INTRODUCTION Islam: A challenge to religion G A Parwez

The history of mankind makes tragic reading. Down through the ages we come across a series of sequences of the rise, growth, decline and fall not only of nations but even of their civilisations and cultures. No doubt, man has all along shown a remarkable constructive genius having attained many an awe-inspiring success now and then, despite occasional setbacks and natural catastrophes. But his constructive genius was always undermined by some inherent weakness underlying his ideals or his way of life which ultimately brought about a disastrous end to his efforts. Nevertheless, there have been some notable exceptions in the series of sequences when the idea of the universal welfare of mankind took practical shape, but the main characteristic of the type of the society in all those civilisations, however, always remained one of frustration.

The same dismal spectacle is repeated age after age. We see a people incessantly striving towards the creation of a great civilisation, which became the focus of their desires and ambitions, hopes and aspirations. They looked upon their success as the apogee of human endeavour. This civilisation, they hoped, would finally liberate mankind from the clutches of tyranny and serfdom, and usher in an era of eternal peace, security and contentment. They remained lost in the illusion of having built up an unparalleled civilisation whose growth was always a source of pride and happiness for them. Every step they took for its progress kindled a new ray of hope in their hearts for ultimately attaining human welfare and advancement. But the process never reached the desired culmination, and the main objective ever remained a mirage. Long before the goal was reached, invariably an anti-climax set in and man himself became instrumental in pulling down the imposing edifice that he had raised through the ages shattering his hopes, ideals and aspiration.

History is replete with such stories of the rise and growth and the ultimate decline and fall of several human civilisations. Ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Rome, India and even some parts of the New World are now graveyards of glorious old civilisations. These stand as living testimony to the story of man’s tragic failures. They induce a thoughtful mood in sensitive spectators and caution them to pause for a while and reflect over this warning of the Qur’an:

Mind! Be you not like the old woman who laboured hard to spin her yarn and then pulled it to pieces (16:92)

 Contemporary Civilisation

On the other hand, let us ponder over the state of the contemporary world in which the leading role is played by the nations of the West. The splendour and brilliance of that civilisation is indeed dazzling. No doubt, this civilisation, prosperous and powerful as it claims to be, has enabled man to harness some of the most formidable forces of nature. The astounding progress of communication by land, sea and air has brought distant places into close contact. Never before in his long and chequered history has man enjoyed such power over the universe and the mighty forces of nature as he does today.

This fantastic phase of human civilisation is hardly a century old, but unfortunately, as in the past, the portents of its collapse and ruin are already in evidence, as Mason says:

We began our era of scientific efficiency confident that materialistic triumphs would solve life’s problems. We are finding we were wrong. Life is not as simple as that.(1)

Every thinking man is oppressed by the fear that this civilisation which has already been shaken to its very foundations by two global wars will not survive a third shock. Not only will the whole edifice collapse, but it will also crush the whole of mankind under it, perhaps, totally out of existence.

Why should this be so? Neither ancient civilisations nor the present one are the work of thoughtless men. In fact, all great civilisations, both past and present, are the manifestations of a highly developed creative mind. This paradox of progress leads all thoughtful minds inescapably to the conclusion arrived at by Einstein:

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 labor, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him a 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. (2)

In other words, human reason can subdue the forces of nature but cannot find by itself a satisfactory solution to the complexity of the problems of mankind. In fact, these cannot be solved unless and until we first find satisfactory answers to certain fundamental questions: What is the aim and purpose of human life? Why are the claims of different individuals and interests of different nations often mutually contradictory, and how can they be reconciled? What things are conducive and which harmful to the interests of mankind at large? What are the common values of humanity and how are they mutually related? Why is it necessary to protect and preserve these values and how? What are the fundamental rights of man and how can they be safeguarded? It is clear that human reason and its manifestations – the sciences – do not and cannot possibly help us to solve these questions. Let me again refer to Einstein:

For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary … Representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect of values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors … For the scientist, there is only “being,” but not wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil; no goal. (3)

Since the solution of man’s fundamental problems depends upon satisfactory answers to the above questions and since human reason alone cannot properly answer them, it would be well to investigate some other source of knowledge to which we may turn for the right answers which might help mankind in solving its fundamental problems.

