Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Spend in God’s cause: do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands, but do good, for God loves those who do good. (Chapter 2: Verse 195).
Defending one’s faith requires action and commitment. Without commitment, the believers risk ruin of their faith. God warns: ‘do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands.’ To destroy something means to change it out of its functional state or to lose it completely. In fact, destruction is the opposite of life. Life is not mere breathing and movement; rather life is to perform your intended purpose. Animals are alive when they perform their intended function in nature. Likewise, plants have life and laws that govern their existence. By this measure, even inanimate objects have a life. It is not like yours or mine, but it is suitable to their function. God says:
Do not call out to any other god beside God, for there is no god but Him. Everything will perish except His Face. His is the Judgement, and to Him you shall all be brought back. (28:88)
We are not the only ones who will perish; rather everything in existence will cease to be, including inanimate objects. Everything is created for a task which it has to perform, and that -in essence- is the definition of life.
God says: ‘do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands’ How can you avoid destroying yourself? God says at the beginning of the verse “Spend in God’s cause” because spending money is the means to build a strong economy, a strong social safety net, and a powerful military. Those who do not invest into building a strong economy are throwing their future into ruin. The minute that you stop investing in yourself is the minute when your competitors start gaining ground to overtake you. Moreover, when the enemy sees your complacency, he or she will become daring over you. There are countless historical examples where the mere act of preparing a powerful military prevented war. Allah wants to protect the believers and assure that they have a vibrant nation that is the envy of the world.
There is also another side to the phrase: ‘do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands.’ It is a warning to those who rush into war just because they can. Allah commands us to consider all matters and calculate carefully based on facts, not fanaticism. He warns us against inflammatory speeches, fake bravery, and zeal. Courage requires that you refrain from fighting where it is not appropriate so that you can gain victory over the enemy at a time when your preparations are complete.
So the verse strikes a balance between building an economy that serves all, building a military that deters the enemies, while at the same time exercising wisdom against aggression and zeal. God wants the believers to weigh every issue carefully. He wants the believers to be fully prepared for any possibility so they can defend the faith when it is appropriate. In this single sentence: ‘Spend in God’s cause: do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands’ Allah gave us both: the command to build a vibrant nation, and the command to adequately and wisely defend it if the need arises.
God Almighty follows by saying: “but do good, for God loves those who do good.’ The word ‘good’ is translated from the Arabic origin ‘ihsan’ which means to go beyond obligation and expectations. Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- explained: “Ihsan is to worship God as if you see Him; for if you cannot see Him, then rest assured that He sees you.” Sadly, the majority of Muslims today are no longer governed by their conscience and their sense of good. We have to install surveillance cameras in department stores to monitor theft and to monitor employees that slack on the job. Allah wants you to be your own judge; He wants your faith to direct you to do a perfect job even when no one is looking. Allah wants you to do a good job for the sake of the entire society, not for the sake of money or simply to get things done.
To do good is to perform with excellence and do for others what you would love others to do for you. If people lived by this principal alone, life would advance in all its aspects; industries would thrive, everyone’s finances would improve, and the welfare of all members of society would be guaranteed. But if fraud is prevalent, then you would cheat others, and they would cheat you. All is lost.
God says: ‘Spend in God’s cause: do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands. but do good, for God loves those who do good.’ The command here is general, covering all aspects of life. Hence, if excellence is required when spending money, then it is also necessary when earning it. Excellence is required in investment, and it is needed in charity. If you don’t happen to have money to spare, then Allah wants you to give your effort to help others or share your knowledge to teach those around you and so on. Allah values your effort, earnings, and education. If you are strong, help protect the weak. If you are a lawyer, then stand up for the rights of others. If you live near a river or a lake, then help keep it clean and free of pollution. Practicing Ihsan is how societies earn respect and recognition.
Here, we must ask a crucial question: Why are the Muslim nations disrespected, bullied, and looked down upon all over the world today? We answer that the world judges the Majority of Muslim countries through the deeds of Muslims. Are our actions in line with God’s teachings? When the early Muslims practiced their faith through actions and Ihsan, they set an example that all nations wanted to emulate. Islam spread to the furthest reaches of the east and west, not through wars and conquest, rather it spread because countries welcomed the Muslims and adopted their ways. Now it is up to each one of us to do the same. If we do good at the level of Ihsan, people of all faiths and backgrounds would see Islam as the system to adopt and emulate.
There are few among the western and eastern intellectuals who do not judge the religion of Islam by the actions of the Muslims. They understand that not all Muslims comply with Islamic teachings. These individuals should be given great credit and recognition for being able to see Islam in its pure and genuine form, not through how some Muslims miss-practice it today.
Moreover, the followers of other religions are aware that there are some acts that their religion condemns and labeled as crimes, yet people commit these acts anyways. These individuals do not represent the entire religion. Similarly, Islam has criminal laws and suitable punishments for criminal acts. The individuals who commit these acts are not representative of the Muslim community. For example, when you see a Muslim stealing do you say that all Muslims are thieves? No, you have to consider the Islamic legislations. Has Islam condemned theft? Has it set punishment for the one who steals? Of course it has. So, do not base your opinion about Islam by looking at the deeds of a few Muslims. You must look at the Islamic laws. Allah gave us the ability to do good and evil. He rewards for doing good deeds and punishes for evil ones. Intellectuals are the ones who judge the religion by looking at its principles. Our duty as Muslims is to correctly practice our faith by helping others and performing all tasks at an excellent level, a level of Ihsan.