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  • The Qur´an & Riba Open or Close

    Sayyid Tahir
    The word riba occurs in the Qur´an in ayaat 275, 276 and 278 of Surah Al-Baqarah, 130 of Aal-e-Imran, 161 of Al-Nisa, and 39 of Al-Room. Traditionally, these ayaat are studied in their textual order. Thus the analysis of riba starts with a tafseer of the ayaat of Al-Baqarah. Two things are noteworthy in this regard: (a) there is an enblock discussion of Al-Baqara 2:275 - 281, and (b) virtually all matters relating to riba and interest are discussed at length and concluded here. The issues arising out of the ahadith on riba are also covered. With the final conclusions thus drawn, the ayaat of Aal-e-Imran, Al-Nisa, and Al-Room get progressively less and less attention from the scholars.

    This paper offers a break from the above tradition. It follows a chronological approach to study the ayaat on riba. That is, the various ayaat are studied in their order of revelation. Some obvious advantages of this approach are as follows. First, it can improve our understanding of the general background and the circumstances in which these ayaat were revealed. Second, it may bring to the fore the various developments in the process of the elimination of riba during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Third, it clarifies the total picture about the injunctions of riba. As may be seen, all these points are essential for a proper interpretation of the injunctions of riba in the Qur´an and Sunnah.

    The Qur´an is the spoken Word of Almighty Allah (SWT). It has many chapters, sections, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs. Thus, it is essential that every ayah should be read along with its companion ayaat in order to fully understand the message in the Qur´an. Looking at an ayah or a pair of ayaat in isolation may be okay, but it is certainly not ideal. This study, unlike other works on riba, also draws the readers´ attention to complete passages in which the various ayaat occur.

    In the English translation of the various ayaat, the punctuation is chosen to communicate the message of the Qur´an for the non-Arabic speaking audience. The goal of comparison with the original text is addressed by inserting the ayah number in the translation at appropriate places.

    This paper has a limited objective, namely how to understand the various ayaat per se. Due to space limitations, the issues of definition of riba, relation between the ayaat on riba and the ahadith on the subject, and so on, are not discussed here. However, some references to these matters are given in the final section of the paper.

    I. The First Revelation on Riba

    The first revelation on riba is Al-Room 30:39, which is a Makki Surah. According to Maulana Abul A´ala Maududi (Tafheem-ul-Qur´an, Vol. 3, pp. 726-7), its time of revelation is 5 years before the Hijrah of the Prophet (SAW).

    Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Tadabbur-e-Qur´an, Vol.6, pp. 90-100) notes that the ayah 39 is a part of the message starting with the ayah 30.1 In this ayah the Prophet (SAW) and, by implication, all Muslims are advised to become single-minded about Islam as the way of life. For this purpose, the suggested line of action is
    (i) development of Allah-consciousness (Al-Room 30:31)
    (ii) extreme caution against shirk __ attributing partners to Allah (SWT) (Al-Room 30:31-32)
    (iii) establishment of Salat (Al-Room 30:31)
    (iv) spending on one´s near-relatives, the destitute, and the wayfarer (Al-Room 30:38), and
    (v) caution against riba (Al-Room 30:39).
    In this perspective, the ayah 39 reads as follows:
    And the riba-based investments on your part, in order to increase your wealth on the basis of other people´s (i.e., the borrowers´) assets, do not increase from the point of view of Allah. However, rest assured about the acceptance of what you give by way of Zakat for the sake of Allah; those who give Zakat are the ones whose net worth increases manifold with Allah. (Al-Room 30:39)

    This ayah is a complete message in itself. It contains an indirect reference to the undesirability of riba. In it, the word riba appears in the perspective of lending, and Zakat in the general sense of sadaqaat or infaq __ charitable and other expenditures for the sake of Allah (SWT). 2 Recalling that in the Makki period the foundations of the Islamic society were being laid down, this communication style and the implied guidelines served this purpose very well.

    II. The Second Revelation on Riba

    The specific ayah on this occasion is Al-Nisa 4:160; its companion ayaat are Al-Nisa, 161 and 162. According to Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Tadabbur-e-Qur´an,Vol. 2, pp.415-26), these ayaat are a part of Al-Nisa 4:153-162. The circumstances at the time (e.g., the expulsion of Bani Qainqa´ from Madinah in Shawwal 2 A.H) and the text of these ayaat imply that they were revealed quite early in the Madani period.

    In Al-Nisa 4:153-162, Allah´s kalaam (Word) is in response to a provocation by the Ahl al-Kitaab (the Jews of Madinah in this case) whereby they sought through the Prophet (SAW) the revelation of a book directly from the Heavens exclusively for themselves. Almighty Allah (SWT) did not respond to this request, but observed that they belonged to the same lot who wanted to seem Him (SWT) during thetime of Prophet Musa (AS), and then went to disobey Him (SWT) time and again. After this, Allah (SWT) recounts the major crimes of the Jews, which invited His wrath on them. In this perspective, the ayah 160 and its companion ayaat 161 and 162 are as follows.

    We (i.e., Allah) decreed many a previously permitted things haram for the Jews, because:
    i) they did zulm;
    ii) they stopped others from the Way of Allah in virtually all matters (Al-Nisa 4:160);
    iii) they charged riba despite being forbidden to do so; and
    iv) they ate into the wealth of others without any Shari´ah justification. And, We have prepared a painful doom for these disobedient persons (Al-Nisa 4:161). However, We will give a great reward to those (among the Jews) who are clear-minded about the truth, without a grain of doubt, and who believe in the Qur´an and all other Revealed Books, establish Salat, give Zakat and believe in Allah and in the Day of Judgement. (Al-Nisa 4:162)

    These ayaat are self-explanatory. Though their immediate addressees were the Jews of Madinah, in the general style of the Qur´an they are also meant to bring the likes and dislikes of Allah (SWT) to the attention of the Muslims.

    III. The Third Revelation on Riba

    This revelation consists of Aal-e-Imran 130-136. Among these ayaat, the ayah 130 is the principal ayah, and the remaining six ayaat reinforce its message. According to Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Tadabbur-e-Qur´an, Vol.2, pp. 167-234), these ayaat were revealed, as a part of Aal-e-Imran 3:121-200, after the battle of Ohad that took place in Shawwal 3 A.H. These ayaat are as follows.

    O Believers, don´t eat riba on top of riba.4 And, be afraid of Allah so that you may be successful (Aal-e- Imran 130). And, be afraid of the fire of Hell, which is prepared for the disobedient (Aal-e-Imran 131). And, obey Allah and the Messenger (SAW) so that you may benefit from Allah´s Mercy (Aal-e-Imran 132). And, rush toward the forgiveness of your Lord and the Paradise whose boundary spans the heavens and the earth; it (the Paradise) is prepared for the Allah-conscious. (Aal-e-Imran 133)

    (As to who are the Allah-conscious, note that) They are the people who spend for the sake of Allah in both good and bad times, who control their temper and who forgive others. Surely Allah holds such mohsineen very dear (Aal-e-Imran 134). Moreover, they are the ones who, in the event of committing any mistake or anything against their Al-Akhirah interests, remember Allah and seek His forgiveness for their sins. After all, who is it except Allah who can exonerate failings? Furthermore, they are the people who do not insist on their mistakes knowingly. (Aal-e-Imran 135)

    They (the Allah-conscious people) will be rewarded by their Lord with forgiveness and gardens, with streams flowing underneath, to live (forever). This is indeed an excellent reward (waiting) for those who do good. (Aal-e-Imran 136)

    Starting with the ayah 121, the entire text of Surah Aal-e-Imran, including the ayaat 130-136, is a commentary on the events of the battle of Ohad and its aftermath.6 Just on the way to the battlefield, the chief of munafeqeen (hypocrites) Abdullah Ibn Obaee and his followers deserted the Islamic forces. During the battle too, the Muslims went through extremely trying moments. Allah (SWT) used this battle to serve three important purposes in the favour of this Ummah. First, the isolation of those who harboured any misgivings about Islam, namely the munafiqeen (), from the mainstream of the Muslims. Second, bringing to fore the secret desires and designs of the munafiqeen and other adversaries of Islam in Madinah by creating a false impression of Islam´s vulnerability. And third, identification of the potential sources of weakness in the ranks of the Muslims in order to prepare them for future responsibilities.

    In the background of the battle of Ohad the ayah 130 and its companion ayaat can be seen in many ways. Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Tadabbur-e-Qur´an, Vol.2, pp. 173-4) notes that the ayaat just preceding the ayah 130 were aimed at inspiring the belivers for Jihad. The ayaat 130-136 were meant to prepare the Muslims for infaq (material sacrifices) in connection with Jihad. Allah (SWT) did so by first prohibiting riba which, unlike infaq, is a materially beneficial proposition for the wealthy. Then the belivers were aroused for infaq in the ayah 134.

    Maulana Muhammad Idris Kandhalvi (Ma´arif-ul-Qur´an, Vol.1, pp. 577-80) takes a different view. According to him, the disbelievers of Makkah used to do ribawi business, and they utilized the proceeds of the caravan that came from Syria (on the eve of the battle of Badr) to finance the battle of Ohad. In this perspective, Allah (SWT) advised the Muslims to stay away from ribawi business even if it were to finance a battle against the disbelivers.

    There is no doubt that the above purposes were served by these ayaat. But, in fact, there was more to the matter. Though the ayaat 130-136 were revealed along with the other above-mentioned ayaat of Surah Aal-e-Imran, they constituted the formal prohibition of riba for the Muslims. This point is also confirmed by internal evidence in Surah Al-Baqarah 2:275. In this ayah Allah (SWT) declares using past indefinite tense that bai´ (trading) was permitted but riba prohibited by Him (SWT). And, if one looks for this past decree on riba, it is in Surah Aal-e-Imran 3:130. As to why Allah (SWT) decreed the prohibition of riba immediately after the battle of Ohad, a few points in this regard are as follows. Allah (SWT) knows the best.

    The battle of Ohad was preceded by 13 years effort on faith- and character-building of Prophet´s Companions in Makkah, and a similar endeavor for 3 years in Madinah. By the time this battle was over, the Companions had gone through two thoroughly rigorous and demanding tests: one was that of the battle of Badr (Ramadan 2 A.H) and the other was of the battle of Ohad. The credentials of the Companions of the Prophet (SAW) as true believers __ who could withstand all temptations and tribulations just for the Pleasure of Allah (SWT) __ were fully established. Islam was to expand after the battle of Ohad too. More trials were still awaiting the Muslims. But nothing like the tribulations faced by the pioneering Companions (RAA) were to come in the way of the new sahabah.

    In the above background, one may claim that the Madani society was literally purified at the time of the battle of Ohad. Moreover, it was at a critical juncture when unconditional obedience of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW) by the believers could be taken for granted. This was, therefore, the most opportune moment for the revelation of major injunctions calling for staying away form material gains by the believers.

    Another equally important factor behind the early prohibition of riba is as follows. Salat, Saum, Zakat, and Hajj were prescribed and perfected during the blessed lifetime of the Prophet (SAW). The problem of riba with the associated declaration of all-out war by Allah and His Prophet (Al-Baqarah 2:279) called for a similar treatment. Elimination of riba required delineation of the contours of the Islamic economic system while the Prophet (SAW) was among his Companions (RAA).

    Prohibition of riba also meant giving way to a radically different system for mutual contracting, especially for mobilizing resources from those with surplus funds to those in need of financial intermediation. Anyone who is familiar with legislation processes would confirm that such a monumental task could not be done in a short period. This required sufficient time during which most of the practical problems could come to fore and be satisfactorily resolved by Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). The time-consuming nature of the job required an early start.

    In short, the right frame of mind of the Companions (RAA) and the time required for the building of new institutions may be construed as the main explanations for the prohibition of riba by the end of 3 A.H, as per Aal-e-Imran 130.

    The Arabic words used to describe the prohibition of riba refer to "eating" of riba not "taking" or "charging" riba.8 When something is eaten, it exhausts itself and there is no chance of its return. On the other hand, if something is taken, there is at least some probability of it being returned sooner or later. Thus, indirectly, Allah (SWT) is referring to the nature of riba: it involves a one-way flow from the giver to the taker without a corresponding return flow from the latter to the former.

    Some quarters take a lead from the phrase "eating riba on top of riba" to conclude that only compound interest is prohibited, not simple interest. Yet some others invoke the distinction between usury and interest to limit the scope of the Qur´anic decree to exorbitant interest rates. These points of views contradict both common sense and the linguistic style of the Qur´an.

    If Rs.100 are lent at a compound rate of 10% per annum for two years, the borrower would be called upon to repay Rs.121 at the end of the contract. The same goal can be achieved by the lender by offering Rs.100 at the simple rate of 21%. What would be the grounds for distinguishing between the two arrangements? Likewise, the term "exorbitant rate of interest" is also arbitrary. A 10% rate of interest may be exorbitant for one person while 21% may be normal for another depending on their respective financial positions and prospective uses of funds.

    All mufassireen are of the view that "doubling and quadrupling" (or "riba on top of riba") has only a linguistic significance in order to highlight the despicable character of riba. This point is supported by the text of Al-Baqarah 2:22. After drawing the attention of mankind to His creation and blessings, Allah (SWT) says:
    Literal meanings of this ayah are: "So, do not assign many partners to Allah." It does not imply, by any stretch of imagination, that one can ascribe a single partner to Allah (SWT). The interpretation "don´t go even close to riba" is also supported by the text of Al-Baqarah 2:41. In this ayah, Bani Israel are instructed as follows:
    It means: "Don´t seek a small price for My ayaat." Again, this does not mean that there is room for charging a high price for violating the injunctions of Allah (SWT). To sum up, therefore, there is no room for confusing the meaning of riba with reference to Aal-e-Imran 3:130. Whether simple or compound, riba is riba.

    Let us now look at the other revelations on riba given in Surah Al-Baqarah.

     IV. The Fourth Revelation on Riba

     The fourth revelation on riba consists of Al-Baqarah 2:275-277. In the text of the Qur´an, these ayaat are followed by four more ayaat on riba, namely Al-Baqarah 2:278-281. And, as mentioned earlier, generally mufassireen discuss all of them together. However, the background and the tone of these ayaat confirm that in fact the passage Al-Baqarah 2:275-281 consists of two sets of ayaat revealed on two separate occasions (see below). Before looking at the ayaat 275-277, it is worthwhile to note an important point in the text of the Qur´an applicable to the entire block Al-Baqarah 2:275-281.

    In the textual order of the Qur´an, the ayaat 275-281 are preceded by the most comprehensive set of ayaat on infaq, i.e., voluntary spending for the sake of Allah (Al-Baqarah 2:261-274), and followed by an ayah containing exhaustive guidelines on daiyn, i.e., loans and credit transactions (Al-Baqarah 2:282). While the relation of the latter to the injunctions of riba is obvious, one may note that the ayaat 261-274 serve as preface to the injunctions of riba for all times to come until Doomsday.

    In the ayaat 261-274, the believers are given compelling reasons to go all out for infaq, and the principles and norms for this purpose are prescribed. For example, the believers are told that reward of spending for the sake of Allah is seven hundred times or even more (Al-Baqarah 2:261). Moreover, spending for the sake of Allah (SWT) should be free from (a) the quest for personal glory, (b) causing any distress to the recipients, and (c) giving out of unlawful and bad things (Al-Baqarah 2:262-267). The ayaat on infaq close on the following note.

    "Those who spend their wealth for the sake of Allah day and night, secretly and openly, have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear and nothing to be sorry about". (Al-Baqarah 2:274)

    Among other things, these ayaat mentally prepare the readers of the Qur´an for the injunctions of riba in the ayaat 275-281. After this useful digression, let us look at Al-Baqarah 2:275-277. The background of these ayaat is as follows.
    Riba was prohibited by the end of 3 A.H according to Aal-e-Imran 3:130. This decree clearly affected both taking and giving of riba on new loans. But it also had implications for riba on the then existing debts. The Companions (RAA) never missed any opportunity for immediate, unconditional and total obedience of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). Therefore, it is certain that soon after the decree of Surah Aal-e-Imran, they beseeched additional guidance about riba on the existing debts. And, given the level of their Allah-consciousness, it is quite likely that some Companions (RAA) also approached the Prophet (SAW) with queries about the riba charged in the past.

    Another significant factor at the time was the role of the Jews who used to deal in riba (Al-Nisa 4:161). They were part and parcel of the Madani society when the Prophet (SAW) migrated to Madinah. There were three Jewish tribes in Madinah: Banu Qainqa´, Banu Nudair and Banu Quraizah. They dominated the civic and economic life of Madinah. The Ansaar were often indebted to them through riba-based loans. The Jews had their reservations about Islam. First friction and then hostilities followed. This lead to the expulsion of Banu Qainqa´a toward the Syrian territories in Shawwal 2 A.H. Banu Nudair were exiled to Khyber, about 200 miles from Madinah, in Rabi al-Awwal 4 A.H. Banu Quraizah were penalized in Zi Qa´adah 5 A.H for their role in the battle of Ahzaab (Shawwal 5 A.H). This was followed by the battle of Khyber in Muharram 7 A.H. This sequence of events implies that one section of the society actively resisted the rise of Islam in Madinah at least until 7 A.H. Of course, it had the sympathies of the munafiqeen, the other group in Madinah with nefarious intentions towards Islam.

    By the end of 3 A.H, Islam had taken a clear-cut stand against riba. One can see that the vested interests went on a counter-offensive, both because of the fear of losing their clientele and because of their grudge against Islam. Issues like mixing up of riba (on a sum lent) with profits (on trading using the same money) can be seen as part of the propaganda. Those who understand the nature of psychological warfare would confirm that any propaganda campaign works while the issue is still fresh in the minds of the people. Thus, the circumstantial evidence suggests that as soon as Allah (SWT) forbade riba (as per Aal-e-Imran), Jews and their sympathizers in Madinah launched a war of attrition against Islam. It would not be surprising if it confused some Muslims too. In the above background, the ayaat 275-277 read as follows.

    Riba-eaters will get up on the Day of Judgement like someone driven to madness by the Devil with his evil touch. This will happen because of their claim that (profit on) bai´ (trading) is the same as riba whereas Allah has permitted bai´ but prohibited riba.

    Whoever received the advice from his Lord (as per Aal-e-Imran 130) and (hence) stayed away from riba, his matter is with Allah as far as riba charged in the past is concerned. That subject should be treated as closed in this world. However, all those who continue to charge riba in lieu of the outstanding debts, they belong to the Hell where they shall live. (Al-Baqarah 2:275)

    Allah mitigates riba and multiplies sadaqaat. Surely, Allah does not like any thankless, sinner. (Al-Baqarah 2:276)

    Verily, those who are believers and who do good deeds, establish Salat and discharge Zakat obligations, they have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear or to be sorry about. (Al-Baqarah 2:277)

    The ayah 275 has both a comment on the doubts raised about the nature of riba and some guidelines for action in lieu of riba on existing debts. The issue drawing the most attention of the people is addressed first.

    Those favouring riba rested their case on riba being no different from profits on bai´ (trading). But in order to give a punch to their claim and to ridicule the injunctions of Allah (SWT), the provocateurs changed the order of comparison, and contended: "Bai´ is like riba." As in the case of repeated challenges from disbelievers about the timing of Qiyamah, Allah (SWT) did not directly respond to this provocation. He just observed that bai´ was permitted and riba prohibited.

    The said observation is also a polite reminder for all concerned that what matters in the case of riba is not return (or the rate of return) on one´s money, but the form of the transaction. One form (i.e., trading) is permitted, but the other (i.e., interest-based loans) prohibited. This being so at the discretion of Allah (SWT).

    Both trading and loans carry risk __ trading risk in one case, but commercial credit risk (of borrowers) in the other. Time too is not critical, because loans may also have a very short duration. Overnight lending in international financial markets is an example. Nonetheless trading involves a heterogeneous exchange: money versus some good, for example. On the other hand, a loan represents a homogenous exchange. That is, in this case the items given and taken back belong to the same category. Furthermore, the transfer of ownership in a loan is only for the pendency of the loan, and the lender is not a legal party to the use of the object lent at the borrower´s end. The nature of the exchange and these legal dimensions distinguish loans from other transactions. Thus the injunctions of riba prescribe the principles according to which loan transactions are to be executed.

    As noted earlier, the point "Allah has prohibited riba" in the ayah 275 confirms that absolute prohibition of riba did take place before this ayah. The ayah 275 goes on to give some guidelines for the "elimination of riba" from the economy. These include the abolition of riba clauses from the then existing contracts. The choice of words by Allah (SWT) signifies two things. First, once the riba decree (Aal-e-Imran 3:130) was given, all riba calculations had to stop forthwith. Secondly, those wilfully charging riba are promised an abode in the Hell because of their denying the absolute and authoritative status of the ayaat of the Qur´an __ the Word of Allah (SWT) Himself.

    After the above point, Allah (SWT), Who created man and Who knows his psyche, emphasizes some negative dimensions of riba and positive aspects of sadaqaat. This is the focus of the ayah 276. How do riba and spending for the sake of Allah affect the life at individual and national levels? A detailed account of this issue requires a separate study. However, one point may be just mentioned here in order to inspire some thinking on the subject. From an economics point of view, riba discourages investment and hence curtails economic development. On the other hand, sadaqaat enhance aggregate demand and hence augment economic activity.

    The message is completed in the ayah 277 by drawing the attention of the creation of Allah (SWT) to the road to ultimate success: having Iman, doing good deeds in general, and establishing Salat and Zakat in particular.

    V. The Fifth Revelation on Riba

    The fifth revelation on riba consists of Al-Baqarah 2:278-281. These ayaat have a complex background. Its proper appreciation is essential both for the correct understanding of these ayaat as well as for avoiding any questionable propositions about riba (see below).

    The above ayaat can be put into a proper perspective by first noting that, with the revelation of Aal-e-Imran 3:130 and Al-Baqarah 2:275-277 in the Qur´an, the necessary legislation on the subject of riba was complete. And this happened toward the end of 3 A.H. These ayaat are with reference to loan transactions. This point is also confirmed by Al-Baqarah 2:279. As explained elsewhere, the above decrees also called for further action in order to bring other exchange practices (comparable in nature to loan transactions) in line with the Qur´anic commandments.9 This purpose is served by the guidelines prescribed by the Prophet (SAW) for trading practices. The ahadith of Sayyidena Fudalah Ibn Obaid, with a mention of the battle of Khyber, confirm the existence of such injunctions in Muharram 7 A.H.

    There was nothing unusual about the practice on the above injunctions. All the Prophet´s Companions observed them. If, however, someone unwittingly made a mistake and it came to the attention of the Prophet (SAW), he would simply correct the error. Everything was normal until after conquest of Makkah, which took place on 20th Ramadan, 8 A.H.

    The conquest of Makkah was followed by the battle of Hunain on 6th Shawwal, 8 A.H. Immediately thereafter, Bani Thaqeef were besieged in Taif by the Islamic forces. The siege lasted for two weeks. The Prophet (SAW) did not press for military defeat of Bani Thaqeef. He returned to Madinah, via Makkah, after appointing Attaab Ibn Aseed (RAA) as Governor of Makkah.

    In Ramadan 9 A.H, a delegation of Bani Thaqeef visited Madinah with Abdyaleil as its head. The delegation presented several demands for embracing Islam. One of these was permission for business involving riba. The Prophet (SAW) did not grant this request. Though some of them did embrace Islam, the delegation itself returned after concluding a general peace agreement with the Prophet (SAW). Bani Thaqeef gradually entered the fold of Islam, and all of them became Muslim by the Last Pilgrimage (Hajj al-Wida´ )in Zil Hijjah, 10 A.H.

    The incident leading to the revelation of the ayaat 278-281 involved Bani Amr Ibn Omair __ a Thaqeef family __ and Bani Al-Moghirah __ a family of Bani Makhzoom of Makkah. The following details are provided by Allama Badruddin Aynee in Omdatul Qari: Sharah Sahee Bukhari:
    Zaid bin Aslam, Ibne Juraij, Muqatil bin Hayyan and Suddee reported as follows.10 The ayah 278 and its related ayaat were revealed in the context of a controversy between Bani Amr bin Omair of Bani Thaqeef and Bani Al-Moghirah of Bani Makhzoom. It so happened that Bani Amr and Bani Al-Moghirah had some riba deal between them during the days of Jahiliyyah (i.e., before embracing Islam). When Islam dawned, both families became Muslim. However, when the time of maturity of the said deal came, Bani Amr of the Thaqeefs demanded riba. There was a heated argument. Bani Al-Moghirah refused to pay riba on the ground that it was abolished by Islam. The matter came before Sayyidena Attaab bin Aseed (RAA), the Governor of Makkah. He sent a written request to the Prophet (SAW), who was then in Madinah, for a decision. Thereupon, the ayaat under reference were revealed. The Prophet (SAW) wrote to him:
    Upon hearing this judgement, Bani Amr said: "We turn toward Allah, and give up the riba due in our favour." Thereafter, all of them gave it up.
    According to Tafsir-e-Mazhari (Urdu, Vol.2, p.105), Abu Y´ala reports the above incident in his Masnad on the authority of Kalbi and Abu Saleh; the latter attributed his narration to Abdullah Ibn Abbas (RAA). Qurtubi (Tafsir Al-Qurtubi, Vol.3, p.363) also reports this incident with reference to Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Juraij, Suddee and others. In the narrations of Abu Y´ala and Qurtubi, Bani Amr are said to rest their case on a permission from the Prophet (SAW) whereby Bani Thaqeef were allowed to continue to charge riba in return for becoming Muslim. As noted above, this was not the case. This is also unlikely for the following three reasons.

    First, Bani Thaqeef signed their peace agreement in 9 A.H, the same year in which Prophet (SAW) concluded another pact with Bani Najran. This latter treaty explicitly requires discontinuation of riba practices by Bani Najran as a condition for peace. It is noteworthy that Bani Najran did not embrace Islam.

    Second, Surah Al-Kafiroon is a testimony to the fact that the Prophet (SAW) never compromised with non-Muslims on the fundamentals of Islam even in the worst of times. How could the Thaqeefs be an exception in the heyday of Islam?

    Third, Bani Amr are addressed as Muslims in Al-Baqarah 2:278. Acceptance of Islam automatically brought them under the purview of the Qur´anic injunctions on riba. There is not a single instance in which the Prophet (SAW) exempted Muslims from an order in the Qur´an.

    In view of the above, to say the least, the insistence of Bani Amr must have been caused by a lack of their personal knowledge of Al-Baqarah 2:275, and not on the basis of some sort of permission from the Prophet (SAW).

    It is also pertinent to note that the embracing of Islam by Sayyidena Attaab (RAA) and his appointment as Governor of Makkah by the Prophet (SAW) happened almost at the same time. He was then 21 or 22 years of age. One may argue that he too was unaware of the injunctions on riba in Al-Baqarah 2:275-277. But given the trust which the Prophet (SAW) placed in him, and given that there must also have been other Companions in Makkah at that time, this point is not tenable. The most likely explanation for Sayyidena Attaab´s (RAA) action is that the parties involved in the dispute were heavy-weights, and he deemed it appropriate to seek a resolution of the matter by the Prophet (SAW) himself in order not to spark any tribal conflict between the people of Makkah and Bani Thaqeef.

    Notwithstanding minor differences in the details, quite a few sources leading to the same information and a general consensus among many respected mufasserin on basic points confirm that the reported incident did happen in late 9 A.H or early 10 A.H. The words in all narrations imply that the Prophet (SAW) "wrote" to Attaab Ibn Aseed (RAA). This must have happened before the 25th Zi Q´adah, 10 A.H, when the Prophet (SAW) left Madinah for Hajj Al-Wida´.

    On 9th Zil Hijjah, 10 A.H, the Prophet (SAW) decreed, in person, the abolition of riba on all of the then existing debts. This was a retrospective decree.11 Thereafter, the Prophet (SAW) lived in this world for only 81 days. The said announcement was made in the presence of the Comanions (RAA) gathered in Arafat from all over Arabia. With the status of riba on existing debts fairly recently coming into the knowledge of virtually everybody, there was hardly any need for making references of the above nature to the Prophet (SAW). Therefore, it is quite unlikely that any need for intervention by Allah (SWT) arose after the Hajj Al-Wida´a. One may, therefore, conclude that the time of revelation of the ayaat under reference is after the conquest of Makkah but before the last pilgrimage. The ayaat 278-281 are as follows.

    O you, who claim to be believers, fear Allah and give up whatever is left in lieu of riba if your are indeed believers. (Al-Baqarah 2:278)

    Watch out! If you do not obey this order (and give up all outstanding riba), then there is a declaration of war against you from Allah and His Prophet. However, if you do tawbah (i.e, repent, along with the resolve to make amends for past mistakes), you have right only to your principals. Neither you inflict zulm on others, nor the others should do zulm on you. (Al-Baqarah 2:279)

    In the process of settling any outstanding accounts, if you find the debtor in a tight situation, give him some grace period so that he can manage to clear the dues against him. However, if you consider converting the outstanding debts into sadaqah (charity), that would be better for you if you understand. (Al-Baqarah 2:280)

    And be afraid of the Day on which you will be returned to Allah. At that time everyone will be fully rewarded for his actions, without being subjected to any zulm. (Al-Baqarah 2:281)

    The tone of the address confirms that something happened which annoyed Almighty Allah (SWT), Who is also the Owner, Master, and Sustainer of the universe. As explained above, this was indeed the case. Instead of addressing the Muslims sticking to their claims involving riba by some pronoun (as in Al-Baqarah 2:275), Allah (SWT) confronts the addressees as "O you, who claim to be Believers." The ayah 278 is thus no more an advice.

    The closing words of the ayah 278 make it plain that riba is an offence of unimaginable proportions, and Almighty Allah (SWT) simply does not recognize any person as a believer unless he gives up riba. Period. The style is a reflection of the rage of the Sole and the Absolute Master of the universe at its peak, creating a chilling wave of fear in the spines of the addressees: Why don´t you listen? Have you not been told (already)? Watch out. Leave riba forthwith (Al-Baqarah 2:278) or face an all-out war with Allah the Almighty and His Prophet (Al-Baqarah 2:279) __ knowing full well the fate of the weak party: humiliation and total destruction.

    While the first part of the ayah 279 warns of the dire consequences of not giving up riba, the second part is also significant. The creditors are pointedly restricted to their principals while settling any existing debts.

    According to the ayah 280, if the debtors face (genuine) difficulties in meeting their payment obligations, the creditors are ordered to give them grace period to meet their payment obligations to the tune of the principal. This principle was already observed by the veteran Companions (RAA) after the revelation of Al-Baqarah 2:275 in late 3 A.H. But now the decree from Allah (SWT) formalized it. This may be viewed as His special favor for this Ummah. More and more people were going to enter the fold of Islam in the future. Settlement of old contracts which involved riba by the new converts to Islam could create social problems. This ayah forestalled such problems.

    The ayah 280 also contains an additional guideline about the treatment of the written-off loans. They are to be treated as sadaqah by the lenders.

    Whereas the ayah 279 restricts lenders to their principals, it also closes on the following note: Neither the creditors do zulm on the debtors nor the latter do zulm on the former. The link between charging riba by creditors and zulm is often easy to understand. But how does zulm arise on the debtors´ side? The ahadith of Sayyidena Abu Hurairah clarify that debtors commit zulm when they deliberately cause delays in meeting their payment obligations.

    Most of the commentators of the Qur´an interpreted the point about zulm in the ayah 279 to conclude that genesis of riba is zulm. Hence, they went on to rationalize the prohibition of riba. Many reasons are offered. In the case of consumption loans, lending on interest is equated with exploiting the needy. In the case of production or commercial loans, it is suggested that riba gives the capitalist an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the borrowers´ effort without either putting in any effort of his own or taking any risk. Some others have used this ayah to defend their case for indexation of loans for inflation (in order to compensate lenders for loss in the purchasing power of their loans). Respectfully, both lines of interpretation take the meaning of the ayah out of the context. The factual position is as follows.

    Actually the ayah 279 contains an order from Allah (SWT) that both creditors and debtors should avoid zulm. Technically speaking, zulm occurs when any party is denied its rights as per the injunctions of Shari´ah. Thus the question one needs to ask is: what were the (relevant) injunctions of Shari´ah, from the creditors´ and the debtors´ perspectives, at the time of revelation of Al-Baqarah 2:278-281? Quite clearly, these injunctions are given in Aal-e-Imran 3:130 and Al-Baqarah 2:275-277. On both these previous occasions, there is no mention of zulm or its equivalent. Therefore, when Allah (SWT) decrees that both creditors and debtors avoid zulm, it means adherence to the said injunctions, and nothing else.

    The above conclusion has significant implications for guiding thinking on riba. First, riba may lead to zulm, but zulm per se is not the reason behind its prohibition. Second, there is no room for generalizing the interpretation of "lender´s principal" in order to seek a compensation for decline in the value of loans due to inflation during their pendency.12

    This completes the review of the ayaat of the Qur´an on riba in this study. The argument may have been taxing for some readers. Therefore, the main points about various sets of ayaat are summarized in the following section.

    VI. The Total Picture

    This study establishes that the prohibition of riba took place toward the end of 3 A.H. Thus there was a period of over seven years in the life of the Prophet (SAW) during which detailed injunctions on riba were given and practiced.

    Some important messages in the ayaat on riba, which can guide further thinking on the subject, are as follows. Many of these points were avoided in the previous sections in order to maintain the flow of argument.

    1. Riba is not among the mutashabihat (ambiguous terms) in the Qur´an.

    2. The ayaat of Surahs Al-Rome and Al-Nisa serve as a prelude to the injunctions of riba. However, as far as the Muslims are concerned, unlike the injunctions for khamr (drinking), the prohibition of riba was instantaneous as per Aal-e-Imran 3:130.

    3. All five sets of ayaat on riba have one thing in common: wherever riba is castigated or prohibited by Allah (SWT), there is a positive mention of spending for His sake. Given that repetition in oral communications is equivalent to underlining some important point in the written tradition, this point cannot be ignored as a coincidence, especially in the case of the Qur´an __ the Word of Allah (SWT). Thus there is a need to bracket this critical message in the ayaat on riba. The essential point may be seen as follows.

    Allah (SWT) is using the extreme cases of infaq, sadaqah and Zakat to tell the believers that although one is welcome to spend all that he has for His sake, yet riba is to be avoided at all costs. More specifically, if one opts for a loan transaction, it is to be executed on a one-to-one and equal basis (see point 4 below), irrespective of the costs that the lender may face during the process. For example, the cost of lending, the cost in terms of income foregone, and the cost of recollecting the sum lent. If one combines these points with the one on the permissibility of bai´ (Al-Baqarah 2:275), the complete message in the ayaat on riba can be stated as follows:
    Whereas the believers can give up what they own without seeking any return for the sake of Allah through infaq, and whereas the believers can earn profits through trading, yet they ought to do loan type transactions on a one-to-one and equal basis.

    The significance of this point is that through the injunctions of riba, Allah (SWT) is defining limits for the class of permissible transactions for Muslims.

    4. The complete picture in respect of loan transactions is as follows (the loans themselves may be in cash or kind):
    (a) In principle, all debts are to be settled on a one-to-one and equal basis. Thus if wheat is lent by weight, only the same amount can be reclaimed. If wheat is borrowed by some measure (such as saa´ or bushel), an equal quantity will be repayable. In the case of rupee loans, equality has to be observed in terms of the number of rupees in the give and take back process.
    (b) If circumstances warrant, the borrowers are to be given grace period to repay the principal.
    (c) If a lender is willing to write-off a loan, it will be a sadaqah (an act of charity).
    5. The injunctions of riba apply to all exchanges which are comparable, in nature, to loan transactions. For example, buying of new currency notes for decomposed ones from money-changers.
    6. The prohibition of riba is mutlaq (absolute and generally applicable without any exception). Thus the injunctions of riba have the following three aspects:
    (a) Riba is riba. Simple vs. compound interest or interest vs. usury distinctions do not apply.
    (b) The prohibition of riba applies regardless of whether the principal involved is used for production or consumption (nonproductive) purposes.
    (c) The provisions of the ayaat apply to all believers in their personal capacities. Accordingly, the prohibition of riba has the following three dimensions.
    i. The injunctions of riba apply to individuals as well as to their collective entities, such as companies, banks, and government.
    ii. In a transaction involving riba, a believer may either charge riba or give riba. The Prophet (SAW) made it abundantly clear that both taking and giving riba and even being a party to a transaction that involves riba in any other capacity are prohibited. Thus, there can be no question of the permissibility of Muslims doing such transactions with non-Muslims either in an Islamic state or in a non-Muslim country.
    iii. Riba arises in the context of a loan or a comparable transaction between two individuals (who must observe the injunctions of Almighty Allah at their personal levels). Thus, if such a transaction takes place between any two individuals, irrespective of the relation between them, it has to be executed on a one-to-one and equal basis. In other words, views like "no riba between a master and his slave" need reconsideration.

    7. After the revelation of Al-Baqarah 2:278-279, if a Muslim wilfully defies the injunctions of riba and the matter reaches the judicial/state level in a Muslim society, not only that the contract would be treated as void, but it will also be the concerned authority´s responsibility as representative of Shari´ah to impose appropriate ta´zeer (Shar´ee penalty) on him.

    In this regard, it is also noteworthy that riba debts negotiated by a person as a Muslim do not fall under the purview of Al-Baqarah 2:275. That is, they will not automatically hold after deleting the riba clauses in them. In fact they are uqood al-baatilah (contracts not recognized in Shari´ah) which need to be replaced by genuine contracts in the process of transition to a riba-free state. Of course, in addition to this, the Muslims wilfully negotiating such contracts are also to be subjected to appropriate ta´zeer (Shar´ee punishment) if matters are not cleared at the personal level, i.e., before the start of judicial/official process.

    8. The injunctions of riba apply to all non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim country.

    9. The pattern and text of the ayaat on riba implies that in drawing further conclusions, there is no point in looking at the rationale for the prohibition of riba. The correct approach would be to develop a riba-free economy, and to compare its performance with other riba-based constructs in terms of a chosen criteria, such as level of economic activity, investment, degree of inequalities in income and wealth, etc.

    10. That "there is a declaration of war from Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW)" calls for paying attention to the following three points:
    (a) Allah (SWT) is personally a party to the matter.
    (b) "War" implies that if riba continues, the believers cannot look forward to a peaceful living in this world, either at their personal or national level.
    (c) That the declaration of war is from "His Prophet (SAW)" as well, means that Almighty Allah intends to enforce His Will also through His representative(s) on earth. Thus everyone, who sincerely claims to be a Muslim, is duty-bound to play his role in the elimination of riba.
    In the end, it may be mentioned that the above points can be developed further in order to arrive at a proper definition of riba, the actual position of the ahadith on riba, the contours of a riba-free economy and a strategy for the elimination of riba from contemporary Muslim societies. Some useful references in this regard, in addition to the ones already mentioned in this paper, are as follows.

    1. "What is Riba?", Hikmat-e-Qur´an, November 1994, English section, pp.1-6.
    2. "Selected Issues in Riba" Hikmat-e-Qur´an, June 1995, English section, pp.1-11.
    3. "Riba-Free Alternatives for Modern Commercial Banking", Hikmat-e-Qur´an, February-March 1995, English section, pp.1-8.
    4. "Fiscal Implications of Elimination of Riba", Hikmat-e-Qur´an, April 1994, English section, pp.1-5.
    5. "Islamization of Economy: International Transactions". Paper read at the seminar on Islamization of Economy held at the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, in April 1994.


    1 According to Mufti Muhammad Shafie (Ma´arif-ul-Qur´an,Vol.6, pp.739-50), the passage of the 39th ayah starts with the 28th ayah. This ayah contains arguments for Tauheed and, in light thereof, the 29th ayah is an invitation to humanity to be rational. Thereafter, the message continues as above.

    2 In this paper, the interpretation of Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Tadabbur-e-Qur´an, Vol.6, p.99) is followed. According to Mufti Muhammad Shafie (Ma´arif-ul-Qur´an, Vol.6, p.750), in this ayah the term riba applies to gifts. Even if that were the case, the general conclusions noted above would hold.
    3 The word zulm has both general and special meanings in the Qur´an. In the special sense, it refers to (a) shirk (Luqmaan 31:13) and (b) denial of clear signs from Almighty Allah (Al-An´aam 6:144; Al-A´araaf 7:40-41). The Jews did this kind of zulm because they declared Prophet Uzair (AS) to be son of Almighty Allah (Al-Taubah 9:30), and they went on to disobey Him soon after experiencing the miraculous escape from the Pharoah and his army (Al-A´araaf 7:137-167).
    4 Literal translation of the first part of the ayah would be: "Don´t feast on riba - doubled and quadrupled." However, the message is the same: stay away from riba. This point is further explained in the text.
    5 The ayaat 135 and 136 are read here in continuation of the ayah 134. Maulana Muhammad Idris Kandhalwi (Ma´arif-ul-Qur´an,Vol. 1, pp.577-81) reads the ayaat 135 and 136 as a pair separate from the ayah 134. However, this reading too does not affect conclusions about riba.
    6 In this paper the details about the life and time of the Prophet (SAW) are taken from Sirat-ul-Mustafa by Maulana Muhammad Idris Kandhalvi and Sirat-un-Nabi by Maulana Shibli Nomani.
    7 Mufti Muhammad Shafie (Ma´aarif-ul-Qur´an,Vol. 2, pp.175-91) interprets the ayah 130 without its battl of Ohad background. The reasons for doing so are not explained.
    8 Mufti Muhammad Shafie (Ma´arif-ul-Qur´an, Vol.1, p.648) notes this point in the interpretation of Al-Baqarah 2:275.
    9 See "Riba Al-Fadl" (Hikmat-e-Qur´an, August 1995, English section, pp.1-17) and "Strategy for the Elimination of Riba from the Economy, with Special Reference to Existing Loan Contracts" (Paper read at the seminar on Islamization of Economy organized by the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, in April 1994).
    10 In the Omdatul Qari edition published by Idarah Al-Tiba´ah Al-Muniriyah, Egypt, the name Maqatil Ibn Hiban, instead of Maqatil Ibn Hayyan, is mentioned.
    11 This point is explained in the paper on strategy for the elimination of riba mentioned in end note no. 9.
    12 Incidentally this point is also supported by the ayah 280. The text of this ayah clearly implies that the grace period given to debtors is to be with reference to the principal at that time not something else.

  • "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?" Asking the Right Questions Open or Close

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    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    Ever since the atrocious events of September 11, 2001, the question has been raised and discussed countless times: Is Islam a religion of peace? I do not wish to add yet another answer to the already huge pile of responses that have been produced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, I would like to argue that the question itself is not — or is no longer — worthy of any serious consideration by intelligent people. I propose to examine this question one last time in order to ex-pose its fatal flaws, before suggesting that we banish it forever. I would then like to propose what I believe is a more constructive and fruitful way of inquiring into the issues involved.

    Is Islam a religion of peace? Whenever I hear this, I want to ask a counter- question: Who wants to know? It so happens that the overwhelming majority of people who ask this question do not care about getting an informed or accurate answer. They do not raise this question because they believe they are lacking in the knowledge of the Islamic tradition, and that the response will help them overcome their ignorance by giving them new insights. The question is typically raised by those who are already sure of being in possession of the right answer.

    In the majority of these cases, the speaker is an Islamophobe who asks the question only to create an illusion of having carried out an objective inquiry; he/she is then able to present the right answer as an emphatic “no.” Occasionally, this question is raised by an uncritical Islamophile whose response, as expected, is an equally emphatic “yes.” Unfortunately, what this well-meaning friend of Islam does not recognize is that the problem represented by the negative response to the question cannot be solved by simply giving a positive response.

    Whether the question is raised for polemical purposes or apologetic ones, it has little or no scientific value. The question fails to generate real inquiry, mostly because it is weighed down by its own ideological underpinnings, which can be revealed by making explicit a series of unacknowledged assumptions without which it cannot function as it currently does.
    The most obvious assumption is that there are only two possible answers: “yes” and “no.” The yes/no dichotomy coincides with the peace/violence dichotomy that is also assumed in the question. The question implies that Islam is either a “religion of peace” or it is not. If it is not a “religion of peace,” Islam must, ipso facto, be a “religion of violence.” The query does not allow any third choice.

    This way of framing the discussion is problematic. As a clichéd joke has it, a man cannot answer the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” with either a “yes” or a “no” without admitting his guilt. The same holds true for the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?” As soon as we agree to offer a response, we find ourselves trapped in the faulty logic of the question. The wording seduces us to respond within the structure of the question, encouraging us to disregard all the details and nuances of the issues that may be pertinent to the matter at hand. In order to say either “yes” or “no,” we must become highly selective in our choice of evidence. Regardless of which side we choose, the exercise does not generate an honest inquiry but a hardening of preconceived positions, an increase in polarization.

    The second ideological assumption underlying the question can be exposed by looking more closely at the value-laden word “peace.” The positive connotations of the word “peace” are so strong and pervasive that it is practically impossible for anyone in their right mind to be against peace. This is evidenced by the fact that politicians never tire of speaking about their commitment to “peace,” even when they are in the midst of declaring and conducting wars. There is an inherent bias in our language that favors “peace” over and against “violence,” so much so that “peace” constitutes its own argument but “violence” must be justified in one way or another. As language users, we instinctively know that, by definition, “peace” is good and “violence” is bad. Because of this linguistic bias, it is self-evident that a “religion of peace” is inherently superior in value to a “religion of violence.” No argument is required to prove this point, and none is given.

    In this context, whenever the question “Is Islam a religion of peace?” is raised, everyone thinks that it better be, for it would be really bad for Islam if it can be shown as a “religion of violence.” Fair enough. But the real problem emerges when we look at the people who are raising this question publicly. It turns out that they are rarely pro-peace in their own ethics. Many are known for being anti-Islam and anti-Muslim, and not for their contribution to peacemaking. Their opposition to violence is far from being a principled rejection of all violence; they are definitely against violence when it is perpetrated by Muslims, but they express no comparable indignation when violence is carried out on their behalf and is directed against a group with which they do not identify, including Muslims. In effect, they tend to approve or condone “our” violence against “them” while vehemently criticizing “their” violence against “us.”

    It is precisely this contradiction that nullifies the very logic on which the question is built. The appeal of the question depends on the audience’s implicit belief that “peace” is good and “violence” is bad; while the questioners rely on their audience’s moral sense to bolster the validity of the question, they simultaneously undermine that validity by failing to reject violence on a principled, as opposed to a selective and utilitarian, basis.

    There is one final assumption underlying the question that we must examine carefully, and it has to do with the word “religion” itself. Whenever the question is raised, there is a tacit understanding that everyone involved shares the same view of religion, i.e., the view that makes the question possible in the first place. However, the particular view of religion that is implied in the question is itself problematic and must not be taken for granted. The question is worded as if “religion” could be accurately understood as a single, circumscribed, well-defined, and unchanging entity, something that is unmistakably distinct from society, culture, history, politics, and economics. This view assumes that each individual religion is easily and obviously distinguishable from all other religions, that each religion has its own unique and fixed essence that can be objectively known, and that there is no overlap between the respective essences of any two religions.

    What is being ignored in this framing is that the concept of “religion” is just that — a concept. As such, we are dealing with an abstraction that can be defined and described in many different ways depending on our immediate purpose. This is precisely why it has proven impossible for the experts to agree on a single definition of the term “religion.” Over the last century and a half, the most intelligent minds have failed to draw conceptual boundaries between “religion” on the one hand, and society, culture, history, politics, and economics on the other hand. Furthermore, the boundary between any two religious traditions is also fuzzy at best; historically, no major religion has developed in complete isolation from the rest of the world, and therefore all religious traditions are products of syncretism as well as genuine innovations.

    If the concept “religion” is so slippery and unstable as to defy a single, objectively verifiable definition, the more complex notions of “religion of peace” and “religion of violence” pose an even greater challenge to our desire for pinning them down. Neither of them is a precise concept that can be employed in an unambiguous or unbiased manner; both have originated in highly contentious debates over power, authority, and identity, and continue to be contested in a variety of ways.
    A historically informed perspective does not allow us to treat any religion as if it were a static and monolithic object. No religion speaks with a single voice, and every religious tradition is characterized by a diversity of beliefs, attitudes, and expressions — a diversity that tends to increase with the passage of time. To describe any religion as being solely this or exclusively that, one must reduce its inner complexity to an artificial simplicity, as well as its ever-changing character to a fixed caricature or stereotype. This reduction is itself an act of violence. The resulting image is almost entirely a product of the reductionist enterprise, bearing little resemblance to the dynamic and complex lived reality of the tradition.

    In light of the above discussion, the best response I can offer to the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?” is no response at all. This, however, does not mean that we are trying to avoid or evade the problem; it only means that we must bury this particular question before we can find more constructive and fruitful ways of inquiring into the relevant issues.

    One might ask, what would those constructive and fruitful questions look like? Here are some examples. If we are interested in finding out the causes of violence, we may want to ask: “What are the needs of a particular people that they are trying to meet when they act violently?” If we are interested in ending violence, we may want to ask: “How can we help educate a particular people so they can use more effective and peaceful strategies for meeting their needs?” If we are interested in the religious aspects of the problem, we may want to ask: “What are the resources available in a particular religious tradition that might help its adherents make effective contributions to peace?”

    From a Muslim viewpoint, the most relevant course of inquiry may well be this: What are the specific resources in the Islamic religious heritage that can help us create a world where everyone can meet their needs peacefully? I find this to be a supremely worthwhile question.

    ~Ahmed Afzaal, Ph.D., holds his doctorate in Religion and Society from Drew University, and is an assistant professor of Comparative Religion at Concordia College. Dr. Afzaal was born in Pakistan, where he studied science and attended medical school, and is the author of numerous articles on subjects including religion and social change.

  • A Wake-Up Call: Reflections on Media, Freedom, and Morality Open or Close

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    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    The pace of Westernization in the Pakistani cultural scene has increased tremendously during the last couple of years. The easy availability of explicit foreign videos, novels, and glossy magazines, the increasingly bold and daring policies being adopted by our own electronic and print media, as well as the leniency with which all this is being tolerated and even encouraged by those in authority — all these are signs of a serious decadence. Add to this the liberalization of social norms that used to regulate the behavior of young men and women, and you have a perfect recipe for societal degeneration.

    Attempts to criticize and condemn this trend are often brushed aside as irrational and dogmatic opinions of a few narrow-minded fanatics, or as signs of an obscurantist mentality. Such derogatory labels, however, do not constitute any logical argument, nor do they prove anything. Instead, what we really need, in order to reach a rational solution to the issue of whether or not we should adopt the Western and liberal values, is an objective analysis of the whole problem.

    Let´s start our discussion at the very beginning.

    Facts of Life

    Like all animals, the Homo sapiens consist of two different genders: male and female. The biological urge to mate ensures the sharing of different types of genetic material, so that greater variation in form and function can be achieved with each passing generation. A sort of Natural Selection is applicable here, because the animals who mate are able to leave offspring to continue the race, whereas those who are not interested in mating quickly become extinct. The strong sexual urge, therefore, guarantees the continuation of species.

    Throughout the animal kingdom the male is always the sexual aggressor while the female remains passive. This difference is based on a fundamental biological fact. The male reproductive cells, the sperms, are small and motile, while the female reproductive cells, the ova, are large and relatively immobile. A female produces far fewer eggs than a male generates sperm. In other words, there are always more sperms than eggs. This means that, from a purely biological standpoint, males of all species can spread their sperm far and wide, impregnating as many females as possible, but the females may get only one mating opportunity per season. Therefore, the female must hold back and choose the best possible mate, while the male can afford to be rather indiscreet.

    Although this is clearly applicable to the human beings inasmuch as they possess physical bodies and instincts similar to those of the lower animals, there are a number of significant differences. It is a self-evident fact that the intensity and vigor of sexual urge in human beings is far greater than any other animal. Moreover, there is no built-in mechanism in the human beings, again unlike other animals, that would diminish or abate their sexual desire once its primary purpose —reproduction — has been achieved.

    The human race could easily have been prevented from becoming extinct with only a fraction of the normal human sexual urge. This implies that, as far as the human beings are concerned, the sexual urge must have an important function in addition to that of biological reproduction. What is that extra function?

    The answer is quite obvious: Nature wants us to live together, as families and clans and tribes and societies. That is exactly why men and women not only crave physical union, they also yearn for permanent relationships and love and commitment and spiritual devotion. That is why the human infant is the most helpless and fragile creature in the entire animal kingdom, and also the most dependent on his parents´ care and protection. Again, that is why human parents are more loving and caring than any other species. Clearly, Nature doesn´t want men and women to come together just for the sake of their physical need, but she wants them to develop real and lasting love and companionship that would, on the one hand, ensure the survival and well-being of the helpless newborn and, on the other hand, become the basis of a stable family life which would, in turn, give rise to close-knit communities.

    However, the strong sexual instinct in man is a double-edged sword. On account of its remarkable intensity, human sexuality has a potential for getting out of control and becoming an end in itself. Thus, an essential prerequisite for establishing and maintaining a stable and healthy civilization is to restrain the sex impulse by special customs and social institutions, to allow its expression only within well-defined boundaries, and to strictly prohibit and check any transgression of those limits. Otherwise a chaotic expression of sex impulse will result, leading to the decay of the institution of family, degeneration of morals, and a culture of men exploiting women.

    There is an undeniable link between the sexual norms of a nation and its overall well-being. A famous study of eighty primitive and civilized societies, carried out by former Cambridge Professor J. D. Unwin, has proved the existence of a direct correlation between increasing sexual freedom and social decline.[1] According to the results of this study, the more sexually permissive a society becomes, the less creative energy it exhibits and the slower its movement towards rationality, philosophical speculation, and advanced civilization. Similarly, the eminent British historian Arnold Toynbee has argued that a culture which postpones rather than stimulates sexual experience in young adults is a culture more prone to progress.[2]

    Unfortunately, in our morbid zeal of blindly imitating the West, we even ignore how a growing number of European and American writers have been enlightening their own people about the disastrous consequences of sexual permissiveness. While many of the secular and liberal “intellectuals” among us are still waiting eagerly for the arrival of the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960´s from the United States, the Americans themselves are beginning to recognize the importance of traditional family values and premarital abstinence. A new breed of writers and activists in USA and Europe are forcefully presenting the case for decency in the media and a return to traditional family system as the ideal way of life.[3] Their logical and sober advice is often based on the recognition of inborn differences between the two genders.

    Gender Differences

    Although radical feminists have long insisted that men and women are alike except for their reproductive functions, and that all apparent differences are produced by a “repressive” environment, we now possess evidence that proves the exact opposite. Authentic scientific research has clearly demonstrated that such differences between men and women are genetic in origin and have firm biological foundations.

    The more protective and less belligerent attitude of women towards others, their greater competence regarding relationships and people, their tendency to sacrifice personal interests in order to meet the needs of friends and relatives, their propensity to avoid conflicts and confrontations, their anxiety to please others, as well as their strong maternal and nurturing instinct — all these traits make women ideal home-makers. On the other hand, men are physically stronger, tend to excel in the logical manipulation of concepts, and are, in general, more self-assured, self-sufficient, and independent as compared to women — all of which make them well-adapted for their role as providers, protectors, and supervisors of the family unit.

    More relevant to our subject, however, is the difference between men and women that is manifested in their emotions and attitudes regarding sex. The basic biochemical mediator of sex activation, aggression, and dominance — in both men and women — is the hormone “testosterone.” The primary sources of this hormone are testes in men and the adrenal glands in women. The distinctions occur because, unlike the female, the male brain is exposed to testosterone right from its development in the mother´s womb, and also because, after puberty, there is twenty times more testosterone in a man´s body as compared to that in a woman´s. This makes men, in relation to women, much more aggressive, dominant, and sexually active. Also, the higher testosterone level leads to the well-documented male tendency towards promiscuity.

    Men, in general, tend to be more interested in the physical aspect of sex as compared to its personal dimension. On the other hand, women value companionship, love, commitment, attachment, and affection much more than physical gratification. Research has shown that men are likely to become irritable when deprived of sex, whereas women rarely experience the same feeling of deprivation in a celibate state. Men have a greater capacity for spatial-visual skills and are more responsive to visual stimuli; that´s why they are so preoccupied with the shapes and forms of the opposite sex, and that´s why over 90% of the consumers of pornography are men. On the other hand, women are usually attracted towards the members of the opposite sex due to the latter´s communication competence, social position, confidence, or sense of humor, and only rarely because of their physical appearance.[4]

    Women frequently complain that men see them as “objects.” Men complain that women are only interested in talking. Both are correct because, for men, sex is largely a matter of objective things and actions, whereas for women it has more to do with communication and intimacy. No amount of protesting and grumbling can change the essential nature of either men or women. Instead, women must keep in mind that men are very easily aroused, and that they frequently misconstrue the slightest hint of friendship as a sexual invitation. The old warning that men are only after one thing is absolutely true.

    The Miracle of Marriage

    Men are basically promiscuous. It is only the institution of marriage that can convert their aimless lust into constructive love, and divert their short-term preoccupation with physical pleasure into long-term commitments for the care and protection of their families. In the absence of any social and legal restriction on sexual activity outside of marriage, men tend to revert back towards their instinctual pattern of promiscuous and irresponsible sexual behavior. We can see how this permissiveness results in a huge number of unmarried mothers who are left to provide for themselves as well as for their children. Contrary to what Western women have been led to believe, “One Night Stands” have nothing to do with equality or freedom; this is only a modern version of the old deception — men taking advantage of women.

    Sexual permissiveness demolishes the institution of family. Despite all attempts to portray “Single Motherhood” as something desirable and trendy, the fact remains that the intact two parent family offers much greater security and much better outcomes by providing ideal environment for the proper growth and development of children. [5] Unregulated sexual freedom, on the other hand, allows men to be indiscriminate in their “adventures”, and since— in the absence of strong social conventions — nothing and no one can force them to act in a responsible manner, their promiscuous behavior results in a large number of illegitimate children who never receive the care, protection, and love of their fathers. We certainly don´t want to introduce this kind of social anarchy into our own society. Or do we?

    Mistaken Views of Human Nature

    Some of us are indeed under the impression that the sexual freedom now prevalent in the West resulted from the much needed revolt against “unnatural” restrictions and prudish or puritanical rigidities of the Victorian age, that a liberal life-style represents enlightenment and rationality, and that we should also follow suit. However, it may be pointed out that the culture of sexual permissiveness — which can be traced to its origin about a century ago in the Anglo-American milieu — is in sharp contravention to the true human nature, and that it actually represents the unfortunate but inevitable outcome of two very misleading theories.

    The ideas of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) have played a decisive role in changing the general conceptions and behavior of Western men and women. The view of man as nothing more than a sophisticated animal has had devastating effects on the entire societal and familial structure. Out went morals and ethics and the need for self-restraint. All attention was now focused on the satisfaction of physical needs and gratification of carnal desires. If I am an animal and so are you, then why bother with religion and tradition and convention? Everything and anything should be permissible, provided, of course, that no “law” is broken. But the “law”, when it is formulated by majority vote, itself becomes a most pliable and flexible institution.

    Then came Freud, whose views regarding the nature of human self are highly ingenious, but also, to a large extent, inaccurate. According to him, the principal and primary urge of the human “id” is sexual in character, and all social customs and conventions that restrict the free expression of sex instinct are damaging to the mental health of the individual and lead to different types of neuroses. Although his views remained controversial among the scientific community, Freud quickly became a popular figure and his name became synonymous with sexual freedom, especially in the United States. His ideas then infiltrated into art, literature, drama, and feature films, thereby influencing whole generations. The effects of his theory on the Western thought and culture are too numerous and far-reaching to estimate. However, it can be safely argued that the cult of promiscuous sex owes its popularity largely to the teachings of Sigmand Freud.[6]

    How can we challenge the growing trends of permissiveness when it is backed by “Science”? The malignant effects of the materialistic version of evolution and the sexual view of the human psyche can be neutralized only by appreciating that human beings, unlike all other creatures, have a dual nature. A human being is composed of a physical body as well as a spiritual soul. This implies that while man certainly possesses the purely animal instincts for survival, reproduction, and dominance, at the same time he also has a strong predisposition towards moral virtue and an urge to love, adore, and worship a Supreme Being. Ignoring the spiritual side of humanity results in the misconception that we are nothing more than well-developed apes, and this, in turn, leads to a society where the physical and carnal aspects assume ultimate importance. Instead, the establishment of a healthy and balanced culture requires that the soul be allowed to rule the body, and not vice versa.[7]

    The Myth of Unlimited Freedom

    Once we realize the extent of the damage that is caused by sexual permissiveness, it is easy to see how various kinds of erotic images in the mass media contribute towards moral and social degeneration, without serving any constructive purpose. The prevalence of such images, whether suggestive and subtle or explicit and obvious, only accentuates the already potent effects of sex hormones, especially among the adolescents and young adults. The resulting preoccupation with sex consumes a lot of their time and energy, leaving very little for healthy and positive pursuits.

    Moreover, in view of the central and pivotal importance of marriage and its constructive role vis-à-vis human civilization, we can appreciate the significance of closing all avenues that could lead, directly or indirectly, towards a relaxation of the restrictions on non-marital sexual activity. Such a relaxation is, of course, highly detrimental to the institutions of marriage and family, and, therefore, to the fabric of civilization itself.

    Keeping in mind the naturally strong human predisposition towards sex, we can also see that all ways and means employed to intensify and heighten this instinct will only result in unnecessary frustrations and mental conflicts, which will lead, sooner or later, to the free and unrestricted expression of sexual urge, along with all its disastrous consequences. Furthermore, the kind of physical attractiveness and erotic appeal that is routinely depicted in the mass media is so rare that most women cannot live up to such a high standard of perfection; the resulting dissatisfaction in their husbands is insidiously damaging to the institution of family. It may be pointed out that it is precisely this myth of the ideal female body that has resulted in the menace of what has been described as the “commodification” of women. The moral decadence of the Western society clearly demonstrates that extremely adverse consequences can result if a society remains tolerant or indifferent to the kind of images that are presented in the mass media.

    The easy availability of explicit material in the form of books, magazines, films, posters, and even computer diskettes and CDs, actually represents commercial exploitation of a human weakness on a grand scale. No civilized and sane society should ever allow its own destruction at the hands of a few entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we are doing under the guise of “progress”, “upward mobility” and “freedom”.

    There is a serious misunderstanding prevalent among our so-called liberal elite. It consists of their tendency to confuse the highly desirable values of equality and freedom with the equally undesirable propagation of obscenity and vulgarity. The freedom to express is, no doubt a basic democratic and moral ideal, but it can never be absolute and unqualified. A society that values its stability and moral standards can never allow a few of its citizens to express things that would undermine the societal foundation and threaten to disintegrate its moral fabric. The democratic ideal of freedom from censorship has more to do with the right to express dissent against the government and to criticize its policies, and has nothing to do with spreading licentious and immoral material. It is indeed amazing that the state-owned electronic media in Pakistan, while shamelessly denying the people their fundamental right to disagree with the government, continues to insist on transmitting obscene and objectionable material under the hypocritical banner of “freedom.” [8]

    Indeed, the manufacture and sale of salacious stuff can be justified neither on the grounds of free speech nor by appeals to human psychology. All kinds of libidinous material are damaging to public morality and social well-being, but, of course, the more explicit and obscene they are, the more extensive will be their harm. Also, the younger and more impressionable the viewers, the more permanent and far-reaching will be the damage.
    Sometimes people try to defend their “right” to have access to such material on the grounds that sex is a natural activity, and, therefore, it is unnatural to put any restrictions in this regard. What they don´t realize is the fact that sex is essentially a private matter; its open performance or depiction is not only repulsive to the undefiled and pristine human nature, it also robs a beautiful act of its personal, social, moral, spiritual, and esthetic dimensions, leaving nothing but animal lust.

    In the entire animal kingdom, we find only a single “animal” that has a sense of privacy, and the capacity for shame when this privacy is violated; that animal is, of course, the Homo sapiens. Even in the most primitive tribes, men and women cover their private parts and do not copulate in public. The sexual act is an animal activity that also involves uniquely human emotions and ideals. But when sex is made into a public spectacle, the audience cannot see the human element; they can only view the animal coupling, and this is what debases a unique human experience into a mere animal connection. Pornography, by making a gross public display of the private physical intimacies of human life, degrades both men and women to a subhuman level. That is why we describe such books and movies as “dirty”; not that the sexual act itself is perceived as unclean, but because its public performance and depiction in explicit detail is what debases and brutalizes and insults our sensibilities.

    The dignity of a human being is derived not from the basic instincts or the physiological processes of his body that he shares with other creatures; rather it is based on his higher faculties — rational, moral, and spiritual — which are the real foundations of his distinctive individuality. In our everyday lives, we partially hide our instinctual and animal aspects under cover of social conventions, which help keep their demands under control. Pornography, by depicting in explicit detail the instinctual and animal aspects of human existence, removes this very protection of social conventions, thereby degrading human beings and robbing them of their dignity.[9]

    Innocent Fun?

    Pornography has a well-documented role in sexual violence. Rape and child molestation is on the rise in Pakistan, but we are still choosing to ignore the most important causal factor in such criminal and disgusting manifestations of deviant sexuality. Research has shown that repeated exposure to pornography often results in compulsive and aberrant behavior and in many cases leads to sex crimes. American psychotherapist Dr. Victor B. Cline has done extensive studies regarding the effects of pornography. He has described a four-factor syndrome in almost all of his patients.

    The first stage is that of Addiction. After becoming involved in pornographic material, people tend to become dependent; they keep coming back for more and more. The material provides a very powerful sexual stimulant or aphrodisiac effect as well as exciting imagery, which is frequently recalled and elaborated into fantasies. The second phase is that of Escalation. With the passage of time, the addict requires more explicit and more perverted material to get the same amount of stimulation. He begins to prefer pornography and autoeroticism over normal sexual relations, often resulting in divorce and loss of family. The third phase is that of Desensitization. The addict reaches a point where material hitherto considered shocking is now seen as acceptable and commonplace. He begins to legitimize the sexual activity that he witnesses, and, irrespective of how deviant, he feels that “everybody does it.” The fourth stage is called Acting Out. This is characterized by an increasing tendency to act out sexually the behaviors repeatedly witnessed, including compulsive promiscuity, exhibitionism, child molestation, rape, and sadomasochism. Evidence suggests that sexual deviations are always learned forms of behavior and not inherited traits. The models for this type of learning most commonly come from pornographic magazines and videos.[10]

    Violent and abnormal manifestations of sexuality is often the result of prolonged exposure to prurient material. In our own country, a great and commendable effort is being made by various Non-Governmental Organizations in educating the masses regarding the seriousness of violence against women, especially its most despicable variety — rape. However, the theme which is conspicuous by its absence in the whole corpus of speeches, seminars, articles, and advertisements is the role played by the breakdown of morals, free social interaction between young men and women, and easy availability of sexually explicit material. While we should certainly condemn rape, there is an equally important need to recognize and eradicate the factors which promote and contribute towards this crime.

    Unfortunately, whenever the role of provocatively dressed women and their equally provocative demeanor is pointed out as unnecessarily exciting the potential rapist, the immediate rejoinder — often delivered sarcastically — consists of the counter-argument that this is “blaming the victim.” It is undeniable that no man has the right to rape a woman under any circumstances, but does it mean that young women should deliberately place themselves in dangerous situations?
    Why is rape so serious a problem even in societies where non-marital sex is freely available? This has a lot to do with the nescience and naïveté of women regarding the dynamics of male sexuality. Women too often forget the basic fact that sexual behavior in men is deeply intertwined with aggression. The leaders of the Feminist and Women´s Liberation movements in the West have misled their sisters into believing that men and women are exactly alike; that women can do anything, go anywhere, say anything, and wear anything, without having to face any undesirable consequence. They have also attacked and weakened the traditional morality where women enjoyed the protection of their fathers and brothers. The consequences of such misguided and essentially futile attempts to change the basic human nature have been nothing short of disastrous.[11] The same thing is now happening in our own society.

    Moreover, feminists keep on telling us that rape is not a crime of passion, but that it is a “hate-crime”, by which men intimidate and threaten women and force them into subjugation. Based upon a misleading and superficial judgment that all men are oppressors and all women are victims (which itself betrays a hatred for men), the theory of rape as a manifestation of misogyny is full of fallacious assumptions. A more plausible explanation of the rising incidence of rape is as follows.

    In an environment where non-marital sex is condoned, the sexual “victories” assume an out of proportion importance for men and their threshold for tolerating rejection is greatly diminished. At the same time, the widespread availability of, and exposure to, pornographic material puts an abnormal strain on male sexuality, and it makes men constantly preoccupied with sexual performance and prowess. [12] Moreover, women are depicted in such books and movies as always sexually ready, willing, and eager; they are often shown as enjoying rape, physical torture, and humiliation.[13] As a result, the viewers or readers begin to perceive various acts of sexual violence and coercion as normal, everyday practices. All these factors, when combined with the natural aggressiveness of men and also the naïveté of women concerning the male obsession with sex, lead to the unfortunate incidents of rape. In order to reduce the prevalence of this crime, therefore, something more serious than mere male-bashing is needed.

    In addition to rape, non-marital sex, child molestation, and even homosexual practices are becoming more and more common in our own society. Whenever citizens demand that media policies be reformed in order to check the growing moral decadence, they receive the condescending advice not to see or buy “what you don´t like.” One is simply dumbfounded at such shallow and childish “solutions” of crucial moral and social issues. Whether or not someone likes obscene and erotic material is simply irrelevant. The point is that morally and socially damaging material is being published, transmitted, imported, and openly sold in the market, and all this has to be stopped. Not every one is mature enough to realize the damage caused by such material, and even those who do understand are rarely able to protect either themselves or their families. No one can live in a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the society. Whether he likes it or not, every individual is affected by what happens in his environment. Where the whole atmosphere is polluted, only an imbecile can say: “if you don´t like smoke, just stop breathing.”

    If we want to avoid the predicament that is troubling the Western world, then, obviously, we must curb our own drift towards permissiveness before it is too late. The wise person is the one who learns from other people´s mistakes. The spread of all forms of obscene or pornographic material, whether indigenous or foreign, must be controlled. The use of erotic images in both the electronic and print media must be effectively prohibited. Those who are in charge of making our cultural policies must divert their attention from music, dancing, and modeling to more constructive endeavors. The time to take corrective measures is rapidly running out. If we were to lose this time in our complacency and nonchalance, then the future generations would need much stronger and more strict measures to control what would then be a more serious decadence. As they say in Persian, fools do the same thing as the wise, but only after suffering a whole lot of trouble.

    Finally, there is another and more sinister dimension to the whole issue. Note how utterly idiotic is the claim that such liberal policies are being adopted because people “want” this sort of entertainment. People want a just and equitable distribution of wealth; they want a break from the devastating inflation; they want peace and security. Obviously, they are not receiving any of these. All they are being fed is a heavy dose of obscenity and vulgarity in the guise of culture and entertainment and progress and liberty. It seems there is a deliberate attempt to keep us occupied with these toys and, thereby, to divert our attentions away from the real issues. Indeed, the whole entertainment industry is acting as “Opium of the Masses.”

    Let´s wake up for a change.

    [1]Unwin, Professor J. D., Sex and Culture, quoted in Christenson, Dr. Reo M., Censorship of Pornography? (The Progressive, September 1970)
    [2] Toynbee, Arnold., Why I dislike Western Civilization (New York Times Magazine, May 10, 1964)
    [3] Some of the most prominent persons in this field include: Phyllis Schlafly, the author of The Power of the Positive Woman(1977) and the editor/publisher of the newsletter The Phyllis Schlafly Report; George Gilder, who has recently revised and updated his book Sexual Sucide (1973) as Men and Marriage (1986); Donald E. Wildmon, who is the president of The American Family Association; Pat Socia, who is a sex-education consultant and teaches “Abstinence-Only” curriculum in High Schools; Janet Kid, who is the author of The Benefits of Chastity Before Marriage; and Mary Whitehouse, who is the founder of Clean-Up T.V Campaign, and has been described as the “articulate voice of the silent majority raised in protest against pornography.”
    [4] For details of recent scientific evidence regarding gender differences, see:Evatt, Cris., He and She, (California: Conari Press, 1992), Moir, Anne & Jessel, David., Brain Sex (New York: Dell Publishing, 1991), and Begley, Sharon., Gray Matters, (Newsweek, March 27, 1995). The issue of gender differences is also covered in Davidson, Nicholas., The Failure of Feminism (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988), Levin Michael., Feminism and Freedom (New York: Transaction Books, 1987), and Stein, Sara Bonnett., Girls and Boys: The Limits of Nonsexist Childrearing (New York: Charles Scribner´s Sons, 1983)
    [5] Cf. Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe., Dan Quayle Was Right, The Atlantic Monthly, April, 1993.
    [6] Cf. Torrey, Fuller E., Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effects of Freud´s Theory on American Thought and Culture (Harper Perennial, New York, 1992)
    [7] For a refutation of Freud´s theory from an Islamic perspective, Cf., Rafiuddin, Dr. Muhammd., Ideology of the Future(Lahore: Sheikh Muhammad Ashraf, 1946)
    [8] The Supreme Court of the United States of America has repeatedly given the verdict that the Freedom of Speech clause (in the First Amendment of the US Constitution) does not apply to obscene and pornographic material. For example, the Supreme Court in Roth v. United States (1957) ruled that the First Amendment´s concept of Free Speech is not absolute and that obscene material has no expressive value. The court explained:
    [the] protection given to speech and press was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social change desired by the people.
    In Miller v. California, the Court ruled:
    in our view, to equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom.
    In Paris Theater v. Slaton (1973) the Supreme Court ruled:
    The sum of experience, including that of the past two decades, affords ample basis for legislatures to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits a state from reaching such a conclusion and acting on it legislatively... We categorically disapprove the theory that obscene films acquire constitutional immunity from state regulation simply because they are exhibited for consenting adults only. The rights and interests other than those of the advocates are involved. These include the interests of the public in the quality of life, the total community environment, the tone of commerce, and possible, public safety itself.
    For details, cf. Kirk, Dr. Jerry. R., The Mind Polluters (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), and Parker, Thomas., The Impact of Pornography on Marriage, in Christian Life Commission (CLC) Annual Seminar Proceedings (1989)
    [9] Cf. Kristol, Irving., The Case For Liberal Censorship, and Clor, Harry., Obsenity and Freedom of Expression, in Cline, Victor (Ed.) Where Do You Draw the Line? Explorations in Media Violence, Pornography, and Censorship (Brigham Young University Press, 1974)
    [10] Cline, Victor B., Pornography´s Effects on Adults and Children (New York: Morality in Media, 1993), Zillman and Bryant,Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic, 1984), and Zillmann et al (Eds.) Media: Children and the Family(New Jersey: L. Erlbaum & Associates, 1993)
    [11] Cf. Paglia, Camille., Sex, Art, and American Culture (Vintage Books, 1992)
    [12] Cf. Brod Harry., Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality, Social Theory and Practice (Fall 1988)
    [13] Gordon, George N., Erotic Communications (Hastings House, New York, 1980), and statements by Johnson, Hilarry., inPornography: A Humanist Issue, The Humanist, July/August 1985. It may be pointed out that many radical feminists — like Susan Brownmiller and Andrea Dworkin — are also active against violent pornography, but the target of their opposition is restricted to the portryal of women as inferior and subordinate to men, which they believe to be derogatory and a causal factor in violence against women; they are not against eroticism in the media as such.


  • Arabic Language: Modern Methods for Mastery Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Omer M. Mozaffar

    It is vitally important that any Islamic worker knows Arabic. For the non-Arabic speaking Islamic activist, one of the easiest ways to gauge his/her dedication to Islamic work is to see how much effort he/she puts into the study of Arabic. This is true even for Arab Muslims, many of whom speak the dialect of their native country but have trouble understanding the classical Arabic. Without knowing Arabic, one does not have a direct connection with the Qur’an . Without Arabic, one’s Salah will be more ritual than an intimate interaction.

    The vast majority of students of Arabic in the United States and Canada are non-Muslims. My own Arabic classes at the University of Chicago have each had at most four Muslims out of twenty to thirty students. Many missionary groups have begun teaching Arabic to their students, or have begun funding their students to learn Arabic from the top programs.

    This essay will provide an overview of some of the options available to Islamic activists for learning Arabic. Your target is to be able to read Arabic text written without diacritics, with some help from a dictionary. It is urged that every Muslim consider his/her study of Arabic to be a top priority, primarily to connect directly with the majestic text of the Qur’an and secondarily to open one’s access to the study of Islamic tradition.

    No Shortcuts to Learning a Language

    Language is one of the most human of all the different fields of study. Everyone uses language. The brain contains specific regions (just above the left ear) for the use of language.

    But there is no shortcut to learning a language. In other fields, one student may find him/herself spending much less time than the classmates depending on one’s aptitude. For example, in fields that place emphasis on concepts, like calculus, physics, philosophy, etc. one person may understand the concepts much more quickly than the next. In other fields that place emphasis on memorization, like medicine, a student’s investment of time depends on his or her memorization skills.

    Language is somewhat different. Even though a language is an organic whole, within any language we must know grammar, vocabulary, idiom, and dialect. Further, we must know reading, writing, and conversation. Last, we hope to get to the level where we think (and dream) in the target language.

    The mistake that too many students of language commit is to place most or all of their efforts on only a few of these skills. In the case of Arabic, most students spend their time mastering grammar, and spend little time on vocabulary. Or they may memorize the vocabulary of the Qur’an, but are unable to translate much of anything outside of the Qur’an, including Hadith.

    Arabic poses an additional challenge of dialect. The type of Arabic known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not spoken on the streets of any Arab nation. It is indeed the Arabic we encounter at Al-Jazirah or BBC Arabic, but it is very different from the Arabic spoken on the streets of Damascus or Cairo.

    Further, because Arabic is itself such an ancient language, spanning all fields of study, the vocabulary is itself colossal. The Qur’an has its own vocabulary. Hadith have a similar, but larger vocabulary. Islamic law, Sufism, and philosophy have their own unique vocabularies. In addition, many words are used in multiple academic disciplines, yet have very different meanings in each of these different disciplines. The long history of Arabic language explains its richness, particularly the fact that Arabic has been the primary language in which the classical Islamic tradition was developed and expressed.

    As we can imagine, language depends wholly on detail, and the subtleties of meaning change with small changes in syntax or vocabulary. Consider the following examples:

    “I ran to the train station.”

    “I alone ran to the train station.”

    “I ran alone to the train station.”

    “I ran to the train station alone.”

    The difference in the above examples may or may not seem significant. But we know that each example gives a slightly different meaning than the others. Now consider the following examples of Arabic:

    “na’buduka” (we are slaves to you)

    “iyyaka na’budu” (to you alone are we slaves)

    We will all recognize the second example, and it is only slightly different than the first. For any Muslim, the difference in meaning between the two is very significant, resulting from a slight rearrangement of words.

    The next challenge is the biggest of all the challenges for an adult or young adult to learn a language. The brain works like a muscle. If you use it, it will strengthen. If you stop using a part of your brain, it will become weak. As children, we learned our language almost in an effortless manner. Most of us have little experience in learning languages in our adult life. Most Islamic activists know one language, and maybe up to three (depending on what they were taught as children). It is safe to say that the regions of our brains that are used in learning a language have weakened since childhood, so if we try to learn a language in our adult life, it won’t be very easy. In fact, when we try to learn a language in our adult life, it is probable that our brain will compensate by using other regions. Learning a new language in adulthood requires commitment, planning, and consistent effort.

    As adults, we have forgotten how to learn a language. This process of relearning how to learn a language may be the most frustrating. It is similar to the plight of someone who is trying to lose weight. He/she knows that he must eat right and exercise, just like the language student knows that he/she must memorize vocabulary and grammar, but we may also need to be taught how.

    A mistake that many Muslims make is to seek Arabic learning only from other Muslims. As a general principle, if something is available in writing, it is possible that the best source is not a Muslim. We will see that some of the best Arabic books and dictionaries are not necessarily from Muslim authors. Further, many Muslim authors of Arabic textbooks have themselves learned Arabic from non-Muslims, and many non-Muslim authors learned Arabic from Muslims.

    Thus we see that many Muslims try and retry to learn Arabic, but they never learn the language. We see that in many mosques and Islamic organizations, Arabic teachers walk in and walk out almost through a revolving door. The teachers are available, the students are interested, but after the first few weeks of class, most trickle away.

    What Needs to be Done: The Bare Minimum

    If you cannot provide the following steps, you will not learn Arabic. If you cannot do the following, your time spent in Arabic classes will be invested better in other activities.

    First, every student must be able to dedicate a certain block of time to Arabic study every day. The student must invest this time solely on Arabic study. For some people, fifteen minutes is all that they can dedicate. Generally, it is harder to dedicate time on the weekends. So target 20 minutes, four to six days per week. This amount is an absolute minimum. When learning a new language, persistence and continuity are more important than the exact amount of time one spends each day.

    Second, I will be giving a list of textbooks. Whichever textbooks you use, make sure that you go through every line in detail. Some of us may be able to skim philosophy books, but we cannot skim language textbooks. Each line in a language textbook is important. Again, language relies on details, and if we skip this important step, we will be skipping over important details.

    Third, remember that every hour invested in consistent study of Arabic will bring you closer and closer to your target of learning enough of the language so that you can sit with a book and a dictionary. This means that you get out of it what you put into it. If you dedicate yourself, the rewards will come quickly. If you take an inconsistent and haphazard approach, you will frustrate yourself.

    Fourth, dedicate your efforts as service to Allah (SWT). In doing so, you will find rewards both in the hereafter and in this world, Insha Allah. This will also keep you motivated through the difficulties of learning. Many Muslims try to learn Arabic, but a mere wish or desire is not enough to keep you going; true commitment is needed. Without a strong inner motivation it is all too easy to drop out when the going gets tough.

    Methods or Approaches

    The dialect we are seeking is Standard Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). It is also known as High Arabic. The Arabs call it “fus-ha.”

    There are three methods or approaches for learning Arabic. These are individual study, classes, and immersion programs. Though most readers of this essay will only be able to engage in Individual Study, at least in the beginning, we will start with a discussion of the Immersion Programs.

