Category Archives: Islam: A challenge to Religion
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Before concluding our dissertation, it would not be out of place, we hope, if we recapitulate in brief, what we have been discussing somewhat in detail concerning religion, its source, its various aspects and its implications in relation to mankind, the individual as well as the human society at large, in contradistinction to Islam as a deen.
1. Religion and Deen
A perusal of the foregoing chapters must have brought to light the basic fallacy and the fundamental misconception in taking Islam as one among the various religions prevailing in the world from time to time; and the unfairness of making an assessment of deen on that basis. Furthermore, it is equally fallacious if we were to try to understand and grasp its meaning and its impact on human society from the standpoint of religion as commonly understood.
Religion, as such, is nothing more than a kind of private relationship between man and his Creator. We are not, at the moment, concerned with the nature of this relationship which has been amply described in books like William James’ The Varieties of Religions Experience. Anyhow, whatever the nature and characteristics of such experience, it is admittedly the experience of an individual of a purely subjective character having no relation whatsoever with worldly affairs, nor could it be communicated from one to another. This private relationship between man and his Creator is essentially founded on the idea of salvation. Salvation is common to all religions, even to Buddhism which does not acknowledge the existence of God. The idea of salvation was born out of the belief that man’s sojourn on earth was one of bondage. How to extricate himself from that bondage thus became the main object of his life.
Islam on the other hand, is neither such a relationship between man and God, nor is it characterised by the experience of an individual of a subjective nature, but is essentially a “Code of Life” regulating the conduct of affairs concerning the individual as well as the collective life of human beings. Secondly, it does not consider man’s life on earth a period of bondage in which case the idea of salvation does not arise. On the contrary, having assigned to man a very high position in the universe, Islam expects him to take up the challenge of life boldly in order to harness the forces of nature for the development of his own self and the larger community of mankind. The fallacy of considering Islam a religion springs from the fact that absolute “faith” in God is of fundamental importance to it, as it is supposed to be more or less so in all religions, past and present, but it is not only the “faith” in God that should serve as a criterion in arriving at a correct estimate of one or the other. The real question we should be concerned with is, what is the concept of God which is supposed to be the common factor?
2. Concept of God
Islam on its part, has presented a concept of God entirely at variance with the one advanced by the various religions of the world. Along with Eiman in God, the distinguishing feature of the Islamic concept lies in the belief that God did not merely create the universe, but has also laid down definite laws to regulate the scope and functions of the various objects comprising it. The “Law of Cause and Effect,” and the “Law of Uniformity in Nature”, among others, being of basic importance; and they deal with the external nature of the universe. He has, besides, prescribed definite laws regulating human life and its activities.
The knowledge of the Divine Laws relating to the external universe is derived from a close observation of nature, scientific experiments and discoveries, but not so in the case of laws relating to human life and the regulation of its conduct which are communicated only through Revelation to the Rusul and conveyed by them as Messengers of God to mankind. It is this wherein Islam as a deen also distinguishes itself from the Material concept of life which takes no cognisance of the Divine Guidance by means of Revelation.
Islam asserts that such Divine Laws have been, from time to time, communicated to all the peoples of the world. The Rusul, the Messengers of God, received them through revelation and delivered them to their people. What happened after the demise of a Rasool was that his followers, chiefly their leaders having vested interests, tampered with the Laws with excision and deletion of what was found detrimental to their interests, and by interpolations, with the result that, from among the religions of the world, not one can produce the original text of Divine Revelation free from the taint of corruption. But these Divine Laws in their original form, words as well as letters, are fully extant and meticulously preserved in the Qur’an, which is the last and the final of the series of the revealed Books of God, as was revealed to the last of the Rusul. So long as these Laws remain in their original form and pristine glory, they constitute what is termed as deen, but when they are tampered with and corrupted, they fall from the high pedestal and become what is known as religion; and that is why among all the religions of the world only Islam deserves to be styled as a deen. As a matter of fact, no other religion makes a claim, nor could it prove, even if it were to advance such a claim, that it possesses a revealed book word for word and letter for letter as delivered to them by their Rasool. Islam, on the other hand, does make such a claim which is verified and fully supported by an impartial testimony of even non-Muslim historians.
Islam, thus, is a code of laws revealed by God, through his Rasool, Muhammad (PBUH), for the guidance of the whole of mankind, and which are fully preserved in the Book of God, known as the Qur’an; and they constitute what we may call the Permanent Values. Further, Islam emphatically and confidently advances the claim that if life is led in full compliance with and in complete subordination to the Permanent Values, it will be rid of all the travails and troubles in which the entire world of the present day finds itself beset condemning humanity to a hellish life despite the wonderful and awe-inspiring material and scientific advancement. The order of life according to these Permanent Values is termed as the Qur’anic Social Order, or, in other words, the Islamic State. It requires, however, to be made clear that every order of life established by the so-called Muslims, would not necessarily be the Islamic State as such, for, the Islamic State connotes only that State which is based on, and is in fullest consonance with the Permanent Values; and any other, lacking in this foundation, will be only un-Islamic, established though it may have been by the Muslims themselves. An Islamic State is thus an agency for the enforcement of Qur’anic injunctions, and laws made in the light of the principles enunciated therein.
3. Permanence and Change
It should not, however, be misunderstood that the laws thus framed are rigid and hidebound with hardly any scope for progress or wanting in meting out the exigencies of the ever-changing conditions of life in the progressive world. In fact, the Islamic State is fully authorised, after mutual consultations, to legislate, within the framework of the Permanent Values, to provide for the needs of the time, and the body of laws thus promulgated could be altered and amended when necessary to suit the circumstances prevailing at a given time, with this essential proviso that in no circumstance shall the framework of the Permanent Values be disturbed or interfered with. From this point of view, the Islamic State may be considered as a “controlled democracy”, which is quite distinct in character from the concept of democracy commonly prevalent in the West, for, in that system the nation or its representatives enjoy an unlimited power of legislation.
4. Human Personality
Another basic point of distinction between the Material concept of life and that of Islam is that, while in the former the life of a human being is circumscribed by and limited merely to man’s physical existence in this world and is disintegrated and gets extinct with death, in the latter, the human body develops, flourishes, and eventually disintegrates under physical laws, but there is something else in man besides his body, that is, his Self or Personality, which is neither physical in its constitution nor is it subject to the physical laws as such. It is endowed to every human child in like measure at his birth, but it is only in an undeveloped form. To develop it to its full maturity and to give it a perfect and balanced shape is the goal of all human exertions. Every act of his performed in full compliance with the Permanent Values contributes to its development, and whatever is done against these values retards this process and weakens the Self. An act, it should be noted, includes the thought and intent as well. The Self or Personality, thus developed, easily sustains the shock of death and survives the disintegration and dissolution of the physical entity, and goes on developing further, passing through more evolutionary stages, which we may call the “Hereafter”, or the “life after death.” The idea that, not only the actual deeds of a human being but his thoughts and intentions as well act upon the human Personality, is what we call the “Law of Retribution” which is as inexorable and as immutable as the laws of nature.
From the foregoing it must have become clear that whoever believes in Self or the human Personality needs no supervision of the police or directives from a court of law to persuade him to act in full consonance with the Permanent Values and lead a life in accordance with the principles emanating therefrom, for, such a man acts upon them of his own choice and accord, and scrupulously avoids other trends that go against them. Fully conscious as he is that such a course of conduct is conducive to his own good and welfare, he willingly and ardently desires to pursue it. It is only such people, therefore, as bring about and establish the Qur’anic Social Order, believing, as they sincerely do, in the efficacy and well-being resulting from such an order of life; and it is they who are entrusted with the task of modelling the society according to that Order.
The Permanent Values have been referred to several times in the foregoing chapters. Here we make a mention again of some of the more fundamental and basic ones, so as to demonstrate how individuals leading their lives in accordance therewith embellish and adorn not only their own character but of others as well, and how highly prosperous, peaceful and contented is that society in which these values operate consistently and predominently. How implicit a trust with sentiments of well-wishing other individuals and communities that come into contact will repose in them, and how an era of peace and prosperity will be ushered in when these values become universally recognised and acted upon – in fact the very life of Jannah on the earth. To usher in such an era, in short, is the ultimate aim of Islam.
5. Permanent Values
Now let us mention some of the more fundamental Permanent Values, summed up in brief needing little excuse for repetition.
- Respect for humanity in general. The very fact that every human child at his birth is equally endowed with a Self or Personality, entitles every individual as a human entity to equal esteem and respect; and no distinction whatsoever should, therefore, be allowed to the incidence of birth, family, tribe, race or community, nationality, religion or sex, for, says the Qur’an:
Verily We have honoured all children of Adam (equally) (17:70).
- The criterion of a high position in society. The intrinsic value of every individual human being is uniformly equal, but the criterion for determining the relative position and status of every individual rests on his own personal merits and character:
And for all there are ranks according to what they do (46:19),
and the principle underlying is this:
The noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best in conduct (49:13).
- Unity in humanity. All human beings, according to the Qur’an, are the members of one brotherhood and branches of the same tree:
Mankind is one community (2:213).
Racial distinction or dividing mankind into different compartments of communities and nations by drawing lines on the globe is antagonistic to the very idea of humanity as a single entity, and is against the intents and purpose of nature. There is only one criterion for a division and no other – that those who believe in the Permanent Values are members of one community, and those who care not for them and lead their lives against them, go to the other division of a different community, as is said in the Qur’an:
He it is Who created you (as human beings) but one of you rejects (the Permanent Values) and another believes (in them, so this is the only line of demarcation) (64:2).
- Human Personality implies responsibility. It means to say that every human being will be held responsible for his own actions, rewards as well as retribution, which none else will share. Says the Qur’an:
Whoever commits a crime commits it against his own self (4:111),
and no other will be held responsible for it:
No bearer of a burden bears another’s burden (53:38).
This makes it quite clear that the notions of ”original sin”, or “intercession” or “penance” have no room whatsoever in Islam. That one should be made responsible for one’s own deeds is, therefore, a Permanent Value according to the Qur’an.
- Freedom. According to the Qur’an, every human being is born free, and, therefore, should ever remain free; and freedom means that none, whosoever he may be, can extort obedience from another human being. In the Islamic Society, only the Qur’anic laws shall be obeyed. This is synonymous with the obedience of God, for very plainly asserts the Qur’an:
It is not right of any man that God should give him the Book and authority and (even) Nubuwwah and he should say to men “obey me instead of Allah” (3:78).
In fact, the Islamic Society is the agency for the execution of the Qur’anic laws; and this constitutes the main criterion to distinguish between the Muslim and non-Muslim creed:
And whoever judges not by what Allah has revealed, those are the unbelievers (5:44).
These provisions apply equally to all, no matter what his position. Not to speak of others, even the Rasool of God was directed to proclaim:
I follow not but what is revealed to me. Indeed I fear, if I disobeyed my Rabb, the chastisement of a grievous day (10:15).
It may be mentioned that what is worship in religion, is obedience to the laws of God in deen.
- Freedom of will – no compulsion. The responsibility for the act of a human being is determined by his own volition and intent, so much so, that if one is forced to believe something or is prevailed upon with force and compulsion against his will to act in a particular manner, he would not be held responsible for such belief or action, for, Eiman is the other name for full conviction. Says the Qur’an:
There is no compulsion in deen (2:256),
and in another place:
And say: The truth is from your Rabb, so let him who pleases believe, and let him who pleases reject (18:29).
Physical compulsion and mental coercion apart, anything agreed to or followed traditionally or conventionally and not after due exercise of reason and intellect cannot be termed as Eiman. Accepting anything traditionally is, according to Qur’an, the way of unbelievers:
And when it is said to them (the unbelievers), “Follow what Allah has revealed”, they say: “Nay, we follow that wherein we found our fathers.” What! Even though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right path (2:170).
The believers, on the other hand, are those:
Who, when (even) the messages of their Rabb are presented to them, they fall not thereat deaf and blind (25:73).
- Tolerance. Islam not only tolerates followers of other religions but also bestows upon them all the rights of humanity, and solemnly undertakes to protect and guard their places of worship. Says the Qur’an:
And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which Allah’s name is oft remembered, would have been pulled down; and surely Allah will help him who helps Him (in this regard) (22:40).
- Justice. Justice is one of the fundamental Permanent Values (16:90), and no distinction is allowed in this respect between friend and foe, for; says the Qur’an:
And let not the hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably. Be just: that is nearer to observance of duty (5:8).
As regards the courts of justice, we have been very clearly guided by the Qur’an:
(1) Confound not truth with falsehood (2:42),
(2) Nor knowingly conceal the truth (2:42).
(3) Hide not testimony (2:283).
(4) Evidence must be given truthfully (4:135).
(5) And be ye not an advocate for the fraudulent (4:105).
(6) And never be a supporter of the guilty (28:17).
(7) Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man for, Allah is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow not passions lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever informed of what ye do (4:135).
Crimes, according to the Qur’an, are not only those that are actually and physically committed; it considers even the mere thought of a breach of the Permanent Values as an offence. No doubt, such offences do not fall within the jurisdiction of a court of law, nevertheless they are offences in the eye of the Divine Law of Retribution, and adversely affect the personality of the perpetrators, as has been said in the Qur’an:
He knoweth the traitors of the eyes and that which the bosoms hide (40:19).
- Subsistence. According to the Qur’an, it is incumbent upon the Islamic society to provide for the basic necessities of each and all the members comprising it, and make suitable provisions for the development of their human potentialities. Thereafter, it should extend the same facilities to other human beings, and thus make the Order of Rububiyyah universal. A society that fails in this responsibility does not deserve to be called Islamic, for; the Islamic society that is established in the name of God is bound to proclaim:
We will provide for you and your children (6:152).
It is paramountly clear that no society could fully discharge this responsibility unless and until it has all the means of production under its control and the necessary resources at its disposal. It is solely for this reason that means of production cannot be owned privately in Islam, nor could the produce of such means, or wealth, form a private hoard (9:34-35).
For the same reason the principle underlying the growth and development of human personality is expressed thus: that an individual should work hard and earn and produce as much as possible, keep that is basically and essentially necessary for his own upkeep and of those for whom he is personally responsible, and give away the rest for meting out the necessities of others in need, as is ordained in the Qur’an:
And they ask thee as to what should they give (for the benefit of others). Say: “Whatever is surplus to your own requirements” (2:219),
and in this their attitude should be such as to declare:
We desire from you neither reward nor thanks (76:9).
- Sex. Chastity, according to Qur’an, is one of the Permanent Values and its breach a grave offence (24:3). It demands its observance from men and women equally (24:30-31), and deems marriage as a free contract for leading a life of companionship and mutual co-operation in which both the parties stand on the same level and should be treated uniformly, for the Qur’an makes no distinction between man and woman on the ground of sex. Both, as human beings, are like each other and equal in all respects:
He it is Who has brought you (mankind) into being from one single life-cell (6:99).
- Aesthetic taste. There is a basic difference between an animal and a human being, and that is that while the needs of an animal are confined to the mere satisfaction of physical wants, the requirements of man go beyond that. He is also endowed with the aesthetic sense, a liking, a taste for the appreciation of beauty. The Qur’an respects this leaning and tendency towards fine arts in the human species and considers it as a necessary element in the growth and development of his personality. It says:
Say: “Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah, which He hath brought forth for His servants and the good things of His providing”? (7:32).
Thus it gives full encouragement to the appreciation of beauty in its various phases of arts as well as objects, with the only proviso that the limits laid down in the Qur’an are not transgressed.
- Forces of Nature. You come across at several places in the Qur’an verses like this:
And He has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all from Himself (45:13).
That is why Islam demands from us to subdue and harness the forces of nature with the sole object of utilising them in consonance with the Permanent Values for the benefit of the entire humanity, and never for destructive purposes, for, the basic principle underlying this is:
Only that survives in the earth which is beneficial for entire mankind (13:17).
We have narrated above some of the basic values conveying the fundamental importance in human activity which have not only to be meticulously observed but to be carefully safeguarded by the Islamic Society against their breach and violation.
The Qur’an does not ignore or neglect, rather it lays a great emphasis on meting out the demands of man’s physical existence and the satisfaction of his requirements for his ease and comforts, of course, in close observance of the Permanent Values. If the needs of his physical life and other requirements are both satisfied in harmony and accord with the Permanent Values, no difficulty or a problem as such arises. When there is a tie or an apprehension of a clash between the two, the Islamic view of life will then, as a matter of course, give preference to the maintenance of and compliance with the Permanent Values, for therein lies the loftiness of the human character. This way of life greatly contributes to the development and wellbeing of the human self. In the Material concept of life, on the other hand, the be all and end all of the entire human effort and activity is merely the satisfaction of the physical wants in luxury and plentitude without the least idea of the Permanent Values playing any role at all. This attitude is abhorent to Islam. Far from agreeing to accept it, Islam will, in no circumstances, even compromise with the Material concept. Further, the otherworldly view of religion, preaching contempt of the worldly life and its enjoyment and ignoring the physical wants, is equally unacceptable and hateful in its eyes.
A comparative study of religion or madhhab, and deen should help us understand the vital and fundamental characteristics of each and the differences between the two:
- Madhhab is merely some sort of subjective experience and is concerned only with the so-called private relationship between God and man.
Deen is an objective reality and a system of collective life.
- Every follower of a Madhhab is satisfied that he has established a communion with the Almighty, and the objective of each individual is his own salvation.
The aim of deen, on the other hand, is the welfare and progress of all mankind, and the character and constitution of a society indicates whether or not it is founded upon the Divine Law.
- Madhhab does not afford us any objective criterion by which we could determine whether or not our actions producing the desired results.
In a social order governed by deen, the development of a collective and harmonious life correctly indicates whether or not the people are pursuing the right course.
- Madhhab is hostile to scientific investigation and is an adversary of reason, so that it could flourish unhampered with the aid of a blind faith.
Deen helps in the development of human reason and knowledge, allows full freedom to accept or reject on the basis of reason and arguments, and encourages investigation and discovery of all the natural phenomena to illumine the path of human life and its advancement in the light of the Permanent Values.
- Madhhab follows the susceptibilities and prejudices of men and pampers them.
Deen seeks to lead men to a path of life that is in harmony with the realities of life.
- In every age, therefore, madhhab sets up new idols and mumbo-jumbos in order to keep the people’s attention away from the real problems of life.
But deen is rational and radical: it breaks all idols, old and new, and is never variable in its principles.
- Madhhab induces a perpetual sense of fear in the minds of men and seeks to frighten them into conformity; while deen treats fear as a form of polytheism and seeks to make men courageous, daring and self-reliant.
- Madhhab prompts men to bow before every seat of authority and prestige, religious as well as temporal.
Deen encourages man to walk about with his head erect, and attain self-confidence.
- Madhhab induces man to flee from the struggle of life.
But deen calls upon him to face the realities of life squarely, whatever the hazards.
- Madhhdb treats the world of matter with contempt and calls upon man to renounce it. It promises paradise only in the Hereafter as a reward for the renunciation of the material world.
Deen, on the other hand, enjoins the conquest of matter and leads man to immeasurable heights of attainment. It exhorts him to seek wellbeing and happiness in this world as well as felicity in the life Hereafter.
- Madhhab encourages belief in fatalism, and this tends to dissuade man from active life and self-development.
Deen gives man power to challenge fate, and provides energy for a life of activity and self-development.
- Madhhab seeks to comfort the weak, the helpless and the oppressed with the belief that the affairs of this world are governed by the Will of God and that its acceptance and resignation helps to endear them to God. This sort of teaching naturally tends to morbidity, and emboldens their religious leaders who profess to interpret the Will of God, so that they indulge in their misdeeds with perfect impunity and persuade the adherents to a complete and quiet submission.
Deen, on the other hand, raises the banner of revolt against all forms of tyranny and exploitation. It calls upon the weak and the oppressed to follow the Divine Laws and thereby seek to establish a social order in which all tyrants and oppressors will be forced to accept the dictates of right and justice. In this social order, there is no place for dictators, capitalists or priests. They are all enemies of deen.
- Madhhab enjoins religious meditation in the name of worship and thus induces self-deception.
Deen exhorts men to assert themselves and struggle perpetually for the establishment of the Divine Social Order, and its betterment when attained. Worship in deen really means obedience to the Laws of God.
- Madhhab frowns and sneers at all things of art and beauty.
Deen defies those who forbid the enjoyment of the good and beautiful things of life which God has created for the enjoyment of man.
- Madhhab denounces everything new and declares all innovation as sin.
Deen holds that the needs and demands of human life keep changing with the change in the conditions of life; change and innovation are, therefore, demanded by life itself. Only the Divine Laws are immutable.
It should now be easy for us to see the fundamental difference between deen and madhhab. Islam means saying “Yes” to life; while the response of religion is “No”!
Thus Islam is an open challenge to religion as such.
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1. Man and Woman – A Comparative Study
For ages, men did not treat the women-folk with justice and fairness. That woman was inferior to man in intelligence, was, for long, regarded as a self-evident truth. All the dull and uninteresting tasks were, therefore, assigned to her. In the civilisation man built up, woman had to be content with an inferior role. It is only recently that woman has begun to assert her rights and claim equality with man. Though the intellectual climate of the present age is generally favourable to woman’s demand for equality, the question of its validity has not quite emerged from the smoke of the controversy.
No doubt, there are differences between man and woman, but they are in fact far fewer than those which used to be quoted. Even these few are largely biological. A potent difference is that in physical prowess. The male surpasses the female not so much in his capacity for endurance as in the intensity of his muscular action. He generally runs faster and punches harder. His red blood corpuscles which carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles are ten percent more abundant than those of the female. Then her feminine (biological) peculiarities and maternal duties not only consume her energies to no inconsiderable extent, but also confine her indoor for long periods. All these factors supposedly keep her weaker of the two. Hence the tasks demanding great physical strength or regular outdoor activities, such as fighting and hunting, were naturally assigned to the man, while the woman generally took over the lighter and domestic tasks, such as cooking and washing. As physical strength was an essential value for a primitive group constantly threatened by other hostile groups, man soon secured for himself a dominant position in the tribal set up. As this state of affairs continued for long ages, men consolidated their position of dominance and ruled over the women-folk with a high hand. Gradually women were reduced to the position of serfs.
The truth slowly dawned on man’s mind that he had over-estimated the value of physical strength and military prowess. He realised that other abilities are equally valuable. In modern society, intelligence is valued more than bodily strength. The psychologists tell us that woman is man’s equal in intelligence and some other abilities. Man is superior to woman in some abilities but inferior to her in others. For instance, he excels her in mechanical skill while she surpasses him in linguistic ability.
