Saturday, December 31, 2005
[Rencana ini berdasarkan nota-nota kasar kertas seminar di atas tajuk sama anjuran Jabatan Antropologi dan Sosiologi, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, pada 13 Oktober, 1982. Ia telah disiarkan dalam jurnal Akademia, No. 23, Julai, 1983.]
Sungguhpun ilmu-ilmu sejarah, politik, ekonomi dan sosiologi bidang-bidang kajian yang popular di negara kita, falsafah, malangnya, langsung tidak digemari. Setakat ini tidak ada fakulti falsafah di mana-mana universiti dalam negeri ini dan tidak ada pula, setahu saya, sebuah persatuan falsafah. Ini menunjukkan masyarakat dan universiti-universiti kita sekarang tidak mementingkan falsafah. Sebenarnya, falsafah bila-bila masa pun amat penting. Tidak ada satu bidang ilmu, malah tidak ada satu perkara yang boleh kita perkatakan secara bermakna tanpa, setidak-tidaknya secara tidak langsung, menyentuh falsafah. Apakah sebabnya? Secara ringkas, sebabnya ialah kerana bicara manusia tidak dapat tidak mestilah mengenai Alam, Manusia dan Tuhan; dan topik-topik ini boleh diringkaskan lagi kepada masalah Kewujudan dan Hakikat. Masalah Kewujudan atau Hakikat masalah metafisika dan falsafah. Semua cabang ilmu – baik sains tabii muhupun sains sosial – memperoleh statusnya sebagai ilmu kerana pertaliannya dengan metafisika dan falsafah.
Saya sedar ramai juga ahli sains yang menganggap metafisika sebagai tidak bermakna. Ahli-ahli falsafah pula berselisih tentang definisi dan fungsi falsafah. Bagi keperluan saya sekarang, saya akan menggunakan definisi falsafah berikut: “Falsafah ialah ilmu yang paling umum…ilmu prinsip-prinsip pertama mengenai kewujudan; andaian-andaian mengenai hakikat muktamad”. (D.D Runes, Dictionary of Philosophy). Walaupun ada aliran-aliran falsafah yang tidak menerima definisi ini, buat tujuan kita, definisi ini baik dan memadai. Kita boleh melihat daripada definisi ini bahawa bukan sahaja sains sosial tetapi semua ilmu dirangkumi dan mempunyai hubungan dengan falsafah, sama ada diakui atau tidak.
Secara kongkrit, apakah hubungan di antara sains sosial dengan falsafah? Oleh kerana sains sosial mengkaji masyarakat dan masyarakat terdiri daripada manusia, satu soalan pokok yang tidak dapat dielak ialah: Apakah manusia? Adakah ia haiwan? Berapa banyakkah aspek kehaiwanannya? Apakah faktor-faktor yang membangunkan aspek bukan-kehaiwanan? Bagaimanakah timbulnya masyarakat dan kelompok-kelompok? Apakah undang-undang sejarah, sosial dan moral yang menyebabkan perubahan masyarakat? Apakah kedudukan, peranan dan hubungan kedamaian dan konflik dalam perkembangan dan perubahan masyarakat? Apakah corak-corak masyarakat yang telah lalu dan akan datang? Sejauh manakah peranan kebebasan dan takdir dalam kehidupan manusia? Apakah sifat hakikat muktamad? Soalan-soalan ini menunjukkan bahawa ilmu-ilmu sains sosial, sama ada kita suka atau tidak, tidak boleh berdiri sendiri. Ia terpaksa dihubungkan dengan sesuatu falsafah atau tanggapan mengenai kewujudan , walaupun ilmu-ilmu itu sendiri menafikan hubungan ini. Ini tidak bermakna bahawa seorang ahli sains sosial atau seorang ahli sains dengan sendirinya mesti juga seorang ahli falsafah. Ia bermakna seseorang ahli sains, termasuk ahli sains sosial, mempunyai tanggapan-tanggapan falsafah.
Apakah tanggapan-tanggapan falsafah sosiologi di negara kita? Negara kita memiliki dua tradisi intelektual yang besar iaitu tradisi intelektual Barat dan tradisi intelektual Islam. Malangnya, kebanyakan kita daripada tiga generasi selepas Perang Dunia Pertama, daripada generasi Tunku Abdul Rahman atau Ishak Hj. Muhammad hingga ke generasi Anwar Ibrahim atau Latiff Mohidin, terdidik dalam tradisi intelektual Barat. Tentunya ini bukan kesalahan kita; sejarah telah menentukan demikian. Tradisi ini telah membentuk bukan sahaja alam pemikiran kita, tetapi juga mempengaruhi kelakuan kita.
Tradisi intelektual Barat, walaupun terbahagi kepada dua aliran besar (idealisme dan materialisme) mempunyai satu ciri yang sama, iaitu dualisme falsafah. Dualisme ini terletak pada pertengahan di antara fikiran dan badan, atau di antara kesedaran dan benda. Ia mempunyai akar umbi dalam falsafah Yunani lagi, tetapi mencapai bentuk yang jelas apabila Descartes (1596-1650) memulakan zaman moden dalam falsafah Barat. Dualisme falsafah ini mencetuskan dua aliran falsafah besar, iaitu idealisme dan materialisme, masing-masing dalam pelbagai pecahan yang diwakilinya, di satu pihak, oleh Berkely, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel dan Bradley dan di pihak lain, oleh Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Marx dan Russell. Kedua-dua aliran falsafah ini telah gagal menyelesaikan masalah hubungan di antara kesedaran dan benda.
Dualisme falsafah ini telah menyebabkan perpisahan dan menghalang integrasi di antara dua kaedah saintifik, kaedah empiris dan kaedah teoritis. Ia juga telah menyebabkan perpisahan dan menghalang integrasi di antara sains dan agama. Kaedah empiris menumpu kepada pemerhatian, penyiasatan dan pengumpulan data dan menolak pewujudan teori, sementara kaedah teoritis pula menumpu kepada pembuatan teori dan mencari data untuk membuktikan teori. Perpisahan dan ketiadaan integrasi di antara dua kaedah saintifik dan perpisahan dan ketiadaan integrasi di antara sains dan agama bukan sahaja telah menyebabkan kemandulan dalam ilmu-ilmu, tetapi juga telah menghapuskan keseimbangan dalam kehidupan.(1)
Sesuatu ilmu yang sihat mestilah menggabungkan kedua-dua kaedah saintifik ini. Tetapi penggabungan ini hanya dapat dilakukan oleh sebuah falsafah yang utuh. Persis inilah yang tidak ada dalam tradisi intelektual moden Barat. Francis Bacon (1561-1629) yang boleh dianggap bapa sains moden telah meletakkan asas sains dan pemikiran zaman Kebangkitan Semula di atas satu legenda atau mitos. Dalam bukunya On Principles and Origins (1623-24) beliau merujuk kepada sebuah legenda yang mengatakan Cupid ialah tuhan yang tertua dan wujud pada permulaan masa seorang diri bersama-sama dengan Kacau-Bilau (Chaos). Cupid, mengikut legenda ini, tidak mempunyai ibu-bapa dan Kacau-Bilau tidak mempunyai permulaan. Bacon mentafsirkan ketiadaan ibu-bapa sebagai ketiadaan apa-apa sebab dan dengan itu beliau meneka bahawa dengan “Kacau-Bilau” bermakna jirim muktamad adalah punca segala benda material yang wujud. Jirim muktamad ini, kata beliau, “ialah satu benda positif dan tidak boleh dihuraikan dan mestilah diterima secara mutlak sepertimana adanya dan tidak boleh dinilaikan mengikut apa-apa ukuran terdahulu.” “Adalah mustahil,” kata beliau, “untuk mencari atau menggandaikan sesuatu sebab bila kita berhadapan dengan tenaga muktamad dan undang-undang positif alam…kerana tidak lain yang telah merosakkan falsafah begitu banyak kecuali usaha mencari ibu-bapa Cupid: yakni ahli falsafah telah tidak menerima prinsip-prinsip benda sebagaimana terdapat di dalam alam, dan telah tidak menerima mereka sebagai satu doktrin positif bersandarkan kepada kepercayaan dari pengalaman-pengalaman; tetapi sebaliknya mereka lebih suka menariknya dari undang-undang perbahasan, kesimpulan-kesimpulan murah dari logik dan matematik, dari anggapan-anggapan masyarakat dan khayalan-khayalan fikiran demikian yang melampaui batasan-batasan alam.” (Urmson, 1960:310). Hobbes mengisytiharkan bahawa “Alam raya, yakni segala sesuatu yang ada itu, jasad, yakni badan, dan memiliki dimensi-dimensi luas, lebar dan dalam; tiap-tiap bahagian badan juga badan, dan memiliki dimensi-dimensi serupa, dan seterusnya tiap-tiap bahagian alam raya itu badan, dan bukan-badan bukanlah daripada alam raya.” Anggapan fikiran Renaissance menunjukkan bahawa yang wujud ialah dunia, dan tidak ada lain yang wujud kecuali dunia. Kepada sesiapa yang bertanya siapakah yang menjadikan dunia, jawapan yang telah dan sentiasa diberi ialah soalan ini tidak sah dan tidak saintifik! (Harris, !954:117-20).
