Focus on the Fundamentals – Part 3

Islam is a belief system. You enter Islam by believing and declaring that belief. It is equally simple to leave Islam. That is why it is essential to ensure that we never say or do anything that contradicts or denies our belief. That is why knowledge is important and it begins with fundamentals. Which is why systematic study of Islam is so important. Learning Islam is not about randomly reading this or that book, including the Qur’an but about studying the Usool (Principles) of Deen and then the Usool of whichever discipline of Deen you are studying before touching any of the books. Only then can one expect to understand Islam in any depth. Needless to say, a thorough knowledge of classical Arabic is critical to understanding the texts that no translation in any language can do justice to. Then, like in any practice, be it martial arts, medicine, or flying a plane, it is living Islam under the supervision of a teacher which is the foundation of all knowledge. True knowledge comes only and only from practice. Not from reading theory. Anyone who truly wants to learn Islam in depth, must go the whole way starting with becoming proficient in Arabic at a native speaker level and then seeking teachers to learn and practice under, until he or she is certified as being competent to teach or give their opinion on matters. This is the famous system of Ijaaza – on which our modern-day university education and the awarding of degrees is based. It is taken from Islamic scholarly tradition.

To illustrate the matter of entering or leaving Islam with a simple example; Salah is a fundamental principle and one of the five pillars of Islam. If someone doesn’t pray, he is committing a major sin for which he must seek forgiveness. But if a person prays but says that prayer is not Fardh (compulsory) but optional and one can pray or not depending on his wish, that person has left Islam, even though he may pray himself. The same thing applies to everything that Allahﷻ commanded or prohibited. If a Muslim believes and speaks contrary to that, he risks leaving the fold of Islam. It is not just a matter of opinion. If the opinion of a Muslim contradicts or denies what Allahﷻ ordered or His Messengerﷺ taught, it takes the person out of Islam. He will then have to repent, seek Allahﷻ’s forgiveness and re-enter Islam. If not, and he dies, he would have died without Islam, even if he had been doing other prescribed things. Allahﷻ made it clear that selective obedience is disobedience.

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱدْخُلُوا۟ فِى ٱلسِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

Baqara 2: 208    O Believers! Enter Islam completely and do not follow Shaytan’s footsteps. Surely, he is your sworn enemy.

The Ayah is addressed to the Believers who already believe, showing that merely saying that we believe is not enough. Belief must be demonstrated in all aspects of life and not as a matter of personal choice. The word ‘Muslim’ is a verb. It describes someone who is doing something. Someone who has submitted to Allahﷻ. Not someone who knows about Islam no matter how much. A Haaji is someone who has done Hajj, not the bus driver for Hujjaj. A Sa’aim is one who fasting. Not one who knows about fasting. A Musalli is one who is praying. Not someone who knows how to pray but doesn’t pray himself. About selective obedience, Allahﷻ declared very clearly:

أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَآءُ مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَٰلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلَّا خِزْىٌ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰٓ أَشَدِّ ٱلْعَذَابِ وَمَا ٱللَّهُ بِغَـٰفِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

Baqara 2: 85    Do you believe in some of the Scripture and reject the rest? Is there any reward for those who do so among you other than disgrace in this worldly life and being subjected to the harshest punishment on the Day of Judgment? For Allah is never unaware of what you do.

This is our biggest problem today. Muslims want Islam in their choice of flavor. But Islam didn’t come in different flavors. The beauty of Islam is that it is universal and the same for all people everywhere, in every era. There is no Arab Islam and American Islam and Desi Islam. There is one Islam and all those who practice it are Muslim and equal before Allahﷻ distinguished only by the extent to which they are concerned about pleasing Allahﷻ i.e., by their Taqwa. As Allahﷻ said in Sura Al-Hujuraat:

إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

Hujuraat 49:13    Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.

We Muslims are people of action. We are distinguished by what we do. Let us focus on that. What we choose to do or not to do defines brand value and character. Sometimes we believe that we Muslims are held back from progress because we are not allowed to take interest-based loans. Let me try to address this in the only way that matters, which is in the context of the Aakhira. The first thing to get clear in our minds is the meaning of ‘progress’ and ‘success’. Allahﷻ defined success and gave us the metric to measure ourselves to see if we are successful or not. This is the only measurement metric that matters.

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ

A’al Imraan 3: 185   Every soul will taste death. And you will only receive your full reward on the Day of Judgment. Whoever is spared from the Fire and is admitted into Jannah will ˹indeed˺ triumph, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment.

Islam takes a holistic view of life in totality in which the period we spend on earth is only a very small part. The majority of our life will be spent in the Hereafter after we die. And it is only on the Day of Judgment that final success will be determined. The one who is spared from the Hellfire and entered into Jannah will be successful. This is our fundamental belief without which a person can’t be a Muslim. Therefore, anything that is prescribed in Islam is with the presumption that it is good for us in this life and the Hereafter. And where we are forced to choose between the two, then naturally and logically as people who believe in the Hereafter, we choose that over this life, since that period is forever and permanent whereas this life is temporary. So, progress is that which will help us in the Hereafter and not that which may feel good in this life but destroys our Hereafter. Every decision a Muslim takes, must therefore answer the question, ‘Is this good for the Hereafter?’ If it is, the Muslim will do it. If not, he will not do it. And if he is not sure, he will not do it until he can clarify to his satisfaction.  