 Divine Guidance

Human intellect helps us little in the matter, because it is not aware of any source of knowledge other than itself. There is only one guide left for mankind in this difficult quest; and that confidently proclaims its ability to lead them to their goal:

The God that has created all the objects in the universe has also undertaken to make them aware of their goal and guide them towards it (The Qur’an, 20:50).

This Guidance which comes direct from God is known as revelation. It has been revealed all along to mankind through the agency of various Anbiya (Messengers). But unfortunately, due to the ravages of time and human tampering with the texts of the Scriptures, the messages delivered by the pre-Islamic Anbiya could not be preserved long in their original form. Eventually, about fourteen centuries ago, the complete and final version of that Guidance was revealed to mankind through Muhammad (PBUH)*, the last of the series of the Rusul. This version of the Divine Guidance is embodied, exactly in its original form, in the Qur’an.

 The Qur’an

The Qur’an was revealed from time to time over a period of about twenty-three years. Rasool-ullah had made fool-proof arrangements for its transcription and preservation, and before he died it had been fully compiled in the form of a book, apart from being memorised by heart by thousands of men. The Book has thus been inherited in its original form and it is an historically established fact that not a single letter of the Book has been altered in the course of the fourteen centuries of its existence. This great and incomparable book is a unique testament of the eternal truths and ever-abiding universal values, and offers enlightenment and perfect guidance in regard to all aspects of human life.

Writings of men are the products of their environment and are designed to convey some idea and serve one or another limited purpose. The life of such writings is, therefore, transitory, and their interest and utility limited. On the other hand, a book that carries revealed guidance forever is independent of time and space and circumstance. Its teachings are never out of date, and there is no limit beyond which it could fail to enlighten the development and the realisation of individual potentialities, and explains the laws that govern the rise, decline and fall of nations. The Qur’an thus is a Divine Book embodying all these attributes, and being the final code of life forever prescribed by God for mankind, is fully comprehensive and complete in every respect.

This great work of Almighty God tell us that all the failures and frustrations of mankind, all the destructions and bloodshed that the world has suffered, can be traced back to fallacious views of life that man had adopted through the distorted vision and perverse thinking. One of these is the materialistic concept of life according to which man is merely the most developed specimen of animal life, his being depending entirely upon this physical body for existence and ending with its decay. Human life, they think, is governed entirely by physical laws. The preservation and promotion of man’s material welfare is the only aim worth striving for. It is the function of human intellect to help man in achieving these aims. Those who believe in this view of life inevitably accept the supremacy of the law of jungle that might is right. This law naturally results in strife and conflict among individuals and groups, eventually leading to global conflicts and mass destruction of life and property and tragic human sufferings. In short, all the courses that mankind has adopted for the organisation of social life have ultimately led, not to security and peace, but to mutual destruction. In The Making of Humanity, Robert Briffault has brought the root cause of the trouble clearly into focus when he says:

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 (p.159).

The Qur’anic View of Life

The Qur’an on the other hand, holds that man is not merely a physical being but is composed of something else besides his body which is called human personality. This personality, however, is not inherited by man in a fully developed state; it exists in a latent form and its development is the ultimate object of human life. When properly developed, the life of the individual becomes capable of evolving into higher forms after its end in this mortal world. The growth of an individual’s physical existence is governed by certain natural laws; but the development of his personality is subject to a different set of laws which have been given to mankind from time to time through Divine Revelation, and are now fully embodied in the Qur’an.

 Organisation of Human Society

The personality of the individual can grow and fulfil its destiny in and through society alone and not in isolation. Therefore, the Qur’anic laws relating to human personality also outline the principles on which the organisation of human society should be based. A social system evolved in accordance with the Qur’anic laws aims at ensuring the progress and full development of entire mankind. It creates a society free from the clash of interests among individuals and nations. For, according to its basic principles, the personality of an individual grows in direct proportion to his contribution towards the development of other personalities. Thus in a society where each individual does his best to help others (in the interest of his own personality) conflict among individuals does not arise. And once the conflict of interest among people is eliminated, all other complications that have been responsible for the perpetual strife, tyranny and disorder in the world would automatically disappear. The Qur’an, therefore, lays down a pattern according to which a healthy social organisation for entire mankind can be formed.