It is now generally admitted that woman is, on the whole, man’s equal. Nevertheless, deep down in her unconscious, the inferiority complex handed down from the immemorial past is firmly lodged. In the advanced countries of Europe and America, women are working shoulder to shoulder with men in the fields of science, industry and administration, but they too are impelled by an unconscious urge to make themselves attractive to men. The greater part of the money they earn is wasted on dress, make-up and finery. All the time they can spare, they devote to beautifying themselves. Obviously their main purpose is to make themselves fascinating and glamorous. This is because women have been told all the time, on religious authority, that God originally created man and woman was created subsequently because man felt lonely. She is, therefore, driven to the belief that she does not exist for herself but only to fulfil the wishes of man: hence her unconscious desire to become as attractive to man as possible.
The inferiority complex from which woman suffers has its roots in the remote past. The social framework which has remained basically unchanged assigned to her a status much lower than that of man. Man regarded her occasionally as a goddess, usually as a slave, but rarely as a comrade. In this man-made society, the dice were heavily loaded against her. The powerful forces of custom, law and religion were ranged against her. She could not own property in her own right. She could not choose her own mate. The father could give her in marriage to any one he liked. If the husband died even when she was still young, she was not permitted to remarry. Widowhood was her lot for the rest of her life. Sometimes she was even expected to die with her husband. The barbarous custom of Sati required her to sit on the funeral pyre of her dead husband and be burnt alive. Religion too was not kind to her. The Biblical story of Adam and Eve is hardly fair to her. It is said that God first created Adam, and then, out of his rib, He created Eve. The rib is crooked and so devout men were quite prepared to admit the same crookedness in the nature of woman. The sequel of the story shows that woman is not only crooked but also weak. She quickly succumbed to the seductions of Satan and tempted Adam into sin. The story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve plays the role of a temptress, is widely believed in throughout the Christian world. The attitude of the Christians towards women is, therefore, tinged with fear and hostility. To preserve their purity, devout men thought it necessary to avoid all contact with women. Marriage was looked upon as a necessary evil. Celibacy came to be regarded as a virtue. Woman was a hindrance to spiritual progress so, at least the priest, whose sole concern was the soul, had to remain unmarried.
Such ideas have been in vogue for centuries and, until recently, were to be found in all parts of the world. The Qur’an completely changed man’s attitude towards woman. It placed the relation between man and woman on a basis of equality, exalting neither over the other. The Qur’an does not say that man was created first and so has precedence over woman. It tells us that for every one, life originated from a mono-cell. The distinction between male and female came at a later stage, and when it appeared, both of them were very much there:
God created you from a single life-cell and from it created its mate (for man a woman and for woman a man) and from them twain, has spread abroad a multitude of men and women (4:1).
Thus, in the matter of creation, neither had any preferential treatment; nor was woman responsible for man’s first act of disobedience and his consequent expulsion from paradise. Both are said to have been led astray by Satan (2:36). According to the Qur’anic view, man and woman are equally capable of following the right path and equally liable to fall into destructive ways. Of course, they are not absolutely the same: in some things men are superior while in others women surpass them. It is a necessary consequence of the fact that their roles in life are complementary to each other. They are equal in worth although different in particular qualities:
God has so created you that one excels the other (in certain respects) (4:34).
Not that man excels woman but one excels the other in certain respects and is surpassed by the other in other respects. For thousands of years, man has told woman that she is inferior to him not only in physical strength but also in intelligence and other abilities. Only recently has she realised that she can equal man in many walks of life. The Qur’an instills into her mind ideas of her essential worth and her own capacity. The Qur’an liberated woman from her age-long bondage to man. It says:
If men have the potentiality to develop their personality by harmonising themselves with the Laws of Allah, then women also have a similiar potentiality; if men can be members of a movement that aims at world peace according to the inviolable Laws of Allah, then women also can participate in it by becoming its members; if men can restrain their capabilities so as to develop them within the Laws of Allah, so can women; if men can vindicate the truth of their conviction through its practical implementation in life, so can women vindicate it; if men can remain steadfast on the path they have chosen, so can women; if men have the inexhaustive capacity to be more and more in harmony with the Laws of Allah once they are set on this path, so have women this inexhaustible capacity; if men can sacrifice lower values for higher values, so can women; if men can exercise control and do not violate the limitations set on them, so can women; if men can keep their sexual urge within the desired limits, so can women; if men can understand the Laws of Allah and focus their activities in life on them, so can women. Now if both men and women have equal capacities and potentialities, their results should also be the same for both of them. Hence both will enjoy protection and security, and all other such benefits and joy that will come out of their deeds (33:35).*
This verse puts it beyond doubt that men and women are equal in all things that really matter in social activities. The path of progress is open to both alike and the reward for achieving it is the same for both:
And whoso does good work, whether male or female, and he (or she) is a Believer, such will enter Jannah and they will not be wronged so much as the dint in a date-stone (4:124).
The Qur’an also leaves no doubt in the matter of her right to possess:
What man earns will be his and whatever the woman earns will belong to her (4:32).
It will thus be seen that Qur’an treats man and woman as equals in all respects. The fact is that mankind will attain human stature only when it speaks about man and woman in terms of human beings, and not with reference to sex distinction. Woman (like man) has her own personality, and the relation of personality to personality cannot be a relation of means and end; all personality is an end in itself.
2. Woman (Mother)
The rudiments of family life are also found even in the animal world. The young of most animals are helpless when they are born and cannot survive if they are left to themselves. The task of looking after them is performed sometimes by the female and, in some cases, by both together. Among the birds, male and female participate in bringing up the young. In some kinds of fish, the female is indifferent to the young, while the male provides for them and protects them from danger. Among mammals, care of the young is the chief concern of the female. Some animals, however, let their young fend for themselves at an early age. The human infant remains helpless and in need of parental care for a much longer period. The protracted infancy of the human child necessitates close association of parents with the children over a number of years. In this close companionship, tender emotions germinate and develop. Strong ties of love and affection bind the parents and children closely and permanently. Home is the stage on which the members of the family play their respective roles. Home symbolises happiness, peace, security and mutual sympathy. It is the field for satisfying social contacts and fruitful co-operation. Under parental care, the individual not only attains physical maturity but also becomes a humanised and socialised being. The family is the matrix in which his personality is shaped and moulded. Membership of the family prepares him for membership of society. Society is only the family enlarged. By virtue of the training he has received in sympathy, tolerance and co-operation, he takes his rightful place in society as a free and responsible person.
The family is all-important to the human child, and, in the family, the major role is played by the mother. One cannot over-emphasise the influence she exercises over her children. She inspires in them the ideals and imparts to them the culture of her society. It mainly depends on her whether they will become useful members of the society or will be only misfits therein.
The Qur’an fully recognises the mother’s vital role in the family and in society. The Qur’anic term for the community of Muslims is Ummah, and is derived from Umm, which means mother. The mother influences the family directly and the community indirectly, but not less effectively.
The child develops a balanced personality only when peace reigns in the home atmosphere and there is harmony and concord between the parents. Discord between the parents is the main cause of personality disorders in children. The Qur’an, therefore, advises man to choose a congenial mate who shares his views and ideals and is in agreement with him on all important matters (2:221). Marriage is a contract freely entered into by both man and woman. The woman is, therefore, absolutely free to marry any one she likes. Man cannot marry a woman against her will (4:19). It is the duty of the married couple to provide a happy home for their children.
As the woman has to devote most of her time to the care of children, the duty of providing them with the means of subsistence, obviously, falls on man. This division of labour is in the interest of the whole family:
Men are responsible for the maintenance of women (in the home) (4:34).
If, however, a woman can spare the time to earn her own living, she is free to do so. Whatever she earns belongs to her (4:32). Man and woman are equal partners to work as a team in running the home. Neither of them should try to dominate and exploit the other. Woman’s rights are to be respected as much as man’s. The husband cannot encroach on the rights of his wife:
Women have rights against men like as men have rights against them in reason and law (2:228).
The relationship between husband and wife has to be closer and reciprocal:
They are raiment for you and you are raiment for them (2:187).
As stated above, marriage is a contract entered into by voluntary agreement of the partners. It is a solemn contract. It can still be annulled, but for good reasons when there is no way out and all attempts to save it have failed. Even when such a situation arises, the husband and wife should try to save the contract by an agreeable compromise. When this attempt has also failed, the society should intervene to bring about a reconciliation. They – the husband and the wife – should each choose a representative, and the representatives should try to settle the dispute in an amicable way (4:35). If their efforts too are fruitless, the marriage may be formally dissolved.
As we have already seen, the purpose of marriage is to create and live in an atmosphere of love, harmony and companionship to fulfil the higher purpose of life. The idea of a man having more than one wife at a time does not fit into the purposeful scheme of such a partnership. Monogamy – one man with one woman – is, therefore, the normal rule according to the Qur’an, There might, however, arise an occasion in which a relaxation of this rule becomes a necessity in the over-all interest of the society. For instance, prolonged war may reduce considerably the number of young men in the society thereby leaving a large number of widowed women, generally with children, and unmarried girls unprovided for. These women and girls must be protected and looked after in the fulfilment of their human needs without hurting or undermining their dignity and honour. Establishing orphanages, or “old age homes”, or even making these destitutes otherwise economically independent, is no remedy. Obviously, the problem is not economic only: it is much wider and deeper. It would be for the society to handle this delicate situation protecting the individual dignity of those affected, as well as the moral fabric of the society. For this, the Qur’an has suggested a feasible alternative by relaxing the rule of monogamy:
And if you fear that it will not be possible to find an equitable solution of the problem of widows and orphans in the society otherwise, then marry from amongst them those who seem suitable, by twos, threes or fours (as the situation demands), but if you fear that you will not do justice, then marry only one (4:3).
This is the only verse in the Qur’an that bears on the question of polygamy. It will be observed from the concluding portion thereof that even where a State does make this relaxation, it is still not obligatory on men to take more than one wife. They may marry only if they can do justice. It is obvious that if a man marries in such an abnormal situation, it will be as a service to the nation, both on his part and the part of his first wife. She will consider it her duty to provide shelter to one of her unfortunate sisters who has been driven to such a pitiable condition through no fault of her own. It may be argued that we will rarely find a woman who will agree to a rival being brought into her home. The argument may seem valid in the present pattern of life wherein personal interests come first. But it looses its ground in the revolution of ideas brought about by the Qur’an in which:
The believers prefer others over themselves though they might have to undergo hardships (59:9).
History tells us that in the Qur’anic society in Madina at the time of the Rasool, such a newcomers to the house of a Muslim, in the circumstances stated above, was greeted with blessings by those already in it. The newcomers also did not enter the house as rivals: they were rather laden with a sense of gratitude. This was the result of the change which Eiman brought about in their heart.
The principle embodied in the verse cited above was exemplified in the life of the Rasool himself. When he was twenty-five, he married Khadija, a widow who was much older than him. For twenty five years she was his only wife. He remarried only after her death. The conditions in which he took to himself more than one wife were such as are specified in the verse to which we have referred. The small Muslim community settled in Madina was constantly at war with enemies on all sides. War takes a heavy toll on the youth of a country. There was a sharp decrease in the number of men. Besides this, there was an influx of refugees, mostly women, from Mecca. The large number of widows and unmarried girls created a problem for the Muslims. It was a situation fraught with danger and a drastic remedy had to be applied. It was in such an emergency that polygamy was permitted to give protection to the unprotected women-folk by giving them safety and social status. Those for whom the Rasool himself provided a home in this way are briefly described below:
Saudah and her husband had fled from the persecution of the Quraish and taken refuge in Abyssinia. On the death of her husband, she was left absolutely helpless.
Hafsah was the daughter of Umar and the widow of Khunais. Khunais was killed in the battle of Uhud. As she was in distress, ‘Umar tried to give her in marriage to one of his friends but did not succeed. He approached another friend but he too was unwilling to marry her. The Rasool came to the help of Umar and provided a home for her.
Zainab. Her third husband too was killed in the battle of Uhud. She was left destitute. She was, therefore, taken under protection by the Rasool, but she died two months after.
Umm Salamah. With her husband she had sought refuge in Abyssinia. After their return, her husband was killed in the battle of Uhud. She was in great distress when the Rasool came to her rescue.
Zainab II. She belonged to the family of the Rasool. Her husband, who had been once a slave had divorced her. As the wife of an erstwhile slave, her social position had been lowered in the general estimation. To bring home to the society at large that this traditional attitude was repugnant to the spirit of Islam, the Rasool himself chose her for marriage, demonstrating thereby that no one loses caste by entering into matrimony with a freed slave.
Umm Habibah. She was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, one of the leaders of the Quraish. She had migrated to Abyssinia with her husband. Her husband embraced Christianity and deserted her. She returned home but no one from her family would welcome her and give her protection. The Rasool gave her status and a home.
Maimunah. When her second husband died in Mecca, she was left penniless. The Rasool provided her with a home by giving her a legal status.
Juwairiyah was also a widow. Her husband had been killed in a battle. She was the daughter of the tribal chief of Bani Mustaliq.
Safiyyah’s father, brother and husband had all been killed in the war. She had no one to support her.
‘A’ishah was the only virgin whom the Rasool married. He had married her before he migrated to Madina, when she was about 19 years old.
The facts speak for themselves. With the solitary exception of ‘A’ishah, the women whom the Rasool married were all elderly widows, homeless and friendless. (The Qur’an does not specify the number of wives the Rasool had at a time). Social life was in a chaotic condition and he had to make economic adjustments. As the war continued, the small community had neither the time nor the resources to provide home and subsistence to the widows and orphans. When conditions reverted to the normal, the Rasool offered to divorce them if they so desired. They rejected the offer and remained with him.
3. Slave Girls
Before the advent of Islam, slavery prevailed all over the world. To men in those days, it seemed perfectly normal for the strong and wealthy to have slaves whom they had captured in war or purchased in the market. The Greeks were the leaders of thought in the ancient world. No Greek thinker had ever raised his voice against the institution of slavery. The Qur’an proclaimed the equality of all men in the sight of God. It struck at the root of slavery by recognising the moral worth of man as man. However, there were, at the time of the advent of Islam, numerous slaves, both men and women, in Arabia as elsewhere in the world. The Arab economy was based on slavery. To abolish it at one stroke was impracticable. It could not be done without plunging the whole society into confusion. Yet, in every conceivable way, the Qur’an discouraged slavery and improved the lot of the slaves. The Muslims were urged to be kind and considerate to their slaves. They were told that to emancipate a slave was a meritorious act. They could atone for some of their offences by setting a slave free. Thus the number of slaves was gradually reduced and society was made less dependent on slave labour. The words “whom your right hand possessed” occurring in the Qur’an are in the past tense and refer to those who had already been enslaved. When they were emancipated through a gradual process, slavery died a natural death. The main source of slaves – men and women – was prisoners in war. The Qur’an laid down that they should be set free either for a ransom or as a favour (47:4). The door for future slavery was thus closed by the Qur’an forever. Whatever happened in subsequent history, was the responsibility of the Muslims and not of the Qur’an.
Islam brought about a revolution in human relations placing master and slave, man and woman, on a footing of equality before God. In Arabia, as in most other countries, man had been accustomed to look on women just for the gratification of his lust. Marriage was a device to prevent men from quarrelling for the possession of desirable women. The Qur’an raised the status of women in society and made them equal partners of men in the enterprise of living.
4. Sex and Society
The sex urge is part of the instinctual equipment of man and woman. The continuity of the race is ensured by the individual’s desire to engage in procreative activity. It is the means by which the torch of life is carried forward. In the classical classification of instincts on the basis of the ends they subserve, the sex urge belongs to the class of instincts of race preservation.
It is now generally admitted that the sex motive is a powerful determinant of human behaviour. For a long time, however, under the influence of puritanism and rationalism, the sex life of man was not considered worthy of serious study. In good society, the subject was scrupulously eschewed. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, a reaction set in and the fashion now is to exaggerate its importance in human life. Some psychologists, led by Freud, regard it as basic in “human nature” and ubiquitous in human life. The psychoanalyst digs up the sex motive in such simple activities as eating and playing. He tries to lift the veil from sex and discovers it in unexpected places. The mathematician pondering over lines and curves and the mystic absorbed in meditation may both be satisfying the same urge, though in different ways. Libidinal energy, repressed and diverted into socially approved channels, creates culture and civilisation.
The Western people, it would seem, have swung from the extreme of cold indifference to sex to the opposite extreme of intense preoccupation with it. The Qur’an steers a middle course. It assigns to sex its rightful place in life but no more. In this attitude it is supported by science. Experimental studies of animal behaviour show that the sex drive, though a strong one, is by no means the strongest. It is weaker than hunger and thirst. It is also weaker than the parental instinct.
Another point to be noted in this connection is that man cannot live without food or water for more than a few days. But the satisfaction of the sex urge may be postponed indefinitely without injury to his physical or mental health. Some great men have led a perfectly normal life without sex indulgence. Celibacy has been the normal way of life for some men. It would seem that the energy of the sex drive is displaceable and can be diverted into other channels.
There is another angle also. An excessive indulgence in matters other than sex will harm the intemperate man himself. But misbehaviour in sex will also have concern for society at large. Sex love being monopolistic would give rise to the strong and sometimes uncontrollable forces of rivalry and jealousy which are so destructive for the society.
It is necessary to call attention to another aspect of sex. Sex primarily subserves the biological end of race preservation but the activity to which it leads is eminently pleasurable to the individual also. It is nature’s device to induce the individual to engage in an activity which is mainly beneficial to the race and not to the individual. Man, however, values sex for his personal pleasure it yields. This pleasure becomes his main goal. For the sake of enjoying it, he artificially stimulates his sex appetite and so perverts it and deflects it from its natural end. Sex, thus, becomes an impediment to man’s progress in self-realisation.
If the considerations urged above are borne in mind, we can understand and appreciate the Qur’an’s attitude to sex. We will see that the restrictions it has imposed on sex expression are perfectly reasonable and in the best interests of the human species. Of course, the sex behaviour of man has been regulated in every society. The Qur’an, however, never loses sight of the biological end of the sex drive. Some great religions have taught that sex is essentially evil and that “spiritual” progress is only possible in celibacy. The Qur’an rejects this view and regards the sex urge as a natural appetite which may be gratified, albeit, in moderation and under conditions in which it does no harm to anyone who is affected thereby. In the West, adultery is penalised but not fornication. The Qur’an forbids all sexual relations outside of marriage. Man is permitted to have such relations only with his lawful wife. Even here, he is warned against making pleasure his goal. He is advised to keep in mind that he is helping to bring into existence a responsible rational being. For years, he will have to devote himself to the task of bringing up and educating his son or daughter so that he or she eventually becomes a useful member of the society. If it is not possible for him to give his child a fair start in life, he should not have begotten him. The Qur’an seeks to instil a sense of responsibility into the minds of both partners engaged in an activity which will lead to the production of a new being. They are admonished to look beyond the immediate pleasure and realise the responsibility they are undertaking. Pleasure is permissible, but it is wrong to become a slave to it. The Qur’an tells man that he can and should control his sex drive and attend to it moderately, thinking seriously of the duties that will devolve on him in consequence of it.
Consistent with this view, the Qur’an lays particular stress on chastity. It is regarded as a cardinal virtue and as such helps forward the moral and mental progress of man. Chastity is essential for moral purity and mental health. The Freudian theory of sex has, rightly or wrongly, encouraged men to think that sexual abstinence is harmful to mental health. It is supposed to be a fruitful cause of neurotic troubles. Those who hold this view are doing an injustice to Freud. He himself did not defend licentiousness. It is not sexual abstinence but repressed sexuality that produces neurotic disorders. This is what Freud actually taught. Some medical men who have only superficial knowledge of the psychoanalytic doctrine, actually advise their neurotic patients to overcome their sexual inhibitions and let themselves “go”: no wonder that the patients sometimes get worse instead of getting better. Because of a constitutional bias the neurotics are obsessed with sex and are also prone to repression. Sexual abstinence does no appreciable harm to normal men. Rather, abstinence is conducive to mental health.
What a man is to do if circumstances do not permit him to marry? The Qur’an advises him to guard his chastity and to abstain from gratifying his sex appetite till it is possible for him to get a suitable mate:
And let those who cannot find a match keep chaste till Allah enriches them by His grace (24:32).
The drives of hunger and thirst are imperative and must be satisfied under any circumstances. The satisfaction of the sex drive, however, can safely be postponed for a fairly long period, or even forever. Unlike the drives of hunger and thirst, sex appetite never rouses itself: it is excitable by conscious volition. The point needs further elaboration. A man, even when busy and deeply absorbed in his work, will feel thirstily when his system needs water, irrespective of the fact whether he is conscious about the need or not. At first the feeling will be mild, but as time passes, it will become unbearable so much so that he will have to leave aside his work and attend to it if he wishes to survive. The same will hold good in the case of food. But the sex urge is quite different. It never becomes a compelling drive on its own unless it receives a stimulus, mental or physical. The most important exciting factor is the thought of sex itself which has to be held in check. This is why chastity is not a physiological or psychological impossibility. The Qur’an, by emphasising the importance of chastity, also helps to solve population problem. Chastity is not only in extra-marital relationship, but even a married couple should turn towards the sex urge only when they are ready to welcome an addition to the family. This ideal will benefit both the body and the human self alike; and also make a sensible check on the growth of population. Today, with the current state of morals, this may seem a counsel of perfection. It is so only because the pursuit of pleasure is the dominant aim. Self-indulgence has dimmed the vision of the purpose of life which is to befit oneself for a higher plane of existence. The Qur’anic advice is meant for those who are alive to the demands of this purpose. It is not just a pious advice. The Qur’an gives it a practical shape. The first thing is to cultivate the right attitude towards sex. The way to do this is to bear in mind that the purpose of the sexual activity is procreation and not mere pleasure. It will exercise a moderating influence on passion and will engender a sense of responsibility in us. Knowledge of the possible consequences of our intended action will restrain us from acting thoughtlessly and so assuming duties which we cannot properly discharge. In animals, the sex impulses are controlled by nature and the sex drive arises only when nature wishes to bring about conception. Animals, therefore, cannot rear a “planned family” Man, on the other hand, possesses freedom of choice, including sexual matters, so that he may bring children into the world according to his own plans. He may, however, abuse his freedom and indulge in sex for the sake of pleasure, which results in accidental and unwanted births with all the misadjustments that follow for the individual as well as for society.
To save man from such a ruinous situation and to bring about, instead, healthy results, the Qur’an asks us to practice self-control. If self-control is practised, the sex impulse can be directed into healthy channels. Needless to say that it will prove to be beneficial to the individual as well as to the society at large. It will strengthen the moral fibre of man and, at the same time, avert the danger of overpopulation.
To sum up, the Qur’an seeks to regulate the sex behaviour of man in the following ways:
- It asks man to keep his eye fixed steadily on the purpose of life. It assures him that he can achieve this purpose by pursuing absolute values.
