These are some of the distinct features of Islam, which make it necessary for modern man to seek his salvation through this ideology:
First, it must be well understood that Islam is not a mere ideological vision. It is a practical system of life that fully appreciates all the genuine needs of humankind and tries to realize them.
Second, in trying to meet the genuine requirements of man, Islam effects perfect balance between all areas of life and activity. It starts with the individual maintaining a balance between the requirements of body and soul, reason and spirit and in no case allows one side to dominate the other. It does not suppress the human instincts in order to make the soul ascend the higher planes, nor does it allow man, in his efforts to fulfill his bodily desires, to stoop down to the low level of animalism and hedonism. On the contrary, it makes them both meet on a single higher plane, doing away with all the internal psychological conflicts that threaten the human soul or set a part of it against the other parts.
In the social sphere, it proceeds to achieve equilibrium between the needs of the individual and those of the community. It does not allow an individual to transgress against other individuals, or against the community. Nor does it allow the community to commit transgression against individuals. It also does not approve of one class or group of people to enslave another class or group of people. Islam exercises a beneficent constraint on all these mutually opposed forces, prevents them from coming into collision with one another, and harnesses them all to co-operate for the general good of humankind as a whole.
Thus, Islam strikes a balance between different sectors of society and between different aspects of existence, spiritual as well as material. Unlike Communism, it does not believe that economic factors, i.e. the material aspect alone, dominate human existence. Nor does it contribute to what the pure spiritualists or idealists say, claiming that spiritual factors or high ideals alone are sufficient to organize human life. Rather, Islam holds that all these diverse elements put together, form what is called human society; and that the best code of life is that which takes note of all these, making full allowance for body as well as reason and spirit, arranging them all in the framework of a harmonious whole.
Third, it must always be kept in mind that Islam has an altogether independent existence of its own as a social philosophy and an economic system. Some of its outward manifestations may on the surface appear to resemble those of Capitalism or Socialism, but in fact, it is far from being the one or the other. It retains all the good characteristics of these systems, yet is free from their shortcomings and perversions. It does not extol individualism to that loathful extent which is the characteristic of the modern West. It was from this germ that modern Capitalism sprang and institutionalized that concept of individual freedom, where man is allowed to exploit other individuals and the community only to serve his personal gain. Islam guarantees personal freedom and provides opportunities for individual enterprise, but not at the cost of society or ideals of social justice.
The reaction to Capitalism has appeared in the form of Socialism. It idolizes the social basis to an extent that the individual is reduced to an insignificant part of the social machine with no existence of his own. Therefore, the community alone enjoys freedom as well as power, the individual has no right to question its authority or demand his rights. The tragedy of Socialism and its variants is that they assign to the State absolute powers to shape the lives of the individuals.
Islam strikes a balance between the two extremes of Capitalism and Socialism. Being appreciative of their role, Islam harmonizes the individuals and the State in such a way that individuals have the freedom necessary to develop their potentialities and not to encroach upon the rights of their fellowmen. It also gives the community and the State adequate powers to regulate and control the socio-economic relationships to guard and maintain this harmony in human life. The basis of this whole structure as visualized by Islam is the reciprocity of love between individuals and groups; it is not erected on the basis of hatred and class conflict, as is the case with Socialism.
It may also be pointed out here that this unique system of life as visualized by Islam, did not originate as a result of any economic pressure, nor was it an outcome of some mutually conflicting interests of antagonistic groups of people. It was revealed to the world as the ordained system of life, at a time when men attached no particular importance to economic factors, nor did they know anything about social justice in the sense we know it in modern times. Both Socialism and Capitalism are much later developments. Islam presented its scheme of social reform much before any of the social movements of our times. It guaranteed the basic needs of man – food, housing and sexual satisfaction – more than 1400 years ago. The Noble Prophet (may Allah exalt his mention) said: ‘Whosoever acts as a public officer for us (i.e. the Islamic State) and has no wife, he shall have a wife; if he has no house, he shall be given a house to live in; if he has no servant, he shall have one; and if he has no animal (a conveyance), he shall be provided with one. Anyone who takes more than this has exaggerated (i.e. taken more than he deserves).’ [Ahmad]
This historical announcement of fundamental human rights not only contains those rights voiced by many a revolutionary in our times, it adds to them some more as well, without necessitating any inter-class hatred, bloody revolutions, and without rejecting all those human elements in life that do not fall under the above three heads: food, housing and family.
These are some of the salient features of the Islamic code of life. They are sufficient to show that a religion with such laws and principles, that is comprehensive and includes the complete human existence, emotions, thoughts, actions, worship, economic dealings, social relationships, instructive urges and spiritual aspirations – all arranged in the framework of a single harmonious but unique system of life, can never lose its usefulness for mankind. Nor can such a religion ever become obsolete, as its objectives are the same as those of life itself and therefore, destined to live on so long as there is life on this planet.
Considering the existing state of affairs in the contemporary world, humankind cannot reasonably afford to turn its back upon Islam or reject its system of life. Humankind is still afflicted with the most savage and odious forms of racial prejudices. Surely, the world in the twentieth century has yet a great deal to learn from Islam. Long ago, Islam freed humanity from all racial prejudices. It did not content itself with the presentation of a beautiful vision of equality alone, but it achieved in practice an unprecedented state of equality between all people, black, white or yellow, declaring that none enjoyed any superiority over the others except in virtue and piety.
It not only freed the black from slavery, but also fully recognized their rights to aspire even to the highest seat of authority in the Islamic State. They could become the heads of the Islamic State. The Prophet said: ‘Listen and obey even if a black slave be appointed as your superior, so long as he should enforce amongst you the Law of Allah (God).’
How can also the world of today ignore the message of Islam, stricken as it is with the evils of imperialism and tyranny with all their barbarous attributes? Islam alone can help humankind shake off these chains. It is opposed to imperialism and all forms of exploitation. The way Islam treated the people of the countries it conquered was so generous, just and sublime that the eyes of ‘civilized’ Europe can hardly penetrate those heights. We may in this regard cite the famous decision of the Caliph ’Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, to whip the son of ’Amr bin Al-‘Aas, the victorious general and honored governor of Egypt, as he had beaten an Egyptian Copt without any legal justification. This shows the social liberty and human rights that were enjoyed by the subjects of the Islamic State.
Then there is the evil of Capitalism that has poisoned all life. Its abolition and the need to rid humanity of its evil consequences again call for Islam.
Fourth, Islam prohibits usury and hoarding which, taken together, form the mainstay of the Capitalist economy. This, in other words, means that Islam alone can effectively check the evils of Capitalism as it did check them 1400 years ago.
Finally, the world with the shadows of war still hanging over it cannot but turn towards Islam – the only way to establish and maintain real peace on this earth. The era of Islam has in a way just started, not ended; it is not a spent force, but a living dynamic force, its future is as bright as its great historical past is glorious, when it illumined the face of earth at a time when Europe was still groping its way in the dark recesses of Medievalism.