To understand what religion is and what is its role
in the life of men, we should first of all know its definition.
Religion may briefly be defined as under:
Religion (din) is an all-round movement in
the light of faith in Allah and a sense of responsibility for the formation
of thought and belief, for the promotion of high principles of human morality
for the establishment of good relations among members of the society and
the elimination of every sort of undue discrimination.
Keeping in view this definition, our need for religion
and religious teachings is absolutely clear. To be a little more elaborate,
it may be said that we require religion for the following reasons:
1. Sanction for the Principles of Morality
Religion provides a sanction for the principles of
morality like justice, honesty, righteousness, brotherhood, equality, virtuousness,
tolerance, sacrifice, help to the needy and other kindred virtues. These
are the virtues without which, not only our life will lose its order and
normalcy but it is very likely to be turned into a chaos. Of course, it
is possible to acquire these moral and social qualities without the aid
of religion. But certainly in the absence of firm religious belief, these
values appear to lose their meaning and become a series of mere unbinding
recommendations, because in such a case they do not amount to more than
a piece of advice from a close friend in respect of which we are at full
liberty to accept or reject.
These qualities are rather based on an internal feeling
and faith and are naturally beyond the scope of ordinary law.
It is only faith in the existence of an Eternal Being,
who knows man equally from within and without and who has full control
over him, that cultivates these virtues within man and impels him to automatic
righteousness and adherence to duty, and if need be, to make sacrifices
for the sake of others.
The well-known philosopher-cum-historian, Will Durant
says in his book, 'Pleasures of Philosophy' that, without the backing of
religion, morality is nothing more than arithmomancy, as without it, the
sense of obligation disappears.
2. Power to Endure Adversities of Life
Religion provides power for facing adversities and
serves as a bulwark against undesirable reactions of despair and hopelessness.
A religious man, with firm belief in Allah, and of
His munificence, does not find himself in utter desperation even in the
worst moments of his life, because he knows well hat e is under the protection
of a Being who is Almighty. With faith in the fact that every problem can
be solved and every deadlock can be resolved with His help, he can overcome
every disappointment and hopelessness.
For this very reason, it very seldom happens that
a truly religious man suffers from the acute reactions of desperation like
suicide, nervous breakdown or psychic ailments which are products of frustration
The Holy Quran says:
"Surely those who are close to Allah, have no fear
nor shall they grieve." (Surah Younus, 10:62)
Imam Ja'far Sadiq (A) says: "A true believer can never
Thus, religious faith is, on the one hand, a motivating
force, and on the other, it is a factor which enables man to face hardships
with courage and saves him from the ill effects of failure and disappointment.
Following the downfall of the Nazis, says Bertrand
Russell says there existed a danger of intellectual and ideological revolt
in Germany, but no doubt, religion has been one of the biggest factors
in that country's return to stability.
According to Dr. Durant, behavior of a man who is
not blessed with reliance on religion suffers from special epicurean confusion,
and the life which has not the comforting support of religion, is an unbearable
3. Encounter with Ideological Vacuum
Man cannot live in an ideological vacuum for long
and as such his tendency towards a wrong ideology and false values becomes
definite. His intellectual life is not filled with sound beliefs and healthy
teachings. A superstitious and even destructive ideas may find way into
his spiritual firmament and may for ever pollute his brain. Instances of
man's tendency towards idolatry, man worship, diverse superstitions and
credulity regarding the influence of irrational things over destiny, can
be witnessed even in the lives of world intellectuals. All this originates
from spiritual vacuum. It is religion which can fill the ideological and
intellectual vacuum with sound teachings and can save one from a tendency
towards absurdities and irrationalities.
Hence, true understanding of religion can play an
important role in combating superstitions, though it is true that even
religion itself, if not understood correctly, may promote superstitions.
4. An Aid to the Progress of Science and Knowledge
Religion with its firm and sound teachings can be
an effective factor in scientific progress, because its foundation has
been laid on the solid bed-rock of "freedom of will" and on the fact that
everybody is accountable for his own deeds.