    Immersion Programs: The most effective way to learn any language is to immerse yourself in an environment in which the only way to communicate is through that particular language. That is how children learn their mother tongue. As adults, this approach will most quickly provide you with the ability to think in that particular language. As you can imagine, it would be advantageous to spend time in an Arabic speaking country (while making sure to stay away from all of the American businesses and television shows). Some universities in North America offer Immersion Programs, which place you in such an environments. The three most respected of these programs are: Middlebury College, Georgetown University, and CASA.

    Middlebury provides semester-long courses in many different languages, in which you spend your entire day speaking, and listening to, nothing but Modern Standard Arabic. The Middlebury Arabic program is challenging, but is worth investing time and effort. It offers multiple levels. Completion of the Middlebury program will give you sufficient Arabic conversational skills to teach introductory Arabic classes at the university level.

    Georgetown University has the top Arabic Studies program in the country. They have recently added a one year Arabic Immersion program.

    The Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) at Emory University is a program the sends students to Cairo for year long or semester long study. Generally, the year program is recommended. Students from almost any university are eligible, and are given tremendous freedom to explore independently and interact. Here, the students will learn Egyptian dialect, and must be diligent in learning MSA.

    Classes: Most Muslims in North America have access to two types of Arabic classes. Some are available at their local university, while others are available at their local Islamic center. My personal recommendation is that you avoid the Islamic center classes. Generally, the instructors may be sufficiently qualified to teach the language, but the students are rarely dedicated. Usually, the classes progress only at the speed of the students, which means that if you invest even a small amount of time outside of class, then you will find the class’s progress to be frustratingly slow because the other students generally do not invest any time outside of class.

    Instead, I recommend taking classes at your local university. You may find in some cases that the same teacher offers Arabic either for $25 at your local mosque or for the hundreds or thousands of tuition dollars at your local university. In the university class, however, the teacher follows a strict syllabus. Further, the pressure of the credit-oriented class, with mostly non-Muslims provides an added boost. Still, as a word of caution – you may get caught up in seeking the grade instead of the language. As a result, you may prepare yourself with doing the minimum required to get the appropriate grade you seek. Logically, this method is not going to help much in learning a language.

    Graduate students studying Arabic through university programs can apply for government funding through FLAS (Foreign Language & Area Studies) scholarships. This government sponsored program provides tuition and stipends for graduate studies in Arabic and other languages of the Muslim world (e.g., Persian, Turkish, and Urdu).

    Individual Study: All students must engage in Individual Study of Arabic.
    If you are in an Immersion Program, a university course, or a mosque class, you still need to dedicate time in individual study. There are five steps here.

    First, every person must learn the alphabet, and must try to learn accurate pronunciations of each of the letters. Because of cultural traditions, most Muslims from immigrant backgrounds are able to read Arabic (without understanding), so the best method is to find someone to sit with you and correct your pronunciation. Otherwise, many books are available which teach only the letters. One example is Volume 1 of Programmed Arabic Islamic Reader (listed below), but there are many which are simpler and more readily available.

    Second, we need to learn the language. My advice is to obtain a number of textbooks, and study them all together. Perhaps, when you complete a lesson in one book, switch to the next book, and complete a lesson in that book. Then, switch to the next book, before returning to the next lesson in the first book.

    For self-study, I recommend the following textbooks:

    Elementary Modern Standard Arabic

    (EMSA) – In Universities, this text is known as the “Orange Book.” It has been the standard Arabic text for decades. It is hard to read. Its examples are at times very confusing. But it is one of the best books available for learning grammar. Note that it does not follow the traditional method of memorizing verb forms; for those who have some experience in this approach, it may be a bit confusing. Two volumes, published by Cambridge University Press.

    Standard Arabic: An Elementary-Intermediate Course – This textbook is relatively new. It has excellent explanations of Arabic grammar in precise language. However, lack of familiarity with grammar terms might discourage some readers. It provides an answer key, which makes it uniquely useful.

    Its follow-up text, Standard Arabic: An Advanced Course focuses more on reading passages. Published by Cambridge University Press.

    Madinah University Course by Dr. V. Abdur Rahim – It is available in different printings from various publishers with different names, but is generally recognizable as the Madinah University Course. Its reading passages are far more entertaining than those of any of the other books, and each lesson introduces only a few grammar rules. Many Muslims prefer to start with this set. Make sure to obtain all three volumes along with explanatory sections in English. The English sections are sometimes printed in separate volumes.

    The above books are the best for the study of Arabic. The following books are more useful for advanced students in that they focus on details of Arabic grammar but are not as strong in developing other skills. They may be useful as supplements to the above books.

    Arabic Language for English Speaking Students by Muhammad Abdul-Rauf –This book is very, very concise. You cannot skip any sentences. It is a good text, but unlike the other three above, it does not provide any reading passages to develop your skills. It has lots of very good charts. Published by Al-Saadawi Publications.

    A Grammar of the Arabic Language by W. Wright – This book is a bit old-fashioned in its descriptions, and references to other languages (like Hebrew) may be distracting. Yet, this book provides the most concise layout of Arabic Grammar in the English language. It is available from Cambridge University Press, and in an identical, newly printed, and cheaper edition by Dover.

    Qur’anic Language Made Easy, by Hafiza Iffath Hasan – For an overall study of the Arabic language, this book only provides the absolute basics. But its strength is in its charts. It provides excellent charts listing different verb forms.

    The following textbooks may be of use, but they are not as strong as those introduced above.

    Learn the Language of the Holy Qur’an, by Abdullah Abbas Nadwi – This text provides grammar rules with examples from the Qur’an. The drills are too short, and need an answer key. Published by Iqra Foundation.

    Programmed Arabic-Islamic Reader, by Raji M. Rammuny – Rammuny is one of the authors of the Orange book. This very simplistic book provides very short lessons, and places focus more on reading very simple Islamic passages. It is a good book perhaps to help build confidence before moving to any of the other books mentioned above. Two Volumes (and the first volume focuses on the alphabet). Published by IBC. Hard to find.

    Third, as you work on the above textbooks, memorize the vocabulary of the Qur’an . The simplest dictionary, available online (as pdf files) and in book form is called the Easy Dictionary of the Qur’an by Abdul Karim Parekh. The other option, equally effective, is to sit with a Qur’an text that also has an English translation, and determine the meanings of each word. Neither the dictionary, nor the translation will provide you with precision, but they will help in quickly developing general knowledge of the meanings of each of the roots.

    Fourth, obtain a general dictionary. I recommend the following. These dictionaries are readily available. When translating, make a mark by each word you look up. When you look up the same word a few times (meaning, you have marked it a few times), then you know it is a word you need to know.

    Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic – This is the standard Arabic-to-English dictionary used in universities. It is a phenomenal dictionary, and you must keep it by your side. Words are listed by Arabic root.

    Vocabulary of the Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Abbas Nadwi – Words are listed by Arabic root.

    The following dictionaries are also good resources.

    Al-Mawrid by Rohi Balbaaki – This dictionary is not nearly as precise as Hans Wehr, but it lists words by spelling rather than root letters; this makes it more user-friendly, particularly for beginners. It is available in Arabic-to-English and English-to-Arabic editions. These editions are also available in shorter and pocket versions. Make sure to check prices, for they vary greatly, as well which edition and version you are getting.

    A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran by John Penrice – It is very thin, and is recently published by Dover. Inexpensive.

    A Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an by Abdul Mannan Omar – This work is based on classical Arabic dictionaries. It covers the vocabulary of the Qur’an according to root words and derivatives. It also provides useful information on etymology and grammar. Recommended for intermediate and advanced students of Arabic.

    Fifth, as you advance in your Arabic study, perhaps having completed half or two-thirds of any of the above textbooks, begin practice in translation. I recommend the following approaches:

    1. Obtain a basic Hadith book that includes the Tarakat (diacritics) and translations. Then, try to translate on your own. Compare your translations with those of the book.

    2. Go to an Arabic news website and pick short articles or paragraphs to translate. Most of these sites do not have Tarakat, so you may have some initial difficulty in recognizing word forms.

    3. If you have sufficiently fast Internet access, listen to BBC Arabic or Al-Jazirah or another online news site. More and more are beginning to provide streaming video. Try to pick up words as you listen.

    4. Begin to attend Jumu‘a khutbas delivered entirely, or in part, in Arabic. Perhaps most Arabic khutbas in North America are delivered in Modern Standard, but some may (depending on the demographics of the attendees) be given in particular dialects.

    5. Go through the Pimsleur Arabic set of tapes/CD’s. This series provides conversational training in either Egyptian or Syrian dialect. It is a very expensive set of 30 lessons, so check your local library.

    6. There are many kinds of language software in the market. You might find them beneficial, particularly if you enjoy working with computers. Some of them are very expensive, so choose carefully. For Arabic, perhaps the best software is produced by a company called Auralog; the software series is known as Tell Me More, and is available in the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.


    Once again, we cannot overestimate the importance of learning Arabic. It will be difficult at first, but with consistent efforts (even if small), it will get easier and easier. Estimate that if you start today in self-study at 20 minutes per day, within a few months you will begin to recognize words and loosely translate Qur’an as you listen to its recitation. Within a few years, you will be able to translate accurately and effectively, Insha Allah.

  • Beginning of the End and Life Eternal Open or Close

    Absar Ahmad

    Based on the Qur´an and the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the Islamic creed explicitly demands belief in the doomsday — the end of this worldly existence. As such, it shares eschatological views, i.e., doctrines or theories of the end (eschaton), with other major religious traditions. “End” here can have two meanings: First, it can mean the end of each individual human life; and second, it can mean the end of the world — or, more narrowly, of the human race. Qur´anic assertions definitely favor an end and disruption of the present universal world scheme.

    Quite surprisingly, even from the predominantly secular Western academy books are now pouring out on the theme of the end of the world. We refer particularly to John Leslie´s book titled The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction, published in 1996. Central to the book is a “doomsday argument” originated by the Cambridge mathematician and cosmologist Brandon Carter in the early 1980s. He argues that we ought to have some reluctance to believe that we are very exceptionally early, for instance, in the earliest 0.001 percent, among all humans who will ever have lived. This would be some reason for thinking that humankind will not survive for many more centuries, let alone colonize the galaxy. However, taken just by itself, the doomsday argument could do little to tell us how long humankind will survive. What it might indicate, though, is that the likelihood of Doom Soon is greater than we would otherwise think. Here “otherwise-thinking” involves taking account of well-recognized dangers like those of environmental pollution, water depletion, and nuclear war. There are also many other hazards which are seldom considered: for example, the risk that physicists of the future, experimenting at immensely high energies, will upset a space-filling “scalar-field” and destroy the world, a possibility taken seriously by some leading theorists. According to Richard Gott, Professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University, we can have virtually no idea, just from examining the dangers that we face, of how seriously our species risks imminent extinction.(Nature, May 27, 1993)

    Today, scientists are listing so many risks that it could seem surprising that the human race has survived so long. The continued career of the human race is endangered by use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, by destruction of the ozone layer, by greenhouse-effect over-heating (conceivably of a runaway kind in which warming releases more and more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas), by desertification and pollution of land and sea, by loss of biodiversity and by diseases. Moreover, comets or asteroids, supernovae, solar flares, and black hole explosions or mergers might conceivably threaten the human race with extinction. So could unscrupulous genetic engineering. In addition, there might perhaps be strange risks associated with high-energy physics. In a vacuum metastability disaster, for instance, not just the earth´s biosphere but the entire galaxy would be destroyed by an ever-expanding bubble. So the world, as science teaches us and as human speculations suggest, must have an end.

    According to the Qur´an, the world is a place created with a limited time-span and man is being judged in it. He will have to give account of all that he does — his doings, not-doings, and mis-doings, and accept the judgement upon them as a “necessary” sequel (necessary within quotes because God´s Mercy is unlimited). Life on earth will, one day, come to an end, and after that man will be rewarded or punished for his deeds and misdeeds. Those who live in the present world a life of obedience to the Lord will enjoy eternal bliss in the Hereafter, whereas those who disobey His commands will have to garner the bitter fruits of their disobedience. According to the Qur´an:

    And every man´s deeds We fastened around his neck and on the day of Resurrection will We bring forth a book which shall be proffered to him wide open: “Read your record. This day there need be none but yourself to make out an account against you.” (Isra 17:13-14)
    The Islamic view of the Hereafter, and the last age of this world is a quite comprehensive eschatology and includes the “last things” strictly so-called — the idea of judgement and retribution, or a Day of Judgement, Millennial ideas, the catastrophic end of the world, and its renewal, and how the dead are related to that end of all things. The basic idea underlying the Qur´anic teachings on the Hereafter is that there will come a moment “The Hour” (Al-Sa´ah) when every human being will be shaken into a unique and unprecedented self-awareness of his deeds. Al-akhira, the “end” is the moment of truth: “When the great cataclysm comes, that day man will recall what he had been striving for” (79:34-35) is a typical statement of this phenomenon. If man is to be freed from worldly ghuroor, multi-layered self-deception, nothing short of a cataclysm — a great earthquake or catastrophe — is needed for the complete turning inside-out of the moral personality of man. Much more detailed is the picture of the final world-catastrophe as found in Surah Takweer in these words:

    When the sun shall be darkened and the stars fall; and when mountains move, and when she-camels with mature fetuses [the most precious possessions of a Bedouin] are abandoned; and when the wild beasts are herded together; and when the seas boil; and when kindred spirits are united; and when the infant-girl buried alive [as was the practice with some pre-Islamic Arabs] shall be asked for what sin she was slain; and when the deed-sheets are unrolled [before people] and when the sky is skinned off; and when Hell is ignited and when the Garden is brought near — then every soul shall know what it had prepared [for the morrow]. (Al-Takweer 81:1-14)
    Other ayaat of the Qur´an tell us that Nature itself is convulsed in the end of the world-age — sun, moon, and stars are darkened; the heavens are shaken or rolled together, mountains and hills are scattered, the earth is shaken, removed, or dissolved. Although Qur´anic descriptions of the Last Day usually speak of a general and complete upset of the present cosmos, a dislocation of the earth and the heavens, a complete shaking of the earth — indeed, of “the earth being in His Hand-Grip on the Day of Resurrection and the Heavens being wrapped up in His Right Hand” (Al-Zumar 39:67) and “mankind being like scattered locusts and mountains like carded wool” (Al-Qari´ah 101:4-5) — all these descriptions really intend to portray the Absolute Power of Allah (SWT). Certainly, from the ayaat we are referring to, it is quite clear that this very earth will be transformed into a Garden, which will be enjoyed by its “inheritors.” Thus the Qur´an is speaking not of a total destruction of the earth but of its transformation, as every re-creation or major change requires a certain amount of destruction.
    Christians and Muslims of today widely share a general belief in the approaching end of the world and indeed, as Br. Imran N. Hosein has shown quite convincingly in his article included in this issue of the Qur´anic Horizons, we now live in the last age, or the age that will witness the end of history. In fact, he sounds a clarion call by asserting that “the countdown has begun.” Just as the Qur´an repeatedly warns of the events that occur after a person´s death, so also it warns of the end of time and says that many events will occur before the Last Day as signs of its approach. The canonical collections of ahadith are especially rich in describing these signs of the coming end. Certainly, Prophet Mohammad (SAW) warned that the end was near. According to one Hadith, he held up his thumb and forefinger with almost no space between them and said, “I and the Last Hour are like this.” Moreover, the fact that Mohammad (SAW) is the last of the prophets is not unrelated to the idea that little time is left until the end of the world. There are few themes in the Qur´an and Hadith which are as often repeated and are as central as what is called Al-Ma´ad in Arabic, a term which must be understood as eschatology as well as resurrection.

    Seyyed Hosein Nasr, while writing on this theme in his excellent work titled A Young Muslim´s Guide to the Modern World, quite rightly observes that Muslim thinkers have been concerned with the questions of eschatology and the life of the individual Muslim has always been lived with full awareness of the eschatological realities. He is also right in affirming that most of the details of these teachings are usually put aside in everyday life by ordinary Muslims who are not given to meditating and thinking about them. In a higher philosophical sense Al-Dunya (the immediate objectives, the “here-and-now” of life) is not “this world” but the lower values, the basal pursuits which to ordinary people appear so tempting that most of them run after them most of the time, at the expense of the higher and long-range ends. According to the Qur´an: “They know only the externalities of this life, and are heedless of the higher and eternal ends” (Al-Room 30:7). The modern man living in the secular and materialistic ethos is generally so absorbed in his immediate concerns — particularly selfish, narrow, and material concerns — that he remains totally unmindful of his own mortality and the end of present cosmic order.

    It is both difficult and out of place to attempt a connected and comprehensive account of the Qur´anic verses and sayings of the Prophet (SAW) relevant to the signs or marks that will presage the end of time. The Qur´an, for example, talks about a beast which will appear shortly before the final destruction: “When the word falls on them, We shall bring forth for them out of the earth a beast that shall say to them that people had no faith in Our signs” (27:82). Another verse foretells that the barbarian tribes Gog and Magog will be unleashed:
    When Gog and Magog are let loose, and they slide down out of every slope, and the true promise draws near — then the eyes of the truth-concealers will stare: ´Woe to us, we were heedless of this! No, we were wrongdoers. (Al-Anbia 21:96-97)
    In Old Testament too there is a similar mention of these barbarian tribes and we read: “Satan is now loosed and stirs up the nations, Gog and Magog and these compass Jerusalem” (Cf., Ezekiel 38). Br. Imran N. Hosein has a different, transcendental interpretation of the prophecies about Gog and Magog. But what is certain is that despite differences of opinion even among Muslim thinkers on these issues, there are some core beliefs on which Biblical and traditional Islamic prophecies converge. For example, the Christians eagerly await the Second Coming of Jesus (AS) and believe that it will be accompanied by a world war, known in their literature as Armageddon, on a scale never witnessed before. This certainly corresponds to an ultimate world war mentioned in authentic ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as Al-Malhamah. Many write-ups appearing in prestigious world magazines over the last few years tell us that lately, with the imminent turn of the millennium, some Christian sects have started planning to visit Megiddo in Israel, the purported site of the start of the world conflict, to be personally present at the Second Coming of Jesus (AS). This movement is likely to gather momentum during the remainder of the year and at the turn of the century. Today, both Jews and Christians think that the time is ripe for the appearance of their Messiah.

    Like all traditional and orthodox Muslim scholars, Sayyid Abul A´la Maududi too, in his Tafheem-ul-Qur´an, expresses his belief in the physical ascension of Prophet Jesus (AS) and asserts that it is further reinforced by those numerous traditions which mention the return of Jesus, the Son of Mary, and his struggle against Dajjal, or the Anti-Christ, before the end of time. These traditions, in his considered view, quite definitively establish the Second Coming of Prophet Jesus (AS). In an appendix to his notes on Surah Al-Ahzab, he copiously marshals all these prophetic traditions.

    Out of the vast Hadith corpus, special notice should be taken here of the last section of the Hadith of Gabriel. I agree with Professors Chittick and Murata that in this Hadith the mention of the marks or precursors (amarat) of the End is of special significance and import. One logical implication is that religion includes knowledge of the way in which time will unfold and come to an end. Hence there is an allusion to an Islamic view of history. Chittick and Murata very acutely observe:

    Given the geometrical metaphor of dimensions, where time is a fourth dimension, it is appropriate to think of the Islamic conception of time and history as a dimension of the religion. And time also has something to do with the dimensionality of human beings, since everyone has a beginning and an end. (Cf., The Vision of Islam, by Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick )
    Indeed man´s confrontation with Time is traceable to the practical demands of human life. Even for the most primitive life needs become compelling when they arise and demand satisfaction in their temporal context. Man´s practical concern with time is far more vital than any historical or philosophic reflection on it. Islam, like all other religious traditions, responded to man´s need to come to terms with all that is endued with time. The spectacle of Nature´s seasonal regeneration and periodic desolation must have been an awesome mystery for all reflective minds. But man has been more than a spectator of this cosmic drama unfolded in time and has always pondered over its ultimate significance and termination. Let me here quote the English rendering of the last part of the Hadith of Gabriel:
    The man said, “Tell me about the Hour.” The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.” The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.” He said, “The servant girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.”
    The two marks mentioned here can be interpreted differently but they hardly sound like a riddle. It is not too difficult to understand that the basic meaning of the two is that towards the end of time there will be a disruption in both the family setup and social order. The Qur´an-enunciated social order will be reversed and there will be profound disequilibrium at all levels. The Holy Qur´an makes reference to one´s parents the first practical imperative after the affirmation of Tauheed. If the mother-daughter relationship is upset, then surely the entire fabric of family life stands shattered. The way girls attend colleges and universities for education up to the age of early twenties and their mothers perform all the household chores for them is one way in which the first mark mentioned in the Hadith is being instanced in our age. Br. Imran N. Hosein´s view is different but definitely thought provoking.

    The other sign in its more literal and prima facie sense is quite apparent for all to see, but we agree with Chittick and Murata in maintaining that there is no reason to suppose that building mentioned in the Hadith refers only to physical structures. Qur´anic usage of the term suggests that it may just as well refer to anything that humans can build, including houses, machines, societies, nations, philosophies and ideologies. In short, this sign suggests that when the last times draw close, every social order instituted by the Prophet (SAW) will be disrupted and overthrown. Human life, thought, and society will be ruled by fabrications of human cleverness which grows out of the basest instincts of the human self. The allusion is to those who have the moral qualities and character traits of the meanest and most despicable members of society; as such they are loathed by people of character and staunch Islamic faith. They will take pride in erecting grandiose structures and buildings. This, of course, is a common sight in present-day Middle East.
    From amongst the contemporary Islamic revivalist scholars and leaders, Dr. Israr Ahmad is one who firmly believes that the close of world-drama is not far away. Even though verbally all Muslims believe in the end of this worldly existence, hardly any other scholar explicitly refers to the authentic prophetic sayings which foretell the last events which will take place before the Doomsday. He has an acute awareness that the end is not far off. There is something in the air, a writing on the wall, a tense feeling of imminence, of history gathering pace for the final remarkable events. This conviction of his is based on a critical look at and analysis of, the present world scenario. He is convinced that the global happenings are already moving in the direction predicted by the Holy Prophet Mohammad (SAW) and reported in authentic traditions. His seminal ideas on the subject have been very elaborately and ably rendered into English and published in a tract Lessons from History published by Markazi Anjuman Khuddam-ul-Qur´an Lahore — essential reading for all concerned and motivated Muslims.

    According to Dr. Israr Ahmad, in the Middle East, the stage is gradually being set for an ultimate World War between the forces of Good and Evil. Even though in the hard facts prevailing today we generally see a state of humiliation of Muslims and their virtual enslavement by the forces of the New World Order, the author — on the basis of authentic prophetic traditions — has a staunch belief in global domination of Islam. One notes with dismay that very few Islamic scholars nowadays pay heed to these authentic prophecies, according to which four major episodes will take place before the end of the world. In chronological sequence they are as follows:
    1. The ultimate World War (Al-Malhamah) of human history, which will be fought predominantly in the Middle East;
    2. The appearance of Anti-Christ, or Dajjal, in the final phase of that War — a leader of the evil forces who will inflict great sufferings and destruction on the Arab Muslims.
    3. The arrival of Mahdi and the re-appearance of Prophet Jesus Christ (AS), who will cause the extermination of Dajjal and his followers; and finally,
    4. The establishment of the System of Khalifah, or the domination of Islam, over the entire globe.

    The most significant point of Dr. Israr Ahmad´s presentation is that he considers the future Muslim leader in the person of “Mahdi” and the re-appearance of Prophet Jesus Christ (AS) — beliefs generally dubbed by modernist Muslims as Messianic ideas — to be not only based on genuine and authentic ahadith, but also quite rational and logical implications of the Qur´anic asseverations with regard to Islam´s global domination. The noteworthy point in this context, however, is that despite these beliefs his view of Islam is thoroughly dynamic and active. The prophecies of the Prophet (SAW) in respect of Islam´s domination do not absolve Muslims of discharging their religious obligations in the right earnest. Only true belief, i.e., Iman, and maximum possible effort in the way of Allah (SWT) guarantee salvation and eternal bliss in the Hereafter.

    The upshot of this editorial article is that the Islamic belief in the End should make us conscious of the “ends” and purposes of life and life-orientations. The verses of the Qur´an bring the reader face to face not only with his or her individual mortality but with the final catastrophic end of the entire present cosmic order. This realization of the ephemeral and transitory existence of this world should make us work most assiduously for the life to come, because life in the Hereafter is inexhaustible and without limit. It is endless and eternal. I shall close these lines by quoting two very short verses of Surah Al-Ma´arij:

    They surely take it (the Reckoning) something for away, but We see it very near! (Al-Ma ´arij 70:6-7)

  • Between Fear and Hope: Implications of Divine Names Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    In the previous issue a brief essay outlined the basic Islamic understanding regarding the most beautiful names of Allah (SWT).
    The present essay will show that a correct understanding of divine names is closely related to a correct understanding of Islam. The latter has direct implications for Islamic activism, as our relationship with Allah (SWT) ends up determining the shape of our actions
    and the contours of our lives.

    It has been pointed out earlier that the dhat (or Essence) of Allah (SWT) is an unknown and unknowable mystery; human beings cannot know Him as He truly is in Himself. Yet, human beings have a need and a strong desire to know their Creator and Cherisher so that they can love, serve, and worship Him in a manner worthy of Him. In His infinite mercy, therefore, Allah (SWT) has made it possible for us to gain some degree of knowledge of who He is; our knowledge of Allah (SWT) is possible through our experience and understanding of His names and attributes as they manifest within this world, within our own souls, and within His own living speech. In other words, even though humans cannot know Allah (SWT) as such, they can come to know some of the ways in which His names and attributes are manifested.

    All of the most beautiful names, with the possible exception of the name Allah (SWT), consist of adjectives preceded by a definite article. These names are indicative of various attributes of Allah (SWT). Each name therefore indicates a particular aspect of the relationship that Allah (SWT) chooses to establish with His creation. In the present issue, we will discuss the traditional Islamic view of the inherent symmetry of these names. As noted by a number of Islamic authorities, many (but not all) of the most beautiful names of Allah (SWT) may be divided into two groups: 1) names denoting His majesty (or jalal), and 2) names denoting His beauty (or jamal).

    Some divine names indicate that Allah (SWT) is majestic and wrathful, a just ruler, a sovereign king; He is distant from the creation and utterly transcendent. Such are the names of jalal or majesty. When we experience and understand our relationship with Allah (SWT) through His distance, transcendence, power, justice, holiness, majesty, severity, wrath, etc., then we use His names of jalal to describe the corresponding attributes. We say that He is Magnificent, Overbearing, Tremendous, King, Holy, Majestic, Slayer, and so on. These experiences of our relationship with Him, and the corresponding attributes and names, make us feel finite, small, and insignificant; we realize our impotence and we fear His justice and His wrath.

    On the other hand, some divine names indicate that Allah (SWT) is near and very easily accessible to His creation; that He is immanent and merciful in relation to His creation. He is kind, lenient, and loving. Such are the names of jamal or beauty. When we experience and understand our relationship with Allah (SWT) through His nearness, immanence, mercy, beauty, kindness, love, etc., then we
    use His names of jamal to describe the corresponding attributes. We say that He is Merciful, Gentle, Loving, Beneficent, Life-Giving, etc. These experiences of our relationship with Him, and the corresponding attributes and names, make us feel loved, cherished, protected, and appreciated; we realize our loving closeness with Him and we hope for His mercy and blessings.

    Anyone who is somewhat familiar with the Qur’an and its teachings regarding the nature and attributes of God would immediately notice a sort of symmetry in divine names. Allah (SWT) is both Merciful and Wrathful, both Beautiful and Majestic, both Forgiving and Just, and so on. Even though this may appear contradictory to an uninformed observer, Muslims have traditionally understood God as the supreme “coincidence of opposites.” It is only in God that mercy and wrath, transcendence and immanence, distance and nearness, come together in perfect harmony and cause no contradiction or internal conflict.

    Please note that “symmetry” in this context does not mean equality. It is wrong to say, for example, that wrath and mercy have the same value for Allah (SWT). Several texts from both the Qur’an and Hadith can be cited to show that Allah (SWT) prefers mercy over wrath, nearness over distance, and beauty over majesty. In the end, all divine names are qualified as Al-Husna or “most beautiful,” even when they describe God’s majestic or wrathful side. That, however, is a topic for another essay. For now, the point to be noted is that many divine names occur as pairs, where one of them stands for the majestic aspect of divine qualities and the second represents their beautiful aspect. In other words, there are at least two sides to how human beings can imagine their Creator. Since there is no god but God, these two sides must go together.

    Consequently, one-sidedness in our approach to God can have serious repercussions. If we understand God only through His names of jalal we would end up having a wrong image of what He is like. We would think of God as distant but not near, as wrathful but not forgiving. On the other hand, if we understand God only through His names jamal we would also end up with a mistaken image. We would think of God as near but not distant, as forgiving but not wrathful. The primary human response to divine jalal is fear, and the primary human response to divine jamal is hope. If we recognize divine majesty but ignore divine beauty, our understanding of religion would be distorted by too much fear. On the other hand, if we recognize divine beauty but disregard divine majesty, our understanding of religion would be distorted by too much hope.

    In a well-known Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said that Iman lies between khawf and raja’, that faith is situated between fear and hope. This implies that a correct relationship with Allah (SWT) requires that we experience His names of majesty as well as His names of beauty in a manner appropriate to each. In the same way, a correct understanding and practice of Islam requires that we experience both fear and hope in a manner appropriate to each. It is perfectly fine if our spiritual state moves back and forth between these two poles, but it is a dangerous sign when our spiritual state become permanently locked in either fear or hope.

    What would a person’s understanding of Islam look like if he/she were to emphasize only the divine names of majesty? And how would a person understand Islam if his/her view of Allah (SWT) is to be based only on the divine names of beauty? If a person’s relationship with God is defined only through fear, it is likely that his/her way of looking at the world will also become dominated by fear. On the other hand, if a person’s relationship with God is defined only through hope, it is likely that his/her way of looking at the world would also become dominated by hope. In each case, one would develop certain beliefs and attitudes corresponding to the dominant emotion, and these beliefs and attitudes would, in turn, shape his/her approach to all aspects of life.

    Generally speaking, a predominance of fear causes people to emphasize distinctions and boundaries. Fear of being oppressed or exploited by others makes them suspicious and overcautious; they would wish to differentiate themselves from everyone else. When such people look around, they find potential enemies everywhere; they easily accept conspiracy theories, and believe that everyone is out to get them. Fear makes them defend their religion in too harsh a manner; they develop a deep commitment to one understanding of their beliefs and practices as the right and authoritative one, which makes them intolerant of other understandings. They do not entertain the possibility that they might be wrong and their opponent might be correct. It is as if they like to construct fortresses to defend themselves against what they see as enemy sieges. Consequently, in a defensive posture they close their minds to any challenges or criticisms, and their fearful intolerance sometimes leads to violence. Another way to identify a person whose dominant emotion is fear is to note that his/her main frame of reference is usually characterized by “competition.” Such a person might assume that in order for him/ her to win, all others must lose.

    On the other hand, a predominance of hope causes people to emphasize commonalities and resemblances. They trust other people too easily and often allow themselves to be oppressed and exploited. They always look for similarities and points of agreement between themselves and everyone else, and tend to see potential friends and allies wherever they look. Hope makes them less able to defend their religion; their commitment is so casual that they are easily swayed from one viewpoint to another, believing that everyone is correct and all perspectives have equal merit. They find it difficult to take a firm stand on any issue, because they always suspect that they might be mistaken and their opponent might be right. Instead of constructing fortresses, they demolish the walls of their houses so as to welcome their neighbors. They are so open-minded that it is difficult for them to hold on to any set of beliefs and practices. Another way of identifying such a person is to say that his/her main frame of reference will be “cooperation.” Such a person is likely to look for solutions in which everyone can win; if such a solution cannot be found, he/she is willing to lose so as to let others win.

    The way in which the consequences of too much fear and too much hope are described above, it is easy to see that neither of them is an acceptable choice. Too much fear can lead to lack of trust, excessive suspicion, paranoia, and aggression, including the madness of “preemptive strikes.” On the other hand, too much hope can lead one to throw all caution to the wind and become vulnerable, an easy target for potential exploiters or oppressors—a sitting duck waiting for the hunter.

    It can be seen how a one-sided relationship with God can lead to a serious imbalance in one’s entire life as well as in the understanding and practice of religion. Just as a correct relationship with Allah (SWT) is impossible without taking into account His names of jalal as well as His names of jamal, a correct understanding and practice of religion—or, indeed, of one’s very approach to life in general—requires a balance between fear and hope, between competition and cooperation, between assuming everyone to be an enemy and assuming everyone to be a friend.

    As the “middle community,” Muslims need to find a just equilibrium between the extremes of too much fear on the one hand and too much hope on the other hand. The symmetry of majesty/beauty that is found among many divine names is related to the balance that we need to cultivate in our lives.

    Today, many Islamic groups are choosing the “fearful” version or the “hopeful” version of Islam. By choosing one or the other alternative, they fail to find the right balance between the two sides of divine qualities. They sway too much on this side or that side. Consequently, we see some Muslims who are extremely harsh and intolerant on the one hand, and on the other hand we find those who are too conciliatory and compromising. We should remember that it is fear that makes people aggressive and violent, not courage. Similarly, it is hope that makes people trusting and willing to compromise, not treachery. Yet, fear has as much place in religious and social affairs as hope; it is the imbalance that is pathological.

    Consequently, to ask as to which approach is correct and which is incorrect is to miss the point. Of course, it is easy to find support from the Qur’an and the Sunnah for either of these approaches. This is because the sacred texts do recognize the significance of both fear and hope under different circumstances, just as they recognize the importance of the divine names of jalal as well as the divine names of jamal. It is one thing to recognize this symmetry in the abstract and quite another to realize it in concrete reality. The balance found in the Qur’an and Sunnah, therefore, is not every easy to establish in the here and now. As we try to come to terms with this situation, we continue to experience that an exclusive emphasis on fear is as misguided and dangerous in its consequences as an absolute accent on hope.

    Today, the inability to adequately deal with the fear/hope dichotomy is a major cause of confusion among many Islamic groups. If we limit ourselves at the level of this dichotomy, we would inevitably feel that we must choose either fear or hope—that there is no third, fourth, or fifth options. Yet, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has directed us to find the middle way of faith between fear and hope. The middle way can be found only by accepting both fear and hope, but then going beyond both of them to something higher. How do we go about doing this? The key lies in our approach to Islam, which shapes how we understand our sacred texts as well as what we find in them. Because of its peculiar intellectual heritage that allows it to approach Islam in a balanced manner, IONA is in a unique position to transcend the fear/hope dichotomy. It has a distinct advantage in this regard.

    How one approaches the Qur’an and the Sunnah depends to a large extent on whether one’s approach to God is determined primarily by His names of jalal or by His names of jamal, i.e., whether one is dominated by fear or hope. In each case, one would select those Ayat or a Hadith that correspond to one’s own dominant emotion and frame of reference. This creates two divergent understandings of what Islam is and how Muslims are supposed to act. The people of fear emphasize the strictness and harshness of Islam; the people of hope emphasize the leniency and flexibility of Islam. The people of fear insist that everyone in the world must submit to religion’s maximum requirements; the people of hope look for concessions and allow for religion’s minimum standards. Whereas the people of fear insist on qisas (retribution) in every case, the people of hope encourage ‘afw (forgiveness) in every case. Yet, the way to salvation lies somewhere in the middle—between qisas and ‘afw, between khawf and raja’. The road to salvation is found in locating the just balance that avoids extremes. The endeavor of finding the just balance, in turn, depends on knowing where the extremes are located and in figuring out how to transcend the extremes in any particular case. This insight is something with which most Muslims are (or should be) already familiar. It is fundamental to how they have been taught to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah.

    Contemporary Islamic groups, should find the required balance that avoids the extremes of fear and hope. Islamic groups should strive in finding and practicing the middle way. Such an endeavor requires a self-critical attitude, one that does not shy away from acknowledging and correcting its own mistakes.

    This work is not guaranteed to be always successful, for it is largely a matter of trial and error. Like the mujtahid who strives to formulate the right legal ruling, we may be sure of our rewards in the Hereafter but we cannot be sure of the correctness of each and every conclusion that we may reach. We cannot claim that we have already transcended extremes, that we are incapable of making any errors of judgment, or that we are free from the deceiving influence of Satan or of our own lower egos. In other words, we may not find the just balance for each issue in the very first attempt; in fact, it is likely that our first, second, or even third attempts will miss the target despite best intentions. Yet, the rewards of the Hereafter are compensations only for human struggle, while the success or failure of any given enterprise lies entirely in the hands of Allah (SWT). We are responsible for trying our best, not for actually succeeding. We are accountable for traveling on the road for as long as we can, not for reaching the destination. At the same time, our consecutive failures to find the right balance in any given issue only increases our chances of success in the future, provided we learn from our errors.

    As we strive to find the elusive point of justice that avoids extremes of all kinds, we remind ourselves that only Allah (SWT) is the perfect “coincidence of opposites.” Only He combines within Himself in perfect harmony and balance the opposite qualities of beauty and majesty, wrath and mercy, distance and nearness. Human beings may try to approximate that harmony and balance, but—being weak, forgetful, hasty, and heedless—we always fall short of reaching divine perfection.

    Still, it is our humble and inadequate struggle that is appreciated by Allah (SWT) who alone blesses it by giving it more value than it deserves on its own.

  • Caliphate is the New Jihad - Omer M. Mozaffar Open or Close
    Omer M. Mozaffar

    The reader is surely familiar with the phrase "Islam means peace", a response to the linkages of Islam with violence. Similarly, perhaps the most common statement from Muslims since September 11, 2001 is "jihad does not mean holy war, but struggle." Now Muslim apologists in the United States have found a new term to correct. Speaking of al-Qa'ida and "violent Sunni extremists" in September of 2006, President Bush stated, "They hope to establish a violent political utopia across the Middle East, which they call a "Caliphate" – where all would be ruled according to their hateful ideology." Some months later, in a May 2007 press conference, the President said of al-Qa'ida, "Their strategy is to drive us out of the Middle East. They have made it abundantly clear what they want. They want to establish a caliphate. They want to spread their ideology. They want safe haven from which to launch attacks." While the accuracy or inaccuracy, methods, and ambitions of the President's claims are the subject of a separate discussion for a different forum, his use of the term "caliphate", which obliged immediate response from many a Muslim speaker and activist, deserves comment.

    The Qur'an states that God created Adam in particular and the human race in general to be His khalīfa (caliph) on the earth. The term "caliph" has been used throughout Muslim history to refer to various persons of authority, be they monarchical political leaders or the heads of revivalist and/or Sufi movements. Scholars have sometimes used the term in referencing the Sunni outlook on the golden age of Muslim history, that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad.

    While popular definition of the term indicates a sort of vicegerency of the Divine or successorship to the Prophets, the moral, social, political, and economic dimensions of this role have been thoroughly explored. A common topic of Muslim Student Association lectures, for example, is the construction and constitution of a theoretical, ideal Islamic way of life – whether as society or as polity – and the term used in such lectures is caliphate. Political Islamists use the term to reference the establishment of an Islamic polity, commonly regarded as the "Islamic State." They sometimes refer mournfully to March 3, 1924 as the moment of the final demise of the Caliphate: the abolition of the Ottomans. The majority of these Islamists are non-violent; more importantly, few have any connection to al-Qa'ida.

    As an anti-occupation resistance movement, the Indian subcontinent saw the rise of a "Khelafat Movement" to fight off the British colonizers. A non-Muslim member of this movement went on to attain his own global notoriety: M. K. Gandhi. Recently, scholars such as Professor Amina Wadud have placed focus not on the political or liberatory meanings of the term, but on the aspect of moral agency. Others still have embraced the zeitgeist and directed attention to the role of the human race in caring for the environment: These Muslims call on congregants to fulfill their roles as caliphs of the earth.

    The term, then, is a robust and multidimensional one. But the President's remarks – emblematic of the widespread characterization of Islam as uniquely connected to violence and authoritarianism (a characterization that is sometimes opportunist, sometimes bigoted, but consistently myopic) – have compelled what is now becoming the most common use of the term by Muslims in the United States: the apologetic use. It is the same tune that we have heard for over a century of Islam in America. In the same way that jihad does not mean "holy war" but "struggle", caliphate does not mean "authoritarian state" but "God's vice-regency."

    Thus, the President has perpetuated a theme by adding a new word to a growing lexicon of hate. Likewise, the apologists are responding in a familiar way, necessarily diminishing the complexity of a term to counter its flagrant misappropriation: Yesterday it was jihad; today it is caliphate; no doubt tomorrow will see a different term. As the Muslim populations of America actively work to develop their indigenous Islam, the challenge will involve determining – in the face of this rhetorical contest – exactly what types of caliphs they seek to be. This writer intends to continue using the term caliphate. That is his jihad.

    Omer M. Mozaffar is a PhD student in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of Chicago, and teaches in the Asian Classics Curriculum at the University of Chicago's Graham School of General Studies.

    References: President Bush's remarks can be found at and

    Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

    Submissions policy
    Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.

    Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

  • Change, Growth, and Learning Organizations Open or Close

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    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    What does it mean to say that a group or association is a “learning organization”? This concept was originally developed by Peter Senge, a lecturer at MIT and author of several books on business strategy, management, and leadership. His book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” was first published in 1990. Senge defines learning organizations as those “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” He believes that in situations of rapid change, only those organizations can excel in which the commitment and capacity to learn is encouraged at all levels.

    Is IONA a learning organization according to this definition? If not, does it possess the capacity or potential to become such an organization? Should IONA even aspire to achieve the qualities that Peter Senge ascribes to a learning organization? What is the relationship, if any, between a modern theory of organizational effectiveness on the one hand and IONA’s stated goals and methodology on the other hand— derived as they are from scriptural and prophetic guidance?

    These are some of the questions that will be considered in these pages. This essay is only an invitation to think and exchange ideas, rather than the final word on this subject. The next essay in this issue of SIGNS provides a summary of Peter Senge’s book, “The Fifth Discipline,” which is definitely worth reading by all the members of IONA.

    Among other activities, IONA is involved in the tarbiyyah of its members. There is, though, some confusion as to what exactly tarbiyyah means in practical terms, what the means and ends of tarbiyyah are, and in what ways this benefits you and me. In other words, what’s the point of all this stress upon tarbiyyah? In the present essay, I will try to explain what I think tarbiyyah means in the context of IONA, as well as what I believe it should mean, before relating it to the capacity and potential of IONA to become a true learning organization.

    We routinely use the word “training” as if it were a satisfactory English synonym for tarbiyyah, but this does not eliminate the potential for confusion; in fact, “training” has connotations of physical exercises or kinesthetic skills, e.g., we may refer to “physical training” for children in public schools, or we may say that someone is “training” to participate in the next Boston Marathon. Of course, these connotations are far removed from what the word tarbiyyah is intended to convey when used within IONA circles.

    Due to these connotations, when the word “training” is first mentioned by a speaker in the context of the revolutionary manhaj of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the image that it is likely to create in the minds of the audience is that of military training; or, in light of the contemporary obsession with terrorism, the word might even conjure up the idea of terrorist training. The speaker then has to exert some effort in clarifying as to exactly what it is that the word “training” means in this context; but even after that clarification the speaker must go on using the word “training” simply due to the lack of an English equivalent that can convey the richness of the Arabic tarbiyyah.

    The truth is that the actual meanings of tarbiyyah within the Islamic tradition are much broader and deeper, and more significant, than what “training” generally implies. The Arabic word has to do with education, but the verb “teaching” does not even begin to exhaust its meanings. More importantly, tarbiyyah implies nurturing, mentoring, encouraging, fostering, supporting, cultivating, counseling, and guiding. It has the connotations of an ongoing process, a virtually lifelong affair. Consequently, it does not denote the nature of the relationship between a lecturer and his/her audience; or that between a writer and his/her readers. Instead, tarbiyyah denotes the nature of the relationship that typically develops between a parent and his/her child; or that between a wiser, older person and a young, eager disciple. To use another metaphor, tarbiyyah refers to the relationship between a dedicated gardener and the plants or trees for which the gardener is responsible.

    Indeed, tarbiyyah has to do with carefully, painstakingly enhancing the overall wellbeing, development, and progress of whoever is the object of tarbiyyah—a child, a plant or tree, a friend—by means of continuous and sustained effort. It involves a sense of commitment, sincerity, love, as well as a willingness to offer one’s own self— one’s time, energy, attention, experience—to others, without expecting to receive favors or even gratitude.

    The goal of tarbiyyah is not to mold another person’s mind and life according to one’s own preferences; it is rather to help another person so that his or her inherent potentialities can realize themselves, and his or her dormant virtues can come to fruition. This is why a gardener does not force a mango plant to grow into a peach tree; the gardener only makes sure that whatever kind of desirable qualities or benefits are hidden in a sapling or a seed are ultimately actualized to the maximum extent possible.

    In this sense, the best of all “gardeners” is Allah (SWT) Himself, for He wishes for each human being— who is like a seed that He has planted on His earth—to be able to grow and express his/her best qualities to the maximum extent possible. In this context, it is important to remember that there are two derivations of the word rabb—the first means “lord,” but the other is related to tarbiyyah and signifies “the one who nurtures,” i.e., one who facilitates an object’s natural unfolding or development in a step-by-step fashion, providing what it needs at each stage, with the aim of actualizing all of its hidden goodness to the fullest.

    The basic meaning of tarbiyyah, then, has to do with healthy, desirable growth. The idea of growth, however, is intimately linked with the notion of change. It is important to understand, therefore, how growth, change, and the process of tarbiyyah are related to each other within the context of following the revolutionary manhaj of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It will then be possible to grasp the meaning of tarbiyyah as it pertains to IONA as a learning organization.

    To begin with, we note that one of the most fundamental rules of the created universe is that nothing in it ever remains the same. Allah (SWT) has created the world in such a way that constant change is inherent in its very structure and functioning. Everything changes; nothing stays the same. Some changes we find desirable and wish that they would occur more often; other changes we don’t like and wish they won’t take place. Some kinds of change happen so slowly that we are sometimes deluded into thinking that they do not happen at all; but they do. Change is our companion, whether we celebrate or bemoan it, and whether or not we even perceive its existence.

    Within this world of incessant change, what does Allah (SWT) want from us? One thing is obvious: He does not want us to remain the same. Since He is our Rabb, He wishes each one of us to change, but only in a way that is best for us and most pleasing to Him. Allah (SWT) wishes us to change in a manner that is conducive to our maximum growth, so that the good and virtuous possibilities that He has placed in each one of us can have the full opportunity for expressing themselves. He wants us to grow and actualize our gifts and blessings—which are unique to each one of us—so that we can become what He intends us to be.

    Allah (SWT) created Adam as His viceroy on earth; as sons and daughters of Adam, we carry that honor within us as a potentiality. In each one of us, that potentiality has to be realized— made real—so that we may carry out His worship and become His representatives on earth in a manner that pleases Him.

    All of this is meant to say that Allah (SWT) wants us to become the best possible specimens of humanity—which is the same thing as becoming His devoted servants, or surrendering ourselves completely to Him. But the important point is that there is no end to this process; whatever we are, we can always become better. The good news about being imperfect is that we can constantly become less imperfect; since we can never become perfect, there can be no end to our growth!

    Only the most arrogant and deluded person would reject the need for self improvement; only the most conceited would imagine that his/her growth has reached its full extent. As sons and daughters of Adam, we are the recipients of a special gift from Allah (SWT)—the potential for unlimited growth. In a world that constantly changes, we have the option either to constantly grow in a way that actualizes our inherent good and virtuous qualities and makes us increasingly better servants of our Lord; or we can choose to stop growing. Unfortunately, to stop growing does not mean that we would remain stationary or static or stable. Since the world is constantly changing, being fixed and rigid actually implies degeneration, regression, decay, or falling back.

    In a continuously changing world, we can either grow or deteriorate; there is no standing still. According to the way in which Allah (SWT) has created us and this world, we have not been given a third option.

    Now that we know something about change and growth, where does tarbiyyah fit into all this? Recall the fact that tarbiyyah involves the facilitation of healthy growth. This growth must happen both at an individual level and at the organizational level. The good news is that growth at an individual level and growth at a communal or organizational level are mutually supportive processes. In fact, they are so intimately related that one cannot happen without the other.

    When we grow individually and become better servants to our Lord, we also become better human beings— better heirs to our father Adam; as we become better human beings, we also contribute to the overall growth of the community or organization of which we are a part. Similarly, as a community or organization grows, it offers its members more and better opportunities to grow individually. It is a truly win-win situation.

    Since both the individuals and the community or organization they comprise must function within a world that is constantly changing, it is imperative that they, too, constantly come up with new ideas, look at things with ever fresh perspectives, and try innovative solutions. Here lies the key to organizational and individual effectiveness—both must constantly learn. For learning, being open to new ideas and fresh possibilities, is the most important prerequisite for growth.

    Growth is a sign of life, while stagnation is an indication of imminent death. To refuse learning is to reject the God-given opportunities for growth; to reject growth is to choose degeneration and ingratitude, for it is a refusal to carry out the duties of vicegerency on earth.

    Unfortunately, people do tend to become complacent. After thinking in a particular way or doing things in a specific manner for a long time, they become accustomed to certain patterns. The convenience of inertia, the familiarity of long established habits, make them feel smug and satisfied. New learning requires investment of time and energy, and can even evoke anxiety due to the challenges it may create to one’s old habits and taken-for-granted beliefs. A tendency develops, therefore, to unconsciously or deliberately avoid learning. This leads both organizations and individuals into a dangerous place called stagnation.

    If both the individuals and the organization were to consistently think and act only in familiar and habitual ways, they would soon become dysfunctional and ineffective in the ever changing world. On the other hand, an effective organization is one that is dedicated to growth—both of itself as a whole and of its members individually. This is another way of saying that an effective organization must be a learning organization.

    In this background, the institutionalization of tarbiyyah is precisely what makes IONA a learning organization; or, rather, the institutionalization of tarbiyyah holds the promise of transforming it from a stagnating or degenerating organization into a growing and learning one. Yet, tarbiyyah is only one side of the equation, the other being the desire and capacity for learning. An organization can try to facilitate learning in its members, but this will be an exercise in futility if they lack any desire to grow.

    One learns at many different fronts, in many different levels, and through many different avenues. The effectiveness of IONA is directly related to the amount and quality of learning that its members are able to achieve in their religious and spiritual lives as well as in their understanding of themselves and their world. Within an organization, individuals are able to bring together a wide variety of learning styles, talents, approaches, and experiences. This diversity at an individual level contributes to the overall richness within the organization, for different levels, styles, and ways of learning can have a synergistic effect when they are made to work together. Even interpersonal conflicts within the organization can become a source of further growth rather than occasions of acrimonious exchanges.

    The most important prerequisite for the above benefits, of course, is the conscious decision to make individual and organizational learning one of the top priorities. Once such a decision is made and its implications are understood and accepted, virtually any negative or potentially explosive situation can be reconfigured as a set of learning opportunities. More importantly, it will institutionalize the idea that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well—that we can always learn new and more effective ways of solving problems and achieving desired results.

    The decision to imagine, lead, think about, and manage IONA primarily as a learning organization will be consistent with the vision of activism as presented in “Islamic Renaissance: The Real Task Ahead.” In terms of tarbiyyah, such a step will also be commensurate with the revolutionary manhaj of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that IONA has chosen for itself. On another level, it will be in accordance with the duty to become the vicegerents of Allah (SWT) on earth.

  • Compassion in Islam - Ameer Mustapha Elturk Open or Close
    Ameer Mustapha Elturk

    All praise and thanks are due to God almighty, and may His peace and blessings be upon His apostles, prophets and messengers starting with Adam, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and ending with Muhammad.

    Compassion is a trait inherent in man and is granted to him by his creator, the most compassionate, the most merciful God.

    The word compassion in Arabic is Rahmah. It is one of God’s attributes used repeatedly in the Qur’an, the Muslim’s Holy Scripture. The Book begins with, “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” Some scholars translate the words Rahman and Raheem, two adjectives derived from the same root word that means mercy and according to their pattern of exaggerated attributes, as the most compassionate, the ever merciful. This word, Rahmah, (mercy, compassion) and its various derivatives have been used more than 300 times in the Qur’an. Rahmah, according to an authentic dictionary of the Qur’anic terms, by Imam Raghib al-Asfahani, means: softening of heart towards one who deserves our mercy and induces us to do good to him/her. It is interesting to note that the womb of mother is called rahm which is the root word of Rahmah, (mercy, compassion.) A Mother is always very soft towards her children and showers love and affection on them.

    Muslims have been taught to begin everything by reciting Bismi-lahi al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of Allah (who) is Compassionate and Merciful). Thus a Muslim is supposed to invoke Allah the Compassionate and Merciful at every step. He does not invoke Allah’s other names (Allah has 99 names according to the Islamic belief) as often as he invokes Him as Merciful and Compassionate.

    His compassion is overwhelming, great and tremendous. He does not discriminate between his servants, the human kind or any other kind of creation for that matter. Everyone, believers as well as those who do not believe, are entitled to His mercy in this world. He is the Master, the Lord of the world and He is a kind and compassionate Lord.

    Abu Huraira, a companion of the Prophet reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: "When Allah created the creation, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: ‘Verily, My mercy predominates My wrath.’" (al-Bukhari)

    Salman, another companion of Muhammad reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Verily, Allah created, on the same very day when He created the heavens and the earth, one hundred parts of mercy. Every part of mercy is coextensive with the space between the heavens and the earth and He out of this mercy endowed one part to the earth and it is because of this that the mother shows affection to her child and even the beasts and birds show kindness to one another and when there would be the Day of Resurrection, Allah would make full (use of Mercy). (Muslim)

    God’s compassion was distributed among God’s great and compassionate prophets and messengers. We learned about the kindness of Jesus and we, Muslims, are told that God’s final Prophet and messenger, Muhammad, was sent as Mercy to the Worlds.

    The Quran asserts, in Chapter 21, verse 107, “We have not sent thee, but as a mercy to the worlds.” This includes all of God’s creation.

    His teachings included kindness to not only humans, but also to animals. While instructing his followers regarding slaughtering animals, he would teach: “if you slaughter an animal, slaughter it gently. If anyone of you has to slay an animal, he should sharpen the blade first and treat the animal well."

    Ibn 'Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin, relates that a man threw a goat on its side and then started sharpening his knife. When the Prophet saw him he said: "Do you want to kill it twice? Why did you not sharpen the knife before throwing it on the ground?"

    The Prophet once was seen gently wiping the face and mane of his horse with his gown. On being asked by his companions he explained that he was admonished by Allah for neglecting his horse.

    The prophet’s companions once asked: "O Messenger of Allah, is there recompense in the matter of beasts and wild animals?" The Prophet replied: "There is recompense in regard to every creature that has a living heart."

    When a woman of disrepute came to him and said that she saved a thirsty cat from dying by fetching water from a pit with the help of her socks, the prophet told her that God will pardon all her sins and that she will enter paradise. The Prophet, according to one of his sayings described all of creation (including humans, animals and trees and plants) as family of Allah and all should be treated with compassion and sensitivity.

    Muhammad, a Mercy Towards his Enemies

    The prisoners of war taken captive at the battle of Badr were amongst his bitterest enemies. Nevertheless, Muhammad made sure that they were given the best of treatment. Among them was a man who denounced the prophet and Umar, one of the prophet’s closest companions suggested that two of his lower teeth be pulled so he may not speak evil. The prophet replied: “Were I to do this, Allah would disfigure me on the Day of Judgment, despite the fact that I am His messenger.”

    In Makkah, Muhammad’s birth place, his people inflicted him with every kind of suffering, eventually forcing him to flee his town, and they then waged war on him for five years while he was residing in Madinah. When God granted him victory and conquered Makkah without bloodshed he asked the Makkan unbelievers who were awaiting his decision about them: “How do you expect me to treat you?” They responded unanimously: "You are a noble one, the son of a noble one." He announced to them his decision: “You may go free! No reproach this day shall be on you; may God forgive you.”

    Thus a true follower of the Prophet has to be merciful and compassionate to the extent humanly possible. Anyone who is cruel and has no sensitivity towards the suffering of others cannot be the prophet’s true follower.

    Suffering Human Beings

    The Qur'an again and again shows its sympathy for the weaker sections of the society, in which it includes, among others, orphans, widows, the poor and the exploited, and other politically or socially and economically oppressed people. It emphasizes different ways of helping them. Zakah, the poor-due, has been made obligatory on all believing Muslims, men or women to help the less fortunate ones. Thus the Qur'an says, “(Zakat) charity is only for the poor and the needy and those employed to administer it, and those whose hearts are made to incline, and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is Knowing, Wise.” (9:60)

    Not only is the verse’s aim is to remove arrogance from the wealthy and powerful, it is also to empower the weak so that there is no suffering in the world. It says clearly and unambiguously, “And We desired to bestow a favor upon those who were deemed weak in the land, and to make them the leaders, and to make them the inheritors.” (28:5) Thus the Qur'an favors the weaker sections to those powerful and arrogant.

    Fasting during the month of Ramadan is very central to the concept of compassion both spiritually and materially. Fasting in the spiritual sense is a form of worship, and an attempt to shun consumerism in order to cultivate one's spiritual potential. At the same time, it also helps one develop sensitivity to others suffering from hunger and thirst and consequently develop compassion towards the poor.

    Compassion towards the poor is so important that the Prophet used to say that even if one person remains hungry in a locality no angel will descend in that locality until that hungry person is fed. Also the Prophet is reported to have said that it is more meritorious to feed a hungry widow than to pray whole night. Thus one can see the intensity of the prophet's compassion towards others suffering, particularly those of the weaker sections of society.

    We as human beings have our own limitations. We tend to love people of our own faith more than those belonging to other religious groups; and we love those speaking our own tongue more than those speaking other tongues. We should love all human beings equally whether they belong to our religion or not, whether they speak our tongue or not and whether they have the same color of skin as we have or not. If GOD is Rahman (Compassionate) to all, then we as His servants too should imitate Him as much as possible.

    Thus a real Muslim is one who despite being firm in his/her faith tradition shows equal love and compassion for all human beings whether they belong to his faith tradition or not. Every faith tradition is unique and should be recognized as such but it should not become a tool of discrimination. The Qur'an itself declares that all human beings, all children of Adam have been honored equally. “We have honored the Children of Adam and carried them on land and sea, and provided them with good things, and preferred them greatly over many of those We created. (17:70)

    Further emphasis on equality with the additional concept of fraternity can be found in Verse 13 of chapter 49; “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Thus there is no justification in showing any discrimination on the basis of faith as far as the Qur'an is concerned.

    When the Qur'an refers to weaker sections it does not qualify it with Muslim. It uses as inclusive of all human beings. All of them are equally entitled to our compassion and Allah's mercy, no less, no more. The Qur'an does not use words like Muslim orphans, Muslim widows or Muslim destitute. It uses these words in general without any qualification whatsoever. Similarly the Qur'an does not use any qualification for the powerful and arrogant sections. They can belong to any religion, race or ethnicity. Arrogance is condemnable when found anywhere.


    We have fallen victims to our animal passions of greed and other selfish desires that shattered our world. Today, we are torn between insanity and violence. Greed, hatred, jealousy, and prejudice are the obstacles to restoring human dignity and eliminating human suffering. When these obstacles are removed, man returns to his pure nature of compassion and kindness. Returning to our pure and intrinsic nature strengthens the bond of fraternity for no one is superior over another. We are like a big family to God.

    Yes the population of the world is increasing and so are the needs of the less fortunate ones here and abroad. Some are hungry for power while others are hungry for food. Some wear their uniforms while others have nothing to wear. Some sleep on comfortable beds while others are without shelter. And some wish to live long while others wish to die. It’s a horrible feeling.

    The Prophet Muhammad said: "Verily, God will only show mercy to those of His servants who do good to others." He also said: "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed." People asked, O Allah’s apostle, it is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" The Prophet said, "By preventing him from oppressing others" (al-Bukhari). Another saying of his: “Allah will help his servants as long as they help their fellow brothers.”

    The bible and the Qur’an teach, “God helps the helpless!”

    I submit, without us as a cause what would be the effect?

    Compassion is the best human quality and no one deserves to be human unless he is compassionate. It is truly central to the teachings of Islam.

    May God alleviate the sufferings of all of His creation, Ameen.

  • Defining Modernity Open or Close

    Basit Bilal Koshul

    There is a great deal of material available regarding the political, military, and even economic encounter between the Muslim world and the modern West. The political factors that made possible the penetration of the West into the Muslim world, the military confrontation that often ensued, and the economic costs and benefits affecting the parties involved — these topics have all been well documented. Political scientists and area studies specialists have produced a wealth of information regarding these issues. In the present work, therefore, I propose to study the encounter between Islam and the West from a different perspective, because it is my position that prior to being a political, military, or economic challenge to the Muslim world, the West represents an intellectual challenge.

    One would not be far off the mark by noting that the political, economic, and military triumph of Western powers across the globe is a by-product of the triumph of Western thought and ideas. Currently there is considerable debate regarding the longevity of this period of Western domination. One school of thought, best represented by Francis Fukuyama, argues that the triumph of Western thought and ideas is permanent and irreversible. An opposing view, best represented by Samuel Huntington, argues that even though Western thought has triumphed across the globe, its continued domination in the indefinite future is not a sure thing. In spite of their differences regarding the future course of events, both schools of thought agree that the closing decades of the 20th century have witnessed the global triumph of Western thought and ideas. In light of this discussion, it makes sense to ask the question: How the Muslims have responded, on the intellectual level, to the onslaught of Western thought? This question needs to be asked because the response at the intellectual level determines the concrete policies that are adopted to meet the challenge. It is the goal of our current survey to analyze the various responses that the Muslims have formulated over the past century or so to the intellectual challenge posed by the West.

    The necessity of such a survey is highlighted by the fact that Western ideas and thought are exercising ever-increasing influence on not only the Muslim world but throughout the globe as a whole — the global village is in reality a Western village. The proposition that Western thought and ideas have been generally accepted throughout the world is a curious one in light of the fact that today the globe is more politically fragmented than ever before. But a closer look behind the facade of political fragmentation reveals that the political and intellectual elite in virtually all the countries share similar values and ideas — values and ideas that are rooted in Western thought. The intensity of the impact of the West in the 20th century can be best measured by glancing at the oppositional ideologies that have arisen as a challenge to the West. To a greater or lesser degree, even these oppositional movements have been shaped by Western thought. As in the case of fascism and communism, some of them have been nothing more than extreme expressions of the very thought that they ostensibly opposed.

    In the following pages I will first identify the fundamental concepts which have shaped the modern West. These will be identified as being an epistemology based on scientism, a sociology based on secularism, and an ideology based on capitalism. It will be argued that the cumulative effect of these concepts in the modern West is a total loss of faith in any transcendent, spiritual, and/or metaphysical reality, i.e., a loss of faith in the possibility that a reality other than the one which we can comprehend with our physical senses may exist. This loss of faith will be identified as being the one characteristics that differentiates modernity and its progenitor (the modern West) from all pre-modern modes of thought and all pre-modern societies. It should be stated at this stage that the real purpose behind this survey is to present evidence to support the argument that even the contemporary Islamic resurgence has been significantly impacted by Western thoughts and ideas — the protests of the Islamists notwithstanding. The Islamists clearly recognize and loudly assert that Islam strikes a balance between worldly concerns and concerns for the Hereafter. In other words, it deals with matters of the spirit as well as the temporal affairs of the world. But when one looks beyond this initial statement and analyzes modern Islamic thought in some detail, it becomes apparent that, practically speaking, this balance is nowhere to be found. Comparatively speaking, the emphasis on the aspect of Islam which deals with worldly affairs is so pronounced in modern Islamic thought and the emphasis on the metaphysical and spiritual aspect of Islam is so paltry, that any talk of a “balance” between these two aspects is rendered meaningless. This loss of balance is a direct result of the penetration of modern Western thought into the Muslim world.

    This work is a survey of Islam´s encounter with the modern West. It is necessary to make this qualification because the dynamics of Islam´s encounter with medieval Christianity were quite different from what they are today. Even though the modern West is the product of an organic process of the development of medieval Christianity (which itself was significantly influenced by Islam), its unique characteristics are truly novel inventions. The fundamental concepts on which the modern West is built represent a rupture in the intellectual tradition of not only the West but of humanity. The following survey of these fundamental concepts will show that these concepts are not only entirely novel, but they have come to be commonly accepted only after a long and bitter struggle. In other words the conceptual paradigm is the result of a historical process, not of any self-evident truths that have suddenly become apparent to everyone.

    Each human society contains certain unique characteristics that distinguish it from other societies, and imbue it with its peculiar character. These unique characteristics are invariably based upon certain intellectual propositions that shape and mold the visible institutions and practices of the society. In the following pages we shall identify those characteristics of the modern West which set it apart from other human societies. In other words, we will identify the foundational intellectual propositions on which modern Western thought is based, which in turn are responsible for the unique character of not only modern Western thought but also of modern Western society.

    Scientism as Epistemology

    How does one arrive at an accurate description of Reality and Truth? Epistemology is the study of the various ways in which man has attempted to answer this question. This question has been the preoccupation of all civilizations known to man, and the manner in which this particular question was answered greatly determined the character of each civilization. Modern Western thought has answered this question by categorically stating that only “scientific” knowledge is capable of providing an accurate description of Reality and Truth. There are varying definitions of “scientific” knowledge, some of which seem to be at great variance with others. But in spite of the apparent differences, there is a common theme that runs through all these definitions, viz., “scientific knowledge” refers to all the information that can be collected using the five human senses and synthesized using the powers of the human intellect. Scientism is the belief that “scientific” knowledge alone is capable of providing an accurate description of Reality and Truth, to the exclusion of all other sources of knowledge. In other words, it is the belief that scientific knowledge is the only reliable source of knowledge. It is worth noting that there are sources of knowledge which scientism does not regard as being valid and reliable, i.e., Divine Revelation, individual religious experience, and inner intuition.

    Here, a distinction needs to be made between “science” and “scientism.” “Science” is a particular way of investigating and exploring the nature of reality, while “scientism” is the belief that science provides the only reliable and valid way of carrying out this investigation. Throughout the present work, the focus will be on scientism the belief, not science the method. A corollary to this belief is the conviction that technology and “scientific” methods are capable of solving all the problems that affect human individuals and society.

    Even though the selection of science as the only reliable source of knowledge is a subjective choice, it is by no means an irrational one. Nearly three hundred years of European history made this choice virtually inevitable, and the past century or so seems to have justified this choice. The only other contender that could, and did, challenge science´s designation to this privileged status was religion — or the Catholic Church, to be more specific. While tensions between the established religious authorities and a few individual scientists were present just under the surface in the 16th century, the conflict between religion and science exploded into the open in the first quarter of the 17th century. The catalyst for this explosion was Galileo´s observational finding that confirmed Copernicus´ heliocentric theory. This confirmation of heliocentricism conflicted with the official Church view that advocated a geocentric view of the cosmos.

    Prior to the advent of modern science, all religious and philosophical systems in the West assigned man a special and central place in the universe. The Aristotelian, Ptolemaic, Augustinian, and Thomist systems place the earth in the center of the universe and man as unique among all the inhabitants of the earth. According to this traditional view of the cosmos, the whole drama of creation is centered around the earth and humanity, and the geocentric model was an expression of this belief. For obvious reasons the geocentric model corresponded with the religious teachings of the Church. Copernicus´s heliocentric model removed the earth from its privileged, central place in the cosmos and made it just one of the many heavenly bodies orbiting the sun, thus directly challenging Church teachings. Following in the footsteps of Copernicus and Kepler (who provided the mathematical proof supporting the heliocentric model), Galileo came up with the observational evidence confirming Copernicus´s theory, using a powerful new invention, the telescope. Even though the Church authorities were temporarily able to silence Galileo, the passage of time only strengthened his position. The scientific description of Reality and Truth proved to be sounder than the “religious” description.

    This victory of science over religion in the 17th century, significant as it was, proved to be minor when compared to the events in the 18th century. The debate between the geocentric and heliocentric models revolved around a single issue and in this particular debate science had proven its worth. The 18th century witnessed the triumph of the Newtonian description of the universe. This description posed a systemic challenge to religion because it professed to describe universal laws that governed the cosmos. Moreover, this was not a capricious claim; it was confirmed by overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence in the form of mathematical equations and precise predictions of planetary motion. The claims of the religious authorities that the heavenly bodies obeyed the “the Will of God” which was beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, sounded dry and pale when compared to Newton´s laws and descriptions. The Newtonian description of the universe was so accurate and astounding that progressively all alternative and competing descriptions had to be discarded — including the religious one. This point is poignantly illustrated by Pierre Simon de Laplace´s comment when he presented a book he had written to Napoleon. The book, titled Philosophical Essays on Probabilities, dealt with various laws governing the working of the universe. When asked why his book contained no mention of the Creator, Laplace firmly replied: “I have no need of that hypothesis.”1

    By the beginning of the 19th century there was hardly any doubt among the intellectual elite in Europe that, epistemologically, science was far superior than religion. So when science turned its gaze upon man himself in the middle of the 19th century, its findings carried the same import that Divine Revelation had carried at an earlier stage in history. Whereas the heliocentric theory had removed the earth from its privileged place in the universe, Darwin´s theory of evolution completed the task by removing man from his privileged place on earth. The defense raised by the religious authorities to uphold the belief that man is a special creation of God was far less vigorous than had been the case two and a half centuries earlier during the confrontation with Galileo. The result of the confrontation between the religious view and the Darwinian view of human origins was a foregone conclusion. By the end of the 19th century, therefore, the belief in scientism was not only confined to the intellectual elite in Europe but was found to be spreading among the general population as well. The spread of this belief among the populace had less to do with the discovery of heliocentricism or the theory of Natural Selection and more to do with the practical fruit of science — technology.

    During the period of its decay, which lasted several centuries, religion had begun to preach that one´s fate in this life was a matter of Divine Decree and this fate should be accepted passively. Often in league with the political authorities, the religious authorities preached a doctrine of passivity that promised the believers immense rewards in the Hereafter for patiently accepting all the difficulties in the present life. At certain times the religious authorities went even further and preached that any attempt to change the social-political order of the day was a sin against God. In the midst of this fatalistic view of human potentialities came science, which not only advocated that one should work to improve one´s conditions but also provided the wherewithal with which to do it. New technology continually increased man´s control over space, time, and nature — consequently increasing his control over his own fate. At just the time that belief in scientism was reaching a pitch among the intellectuals in the West, the masses began to taste the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in England and then quickly spreading to the rest of Europe and North America, the byproducts of science radically altered the living conditions of the ordinary citizen.

    By the beginning of the 20th century the results of the centuries old struggle between religion and science came to an end and science emerged as the clear victor. The exuberance of the victory is aptly portrayed in these words of an Italian futurist written in 1910:

    Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes changes in humanity inevitable, changes that are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of tradition and us free moderns who are confident in the radiant splendor of our future.1

    The confidence of these moderns in a radiant and splendid future produced by science suffered an unexpected and severe shock with the outbreak of WWI. The very science and technology that was supposed to create a virtual heaven on earth was employed to wreak havoc and destruction of unprecedented proportions. A brief glimpse of the magnitude of this destruction was provided by the outcome of one of the numerous battles during the war. At the Battle of Somme in 1915 “...more lives were lost than in the whole previous centuries of conflicts.”2 As terrible as the events of WWI were, they proved to be only a prelude to what was to come. The following decades saw the birth of Fascism, totalitarianism, total war, the Final Solution, and the Atomic bomb — all made possible by the very science and technology that were previously believed to be capable of producing only beneficial results for mankind.

    The fact that faith in scientism survived these cataclysmic events seems remarkable. But as recorded by history, not only has this faith survived, it has in fact become stronger in the post-WWII years. The second half of the 20th century has witnessed a revival of the total commitment to scientism. The doubts engendered by the events of the first half of the present century have been nullified by the explanation that “evil people” were the root cause of all the death and destruction, not science and technology. Subsequent experience apparently vindicates this view. Science has broadened man´s knowledge to unparalleled heights, giving him profound insight into the workings of the universe as well as his own self. Sputnik, Moonshot, the Hubble telescope, gray matter, DNA, and the Genome Project are all fruits of modern science. Similarly, technology and “scientific” planning and methods have produced a standard of living in the West to which the rest of the world aspires. This is a standard of living that no human society has achieved in recorded history.

    The following quote by Jawaharlal Nehru not only expresses the basic tenets of scientism but also reflects the globalization of an idea originating in the West:

    It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people.… Who indeed can afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid.… The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.3

    In the closing decades of the 20th century, leading scientists are confident that science has the capacity to not only fulfill the material needs of man, but also to answer the most perplexing questions that have haunted man for eons. In their search for the Grand Unified Theory (also called the Theory of Everything), theoretical physicists are looking for an equation that will enable man to answer any question which comes to his mind, whether the question deals with physics or metaphysics. The discovery of this equation would enable man not only to definitively explain the origin and history of the universe but also its ultimate end. The explanatory power of this equation is to be so all-embracing that, with its aid, a scientist will be able to precisely outline the personal history, present circumstances, and future fate of any individual down to the minutest detail by just plugging in the variables into the equation. The quest for this equation has been likened to the quest for the “...mind of God.” And if the contemporary prophets of scientism are to be believed, we are only a decade or so away from finding this equation.4

    The claim of modern science that it has the ability to unravel the mystery of the “mind of God” marks the point where science enters the field of philosophy and metaphysics, those fields which it has consciously avoided in the past. The fact that modern science is delving into these fields denotes the confidence which contemporary scientists have in their faith in scientism. The claim that science has the ability to understand the mind of God is an explicit statement that Truth and Reality can be adequately discerned through the medium of science — that science is the root of epistemology.

    The remarkable similarity between the methodology used by Karl Marx and Francis Fukuyama arguing for the ultimate triumph of their respective socio-political systems aptly summarizes the degree to which scientism has come to dominate Western epistemology. Marx claimed that he had discerned certain “scientific” laws that govern the evolution of human society, laws that his later followers developed into the theory of dialectical materialism. According to Marx, the analysis of human history in the light of his materialist interpretation of history made it inevitable that all of humanity would eventually come to be organized into a global communist society. A century and a half after Marx, Fukuyama claims that the “…historical directionality implied by modern natural science”5 makes the emergence of a global liberal-bourgeois society inevitable. Leaving aside the question as to whether one agrees with the one thinker or the other, the point to note is that the fundamental root of their argument rests on “scientific” principles. For both thinkers “the logic of science” combined with man´s need to acquire material comforts make the ultimate triumph of their respective socioeconomic systems inevitable. The similarity in the epistemological basis of the leading contemporary ideologue of liberal-bourgeoisie society and the father of Marxism illustrates the degree to which scientism has come to dominate the modern Western mind.

    Secularism as Sociology

    Secularism is often associated with the notion of rejection of religion. In the context of the present discussion, however, it refers not to the total rejection of religion but confining it merely to the private sphere. Secularism is the attitude that religion has no role to play in the public affairs of society and that it should strictly remain the private affair of the individual. This may appear to be an extension of the concept of scientism, but the two terms are not synonymous. There are two major reasons for treating scientism and secularism separately. Firstly, early scientists whose work contributed to the emergence of scientism were by no means secularists. Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton were profoundly religious men who viewed their work as contributing to a better understanding of the working of the Creator, and this is expressly stated in their own writings. None of them had nearly the antagonistic attitude towards religion that their latter-day followers display. Secondly, whereas scientism emerged as a result of the advances in the physical sciences, secularism is a product of the evolution of the social sciences and institutions in Europe. And it is well known that the development of the social sciences is distinct from, and has lagged behind, the development of the physical sciences.

    When one looks for the factors that provided the initial impetus for the rise of secularism in Europe, two major factors stand out: a) the violence that engulfed virtually all of Europe in the Reformation vs. Counter-Reformation debate, and b) the Church´s alliance with the ancien regime.

    Even though it initially began as a reform movement within Catholicism, the Reformation quickly evolved into an open schism. Seeing the ecclesiastical authority of the Church being challenged along with their own political preeminence, the leading Catholic countries, Spain and Italy, initiated a Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent in 1543. Generally speaking, the rest of the 16th century saw the demarcation of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Europe. This proved to be significant in the religio-political conflicts that erupted in the 17th century. Commenting on the overall character of the 17th century, a contemporary historian notes: “...European rulers and their people indulged in the seventeenth century in an orgy of hatred, bigotry, massacre, torture, and brutality which has no parallel until the twentieth century.”6 This violence and bloodletting ran across the Protestant-Catholic divide that had emerged in the previous century.

    The scale and intensity of the violence that erupted in the aftermath of these “religious” debates led to an indelible impact on the Western psyche. Having the advantage of hindsight, today it is clear that much of the violence that expressed itself in religious idiom was actually a demonstration of simmering social and political grievances. Not having the advantage of hindsight, however, some of the leading intellectuals of the day blamed the violence and bloodshed of these wars entirely on religion. By the end of the 17th century, therefore, more than a few people in Europe were attempting to formulate new principles of political organization that would extricate the political state from theological issues. Even though the practical implementation of this idea did not occur until the founding of the United States of America in 1776, the factors that led to the desire for such an order are rooted in the religio-political violence from the Reformation vs. Counter-Reformation period.

    The alliance of the Church with the ancien regime is another significant factor that contributed to the emergence of secularism. In this case, the Church was allied with a system of social thought and organization that was being bypassed by history. The concept of the “Divine right of kings” to rule their subjects without any restrictions was expressed in religious terms and, more often than not, officially advocated by the religious authorities. Additionally, the Church itself was the largest landlord in Europe. As the demise of feudalism set in, the Church was perceived to be the major defender of this antiquated institution. Consequently, religious authorities were seen as a major obstacle in the development of social institutions.

    The bloody history of 17th century Europe and the Church´s continued support of the ancien regime made religion vulnerable to criticism from a number of quarters. This criticism found its most articulate expression in the writings of the French philosophes during the last quarter of the 18th century. Symbolizing a movement that has come to be known as the Enlightenment, the attacks of the philosophes on traditional religion and traditional modes of thought provided the intellectual framework in which the principles of secularism were eloquently expressed. Holding the Church to be responsible for practically all the bigotry and intolerance that was to be found in the European society, the philosophes argued that religious teachings were the major obstacle to the growth and progress of man. Under the guidance of Denis Diderot they compiled the Encyplopedie, with the purpose of demonstrating the grandeur of human achievements if rational and empirical thought was adopted, contrasted against the conservatism and obscurantism of religious authorities. The enlightenment attitude towards religion is best expressed in the thought of Voltaire. The only redeeming feature that Voltaire could find in religion was that it provided the masses with an incentive to behave morally. For Voltaire, if the masses were to find out the real nature of religion they would all lose faith in its doctrine, thus leading to anarchy in society.

    By the end of the 18th century, the Enlightenment critique of religion had become a part of the intellectual debate taking place in Europe. The position of the philosophes on the need to remove religion from the public sphere was strengthened by developments in the socio-political realm. The modern nation-state was emerging to challenge the political supremacy of the Church in Europe. Centralization and administrative uniformity are essential prerequisites for the efficient functioning of a modern nation-state. But this is hardly possible if the very geographical land on which the state is based is not under its jurisdiction and neither are the educational institutions that are present in its realm. This was the situation that faced the forerunners of today´s European republics. And everywhere it was the Church that was proving to be an obstacle in the way of “modernization” and “development.” The claims of the Church carried the weight of tradition, cannon law, and papal authority behind them. A rival claim to jurisdiction over lands and institutions implies a critique of the very principles on which the established claim is based. Hence, by the end of the 18th century, we find the development of a political theory in Europe that totally divorces the process of legislation from any reference to religious authority.

    By the beginning of the 19th century, the principle of legislative sovereignty became an integral part of progressive political theory. The European mind came to accept the principle that as long as the political authority of the state is in legitimate hands, the state is absolutely free to draft any legislation as it sees fit. The only argument in this context is regarding the definition of legitimate political authority. The thinkers following the Hobbesian tradition place this legitimacy in the hands of a single ruler, those following the Lockean tradition place this authority in an elected assembly. But it is clear to all that absolute legislative sovereignty now rests with mortals, without any need for a reference to the Divine. The acceptance of this idea was a radical break from the past because it had always been assumed that there were certain laws, dictated by God, that could not be superseded by those of man.

    The acceptance of the principle of legislative sovereignty was a clear signal that religion had become marginalized in the public affairs of society. Even though it was marginalized at the societal level, religion found a refuge in the individual conscience of the believer. But the events of the 19th century would prove that religion was not safe even in the private sphere. Whereas the leading intellectuals of 17th and 18th century had argued that the interference of religion in the public affairs of society hampered society´s progress, the 19th century saw the emergence of thinkers who argued that the effects of religion are so pernicious that it should be banished from even the psyche of the individual. The 19th century thinkers gave numerous arguments, some of them contradictory, for the expulsion of religion from the private sphere as well. Nietzsche argued that religion had been invented by the weak to fool the strong, Marx argued that religion was the product of the dominant mode of production (thereby reflecting the interests of the strong) that legitimized existing exploitative social relation, Feuerbach saw religion as merely a projection of human wishes, and Freud viewed religion as a manifestation of infantile regression.

    The ideas of these critics of religion carried added force because of developments in a new academic discipline called “biblical criticism.” This discipline applied critical and empirical methods to a historical study of the Bible, and in the end the conclusion was reached that fundamental teachings of Christianity could not be traced back to Jesus, but were additions from later periods. One of the seminal works in this field was by a committed Christian, David Friedrich Strauss, who wrote The Life of Jesus Critically Examined in 1836. After noting that it was not possible to establish the historical authenticity of the person of Jesus, the book made an attempt to get around the question of historical authenticity and still keep central Christian teachings intact by explaining the teachings in purely allegorical terms. The effects of this approach to religious belief can be gauged by the fact that the person who translated it into English, George Eliot, spurned belief in Christianity after reading the book.7

    But this attempt to keep the Christian teachings relevant by giving them allegorical significance failed because further research revealed that even the authenticity of the allegories was questionable. Another committed Christian, Albrecht Ritschl, argued that the doctrine of Trinity had nothing to do with authentic Christian teachings. In his book Theology and Metaphysics, Ritschl argued that the doctrine of Trinity was introduced into Christianity as a result of Greek influence. If the allegories in which religious doctrines were expressed proved to be of questionable origin themselves, the question naturally arose regarding the authenticity of religion itself. This vacuum of legitimacy was filled by the philosophies of thinkers like Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Marx and by the end of the 19th century the concept of the “death of God” had become the accepted norm among the intellectual elite in Europe.