- It assures woman that she is not a tool for the sex gratification of man; that she too is a free, independent and rational being. “She is an end unto herself.” Her aim in life should not be to make herself a source of temptation to men but to impart meaningful partnership.
- The Qur’an condemns lewdness, indecency, pornography and all things that excite and ponder to the sex passion:
Say, my Rabb forbiddeth indecencies, such of them as are apparent and such as are within (7:33).
- It affirms the value of chastity and commands men and women equally to lead a pure and chaste life. It regards chastity as essential for the development of human personality, both for man and woman.
- It reminds man of his duty to his children. He is enjoined to bring up his children properly, to educate them, to inculcate in their minds the human level of life (as against the animal level) and permanent values, and to give them a fair start in life.
Some modern writers, after an extensive study of the sex life of primitive as well as civilised men, have come to the conclusion that chastity is essential to the progress of humanity. J.D. Unwin of Cambridge University, has studied the sex life of some eighty primitive tribes and of sixteen civilised nations. He has set forth his views in his book Sex and Culture. In the Preface he writes:
Briefly stated, my final conclusion is that the cultural behaviour of any human society depends, first, on the inherent nature of the human organism, and, secondly, on the state of energy into which, as the result of its sexual regulations, the society has arrived(1)
The conclusions he draws from his study of the primitive peoples are as follows:
- That group was on the lowest level of culture in which sexual intercourse without marriage was openly permitted;
- the tribe in which there were some restrictions on sexual relations without marriage were on the middle level; and
- on the highest level were the tribes which insisted on pre-marital chastity.(2)
Summing up the results of his investigation, he says:
I submit, therefore, that the limitation of the sexual opportunity must be regarded as the cause of the cultural advance.(3)
No society can display social energy unless a new generation inherits a social system under which sexual opportunity is reduced to a minimum. If such a system be preserved, a richer and yet richer tradition will be created, refined by human entropy.(4)
Unwin’s concluding remarks deserve careful consideration:
If a vigorous society wishes to display its productive energy for a long time, and even forever, it must recreate itself. I think, first by placing the sexes on a level of complete legal equality, and then by altering its economic and social organisation in such a way as to render it both possible and tolerable for sexual opportunity to remain at a minimum for an extended period, and even for ever. In such a case the face of the society will be set in the Direction of the Cultural Process; its inherited tradition would be continually enriched, it would achieve a higher culture than has yet been attained; by the action of human entropy its tradition would be augmented and refined in a manner which surpasses our present understanding.(5)
The Qur’an, by granting to woman the status of a free responsible citizen, by placing the sexes on the level of complete legal equality, and by reducing sexual opportunity to the minimum, is only seeking to set up the conditions which find support from human research.
- J.D. Unwin, Sex and Culture, p. xiv.
- Ibid, pp. 300-325.
- Ibid, p. 317.
- Ibid, p. 414.
- Ibid, p. 432.
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1. Man and the Universe
Only that endures which is beneficial for mankind (13:17).
This verse, which was quoted at the end of the last chapter, is thought-provoking, and we will find an attempt to probe into and explore its implications, highly rewarding. Here is a reliable criterion for judging man’s activities. Only those activities have intrinsic worth which lead to the production of something beneficial to mankind. The criterion, however, goes much farther than that. In the course of evolution, only those variations were preserved which were serviceable to the species in their struggle for survival. The physical world too, through the same process, has, in the course of countless ages, become a place fit for man to live in and pursue truly human ends. Had the earth grown increasingly hotter or colder, man would have long ago made his hurried exit. As it is, he prospers and flourishes on it and his efforts to understand and control it have been richly rewarded. Now, he even takes a hand in changing his physical environment in a way that helps him to rise higher in the scale of existence.
This challenging attitude towards the physical environment is, however, of recent origin. For long ages, man felt ill at ease in the world. Primitive man believed himself to be surrounded by hostile forces bent on destroying him. He believed that his only chance of survival lay in placating and appeasing those forces, and, consequently, he personified and deified them. Tormented by a sense of utter helplessness, he thought he could save himself only by arousing the pity of the gods. He sought to appease the raging storm, the turbulent river or crashing thunder by methods which had proved effective in pacifying an enraged neighbour or a furious enemy. With the increase in knowledge and experience, this primitive view of the world was replaced by paganism. The pagans felt more secure in the world and thought it even possible to control it. Man’s first crude attempts to control physical nature took the form of magic and witchcraft. Later, more advanced pagans outgrew magic and relied on their intellect to understand nature. However, the ancient belief that physical nature was unfriendly and alien to man lingered on and coloured the thinking of the greatest pagan thinkers. Plato pinned his faith on human reason and finding that the world of matter fell far short of the perfection of ideas and forms that reason apprehends, he regarded it as a poor and faint copy of the real world. He looked upon the physical world with utter contempt as a mere shadow of Reality. The philosopher, he believed, should be absorbed in the contemplation of eternal ideas and forms. The otherworldly strain in Platonism appeared in a fully developed form in Neo-Platonism, the source of all types of mysticism. The true mystic regards the physical environment as essentially evil and his chief concern is to shun it and take all precautions against being contaminated by it. He seeks salvation not with the help of the physical world but by avoiding all contact with it. The mystics also subscribe to Plato’s theory of knowledge. Plato held that the senses are deceptive and knowledge gained through them is unreliable. Sense-perception cannot yield true knowledge; at best it can yield only opinion. Reason is the only source of true knowledge. Instead of observing nature, we should fix our gaze on the transcendental Reality. The mystic sought seclusion where he could devote himself to meditation and contemplation. Absorbed in himself, he was as indifferent to human society as he was to nature. He took little or no interest in the problems of social life. One social system was as good or rather as bad for him as another. The goal of making life more enjoyable and agreeable for the common man did not appeal to him. The ideal life for him was that of the hermit. He desired communion with the Absolute, oblivious to both the physical and the social world. With the extreme subjectivism, it was distasteful to him to mix with people and work with them for improving the conditions of life. Schemes of social uplift failed to kindle a spark of interest in his mind, engrossed as it was with otherworldly matters. It did not occur to him that by understanding nature and learning to control its forces, he could make far better progress in self-development and self-realisation. He failed to see that by acquiring knowledge of nature he would gain knowledge of himself too. Human organism and its potentialities cannot be understood when man is studied in isolation. To understand him, we have to study him in the context of his physical environment. It is in the intimate interaction with the world of nature and society that human self reveals itself in all its glory. The potentialities latent in man can be actualised only by struggling with and overcoming the forces of nature. The so-called “spiritual” development which is divorced from physical and mental development – and which is the aim of all religions has no meaning. Man is an organism and one side of organism cannot be developed at the expense of other sides. He must develop as a whole. He pays a heavy price if his development is lop-sided. He must make progress on all fronts – physical, mental and moral – and this is how his personality will develop. He can open the way to progress only by making the world a better place to live in and by creating a social organisation which gives full scope for freedom and development. This is where the mystics failed. They had only a narrow vision. Preoccupied with purely “spiritual” matters of their own imagination, which do not exist in reality, they failed to apprehend a dynamic relationship with their environment. They ought to have aimed at the knowledge of man in the universe and in relationship to the universe. Man in isolation is hardly human. Only when he is in contact with his physical environment and with his fellow beings that he rises to his full stature.
2. The Qur’an on Man and Nature
The Qur’an puts man in a meaningful relationship with nature. To grasp the significance of the Qur’anic view, we should compare it with two other views which are stoutly defended by some modern thinkers. According to one of these, nature is definitely hostile to man and takes a fiendish delight in bringing to naught his noblest enterprises. Hardy and Schopenhauer took a gloomy view of life and felt that men could enjoy peace, the peace of insensibility, only when they ceased to exist. The other view is apparently more compatible with the findings of modern thought. According to it, nature is completely indifferent to man and his ideals. It simply does not care whether man succeeds or fails. Human history may well prove to be a brief episode in cosmic evolution. The earth may go on rolling round the sun for ages after man has disappeared from its surface. Opposing both these views, the Qur’an presents nature as friendly to man, responsive to his intellect and sympathetic to his moral endeavour. Both nature and man have been created by a wise and benevolent God and fundamentally there is no conflict between them. Man can develop only with the help of nature. This help he can obtain provided he acquires knowledge of nature and utilises it for the achievement of his moral ends in the light of Divine Guidance. The knowledge referred to is scientific knowledge. The only method by which he can study nature profitably is the scientific method. Equipped with scientific knowledge he can bend nature to his service. Natural forces can be made to serve man. This truth the Qur’an has expressed in the metaphorical language that the “Malaaikah (cosmic forces) prostrated themselves before Adam (man)” (2:34). Man, as the verses quoted below show, occupies a privileged position in the physical world and it is his destiny to become master of it:
God has pressed into the service of man the sun and the moon, to perform their courses, and He has pressed the night and the day into his service (14:33).
And He hath of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; it is all from Him. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who reflect (45:13).
If we reflect on the physical world we find that it is governed by unalterable laws, and by discovering these laws we can subjugate everything in it and make it serve our purposes. The destiny of man lies not in turning away from nature but in making it obey his will.
The physical world, the Qur’an asserts, is not a shadow or maya (illusion). It is real and not merely an appearance. “And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain” (38:27). They are in error who refuse to ascribe reality to the seen world. “That is the opinion of those who do not believe (in the truth)” (38:27). It is these people who consider the world to be an illusion. If it is an illusion, it means that it has no meaning. Islam rejects this view as utterly false and kufr. The Qur’an says that the universe was created bil -Haqq, which means that it is true and has a purpose. “Allah created the heavens and the earth with Haqq” (29:44). It is the duty of the faithful, Mumins, therefore, to observe the truth spread out before their eyes. “Therein is indeed a portent for believers” (29:44). We are left in no doubt as regards the reality of the universe. It is not (as believed by Hindus) Rama’s Leela, a toy with which God amuses Himself for a moment, nor is it Brahma’s dream. In either case it would have had no serious purpose and would have vanished as God woke up or turned to some serious work. The Qur’an rejects these views as false:
And we created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in play. We created them not save with Haqq (44:38-39).
The Qur’an distinguishes between two kinds of knowledge – perceptual and conceptual. Through perceptual knowledge we become aware of and deal with that portion of the physical environment which happens at the moment to be the centre of our interest. Through conceptual knowledge we rise above the particularity of concrete facts and cognise the unities which underlie the multiplicity of the world. The conceptual framework we build up is far removed from the rich vivid concrete reality of the actual world, yet it gives us an insight into the working of the nature and greater power of control over it. The point to note is that both kinds of knowledge have their source in the senses. In the Platonic theory of knowledge, reason can achieve knowledge of the Real independently of the senses. The Qur’an accords full recognition to the role of the senses in the “knowing activity.” According to the Qur’an, the mind (fuaad) gropes for knowledge from the data provided by the senses.
We see that the Qur’anic view is close to, if not identical with, the empirical theory of knowledge. The Qur’an exhorts man to use his senses and observe nature sagaciously. This is the first step in getting to know nature and its way:
And follow not that whereof thou hast no knowledge. Lo! the hearing and the sight and the fuaad (heart) – of each of these it will be asked (17:36).
Those who do not make proper use of their senses and mental powers sink to the animal level. “Many of the people, both civilised and nomads, live a life which dooms them to hell” (7:179). The reason for this is that “they have hearts wherewith they understand not, have eyes wherewith they see not, and have ears wherewith they hear not” (7:179). The result is that they cease to be rational beings. ”These are like cattle: nay, but they are worse. These are the neglectful” (7:179).
In sharp contrast to such people are those who ponder over God’s creation, for they know that “In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day, are surely signs to men of understanding” (3:189). They are the men “who keep in their mind (the laws of) Allah standing and sitting and reclining, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth” (7:190). When they reflect on the grandeur of nature, they are deeply moved and exclaim:”Our Rabb! Thou hast not created this in vain” (3:190). When they approach nature with the attitude of the believers (Mu’mins) they feel it in their bones that it has a meaning and a purpose. With their intellectual honesty, they cannot but admit that certain things in it are incomprehensible to them at the present level of their knowledge. With humility they confess that they do not know, but they have a conviction that if they persist in seeking more knowledge, one day they will perceive the meaning of these as well. Men who lack this conviction live “in a sort of hell” (7:191), and the pity is that no one can help them” (7:191).
The Qur’an speaks of those who study nature and try to discover the laws that govern it as “men of knowledge and insight”; because, says the Qur’an: “Lo ! in the heavens and the earth are portents for believers” (45:3). In seeking knowledge, the believers are spurred on by their Eiman. “And in your creation and of all the beasts that He scattereth in the earth, are portents for a folk whose Eiman is sure” (45:4). They know that:
The alternation of night and day and the provision that Allah sendeth down from the sky and thereby quickeneth the earth after her death, and the ordering of the winds, are portents for a people who have sense (45:5).
The Rasool is told:
These are the portents of Allah which We recite unto thee with Haqq (45:6).
Eiman in God may not follow from purely logical arguments: it springs from the direct experience of order, harmony and beauty in nature. The Qur’an says that these are the visible signs of the invisible Being:
Then in what besides Allah and His portents will they believe? (45:6).
According to the Qur’an, Eiman in God has a dual source. Contemplation of the outer world of nature and of man himself guides us to the power that manifests itself in both. By insisting that nature provides a pathway to God, the Qur’an concedes the validity of the so-called “natural religion.” It adds, however, that Eiman induced by the contemplation of nature, should be reinforced by Revelation. It is the confluence of the two streams of influence that produces the Eiman of a true believer, the Mu’min. The unbeliever, the Kafir, is one whose mind is arid because it has not been irrigated by either stream. Eiman is not a passive assent to a dogma. It is the vivid sense of God’s laws which set every fibre in the body vibrating in unison with the infinite power immanent in the universe. When Eiman is actually expressed in a way of life, and when it inspires and informs the conduct of man, it is called Taqwa, in the language of the Qur’an. The Mu’min, armed with Eiman and Taqwa, can defy every destructive power:
Verily, in the alternation of night and day and in what God has created in the heavens and the earth, are surely signs to people who abide by Allah’s laws and wish to be protected against destructive powers (10:6).
Drawing our attention to the starry firmament above, the Qur’an kindles in our mind a sense of its infinitude. In contemplating the heavens we are contemplating the infinite. Therein we have a value experience of a high order, composed of curiosity, wonder, awe, reverence, and feelings of sublimity and beauty. Who knows but there may be life and reason in some of the countless galaxies in the infinity of space:
And of His signs is the creation of the heaven and the earth, and what He has spread abroad in both of them of living things; and He has the power to gather them together (according to His plans) (42:29).
4. Men of Knowledge
We have seen that the Qur’an attaches prime importance to the acquisition of knowledge. We have also noted that the Qur’an applies the term “knowledge” neither to something which mere intellect produces out of itself nor to the sense-data collectively, but to the product of the interaction of the senses and intellect. We can now ask whom does the Qur’an regard as men of knowledge – Ulamaa. A clue is provided by the verses quoted below.
Hast thou seen that Allah causeth water to fall from the sky and produces therewith fruit of diverse hues, and among the hills are streaks white and red, of diverse hues and others raven-black.
And of men and beasts and cattle in like manner diverse hues. It is the ‘Ulamaa – men of knowledge – among His servants who (reflecting upon the magnitude of the creation and the Divine laws governing it) feel awe and are wonder struck (35:27-28).
We find in these verses a clear reference to generic sciences. The men of knowledge are, therefore, those who have acquired knowledge of these natural phenomena, that is, they are the men whom we now call scientists. The sphere of work of the ‘Ulamaa is the science of man and nature. It is obvious that the “Muslim ‘Ulama” have since long, relinquished their proper object of study and have applied their keen intellect to matters of far less importance. Absorbed in matters relating to ritual and ceremonial, which are the adjuncts of institutional religion, they could not spare the time to observe and study nature as they had been commanded to do by God. Instead of ranging over the wide expanse of the world of nature, their mind moved in a narrow circle with the result that it has lost its vigour and flexibility. It is high time they turned their attention to the proper object of study – the signs and portents of God, the varied phenomena of nature and the human mind:
And We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within their own selves, until it will be manifest unto them that it is Haqq (41:58).
Our Eiman grows pari passu with our knowledge. As the hidden order and harmony of nature are revealed to us, we believe that the Qur’an enshrines truth. We believe that “He has sent it (the Qur’an) Who knows the secrets in the heavens and the earth” (25:6). We should therefore, reflect on “His signs as manifested in the Anfus (human selves) and Afaaq (the physical world)” (41:53), in order to have a clear vision of the manifestation of His law of creation. The more intimate our contact with nature, the deeper is our insight into the working of the Divine Law that guides the universe in its progress towards its goal.
The objection may be raised at this point that the view we have been expounding is nothing but a brand of naturalism with theism grafted into it. By calling on the ‘Ulamaa, who are “divines,” to engage in scientific research, we are making them mere men of science and asking them to relinquish their proper field which is “religion.” We agree that in the context of what goes as “religion” it would be sacrilegious to ask the “divines” to turn to scientific research. But Islam is not a “religion,” it is deen, and deen is a balanced amalgam of worldly and godly affairs. To conquer the forces of nature and utilise them for the benefit of mankind in accordance with permanent values as laid down by Revelation, is deen. You have to master the forces of nature first before you can make any good use of them. Science is not only an ally but a prerequisite of deen. If persons who claim to be scholars of deen are strangers to its spirit and are content in their ignorance of scientific knowledge, they can serve no interest of deen. They should allow the winds of science to blow freely over their minds. Scientific knowledge will deepen their insight into deen as it is the knowledge of “the signs and portents of God.” This pregnant Qur’anic phrase means that the knowledge of the sign – nature – is prelude to the knowledge of God to whom it points.
This will be possible only if the basic (prevalent) concept of Islam is changed and it is taken out of the realm of “religion” This, unfortunately, our ‘Ulamaa consider Irtidaad (apostasy). So let us proceed further.
As regards nations who have gained mastery over the forces of nature but who do not utilise them in the light of the Divine Law – permanent values – they too cannot evade the doom that awaits them. Says the Qur’an:
And verily We had empowered them (nations of the past) with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts, but their ears and eyes and hearts availed them not since they rejected the revelations of Allah, and what they used to mock befell them (46:26).
The main points to note are:
- People engaged in understanding and controlling the forces of nature and shaping their lives according to the Divine Law are Mumins and Muttaqees. They enjoy happiness in this world and will enjoy it in the next stage of life.
- Those who achieve the conquest of nature but use their power for purposes opposed to the Divine Order are rewarded with success in this world for the time being, but have nothing to hope for in the future.
- Those who turn away from nature and make no attempt to understand and conquer it, cannot attain human stature. They live a life of hardship and misery in this world and will find the way to progress blocked in the next world, for:
Who is blind here, will be blind in the Hereafter, and yet farther away from the true path (17:72).
Conquering the forces of nature and utilising them for the benefit of mankind in accordance with the Laws of God as revealed by Him, and thereby developing one’s own self, is the essence of Islam. This, and this alone, can ensure a beautiful heavenly life in this as well as in the Hereafter. This way of life is called deen.
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1. Qur’an and History
The Qur’an has, time and again, directed man’s attention to the phenomena of nature and the events of history, and has exhorted him to reflect and ponder over them. These two fields, so apart from each other, are fundamentally alike, as both reflect the same Divine purpose. The working of law is discernible in both. Today, the processes that govern the coming into and passing out of existence of living organisms seem pretty clear. But when we pass from the individual life to group existence, the picture becomes a little hazy. Nevertheless, creditable data has been compiled on the rules that govern the emergence and disintegration of human groups. The philosophy of history has tried to broaden the spectrum and to identify the laws that govern the rise and fall of nations. It has been a laudable attempt, but it has, so far, failed to give an intelligible account of the course of human history. None of the concepts put forward has held the field for long. The result is that history still appears to be a disorderly succession of fortuitous events. The Qur’an invites a look into history from a fresh angle which deserves attention. According to the Qur’an, the Divine purpose is at work in human affairs as it is in nature – the inanimate world – but with a difference. In nature, the Divine purpose is progressively accomplished through laws from which there is no escape. We may call them the Divine Will. The material is passive and can be moulded into any form concordant with the purpose of God. In history, on the other hand, the purpose is to be worked out through the willing and active co-operation of free finite beings. The Divine Will, by a self-imposed restraint, permits them to act and choose for themselves. The human beings who play their part on the stage of history, have, sometimes, lived and acted in harmony with God’s purpose and, sometimes, against it. In the former case, they have prospered, progressed and taken their rightful place in the vanguard of civilisation; in the latter case, they have fallen behind other people, have decayed and ultimately have been supplanted by others. In this process, a causal relation is indicated. Each way of life produces its own consequences. The set of regulations which governs these results is the Law of Requital. As you sow, so shall you reap. This law is as relentless and inexorable in its working as any other law of nature. The Qur’an has repeatedly affirmed this law and, drawing upon human history, has provided copious illustrations of its working. A nation which adopts a way of life that accords with the moral order of the universe, achieves success in every field of activity. It wins both wisdom and material prosperity. A nation whose way of life is opposed to this order, inevitably decays and disintegrates.
History is a record of the rise and fall of nations. It tells us about the nations that flourished in the past – their way of life, the goals they pursued, the values around which their culture was organised, their actions and the consequences of those actions. History taken not merely as a chronicle of events but as assessment of working of values can help us solve our own problems. This assessment would give us power – power of prediction and power of control – in the sphere of collective affairs. We can avoid pitfalls. If we find ourselves following a course that has brought nations to a calamitous end, we can check ourselves in time, retrace our steps back to the crossroad and choose a better path, if not the right one. We can thus have not only a guiding light to judge our own way of life, our thinking and our actions, but also an insight into the future of other nations from the ideals pursued by them. In short, if we wish to make the best of life, there is no escape from a study of history relating the conduct of the people with the fate that befell them. That is why the Qur’an exhorts us to go round the world and see for ourselves “the fate of those who defied God,” i.e., His Laws. Wealth, power, numbers, nothing could save them when they ran afoul of the higher values. History has judged them, as it will, in time, judge us. The prognosis is within our grasp:
Verily, we have sent down for you revelations that make plain, and the example of those who passed away before you. An admonition unto those who wish to be secured from the pitfalls in the way of life (24:34).
The method of the Qur’an is, first to state the laws that govern the fate of nations, and then to cite instances from history to illustrate the working of those laws. The purpose of the Qur’an is not to record past events in all their details but to give sufficient reference to make its own point and leave out the rest. Thus the Qur’an imparts such a deep insight into the nature of the life process that it inspires unquestioning faith in its pronouncement when it says:
Have they not travelled in the land to see the nature of the consequence for those before them? They were more numerous than these and mightier in power and in the traces (which they have left behind them) in the earth. But all that they used to earn availed them not. And when their messengers brought them clear proofs (of the consequences of their doings), they exulted in the knowledge they themselves possessed. And that which they were wont to mock, befell them (40:82-83).
