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Chapter 9 SALVATION Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

  1. Religion and Salvation

Every human activity is directed to some end. The end may be clearly formulated or may only be dimly perceived, but some kind of end desired by man is necessary to rouse him to action. Man’s activity becomes intelligible only when we know the goal he is seeking. Religious activity too is goal-directed. It aims at the attainment of some objective, which, rightly or wrongly, is believed to satisfy the spiritual longing of man. Most of the higher religions of mankind agree in regarding salvation as the ultimate goal of religious endeavour. It is believed that the purpose of religion is to help man to attain salvation. They differ as to the means by which salvation may be attained, but they are one in regarding it as the only end which a wise man can desire. Because of its essential role in many religions, it will be worthwhile to take a closer look at the concept of salvation and to examine its underlying supposition. Salvation means the saving of the soul, or in other words, its deliverance from sin and its consequences. The supposition on which the idea is based is that even at birth the human soul is stained by sin.  This stain can be wiped out only by leading a devoutly religious life. It is obvious that the doctrine of salvation is based on a belief in original sin. The soul of the newborn infant is, it is said, already infected with evil and the infection will grow and spread unless it is checked by religious belief and action. Man is born under the shadow of sin.  He can dispel it only by submitting to a rigorous religious discipline. The followers of most religions are obsessed with the idea of sin and their chief aim in life is to loosen its hold on their souls. Each religion has its own distinctive view as to the source of sin and the means by which it may be eradicated.

In Hinduism, Mukti or salvation is conceived as liberation from Avagawan, or the cycle of death and rebirth. The doctrine of Karma offers an apparently reasonable answer to the question why one man is born with a silver spoon in his mouth while another is doomed to a life of misery. It is because in the previous life the former had lived virtuously while the latter had committed sins which he has to expiate in the present life. If the purpose is to instill the love of virtue and hatred of evil in the mind of man, it is hard to see how it can be accomplished through the cycle of death and rebirth. No memory of a former life lingers in the mind of man, and so he cannot consciously relate his present distress to the evil deeds he had committed in the previous life. No doubt, a few instances have been recorded of man recalling the experience of a previous life. It is, however, safer to regard these as cases of paramnesia  than of genuine recall. The concept (of the cycle of death and rebirth) which was borrowed by Hindus from the early Greeks, has not stood the test of time and is being discarded by the present day Hindus.

Vedantic philosophy presents the same idea in a slightly different form. It is essentially a pantheistic creed. The individual soul or Jivatman has its source in the cosmic soul or Parmatman*. It was separated from its source because of some unspecified cause. The soul is lonely and unhappy and longs intensely for reunion with its source. This it can achieve only by running away from the world of matter and submitting to the rigorous discipline which is prescribed in the Vedas. Salvation for the Jivatman lies in its merging again in the infinite Parmatman.

Buddhism takes a still more pessimistic view of human life.   Man’s life is wrapped in gloom, relieved only by occasional fitful gleams of happiness. Pain is inseparable from life. Buddha taught that the source of human misery is desire. Some desires are insatiable. Others may be satisfied, but fresh desires spring up in their place. Desire keeps us restless in this life and chains us to the cycle of death and rebirth. To attain salvation, we must eradicate desire from our heart. Peace and happiness are unattainable in life. When desire has been rooted out, the way to salvation or Nirvana lies open before us. He who has not extinguished desire in himself is doomed to be reborn, to suffer pain and misery during a whole lifetime. Existence is an evil and we can throw off its yoke only by ceasing to exist. The wise man, therefore, aims at annihilation, non-existence. Nirvana is not a state of positive happiness but a negative state characterised by absence of feeling and, therefore, absence of pain.

