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Chapter 8 THE LAW OF REQUITAL Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez


  1. What is It ?

For the savage, as for the child, the world is the scene of fortuitous events none of which stands in an intelligible relationship with the other. With the growth of intellect, both awake to the presence of order in the world around them. The first thing they notice is the sequence of certain events – for example a flash of lightning is followed by a crash of thunder, and contact with fire is followed by burning. Knowledge of invariable sequence helps them to make better adjustment to the world. They become conscious of the causal nexus between events. They seek to know the causes of events, because this knowledge enables them to predict the effects and also to control them. They become aware that they themselves operate as causal agents producing changes in the world. The knowledge that all their actions have consequences gives them a sense of power as well as of responsibility. They realise that in choosing to act in a certain way, they are also choosing the consequence of their action. If the consequence is unpleasant and man wishes to avoid it, he can do so only by refraining from the action which leads to it. The Law of Requital states that every action of man has consequences and the doer will have to bear them whether he likes them or not. But far more important than the external effect of the action is its effect on the personality of the doer. All actions, however, do not necessarily modify personality. An action which has been performed inadvertently or carelessly has little influence on man’s self. But an action performed deliberately for a set purpose, or with a high degree of ego-involvement, changes personality for better or for worse. It strengthens or weakens the moral fibre. It furthers or hinders his progress toward self-fulfilment. This distinction between human actions is made by the Qur’an and is of great importance to the moral life of man. The Law of Requital is specially relevant to the changes in personality which result from the voluntary actions of man. It means that consequences of such actions are inevitably incorporated in the personality of man, adding to or detracting from its power.

  2. Man and the Law of Requital

Gradually man realised that he lived in a world which was not at the mercy of capricious spirits, but a world displaying a definite orderliness. He could adjust himself to the world only by discovering the laws which governed the events and processes therein. He addressed himself to this task and slowly and patiently acquired the knowledge which enabled him to exercise effective control over the world. Next he turned his attention to himself and to his own conduct. Here too, he discovered the rule of law. He found that he was free to act and choose but that rule of law required him to pay a price for the freedom he enjoyed. He had to bear the consequences of his actions. He could not disown the results of his own actions. He might yield to a sudden impulse and gain momentary satisfaction, but later regret and remorse were sure to prey on his mind and make him unhappy. He could not flout the Law of Requital with impunity. This law is as fixed and inexorable as any natural law. However, unlike the natural law which is confined to the physical sphere. The Law of Requital operates in three different spheres. We will now consider its mode of operation in each of these spheres

  1. Of the relations existing between events in the world, the causal relation is the most important. Where two events are related to each other, the antecedent event or cause is invariably followed by the consequent event or effect. Cause and effect are relative terms. Each can be defined only in terms of the other. We are not concerned with cases where both the events are physical. These fall within the purview of physical sciences. But we have seen that man too acts as a causal agent in the world and his actions also produce effects. From the point of view of deen, man’s actions and their effects are seen as exemplifying the Law of Requital, The effect is what man earns by his action, whether he welcomes it as a reward or dislikes it as a punishment. If a man puts his hand in fire it gets burnt; if he plunges it in water, it gets wet. If he acts wrongly, the consequences are harmful to him. He has to suffer because he has brought the calamity on himself. It is his own doing and he cannot blame others. The child as it grows up, quickly learns how the Law of Requital works in the physical sphere and how, by respecting it, he may protect himself against physical injury and pain.
  2. In the social sphere, the Law of Requital operates in the form of civil law. Society cannot exist without law and order. Actions which threaten the integrity of society have to be punished. Men often act in an antisocial way. Impelled by selfish desires, they often act in such a manner as to disrupt the group to which they belong. They can be restrained only by the knowledge that their wrong actions will bring upon themselves highly unpleasant consequences. A man may inflict injury on his fellow being or rob him of his property, but he knows that afterwards he will have to serve time or pay a heavy fine. The prospect of suffering punishment deters him from acting against the interest of society. In a well-organised society men are usually law-abiding because they see that everyone who transgresses the law is invariably punished. However, we must not forget that even in a well-governed state, some criminals go unpunished while some innocent men are unjustly condemned. Human laws are not perfect and there are, in every society, serious defects in the administration of justice. Cunning men, especially if they are wealthy, can often find some way of evading the punishment which they deserve. That is why every society has its criminals. The only remedy lies in perfecting the machinery of the administration of justice. Thus we see that the Law of Requital does operate in the social sphere, although its working is not free from defects.
  3. In the moral sphere, the Law of Requital is seen in its purest form. Here it points to the necessary connection between man’s action and the ensuing modification of his personality. Man’s action, besides producing effects in the world and in society, produces also effects within him, changing  his self for better or worse. External factors have no effect on a man’s personality. Man can be free although he is confined in a prison cell. On the other hand, though outwardly free, he may have a cramped and inhibited personality. Human personality is keenly sensitive to the moral tone of his actions. Every transgression of the moral law debilitates it in its ability to play its proper role. The working of the Law of Requital is much more subtle in this sphere than in other spheres. A man may casually take a wrong turning and may go on committing trivial misdeeds, without being aware of the gradual harm he is doing to his personality, One day, he will be shocked when he realises the cumulative deterioration in his personality. Though subtle, the working of the Law of Requital in this sphere is relentless. Every action leaves its effect, good or bad, on the personality. The effect at a time may be so slight as to be hardly perceptible, but if the man continues to act in the wrong way, the cumulative effect may transform his personality. The infection of bad actions may be negligible at the beginning but it works insidiously, and gradually undermines the self. The man who is morally sensitive can perceive this effect coming about and check himself in time and retrace his steps before an irretrievable damage is done.

   3. Its Working

All our actions are not subject to the Law of Requital. Involuntary acts and those performed heedlessly or with little ego-involvement may be regarded as morally neutral. But deliberate acts, through which we express our real self and which we can acknowledge as our own, are inevitably rewarded if right, and punished if wrong. The moral order in the universe is based on this Law. We can claim only what is due to us. Only right actions entitle us to reward. The Qur’an confirms this view:

And unto Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, that He may (according to His Law of Requital) reward those who do A’maal-us-Sayyiah with what they have done, and reward those who do A’maal-ul-Hasanah (good deeds) with goodness (53:31).

God has granted man a measure of freedom but He keeps watch over man to see how he uses the freedom:

And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth …. that He might afford you opportunity to show which of you is best in conduct (11:7).

The Qur’an declares that God “sees” not only the overt actions of man but also his inner motives and hidden intentions, and His judgment of man is on this broad basis;

Alike to Him is he among you who hides his word, and he who speaks it aloud, and he who hides by night and he who goes forth openly in the day. He has pursuers from before him and from behind him, who watch him by the command of God, Lo! Allah does not change the condition of a folk until they (first) change what is in their own selves (13:10-11).

Whatever man desires, he must get through his own efforts. If it were offered to him as a free gift, it would not benefit his personality. He cannot hope to deceive God by a pretence of striving. He must strive earnestly;

There are guardians over you, who are honourable reporters (82:9-10).

And again it is said:

We created man and We know what his mind whispers to him; and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (50:16).

The Qur’an assures man that his actions are not like ripples on the surface of a lake, vanishing one after the other for good. On the contrary, they leave indelible imprints on his personality. They are entered on the debit or credit side of the ledger kept for him:

And on every man We have fastened his record about his neck; and We will bring forth to him, at the time of judgment , a book offered to him wide open (17:13).

Man bears responsibility for all those actions in which his self was involved. If the action was wrong, he has no option but to submit to the “punishment” which is the necessary result of his action. It will not avail him to offer excuses, that he acted heedlessly in a fit of abstraction, or with a good intention. His own heart will bear witness against him:

Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself, although he tenders his excuses (75:14).

The Law of Requital works unerringly. There is a necessary connection between acts and their effects. Good actions are necessarily rewarded and wrong actions are invariably punished. In social life, however, the connection between a socially approved act and its reward is external and contingent. Let us illustrate this point. A man undertakes to perform a job on the understanding that he will be paid an agreed sum of money on its completion. He may do the work but may not get the reward. His employer may die, become insolvent or prove faithless. On the other hand, the connection between moral actions and their effects is internal and necessary. The effect is on the personality of the doer. If the effect is good, the doer is carried forward towards his goal of self-realisation; if it is bad he is necessarily thrown back. Every moral act works consequential changes in the human personality. These changes may be in the direction of greater integration or of disruption. They may or may not be conducive to “spiritual” health. The requirements of “spiritual” health are different from those of physical health. Suppose a man somehow finds himself in possession of a sum of money and spends it to buy butter and eggs. His health will improve on this nourishing diet. Whether he had honestly earned the money or had stolen it, makes no difference to the effect on his health. But his “spiritual” health is a different matter. It will suffer if the money had been stolen, even if he has put it to a good use. We have, therefore, to distinguish between the physical effects of our actions and their moral effects. The Law of Requital, in the moral sphere, refers exclusively to the moral effects, to the enhancement or deterioration of the human personality.

The above discussion leads to the following conclusions:

(a)          Man’s voluntary actions directly influence his personality.

(b)          Dedication to a noble end results in the development of personality.

(c)           Indifference to, or denial of, absolute values leads to the disintegration of the self.

(d)          Man is responsible for his actions and must accept their consequences.

(e)          Man cannot shift the responsibility to anyone else.

The Qur’an lays stress on this last point:

Whosoever commits a wrong, commits it only against himself (4:111).


Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own self that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden self can bear another’s load (17:15).

Man’s responsibility for his actions is again stressed in the following verse;

Each soul earns only on its own account, nor does any one bearing a load shall bear another’s load (6:165).

The following verse leaves no doubt on the point that man can attain his goal solely by his own efforts. No external help will avail him at all:

No self will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will atonement be received from it, nor will they be helped (2:48).

It is not only individuals who are subject to the Law of Requital: nations too have to suffer if they fall into wrong courses. However, if a nation adopts a wrong course of action, it may be years before it begins to experience its effects. The law may operate slowly in the case of nations, but sooner or later every nation will have to face the consequences of its wrong actions. (The point will be elucidated in a subsequent chapter).

Finally, for the question as to what actions are right and what actions are wrong, the answer is supplied partly by reason and partly by Revelation. Revelation gives general guidance and broadly indicates the difference between right and wrong actions. Human reason acting in the light of Revelation, cannot miss the right path. Revelation, again, may be tested by acting upon it and examining the results. The Qur’an offers to be judged by this pragmatic test:

Say (O Muhammad PBUH)! O my people, work according to your power (and plan). Lo! I too am working (according to mine). Thus you will come to know for which of us will be the happy sequel. Lo! The wrong-doers will not be successful (6:136).

The Qur’anic concept of the Law of Requital raises a very vital question which requires serious consideration. We have seen that this law is based strictly on justice. The point for consideration is whether it has any place for ”forgiveness” or “mercy” ? The reply is both no and yes. If I do some wrong to somebody else, he may forgive me, i.e., may not take revenge from me: but if I do wrong to my own self, none can forgive me. Similarly, mercy is an emotional reaction which can obviously find no place in the working of law and justice. Still, there is a place for “forgiveness” and “mercy” as will be seen from the following example. You put your finger in fire and it gets burnt. And you must suffer the consequence – the pain and agony which is its inevitable result. There is no question of anybody forgiving you or taking mercy on you. But the same God Who has made the law that fire burns and pain is its inevitable result, has made another law. It is that a certain medicine has the property of giving relief to the pain and effacing the devastating result of burning. A recourse to this law of God would do away with the painful result of your former action. The provision of this second law is “mercy” from God, and obedience of this law results in “forgiveness” of our wrongdoing. This law is as universal as the former one and does not work differently in different individual cases. Nor has it any appeal to emotion. This is the Qur’anic concept of “forgiveness” and “mercy” The point will, however, be discussed further in the next chapter.

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1. God as a Dictator

Man has conceived God in different ways at different stages of his mental development. The primitive man’s crude anthropomorphic idea of God is in direct contrast to the abstract concept of the religious thinkers of today. We cannot, however, argue on this basis that God exists as a mere idea in the human mind. Our conception of the world too has exhibited similar changes. The savage looked on the world as the playground of capricious spirits, while the modern physicist analyses it into an infinity of transitory events grouped in various ways. Numerous conceptions of the world intervene between these extremes. Yet no one would give serious consideration to the view that the world exists as a mere subjective idea. In both cases, we are witnessing an apprehension of an objective reality. With the gradual development of his knowledge and mental powers, man brings his ideas into closer correspondence with external reality. His encounter with the world, as with God, is direct and immediate. He instinctively believes that both exist independently of him. But at first his idea of God is as imperfect and deficient as his idea of the world. He may never arrive at an absolutely perfect concept of God or the world, and yet his efforts in this direction never cease and are not wholly futile. In the case of God, Revelation helps us to form an idea which meets the needs of our intellectual and moral life. It will help us to grasp this idea clearly, if we first consider a view which was generally accepted in the past and still colours our mental outlook.

For ages men lived under the monarchical form of government. Having known no other type of political organisation, they naturally believed that the only alternative to monarchy was anarchy and lawlessness. Kings were usually tyrannical, oppressive and capricious. If a king fell a victim to the fury of his oppressed subjects, his place was usually taken by a tyrant who might be worse. People brought up under such conditions naturally associated power with wilfulness and capaciousness. Believing God to be all-powerful, they also believed that He was more wilful and irresponsible than any earthly king and that His actions were as unaccountable as those of a dictator. In short, God was regarded as a glorified King, or rather as a magnified Dictator. He differed from the earthly dictators only in possessing immensely greater power, and in no other respect. Men of immature mind are impressed by power, especially when it is exercised to satisfy a passing whim. They suppose that God destroys anyone, good or bad, for no better reason than to demonstrate His absolute power. The chief preoccupation of such people was the appeasement of God as they conceived of Him, and yet they could not think of any plan of action which would always succeed in appeasing an utterly capricious Being. No wonder that men felt helpless. They despaired of discovering through reason, a way of life which would be in accordance with the Will of God, because they believed that God acted in an arbitrary manner and reason had no influence over His actions.

Men, no doubt, feared such a God but they could not possibly love and respect Him. This idea of God provided no incentive to seek a better way of life or to set about understanding the world in which they lived. In fact, there could be no way of life which was better than another – because the same action might at one time please God and at another time provoke His wrath. They saw that a sudden passing fancy might induce a despot to punish the man who had rendered a great service to him and reward one who had been refractory. There could also be no question of seeking to understand a world which was brought into existence in an arbitrary way. It could have no law or order, no rhyme or reason. At best, it would be the scene of fortuitous events which could neither be foreseen nor controlled. Such are the implications of the idea that God is an absolute despot. This idea held sway over the mind of the savage.

With the increase in knowledge and growth of mental powers, the orderly succession of events around him could not fail to impress man. Gradually he sought and discovered the laws which governed natural events in the external world. Much later, he turned his attention to the inner world of the mind and in the course of this, discovered the harmonies which lie hidden behind the inner experience. Man, however, is much more conservative in the sphere of religion. The old idea of God, in an attenuated form, still lingers in the mind of the religious people and obscures their vision. The task of emancipating religion lies in casting aside this idea from our mind and accepting the idea presented by the Divine Revelation (Qur’an). In order to grasp this new idea, however, it is necessary to give some thought to a few aspects of the Divine Will. The Will of God has an infinity of aspects, but three of them are of special interest to us as moral beings. What we have to say is based wholly on the Qur’an which contains significant remarks on the Divine Will and its modes of working in different spheres. In fact, we shall only be expounding the views set forth in the Qur’an as to the way the Will of God functions in itself, and in relation to the two main parts of the created world.

  2. Divine Will According to the Qur’an

Firstly, the Divine Will will be considered as it is in itself, in other words, as pure Will. Can we say anything more about the Divine Will  than that it must be radically different from the will which we experience in ourselves? The answer is that, within certain limits, we can characterise it with the help of Qur’an. The first thing we note about the Divine Will is that it is absolutely free, subject to no restraint from outside itself. Again, it is incessantly and spontaneously active, not being dependent on any environment either for stimulation or for an outlet to its activity. It is self-subsistent and self-sufficient. It does not act upon a pre-existing material, confining itself to merely fashioning and rearranging it. Its activity is essentially creative. Indeed, it is the fountainhead of creative power. As a fountain-head, it is constantly exuberant with creative energy. Every moment new forms spring into existence at its behest:

But His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it: Be, and it is (36:82).


Allah does what He will (14:27),

Allah does what He intends (22:14).

God’s Will is also free in the sense that it is above law. It is a law unto itself. It cannot be judged by an external criterion. Law, of course, flows from it and regulates its creation, but leaves it untouched. So the questions, why and wherefore, cannot be legitimately asked of the Divine Will. It is accountable to none outside itself:

He will not be questioned as to that which He does, but they (everything in the universe) will be questioned (21:23).

The sphere of pure will is the sphere of absolute freedom. To subject it to law is to rob the Creator of His creative freedom, and of His omnipotence, and to reduce Him to the status of a created being. Turning to the nature of His creative activity, we find that it consists in self-expression. The Divine Will in creating is really expressing itself. Out of the infinite reservoir of its being, the Will of God is ceaselessly projecting and sustaining a myriad form sharing reality in some measure and reflecting, to some extent, the urge for self-expression which characterises their source. By regarding creation as an act of self-expression, we dispose of many questions which exercised the minds of former philosophers such as: What was God’s purpose in creating ? What induced Him to create? And so on. It is in the nature of an ego to express itself, and as God is the Absolute Ego, in His case, every act of self-expression is, at the same time, an act of creation. The reason and justification for self-expression must be sought within the being concerned and not outside it. It is wrong to look upon the Divine Will as an impersonal force. Will can exist only as an aspect of some ego. The Divine Will is really God engaged in disclosing the infinite riches of His being.

After creation, the Divine Will does not withdraw and leave the created world to shift for itself. Priests of the eighteenth century advocated some such view. However, it springs from a misconception of the relationship between God and the world. This relation is not by any means analogous to the relation between the producer of a mechanical device and his product. In the first place, the activity of the Divine Will is not intermittent: it is incessant. Secondly, the Will does not merely create the world but continues to sustain and foster it. These are not disjointed activities but aspects of the same composite, integral activity. Conceived in this way, the Divine Will is seen to be organically and vitally related to the world which literally exists and lives in God, the source of all being and the fountainhead of all life. The world, therefore, and all things in it are in direct and intimate contact with the Will every moment of their existence. The world contains two different categories of beings – the impersonal inanimate objects and the conscious and self determining egos. The Divine Will is related in different ways to the two classes of beings, as each needs a different kind of support. The Qur’an sets out these relations in clear terms. In Iqbal, we find a lucid exposition of the Qur’anic distinction between khalq and amr. The following quotation from him throws valuable light on this point:

In order to understand the meaning of the word ‘Amr,’ we must remember the distinction which the Qur’an draws between ‘Amr’ and ‘Khalq.’ Pringle-Pattison deplores that the English language possesses only one word-‘creation’ to express the relation of God and the universe of extension on the one hand, and the relation of God and the human ego on the other. The Arabic language is, however, more fortunate in this respect. It has two words –’Khalq’ and ‘Amr – to express the two ways in which the creative activity of God reveals itself to us, ‘Khalq’ is creation and ‘Amr’  is direction.(1)

Let us look at these relations a little more closely:

(i) The Divine Will and the Phenomenal World. The dependence of nature on the Divine Will is absolute and unconditional. Determinism prevails throughout nature. Every physical object has been created with certain properties which condition its movements and its relations to other objects. Moreover, all material things are held in the firm grip of inexorable natural laws. These laws flow from the Divine Will and are at the bottom of the immutable order we find in nature. It is an orderly world because the Divine Will manifests itself in it as a controlling and regulating agency. Nothing can overstep the limits set by the natural laws. The behaviour of every thing is rigidly determined by the laws. Defiance is impossible. These laws are predetermined and unalterable. It is a world in which freedom has no meaning. It is a world which is ruled by an unconditional “must.” Everything behaves in conformity with its natural properties and in obedience to the laws which govern it. Left to itself, water must flow downwards and warm air rise. Planets must move in their prescribed orbits and clouds must seek atmospheric regions of lighter density. The dominion of law extends even to seemingly fortuitous and catastrophic events such as thunderbolts and earthquakes. In several verses of the Qur’an, our attention is drawn to the rule of law and to the order exhibited by nature. We are exhorted to ponder on the regularity of natural phenomena. This regularity is the reflection of the Divine Will which is free from any trace of internal conflict or dissonance:

And unto Allah maketh prostration (submits to His laws) whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures (16:49).

In the words of the Qur’an, therefore, there is no object in the heavens and earth which is not subject to His Will and to the Law which He has decreed for it.

Man, by making use of his reason, can discover the natural laws, and, equipped with this knowledge, can control the natural forces and exploit them for his purpose. A lawful and orderly world is the appropriate stage for a rational being like man to play his part and achieve his objects. Man can live purposefully, and can fulfil his self only in a world which he can understand and control. The following verse tells us that the world is a suitable place for a free rational being:

And He has constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service unto you, and the stars are made subservient to His command (16:12).

The conquest of nature is, therefore, not a pipe dream but an attainable objective for man. He can understand the world because the order exhibited by it is intelligible and he can bring it under control for the same reason. The great strides made by science during the twentieth century testify to the fact that the world is amenable to human reason. As he ceaselessly explores the world and probes its nature, he brings to light hitherto hidden aspects of the laws that govern its working. No part of nature has been found to be impervious to reason. Recent advances in science have considerably increased and expanded man’s control over nature. The entry into outer space, probes into the stratosphere and the discovery of atomic fission are magnificent achievements of which man can be justly proud. The point to note in this connection is that the minutest particles as well as heavenly bodies of stupendous magnitude are equally subject to fixed laws, and by discovering these laws man is able to predict their behaviour with accuracy. No doubt, modern physicists, such as Niels Bohr, suspect that the heart of the atom may be the citadel of indeterminism. The behaviour of the electrons as they jump from one orbit to another, is still unpredictable and does not seem to be subject to any law. Nevertheless, it would be rash to accept it as an established fact. With the progress of nuclear physics and the invention of more sophisticated instruments, laws which underlie the behaviour of electrons may be discovered and indeterminism may be dislodged from its last stronghold. In any case, man, in his practical life, has to deal with molar objects, and nobody yet doubts that they are subject to unalterable natural laws. When physicists are able to decide that indeterminism lies at the core of the atom, the bearing of this view on man will be considered in all its implications. At the moment, we can only advance the surmise that even if freedom turns out to be at the root of the universe, at the formation of matter it enters upon a long period of latency, only to blossom out again with the emergence of Man.

(ii) The Divine Will and Man. How does the Divine Will function in the sphere of man? To answer this question, we must not lose sight of man’s dual nature. By virtue of possessing a body, man is a part of the physical world. As such, he is as much subject to natural laws as any other physical object. Birth and death are natural events, growth and decay are natural processes and these are governed by the laws of nature. But he is also endowed with an ego or self, and freedom is the breath of life to it. Freedom of choice is inherent in the self. It is free to choose any alternatives. The Divine Will has conferred on man a measure of freedom which is sufficient for his needs as a rational responsible being. Of course, this freedom has its limitations. It has to be so for a finite being: but in so far as his action is determined, not by any external agency, not even by a fragment of his self, but by his whole integral self (which is essentially rational), he is acting freely and is expressing himself. This is the freedom which man has a right to demand and which the Divine Will has granted him. This is indeed man’s most precious possession. He can rise to his full stature only in a social and political environment which puts no curbs on the freedom to which he is entitled. The achievement of this environment, however, still eludes humanity. It is extremely difficult, some would say almost impossible, to maintain proper balance between individual freedom and social stability. For centuries man has been trying to devise a social system which might reconcile the two. He has been experimenting with various forms of government and diverse types of social organisation. The search is still on, but we can discern the broad outlines of a stable and progressive society composed of really free members. We can also discern the guiding and supporting hand of Divine Guidance through the ages in this quest.

In the physical world, the Divine Will operates as a constraining and controlling force. The Qur’anic term “khalq” refers to this aspect of the Will’s working. In the world of autonomous egos, on the other hand, it performs the function of guidance. It leaves them free to decide what is best for them, but they are not left to grope in darkness with equal chances of turning to the right or the wrong direction. An indication of the direction in which they ought to proceed is provided to them. They are, however, free to accept or reject the guidance as they like. The Qur’an makes this point clear:

The truth has come from Allah. Then whosoever will, let him accept it, and, whosoever will, let him reject (18:29).

However, man, though free, is subject to the Law of Requital. Every action recoils on the doer. Right action has consequences which are beneficial to man and enrich and strengthen his self. Wrong actions invariably weaken and debase him. Right actions accelerate his progress towards the goal of self-fulfilment, whereas wrong actions drag him down to a lower plane. So, man is free to act in a wrong way but he cannot escape the penalty of wrongdoing. If a man chooses wrong he must meet the consequences thereof. The Law is relentless in its working like other Laws of God, and man cannot evade the results of his own actions. As the Qur’an puts it:

Verily, the grip of thy Rabb is severe (85:12).

At every moment in his life, man faces a number of possibilities, every one of which is “taqdeer” in the terminology of the Qur’an, His freedom is limited only to the number of possibilities open to him. He is free to choose any one of them but he cannot go out of their range. He cannot, himself, enlarge the range of possibilities. He enjoys freedom within the prescribed range but not outside it. On this view, the apparent contradiction between the freedom with which man is credited and the destiny to which he is supposed to be subject disappears. Destiny must not be understood in the sense that each and every act of man is predetermined and preordained. The Qur’an does not lend support to the belief that what man becomes – a saint or a villain – does not depend on his free choice but on the decrees of an impersonal inexorable Fate. In the Qur’an’s scale, destiny is not synonymous with necessity (or fatality, as they generally call it); it only denotes the range and reach of his capacities. It indicates in what directions he can go. How far he can go is determined by his destiny; how far he will go depends on himself alone. God does not dictate to man what objective he should have; He just gives him the helping hand in his efforts to attain the goal he has set for himself. Iqbal has expressed this relationship in a poem of exquisite beauty. We give the translation of a few lines from it:

The secret of the Ego’s destiny is unfolded in these words:

‘If thou changest, it changes in relation to thee.

If thou feelest like dust, it consigns thee to the wind.

Wantest thou to be a stone? It hurls thee against glassware.

Art thou a dew-drop?  Thou art destined to fall downwards.

Dost thou become an ocean? Permanence is thy destiny.’(2)

We see, therefore, that in the sphere of free egos, the Divine Will operates as a directive agency, a guiding force. The Qur’an designates this function of the Divine Will as “amr.” If we ask in what form this guidance is made available to us, the Qur’an replies that it is provided in the Revelation:

This is Allah’s “Amr” which He has revealed unto you (65:5).

The physical world is subject to inflexible laws which reflect the Divine Will in its aspect of “khalq”; “amr” is the source of moral laws which have meaning for and are obligatory on only a free self. By acting in conformity with the “amr,” man creates values and appropriates them. When he dies, man does not shed the values he has realised during his earthly life. They are carried over and remain an integral part of the self, fitting it to function on the different plane of existence which it has entered. Values are imperishable. God not only guards and protects but enhances them for the benefit of the ego which has produced them through its own efforts.

  3.The Qur’anic View of God

It is thus clear that God, as He is conceived in the Qur’an, is far different from an arbitrary ruler or a wilful despot. Of course, God is omnipotent and His Will, in its creative activity, is not subject to and restrained by any external law or rule. His Will is not a blind force, terrific and irresistible, which sweeps over the universe, destroying everything in its tempestuous course. It is the Will of an omniscient, all-wise, compassionate and benevolent Being. As such, it is intimately associated with wisdom and goodness, compassion and benevolence. In short, the Divine Will does not exist and operate in isolation. It is an aspect of the Divine personality. It may seem presumptuous to apply the term “personality” to God but there is no other word appropriate to the unique unity in the midst of infinite diversity which is God. The unity is transcendental and, to our finite mind, incomprehensible, but a few of its infinite aspects are accessible to our senses and reason.

To sum up, there are three distinct spheres in each of which God’s Will works differently. In the realm of “amr,” it is not subject to any laws: it is a law unto itself. In the universe which He has created, His Will assumes the shape of immutable laws to which all physical beings are subject. These laws – the Laws of Nature are called “Kalimaat Ullah” in the terminology of Qur’an, and, as already stated, are immutable. “There is no changing the Kalimaat of Allah” (10:64). It is the unchangeability and immutability of these laws on which the entire edifice of science and the predictions we make in the realm of physical world are founded. So far as man, a being endowed with freedom is concerned, there are also laws governing the development of his self, but man is free either to obey them or go against them. In this domain, the will of man operates. Here the initiative lies with man and, in the words of Iqbal, “God Himself cannot feel, judge and choose for me when more than one course of action are open to me. He has, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego capable of private initiative, limited the freedom of His own free will.” (3) There is thus no place for fatalism in Islam.

Man is free to choose for himself the course he likes. Once this discretion has been exercised, his freedom ends. The results are related to the course adopted. He is not free to make one choice and bring about results of another. His every action bears a definite result in accordance with the immutable laws of God. This is the Law of Requital which works inexorably in the entire universe, including the world of man. In the latter case, the result may come out in his present life or in the life Hereafter.

Finally, the world has been created by God Who is both all-powerful and all-wise. It, therefore, exhibits order and harmony, purpose and benignity. It is the home of values. It is amenable to reason. It provides man with opportunities for progress and development. In such a world, man can achieve knowledge and happiness. He can work out his destiny by making full use of his intellectual powers and by seeking guidance in the Revelation. It would be a grave error to suppose that there can be any conflict between reason and Revelation – they are complementary. Over-emphasis on either will lead man astray. Often there has been a conflict between science and the deadening dogmas of a barren theology but there cannot be conflict between science and deen. Ouspensky’s remarks on this point merit careful consideration:

A religion which contradicts science and a science which contradicts religion are both equally false.*(4)

Man needs the help of both science and deen, if he wishes to bring himself into a meaningful relationship with God and the world.


  1. Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought In Islam, p. 103.
  2. Iqbal, Javed Nama (Persian), p. 123.
  3. Iqbal, Reconstruction, pp. 100; 108.
  4. P.D. Ouspensky, Tertium Organum, p. 208.

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Chapter 6 THE ROLE OF REASON IN DEEN by G A Parwez

1. Reason and Passion

The conflict between reason and passion runs through human history. Both are necessary for a full, rich and balanced life, but to reconcile them is an extremely difficult problem. Reason counsels prudence and caution while passion exhorts man to dare and take risks. “Look before you leap” says reason, while passion cries: “Leap and trust to fate. Do not waste time in looking.” “Without the Bacchic element,” says Bertrand Russell, “life would be uninteresting; with it, it is dangerous.”(1)

In the history of thought, an age of reason has often been succeeded by a period of revolt against reason. Over-confidence in the power of reason has been followed by disillusionment with reason. The eighteenth century was the age of reason par excellence. We are witnessing the violent reaction against reason today. After a long period of unquestioned supremacy, its authority was challenged from various quarters. The poets of the Romantic revival insisted on the inherent worth of emotion and gloried in unrestrained expression of all emotions. The mystics were vociferous in claiming that emotion was a better and more trustworthy guide for man than reason. The philosophers did not lag behind in this outcry against the tyranny of reason. Schopenhauer glorified the blind will working through the universe and contemptuously dismissed reason as a mere tool in its hands. Bergson pinned his faith on intuition and resolutely set his face against reason. They sought the help of the biologists in dethroning reason. The psychologists, under the leadership of Freud, questioned the view that man is a rational being and orders his life in the light of reason. In the Freudian theory the irrational unconscious plays the dominant role, while reason takes up the humble position of a mere servant. The intellect is compelled to invent specious reasons to justify the irrational operations of unconscious desires. No wonder that, subjected to violent attacks from various directions, reason began to totter on its throne. Men were disillusioned with reason and looked for guidance to irrational elements in human nature, such as will, emotion, instinct, intuition and mystical experience. It is high time we realised that the reaction has gone too far and we must redress the balance between reason and passion. Bertrand Russell wisely remarks: “It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly with either party.”(2)

In defending the cause of reason, we must bear in mind that it is no longer possible to restore to it that position of absolute supremacy which was accorded to it by the rationalists. There is a great deal of truth in the criticism to which it was subjected. Prof. Joad’s remarks deserve careful consideration:

Reason tends to be exhibited as a mere tool or hand-maid of desire. Its function is to secure the ends which we unconsciously set ourselves, by inventing excuses for what we instinctively want to do, and arguments which we instinctively want to believe … Reason is the power of deceiving ourselves into believing that what we want to think true, is in fact true.(3)

In another place he says: “A man’s thought follows his desire much as the feet of a hungry dog follow his nose.”(4)

The Qur’an too has made pointed reference to how a man deceives himself when he is under the domination of a base passion:

Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own baser passion. Wouldst thou then be guardian over him. Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? (25:43-44).

