… Allah will guide to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him. He will bring them by His will from darkness to the light, and will guide them to a straight path. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 16)

What makes a Muslim different from other people? Non-Muslims may answer this question in a number of ways; They may talk about cultural and moral differences, about "different outlooks on the world" or values which they deny outright. Alternatively, some may say the difference has its roots in the different ideologies which Muslims embrace. However, all these answers relate to "visible" differences that appear to be the consequences of a more fundamental one. Often, they fail to grasp the reasons underlying this difference. (In fact, if they are not Muslims, it is because they have failed to grasp this very difference.)

There is one point to be stressed before proceeding to explain the basic attribute that makes a Muslim different: When we talk about a "Muslim," we are not referring to someone whose ID card has the word "Muslim" written on it. Muslim is actually the name Allah gives to those who adhere to His religion. The basic attribute, referred to in the Qur'an, that distinguishes Muslims from other people is their being aware of Allah's infinite might. Awareness of Allah's infinite might does not in all cases mean affirmation of the existence of a Creator, however. The Qur'an underlines this fact as follows:

Say: "Who provides for you out of heaven and earth? Who controls hearing and sight? Who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living? Who ordains all things?" They will reply, "Allah." Say, "Then will you not fear Allah? Such is Allah, your Lord, the Truth, and what is there after truth except misguidance? How then can you turn away from Him?" (Surah Yunus: 31-32)

In the verse above, the questions are put to somebody who acknowledges the existence of Allah, accepts His attributes yet, despite all these attributes, has no fear of Allah and thus turns away from Him. (In fact, Satan does not reject the existence of Allah either.)

Grasping Allah's might is not only a matter of verbal confirmation. Believers are those who recognise Allah's existence and His greatness, "are steadfast in their duty" to Him and re-orient all their deeds and conduct in the light of this reality which has become apparent to them. Others, on the other hand, are either those who deny Allah, or, as in the case of the people depicted in the above verse, those who do not perform their duty to Allah, despite their awareness of His existence.

Throughout their lives, such people remain entirely oblivious of Allah, the Creator of man. To whom they owe their life and how and why they were granted a lifetime on earth are questions with which they do not care to concern themselves. They envision a kind of life entirely separate from Allah and His religion. However, the following comparison in the Qur'an makes it clear that such a life rests upon vain and rotten bases and is doomed to destruction:

Who is better: someone who founds his building on fear of Allah and His approval; or someone who founds his building on the brink of a crumbling precipice, so that it collapses with him into the Fire of Hell? Allah does not love wrongdoers. (Surat at Tawba: 109)

As the above verse also informs us, the lives of those who lack faith, as described in the Qur'an, are founded on the brink of a "crumbling precipice." The major goal to which unbelievers are committed is the attainment of happiness and peace "in this world." In this sense, what they most want is to become rich. They do their best to achieve this goal, making all-out physical and mental efforts. For others, on the other hand, becoming a respected and well-known person is the purpose of life; they will do anything and make any sacrifices to earn public respect. However, these are nothing but worldly goals that will vanish once death comes upon them. Some of them may even elude their grasp right here in this world.

A believer, however, is fully aware of Allah's existence and might. He knows why Allah has created him and what His expectations are of him. For this reason, his basic aim in life is to be a servant with whom Allah is pleased. He employs all means to try to reach his goal, and strives to do so. This being the case, he resolves the mystery of death: for many it means nothing but the ultimate end but for him, death is not extinction, but a phase of transition to the real life.

Disbelievers assume death, which they take to be an incident that puts an end to their lives, to be a "self-generated accident," just as they assume life to have emerged coincidentally and spontaneously. The fact is, however, that Allah creates life and likewise takes it away. Death, which is by no means a coincidence or an accident, is an incident that takes place by the law of Allah at a predestined moment and place.

A Muslim is a person who grasps that Allah has power over all things and that death is not an end but a transition to the real abode of man (the hereafter). Aware of these facts, he carefully avoids building his life on a "crumbling precipice." He turns to Allah, aware that He is the real Owner and Creator of life, death and what lies beyond. In this system created by Allah, he comprehends that wealth, social status or good looks are not the means that lead man to success; they are only "causes" operating under the rules laid down by Allah, which are effective for only a brief period of time.

The key to the system that Allah has created is the consent of Allah. That is because Allah guides only those who seek His approval.

…Allah will guide to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him. He will bring them by His will from darkness to the light, and will guide them to a straight path. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 16)

A Muslim is a Muslim because he seeks Allah's approval. This is the most important trait that makes a Muslim different from all other people. Muslims see religion as a way to earn Allah's approval, whereas the majority of people consider it to be a system of beliefs which occupies an insignificant portion of their lives.