Bila Descartes, pengasas falsafah moden Barat, bertolak daripada skeptisme yang mengingatkan al-Ghazali, memperakukan kewujudan dirinya daripada aktiviti fikirannya – Cogito, ergo sum: “saya berfikir, maka itu saya wujud” – beliau meletakkan asas falsafah kepada dualisme Zaman Kebangkitan Semula yang sejak itu terus menghantui falsafah Barat. Mengikut Descartes, dunia terdiri dari dua zat yang berasingan: fikiran dan jasad. Dari kewujudan dirinya dan dunia yang terbatas dan tidak sempurna, beliau, melalui proses logik, mencapai kejayaan menerangkan kewujudan seorang Tuhan yang tidak terbatas dan sempurna. Dari dualisme Descartes, falsafah Barat menuju dua arah: dari arah fikiran, ke Fikiran Mutlak atau Idealisme, dan dari arah jasad, ke Jirim Mutlak atau Materialisme. Pada praktiknya, kedua-dua aliran tidak dapat dipisahkan secara penuh: idealisme Hegel merangkumi jirim dan materialisme Marx tidak menolak fikiran.
Tradisi intelektual Islam kita, sebaliknya, tidak menghidap penyakit dualisme ini. S.H. Nasr berkata. “Falsafah Islam didasarkan pertamanya kepada metafisika dan hampir semua risalah mengenai falsafah tradisional memperkatakan asal dan kesudahan benda-benda yang melampaui pengetahuan manusia. Ahli-ahli falsafah Islam adalah golongan yang pertama menjadikan perbahasan tentang wujudnya pokok falsafah dan berusaha menghubungkan tiap-tiap benda yang wujud kepada Wujud Murni yang menjadi punca semua kewujudan. Tambahan lagi, di dalam perut metafisika, mereka mengembangkan sebuah falsafah alam yang luas dalam rangka satu pandangan dunia umum, mengemukakan satu hubungan yang rapat di antara pelbagai bentuk dan cabang ilmu-ilmu sains serta menghubungkan jamak kepada tunggal” (Dar, 1975:3). Ilmu-ilmu dan pelbagai aliran fikiran dilihat dalam satu gabungan kesatuan tauhid. Tidak wujud pertentangan di antara fikiran dan jasad dan tidak wujud pertentangan di antara agama dan sains atau di antara wahyu dan fikiran.
Bagaimanakah para saintis dan ahli falsafah Islam menyelesaikan masalah dualisme ini? Daripada mulanya mereka tidak menghadapi masalah ini. Agama Islam telah mewujudkan, bagi mereka, satu pandangan hidup tauhid rasional yang meletakkan semua dan segala pada sumber dan asas kesatuan wujud.(2) Agama mereka juga menyuruh mereka mengkaji alam semesta sebagai tanda-tanda Tuhan, mengkaji sejarah sebagai bukti wujudnya undang-undang Tuhan yang objektif dan mencari ilmu di mana juga ia ada. Dengan mematuhi arahan ini, orang-orang Islam dalam beberapa abad Islam awal bukan saja telah mengkaji dan mengasimilasi fikiran-fikiran Yunani, Parsi dan India, tetapi juga telah melakukan penyelidikan-penyelidikan dan penyiasatan-penyiasatan original mereka sendiri. Dengan demikian, dalam masa tiga abad mereka telah berjaya membangunkan satu tamadun intelektual yang agung dan kaya. Khazanah intelektual ini sebenarnya masih banyak terpendam dalam perpustakaan-perpustakaan di Eropah dan Asia Barat dan menunggu kajian oleh dunia moden. Satu daripada tugas besar yang perlu dilakukan dengan segera oleh sarjana-sarjana Islam ialah menterjemahkan dan menyediakan edisi-edisi saintifik bagi karya-karya ini.
Tetapi, malangnya, tradisi intelektual Islam ini telah beku bukan sahaja di negara kita bahkan di seluruh dunia Islam selama kira-kira tujuh abad. Kemusnahan pusat empayar Islam pertama Baghdad pada 1258 Masihi bolehlah diambil sebagai permulaan kejatuhan tamadun Islam dan kemerosotan tradisi intelektualnya yang dinamik dan kreatif. Perlahan-lahan, melalui hubungan-hubungan Eropah dengan Islam melalui Sepanyol, Itali dan Sicily, Eropah mengambil ilmu-ilmu yang telah dikumpul dan dibangunkan oleh tamadun Islam hingga pada abad keenam belas Kebangkitan Semula Eropah telah bermula dan berlaku. Lalu pusat dan pimpinan tamadun dunia berpindah dari dunia Islam ke Eropah, dan ke Barat, sejak abad kesembilan belas. Pada abad kedua puluh pula tamadun Barat sedang memainkan peranan negatif dan positif untuk membangkitkan semula Islam. Dengan mendidik cerdik pandai Islam seperti Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Syed Ahmad Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Muhammad Iqbal, Ali Shariati, Malek Bennabi dan Hassan Hanafi3 dan dengan membuat kajian-kajian mengenai pelbagai aspek tamadun Islam, Eropah dan Barat, mereka telah dan sedang memainkan peranan yang tidak kecil untuk membangkitkan semula Islam. Pada pendapat saya, masanya adalah tepat bagi pertemuan dua tamadun agung, dan, dengan itu, pertemuan semua tamadun. Falsafah moden Barat sedang di ambang pintu mencapai kejayaannya yang terbesar, iaitu penyelesaian dualisme klasiknya dengan falsafah organisme A.N. Whitehead (Harris, 1964:416-438). Pada pendapat saya, ini tidak dapat ia lakukan kecuali dengan pertolongan falsafah dan ajaran-ajaran Islam.4 Seperti telah kita sebutkan, falsafah Islam tidak pernah menderitai penyakit ini kerana al-Quran dengan jelas mengajar konsep kesatuan hidup.
Penyelesaian dualisme tua dalam falsafah Barat ini, tidak syak lagi, akan membawa kesan-kesan yang besar kepada sains sosial dan cawangan-cawangan ilmu yang lain. Ia akan menggabungkan aliran-aliran falsafah yang bertentangan, idealisme dan materialisme, menjadi satu falsafah saintifik rasional yang utuh; menggabungkan kaedah-kaedah mengetahui yang bertentangan, kaedah empiris, kaedah teoritis dan kaedah luar deria, menjadi satu kaedah saintifik rasional yang dinamik dan kreatif; dan menggabungkan sains, falsafah dan agama. Penyatuan ini akan mempermudah dan mempercepatkan perkembangan ilmu, kerana kontradiksi dualisme yang selama ini menghalangnya sudah disingkirkan dari pemikiran manusia.
Seperti telah dilihat, ahli-ahli fikir Renaissance mencapai gagasan falsafah mereka dengan berdasarkan pengalaman mereka, yakni apa yang mereka alami melalui pancaindera. Bertolak dari pengalaman mereka, mereka menggunakan akal fikiran untuk menarik kesimpulan-kesimpulan falsafah. Mereka sama sekali menolak agama dan kaedah-kaedah yang dipakai oleh tokoh-tokoh agama, misalnya nabi-nabi dan ahli-ahli sufi. Sebaliknya, ahli-ahli falsafah dan ahli-ahli sains Islam bertolak dari wahyu dan mencapai pengetahuan mengenai kewujudan Tuhan Yang Esa dan mengenai kesatuan alam. Walau bagaimana pun, mereka tidak pula menolak kewujudan alam yang relatif dan kejamakannya.5
Soalnya, apakah epistemologi yang berdasarkan pandangan dunia Renaissance ini munasabah? Adakah manusia mengetahui hanya melalui deria dan akalnya? Kita tahu bahawa deria dan akal hanya mencapai dunia yang bersifat material. Tetapi sejarah telah membuktikan kewujudan pengalaman-pengalaman di luar deria yang banyak, seperti pengalaman-pengalaman para nabi, ahli sufi dan mistik. Pengalaman-pengalaman ini tidak boleh ditolak tanpa menodai konsep sains sendiri, yakni mengiktiraf kenyataan, walaupun bertentangan dengan kepercayaan-kepercayaannya sendiri. Juga telah ditegaskan bahawa ilham – satu cara mengetahui di luar deria dan akal – memainkan peranan penting dalam perkembangan bukan sahaja seni dan falsafah tetapi juga sains (Sorokin, 1963:247-48). Selain daripada itu, penemuan-penemuan mutakhir kaji fizik telah meragukan kebendaan jirim yang dipercayai oleh sains sejak abad ketujuh belas; sekarang atom tidak lagi bersifat material (Jeans, 1954:383). Lebih jauh dari itu, ahli kajifizik terkenal, Sir James Jeans, mengaku bahawa “…kita tidak akan memperoleh pengetahuan yang pasti mengenai sifat hakikat” (1954:364).6 Jelaslah epistemologi lama yang membataskan sumber-sumber pengetahuan kepada deria dan akal tidak meliputi semua pengalaman manusia yang sempit, dan tidak boleh menjelaskan masalah hakikat.