As an outcome of the materialistic concept of life, mankind today faces a crisis which perhaps has no parallel in history. This crisis, pervading all spheres of human life, has taken the form of a universal revolt against religion. This is not confined to any particular place or group of people. It is not directed against any particular religion, but against religion itself. No doubt, every religion has been subjected to the severest criticism at one time or another since the advent of civilisation, but a total revolt against religion itself is a peculiar feature of the contemporary attitude towards life. “All living religions” says William Ernest Hocking, “are wretched vessels. They are all wrapped in sanctimony, dusty-eyed with self-satisfaction, stiff-jointed with the rheum-rust of their creedal conceits, so timorous under the whips of conformity that only a few dare the perilous task of thinking.” (4) Russell  is clearer on the point when he says:

Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion. (5)

Our age thus poses an open challenge to religion.

This challenge is not entirely unprecedented. Fourteen centuries ago religion faced a similar challenge – and a formidable one at that. This challenge was held out by the Qur’an. It openly challenged the religions of the day: Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism, idol-worship, star-worship, nature-worship and superstition. What is more, it not merely challenged the truth and validity of the elements of a particular form of religion, but also emphasised that “religion” itself was based on false foundations.

This assertion is likely to cause surprise not only to non-Muslims but even to Muslims. It may be argued that Islam itself is a religion (and the Qur’an is a book of religion) and to say that the Qur’an is the standard-bearer of a revolt against religion is a contradiction in terms. In fact, however, this is not a contradiction but may merely be termed as a paradox, which arises from a fundamental fallacy and a widely accepted misconception about the nature of Islam. Islam is generally regarded as a religion (madhhab) whereas in fact it is not a madhhab but a deen. Now madhhab and deen, which are generally treated as synonymous, are not only essentially different concepts but are mutually contradictory. So, the fundamental difference between the two must be clearly understood before the assertion made above can be properly appreciated. A proper understanding of this difference is also essential for the deliverance of mankind from the deadly crises in which it finds itself today.

The Qur’an tells us that when man began to live in groups, a clash of interests ensued. And this in turn led to violent strife and bloodshed. Since this mess had been the result of man’s own limitation, it was beyond his power to remedy it. What was needed was a clear guidance from a source supra-human. Obviously, this source could be none other than Divine Knowledge, for, in the entire universe there is no body or force superior to man except this Creator – God Himself. The Divine Guidance that mankind needed to pull itself out of the morass in which it found itself was available to it through Rusul (the Messengers of God).

Thus from time to time each of this long succession of Divine Messengers (Rusul) came to mankind with a Code of Divine Guidance, and established a socio-economic order based on the permanent values embodied in that Code. The old conflicts and strife in that society were thus brought to an end. The pursuit of individual self-interests was replaced by the ideal of the good of the society at large. Oppression and exploitation were abolished and justice and equity prevailed. The dependence of man upon man and the subjection of one to another were brought to an end. Every individual was assured the proper satisfaction of his needs. He was, therefore, satisfied and did not owe obedience to any person or power except to Divine Laws (or the Permanent Values enshrined in the Divine Code). All the members of society thus enjoyed true freedom and security and freedom not confined to man’s physical existence on this earth alone but also ensured in the life hereafter. This way of life, this code of law and this social order was known as deen.

This social order prevailed during the lifetime of the Nabi who founded it and for some time thereafter. But sooner or later, the forces suppressed by deen again raised their ugly heads and began to undermine it, reviving the old evils of injustice, exploitation and tyranny. In their attempt to re-establish the old order, forces generally availed themselves of the services of men who appeared in the robes of piety and spoke in the name of God. They posed as the interpreters of God’s Will and thus distorted the principles and tenets of deen, which no longer remained a living force in society and was reduced to a set of soulless beliefs and lifeless dogmas and formal rituals divorced from reason and knowledge and the realities of life in this world. They sought to keep the common people entangled in the labyrinth of dogma and ritual, and the exploiters, religious as well as temporal, were thus left free to maintain their stranglehold upon the defrauded masses and to fatten themselves on the labour of others. This was the metamorphosis of deen into madhhab or religion, as in the old.

But this sort of order, or lack of order, could not continue indefinitely, and before long another Rasool (Messenger of God) appeared on the scene, challenged the standard-bearers of “religion” and eventually re-established the deen or way of life revealed to and established by his predecessor.

This process of thesis and antithesis, of revival and decadence, went on for ages and ended with the Nabi of Islam, through whom a perfect code of Divine Guidance embodied in the Qur’an was brought to mankind. The social order that was established by the Nabi on the basis of that Code was the culmination of the process of the perfection of deen.

