Men of Faith vs. Men of World?

Ancient religions, especially Christianity, had divided life into two watertight compartments- temporal and spiritual- and the world into “men of the world” and “men of faith” which were not only seperate, but perpetually at war with each other. According to them, there was an intense rivalry between faith and the material world, and whoever chose one was compelled to give up the other and fight against it. No one, they asserted, could be both at the same time. Economic progress was not possible without the neglect of God-given laws, and power and rule could not be gained without giving up moral and religious precepts. In the same way, it was totally out of the question to think of piety and religiosness without renouncing the world and becoming a hermit.

Man, by nature, is easy going and any faith which frowned upon legitimate material pleasures and left no scope for worldly advancement or acquisition of power could never be acceptable to him. It was like waging war against his own personality and trying to crush his innate desires and emotions. The result was that a large number of intelligent and civilised men opted for the material world instead of faith and felt greatly satisfied with the decision. Having despaired of every kind of spiritual advancement, they directed their energies single-mindedly towards the pursuit of worldly aims and interests. Believing the contradiction between the material world and religion to be fundamental, different classes of men and institutions, by and large, said goodbye to faith. The State revolted against the Church and declared itself independant of its control. Thus, the government became power-drunk and society became wayward and perverse. The duality between the body and the soul and the rivalry between the “men of religion” and “men of the world” not only weakened faith and morality and deprived the society of Divine favour, but also ushered in atheism. Europe was the first to fall prey to crude materialism, and to a greater or lesser extent, the other communities that came under the political, economic and intellecual influence of the West were also affected. The zealous and preachers of Christian asceticism, according to whom nothing offered a greater hindrance to spiritual evolution than the state of being human, did the rest. They presented religion in a most revolting manner, and, in the name of it, sanctioned excesses. Consequently, there was a decline in moral and spiritual values and the world became ungodly and morally chaotic.

The priceless gift of the Apostleship of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is the proclamation that deeds and morals of a man are, in truth, dependant upon intentions (Niyah, see footnote 1). According to Islam, neither religion nor the material world are absolute and independant. Even the greatest of worldly acts like government and warfare, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures and the earning of livelihood and leading a happy family life can become sources of gaining the approval of God and attaining the highest grades of devoutness and spirituality. On the other hand, worship and acts of religion that are devoid of the aim of the approval of the Lord and are carried out with attitude of negligence and indifference towards His commandments (as much as obligatory prayers and fundamental tenants of Islam like Hijrah, Jihad, sacrifice and remembrance of God) will be seen as purely worldly and undeserving of Divine recompense and reward, in fact, such a deed will, sometimes, be the cause of punishment and alienation from the Lord.

The sacred Prophet removed the dualism of faith and material world and brought them together after centuries of mutual discord and distrust. He led mankind out of war with itself and made it do good, teaching it the comprehensive and revolutionary prayer, Our Lord give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and defend us from the torment of the Fire (QURAN 2:201). By declariing, Verily, my prayer and my sacrifiice, and my life, and my death are for God, the Lord of the Worlds (QURAN 6:162), he established beyond doubt that the life of a truthful Believer was not a collection of so many different mutually opposed units but a single unit of surrender and servitude. Here you will find dervishes in the garb of the world, ascetics in the robes of royalty and soldiers who are devotess by night and horsemen by day.


Taken from: Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, The Glory of Iqbal, pg 181-183


[1] Even the opening words of the tradition, which Bukhari has placed at the head of his compilation, are: “Behold, the actions are (but) judged according to the intentions; and, behold, unto every man is due what he intended.” According to many authorities, it comprises one third of Islam.

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