The Meaningfulness of Life
(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