The Prohibition, Parents' Needs, Determinism
Issue 990 » March 16, 2018 - Jumada al-Thani 28, 1439
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 219 (partial)
The Quran repeatedly moves from soaring expressions of spiritual verities to details of mundane human behaviour. A full appreciation of our relationship to God is, as the Quran has been saying from the very beginning, found in how we act upon and live out God consciousness in all the aspects of our daily life. Worship is expressed not just in prayer but also in how we deal with mundane activity. It requires finding the right balance in all our activities, not being intoxicated with our self-interests or passions, but being ever mindful of the need for clear and sober judgement so that we apply the moral and ethical guidance of the Quran as far as we are able in even the smallest aspect of our lives.
Pre-Islamic society in Arabia was into binge drinking. Wines were made in most households, drinking was seen as a sign of high culture, and drunkenness was valued as a sign of wealth and eminence. Gambling was a close second to drinking. Like drinking, gambling too was seen as a source of pride and honour. Given that tribal Arabs valued pride and honour above all, it is not surprising that gambling and drinking led to excess. Both habits contributed to perpetual tribal feuds and constant wars.
The Quran sought to transform Arab society. This verse is the first time the Quran mentions drinking and gambling; and it is worth noting that it acknowledges there is 'some profit' in both. But the social costs are greater: for a society to prosper and progress, drinking and gambling had to be abandoned. The injunction forbidding these comes later, in 5:90, which asks Muslims to shun them in order to be 'successful'. But from the specific example we should draw a more general principle. It is not just wine that is to be avoided on these grounds: all variety of intoxicants are included, from liquor to drugs, hard or soft, that affect the mind and hence the ability to make balanced judgements. Similarly, gambling would include all games of chance—including the national lottery. Both, we learn in 5:91, cause 'enmity and hatred to spring in your mind'; and, as such, thwart the development of genuine prosperity and well-being. The total transformation of Arab society after the emergence of Islam was in significant part due to this prohibition. It allowed the noble aspect of the Arab character, their industrious and intrepid nature, their courage and frankness, to come to the fore.
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 165-166
If we were to give a nametag to the society established by the Prophet, we may perhaps call it the "Do Good Society." Islam upholds all the universal values mankind have developed over many generations. In addition, some social values are given particular importance. Foremost among these is dutifulness to parents, even when they are unbelievers.
The Prophet provided practical examples of the importance of dutifulness to parents. Many people believe that joining a campaign of jihad (i.e. striving for God's cause) earns great rewards from God. This is true, but it must be put in proper perspective. Sometimes other things take priority. Abdullah ibn Amr reports that a man came to the Prophet declaring that he wanted to pledge himself to the Prophet doing both the immigration and jihad. He also made it clear that all he was after was God's reward. The Prophet asked him whether either of his parents was alive. The man said that both were alive. The Prophet said: "Do you say that your aim is to earn God's reward?" The man confirmed this. The Prophet said: "Then go back to your parents and attend to their needs with kindness." (Related by Muslim.)
Another version of this hadith adds that the man informed the Prophet that when he left his parents, both of them were in tears because he wanted to immigrate. The Prophet told him to go back and make them smile (this version is related by Abu Dawud, al-Nasai and Ibn Majah.)
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct" - Adil Salahi
The interplay between the Arabs' lack of a sacred scripture of their own and the culture that prevailed prior to the coming of Islam lay the groundwork for the acceptance of ideas and conceptualizations that were foreign to Islam and which were bound to colour our perceptions of it. One such idea was that of Determinism (al-jabriyyah), that is, the belief that human beings have no genuine free will and that everything we do is predetermined by Fate. Determinism is alien to an Islamic perspective, which places great importance on the moral code and people's accountability before God for their choices and actions. Islam does not acknowledge the notion that God controls human beings' decisions as one of its premises.
On the contrary, Islam is founded upon complete freedom of choice, and the relationship between human beings and their Lord is founded upon an ancient covenant. Human beings were offered a sacred trust and accepted it freely, as a result of which they were to be held morally accountable. Human beings' higher purpose is to be God's vicegerents, or representatives, on Earth, and it is in this capacity that they are put to the test. There is no place for Determinism in a religious teaching or law that rests on free human choices. Nevertheless, the prevailing culture read a deterministic doctrine into some passages of the Quran and treated them as evidence for this baseless doctrine despite its foreignness to Islamic teachings.
"Reviving The Balance: The Authority of the Qur'an and the Status of the Sunnah" - Taha Jabir Alalwani, p. 116