In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
Although it saddens me deeply, there are many Muslims today who have become terribly disenchanted by their faith. For whatever reason, they have lost the joy of what it is to be a believer. They have failed to taste, in the words of the Noble Emissary (pbuh), “the sweetness of faith.” For whatever reason, they have not been able to “enter wholly into peace,” as our Lord exhorts them to do in His holy text.
Some of these Muslims have chosen to profit on this disenchantment, publishing books and embarking on speaking tours, spreading distortions, half-truths, and outright lies about Islam.
And they have no shortage of people who accept their claims without question. They do a terrible disservice, but they are a fact of life.
Yet, their often misplaced criticisms of Islam do produce some valid questions, which are important for Muslims to answer. Some of the most important questions relate to the ‘illah, or effective cause or reason behind, of some of Islam’s most important religous practices. For instance, what is the ‘illah of the five daily prayers? What is the ‘illah of the fast of Ramadan? Of the zakah? Of the Hajj?
I do not think there is anything wrong with this type of questioning, so long as the intent behind the questioning is sincere. Truth does not fear investigation. Yet, God has already answered many of these questions already. The beauty of our Creator is that, when He sends forth a command, He usually explains why. In fact, we see that He gives the ‘illah behind our ritual practices:
Five daily prayers: “I am the God; there is no deity but Me; so serve Me, and practice prayer to remember Me.” (20:14) Also read: “Recite what has been revealed to you from the Book, and pray regularly; for prayer restrains from that which is abominable and disavowed. And remembrance of God is even greater. And God knows what you do.” (29:45)
Fast of Ramadan: “O believers, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may be conscientious.” (2:183) Also read: “The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was revealed, as guidance for humanity, and demonstrations in the way of guidance and discrimination. So whoever among you is present in that month should fast…” (2:185)
Zakah: “Take contributions from their wealth, to purify them and justify them thereby; and pray for them. Indeed, your prayer is an asylum for them. For God is all-hearing, all-knowing.” (9:103)
Hajj: “Indeed, the first temple set up for humankind was the one at Mecca, as blessing and guidance for all beings, in which are evident signs; it is the place where Abraham stood, and whoever enters it is secure. And it is a duty of humanity to God that whoever is able to make a pilgrimage to the temple. And if any refuse, well, God in independent of all worlds.” (3:96-97)
The Lord God has also explained why He forbade fornication and games of chance even though He has no reason to do so:
“And do not approach adultery, for it is an obscenity and an evil way.” (17:32)
“Believers – wine and gambling and idolatry and divination are nothing by abomination from the work of Satan, so avoid them that you may thrive. Satan only wants to sow hostility and hatred among you with wine and gambling, and to hinder you from remembrance of God, and from prayer. So will you refrain?” (5:90-91)
Even when it comes to believing in His oneness, He never says, “I am One because I say so.” No. He takes the time to explain why, even though He has every right to say “because I said so.” Take this passage as a prime example:
Say, Praise be to God, and peace upon the servants God has chosen. Is God better, or what they associate with God? Or, who created the heavens and the earth, and rains water from the sky for you? With it We produce orchards full of beauty, whose trees you could not produce. Is there a deity besides God? No, but they are a deviant people.
Or, who made the earth steady, and put rivers in its clefts, and set mountains on it, and placed a partition between the two seas? Is there a deity besides God? No, but most of them do not know. Or, who answers the cry of the one hard pressed, and removes adversity, and makes you heirs of the earth? Is there a deity besides God? You hardly pay attention.
Or, who guides you in the darkness of the land and the sea, and who sends the winds as heralds of divine mercy? Is there a deity besides God? God transcends any association that they attribute. Or, who initiates creation and then repeats it; and who provides you sustenance from the sky and the earth? Is there a deity besides God? Say, “Bring your proof, if you are being truthful.” (27:59-65)
See how God goes through a detailed exposition about why He is one God, even though, once again, He needs no reason to explain Himself to us. What an awesome God we have!
Despite these explanations, however, many Muslims seek to discern the ‘illah behind the various practices of Islam. On one level, this is good, because upon reflection, one may find infinite reasons and benefits of the ritual practices of Islam. This will serve to strengthen the resolve of the believer to keep up the ritual practices out of love for God.
There are some, however, who reflect upon the possible ‘illah of the ritual practice in order to invent “designer Islam,” to justify their abandonment of the ritual practices. This is quite dangerous.
To be continued…