Kita telah melihat bahawa in masalah falsafah bukan masalah sains sosial atau sains dalam ertikata satu bdang kajian terbats mengeani satu aspek hakikat, seperti manusia atau alam tabi’i. Sains Barat, termasuk sains sosial, seperti telah kita lihat, berlandaskan falsafah naturalisme atau materialisme, dan , dengan itu, telah memutuskan hubungan dengan alam spiritual atau supernatural. Dengan demikian, sains ini tidak mampu mencapai alam-alam spiritual atau supernatural. Inilah sebabnya ia menghadapi jalan buntu, seperti telah diakui oleh Sir James Jeans. Jelaslah bahawa jalan keluar dari kebuntuan ini ialah dengan kembali kepada kebenaran dan kepada jalan Islam yang lurus. Tetapi kembali kepada Islam tidak bermakna kembali kepada Islam popular atau “Islam baka”. Sejarah telah menunjukkan ada beberapa agama yang mengongkong ilmu pengetahuan dan akal. Bahkan dunia moden Barat yang lahir dari Renaissance persis adalah hasil perjuangan-perjuangan pahit menentang teologi Kristen yang menekan dan sempit. Sejarah demikian tidak boleh dan tidak akan diulang. Agama Islam yang dimaksudkan adalah agama seperti yang diterangkan dalam ayat-ayat Quran yang telah disebutkan. Daripada ajaran-ajaran agama seperti inilah kita boleh mengembang dan menyempurnakan suatu falsafah saintifik yang utuh yang boleh menjadi landasan kuat kepada perkembangan sains sosial dan malah semua ilmu.
(1) Krisis di dalam pelbagai bidang ilmu dan kehidupan yang dihadapi oleh dunia moden sejak beberapa dekad lalu telah diceritakan dengan baik dan ringkas di dalam buku Sorokin (1941). Lihat juga satu siri empat artikel yang menarik berjudul “Second Thoughts About Man” dalam majalah Time keluaran 2, 9, 14 dan 23 April, 1973.
(2) Ayat-ayat Quran yang menyatakan atau membayangkan hal ini amat banyak. Antaranya: “Tiada kami ciptakan langit dan bumi dan segala yang ada di antara keduanya kecuali dengan kebenaran” (46:3). “Tidakkah mereka yang mengingkari kebenaran sedar bahawa langit dan bumi (pada asalnya) satu, kemudian kami pisahkan keduanya?” (21:30).
(3) Malek Bennabi dan Hassan Hanafi tidak begitu terkenal di negara kita. Yang pertama (m.1973) ialah seorang sarjana Aljazair yang masyhur yang telah memainkan peranan penting dalam kebangkitan intelektual di Afrika Utara. Yang Kedua (lahir 1935) ialah seorang ahli falsafah Mesir yang radikal.
(4) Seorang ahli falsafah moden Mesir telah berkata: “The European conscience was divided into divergent trends, irreparably severed and disjointed. All efforts at synthesis between the two opposite trend failed…A Human view is always unilateral despite gestaltism, integralism and totalism. Only Islam can direct the conscience to keep focus of things, the integrality of truth and to keep the balance between extremes. Islamic monotheism can guide the European conscience ini its wilderness and aberration and guide it towards the focus of reality.” (Hassan Hanafi, 1977: 67-8).
(5) “Tiada Kami ciptakan langit dan bumi dan segala yang ada di antara keduanya kecuali dengan benarnya dan untuk satu tempoh yang ditentukan .” (Quran,46:3) “Katakanlah: “Sekiranya samudera itu tinta untuk menuliskan kata-kata Tuhanku, pastilah ia kering sebelum habis kata-kata Tuhanku dituliskan, sekalipun Kami datangkan sebanyak itu lagi sebagai tambahan.” (Quran, 18:109).
(6) Banyak ayat Quran telah menjelaskan hal ini. Di antaranya: “Tiada Ia tercapai oleh penglihatan mata, tetapi Ia mencapai segala penglihatan” (6:103). “Tiada suatu pun menyerupai-Nya”(42:11). “Katakan: “Tiada siapa di langit dan di bumi mengetahui hakikat yang tersembunyi, kecuali Allah.” (27:65).
(7) Islam dalam ertikata intinya telah dijelaskan dalam Quran sebagai “jalan yang lurus”, “jalan keselamatan”, “agama kebenaran”, “undang-undang alam”, “cahaya Allah”, “kebenaran” dan sebagainya. “Pimpinlah kami ke jalan yang lurus, jalan mereke yang Kaukurniakan nikmat, bukan mereka yang Kaumurkai, dan bukan mereka yang sesat.” (1: 6-7) “Hadapkanlah wajahmu dengan khusyuk kepada agama yang betul. Demikianlah naluri semula jadi yang telah diletakkan Tuhan pada manusia. Tiada perubahan dalam penciptaan Tuhan. Demikian itulah agama yang benar, tetapi kebanyakan manusia tiada mengetahui.” (30: 30) “Dialah Yang mengutus rasul-Nya dengan bimbingan dan agama kebenaran supaya ia mengatasi semua agama lain, walaupun tida disukai oleh orang-orang musyrik.” (9: 33) “Mereka ingin memadamkan cahaya Allah dengan mulut mereka, tetapi Allah hendak menyempurnakan cahaya-Nya, walaupun tidak disukai oleh orang-orang kafir.” (9: 32) “Dengannya (yakni Quran), Tuhan membimbing sesiapa yang mencari keredaan-Nya ke jalan-jalan keselamatan, mengeluarkan mereka dari gelap kepada terang dengan izin-Nya dan membimbing mereka ke jalan yang lurus.” (5: 16)
Sorokin, P.A. (1941). The Crises of Our Age, New York.
Sorokin, P.A. (1964). Modern Historical and Social Philosophies, New York.
Jeans, Sir James (1954). Some Problems of Philosophy. Dalam Saxe Commins & Robert N. Linscott (ed.). The Philosophers of Science, New York.
Urmson, J.O. (1960). The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers, New York.
Harris, Errol E. (1954). Nature, Mind and Modern Science, London.
Dar, B.A. (ed) (1975). Reorientation of Muslim Philosophy, Lahore.
Hassan Hanafi (1977). Religious Dialogue and Revolution, Cairo.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
(Last of Four Parts)
Take the case of the recent Gulf War, with its attendant results of starvation for the whole Iraqi population. Is Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government alone to blame for the so-called aggression against Kuwait, when we now know that the war could have been avioded had the Anglo-American neo-imperialists not had their way? Why did the United Nations Security Council go along with these two powerful members? Why was the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) unable to play its proper role to find a peaceful solution acceptable to both sides? Why did Russia and China, both veto-bearing members of the Security Council, not stop the war when they actually had the power to? Why did Saudi Arabia lend its territory for the conduct of Anglo-American aggression against Iraq? Why did Iran, Egypt, Syria and Turkey, important regional powers, not acted together to stop the war? These questions suggest the answer: current international community’s failure to act morally on the basis of principles.
Similarly, we must understand the so-called natural disasters. God relates to us in the Quran the stories of disbeliving peoples of intiquity, the people of Noah, the people of Hud , the people of Pharaoh’s Egypt among them, who were destroyed by these “natural disasters”. They were no more or no less natural than God’s punishments to them for their transgressions against His commands. If, as we are told in the Quran, that everything in heaven and earth submits to God, sings His praises and obeys His commands, 50 we must inevitably conclude that these destructive natural forces are behaving exactly as God wills them to do, when they occur. In short, they are punishments from God for our errant ways to make us remember Him and return to obeying Him. 51
The question that arises is why the victims should include the innocent, especially children and old people. To answer this puzzle, one must consider several matters. Firstly, although a person’s life is declared sacred by God, that life is to be served and sacrificed for the purposes of establishing truth and justice. Thus, truth and justice are higher than individual lives so that the principle of sacrificing lives for these noble ends is right and of paramount importance. In fact, it is this sacrifice that will guarantee the continuance of life. 52 It is also this that gives rise to the concept of martyrdom. Secondly, both good and evil are divine instruments to test man’s fidelity to God. Thus, they are to be seen in this relative, and not absolute, context. Thirdly, man is not only an individual; he is also a collective. While he must bear the responsibilty of his own actions, he is also responsible for the actions of the collective. For instance, a good socio-economic order will benefit his children and descendents, just as a bad one will harm them. In this perspective, several human generations are, in terms of responsibilty, linked together. What the older generation does or fails to do will be reaped by the younger generation.