These are the people who have permitted their reason to be perverted by base passions:

Hast thou seen him who maketh his baser desire his god, The result is that Allah’s Law of Retribution sends him astray, not withstanding his knowledge, and seals up his hearing and his heart and puts on his sight a covering (45:23).

It cannot be denied that reason may often be enlisted in the service of selfish desires and base passions. In such a case, reason, instead of guiding man to the right path, leads him further astray till disaster overtakes him. The Qur’an says:

(Their fate) is manifest unto you from their (ruined and deserted) dwellings …. as they followed their base passions, although they were keen-sighted (29:38).

It is obvious that reason, when it is clouded by passion, is not a help, but a hindrance in the pursuit of worthy ends. It can guide rightly only when it is functioning properly. However, it is not the fault of reason that it sometimes leads us astray. The fault is ours, in allowing reason to be dominated by our passions. In a well-regulated mind, reason functions properly and gives right guidance. In a mature and solid character, all passions and desires knit into a harmonious whole and are organised into a rational system through the operation of reason. In such a character, reason plays a controlling but not a repressing role. Animal passions and sensual desires are not suppressed but only put in their proper place. On the other hand, a feeble or reckless character is not sustained by reason and, therefore, reason plays in it the minor role of a subservient to passion. Moreover, if reason has to have full play, it must be trained and developed like other faculties of the mind. Reason functions according to the role one gives it. The question is only of giving it the proper role. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with reason as such.

We admit that there may be a conflict between reason and passion. However, the remedy lies not in suppressing one or the other, but in striking a balance between the two. Reason as well as passion are valuable constituents. The elimination or weakening of either will leave a truncated personality. We have to discover a way of introducing harmony between the two and enlisting them in the service of man’s best interests. This discovery has itself to be made through reason. Passion is blind and can neither restrain nor direct itself. Reason can examine itself and can discover its own limitations. Passion, left to itself, will tend to suppress reason, but reason recognizes passion’s rightful place in life and does not grudge it the satisfaction to which it is entitled.

Russell is no doubt right in advising us to refrain from siding wholly with either reason or passion. We agree with him, with the reservation that to side wholly with passion is much worse than to side wholly with reason. The Qur’an speaks of the slaves of passion in no uncertain terms:

And if they answer thee not, then know that what they follow is their passion. And who goes farther astray than he who follows his passion without guidance from Allah (28:50)?

  2. Reason and Revelation

Scientists insist that whatever knowledge we have gained about this mysterious universe we owe to reason. This knowledge may be scanty, meagre and insufficient; nonetheless it is valuable and indispensable. Scientific investigation reveals reason at its best. Slowly and painfully science is increasing, bit by bit, our stock of knowledge. However, we may be permitted to ask whether there is any other avenue to knowledge, at least to knowledge that matters more – knowledge of our goal in life and how best it may be attained.

The advice that reason tenders us is based on the knowledge at its disposal. If the knowledge is inadequate, the advice is necessarily tentative, as if reason says; “Try it and see whether it works. If it does not, I would reconsider the matter and suggest something else.” Reason can come to the right decision only when all the relevant facts are placed before it. It is helpless when these facts cannot all be obtained. So far as the material world and the human body are concerned, we possess, today, sufficient knowledge. Reason can be relied upon to give the right answer to many a question that may arise regarding the body of man. But man possesses a real self also and our knowledge of it is pitifully inadequate. The real self is not susceptible to quantitative treatment of the scientist. Guidance to it can be given only in the light of eternal  verities which transcend reason. Reason cannot apprehend Ultimate Reality and the self of man can realise itself only by the guidance of the Ultimate Reality or God. Hence arises the necessity for man to seek Divine Guidance without which he will remain earth-bound. In affairs relating to the physical world, we should always act on the advice of reason, to reject which would be to court disaster. But when we aspire to fulfil our destiny, we would be ill-advised to place absolute reliance on our reason alone. We should seek the aid of Revelation which is the vehicle of Divine guidance. Reason functioning in the light of Revelation will guide us to the true path. By this view, Revelation supplements reason. In this way we will be fully equipped to tackle the problems of life and we would be guilty of gross ingratitude to God if we refuse to make use of the powers with which He has endowed us and the light (of Revelation) which He has given us.

We can now proceed to the consideration of another important aspect of the question. In practical life, reason helps us in two ways. Firstly, it tells us which of the things we desire are good and useful and which are bad and harmful. It judges things by the standard of self-interest. Things which contribute to self-preservation and the enhancement of life are certified as good, whereas things which are detrimental to life and diminish man’s enjoyment of life and impair his capacity for development are declared to be undesirable, or not good. But reason does not merely pronounce its judgment on things. It throws its weight on the side of things judged to be good, and induces man to choose them, even though his inclination and appetite favours the harmful things. When the choice is between useful and harmful things, a man who is guided by reason seldom fails to make the right choice. Science has placed at our disposal the requisite knowledge of the properties of material things and of their effects on man’s health. On the basis of this knowledge, reason finds it easy to answer questions about which things are desirable and which are undesirable. In other words, so far as the physical self of man is concerned we are seldom left in doubt as to what things are beneficial and what not. But, as we have seen, man possesses a real self too, and we have only imperfect and fragmentary knowledge of this self. We cannot comprehend the real self, as it transcends human reason. The nature of the real self is unknown to us. It may even be impossible to know. We catch fleeting glimpses of it in value experience and in the consciousness of moral effort. All that we can say about it with certainty is that it is free, that it possesses unlimited capacity for development and that the urge to self-expression and self-development is inherent in it. We feel in our bones that a grand destiny awaits the self in us which constitutes the core of our being. But when our reason makes the effort to set a clear conception of our final goal, it recoils baffled and perplexed. All we can say is that we can attain the goal provided we live in accord with the eternal verities. These verities are hidden from our view and transcend our reason. We have to be content with the tantalizing glimpses we catch of them. No wonder that our reason, groping in the dark, longs for the light which would illuminate the furthermost reaches of life. This light is vouchsafed to us in the Revelation which has its source in God, Who, in the words of the Qur’an, is ”the Light of earth and the heavens” (24:35).

So far, we have been concerned with the question of choice between good and bad. However, we are often called upon to choose between two goods, to sacrifice one good for the sake of another. How far can reason help us in this more difficult choice ? Let us illustrate the point with one or two examples. A situation may confront us in which we can save either our life or our wealth. Reason tells us to choose life and be resigned to the loss of our wealth. Again a situation may arise in which we can save our honour only at the cost of life. Reason tells us, though perhaps not as unhesitatingly as in the previous case, to save our honour rather than life. How does it do so? Obviously it refers to an accepted scale of values. The scale of values helps us to determine which of the two goods is the higher and which the lower. Reason then advises us to sacrifice the lower for the sake of the higher. The point to be noted here is that the values towards the top of the scale are not discoverable through reason. Knowledge of these presupposes knowledge of the heights to which the human self can rise in the course of its continued development. Here again Revelation helps reason over the stile. The highest value can be determined only with reference to the destiny of the self. The scale of values constructed by reason is useful, but it is incomplete. Revelation completes it by raising its ceiling.

Finally, science furnishes useful knowledge regarding the means by which we may attain our ends. However, it is silent on the vital question of what ends we ought to set for ourselves. The ends we ought to pursue are those which can fully satisfy our needs. The needs of the physical self are clearly perceived and easily satisfied. Food and water appease hunger and thirst. Reason can help us to secure food and water. The needs of the real self may be as insistent but are only dimly perceived. In the fitful light of reason, it is not easy to see the way in which they can be gratified. Here too reason is forced to lean on Revelation.

The distinction between physical self and real self, which runs through the above discussion, needs to be clarified further in the light of the Qur’an. The distinction between body and soul, matter and spirit, is basic to the teaching of most religions. The Qur’an does not support this dichotomy. In the Qur’anic view, man is not compounded of two distinct entities – soul and body. He is a single indivisible being. If we apply to him the categories of science, he appears to be a physical organism, but he reveals himself as a free being when “value” categories are applied. It is a view which is not dissimilar to the organismic theory developed by Goldstein and J.F. Brown. The Qur’anic view parts company with the above theory in maintaining the reality of the higher self. It would seem that the real self of man takes on materiality without which it cannot function in the physical world of time and space.

  3. Revelation and Values

It cannot be denied that knowledge of absolute values is indispensable for the right conduct of life and the unimpeded development of the self. But reason, the main instrument of knowledge we possess, tells us only about relative values. It cannot even give a definitive answer to the question as to whether there are absolute values and, if so, how can they be known. It tends to define value in subjective terms, only in relation to the particular experiencing individual. It amounts to a tacit denial of an objective system of values, valid for all men at all times. It is easy to see that this view cuts at the root of deen. Deen involves belief in objective, absolute values and in an objective, absolute moral standard. Reason, with its cautious experimental approach is constantly revising and reconstructing its scale of values and its moral standard in the light of fresh knowledge. Thinking men have, therefore, felt the need of some dependable source of values other than reason. On this point we cannot do better than quote the words of Martin Buber:

The ‘absolute values’ …. cannot, of course, be meant to have only subjective validity for the person concerned. Don Juan finds absolute and subjective value in seducing the greatest possible number of women, and the dictator sees it in the greatest possible accumulation of power. ‘Absolute validity’ can only relate to universal values and norms, the existence of which the person concerned recognizes and acknowledges.(5)

Rashdall makes the same point:

That there is one absolute standard of values, which is the same for all rational beings, is just what morality means.(6)

In the following passage, Rashdall contends that what is controversial is not the existence of an objectively valid Moral Law but only the manner of its existence:

We say that the Moral Law has a real existence, that there is such a thing as absolute Morality, that there is something absolutely true or false in ethical judgments, whether we or any number of human beings at any given time actually think so or not. Such a belief is distinctly implied to what we mean by Morality. The idea of such an unconditional objectively valid Moral Law or ideal undoubtedly exists as a psychological fact. The question before us is whether it is capable of theoretical justification. We must then face the question where such an ideal exists, and what manner of existence we are to attribute to it. Certainly, it is to be found, wholly and completely, in no individual human consciousness. Men actually think differently about moral questions and there is no empirical reason for supposing that they will ever do otherwise. Where then and how does the moral ideal really exist?(7)

Having reached the conclusion that the moral standard must be based on a universal and absolute system of values, Rashdall proceeds to tell us that such a system can have its source nowhere but in the Divine Mind:

An absolute Moral Law or moral ideal cannot exist in material things. And it does not (we have seen) exist in the mind of this or that individual …. A moral ideal can exist nowhere and nohow but in a mind; an absolute moral ideal can exist only in a Mind from which all Reality is derived. Our moral ideal can only claim objective validity in so far as it can rationally be regarded as a revelation of a moral ideal eternally existing in the mind of God.(8)

For this reason, Brightman says: “If we are to have a God at all, we must have a being that is a trustworthy source of value.”(9)

Bergson discusses the question whether it is possible for human intellect to reach reality and gives a negative answer:

Not through intelligence, or at least through intelligence alone, can (man) do so: intelligence would be more likely to proceed in the opposite direction; it was provided for a definite object and when it attempts speculation on a higher plane it enables us at the most to conceive possibilities; it does not attain any reality.(10)

Einstein, the most eminent physicist of our time, frankly admitted that science can never give us “spiritual” guidance. He argued that only men to whom Revelation has been vouchsafed, could give us guidance in the “spiritual” sphere:

On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of the scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors …. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even, less, install them in human beings; science can at the most supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals.(11)

The same view has been expressed by Joad, who, however, prefers the term “Intuition” to “Revelation”. Intuition may be subsumed under Wahi, if we bear in mind the wide sense in which it is employed in the Qur’an. But intuition, it should be noted, is not synonymous with the Wahi imparted to Anbiya; the difference between the two is not quantitative, but qualitative. Says Joad:

(Intuition) is its own authority and carries with it the guarantee of its own authenticity. For those truths which we know intuitively no reasons can be adduced, simply because they are not reached by a process of reasoning. Reason no doubt may be enlisted later to produce arguments in their favour.(12)

As the following passage shows, Prof. Cassirer too does not credit reason with the power of apprehending the highest values:

(In Greek philosophy) the power of reason was extolled as the highest power of man. But what man could never know, until he was enlightened with a special Divine revelation, is that reason itself is one of the most questionable and ambiguous things in the world.(13)

In short, while the authority of reason cannot be questioned in the world of fact, the realm of ends is definitely outside its jurisdiction. Revelation is the only source of our knowledge of the highest values.

Armed with adequate knowledge of values, we can, if we want, live and act in full accord with the immutable moral order of the universe. The knowledge does not consist in merely the recognition of a value as a value but involves a just estimate of the degree of worth possessed by it, so that it can be compared with other values. Confronted with a situation where we are called upon to choose between two values, we can then promptly choose the higher and sacrifice the lower value for the sake of the higher. Character is strengthened by our voluntary sacrifice of a lower value to secure a higher one. When a man has to choose between life and money, he does not hesitate to throw away money and save his life. Here instinct backs his choice; but the same man may be forced to choose between life and honour. It is a cruel choice and the man may not reconcile himself to the loss of either of the two extremely precious things. Reason will advise him to save honour at the cost of life, but he may not be entirely convinced by rational arguments. He may even make the right choice but for wrong reasons. He may choose honour, not because he values it more than life, but because he is afraid of incurring social disapproval and recoils with horror from the prospect of being a social outcast. He has made the right choice, yet has missed the feeling of fulfilment which should accompany the right choice. Choosing the higher value is an act of conviction or Eiman; conviction in the Revelation and in the Hereafter.  On the basis of knowledge and experience, we may not be able to decide which of the two values is the higher. Reason may counsel suspension of judgment. We can suspend judgment but we cannot postpone action and when we have acted, we have already made the choice. We have no option but to decide on arbitrary grounds or on the basis of Divine Revelation. When the light of reason fails, we should let ourselves be guided by the light of Revelation. Revelation tells us about the ends of the human personality, which, by seeking to attain them, qualifies itself to continue its existence on a higher plane after death. To sum up, our only source of knowledge regarding ultimate values is Divine Revelation.

  4.Eiman is Indispensable

We hope that a few words on the necessity of Eiman and on its organic relation to reason will not be out of place at this point. Without it, man is like a boat without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and at the mercy of every gust of wind; with it, he is carried forward, step by step, to the objective of self-fulfilment and self-realisation. To the question: “Eiman in what?” the answer can only be, Eiman in God who sustains the universe, which reveals a few of the infinity of His aspects; Eiman in the reality of the human self and in its unlimited capacity for development; Eiman in the absolute values which set the goal to both human endeavour and cosmic process; and finally Eiman in a purposive universe.

We shall do well to give careful thought to Rashdall’s views on the human self and on the purpose in the universe:

The universe itself must have a purpose or rational end, a purpose which a perfect reason would pronounce to be good.(14)

Regarding the self he says:

The self is a permanent reality: that reality is spiritual in so far as it has a permanent life of its own, not identical with the changes of the material organism with which it is (in whatever way) connected; and that the acts of man really proceed from and express the nature or character of the self for the simple reason that, only if we suppose that the present life of human beings has an end which lies in part beyond the limits of the present natural order in so far as that order is accessible to present human observation, can we find a rational meaning and explanation for human life as we see it; and by far the most natural and intelligent form of such a world-end is the belief in immortality for the individual souls which have lived here.(15)

Substantially, the same view is expressed, in simple and direct terms, in the Qur’an. The Qur’an assures us that the creation of heaven and earth has a meaning. “They have been created in truth and for a purpose” (45:22), in order that “every soul may be repaid what it hath earned” (45:22). We are advised to reflect on the doings of the man “who has made his base desire his god” and, in consequence, “has lost his way, in spite of his knowledge, insight and experience (45:23). This misguided person equates the real self with the physical body and pays heed only to the demands of the body. It is men like him who say: ” There is naught but our life of the existing world. We live and we die and naught destroys us save time” (45:24). But the Qur’an emphatically asserts that “they have no knowledge whatsoever of all that: they do but guess” (45:24).

The Nabi is advised to “withdraw from them, as they desire but the life of this world” (53:29). Their mind is imprisoned within the narrow confines of present experience and the vast and limitless spaces of existence are shut out from their view.

Deen, as well as moral life, is possible only for a being which possesses a permanent self. Value is relative to the person who experiences, and a system of absolute values has meaning only in relation to a real self. To deny the existence of a permanent self is to deny absolute values and the denial of absolute values entails the denial of moral standard too. An ethical code is based on a system of values. By achieving insight into absolute values we become capable of leading a moral life. Regarding the absolute values, the only dependable source of knowledge is Divine Revelation. Through intense reflection on Revelation, we can hope to understand the meaning and purpose of creation, the worth of the human self and its possibilities and destiny. We would do well to lay the following soul-stirring verse to heart:

Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, are surely signs to men of understanding. Such as keep before their mind the Laws of Allah, standing and sitting and reclining, and reflect on the creation of the heaven and the earth, saying; Our Rabb! Thou hast not created this in vain (3:189-190).

Wahi (Revelation) illumines our path in the realm of values. However, we cannot understand Wahi only by faith, nor through reason alone. What is needed for this purpose is a happy blend of the two. Reason wedded to faith leads us to the inner spirit of the Revelation. The Qur’an speaks of men who have grasped the meaning of the Wahi, as ”men of real understanding” (5:100). They are the true believers because irrational belief has no value (65:10). So far as the Qur’an is concerned, there can be no real conflict between Eiman and reason. It speaks of those who believe as “having both knowledge and Eiman” (30:56). They are the twin stars that enlighten the path of man. In the West, however, conflict between faith and reason is a strand that runs through history. The warfare between science and religion (the title of White’s famous book) ran its sanguinary course through several centuries. Only recently the truth has dawned on the Western people that reason and faith, far from being antithetical, need, as well as sustain, each other. Locke has made this point clear:

He that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both.(16)

This is essentially the Qur’anic view proclaimed in many a verse and reinforced by the clear pronouncements of the Nabi. It should be clear by now that it is not the purpose of Revelation to stifle reason and encourage blind faith to supplant it. The Qur’an nowhere glorifies blind faith. Far from decrying reason, knowledge and experience, the Qur’an insists on our making full use of our intellectual faculties to understand and appreciate the ultimate truth conveyed through Wahi. The Wahi helps reason to reach maturity. The human mind, having reached this stage, not only knows but sees. Seeing, here refers to the clarity of mental vision:

Those who have due regard for God’s Laws, when an encompassing temptation from Shaitan comes to them, they remember the Divine guidance, and Lo! they see (the truth) (7:201).

Many may know the truth through reason but he “sees” it in the right perspective when the image in the eye of Eiman is superimposed on the image in reason’s eye. This clear perception of truth helps to lead man to peace and eternal happiness. It helps man to maintain a happy balance between the demands of his body and the demands of his real self. The Islamic way of life has for its goal the development of the human personality in all its aspects. The believer, once he realises this, puts himself in the hands of the Creator and in return asks for the fulfilment of his personality. The Qur’an referring to this bargain says:

Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth (9:111), For those who do good in this world there is a good reward (here) and the Hereafter will be still better (16:30).

In the mind of man, the Qur’an seeks to implant Eiman – Eiman in life and in the renewal of life after death.


  1. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p. 34,
  2. Ibid, p. 34.
  3. C. E. M. Joad, Guide To The Philosophy of Morals And Politics, p. 239.
  4. C. E. M. Joad, Decadence, p. 36.
  5. Martin Buber, Between Man And Man, p. 108.
  6. Hastings Rashdall, The Theory of Good And Evil, Vol. II, p.286.
  7. Ibid., p. 211.
  8. Ibid., p. 212.
  9. E. S. Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion, p. 211.
  10. H. Bergson, The Two Sources of Religion And Morality, p. 201.
  11. Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, pp. 25-26; 124.
  12. C. E. M. Joad, Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science, p. 215.
  13. 13 E. Cassirer, An Essay On Man p.9.
  14. H. Rashdall, op. cit., p. 219.
  15. Ibid., pp. 205; 215-16.
  16. John Locke, Essay Book, IV(XIX, 4), quoted by Brightman, op. cit., p.104.

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Chapter 5 REASON AND EIMAN Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

  1. Reason and Its Limitations

The source of Revelation (Wahi) is transcendental Reality, which is beyond the ken of reason, but as Revelation is meant for human beings and serves the purpose of guiding them, it is, naturally, couched in a language which is intelligible to them. Reason, therefore, can apprehend the content of Revelation.

Reason has its own distinctive approach to Reality and apprehends it, albeit to a limited extent. The greatest achievement of reason is science. Science employs methods which are perfectly valid and yields true knowledge within its proper sphere. Reason certainly has its limitations but sceptics declare it to be absolutely unreliable. This is not true. The telescope enables us to see heavenly bodies which we cannot see with the naked eye. It would be unreasonable to reject its aid on the ground that it does not extend our vision to the outermost regions of the universe. Similarly, it is no doubt true that reason cannot give us absolute knowledge, nevertheless the knowledge it does achieve, however small, is useful and valuable. The old adage, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is only partially true, as traditional maxims are. A little knowledge is only dangerous when we take it to be complete knowledge. Every fragment of knowledge is useful if we apply it with intelligence and with full awareness that it reveals only a fraction of reality. But if it is wrong to despise and reject human reason as an unreliable guide, or belittle its value it is equally wrong to exaggerate it and claim that the whole of reality is within its ken. Only a few aspects of reality are accessible to reason and about them it does supply true and useful knowledge. Reality, however, has an infinity of aspects, and all of them, as well as the very core of reality, reason will always find inaccessible. Reason can legitimately function within its own sphere and ceases to be reliable the moment it steps beyond it. Wisdom requires that we should form a correct estimate of the capacity of human reason as well as of its limitations. We can put it to the best use only when we know what it can do and what it cannot. Some scholars, dazzled by the spectacular and soaring success of modern science, believe that the time is not far off when science will have solved the riddle of the universe and will be able to answer any question that we care to ask regarding man and the world. The universe to them is a gigantic machine, which, though immensely complex, can yet be understood fully and exploited by human reason. This presumptuous attitude is hardly justified and, if not corrected soon, can do us great harm. Wise men, including great scientists, are aware that reason can never fathom reality. What Shakespeare wrote in the seventeenth century is still true when science has seemingly reached its meridian:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The same sentiment is echoed even by some scientists of today. Dr. Aitken, the Director of Lick Observatory, California, while discussing the formation of the universe frankly admitted: “Of the origin of the universe and its ultimate fate, we know practically nothing”(1) Besides, there is no finality about scientific theories. With the discovery of a new fact, even a well established theory may have to be modified or even set aside. We cannot, therefore, place absolute reliance on them nor can a philosophy of conduct valid for all human beings, be built upon the shifting sands of scientific theory. Dr. Crowther aptly remarks: “The last word of science on any topic may perhaps be left for the last man to utter”(2) It will be sheer folly then, if we were to depend on reason alone for acquiring a set of right principles of conduct. Reason has repeatedly failed to give right guidance in regulating social relations. Experimenting with social affairs has often led to disaster. Kingship was tried at first, then imperialism and finally democracy, and that too is on trial today. Man has paid a heavy price for experimenting with various forms of government – centuries of bloodshed, internecine wars, revolutions, class struggle, and economic and political unrest. Man is still yearning for justice, equality, freedom and peace. For two centuries men have pinned their faith on democracy but there are now unmistakable signs of disillusionment. Later on we will undertake a fuller discussion of democracy.

  2. The Function of Reason

Man is a finite being and the powers with which he is endowed are necessarily limited in scope. Human reason is no exception. On this ground, however, we are not justified in despising it and refusing to employ it in solving the problems of life. The guidance that reason gives is not the less valuable because it is not perfect. It is reason that has raised man far above the animal level; to repudiate reason is to sink to the animal level or even lower. Man cannot fall back on instinct which is the mainstay of animals. Man outgrew instinct when he developed reason. The glorious successes of reason however, led man to overestimate its capacity: he expected that reason would give him absolute knowledge. When this expectation was not fulfilled, he became disillusioned with reason and went to the other extreme in rejecting reason outright. Among religious people too, both the mystics and the dogmatists are in revolt against reason. The mystics seek guidance in mystical experience and the dogmatists strictly in the letter of the scriptures. They forget that both these things have to be interpreted by human reason if they are to be of any use to man.

They forget that reason is the distinctive attribute of man and to repudiate it is to repudiate the best in him. They forget that the Qur’an does not lend support to this deprecation of reason. Rather, it exhorts us to make full use of our rational power.

The Qur’anic view of reason and its place in human life deserves careful consideration. Briefly stated, this view is that the long evolutionary process culminated in the emergence of man, characterised by the Qur’an as a “new creation” (23:14). It was at this stage that “He breathed in him His Ruh” (32:9), and endowed him with the capacities of “seeing, hearing and apprehending” (32:9). Man was granted a mind (fuaad) which enabled him to think and, through the instrumentality of intellect, to build up a system of knowledge. Man will, indeed, be an ungrateful creature if he refuses to value and make use of the best of Divine gifts. Reason converts the raw grist collected by the senses into knowledge. The Qur’an rightly assigns to reason an important role in human life:

The worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the deaf, the dumb, who do not use their intellect to understand (8:22).

This is a graphic description of the degradation of man when he does not press reason to his service. Such a man, the Qur’an tells us, not only lives a worthless and debased life in this world but also renders himself unfit to live in the higher plane on which he enters after death:

There are many a people, both among the civilized and the nomadic tribes, who lead such a life as makes it obvious that they are meant for hell (7:179).

It is so, because, as-the Qur’an puts it:

They have hearts with which they discern not, and they have eyes with which they see not, and they have ears with which they hear not; these are as the cattle-nay are worse; they are the heedless (7:179).

The point is again emphasized in the chapter entitled the Furqaan. The Rasool  is addressed in  the  following words:

Do you think that most of them hear or have sense ? They are but as the cattle nay but they are farther astray (25:44),

The denizens of Hell are consumed with remorse because they had possessed understanding but did not use it to any purpose:

Had we been wont to listen or have sense we had not been among the dwellers in flame (67:10).

In the chapter entitled Yaaseen, they are again reminded of their sinful negligence of their duty to use their understanding:

And yet Shaitaan has led astray of you a great multitude. Had ye then a sense. This is the Jahannam with which ye were threatened (if ye did not use your sense and follow him blindly) (36:62-63).

It is clear, therefore, that Islam is no enemy of reason and does not regard it as a hindrance to “spiritual” progress. It will be worthwhile to consider the role that the Qur’an assigns to reason both in the “secular” and the ” spiritual” spheres.

  3. Reason and Faith (Eiman)  – The Qur’anic View

In the Qur’an, human reason is repeatedly extolled. As already stated, the birth of reason in man is referred to as marking a “new creation.” It is clearly stated that even Divine Revelation is not to be accepted un-questioningly and uncritically. Man is exhorted to ponder and reflect over it and interpret it in the light of his reason. “Will they not ponder over the Qur’an?” (4:82). Men who find thinking irksome are described in these words:

These are they whom God’s Law of Retribution has deprived (as a result of their own doing) of the blessings of life and has made them deaf and has blinded their eyes. Will they not then meditate on the Qur’an or are there locks on their hearts? (47:23-24)

The Qur’an appeals to man’s reason and understanding. Its teaching is couched in a language which is lucid and intelligible. “Thus God makes plain to you His Revelations that haply you may reflect” (2:219). The great truth to be apprehended by man is that he is the architect of his fate so that what he is in this world and what he will be in the Hereafter depend solely on his own actions. Good acts necessarily elevate him and bad actions inevitably degrade him. His welfare and misery are the result of his own deeds. He cannot shift his responsibility to others.

The Qur’an insists that even success in war depends on the right use of reason. It is generally believed that an army which is inspired with courage and fired with zeal is sure to win. The Qur’an claims that victory falls to the lot of men who remain cool and collected in the presence of danger and whose thinking is not clouded by passion. A hundred such men, the believers, are said to be a match for a thousand unbelievers who are swayed by passion, because they are, as the Qur’an puts it, “a folk without understanding” (8:65).

It is clear that the Qur’an assigns an important role to reason in the life of man. The Nabi is enjoined not to demand blind obedience from men but to exhort them to think and ponder. The following verse leaves no room for doubt that the Qur’an encourages and approves of independent thinking:

Say, I exhort you unto one thing. And what is that one thing ? It is that “ye awake, for Allah’s sake by twos and singly. And then, reflect” (34:46).

The Qur’an expects man to think and use his power of understanding. If he does this, he will be sure to follow the right path. The point to bear in mind is that the path which leads to success, that is eligibility for a higher plane of existence, can be discovered and followed only with the combined help of reason and revelation. These sources of guidance are supplementary to each other. If they are kept within their proper spheres, there will be no conflict between them.  The Rasool, therefore, is bidden to say:

This is my way. My invitation to you to follow Allah’s path is based on reason and insight-mine as well as of those who follow me (12:108).

The Qur’an challenges the opponents of Islam to produce arguments in support of their contention:

Ask them, (O Rasool!) Bring your proofs if you are truthful (2:111).

They are admonished when they argue about things of which they have no knowledge:

Why, therefore, do you wrangle concerning that about which you have no knowledge? (3:66).

Arguing about things of which we have no knowledge leads nowhere. The Qur’an asks us to eschew such unprofitable disputes:

Do not pursue that whereof you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing and sight, and the heart, each of these will be asked (17:36).

The Qur’an lays stress on the value of correct knowledge and advises us to accept it and act upon it. All else is dismissed as mere guesswork which is far from being a trustworthy guide to action. As the Qur’an says: “A guess can never take the place of truth” (53:28). As rational beings, it is our duty not to stop till we have achieved correct knowledge. To be content with a mere “guess” is to denounce or abdicate our rationality, and to act upon it is to risk self-fulfilment.

The Qur’an gives a sketch of the process of knowing, so far as it is germane to its purpose, which is both scientific and ethical. The process is begun by the activity of the senses, which furnish the raw material of knowledge. The next stage is that of attending when the mind addresses itself to the material reaching it. This is the stage of perceptual knowledge. The sense data are referred to external objects and events and their objective meaning is grasped. In the third stage, through the processes of analysis, synthesis, abstraction and generalisation, the material is converted into knowledge of varying degrees of generality. The final stage is that of comprehension in which the new knowledge is placed and viewed in the context of the whole of human knowledge and experience, and its meaning for human life is assessed. The Qur’an exhorts men to aim at this deeper understanding of the meaning of the Nabi’s words, whenever he speaks to them. It denounces those who fail to make this attempt and stop at the first or second stage, being content with imperfect knowledge:

And you may see them looking towards you, but they see not (7:198).

