Individuals who stay away from practicing Islam despite being Muslims fall into two broad categories: There is one group whose apparent association with Islam owes itself entirely to the accident of birth. They retain their Muslim names and participate in some of the socially significant Islamic events only to maintain their apparent Muslim identity. They are neither convinced about the truthfulness of the message of Islam nor are they interested in following it sincerely. Few people would dispute the claim that their Muslim identity is only a this-worldly arrangement and that on the Day of Judgment their claim to Islam would be discarded.
The second category consists of those people who take pride in acknowledging the veracity of Islam. They make attempts to follow its teachings as far as convenience is not threatened to be compromised. However, a closer look at their lifestyles reveals that, much the same way as the first group, they too are in fact immersed in their greed for their this-worldly life. Their practical contact with the shari'ah is strictly confined to the narrow limits allowed by the predominance of their worldly objectives. Thus they care to follow only that part of Islam which is consistent with the contemporary fashion or which at least does not run contrary to its requirements. Their real happiness is associated with worldly successes; they are genuinely grieved only over worldly privations. Despite this completely "one-eyed" approach to life, they are fully convinced that the exciting prospects of the other life too are, beyond doubt, going to be for them to enjoy. Whatever be the truth about their motives, at least some of them defend their approach by presenting arguments, some of which are apparently based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It is important, therefore, that a dispassionate analysis of those arguments be made to help them realize that the superstructure of their expectations is based upon extremely fragile foundations.
The gist of their arguments is being presented below. People belonging to this category do not generally present all the listed arguments. In fact, in most cases, it is only one of the described reasons that is cited to absolve the individual from taking the obligations of the shari'ah seriously.
One popular argument presented is that the most predominant attribute of Allah Almighty is Mercy. How then is it possible that the Almighty is going to allow us to be consigned to Hell when we are following at least some part of Islam along side pursuing our worldly ambitions. Another argument offered is that since we have the privilege of being the followers of the last and the favourite Prophet of Allah (sws), and since it is a well known fact that Allah Almighty will grant to his Prophet (sws) the right to intercede for his followers, how is it possible that the Prophet's intercession will not come to our rescue. Even if the sinning side of our balance would be heavier, intercession of the Prophet (sws) will make amends for that.
According to a third argument, many traditions of the Prophet (sws) confirm that all those people who had recited the kalimah shall enter Paradise, and that since we were born to Muslim families and got the privilege of reciting the kalimah many times. Who then can deny us this birth-right of ours. A little more reasonable amongst this group present a seemingly more logical argument for the defence of their case. There is no doubt, they say, that we are sinners and are violating Allah's law on a fairly regular basis, however, we do keep seeking His forgiveness during prayers and even outside prayers. It is quite clear from the contents of the Qur'an and the Sunnah that repentance cleanses one's sins. After this knowledge, why should we make our lives unnecessarily miserable by following all aspects of the shari'ah. What's so wrong, after all, in a compromise between a this-worldly and a that-worldly attitude?
Finally, there is another argument presented: The shari'ah has two types of injunctions: those which are directly relevant to Allah and those that have to do with one's obligations towards fellow humans. While the latter category of injunctions are more important to be followed, the obligations towards Allah are not. If we are telling the truth, refraining from getting involved in bribes, helping the poor, keeping our promises, and strictly adhering to other similar injunctions, why then shall we not be successful in the Hereafter just for not saying prayers regularly, or not fasting, or not going for hajj and not following similar injunctions which are matters of personal relevance between the individual and his God. When scales are going to be drawn on the Day of Judgement, how is it possible that our significantly important good deeds will not be able to outweigh the relatively less important blemishes.
Let us analyze these arguments to find out whether they do merit the confidence of those who are using them for justifying their life patterns or not.
1. Mercy of God
The Qur'an indeed informs us that Allah's mercy dominates everything else:
My mercy enfolds everything. (7:156)
The very beginning of the Qur'an mentions two names of God Almighty: al-Rahman and al-Rahim, both describing the profoundness of His mercy. If one were to find the thematic link between the first two verses of Surah Rahman, it emerges quite clearly that the decision of sending down the Divine Revelation also owes entirely to His attribute of mercy. It says:
The Gracious God; He taught the Qur'an. (55:1-2)
The Qur'an has, however, clarified another point as well: that the people who are really worthy of being treated compassionately by the Gracious God are those who as a consequence of their correct attitude are found deserving of it.