Looked at from this perspective, the human family is one. They must either do good together, or they will suffer together. No individual is free from the collective and no individual is completely blameless. This would explain the necessary sacrifice that the relatively innocent members of the human family must make for the sins of the other members in the process of attaining felicity for itself. This understanding would encourage man to realize the extreme importance of his fidelity to God and of leading a moral existence.
Man must, thus, first commit himself to the belief that the universe is lawful before his mind can be harnessed to explain that conception. In other words, man must have faith in God and this faith is concurrent with his higher reason. It is for this reason that religion, a supra-rational conception, has existed from the beginning of time. This is because every society consists of individuals. The collective, at one end, and the individual, at the other, exist side by side, each working on and influencing the other.
In order to create the good society, the individuals must first be good. As God is the source of of all good, the individual must imbue himself with the attributes of goodness. This is the true aim and function of the Muslim rituals of prayer, fasting, obligatory charity and the pilgrimage to Mecca: to cleanse oneself of impurities and to be close to God. 53 As individuals can become corrupt through imbibing corrupt attributes, so can society. Corrupt societies must therefore be reformed or changed by reformed or changed individuals. This is a truth that we sometimes forget, thinking that in order to change society, we must change the system, forgetting that the system itself came into being through our own creative actions.54 Thus, the sovereign individual creative activity is of signal importance in changing society.
Amidst his busy daily schedule, Prophet Muhammad was told to praise God and to pray to Him; he was further told to perform the superrerogatory midnight prayer of tahajjud. Why? Because man is apt to be sucked into his worldly affairs, leaving him little time for reflection and contemplation of the larger aims of life. In this way, he would forget the Hereafter, which is truely the more important world for him.
The Muslim five daily prayers are indeed a beauty of form and spirit combined. First, its times are strategic, combining discipline, vigour and regularity. Rising early at dawn, the first thing you do is to perform your first prayer of the day. Then you are off to work. Then breaking for lunch at one o’ clock, you perform your second prayer, and then you continue your work. The third prayer is performed in the evening before you go for games or some other excercise. Then the fourth prayer before your dinner. Before you retire to bed for the day, you perform your last prayer. The timing is the very perfection of discipline and regularity. So are the movements: washed and clean-clad, you stand reverently facing the Ka`abah, the earthly House of God, in Mecca, and you bow down and prostrate to the Only One deserving of prostration. Again the content of your prayer, the Fatihah 55 is beauty itself. The prayer is the individual’s perpetual return to God.
You can pray alone in the privacy of your house, or you can join the congregation in a nearby mosque, with the exception of the weekly Friday Prayer. This prayer which is a congregational prayer is performed on Fridays at the time of , and replacing, the noon prayer. It is not only a prayer; it is a prayer combined with a social gathering, with the sermon taking the place of a discussion and a debate on social issues. Thus, the Muslim prayers afford the people not only access to their Lord and Creator, but also to themselves. Thus, the personal and the social elements are nicely combined.
As in prayers, so in the other religious devotions of fasting, charity and the pilgrimage. The aim is both personal cleansing and social intercourse necessary for the fostering of the good society. For example, today the Muslim pilgrimage to the House of God in Mecca, rebuild by Abraham and Ismail, in commemoration of Abraham’s and Ismail’s sacrifice, attracts a yearly attendance of around two million people from all over the world. It is a vast concourse of human beings and affords a golden opportunity for developing, spreading and deepening the spirit of internationalism, humanism and cooperation among nations.
Unfortunately, it must seriously be recorded here, that the beautiful teachings of monotheism of the great teachers of the true religion -- Moses, Jesus and Muhammad among them -- have been invariably distorted by their later followers. The Jews rejected the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad and considered themselves exclusively as the Chosen People of God, and thereby opted for the world-view of racism. The Christians rejected the prophethood of Muhammad and deified Jesus, resulting in the same exclusive world-view. Following closely in their footsteps, the Muslims idolized Muhammad, turning him into the favourite of God and greatest prophet and putting him next to God, 56 ending with the same resultant world-view of exclusivism. Thus, one originally monotheistic universalist teaching 57 became three, each claiming to possess the truth to the exclusion of the others, and all antagonistic towards one another.
For more than forty years the world has witnessed a deviating Western Christian community allying itself with a deviating Jewish community in a colonial-settler state of Israel, set up by the United Nations, to suppress a deviating Muslim Arab community. What a triangle of entanglements! All originating from the same teaching of monotheism! Surely, such chaos cannot be the finishing point of history, as the ideologue of capitalist liberalism, Francis Fukuyama, would have us believe.
Our essay which postulates the meaningfulness of life cannot conclude at the point of perhaps the greatest chaos in human history, the post-Cold War period. As man gropes for light during the waning years of the Twentieh Century, he cannot but expect to be severely punished for yet another transgression after his severe beating in the past two world wars. Can man doubt that his saviour is God, the Most Merciful? This third beating will definitely bring him back to God and to a more just and peaceful world, seeing that he has thoroughly experimented with the world-views of materialism and ascetism and failed. The way is now open for the world-view of Islam, not the Islam of the theologians, but the Islam of the prophets 58, whose teachings are completed and perfected in the Grand Quran. How much pain and suffering man would have spared himself had he heeded the call of God to follow the Quran earlier on his journey through the world!
50) “Glorifying Him are the seven universes, the earth and everyone in them. There is nothing that does not glorify Him, but you do not comprehend their glorification. He is Clement and Forgiver.” (Bani Israel: 44) “His dominion encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him.He is the Most High, the Great.” (Al-Baqara: 255) Everyone in the heavens and earth glorifying God includes those parts of man that he, mercifully, has no control of, like the workings of his body, especially the brain and the liver.
51) “We tested them with prosperity and hardship that they may return.” (Al-A’raf : 168)
52) The Quran often makes this point. Consider this: “O you who believe, you shall respond to God, and to the messenger when he invites you to that which grants you life.” (Al-Anfal: 24) This chapter deals with the Battle of Badr, the first battle that Muhammad and his small band of followers had to fight. But, in
terms of Muhammad’s mission, it was a very important and decisive battle, where a small, ill-trained and ill-equipped force of 313 people beat a bigger and militarily superior force of 1,000. The battle proved the superiority of moral power over material power. Hence, the battle is also referred to in the Quran as the Day of Discrimination. (Verse 41) Thus, the verse we have quoted means that fighting and dying in the cause of God, i.e. in the cause of justice and truth, is fighting to uphold the dignity of human lives. However, the clearest expression of this principle is given in this verse: “God has bought from the believers their lives and their money in exchange for Paradise. Thus, they fight in the cause of God, willing to kill and get killed. Such is His truthful pledge in the Torah, the Gospel and the Quran, and who fulfils His pledge better than God? You shall rejoice in making such an exchange. This is the greatest triumph. (Al-Taubah: 111)
53) “Surely, the salat prayers keep one away from evil works and vice, and the rememberance of God is the greatest thing.” (Al-`Ankabut: 45)
54) This historical law is stated in the Quran thus: “God does not remove a blessing He has bestowed upon any people unless they themselves decide to change.” (Al-Anfal: 53) “God does not change the condition of any people unless they themselves make the decision to change.” (Al-Ra’ad: 11)
55) The first chapter of the Quran, called Al-Fatihah, translated as “The Opening” or “The Key” is a whole prayer, consisting of seven short verses and containing two parts: a hymn to God and a supplication for His help, guidance and blessings.
56) Most Muslims will vehemently deny that they have idolized Muhammad, because they have done so without realizing it. Not only the so-called hadith extol him as the the favourite of God and the greatest prophet, in clear violation of Quranic injuctions not to discriminate between God’s prophets, but several Quranic verses have been misused and misinterpreted to achieve this effect. Verse 56 of Surah 33, which calls upon Muslims to support and respect the Prophet (the Arabic word is salla, usually translated as `to bless’) is the main vehicle for this idolization. Taken in its proper context, the verse simply means that a leader fighting in God’s cause has the support and blessings of God and His angels and that it is the duty of his followers to support and respect him. To gain this understanding, one should read this verse along with verse 43 of the same surah (where God and His angels bless and support the Muslims) and verse 103 of Surah 9 (where the Prophet was told to support and bless his followers).