These were people who appeared to be looking intently at the Nabi and listening to him, but their mind was making no effort to grasp the sense of his words and relate it meaningfully to their lives. The Qur’an makes an important distinction between “nazar” and “basar.” Nazar refers to the fact of passively receiving certain visual stimuli. Basar is insight, the grasping of the essential meaning of the thing of which the visual stimuli are mere signs. The same distinction applies to other senses, such as hearing, etc:

And of them are some who hearken to thee but will thou make the deaf to hear although they have no senses (10:42).

What the Qur’an is driving at is that a man whose mind is clouded with prejudices and preconceptions, will not be able to apprehend the truth, even though it stares him in the face. To apprehend it, he must approach it with an open and unbiased mind, must concentrate his attention upon it and must strive to comprehend it in relation to his genuine knowledge and authentic experience. In effect, the Qur’an recommends them an a posteriori approach to Revelation. By implication, the a priori approach is not favoured. The Qur’an’s position on this question may be summarised in this way: rid your mind of all preconceived ill-founded notions. Give close and earnest attention to the Revelation and have full confidence (Eiman) in it. Relate the Revelation to the well-established facts of human experience. Project your findings into the future as far as your reason can take you along the high roads lit by Revelation. Enrich your experience by the experience you have yet to experience. And, in the new vistas and the widened horizons that open up before you, identify the stars of your destiny and address yourself to the problems of life at hand. If you approach Revelation in a proper frame of mind, making full use of the powers with which you are equipped – reason and Eiman, hope and clarity – you can apprehend the truth enshrined in it, and guided by it, can march forward to the glorious destiny that awaits you. But you must deliberately, and of your own free will, choose the path which is pointed out. God could have compelled you to be good if He had wanted. But such goodness would have had no value. Only goodness that you acquire through your own efforts has value. You are free to choose, and if you use your faculties aright, you will make a proper choice.

This, in brief, is the advice that the Qur’an offers to man. It is reiterated in numerous verses. When the Nabi grew worried that people did not pay attention to his words and did not try to understand them, he was admonished in this way:

If Allah willed, all who are on the earth would have believed (in Him). Would thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? (10:99).

To understand the Qur’an or, for that matter, any other revealed book, it is not enough to have mastered its language. A man may be proficient in the Arabic language and yet the meaning of the Qur’an may elude him. He should approach the Book with a receptive mind free from preconceived ideas and notions, prejudice and bias. He should be serious about human life and the universe in which we live, and should have an intense consciousness of participation in a purposeful cosmic process. He should also be anxious to guard against pitfalls in the way of life and to steer clear of the obstacles which hinder his progress. These are, according to the Qur’an, the essential prerequisites for understanding the Book. To those who do not approach it in this way, it remains a sealed book. In the stories of the Anbiya – prophets recounted in the Qur’an – we are told how those who were not perceptive and alive were only bewildered when they listened to their (Anbiya’s) passionate exhortations. Some of them frankly confessed that they found their words unintelligible:

O Shu’aib! We understand not much what you say (11:91).

The Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) too, often came across people who were completely unresponsive to his words, while others were stirred, who believed and were prepared to listen. In dealing with the former, he occasionally grew impatient and felt frustrated. The Qur’an counsels him to be patient, forgiving and tolerant. It warns him against the temptation to impose his views on them

Haply you will kill yourself with grief – if they believe not in this message (18:6).

The Nabi is assured that if he has placed the true view, in simple terms, before the people, he has fulfilled his mission. More than this is not expected of him. It is not his duty to see that the view is accepted by the people. His duty is only to tell them which is the right path and which the wrong one and to acquaint them with the consequences of following the one or the other. They are free to choose for themselves. God does not want to force people to accept His guidance. He has endowed man with the powers of understanding, judgment and free choice. If man makes use of these powers he can understand the Revelation and can profit by the guidance offered therein. He must bear the consequences of his choice, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.

To sum up, there is no conflict between Revelation and reason: rather they supplement each other. Eiman in Revelation and reason together enrich life and make it fruitful, provided each keeps to its own proper sphere. Eiman energises reason and reason orientates Eiman to concrete reality. Without either, life would be impoverished. Reason without Eiman is like a well-constructed machine which is not geared to a motor, while Eiman without reason is only blind force. The glorious periods in human history were characterised by a robust Eiman and an active reason. Prof. Whitehead has rightly remarked:

Ages of faith are the ages of rationalism.(3)

4. Miracles

The subject of miracles bristles with difficulties and yet it challenges the attention of every student of religion. Such a student is called upon to define his attitude towards miracles and to explain his conception of the relation between religion and miracles. Here he faces a dilemma. On the one hand, modern man finds it well-nigh impossible to give credence to miraculous happenings. The only course open to him is to dismiss them as gross superstitions. For the scientist, nature is a closed system and any incursions of the supernatural into it are unthinkable. On the other hand, history testifies to the close association of religion with belief in miracles. The prophets of old were generally credited with the power of working miracles, so much so that a prophet was judged not by the value of his teaching but by the miraculousness of his deeds.

Whatever may be the case with religion, Islam, at least, lends no support to such superstitions. The Qur’an appeals to reason. Its professed  aim is to make men rational and clear-sighted, not to make them superstitious. The Qur’an directs man’s attention to the phenomena of nature and the facts of history, as they reveal the power of God and His wisdom.  Man is invited to look at and reflect upon the grandeur of the heavens, the beauty of the earth, the freshness of dawn, the glory of sunset and the terrifying force of the wind as it sweeps over the open spaces of the desert. Pointedly, it asks: “Are not these marvellous? What more do you want?” The phenomena of nature, at once beautiful and mysterious, can fully gratify man’s sense of wonder. However, the people with whom the Nabi of Islam had to deal were steeped in superstition. They were obsessed with the craving for the miraculous. They not only believed that the laws of nature could be violated but regarded such a violation as the only proof that could be offered for the truth of a statement. Instead of scrutinizing the rational grounds of the statement and accepting it if adequate evidence was adduced  in   its favour, they asked whether the man who made it could work wonders or not. It was not easy to deal with and win over people whose attitude to truth was so irrational. The Nabi did the best that he could in these difficult circumstances. With gentle persuasion he strove to turn their attention from figments of imagination to the concrete facts of life and history. He exhorted them to reflect upon nature and history and make a serious attempt to understand them both. With fervent earnestness he assured them that he did not claim the power to work miracles but that he rested his case on rational arguments and on the beneficial effects of his teaching. His opponents could not be expected to be satisfied with this simple explanation. They retorted that if he were a true Nabi he would surely have worked miracles; his inability to do so was proof that he had no valid claim to nubuwwah. The accusation was without foundation. If the Nabi had been an imposter, he could easily have worked on their superstitious minds. A single instance will suffice to prove his integrity of character. Soon after the death of his beloved son, there was a solar eclipse. People were frightened by the unusual darkness and they humbly suggested to the Nabi that nature seemed to be convulsed by the shock of his son’s death. Without the least hesitation, he assured them that this was a natural phenomenon  and had no bearing on his personal affairs. Nature goes on its course unconcerned with the calamities that may befall man. Only a man of his stature could have refused to seize an opportunity of convincing people absolutely that he was a miracle worker and, therefore, a true Nabi. The incident throws ample light on the essential honesty and integrity of the Nabi. No prospect of immediate gain could induce him to come to a compromise with the superstitious unbelievers.

The Nabi was consumed with the passion to reform the people and to induce them to accept the truth which he had placed before them. Their insistent demand that he should work miracles to convince them, made him despondent. On such occasions, the Qur’an counsels him to remain firm and not to give way to despair. Sometimes, he might have thought that if only he possessed the power to work miracles, he could quickly have persuaded the people to accept his teaching and follow the right path. The Qur’an did not leave even such a remote thought unanswered:

If their aversion (to the truth) is grievous to thee, then, if thou can, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder into the sky that thou may bring to them a portent (to convince them all). If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance; so be not thou of the ignorant (6:35).

God wants men to see and accept the truth through understanding and not dogmatically and irrationally:

Those who do not use their intellect, the matter remains confused to them (10:100).

The Qur’an calls upon men to apply their minds to its teaching, to strive to grasp its meaning and rationale. If they remain unresponsive to the call, the Qur’an refuses to stoop to irrational methods of influencing their minds. It would rather leave them to follow the wrong path, if they have chosen it freely, than consent to any kind of compulsion, however well-intentioned, to lead them to the right path. Greatness may be thrust on some but goodness can be thrust on none. All that the Qur’an does is, it sounds the warning, time and again, that if the thought-provoking faculties are suppressed for long, they would ultimately lose their power to kindle the pulse of thought. It says:

Those who just go on rejecting the truth (without trying to understand it) it is all one for them whether you warn them (against the consequences of their actions) or not. They will not accept the truth. (As a result of their obstinacy, the law of Allah) has sealed their hearing and hearts and on their eyes is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom (for they saw no reason) (2:6-7).

Those who possessed reason and did not use it to acquire true knowledge and to gain an understanding of the Revelation are denounced as the vilest of men and contempt is poured on them:

And We have struck out for men in this Qur’an all kinds of similitudes (to make the matter clear) but, notwithstanding all this, if you place before them a verse of the Qur’an, those who disbelieve will surely say: You are but given to vanity. Thus does Allah seal the hearts of those who do not try to understand (30:58-59).


And We send not Our messengers but as bearers of glad tidings and as warners (to those who tread the wrong path): but those who reject the truth dispute with vain words that they may refute the truth thereby, and they take My Revelation and what they are warned of as a jest. And who does a greater wrong than one who being reminded of the laws of Allah, turns aside from them and forgets what his hands have sent on before. (This is how Our Law of Retribution) places veils upon their hearts, so they understand not, and a heaviness is in their ears. (The result of their obstinacy is that) though thou call them to the right path, they will never adopt it (18:56-57).

Again and again, in support of itself, the Qur’an directs man’s attention to natural phenomena and historical events. It justifies its teachings on verifiable grounds and on historical evidence. The Qur’an assures man that his highest aspirations and ideals are attainable as he lives in a friendly and sympathetic universe, which is controlled by a wise and compassionate power. Miracles are repugnant to the consistently rational spirit of the Qur’an. Those who demand miracles are occasionally humoured but are more often reproved in plain terms.

The view advocated here may, however, be challenged on the ground that the Qur’an recounts many miracles which were wrought by the earlier Anbiya. There are several possible interpretations of these miracles. Some scholars have had recourse to allegorical interpretation. Others have had that the figurative language and vivid imagery served to drive home a general truth. Another plausible theory is that the Qur’an in describing people of an earlier age had to mention the unusual events which had psychological reality for them. However, it is a question which concerns the scholar who is interested in the mental development of man. It has no bearing on deen as such, We subscribe to the view that they have been narrated metaphorically and can be interpreted rationally.*



At this point we deem it our duty to put in a word of caution.    Events which have  been  reported  in  ancient books  as “miracles” need not all be dismissed as the unconscious fabrications of credulous people. The mind of man  may possess powers which are unsuspected by science. Some present day scientists are not so

sceptical as their predecessors were, A new science, parapsychology, has sprung  up and for the moment seems to be vigorously active, A few eminent psychologists are working in this field and have already collected evidence and discovered facts in the face of which dogmatic scepticism appears to be as absurd as the credulity of the ancients, Telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and psycho-kinetic phenomena are being experimentally studied, All we can say at present is that the mind may well possess supernormal powers. We are learning the lesson that intellectual arrogance is an obstacle in the search for truth. Whatever may be the outcome of the investigations into the occult, the truly Qur’anic response to the universe will remain unchanged. The question of miracles may enlist the interest of the scientist but it has no vital relation to a quest which has any  connection  with deen. The Qur’an seeks to awaken in man the consciousness of his intimate relation to the universe. Its main emphasis is on reason and knowledge. Its purpose is to help to build up a free, self-reliant and rational personality, vivified with the sense of God’s working in the universe according to His unalterable laws. Therefore, miracles, if they mean freaks of nature or any alteration in the immutable laws of God, can have no place in that working.

We close this discussion with the following apt quotation from Iqbal which bears eloquent testimony to his deep insight into and perceptive appreciation of Islam:

The birth of Islam is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition. This involves the keen perception that life cannot forever be kept in leading strings; that in order to achieve full self-consciousness man must finally be thrown back on his own resources. The abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship in Islam, the constant appeal to reason and experience in the Qur’an and the emphasis that it lays on Nature and History as sources of human knowledge, are all different aspects of the same idea of finality.(4)

  5. Approach to the Qur’an

Our first task is to understand the real meaning of the Qur’an with the help of all the intellectual faculties we possess. We can then proceed to assess the value of its teaching. How are we to test the truth and usefulness of the Qur’anic teaching? The Qur’an itself helps us to answer this question. It proposes three ways in which it may be tested and offers to abide by the results of these tests. It is significant that the tests proposed are all acceptable to reason. Nowhere is the supernatural invoked. The appeal is invariably to human reason and experience.

Before proceeding to consider the tests, let us recapitulate the teaching of the Qur’an. The Qur’an enjoins man to believe in God, to follow His laws, to believe in one’s own self, to love and serve his fellow beings, to act in a virtuous manner so as to develop and express the best in him, and finally to believe in and prepare for the Hereafter. All these we are invited to test in the light of reason. Is there anything in this teaching that is repugnant to reason? No doubt it is possible to doubt the existence of God and the reality of the Hereafter. But then, it is also possible to doubt the existence of the world. There is no conclusive proof of the existence of the objective world and some philosophers have argued, in all seriousness, that belief in such a world is unjustified. All that we can be sure of is the actual momentary sensation. In spite of philosophical arguments our belief in objective reality remains unshaken. Life pays little heed to the cobwebs of philosophers. The point to bear in mind is that suprarational realities are not less real because they cannot be proved by logical arguments. In applying the rational test it is permissible to ask whether there is anything in the teaching which runs counter to reason and to that part of human knowledge which commands universal acceptance. The question as to whether every element in it can be logically proved is inadmissible, because, the teaching, if it is to be true to its nature, cannot avoid reference to realities which transcend reason. In this case, the rational test will take the form of determining whether or not the teaching is in direct conflict with reason and whether it furthers the interests of humanity. It is needless to say that the Qur’an has stood the test of reason and proved itself to be in harmony with the best in man:

Say (O Muhammad (PBUH)! to the unbelievers): I say not unto you (that) I possess the treasures of Allah, nor that I have knowledge of the unseen, and I say not unto you: Lo I am malak. I follow only that which is revealed to me.

Say: are the blind man and the seer equal? Will ye not then take thought? (6:50; 11:24).

Secondly, the Qur’an invites people to judge it in the light of history. It asks them to ponder over the rise and fall of nations. It assures them that if they seek the causes of the downfall of a people, they will find that the people had contravened the principles of right conduct and permanent values which were communicated to them by the Nabi of their age. Right belief and right conduct enable a nation to rise to power, and wrong beliefs and actions lead to its downfall. Time and again the Qur’anic teaching, which confirms the teaching of earlier Anbiya, was put to the test and was found to be a trustworthy guide to the good life. People who rejected it and followed the wrong path inevitably fell into decay and were overtaken by a dreadful fate. The Qur’an advises men to pay attention to the facts of history in order to discover the difference between the ways of life of the nations which flourished and prospered and those which perished. It will be brought home to them that the latter cherished false and harmful beliefs and their conduct was not in harmony with the eternal laws of God:

But they deny the knowledge that they could not compass and whereof the final result had not come unto them. Even so did those before them deny. Then see what were the consequences for the wrong-doers (10:39).

Finally we come to the pragmatic test. The unbelievers are repeatedly urged to apply this test and satisfy themselves about the truth and value of the Qur’an. A tree is judged by the quality of its fruit and a creed by its effects on the life and conduct of men. The believers who had accepted the teaching and had regulated their lives in accordance with it, provided irrefutable evidence of its value to man. Their character had been transformed overnight. Formerly they were mean, selfish, quarrelsome, narrow-minded and self-centred caring only for petty gain. Afterwards, they were united in the pursuit of noble ends, were bound to each other by ties of love and affection, were kind and just to their enemies and lived up to the high ideals which they professed. The Qur’an had brought into existence a new type of man – self-respecting, self-reliant, conscious of his worth and desirous of enhancing it and fired with the ambition to set up a better social order in the world. These men by their lives and actions testified to the value of the Qur’an the spirit of which they had imbibed. The Nabi was fully justified in pointing to these men as a living testimony for the truth of the faith he preached. The astounding effect of the faith on the life of man was the strongest proof of its truth and values:

Say: O my people! work in your own way. I too am working. Thus ye will come to know for which of us will be the happy sequel, Lo! The wrong doers will not be successful (6:136).

Such are tests which the Qur’an desires to be applied. Even bitter critics will have to concede that the tests are crucial, practical and provocative.

Again and again the Qur’an exhorts man to think and think hard. The man who uses his reason is held up to admiration:

The blind man is not equal with the seeing, nor is darkness equal to light, nor is the shadow equal with the sun’s refulgence; nor are the living equal with the dead (35:19-22).

Those who think rightly can find the light of knowledge and can discover the path that leads to success:

Are those who know equal with those who know not? But only men of understanding will pay heed (39:9).


Surely those who strive for Us, We guide them to Our ways, and verily Allah is with those who lead a balanced life of goodness (29:69).

The Believers (Mo’minin), according to the Qur’an, are:

Those who, when the revelations of their Rabb are presented to them, do not  fall thereat deaf and blind (25:73).

This is Eiman! Not to accept even God’s Revelations deaf and blind.




  1. F. Mason, The Great Design, p. 35.
  2. Ibid, p. 52.
  3. Quoted by Iqbal in the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p.2.
  4. M. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, pp. 126.

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Chapter 4 DIVINE GUIDANCE Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

1. Evidence of Guidance

The world in which we live is not static, a finished product: in fact the world and everything in it are all constantly changing, every moment becoming somewhat different. The early Greek thinkers were profoundly impressed by the phenomenon of change. They addressed themselves to the task of solving the problem posed by the contradictory appearance of change and permanence which the universe presents. Parmenides rejected change as an illusion, while Heraclitus regarded it as the only reality. For several centuries, philosophers tended to ignore the fact of change. With the rise of modern science, specially with the growth of our knowledge of geology and biology, a dynamic conception of the universe came to be generally accepted. The theory of evolution has transformed our intellectual outlook, and now we try to understand everything in the light of its past history. We know that the earth has a long history. It is the product of changes which have occurred through countless aeons; and life as evolved slowly through millions of years. At this point an important question arrests our attention. Are the changes, which have undoubtedly occurred in the world, quite erratic and fortuitous or is there a rhythm in them or a plan underlying them? In the present state of our knowledge there is no clear answer to this question. Some eminent thinkers believe that the changes are aimless and that the universe, although changing, is not moving in a definite direction, far less towards a definite goal. They declare that they can only see change succeeding change as one wave succeeds another. Fisher, surveying the vast panorama of European history, confesses that he can discern no harmonies therein. He admits that there is progress but affirms emphatically that “there is no law of progress.”(1) However, other great thinkers, such as C. Lloyd Morgan and H. Bergson, claim that the changes, when viewed closely and comprehensively, do reveal a pattern and are seen to be leading towards a goal.

The goal towards which the world and every individual thing existing in it, is moving appears to be perfection. Perfection means self-realisation, that is the actualisation of all the potentialities inherent in a particular being. Defined in this way, it is clear that perfection is not to be taken in an absolute sense, but as relative to the capacity of each individual thing or person. There is thus a direct ratio between the degree of capacity and the degree of attainable perfection. Development is the process through which a thing realises itself and gains the perfection of which it is capable.

In almost every religion, theologians have long been puzzled over the nature of creation. They conceived of it in different ways. The concept of creation through evolution appears to be in full accord with the facts which science has brought to light. It also fits into the view which has been set forth in the Qur’an. The universe is not the scene of haphazard changes. They are evolutionary changes which lead to the emergence of new and higher qualities and new higher types of being. Every natural thing, as it comes into being, enters on a career of development. Every created being has a definite place in the overall pattern of creation and in that sense is good. But it is not intended to remain the same throughout its span of life. It is endowed with a number of potentialities and instinctively tends to realize them, becoming more perfect in the process. It is through Divine Guidance, termed Rububiyyah in the Qur’an, that things develop and finally attain the form of which they are capable. This view is expressed simply and tersely in the following verse:

Who created and perfected, Who measured and directed (87:2-3).

This verse draws attention to four typical Divine activities in relation to the universe – khalq (creating), taswiyya (perfecting), taqdeer (measuring) and huda (guiding). A natural thing is endowed with certain potentialities and, guided by its Rabb, passes from stage to stage until it has reached full development. The guidance and fostering care of God are essential for its development. Divine guidance is at work everywhere in the universe. The form in which it is imparted to its recipient is termed Wahi in the Qur’an. Wahi is usually translated as Revelation, but Wahi is more generalised and has a wider scope than the English term. It will repay us to look more closely at the nature and function of Wahi.

  2. Wahi and the World of Creation

Wahi literally means prompting, inspiring or infusing a thought or feeling into a person. At different levels of creation wahi operates in different forms, ranging from inciting a blind urge to inspiring a thought. All things from material bodies to rational beings are amenable to wahi. The earth and the heavenly spheres are represented as submitting to Divine direction. Says the Qur’an:

He inspired in each heaven its mandate (41:12).

Again, it is said that a day will dawn when “the Earth shall tell out her tidings. For that your Rabb will inspire her” (99:4-5).

In the animal world, Divine guidance is mediated by wahi in the form of instinctual drive as the following verse indicates:

Your Rabb inspired the bee, saying: Choose your habitation in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch (16:68).

In the chapter entitled “Light” more is said about the directive force which is at work in everything:

Have you not seen that those who are in the heavens and the earth serve God, and the birds (also) their wings spread out. Each one knows its appointed task (salaat) and the way in which it is to be performed (Tasbeeh) (24:41).

Another verse serves to elucidate this point:

There is no living being on the earth nor a bird that flies with its wings but they are peoples like unto you (possessed of the Divine guidance) (6:38).

Everything in fact receives from the Creator all the guidance which it needs. The directive force, which has its source in God, is operative everywhere in the universe. The regularity of the movements of physical objects and the purposive character of the behaviour of living beings, both reveal the guiding hand of God. He guides the stars in their courses. He keeps the planets from straying from their prescribed orbits. Order in the physical world is the direct consequence of Divine control and guidance. The movements of material bodies are governed by unalterable laws. Heavenly bodies submit to these laws no less than minute particles of matter. Thus everywhere we find complete subservience to the law of God. Nothing transgresses the limits set to its activity. This is what “prostration before God” means. Says the Qur’an:

And unto Allah makes prostration whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures and the malaaik’ah (16:49).

In the animal world, Divine guidance takes the form of instinct. Instinct enables the animal to make a satisfactory adjustment to its environment. It enables it to satisfy its basic needs and so preserve both itself and its young. Volumes have been written on the marvels of instinct. A few examples will suffice to show how efficiently it guides the animal in a strange world. The duckling and the chick may have been hatched by the same hen but while the former fearlessly plunges into water, the latter shrinks from it and keeps to the dry land. Each seems to know instinctively what it can do and what it cannot Migratory birds traverse thousands of miles, flying over deserts and forests, plains and mountains, and fishes through seas and oceans, and never lose their way. Instinct guides them unerringly to the clime they are seeking. The wasp lays its eggs and provides food for its young which it is never going to see. The directive factor operative in the nature of each animal incites it to engage in activities which lead to the satisfaction of its basic needs. The same factor is responsible for the harmony and order which nature exhibits. Wahi is really this factor in operation. Galloway’s comment on this point should be noted:

In the widest sense of the word, the order of nature is a revelation, for it unfolds a meaning which has its ultimate source in God.(2)

We are led to draw two conclusions from this. Firstly, it is Divine Guidance or Wahi which carries each and every thing from stage to stage until it has reached its full development. Secondly, every thing has to follow the course which has been prescribed for it. This may be said to be its nature.

  3. Man and Wahi

No doubt, man too needs Divine Guidance. Without it, he is likely to go astray. However, the guidance which is vouchsafed to him is of a different kind which is suited to his peculiar characteristic. His activities are not governed by invariable laws, as is the case with inanimate beings, nor are they completely determined by the blind urges inherent in him. He has been granted a measure of freedom and this means that he is free to choose the right or wrong path, and that he is free even to commit mistakes. He may choose what is good for him; but he may also choose that which is harmful to him. He enjoys freedom of choice and has to pay the price for the wrong one. Even the sure guidance that instinct gives is denied to him. The chick, when it finds itself on the brink of a pond, instinctively shrinks back and saves itself. The human child may misuse its freedom because of internal compulsion and may plunge into the pond and get drowned. Man has much in common with the animals but the differences between the two are more important than the resemblances. His intellectual powers and immense learning capacity set him apart from the other animals. However, though potentially superior to the animals, he is at the beginning of life much worse-equipped for the struggle of life than they are. If he develops his powers he can quickly outstrip the animals; but if he fails to develop them, he may as easily sink below the animal level.

Again, man is a moral being, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and free to choose either. However, he finds that it is not  easy  to distinguish good from evil, nor is it easy to choose the good, when it is known. In his own self there is no sure guide to the good. No moral instinct leads him unerringly to the right path. It is obvious that there are no universally accepted moral codes, for there are as many codes as cultural groups in the world. Each tribe seems to have developed a code of its own, which is unacceptable to other groups. A dispassionate survey of several moral codes leads us to the standpoint of ethical relativism. A code of conduct cannot be judged to be good or bad in the abstract. It may be good for one cultural level and bad for another. In the past, conscience was credited with the power to discriminate between right and wrong. Now, psychologists, as well as sociologists, maintain that a man’s conscience is shaped by the cultural environment in which he has been brought up. Conscience is only the group code which has been internalised in the individual. We are thus driven to conclude that there is no sure guide to the right and good inherent in man. As the Qur’an says: “He prays for sharr as he prays for khair ” (17:11).

The view that the power to discriminate between right and wrong is inherent in man finds no support in the Qur’an. The verse   (91:8)(3) which is very often quoted in this connection has been misunderstood. It does not refer to any such discriminating quality of “human nature.” For if man possessed the capability of judging good from the bad, and thus distinguishing between the right and wrong without the help of Divine guidance, the institution of nubuwwah would lose its significance. Why then should God have raised Anbiya from among men and entrusted to them the task of directing His people on the right path? Again, if the power to distinguish between right and wrong were inherent in the nature of man, the whole of mankind, from its beginning to this day, would have been following one and the same moral code; but, as already stated, there are no universally accepted moral standards. Each group has its own ethical code and what is more, this code has also changed with the passage of time. The verse cited above does not, therefore, mean that “human nature” – or man’s conscience – is qualified to know, of its own, right from wrong, or has within it the power to discriminate between khair and sharr. The words in the verse referred to above, (i.e., 91:8) on the contrary are the statement of a fact, the fact of man’s potentialities for becoming good or bad, as he decides for himself. Since the human personality (or self) is given in an undeveloped form, there are, the verse says, equal possibilities of his attaining the highest good, or wasting himself in wrong doing. The correct translation of the verse is: “Human self has been endowed with the capability of both integrating itself or corrupting it.”

Again, those who believe that conscience is an absolutely trustworthy guide for man appeal to verse (30:30) which is usually translated as:

The nature of Allah (fitratullah) in which He has made man.

It should, however, be noted that the Arabic word ”fitrat” occurring in the verse does not mean the same thing as the English word “nature”. The word “nature” means the constitution or the essential properties of a thing which are unchangeable. On the other hand, fitrat merely means creation or bringing something into existence. We cannot, therefore, construe the verse as meaning that man has the same nature as God. It is just to remind us that man has been created according to the same Divine law of creation as other things in the universe. If we were to concede that man has been created in “God’s nature,” how are we to reconcile this with some of his “qualities” as given in the Qur’an? For example, man is said to be “created weak” (4:28), “created of haste,” “being hasty” (17:11), “ungrateful” (17:67), “covetous” (17:100), “impatient” (70:19), “a caviller” (18:54), “a tyrant and ignorant” (33:72). The truth is that there is no such thing as “man’s nature” in the sense in which the word is usually used. For, by nature we understand the properties which constitute the very being of a thing and hence characterise its existence in a way peculiar to itself. It is its nature which determines its behaviour. There can be no question, therefore, of its going against its nature. It is like a rigid law which no object can violate. Under given circumstances, water must flow, fire must burn and the animal must follow the course prescribed by its nature. Man, however, stands on a different level. Inasmuch as he is a part of the physical world, it may be said that it is his “nature” to behave in accordance with its laws in the interest of his physical self, although, as already stated, he often goes against those laws as well. As for his real self, he is free to choose any of the possibilities open to him. This is why the rigidity of behaviour in the lower animals is in sharp contrast to the changeability and variability of human behaviour. “Human nature” is eminently malleable, and assumes so many different forms that no adequate definition of it has yet been formulated. There are numerous theories of “human nature” but none of them commands universal acceptance. From Plato and Aristotle to Freud and Gardiner there has been a wide range of theories about man; but man somehow escapes from every theoretical framework.

According to the view set forth in the Qur’an, man is born neither good nor bad, but with the power and freedom to become either. He is endowed with immense potentialities. If he develops them and employs them for the moral and material advancement of mankind, his conduct is good; if he fails to utilise his immense resources or puts them to uses which are harmful to mankind, his conduct is bad. Wahi or Divine Guidance points out the way to self-realisation and to the promotion of human knowledge and happiness. By following the path which is pointed out by Wahi, man can finally achieve the status of a “mo’min”. A “mo’min” is at peace with himself and with the world because he has successfully resolved his inner and outer conflicts. Wahi shows the way to harmony in the individual mind as well as in human society. The verses cited above to the effect that man is bad, simply mean that if he ignores Divine Guidance and follows his baser desires he is liable to become worse and worse.

Let us repeat that the Qur’an definitely rejects the view that human nature has a fixed pattern and a rigidly determined behaviour, for this view deprives man of real freedom.


As stated above, all things in the world, from inanimate bodies to man, depend on Divine Guidance for self-development and the fulfilment of the purpose of their existence. This guidance, however, takes many forms, each form being appropriate to a particular level of existence. The form it assumes at the human level, deserves special consideration.

Man is a rational being and possesses a free and autonomous self. He values his freedom, knows that he alone is responsible for his actions and has no right to complain if their consequences are unpleasant. He chafes under compulsion, either internal or external. He too needs Divine Guidance but he can receive it only in a form which does not put a curb on his freedom and does not detract from his right to judge for himself. Guidance is offered to man through Wahi or Revelation. Every man, however, cannot be the recipient of Wahi. Only an exceptionally gifted person, who is considered by God capable of self-possession in the face of such a vital experience, can receive guidance directly from God. The appellation “Nabi” is applied to such a person and Nubuwwah signifies two characteristic functions of the Nabi. As he is attuned to God, he receives Divine Revelation or Wahi and as he is in close touch with his fellow beings, he communicates the Wahi to them in exactly the same form in which he has received it. The purity of the medium ensures the purity of the revelation which it transmits. Moreover, through his exemplary life and conduct the Nabi presents the revelation in a vivid and concrete form which cannot fail to impress the people.

To understand the nature of nubuwwah we must first get rid of a misconception. In the Jewish-Christian tradition, the ”prophet” is a man who prophesies or foretells future events. Endowed with unusual psychic powers, the “prophet” is considered to be capable of foreseeing future happenings of which he warns the people. The Islamic conception of Nabi is quite different. As a matter of fact the term “prophethood” as understood in English is not equivalent to the term “nubuwwah” which the Qur’an uses in this context. The Nabi is not a “prophet” or a soothsayer. His function is not divination but the communication of the Revelation which has been vouchsafed to him. “Prophecy” as understood by the Jews is completely irrelevant to the mission of the Nabi. He fulfils his mission if he communicates the Wahi as he has received it, without adding to or taking away anything from it. His purpose is not to prognosticate but to offer moral guidance to man in the light of Divine Revelation. This is clear from another term which is applied to a Nabi. He is “Rasool” or messenger. He bears a message from God telling man how he can lead a good life and how he can achieve perfection. The Qur’an is explicit on this point:

O Children of Adam! Whenever messengers come to you from among you, who narrate to you My Revelation, then whosoever follows it and amends, there shall come no fear upon them nor shall they grieve (7:35).

