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RELIGION AND MODERNITY
All praise is to Allah, the Lord of all the universes—known
and unknown. He created the heavens and the earth and all that lies in between
To crown His creation, He breathed life, consciousness and intelligence along with intuitive moral sense in the dust of inert matter and made man in His own image. This most wonderful phenomenon - the emergence of life, intelligence and moral sense - which we are exhorted in the Qur’an to experience and verify in our own selves, is enough to inspire the unlettered as well as the sophisticated with a belief in an intelligent design unfolding itself in the seemingly mechanical working of nature.
Man is endowed with the entire wherewithal of an active participant in the creative processes of life. Only he has to appreciate himself—his intellect as well as intuition - which is the way to the recognition of Allah (“mun arafa nafsahu faqad arafa rabbahu”). He has to make a full use of his senses (the ear and the eye – (“as sama wal basar”) and also of the moral sense seated deep in his heart (“fu’ad”), intelligence, of course, being a subservient to both. The greatest impediment in the way of the proper use of the senses has been idolatry or worship of nature, and from the moment that Islam struck the final blow at it the way was cleared for the conquest and harnessing (“taskhir”) of matter and the progress of science.
But the attuning of man’s thought to the world of practical experience, weaning it away from myth, legend and sheer speculation and outlawing mockery and arbitrary inhibitions of all sorts, was accompanied by the collateral danger of man’s disregarding his moral sense. The danger is all the greater because man, in his shortsightedness, is apt to forget that the disregard of one (i.e., the moral) of the two complementary sides of his nature, is fraught not only with the disruption of peace and harmony among mankind but also with severe set-backs to the accumulation and fructification of scientific knowledge itself.
Hence, Islam occupied itself mainly with awakening and strengthening the sense of “ma’ruf” and “munkar” i.e., that which is known to man intuitively to be right and wrong. Further, while the physical and the material world was left for man to experiment with and probe and discover for himself through trial and error, Allah in His bounty sent down prophets and heavenly evidence so that man be spared any long, weary and wasteful effort in getting over the limitations of human thought and arriving at that universal outlook which is so essential for moral equilibrium and justice.
Allah did not create the world in vain - ‘in sport’ as the Hindu philosophers would assert. In particular, He created man so that he may by his voluntary conduct and self-discipline (al-Islam) show conformity to the moral laws (“Ibadat” in its full sense), which are as necessary for the maintenance of the integrity and the peaceful development of the world as are the physical laws of nature.
The integrity of the natural laws being guaranteed by Allah Himself, the maintenance of the moral laws, has been left to the initiative and active effort (“jihad”) of His vicegerent on earth.
Now man in this selfishness very often fails to realize constantly and effectively that any tampering with the moral laws has the same effect on the welfare of the human society as tampering with the law of gravity, for instance, would have for its physical safety. If man were only to remember this he would feel equally about violations of both kinds.
True, a thief suspends his belief in Allah and ceases to be a Muslim just at the moment that he is committing the theft. Otherwise he would not a dare do it (a saying of the Prophet, ). Similarly how curious indeed that we lose no time in apprehending those who pollute the water supply or indulge in acts of incendiarism but would not react in the same way against those who tell lies, backbite others, misappropriate money, acquire wealth through unsocial activities, or violate the moral restraints of the society.
The responsibility for keeping the society free from evil is both individual as well as collective, private as well as governmental—every individual acting in consort with all of his own way of thinking in all walks of life. In Islam an individual cannot escape the responsibility for any disruption of the moral system around him in the same way, as he cannot by himself be free from the effects of contamination of water and air.
A common fallacy is to try to offset the crimes against society with acts of ritual prayer, which is no different from showing formal allegiance while indulging in sabotage from within. This is discounted by the categorical warning that Allah is exalted above all sense of vainglory and that He would never allow Himself to be placated into condoning the wrongs done to fellow-creatures.
Another fallacy is to exult in evading cognition by law as if it were enough to dodge the physician in order to ensure good health. This relativity of an individual’s welfare to the universal pattern of moral existence makes imperative the prevention of “fasad” (dis-equilibrium) anywhere and at all times. And it is this prevention of fasad, which is the sole justification for war in Islam, aggression or defense in the modern technical sense being beside the point.
Therefore let us, the Muslims, make a ceaseless effort to strengthen our moral consciousness—our sense of maruf and mukar; let us learn to give primary importance to rectitude of behavior towards fellow-creatures and to make the same the acid test of the worth of our ritual obligations.
The technically advanced countries may some day have their moral consciousness revived by the horrors of science, once they failed to have it awakened by the wonders of the world. But the great danger confronting the underdeveloped nations enthusiastically girding up for the industrial take-off, is to think little of their cultural and spiritual heritage, if not to think of it as a scapegoat for industrial and material backwardness.
In this connection I would always remember a German war-frustrated colleague of mine at the Cairo University who would every now and then insist that he would exchange the material advancement of the West for the spirituality of the East.
I would not agree to the bargain. I would rather insist that, either he should borrow the spirituality of the East and add it to material advancement of the West or, in the alternative, he should lend his material advancement to me so that I may add it to what my friend called the spirituality of the East.
Unfortunately we often appear to be just begging and cringing for an exchange of the kind. Unfortunate also while the material advancement would elude us, we will only lose our moral and cultural values in the bargain. Unless we learn and practice what Islam really teaches.
[Voice of Islam,10:8]
Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756