What Happens When Mean Becomes End: A Topsy-Turvy Of Knowledge (Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haque)

In spite of the emergence of sages, philosophers and prophets from time to time bringing wisdom and divine revelations to the humanity, earth has remained a troubled planet for its (now) six billion inhabitants. Having made immense progress in knowledge, invention and innovation, science and technology, we are all set to take routine journeys to the moon and mars, hoping to colonize these distant planets.

The explosion of Information Technology has promised and, in fact, enabled us to have a life of uninterrupted leisure and convenience. Above all, we have decoded the dna and are on the threshold of elimination of diseases through gene-modification. An exciting new world-vision and some lucky ones amongst us are already there.

But there is jarring and discordant contradiction between the ‘virtual’ and the real world. Calamities, famine, disease and pestilence are overtaking almost entire continents. Aids, TB, Malaria, and Cancer are but a few of the malaises the humanity is trapped today. 4/5th of the humanity are confronted with a dearth of the basic needs of humanity such as feed, shelter and drinking water. The political management governs countries on the basis of emotional slogans and rhetoric of the past.

But hark! What has gone wrong with the progress the man has made so far? What was the Mean for the progress and then what was the end? The significant cause is the wrong placement of the mean as the end in the human endeavor. This does not click sound in the physical sciences. But it plays havoc when it bobbles in the social sciences. Take the example of rituals. These were the mean for the achievement of some end. When these were transformed as end in themselves then what emerged in the very concept of rituals? This is projected for the consideration of the Internet tyros.


Look how rituals has had the emergence of a concept? Human beings organize a great deal of their social interactions into formal customary patterns. On meeting someone for the first time in the West, for example, one goes through a formal set of exchanges of words and a handshake. So Ritual is the set of formal customary practices related to religion. For the followers of a religion, however, ritual is, like scripture, a hierophany: it is the appearance of the sacred. Through the performance of the ritual, the sacred was to be evoked. The ritual may include reading or chanting from scripture, hymns, certain actions, certain sounds (such as gongs, cymbals and bells), certain smells (such as incense), religious symbols and music, all were to contribute towards the evocation of the sacred. Does it invoke what it was purported to be invoked?

Go ahead. Ritual has probably become the most common source of religious experience for the majority of people. Indeed for many people, ritual has become religion. For many Indians, Japanese Shintoists and tribal peoples, religion consists almost exclusively of various rituals (such as rites of passage and daily or seasonal rituals). Although these rituals may imply certain beliefs, these tend to be the interpretation of scholars and are not usually in the consciousness of ordinary people when they participate in a ritual.

Ritual may be regarded as an important part of the knowledge that a believer has about her or his religion. While cognitive knowledge may give the individual the facts about a religion, ritual gives knowledge of the ‘feel’ or ‘milieu’ of the religion; it conveys non-cognitive, affective information (what some may call holistic knowledge). The simple fact that one kneels before an icon of the Virgin Mary in some facts of Christianity conveys a great deal more information about the religion than hours of preaching or instruction would do. Attitudes towards oneself, other people, and towards Ultimate Reality, are all conveyed more directly and powerfully through ritual than by any other means. Most importantly, ritual can itself be the source of the central experience of religion. Whether the ritual is that of an incense-filled church where the priest is changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, or techniques of meditation that lead to and altered state of consciousness, the result can be direct experience of the sacred. To new converts, therefore, the learning of ritual is just as important as the learning of facts about their new religion. Ritual also reinforces the communal religious experience, the feeling of group solidarity and unity and the sense of belonging to something that is greater than the individuals who comprise it. This was the concept meaning of the term rituals.

There are numerous forms of ritual: rites of purification, regeneration, thanksgiving, self-denial, penance and propitiation. It is difficult at times to differentiate religious ritual from magic. Both imply a supra-natural process. Rituals are often rites of passage (that is, related to the life-cycle: birth, puberty, marriage, death), rites related to the calendar (weekly rituals, spring, harvest, winter and New Year rituals), or the formal reenactment of a sacred story or event. The end has lost its sight and the rituals per se have become the end in itself.

Now this concept of rituals has transformed to be an end in itself. In the world of religions ‘worship as ritual’, ‘cymbals in churches as rituals’, ‘prayer as rituals’ and in Islam ‘Salaat as ritual’, ‘fasting as ritual’, ‘Hajj as ritual’, ‘recitation as ritual’: all have lost the end for which these were to be performed.

Pause and reflect where we are today.

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