Part 4: ADAB AND PURPOSE – A CRUCIAL LINK
Do we really understand Islam, or is our understanding of Islam limited to the rules, the regulations, the halal and the haram? What is the connection between adab and purpose, and how does it make us worship Allah better?
Adab – The First Link in the Chain
Everything in Islam has a purpose, and everything in this life is governed by a sequence. When a chain in the sequence is broken or missing, the end result is also equally incomplete and fragmented.
There are universal rules which are basic for all humanity (such as rules against stealing and lying) and rules which are unique to Islam – governing our way of life in all aspects, from eating to marriage.
We are aware of the existence of these rules, but have we ever considered what these rules were intended to achieve? Do we understand how the rules benefit us on an individual level? In our daily affairs, whenever we do something, it has to be with a purpose, and even if we do not understand the fine details, we should seek to understand the general philosophy behind it. If we simply apply the mechanics, then whatever that we do lacks depth, even if executed perfectly. Understanding gives substance and meaning to our actions.
Let us go to the root and purpose of Islamic knowledge. The root of Islamic knowledge is not rules and regulations. In fact, it is adab – loosely translated, it means manner and character. This denotes qualities like humbleness, humility and integrity, and reflecting a polite and respectful manner in everything that we do.
If you look at the fundamental effect of implementing Islam, the root of all knowledge has the end effect of giving one manner, character and good behavior. Islam is not a series of ritualistic acts and senseless regulations. It is quite the opposite – in following the teachings of Islam, one develops as a person. The act of obedience to Allah benefits oneself, inside and out. This is self evident in how over just two decades, the Arabian society was transformed from one having barbaric practices, into a society that, during the golden era of Islam, exemplified the best of human behaviour.
We have lost a lot of our basic manner: we have lost it in dealing with ourselves, we have lost it when dealing with each other, and we have even lost it when we are in the masjid and even in the haram of Mecca.
If we truly had iman, we would apply adab in all our interactions. Our wonderful adab would shine through in everything that we do. Conversely, the loss or lack of adab comes from lack of iman and understanding. If the practice of Islam does not contribute to the improvement of ourselves as human beings and the beacon for the rest of humanity, or does not lead us to be merciful, kind and compassionate to those around us, then it is time to revisit our understanding of Islam.
What do Rules have to do with the Message?
There are many ways of understanding why the regulations are in place, and numerous justifications for it. Many of us, when explaining Islam to others, or even when trying to understand it for ourselves, approach this issue from the argumentation, legal or technical point of view.
Yet, how many of us have gone back to the basic, which is to understand how the rules fit into the core of the Islamic message?
Everything in Islam has a purpose. To make sense of it all, we have to understand the purpose and sequence, because once we understand these, the rest is easy. From the purpose, regulations are derived in order to implement the purpose. All regulations need a manner in implementation. Each manner has a wisdom behind it, and underpinning the wisdom is the essential core of rahmah or mercy. All these elements are essential and interconditional, if one of them is missing, then the whole configuration is lost.
Today, whether due to the frantic lifestyles or lack of understanding, we apply the regulations in a haphazard manner. We implement regulations without understanding why, and practice them without wisdom. The result is that the pieces do not fit to form a cohesive picture, but rather, is an incomplete patchwork of confused ideas and misinformation. The implementation of the rules is fragmented, which is why following the rules do not render any deep joy or grant the sweetness of iman.
So what is the Message?
The heart of the message is incredibly simple. If you study the Qur'an in the sequence it was revealed, most of the verses, which were revealed in the first 13 years were an introduction. It was not an introduction to rulings and restrictions. The message was much simpler – and this is what forms the pillar of understanding and worship.
The first 13 years of revelation, which fills around two thirds of the Qur'an, is the introduction by Allah on who He is.
The first revelation was revealed as such: “Read, in the name of your Lord, Who has created all (that exists).” (96:1). Thus from the very first revelation, Allah has introduced Himself to us, asking us to study, contemplate and learn everything – in the context of our Creator who has dominion over all things.
Allah also tells us: "And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me." (51:56). The worship of Allah is therefore paramount – it is the reason of our existence and should form the core of our actions and thoughts. From this we understand that everything other than worship is ancillary to our existence.
However, what does this really mean in practice? In Arabic the word “worship” has many meanings – surrender, love and submission, showing gratitude and thanks. If we do not know Allah, how can we implement all this in our lives? How can we love someone and show gratitude when we don’t know what we should be grateful for?
This should lead us to a journey of reflection, and make us re-examine how we have been thinking. Worshipping out of blind devotion, carried out in a vacuum, is a vacant act. To give it substance, we can only develop a relationship with Allah if we know who He is. It is by developing the understanding of Allah that we can get closer to Him.
Allah gives us His attributes in the Qur’an
From the numerous verses in the Qur'an where Allah introduces His characteristics to us, we can glean that Allah wants us to develop the knowledge of Him. This is the knowledge that if we are able to comprehend, the deen will be easy, practical and real. Islam will be a living religion instead of an abstract set of rules.
In order to value something, we must first comprehend it. When we comprehend, the value manifests itself, and giving it priority is natural and easy. In understanding the nature of Allah, we understand the message of Islam. It has been said if we understand the various characteristics and attributes of Allah, then we truly understand what Islam is about. The both are intertwined.
From here, we can go back to the core purpose of our existence. All of creation exists in order to worship Allah, but mankind in particular, has an extra role, which is to be the vicegerent – khalifa or ambassador of Allah. This is a great honour, and the responsibility is so weighty that even the mighty mountains refused to carry such responsibility.
At the same time, how can one live as the ambassador of Allah if he is unfamiliar with Allah? Let us take the human example of diplomatic ambassadors – before they are qualified to represent their country, they have to undergo training – to be able to personify the values and policies of their country. Once on the job, they have to follow a certain etiquette, dress in a certain manner, and conduct themselves in a certain dignified way. They do not have autonomy to behave as they please, for is there is accountability to the home country, and should any issues arise, they are to refer back to the rules of their home country. Whatever they do is a reflection of their own country, for they are the representatives.
The comparison is simple, but the principles remain the same. Hence, in order to represent Allah, we need to inculcate a deep and intimate understanding of Allah before we can perform the job successfully. In this, all the elements come together – purpose, regulations, adab and wisdom. This is the only way to succeed.
where do we go from here?
Think of when we are driving a car. Before we can drive, we have to learn to drive, and to follow a sequence of understanding the road rules and the correct way to drive, change lanes, reverse and park, in order to get our license. We then shop for the car that is the best quality and suitability for us. Once the car has been filled with petrol, it is now equipped. We have the car, the key, the license and the fuel.
But where do we go from here? What is the purpose of our journey? What is the destination? All the knowledge of the road signs and directions, will not give any meaning if we do not know where we are going. The car is not able to drive itself. Even if it had satellite navigation, we need to programme it into the car first. When we drive, we have to observe the traffic rules if we want to get to our destination safely.
It is the same for our purpose in life: we have been equipped with all the tools, but we need to know our purpose in life in order to know where we are going, and to follow the rules and methods that have been taught to us if we want to arrive safely, to a safe destination.
Next Article: The importance of focus