Islam means submission to the will of Allah. This can sometimes be mistaken by others, to mean a passive acceptance of everything that happens to a person, as their destiny and the Will of Allah. People mistakenly think that a person is like some helpless bit of nothingness, adrift helpless, on the river of life. Sometimes he floats peacefully, other times he is tossed about roughly, from rock to rock. This is not true at all and therefore I have explored this term here, to try to explain it to others.
The root word for Islam is Salema or salam, which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. When I reflect upon these, I see that they are all linked.
Allah created the universe and subjected everything in it, to rules. The revolving and rotating planets, the sun, the moon, the stars, all obey His rules. The seasons that follow each other, the rising and ebbing tides, the birth, growth, decay and death in nature, the wind and water, clouds and rain, all follow His rules. The honeybee which builds its honey comb and fills it with sweet honey, the ant which forages for food and builds anthills, the birds that migrate and return to their homes each year, they all follow his rules. Allah subjected all of Creation, to His laws and rules, without which everything would fall into chaos.
When He made man, He also set some rules for him. As a Muslim, I believe that Allah has sent down prophets and messengers to Earth, right from Adam, so that man would always know who his Lord was and what He wanted from him. Unlike everything else in Creation, Allah gave man the free choice to follow or disregard His laws and rules.
The rules which Muslims have to obey, are written in the Quran. The rules are the boundaries within which every Muslim has to live. Boundaries set by Allah, very much like the boundaries parents set for their children and for the same reasons, to keep them safe and secure. Transgressing these boundaries is a sin. Upon reflection on each and every one of these boundaries and their usual results, I have realised that sin is an action which leads to harm, either to the individual, his family, some other person, or society as a whole. Therefore these boundaries are set to protect all humans, from the harmful results of the indulgence of their negative qualities.
Submitting to the Will of Allah for me, means two kinds of things; the first is about individual choice. It means actively following what Allah has prescribed and staying away from everything, which He has forbidden. Developing the traits which He has prescribed, which make man a noble creature and controlling every low and base instinct. In following His commands, a person can not only find peace himself but can also bring peace to his society. Muslims are told what is right and what is wrong and they are given the free choice to choose whether they will follow the right path or the wrong path. Each of us is fully responsible for the choice of our actions. While Allah has given man the choice to follow good or evil, He also made the paths which both would lead to, quite open and transparent. If we choose the wrong path we cannot say that Allah led us to it or that Allah made us. We are accountable for all our actions and Allah who is Just, will certainly not hold anyone accountable for something they were not responsible for.
Yet man, despite knowing that a certain path is going to lead him to inevitable destruction, still follows it. He does this because Allah has not made it easy for him to follow the right path. Therefore following the right path results not only in staying safe and secure but also in growing in spirituality. The wrong path is always tempting, it is more interesting, exciting, delicious, pleasurable and a number of things which are so hard to resist. Therefore following the right path is not just a matter of choice, it is also a matter of controlling one’s wanton desires, of resisting temptation, etc, which makes it so much harder and therefore one who follows it, develops into a better person.
A man or woman who transgress the boundaries set by Allah are once more faced with choices. The right choice is repentance and remorse and if possible reparation. The wrong choice is to insist that one is doing the right thing and to stick to the path, which takes one to one’s inevitable doom.
The second part is more complicated. It is about accepting what Allah has decided for us. This is looks, parentage, relatives, position in life, wealth or lack of, illness, death, etc. This only includes those things, which do not lie in our hands. For eg. if a man faces ruin due to drinking or gambling, or a girl gets pregnant after sex outside marriage, acts which have been forbidden by Allah, then these cannot be laid at His door but are the results of one’s own personal choices and actions. Allah created man as an intelligent, thinking creature and He gifted him with wisdom and intelligence, which man can use to procure knowledge. Intelligence, wisdom and knowledge are indeed qualities, which are held in very high esteem, in Islam. These are the qualities which ensure that man can make educated and wise choices. That he can choose right over wrong. Therefore a man who does not make the right choice, will not only suffer the evil that results from his choice, but he will also be held accountable for making it. This is only fair because actions have more than reactions, they have chain reactions, they have repercussions which can reverberate sometimes for centuries, affecting generations.
Misfortunes due to natural causes, good fortune, children or the lack of, illnesses despite following a healthy lifestyle, and other fortunes or misfortunes over which, despite man’s every physical and mental effort, he has been powerless, are what come to us from Allah. These could even include situations which are created by others, who have transgressed boundaries, in which innocent people are caught. The recession can be counted as one of these and war. Once again man is faced with choices. It is not Allah’s Will that man should bewail his fate and resign himself to it, or go into depression and become hopeless. No, He wants man to rise above any situation he finds himself in and moreover to rise in his character and to become morally stronger. To strengthen his faith. To be patient and practice fortitude. To turn to Allah in prayer and beseech Him for help. To return the bad with goodness. To forgive the ills that others have done to him. To help his enemies, returning their evil with goodness. Even in a bad situation he should think about what he can do to help those who are worse off than him. Help everyone he can. Most of all he should keep his faith strong. These are all his active choices and one who can choose is not helpless. He is certainly not a drifter in the river of life. He is empowered.