The entire history of mankind is in short the history of a perpetual conflict between deen and madhhab terminating in the success of one over the other.

The concept of “religion” is a deliberate creation of the minds of men devoted to the pursuit of self-interest. Their aim was to enjoy themselves at the expense of others. As a result of a sustained process of indoctrination, the masses learnt to hail and bless those who cheated them in diverse forms of disguises pleasing to them.

In all their attempts to befool the people and cheat them out of their rights, the standard-bearers of “religion” have always relied mainly upon one technique: they attributed their own aims and ambitions as emanating from the “Will of God.” This is the secret of the strong hold of “religion” on the minds of the masses; and the most effective way of maintaining this hold is to keep the people ignorant, to cripple their reason and render them incapable of independent thinking, and hold up ignorance and stupidity and blind submission as signs of piety and godliness. The leaders of “religion” would have us believe that the more obscurely and incoherently a person talks, the nearer he is to God; and the more irrational and unscientific he is in his attitude and approach, the greater the esteem in which he should be held.

The only argument that is advanced in support of “religion” is that it was followed by their ancestors which vouchsafes sanctity. If anyone has the temerity to question any religious belief or practice, the leaders of “religion” try to arouse the ire of the people against him by accusing him of desecration and insult to their renowned ancestors. Fear of popular wrath has been used quite effectively by the leaders of “religion” to muzzle their critics and hold them in perpetual awe. It was to undo and break this vicious grip of madhhab, and to restore deen as an effective Code of Guidance that God sent His Rusul (Messengers) amongst men from time to time.

Since falsehood has no legs to stand upon, it always appears in the garb of truth. Similarly, “religion” secures acceptance by masquerading as deen, making use of its terminology and paraphernalia. It lacks the soul and spirit of deen but seeks to deceive people into accepting the shadow for the substance. Madhhab is in fact the embalmed corpse of deen. How surprisingly firm is the hold of religion on man’s subconscious can be gauged by a simple fact. Christianity invented the theory of Original Sin with the result that man was bereft of free will and reduced to the state of an inanimate determined object, inasmuch as, when it was held that every human child sees the light of day at birth tainted with sin for no fault of his own, and which it was not possible for him to get rid of through his efforts, he became quite a helpless creature. The logical conclusion of this belief was that he could not be held responsible for his misdoings. Determinism and freedom from responsibility, therefore, became the natural products of Christianity.

Several men of science and thinkers in the West have, in the light of reason, renounced Christianity altogether. They went even to the length of regarding belief in God as mere absurdity; and have turned confirmed atheists and materialists. Nevertheless, it is surprising to note how deeply ingrained have been the basic concepts of Christianity in their minds. The researches they have carried out in various fields of natural sciences, history, psychology, etc., postulate one thing alone, viz., man’s complete helplessness and freedom from responsibility of his actions. Darwinian research made the Homo sapiens a biologically determined creature all of whose actions were the outcome of his physical inheritance and altogether beyond his control. Behaviourists tied him down to the shackles of habits and reflexes and observed that all his actions were determined by physical stimuli. Anthropologists declared that man’s character traits were based on heredity, and sociologists held that his social environment was responsible for all his actions and conduct. Freudians regard him as psychologically determined, and announced that the “ego is not master in its own house,” since all its decisions were made by the subconscious mind which was dominated by sex drives. Marxists viewed him as an entity economically determined.

What does all this indicate? It is the result of that powerful grip of “religion” of which, in their estimation, they had completely divested themselves. Though they had mentally liberated themselves from religious bonds, yet their subconscious was not altogether freed. This was so because after having released themselves from the negative thoughts of “religion,” they did not adopt the positive thoughts of deen. And since it is impossible to have vacuum in nature, their minds were filled with negative thoughts from other sources. Now the exigencies of time compel them to face reality, especially because the generation that has sprung up under the influence of the philosophy of determinism has no respect for law and order and does not deem an offence as offence; for, they understand that they are not responsible for their actions. The only thing that could work as deterrent in their path was the pressure of society. But when society itself is made of such individuals as have no regard for moral restriction, they will have no difficulty in changing the law to conform to the behaviour of the immoral society itself. So the social laws are also undergoing a gradual change in the West, lowering the moral level. This has awakened their thinkers from their deep slumber and they are now discarding the concept of determinism, and learning towards the idea of free will which, in other words, means belief in human personality.