Christianity inculcates in its followers the dogma of “original sin.” Adam and Eve were guilty of disobedience to God, and were punished by being expelled from heaven. Every man is born with a soul stained by the original sin. He can wipe out this stain only by believing in Christ and living a life of asceticism and hard discipline. Salvation means the regaining of the state of bliss which was forfeited by man through sin. Man gains his salvation not by daring adventure and glorious achievement but by self-abnegation and refusal to participate in the affairs of the world. The ideal is not self-fulfilment but self-renunciation. Such was the teaching of the Church in the medieval age.

The Jews, too, were obsessed with the idea of sin and its consequences. They lived in terror of hell, where, they believed, they would suffer for their sins, as well as for the sins of their forefathers. They thought that they could escape this doom only by the punctilious performance of an elaborate ritual. All that salvation meant was to be saved from hell-fire.

It is obvious that in all these creeds, the emphasis is on the negative aspect of salvation. Salvation is conceived not as a positive achievement, the acquisition of some new value, but as deliverance from the evil which clings to man from birth. In Islam, the emphasis is on the positive side of “salvation”. Islam demands that man should be oriented to the future, that he should bend his efforts to the realisation of new values and the attainment of new levels of experience. Islam discourages man’s preoccupation with the past: instead it fosters hope in the future. Man’s objective in this life should not be to regain a lost paradise. He is encouraged to create a new paradise for himself in which all his capacities may have full scope for development. This he can do, not by withdrawing from the world and fixing his gaze on the past, but by being fully alive to the present and by making full use of the opportunities that this life offers. The purpose of Islam is the reorientation of man to life, so that he may wake up to the immense potentialities inherent in him. His “salvation” lies in discovering the possibilities open to him, and in choosing the one which is likely to prove most fruitful. Islam gives its approval to the forward-looking attitude and to the belief that man can work out his “salvation” not by annihilating or contracting his self but by creating conditions in which it can develop to its fullest extent.

  2.The Qur’anic Concept of Salvation

The Buddhist, Christian and Hindu doctrines of salvation have a great deal in common. In each, the emphasis is upon liberation from sin, upon rescue from evil. In each, the objective is a return to the previous state of innocence and bliss. As sin is supposed to be inseparable from life and the phenomenal world is believed to be the abode of evil, it follows that liberation can be achieved only by renouncing the world. This doctrine appears in its purest form in Buddhism. It has been to some extent toned down in Christianity and Hinduism. It must be admitted that during certain periods of human history, the doctrine attracted large numbers of men and cast its spell even on men of learning and intelligence. It is a fact that during these periods, men had suffered acute frustration and were disillusioned with life. Having nothing to hope for in this world, they centred their hopes on the other world where they might get all that they had missed in this world. This doctrine is the product of disillusionment and defeatism. It is clearly repugnant to men who are sane and normal. It is in direct opposition to reason, to experience and to the progress of mankind. Hope cannot be killed – it springs anew in the human heart. When man has recovered his natural buoyancy, he recoils with horror from such a dismal doctrine. He tends to look on the world of matter as a field for varied fruitful activities. He refuses to believe that his soul will be blighted by the slightest contact with the world. The doctrine also implies that the world has no purpose or design. If accepted wholeheartedly, it will prove to be a stumbling block to human progress. It deprives man of all zest for life and of the desire for progress. If ever it becomes the dominant creed, humanity will be doomed to stagnation and decay. All the healthy instincts in man rebel against such a barren concept. To believe in a God Who has created a world which should be shunned is derogatory both to God and man.

The Qur’anic concept of salvation is of a different kind, and, as it will become clear in the course of this exposition, attuned to the constructive and progressive forces in man. In the first place, the world of matter is regarded as embodying a purpose – a purpose which is consonant with the purpose inherent in the human self. The following verse should be noted:

And We created not the heavens and the earth, and what is between them, in sport (21:16).

It is a world which is responsive to man’s needs, both physical and human. It is a world which man, if he likes, can mould “nearer to his heart’s desire.” It is a world which offers full scope for the development and fulfilment of his being. Knowing that he can engage in fruitful activities in the world, he has no excuse for infirmity of purpose.

