The following series of questions and answers are based on the work of Mufti Taqi Usmani and taken from his book ‘اسلام اور دور ا حاضر کے شبھات و مغالطے’ – Islam and doubts and misconceptions of the modern age. These have not been translated exactly and have been stated in my own words. The target audience are the Muslims but non-Muslims may also benefit from these.
What is the religion of Islam? Is Islam only the name of ritual worship?
Most of us have heard the story of a few blind men coming across an elephant for the first time. Since they were devoid of eyesight, they all felt the elephant with their hands to inspect it. Therefore, one of them felt the elephant’s trunk, one felt the ear, and one felt a leg and so on. When asked to describe the elephant, they all described it differently; one of them described it as a bent and flexible rubber, other said that it was big and tall and another said that it was neither like these two but like a big leaf. In short, whichever part they felt, they took it as the whole elephant and described it accordingly.
Since a while, we have been treating Islam the way these blind men treated the elephant. Islam is a complete Deen, the teachings and guidance of which can broadly be divided into six big categories of beliefs (aqaaid), worship (ibadaat), dealings (mu’amlaat), society, politics and behavior/character (ikhlaaq). The teachings of Islam pertain to all six of these and Islam is not complete without any of these. Some people have limited Islam to Aqaaid and Ibadaat while ignoring the other major aspects of the religion while some have looked at the teachings pertaining to mu’amlaat and have stated that Islam, in reality, is the name of a welfare society and all other aspects are subservient to it or take a secondary role.
The biggest misconception around is that religion is only Aqaaid and Ibadaat and is not related to other matters of life. Three points have largely contributed towards the spread of this misconception. First was the control of non-Muslim powers over the Muslim world which limited the role of religion and took it out of offices, markets, mutual concerns of society etc. by limiting it to Masajid and on occasions, religious schools. When the implementation of Islam was not seen in other places, gradually it started to get accepted that Islam is merely the name of beliefs and worship.
Second reason, or rather source, is that secular mindset which was, and is, spread through the education system. According to this mindset, religion is merely the private matter of an individual and involving it into society, politics, economics etc. is equivalent only to taking the society backwards.
Third reason is self-created. Many people gave so much importance to the beliefs and worship aspects of the religion that they either forsook the other aspects or did not give sufficient importance to them.
Anyhow, from these three reasons we find that matters pertaining to dealings, society and politics took such a low turn that knowledge of these became really scarce so much so that they hardly constitute a part of religion in most understandings of Islam. There is no doubt that Aqaaid and Ibadaat are the central core of Islam. Diminishing their importance in the slightest bit is equivalent to destroying the correct portrayal of Islam. From what have been described as five pillars of Islam, one of them pertains to Aqeedah and four relate to Ibadaat. Those who do not give these two their proper recognition and consider character, society and dealings to be the entire base of religion steal the real beauty of religion and try to limit it.
A duty of a Muslim does not end with prayers and fasts. The Prophet (ﷺ) had said:
الإِيمَانُ بِضْعٌ وَسَبْعُونَ أَوْ بِضْعٌ وَسِتُّونَ شُعْبَةً فَأَفْضَلُهَا قَوْلُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَأَدْنَاهَا إِمَاطَةُ الأَذَى عَنِ الطَّرِيقِ
Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allah, and the humblest of which is the, removal of what is injurious from the path.
The matters pertaining to dealings, society and character carry a serious weight in this regard that they pertain to Huqooq al-Ibaad (rights towards mankind) and it is a teaching of Islam that Allah can forgive sins committed towards Him if repentance is sought but will not forgive sins committed towards His creation only through repentance towards Him. Sins towards mankind are forgiven by Allah if the one being sinned against is given his right or he forgives the sinner. Therefore, we learn that these areas of the religion also carry a special attention.
Then from among dealings, society and character, the aspect that is most ignored is the society. The sins and evils in the society are of such significance and quantity that they have surrounded everyone to a considerable extent. Even many educated people and people committed to the religion are not fully aware of these evils and many are so far away from this aspect of the religion that they do not even consider societal ills as sins.
Indeed, Allah knows the best.
 Saheeh Muslim, book 1, Hadith 60