The Holy Quran says : "Everyone is entangled in the
outcome of his deeds." (Surah al-Muddath-thir 74:38)
Faith in religion teaches that limitless knowledge
is the source of this cosmos, which is like a very grand book penned by
an erudite scholar. Every page of it, nay every line and every word of
it, contains a glaring truth which stimulates us to further study and contemplation.
This attitude towards the cosmos undoubtedly stimulates
persistent thinking over the mechanism of creation and consequently, helps
in the advancement of science and knowledge.
In contrast, if we hold that this universe is the
product of sheer mechanical factors having no intellect, there remains
no plausible reason why we should make strenuous efforts to discover its
secrets. In principle, a universe which is the outcome of the working of
an unconscious machinery, can neither be well-designed nor mysterious.
Apart from giving a deadly blow to the advancement
of science and knowledge, such conception of cosmos negates the very fact
that man's instinct is basically rooted in religion. Albert Einstein was
very true when he pointed out why great thinkers and discoverers are all
interested in religion. He said that it was hard to find anyone among the
great thinking brains of the world who might not have a sort of religious
feeling peculiar to him. That feeling was different from the religion of
the man in the street.
It has the form of a delightful wonder at the marvelously
accurate system of the universe, which from time to time, unveils secrets
in comparison with which all organized human thinking and research are
rather weak and stale. This feeling illuminates the path of the life and
efforts of a scientist and as he gains success and honor, it keeps him
free from the deadweight of selfishness and pride.
What a belief in the system of the universe and what a fascinating desire it was, he adds, that enabled Kepler and Newton to suffer for years in isolation and in complete silence in order to simplify and explain the laws of gravitation and planetary motion! No doubt, it is this very religious feeling that enabled the self-sacrificing and self-effacing men through long centuries, in spite of their apparent defeats and failures, to rise on their feet again and make fresh efforts.
(The world as I see)
The contemporary scientist, Abernethy, says that science
for its own perfection should regard faith in God as one of its accepted
principles. Thus a religious man, following the true teachings of religion,
can more than anybody else, carry out research and discover the secrets
Fight Against Discrimination
Religion strongly opposes every discrimination based
on color, race or class, because it regards all human beings as God's creatures
and every country as God's country. According to it, all enjoy God's love
and kindness equally and as such, all are equal.
According to the teachings of Islam, no man can be
superior to another man on the basis of his color, race, descent, language
Islam recognizes only piety and knowledge as the touch-stones
of superiority .Allah says: "Man, we have created you from a male and a
female, and we have divided you into nations and tribes, so that you may
get to know one another. Surely the most honorable of you in the sight
of Allah is he who is most pious."(Surah al- Hujurat, 49 :13)
Thus the role of religion in a world that has not
yet been able even to solve the color problem, the question of class apart,
is quite clear.
Anyhow, it cannot be denied that every kind of religious
thought or belief cannot produce the de-sired results.
Like every other intellectual movement, religion also
requires correct guidance. Otherwise it assumes the form of superstition,
monasticism, escape from positive life and pseudo-agnostic negative tendencies,
the examples of which can even now be seen in the West, where people have
become fed up with a mechanical life. It is only in such an atmosphere
that for want of correct knowledge, religion is regarded as an obstructive
Roots of Religious Sense
Man has been familiar with religion for such a long
time that it covers the entire recorded history of human life and goes
back into the depths of pre-historic times.
The Holy Quran has described religion as man's innate
nature and Allah's established order. It says : Islam is in harmony with
nature which Allah has designed for man. ( Surah al -Rum,30 : 30)
Research carried out by sociologists and historians
shows that places of worship, either in their simple or elaborate and complex
form, have always had an influence on human life, and religion in its various
shapes has been interwoven with its history .