It should be noted that the purpose of Wahi is not to compel man to choose any particular way. Wahi merely informs him which way leads to his growth and development and which to his disintegration, and leaves him free to choose for himself. Wahi imparts the requisite knowledge to man who is then free to act upon it or not. Says the Qur’an:

Say: it is the truth from Allah. Then whosoever will let him believe, and whosoever will let him reject (18:29).

Let us clearly grasp the Qur’anic conception of Wahi. Wahi is a gift of God, which He bestows on the man whom He selects. Wahi is not a prize which a man can win for himself through his own efforts. By developing his latent powers, man cannot qualify himself for nubuwwah. The Nabi does not discover truth; it is disclosed to him by God. The Qur’an, therefore, defines Revelation as ”sending down” or “nuzool”:

Verily we have sent down to thee the Book with truth (39:2).

The point to bear in mind is that the reception of Wahi is an intense and vital experience, but it is not an experience which has been induced by subjective factors. The Nabi does not objectify his personal experience. He is intensely and vividly aware of his encounter with the Divine. He feels himself the passive recipient of a message, which must remain uncontaminated by his personal desires and feelings:

He, the Nabi does not speak of (his own) desire (53:3).

This is as far as we can go in understanding the nature of Wahi. It is not, therefore, strange that in his ordinary life, the Nabi talks and behaves very much like other men. Only during the experience of Wahi, does he speak with absolute authority and discloses the truth which human intellect cannot discover by itself. The words he utters in this state are not his but God’s. Those who knew the Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) intimately have recorded the fact that, although in secular matters he was always willing to make concessions to those who differed from him, (of course, within the restrictions imposed by Wahi) if by doing so he could settle a dispute amicably, he was adamant in refusing to make the slightest change in the Wahi which had been delivered to him. In day-to-day affairs, the basis of his decision-making process was mutual consultation with its give and take, but he would countenance no departure from his Wahi. Throughout his life he was never tempted to change even a single word of the Revelation for reasons of expediency. The Qur’an bears witness to the fact:

Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my own accord. I only follow that which is revealed to me (10:15).

The Nabi has not the slightest inkling of the Revelation before he has actually received it. Nor does he strive for it. It is to him literally a revelation, the impact of something new, unexpected and unsuspected; something not deriving either from his past experience or from his present mental state. Says the Qur’an:

And thus We have revealed to thee a revelation by Our Command; thou didst not know what the Book was nor the faith; but We have made it a light by which We guide whom We please of Our servants (42:52; 28:86).

Even the office of nubuwwah, when it comes, takes him by surprise. He had not expected to be chosen to act as the vehicle of Wahi. God selects a man for the role of the Nabi but keeps it from his knowledge till he has actually been assigned the role. The man is selected because he possesses exceptional qualities which fit him for the role of nubuwwah. However, years of probation, years during which his character and conduct are discriminately tested, intervene between the selection and the actual summons to nubuwwah. He has no notion of this process. He is entrusted with the mission only when he is proved worthy. In the case of Moses (PBUH) the long period of preparation which preceded the call to nubuwwah, has been well described in the Qur’an:

And We have (O Moses) already been gracious to you another time. When We sent word to your mother, saying: Put him into the ark and cast him into the sea, and the sea shall cast him on the shore, and an enemy of Mine and his shall take him (and bring him up); and I bestowed on you love from Me, that you may be brought up under My eye.

When your sister walked up and said: Shall I show you one who will take care (of the child), then We returned you to your mother, that her eye might be cheered, and that she might not grieve. And you did kill a man, and We saved you from the trouble, and We offered other opportunities so that you may test your capabilities. Then, for years did you stay among the people of Median. It was after all this that you came up to Our measure, O Moses! And I have chosen you for Myself (20:37-41).

To understand the real nature of Wahi, it is essential to distinguish it clearly from mystical experience with which it is often confused. Some scholars have tended to regard the revelation of a Nabi as the culmination of the mystical experience. This is a misconception. The difference between the two types of experience is fundamental. It is a difference of kind and not merely of degree. Mystical experience, whatever it is, is within the reach of every man, provided he is willing to subject himself to a rigorous discipline. It is the outgrowth of the mystical sense, or oceanic sense as Koestler calls it, which is inherent in man. Like the aesthetic sense it can be cultivated and developed. The mystical experience may be induced through self-mortification, contemplation, detachment and meditation. It is a purely subjective experience in which the affective factor is predominant. Bound being the self of the mystic, it has no bearing on, or testimony in, the outer world. The mystic finds it supremely gratifying and absolutely convincing. Therein he tastes a bliss which overwhelms and dissolves his finite personality. He feels himself merged in the infinite ocean of reality. The mystic claims that his experience is charged with value of a high order, but it remains private and incommunicable. The mystic may have had a vision of something of which he is satisfied to be the truth, but he cannot make his fellow beings share his vision. He cannot impart his knowledge thus gained to others. The mystic may have a feeling of contact with what he considers to be the Real, but his experience, of whatever order, remains personal and subjective. The experience of revelation is different. It is the experience of dawning of Reality as it is on the individual mind. The Nabi feels himself not merely in contact with the Divine but in communication with it. And no doubts assail him. He is quite sure that he is receiving knowledge which he must impart to all men. Wahi or Revelation is meant to be communicated. The purpose of Wahi is not to gratify the urges or aspirations of a single individual, the Nabi, or to guide only him, but to place guidance, through him, at the disposal of all who wish to profit by it. The message conveyed through Wahi is to be broadcast all over the world as its content is of objective value. This radical difference puts Wahi exclusively in a class by itself and sets it far apart from all types of mystical experience. Mystical experience may enrich the mind of the mystic; revelation, on the other hand, acts as a powerful leaven in the life of the people. It is a living and dynamic force which turns the stream of history into a new channel. The rise of Islam offers a striking example of the power of revelation.

There is another significant difference between Wahi and mystical experience. The mystic feels his personality melting and dissolving as a grain of salt in water. The finite self is supposed to have merged in the Infinite. The liberation from the narrow confines of personality gives the mystic a sense of exhilaration and exaltation. He soars high above the world of fact into a region where there is neither “must” nor “ought”. If he returns to the world of fact, he is afflicted with nostalgia and groans under the burden of life. Revelation, on the contrary, both enriches and invigorates the human self. Thriving on the nourishment provided by Wahi, it deals effectively with the problems of actual life and strives to establish the “Kingdom of Heaven” on earth. The Nabi’s revelation infuses a new life into the people, so that with renewed faith and revitalised energy they march forward to battle with the forces of destruction and disintegration. In short, while the mystic aims at self-effacement, the Nabi, armed with his revelation, summons the people to march towards the goal of self-realisation, and self-development and self-assertion. Iqbal, in his masterly discussion of the subject, has clearly brought out the distinction between the experience of a Nabi and that of a mystic. The relevant passage deserves to be quoted in full:

“Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned.” These are the words of a great Muslim saint, Abdul Quddus of Gangoh. In the whole range of sufi literature, it will be, probably, difficult to find words which, in a single sentence, disclose such an acute perception of the psychological difference between the prophetic and the mystic types of consciousness. The mystic does not wish to return from the repose of ‘unitary experience’; and when he does return, as he must, his return does not mean much for mankind at large. The prophet’s return is creative. He returns to insert himself into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby to create a fresh world of ideals. For the mystic, the repose of ‘unitary experience’ is something final; for the prophet it is awakening, within him, of world-shaking psychological force, calculated to completely transform the human world. The desire to see his religious experience transformed into a living world-force, is supreme in the prophet. Thus his return amounts to a kind of pragmatic test of the value of his religious experience. In its creative act the prophet’s will judges both itself and the world of concrete fact in which it endeavours to objectify itself. In penetrating the impervious material before him, the prophet discovers himself for himself, and unveils himself to the eye of history. Another way of judging the value of the prophet’s religious experience, therefore, would be to examine the type of manhood that he has created, and the Cultural world that has sprung out of the spirit of his message.(4)

The Nabi’s mission of leading all mankind, in accordance with the dictates of Wahi and thus bringing about a universal revolution to mould the course of history, is no light task. It is with reference to this heavy burden of responsibility that the Qur’an observes:

Have We not caused your bosom to broaden and eased you of the burden which weighed down your back ? (94:1-3).

The Nabi proclaims the message he has received and it is through the sheer force of truth that it sinks in the mind of those whose finer susceptibilities have not been deadened. The Nabi, by the example of his own life and conduct, fires them with the ambition to live a purer, nobler and higher life. These men gather round the Nabi and earnestly strive to shape their lives in the light of the Revelation. Inspired by the radiant and fervent faith (conviction) which the Nabi has kindled in them, they endeavour to make the world a home for the higher values. They set about building up a society which gives man full opportunity for self-expression and self-development, a society worthy of free men who are conscious of their dignity as human beings. They thus become participants in carrying out the Divine plan for the universe.

Mystic experience – whatever it may be – is nothing beyond the development of some of the inner faculties of man, e.g., willpower, which every human being can develop irrespective of his creed, belief or even actions. This is why mystics are found in every religion, cult or group. The claim of a mystic that he is in tune with the Infinite or has seen Reality as it is, is only the projection of his own imagination. This is why the description of Reality given by various mystics differs from one another. At any rate, mysticism has nothing to do with deen and the Qur’an does not lend support to it. Even the word “tasawwuf ” (mysticism) does not find a place in the earlier literature of Islam – Qur’an or Hadith. “It is,” as stated by Iqbal, “an alien plant in the soil of Islam”. In Islam there is nothing mystic or mysterious. It is a simple and plain code of life which aims at establishing a social order in which permanent values manifest themselves in concrete shape.

  5. Conclusion

The conclusions to which the above discussion has led us may now be briefly stated:

  1. Everything, animate or inanimate, is endowed with the capacity for development. Its development is guided, at every step, by the Supreme Being.
  2. It must not be supposed that the guiding power acts upon things from outside. It is inherent in their nature and acts from within them. It would be more correct to say that it is the nature of thing to seek  the development  of   its  latent capacity and thus to reach its destiny.
  3. Man, by virtue of possessing an autonomous self, occupies a privileged position in the universe. Divine guidance is offered to him in the form which is suited to a free rational being. It does in no way curtail man’s freedom of choice and action. Man has the right to reject it, if he so desires and is willing to pay the price of rejection.
  4. For man, Wahi or Revelation, is the vehicle of Divine Guidance. God selects a man who is fit to be the custodian of truth. This man is the Nabi who receives the Revelation from God, keeps it inviolate and faithfully communicates it to his fellow beings. Those who accept it, of their own accord, find themselves following the path which leads to the enhancement of their powers and towards the goal of perfection. Those who reject it, have perforce to follow the downward path of deterioration and degradation. Self-fulfilment is the reward of the former, while an enfeebled and perverted self falls to the lot of the latter. Such is the Law of Requital.
  5. The Wahi, the Divinely revealed Guidance, is really God’s Word. It is not contaminated by the personal likes and dislikes, feelings and desires of the recipient. The medium specially selected by God is so refined that the Wahi, in passing through it, suffers no diminution in its purity or lustre, The Wahi transcends human intellect but does not conflict with reason. It rather supplements it.


We hope that a few words about the institution of nubuwwah will serve to elucidate this point. At an early stage in the history of civilization, man set up a sort of social organisation and began to function as a free self-conscious member of a group. But he often misused the freedom which had been granted him and yielded to the temptations by which he was beset. The pursuit of selfish ends brought the members of the group into conflict with each other. These conflicts posed a serious threat to the society which was far from stable. Man, more often than not, chooses wrong in preference to right. The catastrophe which was imminent, could have been averted by depriving man of his freedom and making human society as regimented as a beehive or a colony of termites. The aim of Providence, however, was to enhance his freedom and to enlarge its scope, not to extinguish it altogether. The only way in which freedom could be preserved and at the same time the danger of its misuse be minimised, was to make the requisite guidance accessible to man. Nubuwwah fulfilled both conditions. From time to time, God selected a man who could be entrusted with Divine Revelation. Every nation had its own Nabi who, relying not on force and compulsion but on persuasion, summoned his people to the path of righteousness. The guidance was meant for free beings who could accept or reject it as they liked. There are no people amongst whom a Nabi has not been raised by God. There have been many Anbiya, but substantially the same revelation was vouchsafed to them. This is made clear in the Qur’an:

Verily, We have revealed to thee, like as We revealed to Noah and the Anbiya after him, and (as) We revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob and (others from amongst their) tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon; and We gave David the Psalms; and apostles of whom We have related to thee before, and apostles of whom We have not related to thee, and God spoke to Moses (as well) speaking with him (4:163-64).

Many Anbiya are mentioned by name in the Qur’an and the strenuous efforts made by each of them to expound the Revelation and lead his people in its light are described. Noah Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon and Jesus and some others are among those who have been expressly mentioned. The Qur’an explicitly states that there have been many Anbiya who are not mentioned but they deserve to be respected as they too were the bearers of the Divine Revelation. The purpose of the Qur’an is to emphasize the essential unity of the Divine Revelation which was vouchsafed to different men in different ages and countries. Moreover, the Qur’an forbids Muslims to make invidious distinctions between the Anbiya:

The believers say: We make no distinction between any of His messengers (2:285).

The institution of nubuwwah has rendered invaluable service to mankind. As long as the human mind was immature, men needed a personal guide who could explain to them the Divine purpose and who could, by his living example, show to them how they could bring their life into full accord with that purpose. The Anbiya helped forward the progress of moral and intellectual development. For this reason, Nabi after Nabi came to mankind in quick succession. There came a time, however, when the mind of man reached maturity and his intellectual powers were ready to tackle the problems of life. Nubuwwah aimed at this result and when it was accomplished there was no reason for the continuance of this institution. The glorious line of Anbiya came to its natural end with Muhammad (PBUH), the bearer of the last Revelation. Nubuwwah had served its purpose and was no longer necessary. Modern man, with his mature mind, does not need a personal guide: he needs general guidance in the form of ideas and principles which are valid for all time. These ideas and principles have been preserved for all time in the Qur’an, which enshrines the final Revelation:

We have revealed the Book and We verily are its Guardian (15:9).

Besides this, we have in the life and character of Muhammad (PBUH) a perfect example of the ideal human life. The sublime ideas together with the life of Muhammad (PBUH), in which they found concrete expression, are sufficient for the needs of all genuine seekers after truth. We have no justification for expecting a new revelation and no mystic or saint can arrogate nubuwwah to himself. There is no room for compromise on this point. The claim of a mystic, or any other person, that he receives communication from God, cuts at the very root of the belief in the finality of nubuwwah.

The purpose of nubuwwah was to serve and safeguard man’s freedom when it was threatened both from within by his unruly selfish passions and from without by the arbitrary power of rulers and priests. The purpose of the abolition of nubuwwah is to widen the scope of human freedom and to allow man to judge and decide on all questions affecting his life. He should no longer be a slave to custom and tradition. He should now exercise his own power of judgment, work out his way and shape his destiny in the light of his knowledge and with the help of the Divine Guidance enshrined in the Qur’an. Man has now come into his own, as a free and responsible being. He can shape his life as he likes, according to the dictates of his reason guided by Divine Revelation preserved in the Holy Qur’an,

  6. Belief in God without Belief in Revelation

It will be appropriate at this point to say something in defence, of the belief in Divine Revelation. Some great thinkers in the West, while conceding the existence of God, have rejected the view that certain men, chosen by God, were made the recipients of His Revelation. They believe that human reason is capable of giving all the guidance that man needs in this life. Man, they affirm, can solve all the problems in the world, with the help of his reason. He does not need the direct guidance of God. Humanism, Religion without Revelation-which, by the way, is the title of a well-known book by Julian Huxley is their creed. There is nothing new about this creed. The Qur’an tells us that it was prevalent during the time of Muhammad (PBUH). Concerning those who held this view the Qur’an says:

Ask them: Whose is the earth and whoever therein is, ye know? They will say, of God. Say thou; Will ye not then mind ? Ask them: who is the Rabb of the several heavenly bodies and the Rabb of the glorious Throne (of power over the entire universe)? They will say: they are of God. Say thou: will ye then not take care of (not doing anything against His laws)?

Ask them: Who is it in whose hand is the kingdom of all things and who protects (all) but is not protected (by any), if ye but know ? They will say: in God’s. Say thou: how then are ye deluded? Nay, We have brought them the truth (in this Book) and they are liars (when they say that they do believe in God but not in His Book) (23:84-90).

Belief in Divine Revelation is the necessary corollary of belief in God. To deny Revelation is to strike at the root of deen. To permit human reason to usurp the office of Wahi is to let man usurp the place of God. As a matter of fact, it is absurd to believe in God while denying His guidance. Suppose A believes that the universe was created by God, and B affirms that it was the product of natural causes. As these beliefs have no practical consequences, it is immaterial which one is chosen and which one is rejected. But suppose A believes that he ought to behave in such a way so as not to transgress the limits prescribed by Divine Revelation and B believes that he is free to act in any way he likes. In this case, it is obvious that the difference between them is of vital importance to others. A is trustworthy and reliable, while no one will take the risk of trusting B. Without belief in Revelation, belief in God is a matter of academic interest. As the following quotation shows, Ouspensky holds the same view:

If there is no idea of Revelation, there is no religion. And in religion there is always something unknowable by the ordinary mind and ordinary thinking. For this reason, no attempts to create an artificial synthetic religion by intellectual methods have ever led, or can ever lead anywhere.(5)

Belief in God and belief in His Revelation, are therefore, fundamental to deen. Rejection of Revelation impoverishes deen, so that it ceases to be a living force in human life. The Muslims believe that the Qur’an enshrines the final Revelation. They believe that the Qur’an is the only revealed Book which has never been tampered with. It has suffered no excisions or interpolations and the word of God is preserved in it as delivered to Muhammad (PBUH). And this belief of theirs is supported by historical evidence.


  1. Fisher H.A.L.  A History of Europe, Preface, p. 1.
  2. Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion, p. 582.
  3. The verse is wrongly translated as:
  4. God inspired human self (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and what is right for it.Iqbal M., Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, pp. 124-125, Chapter V.
  5. Ouspensky, P.D.  A New Model of the Universe, p. 34.

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Chapter 3 THE SELF OF MAN AND ITS DESTINY Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

  1.  Self and Physical Body

In the previous chapter, we have briefly considered the psychological account of the origin and development of human personality or self. The terms are interchangeable in so far as they refer to the unified and integrated essence of man, and it is immaterial which one is employed. However, the term “self” will be preferred whenever the reference is to the essence of man conceived as an autonomous entity which, though it has developed in a physical matrix, is yet capable of surviving it and continuing its own independent existence. Our main concern, now, will be centred on the nature and destiny of self.

Personality or self is no doubt centred in the physical organism. But there are valid grounds for believing that it is not identical with the body. That man is something more than his physical self, can easily be seen from the fact that whereas his body is continually changing, both in its inner structure as well as in its outward appearance, his self remains unchanged. What, then, is his real self? The answer is, the ego or “I” of whose real nature we know nothing except in so far as it expresses itself in its behaviour or activities which are mediated by the body. Biology tells us that the human body is an organic structure, composed of millions of living cells which are continually changing. The moment a cell passes out of existence, it is replaced by a new one. In technical language, the process of catabolism is counterbalanced by the process of anabolism. Disintegration is quickly followed by reintegration. As a result of this, new cells are being produced and taking the place of older ones. Destruction and construction go side by side. The human body is, therefore, continually changing into a new one, so much so that it does not take more than three years, or seven as some believe, to renew itself completely.

Now, if by “self” we mean the physical self, namely, the body which undergoes a complete change after every period of three or seven years, it necessarily follows that the individual too ceases to exist as often as his body does so. However improbable it may be, if man is equated with his body the conclusion is inescapable that he changes into a new individual every three or seven years. The practical consequences of such a view can be easily imagined. Suppose A lends £ 10 to B. A, being a friend of B, waits patiently for several years, hoping that B will pay back the money as soon as it is convenient for him to do so. When A thinks that he had waited long enough, he demands payment. B, however, tells him that the two individuals between whom the said transaction took place have ceased to exist. A may insist that he remembers the transaction and that B is the same person who borrowed the money, but B may emphatically maintain that he himself is not the person who borrowed the money and so is under no obligation to pay it back. Again, suppose a lady tells her husband one fine morning that the woman he had married ten or twelve years back has now changed into an entirely new woman and, therefore, the marriage contract does not stand and she is no longer his wife. It is obvious that if by “self” we mean the physical self, such absurd conclusions are inescapable. However seriously the scientist may assert that the physical self is transformed in a short period of time and hence we are not responsible for what we did before that period, nobody, not even the scientist himself, can accept this as a right principle of conduct. For, however the body may change, our personal identity is not affected thereby. We continue to be same till the time of our death. The physical self, the body, might change but not the real self, the ego or the “I” which make me what I am. To quote Brightman:

If a person is not a true identical unity through all the changes in his experience, then spiritual development is impossible. Moral growth, for example, rests on the postulate that I am responsible to myself for the past purposes and contracts; yet if I am not the one who entertained those purposes and made those contracts, I experience neither responsibility nor continuous growth.(1)

To this the scientist may retort that science is the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, and truth must be accepted even if it entails unpleasant consequences. He may point out that his interest is in science, not in ethical conduct and social relationships. But is the scientist prepared to admit that, according to his theory, he has changed six or seven times into quite a different individual? Will he disown his entire career and say that it was some other person who went to school and yet another who worked in the laboratory as full fledged scientist a dozen years back? Obviously not. Again, the replacement of the old by the new cells, which results in the complete transformation of the body, is a slow, gradual and orderly process, so much so that we speak of the change as taking place in the same body. Does it not show that there is something which remains constant in the changing body? How are we to account for it? Is it because the dying cells have, somehow, transmitted the physical identity of the body to the new cells? This is certainly not possible. What then is the secret of the identity of the self? The answer, which at the least is not improbable, is that behind the physical self there is a self which is far more real, though far more subtle, which we know as the ego, the “I” or the personality. It is the “I,” or ego, which is at the root of my individuality and in which all change seems to be grounded, for it continues to endure in spite of the changes continually taking place in my mind as well as in my body. Berdyaev has rightly observed that: “Personality is changelessness in change.”(2) All my acts, thoughts, feelings, cognitions and volitions are owned by the ego which enables me to retain my identity in the midst of changes which are transforming my body into something different. Hegel observes: “I have many ideas, a wealth of thoughts in me, and yet I remain, in spite of this variety, one.”(3) In his thought-provoking work On Selfhood and Godhood, Professor A.C. Campbell has devoted a whole chapter to a discussion of the question whether a physical body is essential to the self, and has replied in the negative. “Young children,” says he, “experience organic sensations long before they are aware that they have a body.”(4) He goes on to say, “There seems to be some evidence of pathological conditions in which there is total suspension or organic sensation and in which the patient is self-conscious.” Dr. F.R. Tennant tells us that “when through disease, coenaesthesis is in abeyance, a patient will regard his body as a strange and inimical thing, not belonging to him.”(5) It is obvious, therefore, that the human self is neither identical with the body nor subject to physical laws. The self is independent of the body and remains unchanged throughout the life of the individual. It is the “I,” the ego or my real self, therefore, which makes me take on myself the responsibility of whatever I think, feel or act. As the acts were willed by me, I cannot escape from their consequences, whatever their nature, good or bad. “Without personal identity,” as Bradley said, “responsibility is sheer nonsense.”(6)

     2. Self and Memory

It may be contended, however, that our identity does not depend on the ego, which is only the sum total of our states of consciousness. It is memory which, by linking our experiences to each other, serves as the basis of our self-identity. If memory is taken away, we would lose our sense of identity. The inadequacy of this view can easily be demonstrated. It is true that the self cannot be conceived as existing outside the course of mental phenomena, as the body cannot be said to be something other than the organs of which it is composed. But just as the living body is something more than the sum of its parts, so the self is more than the mental acts taken together. Both the mind and body are wholes and must be regarded as such. To analyse them into parts, as if the parts were real and not the wholes, is to miss their real nature. The self as a whole, possesses a reality of its own. It is the “I” or the self which wills, thinks and feels. It expresses itself in various ways. To affirm the self is to affirm its identity. The point may be easily elucidated. Suppose a man whose hand has been paralysed wants to seize something. He wills to catch it but his hand remains inert. It is obvious that the hand could not have been the willing agent as willing occurs even when the hand has been incapacitated. The willing agent remains although the instrument is usually employed is no longer of any use. Again, the self recalls its past by means of the brain tissues which retain traces of past experiences. If the brain is seriously injured, the self has lost an instrument which was essential for recalling the past. If our radio set is out of order, we cannot listen to the days’ broadcast programme, but we do not believe that the broadcasting has been stopped. Again, suppose I am looking at my image in a mirror. If by chance the mirror is shattered, the image too disappears. However, the person who was reflected in the mirror does not disappear. The medium was destroyed but not that which is mediated. The brain is such a medium on which the self impresses its states. The brain does not secrete memory as some physiologists seem to believe. It is the self which has the power to recall the past, though for this it needs the brain. Bergson’s observations on this point deserve careful consideration. He says:

We understand then why a remembrance cannot be the result of a state of the brain. The state of the brain continues the remembrance, it gives it a hold on the present by the materiality which it confers on it but pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we are in very truth in the domain of spirit.(7)

Dr. Galloway, in the course of an interesting discussion of the problem of immortality, has attempted to answer the question, “Is memory a function of the brain?” As his view has a direct bearing on the question we are considering, it is quoted in full:

It may, however, be objected that memory has its basis in neural traces and so cannot survive dissolution of the body. Certainly we are not entitled to say that memory is purely an affair of the mind, for many mental habits appear to be rooted in the structure of the nervous system. And the failure of memory under pathological conditions, or when in old age degeneration of tissue reaches the association areas of the cortex, is positive evidence of some dependence of memory on cerebral traces or processes. The problem turns on the character and degree of this dependence. Now, neural traces are not the sole, nor even the most important, condition of remembering; for if so, memory would depend directly on repetition. But this is plainly not the case. The truth is that memory depends far more on the presence of meaning in the things remembered; and meaning must be referred for its maintenance in the mind to psychical not to cerebral dispositions. It is, therefore, possible that the soul, which includes within it the psychical dispositions formed during this life, may carry with it the means of preserving a continuity between the present order and a higher order of existence. If a world of meanings can be maintained by the soul despite the physiological changes of the body in a lifetime, it is conceivable it might be maintained through a more radical transformation. At all events a group of memories might remain, sufficient to give the sense of personal continuity.(8)

In a footnote he has put the matter in a clearer light:

For instance it is vastly easier to remember a rational sentence after a single hearing than the same number of nonsense words repeated several times.

Galloway has also cited McDougall in his support. No one who is interested in the subject can afford to disregard Professor Erwin Schrodinger’s illuminating and valuable discussion of the point. It is to be found in his small, but highly important book, What is Life. Summing up his ideas at the end of the book, he writes:

Yet each of us has the undisputable impression that the sum total of his own experience and memory forms a unity, quite distinct from that of any other person. He refers to it as “I”. What is this “I”?

If you analyse it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories) namely the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find what you really mean by “I” is that ground stuff upon which they are collected. You may come to a distant country, lose sight of all your friends, may all but forget them; you acquire new friends, you share life with them as intensely as you ever did with your old ones. Less and less important will become the fact that, while living your new life, you still recollect the old one. “The youth that was I,” you may come to speak of him in the third person, indeed the protagonist of the novel you are reading is probably nearer to your heart, certainly more intensely alive and better known to you. Yet there has been no intermediate break, no death. And even if a skilled hypnotist succeeded in blotting out entirely all your earlier reminiscences, you would not find that he had killed you. In no case is there a loss of personal existence to deplore.

Nor will there ever be.(9)

It seems highly probable, therefore, that bodily changes cannot radically alter the self. It continues to endure even after the limbs have been amputated, nay it should remain even after the death of whole body. Such, in short, is the “I” or ego – changelessness in change – which itself is the source of its identity.

 3. Survival of the Self

The facts cited in the foregoing pages support the view that the Ego or the real self remains unaltered by any changes in the condition of the body, and that it retains its form even after the worst physical injuries. If so, is it not highly probable that the self can withstand even the shock of death? The self’s immense capacity for development would be purposeless if it comes to an abrupt end after a brief span of life. It would be logical to believe that the self continues to exist and develop after death, and empirical evidence, though not conclusive, tends to support the view. At least this would be true for the individual who has not neglected the opportunities for development which this life offers. A self which has been sufficiently strengthened in life will be fit to enter on higher planes of existence. Islam holds the individual responsible for equipping himself for a higher life after death. He can do so by realising the powers that are latent in him. Of course, Islam insists that this can properly be done only in a social environment. In short it is the duty of society to provide opportunities of self-development to its members and it is their duty severally to turn such opportunities to the full account. To the fully developed personality, death opens out a vista of further development. The following excerpt from Ouspensky’s book will serve to clarify this point. Ouspensky has cited Gurdjieff in support of his view:

If a man is changing every minute, if there is nothing in him that can withstand external influences, it means that there is nothing in him that can withstand death. But if he becomes independent of external influences, if there appears in him something that can live by itself; this something may not die. In ordinary circumstances we die every moment.

External influences change and we change with them, i.e., many of our “Is” die. If a man develops in himself a permanent “I” that can survive a change in external conditions, it can survive the death of the physical body.(10)

Professor Campbell, quoted below, writes to the same effect:

There can be no ground for asserting that our self expresses all that it is, in the different forms of self-manifestation disclosed by human experience. The self as an ontological entity, as a spiritual substance, may be, for all we can say to the contrary, a being of far richer potency than is, or even can be, revealed under the conditions of human life, in the guise, that is to say of the “empirical self”.(11)

He goes on to say:

I refer to the mind’s power of retaining within it, in some form, its past experiences, and utilising them, on receipt of appropriate stimuli, in the course of its future experience.(12)

The following quotation from Dixon also bears on the same point:

If in the denial of any renewal of life beyond the grave, we do not virtually deny all life’s present values, I know not where to find a more resolute denial of them.(13)

Let us now turn to the question of the relation of the human self to the Divine Self which is, no doubt, the perfect self. “He alone is the Eternal, the Living and the Self-Subsistent” (The Qur’an, 2:255).

The human self has the capacity to develop itself on the model of the Divine attributes. It then rises higher and higher in the scale of existence. It is a hard task and man should be perpetually on his guard against all that threatens, from within or without, to weaken and emasculate his self. Only the strong self can forge ahead towards the goal of self-realisation. A weak self can easily deviate from the right path. The restrictions which the Qur’an imposes on the individual are not designed to curb his freedom but to strengthen him and to stiffen his resistance to destructive forces, so that he may form a strong character and build up an enduring personality. Men of weak character often make good resolutions but seldom carry them out. A man may resolve to get up early in the morning; but when the time comes, he lacks the will to leave his comfortable bed. Another man may be determined to keep an appointment; but at the last moment his resolve weakens and he fails to turn up. In both cases the men failed because of a fatal weakness in their character. The discipline of the Qur’anic way of life is intended to strengthen the self, so that it may successfully resist all forces which threaten its integrity, and remain steadfast in the pursuit of the good. The Qur’an is explicit on this point:

Verily, those who say: Our Rabb is Allah, and then keep straight on, Malaa’ikah shall descend on them (41:30)

Discipline hardens the ego. Rebuffs and disappointments call forth the best in it. Obstacles spur it on to more vigorous efforts. Such strong personalities can never suffer dissolution. Iqbal has expressed the idea in felicitous language:

Life is like unto a shell and the self is the pearl drop (concretion) therein:

What is the shell worth if it cannot transform the pearl drop into a pearl.