These nations enjoyed many advantages. They possessed power, wealth, technical knowledge and a rich material culture. In prosperity they had multiplied and spread over the earth. But when they chose to defy the moral order of the universe, all their efforts to ward off the blow of fate were of no avail. They fell into decay and dwindled away. They could not plead ignorance as they had been warned time and again by Anbiya from amongst themselves. These Anbiya had admonished them to recognise their mistakes and mend their ways. They, however, chose to ignore the warnings and persisted in treading a dangerous path. Vanity and pride ruled their hearts and, elated by temporary successes, they failed to foresee the long-term results of their actions. At last, they reached the limit that the Laws of God have set to everything. When they crossed it, their fate was sealed. They had reached the point of no return. Remorse and repentance could not save them thereafter:
(When they had crossed the limit) their Eiman could not avail them when they saw their doom. This is Allah’s Law which has ever taken course in regard to His servants (mankind); and there were the ungodly lost (40:85).
A prominent aspect of the eternal, the unalterable, law is that there are limits within which possibilities of change and recovery are available. Beyond those limits, nothing avails and all attempts to save oneself run into sands.
2. The law at Work
The basic attitude that the law demands in human relationship is respect for the dignity of man-for human personality which every individual possesses equally and which has an intrinsic value. A disregard of this value manifests itself in exploitation of other human beings, either by damage to their person or to their possessions. The exploiting nations are ruined:
How many a community, that dealt unjustly have We shattered, and raised up after them another community. And when they saw the consequences of their doings in the shape of their doom, they tried to run away from it.
But it was said unto them: run not away but return to that wherein you delighted and to your dwellings, that you may be questioned (as to whence you had obtained so much wealth and the way in which you had dealt with others).
They confessed there upon and said: Lo! we were wrongdoers. And this their crying ceased not till We made them reaped corn, extinct (21:11-14).
The consequences may take their time but are inevitable. The universe was not meant to be without a moral order:
We created not the heaven and earth and all that is between them in sport (21:16).
They have been created so that Our Law of Requital may be set in operation (45:22).
When a people choose to take a life in defiance of the moral order, there is actually no time lag between action and its decaying result on their life process. But it may take some time for the effect to be perceptible and to manifest itself in social and economic maladies. Anyone stopping at the maladies in his analysis of the causes of a nation’s fall would only be reaching the obvious symptoms but not the root cause – the ungodly way of life. The symptoms can be suppressed without curing the real disease. This would be inviting eruption of the disease in other and more dangerous forms. The Qur’an, taking a comprehensive view of life, calls for a radical cure, that is, a change of heart and a new orientation. When this change is brought about, the symptoms start disappearing. The only cure for social ills is a return to the path of righteousness and rectitude.
The Qur’an designates the Law of Requital as the Sunnah of God-the uniform way in which He deals with the world in its physical and moral aspects. Sunnah implies order, uniformity and consistency. It is the expression of God’s rationally directed Will.
This has been the course followed by God with regard to those who passed away before. The bidding of God is a decree, measured according to a definite pattern called Divine Laws (33:39). This law, or “habit of God” knows no change. It will operate in the future as it has operated in the past:
This is the course (habit) of Allah with regard to those who passed away before; and never shalt thou find a change in the course (law) of Allah (33:62).
This ”habit of God” is also specifically related to the consequences of going against His laws:
And they swore by Allah, their most binding oath, that if a warner came to them, they would be more tractable than any of the nations, yet when a warner came unto them, he aroused in them naught save repugnance (shown in their) behaving arrogantly in the land and plotting mischief; and the plotting of mischiefs encloseth but the people who make it. Do they then expect a treatment other than the one meted out to those of old. But thou wilt not find any change in the course of God nor shalt thou find any variation in the course of God (35:42-43).
And nothing in the universe is out of His reach or out of His knowledge:
Allah is not such that aught in the heavens or in the earth escapeth Him. Lo! He is the Wise, the Mighty (35:44).
3. The Qur’anic View of History
Because of his rational nature, man always seeks to discern the meaning of things. He has been least successful in his attempt to discern the meaning of history. What does history mean? Is it merely “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing?” Or, can we discern, however dimly it may be, some plan, design, pattern or rhythm in the long succession of events recorded therein? This question has exercised the minds of some of the greatest thinkers. They have had tantalising glimpses of the meaning of history but no more. We shall briefly refer to the views of two most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century – Hegel and Marx. Evolution is the key note of the Hegelian theory of history. If we ask what it is that evolves, the answer is reason or the Absolute Idea. The Idea is continuously unfolding itself, actualising its immense potentialities in the historical process. The process is, therefore, meaningful and purposive. Development does not, however, proceed directly forward: the Idea first begins as a thesis, then a force arises opposite to it, called an antithesis, and finally there is a compromise termed as a synthesis, which incorporates the best in each of the preceding positions. This onward movement of the Idea is termed Dialectic. Reason, whether in the individual, society or the universe, develops in the dialectical fashion. The disharmony implicit in everything is the cause of change and development. For Hegel, the universe is both rational and dynamic. Each civilisation is higher in the scale of value than the preceding one and will in its turn give place to a still higher one. Progress, therefore, is a real fact. The Hegelian view certainly makes the historical process meaningful. This view, however, suffers from a fatal weakness. It fails to do justice to individuality. Evolution, working slowly, through untold ages, has finally produced the free rational individual. Such an individual may be regarded as the goal towards which the process had been moving. The future course of evolution would therefore be in the direction of the gradual perfection of the individual. In the Hegelian scheme, the emphasis is on the whole and the individual merely subserves the purposes of the whole. This, we believe, is a fatal error, and is responsible, though not solely, for the theory of “the nation being an organism, with a being, ends and means of action superior to those of the individuals, separate or grouped, of whom it is composed …. a moral, political and economic unity, integrally realised in (a totalitarian) state,”(1) thereby crushing the individual under the iron wheels of this Jagannathan chariot*.
In the Marxian theory, prime importance is attached to the economic factor. The economic system at any particular time determines the ideals, values, moral standard and every aspect of the society. One economic system gives place to another in the same dialectical manner. Here too, the focus of interest is on the society and not on the individual. Society develops through the working of economic forces and the individual has no choice but to fit into whatever social system happens to be in ascendance. Any individual who refuses to fit into the social pattern, is weeded out. The Marxian theory ignores the main trend of evolution in the present age. It too has led to the, establishment of a totalitarian regime in which each individual man is no more than a mere cog in a gigantic machine.
It is obvious that both Hegel and Marx glimpsed only part of, and not the whole, truth. Both were right in regarding the universe as a dynamic evolving system: both were wrong in denying that the goal was the emergence of fully developed, perfect, free and rational individuals. The historical process becomes meaningful only when it is viewed as developing towards this goal.
This is the central element in the Qur’anic view of history. The historical process is a manifestation of the evolutionary process – a process in which the participants are individuals, endowed with freedom and foresight. However, the foresight they possess is limited and bedevilled by sordid distractions. In this situation, there are limitless possibilities of taking a wrong turn. What is intended is objective direction that can keep on the path towards the distant goal that is not immediately comprehensible. Human reason supplemented by Revelation enables man to rediscover the right path. The historical process will ultimately produce conditions in which each individual can devote himself to the pursuit of the absolute values which are the primary concern of Revelation. The goal is the setting up of the Divine Social Order.
We must, however, ask why this social order is nowhere visible, not even in any Muslim country, although the Qur’an has been with us for fourteen centuries. The answer is that cosmic processes work slowly, very slowly. It is only by taking a long-term view that we can perceive the trend of a world process. To quote the Qur’an: “But lo! A day with Allah is equal to a thousand years as ye reckon” (22:47). The whole of humanity can move only slowly towards this objective. Man has to suffer many setbacks, reverses, disappointments, and pass through many a trial and travail before he can attain it. He must work patiently and hopefully and keep up his courage even when the prospect is bleak. He who does the right thing, no matter how little, is helping forward the process, and he who does wrong is retarding it. Every action has its natural consequences for the doer himself as well as for his nation:
And whosoever doeth good an atom’s weight will see it then and whosoever doeth ill an atom’s weight will see it then (99:7-8).
Every action of man is recorded and the consequences inevitably follow. Good, however, prevails over bad. The consequences of a wrong action can be nullified by a right act. “Good deeds” says the Qur’an, “annul bad deeds” (11:114). The fate of the individual or of the nation, therefore, depends on which kind of actions predominate;
As for him whose scales are heavy (with good works) he will live a pleasant life. But as for him whose scales are light, the ”Bereft and Hungry One” will be his mother (abode). Ah! what will convey unto thee what she is – a raging fire (10:6-11).
A grim fate surely overtakes the nation which has set itself in opposition to the moral order of the universe. However, as already stated, the Law of Requital works slowly. The effects of a particular way of life may not be obvious for years. The nation is deluded by a false sense of security. If it does not mend its ways and persists in the wrong course, it is doomed “and God shall lead them on (to destruction) by steps they perceive not” (68:44). The Universal Divine Order has no use for a nation which merely impedes the progress of humanity. Such a nation drops out of the procession of mankind and can never rejoin it. Its disappearance is not even noticeable:
And the heaven and the earth wept not for them, nor were they reprieved (44:29).
Such a nation, sooner or later, disappears from history. A nation which takes to destructive ways is invariably granted a respite, long or short. It is saved if it retraces its steps and turns back to the right path before reaching the point of no return. This respite is termed ajal in the Qur’an. “For every nation there is an ajal ” (7:34), and “for every ajal there is a law” (13:38). The limit beyond which a nation cannot pass without being irretrievably lost is determined by Divine Law:
Allah effaceth and establisheth everything according to a law the source of which is with Him (13:39).
3.Doom of the Nations
History bears testimony to the fact that the conduct of nations, as that of individuals, is governed by the Law of Requital. A nation which lives and acts in accordance with the moral order and furthers the development of man, prospers and grows strong. An unjust and reactionary nation, on the other hand, heads for ruin. Each succeeds or fails as a consequence of its own acts. The events of history are not unrelated and arbitrary but are truly determined by an unalterable standard. History is not the sport of a capricious fate but is a lawful, orderly process. If a nation suffers, it has brought the suffering on itself. It cannot blame it on any outside agency. “He who has to perish,” says the Qur’an, ”perishes by a clear proof, and he who has to survive, survives by a clear proof” (8:42). Success or failure are the eventual consequences of our good or bad conduct. The Qur’an makes this clear:
God does not do injustice to anyone. It is the people who do injustice to themselves (11:101).
It is man who often acts against his best interests:
Why should God punish you if you are grateful? (4:147).
In another place, the Qur’an puts it still more clearly. “When misfortune befalls man, he exclaims: “my Rabb has abased me for no reason. “The Qur’an replies that God is never unjust in His dealings with men. “If you suffer, it is because you, on your part, never succour the orphan and the lonely, and urge not the feeding of the poor, and you devour the heritage with greed, and love wealth with abounding love” (89:16-20). These are the causes of their misfortunes. In this connection, the Qur’an lays down a significant principle:
In truth my Rabb was not one Who would destroy the townships tyrannically while their people were doing right (11:117).
Only those are punished who deviate from the right path (46:35).
The “doom of nations” is a recurrent theme in the Qur’an. It is worthwhile to determine the exact meaning of this term. Some nations have, in fact, been completely forgotten. It is not, however, to this fact that the Qur’an directs our attention. The Qur’an wants us to ponder over the plight of a nation, which, through its misdeeds, has lost its independence and is living in a condition of poverty, political subjection and economic dependence. It has ceased to play a creative role in the world. The leadership of humanity has passed out of its hands. It no longer lives, it merely vegetates. It has dropped out of the procession of humanity which is slowly but steadily moving towards a grand destination. The moment it lost touch with the moral order, it began to decay. Death is preferable to decay. The Qur’an says that a nation begins to decline when it pursues wealth and takes to hoard money. It should have spent the money for the general good. The rich, instead of helping the poor and the needy, amassed wealth for themselves. The inevitable consequence was that the nation began to deteriorate. It believed that wealth would make it strong but wealth worked like a poison in its system and undermined it. It ruined itself by pursuing an ignoble end:
Ye are those who are called to spend in the way of Allah, yet among you there are those who hoard. And as for him who hoardeth he hoardeth only from his own self. And Allah is the rich and ye are the poor. And if ye turn away, He will exchange you for some other folk and they shall not be like you (47:38).
The meaning is clear. If a nation refuses to work for the development of mankind and for the establishment of the Divine Order and pursues the ignoble end of self aggrandisement, it will be supplanted by another nation carrying more weight in the balance of humanity. The acquisitive nation will remain stuck in its wealth and another nation will be called upon to give a lead to mankind. This latter nation is said to be “better than its predecessor” (70:41).
The struggle between nations is carried on, on the physical as well as the moral plane. A nation which relies on brute force and cunning may succeed for a time but ultimately fails. It has to face not only the external enemy but also the discontent among the common people. However strong and well-organised the government may be, it succumbs to its opponents because it was based on injustice and tyranny. The rivalries of political factions and the mounting discontent of the people under the oppressive rule, brings about the downfall of the organisation – even if it is not defeated on the field of battle. This is the fate of the unjust society:
Say: He is able to send punishment upon you from above you or from beneath your feet, or to confuse you into parties and make you taste the tyranny one of another (6:65).
The struggle between nations when it is on the physical plane, with brute force opposed to brute force, debases and bestialises man. Men are not demoralised if the struggle is confined to the moral plane. Such a struggle does not breed hatred among nations. In this case, that system, be it political, social or economic, prevails which has greater value and clears the path for progress. Here a word of caution is needed. The moment a system succeeds, one should not jump to the conclusion that it is of greater value than its rivals. We should take a long term view. Only when its success is enduring and it is shown to be productive of good results for mankind over a period of time, can it be judged to be of value. The historical process tests each system and preserves only that which really expands and enriches human life. The Qur’an rightly exhorts us to study history:
Have they not travelled in the land and seen the nature of the consequence for those who were before them? They were stronger than these in power and they dug the earth and built upon it more than these have built. Messengers of their own came to them with clear proofs. Surely Allah wronged them not but they did wrong themselves (30:9).
A mere glance at the awe-inspiring ruins of their cities shows that they possessed everything desired by man; power, wealth, vast resources and intelligence of a high order and yet, despite these, they could not withstand the forces of decay and disintegration. It was because their system of values was fundamentally wrong. They were bewitched by the glamour of false and transient values, such as power, wealth and material prosperity. They had intelligence but not wisdom. They lacked insight into the deeper things of life. They paid the price for disregarding the demands of the moral order of the universe. The Qur’an cites the examples of Aad and Thamood. Both were rich and powerful nations. They were highly intelligent; as the Qur’an says, they were “keen observers” (29:38). But they chose a way of life which was opposed to the moral order. Their scale of values was wrong. The Qur’an says that it is the duty of the Mustabsireen, the intellectuals and the leaders of thought, to discover the right path and persuade the people to follow it. When these men do not discharge their duty properly, the nation slides into injustice and tyranny and heads for ruin. The leaders of thought are bound to keep a watchful eye on the nation and to warn it when it goes wrong. The intellectuals are to blame if the nation pursues false values. If a nation begins to decay, the process usually starts at the top. The upper stratum of the society first becomes corrupt and the corruption spreads downwards. It is strange that men of high intelligence should be the first to be corrupted. It is because they cannot resist the temptation to use their intelligence to further their own interests:
And verily, We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and mind; but their ears and eyes and mind availed them naught, since they rejected the laws revealed by Allah: and what they used to mock befell them (46:26).
It is to this truth that the Qur’an directs our attention. Knowledge and understanding, wealth and power, skill and intelligence will not avail us if we adopt a course opposed to the eternal moral order, A social system based on false values, on the glorification of wealth and power, may flourish for a time, but will ultimately crumble down. Iqbal has rightly said:
A society based on capitalism cannot maintain itself.
However much wily politicians may try to buttress it up. (Baang-e-Dara).
In the course of a discussion of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Briffault has made some thought-provoking observations, which we will do well to ponder over:
No system of human organisation that is false in its very principle in its very foundation, can save itself by any amount of cleverness and efficiency in the means by which that falsehood is carried out and maintained by any amount of superficial adjustment and tinkering. It is doomed root and branch as long as the root remains what it is.(2)
He goes on to say:
Humanity does not necessarily stand upon a higher plane of being when riding above the clouds, nor does a hundred miles an hour constitute progress; man is not intellectually transformed by being able to weigh the stars and disport his mind over wider spheres of knowledge. There is a deeper aspect of human affairs. There is something which stands nearer to the essence of human worth than any form of material or intellectual power, than the control of nature or the development of the mind’s insight. Power, civilisation, culture count for naught, if they are associated with moral evil. The real standard by which the worth of the human world is to be computed is a moral standard. It is in an ethical sense that the word ‘good’ bears its essential meaning, when applied to things human; and no process of human evolution can be counted real which is not above all an evolution in “goodness.”(3)
A society based on false principles inevitably disintegrates. We quote again from Briffault:
What really happens is that the phase of society, the order of things in which disregard of right is habitual and accepted, inevitably deteriorates and parishes. However much the individual may temporarily benefit by inequity, the social organisation of which he is a part and the very class which enjoys the fruits of that inequity, suffer inevitable deterioration through its operation. They are unadapted to the facts of their environment. The wages of sin is death by the inevitable operation of natural selection.(4)
This did not happen only in the remote past when men were still ignorant and intellectually immature. We notice the same process of deterioration in the modern scientific civilisation. Let us see what Western thinkers have to say about their own civilisation. We quote from Rene Guenon:
Modern civilisation has gone downwards step by step until it has ended by sinking to the lowest elements in man and aiming at little more than the satisfaction of the needs inherent in the material side of his nature, an aim which is, in any case, illusory as it constantly creates more artificial needs than it can satisfy.(5)
He goes on to say:
Not only have they limited their intellectual ambition to inventing and constructing machines, but they have ended by becoming in actual fact, machines themselves. The inventions whose number is at present growing at an ever increasing rate, are all the more dangerous in that they bring into play forces whose real nature is quite unknown to the men who utilise them.(6)
Guenon ventures to predict the ultimate result of these activities:
Those who unchain the brute forces of matter will perish, crushed by these same forces, of which they will no longer be masters.(7)
Einstein’s remarks on this point deserve careful attention:
By painful experience we have learnt that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life. Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labour, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him slave to his technological environment, and most catastrophic of all – creating the means for his own mass destruction. This indeed is a tragedy of overwhelming poignancy!(8)
He warns us against entrusting our destiny to intellect:
We should take care not to make the intellect our God: it has of course powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve, and it is not fastidious in its choice of a leader. This characteristic is reflected in the qualities of its priests – the intellectuals. The intellect has a sharp eye for methods and tools but is blind to ends and values.(9)
The result is that, in the words of Jung, “along the great high-roads of the world, everything seems desolate and out worn.”(10)
So far we have been considering modern society. It is time to turn to the individual and his problems. It is generally admitted that modern man is far from being happy. He possesses knowledge, power and material comforts which were undreamt of by his ancestors. These, however, have not given him the things he desires most – peace and happiness. Jung set himself the task of diagnosing the disease from which the modern man suffers. He reached the conclusion that while the modern man’s body is satisfied, his soul is not. He is out of tune with the universe. He yearns after unification with the universe but finds that a widening gulf separates him from the heart of Reality. Somewhere he took a wrong turning and in the midst of luxury, is a prey to acute discontent. The poet Iqbal sounded a similar note of warning. Of the modern man he says:
Love has no place in his life, and intellect, biting like a serpent, keeps him restless.
He has not enabled Divine guidance to subdue and control his intellect.
He explores the inter-stellar spaces, but has left the world of the mind unexplored.
He has captured the power locked up in the sun’s rays, but his own life remains enveloped in darkness (Darb-e-Kaleem).
Modern man possesses wealth, power and vast resources. His control over the forces of nature and his technological progress are truly astounding. What then is the cause of his discontent and of the decline of his civilisation? The Qur’an provides us with an answer. The cause is within himself:
Allah never changes the condition of a nation until they first change what is in themselves (8:53).
This verse makes it clear that man’s destiny lies in his own hands. What he needs is a change of heart. He has been following false ideals and pursuing ignoble ends. He has cut himself off from Reality and is drifting aimlessly. He has lost sight of the noble end he had once glimpsed with the help of Divine Revelation. For a time he pursued it, but soon allowed himself to be allured by the glittering tawdry objects that lay around. He has seized them but they have brought him only disillusionment. He was not meant to become a glorified beast but to rise to a higher plane of existence. He can save himself only by recovering his Eiman in God and in his own noble self endowed with great potentialities which he has neglected. The cure for his malady lies in his turning back to God, i.e., resuming the pursuit of the absolute values. Let us see what Bertrand Russell says about it:
In the world in which we find ourselves, the possibilities of good are almost limitless and the possibilities of evil no less so. Our present predicament is due, more than anything else, to the fact that we have learnt to understand and control to a terrifying extent, the forces of nature outside us, but not those that are embodied in ourselves.(11)
Several verses of the Qur’an throw light on the gradual decline of a nation. We are told that, as already stated, it is the upper stratum of society that is the first to be infected with wickedness. Statesmen and leaders of thought succumb to the allurement of false ideals and values. They think that scientific knowledge and technology will make them the masters of the world. They consider absolute values as figments of imagination, the creation of the minds of visionaries. They shut their eyes to the hidden riches of the human mind and glorify that which man has in common with the animals. Their distorted vision of life is adopted by their followers. The infection spreads downwards until the whole society is contaminated:
Have you not seen those who gave the bounty of Allah in exchange for thanklessness and led their people to the abode of perdition – Hell? They are exposed thereto. A hopeless end (14:28-29).
The masses too, as they allowed themselves to be misled by their leaders, are not quite blameless. It is, no doubt, true that the common people do not have the intelligence and knowledge that their leaders possess. As free responsible beings, however, it is their duty to think for themselves and pull up their leaders when they go wrong. This they did not do and, therefore, they too cannot escape punishment. However, in Hell the common people will hold their leaders responsible for the fate that has befallen them:
Oh! if thou couldst see when the wrongdoer are brought before their Rabb, how they cast the blame one to another; how those who were weaker (the followers) say unto those who were proud (the leaders): “but for you, we would have been believers” (34:31).
The leaders will retort that they (the followers) had willingly obeyed them and as such had a share in their guilt:
And those who were proud say unto those who were weaker: “did we drive you away from the guidance after it had come unto you. Nay, but you were yourself guilty” (34:32).
