By: Md. Asham Bin Ahmad (IKIM)
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"Those who can make you believe", says Voltaire, "can make you commit atrocities." It is true that ideas do have consequences. Hence, we have the duty to believe carefully. The sincerity of conviction alone is in no way beneficial. Many people have acquired belief not by sincere patient investigation, but by stifling their doubts. This, as far as Islam is concerned, is not acceptable, because the Religion of Islam must be founded upon knowledge and certainty.
In emphasizing this fact, a certain Muslim theologian went to the extent of declaring that one who holds to a belief without proof supporting that belief is actually not a believer! Even though this tough stance has been criticized by other scholars, they have all agreed that everyone is responsible for his or her belief, i.e. one has a responsibility to seek the truth of one's belief. Hence, according to the well known tradition of the Prophet, the first and foremost obligation of every Muslim, man and woman alike, is to seek knowledge.
Indeed, knowledge and action are the fundamental elements comprising the conceptual structure of Islam. "Islam" is the verbal noun of the verb "aslama", meaning "to submit". It refers to one's submission to God, the submission that is made consciously and willingly. "Consciously" means "knowingly", and "willingly" means "freely", without compulsion. Defined as such, the submission as demanded by Islam is not possible without knowledge.
The term "Islam" also describes an act, i.e. what one does, namely the act of submission. As such, Islam does not simply happen to someone; it comes into being dependant upon one's volition. And again, volition does not arise without knowledge.
But "Islam" is also the name of a particular religion, which means the above-mentioned submission is not subjective or formless; it is the submission which is made willingly and consciously according to the way prescribed by the religion called Islam. Hence, the action of every Muslim is subject to the rules of the shari'ah correctly understood as the path to salvation prescribed by God through His Messenger.
The message of Islam is meant for all mankind, that they submit to the will of God, in the form of submission (religion) that He accepts, namely Islam. Hence, part and parcel of the message of Islam is what it says about other religions. Islam maintains categorically that any other form of submission (i.e. religions), being a product of a certain ethnic or cultural tradition, are not acceptable to Allah. Hence, it is imperative that the followers of those religions, with the coming of Islam, heed the latter's call, supposedly for their own ultimate good, which is ‘salvation'.
Be it as it may, the fact is, for various reasons, not everybody accepts the message of Islam. This is the fact that the Qur'an itself acknowledges from the very beginning; hence, we observe abundant references to those who do not believe and the non-Muslims.
In an increasingly pluralistic contemporary world, what Islam says about other religions is misunderstood as problematic, out of place, antithetical to unity, intolerant, insulting, and unbecoming. In short, it is considered incongruent with the spirit of pluralism.
In order to abide by that spirit, the Muslims are not supposed to hold that Islam is the only true religion. Other religions, it is argued, are also true and valid, or, at the very least, the Muslims are also asked to concede that nobody can really know the truth.
But no true Muslim can accept this. It is contrary to his belief, and his belief is not make-belief, but a consequence of knowledge and certainty.
A true Muslim holds that the reality of things are objectively established, and that knowledge of it is possible and verifiable. This cardinal principle is applicable to every object of knowledge, including the message of Islam itself.
So, what Islam claims about itself as well as about other religions, are also subject to investigation and verification. For Islam, it is the truth that matters, hence, it calls upon the mankind to verify its claim to truth and compare it with the claims of other religions. It is for those who believe that truth does matter, that Islam offers its message for their consideration.
As for those who insist on maintaining the beliefs and practices of their fore-fathers, regardless of truth or falsehood, Islam has this to say: "...even though your fore-fathers understood nothing?"; and for those who do not want to heed to the call: "[ultimately] for you your religion, and for me my religion".
To know Islam also means to know what it says about other religions, even though what it says may irk the followers of other religions, or people who do not believe in any religion altogether. This sentiment is understandable because naturally no decent human being wishes to be associated with falsehood. Nobody likes to be called a follower of falsehood, be it in the form of a religion, an idea, belief, ideology, convention, etc. It means that any decent human being naturally desires truth and despises falsehood.
It is true that nobody may be forced to accept what Islam says; but the cardinal principle of a rational discourse remains: to reject a proposition is itself a proposition, and like any other proposition it is also subject to true or false judgement. So, to reject the proposition: "Islam is the true religion", means to maintain the opposite: "Islam is not the true religion". It assumes that the proposer knows the difference between a religion which is true and one which is false.
In order to judge whether a religion is true or otherwise one needs knowledge. Islam, in this regard, desires itself to be known by everybody, so that all may judge it.
Freedom, knowledge, and resposibility are intertwined. Without freedom of choice, responsibility would be an absurd notion. But freedom must not be understood in the sense that there are no asymmetries of reason and knowledge, objectivity and truth; hence, "anything goes". A rational human being would not do anything that is detrimental to his happiness. A rational choice is a choice that may contribute towards the attainment of happiness, and not the converse. In this regard, one's choice of religion is actually one's decision with regard to one's own happiness. To make the right decision one has to be free, i.e. free from ignorance, because to make a choice in the state of ignorance is contrary to being rational.
Knowledge is thus the key to human freedom. Hence, knowledge and education are paramount in Islam. A Muslim does not automatically inherit Islam from his parents. Ultimately he has to choose Islam by himself, and in order to do that he must have knowledge, the knowledge that gives him the reason to choose Islam from amongst the other choices.
So, a proper education is that which enables one to make correct moral and practical decisions in life, not the wrong ones.
What about those who claim that they are indifferent to truth or falsehood? or those who say that truth does not matter, or even if it does we could not know it? This kind of attitude is not new, and it is rather futile to argue with a person in such a state of mind. Perhaps what one can do is to make known the practical and moral consequences of adopting such an attitude. If truth is meaningless or unknowable then anything goes and all moral judgement would be absurd. So, if a nation believes that it has the right to eliminate all other nations, then no one is accountable for war crimes or genocide.