Through self-knowledge, self-control and self-development,

The self can even conquer death. (Darb-e-Kaleem, p. 25).

A weak and undeveloped personality, on the other hand, succumbs to the slightest shock, It is in constant danger of disintegration. A personality, hardened through self-discipline and sustained by a steadfast purposes, remains identical with itself through the vicissitudes of life and emerges refulgent from the shadows of death.

Some of the Divine attributes, mentioned in the Qur’an, are such as can belong only to God. No finite being can acquire them. For example, the Qur’an says of God that “He is the First and the Last” (57:3). Others, such as knowledge, wisdom, power, etc., can be shared by man, though only to some extent, i.e., within human limits. The description of these is at the same time a description of the ideals self:

Verily We have sent down to you a Book which mentions your own eminence (21:10).

Some of these attributes, which are within the reach of man, are fundamental, while others may be said to be of a contingent character. The short chapter of the Qur’an entitled Ikhlaas presents them in a compendious form. We should bear in mind that these attributes appertain to God as the Absolute Self, but, by virtue of possessing a self, man too can acquire them within human limits. A close study of the four verses will be found to be highly rewarding. Let us take the first verse: “Say that He God, is one” (112:1). The word “One” (Ahad) is exceptionally rich in meaning. It connotes unity, uniqueness and wholeness. It implies self-identity, self-consistency and integrity. Nothing from outside can secure a lodgment in it. Its unity is not paralleled anywhere in the universe. Of course, only a strong personality possesses unity of this kind. A weak personality, with its ever-changing attitudes, cannot lay claim to such oneness. Through development the unity of the self is strengthened. It is in the direction of development that all changes take place, but they do not in any way affect its essential nature. In its essence it knows no change. As the Qur’an says:

All that dwells upon the earth is undergoing change, yet still endures the countenance of the Rabb, majestic, splendid (55:26-27).

A man of strong character never deviates from the path he has chosen to follow, and a strong character goes with a strong personality. As Berdyaev says: “A strong personality is an expressed character.”(14) Such a personality really is what it appears to be, for it is self-consistent. As Professor Whitehead remarks:

Truth is the conformation of Appearance to Reality.(15)

Because the self enjoys real and not illusory freedom, it is responsible for all that it does, feels or thinks. It has to bear the consequences of its acts and it has to carry its own burden. The Qur’an is clear on this point:

For every self is that which it has earned, and against it only that which it has worked (2:286).


No self will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor any counterpoise be taken, neither shall they be helped (2:48).

This, in brief, is the Law of Requital. If a man achieves success, it is not because luck favoured him, but because he had acted in the right way. If he fails, he cannot put the blame for it on Fate, for failure is the direct result of his own wrongdoing.

Reverting to the Qur’anic chapter Ikhlaas, the first verse, as has been shown, emphasises the attributes of Ahadiyyah or Oneness. The second verse refers to the Divine attribute of Samadiyyah or self-dependence. The term connotes independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. “Samad” is the being which depends only on its own self and on nothing else, a being which is eternally enduring and absolutely free. God possesses this attribute in the highest degree, but man, with a self of his own, can also acquire it in some measure. He can exercise free choice and can become independent of external circumstances. “Do what ye will,” says the Qur’an (41:40). Again: “Whosoever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him reject” (18:29).

In the entire creation, man alone enjoys real freedom. Freedom is the indispensable condition of moral life. Morality is irrelevant to a being whose actions are completely determined by forces outside itself. Man is capable of taking the initiative. He can freely choose any one of two or more alternative courses of action. He can bend his efforts to the attainment of any goal on which he has set his heart. For these reasons, he responds to the call of duty and engages in moral endeavour. Of course, man does enjoy God-like freedom: his freedom is subjected to various stresses and limitations. Nevertheless, he is free in the sense that his actions are self-determined, that they flow from his rational nature. This is the true interpretation of the freedom man enjoys. Man is responsible for his actions because they reflect his basic motivational pattern and reveal his essential characteristic. Hence he is the subject of moral judgment. The verse, “There is no compulsion in deen (2:256), bears witness to the immense importance that the Qur’an attaches to human freedom. This view of freedom has been admirably expressed by Iqbal:

Thus the element of guidance and directive control in the ego’s activity clearly shows that the ego is a free personal causality. He shares in the life and freedom of the Ultimate Ego who, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego, capable of private initiative, has limited this freedom of His own free will. This freedom of conscious behaviour follows from the view of ego-activity which the Qur’an takes. There are verses which are unmistakably clear on this point:

‘And say: The truth is from your Lord: Let him, then, who will, believe: and let him who will, be an unbeliever’ (18:29).

‘If ye do well to your own behoof will ye do well: and if ye do evil against yourselves will ye do it’ (17:7).(16)

Of course, God alone is absolutely free. But God, exercising His free will, has granted man, the finite self, a measure of freedom. If it implies a restriction on God’s power, it is, as is obvious, a self-imposed restriction, and as such does in no way detract from God’s omnipotence. As a verse in the Qur’an puts it, “God has prescribed for Himself Rahmah (i.e. the responsibility of His creature’s development and growth)” (6:54). It means that Rahmah flows from God’s self. It is not imposed on Him by any external agency. God is Raheem because Rahmah is an essential Divine attribute. We too feel really free when our actions are in full accord with the basic characteristics of our self. When we impose restrictions on our freedom, it is for the sole purpose of turning it to the best account. These restrictions do not detract from our freedom, nor are they derogatory to our status as free agents. Freedom, properly channelised, is the necessary condition of human development, both individual and social. This freedom is the basic postulate of the Qur’anic social order, which will be described later on.

The third verse, “He begetteth no one nor was He begotten,” refers to another important Divine attribute. God, as the Absolute Self, is self-subsistent. The self, qua self, does not come into being through the natural process of procreation. Man, of course, is a living organism and, as such, like other animals, is begotten by his parents and, in his turn, begets children. But this is true only as far as his body is concerned. The body, whether human or animal, is a part of the parent body which, having separated itself, develops into a new organism. From the biological point of view, man is on the same level as the animals. His body is subject to natural laws, and the natural processes of growth, decay, procreation and regeneration occur in it. Man’s self, however, exists and functions on a higher plane. It is not subject to natural laws and is untouched by natural division. It is an indivisible unity and can suffer no processes. It is not a part of the parents’ self, nor can it donate a part of itself to the offspring. It obeys its own inner laws and develops on its own lines. Its activity is creative but not procreative. It creates new qualities and powers which, however, enrich and expand its own nature. Procreation is a bodily function, and creation is the function of the self. The verse we are considering makes it clear that personality is not the product of physical or biological laws which cannot go beyond procreation or reproduction.

The fourth and last verse, “There is none comparable to Him,” refers to another Divine attribute which man, owning a self, can also share. Every self is unique. No self is the exact copy or replica of any other self. In the realm of self, there is no room for duplication. No general laws are applicable to any self, which is a law unto itself. Similarly, a society composed of free individuals is unique. No other kind of society is comparable to it. Man lives by developing and the same is true for human society.

4. Man

Since the entire edifice of deen, as expounded in the Qur’an, is firmly based on the view which it takes of human personality, its account of the creation of man deserves careful study. Significant references to the origin of man are dispersed over the pages of the Qur’an. In the course of evolution, a stage was reached when living creatures began to multiply by means of reproduction. Man too, like the animals, is first conceived in the mother’s womb. The Qur’an puts it in a picturesque way:

Verily We created man from a production of wet earth, then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; then fashioned We the drop into a clot; then fashioned We the bones; then clothed the bones with flesh, and then gave it another creation (23:12-14)

The term “another creation” is specially significant. It implies that at this stage man is born anew and emerges as a responsible and fully self-determining individual. Through this new birth man is elevated to a plane above the animal world. He is now endowed with a “self” and faces the world as an autonomous being. This happens when the Creator has “breathed into him His Ruh” (32:9). Then the malaa’ikah – the forces of nature – are commanded to submit to him and prostrate themselves before him. Man’s dominion over nature is set forth in the symbolical language of the Qur’an:

When Allah said to the malaa’ikha, Lo! I am about to create a man out of mire. And when I have fashioned him and have breathed into him My Ruh, then fall down before him, prostrate (38:71-72)

It is this Ruh of Divine Energy which confers on man the power to choose and act freely. He has now received the inestimable gift of real freedom. In this connection, a passage from Simpson’s The Meaning of Evolution, may aptly be quoted:

To say that man is nothing but an animal is to deny, by implication, that he has essential attributes other than those of all animals…. It is important to realise that the essence of his unique nature lies precisely in those characteristics that are not shared with any other animal. His place in nature and its supreme significance to man are not defined by his animality but his humanity. Man has certain basic diagnostic features which set him off most sharply from any other animal and which have involved other developments not only increasing this sharp distinction but also making it an absolute difference in kind and not only a relative difference of degree.(17)

What, then, is Ruh? The answer is that it is neither intellect, nor psyche, nor spirit, nor soul. It is the human self or personality, an entity unique in the world. The point, being important, must be elucidated further.

Let us take intellect first. Intellect is a faculty of the mind, termed qalb or fu’ad in the Qur’an. We know it through its manifestations – fikr (thought), shu’ur (consciousness), tadabbur (deliberation), and ta’aqqul (intellection). To some extent, animals too possess it. The animal is conscious but man is self-conscious. Self-awareness distinguishes man from other living beings. Besides, human intelligence is far superior to the animal intelligence in its range and capacity. Intellect is the chief instrument for acquiring knowledge. In the Qur’an man is, again and again, exhorted to use his intellect to understand himself and the world. Men who fail to make use of their intellect are said to be worse than cattle. Animals have a sure guide in instinct but man can rely only on his intellect.

The term “psyche,” originally introduced by Freud, is in vogue at present, especially among the psychologists. It is a comprehensive term which denotes all the mental drives and functions, both conscious and unconscious. However, the important question whether the psyche is an entity in its own right or is only a label for the totality of mental processes is still unanswered. The psychologists have not made any definite pronouncement on this point.

The term “spirit” has a long history behind it. It played an important role in the scholastic philosophy of the Medieval Age. The scholastic philosophers held that there were two independent substances in the world, spirit or soul and matter. This naturally led to the theory of dualism. It was believed that spirit and matter had nothing in common; that, in fact, they were opposed to each other. The body, being material, was regarded as an impediment to the soul’s progress. Spirit was the sole concern of religion. The soul could achieve salvation only by subduing and crushing the body. This view inevitably resulted in other-worldliness, asceticism and self-abnegation. All pleasure came to be regarded as evil. Devout men and saints gloried in self-mortification. Men who were interested in this-worldly life were naturally repelled by this extreme view. They tended to react favourably to materialism which would not prevent them from tasting the joys of life and appreciating the beauty of nature. In this way the extreme type of spiritualism was opposed by an equally extreme type of materialism. Modern science, however, has exposed the errors of both spiritualism and materialism. The older materialistic theory is now quite untenable. The older conception of matter, as composed of indivisible and ultimately real atoms, has been totally discarded and the same fate has overtaken the theory of dualism. Modern science has divested matter of the very attributes which formerly were regarded as essential to it, namely, extensity and solidity. We will give a few examples to show how matter is conceived by the thinkers of the modern age. Sir James Jeans defines matter as “bottled-up waves,” and Bertrand Russell as “a system of interrelated events.” Einstein defines it as “condensed thought” and Ouspensky as “a mere condition.” The dualism of spirit and matter has, therefore, no place either in modern science or in modern philosophy. However, the distinction between the functions of the Church and State is still maintained in the West. The Church is concerned only with spiritual matters and has nothing to do with secular affairs. Its sphere of activity is strictly circumscribed. In this way, the dualism of spirit and matter is a built-in part of the modern States in the countries of Western Europe.

Islam, however, has never lent support to the view that spirit and matter are separate and opposed to each other. As a matter of fact, these terms do not occur in the Qur’an, which regards man as a unitary being and not as the combination of two radically different elements. The concept of soul, too, as a spiritual entity inhabiting a material body, does not harmonise with the Qur’anic view that man is one and indivisible. According to the Qur’an, the process of creation was set going by the Divine fiat (amr). What it is, is known only to God. We cannot presume to probe into the transcendental reality. We can only believe that it is one and indivisible, although it discloses itself in an infinity of forms. To conclude, the Ruh is neither spirit nor soul, neither intellect nor mind. It is the transcendental ground of all these.

The Qur’an itself guides us to the true understanding of the Ruh which was breathed into man. After it has secured a lodgment in man and has thereby acquired individuality, The Ruh appears as the nafs (self) of man. The following verses leave no room for doubt on this point:

And the nafs and its perfection. He endowed it with the possibilities both of integration and disruption. He will indeed be successful who develops it. And he will indeed fail who stunteth it (91:7-10).

The self is God’s inestimable gift to man. When man receives it, it is inchoate but endowed with immense potentialities. He is under the moral obligation to actualise its latent powers and develop it to the fullest extent. He who shirks this duty fails to qualify for elevation to a higher plane of existence. He recedes from the Real and draws nearer to the unreal. And who assiduously develops the nafs (self), draws “closer to God” (i.e., realises and manifests godly attributes) and partakes more and more of reality. The distinctive qualities of the nafs are intelligence, foresight, courage, the power to take the initiative and the power to choose and act freely. When these are developed, the nafs appears in all its glory. Thus it is obvious that the self which is the essence of man is progressive. To evolve is in its nature. If it is prevented from developing, it becomes stunted and corrupt. Its powers atrophy and it gravitates to a lower level.

It may be pointed out here that term nafs is used in its original Qur’anic sense. In common parlance it has acquired associations and nuances of meaning which are irrelevant to our purpose. It is necessary to restore its original meaning to the word and use it as equivalent to self. We must bear in mind that the Ruh in not part of God. It is not in God’s nature to have parts. The Ruh is His directive energy, as Iqbal has put it. It is, to put it in a different way, from Him but not of Him. The human self in not a part of the Divine Self. We have already explained that every self is unique and indivisible. The human self, by virtue of participating in the Divine Energy, is capable of cultivating the Divine attributes, but only so far as is possible for a finite being.

5. Hereafter

In the foregoing pages we have adduced many reasons for believing that there is something in man, and this something can only be his self, which transcends the laws of nature. If we concede this point, it follows that the self remains untouched by the processes of decay and decomposition which culminate in the dissolution of the body. The self, therefore, survives death as it had survived the many changes, some even drastic, which the body had undergone in this life. The usual objections to survival after death are based on the fact of physical decomposition. The Qur’an points out that this is not applicable to the self:

And they say: What! When we shall have become bones and decayed particles, shall we then certainly be raised up, being a new creation. Say: By ye stones or iron or some other things which are too hard (to receive life) in your minds (17:49-51).

For the Qur’an life after death is a fact, As regards the question how and by whom man gets a new life after death, the Qur’an answers:

They will say: Who shall bring us back? Say: He who brought you into existence the first time (17:51).

The point is that if the second life appears strange, so should be the first. Life is a mystery and, since it once emerged from not-being into being, it may conceivably do so again. If God has the power to create, He certainly has the power to recreate as well. The Qur’an uses the terms “first make” and “second make” in connection with this life and the life after death. The body enables the self to participate in the spatio-temporal system, but is not essential to it. The body may die, but the self lives.

It will be worthwhile to make a distinction between immortality and survival after death. Whereas every human being is assured of survival after death, immortality is reserved only for those who have attained a high stage of self-development. It is these who are capable of continuing their ascent to higher planes. As they enter heaven (jannah) a new vista of development opens before them. Development continues after death, but only for those who have made a start in this life. If man has seized the opportunities for self-realisation that this life offers, he can climb loftier heights in the hereafter. If not, he finds himself in the state termed jahannam (hell) in the Qur’an, where the next step cannot be taken.

6. Immortality

As we have seen, men who are admitted into heaven (jannah) can continue the process of self-realisation, and what is called immortality is conferred on them.

Therein shall they taste no death except the first death (44:56).

They do not die again but this does not mean that they will live eternally. Immortality is not eternity. The Qur’an says of those who have entered jannah, that they “shall dwell therein, so long as the heaven and the earth shall endure except what Allah shall please – a gift unfailing” (11:108). Eternity may not mean an infinity of temporal points. It may designate a state outside time, a scale of timelessness. It would be wiser to abstain from speculating about things which lie beyond our experience. All that we can say on this point is that God alone is eterna

 7. The God of Life

The Qur’an inspires as fervid faith (conviction) in us that a glorious destiny awaits man and the universe. We believe that the cosmic procession is moving steadily towards a grand goal. Mankind is in the vanguard of this procession. The directive force comes from God. In the case of nature this force acts mostly from outside, while in the case of man, with the emergence of the self, it acts, in the main, from within. It is internalised in man and appears as the urge towards self-realisation. External compulsion is supplanted by the sense of duty. Animals are driven by blind instinct in the right direction. Man has to discover it for himself by using his intelligence and has to follow it freely and voluntarily. He can perceive his goal clearly and can, if he likes, bend his efforts to attain it. It is his duty to act as an intelligent, free and moral being. He must freely choose his goal and he must attain it through his own efforts. The only goal worthy of man, as man, is self-development. It means the full unfolding of the self or the actualisation of all its potentialities. The aim of moral endeavour is to move nearer to this goal. All actions which lead to self-development are good, and immoral actions are those which hamper and impede the process of self-development. This is the criterion by which we can judge the worth of our actions. It can never fail us. This is the criterion which we derive from the Qur’anic view of human life. The entire system of morality set forth in the Qur’an is centred in the human personality. Right and wrong, good and bad are meaningful terms only in relation to the human self. Even political and economic questions can be settled only in the light of their effects on the self. By freedom we mean the individual’s freedom to develop his personality, and subjection implies his inability to do so, for a man may be a member of a politically free society, but he is not free if he has no scope for self-development and self-expression.

There is a significant difference, however, between the way the physical body develops and the manner of self-development. The body grows by receiving substances from outside and incorporating them; in short, by taking. The self, on the other hand, grows by giving of its own abundance to others. The self grows stronger by sharing its knowledge, wisdom and other possessions with others. It is cramped when it keeps its riches to itself. Thus the most rewarding activity in which it can engage is that of giving. Generosity enriches it and niggardliness impoverishes it. We must never lose sight of this truth. The Qur’an leaves no doubt on this point:

He who gives his wealth so that his self may develop (92:18).

Let us see how this principle can be applied in the economic sphere. Even in the most advanced countries of the West the national wealth is not distributed fairly. This has naturally resulted in creating two social classes – the Haves and the Have-nots. The few rich men earn considerably more than they require, while the majority of the people do not earn enough to satisfy their basic needs. The moral fibre of the former becomes loose by luxury and that of the latter by extreme poverty. The causes are different but the result is the same, debasement and corruption of the self. In Western countries two remedies have been proposed – Taxation and Charity. Both have proved to be ineffectual. They are mere palliatives and cannot cure the social malaise. While taxation is opposed and evaded, charity degrades the individual who receives it and undermines his self-respect. In Eastern Europe it is believed that communism can cure the evil. Against this view it may be urged that in a totalitarian society there is little incentive for the individual to put forth the best in him. Initiative and the spirit of enterprise are at a discount in such a society. Besides this, in a collectivised regimented society the individual’s freedom is curbed and hedged round to such an extent that he ceases to be a free autonomous being. Above all, if the concept of life is materialistic, be it in a capitalistic society or communistic, there is no incentive for giving the product of one’s own hard labour for the benefit of others.

For Islam the locus of value is the individual self and not society. Self-development of the individual man is of supreme importance. Everything else must be subordinated to this end. The Qur’an aims at the production of free and good men, and such men spontaneously, and of their own accord, will share their possessions with their fellow beings. A society composed of such men will be free from the evils of luxury in one class and poverty in the other. A powerful incentive to generosity and selfless service of others is provided by the belief in the Hereafter. The man who believes in the Hereafter will naturally attach far greater importance to the values that he can carry over to a higher plane than to the material goods which he will have to leave behind when he dies. Goethe has expressed the idea beautifully thus:

That man is dead even in this life who has no belief in another.(18)

The process of the development of human personality, the Qur’anic economic order and the life hereafter will all be discussed further in subsequent chapters.




  1. E.S. Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion, op, cit., p. 196.
  2. Nicolas Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom, p. 8.
  3. Quoted by W.M. Dixon in The Human Situation, p. 384.
  4. A.C. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, p. 99.
  5. Philosophical Theology, Vol. I, p. 70; cf. Campbell, p. 120.
  6. Dixon, op. cit., p. 377.
  7. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, p. 320.
  8. George Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion, pp. 565-6.
  9. E. Schrodinger, What is Life, pp. 91-2.
  10. P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 101.
  11. Campbell, op. Cit., p. 109.
  12. Ibid., p. 120
  13. Dixon, op. Cit., p. 425.
  14. Berdyaev, op. Cit., p. 47.
  15. A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 309.
  16. M. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, pp. 108-109.
  17. G.G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, pp. 281-4.
  18. Quoted by Dixon, op. Cit., p. 428.

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Chapter 2 THE FUNCTION OF DEEN Islam: A challenge to Religion

Chapter 2


  1.  Deen and Man

We have stated that a careful study of Islam is likely to give us an insight into the nature and function of deen. Before embarking on this study, however, it would be advisable to consider its role in human life. The primary function of deen is the development of human personality. It determines man’s outlook on life and makes life meaningful to him. It aims at the transformation of man’s character by organising his desires into a harmonious system of living. To the extent that it succeeds in this aim, it eliminates the sources of internal conflict and enables man to live at peace with himself and at peace with his environment. Success and happiness are basically the fruits of a genuine personal conviction. But deen has its social side as well. It is concerned with man as he exists in a network of social relationship. It does not isolate man from his social setting; rather, it brings him closer to his fellow-beings. It has a meaning for man as an individual; but it has a far richer meaning for him as a member of a social group. Deen leads man to the realisation that he can develop his potentialities only by co-operating with his fellow men in the attainment of common ends. In this way, it plays a vital part in the development of customs, laws and institutions. It is, therefore, the proper subject of study not only for the psychologist but also for the historian and the sociologist. All are equally bound to take it seriously and are not justified in explaining it away (as in the case of religion) as an illusion or a matter of mere personal concern. The philosopher, too, has the right to examine the validity of deen’s view of Reality and to assess its value as a cohesive force in society. Deen has nothing to fear from an impartial inquiry. It has survived the fiercest onslaughts of science and philosophy so far directed against it.

Iqbal* has rightly observed: “Higher religion(1) … recognized the necessity of (concrete)** experience as its foundation long before Science learnt to do so.”(2) He has also drawn attention to the central position of deen in a synthesis of all the data of human experience.(3)

In this connection it should be noted that the response of deen to Reality is not a partial one. It is not merely cognitive as it is in the case of science and philosophy, nor is it merely emotional as it is in aesthetics. It is a total response involving all the elements in the personality of the individual. Further, it is response of a coherent harmonious personality, a personality organised on the basis of a synthetic principle. In the words of Iqbal, “Religion … is neither mere thought, nor mere feeling, nor mere action; it is an expression of the whole man.”(4) We must not lose sight of this fact if we want to understand the real nature of deen.

Let us pause to consider the implications of this view. If deen is the expression of the whole man, then his achievements whether in the sphere of action or of thought, must somehow be related to his deen or, in other words, to his basic beliefs about his relation to the Ultimate Reality. These beliefs essentially relate to deen. We see then that deen has given the impetus to the noblest enterprises of man. It is generally claimed that a scientific ideology can very well achieve this object. But this is not true, for the simple reason that a scientific or materialistic ideology, by its very nature, cannot satisfy the whole man. It may appeal to his reason or interest but will, certainly, remain unrelated to other elements in his personality, and will in effect lead to the fragmentation of personality itself. Science and art bring satisfaction to the rational and the emotional (aesthetic) sides of human nature respectively. But deen sets out to build up a view of the world which will satisfy all the deepest longings of man. Can deen really accomplish this stupendous task? Some great thinkers of the modern age who confuse deen with religion have posed this question, and stoutly maintain that in cannot do so. They point out  that in the past the fruits of religion have been not peace and harmony but strife and discord. Cassirer’s criticism of religion deserves to be quoted in full:

Religion remains a riddle not only in a theoretical but also in an ethical sense. It is fraught with theoretical antinomies and with ethical contradictions. It promises us a communion with nature, with men, with supernatural powers and the gods themselves. Yet its effect is the very opposite. In its concrete appearance, it becomes the source of the most profound dissensions and fanatic struggles among men. Religion claims to be in possession of an absolute truth, but its history is a history of errors and heresies. It gives us the promise and prospect of a transcendent world, far beyond the limit of our human experience – and it remains human, all too human.(5)

It is certainly a devastating criticism, and as it has been made by a leading thinker of the present age it deserves our serious consideration. To examine it, point by point, will take us far afield. We can only indicate the general line our defence of deen, as distinguished from religion, should take. The difficulty with Professor Cassirer is, as is the case with most of the critics of religion, that he has not studied deen as such but some particular religions, and those too which were either man-made or the revealed ones, though true in their origin, were subsequently vitiated by human interpolations. He would but have reached a different conclusion if he had studied deen. A true religion, if at all deen is styled so, is not a riddle; it rather solves so many riddles of man and the universe. There are no antinomies in a true religion. On the other hand, it reconciles contradictions in life and harmonises the opposites in human behaviour. It is true that religion has bred strife in the past in human society and that the religious communities have been torn by dissensions. But that is the result of the imperfect vision of truth entertained by each contending group. Deen, on the other hand, breeds humility and modesty, not arrogance and presumption. Men have certainly fought among themselves in the name of religion. Their motives were political or economic, masquerading as religious. But the man believing in deen is unwilling to impose his views on others. Finally, deen involves the belief in a transcendent world but it is wrong to say that this transcendent world is separate and remote from and unconnected with the world of human experience. The transcendent world of deen is only an aspect of the same Reality of which the world of the senses is another aspect. In fact, they interpenetrate each other and belong to the same Supreme Reality. Deen teaches us that the sensible world is an abstraction from Reality and that we should adjust ourselves to the whole concrete Reality and not to one of its aspects. We agree with Professor Cassirer that “religion” (deen, as we call it) is “human, all too human.” Its function is to regulate human life in such a way that the individual develops his personality and becomes a useful member of society. In order to attain this objective, it gives what may be termed permanent values, which no other source of knowledge can provide. It exhorts man to conquer the forces of nature, since the position it assigns to him in the universe is next to God, and to utilise the power so acquired for the development of the whole of humanity. It shows him the way to rise above animal level and to live the life of Man. It is possible only if he leads his life in conformity with permanent values. There would be no permanent values if there were no deen, and if there were no permanent values mankind will be no better than a herd of beasts. This is the real value and place of deen in human life and activity which has unfortunately escaped the notice of Professor Cassirer.

  1.  The Self

So far we have been concerned with the Ultimate Reality with its infinity of aspects. One of these aspects is the spatio-temporal world of our experience. Now, we can turn our attention to the human self which seeks a meaningful relationship with Reality. The Real, in relation to the human self, is God, and the self’s attitude to the Real is deen. The self is strengthened and enriched through permanent values which are the various attributes of the Real Self called God.

What is the nature of the human self and what is its place in the scheme of the universe? We will, first, state and critically examine the answers which modern science and philosophy have supplied to these questions. In ancient and mediaeval philosophy the self was synonymous with the soul, and the soul was believed to be an indestructible substance which existed before its temporary conjunction with the material body and which survives the dissolution of the body. The notion of the soul was taken over from primitive thought and was refined and elaborated by philosophers. Aristotle was the only great philosopher who rejected this view and propounded a theory more in consonance with natural science. He regarded the soul as the entelechy of the body, and as it was the form of the body, it was also inseparable from it. The soul was thus placed squarely in the system of natural phenomena. However, for centuries after Aristotle, the older view of an independent and supernatural soul was unquestionably accepted by both scientists and philosophers. It was challenged only when modern science was well under way.

In the eighteenth century, the term “self” came into vogue. It had the advantage of being closer to nature than the term “soul” which had a supernaturalistic flavour. The self was regarded as the subject of experience. The unity of consciousness, unique in the world, became intelligible only in the light of self which owned and held together the various sensations, feelings and ideas which compose consciousness. It was regarded as free and not subject to natural laws. Moreover, it was believed that the self remained unchanged and identical with itself throughout the life-span of the individual. However, the line of thought which began with Locke and culminated in the philosophy of Hume rendered this conception of the self wholly unacceptable to English thinkers. Locke conceived the human mind as a blank tablet which passively received impressions from the outside world. The contents of the mind were wholly derived from the external world; it did not itself produce or create anything. It merely received and stored impressions from external objects and forces. This view totally denies any activity to the mind. Locke held that any idea in the mind which could not be traced to its source in an impression was merely spurious. Berkeley applied this test to the idea of self and reached the conclusion that it was not a valid idea. Nevertheless, he believed that the flow of ideas was orderly and lawful as these existed in the mind of God and were owned by Him.

Hume delivered the coup de grace to the popular belief in an independent self. He carried out a penetrating analysis of the mind and found not a shred of evidence for its existence. He affirmed that whenever he looked into his mind he came across a sensation, an image or a feeling, but not the self to which they are supposed to belong. The mind, according to him, is merely a succession of ideas which are related to each other externally by virtue of existing in the same or successive states of consciousness. Being a thoroughgoing empiricist, he could not accept an idea which did not correspond to an actual fact of consciousness. He believed that orderliness and coherence in the contents of the mind could be fully explained in terms of the principles of association. Thereafter, the English empirical thinkers dispensed with the concept of self altogether.

Kant agreed that the self or ego was not a fact of experience. Nevertheless, he believed in a transcendental ego which was the ground of experience. The idealistic philosophers, therefore, continued to speculate about the transcendental self and its relation to experience.

The psychologists, with their naturalistic outlook, found the concept of a transcendental self as of no use to them. They confined themselves to the study of the facts of experience. However, as they found that the contents of the mind were not disconnected but centred round an “I” or ego, they developed the concept of the empirical self. They set themselves to solve the problems of the emergence of the empirical self and the changes it undergoes in the course of mental development. However, as psychology attained the status of a full-fledged science, even the concept of an empirical self was discarded as being associated with ideas of permanence and stability.

In modern psychology the concept of personality has supplanted the older concept of self. The psychologist now studies the origin of personality and the process of its development as well as the process of its disintegration in abnormal cases. Personality is conceived not as an entity but as the form or pattern which the raw material of the mind assumes when it is organised. The organisation of the instinctive urges, tendencies and capacities which constitute the biological equipment of the individual proceeds apace during the formative years of life. According to the view which is most widely held, the ground plan of personality is laid during the first five years of life. Two factors, the physiological and the social, determine the farther course of personality development. The physiologists hold that the hormones secreted by the endocrine glands play a decisive role in the growth and normal functioning of personality. Social psychologists, on the other hand, tend to attach greater importance to the social milieu in which the human child grows up. Personality, they believe, emerges through the process of socialisation. The child internalises the group code and the social norms which immediately begin to regulate his instinctive urges and motives. The group also assigns to him a particular role, and the child develops the capacities and gives free scope to the tendencies which he needs for playing the role successfully.