    By the beginning of the 20th century all the elements were in place that would eventually lead to the spread of the notion of “death of God” among the masses. Sigmund Freud in his Future of an Illusion notes that the educated elite, those responsible for constructing and maintaining human society, have largely replaced religious motives for civilized behavior by secular motives. Because “...such people are to a large extent themselves vehicles of civilization,” it is only a matter of time before the masses at large are also infected with this “enlightened” attitude. Freud goes on to state that

    criticism has whittled away the evidential value of religious documents, natural science has shown up the errors in them, and comparative research has been struck by the fatal resemblance between the religious ideas which we revere and the mental products of primitive peoples. 8

    During roughly the same time period that Freud was expressing his views, the concept of secularism received a “scientific” stamp of approval from some of the leading mathematicians of the 20th century. Bertrand Russell´s work gave rise to a philosophical school called logical positivism. The fundamental axiom of this philosophy is that “any statement that cannot be proven or disproven is meaningless.” The statement that “God exists” cannot be empirically verified or refuted, thus any discussion regarding it in any context is an exercise in futility. Even though Logical Positivism has been supplanted by other philosophical schools in academic circles, the application of its fundamental axiom to religious issues is common among the masses even today.

    In principle, secularism allows an individual the right to hold religious beliefs, but in the contemporary West it is expected that an educated and enlightened individual not hold any religious conviction. Any suggestion that a particular matter of public concern should in any way be referred to a religious context is to be totally rejected. In the 20th century socialism, fascism, communism, liberalism, and often a motley mixture of one or more of these -isms has characterized the collective affairs of European societies. The important point to note is that in a sociological setup based on any of these -isms, religion at best plays only a marginal role and even then it is sometime actively fought against. If sociology is taken to refer to the collective affairs of society, then secularism is the cardinal principle that determines the sociological character of modern Western society.

    Capitalism as Ideology

    Capitalism is the one element that has imbued the modern West with its dynamic character. Keeping in mind the fact that the “modern West” was earlier defined in socio-cultural terms, not merely geographic terms, the penetration of Western culture into the non-Western world has been fueled by the birth and expansion of the capitalist economic system. It is well known that the need for cheap raw materials and new markets provided a significant portion of the impetus for the colonizing enterprise undertaken by the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. Furthermore, the fact that the establishment of the capitalist market system in a given society is an essential pre-requisite for the spread of socio-political liberalism in that society is a point on which most liberal and socialist theoreticians agree.

    In spite of the fact that capitalism plays such a critical role in shaping the character of the modern world, it is not an easy term to define. The fundamental principle underlying capitalist theory is that the collective interests of society are best served if each individual is afforded the maximum opportunity to pursue his own self-defined selfish interests. And it is taken for granted that the selfish interest of each individual would drive him to accumulate as much private wealth as possible. But before the capitalist ethos could become acceptable even for the political and intellectual elite in Europe a number of conceptual thresholds had to be crossed. The foremost among these thresholds is the concept of interest.

    In a tradition dating back to Aristotle and Seneca, continuing through the early Church Fathers and the great medieval theologians, the charging of interest on loans was held to be an anathema by the Europeans. As recently as the Council of Vienna of 1311, the Catholic Church declared the charging of interest to be a crime punishable by excommunication. And there were anti-usury laws on the statute books of Western countries even in the closing decades of the 19th century. It is impossible to speak of the emergence of a capitalist economy in the absence of the concept of interest. Consequently, it is not surprising to see such an economy emerge in embryonic form in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, because Luther, Calvin, and Zwingle all favored the allowance of the charging of interest.

    Whereas capitalism imbues the modern West with its dynamic character, capitalism owes its own dynamism to a banking system based on interest!

    A related concept that had to be accepted in order for a capitalist economy to come into existence was the notion of “profit.” The simple idea that engaging in a business enterprise in order to accumulate personal wealth so that one would be able to use that wealth to obtain more wealth ran contrary to the teachings of a thousand year old religious tradition. As late as the mid-17th century, people were being put on trial in the American colonies for engaging in commerce that resulted in accruing a profit of as little as sixpence on a shilling. One of the basic teachings of the Church in the Middle Ages was this: “No Christian ought to be a merchant.” The force of the precept against the accumulation of wealth can be gauged by the apologetic that was produced in order to justify it. John Locke in his famous Second Treatise on Government dedicates a whole chapter — “On Property” — endeavoring to prove that the accumulation of wealth is sanctioned by morality, the Scriptures, and is above all also logical. Not content to prove that the simple accumulation of wealth is moral, Locke´s main argument was that unlimited accumulation of wealth was also moral, religiously sanctioned, and logical. Similarly, Adam Smith´s masterpiece The Wealth of Nations attempted to maintain an “objective” balance while discussing the benefits of wealth accumulation and its negative effects. But in the end Smith comes down definitively on the side of the positive benefits of wealth accumulation. The notion that one should work hard, accumulate wealth, and improve one´s standard of living still had not taken root in the minds of 17th century Europeans. During this period, those who engaged in commerce and work in order to accumulate wealth were the outcasts of society, not its pillars.

    A third concept that was crystallized in the Western mind with the emergence and development of the capitalist ethos can be described as “commodification.” Even though today the buying and selling of land causes the modern individual no conceptual — to say nothing of spiritual — malaise, for a medieval baron such a concept simply did not make sense. For him the “selling” of his land made as much sense as the buying and selling of a Fulbright or Rhodes scholarship makes to a modern individual. Even though land has existed before man, it has become a commodity only in modern times. Similarly, even though work is as old as man himself, its commodified version — labor — is a modern invention. The notion that one has to “work” in order to earn a “wage” simply did not make sense to a medieval European, and even in the early part of the 20th century to most inhabitants of the non-Western world.

    By the middle of the 18th century, then, the concepts of interest on money, profit, and commodity had become acceptable to a significant enough portion of the European population to give birth to a new way of conducting trade. In these early years there was a great deal of confusion regarding the mechanisms and rules that governed this new method of exchange, and a number of bizarre and contradictory theories were offered as explanations. It was the genius of Adam Smith to rise above the conceptual morass that was surrounding the subject and write his monumental work, titled Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in the fateful year of 1776. He argued that the matter of exchange of goods among the citizens should not be regulated by any authority or restricted by custom. Smith argued that a mechanism called “the market” is best suited to provide the optimal results in the area of trade, if it is allowed to function freely. In providing evidence to support his argument, Smith noted that if each individual is allowed the maximum freedom to pursue his own selfish interest then society as a whole will accrue the maximum benefit. The proposition that the collective interests of society would be best served if each individual in society is allowed to pursue his own selfish interest is in sharp contrast to the opposing assertion that the collective interests of society are best served if the individuals in society obey the edicts of a central government or certain traditional or religious principles. If anything, in the capitalistic ethos the interference of the governmental, traditional, and/or religious authorities in the private affairs of individuals (be they economic or otherwise) are deemed to be negative factors in the development of society. Even though this basic premise underlying the capitalistic ethos is taken for granted today, having the status of a self-evident truism, it has not always been the case. In fact it is only over the last few decades that this premise has come to be accepted by the majority of the inhabitants of the West, to say nothing of the rest of the globe.

    Less than eighty years after Smith wrote his book detailing the benefits of an economy governed by the market mechanism, the survival of a market economy in Europe seemed to be in serious jeopardy due to strong challenges from two opposing quarters. First, there was the revolutionary upheaval of 1848, which the feudal aristocrats attempted to manipulate to their own benefit and ride the revolutionary wave back into a position of prominence. These aristocrats were the bitter enemies of the emerging capitalists because it was at their hands that they had lost their political and economic clout. As Marx has noted, the French Revolution of 1789 abolished feudal property in favor of capitalist property. And in 1848 the feudal lords made a desperate attempt to undo the events of the previous six decades, and for a while they succeeded. The events of 1848 in both France and Germany were a sharp reaction to the unsettling effects of a market economy and an attempt to return to the safe and familiar world of the guilds, manors, and apprenticeships.

    While the still emerging capitalist system was facing a political challenge from the conservative quarters in the middle of the 19th century, it suddenly had to face an ideological challenge formulated by a young man named Karl Marx. Whereas the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 represented the disaffection of the peasants and aristocrats with the capitalist system, the ideological challenge of Marx was the voice of the disaffected industrial working class. Marx argued that all the misery that was the lot of the industrial working class was the result of the workings of a market economy. He argued that the only way to alleviate this misery is to adopt a planned economy that would be run by the workers, not the capitalists.

    By the close of the 19th century, it was not entirely clear whether capitalism would survive on mainland Europe. Powerful forces were advocating the organization of society´s economic system according to the dictates of a central authority, not to the working of a free market.

    While capitalism was being challenged on both the ideological and political fronts on mainland Europe, the capitalist system continued to mature in England and the United States. Comparatively speaking, these two countries remained unaffected by upheaval on mainland Europe. And it is not a coincidence that it was these very two countries that emerged as the dominant economic and political powers in the West in the first quarter of the 20th century. The citizens of the United States enjoyed a standard of living that no previous generation in recorded history had achieved. And England for its part ruled an overseas empire that was greater in extent than any empire in history. The spectacular performance of these two countries vindicated the capitalist system in spite of the shocks that it suffered in mid 19th century. And, quite naturally, people began to once again take note of the benefits of a market economy. But this confidence in the market economy suffered a severe blow in 1929 with the crash of the stock market.

    The effects of this shock to the capitalist system were more severe and longer lasting than any of the previous shocks. In order for the United States to dig out from the collapse of the stock market, strong intervention on the part of the government was needed, and it is doubtful if even this intervention would have sufficed had it not been for WWII. The two decades after WWII proved to be even more trying because of the emergence of a rival system that claimed to be the successor of the failing capitalist system. Due to both the unsettling domestic situation in the United States and the rapid expansion of communist influence throughout the Third World in the 1950s and ´60s, it was almost taken for granted that communism would very soon supplant capitalism as the dominant global power. But by the end of the 1980s communism itself, to say nothing of its claim to global domination, had collapsed and capitalism had emerged as the clear victor in this ideological struggle.

    Even though Marx and his followers had astutely recognized the weaknesses of the capitalist system — the cycle of boom and bust, the concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands, the disruption of social development etc. — they grossly underestimated its one strength. The Marxists failed to realize that capitalism had the ability to improve the standard of living of the industrial worker much more competently than their own proposed alternative, and that it had the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

    The days when apologists had to put forth arguments justifying the charging of interest on money and the concepts of profit and commodity have been long forgotten. Today it is often assumed that the legitimacy of these concepts has always been accepted by all people since the dawn of time, that these concepts are part and parcel of the natural order of things. Today, the concepts on which capitalism is based carry the import of self-evident, eternal, universal truths. It would be tedious to go into a detailed discussion regarding the degree to which the market system has become the dominant instrument that is shaping the modern West. It would suffice to discuss the broad outlines of Milton Friedman´s and Francis Fukuyama´s thoughts on this issue.

    These thinkers are the leading ideologues of liberal-bourgeoisie society. Both of them see a direct correlation between the emergence of a capitalist economy in a given society and the emergence of a liberal/democratic political system. They argue that the emergence of economic capitalism is a pre-requisite for the emergence of political liberalism. The converse of this argument also holds true. Friedman and Fukuyama contend that government interference in the free workings of the market economy is either a prelude to or a symptom of the usurpation of political freedom. In the developed societies of the West the free-market economy is the principle guarantor of political freedom, and in the developing countries the adoption of the capitalist system is the principal pre-requisite for political liberalism.

    This is not the place to discuss the validity, or the lack thereof, of these arguments. It merely needs to be noted that the drive to maintain and strengthen the existing free-market system on the domestic level is justified by the claim that the free-market is the best guarantor of political freedoms and economic well-being. In the domain of foreign policy the incorporation of those areas that are still outside the global market system (and a more efficient exploitation of those already within) is the principal factor that shapes the foreign policies. If ideology is defined as a conceptual framework used by a group in order to justify its actions to itself, then capitalism is the ideology of the modern West!

    At the end of this discussion, it is worth noting that this description of the fundamental characteristics of modernity is neither novel nor original. The manner in which the argument has been presented may be different, but the fundamental ideas underlying the above description of the modern West closely approximates the position of some of the leading thinkers who have studied the birth and development of modernity. J. Lyotard, Marshall Berman, Bryan Appleyard, and Anthony Giddens are among the thinkers whose analysis of the development of the modern West at least partially resembles the description presented above. It would be tedious to discuss the position of each on the subject, but it would be certainly useful to choose one and look at his thought in some detail.

    Anthony Giddens identifies the institutional dimensions of modernity as being capitalism, industrialism, military power, and surveillance. He goes on to describe capitalism and the nation-state as being “...the great institutional elements promoting the acceleration and expansion of modern institutions.”9 He agrees with Marx that it is the dynamism inherent in the capitalist system that imbued the modern West with its aggressive expansionist impulse. Giddens notes that from “...its early origins capitalism is international in scope.”10 Even though he never identifies capitalism as being the dominant ideology of the modern West in as explicit terms as we have done above, he is keenly aware of the fact that the elite in the West justify their actions to themselves largely according to concepts rooted in capitalist thought. He notes that the stimulus to accelerate the rate of economic growth in the West is so overwhelming that it “...inevitably pushes economic interests to the forefront of the policies which states pursue in the international arena.”11 Samuel Wallerstein is even more candid in identifying capitalism as being the dominant factor that shapes the behavior of the modern West.

    Giddens also recognizes the importance of the nation-state in the modernization enterprise, and criticizes Wallerstien for overlooking the role that this institution has played and is playing. He notes that the coming of the nation-state into existence was essential for the proper functioning of a capitalist economy. He goes so far as to state that, “[a] capitalist society is a ´society´ because it is a nation-state.”12

    In light of the critical importance that Giddens attaches to the role played by the nation-state, it is very curious that he does not discuss the pivotal role played by the emergence of secular political thought. Medieval Christianity saw itself as a universal enterprise that was not limited to any geographical locality and also saw itself as the instrument through which the dictates of God were to be implemented on earth. Two crucial concepts on which the modern nation-state is built are absent from the medieval political arrangement, a) territorial boundaries (i.e., well defined borders), and b) absolute legislative sovereignty. We cannot imagine the emergence of the modern nation-state in the absence of a political theory limiting the administrative powers of a claimant within certain geographical boundaries, and also providing the claimant with absolute legislative sovereignty. Such a political theory can only emerge outside the framework of a religious reference. The fact that Giddens recognizes the key role played by the nation-state in the project of modernity, while simultaneously disregarding the contribution of secularism, represents a noticeable oversight on his part.

    Giddens notes that before a break with tradition could even be contemplated, a new criterion for establishing certitude had to be articulated. He maintains that the project of modernity was made possible by the enthronement of reason as the yardstick to measure certitude. The enthronement of reason replaced revelation and tradition as being the supreme source of knowledge regarding Truth and Certainty. This shift of the epistemological sources marked the beginning of a new process and represented a new (i.e., modern) way of looking at the universe and of man´s place in it. It is only after this shift had been made that concepts such as the nation-state, capitalism, secularism, etc., could even be envisioned by the modern mind that was emerging in the 17th and 18th centuries. Consequently we find that Giddens explicitly identifies capitalism and scientism as being the two fundamental pillars of modernity and the third (i.e., secularism) is implicit in his discussion of the modern nation-state.

    Modernity and the Death of the Transcendent

    The cumulative effects of an epistemology based on scientism, a sociology based on secularism, and an ideology based on capitalism has given birth to a society that has lost all faith in transcendence. Concepts such as God, life after death, beauty, honor, virtue, vice, evil, etc., are virtually meaningless in the modern world. In the words of Vaclav Havel, these terms and concepts “...represent merely some kind of psychological idiosyncrasy, or some kind of stray relic from times past.…”13 One cannot discuss the validity, or the lack thereof, of any of these concepts within a conceptual framework that is defined by scientism, secularism, and capitalism. If anything, the discussion of some of these terms and concepts is emphatically held to be not only worthless in the modern setting but exceedingly deleterious to the well-being of the individual and society, because discussions about such concepts is a waste of valuable energy and time. Huston Smith notes that the modern mind is capable of taking ideas, concepts, and propositions seriously only to the degree that they can be quantified. The realm of the transcendent, metaphysical, and spiritual reality is relegated to the category of “excluded knowledge,”14 because this realm cannot be defined and/or explored using the modern quantitative methods. During the pre-modern era, the human mind was profoundly concerned with issues related to God, vice, virtue, evil, beauty, demons, and angels, etc. Relegating discussion about these things to the domain of “excluded knowledge” is a radical shift in human concerns. Smith summarizes the parable of the map that E. F. Schumacher used to describe the philosophical education that he received at Cambridge University:

    Most of the things that most of mankind has considered most important throughout its history didn´t show on it. Or if they did, they showed as museum pieces — things people used to believe about the world but believe no longer.15

    It is exceedingly important to get a full grasp of the significance of the loss of faith in the transcendent, metaphysical, and spiritual realm in the modern setting if one is to fully appreciate the complex issues surrounding the encounter between the modern West and Islam. A failure to realize the import of this issue is responsible for much of the misunderstanding that characterizes the relationship between the two.

    Before being anything else, Islam is a belief system centered on belief in One God, the institution of Prophethood, and life after death — these are all transcendental principles whose validity cannot be determined by any instrument or theory available to modern science. In other words, these are transcendent, metaphysical realities that cannot be discovered and/or described using modern quantitative methods. On the other hand the modern West, because of its utter inability to accept the existence of transcendent, metaphysical, and spiritual realities, is unable to comprehend the importance of belief in such principles as being a legitimate motivating factor in the behavior of individuals. Consequently, Western scholars have offered a myriad of explanations for the “revival” of Islam in recent decades, arguing that it is the result of oil money, an inferiority complex, a way to justify their poverty to themselves, or a reaction to the modernization process on the part of the Muslims, etc. The simple notion that Muslims might be adhering to at least some Islamic principles simply as a matter of faith is not even in the realm of possibility as far as many Western “experts” are concerned. Similarly, the Muslims often take every perceived hostile action on the part of the West to be evidence of its hatred of Islam. The possibility that the West´s (perceived) hostility towards Islam is not the result of some special attitude towards Islam per se but a byproduct of hostility towards any system of belief based on transcendent values is left unconsidered by the Muslims. Both parties often address each other from within the confines of their own particular conceptual framework, without taking into account the fact that the categories and concepts often do not make sense to the other side.

    To bridge this gap of miscommunication is reason enough to investigate, in greater detail, the modern West´s loss of faith in a reality that lies beyond science and the instruments of science. But for the purposes of our current discussion this is of secondary importance. The central purpose of this investigation is to outline the ways in which this loss of faith has caused a radical shift in the Western view of reality, and to describe the alternative vision of reality that has replaced the old.

    Since the very dawn of modernity in the 17th century, Western philosophers have been keenly aware that the birth of this new phenomenon signaled the death of transcendence, and consequently of certainty itself. Any description of Truth and Reality exclusively based on science is, in the final analysis, open to revision and change, and is therefore fraught with uncertainty. Whereas traditionally knowledge was considered to be the gateway to certainty, in modernity the relationship between the two is shattered because the propositions made by scientific knowledge always remain subject to modification.

    The fact that science cannot provide a firm basis for certainty was recognized by the individuals who not only witnessed the birth of modern science but also served as midwives. Writing in the middle of the 17th century — the century of Newton — Blaise Pascal noted in his masterpiece, Pensées,

    It is in vain oh men that you seek within yourselves the cure for your miseries. All your insight only leads you to the knowledge that is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good. The philosophers [i.e., the scientists] promised them to you and they have not been able to keep their promise.16

    Echoing the sentiments of the early moderns like Pascal and Descartes, Ludwig Wittgenstien noted three centuries later that, “we feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.”17

    It has been clear to many astute thinkers throughout the past three centuries that not only does science not have the ability to provide a firm basis for certainty, but that it is quite limited regarding issues of crucial importance to the individual human being. The problems that such a flux would present for an individual, to say nothing of society at large, alarmed the early moderns. They attempted to formulate philosophical systems in which transcendent principles would remain meaningful in spite of the corrosive effects of science. Pascal and Descartes from the 17th century and John Wesley, Rousseau, Berkeley, and Kant from the 18th century represent thinkers who attempted to construct philosophical systems in which a reality beyond scientific equations and instruments remains meaningful. It must be noted that for a limited time their efforts did bear fruit. It would be useful to look at the thought of one thinker from each century in order to gain additional insight into the issue.

    The attempt to keep the transcendent alive in the face of advancing modernity is clearly visible in the thought of René Descartes. Considered the father of modern philosophy, Descartes asserted that reality consists of two dimensions. One dimension is the realm of matter, which is characterized by spatial extension; and the other dimension is the realm of consciousness, which is characterized by the process of thought. For Descartes, both of these dimensions exist independent of each other with no mediating agent. Consequently, it is the individual´s awareness of his/her own existence that provides the foundational basis for certainty, as expressed in his famous assertion “I think, therefore I am.” These assertions easily allow themselves to being formulated into a theory in which thinking/cogitating minds survey a materialistic and mechanistic nature in order to arrive at an accurate description of reality. As noted above, this is the fundamental premise on which modernity is based, but Descartes managed to keep transcendence meaningful in his philosophy by noting that in the end it was God who was the foundation of all things. As Whitehead has noted, this Cartesian dualism signaled the onset of a process where “…science took charge of [describing] the materialist nature and philosophy took charge of [describing] the cogitating minds.”18 This was to have profound repercussion in the coming centuries. According to Descartes, the certainty of his thought process could only be supported by a belief structure whose foundation was God, because it was easier and more certain to know about the existence of God than anything else.

    But it must be noted that Descartes´s God could hardly be recognized by a medieval Christian, because his God is not to be found in the natural world insofar as the workings of nature point towards the existence of God. He argued that the existence of God could only be proven because the process of human reasoning led to this conclusion. He maintained that it was possible to explain the workings of the universe without reference to Divine interference. Armstrong notes that “instead of using the world to prove the existence of God, Descartes had used the idea of God to give him faith in the reality of the world.”19

    By the beginning of the 18th century faith in a transcendent reality was still alive in the West, though its condition was very precarious. This is best illustrated by the fact that, in his famous work Discourse on Method, Descartes argues that it is possible to devise a system of inquiry that would put all truth at the disposal of humanity. In other words, it was within the ability of the human mind to arrive at an accurate description of Truth and Reality without any reference to external sources.

    A century after Descartes, Kant took a different approach to the problem of keeping a transcendent reality meaningful in an age when the progress of science continued to weaken such a proposition. Kant caused a furor among his contemporaries when he wrote Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. In this book he argued that none of the traditional arguments for the existence of God are valid. Any attempt to prove the existence of God based on logic and reason is doomed to fail, because every such argument can be proved to be self-contradictory or incomplete. The same could be said for any arguments that purport to prove the nonexistence of God. At this stage Kant´s critique seemed to nullify the precarious foundations on which Descartes had built his argument in favor of the existence of God. But in a companion volume written in 1788, titled Critique of Practical Reason, Kant put forth his own evidence supporting the contention that a transcendent reality, in the form a Supreme Creator and Supreme Judge, does exist.

    In this second volume Kant argued that a careful, concerted contemplation focusing on “the starred heaven above” and “the moral law within” provides one with the most compelling evidence for the existence of God. Armstrong notes that Kant attempted to do in the Christian world what Al-Ghazzali had done centuries earlier in the Muslim world, i.e., make personal experience a valid source of religious knowledge.”20 Taking this as his starting point, Kant was able to formulate a philosophy in which the determinism of science is challenged, the irreducibility of the human being is asserted and a metaphysical basis for belief and morality is provided.21 In other words, Kant was able to construct the philosophical foundations of a reality that cannot be measured by any scientific instrument, but whose existence is nonetheless very real. Even though Kant´s argument began from a different starting point and followed a different route, he essentially concluded his argument on the same terminus as Descartes, i.e., proof for the existence of God is to be found within the human being.

    It was noted earlier that the attempts of these early moderns to keep transcendental values alive in the West were not entirely in vain; for a while their efforts did bear fruit. But a stream in the historical process strongly worked against their efforts, and they could not achieve any lasting success. The Cartesian dualism of mind and matter provided room for a division of the sphere of influence between science and philosophy, and, as Whitehead notes, this division of the sphere of influence was not only affirmed but also actualized. The world of matter was to be studied by science, the world of the human mind by philosophy. This “division of labor” remained possible only as long as science concentrated its gaze on the natural and material world, but as we noted in our discussion on Secularism as Sociology, by the beginning of the 19th century science was already turning its gaze upon man himself. Initially it was only the institutions built by man which were studied, but eventually his body and ultimately his mind also fell within the domain of scientific inquiry. Once this happened, philosophy was gradually squeezed out by the increasing intrusion of science. By the beginning of the 20th century, philosophy ceased to exist as an independent entity, and the survival of its very name in the closing decades of the 20th century is only made possible by the fact that it now merely serves as the hand-maiden of science. With the disappearance of philosophy it is not surprising the philosophical systems laboriously constructed by Descartes, Kant, and others attempting to keep a vision of the transcendent alive in the face of the corrosive effects of science have also disappeared.

    Up till this point in our discussion we have offered a very general definition of “transcendence,” much more general than what we have in mind, because it was deemed more necessary to understand the fate of “transcendence” in the modern West than its specific meaning. At this point we will spell out in greater detail what we mean by the death of transcendental idealism in the modern West.

    All cultures known to man have been profoundly concerned with metaphysical questions, and each society has shaped itself in accordance with its understanding of certain metaphysical beliefs. Questions concerning the nature of God (or gods), the nature of the human spirit/soul, and the nature of life after death are to be found in every culture studied by anthropologists. To list the ways in which the modern West is distinguishable from all other cultures known to historians and anthropologists could fill up many pages. If we were to summarize this list in two sentences then the following would provide a good summary: The thought process in the modern West is dominated by the study of the material reality, to the exclusion of concern for metaphysical and spiritual issues. Consequently, all of its mental faculties and attention are focused on the study of the material universe, man´s physical needs, and providing the means to make man´s earthly existence as comfortable as possible. Comparing this position to the traditional approach, the modern West has chosen to focus its attention on the created universe to the exclusion of the Creator, on the human body to the exclusion of the human soul, and on earthly existence to the exclusion of concern for the life after death. One way of illustrating the distinction between modernity and pre-modernity is the following:

    The Shift from Pre-Modernity to Modernity

    The Creator of the Universe to The Created Universe

    The Human Soul to The Human Body

    Life Hereafter to Life Here-and-Now

    Metaphysics & Spirituality to Physics & Materialism

    Since the beginning of the 19th century, nearly twenty different philosophical schools of thought have emerged in the West. Such diverse and distinct philosophies as naturalism, humanism, dialectical materialism, existentialism, and behaviorism, to name only a few, are a part of this group. But in spite of their diversity, the one common characteristic that all of these philosophical schools share is the disregard for ideational and transcendental concepts. As far as all of these schools are concerned, concrete fact and physical phenomena are to be the sole subject of human inquiry. The concepts of God, soul, and the Hereafter are not a part of the conceptual framework of modern Western thought. On the theoretical level, some of these schools of thought leave open the possibility that God, soul, and Hereafter may exist, their existence and hence their importance is neither affirmed nor rejected. But in practice this avowedly agnostic position has led, quite naturally, to the gradual elimination of these concepts from the realm of inquiry. The only philosophical school to emerge during this time period that maintained the validity of a transcendent reality is idealism. Tracing its lineage all the way back to Plato, idealism asserts that the physical world is only a defective replica of actual reality. Because the human being and the human mind are a part of this imperfect replica, they can only have imperfect knowledge of true reality. Plato attempted to illustrate this point in his famous allegory of the “people of the cave.” In modern times, idealism did find proponents, most notably in the thought of Kant as we have already discussed. Even in the late 19th century, Appearance and Reality (1897) by F. H. Bradley stands out as a first rate work of philosophy. But the lone voice of idealism has been easily overwhelmed by the combined weight of the other materialist philosophies. Today, idealism is considered to be only a curiosity that challenged the dominant assumption of the 19th and 20th centuries, viz., that which cannot be measured or explored by science is not worthy of investigation.

    It is again worth noting that we have not offered any original insight by pointing out that the modern West has no regard for ideational and transcendental concepts. Throughout the modern period leading thinkers have recognized this condition, and some have even voiced grave concerns regarding it. Reviewing the history of modern Western thought it is difficult to find a person who recognized the death of transcendence with such brutal clarity as Nietzsche. Hannah Arendt points out that for Nietzsche “God” symbolized “...the suprasensual realm as understood by metaphysics.”22 Taking this insight into consideration Nietzsche´s utterance regarding “the death of God” in his famous work Thus Spoke Zarathustra takes on a new significance. He clearly recognized the fact that it was the work of man himself that was destroying his faith in any metaphysical reality, and he described this loss of faith in metaphysics as “the death of God.” He was acutely aware of the fact that any attempt to keep any transcendent value meaningful in the absence of belief in some metaphysical principles was an exercise in futility. He urged modern man to recognize this reality and stop wasting his energies trying to salvage the morality, ethics, and metaphysics of a bygone era. Nietzsche preached that it would be better if modern man spent his energies creating his own morality, ethics, and metaphysics; in fact, this was the need of the hour. He considered the attempts of Kant and others to preserve the traditional values of Christianity in the face of advancing modernity with hostile disgust. This is clearly evident in his description of Kant as “a catastrophic spider.”23

    The 20th century has also produced prominent thinkers who have noticed the death of transcendence and metaphysics in the West. Rene Guenon, one of the leading French intellectuals of the inter-war period, noted that a “normal” civilization is; that is based on principles, in the true sense of the word, one where everything is arranged in hierarchy to conform to these principles, so that everything in it is seen as the application and extension of a doctrine whose essence is purely intellectual and metaphysical.24

    Guenon goes on to note that the “doctrine” on which the modern West is based is neither “purely intellectual” nor “purely metaphysical.” Looking at the work of some of the leading Post-WWII thinkers, it becomes clear that neither “pure intellectualism” nor “pure metaphysics” are to be found anywhere in the modern West. Lyotard describes the nature and function of “knowledge” being produced by the modern Western intellect in these words: “Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be consumed, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production.”25 He has accurately described the degeneration of intellectualism into crass consumerist operationalism. Marcuse describes the last rites that have been performed over metaphysics in the West. He notes that the disciples of positivism have seen to it that “…the metaphysical dimension, formerly a genuine field of rational thought”26 is relegated to the realm of irrational hysterics. The triumph of postivistic rationality has meant that metaphysics is consigned to the realm of “…obscurationist and regressive modes of thought,” along with all other idealism and transcedentalisms.27

    Thus, it was this modern West — profoundly shaped by scientism, secularism, and capitalism and divorced from any connection with metaphysics, idealism, or transcendence — that swept across the Muslim world in the 19th century. The West´s occupation of the Muslim world was two-dimensional: military and political on the one hand and cultural and ideological on the other. In its early stages the Muslims saw this occupation primarily as a military/political challenge and reacted accordingly. They attempted to achieve military parity with the West through adopting modern weapons and methods. Consequently, we witness the drive to modernize the Egyptian military, initiated by Muhammad Ali, in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat at the hands of Napoleon in the first decade of the 19th century. After two disastrous wars with Russia in 1813 and 1823, Iran embarked on a military modernization campaign. The Tanzimat Reforms (1839-76) in the Ottoman Empire also focused on military modernization to counter the increasing gains being made by the West in Eastern Europe. Military recovery, reform, and strength were seen by a vast majority of Muslims as the primary vehicle that would lead to societal regeneration, up till the last decades of the 19th century.

    Towards the end of the 19th century, a more sophisticated view linking the socio-political backwardness of Muslim societies to the existing institutions began to be articulated by influential Muslim thinkers. The exponents of this view argued that the superiority of the West was rooted in its socio-political institutions and principles, not in its military strength. Therefore, they argued, the Muslims had to adopt Western principles and institutions if they were to have any hope of escaping from their backwardness. It is at this juncture that the intellectual encounter between the modern West and Islam began, thus providing us with the starting point of our analysis.

    The realization that military superiority was only the most obvious manifestation of strength rooted in ideas and institutions inevitably led at least some Muslims to start to grapple with Western ideas and institutions. This encounter on the intellectual level was to profoundly change the character of Muslim society during the 20th century. It is well known that a Westernized ruling elite soon emerged in the Muslim world, whose attitude towards the metaphysics and transcendental themes in Islam hardly differed from the attitude of their Western teachers towards Christian metaphysics and transcendental themes. But the reaction of this segment of Muslim society to the Western intellectual challenge is not of pressing concern to us, because they totally disregarded any reference to an Islamic framework in the course of their interaction with Western thought. Of more pressing concern to us are the attempts consciously designed to keep Islamic teachings meaningful in the face of the Western onslaught. It will be shown in the following analysis that even this “religious” response to the Western challenge has been profoundly shaped by Western ideas. All Muslim thinkers who formulated a religious response to the West acknowledged the fact that a balanced attitude towards metaphysical and spiritual concerns on the one hand and worldly concerns on the other is a defining characteristic of Islamic teachings. According to them, Islam contains the prescription for both worldly (i.e., material) success and salvation in the hereafter (i.e., spiritual bliss). But a careful scrutiny of this religious response reveals that their emphasis on the prescription for worldly success offered by Islam is so pronounced in modern Islamic thought, and reference to the metaphysical and spiritual dimension of Islam so paltry and insignificant, that any talk of a “balance” between the two is rendered meaningless. 


     The modern West is shaped by three fundamental concepts that emerged during the 17th and 18th centuries, and evolved and matured in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    *Scientism as Epistemology: Scientism is the belief that scientific methods and instruments alone are capable of providing an accurate description of Truth and Reality. A corollary to this is the belief that technology and “scientific” planning can solve all the problems which afflict individuals as well as society at large. Modern Western epistemology is based on scientism.

    *Secularism as Sociology: Secularism is the belief that religion has no role to play in the public/collective affairs of society and should remain the private affair of the individual believer. The exclusive claim to legislative and territorial sovereignty on the part of the modern nation-state is the starting point as well as the most pronounced evidence of secularism. Secularism is the foundation of modern Western sociology.

    *Capitalism as Ideology: The underlying assertion on which capitalist theory is based is that the interests of the society as a whole are best served if each individual is afforded the maximum opportunity to pursue his own self-defined selfish interests. The role of the state is limited to assuring the smooth working of the free-market, not being a hindrance in the process of its expansion. The modern West justifies its actions to itself and to others almost totally within the context of the capitalist logic, thus making capitalism the ideology of the modern West.

    The combined effects of scientism, secularism, and capitalism have led to the death of transcendence and metaphysics in the modern West. This is evidenced by the loss of faith in anything that lies beyond the visible material universe, and which therefore cannot be measured by scientific instruments. This is the defining characteristic that distinguishes the modern West from all pre-modern societies.  


     1. Quoted by Marshall Berman in All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (NY: Penguin Books, 1988) pp.24f.

    2. Appleyard, B., Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Man (New York: Anchor Books, 1993) p.111.
    3. Quoted by Appleyard in ibid, pp.3f.
    4. These claims are being made by such prominent scientists as Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, and to some extent Roger Penrose.
    5. Fukuyama, F., The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992) p.81.
    6. Roberts, J.M., The History of the World (New York: Macmillan Press, 1991) p.480.
    7. Appleyard, op. cit., p.93
    8. Freud, S., “The Future of an Illusion” in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud edited by James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1961) vol. xxi, p.38.
    9. Giddens, A., The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, California: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990) p.62.
    10. Ibid., p.57
    11. Ibid., p.72
    12. Ibid., p.57
    13. Havel, V., “Vaclav Havel´s New Year Address” in Orbis, Spring 1990, p.255.
    14. Smith, H., Beyond the Post-Modern Mind (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 62f.
    15. Ibid., p. 72.
    16. Quoted by M. Muggeridge in The End of Christendom (London: Scribner Press, 1978) p.12.
    17. Quoted by Appleyard in op cit. pg. 15.
    18. Whitehead, A. N., Science and the Modern World (New York: Mentor Books, 1964) p. 131.
    19. Armstrong, K., A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991) p. 301.
    20. Ibid., p.315.
    21. Appleyard, op. cit., pp. 64f.
    22. Hannah Arendt quoted by Huston Smith “Can Modernity Accommodate Transcendence” in Modernity and Religion, ed. William Nichols (Canada: Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion, 1987) p. 162.
    23. Quoted by Appleyard in op cit., p.78.
    24. Guenon, R., East and West (London: Luzac and Co. Publishers, 1941) p.241.
    25. Lyotard, J.F., The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minnesota: The Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984) p.5.
    26. Marcuse, H., One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991) p.172.
    27. Ibid.

  • Dying, End of Life and Death in Islam Open or Close
    By Imam Mustapha Elturk

    Death is a subject that people often avoid to talk about, much less remember it. The Quran alludes to death at various places. A verse from chapter three called the Family of Imran (Aal ‘Imran) reads, “Every soul shall taste death and you will be paid in full only on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is kept away from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have triumphed. The present world is only an illusory pleasure” (Quran, 3:185).

    What is life? Philosophers and thinkers have always been grappling with this question. Rather than discussing their speculative thoughts, it is best to know what God Himself says about life. “Bear in mind that the present life is just a game, a diversion, an attraction, a cause of boasting among you, of rivalry in wealth and children” (Quran, 57:20). This is generally, the reality of man’s perception about this worldly life, whether that person is a Muslim, a follower of another faith tradition, an agnostic, or even an atheist. 

    Even though death is something certain and inevitable, yet people tend to live as if they are going to live forever and not die. Death knows no age. Very often people die in the prime of their youth. It happens that sometimes the father has to bury his son. I had to do this. My son died at the young age of 33. The term of one’s life or appointed time is predetermined before birth and this is known only to God. “If God took people to task for the evil they do, He would not leave one living creature on earth, but He reprieves them until an appointed time: when their time comes they cannot delay it for a moment nor can they bring it forward” (Quran, 16:61). This mystery of life and death is not without purpose. Life of this world is a test from God. “Every soul is certain to taste death: We test you all through the bad and the good, and to Us you will all return” (Quran, 21:35).

    In this worldly life, people will be constantly put to all types of tests. Believers are urged to be patient while facing trials and tribulations. “O you who believe, seek help through patience and prayer, for God is with the patient” (Quran, 2:153). “We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But, give good news to those who are patient” (Quran, 2:155). When inflicted with illness, believers do not complain but resign themselves to God’s will. They remain patient in face of adversities knowing that they belong to God and to Him they will return. “Those who, when inflicted with a calamity say, ´We belong to God and to Him we will return.’ Those are the people who will have blessings and mercy from their Lord; they are the ones who are guided” (Quran, 2:156,157).

    What is the reality of death? When it occurs, the spirit (ruh) leaves the body. We learn through prophetic traditions that a good soul comes out of the body with ease, while an evil soul, which resists leaving the body is taken out harshly by the angel of death. The two types of souls are accordingly honored and dishonored in their respective journeys to the heavenly dimensions and back to the grave when they are questioned. “Say O Prophet, ´The Angel of Death, who has been given charge of you, will take you back and then you will be sent back to your Lord’” (Quran, 32:11).

    Some die suddenly while others may go through pain and suffering before they die. According to prophetic traditions, sickness is a source of mercy and a chance for forgiveness. In one saying Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him, pbuh) says, “For every misfortune, illness, anxiety, grief or hurt that afflicts a believer – even the hurt caused by the pricking of a thorn – God wipes off his sins and his sins fall away from him as leaves fall from a tree.” The Prophet (pbuh) informed us that, “If a servant of God falls sick or goes on a journey, he (continues) to be rewarded for the good deeds that he used to do when he was healthy or at home. This is God’s gift to the believer.

    Visiting the sick by close relatives and friends is not only highly encouraged, on the contrary, it is an obligation because it gives the patient the desperately and much needed moral support. In this regards, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “A caller from heaven calls out to the person who visits a sick person, ‘You are good and your path is good. May you enter your residence in Paradise.’” He also mentioned, “When a Muslim visits the sick in the morning, seventy thousand angels pray for him, and they continue praying for him until the evening. When one visits the sick in the evening, the angels pray for him and continue to pray for him until the next morning. Moreover, he will be rewarded with the choicest fruits of Paradise.”

    Visitors should pray for the recovery and health of the patient. The Prophet (pbuh) instructed, “When you visit a sick person, give him hope for a long life. This will not avert anything, but will please the patient and give him comfort.” When the Prophet visited patients, he used to say to them, “Do not worry! It is a means of cleansing (you) of sins, God-willing.” Unless desired by the patient, it is preferred to shorten the visits and to make them less frequent, lest they should become burdensome for the patient.

    One may supplicate for the sick person the way the Prophet (pbuh) did, “O God, The Sustainer of mankind! Remove the illness, cure the disease. You are the One who cures. There is no cure except Your cure. Grant (us) a cure that leaves no trace of illness.” One may supplicate using his or her own words in any language he or she speaks.

    A patient who is going through severe pain and his days may be numbered is prohibited to wish for death. When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) found his ailing uncle wishing for death, he said, “O Abbas! O uncle of God’s messenger! Do not wish for death. If you do good and live long, your good deeds will multiply. Then that is better for you. If you are not well and your death is delayed, you may seek God’s forgiveness. That is better for you. So do not wish for death.”

    Visiting someone who is on his deathbed is highly desirable. The Prophet said, “When you visit someone who is ill or is dying, say good things about him (or her). Indeed, the angels says “amen” to whatever you utter.” It is highly desired to have the patient or someone on his/her behalf or on behalf of a dying patient to do as much good deeds as possible. It makes the person dies on a state of goodness.

    People will have to eventually expire. Man takes nothing with him in his grave. We learn through a prophetic saying, “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: perpetual charity (Sadaqah Jariyah), knowledge which is beneficial; or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (the deceased).” Such admonitions remind us that we should hasten in doing good deeds lest our time is up and our book of deeds gets closed forever.

    Being the most certain reality, a conscious believer prepares himself here in this world for the eternal and perpetual blissful life of the hereafter. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in one of his sayings said, “Clever is the one who controls his passions and prepares for life after death.”

    End of Life Situations

    In medical and health institutions, end of life care refers to health care of patients who are on their last breaths or terminally ill with no cure available to them such as cancer or brain-dead patients. Once it is determined that the patient’s disease can no longer be controlled and is medically incurable the health care team will make sure that the patient is comfortable and is receiving the proper medications and treatments to control pain and other symptoms. Some patients may be treated in hospitals while others may be treated at hospice or home.

    The patient (cancer patients) and family members should discuss their concerns of end of life with the health care team. The health care team will assist and address to the best of their abilities the patient’s and his/her family’s medical, psychological and spiritual concerns through experts in each field.

    The often asked question that usually arises from patients and family members is, “How long is he or she going to live?” Doctors usually give their educated guess based on their knowledge and experience. Some doctors for fear of instilling false hopes refrain from answering. However, no one really knows for how long a person is going to live. At times doctors are surprised at how much a patient’s belief in some supernatural power affects the patient’s duration of life. Only God knows when a person is going to expire.

    By law doctors and health care team are not allowed to make decisions on behalf of the patient or his/her family. They will, on the other hand, answer every question the patient or the family of the patient may have. They will be informed of all factors including but not limited to medical, technical, economic as well as bioethics in order for the patient and his/her family make the right decision. Ultimately, it is the patient and his/her family who decide about the end of life treatment or the removal of the life support equipment.

    It must be understood that, as long as the heart is beating and the brain is functioning any decision taken to end one’s life because of pain, suffering or other reasons is un-Islamic and is considered as suicide which is a forbidden act in Islam. This practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering is called euthanasia. Muslims believe that all human life is sacred and only God determines its life-span. “Do not take life, which God made sacred except in the course of justice” (Quran, 17:33). Only God decides how long each of us will live. “When their time comes, they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they prolong it by a single hour” (Quran, 16:61).

    End of Life Decisions

    One of the most commonly asked questions is, “What must one do if the patient is in coma and/or is brain-dead (i.e. vegetative-state), while his/her heart is still beating?”

    There is a difference of opinion among Muslim scholars regarding what determines death. Is brain-dead a criterion for death? Secular institutions may agree that it is. Doctors may pronounce a person who is brain-dead as dead even though his/her heart is still beating. This is contrary to the common belief that when the heart stop or the lungs cease to function one is pronounced dead.

    With the advancements in medical technology and scientific research, scholars and clergy among others from many faiths traditions are debating these new phenomena and exerting their efforts to come up with conclusions that are satisfactory and in accordance to one’s beliefs. And with stem-cell research and medical technology advancements, decisions are becoming more complex and harder to arrive at.
    The following excerpt from an article published on BBC website entitled, End of Life and DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order, may help you and those involved in deciding on end of life situation,

    “… the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics states "it is futile to diligently keep the patient in a vegetative state by heroic means... It is the process of life that the doctor aims to maintain and not the process of dying". This means doctors can stop trying to prolong life in cases where there is no hope of a cure.
    According to the Islamic Medical Association of America (IMANA) "When death becomes inevitable, as determined by physicians taking care of terminally ill patients, the patient should be allowed to die without unnecessary procedures."
    IMANA say that turning off life support for patients deemed to be in a persistent vegetative state is permissible. This is because they consider all mechanical life support procedures as temporary measures.
    While turning off a life-support is allowed, hastening death with the use of certain pain-killing drugs is not allowed as this would equate to euthanasia.” 1

    According to many scholars of Islam and schools of thought, it is pointless to keep the patient in a vegetative state by whatever means available. At this stage, where the patient is in a vegetative state (i.e. unable to make a decision on his/her own), the family of the patient will have to decide on his/her behalf.

    The family is urged to contact and consult with Islamic bioethics experts before making decisions. Such professionals may include but not limited to, Muslim physicians and professional organizations, Muslim Jurists, Imams, Muslim chaplains, or perhaps Muslim lawyers when necessary.

    One thing that must be kept in mind is, according to Muslim Jurists, life-saving equipment cannot be turned off unless the physicians are certain about the inevitability of death.2

    In the case of brain death, the jurists ruled that if three attending physicians attest to a totally damaged brain that results in an unresponsive coma, apnoea, and absent cephalic reflexes, and if the patient can be kept alive only by a respirator, then the person is biologically dead, although legal death can be attested only when the breathing stops completely after the turning off of life-saving equipment. 3


    The human life is a divine trust and cannot be terminated at one’s own will. It is possible through consultation with health care providers, attending physicians, Muslim jurists, among others to judiciously make an end of life decision. Health care providers must do everything they can to preserve life and avoid premature death. In some cases the removal of life-sustaining equipment or treatment is considered as allowing death to take its natural course. Death does not happen without the express permission of God. Everyone will have to face death. It is the supreme true reality.

    Tips on what should a dying patient and family members do as well as after death.

    What Should a Dying Patient and Family Members do?

    The following are the most essential things a dying person may do while on deathbed:

    1. Repentance: The time of death is a time of repentance. The Prophet of God, Muhammad (pbuh) informed us that God accepts His servants’ repentance anytime even minutes before one is overtaken by death, as long as the spirit does not reach the throat. One must turn to God with utmost sincerity and beg for forgiveness.
    2. Charity: In addition to asking God to forgive one past sins, one must give in charity, for charity expiates sins. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reminds us, “Charity extinguishes sinful deeds just as water extinguishes fire.”
    3. Supplication: The best way to depart from this world is the way Joseph (Yusuf, pbuh) did. He supplicated, “[O God] You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Let me die as one who has surrendered to You and join me with the righteous” (Quran, 12:101).
    4. Declare the shahadah (Testimony of faith): The dying person who is going through the agony of death and is able to speak is advised to recite the shahadah, or the declaration of faith, “I bear witness that there is no god except Allah (God) and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah (God.)” A dying person who can hardly speak may be assisted by someone to frequently say, “La ilaha illal-lah” there is no god but Allah (God). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reminds us, “He whose last words are: La ilaha illal-lah, enters Paradise.” This method is called talqeen. The Prophet (pbuh) advised, “Prompt your dying people to say, ‘Lailaha illal-lah’.”
    5. Pray for the dying person: Relatives among other visitors prays for the departing soul. They supplicate, “O Allah (God)! Forgive him/her, have mercy on him/her, and cause him/her to enter Your Paradise. Indeed, You are the accepter of prayers.”
    6. Recite surah Ya Seen (chapter 36 of the Quran ): The Prophet (pbuh) informed the believers, “Ya Seen is the heart of the Quran. Whoever recites it seeking the pleasure of God and the hereafter will receive God's forgiveness. So recite it to your dying person.” He also said, “If any person is on his deathbed and Ya Seen is recited to him, God makes his suffering easier.” This can be done by immediate family members. If they are unable to recite it in Arabic, they may ask someone close to the deceased who can, otherwise one may ask a Muslim Chaplain or an Imam.
    7. Will and Testament: Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) instructed the believers, “It is not permissible for any Muslim, who has something to bequeath, to stay for two nights without having his last will and testament written and kept ready with him.” Family members should urge the dying person to prepare a written will and testament if he/she hasn’t done so already. Civil courts will not divide the inheritance of the deceased among the heirs according to Islamic guidelines. Civil courts, however, will honor wills that are prepared according to Islamic guidelines. The court will not interfere in the deceased’s decision regarding the distribution of his/her wealth or property as long as it is specified in the will. It is best and fair for the beneficiaries to divide the shares according to the divine law of inheritance. For assistance and guidance in this matter one may contact a Muslim Chaplain or an Imam of an Islamic Center or Mosque.
    8. Allowable Charity: According to the established prophetic tradition, the departing soul may not exceed one-third of his/her property to be given to charitable causes. He/she may assign certain percentage of the one-third amount to different charitable organizations or individuals. This should be included in the will and testament.
    9. Debts: It is the duty of family members to ensure that the dying person is debt free. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “A believer's soul remains in suspense until all his debts are paid off.” The debt should be paid out of the property that he/she leaves behind. While elaborating on the subject the Prophet (pbuh) said, “If anyone takes other people's money with the intention to repay it and then he or she should die without settling the debt (unable to pay it), God will pay the debt on his behalf. And if anyone takes money or property (of others) with the intention of destroying it (intending not to pay), God will destroy him.” Death by itself does not annul one's debt or other responsibilities to the living. The survivors may pay the debt of their deceased from their own pocket and if they are poor the debt may be paid from the public out of the zakah (compulsory charity) funds specified as the portion for the people in debt. This is one of the prescribed categories of zakah recipients.
    10. Forgiveness: If the dying person wronged anyone, he/she must ask for their forgiveness before departing this world, otherwise those who were wronged will demand justice on the Day of Judgment and the dying person may be setting himself up for disaster.
    What Should be Done when a Loved One Dies?

    The following are the specific Islamic rites honoring the deceased:

    1. Closing the eyes of the deceased: The Prophet (pbuh) said, “When a soul is seized, the eyesight follows it.”
    2. Covering the deceased: Covering the deceased is a way of respecting and preserving the dignity of the deceased.
    3. Donation of organs: Donate any organ or part of the body only if the deceased requested in his/her will and testament or is registered as a donor. Family members have no rights to donate organs or part of the body without the prior consent of the deceased.
    4. Arrangements for burial: Family members may contact any Islamic funeral director in the area to handle the burial procedures including the funeral prayer and prepare for burial without delay.
    5. Informing relatives and friends: It is desirable to inform relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers of the deceased about his or her death so that they may share in the reward of participating in the funeral prayer.
    6. Washing the body: The guardian of the deceased should wash, wrap and arrange for the funeral prayer prior to burial. The funeral director may assist in case the guardian is unable to do so.
    7. Funeral prayer: The funeral prayer or salat al-Janazah is a collective duty upon the Muslim community. The funeral prayer may be performed at a mosque or any public community hall. The prayer is led by a local Imam or preferably by the male guardian, son or any person the deceased may have designated.
    8. Burial: It is recommended to bury the deceased in the town where he or she dies. The deceased is to be buried in a Muslim cemetery unless one is unable to locate one. If circumstances allow, the deceased is placed in the grave on his/her right side facing the direction of Mecca (qibla) where one directs his or her face in the daily prayers. After the grave is covered with dirt, an Imam, a Muslim chaplain, or a recognized pious person may lead the crowd in supplications (dua).
    9. Weeping over the deceased: Weeping over the deceased is permissible while wailing and shouting phrases, beating of chest and cheeks, tearing hair and clothes among other things are prohibited. The Prophet wept over his son Ibrahim (Abraham) at his death saying, “The eyes shed tears and the heart feels pain, but we utter only what pleases the Lord. O Ibrahim! We are aggrieved at your demise.”
    10. Mourning: It is generally accepted among the schools of thought that it is permissible for loved ones and relatives to mourn for a period of three days on the death of a near relative. During such period the family of the deceased mourn, receive visitors and condolences. The mourning period for a widow, on the other hand, is extended to four months and ten days. This waiting period is called the iddah and it is mandated by God as it appears in the Quran. To learn more about mourning check with a local Imam or a Muslim chaplain.
    11. Execution of the will: The family of the deceased may if necessary consult a lawyer, preferably a Muslim lawyer, that understands the Islamic inheritance laws and help in the execution of the deceased’s will and testament.
    12. Visiting the grave: Family members are requested to frequently visit the grave of the deceased and pray for him or her.
    13. Praying for the deceased: Loved ones and dear friends of the deceased are requested to frequently pray to God to save the deceased from the torment of the grave and the difficulties of the hereafter.



    2 End-of-life: the Islamic view, Abdulaziz Sachedina

    3 ibid

  • Ethical Virtue in the Qur’anic Perspective Open or Close

     Absar Ahmad

    ‘Birr´ or Righteousness
    "Birr" or Personal Centredness of a Person
    Benevolence The Foremost Moral Virtue
    A Whole Life-Pattern
    Epilogue: Contemporary Scene

    In this paper I intend to discuss briefly and schematically the question of moral virtue or righteousness with special reference to the words Birr and Saleh as the key ethical terms used in the Quran. It would, however, be helpful first to make a few general observations regarding the Quranic approach to human life and the importance of his moral endeavour.

    (a) Islam, as every unbiased student of history knows, wrought an epoch-making and the most wonderful transformation in the laws of thought, principles of life and criterion of values of mankind. This much needed and most welcome revolution was based upon those fundamental principles which are, in reality, the raison d´etre of Islam itself, viz., God-consciousness, sense of human dignity and the moral principle of human equality.

    (b) Atheistic ideologies and humanistic ethics believe in the possibility of a progressive moral improvement of mankind, in the collective sense, by means of their practical achievements and the development of scientific thought. The Islamic viewpoint is, however, diametrically opposed to this conception of human evolution. Islam has never accepted, as the secular utilitarian/pragmatic philosophies do, that the human nature in its general supersensible sense is undergoing process of progressive change in a similar way as a tree grows: because the basis of that nature, the human soul, is not a biological entity. Ethical matters, accordingly, are part of an ontology and not part of a sociology or ‘social engineering´.

    (c) Islam, being based on transcendental conceptions, regards the existence of a soul as a reality beyond any discussion. Though certainly not opposed to each other, material and spiritual progress are, according to the Quran, two distinctly different aspects of human life. They may exist side by side, and again they may not. While clearly admitting the possibility, and even desirability of material progress of believers, Islam clearly denies the possibility of moral and spiritual improvement of humanity by means of its collective material achievements.

    (d) In Islam, the first and foremost goal is the inner, moral progress of man, and therefore the ethical considerations overrule the purely utilitarian. In the contemporary world the situation is unfortunately just the opposite. The consideration of material utility and physical comfort dominates all manifestations of human activity, and ethics are being relegated to an obscure background of life and condemned to merely a theoretical position without the slightest power of influencing the human community.1

    (e) Ethics constitutes an essential aspect of man´s intrinsic nature : it is part of his ontological substance. The sense of right and wrong fulfils a psychical demand emanating from a man´s inner being, just as water and air fulfil our basic needs for physical existence. The inner non-corporeal component of man the spiritual core or soul requires nourishment through gratification of its moral demands. In this sense, some conception of moral righteousness or piety is inalienable from human life. On deeper analysis it would become clear that even socially undesirable elements have a sense of righteousness and observe a code of ethics to gratify it. Pace Durkheim, a minimal sense of ethics (good, virtue) is unavoidable, and hence his notion of ‘anomie´ or a state of normlessness is a pure fiction.2

    (f) The ultimate justification of morals depends on the idea of man´s intrinsic aim, the telos for which he is created . If the aim implies something above finitude and transitoriness, the fulfilment of this aim is infinitely significant. When Plato said that the telos of man is ‘to become as much as possible similar to the God´, such a telos gives utmost depth to the moral imperative. Again, if the object of our life as a whole is the worship of God, then we necessarily must regard this life, in the totality of all its aspects, as one complex moral responsibility. Thus all our actions, even the seemingly trivial ones, must be performed as acts of worship.

    (g) Disgusted with the Buddhist or ‘Tayag´ doctrine of pessimism that this world is full of evil and consequently no good can come out of it, some thinkers have taken refuge in the opposite extreme of optimism. The Quran, on the other hand, advocates neither the one nor the other.3

    "To the optimist Browing", writes Allama Iqbal in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, "all is well with the world ; to the pessimist Schopenhauer the world is one perpetual winter wherein a blind will expresses itself in an infinite variety of living things which bemoan their emergence for a moment and then disappear for ever . . . The teaching of the Quran, which stands for the possibility of improvement in the behaviour of man and his control over natural forces, is neither pessimism nor optimism and is animated by the hope of man´s eventual victory over evil.4 Earthly life is of tremendous value; but it is of a purely instrumental value. In Islam there is no room for the materialistic optimism of the modern West which says : ‘My kingdom is of this world alone´. The Quran teaches us to pray :

    "Our Lord! give us the good in this world and the good in the Hereafter". (2 : 201)

    Thus the full appreciation of this world and its goods is in no way a handicap for our religio-moral endeavours. Material prosperity is desirable, though it is not a good in itself.

    (h) Morality, cultureand religion, according to some influential theological ethical philosophers who agree with the Quranic approach, are the three functions of the human spirit.5 None of these functions of the spirit ever appears in isolation from the other two. The moral imperative, in so far as it has an unconditional and self-transcending character, assumes a religious dimension. A decision or action is moral only when it spring from the ‘pure ought to be´ of the moral imperative. In this way not only the content but also the unconditional character of the moral imperative would have to be sanctioned by a divine command.

    (i) Islam is not only a spiritual attitude of mind or a code of sublime precepts but a self-sufficing orbit of culture and a social system of well-defined features. In fact, it is an all-embracing code of life establishing, on a systematic and positive base, the fundamental principles of morality and precisely formulating the duties of man not only towards his Creator but towards himself and towards his fellow-beings. It offers a complete coordination of the spiritual and material aspects of human life, lays down a practical code and demands a righteousness well within the realm of practicability. It does not subscribe to materialistic trends but rouses in man a consciousness of moral responsibility in everything he does. There is no sphere of life, no conscious activity of man, which may be outside the pale of Islamic morality. If it falls in line with the divine prescriptions and the ethical code, almost every temporal act is given a spiritual touch and raised to the status of worship (Ibadat), attracting rewards and the pleasure of God. Good morals in Islam are divine attributes and it is demanded of us to recreate them in ourselves as far as our humanity allows. A tradition of the Prophet says:

    "Let the virtues of God by your virtues". (al-Bukhari)

    (j) From the concept of normative or exemplary conduct there follows the concept of standard or correct conduct as a necessary complement. Righteous behaviour, in Islam, is formalized by the Prophet´s example, his ‘Sunnah´.

    In the behavioural pattern of the Prophet (peace be upon him) righteousness and virtue appears in an embodied form. An abstract passion for piety and righteousness may assume devilish form and proportion and eventually end up in something vicious and degenerate. The sense in which sunnah is a straight path without any deviation to the right or to the left also gives the meaning of a ‘mean between extremes´ or the ‘middle way´. The Prophet´s life provides perfect answers to the questions : ‘What are the undesirable extremes in human dispositions?´ and ‘What is the golden mean that secures the highest good attainable?´

    ‘Birr´ or Righteousness

    Among all the ethical terms used in the Quran such as ‘Ihsan´, ‘Sidq´, ‘Adl´, ‘Khair´, ‘Ma´ruf´, the most comprehensive and perhaps the most representative of an ideal moral action is the term Birr, which will be discussed here not so much in its semantic meaning but in its broader sense in which it is used in the Quran as the definition of ethical virtue and moral righteousness. Let me quote the English translation of the verse 177 of Surah al-Baqarah in which this is explicated at length :

    "It is not righteousness (Birr) that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is he who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him, to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and sets slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the alms (Zakat) ; and those who honour or fulfil their contracts when they make a contract, and remain patient in distress and affliction and in the time of panic and conflict. These are they who are truthful and these are they who are God-fearing".

    In the first part of this verse a particular view of moral rectitude and righteousness has been negated, that of pure formalism and ritualism. Some devoutly religious persons exhibit this attitude when they assign utmost importance to outward appearance of moral and religious observances to the total neglect of their inner spirit and meaning. Quite understandably many people, as a reaction to the ritualistic soulless moralism of religious people, turn to secular ethics. Islam, on the other hand, always warns against superficial concepts and rituals, against lifeless formalities and non-effective beliefs.

    The concept of morality in Islam centres around certain basic metaphysical beliefs and principles. Among these are the following :

    1. God is the creator and Source of all goodness, truth and beauty.

    2. Man is a responsible, dignified, and honorable agent of his Creator.

    3. By His Mercy and Wisdom, God does not expect the impossible from man or hold him accountable for anything beyond his power. Nor does God forbid man to enjoy the good things of life.

    4. Moderation, practicality, and balance are the guarantees of high integrity and sound morality.

    5. Man´s ultimate responsibility is to God and his highest goal is the pleasure of his Creator.

    The dimensions of moral righteousness in Islam are numerous, far reaching and comprehensive. The Islamic morals deal with the relationship between man and God, man and his fellow-men, man and other elements and creatures of the universe, man and his innermost self. A Muslim has to guard his external behaviour and his manifest deeds, his words and his thoughts, his feelings and intentions. In a general sense, his role is to champion what is right and fight what is wrong, seek what is true and abandon what is false, cherish what is beautiful and wholesome and avoid what is indecent. Truth and moral virtue are his goal. Humility and simplicity, courtesy and compassion, are his second nature. To him, arrogance and vanity, harshness and indifference, are distateful, offensive, and displeasing to God.6

    In the verse quoted above there is a comprehensive and clear description of the righteous man. He should obey all the salutary regulations, and should make his sincere motive the love of God and the love of his fellow man for the sake of God. Here we have four elements of righteousness : (a) One´s faith should be true and sincere, (b) one should be prepared to show it in deeds of charity and kindness to fellow men, (c) one must be a good citizen by supporting charitable institutions and social organizations, and (d) one must be steadfast and unshakeable in all circumstances. It is clear, therefore, that righteousness is not merely a matter of void utterances, it must be found on strong Faith and constant practice. It must cover the person´s thinking and action and extend to his inside and outside life, to his individual and social affairs. When the Islamic principle of righteousness is established, it provides the individual with peace in all circumstances, the society with security on all levels, the nation with solidarity, and the international community with hope and harmony. How peaceful and enjoyable life can be when people implement the Islamic concept of righteousness!

    According to the latest researches of psychologists, human moral character is a system of such beliefs and convictions that guide the actions of an individual and distinguish him from other.7 Actions are caused by motives. The sources of motives are thoughts and beliefs which a man acquires from the experiences of his life, his education and other sources as well. The knowledge provided by the Quran or "scientia intuitiva" is the certain knowledge that there is no object worthy of adoration or Ideal to be pursued save God. The believer turns to God as his only point of reference and approaches Him in joy or sorrow, hope or fear. A true Muslim´s faith in God is not merely a matter of verbal profession, he must realise the Presence and Goodness of God. When he does so the scale fall from his eyes; all the falsities and glittering nature of the material existence case to enslave him: he sees God´s working in His world and in himself. Once a man is emancipated from everything but God, he arrives at a stage of development where he feels perfect repose. He finds his Lord as all loving and all merciful. He sees God´s wisdom at work everywhere and becomes his instrument of action in every sphere of life. Inspired by the idea that God is sufficient unto him, he moves to action. Freed as he is from fear, he ventures on every virtuous action and meets with success. The energising words of the Quran which declare that the entire heavens and earth are made subservient to him ring in his ears and encourage him. Egotism, lust and greed touch him not, and he moves forward by the dynamic force of the Quranic message of peace, equality and fraternity.

    "Birr" or Personal Centredness of a Person

    The Term ‘Birr´ ( ) is derived from the root ( ) which means Godliness, righteousness, probity, kindness, charitable gift. The semantic constitution of this term seems to be similar to that of ‘salih´ which I shall discuss in the later part of this study. A very important clue to the subtle meaning of this word is provided by concentrating on another meaning of this word and contrasting it with its opposite, viz., land or ground and ocean. In this sense these locutions are also used in Urdu : ‘barr´ and ‘bahar´.8 It is common knowledge that when a person sets his feet on shore after a long sailing in rough seas he feels a great relief. He is never sure of his safety in the ocean, but he feels sure-footed and comfortable when he has landed on the ground. This very sense of righteousness (or charity) has been beautifully conveyed thus by the Prophet´s saying:

    "Give up whatever pricks your heart". (al-Bukhari)

    The moral act as the self-actualization of the centred self or the constitution of a person as a person, has analogies in the living beings. The analogy to the diminution or loss of centredness is the psychosomatic phenomena of disease. The analogy between the antimoral act and bodily disease is in many cases more than analogy. The Quran also employs this and calls an immoral act the symptom of a diseased and morbid heart. In other words, the process of self-integration are continuously combated by movements towards disintegration. This means that the moral act is always a victory over disintegrating forces and that its aim is the actualization of man as a centred, composed and healthy person.

    In Islam, man by nature (i.e., fitrah) has an awareness of the universally valid moral norms. To every man this awareness is potentially given, even though actually distorted by culture, education, and his existential estrangement from his true being. The Divine law is creatively present both in the laws of nature and in the natural moral laws of the human mind. A man who performs morally vicious actions, feels a consciousness of estrangement from, and contradiction of, his essential being. According to the Quran, the original nature of man is essentially good. Contrary to the Christian idea that man is born sinful, or the teachnigs of Hinduism that he is originally low and impure, the Islamic teachings contend that man is born pure and in the best of mould. The Quran says:

    "Surely We created man in the best structure" but in the same breath the verse continues:

    "..... and afterwards We reduced him to the lowest of low: with the exception of those who have faith and do good works," (106:4)

    Thus, according to the Quran, evil never is essential or even original; it is a later acquisition and is due to a misuse of the innate, positive qualities with which God has endowed every human being. The moral law, as distinguished from the political law, is surely a law that our own moral consciousness our own conscience, and not any other factor, should make us incline to obey. It should form the behest of our higher self. Yet moral law should not be accepted as merelyself-imposed, because the self can also dispense with it even as it can impose. Consequently it should be combined with the element of absolute authority, and such an authority can only be the authority of God. For the Muslim, the intermediary between man and God is righteousness. And Islamic Sharia is the supreme expression of that righteousness. Being of divine origin should not be taken to mean, according to the Quranic teaching, that the Divine Law is foreign to the nature of man and is merely thrusted from outside on him by God to be obeyed. Rather, it is simultaneously the ‘Divine Law´ as well as the ‘Law of ideal Human Nature´ and constitutes therefore the very behest of the higher human self.

    The identity of the ‘Divine Law´ and the ‘Law of the ideal Human Nature´ has been explicitly proclaimed thus in the Quran:

    "So set thy purpose for religion as by nature9 upright the nature (framed) of Allah in which He hath created the human beings.10 There is no altering the laws of Allah´s creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not".11 (30: 30)

    Here it should be noted that the ‘ideal nature´ is the same, and has been always the same, in all human beings, of whatever race or tribe or country. This is implied in the fact that Divine Law relating to the ‘ideal nature´ has been revealed to all the communities of the world at one or the other period of human history. As a matter of historical fact, it is confirmed by the observation that basic moral concepts have been the same in different civilisations and different ages their apparent differences consisting basically in the imperfect understanding of those concepts, or in their application to concrete problems of life.

    Benevolence The Foremost Moral Virtue

    We must clearly appreciate the true connotation of the word birr or righteousness in the light of the above quoted Quranic verse. A righteous or moral person, accordingly, is not one who offers suprarogatory prayers or engages in sufi practices or meditation. Rather, a righteous person is one who is benevolent and compassionate to others. An inconsiderate, cruel and miser person thus cannot be a morally virtuous man. The natural outcome of faith and belief in the unity of God is the love of creation.12 The essence of Islam is to serve Allah and do good to one´s fellow creatures. This is wider and mere comprehensive then ‘Love God and love your neighbour´. For it includes duties even to animals as our fellow creatures, and emphasizes practical service rather than more sentiment. Kindness and humane treatment of those who are dependent on us, love to our neighbours and children are essential according to the Quranic moral law. It is this element of loving-kindness which helps sustain the poor and unfortunate sections of society at par with the rich. It is this moral provision which cuts at the root of class struggle. The poor members of the society and one´s relations have a natural right of protection and support, so that mere lack of opportunity may not ruin their general welfare. In order to emphasise the importance of benevolence and kindness in the moral life, Quran projects them into the very being of God. "Be good to others as God is good to you" (28:77). God, according to the Quran, is just, merciful and kind. It is this benevolence or ‘ihsan´ which helps to bring about greater cohesion, greater harmony, and greater cooperation among members of a society.

    Practical deeds of charity are of value when they proceed from the love of God and from no other motive. In this respect also we must stick to the logical order mentioned very elaborately in the above quoted ayah ‘Birr´: our kith and kin; orphans (including any persons who are without support or help); people who are in real need but who never ask (it is our duty to fined them out, and they come before those who ask); the stranger, who is entitled by laws of hospitality; the people who ask and are entitled to ask, i.e., not merely lazybeggars, but those who seek our assistance in dire necessity in some form or another, (it is our duty to respond to them); and the slaves, (we must do all we can to give or buy their freedom). Moreover, charity and piety in individual capacity do not complete the moral obligation. Both in prayer and charity, we must look to our organised efforts as well. Where there is a Muslim state, these are made through the state, facilities for public assistance, and for the maintenance of contracts and fair dealings in all matters. Indeed, according to the Quran, actual generosity and compassion is a duty to others. But the cultivation and maintenance of the spirit and the attitude of generosity is a duty towards self because of the purity and enrichment that it acquires thereby. It is this spirit and this attitude that have been emphasised together with actual benevolence in the above quoted verse.

    A Whole Life-Pattern

    A very important truth that one gets from a perusal of the above ‘Ayah Birr´ is that the Quranic definition of moral righteousness and virtue depicts a whole life-pattern that may not be reduced or adulterated. According to the Quran, moral behaviour is essentially a function of the total human person or spirit. And by ‘spirit´ the reference is here to the dynamic unity of body and mind, of vitality and rationality, of the emotional and the intellectual. In every function of the human spirit the whole person is involved, and not merely one part or one element. All elements of man´s being participate in every moral decision and action. In this sense righteousness admits of no division: it is an expression of the total personality of a man. This becomes clear when we concentrate on the first part of the verse in which moral worth or value has been negated in respect of a particular type of action performed ritualistically. Whereas the positive declaration starts with the words ‘righteous is he .......´ or ‘righteousness is of that person .......´

    Matter (or desire) is not an antidivine principle from which the soul has to be liberated. Islam leads man towards a consciousness of moral responsibility in everything he does, whether great or small. The well-known injunction of the Gospel: ‘Give Caesar that what belongs to Caesar, and give God that what belongs to God´ has no room in the ethical structure of Islam, because Islam does not allow a differentiation between the ‘moral´ and ‘practical´ requirements of our existence. Hence the intense insistence on action as an indispensable element of morality. Moral knowledge, according to the teachings of the Quran, automatically forces a moral responsibility upon a man. A mere Platonic discernment between right and wrong, without the urge to promote the right and to destroy the wrong, is a gross immorality in itself.

    Moral righteousness, according to the Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet, is an organic whole. Every single element of it appears living and meaningful when intact with the basic underlying grid, the life impulse of ‘iman´. When we take out a part, we negate and nullify the entire edifice of righteousness. To pass a moral judgment on a man, we shall have to take into account his total behaviour, character and beliefs, not just a few discrete actions.

    The Quran places equal emphasis on the sensate and the transcendental yearnings of man, and harmonises them; and thus it lays down for humanity a comprehensive Ideal which consists in the cultivation of: (i) Piety based on a dynamic, vibrant and living faith in God, an earnest and courageous pursuit of Truth, and an ever-present consciousness of Final Accountability; (ii) sound and comprehensive Morality; (iii) social, economic and political Justice; and, finally, Knowledge in all its dimensions, all of these resulting in the conquest of harmful and vicious propensities within the individual, the conquest of evil within the society, and the conquest of the treasures of physical environment or Nature. In the pursuit of this Ideal, moral virtue, love for humanity, truth, justice, beauty, discipline and progress are the watchwords, while the concept of Unity permeates the entire movement towards the Ideal.

    The range of morality in Islam is so inclusive and integrative that it combines at once faith in God, religious rites, spiritual observances, social conduct, decision making, intellectual pursuits, business transactions, habits of consumption, manners of speech, and all other aspects of human life. Because morality is such an integral part of Islam, the moral tone underlies all the passages of the Quran and the moral teachings are repeatedly stressed in various contexts throughout the Holy Book. Every Quranic moral principal is mentioned either as a single significant principle or as an element of a total system of morality, which itself is an element of a complete religious supersystem. The basic morals of the Quran are meant to help the individual to develop his personality and cultivate his character in the most wholesome manner, to strengthen his bonds and consolidate his association both with the Creator and the creatures. The Quranic ethic is not simply an abstract ideal conceived just for nominal adoration or a stagnant idol to be frequented by admirers every now and then. It represents a code of life, a living force manifest in every aspect of human life.

    Understanding the Quranic term ‘Amal Saleh´ righteous or good deeds requires deep thought and reflection. The Quran includes under this blanket term all its moral and spiritual teachings including the laws of individual and social conduct. It also makes an allusion to the fact that the secret of man´s real development and progress lies in performing these very acts. Righteous deeds alone can guarantee the growth of man´s natural capacities and potentialities on the right lines. To quote Maulana Farahi, an eminent scholar, on this point:

    "Almighty Allah has designated good and righteous deeds with the word ‘Salehat´. This term itself guides us to the great truth that the whole of man´s development and rectitude be it outward or inner, wordly or spiritual, personal or collective, bodily or intellectual depends upon good and righteous deeds. Righteous action is life-giving and a source of maturity and enhancement. By means of good deeds alone man can attain those highest stages of development to which he aspires while sticking to his true and ideal nature ...... This point can be put alternatively thus: Since man is an integral part of the total scheme of universe, only those of his deeds will be righteous which accord with the grand design on which the universe has been fashioned by its Creator".13

    These ideas can be explained philosophically thus. Man, like any other being, has environment; but in contrast to brute animals, he is not bound to it. He can transcend it, in imagination, thought and action. His encounter with any of the objects and situations surrounding him is always active and creative. Such an encounter presupposes ability to transcend and overcome both psychological inclination and outer compulsion, the ability to see the universal within the particular. The Quranic moral imperative, in this sense, is the demand to realize one´s true nature actually which he has potentially. Every act is a morally good action in which an individual self establishes itself as a true person. In this way, a moral act is not an act in obedience to an externally imposed law; it is the inner law of our true being, of our essential nature. Conversely, an antimoral act is not the transgression of one or several prescribed commands, but an act that contradicts the self-realization of the person as a person and drives towards disintegration ’fasad´ in Qur´anic usage. It disrupts and corrupts the centredness of the person by giving predominance to degenerate passions, desires and cravings. And when this happens, the self as an active being is split and the conflicting trends make it their battlefield. The ‘will´, in the sense of a self that acts from the centered totality of its being, is enslaved. Freedom is replaced by compulsion. The voice of man´s essential and true being is gradually silenced until it reaches a state of total depersonalization, described by the Quran as the state in which:

    ‘God hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they incur´. (2 : 7)

    One cannot discard the moral imperative itself without the self-destruction of one´s essential nature and one´s manifold relationships. Moreover, the Quranic word ‘amal´ too is very significant. The two locutions ‘action´ and ‘activity´ are both generally taken to convey the sense of the Arabic word ‘amal´. But there is a subtle difference in their connotation. Any kind of movement or work can be called activity, but the word action usually implies some strenuous or arduous task and it, as such, better expresses the meaning of ‘amal´. By combining the connotations of ‘Saleh´ as explained above and that of ‘amal´, we would realize that the real significance of this term is: it is necessary for man to put up a hard struggle to achieve that real goal for which he was potentially created, and he has to ascend certain heights to attain that goal. All this is conveyed by the comprehensive word ‘amal Saleh´.

    The basic and poignant concern of the Islamic faith is to point to, and overcome, the crisis of our age the crisis of man´s separation from man and of man´s separation from God. Islam recognizes that human morality and human ideals thrive only when set in a context of a transcendent attitude. A religious person commands a depth of consciousness inaccessible to the profane man. The Quran emphasizes the moral dynamic of man. Its image of man as the vicegerent of God on earth, Homo cum Deo, implies the heightest conceivable freedom, the freedom to collaborate with the very creative process. This image implies further that the intellect and conscience are capable of making genuine discrimination between good and evil. Quranic theology has dealt with the problem of the concrete moral decision in terms of the doctrine of the divine presence. The sense of "Divine Presence every-where" opens man´s eyes and ears to the moral demand implicit in the concrete situation. Tables of laws can never wholly apply to the unique situation. Belief in God, on the contrary, opens the mind to these potentialities and guides decision in a particular situation.

    The plural nominative of ‘saleh´ used in the Quran is ‘salehat´. It means good deeds. Its semantic constitution contains emphatic reference to belief in God, prayer, and good will and love for humanity. However, the practice of salihat is repeatedly joined to Faith. Thus this term connotes ‘faith expressed in outward conduct´. If we take into consideration the facts of human psychology in reference to the proper realisation of the moral ideal, we are bound to hold to the Quranic view that some desires deserve to be suppressed, some to be moderated, and some to be encouraged and enhanced, ultimately subordinating all to the spiritual yearning of obtaining Divine Pleasure, keeping the sense of duty always dynamically alive and the action entrenched in the purest motivation. In this sense, the soundness of the Quranic view is self-evident even though certain religions like Budhism, and certain great moral philosophers like Kant are opposed to it. For instance, maintaining that all desire is bad, Kant says: "The inclinations themselves being sources of want, are so far from having an absolute worth for which they should be desired, that on the contrary it must be the universal wish of every rational being to be wholly free from them".14 Schopenhauer rightly terms Kant´s view as the ‘apotheosis of lovelessness´, because in Kant´s estimation even the most unselfish acts of benevolence towards, and love for, other human beings lose all their moral worth unless inspired by pure sense of duty and unless emptied of all desire to be benevolent towards fellow-beings. According to the Quranic view, on the other hand, neither desire as such, nor the higher desires that relate to high and noble ends, are condemned. Only the desires relating to the unregulated instinctive urges, called hawa in Quranic terminology, are subjected to moral disapproval.


    In the foregoing pages I have discussed in detail the Islamic notion of ethical virtue as depicted in the two Quranic locutions Birr and Saleh. Islam identifies virtue with good works based on religious beliefs. As such, morality is an inner quality, a property of motive or intention rather of mere consequences or outward form of one´s actions. On this view, the promptings of informed reason and moral conscience represent an inherent tendency in the truly authentic nature of man, and the conformity to this nature fulfils both the cosmic plan of the Creator and the direct commands of God revealed in the Quran. The moral precepts of the Quran and scientific/psychological knowledge of the universal needs and tendencies of man, provide complementary rather than competing standards of ethical judgement. Good as fulfilment of genuine natural tendencies is subordinated to attaining God´s pleasure, or to use a philosophical expression eternal beatitude the fulfilment of the aspirations of the virtuous soul. The notion of righteousness that is the pride possession of a Muslim is the ever-present sense of moral responsibility, an inner calling that is both intimately personal and ineluctably trans-institutional.

    Epilogue: Contemporary Scene

    Barring a few exceptions, almost all writers and scholars seem to present Islamic ethics mainly in Greek or in Western-Christran categories and therefore fail miserably to lay bare the essential nature and elan of Islamic ethics. It is now widely acknowledged that traditions are embodied in languages and conceptual schemes that cannot be neatly translated into another, that traditions carve up the world of experiences in somewhat different ways. Not to speak of inter-traditional perspectives, philosophers are sometimes at cross purposes even at inter-cultural level. For example, in his influential book After Virtue15 (1981) Alasdair Maclntyre has argued that the language of contemporary ethical debate is in hopeless disorder. Lacking the firm guidance of shared agreements about moral standards, lacking even a common moral language, we argue past one another, Maclntyre claimed, hurling at our opponents uprooted fragments of once vital ethical traditions. We do not realize that our arguments and the terms we use to make them are rootless, lacking connection to traditional beliefs and stories that alone give the moral terms a life of meaning. To my mind, the conception of morality which one finds discussed in contemporary Anglo-American treatises is the most superficial and the most inexistential one. Concepts and ideas are discussed and analysed at the most exteriorized level of ordinary moral life and the same cavalier approach is reflected in the majority of studies dealing with the Islamic moral philosophy. As is borne out by naive and superficial examples of hockey game and chess playing, Modern European moral philosophy, I regret to say, concerns itself with infra-morality of the social order and totally rejects the foundational morality of the inner conscience as well as the supra-morality of mystical order and creative love. Islam indeed, on the contrary, firmly stands for their mixture and inter penetration.

