Chapter 16 RISE AND FALL OF NATIONS Islam: A challenge to religion by G A Parwez

  1. Qur’an and History

The Qur’an has, time and again, directed man’s attention to the phenomena of nature and the events of history, and has exhorted him to reflect and ponder over them. These two fields, so apart from each other, are fundamentally alike, as both reflect the same Divine purpose. The working of law is discernible in both. Today, the processes that govern the coming into and passing out of existence of living organisms seem pretty clear. But when we pass from the individual life to group existence, the picture becomes a little hazy. Nevertheless, creditable data has been compiled on the rules that govern the emergence and disintegration of human groups. The philosophy of history has tried to broaden the spectrum and to identify the laws that govern the rise and fall of nations. It has been a laudable attempt, but it has, so far, failed to give an intelligible account of the course of human history. None of the concepts put forward has held the field for long. The result is that history still appears to be a disorderly succession of fortuitous events. The Qur’an invites a look into history from a fresh angle which deserves attention. According to the Qur’an, the Divine purpose is at work in human affairs as it is in nature – the inanimate world – but with a difference. In nature, the Divine purpose is progressively accomplished through laws from which there is no escape. We may call them the Divine Will. The material is passive and can be moulded into any form concordant with the purpose of God. In history, on the other hand, the purpose is to be worked out through the willing and active co-operation of free finite beings. The Divine Will, by a self-imposed restraint, permits them to act and choose for themselves. The human beings who play their part on the stage of history, have, sometimes, lived and acted in harmony with God’s purpose and, sometimes, against it. In the former case, they have prospered, progressed and taken their rightful place in the vanguard of civilisation; in the latter case, they have fallen behind other people, have decayed and ultimately have been supplanted by others. In this process, a causal relation is indicated. Each way of life produces its own consequences. The set of regulations which governs these results is the Law of Requital. As you sow, so shall you reap. This law is as relentless and inexorable in its working as any other law of nature. The Qur’an has repeatedly affirmed this law and, drawing upon human history, has provided copious illustrations of its working. A nation which adopts a way of life that accords with the moral order of the universe, achieves success in every field of activity. It wins both wisdom and material prosperity. A nation whose way of life is opposed to this order, inevitably decays and disintegrates.

History is a record of the rise and fall of nations. It tells us about the nations that flourished in the past – their way of life, the goals they pursued, the values around which their culture was organised, their actions and the consequences of those actions. History taken not merely as a chronicle of events but as assessment of working of values can help us solve our own problems. This assessment would give us power – power of prediction and power of control – in the sphere of collective affairs. We can avoid pitfalls. If we find ourselves following a course that has brought nations to a calamitous end, we can check ourselves in time, retrace our steps back to the crossroad and choose a better path, if not the right one. We can thus have not only a guiding light to judge our own way of life, our thinking and our actions, but also an insight into the future of other nations from the ideals pursued by them. In short, if we wish to make the best of life, there is no escape from a study of history relating the conduct of the people with the fate that befell them. That is why the Qur’an exhorts us to go round the world and see for ourselves “the fate of those who defied God,” i.e., His Laws. Wealth, power, numbers, nothing could save them when they ran afoul of the higher values. History has judged them, as it will, in time, judge us. The prognosis is within our grasp:

Verily, we have sent down for you revelations that make plain, and the example of those who passed away before you. An admonition unto those who wish to be secured from the pitfalls in the way of life (24:34).

The method of the Qur’an is, first to state the laws that govern the fate of nations, and then to cite instances from history to illustrate the working of those laws. The purpose of the Qur’an is not to record past events in all their details but to give sufficient reference to make its own point and leave out the rest. Thus the Qur’an imparts such a deep insight into the nature of the life process that it inspires unquestioning faith in its pronouncement when it says:

Have they not travelled in the land to see the nature of the consequence for those before them? They were more numerous than these and mightier in power and in the traces (which they have left behind them) in the earth. But all that they used to earn availed them not. And when their messengers brought them clear proofs (of the consequences of their doings), they exulted in the knowledge they themselves possessed. And that which they were wont to mock, befell them (40:82-83).

