Brothers in Islam! You become Muslims by reciting a few words called the Kalimah:
(There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
On pronouncing these words a man is supposed to have radically changed. He was a kafir (unbeliever), now he is a Muslim; he was impure, now he is pure. He deserved Allah’s displeasure; now he deserves to be loved by Him. He was going into Hell; now the gates of Heaven are open for him.
On a more concrete level, in social life, this Kalimah becomes the basis for differentiating one man from another. Those who recite it constitute one nation, while those who reject it form another. If a father recites it but his son refuses to, the father is no longer the same father, nor the son the same son. The son will not inherit anything from the father, his mother and sisters may even observe purdah from him.
On the other hand, if a total stranger recites the Kalimah and marries into a Muslim family, he and his children become eligible for inheritance.
The power of the Kalimah is thus so strong that it takes precedence even over blood ties; it can join strangers together into a nation; it can cut members of the same family off from each other.
Is Mere Utterance Enough?
Why should the Kalimah make such a big difference between man and man? What is so special about it? After all, it contains only a few letters like ‘L’, ‘A’, ‘I’, ‘M’, ‘R’ and ‘S’.
Joined together and pronounced, do they somehow have the power to work magic so as to radically change a man? Can merely saying a few words create such an enormous difference?
Brothers! A little reasoning will immediately tell you that merely opening your mouths and uttering a few syllables can never have such an impact. Idol-worshippers no doubt believe that by reciting some formula of holy words mountains can be moved, the earth can be split and fountains can gush out of it, even though they do not know its meaning.
This is because they ascribe supernatural powers to letters, and believe that only uttering them is necessary to make their powers work.
This is not so in Islam. The effectiveness of words lies in their meaning. If they do not penetrate deep into your hearts and have an impact powerful enough to effect a change in your thoughts, in your morals, and in your actions, then their utterance is meaningless and ineffectual.
A simple example will illustrate this point. Suppose you are shivering in cold weather and you start shouting, ‘cotton, quilt! cotton, quilt!’ The effect of cold will not be any less even if you repeat these words all night a million times on beads or a rosary. But if you prepare a quilt stuffed with cotton and cover your body with it, the cold will stop.
Or suppose you feel thirsty and shout the whole day, ‘water, water’; your thirst will not be quenched. What you need to do is to get some water and take a mouthful. Or again, suppose you are suffering from cold and fever and you decide the best remedy is to chant the name of medicines used to cure these illnesses.
You will not get better; but if you actually take these medicines, cold and fever will disappear, in sha’ Allah.
This is exactly the position of the Kalimah. Mere utterance of six or seven words cannot conceivably transform a Kafir into a Muslim, or an impure person into a pure one, or a damned person into a favoured one, nor can it send a man to Paradise instead of Hell. This transformation is possible only after you have understood the meaning of these words and made it penetrate your hearts and change your lives.
So, when you recite these words, you should be conscious what an important commitment you are making to your God, with the whole world as your witness, and what a great responsibility you are taking on as a result of your commitment.
Once you have made the affirmation consciously, the Kalimah must inform all your thoughts and reign supreme in your whole lives: no idea contrary to it should form part of your mental furniture. Whatever runs counter to the Kalimah you must always consider false and the Kalimah alone true.
After affirming this Kalimah you are not at liberty, as are the unbelievers, to do as you like. You have to follow what it prescribes and renounce what it forbids.
If you recite the Kalimah in this manner, only then can you become true Muslims, only then is created that overwhelming difference between man and man that we have just been discussing.
Meaning of the Kalimah
What, let me tell now, is the meaning of the Kalimah?
What do you in fact pledge through it?
Covenant with Allah
The word ‘ilah’ found in the Kalimah means God. Only that being can be our God who is the Master, Creator, Nourisher and Sustainer, Who listens to our prayers and grants them, and who alone is worthy of our worship and obedience.
Saying La ilaha illa Allah means two things. First, you have acknowledged that the world has neither come into being without a God nor has many gods. God is there; He alone is God, and there is no other being except Him which possesses divinity.
Second, you have accepted that this same God is your Lord and Master as well as of the whole universe. You yourselves, and each and every thing that you have or is found in the world, belong to Him alone. He is the Creator and the Provider.
Life and death are under His command. Both trouble and comfort come from Him. Whatever one receives is really given by Him; whatever is taken away is taken away by His command. He alone should be feared. From Him alone should we ask any and everything. Before Him alone should we bow our heads. He alone is worthy of worship and service.
We are slaves or servants of nobody save Him, nor is anyone else our Master or Sovereign. Our duty is to obey Him and abide by His laws – and His alone.
If you violate this covenant, your hands and feet, the tiniest hair on your bodies and every particle on earth and in the heavens, all that witnessed you breaking your pledge, will testify against you in God’s court. You will find yourselves in such a hopeless position that not a single witness will be found to aid you. No barrister or trial lawyer will be there to plead your case.
In fact, barristers and trial lawyers who in the courts of this world are themselves all too often guilty of bending the law to their own ends, will themselves be standing there, like you, in the same hopeless position. That court will not acquit you on the basis of forceful pleading, false witnesses, or forged documents. You can hide your crimes from the police in this world, but not from God’s police. The police here may be bribed, but not there.
A witness in this world can give false evidence, but not Allah’s witness. The judges of this world can do injustices, but God can never be unjust. And there is no escape from the jail to which Allah sends the guilty.
It is a great folly – the greatest of all follies – to enter into a false covenant with Allah.
Before making the covenant, think it through thoroughly and then scrupulously adhere to it. You are under no compulsion to give a mere verbal pledge; but empty words shall not profit you.
The article is an excerpt from Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi’s book “Let Us Be Muslims”.