What constructs the Islamic identity?
The Islamic identity is constructed from major components which formulate the Muslim's mindset and shape his views towards himself, his Lord, humanity, animals, plants and the universe at large. These components enable him to answer the most fundamental existential questions which boggle the human mind since the dawn of history. The answer to questions like where we came from, what are we doing in this life and where are we going after death creates in the Muslim mind dimensions of time and place beyond the confinement of earthly time and the limitedness of present place. It also opens for the human minds new realms of aspiration which transcend beyond human earthly life. Moreover, the reply to the existential questions comfort the hearts of the sick, the destitute, those who were separated from their loved ones by death and the misfortunate among others who suffer in this world as they are assured that this life is not the end and that it is only a gateway after which an eternal life exists.
The Muslim's perception of life as a whole stems from his belief in one God who is the most merciful, the most compassionate, all omnipotent, all hearing, all seeing, with ultimate ability, justice and infinite knowledge. Muslims believe that God created human beings out of love and made them come into existence to know Him, love Him and worship Him.
Muslims believe that God did not create the world in vain and that He did not leave us stranded but in a state of constant sustenance and providence. He sent us guidance through prophets and messengers along with divine books to enlighten us about ourselves, our Lord and the universe at large.
The manifestation of worship is through both outer development of the gift of the universe which God made available to humans to sustain their lives and an inner development of one's soul which is a God-given gift as it provides us with life.
The Islamic external perception towards the universe as a God-given gift to humans that should be treated with reverence, appreciation and care gave rise to the Islamic perspective of the environment and the preservation of nature in totality with all its animals, plants, mountains, seas…etc. Also Muslims believe that the universe in totality is in a constant state of praise to God thus they share with Muslims the act of praising but each in its different way and in conformity with its nature.
Therefore Muslims were instructed not to cut trees with the aim of destruction and not to hunt animals for the sake of pleasure. When animals are used for labor, Islam ensures that they are not overburdened and well fed and not being subjected to any type of torture or harm. Even when animals are being hunted or slaughtered for food, Islam set regulations which protect animals and ensure the minimum level of pain during the process of slaughtering and these regulations which are in conformity with mercy makes the meat of these animals "halal" or legitimate.
The Islamic external perception aside from the direction towards the universe, has another direction towards other human beings. Islam set rules for dealing with human beings under the divine umbrella of mercy with which the Muslim's perspective towards life is shaped. Muslims perceive other people whether Muslims or non-Muslims as their own brothers and sisters in humanity. They are all God's creation who share the distinguishing feature of having the mind to think and the heart to love. They are the only creation which enjoys the privilege of the intellectual capacity to think and make educated decisions freely. The faculty of mind which guides human's thinking is a status that is not shared with any of God's creation.
God created human beings with huge diversity in color, language, ethnicity and culture with the purpose of getting to know one another to enrich the human experience and to cooperate in the development of the world. Islam was adamant on eliminating any type of racism, discrimination or superiority which any ethnicity might feel over the other through establishing the universal rule summarized in the Prophetic tradition which says, " All humans were created from Adam and Adam was created from dust…no Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab and a non-Arab has a superiority over an Arab…no white man has a superiority over a black man and no black man has a superiority over a white man except by the virtue of piety.
This means that God wanted to teach humanity not to judge others by their mere appearances as what makes people superior before God's sight is their piety and good manners.
When it comes to the Muslim's perception of himself, he believes that humans were honored with the faculty of mind to think, with spirituality to nourish and with a body to preserve. The mind is the faculty of thinking and thus should be preserved from any thing that might cause its harm or sabotage its capacity to think straight. Therefore alcohol and drugs are totally prohibited. Nourishing one's spirituality is an essential part of the Muslim's mindset. Muslims believe that God created human beings out of love and through love humans find their way back to God. Therefore God says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" because He is not keen to the surrender of the body but in the submission of the heart. That being said worshipping in the Muslim's eyes is an expression of love.
Understanding the Islamic perspective on life and death creates a real significance to life on earth as it is a journey which we go through in worship of God, purification of self and development of earth.
This Islamic holistic view of life and the universe at large gave rise to a number of values one of which is the value of brotherhood in humanity. Another important value is the value of modesty which people only associate with clothing though it is a comprehensive value which transcends the mere clothing to encompass other major aspects in life. Modesty from an Islamic perspective means humbling oneself before God through attesting to His strength and our weakness, to His infinite mercy and our dire need. We feel humble before all the gifts and blessings that God bestows us with and this feeling of modesty is reflected in all our dealings such as modesty in prayers, in clothing, in talking, in eating and drinking and in our treatment with the world at large. Therefore, when it comes to the famous question of hijab for women, it is way more than the apparent piece of cloth that women put on their head but it is a manifestation of the Islamic philosophy towards life and an expression of modesty which the Muslim shows in all his life.
Another major value in Islam is the value of knowledge as the first revealed word to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is "read" and through knowledge and science civilizations are built, the world is developed and human beings are advanced. Knowledge is endless because discovering new things only open the gate of more discoveries. The Islamic civilization was built on strong faith and authentic knowledge in all fields. Therefore seeking education is mandatory on all Muslims to be part of the developing experience of human knowledge and progress.
One of the most important values which is largely emphasized by the Quran is the value of mercy. The first of God's divine attributes which is constantly repeated in the Quran before the beginning of any of the chapters of the Quran is the verse "In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful", this verse works as a constant reminder to human beings that the encompassing nature of God is mercy out of which stems all the other divine attributes. In our pursuit to embrace God's beautiful attributes and act God-like, humans ought to embrace the attribute of mercy, Prophet Muhammad said, "God bestows mercy on those who are merciful, show mercy to those who are on earth and the Lord in heaven will bestow His mercy on you".
Therefore, these major beliefs and values formulate the elements which shape the Muslim's mindset and construct his identity. Most of these beliefs and principles are shared universally with people of other faiths and morally with those who do not have a faith. The universal nature of Islam is a major commonality as its teachings fit in easily in different cultures and blend in with various ethnicities without being forced to choose between your religion and your nationality, ethnicity or culture.