In short, the followers and leaders will hurl accusations at each other when they see the doom. The followers, while admitting that they had obeyed them of their own accord, will plead that they had been taken in by their specious arguments and plausible reasoning:
Those who were weaker say unto those who were proud: “Nay, but it was your scheming night and day when ye commanded us to disbelieve in Allah and set up rivals (like yourself) unto Him” (34:33).
The followers will implore God to inflict a twofold punishment on the leaders as they were doubly guilty, going astray themselves and taking others with them:
And they say: Our Rabb! Oh! we obeyed our chiefs and our great men and they misled us from the way. Our Rabb! Oh! give them double torment and curse them with a mighty curse (33:67-68).
Thus the Qur’an, in the form of an allegory, shows the respective roles of the leaders and followers in the decline and fall of a nation. Corruption starts at the upper layer of society and spreads downwards. Common men, by shirking their duty to think independently, become accomplices in the crimes of their leaders. Had they rebelled, the leaders might have been brought to their senses and checked themselves. Their willing obedience to errant leaders was in itself a crime and they have to expiate it.
It is not only individuals who imitate their betters. Nations too are tempted to imitate stronger, wealthier and more advanced nations. Backward nations eagerly follow the lead of an advanced nation. They play the sedulous ape to the great nation, faithfully copying its manners and way of life and adopting its institutions, moral standards and ideals. Most members of the weaker nation take pride in holding beliefs and opinions fashionable in an advanced nation. The relation of leader and follower is established between the great nation and other nations. The leader nation commands and the follower nations submissively obey. If the great nation is pursuing false ideals and values, the nations which have accepted its leadership likewise do so. Such passive submission to another nation paralyses the mental powers of the members of the weaker nations. They lose the capacity for independent thinking. They succumb to the glamour of the leader nation and are blind to its defects and faults. They mould their life on its model and think and feel as it does. What it considers to be right is right for them. They follow blindly in the steps of the great nation and finally fall with it into the same abyss of degradation. This has happened time and again in history. At the present time, people of the East are bewitched by the glamour of the Western civilisation. They do not view it with a critical eye. They are ardent admirers of both its good and bad qualities. They too worship the false gods of material prosperity and technological power. They are heading for disaster. When disaster befalls them both, they will blame each other:
Every time a nation entereth (the Hell) it curseth its sister (nation) till when they have all been made to follow one another thither, the latter of them shall say of the former of them: “Our Rabb! these led us astray so give them double torment of the fire” (7:38).
And God will say:
For each one there is double (torment) but ye do not know (7:38).
The reason is obvious. God has granted “eyes and ears” (knowledge and understanding) to all men. It is their duty to make full use of them. They should give careful thought to the consequences of any course of action which others advise them to follow. As rational and free beings, they are responsible for their acts. They cannot shift the responsibility to the shoulders of another. They must think, decide and choose for themselves. If they allow others, however superior to them in intellectual knowledge these may be, to think, decide and choose for them, they are abdicating their right of free choice. They have to suffer the consequences of their acts whether they performed them after due deliberation or in unthinking imitation of those whom they admired. If they had pondered on the Divine Revelation and had reflected on the fate of erring nations in the past, they would not have been dazzled by the temporary success of a nation acting in open defiance of the moral order. They are courting disaster and cannot plead in their defence that they were merely following the lead of people more intelligent and knowledgeable than themselves:
And how many a community we have destroyed that exulted in but misused the means of livelihood! And ponder over their dwellings, which have not been inhabited after them save a little. And We, even We, were the inheritors (28:58).
How many a city We have destroyed while it did wrong, so that it lieth to this day in ruins, and how many deserted wells and lofty towers (22:45).
The Qur’an says of them that “they have been made into legends” (23:44). How ephemeral is earthly glory is shown by the ruins of the great cities of the past:
Say: Travel in the earth and see what was the end of the guilty (27:69).
We are exhorted to study history, that we may avoid the path which led others to ruin. We are also advised to travel around in the world and carefully observe the life of contemporary nations. We will then see that knowledge, power, wealth, none of these can save a nation when it begins to pursue false values:
Have they not travelled in the land and have they hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear! For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind (22:46).
The great lesson that the Qur’an teaches us is that individuals as well as nations are the architects of their own fate. Their destiny lies in their own hands. If they choose to defy the moral order, they bring irretrievable ruin on themselves. If, on the other hand, they live in harmony with the eternal moral order and pursue the absolute values, an unlimited vista of progress lies before them. The Qur’an, however, does not merely state this general truth. It lays down rules of conduct for the individual as well as for the nation. The basic principle is set down in the following verse:
He sends down water from heaven, and the brooks flow according to their respective measures and the flood bears along a swelling foam. And from the metals which they melt in the fire, seeking to cast ornaments and necessaries, arises a scum like to it. Thus Allah coins (the similitude of) the true and the false. Then as for the foam, it passes away as scum upon the banks, while as for that which is beneficial to mankind, it remains in the earth. Thus Allah coins the similitudes (13:17).
The inviolable and unchangeable criterion is that:
Only that remains which is beneficial for the whole of mankind; everything else passes away like scum.
This is the eternal immutable principle which throws light on the rise and fall of nations. As long as a nation is contributing something useful to mankind and adding to the store of goodness in the world, it prospers and flourishes. The moment it fails to do so, it starts on the downward course and finally ceases to play an effective role in world affairs. Whether it disappears or lingers on for decades or even centuries is immaterial. The cosmic purpose has no use for it and works itself out through other nations. It is, therefore, clear that the nation which has identified its good with the good of mankind as a whole is following the right path. That nation is progressive which is creating something of value to mankind, something that enriches the life of all men. That nation will survive which strives to assure for all men a life of happiness, peace and prosperity. Armed might, control over the forces of nature and wealth will not avail a nation if its policies are detrimental to the interest of mankind. It is bound to pass away, for,
Only that remains which is beneficial for mankind as a whole (13:17).
4. Cosmic Process.
This discussion emerged out of the question: why the Qur’anic Social Order which assures a peaceful, prosperous and glorious life to mankind has not been established anywhere in the world, not even in any Muslim state, although the Divine Guidance has been with us for fourteen centuries. The answer so far provided is that cosmic process is slow, very slow when measured by serial or historic time. The point requires further elucidation. Evolutionary changes take place in the outer universe automatically, according to Divine plan, and by stages, each involving thousands and thousands of years to accomplish. This is cosmic process. In the case of man, however, this process works in a somewhat different way. Man (and here we mean man not travelling in the light of Divine guidance) when pressed by circumstances to modify any existing state of affairs, adopts a course which he thinks the best, works on it strenuously day in and day out, but finds at the end that the course adopted was wrong. He abandons it and embarks upon another course. This he has to repeat time and again. Often he feels exhausted during the course of his journey and leaves the experiment incomplete in dire frustration. Even when he reaches his destination, the labour involved and the time spent do not commensurate with the result achieved – the span of human life is so short and the distance to be traversed so lengthy. This process of ”trial and error” is another form of cosmic process. Man has, however, not been left in wilderness to find his way out, unaided by a guide or without any signposts on his way. He has been blessed with Divine guidance. If he adopts the course suggested by it straightaway, not only is he protected against pitfalls but the time taken to reach the goal also shrinks from cosmic reckoning to human calendar. Fourteen hundred years ago, a group of believers made this experiment most successfully, which, apart from the miraculous results it produced, proved that neither the Qur’anic Social Order was a utopia nor the programme laid down to establish it was unworkable. Their later generations, however, abandoned that course, with the result that they met the same fate as did the past nations who acted similarly. (This, by the way, is the negative proof of the efficacy of the Divine Law governing the rise and fall of nations). The Divine course is still there and can be taken up by any nation who wishes to reach human destination safely and within the shortest possible time:
Say: The truth from your Rabb is there; so let whosoever will accept, and let whosoever will reject (18:29).
- Charter of Labour of 1927, quoted by Earnest Barker, in Principles of
- Social and Political Theory, p. 133.
- R. Briffault, The Making of Humanity, p. 159.
- Ibid, p. 259.
- Ibid. p. 262.
- Rene Guenon, The Crisis of the Modern World, p. 26.
- Ibid, pp. 126; 131.
- Ibid, p. 136.
- A. Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 152.
- Ibid, p. 260.
- C. G. Jung, Modern Man In Search of Soul, p. 251.
- B. Russell, Authority and the Individual, p. 125.
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1. The Distant Past
Human characteristics are baffling in their complexity and contradictions. Man’s capacity for ennoblement is equalled only by his capacity for debasement. He can rise to heights of sublimity but also sinks to the lowest depths of degradation. He may adore God with a fervour which is truly angelical; on the other hand, he may take devilish delight in debauchery and sensuality. If he can rise to heights of spiritual grandeur in love and can even die for his beloved, he can also hate like a beast of the jungle. Endowed with an intelligence which can explore interstellar spaces and can weigh the sun and the earth, he may remain ignorant of his own worth and latent powers and foolishly follow a path that will surely lead to the extermination of the human race.
War has been with man throughout his existence on this planet. As far as our eye can penetrate the haze of the distant past, we see men fighting each other. Despite the splendid civilisation he has created, and despite his glorious achievements in art and science, one wonders whether a being so busy with destroying his kind deserves to be called human. It is true that from time to time great men have appeared who have held aloft the banner of peace, tolerance and fellowship, but equally prominent men have as often preached the opposite gospel and glorified war. To Nietzsche, fighting was a noble occupation. “Men should be educated for war,” he counselled, “and women for the production of warriors,” and adds, to make his meaning clear, “everything else is folly.” Mussolini looked upon war as a moral necessity. Hitler regarded war as the basic principle of life. For him law was only that which a soldier laid down. In his view, only those who help the state to prepare for war really contribute to national culture and social wellbeing. “We should demolish” says Heinrich Hauser, “all those institutions which safeguard peace and security for man. Life will be stable and simple only in an age we call barbaric.”
Although such extreme views are now generally despised and ridiculed, there are still many influential persons today who would not hesitate to plunge the world in war to settle an international dispute: fortunately they are restrained by the sober men in every country. They are also deterred by the prospect of nuclear war which would spell the annihilation of the victor and vanquished alike.
It is a fact that the menace of war has not receded from the present world. The policy of brinkmanship practised by some heads of states poses a threat to mankind. It is strange that modern man who aspires to colonise the moon and other planets cannot solve the problems that confront him on earth.
Let us see whether the Qur’an can help us in this predicament. Does it offer any effective remedy for our social malaise? If so, how can the remedy be applied? The Qur’an ascribes two significant attributes to God – As-Salaam and Al-Mu’meen. As-Salaam is the Being Who is the source of peace and concord and Who assures peaceful existence to all beings. Al-Mu’min is the Being Who shelters and protects all and bestows peace in every sphere of life on all beings. Moreover, the way of life which the Qur’an prescribes for us is called Islam, which basically means peace.
The Mu’min is the man whose life exemplifies peace. The Qur’an refers to itself as the means by which the paths of peace are made wider (5:16). It summons men to the “house of peace” (10:25). The reward for living in accordance with its tenets is “the abode of peace” (6:128). Peace reigns in the society of Mu’mins. When they depart from this world, the malaikaah receive them with the salutation: “Because of the steadfastness with which you worked on earth in the cause of peace, there is for you here a reward of peace and safety” (13:24). An ardent desire for peace is reflected in the words in which one Muslim greets another. “Peace be on you” he says to his friend, and receives the joyful answer, “and peace be on you too.” The Qur’an applies the term fasaad to any disturbance of social peace. It is hateful to God (2:205). God commands men not to cause dissension or commit violence in the world (7:56). Of the believers it is said that they do not breed mischief and violence (28:83).
It is thus clear that Islam is a staunch supporter of peace and that mischief and violence, in any form, are repugnant to it. It seeks to establish universal peace and to assure security to all peace-loving people.
It is no doubt true that human beings, by and large, wish to live in peace. Nevertheless, the outbreak of violence is by no means a rare phenomenon. The Qur’an offers us sensible advice on how we can check violence when it breaks out. If an individual disturbs the peace we can try persuasion and if it fails, the government will have to intervene and restrain him by force. However, the problem is much more difficult when a nation commits aggression against another nation.
2. Christianity and War
Christianity favours the policy of non-resistance to evil. We are advised by it not to return evil for evil, not to meet violence with violence. The New Testament tells us that the proper answer to an act of violence is an act of love:
Ye have heard that it hath been said,
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (St. Mathew, 5:38-41).
To do good in return for evil is said to be the best way to fight evil. No doubt, these are noble sentiments and in the personal lives of individuals may be praiseworthy. But it is doubtful if Jesus (PBUH) could have taught these precepts for universal behaviour; for experience does not prove their wisdom. They hold good in rare instances only, and Anbiya do not speak for rare exceptions. The history of Christianity too negates their authenticity. Dean Inge’s comment on this way of combating evil deserves careful consideration:
The principle of non-resistance was laid down for a little flock in a hostile environment. But an organised society cannot abstain from the use of coercion. No one would suggest that a Christian government must not suppress a gang of criminals within its own borders, and if this is admitted, can we doubt that it should defend itself against an invading enemy? ….. Augustine held that war is justified in repelling wanton and rapacious attacks and that in preventing such crimes we are acting in the true interest of the aggressor. Without justice what is empire but brigandage on a large scale? ….. Allowing that circumstances may arise which make a defensive war inevitable we have found a principle which will guide us in concrete cases.(1)
Even in the New Testament, as it exists today, there are statements here and there which are clearly at variance with the creed of non-violence and absolute non-resistence to evil. For example Christ (PBUH) is reported as saying:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law (St. Mathew, 10:34-35).
It is obvious that the use of force to defend a good cause is not ruled out in Christianity.
In our own time, “Mahatma” Gandhi of India was believed to be a staunch and uncompromising supporter of the creed of non-violence. He too, had to tone down his idealism and adopt a more realistic attitude to evil:
If an open warfare were a possibility, I may concede that we may tread the path of violence that the other countries have, and at best evolve the qualities that bravery on the battlefield brings forth.(2)
This apostle of ahimsa* even goes so far as to admit that when the need arises, not only men but also women will have to resort to violence and meet force with force.(3) It is needless to add that the followers of this rishi** have resorted to violence whenever it suited their purpose.
3. Qur’an and War
The Qur’an never appeals to the passing emotions of man nor does it stoop to humour him. It faces the problems of life in a realistic manner and offers practical solutions for them. Like the
New Testament, it advises us to do good in return for evil, for such actions are likely to have a wholesome effect on the evil-doer. Our moral worth, too, will be enhanced thereby: Return a bad act by one that is beautiful and good. It may be that he, between whom and you there is enmity, becomes your bosom friend (41:34).
In another place, a mu’min is described as “one who repels wrong with right” (28:54). But if the enemy takes mean advantage of such goodness, the Qur’an permits the use of force, provided it is in accordance with the requirements of justice. While permitting force in such cases, the Qur’an advises us to be lenient towards the man who has wronged us. If he repents, he is to be forgiven. The Qur’an exhorts us to forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us:
But he who forgives and makes peace (with his adversary), his reward devolves upon God (42:40).
The Qur’an applies the term “zaalim” (cruel, oppressive) to those who do not forgive their enemies. In another place, however, the Qur’an concedes to man the right to demand that his enemy should make amends for the wrong he had done and failing that he should be punished. Those who are unjust and cruel to their fellow beings are denounced by the Qur’an. Such men deserve dire punishment (42:41-42). The Qur’an, however, inculcates in man that it is a noble thing to forgive. It asks us to forgive the man who has done us injury, whenever we have grounds for believing that such forgiveness will do good to the wrongdoer as well as to society.
4. Law and the Use of Force
The mere enactment of good laws, the Qur’an asserts, is not enough to ensure peace in the world. It is necessary that the laws should be properly enforced:
We sent Our messengers with clear arguments and with these Our laws and the criterion of justice so that man may establish himself in justice; and with it We have also created steel wherein is mighty power and many other uses for mankind (57:25).
In other words, law which is not backed by force is no more than pious advice. Law must be enforced if the social order is to be maintained. The Qur’an, therefore, is in favour of the state maintaining sufficient power to enforce its laws. If the Qur’an calls God As-Salaam, the source of peace, it also applies to Him the terms, Protector, the Mighty, the Compeller, and the Self-reliant. The state should reflect these attributes as well.
The power vested in the state should be used to maintain law and order and as a defence against those who threaten its independence. The state is not to use its powers to curtail the freedom of individual. The purpose for which the state exists is to maintain conditions in which the individual can develop and achieve self-realisation. This purpose is fulfilled only when the state is fully independent and prepared to meet aggression from any quarter:
Make ready for your opponents all you can of armed forces and of horses tethered, that thereby you may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others beside them whom you know not (8:60).
The state should not use its power to oppress the weaker nations. It should use its power to create conditions in which the way of life ordained by God can be followed. The first battle fought by the Muslims exemplifies the right use of force.
The Rasool and a small band of his devoted followers lived in Mecca for thirteen years. During this time they suffered all kinds of persecution with patience and humility. Every insult or act of violence was received in silence or at the most it evoked a gentle protest. But their self-imposed restraint was mistaken for weakness and every day they suffered outrages. When oppression became intolerable, they left their ancestral home and sought refuge in Madina, a town several hundred miles away from Mecca. Even here they were not left in peace. Their enemies were determined to compel them to renounce the new creed or to exterminate them if they refused to do so. A formidable force marched against them. For the refugees it was a question of life and death. Even then they hesitated to meet force with force. They patiently waited for Divine guidance, that they might do which was right. They were at last permitted to resort to force and give battle to their implacable enemies:
And whoso defendeth himself after he hath suffered wrong . . . for such there is no way of blame against them (42:41).
A clear directive is given in the following verses:
Permission is given to those who are fought against (to fight) for that they have been wronged; and verily God has the power to help them:
Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: “Our Rabb is Allah.” For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and (all other) places of worship, wherein the name of God is oft mentioned would assuredly have been pulled down. And God will certainly help him who helps Him. Verily Allah is strong, mighty (22:39-40).
We can conclude from these verses that only those who are persecuted and are not allowed to live in peace are justified in having recourse to war. The question arises, what are they to do if they do not possess the means to defend themselves? In such a case, the Qur’an commands all righteous men to hasten to their rescue and fight on their behalf:
How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: “Our Rabb! Bring us forth from out of this town whose people are oppressors. Oh, give us from before Thee some protecting friend! Oh, give us from before Thee some defender!”
Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of Taghoot. So fight the minions of Shaitaan. Lo! the Shaitaan’s strategy is ever weak (4:75-76).
The meaning is clear. Oppressed people, all over the world pray for a helper to rescue them, for a defender to fight for them. Do you not hear the cry of the oppressed? Or, do you think that, being secure yourself, there is no need for you to fight? You are wrong. It is your duty to hasten to the help of all who are groaning under oppression. It is your duty to fight against cruelty and injustice, even if the victims do not profess the values and concepts you profess and do not belong to your country or race. From wheresoever comes the cry of the oppressed, thither you should hasten and fight against the oppressor. This is what war “in the name of Allah” means.
The Mu’mins fight in the cause of Allah against cruelty, tyranny and injustice. Their purpose is to make justice prevail in the world. The unbelievers fight to subdue other people and exploit them for their own ends. The Qur’an tells us in simple and direct language when war is justified and when it is not. The principles laid down by the Qur’an are clear and definite. They are not couched in language which may be susceptible to different interpretations. The distinction between a just and an unjust war is clear and should not be blurred by sophistical arguments. For example, people, if they are really persecuted, have a right to rebel against the government of their country. However, they would be acting directly against the Qur’anic principles if they magnified any petty grievance and called it persecution. They may be said to be the victims of persecution only if the basic rights, defined by the Qur’an, are denied to them. The Mu’min will take up arms only to defend these rights, and he will hasten to help the oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
5. Rules of Conduct
So far about the conditions under which war is permissible. Let us now consider the rules of conduct laid down by the Qur’an for Muslims when they are at war. In the first place the duty to be just in one’s dealings with others is as binding in war as it is in peace:
O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not enmity of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah, Lo! Allah is well informed of what ye do (5:8).
We should be just even to our enemies. The Qur’an does not permit us to deviate from the path of justice in any circumstances. If an oppressor has deprived human beings of their basic rights, justice demands that those rights should be restored to them. As far as possible, it should be done by peaceful means. Only when these fail, recourse may be had to war. But even in war, we should respect the basic rights of the enemy. When the enemies have been vanquished they should be treated with consideration as human beings.
Secondly, the Qur’an emphatically declares that a treaty ought to be honoured always, in war as well as in peace. The peace of the world depends, above all things, on the trust placed in treaties. A treaty has value only as long as there is mutual trust. Can it command any respect if either of the parties subscribe to the view that all is fair in war? The stronger party could repudiate it whenever it suited its purpose. That is why Solon says that a treaty is a spider’s web which entangles him who is weaker than it, and it is not worth a straw for one who is stronger.
Machiavelli stoutly defended unscrupulous dealings in politics. He advises the ruler, in plain terms, to break his faith whenever it suits his purpose:
A prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist.(4)
His disciple, Frederick II, believed that:
Policy consists rather in profiting by favourable conjunctures than by preparing them in advance. This is why I counsel you not to make treaties depending upon uncertain events, and to keep your hands free.(5)
Long before Machiavelli, a political thinker in India had set forth similar doctrines. The appellation Kautilya (cunning) which was applied to him shows that he defended the use of craft in politics. He believed that only a crafty and unscrupulous man can play the game of politics successfully. In his Arthashastra, he writes to the effect that treaties have no sanctity and can be twisted or broken according to the necessity of the moment. However, he counsels the ruler to do this with such cunning that neither his own people nor his opponents suspect him of violating the treaty.
In direct opposition to this glorification of expediency, the Qur’an categorically asserts:
Fulfil your bonds (5:1).
It reminds us that we are not only answerable to those to whom we have pledged our word, but also to Allah. Allah commands that we should keep our pledges:
Fulfil your pledges: Remember, you will be asked about your pledges (17:34).
What, however, is to be done if the other party breaks the treaty? The common view is that in such a case, the treaty automatically becomes null and void. Not so with the Qur’an. It deprecates a hasty act and counsels us to appeal to the enemy to reconsider their decision and honour the treaty. Only when this appeal has proved to be vain and the enemy persists in violating the treaty are we justified in regarding it as no longer binding on us:
If you fear treachery anyway at the hands of a people then throw back to them (their treaty) fairly and thus dissolve it with them equally: Surely Allah loves not the treacherous (8:58).
