Alif, Lam, Meem (Arabic initials).1 This book, without any doubt in it (its origin and content), is a guide for those who are mindful of their responsibilities, who (1) believe in the hidden aspects of the universe, (2) establish the worship of God, (3) spend in the service of human beings from what God has provided them (e.g., earnings, intellect, good health, etc.), (4) accept what has been revealed to them (by Prophet Mohammad) and what was revealed before them (such as from the Bible, Torah, etc.), and (5) have confirmed faith in the Afterlife. These people are following the right guidance from their Sustainer (God), and they are entitled to be successful.2
Many Surahs (chapters) in the Qur’an start with Arabic initials, which may be abbre- viations of a collection of words or a central theme. They are subject to speculation, and the Prophet has not given specific meanings for these even though some trans- lators have tried to find relevant meanings for them. While this is a good effort and should not be discouraged, I have opted not to delve into it since this effort and its outcome are of no significant value.
These first five verses establish at the very beginning of the Qur’an the key attributes of a person of faith and responsibility, which go hand in hand. God makes us realize that not all matters of the universe are visible to human eyes or accessible to human senses and intellect, and, hence, a willingness to accept the unseen as told by God through the prophets is a key part of having faith and of being a responsible creature of God. Additionally, God establishes the concept and institution of worship as a fundamental part of faith in God. Immediately after the worship of God comes the concept of serving humanity with resources provided by Him and given to each one of us. Having faith also means having a strong belief in the oneness of guidance, as we are told that for the faithful it is important to accept all revelations, including those of the Prophet Mohammad as well as those of the Prophets Jesus (Isa) and Moses (Musa). Finally, the Qur’an declares that faith and responsibility are not complete if a person does not have a deep and abiding conviction in life after death and in the Last Day (Day of Judgment). God then goes on to assert that these people, having true conviction and a commitment to act, are truly on the right path with the right guidance and, therefore, are entitled to be successful.
These five verses, in an elegant and simple way, capture the essence of God’s message to mankind and the recipe for success as a human being. One critical question for Muslims is how our failures have become so manifest in this world today. It is not that God’s words are untrue or no longer relevant, which never is the case, but that we need to be deeply self-critical of ourselves to ascertain whether we as Muslims truly are committed to these five key characteristics which have been established as critical success factors.
The fundamental aspect of Qur’anic reading is that its messages are from God, the Creator of the universe, and, as such, they should have the highest certainty. That does not mean that one should accept the messages without understanding and without reflecting on one’s thoughts. Rather, deliberate and intense reflection is a prerequisite for understanding and conviction in any endeavor. In addition, one has to go beyond mental acceptance and into practical implications, otherwise Islam becomes irrelevant and Muslims become like people of other faiths, whose lives are no longer influenced by their beliefs or, worse, become sources of evil practices and injustices.
*Definitions can be found in the Glossary*