The blessing of Allah is at hand for those who do good. (7:56)
On another occasion, it has been clarified by the Qur'an that the mercy of Allah has in fact been laid down for the God-conscious followers of the Prophet (sws):
My mercy enfolds everything. I shall enjoin it for those who ward off [evil] and pay the zakah and believe in Our signs. Those who follow the messenger. (7:156-7)
It is the same mercy which has been referred to by the Almighty while urging His servants who continue to be engulfed in sins not to give up hope, since such people tread the line of sin only because they have lost hope in Allah's mercy; therefore, they have been comforted by being informed that Allah can forgive all sins provided man ensures serious attempts at correction of his attitude:
Say: "O my servants who have sinned against their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Surely, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, He is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. And turn to your Lord and submit yourselves to Him, before there comes unto you the punishment; for then you shall not be helped. And follow the best Teaching that has been revealed to you from your Lord, before the punishment comes upon you suddenly, while you perceive not." (39:53-55)
These verses show beyond doubt that if a person wants himself to be regarded as deserving of the mercy of the Almighty, it is imperative that he should incline himself towards Allah and correct his attitude. It is noticeable that even after the emotionally moving mention of His mercifulness, Allah has still warned those who are not obedient to Him of grave consequences. This shows beyond doubt the fact that only those people deserve Allah's mercy who show through their conduct that they are genuinely looking for it and are not just pretending.
2. The Prophet's Intercession
There is no doubt that the Qur'an indicates that Allah Almighty shall grant the privilege of intercession to some of His chosen people. However, a proper understanding of the conditions laid down in the Qur'an for the administration of intercession should preclude an individual who is genuinely seeking success in the Hereafter from pinning his hopes on that arrangement. The conditions laid down in the Qur'an for the administration of intercession are the following:
1. No one shall dare to speak out on the Day of Judgement without Allah's leave.
2. The intercessor shall be able to intercede only for individuals specified for the purpose.
3. The intercessor shall speak nothing but the truth.
The Qur'an says:
On the day when the Spirit and the angels will stand in rows, they shall not speak, except he whom the Gracious God will grant leave, and who will speak only what is right. (78:38)
The very next verse warns that the Day of Judgement is an undeniable reality; therefore, whosoever wants his real welfare should leave aside the strategy of pinning hopes on false supports and should, instead, adopt the path outlined by God Almighty so as to save himself from the ignominy of that day:
That day is sure to come. So whosoever likes may prepare a way to his Lord. (78:39)
A similar clarification has been offered in another verse of the Qur'an thus:
And who can intercede with Him except by His leave? (2:255)
Authentically transmitted traditions of the Prophet (sws) also inform that the Prophet (sws) had warned some of his very close relatives individually of the grave consequences they were likely to face if they would not prepare themselves for their accountability, for on the day of judgement no soul shall be able to come to the rescue of another. A tradition mentions that when the verse carrying the message – "And warn your near relations" (26:214) – was revealed, the Prophet (sws) stood up and said:
O people of Quraysh! save your skins from the Hell-fire because I will not be able to come to your rescue on the Day of Judgement. O 'Abd Munaf! I won't be able to save you an inch from [the wrath of] Allah Almighty. O 'Abbas, son of 'Abd al-Muttalib! I will not be able to help you out [from the punishment of] Allah. O Safiyyah, the messenger of Allah's aunt, I wouldn't be able to help you [on the Day of Judgement] from the punishment of Allah. O Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad! You can ask anything from my [worldly wealth; as for the hereafter, however], I will not be able to save you from Allah's grip. (Bukhari, No: 2548)
The Qur'an has categorically denied in two different passages in Surah Baqarah – one addressing the progeny of Israel, and the other, Muslims – all possibilities of intercession coming to the rescue of individuals, in order to emphasize that it is faith and good deeds alone that are going to help one out on the day of Judgement. In the absence of these, none shall be allowed to interfere in the Divine proceedings of implementation of justice. The Qur'an says:
And [Children of Israel!] guard yourselves against the day when no soul shall serve as a substitute for another soul at all, nor shall intercession be accepted for it, nor shall ransom be taken from it, nor shall they be helped. (2:47-8)
The second passage says:
O you who believe! Spend out of what we have bestowed on you before the day comes wherein there shall be no buying and selling, nor friendship, nor intercession, and it is those who disbelieve that do wrong to themselves. (2:254)
After these references from the Qur'an and Hadith, the only question that remains to be answered is that if there is such categorical negation of intercession in the original sources, what then is the context of those Ahadith which give considerable details of intercession that will be done by the Prophet (sws) for the benefit of his followers. What emerges on reflecting upon the information in the original sources of Islam in this regard is that on the Day of Judgement when the good and the bad deeds will be weighed, some people would succeed with flying colours, while others would face the ignominy of failure. However, it appears, that there would still remain one group of people who would be falling on the margin. Allah's mercy would necessitate that they be spared from punishment. Therefore, the Almighty, in order to elevate the status of some of the noblest people on that day will permit them to intercede for such individuals who will be found on the margin. The intercession, it is reported, will be duly accepted. This intercession will not necessitate the violation of any of the inviolable principles of justice of God Almighty.