Indeed, at this very point there emerges the distinction between real Muslims and those who imitate them (hypocrites). Muslims embrace religion as a path of guidance to the approval of Allah. For hypocrites, however, it is something from which they derive benefits. That is why a hypocrite's prayers are of a "pretentious" nature (Surat al-Ma'un: 6) while Muslims pray in humility (Surat al-Mu'minun: 1-2). Similarly, while Muslims spend their money in Allah's cause, hypocrites spend to impress people rather than to earn Allah's approval.

You who believe! Do not nullify your almsgiving by demands for gratitude or insulting words, like him who spends his wealth, showing off to people and not having faith in Allah and the Last Day. He is like a smooth rock coated with soil, which, when heavy rain falls on it, is left stripped bare. They shall have no power over anything they have earned. Allah does not guide the unbelievers. (Surat al-Baqara: 264)

Due striving for Allah's Approval

Man strives hard to attain worldly favours, on which he sets his mind as being the ultimate goal in life. He does his utmost to gain material prosperity, recognition of social status or some other worldly benefit. For "a paltry price" (Surat at-Tawba: 9) that will slip out of his hands in a very short while, he makes an all-out effort.

Muslims, who aspire to a much greater reward, that is, to the approval of Allah and His Garden, also strive hard for their cause. Of this attribute Allah says the following:

He who desires this fleeting existence shall soon receive in it whatever We will: We bestow Our gifts upon whoever We please. But then We will consign him to Hell where he will roast, reviled and helpless. But as for anyone who desires the hereafter, and strives for it as he ought to, being a believer, his endeavours will be gratefully acknowledged. (Surat al-Isra': 18-19)

A believer strives with "all due striving" for the approbation of Allah and for the hereafter. He "sells" his property and his life for the cause of Allah. In the Qur'an, this characteristic of believers is explained as follows:

Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their wealth in return for the Garden. They fight in the Way of Allah and they kill and are killed. It is a promise binding on Him in the Torah, the Injil and the Qur'an and who is truer to his contract than Allah? Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. That is the great victory. (Surat at-Tawba: 111)

No difficulty a believer encounters in the way of Allah thwarts his commitment, provided that he has sold "his property and self" to Allah. Nothing but Allah's approbation has any attraction for him. Aware that he is not the "owner" of his body and property, he never follows the vain desires of the self (nafs). Allah is the owner of his body and everything he owns, and they will be put to service in compliance with Allah's Will.

This aside, whether one's determination is serious will also be tested by Allah. A believer must not avoid any struggle on Allah's path. That is because had been there any question of "easy gains," hypocrites might also perform any deed which has the appearance of being in compliance with Allah's Will-and not the actual deed with which Allah will be pleased-to attain this "easy gain":

If it had been a case of easy gains and a short journey, they would have followed you, but the distance was too great for them. They will swear by Allah: "Had we been able to, we would have gone out with you." They are destroying their own selves. Allah knows that they are lying. (Surat at-Tawba: 42)

Therefore, the only criterion for being a believer is to feel a sincere desire to seek Allah's approval and not to refrain from making any sacrifices on the way of Allah when circumstances call for such sacrifices. Believers are those who are "purified with a pure thought, remembrance of the Home (of the Hereafter)" (Surah Sad: 46). A believer does not seek any benefit other than Allah's approbation. He hopes to please Allah, have His mercy and attain Paradise, because "anyone, male or female, who does right actions and is a believer, will enter Paradise. They will not be wronged by so much as the tiniest speck." (Surat an-Nisa': 124)

As we have seen, the Qur'an provides an explicit picture of a believer. Paradise is the abode of those who "believe with certainty" in Allah and the hereafter (Surah Luqman: 4) and then "strive with all due striving" in the way of Allah. The end of those who "worship Allah right on the fringe of true faith" and place their trivial worldly interests right next to the pleasure of Allah is described thus in the Qur'an:

Among the people there are some who profess to serve Allah but who stand on the very fringe of good faith. If good befalls them, they are content, but if an ordeal befalls them, they revert to their former ways, losing both this world and the hereafter. That way true perdition lies. (Surat al-Hajj: 11)

Believers are covetous of the hereafter. Allah promises believers a beautiful endless life in the hereafter. Our Lord promises believers that He will give a good life to His believing servants in this world, too. Yet this in no way means that they will not encounter any hardship and troubles in this world. The afflictions they encounter are devised to put them to the test and make them more mature.