In the early days of Islam, when the Qur’anic law was invariably obeyed, the violation of treaty by Muslims was unthinkable. Even if the pledge was given by an individual Muslim, it was invariably honoured. An incident which occured during the battle of Badr, illustrates the attitude of the Rasool to the pledged word of a Muslim. At this battle, three hundred and thirteen Muslims were opposed by a strong force of over a thousand men. The odds were against them and they would have welcomed any addition to their number. When the fighting was going on and the issue was still uncertain, two armed men suddenly appeared and joined battle on their behalf. The Rasool enquired of them, how they had managed to pass through the enemy’s land. They replied that they had tried to stop them, but were allowed to go on after pledging their word that they would not take up arms against them. The Rasool said that the pledged word must be honoured. He commanded them not to fight, saying that the issue of the battle will be settled according to the Laws of God. Even at this critical juncture he did not allow his men to break their premise.
A piquant situation arose when some pagan women embraced Islam but their husbands remained faithful to the old faith. The husbands began to persecute their wives to compel them to renounce Islam. Some of these women sought refuge in Medina. The Muslims were asked to return the wives to their lawful husbands. The Islamic Law does not sanction the marriage of a Muslim woman to a pagan. Therefore, the women were told that they were free and would not be forced to return to their husbands. But their husbands were repaid whatever money they had given to their wives or spent on them (60:10). Be it noted that these men were the sworn enemies of Islam and were bent on destroying the little band of Muslims. Even from these enemies the Rasool would not withhold what was in justice due to them. This zeal for justice and fair dealing could not but impress the opponents of Islam.
Finally, if the enemies offer peace, in no case should such an offer be rejected. It may be that the Muslims have just grounds for suspecting the motives of the enemy but their suspicions should not prevent them from accepting the offer of peace. It may be that offer is made when victory is within the reach of the Muslims. Even then they should not continue war but should lay down arms and start negotiations for concluding peace. If the enemy has been forced to sue for peace, the purpose of the war has been fulfilled. The purpose was not to subjugate the enemy or seize their territory, but to repel the attack. If, for whatever reason, the enemy shows willingness to lay down arms, the Muslims should do likewise. The enemies may have made the offer of peace merely to gain time or to mask some nefarious design. Even so, the Muslims are commanded to place their trust in Gcd and accept it in good faith, “for God is sufficient for you. He it is Who supports you with His help and with the believers” (8:62). All necessary precautions, however, should be taken and the enemy made to vacate his aggression, but the offer should not be spurned merely on suspicion of ulterior motives.
How long should the war be continued if the enemies refuse to come to terms? The Qur’an enjoins the Muslims to continue the war till the purpose for which it was undertaken is fulfilled. When the purpose has been accomplished, the war should be ended forthwith. Unwarranted aggression, persecution of a religious group, oppression and the denial of human rights are some of the reasons which justify war.
If the war cannot be ended but the belligerents can agree to a temporary cessation of hostilities, the opportunity should immediately be seized. During the pause in fighting, tempers may be calmed, passions cooled and sober thinking and heart-searching may create the atmosphere in which an amicable settlement of the dispute may be possible. Nowadays, the term cease-fire is applied to such temporary arrangements. This method of terminating a war was recommended by the Qur’an fourteen centuries ago. Another step in the same direction was to establish an international convention to the effect that fighting should be forbidden during certain months (9:36).
6. Prisoners of War
The Qur’an enjoins humane and compassionate treatment of prisoners of war. In those days in Arabia as elsewhere, prisoners of war were usually made bond-slaves. Men and women taken in war were sold as slaves. Nowhere was this practice regarded as objectionable, The Qur’an, with its insistence on the worth of the human self, could not sanction such an outrage on human dignity. It commanded Muslims to adopt other ways of dealing with prisoners of war. The directive given was:
Now when you meet in battle your opponents then it is smiting of the necks until you have routed them; then bind fast the bonds; then either give them a free dismissal afterwards or exact a ransom (47:4).
The meaning of the verse is quite clear. Prisoners of war may be exchanged for Muslims who are in the hands of the enemy, or they may be set free when the ransom fixed for them has been paid, or they may be set free unconditionally as a friendly gesture to the enemy, or on purely humanitarian grounds. Whichever alternative is adopted, the result is the same i.e., the prisoners regain their freedom. In the whole of the Qur’an, this is the only verse concerning prisoners of war. Neither here nor elsewhere is there any hint of making them slaves. The Qur’an, which directs the believers to expiate their faults for even a trivial mishap by emancipating a slave (90:13), which permits the waging of war for defending human rights, and which has proclaimed the equality of men, could not possibly sanction slavery in any form. On the contrary, it commands that prisoners should be treated as guests as long as they remain in the custody of the Muslims. Abu Aziz was one of those who were taken prisoners at the battle of Badr. After his release, he returned to his people and told them about the treatment he had received. “I was billeted on an Ansar*. He used to give me bread and other good things to eat while he himself and his family subsisted on dates. I felt ashamed and often gave back the bread to him. He refused to touch it and forced me to eat it.”
Another man who fell into the hands of the Muslims at Badr, was Sohail Bin Umar. Sohail was a famous orator and had delivered many orations denouncing and vilifying the Rasool. The Muslims naturally wished to punish him and somebody suggested that two of his front teeth be knocked out. The Rasool, however, did not give his consent to this proposal and Sohail was not touched.
Some of the prisoners taken at Badr were set free after they paid the ransom. There were many who were too poor to pay the ransom. Of these, those who were literate were told that each could buy his freedom by teaching ten Muslim boys. The remaining were set free unconditionally. Those who had paid their ransom were told that if at any time in future they came over to the side of the Muslims, the money they had paid would be refunded to them:
O Rasool ! say to those captives who are in your hands: If Allah knows any good in your hearts, He will give you better than that which has been taken from you; and will protect you (8:70).
It should be noted that whenever the words “bond-men” or “bond-maids” occur in the Qur’an, they always refer to those who were already there in Arab society. They are spoken of in the past tense. Nowhere does the Qur’an say: “Make your enemies slaves and such are the rules concerning them.” When Muslims rose to power, they gradually emancipated whatever slaves there were in Arab society, and closed the door of slavery for the future.
Men belonging to the enemy camp would now and then seek refuge in the Muslim town. The Qur’an commanded the Muslims not to turn them back. They should be given an asylum and during their stay the Qur’anic teaching should be expounded to them. They were, however, free to accept or reject it. If they decided to return to their people, they should not only be permitted to do so but also an escort should be provided for them so that they could reach their town in safety:
And if any one of your opponents seeks your protection, then protect him so that he may hear the word of Allah and then escort him to his place of safety (9:6).
It is certainly the duty of the Muslims to enlighten these men on the aim and objective of Islam: but the Qur’an expressly forbids the Muslims to coerce them to accept the Islamic faith.
7. Is the Abolition of War Impossible?
Human history presents a chequered pattern of periods of peace alternating with periods of war. Will the same pattern be continued or is permanent peace attainable in the foreseeable future? We can answer these questions with the help of the Qur’an. The verse dealing with the prisoners of war goes on to say that, “war will go on until it lays down its burdens” (47:4). In other words, the motives that lead to war are not rooted in man. They arise in a certain type of social organisation and will disappear if the social order is radically changed. The society we have built up is a competitive and acquisitive society. If it is supplanted by the Qur’anic social order, which encourages creative activity and competition in social service, war will cease to be a factor in human affairs. There will be peace all over the world. The Qur’an seeks to weld the races of man into a single harmonious universal society. All national and group rivalries will, therefore, disappear. In such a social order, individuals as well as groups would cease to compete with each other for the prize of power, the power that might enable them to exploit others. They would have learnt to desire something nobler which would unite them instead of dividing them. They would desire self-development through serving others and working for the common good – the progress of humanity. This social order would provide man with the things he needs most – security, freedom and opportunity for self-expression and self-development. There will be nothing in it to arouse envy, jealousy, greed or malevolence in the heart of man. There will be no clash of interests and, therefore, no conflict. Then, in the words of the Qur’an, ”War will lay down its burdens,” i.e., the function it has so far performed will not be needed in the new order.
As things are, however, it may sometimes be necessary to wage a war in the cause of justice. The Rasool is reported to have said, “The purpose of war is to force the oppressor to bow before that which is just” (Tirmidhi). Bukhari, the compiler of the traditions of the Rasool, reports that once a question was put to the latter, “One man goes to war for the sake of fame, another to prove his courage and yet another for personal revenge. Of these, whose motive can we approve of?” The Rasool replied, “He who fights that the law of Allah reign supreme, his war is for Allah.”
Man-made laws merely safeguard the interests of a particular group. Such laws will not be acceptable to other groups: but God is the Rabb of all mankind. His Laws protect the interests of each and all men. His laws, consequently, provide a secure foundation for the world peace. In Islam this foundation is called “Tauheed.” i.e., Oneness. Tauheed signifies One set of Laws of the One God for the One Creation – mankind. The social order which is based on this foundation is deen and is one for all humanity.
This truth is beginning to dawn on the minds of Western thinkers. If full realisation does not come to them, the fault will lie with the Muslims who received the Divine Law fourteen centuries ago and have not yet expounded it and interpreted it to mankind, The Muslims should bear in mind that the scientific outlook has sunk deep into the modern mind and the modern man speaks the language of science. The Qur’an says: “Mankind is one community” (2:213). It is far easier for modern man to understand this truth than it was for his forebears fourteen centuries ago. Man can come into his own only as a member of a universal brotherhood. The Qur’an sought to establish such a brotherhood, and did establish it within the domain in which Qur’anic laws prevailed. Its message is not for any group but for all humanity. Each of the Anbiya who preceded Muhammad (PBUH) appealed to a particular group. Muhammad (PBUH) alone was the bearer of a message for mankind as a whole:
O Mankind! I am the messenger of Allah to you all, the messenger of Him unto Whom belongeth the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. There is no Sovereign Authority save Him (7:158).
It is, therefore, the duty of all peace-loving inhabitants of this earth to rally to the Qur’an and march forward under its banner. The dream of perpetual peace will then become a fact:
O Mankind! There hath come unto you an exhortation from your Rabb, a balm for that which is in the breasts, a guidance and Rahmah for believers (10:57).
About this social order the Qur’an says:
He who enters it, is safe (3:96).
Men all over the world should address themselves to the task of building up this social order, in which rests the hope of humanity.
- William Ralph Dean Inge, The Fall of Idols, pp. 176-179; 177; 181.
- The Young India, p. 147, (quoted by Fatima Mansur in Process of Independence, p.44).
- Harijan, dated 27 October 1946.
- N. Machiavelli. The Prince, p. 64,
- Quoted by R.H. Murray, op., cit., p.212.
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The Order of Rububiyyah – Its Nature and Purpose
In the animal world, evolution proceeds through the operation of natural causes. It aims at the perfection of the species and the eventual production of a better one. The individual does not count; the race is all-important. There is no hesitation to expend individual for the good of the species. This is the animal stage. At the human level, however, the focus of interest shifts from the race to the individual. There is the emergence of individuality, and, with it, the evolutionary process enters a new phase – a strikingly different one. Natural forces which had so far directed the course of evolution now recede into the background and rational beings consciously and actively participate in the evolutionary process. There is a corresponding change in the goal of evolution which is now not the production of a species well adjusted to its environment, but the development of a free and autonomous self capable of directing its ascent to higher levels of life. Nature leads the animal in the right direction. Man has to discover the right path and follow it with his own resources. He relies mainly on reason. He soon finds out, however, that in voyaging across the uncharted seas of existence, he cannot depend solely on the fitful flickering light of reason. In desperation, he turns to God for help which is granted him in the form of a summons to join the Order of the Rububiyyah. This order would, naturally, make sense for those who have the earnest desire and ambition to follow the right path. Those who join the order are assured of speedy and smooth progress towards the goal of self-fulfilment. This is what Jannah stands for in the terminology of the Qur’an. Man will march towards the goal in the company of like-minded persons.
The Qur’an sets forth a sustaining practical programme for this inviting enterprise. The programme is essentially social and intended for the group the members of which are not competing but wholeheartedly co-operating with one another. The Qur’an calls upon man to join such a co-operative group organised on the basis of justice and for the purpose of achieving a lofty ideal. Only as a member of this group, can man carry out the programme of the Rububiyyah and thereby work out his destiny. Individual man possesses immense potentialities, but these can be actualised only in a favourable social milieu and through co-operation with congenial companions. Membership of a group held together by mutual sympathy and understanding, and inspired by a high ideal is the guarantee of self-development. The Rububiyyah Order provides such a group and summons man to join it by giving up all narrow personal ends and dedicating himself to the common goal. In such a group, man can realise himself by serving others and gladly availing himself of their help. Human personality shrinks and contracts through preoccupation with its own interests. It expands and blossoms by subordinating its interests to the broader interests of mankind. The practical programme of the Rububiyyah Order can be implemented only by a group and by the individual as a member of the group. Fulfilment of personality is possible only in a group, for an isolated man has no opportunity for self-sacrifice and for serving others. The sweep for his activities is too short to influence self-development. Membership of a group is only conducive to this, but not all groups provide this opportunity. Only that one offers the right environment which places no curb on the independence of its members, nor menaces in any way their freedom of thought and action. This individual privilege is secured, to start with, by throwing the membership open to a voluntary act. The individual makes a contract with the group, taking upon himself defined obligations in return for defined rights. The result of this social contract is the state, generally known to the Muslims as Khilaafat. Khilaafat or state is the political and executive organ of the Ummah, the framework for the Order of Rububiyyah. The Ummah, through the agency of the Khilaafat, launches the Divine programme and provides every member with propitious opportunity for self-expression and self-development. Man, according to the Qur’an, is expected to enter into a contract with God. He is invited to place his life and his possessions at His disposal in return for Jannah – the state of perfect self-fulfilment. In the words of the Qur’an:
Lo! God hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth for Jannah (9:111),
Like any mundane contract, this covenant comprises:
- The buyer – God.
- The seller – The Believer.
- The goods sold – The life and possessions of the believer.
- The price – Jannah.
Of these, the goods is a concrete tangible and identifiable commodity and the seller is a living being. The other two, God and Jannah, are abstract and intangible. How can a bargain be struck with the buyer and the price missing, or, at best, remaining in imagination. ”Selling one’s life to Allah” is an empty phrase, a deluding mirage. The contract would be meaningful only when it is realised that God and Jannah are as real – nay more real – than man and life. This can be done only by bringing God and Jannah into intimate and vital relationship with living human experience. This is exactly what the Qur’an does.
Misled by the figurative language in which Jannah is described in the Qur’an, many people have localised it in space and have conceived of it as a glorified earthly garden. Others, dissatisfied with this shabby view, have sedulously searched for the hidden meaning of the relevant verses. It seems to us that both are guilty of not paying attention to certain delicate hints in the Qur’an which provide the clue for the correct interpretation. We will first briefly state the view to which we are led by a close study of the verses and then we will cite the corroboratory evidence provided by the Qur’an itself. We have seen that the Qur’an envisages the human self as a developing entity. When the self has successfully completed the journey of life, death opens the door to the prospect of fresh and more glorious possibilities. Joy at the accomplishment of a worthy task is blended with elation at the prospect of fresh opportunities. Having realised a certain quantum of potentialities during its earthly career, the self becomes aware of what is still left to be actualized. This state of mind, a blend of joy and zest for action, is Jannah rightly conceived. The term bliss or beatitude may appropriately be applied to this frame of mind. However, man can have, at best, a very imperfect idea of this state of existence. It is radically different from the experience of this life, and it cannot be described in words since they can connote only the latter. It is imperative, however, to have some notion of the bliss that awaits a developed self of a man when he dies. This can be done only through symbols. The higher plane of existence cannot be described, but it can be symbolised. That is why the Qur’an has recourse to metaphorical language in regard to Jannah:
A similitude of the Jannah which is promised unto those who keep their duty to Allah: underneath it streams flow; its fruit is everlasting and its shade (13:35; 47:15).
“Similitude” is the key word in the above verse. It is significant and highly suggestive. We are clearly warned against insisting on the literal meaning of the words in which the pleasures and comforts of Jannah are described. We must heed the admonition that they are merely metaphors which hint at but do not convey an exact idea of the state of consciousness which is termed Jannah. In fact, Jannah cannot be described: it can only be symbolised. The higher plane of existence can neither be visualised nor imagined by the denizens of the lower plane. The Qur’an is explicit on this point, as the following verse shows:
No one knows what joy of the eye is reserved for them as a reward for what they do (32:17).
Another verse of the Qur’an guides us to the true conception of Jannah. We are told that Jannah is not to be regarded as a strictly circumscribed region but as coterminous with existence, provided existence is in unison with the Divine:
The Jannah is as wide as are the heavens and the earth (3:132; 57:21).
Being a state of mind, Jannah is not unapproachable and inaccessible to men on earth. The good man, living in harmony with the Will of God (i.e., His Laws), has foretaste of Jannah. The Qur’an speaks of life lived in accordance with its teaching as ”heavenly.” We catch glimpses of Jannah in this life and this fact makes Jannah real to us. Jannah is tied to our present experience and, therefore, it is not a mere figment of imagination.
The question is often asked: Why in the Qur’an Jannah is depicted in sensuous terms? It is not difficult to answer it if we bear in mind two important facts. In the first place, a state of existence so dissimilar to our present one can only be suggested with the help of objects and experiences familiar to us. Of these, only those are selected which bear some, even though very slight, resemblance to the accompaniments of the higher plane. Terms borrowed from our present experience are employed to suggest, but only to suggest, the other plane.
The second consideration, to be borne in mind, is that the Qur’an (though meant for the whole of mankind) was initially addressed to a people who were conditioned by historical and geographical factors to value certain things and comforts very highly. The Arabs had little liking for abstract thinking and metaphysical speculation, Perceptible objects alone were real to them. They had no tendency to deify abstract ideas. They paid heed only to that which appealed to their senses. Secondly, they lived in a barren country. All around them was the wide expanse of the arid desert – life was hard, comforts very few. Above all things, they valued cool springs, green shady trees laden with fruit, running streams and milk and honey. By means of these familiar and concrete objects, the Qur’an strives to evoke a sense of the richness of existence at the higher plane. While making use of sensuous terms, the Qur’an never misses an opportunity of putting people on their guard by hinting that the words are not to be taken in the literal sense. It tells them that they will not only get the garden they want but also something much more desirable. When the heathen asked the Rasool to call upon God to send down a garden for him, the Qur’an replied, “Blessed is He, Who, if He will, will assign thee better than all that – gardens underneath which streams flow – and assign thee palaces” (25:8-10).
Moreover, the Arabs were a poor people and were surrounded by rich nations. They naturally cast envious glances at the wealth and luxury of their more fortunate neighbours. The Qur’an assured them that if they were good, they would get all these things and even more. It is obvious that the Qur’an is humouring crude simple men so that they may be induced to turn to the right path. They were impervious to any other kind of appeal. Incidentally, we also note that the Qur’an sees no harm in the enjoyment of the good things of this world. It does not encourage men to despise the good things, nor does it approve of asceticism and self-abnegation:
And Allah has promised such of you as believe and act according to His programme that He will surely give them power in the land even as He gave power to those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their Deen, which He has approved for them and will surely change for them their fear into security (24:55),
The above verse raises the question of the rise and fall of nations. A nation suddenly rises to a position of power and glory and then, after a short or long period, falls into decay and is supplanted by another more vigorous nation. Here too we see the working of an unalterable law, the law of survival of nations. This is basically a moral law. As long as a nation, by its achievements in the fields of knowledge and action, helps forward the progress of humanity, it continues to flourish and prosper. The moment its activities impede the development of mankind, it is doomed to decay and extinction. We see this law operative throughout human history. The lives of all nations are governed by this law. The fate of nations depends on moral value and not on the possession of brute force. Note what the Qur’an says about this:
We (thus) caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth, and land ye have not yet trodden (33:27).
That nation inherits the earth which has, of its own accord, joined the Order of Rububiyyah and has implemented its programme by fostering and developing the absolute values and creating the proper atmosphere for the development of free selves. Such a nation, on entering upon its inheritance, exclaims, in the words of the Qur’an:
Thanks to God Who has fulfilled His promise to us and has made us to inherit the land ….. We may dwell in Jannah wherever we please. So bounteous is the reward of those who work (39:74).
This verse reveals the true nature of Jannah and stresses the continuity between this life and the Hereafter. It is clear that Jannah is a state of existence and although the good enter on it only after death, they can, when their life is attuned to the Divine Will, enjoy a foretaste of it even in this life. The fact that it can be anticipated in this life shows that it is not to be regarded as a locality. The characteristic of this plane of existence is that the basic needs of the physical self are provided for, so that the real self is free to develop and seek fulfilment. The following verse, addressed to Adam refers to this point:
It is (vouchsafed) unto thee that thou shalt not hunger therein, (in Jannah), nor shalt thou be naked; and thou shalt not thirst therein nor be exposed to the sun’s heat (20:118-119).
Above all things, the body needs food, clothes and shelter. When these are provided the mind can pursue higher goals. However, it is not only these things that will be provided but also others which, though not necessary, yet add to the charm of life and, therefore, are desired:
They shall be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearls, and their garments therein shall be silk (22:23). Dishes of gold and bowls shall be carried round to them (43:71). Also fruits in abundance (43:73). Upon them shall be robes of fine green silk and of brocade (76:21). And flesh of fowls that they desire (56:21).
No doubt, the language is metaphorical but precisely because it is metaphorical it serves a dual purpose. With reference to this life, the words used above denote concrete material objects which are desirable and were passionately desired by the Arabs. With reference to the Hereafter, the same words symbolise the joys of a higher level of existence. It should be noted that the Arabs, by following the teaching of the Qur’an, actually acquired an abundance of all the objects promised in this life, as well as in the next. They are exhorted to enjoy the good things in this world while feeling grateful to God. Enjoyment of life is not an obstacle to the attainment of the higher purpose before man, if he is not immersed in pleasure and his self remains free and detached. The early Muslims fulfilled this condition and their selves remained free in the midst of the wealth that conquest brought to them. Within a few years, the Arabs found themselves in possession of jewelled bangles, utensils of gold and silver, silken robes, cushioned divans, cups of exquisite beauty, the fertile fields and fruit gardens of Syria, Iraq and Egypt, rivers and hillsides covered with forest. No wonder if they felt that paradise had come down to earth: but the joys of this life only whetted their desire for the ineffable joy of the Jannah that awaited them. In the midst of these luxuries they enjoyed that peace of mind which no emperor or conqueror had experienced. It was because the enjoyment of all these good things did not deflect them from the path of self-development and because the interests of the real self continued to be of paramount importance to them, that wealth made them not proud and arrogant but humble and grateful to God:
And they shall say: Thanks to Allah Who hath put grief away from us (3:34).
They had a foretaste of the peace that reigns in Jannah:
Therein shall they hear no vain talk, but only peace (19:62).
Feelings of ill-will and rancour cannot enter a mind wherein love and peace hold sway:
And we will remove whatever rancour may be in their breasts. Face to face (they rest) on couches raised (15:47).