3. Salvation for the Reciter of Kalimah
The confusion on the question of salvation for the reciter of kalimah owes itself to the improper understanding of the Qur'an and Hadith narratives. The Qur'an makes it unmistakably clear that Allah Almighty has not made salvation in the Hereafter incumbent upon an individual's formal association with a particular group. The Book stresses that the success in the Hereafter is guaranteed only for those who fulfil the criterion of faith and righteous deeds. The Qur'an says:
Sure the believers and the Jews and the followers of Christ and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the last Day, and whoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and they will neither have fear nor regret. (2:62)
This verse clarifies that there are only two preconditions for salvation in the hereafter: faith in Allah, in the Hereafter, in the Prophets, and righteous deeds. A person satisfying these conditions, wherever he lived, shall stand successful in the eyes of Allah. As for those who relish the prospects of residing in the pleasures of Paradise merely on getting enrolled in the list of the followers of a Prophet, they have been clearly informed about the impertinence of their expectations in the following verse:
Neither your wishes [O Muslims] nor the wishes of the people of the Book [are going to matter]; whosoever does ill will be punished for it, and will find no protector or friend apart from God; but he who performs good deeds, whether man or a woman, and is a believer, will surely enter Paradise, and none shall be deprived even of an iota of his reward. (5:123-124)
One comes to learn on reading the Qur'an that much the same way as the present-day Muslims, a group of people belonging to the Children of Israel also believed that reciting the kalimah was enough for their salvation. Their intransigence of not to accept the Prophethood of Muhammed (sws) owed a great deal to this creed. The Book of Allah rejects their claim in such clear terms that the divine words remain an eye opener for all people who care to read it:
They say: "The fire will not touch us for more than a few days." Say: "Have you so received a promise from Allah so that Allah will not withdraw His pledge or do you impute things to Allah for which you have no knowledge at all?" (2:80)
The unequivocal verdict of the Qur'an, however, leaves the relevance of the promise to the reciters of kalimah in the Ahadith unanswered. Although Ahadith carrying a similar message are numerous, the following one from the book of Imam Muslim clearly explains the proper context of most of them carrying a similar message:
The one who dies knowing that there is no God but Allah shall enter Paradise. (Muslim, No: 46)
Two clarifications would facilitate the understanding of these narratives:
First, the very recitation of the kalimah for those who were the audience of this statement necessitated defying the contemporary system, abandoning the faith of their forefathers, earning the hatred of all those who had turned against the Prophet (sws). The recitation of the same kalimah now is done invariably by people who mindlessly utter the words without making any effort to find what their meanings entail. Nothing could be more naive than the expectations of people who believe that they are the worthy receivers of the good tidings of Paradise on the basis of a mere utterance of this statement. The Qur'an, on the contrary, repeatedly affirms that it is not mere utterance of the claim to faith that is desired of an individual; what is required, on the contrary, is the attitude that proves that his claim is not just a hollow utterance but, instead, is based on real sincerity:
Do men think they will get away by saying: we believe and they will not be tried? We had tried those who were before them so that Allah knew who spoke the truth, and who were liars. (29:2-3)
Second, if a person accepts Allah as His God, it is not possible for him to continue to remain disobedient to Him. It is indeed possible for him to falter morally, may be every now and then, owing to his human failings. However, if he is a true believer, he would certainly correct his behaviour on realizing his fault and would feel ashamed of what he had done. The Qur'an clarifies quite clearly that Allah's favourite servants do not deliberately insist on their sinful behaviour:
Allah loves those who are upright and those who, when they commit a shameful act or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah – and do not knowingly persist in what they do. (3:135-6)
