The Believers: The Qur’anic Model (Part 1)
Successful are the believers. Those who humble themselves in prayers; who avoid vain talk; who are keen on acts of charity; who guard their private parts except with their wives and those who their right hands own. In their case they are free from blame. But those who seek beyond that, they are transgressors. (The believers are) those who faithfully observe their trusts and covenants, those who guard their prayers. They are the inheritors of Paradise. They shall dwell in it (forever). (Al-Mu’minun 23:1-11)
It emerges that believers are those who are characterized by, at least, seven features. Belief should imbue them with these seven outstanding traits, observable in their individual and collective life. As already hinted at, these encompass a wide range of human activities. Significantly enough, this account commences and concludes with a pointed reference to salah (prayer).
Believers are distinct in terms of their total devotion to prayer. It forms the very pivot of their existence. At one level, prayer signifies their complete surrender to their Creator, their willingness to lead life in accordance with His directives and their concern for their moral and spiritual sustenance and growth.
On the singular importance of prayer, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is on record as saying, as reported by Anas: “Prayer is the joy of my eye.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa’i)
Not only do believers offer prayer, they do so with the utmost humility. In other words, humbleness towards their Lord and towards fellow human beings is their mark of distinction. Prayer moulds them into better human beings who are considerate and conscientious. The Qur’anic expression khushu` literally means humbleness.
This should characterize the believers’ prayer, as is emphasized in several hadiths. Outwardly they should appear humble towards Allah while offering prayers.
Moreover, this quality should pervade their hearts. At one level, it underscores their full attention and devotion to various postures within prayer, avoiding any contact with or interest in anything outside prayer while so engaged.
In the broader context, however, it points to turning to Allah in all matters of life. Only His pleasure engages them and on a constant and consistent basis. It also ensures their utmost sincerity. It trains them to display total commitment to any task which they undertake.
Since only such acts catch their attention which seek to please God, their mindset and their entire way of life are God-oriented. And this is what makes their lives and of others in their company full of peace and cordiality.
As a result of their engagement with prayer, the second feature special to believers is their aversion to anything vain. Whatever does not contribute positively to their moral and spiritual development and to the betterment of the society which they erect, does not evoke their interest.
The Qur’anic expression employed, taqwa, is pregnant with meaning. Apart from ruling out evil in any form, it strikes a fatal blow to all such pursuits which have only entertainment value.
For believers, belief and prayer infuse into them such a sharp and keen sense of responsibility and accountability that nothing vain distracts them. The Qur’an does not negate the point that the world or human society is or can be altogether free from vanities. Believers, however, make a point of passing it by.
Almost the same truth is reiterated in Surat al-Furqan:
Those who witness no falsehood, and, if they pass by futility, they pass by it with honorable (avoidance). (Al-Furqan 25:72)
In sum, prayer turns them into such decent and God-conscious people that they disregard everything which may distract them from God’s way. Avoidance of vain talk and fruitless pursuits is thus their second prominent feature. The importance of this may be appreciated best in the larger social context. If such restraint is observed, it makes social life immensely meaningful and genuinely rewarding.
Another trait of believers is their constant and consistent engagement with acts of charity. This may obviously refer to their hearty payment of the obligatory zakah. Or it may be construed in a general, wider sense of contributing to all such projects which aim at ameliorating the condition of the poor and the underprivileged. Throughout, their main concern is to purify themselves and attain the heights of self-development. Included therein is the development of their morals and manners and the purification of their wealth.
In turn, it renders them as devout individuals who care for their fellow human beings and the wider community. Not only do they make a point of cheerfully paying the compulsory zakah, they also participate wholeheartedly in all such projects which bring peace and joy to members of their society.
Thus the quality of both individual and collective life is enhanced. A way of life with abundant charity promotes the virtues of hospitality and generosity, creates an atmosphere conducive to cordial social relations and a sense of fraternity and helps ease the tensions arising out of class and financial distinctions. Believers thus create a society which is largely free from inner conflicts and dissensions.
That believers guard their private parts is, once again, a virtue of immense value for both their individual life and for society as a whole.
Studied together with the next verse which clarifies that they should only have sexual relations with their wives and the women whom they legitimately possess brings to the fore the healthy Islamic stance on sexual conduct.
Islam recognizes sex like any other natural function of men and women. It does not prescribe abstinence from sex as a prerequisite for spirituality. Nor does it regard sex as something dirty or shameful.
The significance of this Qur’anic stance comes out more clearly when one compares it with the Christian attitude. In Christianity, sex even within wedlock is seen as an obstacle to achieving salvation. (For details see the Bible: Mt. 22:30 and I Cor. 7:32-34.)
Islam strikes a balance in terms of sanctioning sexual ties within marriage on the one hand and on the other, condemning all forms of extra-marital sex as a cardinal sin which incurs God’s wrath. In the passage under discussion believers are projected as men and women with this balanced, moderate approach towards sex.
Under the sobering influence of Islamic teachings in general and of prayer in particular, believers display exemplary restraint in satisfying their natural sexual urges. In so doing, they do not exceed limits. In essence, a note of moderation permeates the conduct of believers, be it with regard to sex or any other human activity.
The next two traits of believers relate to transactions and their sociocultural, moral and economic life. Whenever they pledge a trust or are assigned with some responsibility they conduct themselves honorably.
Being ever-conscious of their trust to God, it is not surprising to find them so particular about discharging their obligations. Their honesty and fair dealings in monetary and contractual matters contributes to producing and sustaining cordial, friendly social relations, characterized by mutual trust, welfare and sincerity. As a result, the life enjoyed by them is peaceful and fulfilling.
Anxiety or the constant threat of betrayal and the rat race in a cut-throat world does not haunt them. On the contrary, their community life is imbued with acts of charity, sexual restraint, good will and fellow-feeling.
Closely related to honoring trusts is the virtue of keeping promises, which also characterizes believers. They are ever true to their word to their Creator and to fellow human beings in terms of fulfilling the duties which they owe to God and to their social contacts, starting with familial ties and extending to wider community roles.
In so doing, they sacrifice their self-interest. Rather, they lead a life full of self-abnegation and altruism.
It goes without saying that such an attitude cements and reinforces strong family and community relations, which become marked by trust, love and understanding.
In his sermons addressed to the Companions during his Prophetic career the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made a point of exhorting believers to keep their trusts and promises. He made it plain that one without this virtue cannot be taken as a believer.
This Qur’anic account, mainly of the conduct of believers in their individual and collective life, is rounded off with a pointed reference to their religious observance. They are particular about offering prayer on time and do not miss it. While at the beginning of the passage humility in prayer is mentioned, the concluding note speaks of punctuality and keenness in offering prayer.
They are so diligent in the performance of this duty that they do not miss out any of its components. More significantly, they try their level best to internalize the essence and spirit of prayer in their conduct, as a result of which they grow into perfect human beings. Not only do they observe their religious obligations, they also acquit themselves well of their social role, as a responsible, faithful members of their community.
Believers possessing these traits are promised the inheritance of Paradise, the highest reward imaginable for man. They deserve this in view of their achieving the standard expected of them by God. In essence, the Qur’anic passage holds out a mirror for us to soul-search and a model to emulate.
The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005.