TO be a Muslim is to live in accordance with the will of the Divine. Muslims often say, with joy and pride, that it is easy to be a Muslim since Islam is ‘the straight path’ leading to Paradise.
What this means, is that the principles of Islam are simple and straightforward, free of ambiguities, confusions, inconsistencies or mysteries, and that comprehending them or living in accordance with them is not difficult.
The assumption here is that if one somehow comes to ‘the straight path’ by accepting Islam, one will fairly effortlessly arrive at the destination, which is a state of eternal blessedness in the presence of Allah.
I must confess that I am totally amazed, and overwhelmed by this assumption. To me, being a Muslim, today, seems to be exceedingly difficult. This is because to be a Muslim, one has to constantly face the challenges of knowing what is right; not only for humanity in general but also for the self in particular and then worship.
The concept of worship is commonly misunderstood by many. Worship is frequently taken to mean performing ritualistic acts, such as prayers. This limited understanding of worship is only one dimension of the meaning.
That is why the traditional definition of worship is a comprehensive definition that includes almost everything in an individual’s life. This, of course, includes rituals and beliefs, social activities and personal contributions to the welfare of one’s fellow human beings.
When we consider the emphasis placed upon the interrelatedness between the rights of the Creator and the rights of man, both in Quranic teaching and in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it is difficult to understand how these facets are separately compartmentalised in the minds and lives of many present-day Muslims.
What has happened is not surprising, given that many generations of Muslims have been taught that the primary duty of a Muslim is to engage in ritual prayer instead of being in the service of the Creator; and to obey those in authority over them rather than to engage in service to humanity.
We know that Islam is a complete way of life and that everything is covered from birth to death so that we can live in submission. The natural result of this submission is that all activities should conform to the instructions of the One to whose will the person is submitting.
Islam requires that its followers model their lives according to its teachings in every aspect, religious or otherwise. This might sound strange to those who think of religion as an external, personal relationship between themselves and God with no impact on their activities and lives outside of ritual worship.
When discussing non-ritual worship in Islam, it does not mean undermining the importance of ritual worship. Ritual worship, if performed in true spirit, elevates man morally and spiritually, and enables him to carry on his activities in all walks of life.
However, Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they are performed mechanically and have no influence on one’s inner or spiritual life.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) teaches us that, ‘Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity, helping a person to load his animal is a charity and putting some water in your neighbour’s bucket is a charity.’ From this we gather that social courtesy and co-operation is a form of worship.
Islam has given economic wellbeing special importance, to the extent that it is in itself considered an act of worship. Islam does not discourage man from seeking avenues of wealth.
The tendency to seek worldly pleasures through material gain is natural. But, the test is then to nurture one’s conscience in order to fight the effects of the extremities of this tendency from growing beyond reasonable bounds. This test is for each person to carry in their personal capacities.
There is no precedent set against accumulating excessive wealth. But, wealth accumulation and generation is circumscribed by a particular set of social responsibilities.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) illustrated balance in all aspects of life by using various examples. He did so in order to inculcate righteous behaviour patterns in society so that an ethical balance is formed between one’s actual economic circumstances and a desire for excessive or more wealth.
The ability to strike a balance between these realities means that we are less likely to negatively influence our capacity to make positive moral choices.
This is because we have been taught to be wary of exceeding ethical boundaries or leaning towards exploitation to accumulate excessive material gains. We are taught to give a higher weighting to a morally ethical choice than to being purely driven by material gain.
This is because Islam inculcates virtues such as piousness, kindness, co-operation and communal responsibility in man. In some instances, Islam guides us to explicitly avoid extravagance, lavishness or using certain products and services which may harm man’s ethical existence and wealth either individually or as a society.
Islam does not require us to choose between worldly benefits and our investment in our lives in the hereafter.
We are not required to completely abstain from the material blessings of this world but rather, we are enjoined to have a balanced composition between economic choices and spiritual wellbeing.
Basheer Moosagie is a business development analyst. He is also a part-time lecturer at IPSA. He obtained his MBA from University of Stellenbosch Business School where he focused his studies around Islamic finance.