Dr. Durant, after a comparatively detailed discussion
of atheism of certain people writes that despite all that he has mentioned,
these are exceptional cases, and the old notion that "religion" is a phenomenon
that generally extends to all human beings, is true. The question of religion
in the view of a philosopher is one of the basic questions of history and
He adds that, from time immemorial, religion has always
gone hand in hand with human history. The idea of piety can never be removed
from human heart. (History of Civilization vol .1, pp. 88- 89)
From a psychological point of view, this time honored
relationship between man and religion proves that religious feeling is
one of the basic human instincts natural elements of the human soul.
It is obvious, that at a time, when the level of human
thinking was low and the sciences had not made any remarkable progress,
this internal feeling was in an incredible way mixed with superstition,
but gradually with the progress of sciences on the one hand ,and persistent
efforts and teachings of the prophets on the other, it was purified of
adulterations and it regained its purity and originality.
Anti-Religious Waves During the Past Centuries
In these circumstances it looks a little surprising
that during the past centuries, especially from 16th Century onward, a
violent anti-religious wave has hit the Western countries and many of the
liberal minded Europeans have dissociated themselves from the Church. Those
who wanted to remain loyal to religion turned to some Eastern religions
or to a sort of gnosticism minus religion, while a large number of people
were attracted by materialism and the like.
But an inquiry into the roots of this subject indicates
that in the special circumstances prevailing Europe, this phenomenon was
Factors leading to anti-religious movements and tendency
to materialism in Europe should be looked for in the perspective of the
policy which the Church pursued with regard to the Renaissance and progress
of natural sciences in various fields.
When the Church in the middle ages, especially during
the 13th to15th centuries started a campaign against science which continued
even to the 16th and l7th centuries and attempted to crush scientific movements
through Inquisition, issued a papal decree to condemn science dragged people
like Galileo to persecution and forced them to deny the motion of the earth.
It is obvious what the reaction of the scientists to such teachings could
be. They, being at the cross roads of sciences and religion (of course
religion as it was understood at that time and in that environment), naturally
went for science, the firm basis of which they had personally observed
Mistake in analogy and incorrect comparison of other
religions to the special position of the Churches in the middle ages induced
certain scientists to start a campaign against all religions and to reject
them formally. They went to the extent of innovating a doctrine known as
discord between religion and science'.
But the study of scientific movement in Islam, which
started from the very first century and bore fruit in the second and third
centuries of the Hegira era, shows that in Muslim society the case was
quite different. This movement soon gave birth to the scientists like Hasan
lbn Haitham, the well-known Muslim Physicist, Jabir lbn Hayyan. whom the
Europeans call Father of Chemistry, and tens of others like them. Their
books exercised considerable influence over the Scientists like Roger Bacon,
Johann Kepler and Leonardo da vinci. It is interesting that all this scientific
progress took place in the middle ages and coincided with the Church's
violent opposition to the Renaissance and the standard-bearers of the new
All historians in the East and the West, who have
dealt with Islamic culture, are unanimously of the view that it gave rise
to a wide-spread scientific movement whose influence over the Renaissance
and the scientific movement of Europe was remarkable.
Thus the factors which induced the liberal-minded
in the West to dissociate themselves from religion, did not exist in the
case of Islam. On the contrary, there were factors which worked in the
In short Islamic movement had a special connection
with World scientific movements, and for this very reason was the fountain-head
of the vast development of sciences and knowledge.
However it cannot be denied that disputes and dissensions
among a section of Muslim people which in intensity from the fifth century
(Hijra) onward, short-sightedness, non-realization of true teachings of
Islam, apathy to progress and indifference to the spirit of the time, resulted
in the backwardness of many Muslim countries.
Another factor which complicated the problem was that
Islam in the real sense was not introduced to the younger generation. Thus
the constructive role of Islam in various fields gradually diminished.
Now the position is that many young men think that Islam has always been
in this present dismal state.
Any how, it is certain that with the revival of Islamic
teachings and their correct introduction, especially to the younger generation,
it is still possible to revive the spirit of early Islamic movement.
