KISSAH AND DAWAT: The Pursuit of an Islamic Way of Life

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 15 Oct) – Reading Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership (PCL) amazes me at how his ideas are so close to my Islamic roots. Using the eight principles as a takeoff, I decided to find its roots in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and its relevance for personal growth. It is so interesting how many view leadership as guiding others without realizing that its beginning is about leading the self and observing the principles ourselves that we expect on other people to follow.

In this article, I will use Covey’s PCL’s outline to explain a way of life that many non-Muslim have no or have limited idea. Often, the stereotypes and prejudices are so ingrained in so many people’s minds – can you imagine Muslims to be contemplative, peaceful, moderate and inclusive?

The second objective of this article is to present some of the fundamentals of the Islamic way of life and living, beyond the political discourses of ethnic nationalism, protracted conflict and structural injustice. Is pursuing an Islamic way of life something to be afraid of? Does pursuing an Islamic way of life imply becoming extreme or violent?

1. Continuous Learning

In Islam, ‘Ilm or knowledge holds a special space. Muslim scholars like Al-Attas classified Islamic knowledge into two categories – religious and rational. Religious learning is a personal obligation while learning rational sciences is a communal obligation. Thus, learning is not only mandatory for male and female Muslims, it is also a lifelong process.

Our ulama or religious scholars in explaining this lifelong obligation often used the term, “from cradle to grave”. In explaining the importance of learning, the ulama often commenced by citing the first five verses of Surah Al-‘Alaq: “Read in the name of your Lord Who created.  He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the Most Honorable. Who taught by the pen. Taught man what he knew not.” In seeking knowledge, the Qur’an is the Muslim’s ultimate guide and the Sunnah (practice) of Prophet Muhammad as primary role model.

2. Service orientation

Service in Arabic is “al-khadamat”. Fundamental belief in Islam is that we recognize Allah’s rights as Creator (Al-Khaliq) and Sovereign (Al-Malik) and the Muslim is accountable to serve Him accordingly. At a minimum, a Muslim is to serve Him by observing the five pillars of Islam (belief in One God and Muhammad His Messenger, observing five obligatory prayers daily, observing charity, fasting in the month of Ramadhan and performing the pilgrimage if able to do so), believing in the six articles of faith and performing our obligation wholeheartedly and with finesse as if God is in front of us or realizing He is watching over our action.

This service to the divine is essentially what is stated in Verse 35 of Surah Ali Imran of the Holy Qur’an when the wife of Imran said, consecrating what is in her womb (the future Mary, mother of Jesus Christ) for divine service.

Service equals to responsibility and accountability. Service to God is to believe and to follow His teaching based on a set of beliefs (aqeedah), ritual worships (ibadat) and righteous deeds (amal saleeh). Service to self is to align one’s way of belief and action through the Prophetic model (sunnah). Service to fellows depends on one’s multifaceted identities as member of a family, neighborhood, community, organization and society at large. Service to other creations based on the belief that they are part of God’s creation and understanding and respecting their nature is also respect of God’s power over all creations.

3. Positive energy

Muslim’s faith or iman in God means to put trust in Him absolutely, therefore, to face anything that comes with hope (raja), optimism (tafa-ul) and grit (sabran jamilan). In Islamic parlance, requisite to iman or faith is belief in the six articles of faith (belief in monotheism, angels, holy books, prophets, day of judgment and divine predestination). That positive conviction and energy is partly influenced by belief in Qada’ (Divine Power) and Qadr (predestination), and with right guidance, can be successful in every endeavor.

4. Recognize people and differentiate their humanity from their action

Humanity is Allah’s highest and privileged creation with action born out of free will or personal decision. In Verse 13 of Surah al Hujurat, Muslims are reminded of the purpose of diversity and the nature of nobility, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

There is another beautiful reminder in Verse 22, Surah al Rum of the Holy Qur’an, “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those of knowledge”, showing us mankind that the diversity of languages and colors for contemplation.

Whether it is tribal, linguistic or racial differences, these are not meant to exclude, instead Muslims are called to comprehend God’s creative power and purpose of creation.

5. Strive for balanced lives

For Muslims, every day is a jahada (struggle) to be better (ihsan) and for balanced (wasat) life. In both the mosques (masajid) and traditional schools (madrasah), the purpose of mundane life (dunya) is explained in the form of earning merits for better and lasting life in the hereafter (akhirah). Islam has never taught abandoning mundane entirely, instead it preaches the pursuit of a just and moderate life, neither of extreme secularism nor extreme monasticism.

The concept of Ummatan Wasatan is mentioned in Verse 143 of Surah al Baqarah in the Holy Qur’an to imply a “middle nation”, “moderate community”, “balanced community” or “just community”. Thus, if the Muslim community is expected to be moderate, balanced and just, this is no less expected on individual Muslims as well, to live a balanced life.

6. Life is a journey and an adventure

Part of the Muslim’s obligation in seeking knowledge is to understand the purpose of life and one’s purpose in life – Understand why people are in dunya (earth), and how to achieve and prepare for a better outcome in akhirah (hereafter) is the adventure of a lifetime, the raison d’etre of life’s journey.

In Islamic theology, humanity’s presence on earth (dunya) is not simply a product of evolution, but for the specific purpose of worshipping one true God, to earn ibadah and amal saleeh as preparation for the hereafter.

7. Synergism

The ability to integrate dunya and akhirah externally, the balance among the needs of jasad (body) and ruh (soul), the mind (aql) and the heart (qalb) internally, is why self-transformation is given the elevated stature of Jihad Akbar or Greater Struggle in Islam. “For most people, living God’s way is quite a struggle. God sets high standards, and believers have to fight with their own selfish desires to live up to them, no matter how much they love God”[1].

8. Self-Renewal

Humans are driven by both animal and angelic instincts. There is this internal struggle within each one of us between giving in to basal or carnal desires and upholding so-called angelic qualities. A peek into angelic qualities is stated in Verses 49-50 of Surah al Nahl on the Holy Qur’an, “And to Allah prostrates whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth of creatures, and the angels [as well], and they are not arrogant. They fear their Lord above them, and they do what they are commanded.” Therefore, to be a Muslim is a daily struggle between the push and pull of these instincts. How to overcome in a better way is explained by the ulama in terms of righteous exercise of one’s free will and the constant quest to be better today than yesterday, to be better tomorrow than today.

In summary, Muslim lives are to be manifested by continuous learning, prioritizing to learn and model one’s obligation; to serve God through beliefs, worship and righteous deed, and thereafter to serve one’s self, fellows and other creations; to be optimism and patient based on the belief that God is in control; recognizing and respecting human diversity as part of God’s creation; comprehending the purpose of life and life’s journey and recognizing life beyond the mundane; and on individual level, striving for balanced life through synergism and self-renewal. This is essentially an Islamic way of life.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)