57) Most Muslims labour under the wrong impression that Muhammad is the prophet of Islam. Actually all prophets, from Adam, through Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, ending in Muhammad, teach the same true religion of Islam (whose basic teaching is: `There is no god but Allah; worship Him alone.’). The laws and rituals differ, according to time and place, but the basic teaching is the same. “We did not send any messenger before you except with the inspiration: `There is no god except Me; you shall worship Me alone.’ ” (Al-Anbia: 25) Regarding multiplicity of laws and rituals: “For each of you We have decreed laws and methodologies. Had God willed, He could have made you one congregation. But He does puts you to the test through His revelations to you. Therefore, you shall race towards righteousness.” (Al-Ma’idah: 48)
58) The majority of the Muslims, about three hundred years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, deviated from the teachings of the Quran to follow the teachings of their religious scholars, precisely like the Jews and the Christians. This is the main reason for their downfall. Now they must return to the Quran
Friday, December 23, 2005
(Third of Four Parts)
That is the right way of looking at society and civilization. All societies and civilizations contain both good and bad ideas and practices. When the good predominate over the bad, that society and civilization grow. Once the bad predominate, and no action is taken by its members to reverse the trend, that society and civilization is destroyed, and new societies and civilizations are born to take over from where the old left off. 32 Thus, we see the old civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt giving birth to Greek, then to Roman; then the Arabs under Islamic inspiration took over, inheriting from all the then civilizations, including those of Persia, India and China. Then modern Europe took over from the Arabs around the 15th century and carried forward the flag of civilization to all parts of the world through trade and colonization. In the 20th century that civilization is facing doom again for having regressed morally and spiritually, with two world wars already past, and a new world war looming.
Will the world be destroyed, along with what we call modern civilization, as Bertrand Russell, has forecast? 33 Under the present conditions of widespread pessimism and despair, it is easy to agree with Russell. The good Alija Izetbegovic had come under the spell of that post-war pessimism before he fought the good fight for Bosnia-Herzergovina, and, let it be said, for all humanity, as the brave Iraqis and others who have stood up against the technological might of the modern-day Goliath. No! Morality and right reason cannot agree to this forecast of despair. History is our evidence. If mankind had no other destiny but to be destroyed, then it should have been destroyed a long time ago. 34 How many times in history has the fate of man hung in the balance between continuity and total destruction? The fact that man has survived the many occurrences of major floods and earthquakes, big storms and fires, widespread epidemics and diseases in antiquity and medieval times, when modern science and technology was not yet at his disposal is evidence enough of the existence of a grand divine scheme in which his great destiny is placed. Now that man has greater grasp of natural and historical laws than ever before, it is less likely that he is targeted for total annihilation.
For that matter, life on earth itself is a miracle, as science has shown. The possibility of its occurance is so minimal that explanation of its non-existence is easier than that of its emergence. 35 Therefore, it is inevitable for us to conclude that mankind has a destiny beyond and far greater than any human being or even any human generation can know. It is thus important that man should understand this and put himself at the service of this destiny, in other words, at the service of God. 36
Actually, we must understand that there exists two plans for the world: God’s Grand Design and the devil’s evil design. God’s design is to put man in His Paradise, whereas the devil’s design is to put him in Hell. These plans weave and intertwine the historical fabric of man’s life in this world. In so far as he puts himself in the service of God and carrying out God’s design, he succeeds; in so far as he fails and puts himself at the service of the devil, he suffers. Man’s successes accumulate; his sufferings are temporary, although often repetitive. Ultimately, God’s Grand Design will prevail, since the moral nature of the universe and of man is the fundamental basis of existence, as we have seen. The role of man, using his freedom, is to realize God’s Grand Design with as little pain and suffering and in as little time as possible. In a morally-bound universe, God gives man moral freedom and lets him decide his own fate.
This fundamental truth is graphically illustrated in the story of Joseph and his brothers, where his brothers planned some evil for Joseph, while God had planned good for him. The first part of the story finds Joseph thrown into dire circumstances, culminating in his being accused of molesting the beautiful wife of the Egyptian governor, in whose house he was a trusted servant, and being wrongfully imprisoned for it. The latter part of the story finds Joseph freed from imprisonment and honoured in Egypt and reunited with his old father, Jacob, and his erstwhile jealous but now-repentant brothers. 37
Here we naturally come to the question of the occurrence of miracles and of divine revelation. How do we scientifically explain miracles, miracles being defined as `supernatural’ events? How do we explain the Quran and other divine books? Is the Quran Muhammad’s composition, as some Westsern orientalists assert? If not, was Muhammad simply a passive recipient of the message? Does God intervene in natural processes? If He does, does this not make a mockery of His own law? What is law? And, finally, what is God?
All the above questions are no doubt related. We cannot try to answer some, while ignoring others that seem to us intractable. But we cannot assert the principles of rationality and science unless we try to answer them. It seems to us that we must attempt to answer them to the best of our ability. Let us take the questions of miracles and divine revelation first.
What we call `natural’ as opposed to `supernatural’ is simply what our cognizance (both sensory and rational) tell us is the order of things, or what we call the natural order. But our natural order belongs to a specific category of created beings, i.e. this material world, with its spatio-temporal dimension. Time and space exist for us, but it does not exist for God. Even for us, during sleep or during loss of consciousness, we are not aware of time and space. Time and space, therefore, are not absolute realities. They only exist under certain circumstances but do not under certain other circumstances. Once we grasp this truth, we remove the iron-clad separation between the two categories of the `natural’ and the `supernatural’. Thus, when Moses’s stick turned into a serpent, it was a case of the encapsulation of time: the matter, stick (standing for the vegetable world), turned into the being, serpent (standing for the animal world which comes into being immediately after that), without the normal intervening time.
Now, if a stick can turn into a serpent, what is there to stop just anything from happening? Can your enemy destroy you by just wishing evil for you? Can you obtain good by just wishing? In other words, is the world capricious, or is it lawful? This is a basic question. Man has had to answer this question right from the start. For to live, and go on living, the first human beings, as do all human beings, must believe that living is worthwhile. This belief, in a way, is not based on reason. It is based on an instinctive feeling, the feeling that the world is good, and behind the good world is a good and loving Creator. This basic feeling in a human being is natural to him. 38 This is the basis of the right religion of man, as this verse states:
Therefore, you shall devote yourselves to the religion of strict monotheism. Such is the natural instinct placed in the people by God. Such creation of God will never change. This is the perfect religion, but most people do not know. 39
Thus, although there is no absolute barrier between the natural and the supernatural, the universe is not capricious, but lawful, created and ruled by a lawful, rational, good and compassionate God. Therefore, the existence of evil in the world is both contingent and temporary. It is contingent upon man’s rebellion against God, and temporary upon man’s struggle against evil. Once man stops rebelling against God and fights against evil, man’s victory over evil is assured and complete. When this condition is achieved, the Hereafter comes into being with its Paradise (God’s Kingdom) and its Hell (the state of exile from God’s Kingdom).
The phenomena of revelation cannot be explained except in the context of a rational and moral universe. Neither can the prophet-messengers, among whom number the greats among them -- Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad -- be conceived as passive recipients of the revelations. Because God is Compassionate, He continuously sends messages to human communities from the earliest times to guide them. 40 Obviously, He must choose His message-bearers from among the morally-commited individuals of each community. Muhammad, whose life-history we know, is a good example of a morally-committed individual chosen to carry His final message to mankind. Thus, Muhammad’s moral and intellectual qualities rendered him suitable to receive the great message.
That does not mean, however, that with Muhammad, God stopped communicating with human beings. Such a belief would severely restrict God’s overwhelming attribute of mercy. 41 The Quran tells us in no uncertain terms that Muhammad was the last propohet. 42 That simply means that the era of prophethood, beginning with Adam, representing the earliest human communities, came to an end with Muhammad, as mankind enters the international stage and the true Age of Science, when prophets are no longer required. 43 This does not mean that at that point God stops communicating with man. 44 We are told that God is ever active and all the time intervening in the affairs of the world. 45 Only now man, having reached the stage of spiritual adulthood, has to rely more on his mind and science to continue his journey. However, he has God’s final scripture, the Grand Quran, with him to guide him on his onward journey. 46
There has been a notion that man, using his mind alone, can arrive at a correct understanding of universal laws, implying that God’s guidance is not necessary. 47 The facts, however, have not borne this out. It is now generally agreed that the 18th century so-called Age of Reason has been a failure. It had not realized the high hopes that it engendered. Rather it culminated in colonialism, wars of colonialism and peaked in the 20th century’s two terrible world wars of imperialism. The closing decades of the 20th century, in fact, witnessed a renewed interest in religion, precisely because of the spiritual and moral failures of modern Western civilization.
Reason is actually a double-edged weapon. Is it the reason of the mind, or the reason of the body? The philosophers of the so-called European Enlightenment, notably Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Thomas Malthus understood and analysed it as the reason of the body. Others, like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant and Hegel concieved it as the reason of the mind. However, the former interpretation carried the day and landed Europe, and the world with it, in the clutches of its own evil works.