Religion and Philosophical Schools of Thought
All forms of religion censure every kind of materialism,
whether it be in its simple shape or in the garb of dialectic materialism,
which forms the basis of Marxism and Communism, because materialism maintains
that this, universe is merely a set of undesigned and aimless happenings.
Religion. in censuring materialism, relies on a number
of principles which are absolutely logical, because :
The interpretation of the order of the universe advanced
by materialistic schools is unscientific, for science in the course of
its research, talks of well calculated and precise systems, which cannot
be interpreted by accidental and chance happenings.
Science acknowledges that the maker of this machine
of the universe is the greatest physicist and chemist, most expert physician
and the best anthropologist and cosmologist, because while performing his
job, he visualized all scientific laws. Naturally he could not do so without
having complete knowledge of them. It goes without saying that natural
factors and natural developments can have no such knowledge at all.
Materialism has accepted the doctrine of compulsion
as one of its basic principles. It holds that every human action and every
movement is the result of a sequence of compulsory causes. On, this basis,
according to the materialistic point of view, all the efforts of man are
like the movements of the wheels of a machine. It is obvious that the acceptance
of this view goes against the idea of every social, moral or human responsibility.
In contrast, religion accepts the principle of obligation
and responsibility and thus lays the foundation of its teachings on the
freedom of human will.
It cannot be contradicted that the acceptance of the
principle of compulsion gives a hard blow to dynamism and the sense of
duty and responsibility. It also directly contributes to the expansion
of crimes and aggressions, because the offenders can plead that they are
not responsible for the crimes committed by them, for they were forced
by the compulsion of environment, time and the way they were brought up.
But there is no possibility of such evil effects if the principle of free
will is accepted.
With the acceptance of the domination of matter over
all affairs of human life and the restriction of value only to the material
values, the materialists have practically ousted moral values. They hold,
that only material interests prevail over all social and international
interests. The effect of this way of thinking is obvious for without adherence
to such principles as philanthropy, tolerance, sacrifice, sincerity and
love, no problems at world level can be solved. Belief in exclusive domination
of matter obviously not compatible with these principles.
Religion and Individual Freedom
Some people think that religion restricts individual
freedom and disallows the fulfillment of some desires, whereas, in fact,
the aim of religious teaching is not at all to put an end to logical freedom.
Its aim is only to stop wastage of human energies and assets and to prevent
their flow into improper and worthless channels.
For example, if religion forbids the use of intoxicants,
gambling and improper indulgence in sex, does so for the safety of the
body and soul of the individual and for the maintenance of social order.
This moral control is in keeping with the real spirit
of freedom, for freedom means only that man should be able to take full
advantage of the assets of existence to help in the evolution of the individual
and the society. It does not at all mean squandering God-given energies
and indulging in immoderation and libertinism.
Religion supports every kind of freedom that carries
man forward towards evolution in various fields. Only this, is what freedom,
in the real sense, means. Anything else is libertinism.
That is why religion allows man to use all good things
in life, to wear any reasonable dress, to relish any good food and to take
part in any healthy pastime. In short, it has allowed the use of all comforts
and conveniences of life, and does not ask anyone to give up any such things.
The Holy Quran says: "Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful things of Allah
which He has produced for His servants and the pure food ?"
Moreover, our religion calls upon us never to forget
the exigencies and requirements of time and to keep ourselves well-informed
about the latest developments in medicine, technology and industry.
The leader of Islam, Imam Sadiq (A) has said: "He
who knows his time and its requirements, shall not be taken unaware by
the dark events of life."
Our religion tells us that out of the new ideas, customs
and usages we should choose what is useful and worthy and should discard
what is improper and wrong. We must not follow others blindly and must
not adopt anything that is not compatible with human dignity and the spirit
of independent thinking.
The Holy Quran says, "Give glad tidings to my servants
who listen to what is said and follow the best thereof. They are those
whom Allah has guided and those who have good sense."