Moreover, in the Qur’an, the emphasis is on the positive content of salvation. It is not conceived as a negation of pain and liberation from evil. It consists in the sense of fulfilment, the feeling of realisation and the thrill of expansion. Man is endowed with a number of potentialities. By developing these he reaches his full stature and qualifies for still higher stages awaiting him. Man must discover in what direction his self can develop and then he must create the conditions, physical as well as social, which favour the development. His main task in this life is to develop his self by conquering the forces of nature and employing them for the development of mankind:

He is indeed successful who causeth his self to grow, and he is indeed a failure who stunteth it (91:9-10).

  3. Life – A Struggle

Life is a constant struggle against forces hostile to it – forces which would destroy it if they were not successfully opposed. In the external environment, there are wide variations in temperature. Sometimes it is too cold for man, sometimes it is too hot. Homoeostatic mechanisms in the body usually keep the body temperature at the normal level. Without them, the human body would burn up or freeze to death. Again, the body is assailed by a variety of pernicious germs which tend to destroy it. As long as man lives, he keeps up the fight against these destructive forces. The struggle ceases only with death. It is, however, not only on the physical plane that the struggle is carried on. On the moral plane too, he has to struggle against forces of destruction which would disintegrate and disrupt his self. Here the problem is more difficult and complicated, as the self has to contend with the destructive forces of the external world as well as the impulses of debasing animality which rise in man if not checked. Man naturally looks around for help as he very often finds it difficult to keep the enemy at bay. The Divine Guidance in the Qur’an offers man effective help in the moral struggle. This help is given according to a definite programme. The first part of the programme may be characterised as prophylactic. It helps man to guard himself against both the open and insidious attacks of destructive forces. This form of help is termed maghfirah in the Qur’an. Ghafrun means “to cover” and mighfar, which is derived from it, means the helmet which protects the head of the warrior from the blows of the enemy. The Qur’an protects the human self just as effectively from the blows of   destructive forces. Man quails when he finds himself facing the formidable array of the forces of destruction. He begins to weaken and to give way to despair. The Divine programme prevents him from yielding to baatil  by replenishing his store of moral energy and by inspiring faith in his heart that the haqq, though weak at the moment, will finally prevail over baatil. Man may feel defenceless against the forces of baatil but when the Divine Revelation has instilled in his heart Eiman and courage, he enters the arena with renewed confidence and hope. This is how the first part of the programme helps him. The second part, tauba, in the terminology of the Qur’an, is curative. Many may have yielded to baatil and may have followed the wrong path. Even then, the Qur’an says, their case is not hopeless. Tauba offers them  a sure remedy. Tauba is derived from the root taaba which means to return. Tauba, therefore, does not mean vain regret or futile remorse. It means that when man realises that he has been following the wrong path, he should have the courage to stop and retrace his steps. In this sense tauba means heart-searching, reappraisal of the situation and reassessment of the policy he has been following.  Suppose a man suddenly realises that the path he has been following is taking him farther away from his real goal. If he is wise, he will not merely sit down and give himself up to unrestrained grief. He will resolutely hasten back to his starting point and when he has reached it, he will, after due deliberation, choose a new path. Tauba, on the moral plane, represents the same sensible way of acting. But tauba has in it an ingredient of Divine help. The man who has realised his mistake and is eager to rectify it, is not left to his own resources. Unstinted Divine help is given to him in the shape of Divine guidance which never errs. Otherwise, the sense of having wasted his time and the feelings of uncertainty about the results of his further efforts will weigh heavily on him and will hamper his efforts to regain the right path. The Divine help, the concomitant of Tauba, refreshes and re-invigorates him so that he acts with re-doubled energy. In short, maghfirah assists a man in warding off the blows of sharr, but when he is hit, tauba helps to repair the damage done. It should be noted that tauba is not a passive act of regret; it is positive effort at restoration of the lost position, with regeneration of energy born out of hope and confidence. Tauba is not merely withdrawal from what was destructive; it is the annulment of its consequences. Says the Qur’an:

Lo! Good deeds annul ill deeds (11:114).