A question naturally arises here as to why people are so prone to religious exploitation. The reply generally given to this very important question is that “urge for religion” is inherent in man. Man must believe in something – be it God or mammon or anything else. This is, however, one of those fallacies which have come down in history and are accepted as “Eternal Truths” standing in no need of a careful scrutiny. The argument advanced in support of this assertion is that the entire history of mankind bears witness to this “urge” which man has manifested in different forms. This is how the protagonists of religion justify and rationalise it today. Even some honest and genuine scholars and thinkers have been convinced of this peculiar urge in man. Let us now examine this proposition and see what the basis or nature of this so-called urge for religion is.

One of the two fundamental and most powerful of man’s drives is that of self-preservation. He does not want to perish: he wants to survive. This struggle for survival springs up in the human babe at its very birth when it at once instinctively cries for its feed. This struggle never diminishes in its intensity till man breathes his last.

This instinct of self-preservation human beings share with animals, but with a difference. An animal is provided by nature with adequate weapons and means of survival and self-defence; sheer physical power and strength, sharp teeth, iron-like claws, wings to fly, poisonous sting, camouflage of colour protection, capacity to swim or leap and run at lightning speed – animals inherit this equipment biologically as their right. A human being in comparison is helpless. In the face of the destructive calamities of nature, fierce birds and beasts, and even the onslaught of his own species, he has to invent tools for self-defence. In contrast to animals, the history of man is the history of the development of such tools of offence and defence.

It was the paradox of this helplessness of man and his strong instinct of self-preservation that made him bow down before anything that was powerful, useful or harmful to him. He prostrated before the manifestations of nature, he worshipped animals, he venerated trees and plants in the hope that by doing so he would survive. In these false and artificial props, he vainly sought his main support for survival.

It may be an interesting field for research to substantiate the fact that wherever and whenever a people have advanced high in their tool-making process, they have moved away from their false gods, and have even grown irreligious. Their highly developed armaments give them confidence; their conquest of the world around induces them to reject all such superstitions. Even in the life of an individual, one sees a similar process. In youth, physical strength and prowess keep him indifferent to religion and superstition with boldness, but as decay sets in the physical organs, he becomes more and more religiously inclined, seeking support in everything that he had rejected in his youth. Similarly, when he is successful in life, he seldom seeks the support of these false gods; but he searches for them most reverently when he is confronted with failures and finds his own means inadequate to meet the challenge.

But the problem of survival is not limited to physical survival only. A human being, unlike the animals, has the urge to survive on the human level as well. An animal feels absolutely satisfied and content after a hearty meal, and comes into action again only when it faces hunger or a threat to its own existence. This is not so with a human being. If he were to face a perpetual and hopeless struggle for economic security all his life, he may indeed be too engrossed with his plight to think of any other matter. But once having achieved economic and physical security, he is faced with the urge to survive on the human level. Today all welfare and socialist states are confronted with this problem with much greater intensity and on a wider scale than the underdeveloped countries. Due to their scientific power and prosperous economies, their attention is inevitably focused on the survival other than physical. Existentialism is nothing but an acute manifestation of this grave problem. The trend towards religion or mysticism among thinkers and scientists (especially in their old age) is yet another form of this search for human survival.

Such is the so-called “urge for religion” – may it be the primitive man’s nature-worship, or the mysticism of modern thinkers. And this is the urge so often and so successfully exploited by the seekers of self-interest, in the name of religion.

Through the ages, the deen of anbiya had exposed the exploiters and challenged the false gods that the minds of men had propped up on high. This is the role that the deen, embodied in the Qur’an, is destined to play today and tomorrow, like the adyan of yesterday.

The Qur’an recognises the demands of the instinct of self-preservation. It, therefore, strives to establish an economic system that guarantees the satisfaction of the basic needs of every individual. It therefore, strives to establish an economic system that guarantees the satisfaction of the basic needs of every individual. It declares that man is capable of conquering nature, that if he holds on firmly to the Permanent Values of life, the survival of his human self is ensured; for, then his personality knows no death. Permanent Values, as preserved in the Qur’an, are unchangeable and true, hence trustworthy and reliable. They replace the false gods with the true God, and the meaningless superstitions of religion with the strength of rational conviction. In short, the Qur’an satisfies the instinct of self-preservation both on the physical and human level and thus sets man free from the shackles of religion and the bondage of superstitions.