قال حسن ابن علي قال رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “‏ دَعْ مَا يَرِيبُكَ إِلَى مَا لاَ يَرِيبُكَ فَإِنَّ الصِّدْقَ طُمَأْنِينَةٌ وَإِنَّ الْكَذِبَ رِيبَةٌ    

Hasan ibn Ali (RA) reported: that Rasoolullah  said, “Leave what makes you doubt for what does not make you doubt. Verily, truth brings peace of mind and falsehood sows doubt.” (Tirmidhi).

Therein lies safety for the Believer – to leave the doubtful for the certain. As an example, a person studying for a qualifying exam to get into medical college may want to spend time with his friends watching soccer. But if he has any intelligence, he will not do that because though watching soccer is enjoyable, if it results in his failing in the medical college entrance exam, he would have lost his opportunity to become a doctor. ‘Progress’ for this person must be measured in the context of his long-term goal of becoming a doctor. Not by whether he is having fun today. So also, a Muslim’s progress must be measured by the metrics of success that Allahﷻ gave us and said:

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ

A’al Imraan 3: 185   Every soul will taste death. And you will only receive your full reward on the Day of Judgment. Whoever is spared from the Fire and is admitted into Jannah will ˹indeed˺ triumph, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment.

Therefore, when someone says that we are being held back from progress because we can’t take interest-based loans, we must define what we mean by ‘progress’ and whether interest-based loans are the only means of finance available to anyone who wants to make investments. It is not progress to get some benefit in life which you will be forced to leave behind and, in the process, destroy our Aakhira. And it is not true that loans are the only form of finance available to people who want to start a business.

Anyone who does a little bit of research can discover that one of the most common and popular ways to raise funds is through Venture Capital which is Halaal in Islam and encouraged. There are too many success stories of successful businesses started by entrepreneurs partnering with venture capitalists for me to mention here, but you can do your own research. I suggest you watch a program called ‘Shark Tank’, which is a live show about entrepreneurs pitching for venture capital to fund their start-ups. I have never seen a Muslim pitching for any business on this show. Of course, I have not watched every episode and I will be delighted to be proven wrong. Venture capital is Halaal and starting a business with venture capital has many other benefits which I won’t go into here but believe me they’re there.

To come to the command about Riba (interest-based dealings), Allahﷻ declared Riba to be Haraam clearly and unequivocally. There are many kinds of Riba but the most common is where one person lends money to another or borrows money from another and gives or receives more than he lent or borrowed and that extra is in proportion to what was lent or borrowed. To clarify it further, it is not the extra amount itself but that it is a percentage of what was borrowed which makes it interest. Just an additional amount, if it is expected, is still Riba but not interest. It is not my intention to go into all the kinds of Riba here but just to clarify the most common form which we all know and that is interest on loans. Another important point to understand is that Islam prohibits the transaction itself irrespective of who it is between. Whether it is between two individuals, between an individual and an organization like a bank, between two organizations, between two countries or anything else; they are all Haraam and banned in Islam.

There can be no doubt about this prohibition. Nothing has been prohibited as severely as interest. Allahﷻ declared war on behalf of Himself and His Messengerﷺ on anyone who deals in interest in any shape or form. 

ٱلَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ ٱلرِّبَوٰا۟ لَا يَقُومُونَ إِلَّا كَمَا يَقُومُ ٱلَّذِى يَتَخَبَّطُهُ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ مِنَ ٱلْمَسِّ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا ٱلْبَيْعُ مِثْلُ ٱلرِّبَوٰا۟ وَأَحَلَّ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ ٱلرِّبَوٰا۟ فَمَن جَآءَهُۥ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِۦ فَٱنتَهَىٰ فَلَهُۥ مَا سَلَفَ وَأَمْرُهُۥٓ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَمَنْ عَادَ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ أَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلنَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَـٰلِدُونَ

يَمْحَقُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلرِّبَوٰا۟ وَيُرْبِى ٱلصَّدَقَـٰتِ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ كَفَّارٍ أَثِيمٍ

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَذَرُوا۟ مَا بَقِىَ مِنَ ٱلرِّبَوٰٓا۟ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوا۟ فَأْذَنُوا۟ بِحَرْبٍ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَإِن تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَٰلِكُمْ لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ

Baqara 2: 275/6/8/9   Those who consume interest will stand ˹on Judgment Day˺ like those driven to madness by Satans touch. That is because they say, Trade is no different from interest. But Allah has permitted trading and forbidden interest. Whoever refrainsafter having received warning from their Rabb—may keep their previous gains, and their case is left to Allah. As for those who persist, it is they who will be the residents of the Fire. They will be there forever. Allah has made interest fruitless and charity fruitful. And Allah does not like any ungrateful evildoer. O Believers! Fear Allah and give up outstanding interest if you are ˹true˺ believers. If you do not, then beware of a war with Allah and His Messenger! But if you repent, you may retain your principal. Do no wrong and you will not be wronged.

We can see from this Ayah that Allahﷻ made it a condition of Iman itself that we must not deal in Riba (including interest). What more needs to be said? And for those who need more emphasis, Allahﷻ declared war on behalf of Rasoolullahﷺ and Himself on those who refuse to give up dealing in interest.  

عَنْ جَابِرٍ، قَالَ لَعَنَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم آكِلَ الرِّبَا وَمُوكِلَهُ وَكَاتِبَهُ وَشَاهِدَيْهِ وَقَالَ هُمْ سَوَاءٌ‏.‏

Jabir (R) said that Rasoolullah cursed the accepter of interest and its payer, and one who records it, and the two witnesses, and he said: They are all equal.

That is the clearest statement that anyone can ask for. I ask Allahﷻ for His Guidance and Mercy so that when we meet Him, it will be our finest day.