Tauba thus fortifies the constructive forces in man and enables them to repair the damage to the self, which was caused by his destructive deeds. The Qur’an assures man that if he does not surrender himself to sharr on the big issues, his paltry lapses will not be permitted to impede his progress to his goal:

And if ye avoid the great things which ye are forbidden, We will remit from you your lapses and make you enter a noble gate (4:32),

Since the constructive results of your noble deeds outweigh the destructive consequences of your lapses.

  4. Conclusion

We have since considered two different views of salvation. It will be seen that the concept of salvation set forth in the Qur’an is a positive achievement as against the negative and barren concept of escapism favoured in certain quarters. The latter springs from a misplaced notion of man’s nature and from a misconception of his relationship to the world. It throws man into the turmoil with the handicap of a tainted soul in a perverse world, giving him the only recourse of renouncing the combat and fleeing from it. Why set such a futile stage at all? Divine purpose runs through the world, a purpose which is akin to the purpose for which man is endowed with a self. No doubt, the odds are set against him. But the obstacles are there not to frustrate him, but to call forth the best in him. They are designed to put him on his mettle and permit the indomitable spirit he possesses to reveal itself in all its glory. Man develops his powers in the course of overcoming obstacles. Frustration forces him to reconstruct his personality. Rebuffs and setbacks toughen and harden him and by facing them he develops a mature personality. So we see that even when the world at times appears to be stern and unkind, in the long run it turns out to be man’s ally and not his foe.

Certainly man often goes astray. As a free being, it is his privilege. When he commits a mistake, he has to pay the price for it and in the process he realises that he is fully responsible for his action and that the freedom he enjoys is real and not illusory. To err is human, and it is natural for man to commit a mistake now and again. If he acts wrongly, his self is stained, but the stain can be removed. If he realises his mistake and sincerely tries to make amends for his wrongdoing, he can recover his poise. This is the truth that is clearly set forth in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is a gospel of hope. It forbids man to give way to despair. A man may have led a wrong life for years but if he resolutely turns his face in the right direction and persists in acting rightly, he will not find the path to self-realisation blocked for all time. Right actions nullify wrong actions. The man who is saved is not one who has never committed a mistake, which is impossible, but one whose right actions outweigh his wrong actions. Says the Qur’an;

Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful.

And, those whose scales are light are those who lose their self   (23:102-103).

What exactly is meant by saving one’s self or losing it? These phrases become intelligible only when viewed in relation to the goal-seeking activity of the human self. The deepest urge in man is for self-development and self-realisation. When he is making progress towards this goal, he feels happy and knows that he is on the way to qualify himself for promotion to a higher plane of existence. For the self lives in and through activity, and the activity natural to it is always in an upward direction. Inaction is the death of the self, and so is movement in a downward direction. When the self of man is making steady progress towards the goal, it may be with occasional deviations and backslidings, but it slowly moves forward, until it finds itself in a state which is symbolised by Jannah or paradise. The picturesque imagery with which it is represented, has misled many into thinking that it is a place which provides gratification for the senses. It is not a place but a state of mind, a state charged with the sense of fulfilment and the feeling of high aspiration. It is akin to the feeling that the mountaineer experiences when, after wearily climbing the hillside and avoiding boulders, he finally reaches the lofty peak. Loftier peaks swim into his vision and invite him to fresh conquests. For him it is at once the end of a journey and the beginning of another. His joy at successful achievement is blended with the thrill of excitement at the discovery of fresh fields for adventure. Such is the state of mind of those who have fully realised themselves on the human plane and are ready to ascend to a higher one.