    Based on the twin sources of the Holy Quran and the Prophet´s Sunnah, Islam presents a doctrinally articulated philosophy of moral virtue and the good life (al hayat al tayyiba). Islamic ethics is deeply rooted and firmly anchored in the ethos of Islam as conceived in the Quran and elaborated in the Sunnah of the Prophet. It is not just a simple system of moral philosophy; we understand nothing of its true significance if we take it for philosophical theory in the ordinary sense. In the Islamic perspective moral philosophy is not just an ethics, but a super-ethics and the aim is not merely to chart out the guiding principles of an upright human life, but in a single leap to reach the supreme end and supreme happiness, the ihsan state of perfect virtue. It is both a practical guidance for life and an itinerary of spiritual direction. The authentic Islamic moral philosophy does not remain pure moral philosophy and must enter into communication with a world of human data and aspirations more existential than that of empty and sterile philosophy isolated within itself. Moreover it lays full emphasis on the spiritual means of contact between God and man, between Higher Reality and normal day-to-day existence. In Islam faith has thus a different form of rational and different modus operandi. Moral behaviour and ethical virtue is assigned the pivotal role in the epistemology or noetic structure of Islam. Many verses of the Holy Quran, particularly of Meccan Surahs emphatically state that a morally wicked person cannot attain true knowledge. Good deeds and virtuous life have been declared the veridical signs of true and genuine religious belief and faith. An oft-quoted saying of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) totally negates iman i.e., true Islamic belief and faith, in a man who tells lies, does not keep promises, commits embezzlement, and becomes quarrelsome while in rage. These points clearly show that Islamic ethics can be appreciated in an intellectual context and atmosphere quite different from the one prevalent in contemporary Western academic world. West´s intellectual and cultural imperialism in the recent past have clearly overtaken many Muslim scholars and intellectuals and it is time that they develop a critical attitude towards it. They should have a greater and clearer perception of the truth that in the Islamic tradition ethical behaviour both cures the human soul and opens it up for metaphysical knowledge: gnosis or ima´rifa.

    As is generally known by the academia, the question of the distinction between, and relative importance of, the individual and the society has been a thorny issue in ethics and social philosophy. In the European thought of the recent past Soren Kierkegaard has usually been taken as the champion of the singular. Quite in conformity with the Quranic teachings, he asserts in the Concluding Unscientific Postocript16 (p.280): "The only reality that exists for an existing individual is his own ethical reality". Again there is good reason to insist on the importance of the notion of "the individual before God" for kierkegaard as he says" Only when the self as the definite individual is conscious of existing before God, only then is it infinite self" (The Sickness Unto Death,17 p.211). Yet by virtue of the very fact that his introverted thought was wholly centered in his own subjectivity and his own unique and quite eccentric singularity, he entirely missed the importance of the so-called concrete universal.18 On the other hand, even though Islam emphasizes the category of the individual, this is not to say that it denies the world of social ethics and the value of the general law; it tells us that the law is good and that what is asked of man is to interiorize it through conscience and thus to make his singularity coincide with the general. Obligation-in-conscience, according to Islam, is an absolutely primary and absolutely irreducible datum of moral experience; yet it is often missed completely by modern philosophical reflection. The authentic absolute value of acts in Islam consists in purity of heart (to use kierkegaard´s words) and sincerity of purpose which can be none other than salvation and eternal bliss in the hereafter. What we are made to understand is that the fact of being face to face with God the belief in accountability is the heart of all moral life and every authentically moral decision; that the more the moral life and moral experience deepens and becomes genuine, the more they are interiorized and spiritualized, and by the same token liberated from servile conformity to the socially customary. In its societal and collective dimension, the ethical basis of Islam can be extended beyond law and turned into a dynamic problem-solving methodology: indeed it can be turned into a pragmatic concern. The supplementary sources of the Islamic Shariah as istihsan, that is prohibiting or permitting a thing because it serves a useful purpose, istislah or public interest, and urf or custom and practice of a society need to be explored in greater detail in order to resolve further the tensions of internalized ethics and externalized law and to give the Muslim state and polity a more egalitarian stance.

    Some Muslim philosophers evince clear symptoms of inferiority complex with regard to their faith and moral norms and consequently adopt a rather apologetic approach in defending them. They quite wrongly think that Islamic morality is a strictly rigid and closed morality. Here I only wish that they realize as to how radically different is the use of ‘open´ and ‘closed´ in the treatments of Bergson and Karl Popper and that they need not be swayed by the Popperian sense of these terms. I shall here briefly pause to elaborate my submission. The fundamental theme of Henry Bergson´s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion19 is the distinction and opposition between that which in moral life proceeds from pressure and that which proceeds from aspiration. Pressure comes from social formations and from the law of fear to which the individual is subject with regard to the rules of life imposed by the group and intended to assure its preservation, and which seeks only to turn to the routine and ferocious automatism of matter. Aspiration comes from the call of superior souls who commune with the elan of the spirit and who penetrate into the infinitely open world of liberty and love, which transcends psychological and social mechanisms. To this law of pressure and this law of aspiration are linked two quite distinct forms of morality: closed morality, which, to put it briefly, is that of social conformism and open morality, which is that of saintliness. Without necessarily affirming Bergson´s extravagant claims like ‘there can be no question of founding morality on the cult of reason´20 we owe him a special debt of gratitude as one can get a lot of inspiration from him. Islamic morality, being an open morality in the Bergsonian sense, is not one of constraint or coercion but one of aspiration and attraction towards a transcendent goal. It is thoroughly permeated by the highest aspirations and ideals: love (and not just fear) of God and the highest social objective of establishing a world-wide order of social and economic justice and equity nizami-adlo-qist in the terminology of the Quran. In short, individual piety and rectitude on the one hand, and social laws and dynamism on the other, are rolled into one harmonious whole in the Islamic ethical perspective. And there is no need to feel embarrassed about state laws and punishments either, as the reassurance comes from the West from no less an academic philosopher than Alasdair MacIntyre. In his latest book Whose Justice? Which Rationality?21 He announces that he is now an Augustinian Christian. For him, a good tradition is "more than a coherent movement of thought"; it must display self-awareness in its confrontation with challenges both from adherents and opponents. But Catholic norms, as MacIntyre´s account unfolds, also derive their status from the political authority of the Church, which imposes agreement concerning basic principles, subduing the disobedient human will. "Men need control and restraint", he writes, "if any measure of justice or peace is to be attained and preserved".22 And he also clearly approves of the inculcation of such agreements through a system of education controlled by religious authority.

    From amongst the few contemporary Muslims thinkers writing on Islamic ethics Prof. Dr. Abdul Haq Ansari is a scholar who fully realized the limitations of Greako-European thought in appreciating the Islamic vision of morality and virtue. He writes, "One of the glaring defects of this (i.e. Greek) scheme was that religious virtues of Islam such as faith, trust, love and worship could not be accommodated in it. So they were either ignored or were placed where they did not belong... The real reasons why the Greek scheme of virtue could not express the entire gamut of Islamic virtues lay deeper in its concept of man. According to it, man was only a rational and a moral being. Religion was not a part of his essence, and hence religious virtues could not be treated as a separate class. Muslim philosophers were not able to discern that fact. The only person who realized it was Shah Wali Allah (d.1176/1762). Consequently he discarded the Greek scheme of virtue and worked out a different scheme. In place of wisdom (hikmah), courage (Shuja´ah), temperance (´iffah) and justice (Adalah), he proposed the virtues of purity (taharah) reverential submission (ikhbat) magnanimity (samahah) and justice (adalah).... What I want to underline is the fact that Shah Wali Allah realized that justice would not be done to the religious dimension of Islamic life unless its independence was recognized and religious virtues were given a place equal to other virtues". Endorsing Dr. Ansari´s main contention, however, my considered view is that there are many notions in Greek and medieval European (especially Thomistic) philosophy which can be used by Muslim thinkers to make their own moral concepts meaningful and appealing to modern minds, e.g., bonum honestum of Aristole´s ethical theory which stands for the unity of the good, the right, the beautiful and the noble, and the concept of natural law in ethics developed particularly by the medieval theologians.

    In conclusion I wish to express my hope that the present paper will play at least some role in awakening the interest and directing the attention of Muslim philosophers to re-understand their ethical theory in its pristine purity and reconstruct it in modern terminology. For this they have to reject the dominant Western episteme. Moreover, being at a vast distance away from the times of the Holy Prophet(SAAW) they have to do, to use Foucault´s term, a lot of archaeological work in order to unravel and dig out moral ideas that were silenced from accumulated and limiting patterns of knowledge or from constrictions placed by modern culture and society. In short, Islamic moral philosophy needs a reorientation through which it could rediscover itself by rediscovering its realist and cosmic character and the primary truths on which it rests in the human spiritual core.


    1 This fact is amply borne out by a study of contemporary Anglo-American analytical and linguistic moral writers, e.g., Ayer, Hare, Toulmin, Stevenson, and others.

    2 Emil Durkheim, the eminent sociologist, introduced the term ‘anomie´ which looms large among his many contributions. ‘Anomie´ means a condition of normlessness, a moral vacuum, the suspension of normative ethical rules, a state sometimes referred to as de-regulation.

    3 Cf. Quranic verses 57:27, 3:105, 4:76.

    4 Iqbal:Reconstruction of Religious Thought in islam, Sheikh Ashraf Publisher, Lahore, p. 81.

    5 Buber, Berdyaev, Paul Tillich and H.D. Lewis are some of the eminent contemporary philosophers who have written in this vein.

    6 See Surah Al-Furqan verses 47-54.

    7 Numerous excellent works of Jung, Erich Fromm and others amply prove this claim.

    8 The parallelism between the Arabic words ‘Birr´ and ‘Bahar´ as used in Urdu also and the consequent sense of insecurity and discomfort experienced while indulging in immoral acts is supported by a great Quranic scholar, Imam Raghib. Cf.f his Mufridats, p.39.

    9 The nature conceived by the Holy quran is governed by a primordial, universal law which is fundamentally rational.

    10 Here the Quran refers to ideal human nature, i.e., the nature bestowed on humanity by God at the dawn of creation. It is not the same thing as Rousseau and some other moralists speak of in terms of ‘primitive´ or ‘original´ nature, because their view does not go beyond the spatio-temporal dimensions.

    11 Cf. Cicero: "True law is right reson in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everylasting; it summons to duty by its demands and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions:
    (Republic, 3 : 22)

    12 It would be too lengthy to cite here all the Quranic exhortations. However, we may recall a passage (4 : 36-8) in which it speaks of the social behaviour of the devoutly God-conscious man: "And serve God; ascribe no thing as partner unto Him : (show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and unto the neighbour ...... and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer and the slaves whom your right hands possess."

    13 Majum´a Tafasir-e-Farahi (author´s translation from Urdu), Lahore, 1969, P. 350.

    14 Grundlegung, 2 ; E.T. Abbot, p. 46.

    15. MacIntyre, A., After virtue, Oxford University Press 1993.

    16. Kierkegaard, S. Concluding Unscientific Postscript., Princeton University Press, 1960.

    17. Kierkegaard, S. The Sickness Unto Death, Harper Torch Books, New York, 1959.

    18. For a detailed discussion of the ethical thought of Kierkegaard see my book ‘Kant and Kierkegaard__A comparative study´, Caravan Press Lahore, 1983.

    19. Translated by R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesely Brereton, Garden City, Doubleday, 1956.

    20. The Tow Sources of Morality and Religion, op.cit., p.89.

    21. A MacIntyre: Whose Justice? which Rationality?, University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.

    22. Ibid., p.97.

    23. His two book length studies on the moral philosophy of al-Farabi and Miskawaih have also been published from Aligarh (India).


  • Exploring Islamic Theory of Knowledge Open or Close

     Absar Ahmad

    In order to lay bare the structure of the Islamic theory of knowledge it is imperative that we turn our attention to the Holy Book ‘Al-Quran´ the fountain head and bed-rock of Islamic doctrinal belief and faith. In so doing we should also adhere to the most essential rule phrased very aptly by late Fazlur Rehman thus: "What is required is a willingness to get into the Quran itself rather than to go around it indulging in what must be distortions of the Quran at worst and trivialities at best". 1

    At the outset, let me say a few things which must be appreciated positively by any scholar studying Islam and its doctrines. About the character of the Quran one thing is abundantly clear. It neither is nor purports to be a book of philosophy or metaphysics. It calls itself "Guidance for mankind" (hudan-lil-nas) and demands that people live by its commands. Islam has, as its central task, the construction of a social order on viable ethical basis. It is a practical remedy for the multiple ailments of humanity and a recipe for how man may transcend his banalities to create a positive human brotherhood. In order, therefore, to derive a theory of epistemology from it, a determination of its teachings into a cohesive enough unity is required. Islam is a divinely revealed monotheistic religion: it is a complete way of life-ideology or Deen. As such, its epistemology is deeply enmeshed in its over-all metaphysical view of reality and being. In the present paper I shall mainly concentrate on the concept and nature of knowledge in the Quranic scheme of things and the sources of veridical knowledge. My interest in the subject grew by reading a paper on this very theme contributed by Professor B.H.Siddique which was published by the international institute of Islamic thought at Islamabad.2

    Professor B. H. Siddiqui´s seminal writing entitled "knowledge: An Islamic Perspective" is quite impressive in its scope and a commendable attempt at putting in bold relief the variegated strands of the authentic Islamic theory of knowledge. The first two subsections of his essay dilate on the cultural value of knowledge in Islam and its general intellectual temper. The first ayat in the order of the Quranic revelation, ‘Read in the name of thy Lord who createth´ (96:1) with its categorical injunction to read lays an undeniable emphasis on that capacity of man which the Creator has endowed him with as pre-eminently human. The raison d´etre of man, the ‘why´ of his being cannot but be to understand and learn, and for that purpose the providence has equipped man with

                    (1) Nur-i-Fitrat, i.e an inherent light of nature
                    (2) senses for observation
                    (3) reason for deduction and ratiocination
                    (4) provided him with guidance revealed through the Prophet. The object of knowledge can only be primarily the world within and the world without and ultimately the Really Real, the Creator of all existence. The Quran beholds in the knowledge of God alone the end and telos of life. Among the numerous sources of knowledge just mentioned, perhaps the first calls for some elaboration and I think that professor Siddiqui did not pay full attention to it when he wrote, "knowledge, as the root of culture, is not given to man at birth" (p.2) On the contrary, verse 50 of Surah Ta-Ha states:

    Our lord is He who gave into everything its nature and constitution, and then guided it aright". (20:50)

    According to this Quranic verse, our Lord has given everything its inner structure, equipped it with its means of attaining perfection, and then guided it towards its real goal. While it is an open question whether an explicit and systematically worked out Islamic epistemology exists, it is undeniable that various epistemological issues have been discussed in the Quran and explicated by Muslim philosophers with an orientation different from that of Western epistemology. Today attempts are being made to understand the basic epistemological issues in terms of that orientation. This is a valuable effort that deserves our interest and encouragement. However, it can be fruitful only if the practice or rigorous analysis is kept up, with close attention to the precise definitions of the various concepts involved.

    In the Islamic theory of knowledge, the term used for knowledge in Arabic is ‘ilm, which, as Rosenthal has justifiably pointed out, has a much wider connotation than its synonyms in English and other Western languages. ‘knowledge´ falls short of expressing all the aspects of ‘ilm. knowledge in the Western world means information about something, divine or corporeal, while ‘ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education. Rosenthal, highlighting the importance of this term in Muslim civilization and Islam, says that it gives them a distinctive shape.

    In fact there is no concept that has been operative as a determinant of the Muslim civilization in all its aspects to the same extent as ‘ilm. This holds good even for the most powerful among the terms of Muslim religious life such as, for instance, tawhid "recognition of the oneness of God," ad-din, "the true religion," and many others that are used constantly and emphatically. None of them equals ‘ilm in depth of meaning and wide incidence of use. There is no branch of Muslim intellectual life, of Muslim religious and political life, and of the daily life of the average Muslim that remains untouched by the all-pervasive attitude toward" knowledge" as something of supreme value for Muslim being. ‘Ilm is Islam, even if the theologians have been hesitant to accept the technical correctness of this equation. The very fact of their passionate discussion of the concept attests to its fundamental importance for Islam.3

    It may be said that Islam is the path of "knowledge". No other religion or ideology has so much emphasized the importance of ‘ilm. In the Qur´an the word ‘alim has occurred in 140 places, while al-’ilm in 27. In all, the total number of verses in which ‘ilm or its derivatives and associated words are used is 704. The aids of knowledge such as book, pen, ink etc. amount to almost the same number. Qalam occurs in two places, al-kitab in 230 verses, among which al-kitab for al-Qur´an occurs in 81 verses. Other words associated with writing occur in 319 verses. It is important to note that pen and book are essential to the acquisition of knowledge. The Islamic revelation started with the word iqra´ (‘read!´ or ‘recite!´).

    According to the Qur´an, the first teaching class for Adam started soon after his creation and Adam was taught ‘all the Names´ (allama Adan al-asmaha kullaha). Allah is the first teacher and the absolute guide of humanity. This knowledge was not imparted to even the Angels.

    The idea of ilm distinguishes the world-view of Islam from all other outlooks nd ideologies: no other world-view makes the pursuit of knowledge an individual and social obligation and gives enquiry the same moral and religious significance as worship. Ilm, therefore, serves as the hallmark of Muslim culture and civilisation. In the history of Muslim civilisation, the concept of ilm permeated deep into all strata of society and manifested itself in all intellectual endeavours. No other civilisation in history has embraced the notion of ‘knowledge´ with such passion and pursued it with such vigour.

    To translate ilm as ‘knowledge´ is to do violence, even though it be unintentional, to this sublime and multi-dimensional concept. It certainly contains the elements of what we understand today as knowledge. But it also contains the components of what is traditionally described as ‘wisdom´. But this is by no means the end of the story Perhaps, we can best under-stand the notion with reference to other concepts of the Qur´an to which it is intricately linked. This ilm also has some connotation of ibadah (worship); that is, the pursuit of ilm is a form of worship. Similarly, ilm incorporates the Qur´anic notion of khilafah (trusteeship of man): thus, men (and women) seek ilm as trustees of God for if ilm is sought outside this framework it will violate the fundamental Islamic notion of tawheed. And, the means by which ilm is acquired and the final use to which it is put both by the individual and society are both subject to accountability: the Qur´anic concept of akhrah (the Hereafter) envelopes ilm to ensure its moral and social relevance. These few of the many, many dimensions of ilm illustrate the complex and sophisticated nature of the notion.

    The synthesis of a whole array of principles and notions into a single, unified concept of ilm is one of the basic features of the world-view of Islam. It was this universal synthesis that demolished the artificial boundaries of the so-called religious and secular knowledge. And it was this universal synthesis which ensured that for a Muslim, knowledge was not an isolated, abstract act or thought; it was at the very root of his/her being and world-view. It is not surprising then that ilm had so much significance for early Muslims, that countless Muslim thinkers were so occupied with the exposition of the concept. Their conceptualisation of ilm is perhaps best manifested in the attempted definitions of ilm of which there seems to be no dearth. The seemingly insatiable quest of these scholars to define ilm in all its shapes and forms was inspired by the belief that ilm was nothing more than a mainifestation of tawheed; "understanding the signs of God", being near Him, as well as building a civilisation required comprehensive pursuit of knowledge. As Rosenthal observes: "a Muslim civilisation without it would have been unimaginable to the medieval Muslims themselves, and it is even more so in retrospect. Change was not likely to alter its true meaning. Since, however, it was so important a concept, a tremendous amount of thought was given to it at all times and all levels of education" ("Muslim definitions of knowledge", in: The Conflict of Traditionalism and Modernism in the Middle East edited by Carl Leiden, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1966, p.117)

    ‘Knowledge´ in the Quranic Perspective

     Historically speaking, philosophical thinking, including epistemological doctrines, is closely related to religious beliefs and gnostic traditions. It has often culminated in the attempt to do intellectually what religion has done practically and emotionally: to establish human life in some satisfying and meaningful relation to the universe in which man finds himself, and to get some wisdom in the conduct of human affairs. knowledge, according to the Quranic doctrine, is both a gift of Divine revelation as well as a creative element or aspect of the human spirit. Most of recent philosophy threatens our spiritual existence and freedom by driving the contemporary mind into irrational and compulsive negation of religious truth. Islam, however is a faith that is reasonable and rational, a faith we can adopt with intellectual integrity and ethical conviction.

    Philosophy, with all its variegated disciplines, in the framework of Islam cannot be squared with an antiactivist or ‘spectator´ view of it which aims merely at an enlargement of the understanding. Indeed in an Islamic framework it becomes an essentially practical subject: it seeks to get people to do things. It cannot remain uncommitted to social action. The attack on spectatorism which we find in Existentialism and in the pragmatists is very relevant to the current philosophical scene. Moreover, Anglo-American academic philosophy is presently built around the assumption that its true centre is espistemology. This assumption is apparent particularly in the structure and content of university courses. The approach to the various areas of philosophy via the problem of knowledge is one possible way of organizing one´s conception of philosophy. But the outcome has been the abstraction of ‘man as knower´ from the rest of human life, and in particular from human practice. This has been a distinguishing feature of the empiricist tradition and epistemology is still dominated by that tradition: the so-called ‘problems of knowledge´ are the problems of the isolated individual knower confined to the world of his own sense-perceptions.4 Conversely, it is essential to see the activity of ‘knowing´ as arising out of, and part of, man´s general attempt to organize and cope with the cosmos, in order to vindicate the status of human knowledge as a meaningful totality rather than a series of discrete sense impressions.

    However, it is reassuring to note that as the last quarter of this century comes to a close, a new revolutionary mood is placing new pressures on the course of philosophy. The wirtings of Paul Feyerabend, Richard Rorty and others show the fractured nature of our highly individualized and atomized culture and how very difficult it is for us to get out from under the shadow of positivism. Another critic, Alasdair MacIntyre, focuses on the moral bankruptcy of modern way of life and behaviour calling this a failure of the "enlightenment experiment" of Western culture. Still other voices of this revolutionary mood__largely represented by a group of French and German philosophers who refer to the present culture as a "post-modern" one__point a finger at scientific and technocratic communities, blaming them for the current state of human fragmentation and an oppressive rationalization of human life.

    In the Islamic context, the knowledge-seeking mind has not only a conceptual-spiritual being, but also a social-material existence. Islam has never allowed the speculative and active lives to become totally divorced from each other. Thought and reflection have always been wedded to action. On the one hand, according to a prophetic tradition, an hour of thoughtful reflection is better than sixty years of acts of worship. But knowledge without action has been described as a tree without fruit. Contemplative thought (tafakkur) and reflection in Islamic spirituality essentially provide a knowledge that relates the knower to higher modes of being. Only in this manner do we hope to remove the root-cause of a strong dissatisfaction with the present state of philosophy. Fortunately, a great deal of work has recently been done by Muslim thinkers in detecting the subtler mechanisms of widespread false consciousness perpetrated by materialistic philosophies. An enormous amount remains to be done along the same lines.

    It will be instructive at this juncture to explore at some length Rosenthal´s analysis of knowledge. An over view of Rosenthal´s classification of Muslim definition of ilm yeilds that it can be classified as:

    1. A process of knowing that is identical with the known and the knower.

    2. A form of cognition (marifah).

    3. Sgnonymous with comprehension (ihatah)

    4. A process of mental perception.

    5. A means for clarification, assertion and decision.

    6. A concept or percept subject to apperception.

    7. An attribute (sifah)

    8. A agent of memory or imagination.

    9. Motion

    10. A relative term.

    11. Defined in relation to action.

    12. A product of introspection.

    And as he states, more definitions could be found and classified accordingly. And, contrary to erstwhile common opinion, these and other definitions were not restricted to the so-called religious knowledge alone. Even if we follow the above twelve categories, as delineated by Rosenthal, we find that these definitions of ilm encompass a very wide spectrum of philosophical thinking. There is a clear awareness of both the subjective and objective dimensions of knowledge; even of the fact that from one particular perspective a branch of knowledge may be classified as ‘objective´, while from another perspective the same branch may be considered to be rather ‘subjective´. However, attempts at the delineation of ilm were not confined to mere definition of the concept. While the practice of internal criticism was faithfully followed by Muslim scholars in defining ilm, they consistently moved far beyond this fundamental exercise. This is apparent from the fact that the continuing debate on the definitions of ilm did not end in blind alleys; operational definitions were emphasised and continually sought.

    The impetus for operationalisation of knowledge was provided by the moral imperative that was inextricably meshed into the fabric of ilm. Here again, it was at once a moral obligation to acquire and disseminate ilm. For eight classical scholars, it was at once a moral obligation to acquire and disseminate ilm and operationalise it as a moral discriminant. The classical division of knowledge as praiseworthy and blameworthy, and the role of knowledge as individual and collective obligation is too well known to be explained here. Suffice it to say that amal (action) was declared part and parcel of ilm and ilm without amal was inconceivable. This was indeed the operationalisation strategy for ilm and it was guided, in spirit and letter, by the central Islamic concept of tawheed and the moral dictates which this implies. Indeed, the moral imperative, the function that knowledge performed, whether it was ‘objective´ or ‘subjective´, ‘praiseworthy´ or ‘blameworthy´ was determined on the sole criteria of its moral worth. Classical Muslim scholars were well aware that while a branch of knowledge, a particular piece of information, may have intrinsic value, it could equally have harmful effects for the society as a whole. The pursuit of truth required that it should be pursued within moral boundaries and its fruits should be beneficial for all society. They were aware that the pursuit of truth could become perverse; that when the process of pursuit itself becomes an obsession, then ‘truth´ loses its moral significance. That ‘truth´ could be manufactured and made to appear ‘objective´; that beyond the Absolute Truth, judgements about truth can be relative.

    Knowledge and Value

     Professor Siddiqui maintains in his paper that knowledge, all types of knowledge, is normative and valueful. Many modern Muslim scholars have qualms against this thesis, but I think his claim is fully substantiated by the Islamic revelation. If one thinks with and through the Qur´anic premises, the Holy Book considers all things to be "signs" (ayat) pointing to the ultimate origin of the world. Besides describing the internal structure of an object, its history, present state, and future course of development, it also discusses its place in perspective or origination and ultimate end; that is, it makes a vertical movement that cuts across the horizontal physical plane. Thus the systems of "efficient cause" and "final cause" act as two wings attached to the body of the experimental science (study of internal structure) helping it to break out of static, earth-bound state and enabling it to fly in the infinite skies of the Divine world outlook. The same sort of approach towards the phenomena of this world can be seen throughout the Quran. In this manner the two wings of origination and ultimate purpose are revived and rejuvenated in all the research being carried out about these phenomena. In this way, the Holy Quran turns knowledge into reason, reason into wisdom, and mental conceptions into verities. This is the fashion in which the Quran coordinates the findings of theoretical reason with the effort of practical reason. This means that the Quran turns a specialist into man of religion, a scientific researcher into a practical investigator, a scientific "authority" into a devotee of the Truth, a technical inventor into a committed believer, an industrial entrepreneur into a man of faith, thus transforming raw mind into a seasoned intellect.

    In the past Muslim philosophers did not consider any field of learning to be truly independent science. They believed that, without the science of ethics and spiritual purification, mastery over any science was not only devoid of any value, but it would in fact lead to the befogging of insight and ultimate destruction of those who pursue it. That is why it has been said that "al-ilmu´ huwa al-hijab al-akbar" which means that knowledge itself is the thickest of veils, which prevents man from seeing the real nature of things. Moral virtues in man gain him eternal happiness and vision of the truth, while moral corruption leads him to everlasting wretchedness and ignorance. It is, therefore, necessary for man to purge and purify himself of all evil traits of character and adorn his soul with all forms of ethical and moral virtues. The human soul can be compared to a mirror in this regard. If we wish to see something beautiful reflected in a mirror, we must first clean the mirror, so that dust and dirt do not disfigure the reflection. Any attempt to attain true veridical knowledge would be fruitful and successful only when one has purified himself of evil habits and tendencies. In the words of the Quran those who have a sound heart (i.e., qalb-e-saleem)can be granted true knowledge of the Real. In order to attain ultimate and final perfection in knowledge and action, is it necessary to traverse the path of struggle against the selfish lusts and immoral tendencies which may exist within the soul and thus to prepare the soul to receiver the grace of God. If man sets foot on the path of self-purification and actively engages in performing religious obligations God comes to his aid and guides him along the right path. The Quranic verse 69 of Surah Al-Ankabut asserts: "As for those who strive hard in Our cause__We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us." Indeed this Quranic thesis of, so to say, ‘knowledge-in-action´ has subtle affinities with ideas of some contemporary philosophers of education and theorists of teaching practice and skill, notably Schon and Michael Erut.5

    From amongst the classical thinkers, Ibn Hazm (d. 457/1064) made significant contribution to epistemology. I shall briefly pause here to present the salient features of his thoughts.

    Ibn hazm on knowledge

      Prior to Ibn Hazm, the Muslim thinker al-Amiri (d.309/922) had felt the heat generated by the alleged secularisation of ilm and attempted to argue in favour of the ‘secular´ sciences by stating that these fields of knowledge conformed to pure reason and did not contradict the principles of the ‘religious´ sciences. However, it remained to the genius of Ibn Hazm to expound a theory of knowledge that revived the spirit of early Muslim epistemology.

    Several of Ibn Hazm´s works, suchas Maratib al-Ulum, Ihkam, al-Fisal fil-Milal wa al-Ahwa wa an-Nihal, and at-Taqrib li-Hudud al-Mantiq, are devoted to an extensive discussion on the concept of knowledge. According to Ibn Hazm, there are four cardinal virtues of knowledge, namely, adl (justice), najdah (courage), fahm (understanding) and jud (generosity). Knowledge, a multi-faceted concept, is a vehicle for the attainment of virtues in this world and the hereafter. He recognizes the differences in the nature of faith and reason but argues that the both are aimed at same objective: acquisition of fadail (virtues). Thus, at the outset he establishes the moral imperative implicit in the pursuit of knowledge__as expounded by early Muslim thinkers. In this case, his vision, unlike some of his predecessors as well as contemporaries, is not blurred by the operational divisions of ilm into praiseworthy and blameworthy sciences. For instance, in his classification of sciences, he excluded occult, alchemy and astrology, not because of religious considerations but due to the fact that they do not fit any logical or moral criteria. In so doing, he displays his remarkable felicity in retaining the unified conceptualization of ilm and avoids the dangerous pitfalls of disciplinary orthodoxy.

    Ibn Hazm declared knowledge as an indispensable entity: its pursuit an obligation, and its moral imperative as an objective. Thus, according to him, knowledge should be pursued in accordance with one´s fullest potential but it must not become a tool of material and moral exploitation. "In essence, knowledge consists of comprehending God´s revelations, practising moral virtues, and knowing the realities of things in this world. The object of knowledge is to please and be close to the Almighty and to attain a world order encompassing humanity at large", (quoted in Ibn Hazm by A. G. Chejne, Chicago, Kazi Publications, 1982, p.67)

    In his classification, Ibn Hazm designates a superior status to ‘religious´ sciences, but makes his point abundantly clear that the so-called ‘philosophical´ or ‘secular´ sciences are also indispensable. Thus, he places iman (faith and aql (intellect) almost at par with each other. He vigorously argues that not everyone is equipped to deal with the philosophical intricacies, and hence, such an individual may find solace in faith. On the other hand, he defends the reliance on aql by stating that faith alone may not provide workable answers to immediate problems of humankind and it is the role of aql to remove skepticism and uncertainties so that a confusion about the faith itself may be put to an end. In such a pragmatic approach, Ibn Hazm does not appear to be making iman subservient to aql, nor does he propose that the affirmation of iman is contingent upon the agency of aql. He explains this delicate balance between iman and aql in these words:

    "The intellectual faculty (quwat al-aql) is that which helps the discerning soul to make justice triumph, to choose what sound understanding dictates and to be convinced of it, and to make it manifest with the aid of the tongue and other bodily movements in action", (Chejne, op. cit., p.69).

    In assigning such a pre-eminent status to aql, he rejected the claims of those who professed introspection (Sufi methodology), or blind and uncritical following (taqlid) for the acquisition of ilm.Ibn Hazm then moves on to a detailed description of physical basis of integrating of the sensory data and how aql manifests itself as the final evolved stage of the cognitive apparatus.

    For Ibn Hazm, iman and ilm originate from the same source and he considers both as a mawhibah (gift) from Allah. What he does not forget to emphasis is that a discernment is what is required to maintain a balance between the two. That discernment lies in the recognition of imam. Once again, his argument derives strength from the fact that both are aimed at the same objective. Let us now try to analyse and understand some of the terms used in the Quran which will help us in comprehending its cognitive scheme in greater depth.

    ‘Tazakkur´   Recalling the Fundamental Truths Intuitively

     Tazakkur´ is a very significant Quranic term which means recalling to mind the fundamental truths intuitively recognized by human nature. For understanding the significance of this term we have to note that the Quran frequently calls itself ‘Zikr´, Zikra´, derivatives of the same root from which ‘Tazakkur´, stems. In essence, ‘Tazakkur´ pertains to the first stage in the comprehension of divine realities and meanings. It also alludes to the truth that the Quranic teaching is not extraneous or heterogeneous to human nature. It actually reflects the experience of man´s inner self and it is meant to awaken reminiscences of something already apprehended rather than to import anything altogether new. The Holy Quran appeals to all thoughtful persons whom it addresses as ‘Ulul albab´ (men of discernment) and ‘Qaum-ya´qilun´ (people who have comprehension and insight) to think and ponder over the outer universe of matter as well as the inner universe of the spirit, as both are replete with the unmistakable signs of the Almighty Creator. Simultaneously, it invites them to deliberate over its own signs, i.e., its divinely inspired verses.6 Thus the Quran, in addition to its own verses, regards both ‘anfus´ (self) and "afaq" (world) as sources of knowledge. By pondering over the three categories of signs, a man will be able to perceive a perfect concord between them; and, with the realization of this concord, he will grasp certain fundamental truths which are borne out by the internal testimony of his own nature. The truths cherished by his inner self will emerge from its depths and shine in all their brilliance on the screen of his consciousness. In other words, full and intense awareness of the Absolute Reality will spring up to his consciousness like the memory of a forgotten thing shooting up from the dark depths of the psyche to the surface of mind with the aid of a pertinent suggestion.

    The Qur´an thus declares in unequivocal terms that every man can derive the benefit of ‘tazakkur´ from it. It does not matter if a person´s intelligence is limited, and his knowledge of logic and philosophy is poor. It also does not matter much if he has no fine sense of language and classical Arabic literature. In spite of these drawbacks, he can develop an inkling and appreciation of ultimate truths if he has a noble heart, a sound mind, and an untainted nature__a nature not perverted by any kind of crookedness. The central themes and basic subjects of the Divine Book are nothing new or unfamiliar to the true human nature. While reading it a man often feels as if he were listening to the echoes of his own inner self. In this sense, the Quranic theory of knowledge subtly resembles the Platonic theory in which true knowledge is also attained through recollecting forgotten memories of eternal forms.

    ‘Tadabbur´ Intellection and Reflection

    The Holy Quran urges us again and again to study it intelligently and with deliberation, bringing our thought to bear upon it, and exercising our reasoning faculty in following its arguments and comprehending its meaning. For this purpose it uses the locution ‘Tadabbur´ and its cognates ‘fahm´ ‘aql´ ‘fiqh´ ‘fikr´ ‘Tadabbur´ generally mean pondering and reflecting over the meaning and significance of ultimate questions. Specifically in the Quranic context, it connotes diving deep into the fathomless ocean of Divine wisdom. We learn from authentic traditions that the companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to reflect and ponder over the different surahs of the Quran for years on end.

    This brings us to the question as to what reason, reflection and ratiocination mean in the Islamic perspective. Of course, one must distinguish between the use of reason and rational faculty, and rationalism which makes reason the sole source of gaining knowledge and the only criterion for judging the truth. One does sometime speak of Aristotelian rationalism. Although in the philosophy of Aristotle there are metaphysical intuitions which cannot be reduced to simple product of human reason or logical understanding. Most regrettably, the meanings of many words like thought, reason, reflection and others have shrunken tremendously in contemporary philosophy, with the result that suggested association of ideas have become quite restrictive.

    In the human microcosm, intellect is the deep spiritual centre of being, and not merely any limited or specifiable mental faculty. It is necessary to distinguish between rational thought and intellective thought. For whereas rational thought is discursive and proceeds from the mental faculty alone, intellective thought proceeds from intuition and pure intellect. The Arabic counterpart of reason or intellect__’aql´__signifies etymologically both that which binds or limits the Absolute in the direction of creation and also that which binds man to the truth, to God Himself. In this sense, the word ‘aql´ is at once intellectus or nous and ratio or reason. In the Islamic perspective it is precisely ‘aql´ which keeps man on the straight path and prevents him from going astray. The sense of the numinous cannot be excluded from the world of empiricism. Experience is not exclusively what comes through science and scientific method. In other words, a distinction has to be made between terrestrial thought, aroused by the environment and celestial thought aroused by that which is our true being and finding its term beyond ourselves and, in the final analysis, in God.7 Reason, in the present day limited sense, is something like a profane intelligence; essentially the profane point of view springs from there. It is necessary for reason to be determined, transfigured or enriched both by faith and gnosis which is the quintessence of faith. Gnosis, in the Islamic theory of knowledge keeps its original meaning of wisdom made up of knowledge and spiritual sanctity. It is the higher type of knowledge which comes of intuition by the intellect, the term intellect having the same sense as in Plotinus or Eckhart. If human intellect i. e., ‘aql´ is obscured by the passions, by the nafs, then it can become the evil that hides man from the Divine. Were it not so there would be no need of revelation at all.

    In the Islamic world, gnosis (ma’rifah) is differentiated form knowledge in the sense of acquisition of information through a logical processes. In the non-Islamic world dominated by the Greek tradition, hikmah (wisdom) is considered higher than knowledge. But in Islam ‘ilm is not mere knowledge. It is synonymous with gnosis (ma’rifah). knowledge is considered to be derived from two sources: ‘aql and ‘ilm huduri (in the sense of unmediated and direct knowledge acquired through mystic experience).

    There was made a distinction between wisdom (hikmah) and knowledge in the pre-Islamic philosophy developed under the influence of Greek thought. In Islam there is no such distinction. Those who made such a distinction led Muslim thought towards un-Islamic thinking. The philosophers such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina are considered to be hakims (philosophers) and in this capacity superior to ‘ulama´, and fuqaha´. This misconception resulted in al-Ghazali´s attack on the philosophers. Islam is a religion that invites its followers to exercise their intellect and make use of their knowledge to attain the ultimate truth (haqq). Muslim thinkers adopted different paths to attain this goal. Those who are called philosophers devoted themselves to logic and scientific method and they were derogated by the sufis, though some of them, such as Ibn Sina, al-Farabi and al-Ghazali, took recourse to the mystic path in their quest of the truth at some state. As I said earlier, ‘ilm may not be translated as mere knowledge; it should be emphasized that it is also gnosis or ma’rifah. One may find elements of mystic experience in the writings of Muslim philosophers. In Kashf al-mahjub of al-Hujwiri a distinction is made between khabr (information) and nazar (analytic thought). This applies not only to Muslim sufis but also to most of the Muslim philosophers who sought to attain the ultimate knowledge which could embrace all things, corporeal or divine. In the Western philosophical tradition there is a distinction between the knowledge of the Divine Being and knowledge pertaining to the physical world. But in Islam there is no such distinction. Ma’rifah is ultimate knowledge and it springs from the knowledge of the self (Man’arafah nafsahu fa qad ‘arafa Rabbahu, ‘One who realizes one´s own self realizes his (Lord´). This process also includes the knowledge of the phenomenal world. Therefore, wisdom and knowledge which are regarded as two different things in the non-Muslim world are one and the same in the Islamic perspective.

    ilm is referred to in many Qur´anic verses as ‘light´ (nur), and Allah is also described as the ultimate nur. It means that ‘ilm in the general sense is synonymous with the ‘light´ of Allah. This light does not shine for ever for all the believers. If is hidden sometimes by the clouds of doubt arising from the human mind. Doubt is sometimes interpreted in the Qur´an as darkness, and ignorance also is depicted as darkness in a number of its verses. Allah is depicted as nur, and knowledge is also symbolized as nur. Ignorance is darkness and ma’rifah is light.

    ‘Love´  Mystic Unitive Apprehension

     There is intellectually nothing more depressing than to read the trivial writings of the linguistic philosophers and the existentially barren texts of the social theorists. Islamically-oriented epistemological theory on the contrary, represents a deep-knowledge process which transforms the seeker. Here the idea of knowledge as being merely an ideational process is not assigned much worth. The foundations of knowledge are only accessible to one who is prepared to undergo a profound existential transformation. The Islamic approach to knowledge involves an operational zone taking in the whole life-pattern of the seeker.

    According to Islamic epistemic theory, the sole element that can unite the soul to God is love, for love alone is desire of possession or of union, while discursive knowledge appears as a static element having no operative or unitive virtue. For securing a complete vision of Reality, therefore, sense perception must be supplemented by the function of what the Quran describes as ‘fuad´ or ‘qalb´ i.e., heart. ‘Love´ is held to include all modes of spiritual union, an eminently concrete participation in the transcendent realities. Intellect, divorced from Love, is a rebel (like Satan) while intellect wedded to Love has divine attributes. But surely ‘loving´ God presupposes being conscious of God. To be conscious of Him is fix to the heart in the Real, in permanent remembering of the Divine. ‘Remembering´ or ‘dhikr´ must be understood as referring essentially to an aspiration of the contingent being towards the universal with the object of obtaining an inner illumination. Heart, in Quranic epistemology, is symbolically the seat of the true self or the repository of soul of which we may be conscious or ignorant, but which is our true existential, intellectual and hence universal centre. The heart is, as it were, immersed in the immutability of Being. Contemplativity is here stressed more than the sharpness of intelligence. In contemplation of the heart things appear in their metaphysical transparency. The role of love in knowledge is also emphasised in Christian philosophy. For example, Paul Tillich writes, ‘full knowledge does not admit a difference between itself and love, or between theory and practice´.8

    Thus knowledge infused with intuition and love gives celestical and divine knowledge. Love acts as the purgative that effects the perfection of soul by purging it of all spurious matter accumulated by intellect. The practical explanation of love is also contained in Allam Iqbal´s philosophy of self. In a systematized exposition of it in the letter sent by Iqbal to Dr. Nicholson and incorporated in his Introduction to the Secrets of the Self, the English translation of Iqbal´s Asrar-i-Khudi, he says about love: the word is used in a very wide sense and means the desire to assimilate, to absorb. Its highest form is the creation of values and ideals, and the endeavour to realize them. Love individualizes the lover as well as the beloved. The reason why in Islamic epistemological framework so much emphasis is laid on love or intuition is that intuition catches the glimpses of the Ultimate Reality while intellect fails to achieve that goal on account of its inherent imperfection. Love, in short, is able to know the unknowable.9

    To conclude: the various components of Islamic epistemology I have outlined are mutually supporting and interdependent. Islamic theory of knowledge updated in idiom, sweeps away the contemporary western state of confused affairs in no uncertain manner. It recomposes man´s divided self and restores his sanity because it restores the unity of knowledge and wisdom on the one hand, and of knowledge and action on the other. It infuses in us the realization that the state of our knowledge is an important characteristic of the state our being. It teaches one to be logical, rational and scientific without losing sight of the spiritual verities known through prophetic revelation, love and intuition. I have not loaded the essay with much technical detail but nevertheless tried to give a fairly intelligible account of the Quranic epistemology in the context of present philosophical scene. Quite significantly, in the post-modern Western sensitivity the search for unitary claims has been abandoned altogether. Instead there is pastiche, cultural and methodological recombination Anything can be juxtaposed to anything else. This trend in contemporary thought provides tremendous philosophical support to sapiential Islamic epistemology.


    1. Cf. his contribution to Levi Della Vida Conference Proceedings entitled ‘Islamic Studies: A Tradition and Its Problems" edited by Malcolm H. Kerr, Malibu, California, 1990.

    2. This article has been published in ‘Occasional Paper Series´ by the International Institute of Islamic Thought, Islamabad (1992)

    3. Rosenthal. F., knowledge triumphant, Brille, Leiden, 1970. It presents a detailed discussion of ilm and its various definitions.

    4. This contention is borne out by a study of contemporary philosophical treatises of Russell, Ayer, Ryle, Hamlyne, Chisholm, Castaneda, Lehrer and many others.

    5. Schon.D., The Reflective practitioner, New York, Basic Books (1983)

    6. It is noteworthy here that the Quran calls its verses ‘ayat´ i.e., signs (of God). These verses are considered as signs or portents of God___as important as any other of His signs in the universe or in the heart of man. It is because the Quranic verses are parts of Kalamullah (God´s speech) and also because, like other signs of God, they, too, turn man´s mind to the Almighty.

    7. I owe this very relevant and illuminating distinction to F. Schuon. Cf. his book Gnosis; The Divine Wisdom, London, pp. 78-90 and Spiritual Perspectives and Human Fact, London, 1953, p. 54

    8. Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations. Penguin Books, 1966, p. 115.

    9. Dr. Nicholson, The Secrets of the Self (Eng. trans. Allama Iqbal´s Asrar-i-Khudi) Intro, p. 6


  • Fasting Open or Close

    Sayyid Abul-A'la Al-Mawdudi
    The second act of worship that Allah enjoins upon Muslims is Sawm or fasting. It means abstaining from dawn to sunset from eating, drinking and sex. Like Prayer, this act of worship has been part of the teachings of all the Messengers. Their followers fasted as we do. However, the rules, the number of days, and the periods prescribed for Fasting have varied from one Shariah (the revealed, or canonical, law of Islam) to another. Today, although Fasting remains a part of most religions in some form or other, people have often changed its original form by accretions of their own.

    "O Believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you." (The Qur'an 2:183). Why has this particular act of worship been practiced in all eras?

    Life Of Worship

    Islam aims to transform the whole life of man into a life of worship. He is born a slave; and to serve his Creator is his very nature. Not for a single moment should he live without worshipping, that is surrendering to Him in thoughts and deeds. He must remain conscious of what he ought to do to earn the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and what he ought to avoid. He should then walk on the path leading to Allah's pleasure, eschew that leading to His displeasure just as he would avoid the embers of a fire.

    Only when our entire lives have become modeled on this pattern can we be considered to have worshipped our Master as is His due and as having fulfilled the purport of "I have not created jinn and men except for My lbadah (complete submission and obedience)."

    Rituals Lead To Worship

    The real purpose of ritual acts of worship - Salah, Zakah, Sawm and Hajj - is to help us to come to that life of total worship. Never think that you can acquit yourselves of what you owe to Allah only if you bow and prostrate yourselves five times a day, suffer hunger and thirst from dawn to sunset for thirty days in Ramadan and, if wealthy, give alms and perform the Pilgrimage once in a lifetime. Doing all this does not release you from the bondage to Him, nor make you free to do whatever you like. Rather, one of the underlying purposes of enjoining these rituals upon you is to develop you so that you can transform your whole lives into the lbadah of Allah.

    The Private Worship

    All acts of worship include some outward physical movement, but not Fasting. In Prayer you stand, sit, bow down and prostrate yourselves; all these acts are visible to everybody. In Hajj you undertake a long journey and travel with thousands of people. Zakah, too, is known to at least two persons, the giver and the receiver. None of these acts can remain concealed; if you perform them, other people will come to know about them. 

    But Fasting is a form of lbadah which is entirely private. The all-knowing Allah alone knows that His servant is Fasting. You are required to take food before dawn (Suhur) and abstain from eating and drinking anything till the time to break the Fast (Iftar). But, if you secretly eat and drink in between, nobody except Allah will know about it.

    Sure Sign Of Faith

    The private nature of Fasting ensures that you have strong faith in Allah as the One who knows everything. Only if your faith is true and strong, will you not dream of eating or drinking secretly: even in the hottest summer, when your throats dry up with thirst, you will not drink a drop of water; even when you feel faint with hunger, when life itself seems to be ebbing, you will not eat anything. To do all this, see what firm conviction you must have that nothing whatsoever can ever be concealed from Allah! How strong must be His fear and love in your hearts. You will keep your Fast for about 360 hours for one full month only because of your profound belief in the reward and punishment of the Hereafter. Had you the slightest doubt that you have to meet your Maker, you would not complete such a Fast. With doubts in the hearts, no such resolves can be fulfilled.

    Month-long Training

    In this way does Allah put to the test a Muslim's faith for a full month every year. To the extent you emerge successful from this trial, your faith becomes firmer and deeper. The Fasting is both a trial and a training. If you deposit anything on trust with somebody, you are, as it were, testing his integrity. If he does not abuse your trust, he not only passes his test, but at the same time, also develops greater strength to bear the burden of greater trusts in the future. Similarly, Allah puts your faith to a severe test continuously for one month, many long hours a day. If you emerge triumphant from this test, more strength develops in you to refrain from other sins. This is what the Qur'an says: "O Believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained to those before you, that you might attain to Allah-consciousness." (The Qur'an 2:183).

    Practicing Obedience

    The Fasting has another characteristic. It makes us obey the injunctions of the Shariah with sustained intensity for prolonged periods of time. Salah lasts only a few minutes at a time. Zakah is paid only once a year. Although the time spent on Hajj is long, it may come only once in a lifetime. In the school of Fasting, you are trained to obey the Shariah of essenger Muhammad (peace be upon him), for one full month, every year, day and night.

    You have to get up early before dawn for Suhur, stop all eating and drinking precisely at a certain time, do certain activities and abstain from certain activities during the day, break your Fast (Iftar) in the evening at exactly a certain time. Then, for a few moments only you relax, before you hurry for long late evening prayers (Tarawih).

    Every year, for one full month from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn, you, like a soldier in an army, continuously live a disciplined life. You are then sent back to continue your normal duties for eleven months so that the training you have received for one month may be reflected in your conduct, and if any deficiency is found it may be made up the next year.

    Communal Fasting

    Training of such profound nature cannot be imparted to each individual separately. In just the way an army is trained, everyone has to act at the same time at the sound of the bugle so that they may develop team spirit, learn to act in unison, and assist each other in their task of development.

    The month of Ramadan is earmarked for all Muslims to fast together, to ensure similar results. This measure turns individual Ibadah into collective lbadah. Just as the number one, when multiplied by thousands, becomes a formidable number, so the moral and spiritual benefits accruing from the Fasting by one person alone are increased a millionfold if a million people fast together.

    The month of Ramadan suffuses the whole environment with a spirit of righteousness, virtue and piety. As flowers blossom in spring, so does Taqwa (fear and love of Allah) in Ramadan. Everyone tries extra hard to avoid sin and, if they lapse, they know they can count on the help of many brothers and sisters who are Fasting with them. The desire automatically arises in every heart to do good works, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to help those in distress, to participate in any good work being done anywhere, and to prevent evil.

    For this reason the Messenger (pbuh) said: "Every good deed of a man is granted manifold increase, ten to seven hundred times. But says Allah: 'Fasting is an exception; it is exclusively for Me, and I reward for it as much as I wish.' " (Bukhari, Muslim).

    All good deeds grow, then, in proportion to both the intention of the doer as well as their results, but that there is a limit to their growth. Fasting, however, has no such limit. In Ramadan, in the season for the flourishing of good and piety, not one but millions of people jointly water this garden of virtue. The more you sincerely perform good deeds in this month and the greater you avail yourselves of its blessings, the more you sustain the impact of fasting on your life during the subsequent eleven months, the more will our garden flourish, and flourish without limit. Should its growth become inhibited, the fault must lie with you.

    Where Are The Results?

    After snapping the vital links between various parts of Islam and injecting into it many new things, we cannot expect the same results as from the whole.

    A second reason is that we have practically changed the meaning of lbadah. Many of us believe that mere abstention from food and drink, from morning till evening, amounts to lbadah; once you do all these things you have worshipped Allah. A greater majority of the Muslims is unmindful of the real spirit of Ibadah which should permeate all our actions. That is why the acts of Ibadah do not produce their full benefit. For everything in Islam depends on intention and understanding.

    The True Spirit Of Fasting

    Essentially every work which we do has two components. The first is its purpose and spirit; the second, the particular form which is chosen to achieve that purpose. Take the case of food. Our main purpose in eating is to stay alive and maintain our strength. The method of achieving this object is that we take a piece of food, put it in our mouth, chew it and swallow it. This method is adopted since it is the most effective and appropriate one to achieve our purpose. But everyone knows that the main thing is the purpose for which food is taken and not the form, the act of eating takes.

    How would we react if someone tried to eat a piece of sawdust or cinder or mud? You would say that he was mad or ill. That he would not have understood the real purpose of eating and would have erroneously believed that chewing and swallowing constituted eating. Likewise, we would also call someone mad who thrust his fingers down his throat to vomit up the food he had just eaten and then complained that the benefits said to accrue from taking the food were not being realized. Rather, on the contrary, he was getting thinner day by day. This person blames the food for a situation that is due to his own stupidity. Thus the purpose of eating cannot be achieved by merely fulfilling these outward actions.

    Outward Replaces Real

    Perhaps we can now understand why our lbadah has become ineffectual and empty. The greatest mistake of all is to take the acts of Prayer and Fasting and their outward shape as the real Ibadah. Otherwise, how can we explain, that a person who is Fasting, and is thus engaged in the lbadah of Allah from morning till evening, in the midst of that lbadah, tells a lie or slanders someone? Why does he quarrel on the slightest pretext and abuse those he is quarreling with? How dare he encroach on other people's rights? And how can he claim, having done all these things, that he has still performed the lbadah of Allah? Does this not resemble the actions of that person who eats cinders and mud and thinks that by merely completing the four requirements of eating he has actually done the job of eating?

    How, too, can we claim to have worshipped Allah for many long hours throughout Ramadan when the impact of this whole exercise in spiritual and moral upliftment vanishes on the first day of the next month? During the Id days we do all that pagans do in their festivals, so much so that in some places we even turn to adultery, drinking and gambling. And I have seen some degenerates who Fast during the day and drink alcohol and commit adultery at night. Most Muslims, Alhamdulillah, have not fallen so low. But how many of us still retain any trace of piety and virtue by the second day of Id?

    The Perspective

    This form has been prescribed to create in us such fear of Allah and love, such strength of will and character, that, even against our desire, we avoid seemingly profitable things which in fact displease Allah and do those things which possibly entail risks and losses but definitely please Allah. This strength can be developed only when we understand the purpose of Fasting and desire to put to use the training we have undergone of curbing our physical desires for the fear and love of Allah only.

    Just as the physical strength cannot be obtained from bread until it is digested, transformed into blood, which spreads through every vein, so spiritual strength cannot be obtained from Fasting until the person who keeps the Fast is conscious of its purpose and allows it to permeate his heart and mind and dominate his thoughts, motives and deeds.

    Fasting As A Way To Piety

    This is why Allah, after ordaining fasting, has said that Fasting is made obligatory on you, so that you may attain to Allah-consciousness. Note that there is no guarantee that you will definitely become Allah-conscious and righteous. Only someone who recognizes the purpose of Fasting and strives to achieve it will receive its blessings; someone who does not, cannot hope to gain anything from it.

    Conditions Of Fasting

    The Messenger (pbuh) has said: "If one does not give up speaking falsehood and acting by it, Allah does not require him to give up eating and drinking." (Bukhari).

    On another occasion, he said: "Many are the people who Fast but who gain nothing from their Fast except hunger and thirst; and many are those who stand praying all night but gain nothing except sleeplessness." (Darimi).

    Faith And Self-Scrutiny

    The Messenger (pbuh) draws attention to another aim of Fasting thus: "Whoever observes the Fast, believing and counting, has all his past sins forgiven." (Bukhari, Muslim). 

    Believing means that faith in Allah should remain alive in the consciousness of a Muslim. Counting means that you should seek only Allah's pleasure, constantly watching over your thoughts and actions to make sure you are doing nothing contrary to His pleasure, and trusting and expecting the rewards promised by Allah and the Messenger. Observing these two principles brings the rich reward of all our past sins being forgiven. The reason is obvious: even if we were disobedient, we will have now turned, fully repentant, to our Master--and "a penitent is like one who has, as it were, never committed a sin at all" as said the Messenger (pbuh).

    Shield Against Sins

    The Messenger (pbuh) said: "The Fast is like a shield [for protection from Satan's attack]. Therefore when one observes the Fast he should [use this shield and] abstain from quarreling. If anybody quarrels with him, he should simply say: 'Brother/Sister, I am fasting.'" (Bukhari, Muslim).

    Hunger for Goodness

    The Messenger (pbuh) once directed that a man, while Fasting, ought to do more good works than usual and ardently desire to perform acts of kindness. Compassion and sympathy for his brothers should intensify in his heart because, being himself in the throes of hunger and thirst, he will all the more be able to realize the misery of other servants of Allah who are destitute. "In Ramadan, whoever provides food to a person who is Fasting to break that Fast will earn forgiveness for his sins, deliverance from the Fire and as much reward as the one who is Fasting, without any reduction in the recompense of the latter." (Baihaqi).

    Abdullah Ibn Abbas said the Messenger (pbuh) used to become unusually kind and generous during Ramadan. No beggar in that period went empty-handed from his door, and as many slaves as possible were set free. (Baihaqi).

  • Imperative for the Ummah Open or Close

    Imperative for the Ummah

    Dr. Israr Ahmad


    The decline of the Muslim Ummah from what was once a prosperous and dominant community to a morally decadant, intellectually effete, politically impotent, and economically pathetic group of people is a constant source of perplexity and anguish to many of us. Aren´t we the most beloved of the God´s people? Aren´t the disbelievers enemies of Almighty God? Then how could anyone explain their opulence and supremacy and our decadence and subjugation at their hands? Surely God the Almighty is not unjust. Or is He?

    What we must understand and keep in our minds at all times is that God the Almighty has no special attachment to any particular group of people. His law and His justice is the same for everyone. At the same time, we must also appreciate that we, the Muslims, are the “chosen people of the Lord” — obviously not in the sense that we can get away with all transgressions and crimes, but in the sense that Almighty Allah (SWT) has placed a heavy burden on our shoulders.

    We are the custodians of His last revelation, the Holy Qur´an. We are the followers of His last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Whether we want this position or not, the fact remains that we have been appointed the representatives of Almighty Allah (SWT) among all nations of the world. We are meant to be a living paradigm and a model of the teachings of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). We are meant to attract the entire mankind, by virtue of our exemplary character and norms, towards the Deen of Allah. But this “privilege” is also a liability. If we behave in contravention to the Divine commands, we would become liable to a double punishment — for our own evil deeds as well as for the crime of driving and repelling other people away from Divine Guidance.

    In the words of Prophet Jesus Christ (AS), “every tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire”.

    Surely God the Almighty is not unjust.

    But then, what is the way out of this predicament? How can we escape the continuing humiliation in this world and the torments of Hell-fire in the world to come? The solution, of course, is obvious. We must turn back to the guiding light of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), we must repent, we must change our individual lives and our collective behavior, and we must fulfill all our obligations.

    The imperative for the Ummah, and the road-map for her ultimate salvation, can be derived from three verses of the Holy Qur´an. These verses (Surah Aal-e-Imran 3:102-104), which appear in the middle of the 3rd Surah, provide us with a brief yet comprehensive plan of action, both for the Muslim Ummah as a whole as well as for its individual members. English translation of these verses is as follows:

    • O Believers! Heed Allah as He should be heeded, and see that you do not die but in a state of submission.
    • Hold on firmly together to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves; remember (with gratitude) the favors Allah bestowed on you, when you were one anther´s foe and He reconciled your hearts, and you turned into brethren through His grace. You were then on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. In this way Allah makes His signs clear to you, so that you may find the right path.
    • Let there be a body of people among you, who invite others to all that is good, and enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong. They are those who will be successful. (Al-Qur´an; Aal-e-Imran 3:102 to 104)

    The first verse informs a Muslim individual, in a nutshell, the obligations he or she owes as a member of the Muslim Ummah. The second verse lays down for the Muslims, at a collective level, the imperative to unite into a cohesive fraternity on the basis of the “Rope of Allah”. The third verse delineates the goal for the entire Muslim Ummah in general and for its activist component in particular, which is to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.

    There is a wonderful correlation between these verses, as they unfold before us three steps through which we should approach our ultimate objectives and ideals. Here is an explanation of the practical implications of these verses.

    VERSE NO. 102: The Basic Obligation of a Muslim Individual

    The Holy Qur´an uses the phrase “O you who believe” with different shades of meaning; thus, it is employed sometimes to address the true believers, sometimes to address those who are weak and indecisive in their faith, and sometimes to address the double-crossing hypocrites. It is often the context of the verses that help us understand as to which group(s) is meant at any given place in the Holy Qur´an.

    A lot of misunderstandings can be avoided if we realize that the word Iman has been used in the Qur´an and Hadith in two different connotations, depending upon the context. This actually reflects the dual aspects of the concept of “faith” itself. Thus, from a purely legalistic standpoint, Iman simply implies a public testimony of basic Islamic beliefs practical implications of which may or may not manifest in a person´s behavior and actions. However, true Iman is much, much more than mere verbal attestation. True faith implies a strong inner conviction and deeply felt certitude, which is invariably manifested in a person´s whole being and his entire life, affecting all his actions and behavior. On the other hand, it is quite possible for a person who claims to be a believer — though he will be considered so in matters of law — to have, in reality, a very weak faith, or he may even be a Munafiq.

    The significant point here is that, in the Muslim community, those with a weak faith or even the known hypocrites were never treated as Kafirs or non-Muslims. This is because anyone who testifies to the unity of Allah and to the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW), and who doesn´t deny or reject any of the basic and essential teachings of Islam, is to be considered a Muslim for all legal purposes, his or her character or actions notwithstanding. However, it must be kept in mind that this definition of a Muslim is limited strictly to legal matters; in reality, it is quite possible for those who are legally Muslims to be devoid of true faith, in the sight of the Almighty God.

    The phrase “O Believers” as used here refers to all the three categories - all those who are legally Muslims — including those with a weak faith and the hypocrites in addition to the really committed and dedicated believers. The people who claim to be believers are being commanded by Allah, in this verse, to have fear and awe of the Almighty to the utmost degree. The original Arabic word is Taqwa, the meaning of which goes way beyond simple “fear”, as discussed below.

    Instead of merely describing any particular outward appearance, Taqwa actually denotes a state of mind which reflects in each and every aspect of a person´s life. It can be defined as a person´s awe of Almighty Allah (SWT), consciousness of his obligations towards Him, and cognizance of his ultimate accountability to his Lord and Creator. Taqwa is the spirit that animates and energizes the formal observation of the commands of Shariah. It is quite possible for a person to make a pretense of obeying the Divine law without any regard for its true spirit. On the other hand, a genuine attitude of submission before Almighty Allah (SWT) is possible only when there is a profound internal awareness of responsibility, which is another word for Taqwa.

    A person´s attitude of heading or fear of God prevents him from going against His commands — even when there is no possibility of getting caught in the life of this world. A person´s sense of duty makes him act on the injunctions of Almighty God — even when there is no external compulsion to do so. A person´s firm conviction in the accountability of the Hereafter makes him attentive and watchful of his every action — even in an environment where such an attitude of honesty or rectitude is mocked by his colleagues and peers. Thus, vigilance, self-restraint, moral integrity, and caution are the hallmarks of Taqwa.

    The words which qualify the command for Taqwa in the verse under discussion “ He should be heeded” are very striking indeed. When this verse was revealed, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) became terribly anxious, for they thought that it was by no means possible for any one to have God´s Taqwa to the highest degree due Him. In reply to their inquiry, Almighty Allah (SWT) consoled them with these words: “So heed Allah as much as you can...” (Al-Taghabun 64:15). This means that Allah wants each one of us to live a life of self-restraint and righteousness to the highest possible degree. This takes into account the fact that every person is endowed with a specific level of strength and capability vis-à-vis self-restraint and righteousness, and also that God shall certainly consider each person´s peculiar capacities and his or her specific circumstances in the ultimate accountability of the Hereafter. What this does not sanction, however, is any complacent and self-satisfied attitude regarding our obligations as Muslims.

    We must not excuse and absolve ourselves of our duties by underestimating our own capacities. We are not allowed to give up the struggle for cultivating Taqwa in our lives by pretending that we lack the necessary strengths and capabilities. Almighty Allah (SWT) knows — right down to the minutest details — as to how much strength He has given to any particular person, and He shall judge every one accordingly.

    Finally, we have the most emphatic words of this verse: “...see that you do not die but in a state of submission”. All that is being demanded here is that one should make sure that he does not die in a state of sin. But this is by no means an easy job. No one knows as to how long he is going to live and where and when his death will take place. In order to make sure that death does not catch him while he is committing a sin, he has no choice but to remain extremely alert at all times, and must watch that not even a single moment of his life is spent in sinful activities. This, of course, is just another way of inculcating in our hearts and minds the supreme importance of Taqwa.

    What kind of submission and obedience is being demanded by Almighty Allah? Of course, He wants us to perform the obligatory Salah five times a day, and to observe the Saum during the month of Ramadan, and to help the poor and the destitute with Zakat, and to perform Hajj if we have the means to do so. But is that all? Can we draw a dividing line between the religious and the secular components of life? Are we allowed to obey Allah in the “religious” matters and to do whatever pleases us in all “non-religious” spheres of life? Do you really think any one can get away with this kind of hypocrisy?

    The submission that is required by God Almighty is total and unconditional. Allah demands that man should submit his whole being and his entire life to His commands. The splitting up of the human life into separate compartments, some governed by the teachings of Islam and others by one´s own desires or by the prevailing trends of the society, is against the spirit of Taqwa, to say the least. This sort of attitude betrays that, in fact, it is the desires of one´s own heart that a person has decided to follow and not the injunctions of Almighty Allah (SWT). It also shows that all the supposedly “good deeds” performed by such a person are nothing but a shallow display of false piety. May Almighty God deliver us from all contradictions in our claims and our deeds.

    VERSE NO. 103: Holding Fast to the Rope of Allah

    All those who have accomplished the requirement of the preceding verse, or who have at least started the journey with a sincere intention, are called upon to unite with each other by holding onto the “Rope of Allah”. There are at least three authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in which the Prophet has told us the meaning of this phrase: The “Rope of Allah” is nothing but the last of God´s revelations, the Holy Qur´an.

    What does holding onto the Qur´an mean? It means that we must fulfill all the obligations that we owe to the Book of Allah. The attitude of indifference that we constantly show towards the Holy Qur´an, along with our hypocritical lip-service, is tantamount to ridiculing or belittling the last of the God´s revelations. Our abandoning this ultimate source of guidance has resulted in the most damaging trend of growing internal strife and sectarianism. The Holy Qur´an acts like the nucleus or the center for the Ummah. The more we move towards the center, the more we shall come nearer to each other. Understanding our responsibilities towards the Holy Qur´an and trying our very best in fulfilling them is the surest way to unity. It is equally obvious that we can neither expect any improvement in our worldly state of affairs nor hope for salvation in the Hereafter unless we carry out all the obligations that we owe to the Qur´an.

    Our first obligation is to have faith in the Holy Qur´an. A verbal declaration of belief that the Holy Qur´an is the word of Almighty God, revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) through the angel Gabriel is a legal requirement for becoming a Muslim. True faith, however, will emerge only when that attestation blossoms into a strong inner conviction and deeply felt certitude. And, of course, only true faith can lead us towards genuine devotion and veneration of the Holy Book. Today the trouble is that, though we claim to believe in it, there is hardly any true conviction in our hearts regarding the Divine origin of the Holy Qur´an. This unfortunate state of uncertainty and doubt is responsible for the fact that our “faith” in the Qur´an is, generally speaking, nothing more than an article of dogma that has very little to do with our practical lives. It may be pointed out that the ultimate fountain-head and source of Iman is the Holy Qur´an itself. If the Book is studied and its meanings are pondered upon in an authentic quest for truth, all the veils of darkness shall be lifted from one´s heart, and the soul will get illumined by the light of gnosis and conviction.

    Our second obligation is slow and thoughtful reading of the Holy Qur´an with correct pronunciation. The Holy Qur´an is unlike any other book, and, as such, it should never be read like ordinary books. We must read it carefully, reflecting on its messages, constantly seeking guidance for our lives, and we must read it again and again. Just as our material body is in constant need of food for its sustenance, our spiritual soul or Rooh is also in perpetual need for its nourishment. And just as the food for our bodies is derived from the earth, the diet for our souls is obtained from the Word of God, the Holy Qur´an itself.

    Our third obligation is to understand and comprehend the Holy Qur´an. Of course, there are numerous levels and grades of comprehension, accessible to different persons according to their respective planes of intellect and consciousness. The first stage in the comprehension of the Holy Qur´an is called Tazakkur, a term which alludes to the fact that the teachings of the Qur´an are not at all foreign or alien to the human nature, rather they represent the eternal truths ingrained in the human soul. The Holy Qur´an has been rendered very easy, by Almighty God, for the purpose of gaining this level of guidance. The second stage in the comprehension of the Holy Qur´an, however, is far from easy. Tadabbur is described as a penetrating study, an intense reflection, as thorough deliberation of the Holy Qur´an as possible, and diving deep into the bottomless ocean of its wisdom. There must be a number of scholars, at all times, who are engaged in this level of deep study and research. Such scholars can only be produced if we have a network of universities, throughout the Muslim world, which concentrate on the Qur´anic research and make this Book the focus of all their intellectual activity.

    Our fourth obligation is to act upon the teachings of the Holy Qur´an. At an individual level, it is imperative for every Muslim to mold his or her life according to its message. Our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said, “None of you can become a true believer until his desires become subordinate to what I have brought.” The best way to benefit from the study of the Holy Qur´an is to go on changing our life-styles and mending our ways in accordance with its teachings. According to another saying of the Prophet, “The Qur´an will be an argument either for you or an argument against you (on the Day of Judgement).”

    At the collective level of the community, it is equally imperative for us to try and establish the system of Social Justice as given by the Holy Qur´an. The Muslims are, as a whole, responsible for establishing the sovereignty of the Almighty God, and each of us is obligated to try his utmost in this path. It has been made obligatory upon all of us to try our utmost in establishing the Islamic System of Collective Justice, initially in our own homeland and then, ultimately, over the entire globe. This obligation obviously requires the Muslims to bring about fundamental changes in the un-Islamic politico-socio-economic system under which they may find themselves, in order to conform it to the teachings of the Holy Qur´an.

    Our fifth obligation is to propagate the message of the Holy Qur´an to every nook and corner of the world. This was originally the responsibility of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who fulfilled his own obligation by conveying the Divine message to the Ummah; since Prophethood has come to an end with the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it is now the duty of the Muslims to deliver that message to all humanity. Thus, the Holy Prophet has commanded “Convey on my behalf, even if it only a single verse.” It may be pointed out here that this obligation cannot be fulfilled to the highest degree unless there is an Islamic state in existence. This is because the the unassailable proof of the remarkable perfection as well as the applicability of the Qur´anic injunctions in the contemporary world can be established only when they are put into practice in toto, and the results presented before the whole world as evidence of the veracity of Qur´an. In other words, the fourth and fifth obligations are closely linked with each other.

    To sum up, we must develop real faith that this is indeed the word of God; we must read the Holy Qur´an on a daily basis; we must try to comprehend its meaning; we must act upon its do´s and dont´s in our individual as well as collective capacities; and we must spread the message and teachings of this Book to every nook and corner of the world. In addition to being a guarantee of our salvation in the Hereafter, this is the most certain and surefire approach if we want to achieve a sense of real unity among our ranks.

    A basic fact common to both sociology and psychology is that human beings with a common purpose tend to unite and associate with each other. People with similar interests, goals, and priorities are automatically attracted towards each other. No artificial effort or external coercion is needed. If we succeed in making the Holy Qur´an the center and nucleus of our lives, our ambitions, and our endeavors, then all strife, disharmony, and sectarianism will disappear. But attaining such a goal, of course, requires a tremendous input of effort.

    Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula - as a result of their mutual hostilities and unending wars - were standing on the brink of the pit of fire, as described in the verse under discussion. Indeed, it was only the blessing and mercy of Almighty God that saved them from total destruction. The Muslim Ummah, in the dying moments of the 20th century, is again experiencing the same sort of predicament. The ideal “Ummah” is no longer present in the world of reality; it has long been divided into numerous nations and nationalities, groups and factions, tribes and clans, sects and cults. Unity is impossible without going back to the Qur´an.

    VERSE NO. 104: The objective of the Muslim Ummah

    The individual Muslim was first commanded to become pious and virtuous to the maximum possible degree; then, the Muslims were ordered to cling tenaciously to the Holy Qur´an, which will also unite them with each other and weld them into a cohesive brotherhood. Now, the question arises: Why should they unite? What is the purpose or the goal for which this united and cohesive group is required? This is explained in the third verse, in which all the Muslims of the world are being commanded to call people towards all that is good, to enjoin all that is esteemed and right and just and moral, and to forbid all that is odious and wrong and unjust and evil.

    But what if the majority of the Ummah were to forget its duty? When the vast multitude of people in the Muslim Ummah are in a state of slumber, or fighting among themselves, or busy in pursuing this-worldly goals, what are we supposed to do? Under these conditions, there must arise an Ummah within the Ummah. There must arise from within the Muslims an activist group, or Hizbullah in Qur´anic terminology, that will endeavor to remind the Muslims their obligations, that will call the people towards all that is good, enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong.

    However, it must be emphasized that this is actually the purpose for which the entire Muslim Ummah was created in the first place, as mentioned in a most emphatic fashion in the same Surah: “You are the best of people raised for the (guidance of) mankind; You enjoin the good, forbid the evil, and believe in Allah” (3:110).

    This is a very profound and significant guidance of the Holy Qur´an. The Muslim Ummah has been raised, according to these verses, not for enjoying any VIP treatment from Almighty Allah (SWT), but for the sole purpose of propagating and conveying the guidance with which it has been endowed to the entire humanity, for all times to come.

    It is clearly indicated by the context of the verse under discussion that, to carry out this tremendous responsibility, the Muslims of the world must remain united in the form of a close-knit fraternity. This is because political authority can neither be gained nor maintained without strong internal cohesion, and, as we shall see shortly, the function of “Enjoining the good” and “Forbidding the evil” can never be satisfactorily performed by an impotent and feeble group of people which lacks the authority to implement what it believes to be true.

    “Calling people towards all that is good” is a duty which is to be performed in a humble and soft manner, almost in the passive and patient style of a Buddhist monk or a Christian missionary, with absolutely no aggressiveness whatsoever. “Enjoining what is right”, however, means to dictate or enforce the right things on the basis of authority, which means that this necessitates a revolution in the power structure so that the moral goodness can be properly implemented. Thus, complete enforcement of the Islamic law and moral values can be achieved only when a positive change has been brought about in a country´s political structure.

    The Qur´anic commands vis-à-vis human society, law, economics, and politics are not given to us so that we may admire and praise them, but they are meant to be implemented in their totality. This necessitates that the gulf between Faith and Power be removed, which obviously requires a revolution in the leadership so that — instead of fulfilling any un-Islamic agenda — it contributes towards the establishment of “God´s Kingdom” on earth. Without collective organizational power, a significant portion of Islam remains confined to the realm of theory, and, as a result, all sorts of corruption, injustice, inequity and immorality are let loose on earth. It´s not that Islam cannot survive or support itself without political authority, but, in fact, it is the political authority that grows more and more corrupt unless it is subordinated to the commands of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

    However, it is important to keep in mind that the duty of enjoining the good should be carried out even in the absence of an ideal Islamic state. Every Muslim enjoys at least some degree of authority, and he or she is obligated to implement the commandments of Almighty God within the confines of his or her little “kingdom” i.e. family, private business etc.

    “Forbidding what is wrong” is an independent and equally significant obligation. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said: “If any of you should see an evil or wrong (being committed), he must change it with his hands (i.e., with force); if he is unable to do so then he must change it with his tongue (raising his voice against that practice); if he cannot do even this, then he must (feel aversion) in his heart; and this is the weakest (stage of) faith.”

    It is impossible to live in an immoral and corrupt environment without being affected by the prevailing trends. If the social milieu favors evil, if wrongdoers can get away with the most serious of crimes, if the righteous feel isolated and helpless, then, in such a society, a person will loose any sense of moral integrity that he may possess if he were to adopt a complacent attitude.

    The only way to save your own soul is to be utterly “intolerant” of corruption, injustice, inequity, and immorality. The only way to escape from the evil effects of the sinful environment is to fight vehemently against it. The only honorable way for a self-respecting person is to put up a tough resistance, and never to give up.

    If Muslims ever find themselves in a situation where all sorts of wrongs are being committed in front of their very eyes, then it is the demand of their faith to try their utmost in changing that unfortunate state of affairs. A theoretical knowledge of the Right and Wrong, without the urge to promote the former and destroy the latter, is a gross immorality in itself. To enjoin good and forbid evil is, therefore, the true measure of a person´s faith, as well as the ultimate function of the Muslim Ummah.

