From Issue: 1042 [Read full issue]
It is well known that the word Islam means submission, and the basic Islamic demand is that human beings submit themselves to God, and to no one else and nothing else. Human beings should struggle to defeat their weaknesses, control their urges, and gain mastery over themselves. Only by gaining mastery over the self can that self be meaningfully submitted to God. If the self is controlled or mastered by the ego, urges, fears, anxieties, desires, and whim, then attempting to submit this highly compromised self is not very meaningful—one cannot submit what he does not control in the first place.
Furthermore, according to the Quran, human beings are God's viceroys and agents on this earth. They possess a divinely delegated power to civilize the earth (tamir al-ard), and they are commanded not to corrupt it. Human beings are individually accountable and no human being can carry the sins of another or be held responsible in the Hereafter for the actions of the other. Since human beings are directly accountable to God, their submission to God necessarily means that they submit to no other. Surrendering one's will or autonomy to another human being is like reneging on the relationship of agency with God. Every person, as a direct agent of God, must exercise his or her conscience and mind and be fully responsible for his or her thoughts and actions. If a person surrenders his autonomy to another, in effect, such a person is violating the terms of his agency. Such a person would be assigning his agency responsibilities to another person and defaulting on his fiduciary duties towards God.
Thus, the first obligation of a Muslim is to gain control and mastery over himself; the second obligation is to ensure that he does not unlawfully surrender his will and autonomy as an agent to another; and the third obligation is to surrender fully and completely to God. However, this act of surrender cannot be grudging or based on desperation and cannot arise out of a sense that there is no alternative but to surrender. To surrender out of anxiety or fear of punishment is better than defying God, but it is a meaningless and empty submission. Submission must be anchored in feelings of longing and love. Submission is not merely a physical act of resignation and acceptance. Rather, genuine submission must be guided by a longing and love for union with the Divine. Therefore, those who submit do not find fulfillment simply in obedience but in love—a love for the very Divinity from which they came.
"The Epistemology of the Truth in Modern Islam" - Khaled Abou El Fadl