Monday, July 13, 2009

[Book Review] Islam: The Natural Way

Islam is meant to be the golden mean between all extremes. The central argument of Islam: The Natural Way by Abdul Hamid Wahid is to emphasize this point and explain a step-by-step way how Islam is the natural way for all of creation. This book, in general, is good at illustrating all of the basic beliefs in Islam in a very straightforward and easy way. I found the biggest weakness in this book to actually be the first chapter and there were a number of ideas in his book that weren’t explained as much as they should have been, and some concepts also need some more prĂ©cising. Still, this book is a good way to find out about the basic beliefs in Islam, famous Sunnah and Hadiths, and particularly relevant quotations from the Qu’ran.

To begin with, this book starts on a very shaky foundation. The entire first chapter is aimed at disproving alternative viewpoints, the nature of and the belief in the existence of God, and the roots of Islam. The chapter does a very poor job of countering alternative worldviews and this section should be ignored. In terms of proving the existence of God, the author quickly comes to the conclusion that there is a God, but his reasoning has many holes in it. However, this books goal is not to explain alternative world viewpoints or discuss the more philosophical nuances in relation to the existence of God, but to explain to the reader what the fundamentals of Islam are about. Consequently, this chapter should be taken with a grain of salt, as the rest of the book focuses on Islam.

The second chapter is entitled “You and Your Condition” and gives an excellent discussion on the responsibilities, activities, and learning of man. The chapter quotes the Quranic verse that says, “On no soul does God place a greater burden than it can bear” (2:286, p. 37). This chapter argues that all men face different challenges and everyone has a variety of responsibilities; it is how we tackle these issues that determine whether or not we are successful in this life. This means that the individual should seek useful knowledge—and, of course, Islamic knowledge is sad to be obligatory—and live a balanced life. Everything is supposed to be done in moderation, and we all must be mindful of our sleep, exercise, cleanliness, fasting and personal issues. The emphasis in this chapter, along with the other chapters in this book, is how Islam is a rational path that leads all creatures to harmony.

The next couple of chapters discuss the individual in relation to their livelihood, family, neighborhood, community, and the universal Ummah.

One is supposed to make a livelihood that benefits oneself and is beneficial to the society. In Islam the dualistic concept of fard ‘ayn—duties obligatory on an individual such as prayers—and fard kifaayah—duties obligatory on the whole community—work in concert so that the individual has personal self-worth and is worthwhile to the community. So, for example, it would be a fard kifaayah for Muslim communities in the West to produce individuals in areas where there is a lack of Muslim representation in such as journalism, academia, and politics.

By earning a good livelihood, one is able to support a healthy family. The nuclear family—which is still emphasized in Western cultures—is critical for the process of tarbiyyah, that is the nurturing of the child. But, Islam also puts an emphasis on respect and relationships in the extended family, thereby broadening the social base of the religion. The basic unit of the family is marriage between a man and a woman. The author argues that,
“So far as the interaction between society, morality, and sex is concerned, there are four choice apparently open to any society:
1. an entirely homosexual society;
2. an entirely promiscuous society;
3. a society in which no sexual relations exist except between husband and wife;
4. a laissez-faire society in which all the above forms are tolerated.” (p. 116)
He goes on to argue that an entirely homosexual society would mean the death of our species. An entirely promiscuous society is thought by some to be the best, but he argues:
“ In such a society, it is imagined that everyone will have complete freedom to choose whoever he like at whatever time he prefers. With such freedom will come the deepest enjoyment as well as the reproduction of the species.

The reality will be different and there will be horrendous difficulties. People will become obsessed with sex. Strange as it may seem, sexual deprivation will be a major problem. Incest and deviant behavior will be common as it is in many societies that are promiscuous. Sexually transmitted diseases will spread.

The effects of all of this on human values and behavior are incalculable. Overall, it will have a degrading effect on sex itself and on human relationships. Sex will not be seen in the context of a whole, loving relationship, but will become an end in iteslef and in the process destroy respect, love, care and responsibility in human relationships.” (p. 117)
So he argues that the most natural state for a society is in which sex is regulated between the husband and the wife. In this sort of relationship, sex is actually encouraged by Islam, and sex is an act that is rewarded by God. He goes on to say:
“When you intend to have sexual intercourse with your wife, the noble Prophet advised that you should court her and approach her in a gentle manner, not in a rough way as animals do. And when you have satisfied yourself, you should wait until she is also satisfied.” (p. 122)
So sex is encouraged in Islam and leads to happiness for a married couple. This happiness can then be also employed and used to support the family.

As for the neighborhood, community, and universal Ummah, Islam teaches that you should be involved at all of these levels. It is said that you should not go to bed if your neighbor is hungry. Working within the community helps to foster natural social ties that bind everyone together. All of us are tied to the universal Ummah, as Muslims believe that no race is superior to any other, and that all people are brothers and sisters in Islam. This is why 25% of the worlds Muslims are Arabs and the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. Islam in America exemplifies this fact, as it is the most ethnically diverse religious community in America. The true egalitarian nature of Islam can be seen in Mosques all across America where immigrant Pakistani’s can be seen praying next to indigenous African Americans and White Americans. It truly is the content of one’s character, not the color of their skin really matters.

The rest of the book discusses relationships with other faiths, global issues, and life after death. Islam argues that there is no compulsion in religion, and while Islam is said to be the universal religion for all mankind, people have the free will to believe what they desire to believe. Islamically it is believed at birth, we are all Muslims—i.e. creatures that submit to the will of God—and that through our varied circumstances, we are shaped into Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or nonbelievers. Islam is meant to be a natural way to live a harmonious life and to prepare ourselves for the life after death. The gathering on Mount Arafat during the Hajj is meant to be a microcosm of mankind on the Day of resurrection, with billions of people hoping for salvation and eternal bliss.

All in all, I thought this was a good introductory book for the basics on Islam. Other good introductory books would be Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong and Muhammad: The Life of the Prophet by Martin Linges. The former gives a succinct overview of Islamic history and the later tells the story of Muhammad (pbuh) and his life. It is my personal belief that Islam is indeed the natural way and does a good job balancing individual concerns with concerns for the wider community.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 5-24-09