What Is Religion?
All branches of knowledge related to religion have defined religion from their own perspective. While describing religion, Islamic scholars have taken into consideration the way the concept of religion was taken up in the Quran and Islamic beliefs. According to them, the definition of the true religion is as follows: "Religion is a divine law that enables people with intelligence to attain goodness and happiness in this world and the next with their own desire."
The most important characteristics a definition must have is that it describes neither more nor less of the matter it is defining. Thus, every word that is mentioned in a definition holds significance. And every expression of this definition of religion which is accepted by Islamic scholars is important and guides us as to how we should perceive our religion. The expressions in the definition: "people with intelligence," "with their own desire," "religion being a source of goodness and happiness," "the goal of goodness and happiness being for both worlds," and finally "religion being a divine law" each deserves to be examined individually.
Just as people without sufficient intelligence carry no religious responsibility, religious behavior not based on freely made choice has no value. Religious behavior not based on free choice but made with various calculations or under pressure has no value whatsoever in Allah's presence. For this reason, being a sincere and strong follower of religion depends first of all on being a person of sound will and strong character.
It is pointed out in the definition that religion itself brings goodness and happiness. This situation might appear to be contrary to the general judgments on religion of people who see religion only as comprised of responsibilities and consequently as limiting and determinative. Here a matter that should not be overlooked is that on subjects which exceed the mental and spiritual capacity of man and are beyond his view, the determinative definitions coming from Allah's presence are good because they prevent man from falling into error which is certain on these subjects. Secondly, in addition to "informative" judgments giving knowledge, the "constructive" judgments laying down rules in regard to the functioning of a human's life are good for man in many respects.
Within this framework, man is informed of rules that could only be found by trial and error without a divine guide and he is provided guidance to meet man's need to establish the soundest possible connection with the divine. This is purely beneficial to man. Also, even assuming that a person finds what is right and beneficial by means of his mind, still it is usually not possible to follow the mind unless what is known by the mind is also believed and followed by the heart, which is one of the most important conditions for knowledge to be transformed into behavior. By directly addressing both the mind and heart, religion achieves great success in the transformation of knowledge into behavior.
On the topic of what goodness is and how man can be happy, every person gets a result according to his own belief and world view. According to the religion of Islam, the true religion Allah sent shows man goodness and happiness in a better way than man himself can. For man is limited with various weaknesses, prejudices, egotistical instincts and social conditioning.
Religion fills not only our afterlife, but our worldly life with goodness and happiness as well. Unlike religions that only promise either worldly or heavenly happiness, Islam gives importance to peace and happiness in both this world and the next and shows this as a goal to believers.
Finally, religion is a divine law. Consequently, if the rules and beliefs we adopt as religion are not based on divine revelation, they are not acceptable to Allah. According to this part of the definition, every kind of belief and claim to sacredness produced by man is false. Only the system sent by Allah via prophets is the true religion. In this way, man bowing down to man has been prevented and it has been established that all people are one and equal before Allah. "Superiority lies only in piety."
We see that while the definition of religion is being made, the word "law" has been chosen as a predicate. This shows us that once we have declared our faith, religion's principles must be implemented in our lives as definite rules and that negligence will be taken into consideration at divine judgment. Religion is not just an idea to be lived in our conscience; it is a living system whose results are to be seen in every aspect of our life in an active way. As a result, religion is the general name for the law, order and path for arranging the relationship between God and servant.
"Religion" in the Holy Quran
The word religion is mentioned ninety-two times in the Holy Quran; in addition, different derivatives of it are found in three verses. It is seen that this word is used in the Quran mainly with these meanings: "Rule, ruled, obedience, law, worship, unity (uniting with Allah), Islam, shariah (laws-regulations), limits (put by Allah), tradition, punishment, accounting (giving account to Allah on judgment day as to how and for what our life passed), and nation (group of people with the same belief)."
On the other hand, in the Quran the word religion expresses two different meanings in regard to the Creator and created. According to this, religion is "being in control, making obedient, taking to account, and giving punishment-reward" in regard to the Creator and those serving him; in regard to the created and those serving, it is "bowing down, understanding one's helplessness, surrendering, and worshipping."
The common point of the meanings of words chosen by every religious culture to express the concept of religion is "path, belief, custom, and servanthood." All these words show that religion is a deep-rooted phenomenon with its roots in man's inner life and its fruits that appear in various forms of behavior.
Common Characteristics of Religions
From the perspective of religious sciences, some common factors found in all religions can be mentioned:
In some religions all these factors are found; in others some of them are found.
When evaluating a religion, the idea and life style recommended to the people addressed should be taken into consideration; it should be suitable to human nature in regard to both sustainability and morality. A religion that claims universality should be able to address every human being, take into consideration the needs of people at every level, and show the minimum ways for people on every moral level to be successful in leading the desirable honest and virtuous life. A religion's outstanding success is not possible with arrangements aimed at people with outstanding moral capacity, but rather by showing the way for common and average people to become virtuous.