Freud has constructed a theory of the origin of personality which, though not universally accepted, is generally regarded as a valuable contribution to this field of investigation. He attached great importance to home influences for personality. His theory throws light on why man clings so tenaciously to his moral code even when it is detrimental to his interests and even when his reason does not approve of it. It is because the moral code does not enter the child’s mind by way of his intellect, which is still immature, but is received by and takes root in the emotional part of his nature. The child loves both his father and mother – but in different ways. His love for the mother is of the possessive kind. He wants the mother to be always with him, to minister to his needs as soon as they arise. This love is also libidinal or has an element of sexuality in it. The mother is the individual’s first love object. The child’s love for the father, on the other hand, is ambivalent, or has an ingredient of hostility in it. The child feels the father to be an obstacle in the gratification of his wishes and considers him as his rival for the mother’s love. He naturally takes up a hostile attitude to the father. However, he soon finds that this hatred of his father draws upon him strong social disapproval. The contradictory impulses of love and hatred directed towards the same person lead to a severe conflict in the child’s mind, which he is incapable of resolving himself rationally. He resolves it by repressing his hostility to the father. The repressed impulse and the ideas associated with it form the Oedipus complex. The father’s image and the moral code, of which the father was the chief exponent, sink into the child’s unconscious and constitute the super-ego or, in ordinary language, the conscience. As the child, actuated by fear, unquestioningly had obeyed the father, so he now has no choice but to obey the imperatives of the super-ego which, he feels, have their source outside himself. His attitude to his father is transferred to the super-ego which is based on the repressed image of the father. This, according to Freud, is the secret of the powerful influence that the conscience exerts on the mind of the individual.

Sociologists maintain that human personality takes root in a social environment and is shaped by social forces. According to this point of view, the individual plays a negligible role in his own development. He remains passive while society moulds him into the form which happens to enjoy social approval at the moment. The inadequacy of this view is obvious, for we see it happening before our eyes that two children, brought up in the same social environment, develop different types of personality. If the sociologists were right, the members of a particular social group would be indistinguishable from each other in respect of personality. As compared to the sociologists’ view, the psychologists’ view is more in agreement with observed facts. According to this view, personality develops as the result of the reactions of the individual himself. The important thing for personality is not the social influence to which the individual is exposed, but the way in which he reacts to it. Man, therefore, does not passively receive but actively acquires personality. The biological factor operating in man is of crucial importance for personality development. However, it will not do to disregard the social factor altogether. Man has, perforce, to accommodate himself to the demands of the group on which he is dependent and which provides him with security and the necessities of life. According to the psychological theory, which does justice to both factors, personality is the product of the interaction between the hereditary constitution of man and his social milieu.

Science aims not merely at knowledge but at precise knowledge. Precision is possible only when the subject matter is susceptible of measurement and when the technique of measurement has been perfected. For a long time it was believed that quantitative methods could not be applied to so elusive and imponderable a phenomenon as personality. We cannot deny the tribute of praise to the psychologists who, with commendable patience, hard work and ingenuity, have tried to solve this difficult problem. They first analysed personality into traits and then discovered that each trait had a certain dimension. The next step was to devise and perfect the technique of accurately measuring each trait. By combining the results of measurement we get an overall picture of personality or personality profile, as it is termed. Rorschach, Thurstone, Likert and Goddard have achieved remarkable success in this field. The modern psychologist now has a repertoire of special techniques for measuring each of the basic traits of human personality.

However, although the application of scientific methods to the study of personality has yielded a rich harvest of results, most of these have little bearing on the questions which loom large in religion. What is it in man which impels him to embark on the perilous and seemingly desperate enterprise of coming to terms with the Ultimate Reality? Why and how does he hope to fulfil himself by establishing a close and intimate contact with God?

Let us first see how far psychology and philosophy can help us to answer these questions. When we question the psychologist on the point, he refers us to the psychological definition of personality. Unfortunately, there is no definition which is accepted by all the major psychologists of the present age. Personality has been defined as the total quality of the individual’s behaviour. This definition brings out both the unity and complexity of personality. Personality is inclusive, so that no important motive, tendency or capacity remains outside it, and yet it has a unity which is not paralleled anywhere else in nature. For our present purpose it will suffice to state one more definition. Personality is the integration of the individual’s measurable characteristics and motivational undercurrents. This process begins in early childhood and proceeds, at first slowly and then at an accelerated pace, during adolescence until the emergence of the mature personality of the adult. Thereafter too, personality continues to undergo at least some changes, though slight, throughout the life of the individual. With senility, or through disease or traumatic experiences, a process in the reverse direction may set in. The process of disintegration may lead to the splitting or even fragmentation of personality. Cases of dual and multiple personality have been observed and intensively studied by psychiatrists; therapeutic techniques have also been devised for reintegrating the split personality.

We now see clearly that there is nothing substantial about personality as it is conceived by the psychologist. It is merely a structural form which mental elements may take on or discard.

Turning to the philosophers, we find that the Existentialists refuse to believe in any transcendental entity. They refuse to take a single step beyond the world of experience. For them too, the human self does not partake of Reality.

The Logical Positivists promptly reject any concept which cannot be traced back to a fact of experience. Their vision too does not extend beyond the horizon of experience. Whatever is not an experiential fact they dismiss as non-existent.

At this point, is natural to ask whether deen can get along with the concept of personality or of empirical self. Obviously it cannot. It can have no use for the ephemeral self of the psychologist or Logical Positivist. It needs something real which can enter into a meaningful transaction with the ultimately Real. It needs self which exists in mental phenomena and is also their underlying ground. Deeni activity is the expression of the reality in man and it is directed to the Real in the universe. The concept of personality may be scientifically sound, but somehow it leaves us dissatisfied. We feel that the object we pursued has eluded us and what we have grasped is a mere shadow. We suspect that scant attention has been paid to the depth factors in human life. The psychologist works from the surface of the mind downwards, and often fails to plumb the depths of the human mind.

At a later point in our discussion we will examine the Qur’anic concept of the self. Here let us pause to consider the effect of the scientific view of the self on the life of the modern man. The modern man lives at as superficial level. He pursues petty and selfish ends. No wonder that he is discontented and unhappy. His deepest cravings are left unsatisfied. Thus he is in conflict both with himself and with his fellow beings. In this connection, Iqbal’s remarks deserve to be quoted in full:

Thus, wholly overshadowed by the results of this intellectual activity, the modern man has ceased to live soulfully, i.e. from within. In the domain of thought he is living in an open conflict with himself; and in the domain of economic and political life he is living in open conflict with others. He finds himself unable to control his ruthless egoism and his infinite gold hunger which is gradually killing all higher strivings in him and bringing him but life weariness. Absorbed in the fact, that is to say, the optically present source of sensation, he is entirely cut off from the unplumbed depths of his own being.(6)

Modern man is certainly a prey to the two types of conflict which Iqbal has mentioned. For that matter, man may always have suffered from such a conflict. Modern civilisation, however, seems to have accentuated it. Nobody can deny that conflict is an active source of misery and unhappiness. Is mental conflict due to extraneous factors or to those which are inherent in the mind? Iqbal, through long meditation on the problems of life, was admirably fitted to pronounce a balanced judgment on this issue. The passage quoted above makes it clear that he blames conflict on modern civilisation which puts a premium on the selfish side of man and provides satisfaction for only a segment of the self instead of for the whole of it. This view deserves serious consideration. To judge the question in all its aspects, however, we cannot disregard the views of two psychologists who have made a solid contribution in this field.

The first psychologist who explored the depths of the human mind was Freud. On the basis of extensive clinical work, he advanced a theory which illumined many points which hitherto had remained obscure. He preferred the term Psyche, as it had no metaphysical implications. The Psyche, he believed, is the seat of a number of instinctive drives, each of which blindly strives to abolish or reduce the tension which accompanies it. Each of these drives is invested with a fund of psychical energy. This psychical energy, as it is expended in activities directed to the attainment of relief or pleasure, is termed the libido. Consciousness originates on the surface of the Psyche, which is also the surface of the organism, as it receives the impact of the environmental forces. As consciousness is in direct contact with the environment, it assumes the role of mediator between the interior of the Psyche and the environment. The conscious personality puts a curb on the instinctive drives and compels them to defer satisfaction to a suitable time. The formation of the Oedipus complex gives rise to the super-ego, which is the third sub-system of the Psyche. The super-ego, as it embodies the group code and group ideals, pursues ends which have social approval. The psyche has three   components – the Id (the instinctual drives of Psyche which are impersonal), the ego and the super-ego.

The libido finds its typical expression in the sexual activity of the adult. It can, therefore, be regarded as sex energy. For this reason, Freud was, rather unfairly, accused of being a pansexualist.

The ego and super-ego possess no libidinal energy at the beginning. But libido itself is highly transferable. It can be detached from the impulse which owns it and can be transferred to another which society approves of. This process is called sublimation. The ego suppresses the libidinal urges and diverts the energy thus released into socially approved channels. Civilisation is built up on the repression of the sex drive. The sexual impulses, however, cannot be extinguished. In this way arises a never-ending conflict between the demands of the libido and the demands of civilised society. Civilisation, however, rests on insecure ground. The repressed sex urge may erupt any time and bring down its imposing structure of civilisation. Internal conflict or conflict in the mind of man is the price we have to pay for civilisation. This conflict is accentuated with every increase in the complexity of social organisation. However, this is not the whole story. Freud believes that as a living organism man has inherited a deeper and more fundamental conflict. He defines instinct as the primitive tendency to revert to the previous state of existence and the former level of functioning. A living organism is constantly in an unstable condition. With the first stirrings of life in the erstwhile inanimate mass of matter, it felt the imperative urge to revert to the previous state of stability and lifelessness. Freud believes that the death urge lies at the root of our being. Death promises the final release from tension which is inseparable from life. The longing for death is the deepest longing in the Psyche. We are reminded of Buddha’s view of life and his longing for Nirvana. Freud may have been influenced by Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy, as, according to him, we are called upon to say Nay to life. Consciously we may be aiming at and striving for self-development, but unconsciously we are moving towards the goal of self-annihilation. Which of the three alternatives open to us should we choose – acceptance, rejection or non-committal attitude? It may be pointed out that man naturally shrinks back from the prospect of extinction, that he passionately longs for immortality and that he tenaciously clings to beliefs which are related to the continuation of life beyond death. We may also note that eschatology forms an essential part of every religion the world over, with the solitary exception of Buddhism. The highest flights of poetic imagination have often been inspired by the hope that death is not the end of life but a transition to a higher state of life.

We may briefly comment on Freud’s treatment of religion. For him religion is an illusion which man has created to obtain solace and comfort in a world which is full of misery and affliction. Man’s strongest desires are frustrated and their energy is dammed up. It finds an outlet in imaginative activity which creates fantasies. Those repressed desires which are denied gratification in the real world find it on the ideal plane. The Imago, or the image of the father which lies buried deep in the unconscious, is projected on to the cosmos as God. Dr. William Brown, himself a psychoanalyst, has taken strong exception to this view. On the basis of his clinical work he affirms that a complex usually disappears when the patient is psychoanalysed. Religion, however, does not disappear, but may even be strengthened in the mind of the patient who has been psychoanalysed.

We may consider the views of another major psychologist, Carl Jung. Let us see what light he throws on the causes of inter-personal and intra-personal conflicts. His theory of personality is, in some ways, more profound than the psychoanalytic theory. In his view, the human personality is a complex system which comprises a number of sub-systems. Conflict may arise between any one of these and others. Jung’s theory of personality is highly complex and intricate, but it is not necessary for us to consider it in detail. We will confine ourselves to that part of it which is relevant to our immediate purpose. Jung’s observations on the chief source of discontent in the present age deserve careful consideration: these are that the opposing trends in the several systems are likely to clash with one another. The conscious desire may be in opposition to the unconscious.

A man may consciously desire wealth and may devote himself to making money. But his unconscious may harbour the wish to become an artist. Such a man, even if he becomes a millionaire, remains unhappy because the unconscious wish is frustrated. The remedy for conflict lies in personality itself. It possesses a transcendent function. This function is endowed with the capacity to unite the opposing trends of the several systems within and to work towards an ideal goal of perfect wholeness (selfhood).

Jung’s conception of the symbol is of particular significance for religion, as religious truths are generally expressed in symbolical language. Jung affirms that a symbol has two aspects – retrospective and prospective. In its former aspect, the symbol expresses the stored-up racial wisdom. In its prospective aspect it represents a level of development that is far ahead of man’s present status. Man’s destiny, the highest evolution of the Psyche, is marked out for him by symbols. We thus see that in religion symbols represent higher levels of development.

Another view of Jung has a direct bearing on religion. He believes that a fundamental urge in man leads him to seek unification with the universe. He passionately desires to be at one with it. The desire to achieve unification with Reality must be satisfied if man is to win peace and happiness. But because the condition of life today frustrate this desire, the modern man feels discontented and unhappy, although he does not know the reason for this state of his mind.

 III. The Qur’anic Concept of the Self

We have now the proper background for grasping, judging and appreciating the Qur’anic concept of the self. We have deliberately chosen the older term “self” in preference to the terms “personality,” “psyche” and “empirical self” which are current in modern psychology and philosophy. The reasons for this choice may be stated here briefly. The term “self” is in closer correspondence with the Qur’anic term “nafs,” than any of the terms which have come into vogue recently. Secondly, each of these terms suggests an ephemeral phenomenon which appears at a certain point of time, and after a short period vanishes into the thin air, leaving behind it no trace of its existence. Such a phenomenon cannot enjoy the status of a moral agent or a responsible being. What it is and what it achieves are of no significance either for itself or for the world. It is like the flame of a candle which shines for a moment and then is quickly swallowed up by the surrounding darkness. Finally, being unreal itself, it cannot enter into a meaningful relationship and co-operation with the Real. The characterisation of the self, which we find in the Qur’an, will  enable us to form an adequate idea of the self and a just estimate of its capabilities.

  1. The self partakes of Reality and consequently enjoys permanence and stability. It retains its identity throughout its career. The trials which it undergoes and the influences to which it is exposed change it without transforming it into something different from itself. It starts its career in an undeveloped form but equipped with immense potentialities. It may or may not actualise these potentialities but it never ceases to be itself. It is not a passive material which is moulded by external forces; it is essentially active and dynamic. Its typical activity is dini activity in the highest sense of the term, viz., the development and actualising of its basic characteristics, and thereby “drawing closer” to the Most perfect Self – God – whose attributes serve as an objective standard for the human self, and thus tasting the joy of proximity to Him. Death does not terminate the activity of the self; it is but an episode in its career.
  2. Further, the self, as conceived in the Qur’an is free. Freedom is an inalienable property of the self. Although it operates in the sphere of nature, its activity flows from its own nature and is not determined by natural causes. As Dr. Rhine, in his book, New World of the Mind, aptly remarks: “There is something operative in man that transcends the laws of matter.”

It is because the self is free that it functions as a moral agent. Duties and obligations have no meaning for a being which is completely determined. If the self were not free, it would be insensitive to the demands of “ought” and would respond only the demands of “must.” Its sense of responsibility springs from its sense of freedom; it is capable of leading a moral life only because it is free. This view implies that the self has a real choice of action. It can choose any one of the alternative courses of action open to it, and responsibility for its choice rests squarely on it.

Of course, the self does not enjoy absolute and unlimited freedom. Its freedom is circumscribed by the conditions under which it lives. The world of fact checks and restrains its activities in various ways and in various degrees. The self chafes under these restraints. It flourishes only in an atmosphere of freedom. In a highly regimented society its sphere of action may be subjected to increasing shrinkage. Such a society discourages all kinds of self-expression and curbs liberty of action. Under these conditions, the self begins to languish. It can regain its vitality only by regaining its freedom. The self burgeons, blossoms and fructifies in lofty thoughts  and noble actions only in an atmosphere of freedom. Freedom is in the essence of the self and cannot be extinguished under external compulsion. The self, however, feels cramped and frustrated in a regimented and totalitarian society, or an “other-directed conformism,” or system of religion. The State, whose power has increased enormously in recent times, poses a serious threat to the integrity of the self. It has been steadily and relentlessly encroaching on the domain of the self. The individual’s freedom has been seriously curtailed by the modern State, armed as it is with scientific techniques of suggestion, propaganda and brain washing. The government can now influence the individual’s mind to a degree which was undreamt of in the past. It can control not only man’s overt actions but his inner thoughts as well. In these circumstances, the only citadel in which freedom can take refuge is deen. It ensures complete freedom for self within the framework of permanent values. Deen should, therefore, be defended at any cost, as the region where man can still enjoy freedom and function as a self and not merely as a cog in a machine.

  1. Again, the self as viewed by the Qur’an is not static. It possesses infinite capacity for development. With its own efforts (of course on the lines demarcated by permanent values), it rises to higher and higher planes of existence. The Qur’an says, “Verily We will raise you to higher and higher levels” (84:19). The self fulfils itself by developing and actualising its potentialities. With death, man does not cease to exist but passes on to a higher plane of existence. The Qur’an has prescribed deen, or the way of life, which fits man for the higher level. When man is elevated to the higher level, he feels as if the gate of Heaven had been thrown open to him. On the other hand, when he falls to a lower level he feels that he has been flung into Hell.

The Qur’an opens out a vast vista of development to man. No term has been set to his progress. Man’s destiny is marked out for him in symbols. To understand the symbols, however, we need true insight. When we can catch a glimpse of the higher level, then only does the symbol which represents it become intelligible. It is futile to discuss a symbol when we have no inkling of the stage to which it refers. The Qur’an when studied intelligently, provides us with the insight to understand the true meanings of these symbols.

  1. The self has the capacity for value-experience. It is sensitive to the higher qualities of its experience and appreciates their value. Value-experience is non-existent at the sub-human level. It becomes possible only when the self has emerged. Value- experience may be of a low or high order. The higher in the scale an experience is, the more satisfying it is found to be. When the self is fit to rise to a higher plane, it craves for a value-experience higher than that with which it had been content hitherto. An experience of high value enriches and elevates the self.
  2. The self develops mainly through its own efforts. It rises or falls through its moral or immoral actions. Says the Qur’an: “The self (nafs) owns only that which it earns” (74:38) and it changes through what it assimilates, good or bad. The self is subject to the law of requital. Its a’maal-ul-hasanah enhance its worth and a’maal-us-sayyi’ah degrade it. God never does wrong to the self. The Qur’an is explicit on this point. If the self is degraded, it is its own doing. External forces cannot touch the self and God never deals with it unjustly. So the self is affected by nothing except the results of its own actions. Suffering is the fruit of a’maal-us-sayyi’ah (mis-deeds).
  3. Finally, the self partakes of Reality and mirrors the Divine attributes. “I breathed My Ruh – Divine Energy – into him (man),” says the Qur’an (15:29). The Nabi said, “Cultivate in yourselves those qualities which reflect the Divine attributes.” By cultivating those qualities, the self develops and draws, so to say, closer to God. Through a’maal-us-sayyi’ah, it gets further away from God and Reality. A’maal-ul-hasanah (good deeds), as has already been observed, strengthen the self and a’maal-us-sayyi’ah weaken it. The distance between God and the human self is increased by the latter and is decreased by the former which cultivate Divine qualities. This is the teaching of the Qur’an. Moreover, the self becomes more and more real as it develops into itself the attributes of God, and more and more unreal as it recedes from Him. The Divine attributes serve as an objective model after which man can strive to fashion himself.


  1. God and Man


The self can enter into meaningful relationship only with other selves, and for realising itself it has to depend upon the help, sympathy and co-operation of other beings which have essentially the same nature as its own. The self, therefore, seeks out other selves and prospers in their company. It yearns to be in the midst of beings with whom it can communicate and in whose aspirations and activities it can participate. For this reason man nowhere leads a solitary life, but is everywhere found to be a member of a social group. Only in society can man enjoy mental health and function efficiently.

But, above all things, the self longs for co-operation, i.e., being a co-worker, with the Supreme Self or God. Such co-operation sustains and vivifies it. Without this, the self droops, languishes and loses the zest for life and activity. It is happy only when it is engaged in purposive activity, and happiest when it has the feeling of participation in the cosmic purpose. A compelling urge in the self impels it to seek the meaning of life and the world. The physical world, on the face of it, is purposeless and meaningless. Eiman makes life and the world meaningful. For this reason the self clings passionately and tenaciously to the belief in the Supreme Being, the most perfect and ideal Self.

The idea of God that the Qur’an presents is both simple and sublime. God is the creative force which is at work throughout the universe. God manifests Himself in the visible world of nature. The Qur’an says, “Whithersoever you turn, you look at the countenance of God” (2:115). The Qur’an calls upon us to reflect and ponder over the grand natural phenomena – the earth and sky, wind and rain, sun, moon and stars. All nature reflects the beauty and glory of God. Special attention is drawn to God’s attribute of Rububiyyah, according to which He sustains and fosters every being, and thus the lowliest organism develops and attains maturity and relative perfection. Because God controls and governs the world, the world process is not purposeless and meaningless. God guides and directs the cosmic process to a grand destiny, In human history a Divine Plan is being worked out, slowly but surely, and a splendid destiny awaits man. In the Qur’an, God is presented as both Immanent and Transcendent. He works in the world as a creative urge and also exists outside it as its ground. He manifests Himself in nature and yet transcends it. He is eternal and yet in the changing world every day a new phase of His glory is presented to our view (55:29).

The Qur’an sheds new light on the relation between man and God. It is one of partnership, although one of the partners is immeasurably higher than the other. The wide gulf that separates man from God is, however, not an insuperable obstacle to fruitful co-operation between them. Man is endowed with a self, and we have seen that a self can co-operate only with another self. By virtue of possessing a self, man can, in his humble capacity, work together with God in the carrying out of the Divine Plan. Man has a stake in the future of the world and as a free self has the capacity to determine, however slightly, what that future is to be. It gives man a new sense of dignity to feel that he is actively contributing to the success of the Divine Plan. The Qur’an earnestly appeals to man to work with God in bringing about a world in which justice and goodness are not merely ideas but realities. He can and should contribute to the sum total of goodness in the universe. Man’s acquisitive instincts make him selfish and greedy, and bring him into conflict with his fellow beings. As such he cannot fit into the Divine scheme. However, by encouraging and fostering his creative instincts, which enable him to create values, he will be able to work in harmony with the moral order of the universe and will move steadily towards the goal of full self-realisation and perfection. At the same time, he will be enriching the world with values and making it a fit abode for men, who are both free and good. He will be taking his modest share in accomplishing the Divine purpose. The Qur’an calls upon man to co-operate with other men in the pursuit of the good. “Help one another in birr  and  taqwa,” says the Qur’an (5:2).

Evolution proceeded at an extremely slow pace in the past ages, and, often, a million years passed before a higher quality emerged in the animal world. With the emergence of a free conscious self, the prospect is much brighter. When free men, under the guidance of God, are participating in the world process and are deliberately furthering it, the pace of evolution is sure to be accelerated. By following the right path, which the Qur’an has shown us clearly, we can develop all our latent potentialities and march forward to the ultimate goal of perfection.

As man owns a self, he has a natural affinity with God, the Absolute Self. This affinity confers on him the right and lays on him the duty of working in harmony with the will and purpose of God. By working in this way man not only realises himself but also gives an impetus to the progress of human society.

The way in which the Absolute Self manifests its attributes in the universe evokes feelings of awe, reverence and admiration in man. As man naturally imitates what he admires, he strives to develop himself and be as like God as is possible for a finite being to be. God serves as a model and also as an objective standard with which man can compare himself and judge his progress in self-realisation. Man needs God as a coworker and as an ideal.

  1.  Religion or “Deen”

As already explained in the Introduction, the Qur’anic term for religion is “deen.” Deen however, is not merely a synonym for religion. Deen is a broader and deeper concept than religion as it is commonly understood. Religion usually means a set of dogmas, an elaborate ritual and a host of trivial practices. Ordinary activities of life are hedged in by a number of rules and taboos. Simple acts such as eating and marrying are surrounded by a complex ceremonial. Man’s conduct in everyday life is regulated in the minutest detail. Deen, as presented in the Qur’an is not a matter of ritual or ceremonial. It is concerned with the broad aim of life and the programme of action by which that aim can be attained. Deen gives full scope to man’s initiative and discretion. It is meant for a free and intelligent person, a person who has the courage to think, judge and act for himself. Deen offers broad principles which give guidance to man in the adventure of life and which enable him to attain the goal of self-realisation and social welfare. These principles, however, are not meant to be followed blindly. They are to be applied with intelligence and forethought. Iqbal, who has grasped the essence of deen, remarks  that it enunciates “basic principles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis.”(7) Hard and fast rules, therefore, have no place in deen. Deen has fully served its purpose if it has delineated the ideal of life in bold lines, has explicated the principles governing its pursuit and has inspired in man zeal and devotion for the ideal. The deen of Islam does not lay on man a heavy burden of rules and regulations. It merely gives him guidance where he needs it and provides him with permanent values. Man should seek the aid of deen in obtaining inspiration and vision; he should look elsewhere if he is interested only in the performance of ritual and ceremonial. Looked at from this angle, deen is not an opiate, as the Marxians contend, but a stimulant and a spur to action. Deen does not induce in us contentment with things as they are; it spurs us on the efforts directed to the establishment of a better order of society. On the other hand, religion inculcates a passive resignation and complete submission to authority, however oppressive and unjust it may be. At best, it counsels us to have recourse to passive resistance. Deen calls upon us to fight against injustice and oppression and to actively promote the cause of justice.

Another characteristic of deen distinguishes it from religion in its general sense. Deen is forward-looking: the ideal it embodies beckons to man from the future. Like a beacon it guides his steps towards a glorious destiny. Deen does not want man to keep gazing, awestruck, at some golden age in the remote and dim past: man’s duty is not to retrace his steps but to advance in the direction of futurity. Deen is prospective, not retrospective. It is a vis a front not a vis a tergo. That is why deen is a source of hope and attaches supreme importance to hope; so much so that to relinquish hope is reckoned as kufr (the Qur’an, 39:53; 12:87).

Finally, the Qur’an insists upon explicit conviction, which it calls eiman. A number of verses in the Qur’an make it clear that compulsion has no place in the sphere of deen. Deen must be accepted freely and voluntarily by man. A religion which is forcibly imposed on an individual has no value for him or for the world at large. Man has the right to exercise free choice in the matter of deen. “There is no compulsion in the matter of deen.” Asserts the Qur’an (2:256). If this command is accepted and obeyed in good faith, it will certainly put an end to all fanaticism and religious disputes. Understood rightly, this injunction is the charter of freedom of thought and expression even to those who do not believe in it. Deen, therefore, leaves the power to choose and act in man’s hands. It is through his personal initiative, strength of character, courage, fortitude, determination and ceaseless efforts that man can shape his destiny and can win for himself a future which must necessarily belong to him if he accepts and follows the Divine revelation in all sincerity.

  1.  Islam

The Qur’anic concept of deen has been elucidated in the foregoing section. Obviously, Islam fulfils all the requirements of deen. Islam, as Iqbal puts it, “is neither dogma, nor priesthood, nor ritual.”(8) It is much more than any of these or all of these. It is the vivid sense of God’s directive force and unflinching working of His laws. It is absolute eiman in God’s wisdom and His purpose. It is hearty participation in the upward progressive trend and movement of life and the world viewed as the expression of God’s creative force. Islam stands for life-fulfilment and rejects life-denial as unworthy of man. It commands us to face facts and not to shrink from them and take refuge in fantasy, and requires us to control and harness natural forces for achieving our ends. Asceticism, quietism and monasticism are all repugnant to Islam. Islam lays stress on social life and on its value for man, and does not regard the body as an evil and as an impediment to “spiritual” progress. It wants man to respect the rights of the body as well as the rights of the self. For this reason, Islam does not approve of self-abnegation and self-mortification. There is nothing mysterious in it and it has no place for mysticism. It aims at the establishment of a social order based on permanent values in which all its members act as free agents striving for a higher and noble cause of making man’s abode on this earth more beautiful, and making him fit for further evolutionary stages of life.

Islam, as a living force, will continue to play a vital role in the moral uplift and social, cultural and political unification of mankind. It will continue to make valuable contributions to the knowledge and culture of mankind. Above all, it will continue to enrich the “spiritual”(9) life of man and thus strengthen and elevate his self or his personality.




  1. When Iqbal uses the word “religion” with reference to Islam, it should be understood as Deen.
  2. M. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 182. (Edition 1977) Published by Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore – Pakistan)
  3. Ibid., P. 2.
  4. Ibid., P.2.
  5. Ernst Cassirer,  An Essay on Man, p. 72
  6. Iqbal, op. cit., P. 187.
  7. Ibid., p. 179.
  8. Ibid., p. 189.
  9. The word “spirit” or “spiritual” has special significance in Christian ideology and has not been used by the Qur’an anywhere in that sense. The Qur’an speaks of man’s material and moral progress or degeneration, and not “spiritual.” Even about Muhammad (PBUH) it says, “And surely thou hast sublime morals” (68:4). The word “spiritual” has been used in this book following its common usage in the English language, i.e. as against purely physical, and should be taken in that sense only wherever it occurs with reference to Islam or the Muslims.

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Chapter 1 WHAT IS RELIGION? Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

  1.   The So-called Urge for Religion

Religion is as old as the rise of self-consciousness in man, but its origin, as that of man, is shrouded in obscurity. Man has, probably, lived on earth for about a million years. During the greater part of this period, he had no civilization and has not left his impress on any durable material. All we know about him is based on his fossilized remains, and while they tell us a good deal about his physical shape and structure, they tell us little about the man in him. Man acquired some rudiments of civilization when he began to work on stone and metal and to shape for himself tools, which hitherto he had taken ready-made from nature. The remains of his artifacts, however, shed valuable light on his developing needs and beliefs.

Religion can be traced back to the dawn of human civilization. The caverns of primitive men, wherein dead bodies were laid with a provision of food and weapons, suggest beliefs and practices which are unmistakably religious in character. It would seem that no sooner had man attained the stage of mental development, represented by self-consciousness, and started on the road to civilization, than his breathless wonder at the world around him gave way to speculation on his origin and destiny and on the power which created the world and sustains it. His thinking took the form of myth-making and his tools of thought were not concepts but symbols. He felt vaguely but intensely an infinite power at work in the world around him. This dimly-sensed power evoked in him the responses of fear and reverence, or worship. The urge to worship appears to have always been there, but man can worship only that which he believes to be both good and powerful, because of his own helplessness. Primitive man was slowly and painfully groping his way to the idea of religion. He was seeking, with his scanty resources, for an object which he could appease or revere and worship. No doubt, he worshipped crude objects or simple natural phenomena, but we must not forget that for him they only symbolised the supreme power at work in the universe. Worship is a characteristic religious activity and the anthropologists have amassed ample evidence to prove that primitive man did worship something or other. It has also been proved that primitive tribes, even now living, cherish beliefs and engage in practices which are undeniably religious in character inasmuch as they refer to some deity or deities and to life after death.

In light of these findings one can safely affirm that religion is a universal phenomenon (for the simple reason that, as explained in the Introduction, the instinct of self-preservation is inherent in man). Plutarch, who flourished in the first century of the Christian era with extensive knowledge of the world of his time, affirms:

In wandering over the earth, you can find cities without walls, without science, without rulers, without palaces, without treasures, without money, without gymnasium or theater, but a city without temples to gods, without prayer, oaths and prophecy, such a city no mortal has yet seen and will never see. (1)

In the modern age, religion is visible in many different aspects – sometimes it is looked upon as a natural phenomenon and as such it falls within the sphere of science. But, as the experience of individual man, it falls within the purview of psychology, while, as a social fact, it is the concern of the sociologist. The sociologist is, however, interested only in the function of religion as a cohesive force in society. The role of religion in human history has also not been overlooked: it has been studied. In our attempt to understand the nature of religion, therefore, we will first consider the definitions which have been offered by the various scientists and thinkers who have made a special study of the subject.