They taste the joy of disinterested companionship and are members of a society which pursues the good and the beautiful with a single-minded devotion. The earthly career is but the prelude to the real development of the self of man. The joy of self-fulfilment is symbolised by a heavenly beverage:
Verily, the righteous shall drink of a cup mixed with (the water of) Kafoor, a fountain whereof the servants of God shall drink and make it gush forth abundantly (76:5-6).
A member of such a society makes steady progress in self-realisation. If he fails to keep pace with his comrades, the responsibility lies on his own shoulders. The Qur’an says:
This is a warning to men. To him of you who desires to advance or lag behind. Every self lies in pledge for its own deeds (74:36-38).
The path of those who move forward, is illumined by the “light of their forehead” moving along with them. They are thankful for the light and desire more of it. “Our Rabb! make perfect for us our light” (66:8). They continue to climb higher and higher in the scale of being. Their progress is hampered by nothing, as the Qur’an states clearly:
For those who keep their duty to their Rabb, for them are higher apartments over which are (other) high apartments built, streams running beneath them (39:20).
This is the Jannah which the Order of Rububiyyah assures to those who “sell their life and what they possess for the cause of Allah.”
Jannah, therefore, is not a mere abstract idea. The believers feel it to be real and eminently desirable. They can form an idea of it on the basis of the foretaste of it during this life. It is thus interlocked with living experience.
We have seen that the covenant described in an earlier section, is between God and man. Man surrenders to God his life and possessions, and God in return awards Jannah to him. How could this exchange take place? Where to contact God? How can life and possessions be handed over to Him? On the question of contact with God, the answer is simple. God is in fact in communication with us when we recite and understand what He has revealed in the Qur’an. That is how we come into contact with Him.
As regards the question of delivering the goods, a satisfactory answer can be given only in the context of the Order of Rububiyyah. This order is designed to help man to develop all his potentialities and build up such a wholesome and integrated personality that it can withstand the shock of death and survive physical dissolution. Man can achieve this end not in seclusion but in a society of like-minded persons and through mutual help and cooperation. Such a society is the embodiment of the Order of Rububiyyah. It is organised on a contractual basis and its membership is open to all who care to enter it and associate themselves with its aims and ideals. Only a bold ideal nursed with conviction gives meaning to life. In the absence of an ideal, human life becomes impoverished, humdrum, desultory and meaningless. The more lofty the ideal, the more excelsior is the life. So, when man shares the high ideal of his society, and the society is animated by the spirit of the Order of Rububiyyah, his personality is enriched and its progress stimulated. In this accelerated development, he recognises such an advantage that he is motivated to keep up the Order – the vehicle of his progress – at any cost, even, if need be, at the cost of his life and all that he possesses. It is then that the bargain is struck and covenant fully implemented. Muhammad (PBUH), the bearer of the last Revelation, was the head of the society embodying the Order of Rububiyyah. The men who put their lives and possessions at his disposal were really selling these to God, in the terms of the Qur’an:
Surely those who swear allegiance to you do but swear allegiance to Allah; the hand of Allah is above their hands (48:10).
It is the society which gives concrete expression to the Order of Rububiyyah, and the head of that society is, so to say, the “representative” of God in the sense that he takes upon himself the stupendous task of discharging the responsibilities which belonged to God in respect of His creation, for example, providing them with means of subsistence and of enforcing His Laws in the land. They are thus authorised to make such a contract with others. The reason is not difficult to discern: the leader of such a society can only be one who has surrendered himself to God and has identified his will completely with the Divine Will. Obviously, the verse which commands men to “spend in the name of Allah” and “lend unto Allah” can only mean that the “price of Jannah” is to be paid to the central authority of the Rububiyyah society. The society will naturally utilise the resources placed at its disposal for the enhancement and enrichment of human life and personality.
The Order of Rububiyyah initiates a new process of evolution – moral evolution. No man who values the possibilities opened out to him can remain indifferent to this process of evolution. He will be only too willing to sacrifice all he possesses for the sake of the perfection he can attain. Those who join the Rububiyyah Order and dedicate themselves to the pursuit of self-realisation regard no price too high for its attainment. They desire only the good, whether in this life or in the Hereafter. Rightly do they pray:
Our Rabb! give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter (2:201).
4. The Problem of Subsistence
The real self may eventually become capable of subsisting by itself, but during its earthly career it is more or less completely dependent on the body. Bodily needs, therefore, have a prior claim on man. The body can survive only if the satisfaction of its basic needs is not delayed too long. Hunger is the most powerful of these biological drives. A hungry man has no eyes for anything but that which promises to appease his hunger. Only when he has a plentiful supply of food, does man turn his mind to higher interests such as art, science and religion. Before engaging in the pursuit of the good, man demands an assurance that he and his children will not starve for want of food. The Qur’an gives this assurance:
We will provide for you and your children (6:152).
The Order of Rububiyyah, therefore, holds itself responsible for providing its members with the means of sustenance. The serving of man’s physical needs, though not an end in itself, is the grim reality to be faced. Once this requirement is met, the mind is free to indulge in higher pursuits. The ideal of self-realisation can appeal only to him whose mind is not assailed with pangs of hunger. Man, therefore, desires economic security first of all. But man does not want only to live; he wants to live well. As soon as the problems of physical survival are off his mind, he turns to matters that enrich and uplift life. This takes him from the individual to the collective survival. He tries to visualise the kind of social order that ought to be, and the enduring values which can perpetuate it. That is why before covering the higher issues, the Qur’anic society regards it as its first obligation to ensure for all its members the means of supporting life. Only when this responsibility has reasonably been discharged, the society summons its members to embark on the enterprise of self-development. However, the Rububiyyah society cannot exist in isolation. It cannot confine Rububiyyah to its own members. Such a narrow outlook would impede their progress. Its outlook has to embrace the whole of mankind. It has to interest itself in man, wherever he may be and whatever allegiances he may hold. It believes that each man is unique and has his own contribution to make. It has, therefore, to cater for a congenial atmosphere for all mankind so that no talent is lost. It has to pursue the goal of economic security for all men. It devotes itself to the enrichment and development of life and it will not be true to itself if it cares only for its own members. Its programme must reflect the Divine Attribute of the “Rabb of all mankind” (114:1).
And there is no Dadbbah (moving thing) on earth but its provision is with Allah (11:6).
The word “Daabbah” (in the verse quoted above and meaning “a moving thing”) is applied to both man and animal. The Order of Rububiyyah holds itself responsible for providing for the needs of all living beings because it is the chief agency for the establishment of deen, or, in other words, “kingdom of heaven” on earth for the development and expansion of life and beautification of the universe in which we live.
This brings us to a question round which heated controversy has raged for more than a century. If society makes ample provision for the needs of its members, will not they be left with no incentive to work ? Will not they become both lazy and selfish? They will become lazy because they can live in comfort without having to do a stroke of work. They will become selfish too, because being content to enjoy the comforts provided for them, they will hardly give a thought to those who are less fortunate than themselves. The members of such a society will, therefore, be up physically but down morally. Those who defend the Capitalistic system argue that a Communistic society cannot but deprive man of the chief incentive to work. Man finds work irksome and, left to himself, he would rather play than work, He works because he wants more comforts and luxuries, or more wealth and power. In an egalitarian society in which the individual gets only what he needs, whether he works or not, production will necessarily fall and less and less will be available for distribution. Despite equitable distribution of wealth such a society will collapse sooner or later. In a Capitalistic society, on the other hand, there is full scope for private enterprise and individual initiative. Everyone works because he knows that he will enjoy the fruits of his labour. National wealth increases and the people are hardworking and prosperous. This is, generally, what the protagonists of Capitalistic system say.
Capitalism, however, fails to look at the other side of the picture. While making the rich richer, it has often driven the poor to the verge of starvation. The “prophets” of this system declared this in unequivocal words. Defoe* argued, in his pamphlet entitled Giving Alms no Charity and Employing the Poor A Grievance to the Nation, that:
If the poor were relieved they would remain idle, or alternatively that, if they set to work in public institutions, the private manufacturer was equally deprived of his source of labour, the conclusion – expressed in modern terms – being that they should be thrown on the labour market and allowed to starve if they failed to find a place there.(1)
Mandeville pointed the conclusion in his Fable of the Bees that:
The poor have nothing to stir them up to be serviceable but their wants, which it is prudence to relieve but folly to cure. To make society happy it is necessary that great numbers should be wretched as well as poor.(2)
In more clear terms, Joseph Townsend declared in his Dissertation on the Poor Laws that:
Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation, to the most perverse. In general, it is only hunger which can spur and goad them (the poor) on to labour.(3)
This philosophy has brought unspeakable suffering and misery to the masses. It provides moral sanction for the ruthless exploitation of the subjugated and weaker nations. In desperation, the workers and the weaker people rose in revolt. The struggle took a heavy toll of life and is still going on. A system in which the weak and the simple go to the wall while the unscrupulous have their own way, cannot be expected to encourage the development of free and good men.
The Communists seek to overthrow the Capitalist state and, in its place, they want to set up a totalitarian order. The remedy is worse than the disease. No doubt, in a Communist society every man is assured of employment and his basic needs are provided for: but he can hardly be said to be a free man in a free society. He has been reduced to the status of a mere cog in a gigantic machine. He is the member, or rather a part, of a highly regimented society. In action and thought he must conform to the standard set up by party leadership. He is not permitted to think, choose and judge for himself. In the Rububiyyah society man sells his life to God. In the Communist state he sells his mind to the state. He perceives, remembers, imagines, thinks and believes only what the state wants him to do. He sells his individuality – his self-to the state. He is no longer an end in himself; he is merely the means to the objectives of the state. In short, he is reduced to a status lower than that of a serf or a slave; to the status of a mindless machine. How can the development of a free self be possible in such a society? In the Qur’anic society man is a volunteer; in the Communist state, a tool. This is but the natural corollary of the philosophy of life on which the Communistic order is based.
In the West, during the last decade the idea of a welfare state has appealed to many thinking men. The welfare state, like the Qur’anic society, is intended to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. Such a state, however, still remains as an ideal, attainable perhaps but not as yet realised. Even if it is set up, will its members have sufficient incentive to work when they already have all they need? The Qur’anic society, like the ideal welfare state, seeks to place man above care and want, but unlike the welfare state, it does not weaken but rather stimulates the incentive to work. It inculcates in man that the only ideal worthy of him is the full development of all his latent powers and that he can realise this ideal only through the disinterested service of mankind. He has to give and not to take. He must work, not for himself but for others. He is fired with the ambition to work hard for the enrichment of the life of all men, because it is only in this way that he can realise himself. This urge is so great that economic security does not impair the incentive to work.(4) It is true that bread is the staff of life, but it is equally true that man does not live by bread alone. Both his physical needs and his higher aspirations must be satisfied if he is to enjoy real happiness. Prof. Hawtrey’s pregnant remark deserves careful consideration:
What differentiates economic systems from one another is the character of the motives they invoke to induce people to work.(4)
The fact is that materialistic concept of life cannot, provide the motive to work hard for the benefit of others. It is here that both the Capitalistic and the Communistic systems fail to achieve the desired end. Christian states in the West, no doubt, profess to believe in God, but since they are all secular, they are, for practical purposes, as “God-less” as any Communist State. Materialistic concept of life cannot raise man above animal level at which there is no incentive for sacrificing one’s own interest for the welfare of others: animals have no values and hence are incapable of conceiving the idea of altruism. The Communistic philosophy of life cannot therefore, provide a foundation firm enough to bear the load of the huge structure of Communistic social order. This is possible only in the Rububiyyah Order based on Qur’anic concept of life, according to which the ideal is the development of the human self, and the self develops in proportion to what one does and gives for the benefit of others. This is one of the Permanent Values. Communist economic system blended with Qur’anic Permanent Values is the only solution of the world problems today. This, in a nutshell, is the Qur’anic Social Order. “Bolshevism plus God,” wrote Iqbal to Sir Francis Younghusband,” is almost identical with Islam.”(5)
5. The Mystical Way
This is not the place to enter into a discussion of the aims and ideals of Mysticism. We will, however, content ourselves with pointing out the difference between the ways of life advocated by Islam and Mysticism. The mystic, believing that his soul has been polluted by contact with matter, pursues the goal of purifying it and delivering it from the evil grip of matter. He believes that he can accomplish this task by withdrawing from the world, living in seclusion and practising self-mortification and self-abnegation. This view is based on the duality of matter and spirit, a view alien to Islam. Even, apart from this, Islam disapproves of both the goal and the methods by which it is to be attained. For Islam, the goal of man is self-development and it is to be achieved not by shunning the world but by making full use of the opportunities it affords. Islam supports the view that man can enrich his life through the enrichment of all life. Man is exhorted to produce goods not for himself alone, but for the benefit of all men. The Qur’an declares that the man who believes he is developing his self in seclusion, is only deceiving himself:
Have you not seen those who think that their personality is developing. Nay, it is only through the Laws given by Allah that personality can develop (4:49).
The same idea is elaborated in the following verse:
Ascribe not “growth of personality” to yourselves. God is best aware of one who abides by His Laws (53:32).
Again the Qur’an asserts:
Only his personality develops who gives his wealth to others (92:18).
According to the teachings of Islam, only that man succeeds in developing his self who first deserves what he gets, and what he gets, he gives freely to others. It is not an act of charity but a duty laid on free rational beings.
Monasticism too is alien to Islam. The cloistered life hinders the growth of the self. It is by co-operating with others for the good of all mankind that man makes progress in self-development. The Qur’an says:
But monasticism, they (the Christians) instituted it themselves, only as seeking the good will of God; yet they could not observe it with its due observance (as it is not possible to do so) (57:27).
The best way to realise oneself is through membership of the Order of Rububiyyah, which is a society dedicated to the pursuit of the absolute values and to the service of all mankind.
- Quoted by E. H. Carr, in The New Society, pp. 41-42.
- Ibid., p. 60.
- Letter published in the daily Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore, 30th July, 1931.
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1. The Law of Rububiyyah
In the course of ages, the idea slowly dawned on man’s mind and gradually crystallised that the world is not merely changing, but is developing towards perfection. The changes are not haphazard; nor erratic. They show a direction. In changing, the world is unfolding its real nature: in the process, what is implicit in it becomes explicit and what is hidden is brought to light. Purpose runs like a golden thread – a binding cord – throughout the universe. The progressive aspect of changes in the world did not escape the notice of some early Greek thinkers. The Greeks were an unusually gifted people and their fertile imagination, unhampered by tradition and custom, explored the realms of mind and matter. Their, restless minds were ever shaping new theories and advancing new viewpoints. They anticipated the evolutionary theory, as they anticipated many scientific theories of this age. It is to the credit of modern science that by adducing palpable evidence it has raised what was a nebulous hypothesis, to the plane of a scientific theory, or almost a law of nature. Physics shows a picture of a developing and expanding universe. Biologists describe in minute, ornate detail the evolution of life from the protozoa and protophyta to Homo sapiens. It is true that biologists, with the exception of Lamarck, reject the concept of purpose as alien to science. It is because purpose does not fit into their conceptual framework of natural science. But for the man who looks at the world with an untainted mind, purpose is a fact of observation: it is blinkers of science that may prevent us from noticing the purpose. Nevertheless, it is writ large on the face of nature. We understand a thing when we know its end. Nothing around us stays as it is at one particular moment, it is always changing and becoming something different to what it is. As a rule, we are much less interested in a thing as it is than in what it is tending to become. Suppose while taking a walk, we meet a man who is running fast. It is not by determining his exact location at a particular moment that we understand his activity, but by learning about his purpose and the goal he is heading for. The physical world as it develops is accomplishing a purpose. Although the physical world is not conscious of the purpose, nevertheless it is, in a sense, its purpose which enhances its value and enriches it with new attributes. The purpose is positive, constructive and operates objectively. We may say that the world is destined to move towards and attain the goal which God, in His wisdom, has set for it. This holds for the outer universe. With man the case is quite different. Possessing a free self, he can develop and attain his own end only by free choice and personal effort. Man cannot be forced to develop; he must develop himself. Because man grows, he is compared with a plant in the Qur’an. The seed germinates and puts forth a young shoot. The tiny stalk grows in bulk and height, It becomes the full-grown tree which bears fruit. It has fulfilled its purpose by reproducing its kind. Man takes his origin in the fertilized ovum. After birth, he grows in size and strength, till he reaches maturity and is ready for procreation. The analogy cannot be carried beyond this point. Man, when he has begotten children, has not fulfilled his purpose. His destiny is far different from that of the plant. He is not a mere instrument for the preservation of his race. His body, no doubt, has fulfilled its purpose when he has begotten children, but he possesses a self and the self does not beget its like. It does not procreate. Says the Qur’an of the Divine Self that “He neither begets nor is He begotten” (112:3). This is also true of the human self which, though infinitely lower than the Divine Self, has more in common with it than with physical objects or animals. The self’s activity is creative, not procreative. It creates values and the values enrich and expand its nature and raise it in the scale of existence. While the evolution of nature proceeds under the direct control and supervision of God, man is an active participant in his own evolution. Man develops as a result of his own free choice and deliberate voluntary efforts. The evolution of his self, therefore, is governed by laws distinct from those that obtain for nature. He too cannot dispense with Divine help and guidance, but these are offered to him in a form which does not impair the integrity of his self, nor imperil his freedom. He is left free to accept or reject Divine Guidance. Deen comprises the principles of conduct which can lead him to his goal, but they would do so only when they are freely adopted and acted upon.
From this vantage point it is clear to us that development is the rule in the world. In the language of the Qur’an it is the Law of Rububiyyah. This Law states that God carries forward the universe and everything in it from one stage to a higher one. God keeps everything moving forward, actualising its latent capabilities. It is a dynamic universe and the most dynamic being in it is man. In such a universe, there will obviously be different stages of existence. The Law of Rububiyyah is tuned, to each stage of existence but its purpose and aim remains unaffected throughout. The Law is the sheet-anchor of the universe, the guarantee that everything in it will develop to the full extent of its capacity: the only possible exception is man who, through his own volition, may set himself against it and misapply his freedom by choosing to descend instead of ascending, to creep on earth instead of soaring in the sky (7:176).
2. Course of Self-development
The evolutionary process, in evidence in the outer world, takes within man the form, of self-development. What are the conditions under which self-development proceeds smoothly without let or hindrance? Some conditions are common for each stage of development in general, others apply only to self-development – the most exciting form of development. Let us consider the common ones first. Nothing exists by itself in isolation. Everything is related to many other things and the relationship between them is not merely of co-existence, but of co-operation. The development, therefore, depends on the presence and co-operation of several factors. To take a concrete example, a seed is capable of growing into a tree. However, for its growth it depends on soil, water, minerals, air and sunlight. All these must not only be present, but they must also bear proper relations to each other and to the seed. If the seed is placed in one pot, soil in another and water in a third pot, nothing will happen. But if the seed is related to these things in such a way that they interact on each other, the seed will soon sprout and burgeon. The human body too develops through intimate interaction with environmental forces and objects. All things in the world are interdependent; they need each other and help each other. This is still more true of the self of man. The self can develop only in a social environment, through interaction with other free selves. It needs a society in which there is internal harmony and concord. It burgeons in the context of friendly relations with kindred beings. Their sympathy and co-operation are essential to its growth. The sense of participation in social activities directed to a noble end adds a new dimension to the self. Self-realisation is possible for man only in society, a society which is based on justice and respect for human personality, a society which is dedicated to the acquisition of higher values. The society which favours the growth of the self, is that in which every man gladly helps others and gratefully receives help from them. In a society torn by dissension, the demands of the physical self become imperative. In such a society, every man will be thinking of himself and his personal interests. His mind will be engrossed with the problem of protecting his life, property and children from other men. Biological motives will dominate the mind and the urge for a higher life will be relegated to the background. In a society of this kind the pursuit of the good is not possible. Man needs a society in which all the members are bound to each other by ties of friendship and animated by the spirit of comradeship. Belief in these values is the first commitment of belief in God. The Qur’an exhorts man to build up a society in which men are united by such an Eiman in God for the purpose of collating a society which is not wrought-up by internal tensions:
And hold fast by the cord of God, all of you, and be not divided; but remember the favour of God towards you, when you were enemies and He united your hearts so that you became, by His favour, as brothers (3:103).
The society so cultivated and congenial is the Ummah of the Qur’an. “This is how He has raised an Ummah – community – from among you” (2:143). This is the reason for the Qur’an’s emphasis on corporate life and for its disapproval of monasticism. Goethe once remarked that character is formed not in solitude, but in the hurly-burly of life. The self shrinks and contracts in solitude, while it grows and expands through active and continuous participation in group activities.
A harmonious, well-knit and integrated personality can take shape only in a balanced and concordant society. The human mind is the arena of conflicting desires. Society too carries the seed of discord as it is composed of individuals with different and often opposed tastes, interests and aims. In society the resulting conflicts should not be resolved by suppressing one party and giving free rein to the other. The true solution lies in mutual adjustment, in reconciling one to the other and in discovering an activity or a way of life which affords reasonable satisfaction to rivals. Balance and proportion should characterise personality as well as society. How can human personality acquire proportion? The answer is that it can do so only by taking as its model the Divine Attributes, Asmaa-ul-Husnaa (Beautiful Names).
The Divine Attributes, severally, represent the highest degree of each intrinsically valuable quality and they collectively reflect proportion of the highest order. If we bear in mind that proportion is an essential condition of beauty, and some might go so far as to say that proportion itself is beauty, it will be clear to us why the term Husnaa is applied to these attributes. These are beautiful because each bears the right proportion to others, so as to form a well-balanced whole. Husn, however, must be taken in a wider sense. It denotes not only physical beauty but moral beauty as well. Proportion is the only antidote to the poison of discord and conflict in the self as well as in society.
There is at least one marked distinction in the way of development of the self from that of the body. The body grows by taking and assimilating nutrient substances from the environment. The more nourishment it gets, the better is its growth. Paradoxically, the self grows not by receiving but by giving. Generosity promotes its growth and meanness checks it. The more the self gives of its riches, the richer it grows. If this basic truth is clearly perceived, men will rush to the help of those in need. Pride in possession will give place to joy in munificence. They will think more of what they can give than of what they can keep for themselves. The acquisitive instinct will be weakened and the impulse to give will gain strength. The Qur’an extols men who put the interests of others above their own:
They prefer others before themselves, although there be indigence among them; and whosoever is preserved from the covetousness of his own soul, these shall prosper (59:9).
