What is the essence of Islam?

Islam is a complete religion that ensures happiness, comfort, and tranquility for people in this life and in the afterlife, if they believe and act according to its principles and instructions. Moreover, Islam is a perfect guide for all aspects of life—social, economic, political, and more. It is a religion that is timelessly applicable, since it does not conflict with the developments and progress of any time or place. It does not differentiate based on gender, tribal origin, native language, or race, so long as there is no conflict with its essentials such as believing in the oneness of God, justice, peace, human dignity, parity between all humans (regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, and language), and preserving the innate nature of humankind.

There are four precepts of Islam each of which is manifested in one of four systems: a system of beliefs, a system of jurisprudence, a system of ethics, and a system of rights.

1. The system of beliefs

The system of beliefs is a system of theological concepts, which form the foundation of Islam. Hence, it is vital for a Muslim to fully grasp and comprehend these concepts and believe in them with conviction, albeit with basic and simple understanding The system of Islamic beliefs is multifaceted and comprised of various individual details which often overlap in many circumstances. The following are three major essentials:

Divine Unity-Oneness (Arabic: توحيد Tawhid): Belief that God is one, and that He has no partner or peer. He possesses infinite attributes of perfection such as, knowledge, wisdom, justice, and power, which are not acquired or learned but are instead intrinsic and inseparable from His essence. Based on this fundamental understanding, many significant questions can arise in the mind of a person, such as those related to predetermination and free will, the reason for the existence of human suffering (i.e., diseases or natural catastrophes), the purpose behind divine punishment, and many other queries that Islam has addressed in the best way.

Prophethood (Arabic: نبوة Nubuwwah): Belief in all the prophets and messengers of God, their scriptures and successors. In addition, one must accept their divine role and believe in their attributes (e.g., infallibility, impeccable morality, and healthy physical attributes). In addition, a Muslim must be acquainted with the authentic proofs of Prophethood and the evidence and criteria for distinguishing divinely sent prophets from deceitful claimants. Furthermore, it is important to study the life and characteristics of the seal of prophets and messengers, Prophet Muhammad, his holy book (the Holy Quran), and his twelve infallible successors, especially the twelfth and final successor, the awaited savior Imam al-Mahdi, who will fill the world with justice after his reappearance. One must also be familiar with the reasons behind his occultation and the role he plays during this period, as well as his deputies and their roles. For more information about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his progeny (p), click here.

Resurrection-afterlife (Arabic: معاد maad): Belief that there is an eternal life after this one (i.e., after death), one that persists due to God’s ever-persistence and immortality. Almighty God has decreed that every person will be called to account for their deeds in this afterlife. God is just, and He has obligated humankind to be obedient to Him. As such, God, by his mercy and wisdom, will reward the people who do good and are obedient according to their righteousness and punish the wrong doers according to their sinful actions and wickedness. Each person shall be judged according to their respective deeds, and the righteous will be distinguished from the evil.

For more details on Islamic beliefs and in-depth discussions of various topics, refer to the books written by the following great Shia Muslim scholars (in addition to the Holy Quran; the authentic Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad and his successors; and the speeches, letters, and advice of Imam Ali  found in a book called Nahj al-balagha): Shaykh Muhammed ibn al-Numan al-Akbari (also known as Shaykh al-Mufid), Shaykh Najmuddin al-Hilli, Sayyid Muhammad Hussain al-Tabatabai, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Shaykh Murtadha al-Mutahhari, Shaykh Hasan Amili, and Ayatullah Jafar al-Subhani (a contemporary scholar).

2. The system of jurisprudence

The system of jurisprudence is a defined set of divine legislations that regulate every aspect of human life and actions. They are divided into the following:

  • Acts of worship: acts that concern the relationship between a person and their Lord, such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and other acts related to spiritual growth (e.g., supplications and remembrance) that contribute to strengthening the relationship with Almighty God and lead to reassurance and certainty in faith, tranquility, and a sense of heartfelt happiness.
  • Two party transactions: all transactions and dealings between a person and someone else, such as buying, selling, renting, establishing a mortgage, lending, and marriage. These include well-defined rules and codes of conduct which establish legitimacy and determine the conditions under which a contract can be nullified or invalidated.
  • One-party transactions: transactions that do not require an agreement between two persons or parties. Instead, an individual can execute these alone with God.  Examples include such things as making a covenant, establishing an endowment, divorce by a man, and giving a gift.
  • Conditional matters: matters that may arise due to specific circumstances related to time, geographical location, or due to the will of a tribe, faith group, or country. Such matters generally fall under the previous three categories, but jurists classify them separately. Conditional matters are quite broad and can be related to state governance, institutional matters, elections, and participation in social matters related to each of these topics. Hence, acting on these matters requires knowledge of Islam’s jurisprudential standpoint to ensure that actions are in accordance with its laws so humankind does not exceed its limits.

To learn more about Islamic Jurisprudence, refer to writings on the history of jurisprudence, such as the books of Shaykh Abdul Hadi al-Fadhli, Shaykh Jafar al-Subhani, Sheikh Mahdi al-Asafi, and others. As for practical laws, each jurist (marja) has a book that gathers his rulings, which is called a manual of practical laws or al-risalah al-amaliyyah. Many books have been compiled and published on higher jurisprudential topics and in-depth analyses like those by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ali al-Saduq, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Tusi, Shaykh Najmuddin al-Hilli, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Hurr al-Amili, “the first martyr” Muhammad Jamal al-Din ibn Maki al-Amili, “the second martyr” Shaykh Zayn al-Din al-Jabai’ al-Amili, and, in the present period, books of Sayyid Hussein Burujirdi, Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, and others.

3. The system of ethics

The system of ethics is a set of principles which aims to refine and perfect human behavior so that it emulates and lives by prophetic morality, which emanates from divine morality. Therefore, a Muslim should adopt the path of the apostles of God, and espouse [their] ethical virtues such as truthfulness, loyalty, love, advice, gentleness, humility, modesty, tenderness, forgiveness, patience, compassion, affection, and so on. Furthermore, a Muslim should eliminate ethical vices like arrogance, hypocrisy, hatred, dishonesty, argumentation, sedition, anger, heartlessness, crudity, roughness, and so on. A person can refer to several books on ethics written by late and modern scholars. The essential material for those books were the words of light and wisdom narrated from Prophet Muhammad, his twelve divine successors, and the Holy lady, Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet. In addition, some of these books include explanations of the prophetic words of wisdom. Examples include the compilations of Shaykh Muhammad Mohsen al-Faydh al-Kashani, Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Naraqi, Shaykh Radhi al-Din al-Tabarsi, and many others.

4. The system of rights

These include a set of duties incumbent on every individual towards

  • Almighty God, His messengers and their successors;
  • people in human society such as scholars and teachers, parents, kin, spouses, children, neighbors, friends, and all segments of society;
  • the world around us, including the environment, water, animals, plants, and the rest of nature.

Numerous books have been written on rights in Islam, the best example is the Treatise on Rights by the fourth of the twelve successors, Imam Ali al-Sajjad, as well as many narrations by the Prophet and his purified progeny, which many scholars have explained using various approaches and methods. Perhaps one of the most important books written in modern times is the explanation of the Treatise on Rights by Sayyid Hassan al-Qabbanji, whose book is widely known and highly regarded by other scholars.

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