Understanding the true meaning of Religion

بسمه تعلى

The Holy Qur’an refers to Religion as meaning reward (مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ – Master of the Day of Judgment) [1], and obedience (وَوَصَّىٰ بِهَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بَنِيهِ وَيَعْقُوبُ يَا بَنِيَّ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَىٰ لَكُمُ الدِّينَ فَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنْتُمْ مُسْلِمُونَ – The same did Abraham enjoin upon his sons, and also Jacob, (saying): O my sons! Lo! Allah hath chosen for you the (true) religion; therefore die not save as men who have surrendered (unto Him)) [2], i.e obedience of divine laws that were revealed to the Prophets and Messengers to guide Man to true happiness in both abodes.

Contents of Religion

Religion can be broken into two parts: Doctrines (اصول الدين – lit. Principles of Religion, or Theology), and Practical Laws (فروع لدين – lit. Branches of Religion, like Jurisprudence, Logic, etc).

Doctrines make up a collection of principles that a person needs to believe in for his faith to have any meaning and his actions to have any value. And these are the concepts of Divine Unity, Prophethood and the Return. They are the three pillars that keep one’s faith upright, where, would one of those pillars collapse, the whole religion would fall apart. And this is where the Qur’an has places most of its emphasis and care in order to make it absolutely clear that without these beliefs, no matter what you did in your life, it will come to nothing.

The role of Religion in our lives

This can be summarized as:

1  – Guiding man to the goal intended for him, which is happiness in this world and the hereafter, with the help of divine laws.

أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا

Will they then not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks on the hearts? [3]

قُلْ هَاتُوا بُرْهَانَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ 

Say: Bring your proof (of what ye state) if ye are truthful. [4]

This is the most profound way to encourage the use of the intellect and rational proofs to attain faith. This is further emphasized by the teachings of the Holy Household (ع), who ascertain the importance of contemplation and the study of the history of human society and the way they interacted with the contemporary Prophets and Messengers, and the lessons we can learn from that to aid us on our path to knowledge and wisdom. [5]

2 – Guiding the intellect to awareness and firmness in opinion, and independent thinking and decision making. The Holy Prophet had said: ‘Don’t be like the ones that agree to everybody’s opinion, you say: if the people do good, we do good; if the people are oppressive, we are oppressive; but accustom yourselves to: if people did good, do the best; and if they do evil, do not oppress.’ [6]

3 – Religion is the foundation of correct moral conduct and defines its fundamental principles for society. If Man were to be left to his instincts and selfish ways, there would be no limit to his lusts and desires, whether he agreed with the values of ethics and morals or not. Whereas his innate disposition (فطرة), brings awareness to safeguard these values and to act upon them. This is where he finds within himself a constant struggle, and in need of some balancing factors to overcome any desires to transgress on other people’s rights. This is where the role of Religion comes to bring balance and harmony to the self of Man, by the belief that all of Man’s actions will be accounted for in the minutest details in this world and the next.

The Religious World View and Ideology 

The world view (or theoretical wisdom), is what Man believes to be perfections for him, as in the view that ‘God exists’.

The ideology (or practical wisdom), are the collection of practical ideas held by Man that define his habits and actions, like the view held that Justice must be upheld at all costs and Oppression avoided.

The relationship between the above concepts, is that of one cannot exist without the other. Without a world view, an ideology cannot be established.  

And there are several verses in the Holy Qur’an that clearly express the importance roles that a world view and ideology play in defining Man’s destiny:

إِنَّ شَرَّ ٱلدَّوَآبِّ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلصُّمُّ ٱلۡبُكۡمُ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡقِلُونَ

Lo! the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the deaf, the dumb, who have no sense. [7]

Anybody whose ears are deaf to the call of justice, whose tongues are dumb to the protest for justice and who don’t use their intellect to become aware of the truths and realities of this existence, are worse than animals, since animals are devoid of intellect. 

وَلَقَدۡ ذَرَأۡنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ ڪَثِيرً۬ا مِّنَ ٱلۡجِنِّ وَٱلۡإِنسِ‌ۖ لَهُمۡ قُلُوبٌ۬ لَّا يَفۡقَهُونَ بِہَا وَلَهُمۡ أَعۡيُنٌ۬ لَّا يُبۡصِرُونَ بِہَا وَلَهُمۡ ءَاذَانٌ۬ لَّا يَسۡمَعُونَ بِہَآ‌ۚ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ كَٱلۡأَنۡعَـٰمِ بَلۡ هُمۡ أَضَلُّ‌ۚ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡغَـٰفِلُونَ

Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not. These are as the cattle – nay, but they are worse! These are the neglectful. [8]

Therefore a person that contemplates and reflects and is aware of the reality of his existence, will establish for himself the correct world view and ideology, that secure him happiness in both abodes. And this is the scale to which we measure our humanity; the more rooted we are in the correct doctrines of our religion, the more human we are, and the closer we are to achieving the goal for which we have been created. 

والحمد لله رب العالمين 


[1] 1:4

[2] 2:132

[3] 47:24

[4] 2:111

[5] (فاعتبروا بما اصاب الامم المستكبرين ن قبلكم من بأس الله وصولاته،ووقائعه و مثلاته ...), Imam Ali ibn Abu Taleb (ع), Nahjul Balaghah, commentary by Muhammad Abdu, Vol.2, pg 143.

[6] Sunan Al Tirmidhi, Dar Al Fikr, Beirut, Vol.3, pg 446.

[7] 8:22

[8] 7:179


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