  1.  The Definition of Religion

The student of religion is as much bewildered by the diversity and variety of religions as he is baffled by the complexity of each single religion. He finds it well-nigh impossible to extract the essential element from the complex and heterogeneous mass of beliefs and practices in which it is embedded. In these circumstances, it is natural for him to select some aspect which he happens to regard as an important characteristic and try to define religion within this particular framework. This, among others, is the main reason why there are so many definitions of religion; but none of them encompasses the entire phenomenon or commands universal acceptance. In fact, every investigator in this field has given his own definition and some have offered more than one. Surprisingly enough, some of them are even self-contradictory. Some scholars hold that a set of doctrines is essential to religion; while others believe that religion may exist as a purely emotional attitude without any beliefs. Again, for some, belief in God is the life-blood of religion – but others reject this view and cite as instances Buddhism and other atheistic religions. However, let us examine a few representative definitions of religion, hoping to find some element common to them all which serves as the clue to a comprehensive definition:

Religion is (subjectively regarded) the recognition of all duties as divine commands (Kant).

Religion is to take everything individual as a part of the whole, everything limited as a representation of the infinite (Schleiermacher).

That which expresses the innermost tendency of all religions is the axiom of the conservation of values (Hoffding).

William James holds religion to be “the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” Calverton takes a different view of religion. “Magic and religion,” he affirms, “evolved as (a) means whereby (man) believed he was able to acquire power (over his environment) and make the universe bend to this wishes.” Professor Whitehead speaks of religion as “what the individual does with his own solitariness.”(2) and in another place defines it as a “force of belief cleansing the inward parts”.(3) Whitehead’s considered opinion on the nature of religion is stated more fully and clearly in the following passage which occurs in his Science and the Modern World:

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realised; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and the hopeless quest.(4)

Commenting on various definitions of religion, Professor G. Galloway says, “When we keep in mind the psychological factors of the religious consciousness and the way in which they work, some definitions of religion strike us by their inadequacy and one-sidedness. We find, perhaps, that they are applicable to certain stages of religion but not to others, or that they leave out what is important.” However, undeterred by the lack of success which had attended the efforts of so many great scholars, Galloway has advanced his own definition. He defines religion as “Man’s faith in a power beyond himself whereby he seeks to satisfy emotional needs and gain stability of life, and which he expresses in acts of worship and service.”(5)

A.C. Campbell, in his illuminating work On Selfhood and Godhood, has devoted a chapter to the discussion of the problem of a definition for religion. He too has put forward a definition of his own which deserves consideration:

Religion may be defined as a state of mind comprising belief in the reality of a supernatural being or beings endowed with transcendent power and worth, together with the complex emotive attitude of worship intrinsically appropriate thereto.(6)

Leuba, in his book, A psychological Study of Religion, has listed no less than forty-eight different definitions of religion, each offered by a scholar of repute. Even this is far from being an exhaustive list as Ducasse in his book, A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion, has quoted twenty-seven other definitions.(7) To add to the confusion, as has been observed before, many definitions contradict one another. As Professor H.J. Paton has pointed out, “For any serious view of religion, it is always possible to find another, equally serious, which seems to be its precise opposite.”(8)

Ouspensky, looking at the formidable array of conflicting definitions, was led to accept the relativistic theory of religion. According to him, “Religion corresponds to the level of a man’s being; and one man’s religion might not be at all suitable for another man.”(9) His definition is clearly inadequate and unsatisfactory inasmuch as it completely ignores the Reality to which religion refers and denies it any form of objectivity.

We have been trying to seek an element which is common to all the important definitions. That element, if found, would constitute the core of religion and as such can be expected to occupy the central place in every religion. The element, which we find common to most of the definitions, though not to all, is the belief in the existence of a transcendent cosmic power to which the term “Divine” is usually applied. Divinity too has been represented as one single entity and also as many; but the monistic conception has been more widely accepted than the pluralistic. While the existence of the supreme power is seldom questioned by religious people, their ideas regarding its nature are as vague, as indefinite and as varied as are the definitions of religion itself, and each great writer on religion seems to have conceived God in his own way. Only a few instances can be cited here. Kant speaks of God as “the moral Law-giver,” and William James describes Him as “the Higher part of the universe.” Matthew Arnold believes God to be “the power that makes for righteousness.”(10) “For Sir James Jeans, He is “the greatest of mathematicians.” Bergson, in one of his earlier works, identified Him with the creative energy. Later on, when his thought had taken a mystical turn, he spoke of God as “Love and the Beloved”.(11) Thus we see that there are as many definitions of God as there are of religion. The point to be emphasised, however, is that God is infinite and therefore, our finite understanding can never encompass His nature. Some of those who attempt to define God give free rein to their imagination and indulge in wild speculation quite out of touch with Reality. Others, seeking something of which their mind can take a firm hold, identify God with nature. But they forget that God is transcendent. He may be sensed but cannot be comprehended. Apprehension of God is supposed to occur in the mystical experience,* but this apprehension, as the great mystics themselves testify, is only fragmentary, elusive and tantalising. A comprehensive definition of God, therefore, is not possible. None-the-less, it may be possible to formulate some idea of God. But religion is not satisfied with that. It requires a more adequate idea of God. We should, therefore, take up the question whether and how such an idea of God may be formulated.

 The Idea of God

Belief in God is the life-blood of religion. Questions relating to God have naturally engaged the attention of the advocates and opponents of religion. What is God, and how do we know Him, are questions which no serious student of religion can brush aside. Adequate and satisfactory answers to these basic questions will enable us to understand the nature of God and assess the value of religion. In fact, we find that these questions too have received different and conflicting answers. It may be of interest to note that even the questions themselves have been phrased according to the point of view of each writer. Those who employ the positivist  approach have put the question in the form of “How did the idea of God take its rise in the human mind?” Grant Allen and J. G. Frazer are fair representatives of this group of writers. Their answer may be summarised thus.

Primitive man lived in constant dread of the violent forces of nature which threatened him with physical injury and even death. Storms, thunderbolts, earthquakes and other cataclysms of nature frightened and overawed him, and as animistic tendencies dominated his mind, he personified the forces of nature and sought to placate them by offering them worship and sacrifice. He thus peopled the world with gods. Later on, as man’s mind developed, he found it necessary to rationalise his old attachment to them. The urge for unification led him to reduce the multiplicity of gods to one supreme deity. He formed an abstract idea of the Absolute and then, driven by unconscious emotional urges, objectified that idea. The God thus evolved is a subjective God. In the words of Sheen, “the only God attained by a purely affective approach is a subjective God born of one’s own feelings.(12)”

This, in brief, is the evolutionary theory, which purports to give an account of the origin and development of the idea of one God. It is presumed that the idea of God is found only in the higher religions of modern man and that it was alien to the mind of primitive people. Recently, however, factual evidence has been brought to light which proves that this presumption is erroneous. On the basis of these facts, some scholars have advocated the view that primitive man’s mind too was gifted with the awareness of God. According to Professor Toynbee, this view is put forward by Father Schmidt, who based his theory on observations made by him of “common elements in the religions of the most primitive surviving peoples, now scattered in holes and corners at opposite extremities of the inhabited surface of the Earth(13).” The present writer cannot say how the scholars who are working in this field have reacted to this theory. If they regard it as at least worthy of serious consideration, it would mean that a different approach to the question “What is God?” is possible. If God’s existence was recognised even by the most primitive people, it may be safely argued that the idea of God has a genuine reference to the Real, however imperfectly and inadequately it may represent the Real. Religion too, as a means of contracting the Real, therefore becomes validated. Instead of being the expression of subjective wishes, religion is seen to be a transaction with the objective Reality. The goal of religion, from this standpoint, is not a phantom of imagination but Reality itself. The point being important, we should bear in mind its implication which we have to consider later on. For the moment, it should suffice to remark that in this context the idea of objective Reality and belief in a being who exists independently of us – a being who is both immanent and transcendent – is a dim reminiscence of the original deen.*

We can now take up the question, “What is Religion?”

 What Is Religion?

Two different views of God were considered in the preceding section. According to the first view, God is the Ultimate Reality, and, according to the second, God exists only as an idea in the human mind. Corresponding to these two views of God, there emerge two views of religion. According to one, religion deals with the Absolute. Its business is to interpret the Absolute to us and to tell us how we can get close to it. According to the second view, religion is a superstition born of human wishes and fantasies. Its function is to provide illusory gratification to human wishes which are denied satisfaction in the physical world. From this point of view, religion originates in the primitive mentality of man in his ignorance, his


fears and hopes. Jung, for instance, explains religion as a biological device for safeguarding the human self and his social fabric against the forces of disintegration. It is obvious that such a view relegates religion to the position of a private affair of the individual, something which has only a fictitious value to him, and assumes a role hardly distinguishable from the fantasies of self-willed individuals. Religious activity will thus appear only to be primitive, irrational or prelogical, and completely out of touch with the real world.

The scientist’s approach to religion, on the other hand, is empirical and historical. He treats religion as a natural phenomenon and hopes to understand it by tracing it back to its origin in primitive society and taking note of the changes it underwent in the course of history. His stress is chiefly on the social function of religion. He thinks that religion comes into being and survives because it promotes social cohesion and group solidarity: but he fails to grasp the essence of religion as practised in primitive society, because there it is enveloped in bizarre notions and grotesque superstitions. Lacking the (so-called) spiritual insight, he is led to regard the whole mass as religion, and takes its superficial aspects as constituting the core of religion itself. Auguste Comte was the pioneer in this type of investigation. He believed that human thought, in the course of its development, has passed through three well-defined stages – theological, metaphysical and, finally, scientific. Religion thus represents the earliest phase of mental evolution. In this stage, man’s approach to Reality was emotional and irrational – in short, only mystical, while in the metaphysical stage, he relied more upon reason to lead him to the heart of Reality. In the last stage, that is, the scientific, he realised the importance of the observational data for gaining some knowledge of the world itself in which he lived. If we accept Comte’s view, it will mean that religion has no relevance to the modern world, and its image will thus have to be regarded as a mere relic of the past, with no place in the scheme of modern knowledge and no bearing on the present-day life, deserving to be consigned to the limbo of obsolete ideas.

Another empirically oriented theory gives a better reasoned account of the origin and development of religion. It points out that primitive man lived in constant fear of the forces of nature. Confronted with them, he suffered from an intense feeling of helplessness. He personified and deified these forces and offered sacrifices and worship to placate them. This was the first stage of religion, in which man humbly prostrated himself before these gods in the hope of pacifying them and inducing them to spare him. Later, he grew somewhat confident and thought that he could actively interfere in the course of natural events and could devise methods to bend these forces to his will. The attitude developed a new phase of religion which was that of magic. Then man tried to influence the deities by charms, spells, incantations and occult practices, and thus probably the institution of priesthood arose to cope with the problem, and the magicians became the first priests.

As human groups increased in size and their structure became complex, tribal customs could no longer regulate the behaviour of their members. The need was felt for a central organistaion, and the institution of Kingship thus made its first appearance. A single man was invested with absolute power and the entire administration was placed in his hands. He occupied a position high above the common people and exercised absolute control over their lives and property. His word was law, submission to which was considered essential. He would brook no opposition. The desire for power is insatiable. However powerful the monarch might be, he wanted still greater power. With the passage of time, this turned him into an object of fear, hatred or love according to his treatment of his subjects. The theory that absolute monarchy was an indispensable condition for peace and order in society was universally accepted. So, it was bound to influence religion also. The idea of God was fashioned on the model of the absolute monarch, and He was conceived as the Being who ruled over heaven and earth as an arbitrary despot. He was the King of kings, the Lord of the universe, whose will was unquestionable and whose ways were mysterious. Man stood before Him quaking with fear – an abject and helpless creature. Religion, according to this theory, had now entered the third and the final stage. God was conceived as a tyrant, and religion became an instrument of oppression. It served the ruling class by representing it as appointed by the Divine Master to exercise power in the land and control over the masses. By means of “spiritual sanctions” it  protected the ruling class against the fury of the oppressed people. With religion to defend them, the rulers could, with impunity, trample upon the rights of the common man which still remained undefined. This, in brief, is the Marxist theory of religion. The Marxists view religion as a cunning device employed by the bourgeoisie to safeguard their vested interests against the proletariat. Religion, they aver, is an opiate which makes the people insensible to their suffering and persuades them to resign to their unhappy lot. This view of religion needs serious consideration. We may be permitted to say that the world of religion has not been able to meet this challenge so far. Only deen can meet it, as we shall discus later on.

In so far as the view of the scientists is concerned, it may be pointed out that religion to them represents a distinctive approach to Reality quite different from the scientific approach. While science has been developing a truer and clearer view of one aspect of Reality, religion has been striving to achieve a clearer perception and a more and more adequate apprehension of Reality as a whole and its relation to and meaning for man in a realm beyond the reach of natural science. Professor Heisenberg, the famous physicist, in one of his recent writings, has observed that as science becomes more and more perfect, it gets farther and farther away from concrete reality and enters into the realm of abstraction. As scientific concepts tend to become more and more abstract, they get more and more remote from the real world of our daily experience. Each step that takes science nearer to perfection takes it farther away from the realities of life. Religion, on the other hand, strives to keep close to the living reality, and its concepts too, though they may not take the form of scientific expression, yet are more meaningful and in closer touch with human life.

The philosophical approach to religion is certainly more appropriate than that of the scientist. The philosopher’s quest is for the meaning and he strives to achieve a comprehensive view of religion and its value to human life. Unfortunately, many philosophers have been hampered by their preconceptions and have, therefore, failed in their search. Human reason, moreover, has serious limitations and it may be doubted if it can lead us by itself to the core of Reality. Some philosophers, as a result of deep and intensive reflection, have, no doubt, arrived at a conception of God, but this God turns out to be a mere abstraction, far different from the living god which religion tries to comprehend. Reason, by itself, in short, has not enabled us so far to answer the question: “What is religion?”

Let us now turn to the mystic’s approach. He appeals to his subjective experience which he finds to be absolutely convincing and supremely satisfying, at least to himself. He claims that in this experience he feels himself to be in close and living contact with the Absolute. Unfortunately, this experience, as the mystic himself admits, is ineffable and incommunicable. He can neither convey his knowledge to others nor can he convince others that his experience was not purely subjective and illusory. Further, the mystic’s Absolute is static and unchanging. Time is reduced to a mere illusion. But the world of our experience is continuously in a flux. What is then the source of change if God is outside the stream of time? The mystic has no plausible answer to such a question.

Perhaps a survey of the higher religions of the world (which originally were the same deen received by the various Anbiya from time to time) might enable us to get an answer to the question of the nature and validity of religion. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task. Formidable obstacles will have to be surmounted before we can form a just estimate of the value of each of the adyaan. The lives of most of the Rusul in the history of adyaan are shrouded in obscurity, and even the keen eye of the historian can hardly penetrate the mist that envelops their lives. Authentic facts about their lives are hard to obtain and the problem is more complicated by the tangle of myths that has been woven around them in the course of centuries. Even patient historical research has, very often, failed to separate fact from fiction. The result is that the accounts or their lives are mostly hearsay or conjectural. What is worse, even their teaching has not come down to us in its original form. We do not know, for certain, when their so-called sayings were committed to writing, and there is good reason to believe that the sacred books, generally supposed to embody their teaching, have been tampered with from time to time. It would seem that in the course of successive editions many passages were excised and many were interpolated. The teaching of the Rusul has certainly been preserved in the scriptures but only in a distorted form. It is, therefore,      well-nigh impossible to recover the original form and substance of these adyaan.

The only exception is the Deen of Islam. Its Nabi and his companions lived in the limelight of history. His teaching and actions were extensively recorded by his followers and they can be checked by the accounts given by contemporary historians of neighbouring lands. Authentic facts about his life and doings are numerous and easily accessible in contemporary records. Moreover, the Qur’an, on which Islam is firmly based, has come down to us exactly as it was delivered through the Rasool. It has always been transcribed with scrupulous care. No Muslim scribe has ever dared to omit or insert a single letter. The source of Islam has thus remained untouched and unadulterated. We can reasonably hope, therefore, that a close study of Islam will give us the clue to the real nature and function of deen.




  1. W.M. Urban, Humanity and Deity, p.15.
  2. E.S. Brightman, A philosophy of Religion, p.18.
  3. J. Huxley, Religion without Revelation, p.40.
  4. A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 222.
  5. George Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion, pp.181, 184.
  6. A.C. Campbell, One Selfhood and Godhood, p. 248.
  7. Cf. Ibid., p. 234.
  8. H.J. Paton, The Modern Predicament, p. 59
  9. P.D. Ouspensky, In search of the Miraculous, p. 299.
  10. Brightman, op. cit., p. 81.
  11. Henry Bergson, The Two Sources of Religion and Morality, pp.245-6.
  12. Fulton J. Sheen, Philosophy of Religion, p. 238.
  13. Arnold Tyonbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion, p.18.

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GLOSSARY Islam: A challenge to religion G A Parwez

We have already indicated in the Introduction that most of the terms and phrases used in the Qur’an in relation to its teachings and the system that it stands for cannot be properly translated into English or any other language. In the present work, therefore, we have not tried this almost impossible task; instead we have used the original Arabic terms and phrases wherever we apprehended that their meaning might be distorted in the process of translation. In this glossary, we shall try to explain the real meaning and true import of all such terms and phrases. These interpretations, it might be emphasised, are not subjective and ex cathedra; but are based upon authoritative and universally recognised lexicons of the Arabic language, for instance:


  1. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon
  2. Lisaaan-ul-Arab
  3. Taaj-ul-Aroos
  4. Muheet-ul-Muheet
  5. Raaghib, Mufridaat-ul-Qur’an


These interpretations are also supported by the context in which they have been used in the respective Qur’anic verses. All the relevant terms and phrases have been discussed at great length in my other work Lughaat-ul-Qur’an (The Lexicon of the Qur’an) which has been published in four volumes (in Urdu). In the following explanations, the respective roots of the relevant terms and phrases have been given within brackets.

  1. Adl means justice, but not merely the justice dispensed by the courts; it covers justice in all spheres of life. Justice signifies the condition where every individual gets what is due to him. And “due” means not only what is due to him economically but all the fundamental rights that belong to him by virtue of his being a human being. The Qur’an has laid great stress on ‘adl, and the establishment of ‘adl is the ultimate end of the Qur’anic Social Order.

But the Qur’an enjoins not only adl but also ihsaan, which means compensating a person for his deficiencies and thus restoring his disturbed equilibrium. From the economic point of view, for instance, justice demands that every individual should receive the full product of his labours. But if it is found that this will not suffice for his needs, the gap between his earnings and his needs ought to be filled; this is called ihsaan. Ihsaan not only helps to restore the equilibrium of the person concerned but also to maintain the balance of the social system.

  1. Adyaan  This is the plural form of deen (q.v.). According to the Qur’an, every nation on earth has been blessed from time to time with Divine Guidance through the agency of Anbiya (Messengers). All these Anbiya were entrusted with the establishment of the same deen or way of life. But in course of time, their followers failed to maintain the deen established by their Anbiya in its pristine purity; they deviated from the right course, altered and modified God’s revealed Guidance, and foisted upon it elements utterly alien and repugnant to its spirit. Deen thus degenerated into religion (madhhab) and lost its soul.

The Qur’an rules out the plurality of deens and contemplates only one deen; indeed, the plural of deen (adyaan) does not occur at all in the Qur’anic text. However, the use of the plural form only refers to the several versions in which the Divine Guidance given to mankind through different Anbiya is known to exist. In the present work also adyan has been used only in such cases.

  1. A’maal-ul-Hasanah: A’maal is the plural form of ‘amal, which means action or deed. In English, the phrases “good deeds” and “evil deed” are commonly used; but the Qur’an uses the terms a’maal-ul-hasanah and a’maal-us-sayyi’ah, which are far more comprehensive. Hasanaat means acts that are haseen or result in the creation of husan (beauty); and husn signifies “proper proportion”. When a person conducts himself in accordance with the Divine Law, every act of his helps to bring about husn in his own personality or to make it balanced and properly proportioned; it is also conducive to the maintenance of balance and proportion in the social order and the universe at large. In the event, the individual develops a balanced personality, and a society rid of imbalances and disharmonies is thereby created, which ensures true happiness to all.

On the other hand is the kind of conduct that is described by the Qur’an as a’maal-us-sayyi’ah. Sayyi’ah is the antonym of hasanah; it stands for deeds that upset the balance of the individual personality and result in social disequilibrium.

The Qur’an describes various attributes of God, which are collectively known as al-asmaa-ul-husna, that is, attributes that are blended in a single Being in proper proportion and perfect equilibrium. The Qur’an further calls upon men to develop in themselves the Divine Attributes, of course, within the human limits, with the same balance and proportion. This is the proper way of attaining the growth and fulfilment of the human personality.

  1. A’maal-us-Sayyi’ah: see A’mal-ul-Hasanah.
  2. Amr: in English there is only one word to denote the production of a thing, namely, creation. The Qur’an however, has indicated two stages of creation. The first stage is that of Divine Planning, where God’s Directive Energy initiates an inchoate object on the path leading to its destined incarnation. And the process by which it finally assumes the material form intended for it is called the process of creation. Creation involves the blending of various elements in a particular manner and in particular proportions, so as to produce an entirely new thing; for instance, the formation of water through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen.

How the Divine Planning operates in the various stages of amr is not known to us; but in the world of creation it can be comprehended through the physical laws. Indeed, man can not only comprehend the operation but also co-operate with God in this creative process. The laws under which the various objects in the universe function are made in the world of Divine Planning (’alam-ul-amr), but they are enforced and executed in the world of creation (’alam-ul-khalq).

  1. Anbiya: the plural form of nabi (q.v.).
  2. Batil : see Haqq.
  3. Birr  It is generally translated as virtuous or pious deeds; in fact it has a much wider sense. The basic meanings of the word are extensiveness, largeness, ampleness. It, therefore, signifies conduct that tends to expand the personality of the individual and to ensure the fulfilment and happiness of the whole society. Such conduct helps to rid men of narrow-mindedness and to widen their outlook, and ensures for all an abundant supply of the necessities of life.
  4. Deen :This word has been used in various senses, among them being: ascendancy, sovereignty, management or conduct of affairs, ruling power, power of dominion, mastership, ownership, possession or exercise of power, code of law, constitution of a state (in modern terminology), law of requital, and order in which consequences of human actions can be measured, obedience, subjection, a way, course, mode, manner or conduct of life. Deen would be all these aspects taken together.

Now, the Qur’an has described Islam as ad-deen, which is generally translated in English as religion. In the light of the meanings given above, however, it should be clear that this supposed English equivalent is not only incorrect but distorts and vitiates the true significance of deen. Islam is not a religion; in the entire text of the Qur’an it has not been described even once as a religion (madhhab). Islam is in fact a way of life, a social system, a polity, a code of law. In the context of the external universe, Islam signifies the Divine Order that governs the life and movement of the entire universe. The whole aim and purpose of the Qur’an is the establishment of a universal order founded upon the Divinely-ordained values of life. This is ad-deen.

  1. Hajj: is the annual congregation of delegates of the Islamic community where they discuss the problems facing mankind and seek their solution in the light of the Divine Laws. The real purpose of this congregation is the creation of a universal brotherhood of men – which offers the only solution to the present difficulties of mankind.
  2. Haqq : a very comprehensive Qur’anic term. It is usually translated in English as truth or right, but it has in fact a much wider connotation.

According to Lane, its primary signification is suitableness to the requirements of wisdom, justice, right or rightness, truth, reality or fact; or to the exigencies of the case, as the suitableness of the foot of a door in respect of its socket for turning round rightly; the state, or quality, or property of being just, proper, right, correct or true. The state of being established or confirmed as a truth or fact. Everlasting existence. Valid, substantial or real. Existing as an established fact so as to be undeniable.

These several meanings of the word make it perfectly clear that haqq is by no means confined to the realm of thoughts and ideas, notions and beliefs; it stands for those constructive results of conceptions and beliefs which manifest themselves in a tangible form and are in harmony with the changing needs of the times. No belief or theory relating to this world can be described as haqq unless its truth is established by a positive manifestation of its constructive potentialities. These constructive results will be abiding and imperishable, for the word haqq is used only for things that are abiding and imperishable.

The antithesis of haqq is batil. It might be emphasised again that batil does not stand merely for ideas or actions with destructive potentialities but includes all thinking and conduct that do not lead to constructive results.

  1. Ihsaan: see ‘Adl.
  2. Ithm    The Qur’an uses various terms to denote “crime” or transgression of the Laws of God. These terms have in fact been used to indicate the different effects or results of crime. For instance, a person who wishes to keep to the right path in life ought to follow the party that has come into existence for the good of all mankind. (This party or group is called ummat-un-muslimatun.) If, however, he conducts himself in a manner that makes him so weak, depressed and listless that he is unable to keep in step with the party and tends to lag behind, he is guilty of ithm. In other words, every action which weakens human personality would fall within the category of ithm.

On the other hand, there are crimes that stimulate one’s spirit of defiance and prompt him to transgress the limits of the law; such crimes are described as ‘udwaan. Both these categories of crime – ‘udwaan as well as ithm – involve infringement of the Laws of God; they differ only in respect of their results. It should be clear that the prevailing conception of “sin” does not exist in the Islamic code of ethics. The notion that infringement of the Divine injunction is “sin” whereas violation of the social code and rules is “crime” is a fallacy which is in conflict with the Islamic view of life. The Islamic society is an agency for the enforcement of the Divine Laws; it, therefore, rules out a duality between the laws and injunction of God and those of society. This kind of duality is conceivable only in religion, not in deen.

  1. Eiman     to be convinced, to accept, to verify something, to rely upon, or have confidence in. This is usually translated in English as belief or faith; and faith in turn signifies acceptance without proof or argument, or without reference to reason or thought, knowledge or insight. Faith is generally regarded as the negation of knowledge or reason; it is said about Kant, for instance, that “he found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for  faith.”

Indeed, Kant himself suggests a trichotomy of the modes of cognition into knowledge, opinion and belief:

Opinion is such holding of a judgment as is consciously insufficient, not only objectively but also subjectively. If our holding of a judgment be only subjectively sufficient, and is at the same time taken as being objectively insufficient, we have what is termed believing. Lastly, when the holding of a thing to be true is sufficient both subjectively and objectively, it is knowledge (The Critique of Pure Reason).

According to the Qur’an, however, eiman is not what has been described above as believing; it is what Kant calls knowledge. In fact, eiman is synonymous with conviction and is based upon reason and knowledge. The Qur’an does not recognise as eiman any belief that is divorced from reason and involves the blind acceptance of any postulate. It is true that deen involves the acceptance of certain things which cannot be known through sense perception; but there is no reason to presume that things which cannot be thus perceived do not exist. Indeed, our reason and thinking compel us to recognise the existence of many such things. In any event, eiman, according to the Qur’an, signifies the conviction that results from full mental acceptance and intellectual satisfaction. This kind of conviction gives one a feeling of amn – inner contentment and peace (amn and eiman have a common root). And mu’min is one who accepts the truth in such a way that it ensures his own peace and helps him to safeguard the peace and security of the rest of mankind. Indeed, Al-mu’min is one of the attributes of God Himself.

  1. Jahannam: usually translated as hell, which again does not properly convey the Qur’anic sense of the term.

According to the Qur’an, life has manifested itself in the human form after having gone through various stages of the process of evolution. This is the final link in the evolution of life in this world. But life is not limited to this world; it continues beyond death. The higher life that the individual with a developed personality is capable of leading after his life in this material world is called a heavenly life, or the life of jannah. On the other hand, the evolution of a personality not so developed is bound to be thwarted; this kind of life is called an infernal life or the life of jahannam. Jannah and Jahannam do not stand for places or localities; they denote different conditions of human life, which have been described metaphorically. It should also be clear that these conditions do not relate entirely to the life Hereafter; they have their beginnings here in this world of matter. A social order based upon Qur’anic foundations results in a happy situation: the necessities of life are available in abundance and are secured in extremely decent ways befitting the human dignity. This brings in a real happiness and peace of mind. This is called a heavenly life (jannah). On the other hand, a society based upon principles repugnant to the laws of God brings in anxiety and discontentment, and this is an infernal life (jahannam). Jahannam is a Hebrew compound made up of ji and Hinnum, and meaning the valley of Hinnom. This was a famous valley situated in the south of Jerusalem where men were burnt alive and offered as a sacrifice to the idol Moloch. Jahannam, therefore, denotes a situation in which humanity is ruined. In Arabic, the word jaheem is often used in this sense; it means to prevent – that is, it denotes a condition in which human evolution is prevented and life begins to stagnate instead of progressing.

  1. Jannah: see Jahannam.
  2. Khair     usually translated in English as good, as against sharr, which is translated as evil. These equivalents again do not give the exact Qur’anic connotations of the words.

Man is endowed with manifold faculties and powers. When he uses these faculties in accordance with the laws of God, the results are conducive to the development of his own personality as well as to the welfare of mankind as a whole. This is khair. When, on the other hand, the potentialities of man are used in repugnance to the laws of God, the result tends to bring about the disintegration of the individual’s personality and harm the interests of humanity at large. This is sharr. Moreover, such human faculties as are not put to any constructive use also fall within the definition of sharr.

This exposition of the notions of khair and sharr also provides an answer to the question why God, Who is Himself khair, has created sharr. In fact, sharr is not an independent quality or force created by God: man has been created with a free will, and when he, by his own choice, uses his potentialities for destructive purposes, the result is sharr.

  1. Khalq; see Amr.
  2. Kufr      This is the antonym, or negation, of eiman (q.v). It means to deny the truth, to prevent, to defy the laws of God. Basically, the word means to cover or conceal. One who denies the truth in fact seeks to conceal it; he is, therefore, called a kafir. Kufr means open denial, not hypocrisy. The hypocrite professes to believe in a thing that he does not accept at heart; the kafir, on the other hand, has at least the forthrightness to proclaim his belief. That is why the Qur’an condemns and consigns the hypocrite to the lowest depths of hell.

The definition of kufr, however, is not confined to denial of the truth; it includes the concealment, or withholding of the means of subsistence, which God has created for the good of all mankind and which He wants to be freely available to all.

  1. Madhhab    literally means way or course. This word does not occur in the Qur’an and in the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) it stands for “school of thought”. The English word “religion” is usually translated as madhhab, and since Islam is generally described in English as religion, the word madhhab has come to be used for it in Urdu also. This is a fundamental fallacy; it might be stressed once again that Islam is a deen, not a madhhab. Today, the only Divine deen is Islam, whose principles and precepts are enshrined in the Qur’an.
  2. Maghfirah usually  translated  as  forgiveness.  The  Qur’anic law of requital, however, entirely negates the very conception of forgiveness. Every human action, according to this law, has a natural and logical outcome for which there can be no forgiveness. The correct meaning of the word maghfirah is to protect: for instance, mighfar means the helmet or piece of mail with which a soldier protects his skull and neck.

The first prerequisite for the prevention of disease is one’s internal resistance: that is to say, his body should have sufficient internal strength to withstand an attack by forces detrimental to its health. If, however, the attack proves too strong and the person falls ill, his resistance must be strengthened so as to prevent the disease from taking a fatal turn and to effect its cure. This preventive and curative process would be called maghfirah.

Faithful compliance with the laws of God gives man sufficient strength to resist the destructive forces in life. But if he should ever fall into error and be guilty of infringing these laws, and his personality should consequently be weakened, the remedy would lie in good conduct calculated to recuperate and strengthen his personality and save him from the harmful effect of his lapse. This is called maghfirah.

  1. Mala’aikah or the latter being preferable: This is usually translated in English as angels; but the common religious notion of the word is very different from its Qur’anic conception. The universe can be divided into two parts: the material world which we can perceive through the senses, and the world beyond our powers of perception. The Qur’an, in the first instance, uses the word mala’aikah for the forces of nature at work in the world of matter. For instance, when it says, in the allegorical story of Adam, that all the mala’aikah prostrated themselves before Adam, it means that man has been endowed with the capacity to subdue and conquer the forces of nature. Moreover, the Qur’anic meaning of mala’aikah includes, besides the physical forces of nature, the psychological forces within the human individual himself. When used with reference to the other part of the universe – the one beyond our powers of perception – the mala’aikah stand for the forces at work there to fulfil God’s purpose and shape in practice the Divine Scheme of things. In this sense, the word also includes the agencies through which the word of God has been revealed to various Anbiya. So in this sense, mala’aikah may also be called messengers.