The obstacles a believer encounters are ostensibly difficult situations; but once met with submission, Allah relieves him of all difficulties. For instance, when his people attempted to cast the Prophet Ibrahim (as) into the fire because of his faith, his response was the one peculiar to a Muslim; he favoured being thrown into the fire over turning away from his faith or Allah's commands. Being cast into a fire is the most terrible physical suffering that might befall any human being in this world. However, Ibrahim (as), who faced this trial from Allah in the most submissive manner, was saved from this seemingly trying experience by the Will of Allah, and no harm came to him.

He said, "Do you then worship, instead of Allah, what cannot help or harm you in any way? Shame on you and what you worship besides Allah! Will you not use your intellect?" They said, "Burn him and avenge your gods if you are resolved to punish him!" We said, "Fire, be coolness and peace for Ibrahim!" They sought to trap him but We made them the losers. (Surat al-Anbiya': 66-70)

The fact that no harm will befall those who are not afraid to lose anything as they strive for the cause of Allah and that they will attain many material and spiritual rewards are underlined in the Qur'an in a passage which extols the faith of believers even when on the brink of defeat in battle:

People said, "Your enemies have gathered a great force against you, so fear them." But that merely increased their faith and they said, "Allah is enough for us and the Best of Guardians." So they returned with blessings and bounty from Allah and no evil touched them. They pursued the pleasure of Allah. Allah's favour is indeed immense. It is Satan that prompts men to fear his followers. But do not fear them-fear Me if you are true believers. Do not lament for those who rush headlong into renouncing their faith. They do not harm Allah in any way. Allah intends to assign no portion to them in the hereafter. They will have a terrible punishment. Those who sell their faith for unbelief do not harm Allah in any way. They will have a painful punishment. (Surah Al 'Imran: 173-177)

Conclusively, no distress, difficulty or sorrow affect a believer who seeks Allah's consent and observes His commands. This is demonstrated in the course of events by which Allah puts a believer's determination, patience and submission to the test. These are outwardly troublesome and difficult events; but if met with patience and submission they allow the individual to discover Allah's mercy. This aside, Allah informs us in the Qur'an that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear:

Allah does not impose on any self any more than it can stand. (Surat al-Baqara: 286)

Allah does not punish a believer who duly serves Him, neither in this world nor in the hereafter. On the contrary, He rewards him most bountifully both in this world and beyond:

When the righteous are asked, "What has your Lord sent down?" their reply is, "That which is best." There is good in the world for those who do good, but far better is the reward of the life to come. How wonderful is the abode of the righteous: The Gardens of Eden which they enter, with rivers flowing under them, where they shall have whatever they desire. That is how Allah repays the righteous. (Surat an-Nahl: 30-31)

As a reminder from Allah, torment, difficulty and trouble are inflicted on those who fail to seek the approval of Allah, who do not demonstrate absolute submission to Him but rather observe the wishes of their own souls. When believers make a mistake, they consider the trouble and difficulties they suffer as a consequence as a merciful warning from Allah, carefully derive lessons from them, repent and amend their conduct. Disbelievers, however, never learn from the ordeals they undergo, thereby deserving eternal torment in the hereafter.

Knowing One's Soul

Another very important piece of information the Qur'an gives us about man concerns his "soul" (an-nafs). The "soul," as commonly used in the Qur'an, means "ego" or "one's personality."

In the Qur'an, Allah explains the two aspects of soul: the one inspiring evil and wicked deeds, and the other, guarding against every inculcation of evil. The Qur'an explains this in Surat ash-Shams:

By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly, he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it! (Surat ash-Shams: 7-10)

As is evident from the above verses, evil exists in every man's soul. However, he who purifies his soul will attain salvation. Believers do not surrender their selves to the evil in their soul; they simply avoid it with the guidance of Allah's inspiration. As the Prophet Yusuf (as) said: "Not that I am free from sin: man's soul is prone to evil-except his to whom my Lord has shown mercy…" (Surah Yusuf: 53), provides the right manner of thinking for a believer.