This was the deen preached and established by the last of the line of anbiya  – Muhammad (PBUH).

Unfortunately, however, not long after the establishment of this deen – i.e., the Islamic Social Order – by Muhammad (PBUH), Islam too met the same fate as that of the earlier adyan (religions). God had perfected the Islamic deen in the Qur’an, and the Rasool delivered the Book to the Muslims and established a Social Order thereon. But shortly after his death, the forces of exploitation began to raise their ugly heads again. They scored their first success with the establishment of a hereditary kingship, sustained by capitalism. Then, to ensure their own survival and consolidation, these two forces started distorting the deen of Islam into a Madhhab. And before long, they succeeded. Like the adyan (religions) of the ancient Anbiya, Islam also gradually lost its soul and substance as a deen and degenerated into a lifeless madhhab hidebound by dogma and ritual. The only point of difference between this process of degeneration and its precedents in earlier history was that the code of Islam – the Qur’an – remained intact in its original form, a fact which, as already stated, is borne out by historical evidence. This is a fact of prime importance to be borne in mind. For, if any of the other religions of mankind seeks to return to its pristine purity as a deen, it will find the task impossible in the absence of the original testament as revealed to its own Nabi. The Muslims alone can hope to restore Islam to its original form as a deen, because the complete code of the Islamic deen is enshrined in the Qur’an and is fully preserved in precisely the same form as it was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) about fourteen centuries ago.

The Qur’an calls upon men not to be frightened by the terrible forces of destruction and not to despair or lose heart even when they find the prospect dark and menacing. It exhorts them to have faith in the Way of Life and the Social Order that it has prescribed, and to give it a fair trial. If they earnestly do so, it assures them that they will, before long, overcome all the hostile forces of decay and destruction and rise from the depths of their present misery to the heights of achievement and glory. And the essence of the Social Order prescribed by the Qur’an is simply this: the forces of nature should be subdued and the gains of the victory should be utilised for the development and progress of mankind at large in accordance with the eternal values enshrined in the Revealed Book of Allah: for,

Only that way of life can survive which is beneficial for the whole of mankind (13:17).

I have given the best part of my life to a study of the solution that the Qur’an offers to the problems, difficulties and dangers that beset humanity in the present times. I have been writing on the subject for nearly a quarter of a century and my writings have reached all parts of the land. But they have so far been available only in the Urdu language. Now I have felt called upon to present to a wider audience the Qur’anic solutions to contemporary problems through the medium of English. My chief purpose is to show that man has no reason to feel overwhelmed by the apparently insoluble problems that face him or look upon himself as helpless and despicable, and resign in despair. There is still a source to which he may turn for light and hope, and if he follows the light, there is no doubt that the will overcome the problems that seem to him insoluble and will be able to go through further stages of evolution with confidence.

One of the serious difficulties, which I have encountered in this effort, relates to the translation in English of the Qur’anic terms and phraseology bearing on deen. Most of the prevalent English equivalents for the Arabic terms are associated with madhhab, and if I were to use them, it would be well-nigh impossible to distinguish deen from madhhab, and the main purpose of the work would be defeated. It might be said that I could have chosen suitable equivalents from the English vocabulary; but this is in fact impossible, for the English vocabulary does not offer words and phrases that could convey precisely the exact sense of the relevant Qur’anic terms. Take, for instance, the word deen itself. It has no exact equivalent in the English language. The same exactly is the reason why it is practically impossible to translate the Qur’an faithfully into another language. I quote here the well-known British Orientalist Professor H.A.R. Gibb, who says in his famous book Modern Trends in Islam (p.4):

The Koran is essentially untranslatable, in the same way that great poetry is untranslatable. The seer can never communicate his vision in ordinary language. He can express himself only in broken images, every inflection of which, every nuance and subtlety, has to be long and earnestly studied before their significance breaks upon the reader-images, too, in which the music of the sounds plays an indefinable part in attuning the mind of the hearer to receive the message. To paraphrase them in other words can only be to mutilate them, to substitute clay for fine gold, the plodding of the pedestrian intelligence for the winged flight of intuitive perception …. An English translation of the Koran must employ precise and often arbitrary terms for the many-faceted and jewel-like phrases of the Arabic; and the more literal it is, the grayer and more colorless it must be …. Even in so simple a sentence as

 

“Verily We give life and death and unto Us is the journeying,” is impossible to present in English (or perhaps any other language) the force of the five-times repeated “We” in the six words of the original.