At this jucture, we should perhaps examine the phenomenon of what is called divine punishment. Punishment must, of course, be paired with reward. One cannot exist without the other. Since this world is part of a rational, lawful and moral universe, we can be certain that good works will be rewarded and evil works punished fully in this life as well as in the Hereafter (which stand for our infinite future life). We know that human laws are not always just and that criminals are not always apprehended and adequately punished in this world. Conversely, in this world, good works are not always, nor adequately, rewarded. Therefore, it only stands to reason to expect that both the rewards and punishments will be fully executed in the Hereafter. 48
This far is clear. But what about the so-called “natural disasters”, like earthquakes, storms, floods, fires, epidemics and diseases, which, in total, have claimed many thousands, even millions, of human lives, including those of the innocent? What about the wars, especially the two world wars? Even as we pose the question, the answer seems to emerge. The answer is: human failure to act morally and to act in obedience to God. 49
32 This historical law of the carrying forward of good ideas and practices in human society in stated in the Quran thus: “He sends down water from the sky, causing the valleys to overflow. The rapids produce abundant foam. Similarly, when they use fire to refine metals for their jewellery or equipment, foam is produced. God thus cites analogies for truth and falsehood. As for the foam, it goes to waste, while that which benefits the people stays close to the ground.” (Al-Ra`ad: 17)
33 See note 7.
34 “If God were to punish the people for their transgressions, He would have annihilated every creature on earth. But He respites them for a specific predetermined time. Once their interim ends, they cannot delay it by a single moment, nor can they hasten it.” (Al-Nahl: 61)
35 Many modern biologists who have devoted years of studies to the phenomenon of life have concluded that life is a miracle. Man cannot create life. (See A.A. Izetbegovic, Ibid., pp. 22-31.) The Quran informed us that only God can create life a long time ago: “O people, here is a parable that you must consider carefully: the idols you call upon besides God can never create a fly, even if they banded together to do so. Furthermore, if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it; weak is the pursuer and the pursued.” (Al-Hajj: 73)
36 The whole complete life of man is to be devoted to God alone is succintly summed up in this verse: “Say, ‘My prayers, my worship, my life and my death all belong to God, Lord of the universe. He has no partner. This is what I am commanded to believe and I am the first to submit.’ ” (Al-An`am: 162-63)
37 Quran, Yusuf: 4-102.
38 “Recall that your Lord summoned all the descendents of Adam and had them bear witnees for themselves: `Am I not your Lord?’ They all said, `Yes. We bear witness.’ Thus, you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, `We were not aware of this.’ Nor can you say, `It was our parents who practised idolatory, and we simply followed in their footsteps. Will you punish us for the sins of innovators?’ We thus explain the revelations to enable them to return.” (Al-A’raf: 172-74)
39 Al-Rum: 30
40 “ To every community, a messenger. Once their messenger comes, they are judged equitably without the least injustice.” (Yunus: 47)
41 “He said, `My retribution is incurred by whomever I wish, but My mercy encompasses all things.’ ” (Al-A’raf: 156)
42 “Muhammad was not the father of any man among you. He was a messenger of God and the final prophet.” (Al-Ahzab: 40)
43 “... the Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the modern world. In him life discovers other sources of knowledge suitable to its new direction. The birth of Islam ... is the birth of the inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in descovering the need of its own abolition ...” (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 126)
44 “Possessor of high ranks, the Ruler of the whole dominion, He sends inspiration, bearing His commands, to whomever he chooses from among His servants, to warn of the Day of Gathering.” (Gahfir: 15)
45 See note 27.
46 In the understanding of the Quran, of course, man needs God’s guidance. Although, the Quran is the same Quran as that used by the Prophet and his Companians, its understanding in the modern context must necessarily differ. This is what is referred to in the Quran as hikmah or wisdom, i.e. a rational interpretation of its message. Although classical tafsir has assigned the role of interpretation to the Prophet, this is not an accurate meaning of the Quranic texts. An overall understanding would assign God as the ultimate teacher of the Quran. (See Quran, Al-Rahman: 1-2; Al-Mudathir: 19 & Al-Ra`ad: 2) Read with other relevant verses, these would mean that God will expalin the meanings of His message through people whom He selects from every generation.
47 We refer to the philosophical romance by the Muslim philosopher Ibn Tufail (1109-1185) where the main character, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, marooned in an uninhabited island, discovered God through the sheer use of his reasoning. See The Journey of the Soul: The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan (trans. Riad Kocache), The Octagon Press, London, 1982.
48 “ That is the day when they will be completely exposed; none of them will hide anything from God. To whom belongs all kingship on that day? To God, the One, the Supreme. On that day, every soul will be paid for whatever it earned. There will be no injustice on that day. God is most efficient in reckoning.” (Quran, Ghafir: 16-17)
49 “Anything good that happens to you is from God, and anything bad that happens to you is from you.” (Quran, Al-Nisa’: 79) This verse should not be understood as meaning that there exist things outside of God’s creation. Evil is a consequence of man’s rebellion against God, in accordance with His laws. This verse alone throws abundant light on the occurance of the so-called natural disasters. Further, consider these: “Say, `Who can protect you from the calamities of the land and the sea?’ You implore Him loudly as well as secretly: `If only He saves us this time, we shall indeed be grateful.’ Say, `God saves you this time, and other times as well, then you still set up idols besides Him.’ Say, `He is able to pour upon you retribution from above you, or from beneath your feet, or He can divide you into factions and have you taste each other’s tyranny and persecution.’ Note how We explain the revelations that they may understand.” (Al-An`am: 63-65)
Saturday, December 17, 2005
[Second of four parts]
Thus, it seems clear that we cannot take life to mean our brief earthly life. This earthly life, important as it is, is simply a stage in a man’s long journey to ascend to towards his Maker, and to share in His perfection and freedom. The earthly life is an important prepatory period for the coming stages of his almost immortal life. 16
At this point, it is pertinent to raise the question of time and space. Civilization, as far as we know, is about five thousand years old, and man about a million years. Is this flow of time fixed? Could it have happened faster? If it could, what are the determining factors? Since Einstein and Heisenberg, physics has answered for us that both time and space are not fixed or static; they are relative and elastic. 17 The Quran has also revealed to us this fact a long time ago. 18 So, mankind could have progressed in an all-round way in a much shorter time and with much less pain and suffering than it has taken. The conditions are that man must exert himself , first morally and spiritually and, of course, also mentally and physically to make the world safe and better for himself. The whole universe has been created for him. 19 The earth and the whole universe is both a test of his fidelity to God as well a battle-ground for the realization of his fullest potential as God’s vicegerent. 20
Let us have a brief practical look at time and space. We know of the slow development of transportation from intiquity to very recent times. First, we moved on our bare legs and carried things on poles; then we harnessed the domasticated animals, like horses, camels and dogs, and used slide cars and sleighs; we also invented the raft; then came a big invention: the wheel and the use of roads; we also harnessed the wind and invented sailing ships. All these took us from the beginning up to recent times, that is, about two hundred years ago. Then from stemships, to engines, to locomotives and to nuclear-powered ocean-liners and rocket-ships, it is pretty quick development, only around 150 years. The next 50 to 100 years will bring yet more astonishing developments. Man has not only conquered the earth; he has already begun to conquer space! All these are taking place, of course, in the Quranic phrase, “with God’s leave”, that is, in accordance with His will or His law. 21
From the earliest times, man has puzzled over the question of freedom and determination. How free and determined are we in our actions? Coupled with this question is the question of Evil. If God is all-powerful, why does evil exist? How can an all-compassionate God allow the genocide in
That man, to some extent, has freedom of action is proved by his ability to act freely in certain circumstances. For instance, he can choose his place of residence, his work or profession, his food and clothes, his life-partner and many other things. But to a great extent, a man, especially an ordinary man, without influence and power, cannot prevent wars and diseases and cannot determine the type of government or politico-economic system that he wants for his country, however important these matters are to him personally. However, these thoughts suggest to us two creative forces that are avilable to him to render him free to decide these things. They are the combined power of men acting together and the power of science and technology.
The first creative force that man as an individual has at his disposal we already know, that is, his mind or intelligence. Using his mind to combine with other individuals to attain a like purpose through united actions, or through the fruits of scientific research, he can attain far greater freedom than if he were to act individually or by brute force. For instance, the people of the Thirteen Colonies, acting together, launched the great American Revolution against the
This does not mean that there is no determination. Freedom and determination must not be conceived as opposites. All created things exist in pairs, as the Quran tells us. 22 For man you have woman; for matter you have spirit; for good you have evil; for tall you have short; for white you have black. This law applies to all things. The same goes for freedom and determination. God created the world according to law; therefore, He knows everything, including the falling of a leaf. 23 Yet, this law includes everything, including a man’s free action. Take the case of one’s action tomorrow. We cannot have exact knowledge of what we shall do tomorrow, however much we plan, for we may decide on doing them as we go to sleep, or early in the morning as we get up, or even cancel or modify some of them in the early part of the day, depending on circumstances. But God knows exactly what we are going to do. Therefore, looking from God’s point of view, everything has been decided for us (His decision includes allowing us to do certain things we want to do and not allowing us to do certain other things, all in His infinite wisdom); but looking from our point of view, some of our daily actions are completely free.