Since the soul "is prone to evil," a believer must always remain vigilant about his soul. As the Prophet Muhammad (saas) also said, "the greatest struggle is the struggle against one's self (nafs)." The soul unceasingly tempts a person and never earns him Allah's approval. As it does all these things it tries to present alluring alternatives. A believer, however, thanks to his fear of Allah, is not deceived by this "misleading" attribute of the soul. He always turns towards what is right to lead a life in compliance with Allah's Will. Such is the attitude of a wise person as opposed to a foolish one, as the Prophet (saas) said:

A wise person is one who keeps a watch over his bodily desires and passions, and checks himself from that which is harmful and strives for that which will benefit him after death; and a foolish person is one who subordinates himself to his cravings and desires and expects from Allah the fulfilment of his futile desires. (Tirmidhi)

Refraining From Idolatry

Very briefly, idolatry is associating other beings with Allah. Seeing this definition, some people may raise the objection, "We already do not associate a partner with Allah," although it may actually be the case that they do. Their failure to grasp the meaning of idolatry accounts for such an objection. Indeed, the Qur'an relates the case of many people who associate partners with Allah-that is, who are idolaters--yet who never accept this situation:

On the Day We gather them all together, We will say to those who associated others with Allah, "Where are the partner-gods, for whom you made such claims?" Then they will have no recourse except to say, "By Allah, our Lord, We were not idolaters." (Surat al-An'am: 22-23)

No one must take it for granted that he is totally free from idolatry, but must always pray Allah to keep him from it. That is because idolatry is a great sin. When the Prophet (saas) was asked what the greatest sin was, he answered "To associate partners with Allah, while He has created you." In the Qur'an, Allah states that He may forgive all sins and crimes, except for idolatry:

Allah does not forgive anything being associated with Him, but He forgives whoever He wills for anything other than that. Anyone who associates something with Allah has committed a terrible crime. (Surat an-Nisa': 48)

The initial point of idolatry, which is such a great "sin and slander," is ascribing the attributes of Allah to some other being in one's mind. The fact, however, is that, the attributes (power, intelligence, beauty and so on) which we ascribe to other beings do not actually belong to them; they are endowed with them by Allah for a temporary and specified period of time. Assuming these attributes to "belong" to beings other than Allah simply means taking them as gods. This, in turn, is defined as associating the beings in question as partners with Allah, in other words, setting up partners with Allah.

Regarding Allah's oneness and uniqueness, the Qur'an says the following:

Say: "He is Allah, Absolute Oneness, Allah, the Everlasting Sustainer of all. He has not given birth and was not born. And no one is comparable to Him." (Surat al-Ikhlas: 1-4)

As stated in the verse above, Allah is the Provider of everyone; every being is in need of Him to exist. Nothing equals Him. Once this fact is denied and people start thinking that some beings can exist of their own accord without Allah's sustenance, idolatry surfaces. With such a mindset, one forgets that every living thing is under the control of Allah. A false belief about the existence of some beings who do not need Allah emerges. The assumption that such beings can exist leads man to ask them for help, seek their consent and adopt their rules.

However, believers who do not associate partners with Allah turn towards only Him since they know that Allah has power over all things. The rationale of believers is stated in the Qur'an as follows:

You alone we worship. You alone we ask for help. (Surat al-Fatiha: 4)

Those who associate partners with Allah in fact turn towards beings that are not capable of helping them. That is because the beings they take as deities are also feeble servants like themselves. Of this Allah states the following:

Do they make things into partner-gods which cannot create anything and are themselves created; which are not capable of helping them and cannot even help themselves? If you call them to the right path, they will not follow you. It makes no difference if you call them or stay silent. Those you call on besides Allah are servants just like yourselves. Call on them and let them respond to you if you are telling the truth. (Surat al-A'raf: 191-194)

Consequently, idolatry is a great slander, a great deception and a very unwise attitude. The unwise conduct of those who associate partners with Allah is described in the Qur'an as follows:

Mankind! An example has been made, so listen to it carefully. Those whom you call upon besides Allah are not even able to create a single fly, even if they were to join together to do it. And if a fly steals something from them, they cannot get it back. How feeble are both the seeker and the sought! They do not measure Allah with His true measure. Allah is All-Strong, Almighty. (Surat al-Hajj: 73-74)

Idolatry appears in different forms. Since people take beings other than Allah as deities, they seek their approval. People pin their hopes on these deities and accept their judgements as true. This is how a man becomes subservient to millions of imaginary deities. He hopes to find relief in these beings, who are as impotent as himself. However, one who associates partners with Allah is at an impasse and his loss is, therefore, very great. This fact is related in the Qur'an as follows:

... Associating others with Him is a terrible wrong. (Surah Luqman: 13)

Yet it must be said that such a man wrongs himself. That is because "Allah does not wrong people in any way; rather it is people who wrong themselves." (Surah Yunus: 44)



The Purpose of a Believer's Life: The Approval of Allah
Seeking the Most of the Good Pleasure of Allah
Life in the Society of Ignorance
The Eternal Abode of Those who have Taken Deities other than Allah: Hell
The Eternal Abode of Those who seek only the Approval of Allah: Paradise

This site is based on the works of Harun Yahya.
© 2004 Harun Yahya International.