Brothers in Islam! We all as Muslims sincerely believe that Islam is the greatest blessing that Allah has given us in this world. We find our hearts filled with gratitude to Him for including us in the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, and bestowing upon us this unique blessing. Allah Himself describes Islam as His most invaluable gift to His servants: “Today I have perfected your Din way of life for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have willed that Islam be the Way for you” (al-Ma’idah 5:3).
To be truly grateful for this greatest favor, you must therefore render to Allah His due. If you do not do so, you are undoubtedly an ungrateful person. And what ingratitude can be worse than to forget what you owe to your God.
How can we, you may ask, render these dues?
Since Allah has been gracious enough to include you in the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammed, blessings and peace be on him, the best way of showing gratitude-and there is no other way is to become totally committed followers of the Prophet. And, since He has made you a part of the Muslim Ummah, to become true Muslims. If you do not, the punishment for your ingratitude will be as great as the original gift was. May Allah save us all from this great punishment! Amin.
You will now ask: How can we become Muslims in the true sense of the word? This question I shall answer in considerable detail in my forthcoming addresses; but today I want to look at a point of fundamental importance, without which we cannot hope to discover true faith. This, you must understand, is the first essential step on your road to becoming a true Muslim.
Is Islam a Birthright?
But, first, think for a while: What does the word ‘Muslim’, which we all use so often, really mean? Can a person a Muslim simply because he is the son or grandson of a Muslim? Is a Muslim born a Muslim just as a Hindu Brahman’s son is a Brahman, or an Englishman’s son is born an Englishman, or a white man’s son is born a white man, or a Negro’s son is born a Negro? Are ‘Muslims’ a race, a nationality, or a caste? Do Muslims belong to the Muslim Ummah as Aryans belong to the Aryan race? And, just as a Japanese is a Japanese because he is born in Japan, is a Muslim similarly a Muslim by being born in a Muslim country?
Your answer to these questions will surely be: No. A Muslim does not become truly a Muslim simply because he is born a Muslim. A Muslim is not a Muslim because he belongs to any particular race; he is a Muslim because he follows Islam. If he renounces Islam, he ceases to be a Muslim. Any person, whether a Brahman or a Rajput, an Englishman or a Japanese, a white or a black, will, on accepting Islam, become a full member of the Muslim community; while a person born in a Muslim home may be expelled from the Muslim community if he gives up following Islam, even though he may be a descendant of the prophet, an Arab or Pathan.
Such will surely be your answer to my question. This establishes that the greatest gift of Allah which you enjoy-that of being a Muslim-is not something automatically inherited from your parents, which remains yours for life by right irrespective of your attitudes and behavior. It is a gift that you must continually strive to deserve if you want to retain it; if you are indifferent to it, it may be taken away from you, God forbid.
No Mere Verbal Profession
You agree that we become Muslims only by accepting Islam. But what does acceptance of Islam mean? Does it mean that whoever makes a verbal profession-? I am a Muslim? or ‘I have accepted Islam?-becomes a true Muslim? Or does it mean that, just as a Brahman worshipper may recite a few words of Sanskrit without understanding them, a man who utters some Arabic phrases without knowing their meaning becomes a Muslim? What reply will you give to this question? You cannot but answer that accepting Islam means that Muslims should consciously and deliberately accept what has been taught by the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, and act accordingly. People who do not so behave are not Muslims in the true sense.
No Islam Without Knowledge
Islam, therefore, consists, firstly, of knowledge and, secondly, of putting that knowledge into practice. A man can be white and have no knowledge; because he is born white he will remain so. Similarly, an Englishman will remain an Englishman though he may have no knowledge because he has been born an Englishman. But no man becomes truly a Muslim without knowing the meaning of Islam, because he becomes a Muslim not through birth but through knowledge. Unless you come to know the basic and necessary teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, how can you believe in him, have faith in him, and how can you act according to what he taught? And if you do not have faith in him knowingly and consciously, as fully as you can, how can you become true Muslims?
Clearly it is impossible to become a Muslim and remain a Muslim in a state of ignorance. Being born in Muslim homes, bearing Muslim names, dressing like Muslims, and calling yourselves Muslims is not enough to make you Muslims; true Muslims know what Islam stands for and believe in it with full consciousness.
The real difference between a Kafir (who does not accept God’s guidance and is ungrateful to Him) and a Muslim is not that of a name, that one is called Smith or Ram Lal and the other Abdullah. No one is a Kafir or a Muslim simply because of his name. Nor does the real difference lie in the fact that one wears a necktie and the other a turban. The real difference is that of knowledge. A Kafir does not understand God’s relationship to him and his relationship to God. As he does not know the will of God he cannot know the right path to follow in his life. If a Muslim, too, grows up ignorant of God’s will, what ground can there be to continue calling him a Muslim rather than a Kafir?
Dangers of Ignorance
Listen carefully, brothers, to the point I am making. It is essential to understand that to remain in possession of, or to be deprived of, the greatest gift of Allah-for which you are so overwhelmed with gratitude-depends primarily on knowledge. Without knowledge, you cannot truly receive His gift of Islam. If your knowledge is so little that you receive only a small portion of it, then you will constantly run the risk of losing even that part of the magnificent gift which you have received unless you remain vigilant in your fight against ignorance.
A person who is totally unaware of the difference between Islam and Kufr (rejection of God’s guidance and ingratitude) and the incongruity between Islam and Shirk (taking gods besides God) is like someone walking along a track in complete darkness. Most likely his steps will wander aside or on to another path without him being aware of what is happening. Maybe he will be deceived by the sweet words of the Devil, You have lost your way in the darkness Come, let me lead you to your destination. The poor traveler, not being able to see with his own eyes which is the right path, will grasp the Devil’s hand and be led astray. He faces these dangers because he himself does not possess any light and is, therefore, unable to observe the road signs. If he had light, he would neither lose his way nor be led astray.
This example shows that your greatest danger lies in your ignorance of Islamic teachings and in your unawareness of what the Quran teaches and what guidance has been given by the Prophet, blessings, and peace be on him. But if you are blessed with the light of knowledge you will be able to see plainly the clear path of Islam at every step of your lives. You will also be able to identify and avoid the false paths of Kufr, Shirk, and immorality which may cross it. And, whenever a false guide meets you on the way, a few words with him will quickly establish that he is not a guide who should be followed