Such understanding of this question would exclude and reject fatalism, a bane, it is to be noted, among Muslims after the collapse the rationalist philosophy of Mu’tazilism in the third Muslim century 24 and the emergence of a compromised freedom-and-unfreedom doctrine of the Asha`arites. Again this freedom must not be conceived as chaos. It is lawful freedom, or freedom within the divine laws of justice, truth and mercy. 25
That evil, with a small `e’, exists is only obvious. But to believe in Evil (with a capital `E’) as an equal power rivalling God, as the Manichans have believed, is an error. God tells us in the Quran that He did not create men and jins, except to worship Him. 26 Thus the devil, standing for evil in the world, is to serve the purposes of God., however paradoxical this may sound. It should be remembered that we said in the beginning that the divine purpose of the whole creation is to expose falsehood and establish the truth. How is man to know the truth and the good unless there exist falsehood and evil to oppose the truth and the good? Thus are evil and falsehood exposed and defeated.
In the beginning, the whole universe submitted to God, its Creator and Ruler, but among God’s creations, out of the moral freedom granted to man, a principle of rebellion arose. Rebellion against God means evil, symbolized in the person of the rebel or the devil. This is the source of evil. By negative example, the devil, by his opposition to the moral man, exposes the immoral man and thus renders the immoral man impotent. This is the meaning of the Quranic statement that even the jinns serve God.
Therefore, God is not to blame for the existence, at times even widespread, of evil in the world. Man is to blame. Wanting freedom of action, he yet does not use his freedom to fight against evil, even as he complains when evil touches him. The widespread evil that we are seeing too obviously in the post-Cold War world (the horrendous Anglo-American-led aggression against Iraq and its consequent murderous U.N. embargo against that country, the British-sponsored Serbian genocide against Bosnia, to mention just two) is due to man’s current state of spiritual blindness and moral apathy. Even then, in the face of such extremes of cruelty, the moral man can be said to have stood up and defeated the foe, both in
Although we said at the beginning that Izetbegovic’s book is profound, it is also frightening in several parts. One concerns the question of modern pessimism. The author, in spite of being a committed Muslim, seems a hopeless pessimist (which, however, is not borne by his courageous and unflinching struggle for
Therefore, to properly understand our position in the world means to submit to God, to find peace, not to start making a more positive effort to encompass and to overcome everything, but rather a negative effort to accept the place and the time of our birth , the place and the time that are our destiny and God’s will. Submission to God is the only human and dignified way out of the unsolvable senselessness of life, a way out without revolt, despair, nihilism or suicide. It is a heroic feeling not of a hero, but of an ordinary man who has done his duty and accepted his destiny.
Islam does not get its name from its laws, orders, or prohibitions, nor from the efforts of the body and soul it claims, but from something that encompasses and surmounts all that: from a moment of cognition, from the strength of the soul to face the times, from the readiness to endure everything that an existence can offer, from the truth of submission to God. 29
Ironically, the author seems to equate civilization with man’s increasing feeling of hopelessness. He states:
Comfort is the outward, and absurdity is the inward, image of life in civilization. Dialectically expressed: the more comfort and abundance, the more the feeling of emptiness and despair. On the contrary, primitive societies can be poor and affected by sharp social differences, but all that we know about them indicate a life coloured by strong and rich feelings. Folklore -- the “literature of primitive society” -- can show, in its specific way, the extraordinary living vigour of primitive man. The feelings of disaffection and hopelessness are alien to that poor society. 30
This is surely a wrong reading of civilization. The great studies of human societies and civilizations by Ibn Khaldun and A.J. Toynbee and others following in their footsteps refer to historical cycles of birth, development and decay. The birth and development is due to a great explosion of creativity on the part of the society or civilization and the decay due to that creativity’s death. Is there continuity and development? Recent studies, especially by the American historical philosopher Sorokin, point to what he calls multilinear, not unilinear, development.31 That means that human society and civilization develop, but not along a straight line; it develops along a line of concentric circles. History repeats itself, but with a difference -- with a movement upwards.
16 “O man! You are toiling towards your Lord, and you will meet Him.” (Quran, Al-Inshiqaq: 6) This verse, coupled with other verses speaking of man’s journey of life, indicates his evolution.
17 “The principle if indeterminacy seems to introduce a new kind of incalculability into nature. The uncertainties hitherto decribed might possibly be due to ignorance, and might pass into determinism again as knowledge increase. It is dangerous to build on them a philosophy of free-will. But ... the work of Schrodinger and Bohr indicates that there is an uncertainty in the nature of things. The alternative uncertainties that, if we try to calculate the position of an electron, its velocity become incalculable, and if we wish to determine its velocity its position becomes indeterminate, have been thought by some to indicate that, in the ultimate analysis, the scientific argument for determinism breaks down. But others hold that this indeterminacy merely expresses the inadequacy of our system of measurements to deal with problems outside the realm of physics.” (W.C. Dampier, A History of Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1968; pp. 480-81)
18 The following verses show the relativity of time and space. “They challenge you to bring retribution, and God neever breaks His promise. A day of your Lord is like a thousand of your years.” (Al-Hajj: 47) “The angels and the inspiration ascend to Him in a day that equals fifty thousand years.” (Al-Ma’rij: 4) “Our commands are done within the blink of an eye.” (Al-Rahman: 50)
19 “Do you not see that God has committed in your service everything in the heavens and the earth, and has showered you with His blessings, obvious and hidden? Yet, some people argue about God without knowledge, guidance and an enlightening scripture.” (Luqman: 20)
20 “We have decreed death for you. Nothing can stop Us from changing your attributes and transforming you into something you do not know.” (Al-Waqi`ah: 60-61)
21 “Who can intercede with Him, except in accordance with His will?” (Al-Baqarah: 255)
22 “Glory be to the One Who created pairs of everything from the earth and from themselves as well as other things they do not even know.” (Ya Sin: 36)
23 “With Him are the keys to all secrets; none knows them except He. He knows everything on land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls without His knowledge. Nor is there a grain in the depth of the soil, be it wet or dry, that is not recorded in a clear book.” (Al-An`am: 59) “There is nothing in the heavens and the earth that is absent. Everything is in a profound record.” (Al-Naml: 75) “Everything We created is precisely measured.” (Al-Qamar: 49)
24 The Mu’tazilites, the rationalists of early Islam, upheld man’s freedom of action, and hence his responsibilty, and rejected fatalism of the later Asha`arites. Due the peculiar circumstances of that time, they lost their case to the so-called orthodox party, the Asha`arites, in the fourth and fifth centuries of Islam. However, the rationalist trend continued, through philosophers, thinkers and reformers in all Muslim countries, like Ibn Khaldun, Shah Waliullah, Muhamad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal, Malek Bennabi, Ali Shari`ati, just to mention a few, up to the present time. (See Kassim Ahmad, Teori Sosial Moden Islam, Penerbit Fajar Bakti, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1984; pp. 85-88.)
25 Justice, truth and mercy as the bases of God’s laws are stated in many Quranic verses. We give some here. “Say, `My Lord advocates justice, and to stand devoted to Him at every place of worship. You shall devote your worship absolutely to Him alone. Just as He initiated you, you will ultimately go back to Him.” (Al-A’raf: 29) “It was God’s will to establish the truth with His words and to punish the disbelievers so as to make the truth prevail and falsehood vanish, despite the disbelievers.” Al-Anfal: 7-8) “He has ordained mercy on Himself.” (Al-An`am: 12)
26 “I did not create the jins and the humans except to worship Me alone.” (Al-Dariyah: 56)
27 “Imploring Him is everyone in the heavens and the earth. Everyday He is in full control.” (Al-Rahman: 29) “His dominian encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him.” (Al-Baqarah: 255). So the pessimists’ complaint that God is absent from the world should be turned against the passivity of men who expect good to come to them without their exertion to attain it.
28 28. In Al-Baqarah, verses 30-33 inform us of the great future in store for men, in spite of their weaknesses.