In view of this serious difficulty, the only alternative for me was to retain the original Qur’anic terms and phrases, and to explain their meanings in a glossary. These meanings have not been “invented” by me. They are based upon etymological considerations and the original meanings of the roots of the relevant words and phrases; they are supported by authoritative Arabic lexicons and also by the Qur’anic verses in which they occur. I have also compiled a comprehensive lexicon of the Qur’an on this pattern and it has already been published in four volumes. And on this basis, I have explained the meaning of the Qur’an in a separate volume. (Both these works are in Urdu and I propose to have at least the latter, entitled Mafhoom-ul-Qur’an, rendered into English. As a matter of fact this work is already nearing completion.)*

From a comparative study of deen and madhhab (religion), it would appear that the two have certain common features; for instance, faith in God, in Divine Guidance and in the life Hereafter. But this similarity is not very deep or sufficiently extensive; for if one reflects over the real meanings of these phrases, it will be abundantly clear that this similarity between deen and madhhab is merely superficial. In essence, even these articles of faith have different meanings and connotations in deen and madhhab; nay, these meanings are mutually contradictory in many respects.

The first few chapters of this work comprise an historical discussion of the concepts of God and religion. It should not be taken for a discussion of deen; nor is it an attempt to compare Islam with other religions and establish its superiority over them. From the observations made earlier in this Introduction, it should be clear that a comparison between Islam and the existing religions is out of question. Islam is a deen, or a way of life, which can be compared only with another way of life, and not with any religion, for religion as such, has nothing at all to do with the problems of human life on earth. This explains why the Qur’an does not present Islam as a rival to any religion; on the other hand, it asserts that this deen (system of life) shall ultimately prevail over all the man-made systems (9:33). I would, therefore, entreat you, kind reader, not to treat this work as a book of religion; it should be studied only from one point of view and that is: whether or not the way of life that it expounds offers a solution to the grave difficulties and problems with which mankind is faced at present.

Today, all thoughtful men are disgusted both with materialism as well as religion (madhhab), for neither of these offers a way out of humanity’s present predicaments. The only solution is through the deen that is expounded in the following pages, This deen is enshrined only in the verses of the Qur’an, because, as already stated, of all the Books of the revealed adyan, the Qur’an is the only book that has remained intact in precisely the same form in which it was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) who delivered it to mankind.

The economic problem is indeed the gravest of all the problems of the present age, and neither Capitalism nor Communism offers an adequate and effective solution to it. The Islamic deen shows us the path of redemption in this sphere also. But this aspect of Islam has been touched upon only casually in the present book; it has been discussed at length in another book of mine.*

Incidentally, in the pages which follow, the reader will come across numerous quotations, especially from Western writers. I should make it clear at the very outset that these quotations have not been used to prove the truth of any principle or precept of the Qur’an. All the statements and assertions of the Qur’an are self-evident truths and do not need any external corroboration. The quotations are meant to serve an entirely different purpose. The Qur’an presented the outlines of a new Social Order some fourteen centuries ago. People then not only disagreed with it but also opposed it. But today, the needs of the time and the difficult situation in which mankind finds itself tend to bring humanity gradually nearer to the Social Order of Islam. Various non-Muslim thinkers who, until a short while ago, used to pin all their hopes on one or another of the various social systems devised by men without any Divine Guidance, have now begun to despair of them. And the outlines of the new schemes that they are now contemplating to ensure peace and justice and happiness for mankind appear very much like those of the Social Order prescribed by the Qur’an ages ago. It is only to illustrate this fact that I have quoted frequently from the writings of some eminent Western thinkers. Human intellect is gradually advancing towards the comprehension of Permanent Values as set forth in the Qur’an. Notwithstanding the forces of exploitation, the Eternal Truth is ultimately bound to prevail, the sooner the better for the emancipation of mankind.

 

References

 

  1. J.W.T. Mason, Creative Freedom, pp. 183-4.
  2. Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 152.
  3. Ibid., pp. 25-26, 114.
  4. Living Religions and A World Faith, p. 202.
  5. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, p. 37.

 

769 total views, 1 views today

(Visited 237 times, 8 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *