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There is no doubt that each civilization, philosophy and religion has its own distinguishing features. The stronger character of the civilization, and the more profound and comprehensive it is, the greater are its effects on the individual living within its bounds.
Since its appearance, Islam has brought about a radical transformation in the life of the individual and of the society in that it completely alters the daily behaviour and deep-seated habits of individuals, as it alters their standards, judgments, and outlook on the universe, life, and man. Likewise, the structure of the society is visibly altered, some aspects disappear and new ones emerge. In this article we will focus on the transformation that Islam brought about in people's creed.
The changes which Islam brings about are both profound and comprehensive. In terms of basic beliefs and principles, it represents a leap from the worship of tangible things such as idols and stars which can be seen or touched, to the worship of the one God, who cannot be pictured or represented and whose precise nature cannot be known.
A brief look upon the predominant religious beliefs before the coming of Prophet Muhammad r will make us realize the great change from the 'primitive mind' which deals only with tangible matters, to the 'civilized mind' which is able to grasp the concept of the affirmation of the Oneness of God (monotheism) and His being over and above all human attributes, the Lord and Sustainer of all beings.
Before Islam, the whole land was plunged in a sea of ignorance and darkness and religion was at its lowest depth. In place of the One True God, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, they worshipped gods and goddesses made of stone. For everything which they desired they turned to these idols, invoking their help and blessings and in addition they regarded the sun, the moon, the stars, and the air all as gods, worshipping them and believing them to be controllers of their destinies. Their heathenism had reached such a pitch that the Ka’bah, the House of God, which was reconstructed by Abraham for the worship of the One Almighty God, became a depositary for their idols. They divided themselves into clans, and the clans into families, and each clan and family had its own beliefs and customs; and each family had its own idols in the house. In time of sickness and famine they would prostrate themselves before the idols, offering up cattle, grain, and the like in return for their help.
From Darkness to Light:
When ignorance and darkness had reached their height, when irreligion had become rampant, and cruelty and oppression lords of the land, then, like day after night, like rain after intense heat, God in His infinite mercy and love for the human race, made Muhammad r His Prophet and sent him to lead those astray back to the right path. Like a sun to dispel darkness, a rain to shower blessings, he came and succeeded in his mission in spite of being opposed heavily by the Makkan elite. It was he who eradicated idolatry and polytheism in all forms so thoroughly and called for such a firm faith in the Unity of God that even those religions which were based entirely on superstitions and idolatry were compelled to adopt a monotheistic theme.
The Effect of the Prophet's Call
Before the coming of Islam, polytheistic thought had reigned supreme the world over. The polytheistic urge in people used to make them turn in worship to any particularly striking or spectacular worldly phenomenon, whether it was the sun in the sky, or the king on earth. For this reason, scientific research could not be conducted during the polytheistic era. As the historian Arnold Toynbee has pointed out, natural phenomena were considered objects of worship, so they could not possibly become objects of investigation. With Islam and the advance of monotheism, the awe in which worldly phenomena had been held collapsed. People realized that all things besides God were objects of His creation. There was no cause to consider worldly phenomena as sacred: their natures could be analyzed and investigated. The liberation of the human intellect which Islam brought about started at the very beginning of the Islamic era, in the time of the Prophet.
On the occasion of a lunar eclipse, the Prophet Muhammad r pointed out that lunar and solar eclipses were signs of God. They were not signs of the birth or death of any human being, as had been thought during the age of superstition that preceded Islam. In this way, the Prophet r refuted both human and material greatness, asserting the greatness of God alone. In so doing, he initiated a trend in human thought which eventually reached Europe and resulted in the scientific revolution of modern times.
Monotheism is more than just a doctrine. It is the secret of all forms of human success. To believe in one God is to give true expression to human nature. That is why this faith lodges itself in the depths of the human psyche. Belief in one God is the only creed which does not allow for any social distinction or racial prejudice. For this reason the masses flock to join any movement which rises on the basis of this creed. They realize that under the banner of monotheism all people become equal in the real sense. As humble servants of one great God, they all become true human beings with a tight to human dignity. By finding their true place in the world, they achieve the greatest position that man can aspire to.
Prophet Muhammad r called people to believe in One True God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Master of the East and the West and Sustainer of the entire universe. When man believes in this, he does not regard anything in the world as a stranger to himself. He looks upon everything in the universe as belonging to the same Lord whom he himself belongs to. This belief produces in man the highest degree of self-respect and self-esteem. The believer knows that Allah alone is the possessor of all power, and that none besides Him can benefit or harm a person, or provide for his need, or give and take away life, or wield authority or influence. This conviction makes him indifferent to, and independent and fearless of all powers other than those of God.
The faith that Prophet Muhammad r instilled in the hearts of his followers makes them virtuous and upright. Those who follow his call believe that there is no other means of success and salvation for them except purity of soul and righteousness of behaviour. They have perfect faith in God Who is above all need, is related to none, is absolutely Just, and none has any hand or influence in the exercise of His divine powers. This belief creates in them the consciousness that, unless they live rightly and act justly, they cannot succeed.
The article Man and His gods in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, tells of the Islamic revolution brought about by the Prophet Muhammad r as having “changed the course of human history.” The author, a Christian orientalist, has no choice but to acknowledge the unique, historic impact of Islam: “What Islam brought about was no less than the spiritual liberation of mankind. Without the burden of superstition and idol worship to weigh them down, people were able to advance in every walk of life.” Taking this great change into consideration, it is not exaggeration to say that this unlettered dweller of the desert of Arabia, who was born in the ‘dark ages’ more than 1400 years ago, was the real pioneer of the modern age and the true leader of humanity. He is not only the leader of those who accept his leadership but of those also who do not acclaim him as such: even of those who denounce him! The only difference being that the latter are unaware of the fact that his guidance is still imperceptibly influencing their thoughts and their actions and is the governing principle of their lives and the very spirit of the modern times.