Rafed English

How to Come to Believe in Religion?

The next issue is related to one's desire to accept a religion, or when someone sincerely wishes to follow a certain religion and be convinced of his choice. How should one proceed in such a case? In my opinion, in this case there is but one way and that is that once one out of conviction declares, "I believe firmly that so and so is a Prophet of God and what he proclaims is based on divine revelation, and he quotes the words of God. I believe in the sayings and teachings of this Prophet, I affirm that all these are true."

The point that merits attention is that when a person accepts a religion, the basis of his conviction in that he regards the Prophet to be a true Prophet and that his source is incontrovertible and certain. He knows that the Prophet speaks the truth. No scientific reason is needed to substantiate the Prophet's proclamation since the fact of his being a prophet is in itself sufficient reason. The Prophet's being righteous or that someone believes in him may not be scientific reasons but support his being a prophet. If one should accept the words of a prophet on the basis of sufficient scientific reasoning, it is fine and there is no harm in it, but this is not faith and we cannot call it religious conviction. Religious conviction means accepting the words of the prophet because he is a prophet. If I declare that Islam is a true religion and base this assertion on certain wise and ingenuous laws of Islam, it is fine there being no harm in it, indeed it is highly desirable, but yet it cannot be termed religious conviction. If, for example, on the basis of this Islamic law that ablution and taking a bath is necessary after sexual intercourse, I should enumerate a number of advantages and benefits for this bathing from the hygienic, medical and spiritual points of view, it would be fine and there is no harm in it. But should a polluted person resort to bathing because of those benefits, his action would not be approved as a religious obligation, since his washing would resemble washing the hand when it is dirty. Bath after a sexual intercourse is obligatory for every Muslim because Prophet Muhammad (a.s.) ordered it and all Muslims follow it because Muhammad (a.s.) is the Prophet.

Principally this is the proper religious attitude and belief; nothing else would be called a religious attitude whether a religion is true or not, and whether Islam be a true faith or otherwise. Therefore a religious attitude with regard to this matter for a Muslim is that wherever he performs a sexual intercourse, he is obliged to take a bath and he does so because the Prophet said so. But if he resorted to reasoning, saying that pollution held many disadvantages on account of exudations from the root of every single hair and hence bathing was a wise and advisable thing to do and then added a number of other benefits for his action, no harm is done but then what is the real motive behind cleansing the body for a Muslim? Is it on account of these benefits and qualities, or because the prophet said so? What motivates a Jew to stop work on Saturdays? If you ask him why he doesn't work on Saturdays, he answers that Moses (a.s.) has said so. It would not be right to call the Jew ignorant or stupid from a scientific viewpoint. Or should we then expect him to ponder philosophically about this matter in search of an answer.

With regard to the second point which is related to the belief in religion, the proper course is that as the first step using deep reflection and reasoning one should discover convincing reasons as to the existence of a God and then believe that Abraham (a.s.) or Moses (a.s.), or Jesus (a.s.) or Muhammad (a.s.) is the Prophet of God. These two steps should be taken with the aid of intelligence and reflection. It is these two stages which warrant the application of our intelligence. If a person's reflection, intelligence, wisdom and knowledge fail him in securing a belief in God and in a prophet of God such as Moses (a.s.) or Jesus (a.s.) or Muhammad (a.s.) or Abraham (a.s.) or Noah (a.s.) or in Buddha as a prophet, or in Zoroaster as a prophet, it would mean failure in his first step. But if after reflection, reasoning and applying his intelligence he developed a belief in one God and in a prophet of God, then the steps that follow would require no intellectual, or scientific reasoning, since thenceforth every word of the prophet would have validity for him and he would act accordingly. On the other hand whosoever, inspite of convincing reasons, fails to comprehend that these are indeed the Prophet of God has lost in the first step.

Thus the proper methodology suited to theological discussion is that while discussing belief in God, in a prophet and prophethood, we can apply intellectual and the so-called scientific reasoning.1 But as we descend from the level of God and prophet, and come to discuss such problems as the reason why pork was forbidden, our answer is: Because it is forbidden in accordance with such and such a verse of the Qur'an. This is sufficient reason and nothing more remains to be said. When they ask what is the reason for such and such a form of government in Islam, we answer: Because such and such a tradition, or such a historical record or such a verse of the holy Qur'an say so. Or we may say that according to such and such a verse of the Qur'an, such form of Government is wrong in Islam.

There is no room for such discussions as are normal for social issues. Of course it would be valid to say that we ought to understand each of these injunctions of Islam, since many of them have been misunderstood, or wrongly interpreted or not understood at all. This would be another approach. For instance, all of us accept the question of slaughter (of animals to food), but it is another matter to ask about its underlying philosophy and what has Islam ordained about it.

Let us choose a better example to make the subject clearer, namely the question of pronouncing the marriage vows or the marriage rites. Why is it that the marriage vows make a man and a woman lawful for each other? The answer is: Because this verse and that tradition say so. This is an sufficient reason. But then: What are the marriage vows? To comprehend this matter fully, it needs to be explained. In Hamburg a man and woman came to be married, both of them were Iranian Muslims. When I spoke to them about the matrimonial vows and explained the term and recited it to make their marriage legal. When the rites were over, they said: "we wish someone had explained these things to us in Iran". I asked how was that? They said, "what we have seen in Iran is that a number of men and women get together and a priest comes along and recites a number of Arabic phrases which no one understands, and then they declare that the concerned pair had become lawful to each other. This we do not understand".

Naturally it is necessary to understand the meaning of the marriage vows, apart from the reason for it. Whenever the subject of marriage comes under discussion, does it mean merely the recitation of a number of Arabic phrases for half an hour or does it imply something different, if so what is it? For a proper comprehension of these matters the field for free discussion is wide open to attempt to understand what Islam had said on the basis of the divine Book, traditions and history.

The third question is related to our desire to understand the benefits; virtues and or occasionally even disadvantages in Islamic injunctions. Should someone say that Islam has created a problem in forbidding the use of alcoholic beverages, here too, the matter is open to debate. Even if we were to make up a thousand and one advantages for the ban on alcohol, those still would not constitute a reason for the ban on alcohol in Islam, since the only real reason for it is the verse of the holy Qur'an or a tradition.

Let us recapitulate the main points of the discussion thus far:

For a proper understanding of a religion, the basis is its original sources which should be studied in the manner of historical research and not experimental investigation nor philosophical inquiry.

To believe in a religion one should first acquire a belief in God and prophet through sufficient intellectual reasoning. Then in the next stage, whatever the prophet has said becomes religion for the believer; no other approach is of any consequence.

For a proper understanding of Islam and the spirit of its teachings or any other religion it is necessary to verify those subjects with one's personal and social life and then evaluate them in close interrelation. This is another field open for discussion for understanding the commandments of Islam or of any other religion.

One can freely discuss all the good or bad points of any precept of Islam or any religion which come to the mind. One is free to examine them. Should one count thousand and one defects, it still would not constitute a reason for its invalidity, nor would a thousand and one virtues be a reason for its validity. In this manner, I believe we could proceed to discuss. Any other approach to evaluate Islam, Judaism or Zoroastrianism would mean a deviation from the right path. For instance if we begin to discuss the importance of fire from a physical and practical viewpoint or problems of life and such matters and thereby conclude that Zoroastianism is a true faith, or vice versa, prove it to be a false religion, either approach would be a deviation from the right course.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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