  • Iqbal and the Reconstruction of Islamic Thought Open or Close

    Iqbal and the Reconstruction of Islamic Thought

    Dr. Israr Ahmad

     We have defined Islamic Revolutionary thought as the imperative to remove the dichotomy between Divine Revelation and state authority, or between the religious and the secular domains of human existence, and to establish the unconditional and unqualified ascendancy of the Qur´an and the Sunnah over all spheres of life, so that the Islamic System of Social Justice can be established in its totality and, as a consequence, all forms of political repression, economic exploitation, and social discrimination can be eliminated from human society. The achievement of this goal in 7th century Arabia was the greatest accomplishment of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and it is this triumph of the Prophet which is acknowledged by historian Dr. Michael Hart in these words: "he [Prophet Muhammad] was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels."
    The Islamic System of Social Justice, as established by Prophet Muhammad (SAW), continued in its ideal form for at least 30 years after his death, and then it started to decline. Gradually, however, the ideal unity between the religious and the secular gave way, and a dichotomy appeared in the Muslim society between the political rulers and the religious leadership, and then the latter themselves got divided into the scholars of the law (ulama) and the mystics who concerned themselves mainly with the purification of the soul (sufia); in this way, the "unity" gradually degenerated into a "trinity." The political and moral decay of the Ummah continued to worsen with each passing century. In the meantime, the development of physical sciences and technology in Europe under the influence of Renaissance and Reformation — which were themselves a result of Islamic influences reaching Central Europe through Muslim Spain — led to a power potential which resulted in the conquest of Muslim lands by the forces of Western Imperialism. The evolution of social sciences in Europe also accelerated, and French and Bolshevik revolutions gave fresh dimensions to the human thought, including the ideas of freedom, democracy, human rights, equality, and the need to eliminate all exploitation.
    In the Indian subcontinent, efforts to revive the authentic and pristine Islam began with Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, and gained momentum with Shah Waliyullah Dehlvi and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed. The stage was thus set, at the beginning of the 20th century, for Allama Muhammad Iqbal to play his momentous role in laying down the intellectual foundations of Islamic Renaissance.
    The achievements of Allama Iqbal vis-à-vis the reconstruction of Islamic religious and revolutionary thought can be summarized as follows: In the first place, he proved that the intellectual and scientific progress that was achieved by the European man during the last few centuries was actually a manifestation and unfolding of the Qur´anic spirit. According to Iqbal, the birth of Islam was the birth of inductive intellect; it was the Qur´anic emphasis on observation and experience, as well as its stress on the concrete and the finite, which gave rise to the scientific method of inquiry. The scientific spirit was born as a result of the imperative by the Qur´an to give up all superstitious and fanciful beliefs, to rely on the senses and the faculty of reason for gaining knowledge of the material world, and to contemplate the physical and natural phenomena because these are signs of Almighty Allah (SWT). It was under the influence of such Qur´anic teachings that the inductive method of inquiry blossomed among the Arabs, before being carried through the universities in Muslim Spain into Europe, paving the way for the Renaissance. It was in this sense that Iqbal saw the intellectual side of the European culture as "only a further development of some of the most important phases of the culture of Islam." Secondly, he proved that the concepts of political and economic rights of man, which seem to have been born and developed in the West, were actually derived and borrowed from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Thus, to say that all human beings are born equal, that every human being has certain inalienable rights (especially the provision of basic necessities of life) concerning which there must not be any discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, caste, or creed, and that all forms of exploitation — whether political or economic — must not be allowed to continue in a decent and humane society, is to express the basic tenets of an ideal Islamic state as given by Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as well as to describe the most remarkable features of the era of Al-Khilafah Al-Rashidah.
    Thirdly, Iqbal brought to the fore the urgent need and the immense significance of developing a new ilm al-kalam, i.e., of reconstructing the Islamic theology in the light of modern knowledge and of rebuilding the edifice of religious belief on the basis of newly available scientific data. Iqbal paved the way for this gigantic task by liberating Islamic theology from the quagmire of Platonic ideas and the labyrinth of Aristotelian logic, and then by establishing Islamic beliefs on the foundation of modern experimental sciences, including mathematics, physics, biology, and psychology.
    Two related achievements of Iqbal that we are going to discuss in this chapter are as follows: first, his challenge to the dominant Western thought and civilization, especially his forceful criticism and condemnation of two fundamental socio-political concepts of the West, i.e., secularism and territorial nationalism; secondly, the ingenious manner in which he reconstructed the Islamic revolutionary thought and presented the Islamic System of Social Justice on the highest intellectual level, harmonizing it with the highest ideals of human rights, as well as his presentation of a brief yet comprehensive description of the methodology for bringing about the envisioned Islamic Revolution.
    Iqbal´s ideas concerning secularism and territorial nationalism are so well-known and crystal-clear that we need not go into their details. Secularism, according to Iqbal, is the biggest evil in today´s world, and the separation of Divine guidance from state authority is the root cause of all corruption. Human sovereignty is kufr as well as shirk, irrespective of whether it manifests itself in the form of individual sovereignty (autocracy and kingship) or in the form of popular sovereignty (democracy and people´s rule). A number of couplets can be quoted from Iqbal´s poetry to prove this point; however, Iqbal has expressed his abhorrence of human sovereignty, in a most subtle and perspicacious manner, in the following couplet of his masterpiece Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shura:
    We ourselves have dressed Kingship in the garb of Democracy,
    When man has grown to be a little self-conscious and self-observant.
    In other words, Iqbal is saying that the consciousness of human rights, which prospered in Europe under the influence of Renaissance and Reformation, was essentially a positive development in the human social evolution. However, it was Satan and his agents who diverted this consciousness towards popular sovereignty, and in this way the rule of a king was replaced with the rule of the people. Both forms of political systems are equally unacceptable from the Islamic perspective, as absolute sovereignty belongs to no one but the Creator, Owner, and Ruler of the universe, Almighty Allah (SWT). The very concept of human sovereignty is a form of filth, and will remain so whether it belongs to a single Pharaoh and Caesar or whether it is distributed piecemeal to a few million citizens of a country.
    As for the modern concept of territorial nationalism — which happens to be an absolutely unavoidable appendage of secular polity — the fact is that two of Iqbal´s poems on this subject are so devastating that, even if Iqbal had composed no other poetry, these two would have been sufficient to establish his place as the greatest iconoclast of Western culture and political theory and the greatest ideologue and rejuvenator of Islamic ideological nationhood. Iqbal has categorically declared, in his Urdu poem entitled Wataniyyat, that territorial nationalism as a political concept is the most pernicious of all the various idols of modern age. Territorial nationalism constitutes a virulent and lethal disease which, by causing discord and animosity among different groups of people and by producing mutual rivalry and antagonism, leads to a type of politics which is devoid of morality and a kind of trade which becomes an instrument of Imperialism. All this results in destruction and devastation of weaker nations at the hands of stronger ones.
    As for the famous Persian poem by Iqbal, which he composed as a rejoinder to Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani´s (RA) comment that nowadays nations are established on the basis of homelands, the following points need to be noted. First, as pointed out by Maulana Madani, the word he had actually used was qaum and not millat, and it was a sign of Iqbal´s magnanimity that he promptly admitted this oversight. However, even though his personal integrity and piety as well as his role as a freedom fighter is beyond doubt, the main clarification given by Maulana Madani — that his remark was only a statement of fact rather than an imperative sentence — can only be described as inane. This is because Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani was a religious and political leader, and it is obvious that every statement that comes from such a personage necessarily contains a strong shade of advice and command. Iqbal´s condemnation too was specifically directed towards the essentially Western thought that nations are formed on the basis of homelands. As a matter of fact, the ability to discern and recognize kufr and shirk in all their countless forms and myriad guises constitutes a special gift and favor of Almighty Allah (SWT) which He bestowed on Iqbal.
    In short, it was on the basis of a strong negation of secularism and popular sovereignty on the one hand and of territorial nationalism on the other that Iqbal challenged the modern Western civilization, warning the modern Western man that his attitude will cause his culture to commit suicide with its own weapons.
    Let us digress a little before going any further. It is indeed ironical that in our country, which came into existence in the name of "Muslim nationhood" and whose entire struggle for independence was fought on the basis of "separate electorate", we find that numerous politically prominent leaders and parties are nowadays openly talking about a "joint electorate", where a person´s religion could not be included in his identity card, and where minorities are being given the right of a double vote. The champions of secularism in Pakistan never get tired of quoting the 11th August 1947 statement of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in which he declared religion to be a private affair of the individual. In our opinion, taking this particular statement of the Quaid as representing an interim and temporary tactic would be one thing, but to embrace it as a permanent foundation of Pakistan´s constitutional framework and political system would be a clear and glaring rejection of the very ideology of Pakistan, as well as an open and flagrant revolt against the views put forward by the main ideologue of our country, Allama Iqbal. Such a deviation from the ideological basis of Pakistan would eliminate the very justification of this country as a separate and independent state, and would lead, ultimately, to its total disintegration. On the other hand, strengthening this ideological foundation, and establishing a complete constitutional framework as well as a politico-socio-economic system on its basis, would become the starting point of a new global civilization. In this way, the revival of Islam would then unleash the power that is urgently needed by humanity to replace the prevailing "New World Order" with the "Just World Order" of Islam. It is precisely this "threat" of Islam as a living force which is so repulsive to Satan and his agents as well as to the Jews and the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) that even the slightest progress in this direction disturbs them in a most serious manner.
    Iqbal has explained the revolutionary teachings of Islam concerning the social, political, and economic spheres throughout his Urdu and Persian poetry. However, one of his last Urdu poems, entitled Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shura (or "The Devil´s Parliament"), is especially significant in that it represents Iqbal´s final message to the Muslim Ummah on the one hand, and the result of his life-long deliberations and reflections on the other. The central theme of this poem is that the evil forces active in this world — represented by Satan and his advisers — have decided that they have nothing to fear from the rising tides of democracy or socialism; all they are really concerned with is the possibility of the revival of Islam. The so-called democracy of the West is only a veil for imperialism (as it is nothing more than the rule of the capitalists), and socialism cannot heal the wounds of humanity either. It is only Islam that has the potential to pose a real challenge for Satan and his diabolical schemes.
    Thus, Satan says:
    How could I be frightened by these socialists, straying about the streets?
    Wretched and straitened, distracted in mind, incoherent in speech!
    The only menace I anticipate may come from that Community:
    Which still a spark of ambition hidden in its ashes retains.
    Knows he to whom are revealed the inner secrets of time:
    Not socialism, but Islam is to be the trouble of the morrow.
    In spite of his apprehensions regarding the revival of Islam, Satan feels content when he notes that the Muslims are in no position to become a threat to his rule: They have practically given up the ideals and values of Islam, and their once burning faith has now been attenuated to nothing more than an inherited dogma or a matter of theological controversies. Satan, however, warns his disciples that although the Muslims are not likely to pose any danger, other people may discover the virtues of Islam after trying and discarding various man-made systems of life, one after the other. And it is here, says Satan, that the real danger to his rule lies:
    I do know this Community is no longer the bearer of the Qur´an:
    The same capitalism is the religion of the believer now.
    And I know too, that in the dark night of the East
    The sleeve of the holy ones of the Haram is bereft of the white, illuminating hand.
    The demands of the present age, however, spell the apprehension:
    Lest the Shari´ah of the Prophet should come to light one day.
    The four couplets that follow are not only the gist of the entire poem, but the fact is that they represent Iqbal´s understanding of the Islamic System of Social Justice and are the result of his life-long study and deliberation on this subject.
    Beware, a hundred times beware, of the law of the Prophet!
    ´The protector of women´s honor, the tester of men´s capacities, the rearer of worthy men!´
    ´The message of death to any kind of slavery!´
    ´No sovereigns and no monarchs, no mendicants begging!´
    ´It does purify wealth of all pollution:´
    ´It makes the wealthy trustees of wealth and property.´
    What greater revolution in thought and action will there be!
    ´Not to the crowned heads, but to God alone does this earth belong!´
    The first couplet in this series describes the social system of Islam as being established on two fundamental points. The foremost goal of the Islamic social system is to establish a society where the protection and preservation of the honor and dignity of women can be ensured; segregation of the sexes and enforcement of proper dress codes are some of the means to this end. Secondly, as far as the earning of livelihood or the performance of other strenuous duties are concerned, Islam places such responsibilities on the shoulders of men, and not of women; it tests and tries the abilities of men and forces them to be responsible. In the second couplet, Iqbal describes the political system of Islam as being characterized by an equality of the ruler and the ruled, a state of affairs where there is no slavery and no exploitation of any kind. Of course, there is only one possible way to achieve this egalitarianism in real life: The exploitation of the weak by the strong and the enslavement of one class by another can be eliminated only by rejecting human sovereignty and submitting before the sovereignty of the Creator. Thus, Islam demands its followers to establish the sovereignty of Almighty Allah (SWT) on earth, which is the same thing as the vicegerency (or Khilafah) of the Muslims in the socio-political governance.
    In the third and fourth couplets, Iqbal describes the economic system of Islam. It is an indication of the rich and versatile personality of Allama Iqbal that, even though his main subject was metaphysics, he still had a deep interest in the comparatively dry and dreary science of economics. Iqbal was fully cognizant of the fact that, in today´s world, economic and financial matters have assumed central importance in the human society, and that man has now been reduced to Homo economicus for all practical purposes. Regarding the issue of "Capital", Iqbal makes it clear that while Islam takes advantage of the human desire for profit and encourages investment as well as cultivates a healthy competitive environment, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of the menace of capitalism taking root in a true Islamic society, as the very foundation of capitalism — interest or usury — has been strictly prohibited by the Qur´an. Keeping in view the references to riba in various other couplets of Iqbal, it is our humble opinion that the degree to which Iqbal recognized and expressed the immorality and vice of riba is simply non-existent in the writings of any other scholar or intellectual.
    Concerning the domination of "Feudalism", Iqbal asserts that this is in diametric opposition to the economic teachings of Islam. In his numerous Urdu and Persian poems, Iqbal passionately maintains that land, the source of sustenance for humans and animals, cannot be the private property of kings or landlords. The earth belongs to Almighty Allah (SWT), and its productive capacities are meant by the Creator to be equally available to all those who are in need of it. The practice of absentee landlordism, in which the "owner" of the land takes away the lion´s share from the produce of the land without performing an iota of the labor involved, is not only highly cruel and unjust to the ill-fated farmer, but it is the principal cause of the concentration of politico-economic power in the hands of a few hundred families. The ownership of massive land-holdings provide the landlords with immense amount of money and influence, and the resulting electoral and political power allows them to control the legislative and policy-making process with highly deleterious consequences for the nation.
    Let us add here two crucial points regarding the issue of feudalism and absentee landlordims. In the first place, the fact is that all the lands included in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent are, technically speaking, kharaji and not usheri. According to the judgment of the second Caliph, Hadrat Umar Farooq (RAA), which was later unanimously accepted by the entire Muslim Ummah, all those lands which are conquered by the Muslim armies in the course of a war can never become private property of individuals but must remain the collective property of the whole Ummah. This means that the agricultural lands of our country, as well as the income and production thereof, are to be treated as public property and must, therefore, be used for the welfare of the whole populace, both Muslims and non-Muslims. This was the opinion of such eminent scholars as Jalaluddin Thaneseri, Shah Waliyullah Dehlvi, Shah Abdul Aziz, and Qazi Sanaullah Panipati. Secondly, the practice of Mazre´at or absentee landlorism is actually a kind of riba, the only difference is that it involves agricultural land instead of money. Three great scholars of Islamic jurisprudence — Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafa´e, and Imam Malik — have categorically declared this practice as absolutely haram, that is, prohibited by the Shari´ah. Only Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and two disciples of Imam Abu Hanifa (Imam Muhammad and Imam Abu Yousuf) have allowed this, but they too have prescribed some conditions to reduce its unfairness. However, later generations simply legalized the practice of absentee landlordims by means of various legal excuses; this was done mainly under the influence of kingship and has, therefore, nothing to do with pristine Islam or the egalitarian teachings of the Islamic economic system. The credit for voicing the strongest condemnation of this in our times goes to Iqbal who, with a boldness that was unique to him, proclaimed that a revolution is needed to eradicate the evils of feudalism and absentee landlordism:
    Of the hireling´s blood outpoured
    Lustrous rubies make the lord;
    Tyrant squire to swell his wealth
    Desolates the peasant´s tilth.
    Revolt, I cry!
    Revolt, defy!
    Revolt, or die!
    In short, Iqbal fully understood — and did his best to educate others regarding it — the three logical corollaries of the doctrine of Tawheed that had a direct bearing on the Islamic System of Social Justice, as given below:
    Since all human beings are the creation of a single Creator, there is no inherent or congenital inequality on the basis of race, color, or gender;
    Absolute sovereignty belongs only to Almighty Allah (SWT), and human beings are His vicegerents who must not transgress the limits set by the Sovereign; and
    The sacred right of absolute ownership belongs to Almighty Allah (SWT) alone, and human beings are only trustees who must not use anything they may find in their possession against the wishes of the rightful Owner.
    As a logical upshot of the above understanding of the meaning of Tawheed, Iqbal made a forceful call for a revolution to replace the existing state of repression and exploitation with the Islamic System of Social Justice. In addition to his role in pinpointing the ultimate goal of the struggle for an Islamic state — which is the establishment of Justice — Iqbal also elucidated the methodology, in an extremely comprehensive yet compact manner, for bringing about the envisioned revolution.
    According to Iqbal, the first stage in the process of an Islamic Revolution is a purely "educational" one: To inculcate the teachings and the message of the Holy Qur´an in the minds of the audience, so that a profound metamorphosis occurs in the way people think and feel, in their goals and objectives, and in their values and priorities in life. People must change from within before they can change the world. It is this internal and psychological revolution in the personalities of individual human beings that is the absolutely essential pre-requisite for any meaningful and stable change in the politico-socio-economic system. This transformation of the individuals will then cause them to unite as a force, which will become the starting point for a global revolution. It must be noted that in the revolutionary struggle of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the only instrument that was employed for exhortation, admonition, purification of the soul, and reformation was nothing but the Holy Qur´an.
    In addition to this Jihad bil-Qur´an, there are two more components of the initial or preliminary phase of the revolutionary process, and these can be described as "organization" and "passive resistance." What is meant by "organization" is that all those who have accepted the revolutionary ideology — those who have consciously come to believe in the Qur´an — must be organized in the form of a party. This organization must be highly disciplined, since the task ahead is to replace a deeply entrenched corrupt and satanic system, and, therefore, the achievement of the proverbial army discipline of "listen and obey" is to be the goal of this organization. During the initial stages, when the number of dedicated and committed workers will be rather low, a policy of "passive resistance" is to adopted. What is meant by "passive resistance" is that all persecution, whether verbal or physical, must be endured without any retaliation. There must not be any retreat of any kind; yet there must not be any revenge or counterstrike either, not even in self-defense. This perseverance and passive resistance must continue till the time when there is enough strength available, both in terms of the number of workers and their training, morale, discipline, and their willingness to sacrifice, that a challenge can be thrown to the defenders of the status quo.
    In the revolutionary struggle of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his Companions (RAA), we see that the entire twelve years that were spent in Makkah were characterized by passive resistance. The order of the day was to endure all kinds of ill-treatment and oppression without striking back, to be patient, to persevere, and to go on calling people to the light of Islam. Thus, the following instructions by Almighty Allah (SWT) were typical of the Makkan period:
    For the sake of thy Lord, be patient (Al-Muddassir 74:7)
    We know very well that that thy bosom is at times oppressed by what they say (Al-Hijr 15:97)
    And bear with patience what they utter, and part from them with a fair leave-taking (Al-Muzzammil 73:10)
    But wait for thy Lord´s decree, and be not (impatient) like him of the fish (Al-Qalam 68:48)
    Indeed, this phase of non-violence is similar to the attitude of the companions of Hadrat Isa (AS), who were instructed to remain
    passive even in the face of persecution. Their prophet had told them: "Do not resist those who wrong you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and takes your shirt, let him have your cloak as well. If someone in authority presses you into service for one mile, go with him two" (Matthew
    5:39-41). Some Muslim scholars have objected to this teaching as being "unnatural", but what needs to be realized is that this was not a permanent part of the message of Hadrat Isa (AS), but that he had ordered his followers to remain passive and peaceful only till the time when they had enough strength to challenge the ungodly system. In a similar way, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) instructed his Companions (RAA) to remain passive and peaceful during the years in Makkah. This was an interim order and represented a phase of the revolutionary strategy. Thus, as soon as the situation changed, and a powerful base of the believers was established in Madinah after the Hijrah, the policy of passive resistance was immediately replaced by that of active resistance and challenge. Almighty Allah (SWT) then allowed the Muslims to launch their offensive by giving the following instructions:
    Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged (Al-Hajj 22:39)
    And fight them until fitnah is no more and Deen is for Allah (Al-Baqarah 2:193)
    And fight them until fitnah is no more, and Deen is all for Allah (Al-Anfaal 8:39)
    The purpose of this fighting (or Qitaal) for the cause of Allah (SWT) is the elimination of fitnah, or the eradication of the rule of falsehood, and establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
    The two main phases of the Islamic revolutionary process — propagation of the message with a calm fervor and non-violence in the manner of a saint, followed by challenging the status quo in the form of an active and even armed struggle — are clearly and concisely presented by Iqbal in the following Persian couplet:
    Like the dervish drunken be;
    Quaff the winecup instantly,
    And, when thou art bolder grown,
    Hurl thyself on Jamshid´s throne!
    The second couplet of this ghazal is also very meaningful:
    ´This our world´, they asked of me,
    ´Is´t congenial to thee?´
    ´Nay´, I answered; and they cried,
    ´Break and strew it far and wide!´
    It was with a strong desire to revive the revolutionary teachings of Islam and to pave the way for an actual Islamic Revolution that Iqbal tried to motivate the Muslims, especially their religious elements. And it was with this very objective in mind that Iqbal vehemently opposed the prevalent pantheistic trend in Islamic mysticism, which in his view was responsible for watering down the spirit of action and dynamism among the Muslims and had led to their pathetic state of virtual paralysis. We refer again to Iqbal´s poem, Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shura, in which we find Satan advising his followers on how to keep the Muslims inert:
    Our safety lies in that the mo´min remains a slave till Doomsday:
    Renouncing this transitory world for others´ sake.
    Keep him well absorbed in the thought and contemplation of God in pre-morning hours:
    Ye all make him grow stronger in his monastic disposition!
    Although Iqbal addressed the sufia as well as the ulama, and tried to wake them up from their deep slumber, it was actually the educated youth of Muslim India that were the real target of his poetry. Iqbal reminded the Muslim youth of the lost glories and grandeur of their Muslim ancestors, and motivated them to action through his predictions about the revival and renaissance of Islam. Iqbal, unlike Altaf Hussain Hali before him, presented a bright picture of the future, and removed the darkness of despair and pessimism that had become a hallmark of the Muslim society in the late 19th century.
    Despite all this, the fact remains that Iqbal neither started any revivalist movement himself nor laid down the foundations of any Islamic party, even though — as disclosed recently by the late Dr. Burhan Ahmad Faruqi — he not only deeply felt the need for such a revivalist struggle but came very close to achieving this goal as well.* This is precisely the reason why we compared Allama Iqbal with Shah Waliyullah Dehlvi (RA) in the preface of the present book. Although an eminent writer, scholar, and teacher, Shah Waliyullah Dehlvi spent his life almost in the style of a recluse, and never attempted to start any revivalist movement of any kind. He, however, was a well-informed and politically aware person, and that is why he invited Ahmad Shah Abdali from Afghanistan to save the Muslim rule in India. On the other hand, Shah Waliyullah Delhvi did succeed in establishing an Islamic milieu wherein, in the very next generation, it became possible for Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed Barelvi (RA), and his own grandson Shah Ismael Shaheed (RA), to launch a movement of Jihad on the pattern of the pristine and authentic Islam of the age of Sahaba (RAA). In a very similar manner, Allama Iqbal invited Muhammad Ali Jinnah and requested him to lead the Indian Muslims in their national struggle. On the other hand, it goes to the credit of Iqbal that he, by reviving the Islamic religious and revolutionary thought, produced an intellectual climate in which initially Abul Kalam Azad was able to form his Hizbullah, and later Maulana Maududi established his Jama´at-e-Islami. It must be noted that it was none other than Iqbal himself who had invited Maulana Maududi to migrate to Punjab, a place which had become quite congenial for the launching of an Islamic movement as a result of the impact of Iqbal´s poetry.
    * Cf., Faruqi, Dr. Burhan Ahmad., Allama Iqbal aur Musalmanon ka Siyasi Nasbul Ain (Lahore: All Pakistan Islamic Eductaional Congress, 1994)

  • Iqbal´s Philosophy of Khudi Open or Close

    M. Irfan Iqbal

    Throughout history, prophets, poets and philosophers have appeared to remind human beings of their true nature — a nature that consists of a temporal as well as a heavenly element. They have attempted to rekindle in the human beings the Divine Spark which is an integral part of their makeup. Speaking of this Divine Spark, the Qur’an notes that when Allah (SWT) created the first human being, He breathed His own spirit into this new creation (Al-Hijr 15:29 & Al-Sajdah 32:9). Consequently, human nature is not "human," it is a "humanness" that has an element of the Divine in it. But after having been created "in the best conformation" (Al-Teen 95:4), the human being was reduced "to the lowest of the low" (Al-Teen 95:5). The question now arises as to whether the human individual can again rise to the original noble heights at which he/she was created. In the twentieth century, no Muslim thinker has delved into the depths of this issue more perceptively than the great poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Iqbal formulated his philosophy of khudi in order to express his ideas on this subject. The following quatrain illustrates the motive underlying his spiritual and intellectual endeavors as well as the essential core of his philosophy:

    Why should I ask the sages about my beginning?

    It is my ultimate destiny that I am really concerned about.

    Elevate your khudi to such heights that before every decree,

    God Himself asks you: "Tell me, what is your wish?"

    Iqbal’s philosophy essentially revolves around the issue of the progression of human being, or the rise of the "self" or "ego" — the Iqbalian khudi — in the direction of attaining exalted heights — the heights at which Almighty Allah (SWT) Himself begins to take the wishes, hopes, and aspirations of the human being into account before formulating His decree.

    Iqbal argues that khudi is the root of all existence, an entity which may appear to be perishable but which can attain immortality. The human ego or "I" has the potential of achieving permanence as an element in the constitution of the universe provided that it adopts a certain mode of life. The ego can evolve, progress, and succeed as well as degenerate, atrophy, and fail. The Qur’an puts these two possibilities as follows: "The one who causes this (self) to grow in purity has indeed attained success; and the one who is negligent of this (self) has indeed utterly failed" (Al-Shams 91:9,10). The human ego has the ability to grow by absorbing the elements of the universe, of which it appears to be an insignificant part, as well as the ability to incorporate the attributes of Allah (SWT). Muslim Sufis have advised: "Create in yourself the attributes of Allah." If the human ego is able to do this, it would become worthy of being the vicegerent of God on earth. Iqbal argues that the human ego has a central place in the universe, while it is, at the same time, intimately linked with the Ultimate Ego, or God Himself. Iqbal notes,

    ...throughout the entire gamut of being runs the gradually rising note of egohood until it reaches perfection in man. That is why the Qur’an declares the Ultimate Ego to be nearer to man than his own neck-vein.1

    In order to reach these noble heights of perfection, the ego has to pass through three stages which Iqbal describes in Asrar-e-Khudi. These three stages can be seen as the different spiritual phases through which the ego has to pass in its journey of spiritual ascension:

    Ita‘at, or obedience to the Divine Law;

    Dabt-e-Nafs, or self-control, which is the highest form of self-consciousness or egohood;

    Niyabat-e-Ilahi, or the vicegerency of God.

    Even though these three stages in the spiritual progression of the human ego superficially resemble Nietzsche’s three stages of the metamorphosis of the spirit, they are not the same. In fact, Iqbal himself deemed it "necessary to warn the reader of Asrar-i-Khudi that Nietzsche does not at all believe in the spiritual fact which I have described as khudi...."2 The fact that Nietzsche does not even accept the reality of the human ego is itself the most pressing evidence that the three stages in the development of the Iqbalian khudi are not identical with the three stages in the development of the Nietzschean spirit. Nietzsche argues that the human "I" is a fiction and Iqbal accepts the argument that this is indeed the case if the issue is viewed from a purely intellectual standpoint. This position of Nietzsche echoes the Kantian argument in The Critique of Pure Reason that the notions of God, immortality, and freedom cannot be proven on intellectual grounds, however useful such notions may be for practical purposes. But Iqbal goes on to note that the existence of the "I" cannot be rejected just because it cannot be proven on intellectual grounds because the human ego is not a purely intellectual entity — its existence is also rooted in inner experiences. Bradley (1846-1924) has also noted that when one moves beyond the constraints of purely intellectual thought, and views the issue from the perspective of "inner experience," the "I" is no longer a fiction but an indubitable fact. Iqbal notes that Leibnitz, in asserting that the "I" is an ultimate fact, was closer to the truth than either Kant or Nietzsche. But Leibnitz regarded the human ego as something closed or windowless. Iqbal, however, notes that this assertion is contradicted by our experience in which the "I" can grow and evolve through the process of education. In light of this, the most pressing question for Iqbal is not whether the human ego is a reality or not — it most certainly is a reality — but whether this weak, created, and dependent ego or "I" can survive the shock of death and thus become a permanent element in the constitution of universe. As Iqbal argues in Asrar-e-Khudi, the human ego can attain immortality if it adopts a certain way of life through which it can come into contact with the Ultimate Source of existence, the Ultimate Ego.

    Since attaining permanence depends upon perfecting the self and bringing it in accord with the Divine Will, Iqbal appropriately exhorts that one should "know" his or her inner self. "Know thyself" is an exhortation that has been made numerous times before by many others; the problem is not in the exhortation itself but in its approach. According to Iqbal, all distinctly philosophical problems have ultimate solution in the self, but, unfortunately, it is this very self which is still ignored. The reason underlying the ignorance of the self is the fact that the self is thought of as being a material entity. But the human being is not only a material being, he/she also possesses a non-material component. Iqbal says that "the unity called man is body when you look at it as acting in regard to what we call the external world; it is mind or soul when you look at it as acting in regard to the ultimate aim and ideal to such setting."3 In other words, there is an element in the composition of the human being that manifests itself and experiences reality quite differently from the bodily element of the human composition — this non-corporeal element is the human soul. Together, the body and soul exist as a unit. Thus, the Iqbalian "self" is an entity in which the body and the soul have to work together. Both have to grow together and have to work harmoniously if the personality of an individual is to be strengthened. The body and the soul are indispensable for the needs of each other, as Iqbal notes:

    ...the body is not a thing situated in an absolute void; it is a system of events or acts. The system of experiences we call soul or ego is also a system of acts. This does not obliterate the distinction of soul and body; it only brings them closer to each other. The characteristic of the ego is spontaneity; the acts composing the body repeat themselves. The body is accumulated action or habit of the soul; and as such undetachable from it. 4

    Iqbal expresses the same point in a couplet:

    To name body and soul separately is the requirement of speech.

    But to see (or know) body and soul as separate entities is heresy.

    According to Iqbal, the soul is that element in the constitution of the human being that can be explained only in the sense that it is a Divine Spark in the human being:

    The ambiance of the Divine Light is shrouded within this very (body of) clay,

    O you heedless person! You are not just a sentient being!

    Modern secular thought has lost all cognizance of this Divine Spark. The ignorance of this spiritual reality has led to the degeneration of the human being to sub-human levels of existence, notwithstanding the many scientific, technological, and economic accomplishments. Le Compte Du Noüy ends his book Human Destiny with the these words:

    And let him [man] above all never forget that the divine spark is in him, and in him alone, and that he is free to disregard it, or to come closer to God by showing eagerness to work with Him and for Him.5

    When the human being forgets this Spark of Divinity within, he/she falls prey to the false sense of personal liberty — a liberty which, in reality, is the worst form of slavery. Having lost sight of the Divine Spark within, the human being inevitably loses sight of all higher moral and ethical principles and, as a consequence, his/her life becomes totally subservient to the animal instincts of bodily flesh. As a result of neglecting the awareness and realization of the Divinity within, the Divine Spark fades away and eventually it is extinguished altogether. This leads to an unbalanced life in which the individual exists only as an animal, a Homo sapiens, and loses all sense of his/her humanity. The following observation by Le Compte Du Noüy takes on added significance in light of these facts:

    Man must liberate himself from a bondage which is normal for animals and therefore evil for him. The soul of man demands a complete mastery over the flesh.6

    The Age of Enlightenment, the subsequent Industrial Revolution, and the succeeding era of Marx, Darwin, and Freud, as well as of others like them, appear to be milestones in the evolution of human thought. But these and other such milestones signify progress and development in only a limited sense — the progress and development of technological and mechanical culture. In spite of the claims that humanity has "progressed" immensely during the modern age, the reality is that moral and spiritual development have been virtually static while technological and mechanical development has been proceeding vigorously. As a matter of fact, much of the technological and material advancement has taken place at the expense of moral and spiritual values. The modern secular society has become spellbound by all this material development, without recognizing the inherent destructive tendency vis-à-vis moral and spiritual values that this development entails. All "progress" has come to be measured in purely materialist and Darwinian terms but, as the following observation highlights, this definition of "progress" has nothing to do with ethics and spirituality. Professor R.M. MecIver notes in his book Society:

    We should not define social evolution as though it meant or implied progress. How far we find a correspondence between the direction of social evolution and the direction prescribed by our particular concept of social progress is another matter. We may properly enquire into the relationship between the two. But it is possible to do so only if we define social evolution in ethically neutral terms.7

    Having rendered the human being incapable of moral self-assessment, modern secular thought has become the greatest contemporary hurdle to human spiritual progress, because it makes the human being unconscious of the true nature of human reality as well as the true nature of the reality of the universe. The fatal flaw, the greatest misfortune of modern secular science, philosophy, and art is that they have become totally lopsided — totally focused on the material dimension of reality and oblivious to its spiritual dimension. Consequently, it is no surprise that not only has the human being not progressed spiritually during the modern period, but more tragically the human being’s moral and spiritual faculties have become numb and practically dysfunctional. However, even though the spiritual faculties have become dormant, they are not dead altogether. These faculties are waiting for the time when human beings would recognize the importance of these inner capacities and decide to re-appropriate them so that they can play their rightful role in the reconstruction of humanity. For the time being though, modern thought has come to rely exclusively on science (or a philosophy that is the handmaiden of science) in its search for "objective" knowledge. But, as a matter of fact, neither science nor philosophy is by itself capable of reaching the truly "objective" knowledge regarding the actual nature of reality and the actual reality of the human being. Speaking about the limitations of science in the human quest for knowledge, Iqbal notes:

    Natural Science deals with matter, with life, and with mind; but the moment you ask the question how matter, life, and mind are mutually related, you begin to see the sectional character of the various sciences that deal with them and the inability of these sciences, taken singly, to furnish a complete answer to your question. In fact, the various natural sciences are like so many vultures falling on the dead body of Nature, and each running away with a piece of its flesh.... Natural Science is by nature sectional; it cannot, if it is true to its own nature and function, set up its theory as a complete view of Reality.8

    Whereas the limitation of science is that it is by nature "sectional," the limitation of philosophy is of a similar nature:

    Philosophy is an intellectual view of things; and, as such, does not care to go beyond a concept which can reduce all the rich variety of experience to a system. It sees Reality from a distance as it were.9

    Because of the obvious limitations of science and philosophy, it is equally obvious that the human being cannot truly realize his/her humanity if the individual is left to depend upon his/her physical and mental capabilities alone. In other words, the human ago, the Iqbalian khudi, cannot fulfill its true potential if the individual avails him/herself only of the resources of science and philosophy. For Iqbal it is only religion that can provide us with the intimate and holistic knowledge of Reality — the type of knowledge that is an essential prerequisite for the realization of our humanity. Iqbal argues:

    [Philosophy] is theory... [Religion] is living experience, association, intimacy. In order to achieve this intimacy thought must rise higher than itself, and find its fulfillment in an attitude of mind which religion describes as prayer — one of the last words on the lips of the Prophet of Islam.10

    This attitude of mind, though only in its most developed and highest form, is the theistic counterpart of Nietzsche’s atheistic will to power. Of course, the will is essential if one is to overcome the temptations of an immoral life, as demanded by religion. However, the will without the support of belief in something higher and more sublime cannot withstand the pull towards carnality and corruption.

    Khudi requires the coupling of will to power and belief, eventually realizing itself in the form of yaqeen or a deep inner conviction. In fact, it is undaunted conviction that serves as the pivotal point for the "self" to act and react to the sensual temptations of life. However, this conviction will not actualize itself unless the individual understands that his/her life has a purpose, and that this purpose has an individual as well as a collective dimension. The evolution and ascension of the ego is not merely a detached, personal, and individual event — this spiritual development has a collective dimension too that cannot be ignored. Iqbal notes that a great deal of sacrifice and benevolence is required on the part of a person in order to bring the individual, self-preserving ego in harmony with the collective ego. Consequently, the guiding principle in life cannot be one of conflict between the "self" and other "selves" if the dynamic process of the development of khudi is to take place. This process can only unfold if there is conscious realization of the tension between the individual and collective dimensions, a consciousness which in turn enables the individual personality to balance this tension. Iqbal defines "personality" as being this very state of tension, which, if not maintained, will cause indolence to set in, short-circuiting khudi’s process of development. The process of self-realization requires tension to be present, as tension is the well-spring of dynamism. The human being’s complete freedom from the limitations of the material world — and from materialism itself — is contingent upon the maintenance of this tension. In essence, the human being’s aspiration to achieve perfection necessarily requires the achievement of a balance between the individual ego and the collective ego. In Iqbal’s words:

    The life of the ego is a kind of tension caused by the ego invading the environment and the environment invading the ego. The ego does not stand outside this arena of mutual invasion. It is present in it as a directive energy and is formed and disciplined by its own experiences. 11

    This constant interaction between the individual ego and the environment provides the ideal opportunity for self-evaluation. As the individual interacts with her/his environment, he/she must be constantly assessing his/her own "self" not only on an individual basis but also in relation to other "selves" in the environment. But one should not lose sight of the fact that the initial emphasis is on the individual ego. Only that individual ego which has attained a degree of self-realization and self-understanding will be able to genuinely understand and constructively engage with other individual egos. This is another way of saying that only that ego which has learned self-respect, self-love, and self-affirmation will be able to extend respect and love to other selves, and also affirm their dignity and autonomy. Iqbal’s philosophy of khudi posits that a mature and developed understanding of respect, love, and affirmation on the part of individual ego requires respect, love, and affirmation for every other "self" because only that individual ego which is genuinely integrated with its environment and constructively engaged with other egos is really a conscious self.

    In the context of Iqbal’s philosophy, then, the progress of the individual human being depends on his/her relationship to the self, to the family, to the society, and ultimately to God. The gradual realization of this intricate and delicate web of relations will lead the individual to realize his/her fullest potential and significance. Ultimately, with the rise of ego-hood on Iqbalian terms, the individual can become the architect of human destiny. It is worth repeating the quatrain that was cited in the beginning regarding the motivation and essence of Iqbal’s intellectual and spiritual quest:

    Why should I ask the sages regarding my origin?

    It is my ultimate destiny that I am really concerned about.

    Elevate your khudi to such heights that before every decree

    God Himself asks you: "Tell me, what is your wish?"


    Iqbal, Allama Muhammad., The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Edited by M.S. Sheikh. (Lahore: Iqbal Academy Pakistan and Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986) p. 57. Iqbal, Allama Muhammad., "Note on Neitzsche" in Thoughts and Reflections of Iqbal. Edited by S. A. Vahid (Lahore: Ashraf Printing Press, 1922) p. 238.
    Reconstruction., Ibid., p. 122.
    Ibid., p. 84.
    Du Noüy, Le Compt., Human Destiny (1956) p. 369.
    Ibid., p. 109.
    MecIver, R. M., Society (London:Macmillan, 1953) p. 530.
    Reconstruction, Ibid., p. 33-34.
    Ibid., p. 49.
    Ibid., p. 49.
    Ibid., p. 82.

  • Islam Today Open or Close

    Charles Gai Eaton

    It has been said of the Irish people that they are "utterly immune to reality." There have been times when I have wondered if this might not also be said of the Muslims today, at least in terms of politics and of the bitter realities of the contemporary world. One should, of course, add that, on a higher level, the Muslims are fully aware of reality, the true Reality, the supreme Reality of Allah (SWT). But many of our brothers do seem to have only a hazy perception of the nature of the world in which they are now awakening. Significantly, the Irish were for many centuries an oppressed people. This is true also of the Muslim Ummah. It is understandable that the experience of intolerable oppression should result in an unwillingness to face facts. Unfortunately, facts have to be faced.

    There have always been Empires of one sort or another, but European imperialism had a unique quality. The only possible comparison would be with Roman imperialism, upon which it was modeled. It was based not only on superior worldly power, but also upon a claim to human superiority, that is to say, superiority in intelligence, morals, culture, and the general conduct of life. The Europeans did not simply say to their subjects, Asian or African: "We are stronger than you, so you must obey us." That would have been bearable. They said, in effect: "We are better than you, so you must learn from us as children learn from their teachers." Many of their subjects were persuaded to accept this assessment.

    Pride and self-confidence might have been restored if the subject peoples had won independence entirely through their own efforts. Except in the cases of Algeria and Indonesia, this was not so. Elsewhere the colonial powers withdrew, on the one hand because they had lost the will to rule, on the other for economic reasons. You might ask me: What about India? I am sorry if this offends anyone, but in my view the independence struggle would not have succeeded if the British had not lost the will to rule and the ruthlessness which reflects this will. Imagine how the Nazis or, for that matter, the Soviets under Stalin, would have dealt with Gandhi and others like him. I do not think they would have lived for long.

    I might add that I do have some knowledge of these matters. In the late 1950s, and early ´60s, I was employed by the British Colonial Office at the very time when many of the colonies, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean, were being given their independence. I remember very well that we — I have to say "we," since I was involved! — were in such haste to rid ourselves of these encumbrances that we were deeply dismayed when some small colony begged to be allowed to retain its colonial status rather than be set adrift on dangerous waters.

    It may be on account of the humiliation of the subject peoples on the moral and intellectual level that European colonialism was so destructive. Many years ago, as a student, I happened to read in a book of anthropology a quotation from an American Indian sage which greatly impressed me. It went something like this: "At the beginning of time, every people was given by the Great Spirit a cup from which to drink their lives. Our cup is broken. It can never be mended." This is true of the old cultures of Africa and of Polynesia as it is of the Amerindians. But this sage should have added that there is one way in which the cup may be replaced; that is by Revelation, which brings down a fresh, new cup from which the people drink their lives. This is why Islam was more resistant than other cultures to this destructive process.

    I have sometimes thought of comparing the Muslim Ummah today to an individual knocked over and badly injured by a speeding motorcar. After a while his physical injuries heal, broken bones are mended, and he can no longer use ill health as an excuse for his failures. It is then that the hidden symptoms of trauma, both psychological and physical, make their appearance. He is not quite the man he was. Perhaps he limps, though his legs are as good as new; sometimes he suffers from mental aberrations and from outbursts of futile anger, and he is unwilling to face facts. It takes a long time to recover from such a trauma.

    The case of the Muslims was different to all the others, for we had been, for roughly half the period between the Hijrah and today, the dominant power in the world, the dominant civilization. It is much more difficult for a master to tolerate a condition of slavery than it is for those who have never known power, authority, or independence. It is true that the Qur´an teaches us that, in the lives of peoples as in the lives of individuals, nothing endures and there is no certainty that those who are strong today will not be weak tomorrow: "Thou givest sovereignty to whom thou wilt and withdrawest sovereignty from whom thou wilt...." (Aal Imran 3:26). Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, we find the loss of power, and failure after success, particularly bitter. This is what makes it so difficult for us to consider our situation calmly, objectively, and in terms of factual reality.

    Can we still offer this bitter experience as an excuse for our behavior in recent years? I have mentioned before the passion that Muslims today have for quarreling, fighting, killing each other in the name of "Islam" and to the disgrace of Islam. The unbelievers look on. They watch. They call us "barbarians," but on account of our behavior. Now it is customary in the liberal, tolerant West to excuse every crime on the grounds that the criminal could not help acting as he did; his upbringing and social conditions, his ill treatment as a child or his misfortunes, are thought to excuse his crimes. Are we to justify ourselves in this way? Shall we say that colonialism, foreign exploitation, injustice, give us a right to fall so far below the standards of behavior required of us as Muslims? That, I think, would be a poor excuse, and it is not one that is in accordance with the teachings of Qur´an and Sunnah.

    Dr. Israr Ahmad has touched on these matters in his booklet on the Rise and Decline of the Muslim Ummah. Referring to the periods of chastisement suffered by the Jews and then by the Muslims, he points out that the period of deterioration and degradation has lasted much longer for the Muslims. He points out that the "majestic power structure of the Ummah" rotted from within. This, I think, forbids us to put all the blame on others. Those who invariably blame others for their own faults and failures are unlikely to make the necessary effort to correct these faults and redeem these failures. I mentioned in my first talk the loss of self-confidence which the Muslim Ummah has suffered and the need to re-establish self-confidence. I should, perhaps, amend that statement. We cannot, as Muslims, place full confidence in ourselves and in our own puny powers. We place our confidence in Allah (SWT). Having done so, we do not — or should not — sit down and go peacefully to sleep.

    On the contrary, we have two firm obligations, while placing our confidence in our Creator. The first is to strive to merit the Nasrullah, Divine Help, by molding ourselves and our lives to the requirements of our Faith, and in this way hoping to please our Creator. Secondly, we have to do what little we can, always within the bounds of righteousness, always within the limits set down in the Shari´ah. We cannot use our misfortunes as a justification for acting outrageously, unjustly, and without concern for the morality of our actions. If we do that, we have no right to complain if Divine Assistance does not always come to our aid.

    Something further must be added to righteousness as such, and that is sobriety, combined with realism and common sense. It is characteristic of the weak and the feeble to threaten when they cannot carry out their threats. You may remember the occasion when, a few years ago, Kaddafi promised to turn the Mediterranean into a "sea of blood." I am sure you will recall Saddam´s threat to soak the desert sand in the blood of the Americans. We all know what happened. I am aware of the tradition in Arab tribal conflict, the tradition of issuing dreadful threats thereby asserting the pride of the tribe and hoping to frighten the enemy. Such threats evoke in the West nothing but contemptuous laughter. There is a basic rule in all hostile encounters: Never issue a threat that you cannot be sure of carrying out if necessary. To some extent, the threats which certain Muslim rulers make and, indeed, which young revolutionary Muslims make, are simply a substitute for action because they lack the power to act effectively; but, under such circumstances, quietness and modesty are more appropriate and may even be more successful, provided that they are rooted in true Iman.

    If we consider the causes of our present weakness, we are obliged to look with sorrow and anxiety upon the political scene in the Muslim world. The first point I would like to draw to your attention is the prevalence of idolatry: the national leader as an idol. It is surely extraordinary that this should arise within the Dar-ul-Islam? We, of all people, should not be inclined to put a fellow human creature, fallible and imperfect as ourselves, upon a pedestal and bow down before him; and to become hysterical in shouting his praise is, for Muslims, a public disgrace. There is a hadith which seems to me of great significance in this context. As you will remember, a Companion (RAA) came to the Prophet (SAW) asking to be given the governorship of an area which had recently come within the fold of Islam. The reply he received was this: "Because you want it, you are not fit for it!" Where in today´s world shall we find a Head of Government who neither sought nor welcomed power?

    Leaders and governments are necessary for our convenience, and in the Dar-ul-Islam they are — or should be — the servants of the servants of Allah (SWT). With very rare exceptions they are where they are because they thirsted for power, by whatever means they may have achieved it. It was said by the great historian Lord Acton that: "All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." For their own good and, above all, for our good, our leaders need sometimes to be mocked so that they are not allowed to take themselves too seriously or to imagine that they are superior beings. This, I think, is one lesson that may be learned from the West. But, when megalomania sets in, as it has done with certain national leaders over the past few years, we must place some of the blame upon those who fed this man´s pride and vanity by rich flattery and adulation. We are weak, as the Qur´an frequently reminds us. Where is the man who can rise above the adulation of the people and remember that he is still no more than a poor servant? We should blame, not only the tyrant, but all those who encourage him in his tyranny.

    I still remember the amazement I felt in 1967, after Abdul-Naser had led the Arabs into that utterly disastrous conflict which left all Palestine in the hands of the Zionists, on seeing him adored by the mob. I had thought it likely that he would be seized and hanged from a Cairo lamppost! I could hardly have been more mistaken. This illustrates what I mean by political "idolatry."

    That brings me to the very difficult and sensitive question of "political Islam," that is to say Islam regarded primarily as a political ideology and often as a political slogan. Everyone says, everyone reminds me, that Islam is a total religion from which no aspect of human existence can be excluded, therefore politics is necessarily and rightly included within the orbit of the Faith. True. No one will disagree with this statement as it stands. But we have nonetheless to consider the context in which it is made. Islam is a religion, not an ideology. Ideologies, that is to say theories for the betterment of mankind and the creation of the perfect society, are the product of the Western mind and the Western history. As I see it, what we, as Muslims, should understand by "politics" is the disposition of the affairs of the community; the practical affairs, the governance and regulation of the community, the promotion of good in society and the suppression of evil. These things have nothing to do with Utopian theories.

    Some of our young people think that they are speaking — I should say shouting — for the Faith when they are simply intoxicated with theories, often the sick political theories originating in Europe and painted green to "Islamicise" them. In my view there are many things of foreign origin that never can be Islamicised — or "Islamised," as they say. These things are too alien to our Faith and too discordant in relation to our culture to be absorbed. We used to hear a great deal about "Islamic Socialism." In that case, one is tempted to ask "Why not Islamic atheism?" Surely we have, in Qur´an and Sunnah and, indeed, in the wisdom of the great thinkers of earlier times, the basis from which to construct something better?

    I mentioned in my last talk the young man in our mosque in London who, when reproached for the noise he and his friends were making when others wished to pray, responded with the words: "Go and pray somewhere else!" This suggests to me the substitution of a purely worldly, dunyawi, Islam for the Faith as it has been lived for the past fourteen centuries. It reminded me of something I was told a few years ago when I was in Tunisia. I was talking with an elderly university professor who said to me: "You know, forty years ago, all my students were Marxists. If a few of them were religious, they kept quiet about it for fear of being mocked. Today, all my students are enthusiastically Islamic. If a few of them are less enthusiastic, they keep quiet about it for fear of being beaten up." Does one immediately and without hesitation say: Alhamdulillah? I am not sure. It is not for us to judge what is in the hearts of these young people, but we may be permitted to wonder if, in the course of a few years, true Iman has entered into their very being. Is it possible that, having found that one political ideology — Marxist Socialism — has not led to success, Islam is now being used as an alternative ideology? What, then, if this too fails them?

    I recall also a hadith of Sayyidina Isa (AS) in one of the Gospels which, if I remember correctly, goes like this: "Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all the rest shall be added to you." I take this to mean that, if we give priority to first things, then secondary things will fall into place. This is not simply an ideal. It is a practical plan of action. With regard to the Jama´at-e-Islami, Dr. Israr Ahmad ascribes their failure to their misconceived notion of faith and the error of their view of Islam; in short, to attitudes based on the Western standpoint and showing a preference for material existence and worldly pursuits. This, surely, is a case in point.*

    The correct balance between, on the one hand, spirituality and concern for the Hereafter, and, on the other, concern for the affairs of this world is difficult to achieve, but we have to make the attempt and we have, in the Messenger of Allah (SAW), a perfect example of this balance. We know that the Akhirah is "better and more lasting"; logic compels us to take note of this fact. Although our ultimate fate depends upon Allah (SWT), yet seen from our side of the barzakh, it depends also upon our conduct here and now.

    This obliges us to pay adequate attention to the dunya, which, in any case, most of us must do for the sake of our livelihood. Of course the young think that life lasts forever. I have reached an age at which one is well aware of its brevity. To give exclusive attention to the dunya, even in the name of righteousness and in the cause of justice, is, to say the least, short-sighted. Moreover, there is another important consideration. There are two kinds of action in this world: the successful and the unsuccessful. Now unconsidered, hasty action, driven by passion rather than wisdom, tends to be unsuccessful, and the more emotionally involved one is in a particular action, the more likely one is to fail. To put this in its simplest terms, action must be rooted in contemplation. Contemplation in its turn demands detachment, that detachment which every Muslim should have at his disposal if he is fully aware of life´s brevity, aware of Divine Judgment, aware of the overwhelming presence of Allah (SWT). Here, it seems to me, virtue and practical necessity come together. The more we act as we should, the more likely we are to succeed.

    What I have said regarding detachment is, I think, in accordance with what Dr. Absar Ahmad says in the introduction to one of his brother´s publications: "True faith entails ceaseless vigil on purity of motive and inner integrity." This is indeed a difficult task. My impression of the young enthusiasts — what some would call the "fundamentalists" — in Britain is that they have no capacity to see themselves objectively and make no attempt to do so. When — perhaps understandably — they are angry, bitter, filled with hate, as they often are, they cover these entirely personal feelings (this fever of the nafs) with the coverlet of Islam. They are, I fear, angry on their own behalf, but have persuaded themselves that they are angry on behalf of Allah (SWT). It is, I must admit, all too easy to say this. Self-deception seems to be a human characteristic that is almost inescapable, and who among us can swear that he never deceives himself as to his real motives? But this, precisely, is why "ceaseless vigil" is so necessary. True Iman demands of us a mighty effort to examine and purify our motives and intentions. If this sometimes prevents us from acting when the need for action seems urgent, it also saves us from many foolish or wicked actions. Allah (SWT) does not ask the impossible of us. He does demand that we do our best, and that we refrain from attributing noble, religious motives to a motivation that is, at root, self-interested.

    No doubt I shall be accused by some of "quietism," a dreadful sin in the opinion of the activists. I rather wish that the English language included a corresponding term, "noise-ism"! Unfortunately it does not. But I am sure there are occasions when quiet is greatly preferable to noise, and may even be more efficacious in the long run. This reminds me of a little story I was told many years ago which I have retained in memory. Some young people came to an elderly Sheikh in Teheran and said to him: "It is such a beautiful day, we are going into the park to curse the memory of Abu Bakr and Umar." This, as I am sure you are aware, is the practice of certain extremist Shi´ah sects. The old man answered very politely: "How kind of you to invite me. It is indeed a beautiful day. But, if you will excuse me, I think I will stay at home and curse my own nafs." There is surely a lesson in this. Beware of those who embark on violent action before they have purified and tamed the nafs!

    This brings me, unavoidably, to the vexed question of the Islamic State. I must admit to you that I am in two minds when the subject is raised. In principle, I recognize the necessity for this. In practice I have reservations because of the ways in which it is proposed to bring this principle to realization. In considering this question, it seems to me that most of the activists think exclusively in terms of Law and in terms of a system. I tend to think in terms of people and of a community. For me, a truly Islamic State would be a community in which the vast majority of the people have true Iman in their hearts and are, in the full sense of the term, good Muslims by conviction. Then, surely, everything would come right? What worries me is the intentions of those who are more concerned with political systems than they are with the cultivation of Iman and who wish to impose what they believe to be an Islamic system upon the masses.

    You cannot impose Iman by force. You cannot impose virtue by force. La ikraha fid-Deen! I am not impressed by those who seem to think that, in order to establish such a State, it is sufficient to cover up the women, pour whisky down the drains, and introduce severe punishments. It is my belief that the imposition of virtue by force leads, eventually, to a reaction in the opposite direction. We have a prime example of this is British history. Oliver Cromwell, as military Dictator in the 17th century, tried to do precisely this. The outcome, within a very few years, was the Restoration period, a time of the utmost license and moral laxity. Outside the domain of religion as such, we have a telling example in what has happened to the former Soviet Union. It is sometimes forgotten that Lenin´s intention was not to set up a perfect political system immediately but to create a new kind of human being, the "new Soviet man." I am sure he understood very well that the achievement of a communist society would be quite impossible unless human nature underwent a radical change. I believe history demonstrates to us that human nature cannot be radically changed. After 70 years of harsh rule and the murder by Stalin of all those whom he considered to be unregenerate, we see the Russians and other former subjects of the Soviet Empire just as greedy, just as selfish, just as inclined to immorality as any other people. All that pressure and indoctrination had no effect whatsoever.

    Moreover, those who are most intent upon setting up a truly Islamic State overnight seem to forget that the Mercy of Allah (SWT) takes precedence over His wrath. In my view, which is not widely shared, the introduction of hadd punishments should be the final step in creating such a State, not the first step. Until we have a genuinely Islamic society, until there is the kind of social justice required by Islam, I am doubtful whether it is legitimate to impose the full rigor of the Law. We should proceed gently, and never in haste (which, according to a hadith, comes from the Shaytan!). We should proceed cautiously and humbly, not arrogantly and impulsively, and we should not attempt to break old habits — even if they are bad habits — overnight, for that involves breaking people. And we should never make the mistake of underestimating the problems.

    The Prophet (SAW) pointed out that his was the best generation, with the clear implication that there would be an inevitable decline in spiritual quality thereafter. If the Muslims of the early centuries did not succeed in establishing the ideal Islamic State, then we should not assume so readily that we can do what better men than us could not do, unless there comes about a profound renewal of Iman and what I would dare to describe as a miraculous intervention on the part of Allah (SWT).

    So what of the Shari´ah? Does not every Muslim have the right to live under the Shari´ah or under a government which acts in accordance with the Shari´ah? Yes indeed, in principle. But I find among those who talk most about Shari´ah a lack of definition. Some mean by this simply the general principles drawn from Qur´an and Sunnah. Others mean the full body of Law created, so far as we are concerned, by the four madhhahib and, for the Shi´ah, Jaffari Law. We need to define this term when we use it. If we mean everything embodied in Islamic fiqh, then we must face some awkward issues. Many ordinary and, perhaps, uneducated Muslims are convinced that the Shari´ah, understood in this sense, has answers to every possible questions. I see this exemplified almost every week at the London Mosque. A simple man comes to the Chief Imam (who was trained in fiqh at Al-Azhar) and says: "I am thinking of doing such-and-such. Is this halal or haram?" The Imam points out the difficulties in arriving at an infallible answer. Imam Malik (RA), he says took one view, Shafi´i (RA) another; moreover, there is nothing in the Law books exactly corresponding to the man´s dilemma. His visitor is so furious at not receiving a clear answer that he starts shouting: "You´re not a Muslim. You´re a kafir!"

    How can we expect the ancient laws we have inherited to solve every problem in this extraordinary world in which we live? Let me take one example: the question of organ transplants. Al-Azhar has given approval to this practice, and I think most authorities agree. Islam favors the preservation of human life when this is possible. On the other hand, Islam does not favor the mutilation of the dead body. Moreover, when any new technique is devised, one has to consider not only the situation as it is today, but also the situations to which it may lead. Is this what we call in England "the thin end of the wedge"? It is difficult, for example, to object to transplantation of the cornea. Who could object to giving sight to the blind? The question is where we draw the line and whether this line can in fact be drawn. I find myself imagining a situation in which human bodies are kept alive on machines while one organ, then another and then another is removed until nothing is left but a shell, which may then be buried. As a Muslim, I have an instinctive revulsion against this, but I cannot prove (from Qur´an or Sunnah) that I am right.

    An even more difficult question is that of genetic engineering, which is already applied to domesticated animals. The genetic structure of a cow is altered so that it produces more milk. It was recently pointed out in a television program that it would be possible to design a cow without legs, which, because it would not be using any energy moving around, would produce even more milk. From this it is a short step to changing the genetic structure in human beings. Can we honestly say that the Shari´ah has answers to such questions? I think not. But I would like to believe that answers may be found in the heart of the Muslim who possesses true Iman. To say this is to speak of the Muslim whose very substance has been penetrated by the Qur´an. The Lady Ayesha (RAA), questioned about the nature of her husband, said that his nature was the Qur´an. As Muslims we hate the word "incarnation," but I think it is legitimate to use this world in relation to such a man. Do I shock you if I suggest that the Qur´an was "incarnate" in the heart and the soul and the human substance of the Messenger of Allah (SAW)? The man — and such men are rare — of whom this is at least partially true may, perhaps, give spontaneous answers to questions with which the Law does not deal in accordance with Qur´an and Sunnah. If I am wrong about this, then where do we turn for answers that are in accordance with our Faith?

    I spoke earlier of the Law. It seems to me that the application of this Law in modern times has to be flexible. Amongst the many radical differences between Islam and the contemporary Western world, the attitude to Law is particularly significant. In the West, laws are changed according to public opinion which changes, if not from one year to the next, then certainly from one decade to the next. What was "wrong" ten years ago is "right" today, and vice versa. Take the example of homosexuality. When I was young, such practices were punishable with a long term of imprisonment; now it is an offense to discriminate against homosexuals. I was recently asked to look at a Police Training Manual because there was a section in it dealing with the Muslim community. I glanced also at other parts of the manual and came across the statement that homosexuality is just as "normal" as heterosexuality. This is surely an indication of the way in which so-called "moral values" change in the course of a few years? On the other hand, these laws, so long as they remain on the statute book, are rigidly applied.

    In Islam, because the basic laws are derived from an Eternal Source and not from constantly changing human opinions, these laws are, as such, unalterable. At the same time, allowance is made for circumstances and for the conditions of the time. The Prophet (SAW) after all advised us to "avert penalties by doubts," and you will recall that, in the face of special circumstances — a famine — Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RAA) permitted the people to eat forbidden food. I suggested earlier that, as things are, the more severe laws of the Shari´ah should be applied only with hesitation and while making allowances for circumstances. What matters, from our point of view, is to hold tight to the principles and make sure we do not lose sight of them, while acting in a merciful, humane, and sensible way.

    I have expressed my opinions. They are only opinions, and I have a good reason for emphasizing this point. I spoke earlier of the necessity for Muslims to "agree to differ." Clearly, most of us have great difficulty in applying this principle, hence the bitter and angry divisions amongst our people. Why is this? I have a theory which I will submit to you in the hope that some may think it makes sense. I call this the theory of "leakage." Let me put it to you this way. Islam is based upon certainties, just as Christianity is based upon a person. We speak of faith but, so far as these self-evident certainties are concerned, we might equally well speak of "knowledge." We acknowledge that Allah (SWT) is One without partner, that Muhammad (SAW) is His final and conclusive Messenger, and that the Qur´an is His word, eternal and unalterable. Beyond this there are opinions of every kind, but no opinion is final, no opinion carries with it the seal of certainty. We shall know soon enough who was right and who was wrong, and that must suffice us in this world.

    Since we are accustomed to being certain about the essentials, we tend very easily to lend this same quality of certainty to convictions, beliefs, and opinions which carry upon them the mark of human fallibility. In other words, the sense of certainty leaks out from its proper domain into the realm of relativity which is, almost by definition, the realm of uncertainty. We are not content to believe that our personal opinions are correct. We make them articles of the Faith, claim that they are infallibly based upon Qur´an and Sunnah, and condemn as kafirs all who do not share these opinions. That is what I would define as "fanaticism," and it is a source of weakness in the Ummah. What we most need, if we are to live at peace and to cooperate together for the general good, is a touch of humility concerning our opinions. If we cannot achieve this, then we are likely to face a bleak future.

    In the situation in which we find ourselves at the end of the 20th century of the Christian era, we cannot afford disunity. We would do well to say: "He who is not our enemy is our friends"; a policy adopted by the Prophet (SAW) himself at certain critical times. There is a common English saying that those who do not "hang together" (in the sense of uniting and cooperating) are "sure to hang separately" (perhaps from the nearest tree). If we are not prepared to "hang together" for religious reasons, as we should, then let us at least do so for practical reasons. So far as the Muslim States are concerned, it may be said that they face a stark alternative. Either they must learn to make common cause in close cooperation, forming a powerful block with an effective voice in world affairs, or else they may continue to quarrel among themselves, in which case they will have to do as they are commanded by the West and bury, deep in the sand, any sense of pride they might have. We have seen all this before. Meditate for a moment on the story of Muslim Spain, defeated from within by disunity.

    Human beings, if they have an atom of good sense or even of self-interest, will usually combine in the face of a danger that threatens them all. As you know, I was born in Switzerland, and it seems to me that, of all the countries in the world, the Swiss have found the most satisfactory solution to the political problem, the problem of living together peacefully in spite of differences. They do not even have a shared language, since they speak, according to the area in which they live, French, German, Italian, or Romansh. Yet no country could be more united. Why is this? Simply because, whether rightly or wrongly, they have always believed themselves to be under threat from their more powerful neighbors. Their unity is therefore a unity imposed by their geopolitical situation. We too are threatened by those more powerful than ourselves. Will that sense of shared danger ever persuade us to unite? I do not know.

    But I do know that, if such unity is achieved, it must include real and practical concern for our fellow Muslims who do not have the benefit of living in the relative safety of a country such as Pakistan. I need not recite to you the list of Muslim communities who are persecuted and oppressed. I am sure you have this list in your heads and, I hope, in your hearts, the most recent case being that of the Burmese Muslims killed, tortured, and exiled. However much we may be concerned with our own problems, it is not permissible for a Muslim to ignore or even be unaware of the sufferings of his brothers and sisters who are persecuted and driven from their homes.

    When, as a child, I was being foolish or lazy, I was told to "pull my socks up," no doubt a very English way of putting things. Let me say that it is time that we, as Muslims, "pulled our socks up"! But, if we are to do so, we must be true to our Faith, not only in outward behavior, but inwardly. All strength comes from Allah (SWT), which, in effect, means that it is rooted in Iman. Our Islam, in the sense of obeying the Divine commands blindly from hope for Paradise or fear of hell, is not enough. The power and the sweetness of Iman is essential, most of all when we are shaken and unmanned by the problems with which this world presents us today.

    I ended my third talk by saying that it is quite impossible to make predictions about the future. Indeed it is. But there is one final point I would like to make before concluding. Everything in the dunya sooner or later declines and everything comes to an end. The life-span of a civilization or a culture is limited just as the life-span of the individual is limited. We tend to assume, or many of us assume when trying to come to terms with the modern world, that Western civilization will go on, if not for ever, at least for the foreseeable future. Yet, like every other civilization or culture, it contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. There will be an end to it, as there is an end to everything under the sun. We shall be better placed, as Muslims, when that time comes if we have been true to our Faith, true to our traditions and true to ourselves. We may feel defenseless here and now. So perhaps we are, if we think of this only in worldly terms, but what we possess — in the Qur´an and in the Sunnah of our Prophet (SAW) — is incalculably more precious than anything that the West holds in its hands today.

    We have reasons for anxiety. We have no excuse for despair. But if we allow ourselves to be too dazzled, too impressed by that worldly dominion, that worldly strength, which looms over us for the time being, then we shall indeed be the losers. Let us take the long view and live together in peace, doing what we can to purify our hearts and our intentions and trusting in Allah (SWT). We really have no practical alternative!

  • Islamic Reniassance and the Real Task Ahead Open or Close

    Islamic Renaissance: The Real Task Ahead

    Dr. Israr Ahmad

    1. Global Domination of Western Thought

    The present age can rightly be described as the age of the predominance of Western philosophical thought and learning. The Western ideas about the nature of man and the universe are strongly upheld all around the world. Having taken shape roughly two hundred years ago, these ideas were continuously affirmed and reinforced by theorists and philosophers. Though politically the present-day world may be divided into number of blocs, one single philosophical point of view prevails throughout. This attitude has colored all human civilization and culture at the global level. No doubt there are also found here and there some alternative view points, but they are of marginal importance. The people both in the Occident and in the Orient who really have a say in public affairs, political as well as social and cultural, are without exception adhering to this viewpoint. The dominance of Western culture and philosophical thought is so pervasive and universal that even the point of view of such people as are struggling against it in some countries turns out on closer examination to be itself greatly influenced by the West. Indeed, they are themselves to a great extent Western in their approach and method and even in their purported ideology. They too think in terms of Western philosophy and ideology with the result that they lose their impact and efficacy to oppose it.

    2. The Fundamental Point of View

    The thought pattern which is operative at the basis of present-day culture and civilization was not hatched in a day, nor is it a simple and abstract phenomenon. Over the past hundred and fifty or two hundred years European philosophers developed a number of schools of thought about the nature of man and human life, but one central attitude that persisted all through these variegated philosophical theories and went on gaining momentum was the disregard for ideational and transcendental concepts. Concrete fact and physical phenomena became the core and object of human inquiry and philosophical quest. God, soul, and the Hereafter gradually disappeared from the spectrum of thought, yielding place respectively to discussions about the nature of the physical universe, matter, and human terrestrial existence. Though at the academic level it was said that we neither affirm nor reject the doctrines about God, soul, and life-after-death, yet this avowedly agnostic position quite understandably led to the gradual elimination of these ideas from philosophical inquiry and discussion.

    God has imbued man with a great many capacities and mental faculties to exploit to his benefit any field or domain in which he applies them. Every earnest research worker can explore a new world in the domain of his selected field of inquiry. Compared with the vastness and grandeur of the universe the shining sun itself is nothing more than a tiny speck, while a tiny particle of dust may open up for a scientist realms hardly less in complexity and fascination than the shining sun. Similarly, the universe, matter, and terrestrial existence may look extremely trivial in contrast to God, the soul, and the life Hereafter, but if these mundane concerns are made the subject of study and research, they may lead to boundless vistas of knowledge.

    This actually happened in Europe. When the universe and matter were brought under scientific investigation, man gradually discovered to his utter astonishment a clue to power and energy in apparently dead and inert material phenomena. And this led to a new revolution in the realm of knowledge and technology. A series of scientific discoveries led to greater control and exploitation of nature, and a wealth of new inventions made Europe an invisible power. The great impact and efficacy of the properties of matter became reasons for focusing attention on physical laws in place of the spirit. As against the age-old discussions about God, His attributes, and spiritual entities, the physical universe and exploitation of natural forces were given prime importance in human inquiry.

    3. Political and Ideological Onslaught of the West on the Islamic World

    The newly acquired scientific knowledge and technical know-how gave to the West tremendous superiority in arms and military equipment. Its political power swept across the world in a very short time. Eastern nations and their governments crumbled before it like sand castles. Since the Muslim states of the Near and Middle East bore the brunt of this attack, the onslaught of the West struck Islam and Muslim nations the severest blow. The whole Muslim world was subjugated by Western imperialist powers in a matter of a few decades.

    The West´s occupation of the Islamic world was two-fold, military and political as well as ideological and cultural. But since the European attack was primarily and initially political, the reaction against it in the Islamic world contained in its early stages a sense of revolt against political repression only. The painful realization by the Muslim world of the fact of European domination and the fragmentation of its own strength, either in the form of direct political rule and annexation or in the guise of indirect involvement and support of puppet governments, was expressed in heart-rending poems. The nostalgic memory of the glorious past and the passionate desire to regain the old strength and solidarity, indeed the desire to set the clock backward, expressed itself at one time in the volatile personality of Jamaluddin Afghani and at another in the form of Tehreek-e-Khilafat. But reality prevailed over emotions and the political domination of the West became an established fact.

    Immediately after consolidating its political hegemony, Europe started disseminating her ideological principles and point of view with a missionary zeal so as to capture and control the ideas and thoughts of Muslim nations. The material and scientific progress of the West had already dazzled the eyes of the world´s conquered people. Moreover any superior nation must have some fundamental human qualities which help her to achieve her expansionist goals. The apparent evidences of Europeans´ superiority contributed greatly to infuse defeatism in the minds of Muslims, and a vast majority of them began to appropriate Western ideas and values uncritically. Since the Europeans had themselves many schools of thought in the field of philosophy and social sciences, there was some scope of debate, counterposition, and selective adoption in these fields. But as the findings of science had an element of certainty and its results were practical and tangible, they were not open to dispute. Science was therefore received with as much enthusiasm as should be accorded to Divine Revelation, and a large number of educated men in the Islamic world consciously or unconsciously accepted a secular and materialistic point of view. The entire Islamic world, including its deeply religious core, started giving more importance to material existence and worldly life, and less importance to God, the spirit, and the life Hereafter. A radical change of emphasis from transcendental themes to material and worldly pursuits occurred not only in Islamic society in general, but also in its religious leaders and scholars.

    4. The Early Defensive Attempts and their Achievements

    The Islamic world made a number of attempts to meet the Western ideological onslaught, and many convinced and devout Muslims worked wholeheartedly to protect their faith and religion. These attempts to defend and safeguard Islamic values were of two types, the first being limited to mere protection but others sought apologetic compromise and attenuation.

    The merely defensive efforts to protect religious values and beliefs can be described, to quote Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani, as the following of Ashab-e-Kahaf´s Attitude. They fled from the mainstream of social life in order to hold fast to faith. Even though this might appear to be sheer escapist in motivation, it was in fact based on the realistic acceptance of the truth that the Muslim world was not able to mount a direct frontal offensive on the West. The only was that remained open was to keep away from the flood tide of secularism and hold fast to religious faith, caring little for those who derided this approach. As a matter of fact, whatever meager success was achieved in the defense of faith was made possible through this approach. The faith of a section of the Muslim community was saved from atheistic influences and a few candles of faith were left alight in the darkness of crass materialism. The structure of the faith and religious law was maintained through sermons and the teachings of the Qur´an and Hadith. The most important phenomena of this type of struggle in the Indo-Pak subcontinent was the establishment of a Dar-ul-Uloom at Deoband. In name a mere scholastic institution, it was in reality the harbinger of a great revivalist movement.

    The fundamental principle of the more aggressive approach was to keep up with the changing times without loosing faith. To achieve this they undertook to sift the sound from the fallacious in modern ideas and to construct a modernist version of Islam in order to prove its veracity as well as its capacity to meet modern challenges effectively.

    At first, sings of defeatism were manifest in those who took up this work. A number of pseudo-scholastic thinkers of India and Egypt started to test the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith in the light of the new rationalism of the West. As a result of this, religious beliefs were attenuated and their metaphysical concepts were reinterpreted in purely scientific terms. Sayyid Ahmed Khan in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and Mufti Muhammad Abduh in Egypt and their acolytes attempted to formulate a modern interpretation of Islam to save it from anachronism and allow believers to make headway on the path of scientific progress like the Europeans. Their motives may have been sincere and their dedication genuine, but thorough these attempts Islam undeniably lost its very spirit and élan. The influence of Western materialism resulted in a non-religious version of Islam. Thus these attempts served only a negative purpose: saving of those who were already completely Europeanized in culture and life-style from being called “un-Islamic.” Their inclusion in the fraternity of Muslim brotherhood remained unchallenged, and this new version of Islam was presented to the West on their behalf as an “apology.”

    5. The Development of the Social Sciences

    The fundamentals of Western philosophy, disguised as suspension of judgment or agnosticism, were in fact the denial of God and the life Hereafter. They caused the physical universe to replace the transcendental concepts of God and soul from the center of human concern and inquiry. Numerous scientific discoveries and inventions naturally followed from this exclusive emphasis on worldly interests. Eschatological doctrines of life-after-death were completely rejected as topics of research in favor of the immediacy of world existence. As a result of persistent and exclusive thinking about the multifarious aspects of worldly life, a number of sociological and politico-economic theories were conceived and put forward. These theories gradually developed into full-fledged ideologies and world-views. Confined to strictly academic discussion in the earlier stages, these world-views were later made the social, political, and economic basis of nations. The age-old political systems based on traditional feudalism were replaced by nationalism, dictatorship, and democracy, and ancient economic system by capitalism and socialism. A number of new political and economic movements emerged in the wake of these changes.

    6. The Idea of an “Islamic Way of Life” and the Twentieth Century Islamic Movements

    The world of Islam also received the impact of Western ideas in the field of social sciences, and Muslims began to propound Islam as a system of life. Islamic teachings were projected as an all-embracing “system of life,” and movements in different lands were launched to implement and put into practice this system of life.

    These twentieth century revivalist movements started almost simultaneously in Muslim countries from Indonesia to Egypt. They were similar in a number of ways. Indeed it would not be far from true to say that they were all animated by a single conception of religion. It must be admitted, in all fairness, that these efforts imparted credibility to Islam as a code of life superior to other ideologies, and have weakened the influence of the West upon the young.

    There were other factors which helped to limit the influence of Western ideas and culture. The sweeping military and political victories of the Western colonial powers were checked with the passage of time and in many countries were met with forceful and sustained nationalist freedom movements. Consequently Western countries were forced to withdraw their political hegemony from occupied lands.1

    Though political influence and economic domination in the form of defense pacts or military and monetary aid programs are still very much there, almost the entire Muslim bloc has got ride of the yoke of direct rule by imperialist powers. In many Muslim countries nationalist freedom and self-rule movements were launched, and these invariably appealed to religious sentiments of the people for sparking off feelings of nationalism. There was no alternative to this, as Muslim nationalism had no anchorage other than Islam. This appeal to religion, however, was more like a slogan than an existential concern for the Islamic faith. Yet it did strengthen the idea of the revival of Islam. At the same time, the hollowness of Western civilization has been clearly brought out by the two disastrous world wars, so that even the West has come to consider the foundations of its own culture as ill-conceived and misguided. Materialistic atheism reached its logical culmination in the forms of socialism and communism, and moral as well as religious values were reinterpreted in purely economic terms. This alarmed Western peoples themselves, and they began to propound a new philosophy of humanism which was quite sympathetic to spiritual values. In the realm of science new physical theories shook the very foundations of Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry. Matter was no longer considered as something permanent and tangible, and the former absolute faith in mechanical laws gave way to less rigid views of the universe. This made easier to affirm metaphysical beliefs, and gave support to religion.

    Supported by these factors, movements for “Islamic Renaissance,” “establishment of government according to the Will of God,” and “enforcement of the Islamic system of life” were started in various Muslim countries. Of all these, the Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslemoon, which began in Egypt was the most prominent in point of quantitative strength and emotional fervor. The Indo-Pak subcontinent´s Jama`at-e-Islami however, occupies a distinguished place among these movements, based as it is on a solid and strongly defended thought-system.

    These movements have been active in Muslim countries for more than thirty years and a substantial number of Muslim youth has been influenced by them. But it is an irony of history that practically none of these movements has achieved any remarkable success. Rather it seems as if they have outlived the span of their lives, and the moment is not yet ripe when the fond hopes for the renaissance of Islam can be realized. Egypt´s Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslemoon has met almost complete disintegration within the country, and its few remaining members are scattered all over the Middle East and Europe. The Indo-Pak subcontinent´s Jama`at-e-Islami fared no better, a greater portion of its potentialities having been spent up in the politics of Pakistan. At the moment it has hardly any program other than joining hands with various political parties in the struggle for democracy.

    One may think that the real cause of the failure of these revivalist movements lies in the impatience of their leaders. That is to say, they perhaps hastily, without first changing the minds of a considerable number of the country´s intelligentsia, took part in active politics, which resulted in premature clash with the national leadership and the so-called “progressive” elements. But in truth their failure is a direct result of their misconceived notion of faith and the error in their view of Islam.

    7. The Error of their Interpretation of Islam

    These movements´ understanding and view of Islam are based on the same Western standpoint, preferring material existence and worldly pursuits to spirit and the life Hereafter. Though the metaphysical beliefs of Islam which collectively constitute Islamic faith are affirmed in their studies of Islam, they have not been properly stressed. Their gaze has been exclusively fixed on the teachings and precepts which Islam has laid down for the multifarious practical aspects of life and to which they have given the name of Islami Nizam-e-Hayat. Their interpretation of Islam affirms all the religious beliefs but it lacks the inner state of deep faith in God (Iman Billah) which alone makes us know Allah as the only absolutely powerful agent and the ultimate cause within us and in the cosmos. The belief in the Hereafter is asserted but it is practically devoid of the living faith, which was described by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he commanded: “Live in this world like a stranger or wayfarer.”

    Similarly, the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW) is not denied, yet there is no real love or heart-felt attachment to him. For the more progressive elements, the Prophet had a role hardly higher than that of a postman or a leader of the social life of the Muslim community.2 And even those who hold the Sunnah as definitive and fundamentally important in religious matters, have created a loop-hole in it by making a distinction between Sunnah adat and Sunnah risalat. This bifurcation has made it possible for its propounders to live freely at least their private lives in harmony with the fashionable trends of the times. In a word, faith is upheld only to the extent which suffices for one to be called a “Muslim” in the legal sense of the term. The inner experience of faith which truly fulfills and validates the propositions of Islamic belief is not present. Indeed nobody seems to be aware of its importance and indispensability.

    It is an outcome of this very standpoint that the practice of the Islamic faith has come to be regarded as synonymous with the State, and worship (Ibadah) simply equivalent to obedience (Ita`ah). The Prophet´s statement that prayer (Salat) is the spiritual ascension of the believer is completely disregarded. The attachment of the human soul to prayer to the degree that it becomes the only source of inner happiness and peace is nowhere to be seen. 3 Contrary to this, the more progressive elements have identified the canonical prayer with the social order of the community. Some others assign importance to it only in so far as it is a comprehensive method for the organization of the Muslim community. The power of Zakat, the annul poor due, to develop and purify the soul is regarded as secondary to its role in the Islamic economic system or national welfare scheme. Fasting is commonly said to be an exercise in self control, but its potency to vitalize the soul by relaxing the shackle of the corporeal body upon it is either not fully realized or left unexpressed. The Prophet´s saying (Al Saum Al-Junnah) 4 is often reiterated in religious writings and sermons and a good deal of time is spent in its explanation. But the holy traditions (Al-Saum li...) 5 is mentioned briefly and cursorily if at all. Similarly it is common knowledge about Pilgrimage that this provides the pivot of worship around which a vast universal brotherhood is organized. But its deeper religious significance and the spiritual blessings it brings are seldom expressed.

    This new interpretation of Islam is a direct result of the universal domination of Western philosophical thought which has completely secularized the point of view of Muslims. Consequently the soul and its inner life is wholly discarded in favor of the affairs of worldly life which constitute the sole object of thought and reflection. This has resulted in a materialistic interpretation of faith and religion. Though at the theoretical level it is said that Islam is a comprehensive system of human welfare, concerned with both this world and the Hereafter. But since their eyes are firmly fixed on the problems of this-worldly existence. Islam is in the final analysis reduced to a political and social system. Theological beliefs are considered as no more than a “veil,” facade, or outer crust.6 The real mission they have set for themselves is the enforcement of this system of life and conduct. The yearning for communion with God, adoration of Him and humble supplication before Him, which are the real essence of worship, are relegated to a peripheral status.7

    The import of all these movement is more social and political than religious. They are more this-worldly than other-worldly. They are distinguished from other political and economic movements only in holding the Islamic way of life as a better solution to human problems than the life systems enunciated by capitalistic democracy or communism. And this is tantamount to saying that the task of reviving the real values of Islam has not yet even started.

    This is the reason why these Islamic revivalist movements are comparable to ships without anchors drifting to and fro on the waves. Quite often they behave helplessly like a traveler who neither knows his destination nor remembers where he started from.

    8. Revitalization of Faith: The Necessary Precondition of an Islamic Renaissance

    Modern rationalistic and pseudo-scientific interpretations of Islam are quite alien to Islam itself and lack a direct link with the original mission of the Prophet (SAW). They are devoid of the spiritual message that is the heart of the Qur´anic revelation. They fail to appreciate Islam as a spiritual and metaphysical tradition. But since Islam is essentially based on inward faith known in Arabic as Iman, its renaissance can never be brought about without first reviving and indeed revitalizing the faith of a large part of the Muslim community. There is no denying the importance of political freedom and the independence of Muslim countries and these have undoubtedly contributed to generate greater awareness of Islamic values and ideals. Similarly, the idea of an Islamic way of life and confidence in its superiority over other ideologies has been useful to a limited extent and deserves our praise. The movements which were launched in the past or are still engaged in advancing the cause of freedom are in fact contributing partially and in their own way towards the revival of the Islamic message. But the most real and fundamental task in this regard still remains to be done. It is imperative for the entire intelligentsia of the Muslim world to pay attention to, and whosoever realizes its real importance should strive for the cardinal principle that a forceful movement be launched for reviving and revitalizing the Iman in the whole of the Muslim Ummah. In this way, Iman must be transformed from mere verbal attestation (qal) to an inward existential faith (hal).8

    Iman is essentially attestation of, and inner faith in, some metaphysical truths. The first step towards attaining this faith is to believe more firmly in some truths even though they are not observable or perceptible, and to hold the things heard by the heart to be more trustworthy than the things heard by the ear. Belief in the unseen (Iman bil-Ghaib) is the first and foremost condition of Iman and this requires a radical change in the thought system and in the point of view of the believer. According to this new perspective, the whole order of creation should be taken as nothing more than a fleeting appearance or shadow, whereas the existence of God should be felt as an eternally living Reality. Contrary to the view that the universe is a chain of eternally present and uncreated causes and effects or the world is governed by “natural” forces and rigid mechanical laws, the Will of God and His design and purpose should be “seen” and felt in operation at all times and in all parts of the cosmos. Matter is looked upon as insignificant, and the soul is thought to be man´s essence. The locution Insan is not to be attributed to man´s animal and corporeal body but to the Divine spirit, the presence of which makes man superior to angels.9 Worldly life should appear to be transitory and unreal, and life Hereafter should alone be taken as real and ever-lasting. The pleasure of God should be held as more valuable than the attainment of all the riches of this world. And, according to a saying of the Prophet (SAW) riches of the world should not be assigned more value than a mosquito´s wing deserves. Let it be clearly and distinctly understood that unless and until a major portion of the Muslim Ummah really undergoes this profound transformation in thought and belief, the vision and the fond hope of an Islamic renaissance can never be realized.

    The most effective way to implant and inculcate faith in the hearts of the Muslim masses is the company and fellowship of such deeply religious persons whose hearts and minds are illumined by Divine knowledge and by the light of faith, persons whose hearts are untouched by conceit, hypocrisy, rancor, and avarice. It was through ceaseless evangelist and disseminating work, teaching and exhortation as well as practical examples portrayed through their conduct of life, that a continuous chain of pious and God-intoxicated people kept the beacon of faith burning after the collapse of Khilafah ala minhaj al-Nubuwwah.10 Even though the winds of Western atheism and materialism are blowing high in Muslim lands, yet one can find here and there persons whose hearts and minds are full of certitude and staunch faith. The need of the time now is that the movement for Islamic faith and Iman be popularized and extended far and wide so that each and every inhabited piece of Muslim territory does have a few dedicated and selfless preachers whose sole aim in life is the pursuit of Allah´s pleasure, men who, in obedience to the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), make religious and moral guidance of people their sole aim and ambition in life.11

    Fortunately, in the recent past there has emerged in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent a mass religious movement, the impact of which is visible on a vast multitude of people. It has led them to a firm belief in Islam and the radical change of values that this entails. That is to say, the Creator, spiritual existence, the human soul and the life Hereafter are held superior to the whole order of creation and worldly life. This movement is the Jamaat-e-Tableegh. It is an off-shoot of the movement of Deoband. It was founded and initiated by persons of deep and inner religious conviction. Although more than a third of a century has flown past, its fervor and emotional zeal has not abated a bit. Though we do not wholly agree with its approach and methodology, there is no denying the fact that it has brought about a complete change in the thinking of a great many people, who have started to feel that it is the Creator and not the crated objects that should command our attention and that the uncaused first cause, 12 and not finite causes, is of prime importance. Similarly they develop a strong belief that it is not food or water but the Will of God that mitigates hunger and quenches thirst. Even the minor injunctions and precepts of the faith start appearing to them as of intrinsic worth and goodness without being grounded upon any logical argumentation or considered as part of a system of life or as means to establish it. The smallest details of the Holy Prophet´s Sunnah appear to these people as pregnant with light (noor) and splendor. They content themselves with the minimum material requirements of life and spend a major part of their time and energy in the propagation of Islam in their own way.

