When Islam dawned upon the Arabian Peninsula fourteen hundred years ago it came to set men and women free.
Up until that time they had been enslaved in the worship of idols and all the pernicious practices associated with that.
Female children, considered a burden and unwanted, were summarily killed. Women, considered worthless and existing only for the pleasure of men, were taken and then cast aside as often as a man wanted.
The goal of life was the relentless pursuit of pleasure and people were frequently intoxicated for most of the day with wine and drugs. In their more lucid moments the aim was to gain more and more money – regardless of what that might cost other people.
The message of Islam came like a thunderbolt to say that there was another way, and that life had a much higher meaning than the empty pursuit of the moment.
The One God in heaven, Allah, had created all things on earth and in the heavens. He was both remote from His creatures because of His vast superiority to them, and yet He was also closer to them than they could ever imagine, knowing their innermost thoughts and needs. Serving Allah, Islam taught, would bring happiness in this life and the next.
The Creator had endowed His servants with gifts and qualities. Their happiness would lie in living most fully as the people He had created them to be. The notion that one person is superior to another person is quite alien to this message.
There is in Islam the notion of Five Pillars, so important that they seem to hold up the whole of a Muslim’s faith, as pillars would hold up a building. Within these Five Pillars lie the key to men and women’s happiness.
The First Pillar of Islam is the Shahadah, the declaration made by Muslims and meant for all of humankind that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger.
Simply put, nothing will bring happiness except the knowledge of God and serving Him to the best of our ability. Having more shoes or more suits, having a better job or a bigger house, having several foreign holidays a year or lots of money in the bank will never fill that emptiness in our lives that craves for God. Nothing is worthy of worship except Him.
Another of the Pillars of Islam is the command to pray five times daily. This is not just an arbitrary rule, but gives our whole day meaning and purpose. Muslims don’t just pray at five random times during the day, as though five were a magic number to be followed slavishly.
No, look at when Muslims pray. They pray before dawn, when the sun has not even come up. They pray at midday, when the sun is at its height. They pray in the middle of their work in the afternoon. They pray when the sun is setting and, finally, they pray at night.
In other words, the five prayers make their whole day holy, allowing them to remember their Creator and to keep everything in the day in its proper focus, not forgetting what life is really about.
Another Pillar is to fast in Ramadan. This is not a diet for a month, but is done for Allah’s sake.
Muslims fast to please Allah. One result of their fasting is that they remember and give thanks for all the blessings they have received, whilst there are others in our world who frequently go without even the basics in life.
Ramadan is a very humbling time for Muslims when they think of others. How absurd to think they are superior to other people when everything they have is gift. Nothing they have is deserved or an entitlement, but it is all gift. How, then, could they look down on others?
One of the surest Pillars of Islam to convince us of the equality of all people in God’s eyes is the requirement to give Zakat, or a small percentage of one’s leftover wealth at the end of the year. The world teaches us to hoard wealth and to acquire more of it at all costs. Islam teaches to give it away! And Muslims give this percentage of their leftover wealth to the poor, not as charity, but as the right of the poor.
All people come into this world with nothing and all people will leave it with nothing. Some may prosper along the way, whilst others may not. Zakat is a way of giving the poor their due.
Finally, the Hajj (the Pilgrimage incumbent on all Muslims who are able physically and financially to perform it) is a clear sign of equality. All people are sinners and fall far short of how they should be living. Hajj is a reminder to all Muslims that they are brothers and sisters to one another.
In the Final Sermon he delivered at the end of his life, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) spoke of how Muslims are like an example for the rest of mankind.
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.
Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”
Living humbly before Allah, touching their foreheads on the ground and praying to Him five times a day, Muslims know that Allah is the greatest. They know that there is neither strength nor power except in Him. In living as true Muslims they show the world that there is a better way than that of greed and selfishness.
Being Muslim doesn’t make them superior to anyone. In fact, being Muslim makes them even more aware of how men and women are just passing through this world for a short time and that while they are here they live as brothers and sisters.
Everything in this world comes from its Creator, Allah. Inshallah, that lesson can make our world a better place.