Another passage of the Qur'an informs us that for the pious, sins appear by default, not by design; for them, sinning is not a rule; it is only an exception that is immediately succeeded by feelings of embarrassment. The Qur'an says:
To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, that He may requite those who do evil, in accordance with their deeds, and those who do good with good. As for those who avoid the greater sins and shameful acts, except minor trespasses, your Lord is Master of vast forgiveness. (53:31-2)
On appreciating the above two clarifications, one realises that the glad tidings given by the Prophet (sws) were exactly consistent with the Qur'an which confers him with the status of a bearer of glad tidings (mubashshir). The Qur'an says:
O Prophet: "We have sent you as a witness and a bearer of happy tidings and an admonisher." (33:45)
It was important that this tiding be communicated for the benefit of specially those believers who are particularly sensitive about their sins and, therefore, have a propensity to fall into a psychological abyss of profound despair even on committing only a few sins. Such devoted believers have been consoled by being informed that the all-important objective of finding a niche in Paradise is not unachievable. The only requirement for an individual to be able to achieve that goal is a firm commitment with the kalimah. However, since it was a likely possibility that the less discerning minds would not be able to pick the real spirit from the context of the message and could, as a consequence, relinquish their commitment to following the message, the Prophet (sws), on the urging of his companion 'Umar, desired that the message not be communicated to the common people. The relevant passage of a Hadith from the book of Imam Muslim says:
'Umar said: "O Prophet of Allah, for you be sacrificed my close kin, did you send Abu Hurayrah with your shoes so that he may give glad tidings of Paradise to all those he comes across who say: 'There is no god except Allah from the core of his heart?'" He (sws) said: "I did." 'Umar said: "[I would suggest you] don't do that way, because I fear people might rely unnecessarily upon its apparent meanings [and stop practicing Islam]. So [I suggest you just] leave them to practice. The Prophet (sws) said: 'Then, leave them [and let this message not be communicated to them].'" (Muslim, No: 46)
There is little doubt that repentance cleanses an individual of all his sins. Allah Almighty forgives an individual when he decides to correct his attitude. The Qur'an confirms that if repentance is done with all conditions properly fulfilled, God Almighty accepts it as a matter of principle:
Allah does accept repentance, but only of those who are guilty of an evil out of ignorance yet quickly repent, and Allah turns to them again, for Allah is All-Knowing and All-Wise. But He does not accept the repentance of those who continue indulging in evil until death draws near and they say: "We now repent; nor of those who die disbelieving." For them We have a grievous retribution in wait. (4:17-8)
Thus writes Amin Ahsan Islahi in his commentary of these verses:
On reflecting upon these verses, one finds two conditions for the acceptability or otherwise of repentance. Those who sin under the influence of emotions and then repent immediately [on realizing their error] and correct their attitude, Allah Almighty has vowed to accept their repentance. On the contrary, repentance is not accepted from such who continue to sin and care to repent only when the angel of death reaches them, nor is it accepted in the case of those who die in a state of disbelief. One question that still remains even after the clear delineation of the two extreme cases is regarding the fate of those individuals who, although do not get the opportunity of repenting immediately after committing a sin, yet do not delay until the appearance of death to perform it. The verse is silent regarding such cases, which evinces both hope and fear. That seems to be the very purpose behind the absence of a mention of the treatment of this category so that people belonging to it should continue to remain between the states of fear and hope. However, it does occur in one's mind occasionally that people from the Muslim ummah belonging to this category shall get the benefit of the intercession of the Prophet (sws) because there does not seem to be any reason why such people should not be entitled to intercession.
