Living And Dying In Islam
The German philosopher Goethe wrote, “If Islam means submission to the will of God, then in Islam we all live and die.” This succinctly summarizes the goal of Muslims: To live and die in accordance with God’s will as revealed in the Qur’an and practiced by the Prophet. Muslims attempt to adjust their view of the world with the lens of the Qur’an. The will of God is expressed in the Qur’an through both expectations and examples. The expectations are usually descriptions of how a believer should live his or her life, and various stories in the Qur’an provide positive and negative examples. The epitome of a positive exemplar is Moses, whose story is dealt with in great detail in the Qur’an. The struggle is at the root of life on earth, a spiritual survival of the fittest. The fittest are those closest to God; they are those who are “steadfast in prayer and spend out of what We have provided for them” (Qur’an 2:3; Ali 1999, p. 17). The negative prototype is embodied in Pharaoh, who elevates himself above God’s law and makes his own law the only source of guidance. Moses is given the Promised Land for his perseverance and steadfastness, and Pharaoh is destroyed by his own hubris and rebellion against the divine will. The story of Moses is an example of submission (Islam), and Pharaoh’s is of rebellion and infidelity (kufr). Between these two lies the struggle of humanity.
Life is meant to be an arena whereby one struggles with good and evil. The Qur’an teaches that good and evil exist in the heart of every individual as well as in society. The individual struggle is to act righteously in accordance with the Qur’an and prophetic example and to shun one’s own evil and its impulses. The collective struggle is to work with others to make the world a more righteous place. In Arabic, this inward and outward struggle is called jihad. While it can mean a militant struggle against those who attack the Muslim lands, it also signifies a person’s struggle with the lower tendencies of the soul, the gravitational pull of self-destructive forces that lead to alienation from God and a state of spiritual disequilibrium. Because humans inevitably fall short morally and succumb to these destructive tendencies from time to time, a means of reestablishing spiritual balance is given, called Tauba or atonement. This is done by experiencing a genuine sense of remorse for one’s transgressions and removal of the unhealthy effects of that state by turning to God and seeking divine grace through prayer, charity, and a sincere resolution not to return to the destructive patterns of the past.
While life is seen as a spiritual test and journey, it is also seen as being filled with blessings from God to be enjoyed: “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters. Say: ‘Who hath forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of God which He hath produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He hath provided) for sustenance?” (Qur’an, p. 352). Thus, in Islam, marriage is highly recommended and celibacy is frowned upon. The Muslim savants of the past identified sexual relations between a wife and her husband as a foretaste of eternal bliss in the afterlife. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged marriage and stated, “There is no monasticism in Islam.” In Islam, children are highly esteemed and seen as one of God’s greatest blessings to humanity. The Prophet stated that humans were born innocent and later corrupted by their societies. Thus, parents are held responsible for maintaining that state of innocence and raising them with a sense of love and awe of the divine. Motherhood is highly regarded in the Qur’an and the prophetic tradition. In most Muslim societies, adult women are still predominantly mothers and housewives during their productive years.