Today, many people are wary of any religion; they perceive religion as means of imitations, sets of red lines and dogmas, reducing all the fundamental essence of those social institutions to methods of restriction and suppression. Human nature doesn’t accept obtrusion of someone else’s opinion and inducement to follow ready-to-use relationship schemes, and habituation of foreign living norms and principles. People strive to use their own best judgement to come to their independent conviction.
So, does Islam as a global systemized religious doctrine draw red lines for a person, limiting their choices, their search for truth — or does it respect their intelligence and their feelings? Let us go into the matter.
Many people, both religious and not, perceive Islam as some established doctrine, a complex of rules and beliefs, sermons and dogmas. To make the best of this doctrine, however, one has to spend some time regularly practicing this faith, after going a long way of researching, comparing, understanding and acceptance of this teaching. After doing so, their religion becomes for them an incarnation of the following verse:
Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds. [Qur’an, 6:162]
But what does Islam look like for an outsider, or for a person who is formally considered a Muslim but actually isn’t one? They definitely see Islam no other than as a fence of limitations, as nothing but red lines and suppression: jihad, headscarf, pork prohibition, harems — that’s what first comes to an average person’s mind when they hear about Islam.
Of course it took centuries to form those stereotypes, induced by other religions and prejudice. On the other hand, oversimplification and minimization are nothing more than signs of ignorance and incompetence. Of course, such perception of Islam can be shaped by good reasons, but it begins to chance from the moment one obtains unprejudiced knowledge directly from either Islamic or researchers’ sources. And of course, people will identify Islam with strictness and prohibitions right until they learn of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) words determining the essence of this religion:
“Verily, the religion is easy” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 39)
Islamic scholars, theologians, legal experts, historians and professional preachers have a clear understanding of what Islam can offer people, and of all the benefits they can get from it. It’s an offer to both know God and achieving the union with Him. That’s the Islamic doctrine which is the core of Islam, and has been the basis throughout the whole history of God’s communication with humankind through prophets. That was the spirit that filled the prophetic mission of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in its early stages.
The first decade of his preaching was almost deprived of rules, regulations and sermons that later became crucial part of a Muslim’s everyday life. Temperance and advance were the main principles of the Final revelation to mankind:
And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. [Qur’an, 2:143]
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. [Qur’an, 2:286]
Prohibitions on alcohol, pork, some types of clothing, and some obligations (such as wearing headscarves by women) were received by the end of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) mission. It was further on that the Muslim community received the whole codex of Civil, Criminal, Commercial, Domestic Relations and International Law. Before that, Muslims drank wine, for it wasn’t forbidden. It was only later that the believers received God’s order and learned the harm coming from drinking alcohol, and they just splashed it out into the streets, and it was so plenty that whole torrents of wine were formed in some places.
The first believers were humiliated and oppressed for their faith, but their followers were already brave warriors, defenders of the faith (mujahideen).
The Islamic preaching has also been moderate and incremental — qualities determined by the rules revealed in the Holy Qur’an:
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. [Qur’an, 2:256]
Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided. [Qur’an,16:125]
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions tried to implement those rules in their dealings with other people:
“Verily, you are coming to a people among the people of the Book, so call them to testify there is no God but Allah and I am the Messenger of Allah. If they accept that, then teach them that Allah has obligated five prayers in each day and night. If they accept that, then teach them that Allah as obligated charity to be taken from the rich and given to the poor. If they accept that, beware not to take from the best of their wealth. Be on guard from the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” [Sahih Muslim, 19]
Such introduction period lasted for 23 years — the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) mission lasted as much as that — and it was all about the process of introduction, of the new regulations of the new society and giving people time to adapt to them. Only after that, the religion was finalized as a system of worship and mindset; as a perfect complex of laws and regulations, as well as sermons and beliefs, consistent with those revealed to humankind before Muhamad (peace and blessings be upon him) and thus well understood by both the human mind and spirit.
This day I [Allah] have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. [Qur’an, 5:3]
Followers of Islam weren’t injailed in its red lines, and that basic rule became a postulate for every following generation and time period. Islam’s integral teaching was revealed to people, and they understood it well with both their mind and their spirit, while both letter and the spirit of Islam mentioned before promoted that understanding. Thus, people chose the basics of Islam by their free will, and they voluntarily imposed the red lines of Islam upon themselves.
When the victory of Allah has come and the conquest, And you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in multitudes, Then exalt [Him] with praise of your Lord and ask forgiveness of Him. Indeed, He is ever Accepting of repentance. [Qur’an,110:1-3]
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