Mala’aikah are not endowed with any will or independent power; they are devoted to the performance of their respective duties, and cannot act otherwise than they do. Man is the only being in the whole universe endowed with a free will and independent power.

  1. Mushrik   one  guilty  of  shirk  (q.v.).  Plural  form:  mushrikeen.
  2. Nabi: This is usually translated in English as prophet (one who prophesies). This translation is again incorrect and misleading. Nabi is not a derivative of nabaun which means “to inform”. In olden times the word nabi was used for a special functionary in the Jewish temple whose function was to prophesy future events. In its Qur’nic  connotation  the  word  nabi  is  derived  from nabwatun

which means an elevated place; it, therefore, means a person standing on a pedestal; in other words, one who lives in this material world but can also perceive the unseen world beyond, because he (such a person) is endowed with Divine Revelation. The function or office of the nabi is called nubuwwah                that is, the function of securing Divine Guidance through revelation. (See also Rasool.)

  1. Nubuwwah: the function of securing Divine Guidance through revelation (for details see Nabi).
  2. Qur’an     the Book that God gave to Muhammad (PBUH) through revelation, and which he passed on to the Muslims in the form in which we know it today. The internal evidence provided by the Qur’an itself, as well as historical research, proves beyond a shadow of doubt that not even a comma of the original Qur’anic text has been changed or is likely to be altered in the future. This is a unique attribute of the Qur’an and is not shared by any other revealed Book now extant. The Qur’an embodies the deen revealed to the earlier Anbiya in its true and perfect form. This Book does not give us merely a code of ethics; it provides us with a code of life which embodies guidance, principles and laws relating to every sphere of human life and activity. The Qur’an according to Islam, is the final authority in matters of deen. The injunctions and the principles enshrined in the Book form the cornerstone of the Islamic polity and the limits laid down by it provide the framework within which the laws of the Islamic State may be formulated. These principles, or limits, or framework, are immutable, but the statutes made by the state within these four corners are open to modification and change according to the needs of the times. The Qur’an is the last of the Divine Books, because nubuwwah ended with Muhammad (PBUH). No subsequent human opinion or pronouncement in matters of deen, therefore, can be recognised as authoritative; nor can any man-made law repugnant to the Qur’an be regarded as binding upon the Muslims. The Qur’an is a book of guidance for all mankind and transcends the barriers of time and space. The Islamic State is an instrument for the enforcement of the laws and injunctions embodied in the Qur’an.
  3. Rabb     is usually translated in English as the Lord. Again, the English equivalent does not convey the real meaning and significance of the Arabic original. Rabb means one who enables a thing or person to grow and develop and eventually to realise all its potentialities; and the process by which a person (or object) thus fulfils himself is called Rububiyyah. Nothing in the universe comes into being in a state of perfection or fulfilment; it is born with certain potentialities which, when developed and actualised, enable the object concerned to become what it was designed to be. Like other objects and beings in the universe, man is also endowed with manifold potentialities which, if properly developed, enable him to rise from the animal to the human level. The Qur’an seeks to establish, in accordance with the Divine Laws, a social order under which the latent potentialities of every individual can be fully realised. This realisation of the individual’s potentialities will include the sustenance and growth of his body as well as the fulfilment of his personality. This kind of social system is called the Rububiyyah order, and its establishment is the ultimate end and purpose of deen of Islam.
  4. Rububiyyah: see Rabb.
  5. Rasool    The duty of the nabi does not end with the securing of Divine Guidance; in fact this is but the beginning of his task. The root of the word rasool means a messenger, or who has a message to deliver. It is the duty of the nabi to deliver to mankind the message revealed to him by God, without the slightest change or modification; it is by virtue of this function that he is called a rasool. But even the faithful delivery of the Divine Message does not complete the performance of the rasool’s function; he is also responsible for setting up a social order in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Divine Message that the has delivered. In other words, he is entrusted with the establishment of “God’s kingdom upon earth”. He is charged with the revolutionary function of ending the sway of tyrannical, oppressive and self-seeking rulers and priests and establishes a free order of society in which men will not be dependent upon other men and will not be subject to anything except the Divine Law. The rasool, from this point of view, appears as a great revolutionary who does not content himself with sermons but practically enforces by example the Divine Law and seeks to bring all men under its sway. This is the real function of the rasool (risalah).

In view of the above explanation it is clear that nabi and rasool are two facets of a single entity, or two faces of the same coin. A nabi is also a rasool, and vice versa. The plural form of rasool  is rusul.

Nubuwwah, or the reception of the revelation of Divine Guidance by anbiya or rusul, ended with Muhammad (PBUH). The Guidance revealed to him is preserved and enshrined fully and exactly in the Qur’an. But the function of risalah, or the delivery of the Divine Message to all mankind and the establishment of a social order in accordance with is principles, has devolved upon the nation or ummah that believes in that Book, that is, the Qur’an.

  1. Ruh usually translated as spirit or soul. “Spirit” has a special meaning in Christian metaphysics, and “soul” is the expression for a peculiar notion in Greek philosophy. The Qur’anic conception of ruh differs essentially from “soul” as well as “spirit”. Its most appropriate translation would be “Divine Energy,” which expresses itself through a free and self-determining will. Free will is possessed only by God, who imparts it to human beings also; no other being is endowed with this power. The Qur’an holds that the power of the human will is not a product of man’s natural constitution; it cannot, therefore, be called a material force. It is a power specially bestowed by God upon men; that explains why God has described it as “His ruh” – meaning thereby the human personality, which is the bearer of the free will.

This should not, however, be taken to mean that the human personality is a part of the Divine Personality. Personality is absolutely indivisible; no personality, therefore, can possibly be a part of any other personality. We are all familiar with the fallacy that the human spirit is a part of the Spirit of God bogged down in the world of matter, and that the whole end and purpose of man’s life on earth is to purge this spirit of its material impurity, so that it may merge again with the Divine Spirit. This misconception is thoroughly repugnant to the spirit. God has endowed every individual with an inchoate personality, and the purpose of his worldly life is to develop his personality so that it may be able, after death, to continue its journey further.

The word ruh has been used in the Qur’an in other senses also. But in the present work it has not been used in any of the other senses; the other meanings are, therefore, not given here.

  1. Shaitaan   Man is endowed with manifold faculties and is free to use them as he wills. These faculties include his impulses. If he uses these faculties in accordance with the laws of God, constructive results, which are conducive to benefit the interests of all mankind, follow. If, on the other hand, he uses his faculties in a manner repugnant to the laws of God, the results are destructive. The impulse that induces man to use his faculties in contravention of the Divine Laws is called shaitaan. The common English equivalent for this word, namely, devil, does not properly express the Qur’anic sense of the original term.

The word shaitaan has also been used for defiant or rebellious human beings; in other words, for such men as defy the laws of God themselves and also induce others to defy those laws.

Since destructive activity inevitably brings frustration and sorrow, shaitaan has also been called iblees – which means a disappointed being who fails to secure happiness in life.

  1. Sharr : see Khair.
  2. Shirk    obedience to man-made laws along with or in contravention of the laws of God. Islam does not permit obedience to any laws other than those laid down by God. Indeed, not only actual obedience to other laws but even the belief that it is permissible and proper to obey these laws is tantamount to shirk. Polytheism is generally understood to mean the worship of idols. It is, of course, true that idol worship, or the worship of any of the forces of nature, amounts to shirk. But this definition is not exhaustive, nor are these forms of worship the most serious manifestations of shirk, for they result mainly from ignorance. The most heinous form of shirk is the obedience to laws and injunctions other than those of God. From the Islamic point of view, the important thing is obedience, not worship. Muslims obey God;  they do not worship Him in the general sense of the word.
  3. Taqdeer       This is generally translated as fate, and fatalism is widely believed to be one of the fundamental elements of the Islamic creed. This is absolutely wrong. A theory of life, which is based upon the freedom of the human will, cannot possibly have anything to do with fatalism. Human freedom and fatalism are mutually contradictory concepts.

A mango stone embedded in soil, if properly looked after and nourished, has the capacity to grow into a mango tree, which will eventually yield the mango fruit. The realisation of this potentiality of the mango stone is called its taqdeer. To be more precise, taqdeer means measure. The true measure of the mango stone is the mango tree; if a stone does not grow into a tree, it does not conform to its measure. On the other hand, no mango stone can grow beyond its measure: this is the destiny of the mango stone.

Man has been endowed with manifold potentialities. If he follows the right path in life, and adheres to it, his potentialities are gradually realised, and his personality is so developed that he is enabled to attain the perfect human stature in this life and to cover the evolutionary stages yet to come beyond this world. This development of the individual is called his taqdeer.

  1. Taqwa       The common English equivalent, namely, piety, does not properly express the real meaning of the word. Deviation from the path of right conduct leads man to ruin; taqwa helps to keep him on the right path and thus save him from ruin. But merely saving oneself from ruin is a negative virtue, whereas the Qur’an regards the positive aspect of life as of fundamental importance. In the context of the Qur’an, therefore, taqwa involves not only saving oneself from the forces of destruction but also stabilising one’s personality through the preservation and enforcement of the laws of God. To be more concrete, it means the faithful and efficient performance of all the duties that God has enjoined upon man through Revealed Guidance. This meaning is wide enough to include loftiness of character and purity of conduct. One who leads a life of taqwa is called Muttaqee.
  2. Tauheed     exclusive obedience to the laws of God. As already indicated under “Qur’an,” these laws are embodied in the Qur’an.
  3. Taubah        When  on  his  way  to  a  particular  place,  a  person reaches a crossing, there he takes a turn and goes along. But after a short while he realises that he had put himself on the wrong path which will not take him to his destination. He must now turn back and return to the point where he took the wrong turn. This kind of return is called taubah.

It is obvious, however, that a mere return to the crossroads will not take the man to his destination; he will also have to adopt the right path. Taubah, therefore, covers all the three aspects of the process: realising one’s error, retracing his steps and taking to the right course.

  1. Udwaan: see Ithm.




-a                                                            -t

-b                                                            -z

-t                                                             -’

-th                                                          -gh

-j                                                             -f

-h                                                            -q

-kh                                                         -k

-d                                                            -I

-dh                                                         -m

-r                                                             -n

-z                                                            -w

-s                                                            -h

-sh                                                          -’

-s                                                            -y




(i) short

– a (as u in but)

– i  (as i in tin)

– u (as u in bull)

(ii) Long

a (as a in father)

i  (as ee in bee)

u (as oo in root)

au (as in aught)

ai (as in bat)


  1. Al (represents the article the) as in al-kitab. But in “solar letters” (1) should be passed over in pronunciation and assimilated to the following consonent.

2.     at the end has been represented by h, for example Rahmah, for Rahmat

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Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) Part 3 – Dr. Mansoor Alam

Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH)  Part 1 – Dr. Mansoor Alam
Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH)  Part 2 – Dr. Mansoor Alam

In this part of our article on the Prophet’s Sunnah we will concentrate on how the Prophet (P) liberated human beings from all kinds of oppressions and opened the door of true freedom for humanity. But first, let us briefly summarize the main points of the first two parts of this article.

In the first part, we discussed some of the basic issues relating to our Prophet’s Sunnah. Contrary to popular belief, we saw that our scholars are divided on the Sunnah. As a consequence, Sunni and Shi’ia scholars (and even Sunni scholars among themselves) disagree on the definition or interpretation of our Prophet’s Sunnah. It is a myth to say that all Muslim scholars agree on a common definition or interpretation of Sunnah. Concrete examples were given to illustrate this point.

In this part we also presented those verses from the Quran that clearly mention that the ultimate goal of the Prophet’s mission (and therefore his Sunnah) was to establish the unity of humankind. This is a necessary consequence of the belief in the unity of God.

The achievement of this high goal was discussed in the second part of the article. We saw that the Prophet (P) did not achieve this goal by rituals and dogmas alone. Nor did he accomplish it by supernatural means. He (P) and his companions (R) persevered and struggled to create social and political change through Quranic education and training. They challenged the secular, tribal, and temporal forces of exploitation and corruption. They torched the path to freedom by removing the chains placed on human beings by these forces. The Quran enjoins us to “…lift from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them…” (7:157).  This struggle of our Prophet (P) and Sahaba (R) gave unimagined freedom to oppressed human beings. Thus the darkest period in human history (quotation from Denison) was turned into a most enlightened one. We had concluded that this is the real Sunnah of our Prophet (P).

Our Approach to Sunnah

But what is our approach to sunnah? We mostly concentrate on the Prophet’s Sunnah related to his private and family life and to religious rituals and practices. We ignore or evade the larger issues of Sunnah, which affected humanity. If we look beyond our comfort zones, we will see large-scale human suffering, humiliation, exploitation, subjugation, torture and discrimination. Our prayers and rituals alone will not solve this massive human problem, nor will our charities and fund raising make a dent in it. Remember, we can recognize a tree by its fruits. What fruits have we Muslims reaped from the tree of Islam for the last 1300 years, or, for that matter, for the last 20 years, other than humiliation, subjugation, and discrimination?  Surely, it is time to examine our claim to Islam, time to examine our lives and our action, to see why Islam is not yielding the same fruits for us as it did for the Prophet (P) and his companions (R).

Reciting praises in the Prophet and his family’s name before a fundraising or a sermon while ignoring the root cause of exploitation and subjugation of the Muslim masses by kings, dictators, religious scholars, politicians and capitalists is not the way to practice Sunnah. Why do we ignore how our Prophet (P) actually brought about social, political, economical, and judicial change in the society? No doubt, family life is an important aspect of the Prophet’s Sunnah, but this was only a means to achieve an end (i.e., the unity of the Ummah) and not an end in itself. Therefore, that should be our goal, too.

However, the fulfillment of that goal requires a clear, unambiguous, and practical definition of our Prophet’s Sunnah— a definition on which all our Islamic scholars agree, and which does not leave room for more than one interpretation. But this is precisely where the problem lies.  From our multiple interpretations we have created a) sects in Islam, and b) controversies regarding the status of the Quran and hadith/sunnah.

 Creating Sects in Islam is Shirk

Some Muslims evade the issue of sectarianism by insisting that all Muslim scholars do agree on a single definition of Sunnah.  Why, then, are there different sects and divisions among Muslims? Why are Sunnis and Shi’ias divided to an extent that they each have their own Fiqh and Shari’ah, their own books of ahadith and history, their own imams and their own forms of prayer? It is well-known that a Sunni cannot be appointed an imam of a Shi’ia mosque and a Shi’ia cannot be the leader of a Sunni mosque. Is this what our Prophet (P) taught? Can we claim to be the followers of a single Prophet (P)? Is this the way we proclaim there is no disagreement in the definition of Sunnah?

On the other hand, some imams and scholars brush aside this issue by refusing to discuss it, saying it is too controversial. Thus, they perpetuate the issue of sectarian divisions in Islam while ignoring God’s clear command in the Quran:

“And do not be like the Mushrikun. Those who split up their religion,

  and become sects, – each sect rejoicing in that which is with itself.”   (30:31,32)

 “As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you (Muhammad) have no part in them in the least.” (6:159)


The above verses clearly indicate that dividing the Ummah is a serious offense against Allah and the Prophet (P).  It is shirk.   Is it not just as serious, then, to ignore and/or perpetuate this division?

In addition, the Prophet said that if you see something wrong in society, you must talk about it and try to change it.  If someone is trying to follow this Sunnah of the Prophet (P) by raising a voice against the present sectarian divisions among Muslims, is it not just as serious, then, to stop his/her voice?   Daily, we practice and surround ourselves with this kind of shirk, sectarianism and its perpetuation, failing to realize our serious offense, all the while claiming to be lovers of our Prohet’s Sunnah. 

Controversy Regarding the Quran and Hadith/Sunnah

Is the Quran above the hadith or vice versa?  As mentioned in the first part of this article, Sunni and Shi’ia imams compiled the majority of hadith books almost two hundred years after the Prophet’s death through an oral chain of narration.  The Ahlul-hadith Sunni scholars ascribe equal status as the Quran to books such as Bukhari and Muslim. Many of these scholars even proclaim that hadith can supersede the Quran in certain issues. They argue that the deficiencies in the Quran are made up by hadith.   Accepting this logic is tantamount to saying that the Quran was incomplete and it required hadith for its completion. Yet Allah tells us clearly that the Quran is complete (6:115); that nothing essential has been left out of it (6:38, 6:59, 10:61, 34:3); that it cannot be challenged (10:38, 11:13, 52:34).

On the other hand, equally famous Sunni scholars (e.g., Haafiz ibn ‘Hajar, Maulana Shibli No’mani, Maulana Azad, Sheikh ‘Abdul ‘Haq Muhaddith Dehlavi, Allama Hameeduddin Faraahi, Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi) disagree with the Ahlul-hadith sunni scholars. They hold the view that the Quran can never be superseded by hadith in case of a conflict between the two.

But, as Allama Iqbal points out, whatever may be the controversies surrounding hadith and Sunnah, one thing is absolutely clear:

In the first place, we should bear in mind that from the earliest times, particularly up to the rise of the Abbasids, there was no written law of Islam apart from the Quran. (Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page 131.)


[See Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought, by Daniel Brown for a detailed discussion of this continuous conflict between the proponents of the superiority of Sunnah and hadith over the Quran and vice versa. He has given several hundred references (covering 36 pages) from the works of prominent Islamic scholars from the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent. It is a must reading for those Imams and scholars who brush this issue aside or wish it away.]

The Prophet’s Real Miracle

Under our Prophet’s leadership and his Sunnah, the world was transformed briefly, as people were given freedom to develop their human potential. Even today, historians and philosophers marvel at how the most backward and barbarous people became the most advanced, most civilized in such a short time.  Yet, sadly enough, today, instead of being astonished, we are perplexed at how the succeeding Muslim generations came to lose that glory.

At the dawn of 21st century, Muslims are oppressed in their own homelands.  Why? Could it be that we have extinguished the light of freedom borne by our Prophet (P) and his companions (R), the light that liberated common people from exploitation and subjugation (of the Byzantine and Persian empires, for example)?  If so, how can we bring back that luster? How can we enlighten the present consciousness of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims? The only way to do that is for us to re-turn to the pristine message of the Quran.  We must remove the non-Quranic dust that has settled over Islam through centuries of dictatorship and priesthood, resulting in the suffocation of that very freedom of thought, which our Prophet (P) gave to humanity.

Sunnah and Freedom of Thought in Islam

Over and over again, Allama Iqbal emphasizes the importance of independent thought.  He says:

The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us( page 78). …The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems (Page 134). …False reverence to past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedies for a people’s decay. ‘The verdict of history’, as a modern writer has happily put it, ‘is that worn-out ideas have never risen to power among a people who have worn them out.’ The only effective power, therefore, that counteracts the forces of decay in a people is the rearing of self-concentrated individuals. (Page 120, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)

Iqbal goes on to explain the meaning of “self-concentrated individuals.”  Individuals must have freedom of thought to be able to develop the self.  In a well-known couplet, he compares the “self” or “khudi” to a unique pearl, urging individuals to focus on the development of   “self” through freedom of thought, and not to destroy it by blind following:

“Taqlid se naakaara na kar apni khudi ko

            Kar iski hifaazat ki yeh gauhar hai yagana”

Blind Following (Taqlid)

Iqbal’s cry for freedom of thought is in stark contrast to the situation today, in which some religious leaders, politicians, reformists and would-be restorers of Muslim power ask Muslims to follow them blindly as the unquestioned Ameers, just as “sheep follow a shepherd” [Why Tanzeem-e-Islami? Page 3, by Imran Hosein, Director of Da’wah for Dr. Israr Ahmed’s Tanzeem-e-Islami of North America].

This blind following is called taqlid in Shari’ah terminology. Taqlid comes from the Arabic root q-l-d. Al-Iqlidu is the camel’s nosering through which the leash is passed. Thus anyone who is doing taqlid (i.e., blindly following) is on a leash.  As pointed out by Allama Iqbal, our ‘Ulema’s insistence on Taqlid contributes to the rapid decay of the general condition of Muslims.  It is important to note here that the ability to think differentiates human beings from animals.  If this freedom is taken away, human beings descend to the level of animals.

That the need for Muslims to be released from the leash, controlled by the ‘Ulema and Imams who insist on Taqlid or strict adherence to the status quo (the man-made Shari’ah), is both obvious and urgent. But how can we do this?   This task is rendered even more difficult because these ‘Ulema and Imams pretend to speak in the name of God.  Allama Iqbal says:

 Khud badalte naheen Quran ko badal dete hain

        huwey kis darja faqeehane haram be taufiq


These people don’t change themselves but they change the Qur’an (by their interpretations). How unfortunate are these custodians of haram (Islam).  He further says:

Ahkam tere haq hain magar apne mufassir

taaweel se Quran ko bana sakte hain Pazhand

O Allah! Your guidance is no doubt the Truth.  But our interpreters can turn Qur’an into Pazhand (1) by their interpretations.


This is what the Jewish and Christian priesthood did (2:79). And, sadly enough, this is what the priesthood in Islam (represented by the majority of ‘Ulema and Imams) has done, as well. Muslims have been led to believe by these ‘Ulema and Imams that their man-made Shari’ah is God-made Shari’ah.  Having hijacked the train of Islam and put it on a different track that Allama Iqbal refers to it as the ‘Ajmi Islam, these ‘Ulema and Imams, with their manmade Shari’ah, have brought unprecedented humiliation and defeat to Muslims.  It is imperative that this shackle ofTaqlid, which has choked freedom of thought among Muslims for more than a thousand years, be broken.    Then only will we be truly in accordance with the Sunnah of our Prophet (P).


“Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the Torah and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them (i.e., all human beings) from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light (i.e., the Quran) which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.” (7:157)  [Yusuf ‘Ali]


That is, until the shackles are removed, Muslims will not prosper. However, before the shackles of Taqlid can be removed, Muslims must first understand and differentiate between the concepts of freedom of thought as opposed to freedom itself, and the human urge for freedom.

What is Freedom?

If we turn back the pages of history and observe the struggles of past nations, or if we study the present social and political movements, we find one common thread: the human urge for freedom.  Human beings, no matter when or where, will invariably rebel against oppression and yearn for freedom.   However, freedom itself must be bounded, otherwise, like an uncontrolled flood, it, too, will lead us to destruction, anarchy and chaos.  Iqbal likens freedom to an evergreen tree, which is free as well as restrained.  From these same restraints, he says, we must gain our freedom:

Sanoober bagh mein azaad bhi hay pa-ba-gil bhi hay

Inheen paabandyon se haasil azaadi ko tu kar le

This is a very creative definition of freedom. While every tree is subjected to the same restrictions by nature, these restrictions are imposed to optimize the growth and development of a tree’s latent potential.  The same principle can be applied to human society.  And the application of this principle is what our Prophet (P) accomplished in Medina. He implemented, in Medina, a socio-economic and political infrastructure within the boundaries of the Quranic principles. The Quran constitutionally protected the human rights and freedom of all people.  Everyone was equal, including the Prophet (P), before the law. Within these Quranic limits, human beings enjoyed full freedom of thought, which, in turn, gave human beings the opportunity to realize and nourish their God-given latent potential.    Hence, the glory of Islam in its early years!

This concept of freedom is the Prophet’s greatest contribution to humanity, not just to Muslims. How ironic, then, that today the West talks about freedom and freedom of thought, while religious Muslims who emphasize Sunnah so much, proclaim that slavery is allowed in Islam and that Muslims are bound by Taqlid.

Western Concept of Freedom

The West is proud — and rightly so — that its system is based on the rule of law. This implies obedience to a constitution rather than to an individual or group of individuals. However, the western concept of freedom is flawed because the question remains: who should make the laws and draft the constitution?

In this system, a group of people, mostly nominated, forms a constituent assembly. They draft, debate, discuss, and eventually come up with a final constitutional document, usually by consensus.  However, even before the constitution is voted on and approved, representatives of the constituent assembly usually start discussing amendments to the constitution only because it is primarily a man-made document based on trial and error.

In addition, the representatives specify a process by which it is finally approved as the constitution of the country.  Once officially adopted as a constitution, it provides the rule of law. This is the best system as yet devised by human beings because, in it, sovereignty belongs to a constitution rather than to any person or group of persons. Thus, human beings are released from the burden of dictators and religious priests and become subject only to the sovereignty of a single constitution and its rule of law. People are free within the limits set by the constitution.

Shortcomings of the Western Concept of Freedom

Although the Western concept of freedom has liberated its people from the clutches of the church and dictators, it, nevertheless, suffers from the fatal flaw of giving the unlimited power of lawmaking to human beings. No doubt, the West has made a great contribution to the concept of human freedom since the French revolution, but, in principle, here, too, human beings are not free from obedience to other human beings, e.g. the power of lobbies.

In the final analysis, while people in the west obey the collective will of the framers of the constitution (this is much better than obeying priests and kings), it must not be forgotten that the framers of the constitution, were, after all, human beings, no matter how noble their character and how great their constitutional abilities. No human being can separate his/her personality from his/her emotions and beliefs. And emotions and beliefs are essentially subjective. They cloud one’s judgement and foresight. Therefore, human lawmakers cannot totally separate their personal emotions and beliefs from their duties as lawmakers.

There is no doubt that selfless service and dedication drive most pioneers and architects of human rights and freedoms, as, indeed, was the case with the framers of the U.S. constitution. Nevertheless, the constitutional document cannot but reflect the vision of its architects. If their vision is clear and broad and in line with fundamental human rights and freedoms, then the constitution becomes a protector and guarantor of the people’s rights, as indeed the U.S. constitution is.  However, the U.S. Constitution does not extend to other nations.  In fact, historically, the U.S. has been known to trample the rights of other peoples for its own strategic, material interests.

Protection of Freedoms and Rights of All

Humanity has survived two world wars but it may not survive a third one. In recent years, the intensity and scope of human rights abuses, worldwide, have been increasing at an unprecedented level.  It is important to recognize and protect the rights and freedom of all human beings, if humanity is to survive. This is not possible except through constitutional means.  But, since the sovereignty of the U.S. constitution guaranteeing human rights and freedoms ends with the U.S. borders, human beings elsewhere do not enjoy the same constitutional rights and freedoms. This is the real issue.  Why should human beings elsewhere be denied the basic human rights and freedoms?  Is it possible to have a single universal constitution embracing all humanity?  If so, can human beings come up with a universal constitution that can serve as guarantor and protector of universal human rights and freedoms?  Can human minds even conceive such an all-encompassing, clear, and unbiased document?

 Need for a Universal Constitution for Entire Humanity

Although many great intellectuals of the West e.g., Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Henri Bergson, and Robert Briffault among others, have tried, the goal of creating even a basis for a universal constitution has remained elusive. However, the need for its formulation has never been as great as at the present time, because many of the barriers that separated human beings have already fallen, and the remaining ones are falling at electronic speed. Many envision the world as a global village that is being increasingly (and tightly) connected by the so-called information super highway.  Immediately, the urgent question becomes: who should rule this global village?  The multinational corporations?  They who have plundered the resources of the world and polluted its environment? It will indeed be unfortunate for humanity if they become the de facto rulers of the world.  In fact, they already are, to a large extent.  With the help of their governments, they have created a new economic paradigm based on exploitation of the poor by the rich in the guise of free market and economic progress and in the name of freedom and opportunity. History bears ample testimony that this kind of deceptive and large-scale exploitation leads to human catastrophe. Therefore, this is not the way to protect universal human rights and freedoms.

The questions pertaining to universal human rights, equality, and freedom may not have occupied the minds of the framers of the U.S. Constitution in the same way as they did, for example, Einstein in recent years, who, confronted with a very different world situation, examined these issues in great depth in his book Out of My Later Years.  Although the immediate goal of the framers of the Constitution was to preserve the rights of people within the union by gaining independence from Great Britain, the document they prepared does contain elements of universal (self-evident) truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the real question remains: how to extend these to the entire human race?

Quran as the Universal Constitution for Humanity

About fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (P) gave to humanity a document, containing universal truths including those mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. This also was a declaration of independence, based on permanent values, but it was for the entire human race. It was a declaration of universal human rights and freedoms, of universal peace and security, of universal trust, of a universal code of ethics, of universal human dignity, of universal freedom of thought and expression.  In short, it was a declaration of the universal brotherhood of humankind. This document is called the Quran. Can it serve as the constitution for entire humanity?   Can it save humanity from the destruction that seems to be its destiny?  It boldly proclaims that it can.

The only way for the world to judge this high claim of the Quran is to put it to the test and prove it on its intrinsic value and on its own merit — without any human corruption. This is a challenge for the world; not so much because it is difficult — indeed, it is easy as Allah says in many verses– but Muslim scholars have made it difficult by layering it with their own thoughts and ideas. This, indeed, is unfortunate for the world, because the intellectuals who are searching for a universal constitution do not know that it is right there in front of them. For this, we Muslims, alone are to be blamed. Once the Prophet (P) established the Quran as the Constitution in Medina, it was our duty to present its message to the world based solely on its intrinsic value. Instead, we shrouded it with our thoughts and emotions and thus made it ineffective not only in our own lives, but deprived the rest of the world, too, of its values.


The system that can guarantee equal rights and freedoms for all human beings irrespective of race, color, language, ethnicity, etc. must be based on permanent values.  Since human thinkers and philosophers, searching for permanent values, are limited by time and space, it becomes obvious they cannot find these except through trial and error. This is basically an inductive approach, which requires considerable time. It might take hundreds or even thousands of years to find just a few permanent values.   For example, it took almost 400 years for the U.S. to reject slavery.  On the other hand, if we are able to structure our society based on the permanent values contained in the Quran, then humanity will not only be assured dignity and equality, but it will also be set free to realize its God-given potential, as it did 1400 years ago in the glorious days of early Islam. The challenge for us is to prove to the world that the Quran is the only book that contains the complete set of Permanent Values.

Are we, Muslims, ready for this challenge?  Are we ready to challenge the Pharaohs, the Hamans, and Qaroons of the world with the Quran?  This is what our Prophet (P), whom we love so dearly, did to liberate human beings. This is how he “… lift[ed] from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them” (7:157).  Today, the Muslim world is still dominated by modern Pharaohs (kings, dictators, corrupt politicians), modern Qaroons (capitalist parasites), and modern Hamans (priests, sectarian imams, professional Islamic scholars, and defenders of the status quo). It is our duty to liberate the masses from their clutches through the message of the permanent values contained in the universal constitution of Al-Quran.

This must be done, however, through constitutional and peaceful means. It requires, firstly, great wisdom, up-to-date knowledge, objective reasoning, and deep understanding of the Quran as a universal constitution, not as a religious book.  Secondly, it requires great focus, great patience, and great tolerance. This is what our Prophet (P) struggled for throughout his life. And, therefore, this is his most important Sunnah for us to practice. We certainly cannot follow our Prophet’s Sunnah by being divided into sects, by paying lip service to the Prophet (P), by singing poems in his honor and celebrating his birthday, by evading controversial issues, by passing fatwas against others, by engaging in subjective arguments and endless debates, by resorting to emotional and psychological tactics, by labeling others who disagree, by spreading rumors, suspicions and propaganda, or by resorting to violence.

The most urgent task before us is to get down to cleaning our house first before we point fingers at others.

Note to the reader: Now that you have read my presentation, please make up your own mind. You do not have to agree with me. You have every right to write and present your point of view just as I have. Islam is not a monopoly of Islamic scholars; it is for every body. If you think I am wrong, please write a rebuttal providing proofs. This is according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (P) because he said to those who disagreed:”Haatu burhaanakum inkuntum saadeqeen.”


  1. Pazhand is the book compiled by the followers of Zoroaster which according to them is the interpretation of Avesta, the original book of Zoroaster in which his followers inserted their own thoughts.

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