A sinner must repent for all his crimes. If he repents in the case of some and stays away from doing it in the case of others, he will continue to remain obliged to repent for the remaining crimes. The verdict of Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the consensus of all the scholars of the Muslim ummah is unequivocal on the obligatory nature of the need to repent is obvious beyond doubt. The attitude of many of the Muslims, however, is quite to the contrary. They continue to violate with impunity the unquestionably obvious injunctions of the shari'ah and yet take refuge in the comforting thought that they shall be pardoned. How very similar this attitude is to that of the unworthy successors of the early generations of the Children of Israel about whose behaviour the Qur'an informs us thus:
Then after them a new generation inherited the Book. They took to the goods of this base world, and said: "We shall surely be forgiven this." Yet they will accept similar things if they came their way again. (7:169)
5. Differentiating Important Directives from Unimportant Ones
Directives of the Islamic shari'ah, if viewed from a peculiar point of view can be divided into two categories: the rights of Allah and the rights of the fellow human beings. However, one would need to be a complete ignorant on matters of Islamic understanding to claim that whereas the real desirable directives are those belonging to the former and as for the rights of Allah, their status is only secondary. The truth is that the one directive of the Islamic shari'ah which has been described as the most significant requires Muslims to hold fast to the unity of Allah and stay away from ascribing partners to Him. The Qur'an says:
Surely, Allah will not forgive that a partner be associated with Him; but He will forgive whatever is short of that to whomsoever He pleases. And who so associates partners with Allah has indeed devised a very great sin. (4:48)
It goes without saying that to uphold the requirements of the unity of Allah is a right of Allah to the complete exclusion of the human beings. The most important right of the human beings is that of the parents. The Qur'an has mentioned this extremely important right only after mentioning the right of Allah, thus clarifying the relative significance of the different injunctions within the scheme of the teachings of Islamic shari'ah. The Qur'an says:
So your Lord has decreed: Do not worship any one but Him, and be good to your parents. (17:23)
Likewise, the commonly held view amongst the masses that man was created by Allah to care for his fellow human beings, otherwise angels were enough to take care of the objective of worshipping Him is a misleading contention. The Qur'an declares:
And I have not created the jinn and the men but that they may worship Me. (51:56)
Allah Almighty desires from His believers that, instead of getting involved in the unnecessary debate of the important and the less important directives, they should adopt the Islamic shari'ah completely:
O you who believe, enter the fold of Islam completely, and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan; he is indeed your open enemy. (2:208)
This verse clearly shows that those people who do not enter the fold of Islam fully but are instead inclined to have simultaneous allegiance with both Islam and kufr (disbelief), are following the footsteps of Satan. Satan, indeed is man's declared enemy. The attitude of Muslims towards Islamic directives is no different from that of the Children of Israel of the time when the Qur'an was being revealed in that they too used to pick and choose from the shari'ah at will. The directives that were found easier to follow, acceptable to the people, and in accordance with the fashion of the times were followed wholeheartedly; however, those injunctions which did not appear to be easy to follow were conveniently ignored by them. The Qur'an condemned their behaviour thus:
Do you then believe a part of the Book and reject a part? There is no other award for them who so act but disgrace in the world, and on the Day of Judgement the severest of punishment; for Allah is not heedless of all that you do. (2:85)
The Qur'an tells us that whosoever desires the pleasure of Allah and success in the Hereafter should ensure that he believes in all aspects of Islam, makes an earnest attempt to follow it as far as is possible, stays away from disobeying Allah and His messenger, and attaches more importance to the considerations of life of the other world than those of the present one. The Book of Allah doesn't guarantee success in the next life to any one falling short of fulfilling these conditions. The Qur'an says:
Then the one who had been rebellious and who preferred the life of the world, will surely have Hell for his abode. But he who feared standing before his Lord, and restrained his self from vain desires, will surely have Paradise for abode. (79:37-41)
Muslims would do well to stay away from the futile exercise of living under the cloud of misleading concepts and to stick to the task of making every possible effort to meet the conditions necessary for success in the Hereafter. In that case, they can justifiably hope for the mercy of Allah. Allah, it is earnestly hoped, will be kind and merciful to them.