Such people as are described above, who fail to give Allah due appreciation and thus are "ignorant," have interpreted religion in accordance with their distorted rationale and beliefs. The resultant understanding of religion shows apparent deviations from the original religion as set forth in the Qur'an. The Qur'an defines the religion brought by the Prophet Muhammad (saas) as a religion that "relieves people of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them." (Surat al-A'raf: 157) and as the religion that "contains no difficulties in it":
…He has selected you and not placed any constraint upon you in the observance of your religion-the religion of your forefather Ibrahim. In this, as in former scriptures he named you Muslims… (Surat al-Hajj: 78)
In the Qur'an, Allah has summoned people to reflect and, recognising the erroneous beliefs and methods they hold, to turn to the lifestyle deemed to be appropriate by Allah.
The society of ignorance, however, feigning not to see the explicit and comprehensible message of the Qur'an, has, in the name of Islam, fabricated a religion bogged down in bigotry. Some of the characteristics of this distorted religion are as follows:
- The religion introduced in the Qur'an summons people to serve Allah alone and thus liberate themselves from the yoke of all other beings. Accordingly, since he is not obliged to seek other people's pleasure, man is only responsible for seeking Allah's approval. The people of the society of ignorance, however, have developed an understanding of religion not as a way to seek Allah's pleasure and hence liberate themselves, but as a social institution. This conceives of religion as a factor applying social pressure to people. Owing to this perception, this false religion has lapsed into a form, which is primarily concerned with "what people would say,"-an understanding far removed from true religion.
- Having such misconceptions about religion, the society of ignorance has to a great extent identified religion with tradition. Local customs and beliefs and cultural factors have been incorporated into the religion, and "being pious" has deteriorated into "adherence to one's forefathers' customs." The religion brought by the Qur'an and embodied in the exemplary life of the Prophet (saas), however, bears no similarity whatsoever to these. In the Qur'an, Allah commands man to take His limits and the sunnah of the Prophet (saas) as a measure and nothing else. Throughout history, the prophets had to struggle with those who attempted to deny the truth by quoting the beliefs inherited from their forefathers. The morality they displayed is indicated in the verse below:
When they are told, "Follow what Allah has sent down to you," they say, "We are following what we found our fathers doing." What, even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided! (Surat al-Baqara: 170)
The same theme is repeated in Surat al-Ma'ida: 104; Surat al-An'am: 91; Surat al-A'raf: 28 and in many other verses as well.
- The members of the society of ignorance, who perceive religion as a social institution and identify it with traditions, have in consequence distanced religion from rationality. However, as the Qur'an informs us, being a Muslim entails being wise. Believers are always summoned to think, to enquire and thus see the verses of Allah. Faith and wisdom are interrelated; as a consequence of exercising wisdom one attains faith, and faith grows ever more profound as one continues to exercise wisdom. The society of ignorance, however, believes faith to consist of "beliefs" alone. They perceive blind adherence to traditional knowledge as faith, whereas wisdom is the key to having a grasp of Allah's existence and His attributes. That is why faith in Allah in the society of ignorance is of a rather weak nature. In order not to shake this anti-Qura'anic, feeble faith, they have developed an irrational stance which implies that, "pondering too much over religious issues may be harmful to one's faith."
- This rationale, stemming from ignorance, sees no harm in introducing new principles to religion and making unlawful what is lawful.
The Qur'an frequently draws attention to this "prohibitive" rationale that disturbs many people:
Say: "Who has forbidden the fine clothing Allah has produced for His servants and the good kinds of provision?" Say: "On the Day of Rising such things will be exclusively for those who had faith during their life in the world." In this way We make the Signs clear for people who know.
Say: "My Lord has forbidden indecency, both open and hidden, and wrong action, and unrightful tyranny, and associating anything with Allah for which He has sent down no authority, and saying things about Allah you do not know." (Surat al-A'raf: 32-33)
What is the matter with you that you do not eat that which has been consecrated in the name of Allah, when He has made clear to you what He has made unlawful for you, except when you are forced to eat it? Many people lead others astray through their whims and desires unchecked by any knowledge. Your Lord knows best those who overstep the limits. (Surat al-An'am: 119)
You who believe! Do not make unlawful the good things Allah has made lawful for you, and do not overstep the limits. Allah does not love people who overstep the limits. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 87)
- As a result of this degeneration caused by the society of ignorance, Islam is being presented as "a religion peculiar to the Bedouins (nomadic Arabs)." Yet the facts are otherwise. Prophets have always been the most civilised people of their time. They were cultured and enlightened people with refined aesthetic values. With his palace, which is known to have been an architectural masterpiece abounding in many exquisite places, the Prophet Sulayman (as) is one of the most outstanding examples cited in the Qur'an.
Being a Muslim means not being attached to traditional culture or taking pleasure in nostalgic values. It is certainly not being "oriental" or being attached to only one culture, either. Being a Muslim is to be a servant to Allah and to be grateful for the blessings granted by Him. It means striving to know Allah, drawing nearer to Him and becoming a human being with a noble character.
A true Muslim is one who seeks the approval of his Creator, Allah, the Almighty, and who has distanced himself from any material or spiritual expectation other than earning His approval.
This is the definition of a Muslim.