    But as this movement addresses the sentiments and not the reason of the people and its main emphasis lies on action and not on understanding, its influence and efficacy is limited. The members of a community who hold reason and understanding to be superior to sentiments and action, remain uninfluenced by this type of preaching. The very mental constitution of these people compels them not to appropriate passionately anything that does not satisfy the test of reason and critical inquiry. They cannot attain the deeper levels of religious life without first untying the intellectual knots of their minds. These are the people who constitute the intellectual minority of a society and who command leadership over its ideology and policy. A change and indeed a total revolution in their viewpoint and way of thought is therefore of paramount importance. If Iman and belief could not be kindled in their hearts and they remained in the darkness of disbelief, faith occurring merely in the lower strata of society could not guarantee Islamization in a real and enduring sense.

    9. The Real Task Ahead

    For this reason the most essential task to be undertaken is to launch a high-powered academic movement which brings about a real change in the educated elite and intelligentsia of the society, taking them from the darkness of materialism and atheism to the light of faith and belief. This movement should be aimed at inducing in them a worshipful attitude and a heightened self awareness.13 This objective can only be achieved at a strictly academic level through a cogently reasoned presentation of Islamic beliefs and a strong refutation of atheistic and materialistic philosophies. In this connection a point must be borne in mind. Since in our age fast means of communication have considerably increased mobility and the whole world can be looked upon as one human family, the aforesaid academic level of discussion will not be limited to one particular country. Rather it would be required to come up to the highest standard of sophistication found anywhere in the world. This colossal work must be extremely painstaking. But the vision of an Islamic renaissance which does not fulfill this requirement is like living in a fool´s paradise.

    The first thing essential for this movement is to get in its fold such intelligent and talented young men who have a keen desire for knowledge and whose minds and souls are burning for the attainment of truth. These young men must experience an inner feeling that the ultimate reality is far from the realm of sensuous objects. The passionate desire in them for acquiring knowledge and discovering truth should be so intense that, paying no heed to petty cravings for worldly comforts and bright professional careers, they are prepared to dedicate all their lives for the achievement of this end.

    These young dedicated research-workers will have to take a deep and critical look into the entire history of human thought from its earliest stages to the present day. Logic, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and theology would become the central subjects of their study and reflection, though due attention will also be given to the social and physical sciences. Along with this thorough and critical study of human thought, it would be essential for them to study the holy Qur´an, the last and most comprehensive Divine Revelation, in order to discover its truths. And if after a long and laborious study of human knowledge and Qur´anic wisdom, the beacon-bright message of the Qur´an becomes crystal clear to them, their minds and souls vibrate with its statements, the Qur´anic teachings about the nature of the outer world and of their own souls (afaq wa anfus) satisfy them completely and they experience an inner contentment as a result of this enlightenment, then they will have attained the true faith.

    Only these men will possess excellence in true knowledge and wisdom. Instead of mental disruption and moral lewdness, their knowledge will lead them to greater fear of God´s justice and punishment. Their personalities will be embodiments of the Qur´anic verse:

    The fear of God is found only in the hearts of men who have abundant knowledge. (Al-Fatir 35:28)

    Also their personalities and character will bear witness to the truth of a poetic line:

    Not merely a reader of the Qur´an, A true Muslim is the Qur´an personified.

    The essence of the holy Book lies in the particular gnosis which is called Iman or faith. No doubt the Qur´anic laws and precepts about the practical aspects of life are of immense importance in their own right. But compared with the essence which is constituted by its teachings regarding Iman, the legal aspects of the Qur´an are of secondary significance. Without the prior acquisition of this inner faith, deliberation upon the Qur´anic laws is of hardly any value. This point was very aptly conveyed in a statement of the Prophet´s Companion, Hadrat Ibn Abbas (RAA): “We first learned Iman and then we learned the Qur´an.”

    The difficult task of refuting western thought and rooting out its civilization and culture can only be executed in the real sense by those who have drunk deep at the fountains of wisdom and knowledge that flow from the Qur´an. It would be possible for these men to write a new Refutation14 of the philosophers of today and mount a crushing attack15 upon modern logicians. In a word, they will check effectively the flood of atheism and materialism which has been carrying away the human mind for the last two hundred years.

    Besides this, they will have to undertake the positive task of initiating a new Islamic philosophical theology or Kalam, so that the facts discovered in the domains of mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, and psychology may be assigned a proper place in the framework of Islamic beliefs. There is no inherent contradiction between the facts of these sciences and the tenets of Iman. The facts of physical sciences point partially to the same Absolute Reality which is comprehended through Iman. Forty years ago, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal set a precedence for this sort of work through the seven lectures published under the title, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. The followers of Iqbal have, however, rather inappropriately concentrated on the nature of law, Ijma` and Ijtihad in Islam, which are in fact not directly related to the religious and philosophical aspect of his book. In fact his real purpose was the reconstruction and reformulation of the philosophical theology of Islam and his work is highly stimulating and thought-provoking in this regard. He did not claim that his word was final or perfect. He himself observed in the preface: “As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views and probably sounder views than those set forth in these lectures, are possible. Our duty is to watch carefully the progress of human thought and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.” Therefore if this task had been continued on lines suggested by Dr. Iqbal and some talented and dedicated men had devoted their lives to Qur´anic research, making it the hub and center of their intellectual activity, quite valuable and substantial work would have been produced by now. Until and unless a considerable amount of really good quality work is available in the field of Islamic theology or Kalam, the hope of instilling in the intelligentsia a deeply religious point of view can never be realized.

    After the development and reformulation of religious and philosophical thought, the second most essential task would be to elaborate cogently in modern terminology the teachings of Islam regarding the practical aspects of life such as politics, jurisprudence, culture, and economics. In this connection, it was mentioned earlier that during the past forty years or so some commendable work was undertaken in Egypt and the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Both the Jama`at-e-Islami and Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimoon have made “Islamic way of life” and “Social Justice in Islam” the central themes of their published work. However, this should only be considered as an appreciably good start in the right direction. It must be pointed out here that the current wave of plagiarism and publishing the old material under new titles will not at all serve the purpose. Pamphleteering by pseudo-scholars and immature writers and sale of publications among a particular group of people may bring economic benefit to a few but surely this will render no positive and lasting service to Islam itself. In the world of today in which people generally are pressed for time, persons of high intellectual caliber cannot possible find time and leisure for superficial and second-rate literature. It is, therefore, imperative that whatever material is brought out, it should be of high standard without necessarily being voluminous. For this task as well, besides critical knowledge of contemporary world affairs and social sciences, a deep and sound understanding of the Qur´an and Sunnah is called for.

    10. A Blueprint for Action

    Two things must be implemented immediately in order to launch the above-mentioned academic and Qur´anic research movement.

    First, an organization should be established for the mass dissemination and exposition of the Qur´anic message. This organization should work for two objectives. It should strive to revive and revitalize the faith of Muslims in general, to enlighten their minds and chasten their character. It should also provide, through study circles and residential camps, practical training and guidance for the intellectual, moral, and religious enhancement of the people who respond to its call. It should convince those who sincerely aspire for an Islamic renaissance of the supreme importance of the academic movement referred to above. This organization should also earnestly look for such brilliant young scholars who are willing to devote all their lives in the academic task required for them. It is not an easy job to get hold of young and dedicated scholars in this age of exclusive pursuit of worldly gains. The problem of earning one´s livelihood has become so acutely difficult today that most young men spend all their energies and potentialities in their professional task. In our society generally when a person is able to manage his basic necessities, he usually embarks on the never-ending process of raising his standard of life. But there are always in the world some pious and God-fearing persons. If some sincere and courageous men start this work with single-minded devotion, they are, with the help of Allah, sure to find a good many intelligent and capable youths, who will, in accordance with a Prophet´s tradition16 make the learning and dissemination of Qur´anic wisdom the sole aim of their lives. The real need for the execution of a momentous task is always a strong inner urge for action which follows a particular emotion or idea. Once we have this inner urge, new possibilities or chances of success come up unexpectedly and the obstacles and the difficulties envisaged are overcome. What needs to be done is to propagate with missionary zeal the necessity of the Islamic renaissance and revival. And if this is undertaken in right earnest, there is no reason why this movement should not attract devoted and persevering workers for its noble ideals.

    Secondly, a Qur´anic research academy should be established so that it may start a popular movement for learning and teaching the Qur´an among Muslims themselves, so that they may develop a fresh attitude of devotion to the study of the Qur´an. It is only when they come to cherish true faith and belief with a deep, inward conviction that the light of the Qur´an will illumine their hearts and their feeling of reverence for the Holy Book will become profound. This academy should educated and train such young scholars who have fully equipped themselves with both modern knowledge and Qur´anic wisdom, so that they may progress in the academic task before them.

    The mass communication of Qur´anic teaching will result most importantly in drawing people´s heart to it. As their faith will strengthen, their minds will come more and more under the spell of the Qur´an and their feelings of reverence and devotion for it will become deeper. Consequently a large number of intelligent and capable young men will also be attracted to it, and quite possibly some of these seekers of knowledge will devote themselves to Qur´anic studies wholly and solely and make the learning and teaching of the Qur´an the sole aim of their lives. The major function of this academy would be to instruct and train those young men to become ardent workers for the cause of the Islamic renaissance. For this they will require a thorough knowledge of the Arabic language and its grammar and a refined literary taste to appreciate the beauty, force, and eloquence of its expressions. They should acquire a good grounding in the language in which the Qur´an was revealed by a critical study of the works of the renowned traditional writers. They should receive education in other religious studies, especially in tradition (Hadith) Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) and its principles. Every student who joins this academy should study as elective subjects one or more of the disciplines of social sciences according to his own taste and aptitude. It is only then that some of these scholars who are interested in philosophy and theology, would be competent to level, in the light of the Qur´an, reasoned criticism against contemporary philosophical positions and trends. In this way, they would initiate the new Islamic philosophical theology or Kalam. And students of various subjects in modern social sciences would be able to carry out research on the Qur´an in the sphere of their own choice and present the light and guidance of the Qur´an effectively to others. Thus they would approach the intellect of modern man making a judicious use of modern terminology and sophisticated methods of logical reasoning.


    1The way the British Empire had to vacate one after another her vast dominion is an eye opener for any thoughtful person

    2Ghulam Ahmad Pervez is the leading exponent of this school of thought in Pakistan. The purpose to mention Mr. Pervez´s thoughts here is to bring home to the reader the fact that this type of position is only the next logical step from the error inherent in most revivalist movements.

    3The Prophet´s saying means that I find inner comfort in Salat i.e., the prayer offered five times a day.

    4Fasting is like a shield protecting the soul against the sins.

    5Holy tradition (Hadith Qudsi) is that tradition in which God speaks in the first person through the Prophet. There are forty of these in all. The “holy tradition” mentioned above means that fasting is for the pleasure of Allah and He will Himself grant its reward.

    6A statement to this effect has been attributed to a well known “Kalamist” and advocate of Islam. The actual statement reportedly reads: “Islam is in fact a socio-political system onto which a veil of theology has been placed.”

    7Even this state of affair is to be found in rather traditional and conservative Islamic movements. Otherwise the more liberal and progressive elements, under the impact of socialism and communism — the logical consequences of Western thought — have gone beyond calling Islam a socio-political system and regard it strictly an economic program. That is to say, for them Islam is co-extensive with a particular type of nizam-e-rabubiat. In the explanation of religious metaphysical beliefs and tenets of Iman they take their start from where Sayyid Ahmad Khan had got at through his rationalistic strain. By interpreting Paradise and Hell in terms of the well-being or otherwise of life here on this earth, and by interpreting Qiyamah in terms of atomic explosions, they have completely deprived Islam of its very spirit. In my view this is only the logical terminus of the materialistic interpretation of Islam. A criticism of this view is not my objective here because even though it is given the label of Qur´anic thought it is undoubtedly gross, crass, and naked materialism and anti-Qur´anic in spirit. This incidental allusion to the so-called “Quranic thought” has been made in order merely to show as to what extent secular version of religion can be pressed. A Persian verse depicts this situation very graphically thus:  If a mason lays the foundation in a wrong way, The wall goes defective up to the summit.

    8The terms Qal and Hal are often found in the literature of Tasawwuf or Islamic mysticism. Generally speaking, when the avowed attestation of Iman, something spoken and verbal, develops inwardly and permeates the entire being and activity of the believer, the Qal deepens and enriches into Hal.

    9This refers to the Qur´an verse of Surah Al-Baqarah, according to which Allah ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam.

    10This is an alternative expression for Khilafate-e-Rashida, the “Rightly Guided” Khilafah of Hadrat Abu Bakr, Hadrat Umar, Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat Ali (May Allah be pleased with them all).

    11This refers to the saying of the Prophet: “If Allah guides a man to the right path through your effort and struggle, this is better for you than the costly brown camels.”

    12This is how philosophers have traditionally conceived of God as Necessary and Ultimate Being existing independently and in its own right.

    13According to Quranic Philosophy, a true knowledge of one´s own deeper self necessarily leads to awareness of the ultimate Self or God. There are also Prophet´s sayings to this effect.

    14This refers to Iman Ghazali´s book Refutation of Philosophers in which he tried to refute the rationalistic philosophies of the eleventh century.

    15Here the allusion is to Imam IbnTaimiyya´s book entitled Attack on the Logicians in which he criticized and conclusively refuted the argument advanced by the logicians of his time.

    16The Prophet´s saying reads: “The best amongst you are those who learn the Qur´an and teach and impart it to others.”

  • Modesty and Hijab Open or Close

    Modesty and Hijab

    The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), has said, “Modesty and faith are interlinked, if either of them is lacking, the other is lacking too.” There was a time in America when a woman did not go out in public with unrelated men, when men lowered their gaze to women, and when women and men alike dressed tastefully with dignity and humility. Today, not only is it acceptable for women to dress provocatively, it is encouraged, particularly by the men who look on with no shame. It is easy to understand how the lack of modesty has evolved in the West in general, and in America in particular, as virtuous ideals and morals are now scoffed at in the name of secularism. As the Prophet (PBUH) said, without faith, there is no modesty. As our society loses its faith, so goes our modesty.

    Over a thousand years ago, Islam sought to change the surrounding society that knew the word haya, roughly translated as modesty, bashfulness, and shame, but did not understand its meaning. Nudity was not only common in every day life, it was even part of religious rituals. Islam changed the society in such a way that haya became one of its most cherished values. Today, we continue to celebrate this value and adhere to the teachings of modesty revealed by God and exemplified by the Prophet (PBUH).

    Before one can speak of outward modesty, one has to be cognizant of inward modesty as a means for truly acquiring the former. The old adage rings true, “Modesty begins with the heart, not the hemline.” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Every religion has its characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty.” Being modest is not only reflected in the way we dress, nor does it only pertain to women. Modesty is reflected in our speech and conduct. It includes feeling shy to disobey our Lord and feeling shame if one sins or acts inappropriately, whether in public or private. It includes looking away when we see sinful acts on television or in movies, and feeling shy to say lewd things or talk about private matters. Being modest is inherent in the things we say, the way we act, and the things we look at.

    Modesty is an intrinsic quality in humans that manifests itself, for instance, in a natural human urge to cover one’s private parts. According to the Qur’an, when Adam and Hawa’ (Eve) ate from the forbidden tree, they became aware their private parts were exposed and began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden, as a natural result of their modesty. This inherent modesty is a quality that distinguishes human beings from animals. Animals follow their instincts without feeling any shame or a sense of right or wrong. As the Prophet (PBUH) said, “If you have no modesty, do as you wish.”

    Islam has mandated certain legislations that induce this sense of modesty within humans. These legislations range from seeking permission before entering any room and isolating oneself when changing clothes, to mandating certain manners of dress for men and women alike. There is clear and decisive scholarly consensus on the mandating of hijab for women. In the Qur’an, Allah (SWT)[1] states,

    “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty – they shouldn’t display their beauty and ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof and they should draw their headcovering over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment.”(24:31)

    Allah (SWT) commands the Prophet (PBUH) to tell the believing women to take a series of steps: 1) to lower their gaze, which is mandated for both women and men alike; 2) to guard their chastity or sexuality; and 3) to conceal their natural beauty, which scholars have interpreted to mean the whole body except for the face and hands.

    The word “headcovering” or “khimar” more familiar in our times as hijab, refers to the cloth that covers the head. Women at the time of the revelation wore their headcovers tied back behind their necks, leaving the front of the neck and opening at the top of the dress exposed. The revelation confirmed the practice of covering the head, and directed women to tie the headcover in front and let it drape down to conceal the throat and dress opening at the top.

    In addition to the headcovering, modest dress includes opaque, loose fitting clothing that does not reveal a woman’s shape. Make-up and perfume would defeat the purpose of dressing modestly as it attracts negative attention from the opposite sex and exploits one’s sexuality.

    The decision to wear hijab may be one of the most important decisions a woman ever makes. Consequently, this decision should come about as a result of reflection, remembrance of Allah (SWT), and one’s own personal volition. Unfortunately, when sisters cover by force, the desire to please Allah (SWT) is inundated by the pressure to appease others rather than to please Allah (SWT).

    Muslim women have been blessed with the highest honor and distinction by Allah (SWT) as He states in the Qur’an,

    “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their

    outer garments around them [when in public]. That will be better, so they may be recognized and not harassed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (33:59)

    A Muslim woman is recognized as a chaste, God-fearing woman and her distinction is emphasized as a believing woman, which any decent man would be motivated to protect, rather than abuse. Here, God explicitly refers to modestly dressed Muslim women as a sign of purity and dignity. He highlights the woman as chaste and sets her apart from the immoral behavior associated with women who dress immodestly.

    Indeed the headcovering pre-dates Islam as Christians and Jews have long recognized the headcovering not only in the house of God but in public as well. It is said that some Jewish women kept themselves covered at all times. In public, they not only covered their heads, but the lower part of their faces as well. This was a matter of moral and religious duty for Jewish women, not merely a matter of culture or convenience.[2] Christian women maintained the practice of covering their head up to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They acted in obedience to the verse in 1st Corinthians, which states,

    “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (11:5-6).

    In today’s times, dressing immodestly and even provocatively is a norm that is no longer looked down upon, rather encouraged in our society. Wearing the hijab and dressing modestly may seem like an ancient tradition that has no place in today’s modern world. On the contrary, as Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman stated when journalists implied her hijab was not proportionate with her level of intellect and education, she replied,

    “Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

    Oftentimes, when modesty is discussed within our communities, the discussion almost always exclusively revolves around the modesty of Muslim women. However, the Prophet (PBUH) places the greater responsibility upon men when discussing communal modesty as he states, “Be kind to your parents, and your children will be kind to you; be chaste, and your women will be chaste.” A greater focus needs to be put on men as contributors to the decline of modesty within the community. If men lose their sense of modesty, their immorality will negatively influence women within society. If one takes a moment to reflect on the way this has plagued our society, its truth will manifest. When Muslim males gawk at half-naked women (whether in public, on television, or on the internet), act and speak lewdly, and show a greater appreciation for provocatively dressed women, the message this sends to Muslim women who attempt to maintain their dignity inwardly and outwardly is a loss of hope in their male counterparts.

    The fact of the matter is that we live in a hyper-sexualized world obsessed with appearances, and this presents severe challenges upon the Muslim spiritual psyche. We are bombarded with immodest images (oftentimes against our will) of the human body that affect us consciously and unconsciously, making it an uphill battle to be chaste and modest. Nevertheless, the burden lies on men and women alike to preserve the sanctity of modesty by focusing inwardly in order to manifest it outwardly. Indeed, modesty begins with the heart, not the hemline.

    Melanie Elturk, Esq.

    1. The abbreviation (SWT) has been used to represent the Arabic expression ( سبحانه وتعالى   Subhanahu Wa-Ta’ala), which may be translated in English as, “Glorified and Exalted be He.”

    2. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), pp. 359-360.

  • Motivation Open or Close

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    Mustapha Elturk, Ameer of IONA

    In psychology, motivation refers to the initiation, intensity, and persistence of behavior. Surah Al-‘Asr is a great example of the embodiment of this concept; Iman correlates with initiation and ‘Amal Salih with intensity, whereas Tawasi-bil-Haq and Tawasi-bil-sabr correlate with persistence.

    All prophets who were entrusted by Allah (SWT) with the work of propagating and establishing His Deen showed extraordinary persistence and perseverance in carrying out their mission. Not only were they highly motivated them-selves, they also inspired their followers to struggle with determination—even when tangible results were not immediately obtainable. More recent leaders, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, were also able to motivate their followers to keep on going even when the going got tough.

    Motivation is sparked in a soul when it experiences an intense faith that a certain goal is worth pursuing. To be motivated is to have a strong reason for doing something special—even at the cost of losing other desirable things. Intrinsic motivation occurs when one finds something to be pleasurable, satisfying, or morally significant. In contrast, extrinsic motivation occurs when one is promised certain external rewards if one fulfills a duty.

    For workers for the cause of our Deen, Iman is the primary factor that motivates them into thoughtful action. Our faith in Allah (SWT) and in the Day we meet Him leads us to increase our efforts, energizes us, and inspires us to improve our performance. Our mission, to struggle for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, encourages us to continuously think and act in increasingly better and creative ways. We have strong reasons, both intrinsic and extrinsic, to keep moving. Our faith makes us hopeful even when we do not see immediate results or when circumstances are less than favorable.

    Members of any organization working for the cause of Allah are not volunteers—they are investors. They invest in their personal growth and salvation, in pleasing their Creator, and in improving the future of humankind. Insha Allah, their investment will be profitable to them, in direct proportion to their persistence, perseverance, and patience.

  • Our Lost Treasure Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    Somewhere in the Arabian desert in the early seventh century, the Prophet of Islam proclaimed: Wisdom is the lost property of believers; they are most deserving of it irrespective of where they find it.

    The unprecedented intellectual activity that erupted in the early centuries of Islam bears ample testimony that the Prophet’s followers did take his advice seriously. They correctly understood that the pursuit of wisdom is different from learning the mechanical or practical skills of livelihood. While everyone was forced to learn the latter in order to live, the former was largely a matter of choice that required a much greater commitment. The fruits of wisdom, they discovered, carried an entirely different kind of sweetness.

    More importantly, their faith did not require the darkness of ignorance to survive and prosper; their faith was not only capable of meeting any challenges, it actually required them to observe carefully and think critically. Their faith was like a healthy seed that would thrive in a climate of learning and knowledge, and so it did.

    The followers of the Prophet soon became avid collectors and serious critics of the stores of human knowledge that they inherited from generations past or that they found among their contemporaries. They did not blindly or passively absorb whatever came to them. Instead, they carefully separated the husk from the kernel. They creatively and critically engaged with the wisdom of their times and made their own fresh contributions. In the course of history, they became an important link in the human quest. They left an indelible mark on human knowledge that is visible even today.

    Now fast forward to early twenty-first century, and consider this: After the great scholarly achievements of Muslim geniuses who lived in times past, have there been more recent contributions to the stores of human knowledge and wisdom?

    The answer to this question is an emphatic “yes,” for human curiosity tolerates no ends or limits; it is too restless, too impatient to sit idle. While creative intellectual activity never disappeared from the Muslim world, it did slow down after the explosive growth of the classical period. But as it slowed down in one part of humanity, it gathered momentum in its other parts, often in response to the impetus originally provided by Muslims themselves.

    This latter growth of knowledge took place in very different historical situations, and consequently it developed a number of peculiar features of its own. In the last half-a-millennium or so, the entire structure of human understanding underwent immense changes in every conceivable way. Instead of the East, this new explosion of human knowledge took place mostly in the West.

    Today, Muslims find themselves in a similar, though not entirely identical, situation as the one faced by their predecessors. In some ways, history has changed a great deal; in other ways, things are exactly as they were before. Then we were dealing with the works of Greek, Byzantine, Chinese, and Indian civilizations; today, we face something called Western civilization, an entity that is increasingly becoming synonymous with “civilization” as such. Western knowledge is now considered synonymous with modern knowledge. This rapidly growing store of knowledge and wisdom has both strengths and weaknesses, and is supported throughout the world by immense political, economic, and cultural forces. The power relations have changed tremendously between then and now. Yet, both the East and the West belong to Allah (SWT). A knowledge developed outside of the tradition of our faith is, still, human knowledge.

    Today, many Muslims wish to disregard these more recent bodies of knowledge and understanding, for their contents often appear to be unfamiliar, foreign, misleading, and even dangerous. The question, however, is whether this is a real option for us. Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” What we are dealing with is simply too ubiquitous, too powerful to be ignored.

    Generally speaking, we often feel that it is OK to learn architecture, modern medicine, or computer science—subjects of a mechanical or practical nature deemed necessary for earning one’s livelihood—but that it is useless to study the more amorphous subjects that deal with “thought.” Or, what is even worse, we may feel that studying these latter subjects is not just useless, it is outright hazardous to our faith. In either case, the bottom line is that we wish to take some fruits from the tree of Western civilization but not others; often, we do not see that both acceptable and unacceptable fruits are actually growing on the same tree.

    To take from the West only her technical know-how and her applied sciences (the so-called neutral subjects) while avoiding her philosophical thought and her discoveries in the human or social sciences (the so-called Godless subjects) is not just a wrong strategy, it is sheer naïveté. The division of human knowledge and understanding into various disciplines and sub-disciplines is entirely a pragmatic device to make an enormous amount of information humanly manageable. In reality, these divisions are artificial and arbitrary. Thus, technology and applied sciences are nothing but extensions and outgrowths of ideas, assumptions, and world-views that are produced and maintained in the realms of humanities and social sciences—most clearly in the various branches of philosophy.

    Consequently, it is very difficult to embrace cell phones, computers, stock markets, nuclear weapons, kidney transplants, satellite dishes, and gene mapping without getting soaked to the bones in the philosophical assumptions underlying these innovations.

    The sort of bifurcation between the acceptable and unacceptable subjects of study that we wish to make is just that—a wish. In reality, it is not a question of which subjects are “safe” and which are “dangerous.” It is a question of how we approach them.

    Are there risks to religious faith and practice in studying modern knowledge? Yes, most definitely. However, the risks involved in studying epidemiology or rocket mechanics are hardly less than those involved in studying epistemology or ethics. If anything, the former subjects are more dangerous, for they claim to be morally neutral and do not provide the tools with which their hidden assumptions may be uncovered.

    We may feel that modern knowledge is like a haunted mansion, with ghosts and monsters lurking in every corner whose mission is to suck out any remnants of religious faith from our hearts and minds. While such dangers are real, the promise of wisdom, knowledge, and true understanding is genuine too. There are, indeed, valuable treasures to be found in this palace. It is the promise of these rewards that far outweighs the risks that one must take.

    We cannot give up our claim over our own lost property just because it is risky or difficult to get our hands on it. Of course, truth and falsehood are often mixed together. Since it is our wisdom that we are seeking, it is up to us to rescue it from the clutches of falsehood. It is our lost treasure and we are responsible for getting it back.

  • Ramadan, the Month of Fasting Open or Close
    What is Ramadan?

    Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. It is an important month in the Islamic calendar and culture. Each day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world observe the sacred month by fasting during day light hours (from dawn to sunset), performing nightly prayers in addition to the daily obligatory prayers, and concluding each day’s fast over food with family and friends. At the end of the month is a three-day holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the month with Eid al-Fitr and prepares individuals to return to their regular daily routine.

    When does Ramadan occur?

    Most Muslim countries today use the solar or common calendar for government and business purposes. However, the traditional Muslim calendar (called the Hijri calendar) and the dates of holidays follow the lunar cycle. The lunar calendar is based on the moon’s orbit of the earth of 29 days. Twelve lunar months make a lunar year, which is 354 days long. Because the lunar year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year, Ramadan and other Islamic holidays take place at different times during the solar calendar year. This means that the month of Ramadan may occur in the winter during some years, while in the summer during others. The start of the month of Ramadan traditionally occurs when the thinnest crescent moon is visible. The new crescent, which looks like a backward “c,” indicates the beginning of a new month. The middle of the month is marked by a full moon.

    Objective of Fasting

    The main objective of fasting is to achieve piety and righteousness. This implies becoming conscious of our Creator, increasing our awareness of His Majesty, exalting and glorifying His names and attributes, appreciating His greatness, recalling His blessings upon us, and being grateful and thankful for His guidance. “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so you may remain conscious of God.” [al-Qur’an, 2 :183]

    What does fasting imply?

    The term in Arabic for fasting is called sawm, which literally means “to abstain from something.” Mary, Jesus’ mother, upon returning back to the town with her infant child Jesus replied to her clan, “I have vowed to the Merciful to fast (abstain, i.e. from speaking)” [al-Qur’an, 19:26].

    Fasting in Ramadan requires one to abstain from food, drink, and marital relations from dawn to dusk with the explicit intention of doing so for the sake of God, i.e. to seek His good pleasure.

    The Wisdom of fasting

    Abstaining from food has great ramification on the person observing the fast, physical as well as spiritual. It is an exercise for the discipline and control of the baser self. One learns how to restrain one’s urges and desires. Fasting frees the person from the bondage of lusts and desires. Abstaining from intakes also reminds us of the less fortunate ones, the poor and the destitute. Fasting gives us a general sense of how they feel.

    It boosts the morale of the poor by knowing that even kings have to go hungry for a while. Fasting makes the rich realize and understand what the poor go through day after day. Fasting also purifies one’s heart and tongue. One is urged to control oneself and learn how to abstain from vain talk, lying, and cheating. Although fasting is beneficial to health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God.

    Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam

    Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down...Whoever of you witnesses that month should fast.” [al-Qur’an, 2:185]

    Fasting is compulsory upon every sane, adult, healthy Muslim male who is not traveling at that time. As for a Muslim female, she must not be menstruating or having post-childbirth bleeding. People who are insane, minors, and those who are traveling, menstruating, or going through post-childbirth bleeding, and the elderly and breast-feeding or pregnant women do not need to observe the fast.

    Iftar (meal after sunset)

    During Ramadan while individuals abstain from food and drink during day light hours, they get together over food with families and friends in the evenings. The meal with which the fast is broken is called iftar. This is usually done with dates and water followed by a simple nourishing meal.

    Suhur (meal before dawn)

    It is preferred and highly encouraged to eat a pre-dawn meal (suhur) but there is no sin upon one who does not do so. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Eat a pre-dawn meal, for there are blessings in it." He also said, "You should eat this pre-dawn meal for it is blessed nourishment." The reason why it is a blessing is that it strengthens the fasting person, makes one more energetic, and makes the fast easier on him or her. Generally Muslims emulate this prophetic practice.

    Exemptions from fasting

    There are those who may not fast but have to make up the missed days of fasting at a later date. These include those who are ill (not chronically) and travelers. “And (for) him who is sick among you or on a journey, (the same) number of other days” [al-Qur’an, 2:184]. Elderly men and women are exempted from fasting; so are the chronically ill, and those who have to perform difficult jobs under harsh circumstances and who could not find any other way to support themselves. They are not obliged to make up the days they missed but in turn are obliged to feed one poor person a day (for every day of fasting that they do not perform). Pregnant and breast-feeding women who fear for themselves or for their babies may not fast. They, however, have to feed one poor person for every day they miss, and make up the missed days at a later time. Women who are constantly pregnant or breast-feeding are not obliged to make up the days. Though the young are not required to fast, it is proper for their parents or guardians to encourage them to fast so they will become accustomed to it at an early age. They may fast as long as they are able to.

    Eid al-Fitr

    As the end of Ramadan approaches, Muslims prepare for Eid al-Fitr (end of fasting celebration), which draws Ramadan to a close. In countries where there are significant Muslim communities, commercial and government activities may come to a halt. Schools and businesses often close for three days. Eid is a time of exchanging gifts, sharing food, socializing, and taking a holiday.

    Ramadan, the month of the Holy Qur’an

    The month of Ramadan is not only the month of fasting. It is also the month of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the Muslim Scripture. “Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also Clear (Signs) for guidance and the differentiation (between right and wrong).” [al-Qur’an, 2 :185]

    According to a prophetic tradition, it is believed that all Abrahamic Scriptures including the Scrolls of Abraham, the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms of David, and the Qur’an were revealed in the month of Ramadan.

    Tarawih - Nightly Prayers in Ramadan

    Muslims congregate at mosques observing the nightly prayers (tarawih) that start after the last prayer of the day, about an hour and a half after sunset. The nightly prayers usually last for nearly an hour. Every night the Imam (leader in prayer) recites an equal portion of the Qur’an so that by the 27th or the 29th night of Ramadan the entire Qur’an would have been recited by the Imam from his memory. Reciting the Qur’an not only brings one nearer to God, but also rejuvenates one’s spirit and soul. Reciting the Qur’an, reflecting upon the divine words, and acting upon the divine teachings are central to Ramadan.

  • Rationality and Moral Action Open or Close

     Absar Ahmad

    There are strong and convincing reasons to believe that human ethics and ideals, concepts and values, are a way of revealing the interior regions of man, the underlying dimensions of genuine life which are being threatened and destroyed by a society which has increasingly extended materialistic incentives and accomplishments but which has failed to keep touch with the aesthetic side of man, with ethical and moral values. The modern society has expanded its resources for bodily satisfactions and pleasures but it has not kept pace in the realm of spirit. It is a society which has not enabled creation of meanings and roots which sustain and enhance the well-being of the individual as a whole person. In a very important sense the present moral decadence and degeneration is due to the currently fashionable psycho-philosophical methods and procedures which diagnose, analyse and evaluate the person, and break him up for study in such a way that nothing at all is left of the person as a substantial reality. Real understanding of the human individual, however, does not come from viewing the person as an object for analysis and study, from noting his behaviour and probing into the so-called hidden dynamics, frustrations, and conflicts of his past life. Genuine understanding is not a shrewd analysis which is disclosed by strange signs and symbols, not a clever diagnosis which has a keen eye for the weaknesses of people. Rather it is rooted in the ultimate meaning of life itself, in living with the other person, in being sensitive and aware of the essential nature of the person as he is, and respecting and valuing his resources and strengths. Only when the person is recognized as an integrated spiritual being with self-determining resources is there hope that real and genuine moral development and enhancement can take place.

    Today the powers and resources of official society are used to promote conceptions of the ‘good´ life which centre in status, economic security and materialistic gains. Self-protection, maintenance of a stable life, conformity and socialization are the primary goals. A counter position is needed to advance the value of utilizing human potentialities in the development of unique individuals growing toward creative selfhood. This does not mean that creativity and individuality are ideals in contrast to the evils of convention and conformity but rather it means the modern man is so surrounded and pressed to strive for standards and goals that contradict his own growing selfhood that he needs the opposite confirming stand of individuality and uniqueness, the affirmatian of self-values that encourage moral development.

    Strictly speaking, a man must keep a focus on his search for identity and on the value of authentic life; he must remain sensitive to his own inner experience and to the transcendent dimensions of existence; he must continue to feel the suffering and grief which surround him and be awakened by the brutality and tragedy as well as by the joy and happiness which exist in the world. In what follows I shall try to show that a meaningful understanding of ethical principles and moral life can evolve only when knowledge is taken as essentially the reflection of a light which is kindled from within the self and not from external sources. That is to say, ethical and moral value and man´s search for enduring truth and meaning are deeply intertwined. This is the only way in which we can achieve moral progress and development in a world where life can be easily shattered, in a society threatened by dehumanization and by moral bankruptcy.

    Rationality and Ethics

    Rationality or the rationalistic point of view is preeminently integral to ethics. The appeal to reason is necessary, first, for the guidance of individual choice by reference to a criterion of the higher and lower, and even of the greater and less, in pleasure; and, secondly, as the only possible means of transition from egoism to altruism, from selfishness to benevolence. But, in both ancient and modern times, the ethical relevance of reason has been emphasised no less strongly, and often no less exclusively, than the ethical relevance or rights of sensibility. This assertion of the claims of reason in the life of a rational being is at the basis of the common modern antithesis, or at any rate distinction, between duty and pleasure, between virtue and prudence, between the right and the expedient.

    In ethical theory "duty for duty´s sake" has been proclaimed with no less emphasis than "pleasure for pleasure´s sake", as the last world of the moral life. The effort to idealise or spiritualise the moral man has been no less strenuously pursued than the effort to naturalise him. In reason, rather than in sensibility, it has been maintained, is to be found the characteristic element of human nature, the quality which differentiates man from all lower beings, and makes him man. This is not so much an explicit theory of the end or ideal, as a vindication of the absoluteness of moral law or obligation, of the category of duty as the supreme ethical category. But it is nevertheless a delineation of the ideal life, and therefore, implicity or explicitly, of the moral ideal itself. Whether in its extreme or in its moderate form, rationality is the expression of ethical idealism, as hedonism is the expression of ethical realism. The normal and dominant mood of a philosophically enlightened person is that of strenous enthusiasm, of dissatisfaction with the actual, of aspiration after the ideal. The supreme category of his life is duty or oughtness.

    It is to the Greeks that we must trace back the rationalistic, as well as hedonistic, view of life. For the Greek mind, though sensuous, was always clear and rational, always lucid and appreciative of form; and the rational life had therefore always a peculiar charm for it. This appreciation of rationality finds expression in the Socratic ideal of human life as a life worthy of a rational being, founded in rational insight and self-knowledge a life that leaves the soul not demeaned and impoverished, but enriched and satisfied, adorned with her own proper jewels of righteousness and truth. Plato and Aristotle follow out this Socratic thesis of the identity of the good with the rational life. For both, the life of virtue is a life ‘according to the right of reason´ and the vicious life is the irrational life. Both, however, distinguish two degrees of rationality in what was for Socrates a single life of reason. First there is the reason-guided life of sensibility, or the life according to reason; but beyond that lies the higher life of reason itself intellectual, contemplative, or philosophical life. The chief source of this ethical dualism in Greek philosophy a dualism which Aristotle was unable to over-come, and which survives in his differentiation of the speculative or ‘theoretic´ life from the practical life of action is to be found in Plato´s separation of the ideal reality from the sensible appearance.

    In the view of many, the conviction of Socrates and Plato that speculative reason was the supreme court in the realm of values and the Socratic thesis that virtue is knowledge, has seemed to be intellectualism gone wild. But the fact is that the Socratic identification of virtue with knowledge and its consequence ’no one errs willingly´ make perfect sense in the context of his philosophy. The knowledge that constitutes virtue involves for Socrates, not only beliefs that such and such is the case but also a capacity for recognizing relevant distinctions and an ability to act. When Aristotle says in criticism of Socrates that "where moral virtue is concerned, the most important thing is not to know what it is, but how it arises" he makes a distinction which Socrates, on his own premises, cannot be expected to make. No one ever, while seeing with full clearness and vividness what is good, deliberately embraces evil. The secret of right doing, therefore, is knowledge, firmly held in mind. If we violate that knowledge, it is because, under the influence of desire, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived. Even the most vicious course of action has something to be said for it, and if one wants very much to do it, one can make it look excusable by confining oneself to its attractions. Thus as a matter of fact, wrongdoing everywhere is due either to ignorance or to self-delusion. If a man really knows what he ought to do, what power could be greater than knowledge and so prevent him from doing what he ought? So Socrates is represented as arguing in the Protagoras.1

    The Sophists had seen no good that is not the simple getting by some man of what he wants In the Lysis, however, Socrates point out that giving a child what is good for him is quite different from giving him what he wants. So that "what is good for X" and "what X wants" do not mean the same. Now, how could a man want what would be bad for himself? Very simply, one is tempted to reply, in the way that a drug addict wants drugs or an alcoholic wants alcohol. But the Socratic answer would surely be that for these men the object of desire apparently fall under the concept of some genuine good pleasure, the diminution of a craving, or whatever it is. Their mistake is the intellectual one of misidentifying an object, supposing it to be of some kind other than it is, or of not noticing some of its properties. Indeed the Socratic thesis has convinced many modern moralists and ethical philosophers. Probably Sidgwick´s conclusion on the issue is the soundest one, namely, that though the deliberate doing of what we clearly see to be wrong does occur, it occurs surprisingly seldom, and that, when it does, it is usually by way of an act of omission rather than of commission i.e. we fail to do what we see we ought to do rather than do what we see we should not.2

    The great modern representative of the extreme form of rationalism in ethical thought is Kant, the author of one of the most impressive moral idealisms of all time.3 For Kant, the Good the only thing absolutely and altogether good is the good will, and the good will is for him, the rational will, the will obedient to the law of the universal reason. It is the prerogative of a rational being to be self-legislative. The animal life is one of heteronomy; the course of its activity is dictated by external stimuli. The peculiarity of man´s life is that it belongs to two spheres. As a sentient being, man is a member of the animal sphere, whose law is pleasure; as a rational being, he enacts upon himself the higher law of reason which takes no account of sensibility. Hence arises for him the categorical imperative of duty the ‘thou shalt´ of the rational being to the irrational or sentient. As a rational being, man demands of himself a life which shall be reason´s own creation, whose spring shall be found in pure reverence for the law of his rational nature. Inclination and desire are necessarily subjective and particular ; and, in so far as they enter, they detract from the ethical value of the action. Nor do consequences come within the province of morality; the goodness of an action is determined solely by its inner rational form. The categorical quality of the imperative of morality is founded on the absolute worth of that nature whose law it is. A rational being is, as such, an end-in-himself. and may not regard himself as a means to any other end. He ought always to act in one way namely, so as to fulfil his rational nature; he may never use his reason as a means by which to compass non-rational ends. The law of his morality is: "So act as to regard humanity whether in thine own person or in that of another, always as an end, never as a means".

    The moral law thus becomes for Kant the gateway of the noumenal life. As subject to its categorical imperative, man is a member of the intelligible or supersensible world the world of pure reason. As will, he lives and moves and has his being in that noumenal world from which, as intelligence, he is for ever shut out. As he listens to the voice of duty, and concedes the absolute and uncompromising severity of its claim upon his life, he ‘feels that he is greater than he knows´, and welcomes it as the business of his life to appropriate his birthright, and to constitute himself in deed, what in idea he is from the first, a member and a citizen of the intelligible world. There too he finds the goodly fellowship of universal intelligence, and becomes at once legislator and subject in the kingdom of pure reason.

    Criticism of extreme Rationalism in Ethics

    Such are the chief forms of views which uphold rationality, in its extreme and rather extravagant type, and it is not difficult to see how the fundamental defects of such a view of life necessitate the transition to a more moderate type of rationalism in ethics.

    View of Socrates, Plato and Kant, like other rationalist philosophers, rest upon an absolute psychological dualism of reason and sensibility, a sharp contrast of knowledge and feelings. Because reason differentiates man from the animal, and his life must therefore be a rational life, it is argued that the entire animal sensibility must be eliminated.

    For Socrates, Plato and Kant, the goal of life is simply the passionless life of reason. But surely we cannot summarily dismiss the entire life of sensibility as irrational. Without feelings there is no activity: the moral life, as such, implies feeling or desire. It is common knowledge that feeling and impulse are indispensable to any experience that is to be worth while. Yet it is reason which reveals to us how our desires are implicated with each other, how they conflict with each other; how, if at all, they may be harmonized with each other. As man´s interests become more diversified, and the splintered and fragmented mind becomes harder to avoid, reason has more and more work to do. It must select some interests as central, discard or modify others, and ruthlessly subordinate minor interests to major ones. To organize a life from within is often a hard task. It calls for intelligence, for a willingness to reflect, and for firmness both in the pruning of irrelevant desires and the re-shaping of relevant ones for the sake of distant ends. At the other extreme stands the creature of impulse a victim of Spinozistic "Human Bondage" whose only principle is to have no principle. Who surrenders to the mood of the moment whatever that may be.4

    I believe that Bertrand Russell has painted and unduly unattractive picture of ‘the rational man´. He has christened his caricature of the rational man as the ‘inhuman monster´,5 He has, in fact, tried to incarnate pure intelligence and speculative reason. His ‘rational man´ acts always from calculation, never from impulse, affection, or even hatred. and he is never carried away by enthusiasm or sentimentality. While making no mistake of his own, at least none that mere intelligence could avoid, he sees through everyone else, notes their stupidities, and uses them with superlative craft for his own purpose. I am sure most people would find this picture of the rational man even less attractive than that of the unprincipled libertine. The rational man as we more rightly conceive him differs from this monster in three ways.

    In the first place, rationality or reasonableness is not exhausted in the exercise of reasoning. A rational man may well be an intellectual but he will not be an abstract and dry-as-dust intellectualist, if this means that he retreats into his own ivory tower and contents himself with spinning purely ideational webs.

    Secondly, rationality has a far larger field than that of hair-splitting analysis of propositions and concepts. It is as truly at work in judgments of better and worse, of right and wrong, as in those judgments of analytic necessity to which the present-day narrow analytic convention would confine the name of reason. It may exhibit itself, for example, in the sanity and good sense with which one appraises the types of human experience. He would presumably be clever in the manipulation of logico-mathematical symbols, for such cleverness is one expression of rationality, however thin and partial. But what is called rationality and good judicious judgment is a far more massive and significant expression of it. It definitely includes metaphysical and aesthetic judgment and sensibility.

    Thirdly, rationality at the level of thought and reflection must extend to reasonableness in conduct. A man would not deserve the title of a rational man who is incapable of translating his insights and judgments into action. The rational man will be reasonable in action as well as in thought because his actions will issue from impulses that have been aligned and modified by thought. He will be far, then, from the Russellian crafty monster that critics of rationalism have sometimes pictured. Unless he were capable of feeling and impulse, there would be nothing that his intelligence and reason could present to him as worth pursuing. He will have his enthusiasm and loves and hates like other men, and will translate them not precipitately or rashly, indeed, but judiciously into action. Rationality in ethics implies, in other words, acting in the light of principles and envisaged consequences. If it is supposed that the rationally ethical life entails a life that is bleak, mechanical and joyless, I do not think it is true. Critics should always be reminded of how futile is action without thought and how crippling is the thought without action. Having said this much, I shall now discuss in the remaining part of this essay the questions of happiness and ‘interest´ in the context of recent moral philosophy.

    Advantage, happiness and ‘interests’

    Are considerations about what will benefit us distinct from or tied in with considerations about how we ought morally to conduct ourselves? Plato, of course answered that they were tied in and set out to show that the life of justice, and not injustice, was the life an individual would benefit from. Against Plato, Prichard6 in particular and deontologists in general have argued that considerations about how we ought morally to conduct ourselves are distinct not only from considerations about what is to our advantage but distinct also from considerations which are other than moral. The mistake which moral philosophers were making, Prichard maintained was that of assuming that the central question of morality was to provide man with a reason for acting morally. This is the demand, Prichard points out, which Glaucon and Adeimantus make of Socrates in The Republic and which lies behind the moral writings of almost all philosophers with the possible exception of Kant. But Prichard argued that an answer to this question was bound to prove unsatisfactory and that therefore the question was an illegitimate one. His point was, simply, that any reason for acting morally would have to be either itself of a moral nature or, if not, then of a non-moral nature. And on either alternative any reason given would be unsatisfactory. If the reason given be one which is non-moral, then it would be unsatisfactory because it would, ipso facto, fail to convince us that we ought to act because of it (i.e., in the sense that we are morally obliged to act for that reason) and if the reason given be a moral one, then obviously it would be circular. Prichard, therefore, concluded that it was a mistake to ask for a reason to do what we morally ought to do.

    Quite apart from Prichard´s own analysis of morally right actions his insistence upon the separation of morality from personal interests has taken hold. Kurt Baier has made this a dominant them of his book, The Moral Point of view’, and it has now become a tenet of virtually every work in ethics. Stephen Toulmin, R. M. Hare, P. H. Nowell-Smith, Marcus Singer, end W. K. Frankena, to mention just a few, have all of them either explicitly or implicitly endorsed this view. And yet, it seems to me, if there is a mistake in moral philosophy it is that there is this logical separation of the considerations we appeal to show that something is to our advantage from the consideration we appeal to show how we ought morally to conduct ourselves.

    What is usually glossed in discussions of personal interests vs. morality is the assumption that we can be quite clear about what it means to say that someone is acting in his interest or to his advantage as distinct from acting morally But I thing it will not take very much reflection to see that characterizing what it is that we are saying when we talk of someone so acting is far from simple.

    The central consideration concerning what is in one´s interest or to one´s advantage revolves, of course, around what one´s happiness consists in. If, that is to say, a man will be happier as a result of acting one way rather than another, then acting that way, it is claimed, is to his advantage But this way of handling the matter has fatal consequences for preserving the distinction between personal interest and morality Surely there is no logical restriction on one´s happiness deriving from living morally. That is, it may be that one finds his happiness in acting morally, in living the just life, and so much so that were his wealth, health or even his very life were to come into conflict with so acting, he should gladly choose to sacrifice them. And if this is so, the alleged distinction between acting morally and acting in one´s interest becomes trivial. For if it is one´s happiness which is to determine what will be in one´s interest or to one´s advantage then living the just life may be in one´s interest just as much as living one´s life in any other way will be.

    To be sure, many people would be happier if, where there is a conflict between acting morally and acting, say, so as to secure for themselves wealth, they choose wealth. But then there are people, surely, who would not be happier. Anyhow, what makes a person happy varies from person to person and it hardly seems reasonable to exclude acting in the way we take to be moral from this category. The fact is that people act in many different ways. Some of these ways of acting make them happier than other ways. And if we are to count whatever makes a person happy to be the deciding consideration for determining what will be in his interest, then it will make no more sense to distinguish moral actions from actions of personal interest than it will to distinguish actions, say, whereby one acquires for himself wealth or health from actions of personal interest. For it may very well be that acquiring wealth or health will conflict with a person´s happiness. It may, perhaps, prevent him from doing other things which he very much likes to do. And if so we should have the very same grounds for distinguishing between the acquisition of wealth and health and personal interest as we are now given for distinguishing between acting morally and personal interest. And these grounds are only that one´s happiness may be at stake.

    But if this is so, what happens to the alleged distinction between acting morally and acting advantageously? One´s happiness is, after all, the key consideration for determining what is in his self-interest. But there is no conceptual absurdity indeed it is often the case that acting morally makes a person happy even where so acting is in conflict with acting in ways considered to be decidedly advantageous. One can, of course, make the logical point that advantageous behaviour, if truly advantageous, must make one happy. But this cannot be used in support of the claim that moral behaviour is only contingently related to advantageous behaviour. For, as we have already seen, it is plain that living morally may be what one´s happiness consists in. And then moral behaviour for such a person will necessarily be advantageous. Hence making such a logical point does nothing to distinguish moral behaviour from advantageous behaviour.

    My argument has been so far that acting morally cannot be made distinct from acting in one´s interest because what a person derives his happiness from is an open question. One must be acting in his interest if his happiness is to be found in so acting. Acting morally may be what one´s happiness consists in. Hence for such a person living the moral life will necessarily be in his interest.

    One difficulty about this last point I have made is, of course, the conflict alleged to hold between acting morally and acting in one´s interest. A situation which has just about become standard for illustrating what it means to act morally is one where we are asked whether it would be right to, say, jeopardize the lives or perhaps the welfare of others, when we find that, for the situation envisaged, doing so will put our own lives out of danger or perhaps secure our own welfare. But if this last point which I have suggested is sound and which would show Prichard to be making a mistake in moral philosophy by insisting upon a fundamental distinction between advantageous behaviour and moral behaviour we seem to be left with the rather perturbing conclusion that such a situation would count little, if at all, for illustrating the nature of a moral action. For here the implication seems to be that acting in one´s interest must be fundamentally distinct from acting morally.

    This difficulty is, however, only apparent. Such actions are indeed morally significant but they do not show a basic cleavage between acting morally and acting in one´s interest. To see this we need only recognize that there is no absurdity in maintaining that a concern for the welfare of others against our own welfare would be in our interest were we to judge this as a quality, the existence of which an individual´s happiness were to consist in. Independently of any judgement about what behaviour an individual´s happiness consists in, there is no more ground for taking a concern for oneself as being an advantageous way of behaving than there is for taking a concern for others as being such a way. It is only after some such judgement that it makes sense to speak about what is, or is not, to one´s advantage. The important point to see here is that some judgement must first be made about which activities an individual´s happiness consists in before we come to any judgement about which activities it will be to his advantage to pursue. And if this is so, rather than being paradoxical to point out that it may be to one´s advantage not to be self-centred or unconcerned about others it may very well be enlightening.

    What has probably prevented philosophers from seeing this matter aright is the identification we often make of understanding one´s action and learning of his motives for acting. To understand what one has done is often one with learning why he has done. So, for example, to understand that Jones has been helping Smith because he was hoping that Smith would invite him to some party is one why he has been helping him. But, such cases notwithstanding, it does not follow that any understanding we may come to of one´s actions will be one with his motives for acting. In particular, we may come to understand that we have been happy doing what we have done without it being true that our reason for having done it was the happiness we derived from it. If one recognizes that doing something has made him happy, it does not follow that he has done it because he wanted to be happy. He may have done it as a matter of course, or because he wanted to help another, or simply because someone asked him to do it. And if, as we are supposing, he was happy doing what he has done, surely, the realization that he was happy does not entail that if he continues doing it he will now be doing for the happiness he gets in doing it. He may continue to do it for the same reason he did before. Putting it a bit paradoxically, we may say of someone that he is happy doing what he does precisely because he realizes that it is not his happiness which motivates him.

    The failure to see this simple truth is probably tied in with Prichard´s rejection of the task Plato has set for himself in The Republic. Obligations being what they are, it would indeed be paradoxical to argue that we ought to meet our obligations because it will be our advantage or make us happy to do so. Clearly, Prichard is right in pointing out that this is not why we ought to meet them. But then, neither does Socrates claim that our reason for meeting our obligations ought to be the happiness we see ourselves deriving. What he is pointing out, against Thrasymachus, is that it will be to our advantage to meet our obligations or, in general, to be just. And this is quite compatible with maintaining that one´s reason for being just ought not to be the happiness or advantage he believes he will derive from being so. And the fact, if it be a fact, as Socrates is trying to show, that this is an advantageous quality to possess i.e. a quality the possession of which will make one happy in no way requires that we are committed to adopting as our motive or reason for being just the advantage to ourselves we see in it. Indeed, if the quality is such that in order to possess it, one must look to happiness of others without looking to his own happiness, the happiness he may find in possessing it could not, ipso facto, be his reason or motive for possessing it.

    I began by challenging Prichard´s distinction between self-interest and morality. I did this on the ground that living morally will or will not be in one´s interest depending only on the kind of person one is. Prichard´s argument was that it was a mistake to ask for a reason for living morally. If something is morally right to do, or some way is morally right to live, it is right to do or right to live that way, and it makes no more sense to ask why it is right than it does to ask why what is true, is true. A fortiori, then, according to Prichard, one can have as a reason for living morally that it will be advantageous for him to do so. But my argument has not been that one should ask for a reason for doing what one ought to do or for living the way one ought to live. My argument has been rather that there is nothing in Prichard´s argument which will show that living morally will not necessarily be in one´s interest. And consequently that Plato was not making a mistake in moral philosophy in trying to show this. The point is that showing it need not entail the supplying of a motive or a reason of self-interest for being moral. To show that living morally is in one´s interest does not entail showing why one ought to live that way. Plato´s argument, I believe, works the other way round. He tries to show how man ought to live. This for him is the logically primary consideration. But what is significant in Plato is that, for him, considerations of what is in one´s interest or where one´s happiness lies are logically dependent upon a knowledge of how man ought to live. When Glaucon presents the case for injustice, he asks that Socrates

    "...... not be content merely to prove that justice is superior to injustice but explain how one is good, the other evil, in virtue of the intrinsic effect each has on its possessor, whether God or men see it or not."7

    That is, the problem is not to show that as a resultof being just one will get what is advantageous, but rather that being just is itself advantageous. In short, the just way, being the way in which one ought to live, is itself to be shown advantageous. Against Thrasymachus Socrates is maintaining that there is no ready made formula for determining what is in man´s interest and moreover that the problem of justice which, I take it, is for Socrates the problem of how a man ought to live must be solved before we are in a position to speak about what is in a man´s interest. And this being so it will not be the case as Prichard believes that in showing the just life to be where man´s happiness lies that man is thereby being supplied with a motive or reason for living such a life. The reason and motives in accordance with which a man lives are themselves to be included in our judgment of how a man lives. If he is living justly, his reason and motives for acting will be of a sort peculiar to such a life. Reasons and motives therefore being a part of what our judgment of a just life consists in, it could not be the case that in showing the just life to be advantageous we are supplying ourselves with a reason or motive for living so.

    But what about Plato´s argument? My argument has been only that for a given person moral life may necessarily be advantageous. I have argued that acting and living morally may for some person be the source from which his happiness derives. And For this reason such a person could not on logical grounds be unhappy in acting justly rather than unjustly. Plato´s argument goes much further. For him the just life is the source of any man´s happiness. And this on the face of it seems absurd. A man may be brought up to despise justice and love injustice. His happiness may come only from satisfying certain of his basic biological needs and doing as he pleases without any concern for others whatsoever. He may enjoy making others suffer and using them to satisfy his whims. Can Plato be taken seriously in believing that such a man could not be happy and certainly happier than a man who lives justly but is put on the rack by those who are not so just?

    But in defence of Plato it can be argued that the particular form of happiness which a man will take to is something we are bound to judge his moral stature by. What I mean by this that since the source of a man´s happiness tells us something very significant about the kind of man he is, it puts us in a position to judge his moral worth. This is not to say that in judging a man immoral we are bound to judge that he cannot be happy. It is rather to suggest that the use of such expressions as ‘true happiness´ or ‘real happiness´, may reflect not a difference in degree between one man´s happiness and another´s but rather a difference in kind. It may be that in speaking of what will ‘really´ make a man happy or what ‘true happiness´ consists in, we are speaking of a form of happiness which the moral man takes to. And our grounds for thus honorifically considering it may be that it is in the moral man that we have our norm for judging the form of happiness most proper for man to take to. What I mean to suggest by this is that in mapping out the nature of the just man or the nature of the morally worthy individual we are in effect mapping out those norms central in our conception of what it is to be man. It is plain at any rate that this is what Plato conceives himself as doing. It is from his definition of the just man that we are given Plato´s picture of the nature of man. And this being so, there is for Plato a necessary coincidence between acting justly and being happy. Where a man acted injustly we would, if we followed Plato, be bound not to consider genuine the happiness he may derive from so acting. And this is because to be genuine the form of happiness enjoyed must be of the form proper for a man to enjoy.

    What more adequate account of ‘genuine happiness´ or ‘true happiness´ can we have than the idea that it is the happiness in accordance with those norms we consider central to our conception of man? If his happiness is thus derived is it not, in a rather straight-forward sense, more genuine than that of a man whose happiness derives, say, form behaving like some animal other than man? It is sometimes argued that in agreeing that a satisfied pig does not enjoy a greater happiness than a dissatisfied socrates no concession is being made to non-hedonistic criteria of value. Why? Because Socrates does not have the desires and inclinations of a pig. Being what he is he would indeed be most unhappy if he were subjected to the form of happiness a pig enjoys. Unfortunately however, the implications of this reply have not been fully seen. In particular, it seems to me, there is in it the implication that a consideration of the happiness a creature enjoys depends first upon considering the kind of creature he is. If socrates would be unhappy with what makes a pig happy, so would a pig be unhappy with what makes Socrates happy. And this being so, we should, I think, be quite naturally led to distinguish the happiness a creature enjoys as being genuine when its happiness springs from those activities we consider central to our conception of the kind of creature he is.

    It is this consideration, I believe, which lies behind Plato´s argument in The Republic. If the just man is, as Plato claims, behaving in accordance with activities that we consider central to our conception of what it is to be a man, we would, I think, be bound to judge his happiness more genuine than some one whose happiness sprang from behaviour we would not consider so. Mr. D. Z. Phillips in his excellent paper ‘On Morality´s Having a Point´8 has made an admirable attempt to show that it is always important to take into consideration the ‘background´ which attends moral beliefs and principles. To quote him extensively on this point:


    "If we take note of the role of reasons in morality, we shall see that not anything can count as a moral belief. After all, why does one regard some rules as moral principles, and yet never regard other as such? Certainly, we can see the point of some rules as moral principles, but in the case of others we cannot. How is the point seen? There is much in the suggestion that it is to be appreciated in terms of the background which attends moral beliefs and principles. When rules which claims to be moral rules are devoid of this background we are puzzled. We do not know what is being said when someone claims that the given rule is a moral rule".9


    And this "background", I believer, is the background of the conception of man and what his true happiness consists in. In concluding this discussion, I will state the different conclusions I have argued for. Living the moral life and living a life of happiness are allegedly two distinct orders. No one denies, of course, that the moral man may be happy and that the man who lives a life of happiness may be moral. What is denied is that the two come to the same thing. Against this I have argued first that for a particular man they may very well come to the same thing. It would simply be the case that for him living the just life or living morally would be the source from which his happiness derived. Hence for such a person there could be no conflict between what he finds in his interest and what he finds just. Nor will there be any question about the reason and/or motives of his actions. To judge that a man is morally worthy individually is to judge the reasons and motives for his actions as well. And the fact that his happiness is found in living a morally worthy life in no way commits us to the judgment that is why he lives that way. It is here that I have argued that Prichard was making a mistake. Prichard assumed that in showing the just life to be in a man´s interest we were, ipso facto, being supplied with a reason or motive for living that way. What he did see correctly was that acting and living justly could not logically be done for ulterior motives. But there need not be any question of acting from ulterior motives when it is shown that living the just life is man´s greatest source of happiness. To show this would mean to show that in considering those activities which a man would derive the greatest happiness from we were considering activities central to our conception of what it is to be a man and that such activities constitute as well the basis for our judgement of a man´s moral worth. In arguing that a man´s greatest happiness would as a matter of logic have to be understood as springing from activities we considered central to our conception of man I am not arguing that a man whose happiness does not so spring and who may enjoy the activities of a depraved person could not be happy. Indeed he may very well be. The logic of happiness is such that we are bound to consider someone happy only if for him everything is as he wants it to be, or even if those things he considers most important are so. For the man who has the inclinations and desires of a pig. happiness will come when he is able to live like one. He could then be said happy. It is, however, when we come to compare the happiness of such a man with a man who has the inclinations and desires central in our conception of what it is to be a truly authentic man, that we should find ourselves distinguishing between ‘true happiness´ or ‘genuine happiness´ and simply being happy. And the point of distinction is not that such a man´s happiness is greater in degree, but rather that his happiness in different in kind.


    1. "Protagoras´ Doctrine of Justice and Virtue in the Protagoras of Plato", Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 42 (1953). Also see The Dialogues of Plato, translated with analyses and introduction by Benjamin Jowett, revised 4 volumes (Oxford, 1953).

    2. Sidgwick, Henry: ‘Unreasouable Action´ in Practical Ethics London, 1898.

    3. Kant, I., (i) The Metaphysics of Ethics, trans.

    J. W. Semple, Edinburgh, 1886.

    (ii) Critique of Practical Reasom and other Works on the Theory of Ethics, trans. T. K. Abbot, Longmans, London (1998).

    (iii) Lectures on Ethics, Methuen, London (1930).

    4. For the moral philosophy of Spinoza, see Stuart Hampshire´s Spinoza; London, Harmondsworth (1951) and H. H. Joachim´s A Study of Spinoza´s Ethics, Oxford (1901).

    5. Russell, B., (i) Human Society in Ethics and Politics (London, 1955).

    (ii) Religion and Science (London, 1935), Chapter 9.

    6. See his article ‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake´, Mind (1912). He elaborates his views in Moral Obligation, Oxford University Press, (1950).

    7. Plato, The Republic, trans, Francis MacDonald Comfor, (Oxford University Press, 1945) p. 52; (italics mine)

    8. Phillips, D. Z. "On Morality´s Having A Point", Philosophy, (1965) p. 302.

    9. Ibid., p. 309 (italics mine).

  • Read. Don't Burn. - Dr. Ahmed Afzaal Open or Close

    Read. Don’t Burn.

    Out of Darkness Comes Light

    PDF Version

    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    Last year, a small crisis was created by Mr. Terry Jones, pastor of a nondenominational church in Gainesville, FL, when he announced his plans to burn a copy of the Qur’an on the anniversary of September 11, 2001. Public outcry, not to mention the disapproval of General David Petraeus, eventually persuaded Mr. Jones to abandon his plan. Those of us who thought that the story had reached its conclusion have just been proven wrong, as Mr. Jones has once again found his way back into the news after he actually carried out what he had threatened to do last fall. This time around, the pastor conducted a mock trial of the Qur’an in which the jury, consisting of twelve members of his church, found the Islamic scripture guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorism.

    Mr. Jones is reported to have said that he and his followers decided to burn the Qur’an because the “court system of America does not allow convicted criminals to go free,” and because “we feel a deep obligation to stay with the court system of America.” Even though the media did not give Mr. Jones the same attention he received last year, and quite rightly so, the news of his action has already led to four days of violent protest in Afghanistan in which twenty people have reportedly died. Mr. Jones, who has received death threats, says that he is willing to die for his cause.

    I do not believe that Mr. Jones and his beliefs and actions deserve to be taken seriously. The pastor clearly does not represent the overwhelming majority of Christians who live in the United States; he has only a negligible following and his action is being condemned by the leaders of mainstream churches from around the nation. The incident, however, is susceptible to being misinterpreted and/or exploited in the service of less than noble aims. The death threats to Mr. Jones should be denounced, but they do represent a serious problem, and there is certainly the possibility of further violence in relation to this incident. I would therefore like to make some remarks that I believe are pertinent.

    First, let me note a few theological ironies underlying this sad and sordid affair. I find it very bizarre that, before having a copy of the Qur’an burned, Mr. Jones chose to conduct a mock trial of the Islamic Scripture. This was strange because one of the main polemical objections that evangelical Christians often raise is that Islam, being a religion of the Law, is inferior to Christianity, which is the religion of Grace. Even though this dichotomy is both false and dangerous, it is interesting to see that Mr. Jones had to resort to the principle of Law in this case, ignoring the principle of Grace and unconditional Love. His appeal to the US legal system was equally ironic, since, in American courts, the jury is supposed to consist of “one’s peers.” If the Qur’an is to be put on trial, it can only be judged by its peers, i.e., its equals. This means a jury consisting of other sacred and authoritative texts, including the Bible and the US Constitution. But if the Qur’an is guilty because crimes have been committed in its name, then, by the same logic, the Bible and the US Constitution would also face similar — if not worse — charges. And if it is the case that no community or nation is truly innocent, what gives anyone the right to cast the first stone?

    I realize that Mr. Jones is a marginal figure, in the sense that the vast majority of American, both Christians and non-Christians, would never think of setting a copy of the Qur’an on fire. It is also true, unfortunately, that many who are denouncing this act are citing the safety of US troops abroad as their main reason for doing so; they are not pointing out the fallacies of Mr. Jones’ beliefs about the Qur’an and its alleged link with the violence committed in its name. Even though Mr. Jones is pretty much alone in his extremist act, I am concerned that his views on the Qur’an are not particularly unique to him; similar views seem to be held by a relatively large number of Americas.

    Whenever it is claimed that the Qur’an is responsible for Muslims acting violently, at least two assumptions are implied: first, to say that “they” are violent is to tacitly claim that “we” are not, and second, to say that the Qur’an is the real culprit is to imply that Muslims are somehow a historical creatures whose actions are completely disconnected from the contingencies of their social, political, and economic conditions. The first assumption reveals an extraordinary degree of ignorance and even self-deception regarding the violent history of Christianity, as well as a deliberate tendency to ignore the violence perpetrated by the American empire itself; the second assumption is merely a semi-conscious attempt to avoid looking at the United States’ own role in the world. The truth of the matter is that violence is not just a Muslim problem; it is a human problem. To think of violence exclusively as something that “they” do against “us” is not only to disregard the much greater violence of our own, but it is also a perfect recipe to perpetuate rather than solve the problem.

    There are several issues surrounding Mr. Jones’ action and the reactions that it sparked. Let me note three of them.

    First, burning a copy of the Qur’an is a symbolic act, but that does not make it any less egregious. Symbols are repositories of meaning, whereas human beings are meaning-seeking and meaning-making creatures. Attacking a community’s symbols, particularly those that are experienced as manifestations of the Sacred, can have disastrous consequences. The Qur’an is much more than a collection of words printed on paper and bound between two covers; just as the Cross is not merely two perpendicular lines intersecting each other, and just as the US flag is not simply a piece of cloth with a particular red, blue, and white pattern. As Paul Tillich observed, symbols participate in the reality and power of what they represent. For Muslims, the Qur’an is not merely the “Word of God” but is also experienced as somehow participating in the very reality of the Divine. The Islamic Scripture, like the Christian Cross and the US flag, should be recognized as a repository of transcendental meaning held sacred by a large community; as such, attacking it can easily provoke negative reactions. Generally speaking, Muslims are not being uniquely irrational when they react with anger at the desecration of their sacred symbols; they are merely expressing what is most human in all of us. This is not to condone the violence, of course, but to point out the universality of the sentiment behind the reaction.

    Second, a particular insult to a sacred symbol may itself be insignificant, but it can still stir up people’s emotions if there is prior history of injury coming from the same general direction. The world has witnessed strong anti-Western reactions from Muslim communities in the Rushdie affair during the late 1980s, in the case of the desecration of the Qur’an at Guantanamo in 2005, in the Danish cartoons controversy in 2006, and in the online campaign to draw cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in 2010. In each of these cases, it appears that sections of Muslim communities were guilty of overreacting to what were trivial offenses. For some people, this only confirms what they already know to be true, i.e., that Islam is a fanatic, intolerant, violence-prone, art-hating, and modernity-resisting religion. A broader perspective on history, however, gives an entirely different picture.

    The Muslim reactions to the desecrations of their symbols do not take place in a vacuum, but within the context of an uneasy relationship with the West that is characterized by a substantial disparity of power. There happens to be a widespread grief among Muslim communities that has been caused by the painful experience of political subjugation at the hands of European colonialism, as well as the social disintegration, economic deprivation, cultural collapse, institutional destruction, and intellectual mutilation that accompanied the political aspects of the colonial experience. At least part of what makes this legacy difficult to overcome is the continuation in the postcolonial period of the relationship of domination and exploitation that was first put in place by classical colonialism. Given this background, it can be seen how the desecration of a symbol is often perceived not simply as an isolated slur, but as one more offense in a long series of insults and injuries.

    Third, the protests against the burning of the Qur’an in Afghanistan take on additional, more poignant connotations when we consider the political situation in that country. In a society that takes its religious symbols seriously, it is not unusual that frustrations tend to be expressed in religious garb. The angry Afghan mobs are definitely upset about what Mr. Jones and his small group of followers on the other side of the world have done; but they are also upset about what seems to be the never-ending US military occupation of their country, as well as their continuing inability to meet their basic human needs despite American claims of being helpers and liberators. The fact that the Afghan demonstrators have burned effigies of President Barack Obama says volumes about the real nature of their grievance.

    I would now like to return to the religious dimension of the issue. Non-Muslims are frequently troubled by the intensity with which Muslims react to any real or perceived denigration of the Qur’an. To explain this phenomenon, they tend to compare the Qur’an with the Bible and then conclude that Muslims’ attachment to the Qur’an must be because they take it to be the literal speech of God (while Christians take the Bible only as “inspired” by God). However, as scholars of comparative religion have noted, the most revealing comparison is not between the Qur’an and the Bible, but between the Qur’an and Christ. It has been shown that the Muslim attitude towards the Qur’an is analogous to the Christian attitude towards Christ. For Christians, the “Word of God” took the form of the historical figure of Jesus, a flesh-and-blood human being; for Muslims, on the other hand, the “Word of God” became a scripture — the Holy Qur’an. While the Christian view of the Word becoming flesh is known as “incarnation,” the term “inliberation” has been coined to denote the Muslim notion of the Word taking the form of a book.

    If the Qur’an is indeed analogous to Christ, it would appear that the burning of the Qur’an may be construed, from a Muslim viewpoint, as no less serious an offense than the crucifixion of Christ would be from a Christian viewpoint. Both can be seen as attempts to attack, suppress, or destroy the “Word of God.” The ultimate irony, then, is that Mr. Jones and his followers have put themselves, foolishly, in a state of opposition to Christ. Two thousand years ago there were people who thought they could kill Jesus; today, apparently, there are people who think they can wipe out the Qur’an (or, at least, that it is desirable to do so). The Gospels speak of Jesus’ resurrection; in a similar vein, the Qur’an contends that “they neither killed him nor did they crucify him, but it was only made to appear like this to them” (4:157). Both Scriptures agree that the effort to obliterate the Word of God is futile. The Qur’an is very explicit on this point: “They want to extinguish God’s Light [by blowing] with their mouths; but God will complete his Light even though the ungrateful may detest it” (61:8).

    The incident of Qur’an burning is most likely the result of ignorance than that of genuine hatred, for neither Mr. Jones nor any of his followers seems to have any idea of what they were doing. I think of them as misguided rather than actively hostile or spiteful. Even though English translations and commentaries of the Qur’an are easily available, it is obvious that the folks in the ironically named “Dove World Outreach Center” knew little or nothing about the contents of the Islamic Scripture. They burned a book in which the word “God” appears hundreds of times; a book that speaks of Jesus and Mary with utmost respect; a book that affirms Jesus’ miraculous birth, his miracles, and calls him the Messiah; a book that tells Muslims that Christians are likely to be their closest friends. It is clear to me that people in this country are being deliberately misled about what the Qur’an is, what it teaches, and how it is related to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. They are also being misled into focusing on the spec in their neighbor’s eye while disregarding the beam in their own.

    The Qur’an says that God brings light out of darkness. Can anything good and wholesome emerge from this whole affair? I think it can. It is impossible to fool all the people all the time, and it is out of events like this that people of conscience are stimulated into learning about each other and into establishing better, more humane relationships.

    ~Ahmed Afzaal, Ph.D., holds his doctorate in Religion and Society from Drew University, and is an assistant professor of Comparative Religion at Concordia College. Dr. Afzaal was born in Pakistan, where he studied science and attended medical school, and is the author of numerous articles on subjects including religion and social change.

  • Shariah Open or Close


    By Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk 
    Shariah sometimes is portrayed as an antiquated Islamic system of law that is barbaric with no regard for values of democracy, human rights or women’s freedom. In fact, the opposite is true: Social welfare, freedom, human dignity and human relationships are among the higher objectives of Shariah.

    What does Shariah mean?

    The word Shariah comes from the Arabic: sha-ra-‘a, which means a way or path and by extension—the path to be followed. The term originally was used to describe “the path that leads to water,” since water is the source of all life. Hence, Shariah is the way to the source of life. Shariah in Islam refers to the law according to divine guidance leading to a good and happy life in this world and the next.

    The concept behind Shariah is not unique to Islam and is found in nearly all of the world’s great religions. Moses, peace be upon him, received the Torah incorporating the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments. Look at the sampling of religious codes, shown at right, for more examples. In Islam, we look primarily to the revelation that came when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, incorporating the final Shariah for the benefit of humankind. “For each of you We have appointed a law (Shariah) and a way of life. And had God so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you.” (Quran 5:48)

    Sources of Shariah

    There are basically two sources of Shariah—the Quran and the Sunnah (the divinely guided tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). There is also what is called fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. There is a fundamental difference, however, between Shariah and fiqh. While Shariah is of divine origin, fiqh is the product of intellectual effort to deduce the rulings of Shariah through the jurist’s own intellectual exertion suitable for his specific time and place. Fiqh interprets and extends the application of Shariah to situations not directly addressed in the primary sources by taking recourse to secondary sources. Those secondary sources usually include a consensus of religious scholars called ijma and analogical deductions from the Quran and the Sunnah called qiyas. While the Quran and the Sunnah are permanent and unchangeable, fiqh is variable and may change with time and place—but always within the spirit and parameters of these two main sources of Shariah: the Quran and Sunnah.

    Objectives of Shariah

    Shariah aims at the welfare of the people in this life and in the life hereafter. The sources of Shariah guide people to adopt a set of beliefs and practices that would help them ward off evil, injury, misery, sorrow, and distress. These beliefs and practices may result in benefit, happiness, pleasure, and contentment not only in this world, but also in the next. The Quran confirms, “Whoever follows My guidance, when it comes to you [people], will not go astray nor fall into misery, but whoever turns away from it will have a life of great hardship.” (Quran 20:123-124)
    It is an error to define Shariah as a “legal-political-military doctrine,” as some political activists claim. It also is wrong to associate and restrict Shariah only to the punitive laws of Islam. The fact is that Shariah is all-embracing and encompasses personal as well as collective spheres in daily living. Shariah includes the entire sweep of life: Prayers, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, morality, economic endeavors, political conduct and social behavior, including caring for one’s parents and neighbors, and maintaining kinship.

    Shariah’s goal is to protect and promote basic human rights, including faith, life, family, property and intellect. Islam has, in fact, adopted two courses for the preservation of these five indispensables: the first is through cultivating religious consciousness in the human soul and the awakening of human awareness through moral education; the second is by inflicting deterrent punishment, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system. Other major bodies of religious law in the world, including the Canon Law used by the Catholic church, contain both legal outlines of responsibilities and codes for punishing misbehavior.

    Shariah 1: Protection of Faith

    Faith is the essence and spirit of a meaningful life. Muslims profess their faith through a verbal testimony, bearing witness to the oneness and unity of God and to the finality of prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the seal of all of God’s prophets and messengers, a chain that started with Adam and includes Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them all. Muslims also express their faith through devotional practices, most importantly the five daily prayers, an act of worship that keeps them connected with the Creator. Additional practices include fasting, obligatory charity and pilgrimage. Fasting during the month of Ramadan has been prescribed to Muslims so they may be mindful of God and learn self-restraint. Zakat, or a portion of our income to be given to the poor, is another duty regulated by God to ensure that basic needs are met for the less fortunate, poor and destitute. If they are able, Muslims are also required to perform Hajj—a pilgrimage to visit the sacred house (Ka’bah) that was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to seek forgiveness from their Lord and renew their covenant with Him.

    It is against Shariah to compel or force any person to convert to Islam. The Quran asserts, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) Shariah provides total freedom of religion. The Quran is quite clear on the point, “Say (O Muhammad), ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so’ ” (18:29) “Had God willed He would have guided all people” (13:31)

    Islam holds that people are endowed with our senses and our intellect so that we can choose what is best for us to follow. Shariah not only allows other faiths to co-exist but guarantees the protection of their houses of worship and properties. Shariah respects the worth of every human being in his or her own belief and endeavor in the pursuit of life and the truth.

    Shariah 2: Protection of Life

    Shariah recognizes the sanctity and sacredness of human life. One may not harm or kill. The Quran emphatically stresses this point, “And do not take any human being’s life—[the life] which God has willed to be sacred—otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.” (17:33) Killing innocent people, even at times of war, is a grave sin and strongly condemned by Shariah: “if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind; while if any saves a life, it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)

    Unfortunately, as in all the world’s great faiths, Islam sometimes produces individuals who make distorted religious claims. News reports from around the world have shown us extremists from various religious traditions who claim that their faith compels them to commit acts that clearly are crimes to any sensible person. This recently happened in Norway, according to news reports. Similarly, some Muslims have issued extreme fatwas (judicial rulings) that may not be based on the Quran and the Sunnah at all. Another unfortunate example of this distortion is the lingering practice of honor killings in some parts of the world. Honor killing is an entrenched cultural issue in some areas, but clearly is in violation of Shariah as well as all globally recognized Christian codes of conduct. Nevertheless, honor killings still occur in some traditional Christian and Muslim cultures. These crimes need to be addressed worldwide by leaders of all faiths.

    Psychological harm or injury is also prohibited under Shariah. The Quran mandates, “O believers! Avoid making too many assumptions, for some assumptions are sinful; and do not spy on one another; or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful.” (49:12)

    Shariah also demands total respect for all of creation. For example, a Muslim is prohibited to cut down trees or kill animals without a good reason. As part of Shariah, Muslims are required to protect the environment from pollution and harmful waste.

    Shariah 3: Protection of Family

    Shariah regulates the life of a Muslim in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, parenting, upbringing of children, rights of orphans, ties of kith and kin, etc. The family is the nucleus of society. Hence, having a sound family structure builds a strong society. Islam encourages marriage as soon as a mature man is able to support his wife. Premarital or extramarital sex is strictly forbidden.

    Islam does allow men to have more than one wife at the same time, up to a total of four, provided that the husband treats them equitably. However, this represents a tiny minority in Muslim-majority countries, where polygamous marriage constitutes only 1-to-3 percent of all marriages. Islam encourages only one wife. The Quran in verse 4:129 affirms how difficult it is to be equitable in multiple marriage. Polygamy remains a challenging issue in many world faiths. International gatherings of Christian leaders in recent decades also have discussed compassionate responses to polygamy.

    Despite misconceptions, Shariah protects women’s rights if properly applied. For example, women are entitled to education, to keep their maiden names and to control their inheritance. They are entitled to a decent living, to own property or to own a business, if they wish.
    Islam teaches that family ties are to be maintained and parents are highly regarded. Shariah enjoins believers to honor parents and grandparents. In numerous places in the Quran, the rights of parents are mentioned immediately after the rights of God. The following verse illustrates the importance of this value: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them a word of contempt, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully, and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.’ ” (17:23-24)
    Neighbors are viewed as extended family in Islam. God instructs believers to take care of their neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors near (Muslims) and far (non-Muslims), to travelers in need.” (4:36)

    Shariah 4: Protection of Property

    Shariah stresses lawful earning for the maintenance of oneself and family—and rejects begging for a living. The objective of economic activities is to fulfill one’s basic needs and not to satisfy insatiable desires.

    Our rights to property are protected in Shariah, an ideal that naturally contributes to a sense of security in a community. Forms of economic exploitation are condemned. Islam prohibits interest and usury (Riba). The goal is to keep people from depleting their property and falling into poverty through excessive debt. Likewise, the positive Quranic attitude towards trade and commercial activities (al-bay’) encourages mutual help, fairness with employees and equitable transactions in business. The Islamic view of economic principles includes a requirement that a lender should participate in either the profit or the loss of a borrower. Shariah’s interest in a just and healthy community extends throughout our business transactions.

    Shariah 5: Protection of Intellect

    Among the most cherished gifts of God is the faculty of intellect, which differentiates us from animals. It is through this faculty one is able to reason and make sound judgments. Such a precious blessing needs protection. Anything that threatens the intellect is discouraged or completely prohibited by Shariah. Prohibitions on intoxication with alcohol or drugs are aimed at keeping the mind sound and healthy.
    Acknowledging that some may claim benefits of gambling and drinking, God informs that their harm is greater than their benefit. “They ask you [Prophet] about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’ … In this way, God makes His messages clear to you, so that you may reflect.” (Quran 2:219)


    Shariah abhors extremism and excessiveness. Excesses in spending, eating—even worship—are prohibited in Islam. Shariah promotes following the middle path. True Muslims are moderate in all of their endeavors—religious and secular. God described them in the Quran as “the Middle Nation.”
    Shariah aims at facilitating life and removing hardships. Shariah beautifies life and provides comfort. It approves of good and forbids evil. It is considerate in case of necessity and hardship.