The state of mind directly opposite to this has been designated as Jahannam. It is the Arabic form of the Hebrew word Gehenna. Originally Gehenna meant the valley of Hinnom, where human sacrifices to Baal and Moloch were offered.(1) Jahannam symbolizes that condition of existence in which the self’s purposeful activity is brought to a standstill. Enfeebled and debilitated by continuous and persistent wrong-doing, the self loses its capacity for progress and for moving towards a higher state of being. Its urge for progress is crushed and the enervated self surrenders itself to regret and remorse. It has voluntarily relinquished its right to participate in the pursuit of the good. If it ever feels the desire to rejoin the march of free selves, the desire is too weak to pull it out of the slough of despair and inaction. In the words of the poet, Robert Frost, it has:

Nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope.

The Qur’an asserts:

Whenever in their anguish they desire to come forth therefrom, they shall be turned back into it (22:22).

The inmates of Jannah will be spared the sight of this slough of despondence:

They shall not hear the slightest sound thereof (21:102).

They will continue their forward march, steadily rising in the scale of existence and testing the joys of self-fulfilment. The process of their self-development will be continuous and unlimited. When they have attained a high stage, the vision of a still higher one will spur them on to put forth fresh efforts. For them, the reward of victory will not be well earned rest but a greater zeal for action and a new vista to their ambition.

Such is the picture of heaven and hell that the Qur’an presents for the edification of man. According to the view upheld by the Qur’an, salvation is not liberation from “evil”; evil in ourselves or in the world. To achieve salvation is to prove one’s fitness for entering on a higher plane of existence. Reward and punishment are wrongly conceived as coming from an external source. They are the natural consequences of what we do and think and manifest themselves in the enrichment or impoverishment of our self. Heaven and Hell do not exist outside us, somewhere in the outer space. They are states of the self. Hell is the state in which the self finds its progress blocked. Heaven is the state in which the way to development lies open to the self. To cease to aspire is to be doomed to Hell, to be able to aspire is to be in Heaven. There is, therefore, no room for intercession and redemption in Islam. What we become, we become through our own actions. We cannot carry the burden of any other person and no one can relieve us of the burden we bear. The concept of sin also must be reformulated so as to bring it into harmony with the above view. Sin should not be conceived as the taint of evil that clings to the soul from birth, being either the legacy of our forefathers or the result of our own previous life. Sin is the ill effect on our self of our own wrongdoing. It can be obliterated by our own right action and not by the action of anyone else. If we have committed wrong unwillingly, heedlessly or even with our eyes open, we can draw solace from the reflection that we hold the remedy in our own hands.

Finally we can define “wrong” – A’mal-us-Sayyiah as an act which impoverishes the self, curtails its freedom, jeopardises its independence and weakens its urge for development. To react to it by impotent rage, helpless grief or self-mortification serves no purpose. The proper reaction is to make a determined effort to regain our balance and follow the right path with redoubled energy. We would also do well to bear in mind that our final success depends not on our sinlessness but on the preponderance of our right actions over wrong ones. “Sense of sin” is one of the main sources of unhappiness. The healthy attitude to a weakened self inculcated by the Qur’an is a sure safeguard against unhappiness and infirmity of purpose. It may be added that Jannah and Jahannam are not held over till after death; they manifest themselves in this life and continue thereafter. The point will be discussed fully in the next chapter.

References

1. Arabic Lexicon, Muheet-ul-Muheet.

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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).

Again:

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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Chapter 7 THE WORKING OF THE DIVINE LAW by G A Parwez

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).

Again;

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.

References

  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.

References

  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).

Again:

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).

Again:

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.

 

References

 

  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.

Nubuwwah

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.

References

  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 2 THE FUNCTION OF DEEN Islam: A challenge to Religion

Chapter 2

 THE FUNCTION OF DEEN

  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.

 

References

 

  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.

 

References

 

  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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REASON AND EIMAN – Islam: A Challenge to Religion (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.

 

  1. 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.

 

III.  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)

 

  1. 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).

Again:

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)

 

  1. 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).

Again:

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.

 

References

 

  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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