These nations enjoyed many advantages. They possessed power, wealth, technical knowledge and a rich material culture. In prosperity they had multiplied and spread over the earth. But when they chose to defy the moral order of the universe, all their efforts to ward off the blow of fate were of no avail. They fell into decay and dwindled away. They could not plead ignorance as they had been warned time and again by Anbiya from amongst themselves. These Anbiya had admonished them to recognise their mistakes and mend their ways. They, however, chose to ignore the warnings and persisted in treading a dangerous path. Vanity and pride ruled their hearts and, elated by temporary successes, they failed to foresee the long-term results of their actions. At last, they reached the limit that the Laws of God have set to everything. When they crossed it, their fate was sealed. They had reached the point of no return. Remorse and repentance could not save them thereafter:

(When they had crossed the limit) their Eiman could not avail them when they saw their doom. This is Allah’s Law which has ever taken course in regard to His servants (mankind); and there were the ungodly lost (40:85).

A prominent aspect of the eternal, the unalterable, law is that there are limits within which possibilities of change and recovery are available. Beyond those limits, nothing avails and all attempts to save oneself run into sands.

  2. The law at Work

The basic attitude that the law demands in human relationship is respect for the dignity of man-for human personality which every individual possesses equally and which has an intrinsic value. A disregard of this value manifests itself in exploitation of other human beings, either by damage to their person or to their possessions. The exploiting nations are ruined:

How many a community, that dealt unjustly have We shattered, and raised up after them another community. And when they saw the consequences of their doings in the shape of their doom, they tried to run away from it.

But it was said unto them: run not away but return to that wherein you delighted and to your dwellings, that you may be questioned (as to whence you had obtained so much wealth and the way in which you had dealt with others).

They confessed there upon and said: Lo! we were wrongdoers. And this their crying ceased not till We made them reaped corn, extinct (21:11-14).

The consequences may take their time but are inevitable. The universe was not meant to be without a moral order:

We created not the heaven and earth and all that is between them in sport (21:16).

They have been created so that Our Law of Requital may be set in operation (45:22).

When a people choose to take a life in defiance of the moral order, there is actually no time lag between action and its decaying result on their life process. But it may take some time for the effect to be perceptible and to manifest itself in social and economic maladies. Anyone stopping at the maladies in his analysis of the causes of a nation’s fall would only be reaching the obvious symptoms but not the root cause – the ungodly way of life. The symptoms can be suppressed without curing the real disease. This would be inviting eruption of the disease in other and more dangerous forms. The Qur’an, taking a comprehensive view of life, calls for a radical cure, that is, a change of heart and a new orientation. When this change is brought about, the symptoms start disappearing. The only cure for social ills is a return to the path of righteousness and rectitude.

The Qur’an designates the Law of Requital as the Sunnah of God-the uniform way in which He deals with the world in its physical and moral aspects. Sunnah implies order, uniformity and consistency. It is the expression of God’s rationally directed Will.

This has been the course followed by God with regard to those who passed away before. The bidding of God is a decree, measured according to a definite pattern called Divine Laws (33:39). This law, or “habit of God” knows no change. It will operate in the future as it has operated in the past:

This is the course (habit) of Allah with regard to those who passed away before; and never shalt thou find a change in the course (law) of Allah (33:62).

This ”habit of God” is also specifically related to the consequences of going against His laws:

And they swore by Allah, their most binding oath, that if a warner came to them, they would be more tractable than any of the nations, yet when a warner came unto them, he aroused in them naught save repugnance (shown in their) behaving arrogantly in the land and plotting mischief; and the plotting of mischiefs encloseth but the people who make it. Do they then expect a treatment other than the one meted out to those of old. But thou wilt not find any change in the course of God nor shalt thou find any variation in the course of God (35:42-43).

And nothing in the universe is out of His reach or out of His knowledge:

Allah is not such that aught in the heavens or in the earth escapeth Him. Lo! He is the Wise, the Mighty (35:44).

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  3. The Qur’anic View of History

Because of his rational nature, man always seeks to discern the meaning of things. He has been least successful in his attempt to discern the meaning of history. What does history mean? Is it merely “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing?” Or, can we discern, however dimly it may be, some plan, design, pattern or rhythm in the long succession of events recorded therein? This question has exercised the minds of some of the greatest thinkers. They have had tantalising glimpses of the meaning of history but no more. We shall briefly refer to the views of two most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century – Hegel and Marx. Evolution is the key note of the Hegelian theory of history. If we ask what it is that evolves, the answer is reason or the Absolute Idea. The Idea is continuously unfolding itself, actualising its immense potentialities in the historical process. The process is, therefore, meaningful and purposive. Development does not, however, proceed directly forward: the Idea first begins as a thesis, then a force arises opposite to it, called an antithesis, and finally there is a compromise termed as a synthesis, which incorporates the best in each of the preceding positions. This onward movement of the Idea is termed Dialectic. Reason, whether in the individual, society or the universe, develops in the dialectical fashion. The disharmony implicit in everything is the cause of change and development. For Hegel, the universe is both rational and dynamic. Each civilisation is higher in the scale of value than the preceding one and will in its turn give place to a still higher one. Progress, therefore, is a real fact. The Hegelian view certainly makes the historical process meaningful. This view, however, suffers from a fatal weakness. It fails to do justice to individuality. Evolution, working slowly, through untold ages, has finally produced the free rational individual. Such an individual may be regarded as the goal towards which the process had been moving. The future course of evolution would therefore be in the direction of the gradual perfection of the individual. In the Hegelian scheme, the emphasis is on the whole and the individual merely subserves the purposes of the whole. This, we believe, is a fatal error, and is responsible, though not solely, for the theory of “the nation being an organism, with a being, ends and means of action superior to those of the individuals, separate or grouped, of whom it is composed …. a moral, political and economic unity, integrally realised in (a totalitarian) state,”(1) thereby crushing the individual under the iron wheels of this Jagannathan chariot*.

In the Marxian theory, prime importance is attached to the economic factor. The economic system at any particular time determines the ideals, values, moral standard and every aspect of the society. One economic system gives place to another in the same dialectical manner. Here too, the focus of interest is on the society and not on the individual. Society develops through the working of economic forces and the individual has no choice but to fit into whatever social system happens to be in ascendance. Any individual who refuses to fit into the social pattern, is weeded out. The Marxian theory ignores the main trend of evolution in the present age. It too has led to the, establishment of a totalitarian regime in which each individual man is no more than a mere cog in a gigantic machine.

It is obvious that both Hegel and Marx glimpsed only part of, and not the whole, truth. Both were right in regarding the universe as a dynamic evolving system: both were wrong in denying that the goal was the emergence of fully developed, perfect, free and rational individuals. The historical process becomes meaningful only when  it is viewed as developing towards this goal.

This is the central element in the Qur’anic view of history. The historical process is a manifestation of the evolutionary process – a process in which the participants are individuals, endowed with freedom and foresight. However, the foresight they possess is limited and bedevilled by sordid distractions. In this situation, there are limitless possibilities of taking a wrong turn. What is intended is objective direction that can keep on the path towards the distant goal that is not immediately comprehensible. Human reason supplemented by Revelation enables man to rediscover the right path. The historical process will ultimately produce conditions in which each individual can devote himself to the pursuit of the absolute values which are the primary concern of Revelation. The goal is the setting up of the Divine Social Order.

We must, however, ask why this social order is nowhere visible, not even in any Muslim country, although the Qur’an has been with us for fourteen centuries. The answer is that cosmic processes work slowly, very slowly. It is only by taking a long-term view that we can perceive the trend of a world process. To quote the Qur’an: “But lo! A day with Allah is equal to a thousand years as ye reckon” (22:47). The whole of humanity can move only slowly towards this objective. Man has to suffer many setbacks, reverses, disappointments, and pass through many a trial and travail before he can attain it. He must work patiently and hopefully and keep up his courage even when the prospect is bleak. He who does the right thing, no matter how little, is helping forward the process, and he who does wrong is retarding it. Every action has its natural consequences for the doer himself as well as for his nation:

And whosoever doeth good an atom’s weight will see it then and whosoever doeth ill an atom’s weight will see it then (99:7-8).

Every action of man is recorded and the consequences inevitably follow. Good, however, prevails over bad. The consequences of a wrong action can be nullified by a right act. “Good deeds” says the Qur’an, “annul bad deeds” (11:114). The fate of the individual or of the nation, therefore, depends on which kind of actions predominate;

As for him whose scales are heavy (with good works) he will live a pleasant life. But as for him whose scales are light, the ”Bereft and Hungry One” will be his mother (abode). Ah! what will convey unto thee what she is – a raging fire  (10:6-11).

A grim fate surely overtakes the nation which has set itself in opposition to the moral order of the universe. However, as already stated, the Law of Requital works slowly. The effects of a particular way of life may not be obvious for years. The nation is deluded by a false sense of security. If it does not mend its ways and persists in the wrong course, it is doomed “and God shall lead them on (to destruction) by steps they perceive not” (68:44). The Universal Divine Order has no use for a nation which merely impedes the progress of humanity. Such a nation drops out of the procession of mankind and can never rejoin it. Its disappearance is not even noticeable:

And the heaven and the earth wept not for them, nor were they reprieved (44:29).

Such a nation, sooner or later, disappears from history. A nation which takes to destructive ways is invariably granted a respite, long or short. It is saved if it retraces its steps and turns back to the right path before reaching the point of no return. This respite is termed ajal in the Qur’an. “For every nation there is an ajal ” (7:34), and “for every ajal there is a law” (13:38). The limit beyond which a nation cannot pass without being irretrievably lost is determined by Divine Law:

Allah effaceth and establisheth everything according to a law the source of which is with Him (13:39).

  3.Doom of the Nations

History bears testimony to the fact that the conduct of nations, as that of individuals, is governed by the Law of Requital. A nation which lives and acts in accordance with the moral order and furthers the development of man, prospers and grows strong. An unjust and reactionary nation, on the other hand, heads for ruin. Each succeeds or fails as a consequence of its own acts. The events of history are not unrelated and arbitrary but are truly determined by an unalterable standard. History is not the sport of a capricious fate but is a lawful, orderly process. If a nation suffers, it has brought the suffering on itself. It cannot blame it on any outside agency. “He who has to perish,” says the Qur’an, ”perishes by a clear proof, and he who has to survive, survives by a clear proof” (8:42). Success or failure are the eventual consequences of our good or bad conduct. The Qur’an makes this clear:

God does not do injustice to anyone. It is the people who do injustice to themselves (11:101).

It is man who often acts against his best interests:

Why should God punish you if you are grateful? (4:147).

In another place, the Qur’an puts it still more clearly. “When misfortune befalls man, he exclaims: “my Rabb has abased me for no reason. “The Qur’an replies that God is never unjust in His dealings with men. “If you suffer, it is because you, on your part, never succour the orphan and the lonely, and urge not the feeding of the poor, and you devour the heritage with greed, and love wealth with abounding love” (89:16-20). These are the causes of their misfortunes. In this connection, the Qur’an lays down a significant principle:

In truth my Rabb was not one Who would destroy the townships tyrannically while their people were doing right (11:117).

Only those are punished who deviate from the right path (46:35).

The “doom of nations” is a recurrent theme in the Qur’an. It is worthwhile to determine the exact meaning of this term. Some nations have, in fact, been completely forgotten. It is not, however, to this fact that the Qur’an directs our attention. The Qur’an wants us to ponder over the plight of a nation, which, through its misdeeds, has lost its independence and is living in a condition of poverty, political subjection and economic dependence. It has ceased to play a creative role in the world. The leadership of humanity has passed out of its hands. It no longer lives, it merely vegetates. It has dropped out of the procession of humanity which is slowly but steadily moving towards a grand destination. The moment it lost touch with the moral order, it began to decay. Death is preferable to decay. The Qur’an says that a nation begins to decline when it pursues wealth and takes to hoard money. It should have spent the money for the general good. The rich, instead of helping the poor and the needy, amassed wealth for themselves. The inevitable consequence was that the nation began to deteriorate. It believed that wealth would make it strong but wealth worked like a poison in its system and undermined it. It ruined itself by pursuing an ignoble end:

Ye are those who are called to spend in the way of Allah, yet among you there are those who hoard. And as for him who hoardeth he hoardeth only from his own self. And Allah is the rich and ye are the poor. And if ye turn away, He will exchange you for some other folk and they shall not be like you (47:38).

The meaning is clear. If a nation refuses to work for the development of mankind and for the establishment of the Divine Order and pursues the ignoble end of self aggrandisement, it will be supplanted by another nation carrying more weight in the balance of humanity. The acquisitive nation will remain stuck in its wealth and another nation will be called upon to give a lead to mankind. This latter nation is said to be “better than its predecessor” (70:41).

The struggle between nations is carried on, on the physical as well as the moral plane. A nation which relies on brute force and cunning may succeed for a time but ultimately fails. It has to face not only the external enemy but also the discontent among the common people. However strong and well-organised the government may be, it succumbs to its opponents because it was based on injustice and tyranny. The rivalries of political factions and the mounting discontent of the people under the oppressive rule, brings about the downfall of the organisation – even if it is not defeated on the field of battle. This is the fate of the unjust society:

Say: He is able to send punishment upon you from above you or from beneath your feet, or to confuse you into parties and make you taste the tyranny one of another (6:65).

The struggle between nations when it is on the physical plane, with brute force opposed to brute force, debases and bestialises man. Men are not demoralised if the struggle is confined to the moral plane. Such a struggle does not breed hatred among nations. In this case, that system, be it political, social or economic, prevails which has greater value and clears the path for progress. Here a word of caution is needed. The moment a system succeeds, one should not jump to the conclusion that it is of greater value than its rivals. We should take a long term view. Only when its success is enduring and it is shown to be productive of good results for mankind over a period of time, can it be judged to be of value. The historical process tests each system and preserves only that which really expands and enriches human life. The Qur’an rightly exhorts us to study history:

Have they not travelled in the land and seen the nature of the consequence for those who were before them? They were stronger than these in power and they dug the earth and built upon it more than these have built. Messengers of their own came to them with clear proofs. Surely Allah wronged them not but they did wrong themselves (30:9).

A mere glance at the awe-inspiring ruins of their cities shows that they possessed everything desired by man; power, wealth, vast resources and intelligence of a high order and yet, despite these, they could not withstand the forces of decay and disintegration. It was because their system of values was fundamentally wrong. They were bewitched by the glamour of false and transient values, such as power, wealth and material prosperity. They had intelligence but not wisdom. They lacked insight into the deeper things of life. They paid the price for disregarding the demands of the moral order of the universe. The Qur’an cites the examples of Aad and Thamood. Both were rich and powerful nations. They were highly intelligent; as the Qur’an says, they were “keen observers” (29:38). But they chose a way of life which was opposed to the moral order. Their scale of values was wrong. The Qur’an says that it is the duty of the Mustabsireen, the intellectuals and the leaders of thought, to discover the right path and persuade the people to follow it. When these men do not discharge their duty properly, the nation slides into injustice and tyranny and heads for ruin. The leaders of thought are bound to keep a watchful eye on the nation and to warn it when it goes wrong. The intellectuals are to blame if the nation pursues false values. If a nation begins to decay, the process usually starts at the top. The upper stratum of the society first becomes corrupt and the corruption spreads downwards. It is strange that men of high intelligence should be the first to be corrupted. It is because they cannot resist the temptation to use their intelligence to further their own interests:

And verily, We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and mind; but their ears and eyes and mind availed them naught, since they rejected the laws revealed by Allah: and what they used to mock befell them (46:26).

It is to this truth that the Qur’an directs our attention. Knowledge and understanding, wealth and power, skill and intelligence will not avail us if we adopt a course opposed to the eternal moral order, A social system based on false values, on the glorification of wealth and power, may flourish for a time, but will ultimately crumble down. Iqbal has rightly said:

A society based on capitalism cannot maintain itself.

However much wily politicians may try to buttress it up. (Baang-e-Dara).

In the course of a discussion of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Briffault has made some thought-provoking observations, which we will do well to ponder over:

No system of human organisation that is false in its very principle in its very foundation, can save itself by any amount of cleverness and efficiency in the means by which that falsehood is carried out and maintained by any amount of superficial adjustment and tinkering. It is doomed root and branch as long as the root remains what it is.(2)

He goes on to say:

Humanity does not necessarily stand upon a higher plane of being when riding above the clouds, nor does a hundred miles an hour constitute progress; man is not intellectually transformed by being able to weigh the stars and disport his mind over wider spheres of knowledge. There is a deeper aspect of human affairs. There is something which stands nearer to the essence of human worth than any form of material or intellectual power, than the control of nature or the development of the mind’s insight. Power, civilisation, culture count for naught, if they are associated with moral evil. The real standard by which the worth of the human world is to be computed is a moral standard. It is in an ethical sense that the word ‘good’ bears its essential meaning, when applied to things human; and no process of human evolution can be counted real which is not above all an evolution in “goodness.”(3)

A society based on false principles inevitably disintegrates. We quote again from Briffault:

What really happens is that the phase of society, the order of things in which disregard of right is habitual and accepted, inevitably deteriorates and parishes. However much the individual may temporarily benefit by inequity, the social organisation of which he is a part and the very class which enjoys the fruits of that inequity, suffer inevitable deterioration through its operation. They are unadapted to the facts of their environment. The wages of sin is death by the inevitable operation of natural selection.(4)

This did not happen only in the remote past when men were still ignorant and intellectually immature. We notice the same process of deterioration in the modern scientific civilisation. Let us see what Western thinkers have to say about their own civilisation. We quote from Rene Guenon:

Modern civilisation has gone downwards step by step until it has ended by sinking to the lowest elements in man and aiming at little more than the satisfaction of the needs inherent in the material side of his nature, an aim which is, in any case, illusory as it constantly creates more artificial needs than it can satisfy.(5)

He goes on to say:

Not only have they limited their intellectual ambition to inventing and constructing machines, but they have ended by becoming in actual fact, machines themselves. The inventions whose number is at present growing at an ever increasing rate, are all the more dangerous in that they bring into play forces whose real nature is quite unknown to the men who utilise them.(6)

Guenon ventures to predict the ultimate result of these activities:

Those who unchain the brute forces of matter will perish, crushed by these same forces, of which they will no longer be masters.(7)

Einstein’s remarks on this point deserve careful attention:

By painful experience we have learnt that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life. Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labour, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him slave to his technological environment, and most catastrophic of all – creating the means for his own mass destruction. This indeed is a tragedy of overwhelming poignancy!(8)

He warns us against entrusting our destiny to intellect:

We should take care not to make the intellect our God: it has of course powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve, and it is not fastidious in its choice of a leader. This characteristic is reflected in the qualities of its priests – the intellectuals. The intellect has a sharp eye for methods and tools but is blind to ends and values.(9)

The result is that, in the words of Jung, “along the great high-roads of the world, everything seems desolate and out worn.”(10)

So far we have been considering modern society. It is time to turn to the individual and his problems. It is generally admitted that modern man is far from being happy. He possesses knowledge, power and material comforts which were undreamt of by his ancestors. These, however, have not given him the things he desires most – peace and happiness. Jung set himself the task of diagnosing the disease from which the modern man suffers. He reached the conclusion that while the modern man’s body is satisfied, his soul is not. He is out of tune with the universe. He yearns after unification with the universe but finds that a widening gulf separates him from the heart of Reality. Somewhere he took a wrong turning and in the midst of luxury, is a prey to acute discontent. The poet Iqbal sounded a similar note of warning. Of the modern man he says:

Love has no place in his life, and intellect, biting like a serpent, keeps him restless.

He has not enabled Divine guidance to subdue and control his intellect.

He explores the inter-stellar spaces, but has left the world of the mind unexplored.

He has captured the power locked up in the sun’s rays, but his own life remains enveloped in darkness (Darb-e-Kaleem).

Modern man possesses wealth, power and vast resources. His control over the forces of nature and his technological progress are truly astounding. What then is the cause of his discontent and of the decline of his civilisation? The Qur’an provides us with an answer. The cause is within himself:

Allah never changes the condition of a nation until they first change what is in themselves (8:53).

This verse makes it clear that man’s destiny lies in his own hands. What he needs is a change of heart. He has been following false ideals and pursuing ignoble ends. He has cut himself off from Reality and is drifting aimlessly. He has lost sight of the noble end he had once glimpsed with the help of Divine Revelation. For a time he pursued it, but soon allowed himself to be allured by the glittering tawdry objects that lay around. He has seized them but they have brought him only disillusionment. He was not meant to become a glorified beast but to rise to a higher plane of existence. He can save himself only by recovering his Eiman in God and in his own noble self endowed with great potentialities which he has neglected. The cure for his malady lies in his turning back to God, i.e., resuming the pursuit of the absolute values. Let us see what Bertrand Russell says about it:

In the world in which we find ourselves, the possibilities of good are almost limitless and the possibilities of evil no less so. Our present predicament is due, more than anything else, to the fact that we have learnt to understand and control to a terrifying extent, the forces of nature outside us, but not those that are embodied in ourselves.(11)

Several verses of the Qur’an throw light on the gradual decline of a nation. We are told that, as already stated, it is the upper stratum of society that is the first to be infected with wickedness. Statesmen and leaders of thought succumb to the allurement of false ideals and values. They think that scientific knowledge and technology will make them the masters of the world. They consider absolute values as figments of imagination, the creation of the minds of visionaries. They shut their eyes to the hidden riches of the human mind and glorify that which man has in common with the animals. Their distorted vision of life is adopted by their followers. The infection spreads downwards until the whole society is contaminated:

Have you not seen those who gave the bounty of Allah in exchange for thanklessness and led their people to the abode of perdition – Hell? They are exposed thereto. A hopeless end (14:28-29).

The masses too, as they allowed themselves to be misled by their leaders, are not quite blameless. It is, no doubt, true that the common people do not have the intelligence and knowledge that their leaders possess. As free responsible beings, however, it is their duty to think for themselves and pull up their leaders when they go wrong. This they did not do and, therefore, they too cannot escape punishment. However, in Hell the common people will hold their leaders responsible for the fate that has befallen them:

Oh! if thou couldst see when the wrongdoer are brought before their Rabb, how they cast the blame one to another; how those who were weaker (the followers) say unto those who were proud (the leaders): “but for you, we would have been believers” (34:31).

The leaders will retort that they (the followers) had willingly obeyed them and as such had a share in their guilt:

And those who were proud say unto those who were weaker: “did we drive you away from the guidance after it had come unto you. Nay, but you were yourself guilty” (34:32).

In short, the followers and leaders will hurl accusations at each other when they see the doom. The followers, while admitting that they had obeyed them of their own accord, will plead that they had been taken in by their specious arguments and plausible reasoning:

Those who were weaker say unto those who were proud: “Nay, but it was your scheming night and day when ye commanded us to disbelieve in Allah and set up rivals (like yourself) unto Him” (34:33).

The followers will implore God to inflict a twofold punishment on the leaders as they were doubly guilty, going astray themselves and taking others with them:

And they say: Our Rabb! Oh! we obeyed our chiefs and our great men and they misled us from the way. Our Rabb! Oh! give them double torment and curse them with a mighty curse (33:67-68).

Thus the Qur’an, in the form of an allegory, shows the respective roles of the leaders and followers in the decline and fall of a nation. Corruption starts at the upper layer of society and spreads downwards. Common men, by shirking their duty to think independently, become accomplices in the crimes of their leaders. Had they rebelled, the leaders might have been brought to their senses and checked themselves. Their willing obedience to errant leaders was in itself a crime and they have to expiate it.

It is not only individuals who imitate their betters. Nations too are tempted to imitate stronger, wealthier and more advanced nations. Backward nations eagerly follow the lead of an advanced nation. They play the sedulous ape to the great nation, faithfully copying its manners and way of life and adopting its institutions, moral standards and ideals. Most members of the weaker nation take pride in holding beliefs and opinions fashionable in an advanced nation. The relation of leader and follower is established between the great nation and other nations. The leader nation commands and the follower nations submissively obey. If the great nation is pursuing false ideals and values, the nations which have accepted its leadership likewise do so. Such passive submission to another nation paralyses the mental powers of the members of the weaker nations. They lose the capacity for independent thinking. They succumb to the glamour of the leader nation and are blind to its defects and faults. They mould their life on its model and think and feel as it does. What it considers to be right is right for them. They follow blindly in the steps of the great nation and finally fall with it into the same abyss of degradation. This has happened time and again in history. At the present time, people of the East are bewitched by the glamour of the Western civilisation. They do not view it with a critical eye. They are ardent admirers of both its good and bad qualities. They too worship the false gods of material prosperity and technological power. They are heading for disaster. When disaster befalls them both, they will blame each other:

Every time a nation entereth (the Hell) it curseth its sister (nation) till when they have all been made to follow one another thither, the latter of them shall say of the former of them: “Our Rabb! these led us astray so give them double torment of the fire” (7:38).

And God will say:

For each one there is double (torment) but ye do not know (7:38).

The reason is obvious. God has granted “eyes and ears” (knowledge and understanding) to all men. It is their duty to make full use of them. They should give careful thought to the consequences of any course of action which others advise them to follow. As rational and free beings, they are responsible for their acts. They cannot shift the responsibility to the shoulders of another. They must think, decide and choose for themselves. If they allow others, however superior to them in intellectual knowledge these may be, to think, decide and choose for them, they are abdicating their right of free choice. They have to suffer the consequences of their acts whether they performed them after due deliberation or in unthinking imitation  of those whom they admired. If they had pondered on the Divine Revelation and had reflected on the fate of erring nations in the past, they would not have been dazzled by the temporary success of a nation acting in open defiance of the moral order. They are courting disaster and cannot plead in their defence that they were merely following the lead of people more intelligent and knowledgeable than themselves:

And how many a community we have destroyed that exulted in but misused the means of livelihood! And ponder over their dwellings, which have not been inhabited after them save a little. And We, even We, were the inheritors (28:58).

Again:

How many a city We have destroyed while it did wrong, so that it lieth to this day in ruins, and how many deserted wells and lofty towers (22:45).

The Qur’an says of them that “they have been made into legends” (23:44). How ephemeral is earthly glory is shown by the ruins of the great cities of the past:

Say: Travel in the earth and see what was the end of the guilty (27:69).

We are exhorted to study history, that we may avoid the path which led others to ruin. We are also advised to travel around in the world and carefully observe the life of contemporary nations. We will then see that knowledge, power, wealth, none of these can save a nation when it begins to pursue false values:

Have they not travelled in the land and have they hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear! For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind (22:46).

The great lesson that the Qur’an teaches us is that individuals as well as nations are the architects of their own fate. Their destiny lies in their own hands. If they choose to defy the moral order, they bring irretrievable ruin on themselves. If, on the other hand, they live in harmony with the eternal moral order and pursue the absolute values, an unlimited vista of progress lies before them. The Qur’an, however, does not merely state this general truth. It lays down rules of conduct for the individual as well as for the nation. The basic principle is set down in the following verse:

He sends down water from heaven, and the brooks flow according to their respective measures and the flood bears along a swelling foam. And from the metals which they melt in the fire, seeking to cast ornaments and necessaries, arises a scum like to it. Thus Allah coins (the similitude of) the true and the false. Then as for the foam, it passes away as scum upon the banks, while as for that which is beneficial to mankind, it remains in the earth. Thus Allah coins the similitudes (13:17).

The inviolable and unchangeable criterion is that:

Only that remains which is beneficial for the whole of mankind; everything else passes away like scum.

This is the eternal immutable principle which throws light on the rise and fall of nations. As long as a nation is contributing something useful to mankind and adding to the store of goodness in the world, it prospers and flourishes. The moment it fails to do so, it starts on the downward course and finally ceases to play an effective role in world affairs. Whether it disappears or lingers on for decades or even centuries is immaterial. The cosmic purpose has no use for it and works itself out through other nations. It is, therefore, clear that the nation which has identified its good with the good of mankind as a whole is following the right path. That nation is progressive which is creating something of value to mankind, something that enriches the life of all men. That nation will survive which strives to assure for all men a life of happiness, peace and prosperity. Armed might, control over the forces of nature and wealth will not avail a nation if its policies are detrimental to the interest of mankind. It is bound to pass away, for,

Only that remains which is beneficial for mankind as a whole (13:17).

 4.  Cosmic Process.

This discussion emerged out of the question: why the Qur’anic Social Order which assures a peaceful, prosperous and glorious life to mankind has not been established anywhere in the world, not even in any Muslim state, although the Divine Guidance has been with us for fourteen centuries. The answer so far provided is that cosmic process is slow, very slow when measured by serial or historic time. The point requires further elucidation. Evolutionary changes take place in the outer universe automatically, according to Divine plan, and by stages, each involving thousands and thousands of years to accomplish. This is cosmic process. In the case of man, however, this process works in a somewhat different way. Man (and here we mean man not travelling in the light of Divine guidance) when pressed by circumstances to modify any existing state of affairs, adopts a course which he thinks the best, works on it strenuously day in and day out, but finds at the end that the course adopted was wrong. He abandons it and embarks upon another course. This he has to repeat time and again. Often he feels exhausted during the course of his journey and leaves the experiment incomplete in dire frustration. Even when he reaches his destination, the labour involved and the time spent do not commensurate with the result achieved – the span of human life is so short and the distance to be traversed so lengthy. This process of ”trial and error” is another form of cosmic process. Man has, however, not been left in wilderness to find his way out, unaided by a guide or without any signposts on his way. He has been blessed with Divine guidance. If he adopts the course suggested by it straightaway, not only is he protected against pitfalls but the time taken to reach the goal also shrinks from cosmic reckoning to human calendar. Fourteen hundred years ago, a group of believers made this experiment most successfully, which, apart from the miraculous results it produced, proved that neither the Qur’anic Social Order was a utopia nor the programme laid down to establish it was unworkable. Their later generations, however, abandoned that course, with the result that they met the same fate as did the past nations who acted similarly. (This, by the way, is the negative proof of the efficacy of the Divine Law governing the rise and fall of nations). The Divine course is still there and can be taken up by any nation who wishes to reach human destination safely and within the shortest possible time:

Say: The truth from your Rabb is there; so let whosoever will accept, and let whosoever will reject (18:29).

Reference

  1. Charter of Labour of 1927, quoted by Earnest Barker, in Principles of
  2. Social and Political Theory, p. 133.
  3. R. Briffault, The Making of Humanity, p. 159.
  4. Ibid, p. 259.
  5. Ibid. p. 262.
  6. Rene Guenon, The Crisis of the Modern World, p. 26.
  7. Ibid, pp. 126; 131.
  8. Ibid, p. 136.
  9. A. Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 152.
  10. Ibid, p. 260.
  11. C. G. Jung, Modern Man In Search of Soul, p. 251.
  12. B. Russell, Authority and the Individual, p. 125.

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