    A general principle in Shariah holds that necessity makes the unlawful lawful. A Muslim is obliged to satisfy his hunger with lawful food and not to eat what has been declared forbidden. One may, however, in case of necessity—when permissible food is not available—eat unlawful foods such as pork to sustain life. Shariah comes from a kind and compassionate God.

    The Quran says: “God wants ease for you, not hardship”(2:185) “God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear” (2:286) “It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people.” (21:107)

    Ultimately, Shariah strives for justice, fairness, mercy and peace.

  • Struggle Between Reason and Revelation - Dr. Israr Ahmad Open or Close
    Dr. Israr Ahmad

    This essay is excerpted from an article by Dr. Israr Ahmad. It was originally published in Urdu, in the October 1968 issue of “Mithaq.”

    The struggle between ‘aql and naql has been going on in Muslim history almost since the very beginning.

    The fact is that “religion,” in its essence, is a form of naql, for it was first transmitted from God to the Angel of Revelation to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and then from the exalted personality of the Prophet to his Companions and subsequently from one generation of Muslims to the next till it reached us. Thus, the foundation of religion is naql — and not ‘aql.

    However, it is obvious that religion is addressed to human beings! The fact of the matter is that human beings—even if all of them may not be “rational”—do indeed follow a small minority of people who are “rational.” Consequently, it is not altogether wrong to call the human being as such a “rational animal.”

    Based on the above premises, it is a completely natural and expected outcome that, from the very beginning, human beings have been trying to evaluate and judge naql on the standards of aql, as well as to come up with rational justifications of its teachings. As a result of this effort, a body of knowledge called theology kept appearing at every stage of human history, striving to match the intellectual and philosophical level of that period.

    As far as the Companions of the Prophet were concerned (may God be pleased with them), their situation was entirely different. They had acquired their faith through direct participation in the companionship of Prophet (peace be upon him). This kind of faith is qualitatively unique; consequently, to compare the faith of a Companion to the faith of anyone else in the Muslim Ummah is a logical absurdity.

    Not only were these Companions blessed with the experience of ‘ilm-alyaqin [certainty coming from knowledge], but they actually had access to the experience of haq-alyaqin [certainty coming from realization]. First of all, the element of intellectual reasoning was very minimal in their faith, and, secondly, whatever intellectual reasoning did exist was based entirely upon very strong but simple and straightforward premises inherent in human nature; in other words, their faith was based on the kind of natural reasoning that was completely free of complicated logical argumentations or mental gymnastics.

    It is precisely for this qualitative difference that our tradition has unambiguously established the following axiom: The faith of even the topmost person in the Ummah cannot match the faith of a Companion—not even that of a person who had the lowest rank among the Companions!

    The hearts of the Companions were illuminated with a light of faith that cannot be compared with what might shine in the heart of anyone else; the sublime warmth of their souls were unique to their personalities. It is for this very reason that the faith of the Companions had taken the form of an irrepressible fervor and a passionate zeal that was forever ready to face any struggle or trial, irrespective of how grueling or excruciating it might appear to others. In the face of such an ardent passion and burning faith, what can the “normal” and self preserving rationality do except stare in total amazement?

    As time passed, the Companions started to pass away. It was again a natural and expected outcome that with the departure of this generation the overall level of faith started to dwindle slowly, and the remnants of their passionate faith started to cool off. Consequently, it became increasingly difficult for subsequent generations of Muslims to unconditionally accept the dictates of naql, and a process of rational inquiry into the nature and teachings of revelation started that has continued uninterrupted to our own times. Such is the inevitability of theological reflection. During this period, ‘aql or human rationality itself underwent numerous stages of transformation, and its foundations and premises kept changing along with the development of human knowledge and the capacity of human intellect. Despite this, the confrontation of reason and revelation continued unabated; even though the terms of the debate kept changing from one historical period to another, the debate itself remained alive and active.

    There is one obvious truth regarding the struggle between reason and revelation, and it is this: A complete and perfect rational interpretation of revelation has never been achieved in history, nor will it ever be achieved. In principle, it is impossible to perfectly express the truths of naql in the language of aql, and any hope to reach that utopia is completely unfounded. The reason for this is obvious too: Human intellect is finite and relative; furthermore, it is imprisoned in the heavy chains of time and space on the one hand, and of contexts and situations on the other. As for religion, it is based on transcendental truths that are infinite and absolute as well as extremely subtle. This, of course, is not true for the injunctions of the Shari‘ah; as far as the reasons underlying particular divine laws are concerned, human intellect is completely free to demonstrate all of its capabilities in revealing their secrets. However, as soon as we cross the boundary of the Shari’ah and enter into the realm of faith and belief, the very terms of the conversation undergo a drastic change. Here is why.

    Religious faith consists of believing in certain supersensory and metaphysical truths that are subtle and transcendental. To grasp and express these truths by means of our logical-linguistic apparatus is tremendously difficult, rather it is virtually impossible. This limitation of human logic and language is precisely what explains the extensive use of allusions, allegories, analogies, and metaphors in divine scriptures. If human languages are so utterly inadequate for the purpose of accurately and comprehensively expressing these subtle and transcendental truths, and if human beings are so hopeless when it comes to mentally grasping them, then imagine how hard it is to force these sublime truths to fit into the constricted molds offered in every age by the logic and philosophy of the time—without doing violence to the tenets of faith!

    It is an indisputable historical fact that, in the course of Muslim history, there have been occasions when efforts to explain, defend, and justify the articles of faith through human reason actually resulted in negative consequences and caused serious damage. In an effort to evaluate the transcendental truths of religion according to the criteria offered by whatever happened to be the current philosophy, critical mistakes were made in distinguishing the real from the fake. Sometimes the kernel was sacrificed at the cost of the husk, and at other times valuable aspects of religion were gravely injured.

    Compared to these risky endeavors, the “safest” path for a believer has always been defined by a constant and firm attachment to naql. This is the path of those faithful individuals who dedicated their lives to the learning and preserving of naql, and to make sure that this legacy is securely transferred to the next generation.

    Having recognized that the “safest” way of maintaining one’s faith is to avoid theological debates altogether, however, the fact remains that rational interpretation of religion is an inevitable human need, and that some individuals must fulfill this need on behalf of their religion. Consequently, we see in every phase of Muslim history that sincere devotees of divine revelation have frequently exerted themselves to their maximum in order to fulfill the dangerous requirements of this mission—they did so even by putting their own faith at risk.

    The fact should always be kept in mind that the real motive of early Muslim theologians was nothing but the desire to support, preserve, defend, and strengthen the teachings of their religion—notwithstanding any mistakes they might have committed in their endeavors. It would be a grave injustice to imagine that they were enemies of Islam or that their intention was to damage the religion.

    Quite naturally, in every phase of history we witness that the defenders of naql have criticized the proponents of ‘aql. This has taken place at two different levels. At the popular level of the masses, the trend had been to simply reject, deny, negate, and express disapproval for those who would prefer reason over revelation. At the level of
    scholars and intellectuals, however, simple rejection does not work; instead, one must treat the opponents with their own medicine.

    There have been many great personalities in Muslim history who educated themselves in the most influential philosophies of their time, and who proved that they were fully knowledgeable and skilled in using the techniques and methods of those they wished to refute. These individuals first developed complete intellectual and spiritual harmony, agreement, and contentment with the truths of revelation that they had received through naql; subsequently, they produced criticisms of the influential but misleading philosophies of their times in the most rational and coherent manner possible. In doing so, the defenders of naql used the same methods and techniques that their opponents held as valid and which they had earlier used to make their own arguments.

    The fact of the matter is that the real defense of religion and revelation has always been performed by precisely this kind of individual. It is said in Arabic: Iron is cut by iron. Indeed, one set of arguments can be effectively challenged only by another set of arguments, and the appropriate response to one kind of weapon comes from a weapon that is similar to it.

  • The Challenge of Secularism Open or Close

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    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    Despite continuing opposition from various religious movements, and in spite of the presence of a few pockets of resistance here and there, the idea of secularism still enjoys the status of the dominant ideology of our times. Essentially, secularism does not involve any absolute rejection of religion and religious doctrines, its primary claim being that religion has no right to interfere in the matters of the temporal and the mundane world. In other words, all matters concerning social organization, economic norms, legal practices, and political affairs should be decided and executed in terms of liberal, democratic, and non-religious criteria, while religion is to be treated as a personal and individual concern. The secular state is willing to patronize religious sentiments whenever these can be used to gain subservience to the state authority or to achieve the goals set by the state. Thus, religious values and imperatives are often invoked to justify and legitimize political actions, to gain support for political struggle, and to influence voting behavior. At the same time, however, the secular state does not tolerate any reference to religious teachings when it comes to the process of legislation or development of public policies.

    Secularism as a doctrine implies that public policies should be based exclusively on this-worldly criteria, i.e., the main concern should be the welfare of humanity in the present life with total disregard for any belief in a supernatural being, salvation of the human soul, dependence on heavenly guidance, or concern for the life-after-death. The fundamental issue in a secular state is the attainment of material prosperity and well-being in the life of this world, as this is thought to be the only road to human happiness and bliss -- the ultimate highway to a worldly Heaven. The hedonistic materialism inherent in the secular mode of life continues to gnaw at the roots of the religious sentiments, till there is nothing left but sheer greed and debauchery.

    The degree of religious freedom that a secular state is willing to grant its citizens varies greatly. The French are reluctant, and the Turks openly hostile, to the idea of allowing Muslim women to wear a head-scarf in government offices and on the campus; they fear that this would dangerously undermine their modern and secular values. The Americans are relatively magnanimous in this respect, although we continue to come across incidents reflecting a more rigid and less tolerant attitude on their part too. The main issue, however, is that even the secular state requires its citizens to act morally, to abide by the law, to live according to the accepted rules and norms, and such a mindset cannot be cultivated among the citizens by any of the purely utilitarian ethical philosophies. The fact of the matter is that public morality cannot sustain itself without a powerful private religiosity. Religion, therefore, is needed by the state for its own survival, simply because it is impossible to inculcate goodness of character without the support of religion, and also because all moral values are, in the final analysis, derived from the religious tradition. A growing number of Western thinkers are realizing this truth.

    Zbigniew Brezezinski, who has served as the National Security Adviser to President Carter, maintains that the out-of-control secularism contains within it the seeds of cultural self-destruction. He argues that without the development of a moral consciousness and adoption of an ethos of self-restraint instead of self-indulgence, the Western society would be left with no operational criteria for defining what is right and what is wrong, and thereby will slide into self-destruction. Charles W. Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship, asseverates that there has never been a case in history in which a society has been able to survive for long without a strong moral code, and that there has never been a time when a moral code has not been informed by religious truth. He warns that rejecting transcendental truth is tantamount to committing suicide, as a secular state cannot cultivate virtue.

    Thus, the secular state needs its citizenry to act righteously, yet it is not willing to permit religion to come out of its bounds of privacy and encroach upon matters relating to the collective life. This produces a quandary: the restriction and confinement of religion within the boundaries of the individual consciousness inevitably leads to its shrinkage and gradual decline, adversely affecting the moral standards of the society and, in turn, that of the state apparatus itself. The destruction of the traditional moral order in the West at the hands of secularism is a case in point, which has led to an immense amount of suffering, wreckage, and misery in the shape of widespread violence, soaring juvenile crime, rising drug addiction, skyrocketing rates of venereal diseases, and the rapidly growing sense of futility and aimlessness among the youth, leading to the most alarming sign of moral bankruptcy -- teenage suicide. All the rhetoric which one comes across in the Western world about "family values" and "back to the basics" is actually a manifestation of this very quandary.

    The birth and development of secularism in the West was intimately linked with the contemporaneous shift of allegiance from God to man, from faith in revelation to that in science, and from reliance on religious authority to freedom of thought. These constituents of the modern mind emerged during Renaissance, were empowered by the Scientific Revolution and solidified during Enlightenment, finding their full realization in the secular nation state which developed during the nineteenth century. It must be stressed that the process of the secularization of state was essentially a European historical experience, basically related to the reaction against the merciless rule and venality of the Roman Catholic Church, and subsequently against the hatred and violence that was perpetuated in the name of religion. Prior to the industrial revolution, secularization in Europe had the support of the Protestants, who had sought to achieve a separation between religion and state in order to purify Christianity by removing it from the realm of worldly corruption. After the decline in the political power of the religious hierarchy, and especially after the industrial revolution, the process of secularization made inroads in the realm of society and social institutions, followed by a general acceptance of liberal humanism.

    It is often claimed that secularization of the state was accompanied by a positive rise in religious faith and practice at the private and popular levels. This may be true for the Christian Europe, but it cannot be true for Islam and Muslims. The reason can be understood either in terms of the difference between a mere religion (madhhab) and a total system of human existence (Deen), or by appreciating the fact that the main emphasis in Islam is upon obedience to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW), and not just on the creed, spiritual enlightenment, or the performance of specified rituals. This is not to say that these elements are absent in the Islamic way of life, but to argue that whereas Christianity primarily aims at attaining salvation through faith, Buddhism stresses the achievement of enlightenment, and Judaism emphasizes the performance of ceremonies and rituals, the fundamental thrust of the Islamic teachings is on observing the commandments of Allah (SWT) and following the example of the Prophet (SAW). The preoccupation with intricacies of creed, attainment of higher spiritual stations, and the performance of spotless rituals are quite useless if they are not accompanied by a total and unconditional adherence to all injunctions of the Shari´ah.

    Islam asserts that the entire human existence is one unified whole; it cannot be bifurcated into the religious or spiritual on the one hand and the secular or mundane on the other. The kind of obedience that is accepted by Almighty Allah (SWT) is the one that encompasses all realms of a person´s life. Dividing up human life into numerous compartments and obeying Allah (SWT) in one of these domains and disobeying Him in the others, is a sure way to earn the Divine Wrath. In sharp contrast to the European Reformation, therefore, all reform movements throughout Islamic history had aimed at reviving the purity of the original teachings of Islam by removing the heretical or alien accretions and by establishing or reinforcing the authority of the Divine Guidance over all aspects of life, including the state.

    The rise of secular ideology in the Muslim world was essentially a matter of imposition from outside, instead of being an indigenous development as happened in Europe. The secularization of modern Turkey presents an obvious example. The new state of Turkey emerged under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in the aftermath of the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. Ruthless and stubborn, Atatürk embarked upon a comprehensive mission of Westernization and secularization of Turkish government and society. With the abolition of Khilafah, Islam was effectively divorced from state authority and relegated to the private affair of the individual. Arabic script was replaced by Roman script, history was rewritten to suppress Turkey´s Islamic heritage, wearing of clerical garb was proscribed, religious seminaries were closed, the traditional fez was replaced with European hat, the wearing of veil by Muslim women was forbidden, co-education was imposed, and Shari´ah was replaced by Swiss, Italian, and German laws. The state-sponsored process of secularization, however, did not succeed in erasing Islam as a political force, and the conflict between Islamic fundamentalism and stark secularism still continues today, even after 73 years.

    This conflict is also alive in Pakistan, albeit under circumstances which are very different from those in Turkey. Even in the 50th year of independence, the debate is still going on as to whether Pakistan is supposed to be an Islamic state or a secular one. It is an undeniable historical fact that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, as no other slogan could have united the millions of Indian Muslims. The proponents of secularism argue that the Indian Muslims had rejected Islam when they renounced the religious leadership of the Jami´yat Ulama-e-Hind in favor of the All India Muslim League. It is indeed true that the movement for independence was not religious in character, neither were the majority of its leaders practising Muslims. These verities do not, however, indicate any rejection of Islam; in fact, the exact opposite is true. The religious leadership of that era was, in general, alienated from the true feelings of the Indian Muslims, hence their failure to appreciate the common Muslim´s perception of the threat of Hindu majority. The real motivating force behind the movement for independence, instead of pure religious fervor, was the burning desire on the part of the Indian Muslims to preserve their separate nationhood and to cultivate their distinct identity. But the crucial question is: what was the basis of the separate nationhood and distinct identity of the Indian Muslims? Their sense of being a unique nation was neither racial or linguistic in origin, nor based upon any common homeland, but was, in fact, founded upon their ideology and religion. According to W. C. Smith, it was not a territorial or an economic or a linguistic or even, strictly speaking, a national community that was seeking a state, but a religious community. This is precisely the reason why the All India Muslim League, during the years 1940-47, appealed to the religious sentiments of the Indian Muslims and, as a result, emerged as the embodiment of their love and devotion for Islam, in addition to being the defender of their political rights. Thus, we find that the motifs of Islam, Islamic state, and Islamic Law were quite prominent in the speeches and statements made by the Muslim League leaders during the height of the freedom movement, including those made by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah himself.

    In addition to the dominant current of Muslim nationhood, there was also a relatively weaker current of Islamic revivalism underlying the ebullience of the movement for independence. Both of these apparently distinct currents can be traced back to the personality of Allama Iqbal who, on the one hand, persuaded
    Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to return from Europe and lead the Indian Muslims in their struggle for freedom, and, on the other hand, invited Maulana Sayyid Abul A´la Maududi to migrate from Deccan to the Punjab and lead the Islamic revivalist struggle on an intellectual plane. Again, it was Allama Iqbal who, while working for the Muslim League in the Punjab, endeavored -- though unsuccessfully -- during the 1932-36 period to establish an Islamic revivalist group on the basis of
    Baiy´ah, to be called Jamiy´at Shubban-ul-Muslimeen Hind. Therefore, we find in the personality of Allama Iqbal a rare blend of the highest idealism along with pragmatic realism. While envisioning the renaissance of Islam and the revival of the Muslim Ummah in the distant future, Iqbal was fully aware of the problems being faced by the Indian Muslims in the here and now. Attempts to portray Iqbal as a supporter of secularism are, therefore, a travesty of truth. Indeed, his Presidential address to the Annual Session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad, on December 29, 1930, is very revealing as far as the Islamic dimension of the Pakistan movement is concerned. Here are some excerpts:

    Is religion a private affair? Would you like to see Islam, as a moral and political ideal, meeting the same fate in the world of Islam as Christianity has already met in Europe? Is it possible to retain Islam as an ethical ideal and to reject it as a polity in favor of national polities, in which religious attitude is not permitted to play any part?... The proposition that religion is a private individual experience is not surprising on the lips of a European. In Europe the conception of Christianity as a monastic order, renouncing the world of matter and fixing its gaze entirely on the world of spirit, led by a logical process of thought to the view embodied in this proposition. The nature of the Prophet´s religious experience, as disclosed in the Qur´an, however, is wholly different.... It is an individual experience creative of a social order. Its immediate outcome is the fundamentals of a polity with implicit legal concepts whose civic significance cannot be belittled merely because their origin is revelational. The religious ideal of Islam, therefore, is organically related to the social order which it has created. The rejection of the one will eventually involve the rejection of the other....

    The demand for an independent Muslim state, therefore, must be understood in its proper context. In addition to his view that a Muslim state in this region will defend the rest of India against any foreign invasion, Allama Iqbal firmly believed that the revival of pristine Islam will be possible only after its centralization in a specified territory:

    ... I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim State in the best interest of India and Islam. For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power; for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of the modern times.

    No discussion of secularism in the Pakistani context can be concluded without referring to the famous -- or notorious? -- speech made by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. He said inter alia: will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

    On the face value, this statement is clearly a negation of the Two-Nation theory, a denial of the separate nationhood of Muslims, and a rejection of the ideas expressed by Allama Iqbal in his Allahabad address. As such, a plethora of interpretations have been offered to explain this statement. Was it simply a reference to his promise that there would be no victimization of minorities in Pakistan? Does this statement represent a serious lapse on his part due to the stress he was undergoing? Was it only a temporary strategy to appease the secular powers of the world? Does it represent his effort to cool down the tempers in the background of Hindu-Muslim riots? Irrespective of the exact interpretation that you choose to accept, the very fact that this statement was considered to be in need of interpretation speaks volumes about the matter at hand. The need for interpretation arose because this statement is diametrically opposed to the innumerable speeches made and statements issued by the Quaid-e-Azam prior to August 11. Either you seek to explain this statement differently from the way it sounds, or you try and reconcile yourself with the fact the founder of Pakistan was a hypocrite -- a man who gave the impression to his devoted followers that their promised homeland would be an Islamic state, but who was actually endeavoring for a secular one. If you are not inclined to conceive of the Quaid-e-Azam as a hypocrite -- and neither am I -- then the only solution is to read this statement in a manner that takes into account all of the multitudinous statements made by him during 1940-47, which indicate that an Islamic state was what he had in mind, not a secular one.

    The main reason for the confusion prevailing about the ideology of Pakistan is that statements are often quoted to suggest that the Quaid-e-Azam wanted Pakistan to be a modern Socio-democracy and not a theocracy. True enough. But these statements do not prove that he had a secular polity in mind. What most people do not realize is the fact that socialism -- in the sense that economic justice must prevail and grossly unequal distribution of wealth must be eradicated -- is an altogether Islamic imperative. Similarly, democracy -- in the sense that the affairs of the state should be run in accordance with the will of the people, and that they should be free to make their own laws within the boundaries set by the Qur´an and the Sunnah -- is again an Islamic imperative. That is why Allama Iqbal, the real ideologue of Pakistan, has said that Socialism can be turned into Islam if you add to it the Islamic concept of God, and that the republican form of government is perfectly harmonious with the Islamic political teachings. As for theocracy, it is best defined as the rule by a particular ecclesiastic or priestly class, and since there is no such category in the Islamic scheme of things, it is patently obvious that Islam and theocracy represent two entirely different forms of governance.

    The sovereign in an Islamic state is Almighty Allah (SWT) and all Muslims are His vicegerents (Khalifah); the ultimate authority rests with the Qur´an and Sunnah; the affairs of the state are to be decided and executed with the spirit of democracy and mutual consultation (Shura); the legislature is bound by the injunctions of the Qur´an and Sunnah which it cannot transgress; the judiciary makes sure that no law is formulated, and no decision is taken, which is repugnant to the Islamic teachings; the Ulama are there to educate the masses and to guide the parliament and the courts, but they have no real authority. The provision of the basic necessities of life to all citizens (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) -- including food, shelter, security, education, and health care -- is among the foremost responsibilities of the state. Thus conceived, there is no similarity between an Islamic state and a theocratic one.

    As a matter of hisotrical fact, the movement for independence was energized and the Indian Muslims were galvanized into action when the Muslim League leaders started to invoke the name of Islam in their speeches and statements. They appealed to the Indian Muslims´ perception of being a community unlike any other. The invokation of an emotional and hereditary religiosity served the purpose quite well under those circumstances, but such an approach cannot suffice now. We gained our independence and separate existence as a country in the name of our distinct nationhood, the basis of which is Islam. This makes Islam the only justification for our continuing existence and stability -- the very rationale for our being. Paying lip-service to Islam, however, is not going to help us anymore. What is needed is the fulfillment of the promises made during the struggle for independence -- the implementaion of the teachings of the Qur´an and Sunnah in thier totality, so as to make Pakistan an Islamic state rather than a mere Muslim "nation" state.

    The conflict between Islamic fundamentalism and secularism is intensifying throughout the Muslim world. The danger is that the various Islamic movements, after failing in their efforts to realize their goals through political and democratic means, would increasingly turn to violence and even terrorism. We know from the experience of Egypt, Algeria, and other countries that such an approach could bring nothing but disaster for both Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. What is urgently required on the part of all the workers and well-wishers of Islamic revivalism is to take a step back and consider dispassionately the issue of methodology. The process of an Islamic Revolution, its derivation from the Seerah of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and its application in the modern era, has been one of the major themes of the lectures and writings of Dr. Israr Ahmad, the Ameer of Tanzeem-e-Islami. The present issue of "The Qur´anic Horizons" contains the first of the series of articles based on his Friday sermons on this very topic. These discourses were made in 1984, and subsequently printed as an Urdu book, Manhaj-e-Inqbalab-e-Nabawi. It is hoped that the points elucidated in these lectures would provide the adherents of various Islamic movements and groups with valuable insights vis-à-vis the correct methodology of Iqamah Al-Deen.

  • The Cultural Assault Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    An unprecedented "explosion" of information has become the hallmark of our age. The technological advancement in the field of mass communication, achieved during the last one hundred years or so, has had a number of important consequences for the human race. Indeed, it is due to the ubiquitous use and influence of mass media that we find ourselves in a world that is radically different from that of our ancestors. In these pages, we wish to bring to the fore the fact that many of the changes brought about by the mass media are neither wholesome nor desirable.

    In general, we regard the marvels of modern science like the cinema, television, computer, satellite dish, and the Internet as wonderful inventions that have enriched our lives and made them less burdensome. When someone points out the negative aspects of all this technological progress, the immediate response one gets is that all inventions are neutral in themselves, their good or evil lies only in the manner of their use. But is it really so? Social scientists do not agree on this issue. The debate is between the Instrumental theory of technology and the Substantive theory. The former is based on the common sense idea that technologies are neutral and have no valuative content of their own. They are not inherently good or bad, and they can be used to attain different ends as desired by the persons or institutions in control. The latter theory argues that each new technology brings with it a new cultural system and restructures the society as an object of control. Every new technology is designed to function in a particular and limited way, and, in practice, it does interact with the rest of the reality in specific and unique ways. Inventions cannot be judged in a vacuum, disassociated from the human beings who use them. As such, every new invention leads to changes in human activities, life-style, and even values. Technology, therefore, is not essentially neutral. While it often has beneficial effects, there are darker sides too that are usually ignored or accepted as a normal part of modern living. According to Neil Postman, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University, "anyone who has studied the history of technology knows that technological change is always a Faustian bargain: Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided." (Speech to German Informatics Society, October 11, 1990)

    Unfortunately, the recent development of science and technology has taken place in a milieu that is bereft of a stabilizing principle, devoid of a faith in Divine Guidance that would have ensured the ethical use of new inventions and gadgets, limiting their deleterious effects to the minimum. Consequently, technological progress has turned out to be more of a menace for humanity in many respects than a blessing. American social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) writes, "scientific knowledge has not merely heightened the possibilities of life in the modern world: it has lowered the depths. When science is not touched by a sense of values it works ´ as it fairly consistently has worked during the past century ´ toward a complete dehumanization of the social order. The plea that each of the sciences must be permitted to go its own way without control should be immediately rebutted by pointing out that they obviously need a little guidance when their applications in war and industry are so plainly disastrous.…" (The Lewis Mumford Reader, edited by Donald L. Miller, New York: Pantheon Books, 1986)

    There can be no doubt that as far as the basic human predicament is concerned, the explosion of scientific knowledge and rapid growth of technological expertise have failed to provide any solutions. Industries have grown, but the environment has been shamelessly abused and at places destroyed acceleration of the production-consumption cycle has brought natural resources to the verge of depletion. Life has become easier and the standard of living has improved, but only for a chosen few in selected parts of the world. Sophisticated weapons have been developed, but are almost always used to achieve unjust and immoral ends. Extraordinary prosperity has arrived in the industrialized world, but only at the cost of hunger and repression in poor nations. Amazing progress has occurred in various medical sciences, but the major part of humanity continues to languish in its misery and suffering. Flow of information and ideas is taking place with remarkable swiftness, but generally in a manner that safeguards and promotes the interests of a small privileged group. As a matter of fact, the very idea that technological progress could somehow cure the afflictions of mankind is seriously flawed. No technology ´ no matter how wonderful ´ can provide solutions for the age-old dilemmas facing humanity. Rather, it is only through a recourse to Divine Guidance that we can avoid these pitfalls, and achieve a balance between justice and prosperity, between freedom and equality, between material progress and respect for nature.

    Easy and quick availability of information is the most prominent consequence brought about by the communication media. This in itself is often viewed as the panacea for human race. But we too often forget that information is not synonymous with knowledge, data is not understanding, mere facts do not constitute wisdom. We are constantly being bombarded with the latest and most up-to-date pieces of information about all conceivable subjects. A great deal of this information consists of disconnected facts and half-truths that are lacking in perspective, background, and relevance. Instead of making our lives more meaningful, therefore, this flood of information is only adding to our perplexity and alienation. The basic problem is that we do not have a holistic conception of reality, a coherent world-view that can provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose amid this deluge of data. In the absence of authentic knowledge of reality, we are like a little boy who, unable to see the big picture, is mystified by the small pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Obviously, giving him more and more pieces of the puzzle will only increase his confusion, unless the overall pattern is first pointed out to him. Here again, technology is of no use in answering the age-old questions that have been tormenting mankind. Instead, it is only through a recourse to Divine Guidance that we can acquire reliable and authentic knowledge of reality it is only on the basis of this knowledge that we can make sense of the world and sift the relevant from the extraneous.

    None of the most basic problems being faced by the human race ´ repression, tyranny, injustice, social disintegration, exploitation, alienation, and spiritual emptiness ´ is caused by a shortage of information or lack of latest technology. None of these problems can be solved, therefore, by just increasing the quantity of information that is easily available. On the contrary, the vast amount of data that are now accessible to us often serve to obscure the real issues, hiding them in a cloak of technological brilliance. In ancient times, the weak and the oppressed were excluded from learning the truth, lest they should rebel today, the truth itself is lost in a plethora of irrelevant and inapplicable information. A whole entertainment industry has sprung up to keep the minds engrossed in an overwhelming ambiance of fun and enjoyment, arousing wayward carnal desires while discouraging any serious and substantial thought. While this state of affairs has a lot to do with the vested interests of those who control the mass media and the flow of information, the role of the nature and bias of technology itself should not be overlooked.

    In order to make sense of the contemporary scenario, we first need to comprehend a basic fact. In every society, there is a small minority of intelligent and powerful individuals that enjoys a position of leadership vis-à-vis its values, ideals, trends, and the general direction of its drift this is also true at the global level. We are living in an age of materialism, not because this viewpoint has triumphed over religion in a fair battle, but only because it happens to be the creed of the powerful elite of our times, with rare exceptions. This elite is able to exert an immense amount of influence over the thought and behavior of the masses ´ the majority of human beings who tend not to think on their own but to follow the dominant current of their time. In the contemporary world, the most effective means through which the elite is able to guide its followers is the mass media.

    Today, the mass media is being used to propagate and reinforce a materialistic culture throughout the world. This culture is characterized by a strong emphasis on the pursuit of material possessions and sensual gratification, along with a corresponding disregard for spiritual and other-worldly ends. Since ours is the age of mass communication, trends and ideas rapidly diffuse throughout the world and quickly become global in their scope and influence. Consequently, the materialistic mindset that originally took shape in Europe during the 18th century has now become so pervasive that it transcends geographical and political boundaries as well as religious affiliations and linguistic or ethnic divisions. There is virtually no escape from the global culture!

    Of all the modern mass media, television is the most powerful because of its omnipresence. We have come to accept this little piece of technology as an indispensable part of our lives, and only rarely do we pause to think whether it has any adverse effects, whether we can live without it, or whether we should put serious limits on its use. Those of us who have been raised on a continuous and heavy diet of daily television viewing would find the idea unacceptable ´ even horrible ´ that television should be altogether eliminated from our lives or, at best, allowed a very restricted and carefully monitored role. This, however, is precisely what we need to do in order to avoid its deleterious and addictive influence.

    Although they are deeply interconnected and probably inseparable, the harmful effects of television can be classified into two categories: those caused by the very nature of its technology, and those related to the peculiar manner in which it is being used in today´s world. First of all, we need to categorically reject the myth that television depicts reality as it exists.
    The spokesmen for the popular media often argue that they are just showing a mirror to society. Not at all. Television is, in fact, a perpetual guide and mentor for the audience. It gives legitimacy to certain ideas and informs the viewers as to what forms of behavior, dress, and manners are currently in style. It provides them with a framework of conduct, determines their value structure, and gives them role models to emulate. Television deeply influences the viewers´ sense of right and wrong, and sets for them the criteria for success and failure. It even affects the pattern of their conversations and fantasies.
    The depiction of "reality" by television is almost always selective and biased. Television guides our attention towards certain specific topics, deciding for us as to what issues deserve our focus and what are merely frivolous. The overwhelming emphasis today is on entertainment. As a result, the viewer´s attention is diverted from serious and relevant problems to sex, fashion, sports, and music, until critical thinking gives way to a mentality that will trivialize anything and everything. Indeed, why would anyone bother to grapple with questions about God, the purpose of life, and the accountability in the Hereafter when he or she can enjoy TV shows that are much more exciting and amusing? Why would anyone take the trouble of thinking through the question of exploitation and injustice that have become rampant in the world when he or she can spend the same hours sitting zombie-like in front of a flickering screen, drowning the tribulations of life in a sea of entertainment? According to Marie Winn, "the television experience allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state. The worries and anxieties of reality are as effectively deferred by becoming absorbed in a television program as by going on a ´trip´ induced by drugs or alcohol." (The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn, New York: Penguin Books, 1985) Indeed, for many viewers, television is just a method to cope with boredom and a meaningless existence.

    This is precisely what Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) predicted in his celebrated satire Brave New World: that people would be laughing instead of thinking, and they wouldn´t even know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking. The Huxleyan nightmare is one in which the government has no need to censor dissenting viewpoints or to hide the truth. It is much easier to control the masses through a tyranny of pleasure. In the brave new world, the masses are offered a surfeit of entertainment, non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature that ensures a state of perpetual amusement and happiness. According to Huxley, these non-stop distractions "are used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation." That nightmare has now become a reality. Television not only numbs the viewers´ sensibilities, it effectively isolates individuals from each other so that they can no longer participate in an organized effort to reform the society.

    Probably the most frightening aspect of television is its ability to indoctrinate. Hooked on TV, the viewer becomes a passive recipient of ideas and opinions that are deliberately presented in a way so as to give him or her certain specific impressions. The contents of television programs can be controlled, their messages can be kept more or less uniform, and they can be repeatedly shown to the same audience. It is well-known that images which are seen over and over again, especially in a relaxed state, get deeply ingrained in the viewer´s memory from where they profoundly affect the manner in which he or she feels, thinks, and behaves. Research has also shown that the brain´s left hemisphere, which processes information logically and analytically, tunes out while a person is watching television. This allows the right hemisphere of the brain, which processes information emotionally and non-critically, to function unimpeded. All this make television a powerful tool of mass manipulation.

    The same fact can be explained in another way: The key to enjoying any tele-drama is suspension of disbelief the viewer must withhold his or her faculty of critical analysis in order to enjoy television´s images and sounds. Consequently, one cannot enjoy television and not get influenced, at the same time, by the world-view and values that the producers are trying to promote. The potential for control is enormous. It has been pointed out that, "as real-life experience is increasingly replaced by the mediated ´experience´ of television-viewing, it becomes easy for politicians and market-researchers of all sorts to rely on a base of mediated mass experience that can be evoked by appropriate triggers. The TV ´world´ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the mass mind takes shape, its participants acting according to media-derived impulses and believing them to be their own personal volition arising out of their own desires and needs. In such a situation, whoever controls the screen controls the future, the past, and the present." (The Perfect Machine by Joyce Nelson, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1992)

    Here, the difference between printing press and television is quite significant. In contrast to a reader who must actively use a considerable amount of mental effort to gain understanding from what he or she reads, television viewers passively receive images and sounds that stimulate and delight the senses but provide very little insight or awareness. When ideas are presented before us in a book or newspaper, we are usually able to analyze them critically, judge their value, challenge and refute them if need be. However, when the same ideas are injected into unsuspecting minds through captivating images, it becomes practically impossible to resist them. Since television´s non-discursive visual imagery is emotional and associative, it acts sub-consciously by sanctioning some forms of thought and behavior while invalidating others. Indeed, the value structure of an entire people can be transformed by means of the subtle messages and indirect suggestions found in apparently innocent television programs and commercials.

    Some critics have pointed out that serious and substantial discourse is impossible to achieve within the format provided by contemporary television programs. This is because the goal in all TV shows is to have very short segments that can stand on their own the basic idea is that the programs must be fun to watch, and that they should never be a burden on the viewer´s intellect or memory. As a result of this format, the most serious of happenings and the most solemn of ideas appear trivial on television. According to Neil Postman, it is not just that the television is entertaining, "but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format of the representation of all experience…. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is for our amusement and pleasure." (Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, New York: Penguin Books, 1985)
    Television has an inherent bias towards presenting ideas and events as disconnected from everything else it must provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, and movement in order to keep the viewers glued to the set and to prevent them from changing channels. The emphasis in television shows is always upon performance, not on ideas the aim is to get applause, not to encourage reflection. Since television must turn the most serious of enterprises into entertainment, it has a tendency to promote a muddled view of reality among heavy viewers, a mindset that is not willing to see anything as deserving serious attention. Even its news bulletins suffer from this ailment. Postman writes: "TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to continue to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings…. [No] matter how grave any fragment of news may appear…, it will shortly be followed by a series of commercials that will, in an instant, defuse the import of the news, in fact render it largely banal." (Ibid.) A prime example of the trivializing effect of television news came in 1991, when wholesale killings and devastation in Iraq were presented to the global audience as nothing more than an amusing show.

    A number of reforms have been suggested to reduce the addictive and trivializing effects of television. These suggestions, however, are not likely to be implemented as long as the mass media is controlled by huge multinational corporations. The immense power of television is today being used mostly to serve the interests of these corporations on a global level. How is this possible? The spread of Western capitalism has ensured that the primary messages being conveyed through television will be more or less identical throughout the world. As a result of competitive as well as "imitative" pressure, even public television in countries like Pakistan is now following in the footsteps of commercial media. At the heart of this uniformity of content lies the capital-media nexus, a system that works in specific ways to promote a global culture of mindless consumption and hedonism.

    Today, most of the mass media is controlled by large corporations that are themselves parts of even bigger conglomerates. Their goal is to catch viewers by seducing them with non-stop, round-the-clock entertainment and news. Once the viewers are caught, they are "sold" to other businesses who want to advertise their products. It is important to understand that the audience does not provide the money that makes the media work, advertisers do. It is not difficult to see, therefore, that the mass media serve the interest of the advertisers and not that of the viewers. An audience that thinks critically does not provide the happy and relaxed atmosphere in which advertisements can have their persuasive effect. Television ´ by encouraging us to enjoy and laugh but not to think and question ´ is serving the purpose of these corporations very well.
    The businesses that buy time on electronic media have just one goal: to sell their products. This requires that a consumer mentality be cultivated among the viewers. Indeed, consumerism cannot survive unless the masses are preoccupied with enjoyment and pleasure-seeking. It is the desire to own better and more expensive items than one´s neighbor that drives a consumer economy. It is obvious, therefore, that the global media must use highly sophisticated methods of indoctrination to destroy traditional values and eliminate simple and austere life-styles, as these constitute major obstacles in the way of consumer capitalism. Their methodology is to spread the secular mindset on a global level so as to achieve a certain uniformity of thought and life-style, this homogenization of culture being an essential requirement for the flourishing of market economy.

    With a disturbing sense of déjà vu, one is reminded here of the numerous reports prepared for the East India Company in the 19th century. These reports dealt with the steps needed to be taken in order for the British economic enterprise to succeed in India. Invariably, they concluded that the indigenous culture of the natives had to be dismantled if the British economic enterprise was to have any chance of prospering in this part of the world. Thus, it can be seen that the cultural assault by the mass media in our own times is actually an extension of the colonial offensive on the cultural and religious traditions of non-Western nations. One may ask, in the words of the Qur´an, "is this the legacy they have passed down from one to the other?" (Al-Dhariaat 51:53)

    It is easy, therefore, to pinpoint the basic idea that is being ingrained in our minds through the popular mass media. Gently and skillfully, we are being led to believe that the life of this world is the only thing that really matters that we should get our pleasure right here and right now that we must not delay our gratification for there is no Hereafter and that life itself is a game in which the one who owns the most expensive consumer products is the ultimate winner.

    What effect does all this have on the viewer? A constant sense of aimlessness and alienation is probably the most common disease of our age. This is further amplified by television shows and advertisements that foster the feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and anxiety among the viewers regarding their standards of living and material possessions. The emphasis, therefore, is shifted from who you are as a person to what you own. Heedless or unaware of Divine Guidance, one feels spiritually empty and, searching for solace, gets carried away in the never-ending cycle of wanting, working, and having. But the pain does not stop. So one works harder ´ disregarding all scruples ´ and buys still more, hoping that the promise of eternal bliss will be fulfilled if he could just have a microwave oven, a bigger refrigerator, a latest car, a better house, a holiday trip to Europe. Things continue to accumulate, but the heart is hardened in the process. The promised peace never arrives, but death does. A life-time spent in running after illusions is nothing but a Satanic hoax, about which Allah (SWT) had warned us: "He makes promises to them, and arouses in them vain desires and Satan´s promises are nothing but deceptions" (Al-Nisa 4:120). Today, this function of deceiving mankind by arousing false hopes is being performed quite ingeniously by television. Satan must be smiling!
    That the international media has practically become a manipulation tool in the hands of a small financial aristocracy is a fact too obvious to miss. Jerry Mander, a former advertising man, wrote two decades ago: "Without such a single, monolithic instrument as television, the effective power and control of these huge corporations could not be harnessed as it presently is. Monolithic economic enterprise needs monolithic media to purvey its philosophy and to influence rapid change in consumption patterns. Without an instrument like television, capable of reaching everyone in the country at the same time and narrowing human needs to match the re-designed environment, the corporations themselves could not exist." (Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, New York: Quill, 1978) With the growing popularity of American movies and TV shows, advent of the satellite dish, and the drive towards globalization, Jerry Mander´s observations have now become as much applicable to the whole world as they were to the American society of twenty years ago.

    More recently, Edward S. Herman and Robert W. McChesney, co-authors of The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism (Washington D.C.: Cassel, 1997), have shown that most of the mass media today is controlled by the Big Ten, giant corporations that are global in their scope, although a majority of them is based in the United States. During the past two decades, corporate capitalism has greatly increased in its global perspective and reach, and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization are serving its interests in different ways.
    The authors argue that just as the world is being pushed towards a socio-economic model similar to that found in the United States, the world´s media are also being pushed towards a model found in the United States. The American socio-economic model is one of market hegemony, minimal state provision, the supplanting of the citizen by the consumer, and a commercial media providing the entertainment-cum-advertising culture appropriate to the socio-economic model. The U.S. model entails a displacement of the public sphere (forums where issues related to the community can be discussed and debated) with entertainment mixed with serviceable propaganda, as this is what the corporate system prefers. The authors aver that the spread of the U.S. media model is weakening public broadcasting systems and strengthening the commercial media in the rest of the world. Consequently, advertisers are increasingly in a position to shape media performance and standards as a result, we should expect an increase in light entertainment, sex, and violence on television, and a parallel decrease in hard news, investigative reporting, documentaries, and debates on public and community issues.

    Closely related to the commercial exploitation by mass media is the issue of propaganda, as alluded to above. Ours is the age of dajl, or deception: things are rarely what they are made to appear before us. Many of us are enchanted by foreign media because their news ´ in contrast to that of the government-owned local television ´ gives an impression of variety, objectivity, and neutrality. This impression, however, is often illusory. In addition to the promotion of a materialistic mindset, the involvement of the financial and political stakes of the elite in the international broadcasting industry ensures that only certain news stories will appear on the screen, that these stories will be presented with a predictable slant, and that all facts and happenings that may be damaging to the interests of this elite will not be shown at all.

    Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, co-authors of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), have presented a wealth of evidence to show how a propaganda system works in apparently free societies. The authors describe five "filters" through which the news has to pass in a capitalistic-democratic country like the United States before it can appear on television. They argue that since the powerful elite share the same values but disagree on the tactics needed to attain their common aims, this disagreement is reflected in media debates and gives a false impression of diversity and free expression. On the other hand, views that challenge the legitimacy of those aims or suggest that state power is being exercised in elite interests will be completely excluded form the mass media.

    In this perspective, what course of action should a Muslim adopt? Understanding the intricate and deceptive workings of the modern world and sharing this knowledge with others is obviously the first step. At the same time, Muslims need to realize that the influence of global culture is so powerful that a single individual has no chance of successfully resisting its onslaught therefore, closer links, greater cooperation, and cultivation of mutual support among like-minded people is urgently required. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said: Be with the jama´ah and avoid firqah, for surely Satan is with the (one who remains) alone, but he stays away from the two. (Tirmidhi)

    It is also important to realize that we cannot go out on a mission to save the world unless we first save ourselves and the members of our immediate family. In this respect, we need to replace television viewing with positive, healthy, and family-oriented activities in accordance with Islamic teachings. We must realize that life has a definite purpose, and squandering our time away for the sake of superficial entertainment is an insult to the human soul. The only weapon with which we can fight the deception of our age is the Holy Qur´an, the Book of Allah (SWT). The choice, therefore, is clear: either we turn towards Divine Guidance, or we lose ourselves to dehumanizing materialism.

  • The Growing Edge of a Living Tradition Open or Close

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    Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

    Among Muslims today, there are three major viewpoints about the nature of the Islamic Tradition, and how we are supposed to act in response to that tradition.

    Viewpoints about Islamic Tradition

    According to the first viewpoint, the Islamic tradition was developed by our pious scholars in the past; they did so under the guidance of and inspiration from Allah (SWT) who had chosen them for this essential task. Further-more, those ‘Ulama were closer to the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and therefore their interpretations hold more weight than modern opinions. We can access the Islamic tradition by learning from an authentic ‘Alim who has received the knowledge of the tradition through an unbroken chain of transmission going back to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The Islamic tradition is inseparable from the Deen of Islam itself; it is already perfect and there is no need for any change.

    According to the second viewpoint, it is a grave mistake to give a central place to the opinions of past ‘Ulama. In fact, this is such a grave mistake that we would be committing shirk if we start obeying the ‘Ulama instead of Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW). The fact is that we are obliged to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah only, not the Islamic tradition; anyone seeking guidance under any circumstances should simply read the Qur’an and Sunnah, where solutions to all problems have already been given.

    According to the third viewpoint, only the Qur’an is the authoritative source for what we are supposed to believe and how we are supposed to behave. The ‘Ulama in the past tried to understand what the Qur’an meant, but they did so in a fragmented and piecemeal manner; hence they couldn’t effectively grasp the spirit and unity of the Qur'an. This means that while the Islamic tradition should be critically studied, it cannot be blindly followed because its dictates do not adequately fulfill the demands of the Qur’an and the needs of contemporary societies. Using proper methods of interpretation, however, modern scholars are in a position to correctly understand the Qur’anic spirit and apply it to contemporary situations. The Islamic tradition needs to be thoroughly overhauled and transformed.

    Where do we stand with respect to the Islamic tradition? What is our position in relation to the three common viewpoints mentioned above? As we analyze these three viewpoints, we note that each of them has some truth in it as well as some misunderstanding or error.

    What is “Islamic Tradition”?

    We will start by examining the meaning of “Islamic tradition.” First of all, what do we mean when we use the English word “tradition”? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives the following definitions:

    An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom);
    The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction;
    Cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions;
    Characteristic manner, method, or style.
    These definitions are fairly close to each other, and, taken together, they give us a good picture of how the word “tradition” is used in the English language. The exact meaning of the word “Islamic,” however, is not that easy to grasp; this is because we use this word in many different ways in order to convey many different shades of meanings. We must pause, therefore, and pay more attention to this word.

    To begin with, we notice that the denotation of the word “Islamic” is fairly simple because it is used in English as the adjective of the Arabic verbal noun “Islam.” Therefore, we can say that the word “Islamic” means “having to do with the Deen of Islam.” However, there are many different connotations of this word, and it is the variety of these connotations that make things more complex. When people use the word “Islamic” to carry shades of meanings that are quite different from each other without specifying which of the many connotations they have in mind, a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding naturally result.

    Consider the following sentences and note how the word “Islamic” is used:

    “Islamic terrorism has now reached the United States.”
    “Islamic injunctions require that women should not speak in the mosque.”
    “The Muslim community in Texas is building another Islamic school.”
    “There are great monuments of Islamic architecture in India.”

    In each of these sentences, the word “Islamic” definitely contains the original denotation, i.e., “having to do with the Deen of Islam.” However, in each of these usages of the word “Islamic,” there is something more, an additional shade of meaning over and above the basic definition. This additional meaning is called connotation.

    Unpacking the connotation of key words is very important in figuring out the intention of a writer or speaker. This is because a given word can have one connotation in the mind of the writer or speaker, and quite different connotations in the minds of his/her readers or listeners. If someone says in a Friday sermon that “American Muslims must do jihad” and doesn’t explain further, we can be sure that different segments of the audience will get very different messages, all because of the ambiguity of the word “jihad” resulting from its multiple connotations.

    Now, let’s examine the above examples and see the variety of connotations attached to the apparently simple word “Islamic.”

    In the first sentence, the word “Islamic” means “having to do with some of the contemporary political movements in the Muslim world that identify themselves and their cause with the Deen of Islam.”

    In the second sentence, the word “Islamic” means “having to do with the juridical verdicts of a particular style of interpretation of the Shari’ah that was historically favored by some Muslim scholars as part of their effort to understand and practice the Deen of Islam.”

    In the third sentence, the word “Islamic” means “having to do with a particular group of people who identify themselves as Muslims, in relation to the way in which they wish to practice their understanding of the requirements of the Deen of Islam.”

    In the fourth sentence, the word “Islamic” means “having to do with the culture and lifestyle of a particular society that existed at a particular period in history, consisting of people some or most of whom identified themselves as Muslims, and who were influenced by the Deen of Islam.”

    Some readers may find these lengthy definitions to be mere nitpicking; however, it is important to note that underneath the word “Islamic” there are always a number of hidden assumptions that are usually not explained by the person using the word in written or spoken discourse. More often than not, these assumptions include a positive or negative value judgment; these judgments are usually conveyed to the audience not explicitly but by implication. For example, in the first sentence it is implied that the Deen of Islam has a direct causal relationship to terrorism, and in the second sentence it is implied that there is only one correct interpretation of the Shari’ah. Irrespective of whether these assumptions are correct or incorrect, the point is that they need to be recognized by the audience.

    Now, let us go back to the meaning of “Islamic tradition.” First of all, it is obvious that “Islamic tradition” has something to do with Deen of Islam. At the same time, it is equally obvious that “Deen of Islam” is not synonymous with “Islamic tradition.” There is a significant difference between the two.

    Most Muslims would accept the following definition of “Islam”: “the Deen based on submission to the divine will, revealed by Allah (SWT) as His final guidance to humanity, in the form of the Qur’an and the living example of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).”

    When using the phrase “Islamic tradition,” however, we mean not only the revealed Deen of Islam as defined above, but we also include in our implicit definition all the ways in which this Deen was received, experienced, understood, applied, practiced, developed, and passed along through teaching and imitation by all the countless generations of Muslims who came after the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had left this world for his eternal abode.

    The Development of Islamic Tradition

    To further clarify the nature of “Islamic tradition,” we should attempt to answer the following question: How was the divinely revealed Deen of Islam conveyed all the way from the early followers of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in 7th century Arabia to us living in 21st century North America?

    There is a gap of fourteen centuries between the revelation of the Deen of Islam and our own times. There are barriers of differences in social context, language, and culture. The Companions (RAA) were the first audience of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and a great many of them were personally guided and mentored by the Prophet himself. From their generation onwards, however, several developments took place on a constant basis. These developments influenced the way in which the Deen of Islam flowered into what we call the “Islamic tradition.”

    First, the number of men and women professing allegiance to the Deen of Islam continuously increased; this happened both through a natural increase in population and through conversion from other religions.

    Second, almost all Companions (RAA) were Arabs and they belonged to more-or-less the same social, linguistic, and cultural background. This had given a particular texture and flavor to their experience, understanding, and practice of Islam . Subsequently, the proportion of Arabs in the Muslim Ummah continuously decreased, so that today only 15% of Muslims are Arabs. When non-Arab peoples started to become Muslims, they brought with them a great diversity of historical legacies, social norms, languages, cultures, and customs, etc., all of which influenced, to a lesser or greater extent, the way in which they experienced, understood, and practiced Islam .

    Third, these later Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) experienced social, political, economic, and cultural situations that were increasingly different from those that existed in the time of the original revelation of the Deen of Islam. Consequently, Muslims were continuously faced with the challenge of finding the will of Allah (SWT) under new and previously unknown situations without having the privilege and advantage of simply asking Prophet Muhammad (SAW). By necessity, they looked at the knowledge they had received from the Companions (RAA) and started to preserve, compile, and codify that knowledge in various ways. But that was not all they did. They also started to make their own efforts to understand the Deen of Islam to the best of their abilities in order to apply its teachings to their situations.

    The Growth of “Islamic Sciences”

    As a result of these three changes, new “Islamic sciences” started to flourish, including Tafsir, Hadith, Kalam, and Fiqh. The science of Tafsir was born out of the necessity to regulate the community’s interpretative needs pertaining to the Qur'an. The science of Hadith was born out of the necessity to critically evaluate oral reports of Prophetic actions and sayings and to standardize their compilation. The science of Kalam was born out of the necessity to rationally formulate the dogmatic aspects of belief in the face of religious polemics among different Muslim sects as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. The science of Fiqh was born out of the very practical need of standardizing the application of Shari’ah in the personal and public domains of life.

    Of course, these sciences were not really new, in the sense that they were already present in their rudimentary forms during the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). What happened in the subsequent generations was a great unfolding and blossoming of knowledge in these areas.

    Soon, a fifth dimension was added to the four mentioned before, called Tasawwuf. That too represented an actualization of what was already present in the Deen of Islam. As is well known, Tasawwuf was born out of the need for fostering, regulating, and correctly interpreting the spiritual experiences of devout Muslims.

    We can see here the historical process through which the revealed Deen of Islam grew into what we now call “Islamic tradition.” This happened not only through the scholarly efforts of our pious and learned ‘Ulama, but also through the day-to-day activities of countless generations of ordinary Muslim men and women as they went about the business of understanding and following the will of Allah (SWT). If it were not for the sincere efforts of these post-Prophetic generations of Muslims to understand and practice the Deen of Islam, we would not have the amazing breadth, profundity, and richness that we find in our tradition.

    As we begin to understand this historical process of the unfolding and growth of Islamic tradition, we can appreciate that this process did not stop at any point during the last fourteen centuries. Moreover, the nature of this process is such that it will never come to an end as long as there are Muslims in the world. Indeed, there were times when developments in the Islamic sciences occurred at a very rapid pace, and there were times when such developments slowed down considerably. However, the overall process of the transmission of this knowledge remained unbroken. Looking at our history, we can say with absolute certainty that there were no breaches or gaps in the continuity of this tradition.

    Differences between Islam and Islamic Tradition

    The Deen of Islam that was revealed by Allah (SWT) to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and that was practiced, preached, and taught by him, became “complete” and “perfect” within a short period of 23 years. This has been announced by Allah (SWT) Himself in the Qur’an. It is important to note, however, that when the Deen of Islam was completed and perfected by Allah (SWT), at that moment in history the Islamic tradition was just beginning its long and eventful career.

    While the Deen of Islam was given to us by Allah (SWT) in its complete and perfect form, the Islamic tradition is the result of a historical process that, by its very nature, can achieve neither completion nor perfection. The reason for this is the following: While the Deen of Islam was divinely revealed, the Islamic tradition came into being and developed due to the efforts of human beings as they applied themselves to understand and practice that Deen.

    The emphasis here is on the difference between what is divine and what is human; what is absolutely certain and what is only relatively certain; what is free from errors and what is open to corrections.

    The weakness and fallibility of human nature ensures that the Islamic tradition will always be in a state of growth and self correction, and that it will never reach the completion and perfection that is the privilege of divine revelation only.

    We are now in a position to understand the connotation of the word “Islamic” as used in “Islamic tradition.” It means “having to do with the diverse ways in which Muslims receive, preserve, practice, teach, interpret, develop, and transmit the knowledge of those religious sciences that originated from their efforts to understand and practice the Deen of Islam.”

    An Important Corollary of the Finality of Prophet-hood

    The emphasis on the role of human beings in the historical construction of the Islamic tradition is directly related to our belief in the finality of prophet-hood.

    To say that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the last messenger and the final prophet sent by Allah (SWT) is to acknowledge that no human being after Prophet Muhammad (SAW) will receive incorruptible communications from Allah (SWT).

    The finality of prophet-hood does not mean that Allah (SWT) has stopped communicating with human beings. It is a part of our belief that dreams, inspiration, and other channels of communication between Allah (SWT) and His servants are still open. What it means is that after the death of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) no one can claim any authority based on his/her purported communication with Allah (SWT). To say that “you must follow me, for God has revealed His will to me” is tantamount to claiming the status of a prophet. Even though Shi‘i thought has arguably granted that status to the “Imams,” the majority Sunni tradition never gave that position to anyone, nor accepted such a claim as a basis for authority.

    While Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was privileged to receive absolutely correct and certain knowledge of what Allah (SWT) wanted, there is no infallibility in matters of Deen in the post-Prophetic period, at least according to Sunni Islam.

    This does not mean that after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it is impossible for us to know what Allah (SWT) wants us to do in any particular situation. Of course, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) did leave the Qur’an and his Sunnah for our guidance, which serve precisely this function. Similarly, it is also possible that some pious scholars feel that Allah (SWT) has endowed them with correct knowledge. The point, however, is that infallibility as a social and religious institution does not exist after Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Consequently his followers must exercise their own faculties of reasoning, comprehension, and interpretation as they approach the Qur’an and Sunnah to discover the will of Allah (SWT). To say that this is a thoroughly human process is not to claim that it cannot lead to the truth. It only means that the process is fallible and imperfect; it naturally leads to a variety of opinions and disagreements and, as such, its results are open to criticism and subject to correction.

    Of course, Allah (SWT) can, and does, guide those who strive in His path to understand His will. Moreover, Allah (SWT) bestows His approval and reward to anyone who sincerely struggles to understand His will. Yet, the finality of prophet-hood precludes anyone from claiming that his/her opinions or judgments are absolutely correct representations of divine will.

    It is due to the recognition of precisely this fact that our jurists would always add “and Allah knows best” after writing their verdicts. Even when disagreeing with each other, they acknowledged the possibility that they might be wrong and their opponent might be correct, and that all final verdicts rest with Allah (SWT) alone.

    We are Part of a Living Tradition

    Another point that should be clear from the above definition is that the Islamic tradition is not something that developed exclusively in the past. In other words, it is wrong to claim that the Islamic tradition is to be found only in certain books written during a certain period. The fact is that the Islamic tradition is a living—as compared to a dead—tradition. Living traditions grow, dead traditions do not.

    In order to appreciate this fact, let us look at two scientific traditions, one living and the other dead.

    In the nineteenth century, many Europeans believed that the little bumps on one’s skull indicated one’s character and mental faculties. Consequently, a tradition of studying these bumps and interpreting their meaning came into being, called phrenology. This was considered a branch of knowledge and a respectable skill. Today, that belief is dead, and the so-called science of phrenology is dead too. If someone is interested in phrenology today, they will have to study it by exploring nineteenth century texts dealing with this subject. The dead tradition of phrenology exists only in the past.

    Compare this with the study of human physiology, which is a living tradition. A person interested in this subject will first study what has been achieved in this tradition so far; he/she will study the history of physiology as a branch of human knowledge. Then he/she must learn how the tradition of human physiology is being practiced today. This will allow the person to join the tradition, do his/her own research, and present new findings, thereby participating in and contributing to the growth of the tradition.

    The Islamic tradition is far from dead. It is alive and kicking, and it shows its vitality by growing.

    Healthy and Unhealthy Growth

    This does not mean, of course, that all growth in a tradition is good and desirable. When some cells of the body start growing haphazardly, beyond any control or regulation, and in a manner that hurts the rest of the body, we call that growth a cancer. Cancer too is a form of growth, but it is a bad growth.

    The same is true of the Islamic tradition. At many points in its history, abnormal, uncontrolled, and unregulated growths appeared on the body of the Islamic tradition. Such tumors had to be excised. These kinds of pathologies appear today as well, perhaps with greater frequency since we are living in more toxic environments.

    One way to make sure that the Islamic tradition grows in a healthy manner is for more Muslims to acquire the knowledge of how it grew in the past as well as what sort of developments are taking place now. Authentic and reliable authority comes into being when there is a combination of knowledge, sincerity, responsibility, and good judgment. Such authority can help enhance healthy growth of the tradition while checking pathological ones.

    Typically, it was our ‘Ulama who had been the custodians of the Islamic tradition and the guardians of its proper growth. With the collapse of the classical institutions in the wake of European colonialism and the penetration of the Muslim world by Western modernity, we entered a period characterized by a veritable crisis of authority.

    This means that old certainties have disappeared and new certainties are difficult to come by. Traditional beliefs, practices, and customs are being constantly challenged and contested. Merely appealing to the precedents of the past no longer provides a safe foundation for authority. Unlike the past, there are simply no agreed upon authorities today whose judgments can be widely experienced as authentic and trustworthy. Due to these upheavals, an increasing number of Muslims are in a situation where they simply cannot follow an established pattern of culture that is safely rooted in their tradition; instead, they are forced to make their own choices. This causes extreme anxiety, for modern culture has no reasonably certain mechanism of providing assurance that one’s choices are in accordance with the will of Allah (SWT).

    In chaotic conditions, people scramble for safety. Change is scary, and rapid change is disorienting as well. Most of us find safety in the familiarity of the past, for the present confuses us and the future appears even more uncertain and dangerous. It is tempting, when there is a crisis of authority, to call any growth a cancer. Indeed, the verdicts of kufr are more easily issued today than they have been at any other time in our history. Just as care must be taken to ensure the healthy growth of our tradition, care is also called for so that a normal growth may not be attacked for fear of being malignant. Growth does not stop in times of crisis; in fact, crisis is precisely what stimulates a tradition to grow.

    Order is created out of Chaos

    We must not be discouraged by the present crisis of authority in our tradition, for Allah (SWT) has not abandoned the Muslim Ummah. Difficult times are trials from Him, and trials are supposed to make us stronger. In our own history, the thirteenth century was simultaneously a time of great upheaval (such as the destruction of Baghdad) as well as a time of unprecedented growth in the tradition (such as the great intellectual production of Ibn Al‘Arabi and his disciples). The history of our own tradition gives us reasons for optimism. The Ummah will find its way, and the very chaos that it is now experiencing will become the source of a new order, if Allah (SWT) so wills.

    Prophet Muhammad (SAW) reportedly said: “Differences of opinion are a mercy for my community.” Even though this narration is “weak,” the saying itself is true. This is because a tradition grows as a result of disagreements, and it becomes static and stagnant when either its followers become intellectually lazy or when an artificial consensus is imposed without adequate discussion. Diversity in human languages, skin colors, and ethnicities are so many of signs of Allah (SWT). Similarly, differences in perspectives result from the way in which He has created us; these too are signs of His creativity and mercy. It is foolish to run away from the mercy of Allah (SWT).

    Disagreements are not to be feared or avoided; they must be welcomed and embraced. When sincere and knowledgeable people disagree among themselves, new and unforeseen solutions emerge. All major growths in the Islamic tradition took place as a result of the creative tension produced by some sort of disagreement. The theology of Al-Ash‘ari came into being as a response to the disputes between the Ahl Al-Hadith and the Mu‘tazilah. The great works of Al-Ghazali would not have been written had it not been for the tensions among the proponents of philosophy, law, and spirituality.

    It was the disagreement among our ‘Ulama in how to correctly understand the will of Allah (SWT) that enriched our tradition and caused it to grow so wonderfully diverse and beautiful.

    The Creative Impulse

    The contribution of the best of our ‘Ulama to the development of the Islamic tradition was never restricted to receiving knowledge from the past and handing it down to the subsequent generation; a mere transcriber could have done that. Of course, the ‘Ulama would often become the embodiments of what they would teach, thereby guiding people by their pious characters as well, so that people would benefit just by their company. More importantly, the contribution of the ‘Ulama had frequently been creative and innovative in the service of the tradition.

    The best and the most well-known of our ‘Ulama were never content with merely receiving and passing along past knowledge. They frequently synthesized, interpreted, and developed that knowledge, thereby making new contributions. The revered authorities of our tradition, such as Imam Al-Tabari, Imam Al-Qurtubi, Imam Abu Hanifa, Shaykh Ibn Al-‘Arabi, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Imam Al-Ghazali, Imam Bukhari, Shah Wali Allah, etc., were no mere preservers; they were creative geniuses, who broke new ground with their respective works. They were “trail blazers” in the true sense of this term.

    In times of social and political crises, when there are too many drastic changes taking place at too rapid a pace, it is tempting to argue that the tradition needs to be preserved and stabilized and that innovations should be avoided. This argument comes from a sincere desire to prevent cancerous growths. Yet, the best way to ensure that the tradition does not develop abnormal growths is to foster healthy growth, rather than try to stop growth altogether. Growth cannot be stopped in a living tradition; it can only be guided in the right direction.

    Where do We Stand?

    Let’s go back to the three viewpoints regarding the Islamic tradition that were mentioned earlier. We must formulate our own position only in conversation with these viewpoints.

    It is true that, in principle, we are obliged to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah rather than the subsequent Islamic tradition, but it is also true that our heritage is too valuable to be simply thrown out of the window. For us living in the twenty-first century, the legacy of the Islamic tradition is neither worthless in itself, nor is it outdated in its entirety. We ourselves are part of the Islamic tradition, and, as such, we must approach the Qur’an and Sunnah through the various methods and styles of interpretation that were developed previously. We may seek to improve these methods and styles, and even create new ones, but we cannot reject the earlier efforts altogether. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we must build upon the legacy of the past. We cannot establish authentic authority today by circumventing the achievements of the Islamic tradition in the past.

    At the same time, we recognize that the authority of the tradition cannot replace the authority of the Deen of Islam itself. We recognize the relative and fallible nature of the tradition and its openness to correction and growth. Consequently, we acknowledge that there is nothing inherently illegitimate in critically evaluating the tradition, nor in developing new methods and fresh styles of interpretation to approach the Deen of Islam. Of course, some of these new methods and styles will turn out to be less useful than others, but this can only be decided through scholarly discussions.

    We advocate going back to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but we also advocate going back to the best practices of our tradition. To reestablish authentic Islamic authority today and overcome the present crisis, we must follow in the footsteps of our great scholars. We must follow them by learning the legacy of the past and by contributing to the healthy growth of our tradition in a responsible manner. Like every generation that came before us, we are at the growing edge of a living tradition.

  • The Impact of Islamophobia on Muslims in the West Open or Close

    The Impact of Islamophobia on Muslims in the West


    Steve Mustapha Elturk

    View PDF version of article

    People of color, immigrants, Latinos, people of a particular faith among other sectors of society do experience racism, prejudice and discrimination in America.

    According to Oxford dictionary, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.[1]

    Islamophobia is arguably another form of racism. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, Islamophobia is the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam.[2] Islamophobia, as the term suggests, is made up of two words Islam and –phobia which means fear, horror.   It is intolerance and bigotry against and fear of Muslims or groups perceived to be Muslim. “Islamophobia” connotes a social anxiety about Islam and Muslims. It is a social stigma towards Islam and Muslims, namely fear. Some scholars define Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism and a continuation of anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism that existed for more than a century.

    According to Fred Halliday, “Islam as a religion was the enemy in the past: in the crusades or the reconquista.  It is not the enemy now: Islam is not threatening to win large segments of western European society to its faith, as Communism did, nor is the polemic, in press, media or political statement, against the Islamic faith…The attack now is against not Islam as a faith but Muslims as a people.”[3]

    Is Islamophobia a form of racism? In his book, “The fear of Islam, an introduction to Islamophobia in the West,” Professor Todd Green writes, “If there is an explanatory factor that rivals religion in the debate over what drives Islamophobia, it is racism. Islamophobia is not racially blind, nor is it simply a manifestation of older forms of racism rooted in biological inferiority. It is an example of what some scholars have labeled ‘cultural racism.’ This form of racism incites hatred and hostility based on religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and ethnic backgrounds.”[4]

    Muslims have been a target of hate by right-wing groups after 9/11 and 7/7. The social and religious foundations of Islam, as well as Muslims in general, have attained such a degree of notoriety that their presence is immediately associated with entirely negative and detrimental frames of reference.[5]

    Islamophobia is not only targeting Muslims but the faith they claim, Islam. It is common to hear statements “Islamic Terrorism” in main stream media such as Fox News. Islamic terrorism implies that Islam is terrorism, i.e. Islam promotes terror. Former President Obama refrained from using the phrase, however, with the white-supremacist agenda in the White House, President Donald Trump has no problem using the phrase. In his inaugural speech Trump vowed to, “Eradicate Islamic Terrorism.” The outcome of using such phrase by main stream media and the President of the United States affects all people, Muslims and all others who lend an ear to the media.


    As recent as October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. This was the deadliest shooting in the country’s modern history. He was found dead in his hotel room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive is unknown. Immediately after the shooting, a conservative media personality Wayne Allyn Root tweeted to his nearly 110,000 followers that there were shots fired at multiple hotels in a ‘coordinated Muslim terror attack.’”[6] At a press conference, President Donald Trump described Paddock as “a very very sick individual”, and "a demented man, [with] a lot of problems".[7]

    Not long after the Las Vegas shooting, on October 31, 2017, a sick man, who happened to be Muslim, in a rented pickup truck drove down a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center. The vehicle-ramming attack killed eight people and injured a dozen others.  President Trump tweeted, “Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system.[8] (Emphasis is mine)


    Five days after the Manhattan carnage, a mass shooting took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017. The murderer, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26 years old, killed 26 and injured 20 others. He was shot by a civilian and later he died from a self-inflicted head shot. The attack was the deadliest by an individual in Texas and fifth-deadliest mass shooting in the United States.[9] US president Donald Trump has called the Texas church shooting a “mental health problem at the highest level” and the said gunman was “deranged.”[10]

    One could not help but notice the double standard and bias against Muslims by white supremacists.

    In an article by Thomas Freidman featured in the New York Times titled, “If Only Stephen Paddock Were a Muslim,” We’d be scheduling immediate hearings in Congress about the worst domestic terrorism event since 9/11. Then Donald Trump would be tweeting every hour “I told you so,” as he does minutes after every terror attack in Europe, precisely to immediately politicize them.”[11]

    Any time a shooter happens to be a Muslim, immediately, it is Islamic terrorism but if a white person commits mass shooting, he is labeled “mentally unstable.”

    These subliminal messages from mainstream media against Muslims and the faith they represent, Islam, are producing hate and rage among ignorant people, mainly white supremacists, which is reminiscent to the experience of people of color a century ago (and are still enduring to this day). The same KKK that was hostile to blacks are hostile to Muslims today. In an article by Harriet Sinclair featured in Newsweek on November 25, 2017, entitled “Muslim Family in Long Island told ‘The KKK is coming for you’” says it (the family) received threatening messages saying: “The KKK is coming for you,” part of a series of incidents that authorities are investigating as hate crimes. The family said it discovered the messages in its mailbox on two different occasions, with an image of a swastika posted to them as well as letters saying “KKK Hate Muslims, We will kill you, Jesus loves you” the Council on American Islamic Relations(CAIR) reported.[12]


    In its recent study, Pew Research found that, “there were 307 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, marking a 19% increase from the previous year. This rise in hate crimes builds on an even sharper increase the year before, when the total number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67%, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.”[13]

    Some estimates say that there are eight million Muslims in America, others say six millions and according to Pew Research Center estimates, there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015.[14] It matters not what the number is, racism against one Muslim is racism against all Muslims. Muslims are the latest victims of racism in America.

    Racism can be at the individual level, but it can move up to the institutional, cultural, and structural levels also.

    Case in point, On February 10, 2015 Deah Barakat, 23, a second-year student in University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21 who planned to begin her dental studies in the fall and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, a sophomore at North Carolina State University were murdered in cold blood by a white male, Craig Stephen Hicks. Hicks hate toward Islam and Muslims took the life of bright young students including Deah whose ambition is to become a dentist and was active in providing relief to Syrian refugees in Turkey.


    About the institutional and structural racism, after the first, second and third attempt on the Muslim Travel Ban, we are today witnessing state-sponsored Islamophobia.

    On Monday, December 4, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s third version of the Muslim ban was fully enforceable. The same day, in Jacksonville, Florida, a self-identified Christian was arrested for planning a mass shooting at a local Islamic Centre…

    At the time of his arrest, he had 2,500 rounds of ammo and 12 guns.[15] 

    Racism against Muslims is rampant. Researchers are beginning to explore the toll that Islamophobia can take on mental and physical health of Muslim-Americans. The Psychological impact racism and Islamophobia have on Muslims since 9/11 is profound. Racism is linked to poorer mental health consequences, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Studies have found that the process of encountering racial microaggressions can be psychologically and physically draining, often to leading to higher levels of stress and poor mental health outcomes.[16]

    In her article, “Islamophobia Is Giving Muslims Mental Disorders,” Alex Zielinski quotes a group of Norwegian psychology professors in a 2012 study, “Studies have shown that many Muslims not only experience religious discrimination in their daily lives, but are fully aware of their devalued position in society.” Their study found that perceived Islamophobia has a “distinct effect on Muslim minorities’ health and identification.”[17]

    In a 2011 study on Muslim-Americans, researchers found that the vast majority of participants said they felt extremely safe prior to 9/11. Following the attack, 82 percent of them felt “extremely unsafe.” The researchers later found many of those studied developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from this constant anxiety and abuse.[18]

    Another study, a 2013 study of Muslim women in the United Kingdom who had been the victims of an Islamophobic attack found that nearly all of the women “expressed feelings of humiliation, anger, sadness, isolation, and disgust.” Some of them were afraid to leave home because of this.[19]

    It must be acknowledged that discrimination against race and religion is also prevalent in medical settings. As with racism, clinicians need to know that religious discrimination exists, in order to recognize its effects.[20] It is important for a physician, clinician, psychologist or a therapist to recognize and understand their own biases and stereotypes about Muslims even if they are unintentional. For instance, “If a non-Muslim female psychologist assumes that a hijab is oppressive against women, she may unconsciously try to steer her client away from covering, instead of understanding the significance of the hijab in her Muslim client’s life.”[21]

    Studies have shown that Muslims are subjected to various types of religious microaggressions such as being stereotyped as a terrorist, having others pathologize or exoticize them or their religion, and being the target of Islamophobic or mocking language (to name a few). Muslims often endure negative media messages in both the news and on fictional television shows. Being the victim of such covert discrimination on a consistent basis can have an additive effect on one’s mental health and ability to function daily. Thus, in the same way that efforts have been made for racial equality for African Americans, Latina/os, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, efforts must be made to decrease discrimination toward Muslim Americans, in order to promote their positive mental health and well-beings.[22]

    There is a clear relationship between social injustice and the mental health of groups upon which the injustices are perpetrated. The 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report highlighted the relationship between mental health and discrimination, oppression and poverty. Issues of social justice are integral to counseling because our clients do not exist as individuals independent of society, culture and context.[23]

    Mental illness is often stigmatized in Muslim culture. Many chose prayers or private coping before seeking professional help. Therapeutic interventions, researchers suggest, could make it easier for families to discuss problems and accept care.[24]

    Islamophobia is racism and racism is a social justice issue. Just as racism is a violation of human rights so is Islamophobia. It is simply a violation of human rights. Behaviors of racism and race-based discrimination can be viewed from a psychological science lens in the hopes of eliminating and preventing these behaviors. The studies and data by researchers and psychologists will enable civil rights organizations, activists and advocates will open the door to the enactment of policies that address prejudice and discrimination at systems level the same way that efforts were made for racial equality for African Americans among other minorities. Victims of Islamophobia may learn from the experience of racial inequality from African Americans to cope with such injustice.

    Institutionally, we must reform education in a way that helps children learn about other races and cultures and speak out against all forms of racism. Muslims, African Americans among other minorities must believe in their own self’s worth and build self-confidence.

    People should be open to learn about people of other races and cultures and to accept their differences. The differences present an opportunity for human growth and development. Each culture has its own values, principles, norms, and traditions that should be respected. We must recognize ourselves as, not African Americans, Muslim Americans, Asian Americans, etc. rather as humans belonging to one human family.

    Spirituality and sense of accountability is another way to combat discrimination and prejudice. Accountability before God has a profound effect on people. Spiritual activists and advocates must live out and preach the religious teachings to overcome discrimination and prejudice. Teachings like the Golden rule, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you,” (Matthew 7:12) and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s saying, “No one may claim faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” We must maintain an attitude of acceptance and to never consider one’s own race or culture as superior to others. It is the diversity in races and cultures that make the human family so interesting. Chapter 49, verse 13 of the Qur’an, Muslims’ holy Book says, “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female (Adam and Eve) and made you into nations and tribes so you may know one another (not that you may despise each other) verily, the most noble in the sight of God is he who is righteous.” People must recognize God and the creation of all people belonging to one human family. Thus, they are all, regardless of their race, religion, culture, tongue, skin color, and gender, equal in the eyes of God. Superiority and inferiority is on the basis of piety and righteousness, something that is known only to God.

    Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice and discrimination are all fruits of the same tree called hate. You can have all the laws in the world against racism, unless the minds, hearts and souls are changed, racism will not end.






    [3] Fred Halliday, “Islamophobia’ Reconsidered,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22 (September 1999):898

    [4] The fear of Islam, an introduction to Islamophobia in the West, by Todd Green p27

    [5] Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century edited by John L. Espisto, Ibrahim Kalin p66


    [7] "Las Vegas shooting: Trump dubs killer 'sick and demented'". BBC News. October 3, 2017.


    [9] Ahmed, Saeed (November 6, 2017). "2 of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history happened in the last 35 days". CNN. Archived from the original on November 6, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2017.









    [18] Ibid

    [19] Ibid





    [24] Ibid

  • The Islamic Perspective on Creation: Part 1 Open or Close
    Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk
    Part one

    Everything God creates is amazing. The beautiful universe with its brilliant stars and galaxies to mother earth and the beautiful meadows, mountains, rivers, birds and all it contains point toward a magnificent Maker. There is one creation, however, that stands out from all His creation, MAN. One may say man is the masterpiece of God’s creation for two main reasons. One, of the countless creatures, humans are the only ones to receive the divine spark from God’s very own essence. And two, humans are the only creatures that have the intellectual ability that would enable them to transcend the limitations of physical/material existence.

    Unraveling the Mystery of God’s Magnificent Creation

    Shah Waliullah Dehlwi, a Muslim theologian of the 18th century (1703–1762 CE), elucidates on God’s actions. He concludes that God’s basic actions are three. ‘Ibda’, Khalq and Tadbir.

    The first act may be called, ‘Ibda’, i.e. creating something from absolutely nothing, creatio ex nihilo, meaning “creation out of nothing.”

    God’s first act is to bring into existence a creation out of nothingness and the basis of His creation is the command Be (Kun). “He is the Originator (Badi’) of the heavens and the earth, and when He decrees something, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is” (al-Baqarah, 2:117). The process of creation in the world of command takes no time at all. In other words, things happen instantaneously.

    The second act of God is Khalq or Creation. This type of creation is to create something out of something. The Latin term is creatio ex materia, creation out of some pre-existent matter. For example, humans were created from clay.

    Unlike the “world of command” where time is of no essence, in the “world of creation” or the “world of matter,” time is always a factor in the process of creation. “Verily, Your Lord is God who created the heavens and earth in six days” (Yunus, 10:3). According to the Qur’an, each day with God may correspond to either 1000 or 50,000 years of our calculation or more. Day is normally used in the Qur’an to denote a fixed duration or lapsed time.

    The third act of God is Tadbir, controlling and directing or governing both worlds. “Verily, Your Lord is God who created the heavens and earth in six days then established Himself on the Throne, governing everything” (Yunus, 10:3).

    The Qur’an makes a clear distinction between the two worlds. “His is the creation and His is the command (al-A’raf, 7:54)”. Both worlds, the world of command as well as the world of matter belong to Him.

    The human spirits belong to the “world of command.” When the Prophet (SAW) was confronted with the question concerning the nature of the spirit (ruh), God would reveal, “Say, ‘The Spirit is from the command of my Lord, and (you cannot understand its nature, O people, since) you have been granted very little of (real) knowledge’” (al-Isra’, 17:85).

    Science and technology have undoubtedly helped man unravel the mysteries of our world, the universe and living creatures. However, it would be impossible for scientists to be able to penetrate the supernatural domain and unravel the mysteries of the world of command. The true knowledge of the supernatural realm and unseen realities can only be conveyed to us through prophets and apostles of God who go through supernatural experiences i.e. the agency of divine revelation.

    The real creation started with the one command of God “Be, Kun” in the world of command. It is by this command the spirits of past, present and future human souls, have all come into existence simultaneously. According to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, narrated by his wife Aisha, they were assembled like conscripted soldiers. What is referred to here is the beginning of creation in the realm of the unseen before the creation of anything including Adam.

    While assembled before their Lord, God took a firm covenant from all the spirits. “And (mention O Prophet), when your Lord took out the offspring from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them testify against themselves, (He said,) ‘Am I not your Lord?’ and they replied, ‘Indeed, we bear witness.’ Lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘We were not aware of this’” (al-A’raf, 7:172).

    The verse describes the event of the great heavenly covenant which the Creator, God, made with all His created spiritual beings before they took on the human form.

    All spirits were then put on hold or to sleep. The Qur’an calls this (the first) death. “Blessed be He in whose hand is the dominion (of the heavens and earth); who has power over all things; who created death and life that He may test you (to see) who among you is best in conduct. And He is the Almighty, the Forgiving” (al-Mulk, 67:1,2).

    In part two we shall learn how God created Adam and his offspring and how the spirit is imbued into the body.


  • The Islamic Perspective on Creation: Part 2 Open or Close
    Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk

    Part Two

    After the spirits were created by the Divine Command “BE”, they were put to sleep and will soon begin their journey by leaving the “world of spirits” in the “world of the unseen” to join its assigned body in the “world of matter” for a specified time before returning back to its very origin. Thus, “The souls’ journey from its inception to eternity.”

    Death in Islam is viewed as a transition from one world to another world. The first transition was from the world of command to the world of matter while the second transition is from the world of matter back to the world of command or the hereafter.

