Preparedness for any important course of action is universally desirable. It is a basic requirement to lead an Islamic life. The first principle of Islam is Imaan (faith), but before Imaan, there is a preparatory step—marefat, or realization. Narrating the story of a group of believers, the Qur’an says: When they listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears, because of the Truth they recognize. They say, ‘Our Lord, we believe, so count us among those who bear witness.’ (5:83)
This verse refers to a very important principle of Islam, that is, before belief (Imaan), realization (marefat) is required. When an individual accepts Islam, he recites the kalimah of Islam but, before doing so, he must discover or realize the truth. It is discovery or realization that makes the recitation of the kalimah meaningful. Without realization, the mere recitation of the kalimah has no value. This principle applies to every tenet of Islam—the nafil (supererogatory) prayer before the farz (obligatory) prayer, some days of fasting in the month of Shahban before fasting in the month of Ramadan, infaq (voluntary charity and spending for the poor and needy) before the obligatory zakat, umrah (minor pilgrimage) before Hajj, and so on. This preparatory principle is important in all Islamic practices. It is like having a starter before taking a meal. It is this preliminary course that gives life to all Islamic practices. This activates one’s consciousness before entering into any Islamic practice. It gives one a prepared mind and makes one a prepared personality: only a prepared mind or a prepared personality can practice Islam in its true spirit.
One who does not have a prepared mind, or is not a prepared personality, will not be fully competent to perform Islamic duties. When it is said that So and So is a practicing Muslim, this statement tells only part of the truth. Before becoming a practicing Muslim, one should be a realized person. It is a realization of divine truth that makes one able to become a practicing Muslim in the true sense. Before realization, being a ‘practicing Muslim’ is a mere formality. A Muslim who is one only in form is not a true Muslim. First of all, one should make oneself a realized person, and only then can one truly be called a practicing Muslim. Intellectual development on Qur’anic lines comes first, then comes the time when one can say that one is capable of adopting the Islamic way of life.
A preparatory course is a mind-building process. First of all, we have to know what kind of mind the Qur’an tries to build. After understanding this, one should mold one’s thinking along Qur’anic lines. This is a process of intellectual development, after which one should proceed towards the goal set by Islam. It is the mind that governs the body and not vice versa. The same is true of the religion of Islam; Islamic practices are an external manifestation of internal realization. First comes the Islamization of the mind, then it becomes possible to Islamize the body or one’s physical existence. Islam begins from within and then finds its expression without.