkah wearing only two pieces of white cloth, all saying "Labbayk Allahumma labbayk" - "At your service, O Allah, at your service".
The essence of faith is to worship Allah - Allah says, "And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone)." Adh-Dhariyaat 51:56
Compiled by: Sr. Shadia Rahman
Edited by: Br. Yahya Ibrahim