29 Izetbegovic, Op.cit., p. 226.
30 Ibid., pp. 59-60.
31 See P.A. Sorokin, Modern Historical and Social Philosophies, pp. 291-92.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
THE MEANINGFULNESS OF LIFE
By: Kassim Ahmad
[The first of four parts]
This is a daunting subject I am choosing to discuss. Most writers today would consider it an irrelevant topic. Mankind has asked this question of the meaning of life since the beginning of his existence on earth. Religions, arts, and philosophies testify to man’s quest for meaning. Yet are we any nearer to solving the mystery than those ancient theologians, artists and philosophers in the
Alija Ali Izetbegovic, now president of Bosnia-Herzergovina, in his profound book1 reminds us that Islam is the middle way between asceticism (religion in the narrow sense of the term) and materialism. Islam is a harmonious blending of the spirit and matter. It does not reject the world, as mysticism does, nor does it reject the spirit, as the materialist does. He writes:
There are three integral views of the world: the religious, the materialistic, and the Islamic. They reflect three elemental possibilities -- conscience, nature, and man, each of them manifesting itself as Christianity, Materialism and Islam. All variety of ideologies, philosophies and teachings from the oldest time up to now can be reduced to one of these three basic world views. The first takes as its starting point the existence of the spirit, the second the existence of matter, and the third the simultaneous existence of spirit and matter. If only matter exists, materialism would be the only consequent philosophy. On the contrary, if the spirit exists, then man also exists, and man’s life would be senseless without a kind of religion and morality. Islam is the name for the unity of spirit and matter; the highest form of which is man himself. The human life is complete only if it includes both the physical and the spiritual desires of the human being. All man’s failures are either because of the religious denial of man’s biological needs or the materialistic denial of man’s spiritual desires. 2
The materialist concept, by rejecting the spirit, denies an important aspect of life and hence distorts it. Thus, a social system based on the materialist philosophy, like communism, is bound to deny morality, creativity and freedom since these belong to the realm of the spirit. This philosophy carries its own death warrant, and the collapse of the communist system testifies to this fact. Capitalist liberalism is no less materialistic than communism. In fact, they are twins, born of the same materialist philosophical parentage. However, since Western liberalism has been tempered with social responsibility of the state, (a legacy of the American Revolution), it was able to prolong its life. In spite of this, unfettered individualism, which is the essence of liberalism, will inevitably lead it to its destruction. The present period in history seems to be the death throes of liberalism. We are seeing the last gasps of a philosophy destined to collapse.3
The collapse of Marxism and liberalism, however, is not due to any cycle of life and death of any society or civilization, as propounded by Ibn Khaldun 4 and Arnold Toynbee.5 Both postulated and described the cycle of birth, development and degeneration of societies and civilizations. The birth and development are due to the creative spirit embedded in that society; the degeneration and death to the loss of that creative spirit. Liberalism and Marxism are two universal materialist philosophies of the modern era, and their collapse is now complete and final due to their inherent error. It is not due to mismanagement or fatigue. Therefore, there is no such thing as a revival of liberalism or communism, except in the sense of a temporary backward step in history in the absence of a better alternative. When the Quran states a term for every nation, 6 it is referring to the first phenomenon of historical cycles. The second phenomenon refers to an error of philosophical conception.
What is life, then? What is the purpose of our being here? Denying the spirit, the materialist does not believe in any purpose. One modern materialist philosopher, Bertrand Russell, describes this meaninglessness poignantly and almost poetically:
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world in which science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the need they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the aspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of those truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built 7
On the other hand, Islam teaches the purposefulness of life. In one of its clearest statements, the Quran declares:
We did not create the heavens and the earth and everything between them just to play. If We needed entertainment, We could have initiated it without any of these, if that is what We wanted to do. Instead, it is Our plan to support the truth against falsehood in order to defeat it. 8
Thus, the whole universe has been created by God in accordance with the laws of truth in such a way that all falsehoods that temporarily pervade life will be ultimately exposed and defeated. Man, therefore, has a moral duty to fight against evil and falsehood in order to establish the good and the truth 9 in accordance with the divine plan to establish the truth. Studying the entire history of mankind, we can see the evolution of human society, definitely progressing, if at most times all too slowly, sometimes regressing, yet definitely moving forward from stage to stage: from primitive society to civilized society, localized in the beginning and leading to the formation of an international scientific-technologically-based society in the 20th century. The philosophies guiding these stages are the same: materialist, ascetic and Islamic. When the Islamic philosophical element is predominant or strong, the evolution is fast; otherwise it is slow and society may even regress. 10
It is often complained by non-believers and sceptics that a suffering human being or child did not ask to be born: why then did God create him and put him into this suffering? To answer this question, one has first to define the concept of suffering. Two types of suffering have first to be identified, that is physical and spiritual suffering. Being materially poor, one may suffer from material deprivation like hunger or lack of other material goods. Yet spiritual deprivation, a feeling of loneliness, aimlessness, hopelessness and despair is surely more painful. A spiritually strong person not only will not suffer spiritually; he also may not suffer materially, because being spiritually strong, he is resourceful enough to earn his living. A spiritually strong society will also be able to look after its deficient children, like the poor and the physically-handicapped. So the question of suffering really does not arise.
As to man’s consent to come into this world, no man refuses to benefit from the joys of this world, like wealth, position, power, love, friendship, reading, food, conversation, music, literature, family life and so on. Although some extremely spiritual men, like Buddha and Jesus Christ, may forgo some of these pleasures, most of them do not; neither is it normal for human beings to do so. Therefore, we can conclude that symbolically man agrees to be born into this world and is pleased to be in it, although under certain conditions some of his kind would commit suicide.
This brings us face to face with the question of man’s mortality or immortality. If a man’s life ends with his death, then life is meaningless. On the one hand, man propagates himself physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually. His children and grand-children not only continue his physical life but also intellectual, moral and spiritual live. There is continuity throughout. On the other hand, death only takes away the physical man; his spirit does not die with him, because spirits belong to the realm of the divine. 11 According to the Quran, this spirit will get resurrected in another world on the Day of Judgement. This spirit will get a new body and continue the man’s journey of life. 12 This will continue until God’s plan of separating truth from falsehood and making the truth prevail is fully realized.
Since man dies on this earth and will be resurrected on this earth 13 and since Heaven is as wide as the universe 14, it can be postulated that in the coming decades, three more decades at most, man will live on other planets and in outer space. As changes on earth was made with man’s participation, so we can expect that future changes, including the Final Judgement, will be made with man’s participation. 15
1 Islam Between East and West, American Trust Publication,
2 Ibid., p.1.
3 The liberal truimphalism announced by Francis Fukuyama after the collapse of communism in 1989 is obviously illusory. The system is being kept alive largely through usury and the moral apathy of Western societies. See his book, The End of History and the Last Man, Penguin Books,
4 The Muqaddimah, 3 vol., 1958 (trans. by F. Rosenthal).
5 A Study of History, 10 vol., 1934, 1939 & 1954. Abridged edition made by D.C. Somervell, 1960.
6 “For each community, there is a predetermined life span. Once their interim comes to an end, they cannot delay it by one hour, nor advance it.” (Quran, Al-A’raf: 34) This occurs when a community, after going through the stages of growth and prosperity, forgets the moral law and abandons itself to decadence, as often happens.
7 Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic, Allen and Unwin,
8 Al-Anbiya: 16-18.
9 “The human being is utterly lost, except those who lead a righteous life, exhort one another to uphold the truth, and exhort one another to be steadfast.” (Al-`Asr: 2-3)
10 “The One Who created death and life for the purpose of distinguishing those among you who would do better.” (Quran, Al-Mulk: 2)
11 Man’s distinction from the other orders of created beings is his possession of the divine spark of creative reason within him. For this reason he is superior to all other beings, including the angels. “Your Lord said to the angels, `I am creating a human being from aged mud, like the potter’s clay. Once I perfect him and blow into him from My spirit, you shall prostrate before him.” (Quran, Al-Hijr: 28-29) Of all created beings, only man has this divine spirit in him. Thus he is God’s vicegerent, and the whole of creation, including the angels, are commanded by God to serve him.
12 “On that day, We shall fold the heavens like the folding of a book. Just as We initiated the first creation, We shall repeat it. This is Our promise; We shall certainly carry it out.” (Quran, Al-Anbiya: 104)
13 “He said, `On it you will live, on it you will die, and from it you will be brought out.’ ” (Quran, Al-A’raf: 25)
14 “You should eagerly race towards forgiveness from your Lord, and a
15 15. Man’s participation in the divine creative work of perfecting the world can be deduced from the Quranic concept of man’s vicegerency on earth as well its concept of the divine subjection of universal forces to man’s purpose. (See notes 11 and 19.) Man’s self-judgement on Resurrection Day is indicated in such verses as this: “We have recorded the fate of every human being; it is tied to his neck. On the Day of Resurrection, We shall hand him a record that is accesible. Read your own record. Today you suffice as your own reckoner.” (Bani Israil: 13-14)