    Prior to the creation of Adam (AS), Allah (SWT) informed the angels of His plan. “And (mention) when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am about to create a mortal (bashar) out of dried clay and dark mud. So when I evolve him to perfection and blow My spirit into him (Adam), then fall down in prostration before him’” (al-Hijr, 15:28,29). All angels fell before Adam out of obedience to God and reverence and respect for Adam, “And the angels – all of them – fell down in prostration” (al-Hijr, 15:30).

    According to the Qur’an, Adam went through six distinct stages before he matured and was ready to receive the spirit from Allah (SWT). The six stages are: water (21:30), dirt or dust (30:20), clay (23:12), sticky clay (37:11), dried clay and dark mud (15:28) and finally baked clay (55:14). This is the creation of the human body of Adam which consists of pre-existent materials. Upon completion of the creation of Adam, God blew into Him from His own Spirit. Therefore, the human soul is a composite of the body which is created from the crust of the earth, and the spirit that was created in the world of command. The body and the spirit are two independent conscious beings. One belongs to a higher form of creation, the spiritual realm; while the other belongs to a lower form of creation, the world of matter. “We created man in the finest state. Then We returned him (to the) lowest (of the) low” (al-Teen, 95:4,5).

    It is that divine spark, the spirit which God attributes to Himself, that makes humans superior and above all of God’s creation, including angels. It is this divine spark that is the most important distinguishing factor surrounding the nature of man. In essence, we are spiritual beings living a human experience, in pursuit of spirituality.

    The last three cycles, life on earth, death and resurrection are beautifully mentioned in the Qur’an, with emphasis on the creation of the human embryo. “And indeed, We created man from an extract of clay. Then We placed him as a Nutfah (sperm) in a firm resting place. We then made the Nutfah into an Alaqah, (a leech-like structure). Then of that Alaqah, We made a Mudghah (a chewed-like lump). Then We made out of the Mudghah bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Then We developed him into another creation. So blessed be Allah, the best of creators. Then after that you will die. And then, on the Day of Resurrection, you will be raised up again (al-Mu’minoon, 23:12-16).

    It must be noted that prior to creating Adam and the human species, God created the universe with planet earth being the most perfect and suitable place for Adam and his progeny to inhabit. It is from the compounds and elements of the earth that the human body is created. When the animal being of man unites with the spirit it becomes a human soul or nafs.

    We tend to use the word  spirit (ruh) and soul (nafs), as interchangeable. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two. The ruh is a subtle spirit which resides in the heavens having no body form or human shape. It is unknown to us. We have very little knowledge concerning the nature of the ruh or spirit. When the human body, the jism or jasad (as it is sometimes called in the Qur’an) has the spirit blown into it, it then becomes a soul or nafs.

    In order for the progeny of Adam to exist, Adam needs a mate. Although not much detail is given in the Qur’an regarding his wife, the Qur’an does mention that a ‘mate’ was created with Adam, from the same nature and soul. “It is He Who created you from a single soul (Adam), and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her in tranquility” (al-“Araf, 7:189). Although her name is not mentioned in the Qur’an, according to the Islamic tradition she is known as Hawwa’ or Eve.Adam is the male partner and Eve is the female partner, indicative of the way Allah (SWT) creates; everything is created in pairs.And of everything We have created pairs; perhaps you will take heed” (al-Zariyat, 51:49).

    Out of the first human pair comes their offspring. O People! Be mindful of (your duty to) your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and spread from both of them countless men and women” (al-Nisa’, 4:1). Both Adam, the father of all human beings, and Eve, the mother of all human beings, are responsible for the spread of countless men and women in the world. Of course, the offspring of Adam comes into being through the process of reproduction; the sexual activity of conceiving and bearing biological offspring. The soul begins its journey in the womb of the mother after conception.

  • The Islamic Perspective on Creation: Part 3 Open or Close
    Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk
    Part three

    The development and stages of the human embryo is quite spectacular. People were always intrigued by how we were developed in the womb of our mothers. For centuries, people’s understanding of the prenatal human was based on speculations and superstition.

    There are numerous accurate accounts regarding the biological creation of the human being relayed in the Qur’an. Dr. Keith L. Moore, a Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Toronto in Canada is a world renowned scientist and a distinguished researcher in the fields of anatomy and embryology. His opinion on the scientific statements in the Qur’an regarding embryology: “At first I was astonished by the accuracy of the statements that were recorded in the seventh century AD, before the science of embryology was established. Although I was aware of the glorious history of Muslim scientists in the 10th century AD, and of some of their contributions to Medicine, I knew nothing about the religious facts and beliefs contained in the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is important for Islamic and other students to understand the meaning of these Qur’anic statements about human development, based on current scientific knowledge.”

    Accurate details and information about the development and stages of the human embryo from a mere sperm drop to a fully formed human being were communicated to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, through revelation centuries before the discovery of the microscope or any technological tools that would reveal the amazing world inside the womb of a mother after conception. Today, amazing moments of creation can be observed through advanced tools of technology. “So let man observe from what he was created” (al-Tariq, 86:5), the Divine voice suggests.

    Through modern scientific advances, we can now appreciate and better understand the verses that deal with embryological development. God for instance informed us, “He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness” (al-Zummar, 39:6). The realization that the human embryo develops in stages was not discussed and illustrated until the 15th century. Furthermore, the staging of human embryos was not described until the 20th century. The “three veils of darkness” may refer to: (1) the anterior abdominal wall; (2) the uterine wall; and (3) the amniochorionic membrane.

    Reflecting on the verses quoted in part two, “And indeed We created man from an extract of clay…”(al-Mu’minoon, 23:12-14), indicates that our very origin is from clay, water and dirt. As mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an, “From it (earth) we created you, into it We shall return you, and from it We shall raise you once again” (Ta Ha, 20:55).

    “Then We placed him as a Nutfah in a firm resting place.” The nutfah has been interpreted as the sperm or spermatozoon, but a more meaningful interpretation would be the zygote which is implanted in the uterus or “a place of rest.” It is both the fluid of the male and the female that commence the creation of man. The Qur’an explains, “We created man from a drop of mingled fluid (Amshaj)” (al-Insan, 76:2). Amshaj is a mixed drop or zygote. The zygote forms from the union of a mixture of the sperm and the ovum. Once fertilized the remaining stages occur.

    “Then We made the drop into an alaqah (leech-like structure).” The word “alaqah” refers to a leech or bloodsucker. This is an accurate description of the human embryo from days 7-24 when it clings unto the uterus, in the same way that a leech clings to the skin. Just as the leech sucks blood from the host, the human embryo gets its nutrients from the uterus. It is amazing how much the embryo of 23-24 days resembles a leech when viewed under a microscope.

    “Then of that leech-like structure, We made a mudghah (chewed-like lump).” The Arabic word “mudghah” means “chewed substance or chewed lump.” Toward the end of the fourth week, the human embryo looks somewhat like a chewed lump of flesh. The chewed appearance results from somites which resemble teeth marks. The somites represent the beginnings or primordia of the vertebral column.

    In another verse we are informed, “Then out of a piece of chewed-like flesh (mudghah), partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our power) to you, and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term” (al-Hajj, 22:5). The partly formed and partly unformed flesh seem to indicate that the embryo is composed of both differentiated and undifferentiated tissues. For example, when the cartilage bones are differentiated, the embryonic connective tissue around them is undifferentiated. It later differentiates into the muscles and ligaments attached to the bones.

    With regards to, “We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term,” it implies that God determines which embryos will remain in the uterus for a full term. It has also been interpreted to mean that God determines whether the embryo will develop into a male or female.

    “Then We made out of the chewed-like lump, bones, and clothed the bones in flesh.” Bones and muscles are formed immediately after the chewed-like lump stage. This is in accordance with the scientific embryological development. First the bones form as cartilage models and then the muscles (flesh) develop around them from the somatic mesoderm.

    “Then We developed him into another creation.” It is believed that this may refer to the human-like embryo that forms by the end of the eighth week. The scientific explanation is “At this stage it has distinctive human characteristics and possesses the primordia of all the internal and external organs and parts. After the eighth week, the human embryo is called a fetus. This is the scientific explanation.”1

    The early interpreters of the Qur’an like Ibn Abbas among others gave a different interpretation. The statement, “Then We developed him into another creation,” refers to the blowing of the spirit into the fetus. In an authentic narration, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Verily, the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid. Then it is a clinging object for a similar (period). Thereafter, it is a chewed-like lump for a similar (period). The angel is then sent to him and he breathes into him the spirit.”

    Humans are the only creatures that are distinctly different from any other creation of God. What makes them different is the divine spark, the spirit that is infused in humans. Only revelation gives us this understanding. Scientific tools are of great help to understand the world of matter. However, it is beyond the scope of science and technology to penetrate into the spiritual realm. The verse ends with, “So blessed be God, the best of creators.” (al-Mu’minoon, 23:12-14)Indeed, blessed be HE, the best of creators.

     1 The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, Vol. 18, Jan-June 1986, pp. 15-16. < >.

  • The Night of Power Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Mustapha Elturk, Ameer of IONA

     And what do you know about the Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr)?

    We have indeed sent it (the Qur’an) in the Night of Power (al-Qadr). And what do you know about the Night of Power? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. On this Night, the angels and the spirit (Jibril) descend by the permission of their Lord with all decrees. Peaceful it is until the break of dawn. [97:1-5]

    According to Ibn Abass, the Qur’an was sent down from the preserved tablet in one piece and was received by the angels in the earthly heaven. Jibril (AS) then revealed it to Muhammad (SAW) in portions, a few ayat at a time, at different times over a span of 21 years. Previous scriptures, such as the scrolls of Ibrahim, the Torah of Musa, the Psalms of Dawud, and the Gospel of ‘Isa, were also sent down during the month of Ramadan, according to the Prophet (SAW). Swearing by the Clear Book (the Qur’an), Allah (SWT) informed us that the Qur’an was sent on a very special and blessed night [44:3] in Ramadan. It is the Night of Power or lailatul-Qadr [97:01].

    Lailatul-Qadr is a blessed night because of the blessings Allah’s (SWT) humble slaves receive from their Master. Charity, additional prayers, and zakah, among other good deeds during this magnificent night, are better than the deeds of a thousand months, which is equivalent to eighty-three years and four months.

    Mujahid narrates that the Prophet (SAW) once mentioned a man from the children of Israel who fought in the way of Allah (SWT) for one thousand months. The Muslims were amazed, Allah (SWT) then revealed to Muhammad (SAW) surah al-Qadr.

    Another narration on the authority of Ali Bin Urawa said that the Prophet (SAW) mentioned four people from Bani Israel who worshipped Allah (SWT) for 80 years without committing a sin or disobeying Allah (SWT). The companions of the Prophet (SAW) were amazed. Jibril came to Muhammad (SAW) and said to him, your people were amazed by the worship of these people for 80 years, Allah (SWT) has sent you better than that. Jibril then recited to him surah al-Qadr.

    Whoever stands up during the night in prayers and worships out of conviction and believes in this great night and hopes to be rewarded, Allah (SWT) will forgive his past sins as was told to us by Muhammad (SAW), on the authority of Abu Hurairah.

    During that night, angels, along with Jibril, descend down with Allah’s (SWT) permission, sending greetings of peace unto every believer. Satans and the devils will not be able to do harm or commit mischief. All the gates of heaven open up and Allah (SWT) will accept the repentance of every repenting person. ‘Aisha asked the Prophet (SAW), “What must I say when I witness the night of power?” The Prophet (SAW) replied, “Say, O Allah you pardon and love to forgive, so I beg your pardon.” She also said, “Had I known which night is lailatul Qadr, I would have frequently asked for forgiveness and good health.”

    None of the previous nations and peoples received a similar night or occasion. It is a sign of Allah’s (SWT) great favor upon the believers, the Ummah of Muhammad, to receive such a great and blessed night year after year until the end of time. When asked as to when it may occur, the Prophet (SAW) said, “Watch out for it in the last odd 10 nights of Ramadan.”

    As described by Muhammad (SAW), Lailatul Qadr appears on a very quiet, tranquil, pleasant, clear, and illuminated night, neither hot nor cold, neither windy nor rainy. The sun rises in the morning without rays, looking like a huge bright full moon. It is believed that Allah (SWT) will answer the supplications of a believer during that night. It is best to supplicate for forgiveness and good health as the Prophet (SAW) has recommended it. One may, however, ask for anything.  

    The Prophet (SAW) used to do ‘Itikaf (retreat) at the masjid in the last 10 days of Ramadan, devoting all his time to worshipping Allah (SWT) until he died. To reap the maximum benefits of what remained of Ramadan, it is highly recommended to devote the last days and nights of Ramadan in constant worship of Allah (SWT). One may engage in extra prayers (salah nafilah), reciting the Qur’an, doing zikr, supplications, and other forms of worship that may bring one closer to Allah (SWT). 

    May Allah (SWT) accept our fasts, prayers, and every good deed we perform during this great and blessed month, ameen.

  • The Obligations Muslims Owe to the Qur’an Open or Close

    PDF Version

    Original in Urdu by Dr. Israr Ahmad

    Translated by Prof. Mohammad Ibrahim, M. A.



    1-Iman wa Ta‘zeem

    2-Tilawat wa Tarteel

    3-Tazakkur wa Tadabbur

    4-Hukm wa Iqamah

    5-Tableegh wa Tabyeen

    Direct Word with the Reader



    This article, which appeared in Urdu under the title Musalmanon per Qur’an-e-Majeed kay Huqooq, is based on two addresses delivered by Dr. Israr Ahmad to the Congregations in Jami‘ah Khazra, Samanabad (Lahore) on two consecutive Fridays in January 1968, at a time when the Muslims of Pakistan were celebrating the 1400th anniversary of the commencement of the Revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (SAW).     

    During the following month, speeches on similar topics were delivered by Dr. Israr Ahmad at the Ajmal Bagh College, Sadiqabad, Ta‘meer-e-Millat High School, Sukkur, and Government College, Jhang. The text of these addresses and speeches was edited and published in the monthly Meesaq in its May and June issues of the same year. In November 1969, it appeared in the form of a booklet under the title mentioned above, and in July 1972 its second edition of ten thousand copies was published by the Markazi Anjuman Khuddam-ul-Qur’an Lahore.

    Musalmanon per Qur’an-e-Majeed kay Huqooq is an impassioned call to the Muslims "to return to the Qur’an," to rededicate themselves to its study, and make it the sole guide for their lives. Considering the profound purpose behind the book, I felt that it should be rendered into English for the benefit of our English-reading public as well as for approaching the minds of the people abroad. Accordingly, I was thinking of seeking Dr. Israr Sahib’s permission for the translation of the book when, one day, to my delightful surprise he himself suggested that I should translate the Huquq — that being the brief and popular sobriquet of this book. Hence the translation now appears under the title The Obligations Muslims Owe to the Qur’an.

    This translation has already been published in the form of an article by the All Pakistan Islamic Education Congress in a recent issue of their journal Islamic Education under the title: "What Does the Qur’an Demand from its Followers?" and now, through their courtesy and cooperation, it is reappearing under a new title in the form of a regular booklet. I pray that it may prove helpful in the fulfillment of the great purpose which Dr. Israr Ahmad, the author of the original book, has set before himself and which he is pursuing with a single-minded devotion, Ameen.

    Muhammad Ibrahim

    During the last decade (i.e., the sixties), international qir’aat competitions have become a regular feature in the Muslim World. These competitions, in which well-known qura’ from different countries have been participating to display their remarkable talents for the recitation of the Qur’an, have served a number of purposes. The large audiences who have been listening spell-bound to the recitations of the world-famous qura’ have always been moved by the unique melody, eloquence, and grandeur of the Qur’anic diction. This may have temporarily strengthened their belief in the Divine origin of the Qur’an. Moreover, these competitions have popularized tajweed (i.e., the art of reciting the Qur’an with correct pronunciation) in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan. The Muslim children in these countries today can recite the Holy Book with much better accent and intonation than they could possibly do a few years ago.

    Without intending to minimize the importance of reciting the Qur’an correctly, one might ask the question: Have these competitions helped bridge the gulf that yawns between us and the Qur’an today? Or, have they established a real contact between us and the Book of Allah (SWT)? The answer to these questions is: "No."

    Unfortunately, the great objective of establishing a real contact between the Qur’an and us has not been achieved even by the different religious seminars and symposia which have been held in our country and elsewhere during the recent years. The savants and scholars who participated in the discussions at these conferences and colloquia have generally dwelt at such topics as the greatness of the Qur’an, its beauties and marvels etc., but no attempt has been made to consider the fundamental questions: What are our obligations towards the Qur’an? And how can we discharge these obligations? So far as the glory and greatness of the Qur’an is concerned, we believe it is indescribable and its adequate comprehension is beyond the reach of human mind. It is best known to the Lord of the heavens and the earth Whose Word it is, or to His blessed Messenger (SAW) to whom it was revealed.

    Therefore, instead of making a presumptuous attempt at describing its unique merits, the most pertinent thing for us to do is that we should clearly understand our duties and responsibilities towards the Qur’an and then see whether or not we are conscientiously fulfilling these duties and responsibilities. If we find that we are not doing so, we should seriously think about the line of action we should adopt for their fulfillment; and then adopt the line without any further delay, because our very salvation depends on our efforts in this direction. Paying pompous compliments to the Qur’an will not be enough and it cannot be a substitute for actually discharging our obligations towards the Holy Book.

    Now what are these obligations? Or, in other words, what does the Qur’an demand of us?

    The Qur’an makes five demands of every Muslim. Put in a simple language, these demands are as follows:

    A Muslim is required:

        • to believe in the Qur’an;
        • to read it;
        • to understand it;
        • to act upon its teachings; and
        • to convey its message and teachings to others.

    We will now ponder over these demands or obligations in some depth, along with a brief explanation of the terms in which they have been expressed in the Qur’an itself, so that besides getting a clear idea of his duties towards the Qur’an, the reader may also become familiar with basic Qur’anic terminology.



    1-Iman wa Ta‘zeem

    (Belief in the Divine origin of the Qur'an and an attitude of reverence towards it)

    The Qur’anic term for belief in a spiritual reality is Iman (faith) which has two phases: Iqrar bil-lisan (verbal profession) and tasdeeq bil-qalb (heart-felt conviction). A verbal profession of a belief in the spiritual realities upheld by Islam is the condition of a person’s admittance into the fold of this religion, but true faith will emerge only when that belief deepens into a strong inward conviction.

    Now what is meant by having faith in the Qur’an? It means that one should, in the first instance, verbally profess that the Qur’an is the Word of Allah (SWT) that was revealed by Him through His chosen angel Jibra’eel (AS), to the last of His messengers, Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Having made this profession, a person will be accepted as a member of the Muslim community, although he may not have yet attained true faith. It is only when he comes to cherish this belief with a deep, inward conviction that the light of true faith will illumine his heart. Then he will find his heart to be full of reverence for the Holy Book. As his faith becomes stronger and stronger, his mind will come more and more under the spell of the Qur’an, and his feeling of reverence for it will become deeper and deeper. Thus faith and reverence go together. We learn from the study of the Qur’an that the first individual to believe in this Revealed Book was none other than the Prophet (SAW) himself who was followed by his Companions (RAA).

    The Messenger believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, as well as the believers….

    (Al-Baqarah 2:285)

    Their belief was a deep inward conviction that the Qur’an was kalam Allah (the Word of God). This conviction developed in them a reverential attitude towards the Qur’an and created in their hearts an unbounded love and devotion for it. It was for this reason that the Holy Prophet (SAW) used to wait anxiously for the Revelation to come, that he would get impatient if it was temporarily suspended, and when it was resumed he would try to memorize it with utmost avidity and eagerness, so much so that Allah (SWT), out of love and affection for his Messenger (SAW), forbade him to be impatient in this regard with the following instructions:

    …do not be in haste for the Qur’an…. (Taha 20:114)

    And do not move your tongue quickly (in trying to memorize the Revelation) to make haste therewith. (Al-Qiyamah 75:16)

    Once at an early stage, the continuity in the process of Qur’anic revelation was interrupted for an unusually long period. It is reported that this interruption caused the Holy Prophet (SAW) so much anguish and distress that he would often think of throwing himself down from a mountain. So deep was his devotion for the Qur’an that he would spend the greater part of the night in prayer and recitation. He would stand reciting the Qur’an for long hours until his feet would get swollen. His Companions (RAA) were equally enamored of the Holy Book and would recite it for long hours at night. Many of them had made it a point to go through the whole Qur’an once a week. The Holy Prophet (SAW), though himself the recipient of the Qur’anic Revelation, often asked his Companions (RAA) to recite the Qur’an to him and would be moved to tears by the intensity of feelings roused in his heart.

    Obviously, the reason why the Companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) came to entertain such a deep love and reverence for the Qur’an in their hearts, and regarded it with so much reverence, was that their belief in the Qur’an being a Revelation from the Almighty had reached the highest stage of conviction — a stage at which a reality is accepted as an Absolute Truth. Now let us examine the condition of our faith in the Qur’an. We do profess that the Qur’an is a Divine Revelation and, indeed, we should be thankful to the Almighty that He has included us among those who hold this belief about His Book; but most of us are not inwardly convinced of its being the Word of Allah (SWT), a Revelation from the Creator of the heavens and the earth. This is the real cause of our estrangement from, and indifference to the Qur’an. Even a casual introspection and self-examination will prove that our hearts are devoid of the true belief in the Qur’an and, instead of harboring true faith, they have become the dwellings of doubts and misgivings. My fellow Muslims might resent this plain speaking on my part; nevertheless, it is a fact that we Muslims woefully lack a staunch faith in the Divine origin of the Qur’an. The state of doubt and uncertainty in which we find ourselves today has been described in the Qur’an in the following words:

    …truly, those who have inherited the Book after them are in suspicious (disquieting) doubt concerning it. (Al-Shura 42:14)

    This lack of faith is the reason why we neither find any reverence for the Qur’an in our hearts, nor feel inclined to study it, nor evince any interest in pondering over its meaning, nor ever think of seeking its guidance in conducting our lives. As long as we do not make up this dreadful deficiency, no useful purpose will be served by any amount of religious instruction.

    The first and foremost duty of every Muslim, therefore, is to check his belief in the Qur’an to see whether his belief in the Qur’an being a sacred and heavenly book is a mere dogma which has nothing to do with his practical life, or whether he is really convinced of its being a Word of Allah (SWT) which has been vouchsafed to mankind to seek guidance from it and make it a practical code of life. If we hold this conviction, we may have reason to be satisfied and be thankful to Allah (SWT), but if not — which unfortunately is the case with a vast majority — we should first of all make up this deficiency in our faith, because the fulfillment of our other obligations to the Qur’an is dependent upon this very conviction.

    It may be asked as to how can this deficiency be made up. Obviously, the easiest and the most effective way to acquire and augment faith is to move in the society of godly persons whose hearts are illumined by the light of true faith. The Companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) owed their unique faith to the inspiring influence of their Master (SAW), who himself was an embodiment of faith and certitude. After the death of the Holy Prophet (SAW), one can never dream of attaining the same degree of faith as the Companions (RAA) had attained on account of his physical presence among them, still the method of improving and perfecting faith in the company of the pious will be followed with immense advantage even today; so, we need to turn to the pious among us for continually refreshing our faith. So far as the pious are concerned, they, in their turn, will find the greatest source of the light of faith in the Holy Qur’an itself. They will also make a careful study of the biographies of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and his Companions (RAA) so that they may be able to enjoy an intellectual and spiritual companionship of Allah’s Messenger (SAW) and his Companions (RAA). As regards the faith in the Qur’an and its growth, we have to depend upon one source only, that is the Holy Qur’an itself.

    In reality, Iman (or faith) is not something that can be planted in us from outside. It is an embodiment of fundamental truths that continually flash through our inner being and are caught and reflected by our heart. We can say that the human heart is a wonderful mirror that automatically catches and reflects the light of those universal truths that constitute Iman. What happens is that sometimes the surface of this mirror gets blurred under the effect of wrong environment and education and fails to catch and reflect the inner light of Iman. To polish this mirror so that it may clearly reflect man’s inner light, Allah (SWT), out of His Benevolence to mankind, has revealed His Word, urging us to discern the light inside ourselves and reminding us of the truths which are the intuitive apprehensions of our primordial nature.

    An insight and reminder (of the truths ingrained in human nature) for every servant who turns to Allah in repentance. (Qaf 50:8)

    If the Holy Book is studied and its meanings are pondered over in a genuine quest for truth, all the veils of darkness are lifted, one after another, and our inner self is illumined by the light of faith. After the heart’s mirror has once been rendered capable of clearly reflecting the light of faith, we shall still have to revert to the Qur’an whenever we find that its shining surface is becoming dull and hazy under the effect of worldly temptations. The following tradition, narrated on the authority of Abdullah Ibn Umar (RAA), refers to the polishing effect of the Qur’an on the mirror of the heart:

    The Holy Prophet (SAW) once remarked: "Surely, these hearts get rusted as iron gets rusted in water." He was asked how the heart’s rust could be rubbed off. He replied: "By frequent remembrance of death and the recitation of the Qur’an." (Narrated by Bayhaqi)

    The crux of the matter is that if our belief in the Divine origin of the Qur’an remains a mere dogma, it will not bring about any change in our present conditions and in our attitude of cold indifference towards the Qur’an. If we wish to do justice to the Qur’an and fulfill the demands it makes from us, we should first of all have the deep inner conviction that the Qur’an is, indeed, the last and final Message of Allah (SWT) delivered to the last of His messengers for the guidance of mankind. As soon as we come to have this conviction, our attitude towards the Qur’an will undergo a radical change. As soon as we realize that it is a Revelation from our Lord, our Creator, that Most Exalted Being Whose slightest apprehension transcends the bounds of our imagination, our thinking will be completely revolutionized. We shall then feel that the Qur’an is the greatest blessing for us under the sun. Its recitation will sustain and nourish our souls, and contemplation over its meanings will chasten our hearts and enlighten our minds. From that point onwards, we shall never feel satiated with its study; and even after dedicating the best powers of our mind and intellect to its service, and having devoted our whole life to meditation over its meanings, we shall feel that we have not been able to do justice to the Glorious Qur’an, the greatest of the heavenly books.



    2- Tilawat wa Tarteel

     (Slow, thoughtful reading of the Qur'an with correct pronunciation)

    The Arabic equivalents for "reading" are qir’aat and tilawat. Both these terms have been employed by the Qur’an in connection with the reading of the Qur’an. The term tilawat is used for reading the Holy Book with all the reverence due to it as a sacred scripture, with an open mind fully disposed to imbibing its influence, and with a keen desire to model our lives upon its teaching. It is a term specifically used for the reading of heavenly books. Qir’aat, however, is a general term used for reading any kind of book. This difference in the connotation of these two words as equivalents of "reading" is borne out by their literal meanings; for tilawat means "to follow or walk behind some one," while qir’aat means just "to draw or combine things together."

    In the beginning, the word qir’aat was used for learning the Qur’an and acquiring its knowledge, and a qaari was originally a scholar of the Qur’an. As time passed, the term was gradually torn from its original meaning and came to be used for reading the Qur’an with correct pronunciation and modulation according to the rules of tajweed, whereas the word tilawat came to be used as a general term for reading the sacred book with fervor and devotion, for the purpose of seeking guidance and blessings.

    Tilawat of the Holy Qur’an is not only an important form of worship but also an effective method of continually refreshing our Iman (faith). The Qur’an is not a book to be understood once and for all. It is a book to be read again and again and to be studied forever, because it provides sustenance to the human soul. As our earthly body is in constant need of food that is obtained from the earth, so too our soul, which is of heavenly origin, constantly needs the help of Divine Revelation for fostering and strengthening itself. If the Qur’an were to be understood once and for all, there would have been no need for the Holy Prophet (SAW) — of all people — to read it again and again. On the contrary, we find from the study of the Qur’an itself that he was commanded to do so. In the earliest days of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet (SAW) was especially instructed to stand for the greater part of the night in prayer before his Lord, reciting the Qur’an in slow, rhythmic tones. In the later stages of his prophetic career, particularly when he was faced with heavy odds and was required to muster up special courage and fortitude to sustain himself, the special instruction he received from his Lord was to recite the Qur’an. In Surah Al-Kahf, he was given the following instructions:

    And recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord: None can change His Words, and none will you find as a refuge other than Him. (Al-Kahf 18:27)

    And again, in Surah Al-Ankaboot a similar instruction was repeated:

    Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish regular prayer…. (Al-Ankaboot 29:45)

    It follows from the facts stated above that constant and regular study of the Holy Qur’an is essential because it provides food for the soul, because it is a mean of refreshing and reviving faith, and a reliable weapon for surmounting difficulties and obstacles that one encounters in the way of Allah (SWT). The following ayah from Surah Al-Baqarah describes how the lovers of the Qur’an manifested their great regard for this Book:

    Those to whom we have delivered the Book recite it as it ought to be recited…. (Al-Baqarah 2:121)

    May Allah (SWT) give us strength that we may be able to study the Qur’an as it should be studied. We have, first of all, to understand how the Qur’an ought to be recited and what steps should be taken if the required standard of recitation is to be attained. 

    1. Tajweed:

     In this connection, the first step we are required to take is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the Arabic alphabet, their phonetic sounds, and the significance of the different kinds of pauses used in the Qur’an. The technical term used for this knowledge is tajweed, which is a must for a good fluent recitation. In the thirties and forties, almost every Muslim child in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent would start his education with the learning of tajweed. At the very outset he was given a clear idea of the letters of the Qur’an and their correct phonetic sounds. Although, as already stated in the beginning of this booklet, some efforts have been made in Pakistan and other Muslim countries to popularize tajweed, still the fact remains that a vast majority of the Muslim youth, even a large number of adults and old people among us, cannot read the Qur’an properly. This lack of ability to read even the bare text of the Qur’an is due, on the one hand, to the decline of the classical system of education that was imparted in the mosques and maktabs to all the children of the community, rich and poor, and, on the other hand, to the popularity of the kindergarten and other types of modern primary schools which do not include the recitation of the Qur’an in their curriculum. Here I will suggest that all such persons, to whichever age group they may belong, as do not possess the ability to read the Qur’an properly should realize their deficiency and take necessary steps to remove it. We should also adopt it as a decided policy that the education of our children will start with tajweed and the first thing they will learn will be how to read the Qur’an correctly. Over-emphasis on this point may not be very desirable, nevertheless it is incumbent upon every educated person to acquire the ability of reading the Qur’an with a correct accent and pronunciation, carefully observing the pauses used in it. Without acquiring this ability our obligation of reciting the Qur’an cannot be fulfilled. 

    2. Daily Recitation:

    If we wish to fulfill our obligation of reciting the Qur’an, the second thing we are required to do is to include the recitation of the Qur’an in the daily routine of our life, and each one of us should recite a certain portion of the Holy Book regularly every day. The portion fixed for daily recitation can be different for different people. The maximum portion which has the support of the Holy Prophet (SAW) is one-third of the Qur’an. It means that ten paras should be recited each day so that the recitation of the whole Qur’an may be completed in three days. A minimum portion — and mind you, anything less than this bare minimum could not even be imagined till recent years — could be one para daily, so that the whole Qur’an could be read in a month. In fact, this is the least amount of recitation which should be done every day and an amount less than this would not be worth the name. The middle position between the maximum and minimum is that one should read the whole Qur’an in a week. This, indeed, was the practice followed by the majority of the Companions (RAA) and the same according to a tradition was suggested to Abdullah Ibn Umar (RAA) by the Holy Prophet (SAW). It is for this reason that the Qur’an was divided into seven ahzaab (sections) in the time of the Companions (RAA). The first six of the ahzaab consist of three (excluding Surah Al-Fatiha), five, seven, nine, eleven, and thirteen Surahs respectively, and the seventh called hizb-ul-mufassal consists of the rest of the Holy Book. Every hizb comprises of approximately four paras, which can be recited quite satisfactorily in two hours.
    Persons of a devout nature and staunch faith should do this amount of recitation daily. Both the common people and intellectuals must depend upon the regular recitation of the Holy Book for the nourishment of their souls. To the average men it will serve as an admonition or remembrance of Allah (SWT), and to the men of learning and intelligence, as a source of knowledge and food for thought. Even those who ponder over the meaning of the Qur’an day and night, who think deeply over its individual Surahs for years on end, and who pause for long over the subtle points in its text, cannot do without this regular recitation. Indeed, they require its aid all the more in the noble task they have set before themselves. Actually, constant recitation of the Holy Book will help solve many of their problems and will continuously open up new vistas of thought before their minds.

    3. Melodious voice:

    It is also required for the proper recitation of the Qur’an that a person should read it in the best manner and in the most melodious voice possible. This is necessary because almost every human being is gifted with a love for music and has a natural fondness for sweet and melodious sounds. Islam is a natural region; it does not curb any of our inherent tendencies but diverts them into healthy channels. As we have an instinctive love for the beauty of sight and the beauty of sound, we insist upon a fascinating printing of the Holy Qur’an and its recitation in a soft melodious voice. The Prophet (SAW) has urged us to:

    Adorn the Qur’an with your voices. (Narrated by Abu Daud & Nasai)

    He has also warned us against our negligence in this matter in the words:
    One who does not recite the Qur’an in a melodious voice is not from us! (Narrated by Abu Daud)

    and has given us the following tidings as a further inducement for melodious recitation:

    Allah (SWT) does not listen to anything so attentively as He listens to the Prophet (SAW) reciting the Qur’an aloud in a sweet voice. (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, & Nasai)

    It often happened that, while going along his way, the Holy Prophet (SAW) heard a Companion (RAA) recite the Qur’an in a sweet-sounding voice. He would stop and stand for a long time listening to the Qur’an being recited and would appreciate it later on. Sometimes, he would ask a Companion (RAA) to recite the Qur’an to him. It is stated in the books of traditions that once he asked Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud (RAA) to recite the Qur’an to him. The latter (much astonished at the request) said: "Messenger of Allah! How can I recite the Qur’an to you, while you are the person to whom it was revealed?" He replied: "I like to hear it being recited by others." Accordingly, Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud (RAA) began to recite, and, as the Holy Prophet (SAW) sat listening, his eyes welled up with tears which could be seen trickling down his cheeks. On another occasion, he heard a Companion (RAA) recite the Qur’an in a melodious voice, which he praised in the words: "You have been granted a share from the musical talent of the sons of Daud (AS)."

    Although a person should recite the Qur’an in the most melodious voice he can produce because otherwise the recitation will be far from satisfactory, yet to over-emphasize this aspect of recitation is not without danger. When a melodious recitation is the outcome of mere show or affectation or when one takes to it as a profession, it becomes a serious perversion and a reprehensible practice. We should, therefore, carefully guard against this danger; still we may seek the satisfaction of our love for the beauty of sound in reciting the Qur’an or in hearing it being recited in a melodious voice. Hence, everyone of us should read the Book of Allah (SWT) in as nice a manner and as sweet a voice as it may be possible for him to do. 

    4. Objective and Subjective Conditions:

    Reciting the Qur’an as it ought to be recited depends upon the fulfillment of a number of objective and subjective conditions. The objective conditions to be fulfilled are that one should perform ablution before starting the recitation, that he should sit facing the qiblah, and that he should start the recitation with taa‘wwuz (seeking Allah’s protection against the Satan). Subjectively, he should contemplate the greatness of the Book and the greatness of the Being Who has revealed it, and should recite it with complete concentration and absorption, a deep feeling of submissiveness and humility, and utmost fervor and devotion. He should read the Book of Allah (SWT) with a sincere and earnest desire to get at the truth, and with a firm resolve to transform himself according to its teachings. He should constantly ponder and deliberate over its meanings, not with a view to finding from it a confirmation of his own preconceived thoughts and theories but genuinely seeking from it the guidance that it offers. As explained above, the literal meaning of tilawat is "to follow or walk closely behind someone." Therefore, in the real sense of the term, it demands an attitude of self-abandonment and receptivity. Such an attitude is, indeed, the essence of tilawat.  

    5. Tarteel (Reading in slow, measured rhythmic tones):

    The ideal way in which the Holy Book should be recited is that one should stand in post-midnight prayer before his Lord, with hands folded in all humility, and recite the Qur’an in a receptive state of mind, slowly and patiently, pausing at proper places so as to enable one’s heart to imbibe its influence. This kind of recitation is called tarteel, and perhaps the most important instruction that was given to the Holy Prophet (SAW) in the earliest stage of his prophetic mission was to recite the Qur’an in this manner:

    O you wrapped in garments! Stand (in prayer) by night. But not all night; half of it, or a little less, or a little more. And recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones. (Al-Muzzammil 73:1-4)

    Reading the Qur’an slowly and thoughtfully, making pauses at proper points in its text, has a resemblance with the mode of its revelation. As we all know, the whole Qur’an was not revealed at once but it has descended piecemeal at intervals. In Surah Al-Furqan, by way of answering those who objected as to why the Qur’an was not revealed all at once, Allah (SWT) says addressing His Messenger (SAW):

    …thus (is it revealed) that We may strengthen your heart thereby, and we have revealed it to you in slow well-arranged stages, gradually. (Al-Furqan 25:32)
    This signifies that tarteel is an effective means of strengthening the heart’s convictions. Undoubtedly, reading the Qur’an on this pattern does the greatest good to the human heart. It often moves one to tears with intensity of feeling. While explaining tarteel, Allama Ibn Arabi (RA), the author of Ahkam-ul-Qur’an, has quoted the following tradition narrated on the authority of Hasan Ibn Ali (RAA):

    Once the Holy Prophet (SAW) happened to pass by a person who was reading the Qur’an. He was reading it ayah by ayah, and the end of each he paused and wept. Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said to his Companions (RAA): "Have you heard Allah’s command: ‘Read the Qur’an in slow, measured tones.’ Look, here you have its demonstration."

    The following words of the Holy Prophet (SAW) contain a similar instruction for tarteel, i.e., reading the Qur’an in slow rhythmic tones.

    Recite the Qur’an and weep. (Narrated by Ibn Majah)

    The Holy Prophet’s (SAW) own condition during the night prayer, which has been described in books of tradition, is a case in point. When he stood in his night prayer reciting the Qur’an slowly and thoughtfully, making short pauses in the recitation, holding a communion with his Lord, he would weep with such intensity of feeling that his breast would produce a sizzling sound as if it were a kettle on fire in which something was being cooked. 

    6. Committing to Memory:

    If the Qur’an is to be recited as it was recited by the Holy Prophet (SAW), we have to learn by heart as much of the Holy Book as possible. Unfortunately, the practice of memorizing portions of the Qur’an for long recitations in the post-midnight prayer has almost died out. However, the custom of memorizing the whole Qur’an still exists. Naturally, for this a start has to be made in childhood when the question of understanding the Qur’an does not arise, but even this custom is losing ground. Memorizing the whole Qur’an has unluckily been left to a class of poor and down-trodden people in our society who adopt it as a profession. This was not the case till recent years. In the pre-partition days, the custom of memorizing the entire Qur’an was quite common even among respectable, well-to-do families, and in some cities in undivided India almost every Muslim family had at least one hafiz (i.e., one who has learned the whole Qur’an by heart). In those days, it was considered to be discreditable on the part of a family not to have a hafiz among its members.

    No doubt, memorizing the Qur’an is a noble tradition. It is a part of the Divine dispensation for the preservation of the Qur’an and should be maintained with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. However, committing the whole Qur’an to memory is not within the reach of every person. What I wish to stress here is that every one of us should try his utmost to learn maximum portion of the Qur’an by heart so that he may be able to recite it to his Lord, standing before Him in prayer. This is the essential prerequisite for reciting the Book of Allah (SWT) as it ought to be recited and as it was recited by the Holy Prophet (SAW) himself, but it is a pity that we have lost eagerness and fervor for memorizing the Qur’an. Even men of religious learning among us have grown quite negligent in this matter. The condition of even those who lead the congregational prayers in mosques is no better. Most of them seem to have become contented with a few short Surahs they have once committed to memory and go on repeating them in prayers. Surely, it is a sad state of affairs that must be corrected. All of us must develop in our hearts a deep love for the Qur’an, look upon the part of the Holy Book we have memorized as our real and most valuable asset in life, and make a continuous effort at increasing and enhancing it. Thus shall we be able to experience the blissful joy to tarteel and provide for our souls greater and greater amount of sustenance in the best possible form.



    3-Tazakkur wa Tadabbur

    (Recalling through the Qur’an the fundamental truths intuitively recognized by human nature, and reflecting over its meaning)

    We have discussed two of the claims that the Qur’an has upon us: (i) that we should believe in it and (ii) that we should recite it. Now we proceed to explain the third claim it has upon us. It is that we should understand it. Obviously, the Qur’an has been revealed that it may be understood. There would be no sense in believing in it if we do not follow its meanings. Also, how can it serve as a source of guidance for us if we fail to comprehend its message. Mere recitation (i.e., recitation without understanding the meaning of the text) may be excusable in the case of persons who have not been fortunate enough to receive any education, and who are now past the age at which one can do so. Even a clumsy recitation on their part may be acceptable and may win them a reward from Allah (SWT). Similarly, a person who cannot read the Qur’an at all, nor can learn how to do so, may get a reward and blessings from Allah (SWT) even if he just moves his fingers affectionately and reverently along the lines of the Holy Book, believing it to be kalam Allah (the Word of Allah). However, the case of those persons will be quite different who may have devoted a considerable part of their lives to their secular education — who may have acquired a knowledge of different arts and sciences and may have learnt foreign languages besides their own. If these educated persons were to read the Qur’an thoughtlessly and without understanding its meaning, then it is very much possible that, in the sight of Almighty Allah (SWT), they may be considered guilty of dishonoring and ridiculing the Holy Book. For these persons, it is possible that the punishment for ignoring the meaning and message of the Qur’an may exceed the reward for reciting its text. However, if they make a firm resolve to acquire a knowledge of the Qur’an and start earnest efforts in this direction, they may in the meantime continue to read the Qur’an in the way they can. Perhaps, under the circumstances, recitation, mere and simple, may be acceptable from them and may even bring them a reward from Allah (SWT).

    As for the comprehension of the Qur’an, it is not a simple affair. It has numerous stages and grades accessible to different persons according to the levels of their thinking. The Holy Qur’an is like an unbounded sea from which a scholar can bring out pearls of knowledge and wisdom according to his natural ability, intellectual equipment, and mental makeup. His efforts to comprehend the Qur’an will be rewarded in proportion to the enthusiasm, time, and labor that he puts into its study and research. At the same time, it will be found that so far as its comprehension is concerned, no person, however intelligent and learned, shall ever feel that he has done justice to the Qur’an even though he may have spent his whole life pouring over its pages and meditating over its meanings. The Holy Prophet (SAW) himself has characterized the Qur’an as a treasure (of knowledge and wisdom) which shall never to exhausted. It is such a source of guidance that man shall ever continue to feel the need of reverting to it and reflecting upon it.

    …for this let (all) those strive who want to strive. (Al-Mutaffifin 83:26)

    Therefore, let men of courage and determination come forward to undertake the stupendous task of Qur’anic research, fired with the noble ambition of surpassing others 

    in this field.

    The Holy Qur’an urges us again and again to study it intelligently, bringing our thought to bear upon it, and exercising our reasoning faculty in following its arguments and comprehending its meanings. For this purpose, it uses such words as fahm,‘aqlfiqh, and fikr; but another important term, more widely used in the Qur’an in this context is tazakkur. For understanding the significance of this term we have to note that the Qur’an frequently calls itself zikrzikra and tazkirah. In reality, tazakkur pertains to the first stage in the comprehension of the Qur’an and indicates the real purpose and final goal which it should serve. It also alludes to the fact that the Qur’anic teachings are not extraneous to the human nature. It actually reflects the experiences of man’s inner self and is meant to awaken reminiscences of something already apprehended, rather than to import anything altogether new. The Holy Qur’an appeals to all thoughtful persons whom it addresses as ulul albab (men of understanding) and qaumunyaqilun (people who use their intellect) to think and ponder over the outer universe of matter as well as the inner universe of the spirit, as both are replete with the unmistakable signs of the Almighty Creator (SWT). Simultaneously, the Qur’an invites them to deliberate over its own signs, i.e., its Divinely revealed verses. In Surah Yunus it says:

    …thus do we explain the signs in detail for those who reflect. (Yunus 10:24)

    and in Surah Nahl:

    …and we have sent down unto you the Zikr that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought. (Al-Nahl 16:44)

    Again, in the same vein, we have in the second Surah, Al-Baqarah:

    Thus Allah makes clear His signs to you, in order that you may understand. (Al-Baqarah 2:242)

    and similarly in the beginning of Surah Yusuf we have the following ayah:
    Verily, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an in order that you may understand. (Yusuf 12:2)

    Pondering over the three categories of signs (i.e., the Qur’anic signs, the signs in the physical universe, and the signs in the spiritual world of the human heart) a man will be able to perceive a perfect concord between them; and, with the realization of this concord, he will grasp certain fundamental truths which are borne out by the internal testimony of his own nature. The truths cherished by his inner self will emerge from its depths and shine with all their brilliance on the screen of his consciousness. In other words, full and intense awareness of the Absolute Reality, which is the core of Iman, will then spring up to his conscious mind like the memory of a forgotten thing shooting up from the dark depths of the mind to its surface with the aid of a pertinent suggestion. For this very phenomenon, the Qur’an uses the term tazakkur. Every person, whether mediocre or an intellectual, is in constant need of tazakkur which is necessary for recalling to the mind the truths that have been forgotten or for keeping in mind the truths that are likely to be forgotten. It is for this reason that Allah (SWT) has made the Qur’an so easy for the purposes of tazakkur — a fact which has been stated four times in Surah Al-Qamar:

    We have made the Qur’an easy as a means of reminding (men of the truths forgotten by them). Is there any who will benefit from this reminding? (Al-Qamar 54:17, 22, 32, 40)

    The Qur’an has thus declared in unequivocal terms that every person can get the benefit of tazakkur from it. It does not matter if a person’s intelligence is limited, and his knowledge of logic and philosophy is poor, and if he has no fine sense of language and literature. In spite of these drawbacks, he can have tazakkur from the Qur’an if he has a noble heart, a sound mind, and an untainted nature not perverted by any kind of crookedness. He should read the Qur’an and should go on understanding its simple meanings. This will be enough for the purposes of tazakkur.

    The Qur’an has been rendered easy in different ways for those who try to understand it and derive tazakkur from its ayaat. In the first place, its central theme and basic subjects are nothing new or unfamiliar to the human nature. While reading the Qur’an a man often feels as if he were listening to the echoes of his inner self. Secondly, the mode of inference adopted is simple and natural, and difficult and abstruse subjects have been brought home to the reader by easy and simple parables. Thirdly, although the Qur’an is a masterpiece of literature and a paragon of eloquence, yet its language is generally simple and a man with a smattering of Arabic can easily understand the text except a few difficult portions. In spite of all this, for the attainment of tazakkur from the Qur’an, a basic knowledge of Arabic is a must. Looking into a translation along with reading the text will not be sufficient for this purpose. I most honestly feel that it is imperative for every Muslim to acquire as much knowledge of the Arabic language as may enable him to understand the simple meaning of the Qur’anic text as he reads it along, without having to raise his eyes again and again for consulting a translation.

    I fail to understand what excuse will be put forward in the Court of the Almighty (SWT) in their defense by those Muslims who are not only educated but have obtained graduate and post-graduate degrees and have mastered such difficult arts and sciences like Medicine and Engineering, for not learning so much Arabic that they could follow His Holy Book. Out of a sincere regard and genuine concern for these Muslims, let me assert that their negligence in the matter of learning Arabic is tantamount to not only ridiculing the Book of Allah (SWT) but also treating it with contempt. They should realize that by their irresponsible behavior in this regard they are rendering themselves liable to an awful chastisement and a dreadful penalty on the Day of Judgment.

    In my humble opinion, to learn so much Arabic as may enable a person to follow the meaning of the Qur’an easily is a duty that every educated Muslim owes to the Holy Book, and not to fulfill this duty is a grave injustice to the Qur’an as well as to ourselves.

    The second stage in the comprehension of the Holy Book is tadabbur fil-Qur’an, i.e., thinking over it deeply, making it a subject of intense study, and diving into the depths of its knowledge and wisdom. The Qur’an requires such a deep study because it is huda lil-naas i.e., guidance for humankind. Not only does it guide the common people by presenting before them the correct view of God and the universe as well as sound moral principles, but it also contains perfect guidance for men of learning and understanding and has always served them as a beacon of light in every intellectual or spiritual crisis in their life.

    That the Qur’an is something to be reflected and pondered over is a point which has been emphasized by the Qur’an itself:

    Here is a book which we have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may meditate on its signs, and that men of understanding may receive admonition. (Sad 38:29)

    By way of stressing this point further, it says, in a mildly admonishing vein:

    So, do they not reflect on the Qur’an?… (Al-Nisa 4:82)

    Do they not then deeply think over the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up? (Muhammad 47:24)

    The Qur’an is quite easy for tazakkur but is, in the same degree, difficult for tadabbur. Those who dive into this boundless ocean know that it is not possible to fathom its depth. We learn from authentic traditions that the Companions (RAA) of the Holy Prophet (SAW) used to ponder over the different Surahs of the Qur’an for years on end. It is reported about Abdullah Ibn Umar (RAA) that he spent eight years pondering over Surah Al-Baqarah. Let it be noted that this was the case with people who spoke the same language in which the Qur’an was revealed and who, being the contemporaries of the Holy Prophet (SAW), had seen it being revealed before their own eyes. There was no necessity for them to learn the Arabic language and its grammar or to undertake research for ascertaining the historical background of different ayaat or Surahs and the occasions on which they were revealed. In spite of all these advantages, they pondered over each Surah for years together. This shows that diving into this sea of knowledge and wisdom is not a child’s play. On the other hand, it calls for strenuous labor and constant application. In the later ages, great scholars like Tabari (RA), Zamakhshari (RA), Razi (RA), and many others of the same caliber, dedicated their whole lives to the study of the Qur’an, but each of them at best could interpret a single aspect of this great Book and, honestly speaking, failed to do justice even to that aspect. Throughout the fourteen centuries, there has been no scholar who, having written the most voluminous commentary on the Qur’an, might have claimed that he had said the last word on it and had left no room for further deliberation.

    Imam Ghazali (RA) in his Ihya-ul-Uloom has quoted the words of a divine which bring out the difference between the ordinary recitation of the Qur’an for tazakkur and its thoughtful study for tadabbur. He says: "There is a recitation which takes me a week to finish the Qur’an. There is another kind of recitation that takes me a month, and yet another that takes me a year to finish it. There is still another kind of recitation which I commenced thirty years ago but which has not yet enabled me to complete its reading."

    The qualifications for a deliberative study of the Qur’an are extremely hard to acquire. It is not possible for a man to attain these qualifications unless he devotes himself to it wholly and solely and makes the learning and teaching of the Qur’an the be-all and end-all of his life. For such a study, he requires a thorough knowledge of the Arabic language and its grammar and a refined literary taste to appreciate the beauty, force, and eloquence of expression. He must also acquire a good grounding in the language in which the Qur’an was revealed by a critical study of the works of the pre-Islamic poets and orators. Then there are the terms and modes of expression evolved by the Qur’an itself. A clear understanding of these (which will be possible only after a careful study of the Qur’an for a pretty long time) is also a necessary part of the mental equipment of a student of the Qur’an. Moreover, he should be able to appreciate the coordination and coherence in the Qur’an. He must grasp the deep significance of the present order of the Surahs in the Qur’an, which is different from the chronological order in which they were revealed. He must also comprehend the sequence of thought between one Surah and the other, as well as among the ayaat of the same Surah. This is an extremely arduous task that has defied the patience of even the most determined scholars. But this task, however arduous, has to be accomplished and unless it is accomplished, the question of comprehending the Qur’an will not arise. In fact, it is only when one is diving into the Qur’an for grasping the subtle sequence among its parts that one forms an idea of the unfathomable depths of this boundless sea, and brings out from it the finest pearls of knowledge and wisdom.

    Besides the branches of learning referred to above, a good knowledge of ahadith and old Scriptures is also necessary for the comprehension of the Qur’an. All this is with regard to the background of classical knowledge which should be possessed by a research scholar of the Qur’an.

    Even this, however, is not all. He is not yet fully equipped to do justice to a deep and thoughtful study of the Qur’an, the type of study required for tadabbur. He has still to reckon with modern sciences. We know that experimental and theoretical sciences are not static. Their level of advancement has been different in different ages. A scholar who wants to undertake the momentous task of comprehending the Qur’an should have an understanding of modern sciences — physical, biological, and social. He should be particularly conversant with the basic hypotheses of different sciences and with the method of deduction and inference employed by each. He should also keep himself in touch with the latest trends and achievements in every important field of human inquiry. This knowledge of modern arts and sciences is essential for him, as it will widen his mental outlook and increase his intellectual capacity.

    Thus equipped, he will embark upon his great enterprise. The Qur’an is a boundless ocean on which every sailor can sail only as far as his limited capacity can take him; and what useful discoveries he will make on his voyage will depend on the guidance he receives from the range of his knowledge and the breadth of his vision.

    Particularly for the dissemination of the teaching of the Qur’an and the propagation of its message in the present day world (which is also a duty incumbent upon every Muslim), it is necessary that one should be fully equipped with modern knowledge, otherwise he will not be able to discharge this duty. Each generation inherits a large amount of knowledge from its predecessors and transmits it on to the succeeding generation with its own contribution added to it. Thus knowledge goes on accumulating as it passes from one generation to another. The present generation has received, by this process of transmission, a stupendous stock of knowledge consisting of logic and philosophy, religion and metaphysics, ethics and psychology as well as other social sciences. This huge amount of current knowledge has dominated and dazzled the minds of the people who had, consequently, developed a naïve belief in many wrong views. One requires a fairly good knowledge of modern sciences and should be conversant with not only the subject-matter of these sciences but also with their original sources and the system of principles underlying them. Only then he will be able to deal a crushing blow, in the manner of Ibn Taimiyyah (RA) and Imam Ghazali (RA), at the very root of the false notions prevailing in his time. In this respect, the present age has touched the highest watermark. Besides the remarkable progress in the field of social sciences, it has witnessed as unprecedented advancement of the physical sciences and technology which has stunned the humanity and has rendered it incapable of making critical appraisal of the misguiding views that have found currency in the modern world.

    Under these circumstances, the imperative duty of comprehending and interpreting the Qur’an cannot be fulfilled unless some patient and persevering men address themselves to this momentous task with single-minded devotion, equipping themselves with both classical and modern knowledge adequate for the task. These dedicated and fully equipped scholars of the Qur’an would carry out a searching analysis of the modern knowledge and sift the sound from the fallacious in the light of the Qur’an. They would approach the intellect of the modern man, making a judicious use of modern terminology and sophisticated methods of logical reasoning. Thus they would be able to illumine the minds of their contemporaries with the light of Qur’anic guidance. In this way the duty of "explaining the Qur’an to the people" which was performed by the Holy Prophet (SAW) himself in his life time would be performed by his Ummah in the present age.

    Now the question arises: How can we produce such scholars? Obviously they cannot be produced until we have, all over the Muslim world, a network of universities which concentrate on Qur’anic research, making it the hub and center of their intellectual activity. Round this central department, these universities should build up other departments like the department of theoretical sciences such as logic, metaphysics, ethics, psychology, and religion; the department of social sciences such as economics, political science, and law; and the department of physical sciences such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy. Every student who joins such a university should take up Qur’anic Studies as a compulsory subject and should study one or more of the disciplines as elective subjects according to his own taste and aptitude. Thus he will be able to carry out research on the Qur’an in the sphere of his own study and present the light and guidance of the Qur’an effectively to the people.

    Obviously, this is not an easy task. That is why it is not the responsibility of every person. It is to be done by only those persons who are born with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and whose minds are agitated by obstinate problems which can only be solved through prolonged thinking and reasoning. Such men are impelled to imbibe learning as a starving person is compelled to seek food and drink, and they march on, constantly uttering the prayer: "My Lord! Advance me in knowledge." If they happen to receive proper guidance, they get a goodly share of knowledge and wisdom. Comprehension and interpretation of the Qur’an is, in reality, the privilege of these persons. However, every seeker of knowledge can participate in this noble task according to his ability and the time he can devote to the task. In order to provide an inducement to people for the study of the Qur’an, the Holy Prophet (SAW) has said:

    The best among you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it (to others). (Narrated by Bukhari)

    and, in the same context, we have a general instruction in the Qur’an:

    …why did not some people from every habitation leave their homes so that they could develop an understanding of religion…. (Al-Taubah 9:122)

    This understanding of religion is the fruit of a deep and meditative study of Qur’an. It is this understanding which the Holy Prophet (SAW) wanted his Companions (RAA) to develop. He especially prayed for some of them that they might be granted a keen insight into religion. He also qualified his observation that "The best of you in Jahiliyyah are the best of you in Islam" with "provided they understand the religion."


    4-Hukm wa Iqamah

     (Molding the personal life of the individual and the collective life of the community according to the teachings of the Qur’an)

    We have already considered three of the duties we owe to the Qur’an and now we proceed to consider the fourth. It is that we should act upon its teachings. Obviously, we are required to believe in the Qur’an, study it, and ponder over its meanings in order that we may act upon its teachings in our actual life. The Qur’an is not a book of magical formulas or mantras which are chanted to ward off evil. It is not a mere instrument for the attaining of blessings. Its ayaat are not to be recited only for the sake of getting a reward from Allah (SWT) or for reducing the agony of death. Nor is it a subject of investigation and research in the sense that it should provide a good exercise to our intellectual and imaginative faculties so that we could indulge in all sorts of abstruse thinking and useless hair-splitting in the interpretation of its meanings.

    The Qur’an, as we all know, is huda lil-naas, guidance for mankind. The purpose for which this Book has been revealed will be realized only if people act upon its teachings and make it a guide for them in every sphere of their life. The Holy Prophet (SAW) has made it crystal clear that no useful purpose will be served by reading the Qur’an and pondering over its meaning if we do not try to mold our lives according to its injunctions. If we disregard its injunctions, the reading of the Qur’an, instead of doing us any good, will undermine our faith. In this context, the Holy Book speaks in unequivocal terms:

    …and whosoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the disbelievers. (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)

    We have further clarification of, and emphasis over this point in the following traditions of the Holy Prophet (SAW):

    None of you can become a believer until all his desires are subordinated to what I have brought (i.e., the Revealed Guidance). (Narrated in Sharah Al-Sunnah)

    One who deems lawful what the Qur’an declares unlawful is not a believer in the Qur’an (i.e., in reality, he does not hold it to be a Divine Revelation). (Narrated by Tirmidhi)

    The case of a person who is still exploring and wandering in quest of truth, and has yet to decide after a careful study of the Qur’an whether it is the absolute truth or not, is different. However, the person who believes the Qur’an to be the Book of Allah (SWT) cannot benefit from it at all unless he studies it with a firm resolve that, however heavy the odds and however great the sacrifices, he would abide by its injunctions and modify his character according to its teachings. As we have already stated while explaining the literal meaning of the term tilawat, the Qur’an yields its perfect guidance only to those who abandon themselves to it and pore over it long and assiduously. Self-abandonment combined with a prolonged concentration born of a deep cultivated self-discipline generates that state of submissiveness and self-effacement which has been referred to in the above-quoted tradition viz., "None of you can become a believer until all his desires are subordinated to what I have brought."

    A person who desires to get full guidance from the Qur’an has, first of all, to put himself into this state of mind and afterwards as his contact with the Qur’an becomes closer and closer he will continue to get greater and greater enlightenment from it. The Holy Qur’an affirms:

    While as for those who accept guidance, He increases their guidance and bestows on them their piety. (Muhammad 47:17)

    It means that if a person actually makes a start, moving under the guidance of the Qur’an, he will soon find himself marching steadily along the straight path, and he will go on gradually rising to the higher and higher planes of spiritual development. On the other hand, if a person has not made up his mind to transform himself in accordance with the Qur’anic teachings, the time he spends on reciting the Holy Book will be just wasted. Recitation of the Qur’an, instead of doing him any spiritual good, may actually prove to be curse on him. Imam Ghazali (RA) has quoted some mystic as saying that "Some readers of the Qur’an do not get anything from it except the imprecation which it pronounces upon them. When he recites "Allah’s curse is on the liars" while he himself is a liar, he becomes the target of this curse." Similarly, when a reader reads:

    So, if they do not desist (from devouring interest), give them an ultimatum of a war on behalf of Allah and His Messenger…. (Al-Baqarah 2:279)

    and if he himself violates this injunction of Almighty Allah (SWT), he becomes the addressee of this ultimatum. In the same way, when those persons who give short measure or short weight and those who indulge in backbiting and carping, read "Woe to those who give less in measure and weight" (Al-Mutaffifin 83:1) and "Woe to every slanderer and backbiter" (Al-Humazah 104:1), then they themselves become the addressees of these dreadful warnings. Reasoning on this line, we can easily understand what a man will gain from the recitation of the Qur’an if his actions are not in accordance with its teachings.

    As for those who study the Qur’an for investigation and research, for reflection over its meanings and for writing or compiling books on it, if they do not put the injunctions of the Qur’an into practice, we can say that they are the worst sinners. Their study and research is like indulging in a fascinating intellectual exercise which is tantamount to mere toying with the Holy Book, or even making fun of it. Consequently, instead of guiding them to the right path, it causes them to deviate and go astray:

    …by it He causes many to stray, and many He leads to the right path…. (Al-Baqarah 2:26)

    These so-called scholars of the Qur’an disseminate all sorts of mischievous interpretations and become instrumental in misleading and misguiding the people in different ways. Their whole thinking on the Holy Book is motivated by a vicious attempt to run after the abstruse and the recondite. The Qur’an has aptly described their motives in doing so in the following words:

    …So they follow the part thereof that is figurative, seeking discord and searching for its hidden meanings... (Aal Imran 3:7)

    The Companions (RAA) understood the supreme importance of incorporating teachings of the Qur’an into their lives. That is the reason why those, who had a special aptitude for reflecting over the Holy Book and would spend years together pondering over a single Surah, made such long pauses in their study. It was not so much for the assimilation of the fruit of their research or the consolidation of their theoretical knowledge as for developing a capacity for acting upon the Qur’anic teachings. They would not go ahead until they were satisfied that they were able to put into practice what they had learned from the Qur’an. Perhaps the reader will be a little surprised to know that by learning a Surah by heart, the Companions (RAA) did not mean only preserving it in memory but also comprehending its meanings clearly and molding their character in the light of the guidance they received from it. Positively, what the Companions (RAA) actually meant by hifz al-Qur’an (memorizing the whole Qur’an) was that its words should be preserved in a person’s memory, its knowledge should be treasured up in his mind, and its teachings should be reflected in his conduct so that his whole personality was imbued with the spirit of the Qur’an and the deepest recesses of his being were illumined by its light.

    The type of relationship between human conduct and the Qur’an visible in the lives of the Companions (RAA) was to be found in its most consummate and perfect form in the life of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Ummul Momineen Ayesha (RAA) — wife of the Holy Prophet (SAW), who had the most intimate knowledge of his life and who as such was destined to play the role of a teacher for the Ummah — was once questioned about the Prophet’s (SAW) mode of life. She answered "His character was an embodiment of the teachings of the Qur’an." This extremely wise and judicious answer brings into relief the deep impact which the Qur’an must have on the life of a true Muslim.

    In short, the best way to benefit from the study of the Qur’an is that we should go on mending our ways and modifying our conduct in the light of its teachings as we go on developing a deeper and deeper understanding of its meanings, so that the Qur’an permeates into the composition of our character. Otherwise there is a danger that — according to the pronouncement of the Holy Prophet (SAW) that "the Qur’an is a plea either for you or against you" — the knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an may become an irrefutable argument against us for our damnation, and may become instrumental in bringing us a greater punishment from the Almighty (SWT) for our negligence and indifference.

    Here it is necessary to explain that Amal bil-Qur’an (acting upon the Qur’anic injunctions) has two phases — individual and collective. There are injunctions which pertain to a person’s individual or private life and which he can carry out immediately. These become binding on him as soon as he comes to know of them. There is absolutely no justification on his part for any postponement or delay in the matter of incorporating these injunctions into his conduct. The punishment for negligence shown in this matter appears in the form of the withdrawal of Divine Grace and his consequent failure to live up to the principles embodied in the Holy Book. This gaping disparity between his word and deed, and between his belief and action, which is so hateful to Almighty Allah (SWT) amounts to hypocrisy. This very fact has been referred to by the Holy Prophet (SAW) in these words:

    Most of the hypocrites among my followers will be the readers of the Qur’an. (Narrated by Ahmad)

    Therefore, the only safe course for a person would be that he should immediately begin to act upon what he has been able to learn from the Qur’an.

    As regards the injunctions that pertain to such affairs of our collective life as are beyond the control of an individual person, it is clear that he will not be bound to act upon them immediately. Nevertheless, it is his duty to try as far as possible to change the existing conditions and help in the establishment of a society based on the Qur’anic principles so that it may become possible to act upon the entire teaching of the Qur’an. Under these circumstances, the efforts made by him in this direction will be "an excuse from him with his Lord" and will become a substitute for actual compliance with the injunctions that pertain to collective life. However, if he does not make any effort in this direction and remains content with himself and with his personal devotions, with his personal survival and the well-being of his family, then there is a danger that even his enactment of Qur’anic injunctions relating to personal and private matters will resemble the reprehensible practice of those whom the Qur’an censures in the following words:

    …then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest?…. (Al-Baqarah 2:85)

    Just as tazakkur is a general term for the understanding of the Qur’an, similarly the most general and widely used term for acting upon its teachings is hukm bima anzalallah (to judge in the light of what Allah has revealed).

    For grasping the real significance of the word hukm, which is the core of this term, we should consider its use in the following ayaat:

    …the authority is for none but Allah…. (Yusuf 12:40)

    Here this word has been used in the sense of "command" or "authority."

    And thus have we revealed it to be a criterion for judgment, in Arabic…. (Al-Ra‘d 13:37)

    Here the Qur’an has been styled as Hukm, which has been translated here as "a criterion of judgment."

    Surely, We have sent down to you (O Muhammad!) the Book in truth, that you may judge between men by that which Allah has shown you…. (Al-Nisa 4:105)

    Here a derivative of the word hukm has been used to indicate the mission of the Holy Prophet (SAW).

    Ayaat 44 to 47 of Surah Al-Ma’idah categorically state that those who do not judge by the light of the Qur’an are none other than the unbelievers, the wrongdoers and the rebels.

    If we try to express the sense of the word hukm in one word, the nearest English equivalent that strikes our mind would be "judgment" or "decision." However, in order to understand its full significance we must think of the two basic constituents of a person’s conduct i.e., thought and action. When a viewpoint or a thought so completely dominates a person’s mind that it comes to determine his judgment or decision, his action will be automatically subordinated to it. Therefore, for expressing the idea of putting its injunctions into practice, the Qur’an has employed the highly significant term hukm bima anzalallah(deciding every issue in the light of what is revealed by Allah). The use of this term indicates that a person will act upon the teachings of the Qur’an only when his thinking is dominated by the Holy Book and the knowledge of Reality imparted by it has gone deep down into both his heart and his mind.

    Another term that is used by the Qur’an to denote the idea of acting upon the teaching of the Holy Book is Iqamah (standing fast by, or establish). It has been used in a ayah 69 of Surah Al-Ma’idah, which says about the Jews and the Christians that:

    And if only they had stood fast by the Torah and the Gospel and all the revelation that were sent to them from their Lord, they would surely have gotten provision from above them and from underneath their feet…. (Al-Ma’idah 5:66)

    Again it is used in ayah 71 of the same Surah, which makes the announcement:

    Say: "O people of the Book! You have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been sent down to you from your Lord"…. (Al-Ma’idah 5:68)

    The term hakm bima anzalallah pertains to making the conduct of the individual conform to the teaching of Qur’an, but Iqamah ma unzila minallah pertains to the collective conduct of the community. It signifies the establishment of a system of life based on social justice that ensures perfect balance and harmony between the individual members of the society and its different classes. When people come to owe allegiance to such a perfect social order, the possibility of tyranny and transgression, cruelty and injustice is absolutely ruled out and all the doors of political oppression and economic exploitation are closed. This is why the ayah 69 of Surah Al-Mai’dah quoted above specifically refers to the general social well-being and economic prosperity as an inevitable concomitant of such a system.

    This establishment of a perfectly just and equitable social order is the very purpose for which Allah (SWT) sent His messengers and revealed His Books:

    We have surely sent our messengers with clear signs (i.e., miracles and proofs), and sent with them the Book (i.e., revealed guidance) and the Balance (i.e., the Shari‘ah), so that mankind may stand by justice…. (Al-Hadeed 57:25)

    In the second ruku‘ of Surah Al-Shura we have a detailed discussion of this topic. Here we have a clear picture of the coordination subsisting between the fundamental Islamic concepts, mentioned in a highly meaningful and judicious sequence. These include Allah’s authority or decision, establishment of Deen, belief in the Revealed Book, and the establishment of the just social order.

    To begin with, we have the fundamental principle that Allah’s authority of decision is supreme, and in ayah 10 we have, accordingly, been directed to recognize and uphold it under all eventualities:

    And whatever it be wherein you differ, the decision thereof is with Allah…. (Al-Shura 42:10)

    Ayah 13 of the same Surah refers to the manifestation of Allah’s authority or decision in the form of Deen and Shari‘ah.

    The same Deen has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah, which We have revealed to you (O Muhammad!) and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus; namely, that you should establish Deen and make no divisions therein…. (Al-Shura 42:13)

    Then in ayah 15, the Holy Prophet (SAW) has been instructed to declare his belief in the Book and to strive for the creation of a just society by practically dispensing justice to the people:

    Now then, for that (reason) call (them to the same Deen) and stand steadfast as you are commanded, and follow not their desires but say: "I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to do justice among you…." (Al-Shura 42:15)

    This whole discussion is summed up in ayah 17:

    It is Allah Who has sent down the Book in truth and the Balance (i.e., Shari‘ah, by which to weigh conduct). And what will make you know that perhaps the Hour is close at hand? (Al-Shura 42:17)

    Here again, as in the ayah from Surah Al-Hadeed quoted above, we have the word meezan (or balance) which is a very significant term used at different places in the Qur’an. Maulana Sahbbir Ahmad Usmani (RA) has offered a comprehensive explanation of the term in the following words:

    Allah (SWT) has guided man to devise the material balance by which material objects are weighed. He has also granted man the intellectual balance, which is another name for sense of justice and fair play. But most important, the balance granted to us is the Religion of Truth which settles the basic issue of the respective right of the Creator and His creatures and by which all issues can be justly decided.

    According to the Qur’an, the real cause of people’s deviation from the true religion, and of the chaos and anarchy in the world, is their wicked tendency to dominate over others and keep them under subjugation. In ayah 14 of this very Surah where the Muslims are exhorted to curb schismatic trends, the cause of people’s breaking away from the Religion of Allah (SWT) and forming sects has been pointed out:

    And they became divided only after knowledge had reached them, through inequity and oppression among themselves…. (Al-Shura 42:14)

    We are now led to consider the final fruit of molding our thought and action according to the teachings of Qur’an. It should be, as we have discussed above, the establishment of Allah’s Sovereignty and the rule of justice in the world. When such an order is set up, the world becomes free from all sorts of inequity and oppression. Then the priests and divines cannot install themselves as godheads; the wealthy can no longer keep the circulation of wealth confined among themselves, and there is no possibility of any kind of coercion and exploitation. All become servants of Allah (SWT) and begin to behave towards one another like brothers. Their rulers consider it their foremost duty to safeguard the rights of the weak at all cost, and not to allow the powerful to tyrannize over them in any way.

    The establishment of such a just and equitable order in accordance with the teachings of the Qur’an is the bounden duty of its followers. Its fulfillment is the believers’ collective responsibility for which they will be answerable to the Almighty (SWT). It is, therefore, time they should clearly understand this responsibility and strive hard to discharge it. Perhaps that is why at the end of the discussion in Surah Al-Shura which we have reproduced briefly above, there is a mention of the Day of Judgment in the words: "perhaps the Hour is close at hand." It implies the warning that we should not be guilty of any negligence and delay in this important matter lest we should be suddenly overtaken by the final Doom. This duty that we owe to the Book of Allah (SWT) will be fulfilled if we actually set up a system of social equity so that "mankind may stand by justice" and their rulers "may do justice among them." It will be seen that we have the foundation and structure of this system in the fundamental principles of our Deen and its code of life that have been enunciated by the Qur’an.

    It may well be asked as to what practical measures should be adopted for the fulfillment of this duty. Although a complete answer to this question is beyond the scope of this booklet, still a few remarks on this topic will not be out of place here. In the first place, let it be understood that the enforcement of the fundamental principles of Deen in the society and the establishment of a just and equitable order as envisaged by the Qur’an should not be conceived on the pattern of any secularized social, economic, or political movement, nor should we strive for the achievement of this splendid ideal as we do for the success of these movements. To do so would be fraught with grave danger and may even be suicidal. We must know that just as there is only one method of bringing about the transformation of an individual as required by Islam, similarly there is only one method of effecting an Islamic Revolution in the society. So far as the individual is concerned, we should first make the Qur’an dominate his heart and mind so that his feeling, thinking, and reasoning may function in consonance with the Qur’anic spirit and his actions may, consequently, accord with Qur’anic teachings; and likewise for the change in society demanded by Islam, we have first to illumine the minds and hearts of its intelligentsia with the light of the Qur’an so that they are intellectually and spiritually transformed. After the edification of the intelligentsia who are the brain of the community, the light of the Qur’an could easily spread to other people who are, so to speak, the limbs of the community and generally follow its brain. Thus the heart of the whole community will beat in unison with the teachings of the Qur’an and the fundamental principles of Allah’s Deen will come to operate and prevail in the form of a perfect system of collective justice.

    There is no other way of bringing about this revolution, and the plea that this goal could be achieved by launching a political movement by exploiting the emotional attachment of a Muslim people to their hereditary religion is absolutely vain, and making such an attempt would be like building sand castles.

    Hoping to be excused for this digression, I must repeat that the duty of acting upon the teachings of the Qur’an — which assumes two forms, hukm bima anzalallah and Iqamah ma unzila minallah — is an absolute imperative upon the Muslims, both individually and collectively; and, therefore, each one of us according to his means and capacity and the whole Ummah according to its strength and resources should earnestly endeavor to discharge this great responsibility.


    5-Tableegh wa Tabyeen

    (Propagation of the Qur’anic message and its exposition)

    Besides the four duties that we owe to the Qur’an, i.e., believing it to be the Book of Allah (SWT), reading it, understanding it, and acting upon its teachings, another duty which rests upon every Muslim and which he must discharge according to his strength and ability, is that he must communicate its teachings to others.

    For "communicating the message of the Qur’an to the people," the appropriate and comprehensive terms is tableegh. Teaching the Qur’an to others is also a form of tableegh. Similarly, explaining the meanings of the Qur’an to the people istableegh at a higher plane.

    In order to understand the importance of this duty that we owe to the Qur’an, let us consider the purpose for which the Holy Book was revealed. It has been stated by the Qur’an itself in the following words:

    This (Qur’an) is a message to the people, in order that they may be warned thereby…. (Ibrahim 14:52)

    Again, it declares the basic objective of its being revealed to the Holy Prophet (SAW) in ayah 19 of Surah Al-An‘am:

    Say (O Muhammad!): "…and this Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may warn you therewith and whomsoever it may reach…." (Al-An‘am 6:19)

    The Qur’an also announces in clear-cut words that it was the foremost duty of the Holy Prophet (SAW) to communicate the message of the Qur’an to mankind with utmost faithfulness, and that the slightest negligence in the fulfillment of this duty would be a serious dereliction of his prophetic mission. Hence the peremptory command in Surah Al-Ma’idah:

    O Messenger! Proclaim that which has been sent down to you from your Lord. If you do not, then you have not conveyed His message…. (Al-Ma’idah 5:67)

    In perfect obedience to this command, the Holy Prophet (SAW), right from the moment he received the first revelation to the last minute of his earthly life, for full 23 years, bore untold hardships and waged a ceaseless struggle to fulfill the momentous duty entrusted to him. Although this long and heroic struggle passed through many phases and he had to play different roles for the fulfillment of his mission, still the Qur’an was, all along, the pivotal point of all his activities. He was constantly occupied with reciting the Qur’an, explaining its meanings and communicating its message to the people, thereby enlightening their minds and purifying their souls. The Qur’an describes the basic methodology of the Holy Prophet (SAW) by means of four highly significant terms, which are: recitation of Divine ayaat, purification of souls, instructions regarding the law, and inculcation of wisdom. These terms appear at four different places in the Qur’an:

    …he (the Messenger) recites to them His ayaat, purifies them, and instructs them in law and wisdom…. (Aal Imran 3:164 & Al-Jumu‘ah 62:2)

    Obviously, these words indicate the same technique as we have suggested in the foregoing pages while explaining the right method of bringing about the Islamic Revolution in our society. In short, pursuing this method with extraordinary courage and perseverance for 23 years, the Holy Prophet (SAW) acquitted himself admirably and communicated Allah’s Message to mankind. He also sought the cooperation of his devoted Companions (RAA) for the completion of his mission, exhorting them to:

    Convey from me to the people even if it be a single ayah. (Narrated by Bukhari)

    Having accomplished his mission, the Holy Prophet (SAW) transferred the responsibility of propagating the message of the Qur’an in the future to his Ummah. Having obtained more than once the testimony of the people to the effect that he had, indeed, successfully conveyed Allah’s Message to them, the Prophet (SAW), in his historic address to a gathering of 125 thousand Companions (RAA) on the occasion of the last pilgrimage, issued the abiding instructions:

    Those who are present should convey (Allah’s Message) to those who are not. (Narrated by Bukhari)

    Thus the duty of spreading the message of the Qur’an to every nook and corner of the world was devolved on the shoulders of the Ummah for all time to come, and the Ummah as a whole shall be answerable to the Almighty (SWT) with regard to this arduous duty. As the Ummah consists of the individuals, every individual is responsible for the discharge of this duty: men of learning according to their knowledge and ability and common people according to their means and capability.

    The words of the Holy Prophet (SAW) "Convey from me to the people though it be a single ayah" prove it beyond any shadow of doubt that no individual is exempt from this duty. If a person can only read the Arabic text of the Qur’an, he should teach others to do so; one who has memorized the whole Qur’an should help others in memorizing it; one who can translate the text, should do so for others; and one who can comprehend its meaning should explain and interpret it to others. If a person understands the meaning of a single Surah and explains the same to others, and if he knows only a single ayah and teaches it to others, he will be discharging the duty of communicating the Qur’an; but the collective duty of the Ummah in this connection will not be fulfilled unless the Qur’an, both its text and its message, is propagated everywhere, throughout the length and breadth of the world.

    Unfortunately, under the present conditions, this universal proclamation of Allah’s Message, which is expected of the Muslim Ummah, seems to be a far cry or an unattainable ideal, because things have come to such a pass that the Ummah to whom this great and honorific duty was assigned has itself grown ignorant of the Qur’an. Today, the Muslim Ummah itself needs to be instructed in the Book of Allah (SWT) which it has practically forsaken. Hence what is urgently required under the present situation is that a movement for learning and teaching the Qur’an should be launched among the Muslims themselves so that they may develop a fresh attitude of devotion to, and interest in the study of the Qur’an. May Allah (SWT) grant us the strength to carry out this task. Ameen!

    As it has been pointed out in the beginning of this discussion, a higher form of tableegh (communication) is tabyeen(exposition). The message of the Qur’an is not only to be communicated but its meanings are also to be explained and interpreted to the people. In Qur’anic terminology, this has been called tabyeen. Hence tableegh and tabyeen appear together in the title of this section. It will be seen that the exposition of the Qur’an demands that one who undertakes this task should talk to his audience at their own level so that the truths of the Qur’an are brought home to them and, secondly, explain to them the implications and arguments of different ayaat and Surahs.

    It will be noted that the Qur’an calls itself Bayan (a plain statement).

    This is a plain statement to mankind, a guidance and instruction to those who are God-conscious. (Aal Imran 3:138)

    The Qur’an frequently characterizes itself as mubeen (clear), and its ayaat as bayyinat and mubayyinat (clear signs or manifestations). It also points out that to explain and interpret the Divine Scriptures is the responsibility of the prophets and their followers to whom these are vouchsafed. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is addressed on this point in the following words:

    …and We sent down unto you (O Muhammad!) the Reminder, that you may explain clearly to mankind what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought. (Al-Nahl 16:44)

    It has been stated about the Jews and Christians that they were bound by a covenant to explain the Book of Allah (SWT) to mankind:

    And (remember) when Allah took a covenant from the People of the Book to make it (i.e., the Revelation) known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it…. (Aal Imran 3:187)
    When they did not fulfill this covenant and, on the contrary, tried to conceal the truth, they were accursed:

    Verily, those who conceal the clear signs We have sent down, and the guidance after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, on them shall be Allah’s Curse and the curse of those entitled to curse. (Al-Baqarah 2:159)

    It may be noted that tabyeen has different forms. Its simplest form consists in expressing the plain meanings of the Qur’an in an easy, straightforward manner in the common language of the people. Naturally, the medium to be used for explaining the Qur’an to the people has to be their own language.

    And We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his own people, in order to make things clear to them…. (Ibrahim 14:4)

    Tabyeen in its highest form is rather a job with a challenge. One who resolves upon fulfilling his duty of explaining the Qur’an in this sense of the term will not merely translate its text, but he will try to unfold the knowledge and wisdom contained in this great Book and bring out the implied meanings and subtle significance of its ayaat and Surahs. He will explain the mode of inference and deduction adopted by the Qur’an and repudiate effectively, with the help of Qur’anic arguments, the false notions and misleading views prevalent among the people. He will endeavor to establish the truth of the Qur’an and its teachings, reasoning convincingly at the highest plane of thought accessible to the people in a particular age according to its intellectual advancement. Regarding the question as to how can we discharge our responsibility of explaining the Qur’an and bringing its message home to the people, we can say that for tabyeen in its simplest form we should publish translations and commentaries of the Holy Book in all the important languages of the world and circulate them widely. So far as our obligation for tabyeen in its highest form is concerned, it cannot be properly and adequately discharged, as we have already suggested, unless we set up all over the Muslim world a network of such universities and academies as may concentrate on Qur’anic study and research, assigning it the central place in the scheme of their disciplines. Through standard institutions of this type we shall be able to explain the teachings of the Qur’an to the people of the modern world.

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