The tendency directly, opposed to generosity that we have been considering is covetousness, termed shuh-un-nafs in the Qur’an (59:9). It is acquisitive, possessive and egoistic. The covetous man wants to appropriate all the good things within his reach and is callously indifferent to the needs of others. Suppose a number of men are gathered at a water tap. They know that the flow of water will cease in an hour or so. Each is eager to fill his pitcher. The covetous man elbows his way through the crowd, rudely pushes the pitcher of another from underneath the tap and places his own in its place. He does not care if others have to go without water. All he cares for is to have a plentiful supply of water for himself. Covetousness deadens the human self and the Qur’an admonishes us to be on our guard against this insidious disease of the self. It exhorts us to help all men, and not only our kith and kin. The Qur’an is objective and universal in its outlook. It seeks the welfare of all humanity and not only of a particular sect or community. According to the Qur’an, only that endures which benefits “man” whoever he may be and to whatever country, nation or group he may belong. We would do well to reflect on the verse quoted below:
He sends down water from heaven, and the brooks flow according to their (respective) measure, and the flood bears along a swelling foam. And from the metals which they smelt in fire seeking to cast ornaments and necessaries, arises a scum like it. Thus Allah coineth the similitude of the true and the false. As to the foam, it goes off as refuse, and as to what is profitable to mankind, it remains on the earth. Thus God strikes out parables (13:17).
The proposition, “Only that survives which is for the benefit of all mankind,” together with its corollary, “only those survive who benefit all mankind” are the fundamental principles of self-development. The law is not “the survival of the fittest” but “the survival of the most munificent” In other words, according to the standard laid down by the Qur’an, only the most munificent is the fittest to survive. Those who have imbibed the true spirit of the Qur’an, will eschew selfishness and will dedicate themselves to the service of humanity. They are the real Muslims.
Nationalism and colonialism have been dominant forces in the West during the last two or three centuries. Both generate narrow-mindedness and a parochial attitude. The European thought only of his own nation or empire. Even in the West, however, some thinkers have exhorted their compatriots to work for the good of all mankind. We quote an eloquent passage from Rashdall’s book on ethics:
It may be urged that the ideal is that I should be producing something for another and find my good in doing so; while he is working in turn for my good, and finds his good in doing so.(1)
An eloquent defence of this view is to be found in Robert Briffault’s Making of Humanity:
The peculiar means and conditions of human development necessitate that development shall take place not by way of individuals, but by way of the entire human race; that the grade of development of each individual is the resultant of that oecumenical development (p. 260).
He says further:
The making of humanity! That is the burden of man’s evolution; and that is the solid, nay, somewhat hard fact, of which the ‘moral law’ is the vaguely conscious expression. It is not throbbing impulse of altruism, no inspiration of generosity for its own sake, but a heavy weight of necessity laid upon man’s development by the unbending conditions that govern it (p. 261).
On another place, he has elaborated the point:
In the natural scale, that action is good which contributes to the process of human development, that act is evil which tends to impede, retard, oppose that process: that individual life is well deserving which is in the direct line of that evolution, that is futile which lies outside the course of its advance; that is condemned which endeavours to oppose the current. That is the natural, the absolute and actual standard of moral values. Nature does not value the most saintly and charitable life which brings no contribution to human growth, as much as a single act which permanently promotes the evolution of the race. …. The only measure of worth of which nature takes any account – by perpetuating it – is the contribution offered towards the building up of a higher humanity (p. 352).
The real interests of the individual are not detached from but are interwoven with those of mankind. They are not antithetical to but are identical with each other. Man, therefore, realises himself by furthering the interest of mankind. This is the truth which the Qur’an proclaims. It regards all “mankind as one community” (10:19). It does not recognize the distinctions of caste, race, creed or colour. Mankind is one whole, a single, though complex, entity for it:
Your creation and your raising are but as those of single self (31:28).
The Qur’an speaks of Ka’bah, the centre of the Muslim world, as “an establishment for the entire mankind” (5:97). It holds that the wellbeing of the individual depends on the well-being of the society. Muslims are enjoined to work not for the well-being of the Muslim community but for that of all mankind. The Qur’an leaves no doubt on this point, and Prof. Whitehead is in full agreement with it when he says that:
The perfection of life resides in aims beyond the individual person in question.(2)
Man, in his individual capacity, self-develops his personality as he satisfies his desires, and his self-conscious interpretations of his subconscious knowledge of his origin in Pure Spirit may influence his activities. But, racially, man ought to engage only in such activities as tend to extend creative freedom to the utmost through the self-creativeness of all personalities to their uttermost limits. Man may turn from this second movement while holding to the first. Man, therefore, may be moral individually and immoral racially. The highest personalities unite the two moralities.(3)
The interdependence of man is the recurring theme of the Qur’an. The Qur’anic programme for man has a twofold aim – the furtherance of the best interests of the individual as well as of the society. In working for the good of mankind, man achieves his own good as well. This view has been held by some great thinkers in the West also. We quote from Kant:
Act in such a way as to treat thyself and every other human being as of equal intrinsic value; behave as a member of a society in which each regards the good of the other as of equal value with his own, and is so treated by the rest, in which each is both end and means, in which each realises his own good in promoting that of others.(4)
The Qur’an goes a step further and declares that “the believers prefer others to themselves although there is indigence among them” (59:9). Julian Huxley, a great scientist who holds no brief for religion, writes to the same effect:
I believe that the whole duty of man can be summed up in the words: more life for your neighbour as for yourself. And I believe that man, though not without perplexity, effort and pain, can fulfil this duty and gradually achieve his destiny. A religion which takes this as its central core and interprets it with wide vision, both of the possibilities open to man and of the limitations in which he is confined will be a true religion, because it is conterminous with life; it will encourage the growth of life, and will itself grow with that growth. I believe in the religion of life.(5)
Julian Huxley, of course, does not believe that man needs the help of Divine Revelation. He holds fast to the view that reason alone can enable man to grasp the true relationship between himself and mankind. Here, he is oversimplifying the problem. He fails to see that mere intellectual apprehension of a truth is not enough, that it does not guarantee that we will always follow the hard path he has suggested. Reason may lead us to the lofty peak which gives a wider vision of life, but Revelation gives us the strength to stay there and order our life in accordance with that vision. Ovid’s famous line is pertinent to the point, “Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor!” (I see the better way, approve it, but I follow the worse!). Reason can point out the right path but it lacks the power to compel us to follow it. Revelation supplements reason. It confirms and expands the vision granted by reason and also sustains and guides us in the arduous journey to our goal. Revelation summons men to a fuller and richer life and is meant only for those “who are living” (36:70).
Life, we should bear in mind, is much more than physical existence. It is a steady and continuous progress towards a higher stage in social, moral and intellectual development. Man approaches this stage by helping his fellow beings to do the same. If man pushes society forward, society in turn pushes him on, and so both rise to the desired higher level. Says the Qur’an:
O ye who believe! Respond to God and His apostle, when he calls you to that which gives you life (8:24).
To sum up, man is organically related to all mankind. His vital interests are bound up with the interest of humanity. He can fulfil himself only by serving other men and by putting their interest above his own. He realises his good only by working for the general good. The Qur’an puts it clearly:
(The believers say): We feed you for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward or thanks from you (76:9).
Man is really benefiting himself by serving other men. So the question of reward does not arise. As the Qur’an says:
Is the reward of Ihsaan aught save Ihsaan (55:60).
Dedicated to the service of mankind, the believers keep the doors of the Rububiyyah Order open to all. They sincerely rejoice at the progress of others:
Those who spend their wealth in accordance with the Laws of Allah (for the benefit of mankind) and afterwards make not reproach and injury to follow that which they have spent: their reward is with their Rabb and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve (2:262).
They are happy in serving others, seeking neither wealth nor fame:
O ye who believe! Render not vain what you spend for the cause prescribed by Allah by reproach and injury, like him who spends his wealth only to be seen of men and believe not in Allah and the last day (2:264).
So the Rasool, whose mission it was to summon men to the Rububiyyah Order, declared:
And I ask of you no reward for it; my reward is only with the Rabb of all the worlds (26:109).
We must now face the crucial question, whether it is really possible for man to sacrifice his interests for the sake of the general good. No doubt, man is endowed with altruistic as well as egoistic impulses. But the egoistic impulse which impels man to appropriate all good things for himself, is far more powerful than the social impulse. Moreover, worldly wisdom too lends its support to the egoistic impulse. Few can resist the powerful appeal of immediate personal gain. Mysticism seeks to strengthen the altruistic motive by inculcating into man ideas such as that the body is utterly worthless, that all sensual pleasures are sinful and that the world is shot through with evil. It is believed that if man is fully convinced that the body is an obstacle to his “spiritual” progress, he would cease to care for things that minister to its needs. The Qur’an, however, does not approve of this kind of other-worldliness. It treats the body and the world with the respect due to them. It tells us that there is nothing sinful in possessing worldly goods and in gratifying bodily needs. It fully recognizes the fact that it is possible to have value experience through the body:
Beautiful for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and children, and stored up treasures of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark) and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah! with Him is a more excellent abode (3:13).
The Qur’an encourages man to enjoy the good things of the world:
Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing ? (7:32).
Mysticism pleads for the suppression of the egoistic impulse which would leave the field open to the altruistic impulse. The Qur’an is opposed to this view and asks us to do justice to the physical self as well as the real self. How can the interests of these two selves be reconciled and how can man have the best of both the worlds? This question is discussed in the next chapter.
- J.H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good And Evil, Vol. H. p. 77.
- A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 373.
- J. W. T. Mason, Creative Freedom, p. 226.
- Quoted by Rashdall, op. cit, Vol. I. p. 133.
- Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation, p. 113.
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1. Man’s Passion for Life
The longing for immortality is deep-rooted in man. He clings to life passionately and recoils with horror from the prospect of extinction. He values life above all things and for its preservation and prolongation is willing to pay the highest price even in terms of pain and misery. For centuries, he has been tirelessly seeking the elixir of life which might enable him to prolong his life indefinitely. Frustration only spurred him on to put forth greater efforts. Man’s passion for life knows no bounds. He wants to live, no matter what the cost may be. At last man realised, and the realisation was extremely painful to him, that death is inevitable and that his earthly career must, sooner or later, come to an end. He realised the futility of his efforts to evade death, and yet the desire for life burned in him as fiercely as it did in the breast of his remote progenitor. Satan, we are told, exploited Adam’s intense longing for immortality and educed him from the path of virtue. He assured Adam that the moment he tasted the forbidden fruit he would become immortal. Adam could not resist the temptation. In the Qur’an, the story is recounted allegorically in a picturesque style:
But Shaitaan whispered to him, saying: “O Adam! Shall I show thee tree of immortality and power that wasteth not away?” And (Adam and his wife) ate thereof, so that their “shame” became apparent to them and they began to hide by heaping on themselves some of the leaves of the garden. And Adam disobeyed Rabb and went astray (20:120-21).
Adam typifies Man in general, Shaitan (Satan) typifies the forces of debasement and destruction. Tempted by these, man has often sought shortcuts to immortality and has forsaken the path which, though long and wearisome, can alone lead him to the desired end.
Men reacted to the knowledge that death is inevitable in two different ways. A few hard-headed and empirically oriented men, centred all their hopes on this brief earthly life and resolutely refused to look beyond death. Their aim was to make the most of life, to enjoy every moment of it fully, untroubled by the thought of their ultimate fate. Every moment was to be filled with pleasurable experience and the thought that death was round the corner, intensified their joy in life. They lived in the present and refused to turn their thoughts to the future which, they believed, could never be theirs.
For the majority of men, however, the lure of immortality remained as strong as ever. Baulked in their efforts to evade death, they began to speculate on the ways in which life might be possible even after death. Some of them pinned their faith on collective survival – though they might die as individuals, yet they might somehow continue to exist in the lives of their children and children’s children. Their earthly career might come to an end but the career of the life they had transmitted to their children might continue indefinitely. This belief offered them a grain of consolation. This is one of the reasons for man’s pride in his progeny. The Qur’an refers to the joy man feels in those he has begotten:
Beautified for mankind is love of the joys that come from wife and children and stored up heaps of gold and silver and horses of mark and cattle and tilth. That is comfort of the life of this earth, but Allah: with Him is a more excellent abode (3:13).
It is obvious that this is not the immortality which is really desired by man. What he wants is not the preservation of a portion of his body but the continuation of his individuality. In collective survival, the “I” has disappeared. The torch of life that a man has transmitted to his children may be carried through generation to generation for centuries, but the “I” that he prized most and longed to perpetuate, vanished at the moment of his death. Man longs not for collective survival but for the immortality of his individual self. This he cannot claim as his right, nor can he receive it as a gift from a higher being. Only through his personal efforts can man win immortality for his ego. He can conquer death, but only by developing himself to the degree at which he can stand the shock of death. As the Qur’an says:
He has created life and death to prove you, which of you is best in conduct (67:2).
The verse, cited above, enshrines a great truth. To grasp it fully, we must consider it in all its aspects. Death is a natural phenomenon. It is a physical change which overtakes the human body. The body had its origin in the union of parental life-cells. For a number of years it continued to develop through the processes of maturation and exercise. After reaching its peak, it begins to decline and decay. The process of disintegration culminates in death. The crucial question is whether there is anything in man which survives the dissolution of the body. The answer is that the self which grew and developed in the matrix of the body may survive it and may, on the break-up of the body, launch out on a fresh career. We, by no means, suggest that this is true of all selves. We admit that some philosophers of repute have held the view that the self is by its nature imperishable. McTaggart, to mention only one, has developed this view in his writings and has defended it with arguments that are regarded as worthy of attention in philosophical circles. We do not subscribe to this view because it does not harmonize with the Qur’anic view of the destiny of the human self. In taking up this attitude to McTaggart’s position, we have also been influenced by two rational considerations. Firstly, this view entails belief in the pre-existence of the self, for which there is not a shred of evidence: secondly, with the acceptance of this view, emphasis shifts from what the self does to what it is. Moral activity ceases to be of vital importance to the fate of the self. The self, it would seem, is assured of immortality, irrespective of the kind of life, virtuous or vicious, which it led in this world. The Qur’anic view is that immortality cannot be taken for granted. It is the prize which the self can win by right conduct and by its efforts to realise its potentialities. The self may win the prize or it may lose it. The issue depends on the quality and intensity of its effort and on no other factor. For the self which has lived the right kind of life, death has no terror. The Qur’an makes this point clear. “The great horror shall not grieve them” (21:103). The self wins immortality by the proper orientation of will and the performance of right action. This view is not dissimilar to the view of Professor Galloway, as the following passage shows:
That every creature formed in the semblance of man, however brutish or undeveloped, is destined to immortality, is more than we dare affirm. To do so would require a deeper knowledge of divine economy than we possess. We agree with Lotze, “that every created thing will continue if and so long as its continuance belongs to the meaning of the world: that everything will pass away which had its authorized place only in a transitory phase of the world’s course.” (1)
Lotze’s position is substantially the same as our own. The self which, through the acquisition of absolute values has vitally related itself to the meaning and purpose of the universe, will find death a transition to a higher place.
2. Life After Death
The Qur’an emphatically asserts that death is not the final end but a gateway to a different kind of life:
We mete out death among you …. that We may transfigure you and make you what you know not. And verily you know the first creation. Why then do you not reflect ? (56:61-63).
The real self, not being a part of the body, is not subject to physical laws. It is dependent on the body for functioning in the physical world, but it may continue to exist after the destruction of the body, its instrument:
And they say, what! When we have become bones and dust shall we indeed be raised up a new creation. Say thou: Be ye stones or iron or a substance still more improbable in your hearts (to be restored to life). But they will say: Who shall bring us back? Say thou: He Who brought you into being for the first time (17:49-51).
We interpret this verse as meaning that the self is not the product of physical forces and is not subject to natural laws. It owes its existence to and is directed by the Divine Amr. In the Hereafter, as in this life, it is sustained and guided by Amr, as it guides the evolutionary process. It may, therefore, be fit or unfit to exist and function on the plane to which it has been carried by evolution.
It is no doubt true that many philosophers and scientists refuse to believe that the self can survive the dissolution of the body. Their argument may be summarised in this way. The identity of the ego depends on memory and memory is a function of the nervous tissue. When the nervous tissue is destroyed, memory ceases to exist and the ego too disappears. We urge that life after death becomes intelligible when it is viewed in relation to the evolutionary progress of the self. The ego takes its origin in and develops dependent on the body. It may, however, attain that stage of development where it can carry on by itself. So too does the imago discard the chrysalis in which it developed and starts on an independent career. It all depends on the degree of development achieved by the ego:
And what has come to you that you hope not for something more weightier from God, when He has developed you by gradual ascents? (71:13-14)
“Gradual ascents” are the keywords in the above verse. The self does not remain stationary but is meant to rise to higher stages of development. When it reaches a particular stage of development, it would mean that it has related itself to the meaning of the world and the world, therefore, cannot afford to throw it overboard.
3. Will and Action
Will and action are of paramount importance for the development of the self and, therefore, for its survival too. Will and action are really aspects of the same process. Action is “will actualised” and will is latent action. It has been truly said “no will, no action,” but the reverse is also true “no action, no will.” Only a free self possesses “will” in this sense, and only such a self can perform actions which have relevance to survival. Animals act under the compulsion of instinctive urges and without foresight of the results of their actions. They, therefore, cannot be credited with will as we understand it. In the same way, the activities of the animal are not actions. An action is that which has been deliberately chosen by a free self and has been voluntarily performed by it. The free self expresses itself in action and holds itself responsible for it. Without freedom and responsibility, action, in this restricted sense, is not possible. These facts about “will and action” have a direct bearing on the question of survival. Man is the product of a long evolutionary process. This process does not stop at any point, but continues indefinitely. At a certain stage, man becomes an active participant in it and through his free will and purposeful activity determines, within certain limits, both the speed and the direction of evolutionary process. This process which has been at work in the world for untold aeons is now transformed into something far more rational and meaningful. It also becomes more dependent on its material, i.e., humanity, through which it is working. The primitive organisms were moulded and shaped by natural forces, so as to be fit for the next stage in evolution. It was a long and painful process in which the unfit were ruthlessly weeded out and the fit were permitted to flourish. Man cannot now depend on natural forces to mould him and make him fit for the next stage. He must do the moulding himself. He alone can make himself fit for the higher stage, on which he is to enter. His self is not changed by natural forces nor even by random activity. It is changed only by his moral activity, his freely chosen and voluntarily performed actions. If, through right actions, he has rendered himself fit for the next stage in “the gradual ascent,” he enters Jannah or paradise, as each plane of existence must appear to someone coming from a lower one. On the other hand, a man who is unfit, feels anguish and misery at the sight of good things he cannot enjoy, of opportunities he cannot avail of, of a glorious life just beyond his reach. He is in Hell. As already stated, Heaven and Hell are not localities but states of mind. However, as a state of mind is transitory, it is not a suitable term. Heaven (Jannah) stands for fruition coupled with glowing hope for the future. Hell (Jahannam) is the experience of frustration tinged with remorse and regret. The person who permits his self to weaken, stagnates and becomes perverted. He languishes in a state between life and death. He does not live because life consists of upward movement of which he is incapable: he cannot die because remorse and frustrated desire prevent him from relinquishing his hold on life. Both the pleasure of existence and the insensibility of non-existence are denied him. The Qur’an says about him, “Wherein he neither dies nor lives” (87:13). All that he can do is to give expression to the remorse that gnaws at his vitals, “Oh! That I had sent something beforehand for my life” (89:24). The inmates of Jannah, on the other hand, will give expression to their happiness in these words: “We shall not die any other than our first death” (37:57-58). They have successfully stood the test of death and they know that they will not be subjected to the same test again. Their eyes dwell on new vistas of self-development and the path which leads to them is illumined by the. Divine light “running before them and on their right hand” (57:12). The materialists maintain: “There is no other than life in this world. We live and die and nothing destroys us but time” (45:24). The Qur’an, however, tells us that we can rise much higher above the plane of earth-rootedness and “pass out of the confines of the heavens and earth” (55:33), provided we develop the powers that are latent in us. These two views are in direct opposition to each other:
Do those who commit ill deeds think that We will make them as those who believe and do the right, equal in their life and death! How ill they judge (45:21).
The Mu’min, who is untiring in the pursuit of the good and keeps his eyes riveted on the eternal verities, is not afraid of death. He welcomes it gladly as he believes that he will pass through the shadow of death to a fuller and richer life. The poet Iqbal says:
Let me tell you by what sign you may recognize the true Mu’min. When the grim spectre of Death approaches, he greets it with a smile.
(Armughaan-e-Hijaaz, p. 165).
It is so because death, for him, is not the end of life but the threshold of a far more glorious life. The Mu’min regards death as a test which gives him the opportunity to prove his fitness for the higher life he is about to enter. The Jews claimed that every member of the Jewish race was predestined for paradise. In that case, says the Qur’an, they should face death with equanimity as they had nothing to fear:
If the abode of the Hereafter with God be for you, exclusive of the (rest of) mankind, then long for death if you are truthful (2 :94).
The Qur’an leaves no doubt on the point that paradise is not reserved for a particular race or community but is open to all who are steadfast in the pursuit of the good as revealed in the Qur’an, and who lay down their lives for the cause of truth.
4. Immortality and Eternity
It should be noted, however, that immortality does not imply eternity. Eternity belongs to God alone It is also beyond our power to formulate a precise definition of immortality. It refers to stages of existence which transcend human calculation. All we can say, and all we need know is that life has no end. When we attain a higher stage, new vistas are opened up for our ambition. It is the nature of life to move forward unceasingly. The self in which the movement is retarded or arrested, suffers the torments of Hell.*
At this point, we would do well to guard ourselves against a misconception. No doubt, we will reap the harvest of a good life in the Hereafter, but actions which lead to the realisation of higher values are requited in this life as well. The Qur’an’s teaching is not otherworldly alone: it attaches due importance to this world also. Good actions enhance life and confer on us the gift of unalloyed happiness. The full fruition of realised values may be possible only in the Hereafter but we can get a foretaste of the joys of heaven in this life also. Of course, the final success or failure of a life can be known only when that life has run its course. At any stage in life, the next step might be in the right or wrong direction. The balance-sheet of life is possible only when it has ended. Nevertheless, reward is not withheld from the good man during this life. His good deeds bring him peace and happiness. Good action does not benefit the doer alone. Its beneficial effect pervades the world and helps to make it a better place, the home of goodness, beauty and truth. The good man realises himself through serving his fellow beings. He, therefore, contributes his might to the creation of a social environment in which truth and justice prevail and in which each individual enjoys the right to express and develop himself in his own way. To create such a social atmosphere has always been the aim of Islam. Some religions are primarily concerned with the salvation of individual men, while others are preoccupied with the stability and efficiency of human society. Islam seeks to create a social milieu in which the human personality may function freely and grow to its full stature. In the next chapter, we will try to assess the value of Islam as a cultural force.
1. G. Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion, pp. 672-73.
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