Meaning of the Kalimah 


You become Muslims by reciting a few words called the Kalimah: 

La ilaha illa ‘llah Muhammadu ‘r-Rasulu ‘llah 

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 Kafir, 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, 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, insha’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 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? 

The literal meaning of the Kalimah is simple: there is no God but Allah; and Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, is the Messenger of Allah. 

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 ‘llah 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 possess 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 abide by His laws—and His alone. 

This is the covenant which you make with Allah as soon as you recite La ilaha illa ’llah, and while so doing you make the whole world your witness. 

If you violate this covenant, your hands and feet, and 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 lawyers will be there to plead your case in fact barrister 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. 

Accepting the Prophet’s Leadership 

After La ilaha illa ‘llah, you recite Muhammadu ‘r-rasulu ‘llah (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah). This means that you accept Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, as the man through whom Allah has sent you His guidance. If we acknowledge Allah as Master and Sovereign, it is essential to know what His will is. What deeds should we perform that would please Him and what deeds should we refrain from that would displease Him? What laws should we follow to receive His forgiveness and avoid His punishment? To explain all this to us, God appointed Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, as His Messenger; for this very purpose through him He sent His Book. 

The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, having lived according to God’s guidance, showed us the way we should lead our lives. So, when you say Muhammadu ‘r-rasulu ‘llah, you pledge to follow the way and law given by him and to reject anything which runs counter to it. If, after making this pledge, you abandon the code of life brought by the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, and follow different and conflicting law, however widely they may be accepted, there can hardly by any worse liars and more dishonest people than you. 

For you enter Islam only by solemnly affirming that you accept the code of life brought by him as the only true law and that you will faithfully follow it. It is on the basis of this affirmation that you become brothers unto Muslims, become eligible for inheritance from your Muslim fathers; on the same basis you were married to Muslim women, your children became legitimate and you secured the right to ask Muslims to help you, to give you alms and to be responsible for the protection of your lives, property, honour and dignity. Nothing can be more dishonest if, in spite of all this, you break your pledge. 

If you make the pledge of La ilaha illa ‘llah Muhammadu ‘r-rasulu ‘llah with a full understanding of its meaning. Then it is inconceivable that you will not comply with the laws of God even though no police or court forcing you to do so is visible in this 

world. To anybody who thinks that it is easy to break the laws of God because God’s police, army, court and jail are unseen, and that it is difficult to break earthly laws because of the undoubted presence of the police, army, court and jails of the Government, I would clearly say: Your affirmation of La ilaha illa ‘llah Muhammadu ‘r- rasulu ‘llah is simply not truthful. You are trying to deceive your God, the whole world, all Muslims, and your own selves. 

Obligations of Commitment 

Brothers and friends! Now that we know the meaning of this Kalimah I wish to draw your attention to the obligations that result from it. 

What does it mean to say that Allah is the Master of everything? It means that your lives are not your property; they belong to God. Your hands are not yours, nor do your eyes, your ears or any limb of your bodies belong to you. The lands you plough, the animals who work for you, the wealth and goods you derive benefit from—none of these is your own. Each and every thing belongs to god, and has been given to you as a gift. 

You, therefore, have no basis whatsoever to make claims like ‘life is mine, the body is mine, wealth is mine’. It is absurd to claim ownership after having accepted some other being as the real owner. If you sincerely believe that god is the Owner of all these things, then two things automatically follow. 

First, since God is the real owner and you are merely trustees of things owned by Him, you must use these things strictly as He has told you, If you do otherwise, you are abusing your trusteeship; this would amount to cheating God. You have no right to move your hands and feet against His wish, nor to make your eyes see what He dislikes. You may not stomach anything contrary to His command. You possess no right over lands and properties against the wish of the Master. Your wives and children, whom you assume belong to you, are yours only because they have been given to you by your Master. Even they, therefore, must be treated not as you desire but as directed by Him. If you contravene His directions, you make yourselves usurpers. Just as you call people dishonest who seize other people’s belongings, you, too, will be dishonest if you look on the gifts of God as your own property, and utilize them according to your own wishes or according to the wishes of someone other than God. 

If you suffer hardship by acting according to the wish of your Master, so be it. If lives are lost, bodies are injured, families are broken or money and property destroyed in the process, why should you be grieved? If the Owner Himself decrees loss of His things, it is perfectly within His right. Of course, if you act against the wish of the Master and suffer hardship, you will undoubtedly be guilty because you will have damaged His property. For example: you do not own your lives. If you give away your lives according to your Master’s wishes you will only be rendering His due. Giving your 

lives while working against Him, however, would be criminal. 

Second, you do no favour to your Master nor to anyone else, if you spend something given by Him in His cause. You may give away anything, do any duty, or even sacrifice your lives—which to you are very dear—but you are not doing Him a favour. The most you have done is to have rendered His due for His favour done to you. Is this an achievement to boast about, to demand acclaim for? Should people be praised just because they have repaid a favour? Remember that a true Muslim never gets puffed up for spending something in his Master’s cause or for doing his duty to Him. On the contrary, he remains humble. Boasting and pride destroy good acts. Anyone who seeks praise, or does good work in order to earn praise, loses his right to receive any reward from God: ‘He has sought reward in this world and has already received it here’. 

Our Behaviour 

Brothers! Imagine the extraordinary kindness shown you by your master! He asks you for things which really belong to Him and yet promises that it is a purchase He will pay you for. What unbounded generosity this is! ‘God has brought from the believers their lives and their possessions in return for Paradise’ (al-Tawbah 9: 111). 

Such is the kindness of your Master. Now look at your conduct. You re-sell things to others which were given to you by your Master and which He had bought back from you. And what a paltry price you accept for your precious things! The ‘buyers’ make you work against the wishes of the Master. You serve them as if they are your sustainers. You sell your brains and your bodies—indeed, everything that these rebels of God want to buy. Can anything be more immoral than this? To sell a thing already sold is a legal and moral crime, even in this world. Those guilty of such crimes are tried in courts for cheating and fraud. Do you think you will escape trail in the court of God?

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