Chapter 8: Islam A Challenge to Religion
THE LAW OF REQUITAL
By Allama Ghulam Ahmad Parwez
I. What is it?
For the savage, as for the child, the world is the scene of fortuitous events none of which stands in an intelligible relationship with the other. With the growth of intellect, both awake to the presence of order in the world around them. The first thing they notice is the sequence of certain events—for example a flash of lightning is followed by a crash of thunder, and contact with fire is followed by burning. Knowledge of invariable sequence helps them to make better adjustment to the world. They become conscious of the causal nexus between events. They seek to know the causes of events, because this knowledge enables them to predict the effects and also to control them. They become aware that they themselves operate as causal agents producing changes in the world. The knowledge that all their actions have consequences gives them a sense of power as well as of responsibility. They realise that in choosing to act in a certain way, they are also choosing the consequence of their action. If the consequence is unpleasant and man wishes to avoid it, he can do so only by refraining from the action which leads to it. The Law of Requital states that every action of man has consequences and the doer will have to bear them whether he likes them or not. But far more important than the external effect of the action is its effect on the personality of the doer. All actions, however, do not necessarily modify personality. An action which has been performed inadvertently or carelessly has little influence on man's self. But an action performed deliberately for a set purpose or with a high degree of ego-involvement, changes personality for better or for worse. It strengthens or weakens the moral fibre. It furthers or hinders his progress toward self-fulfilment. This distinction between human actions is made by the Quran and is of great importance to the moral life of man. The Law of Requital is especially relevant to the changes in personality which result from the voluntary actions of man. It means that consequences of such actions are inevitably incorporated in the personality of man, adding to or detracting from its power.
II. Man and the Law of Requital
Gradually man realised that he lived in a world which was not at the mercy of capricious spirits, but a world displaying a definite orderliness. He could adjust himself to the world only by discovering the laws which governed the events and processes therein. He addressed himself to this task and slowly and patiently acquired the knowledge which enabled him to exercise effective control over the world. Next he turned his attention to himself and to his own conduct. Here too, he discovered the rule of law. He found that he was free to act and choose but that rule of law required him to pay a price for the freedom he enjoyed. He had to bear the consequences of his actions. He could not disown the results of his own actions. He might yield to a sudden impulse and gain momentary satisfaction, but later regret and remorse were sure to prey on his mind and make him unhappy. He could not flout the Law of Requital with impunity. This law is as fixed and inexorable as any natural law. However, unlike the natural law which is confined to the physical spheres. We will now consider its mode of operation in each of these spheres.
1. Of the relations existing between events in the world, the causal relation is the most important. Where two events are related to each other, the antecedent event or cause is invariably followed by the consequent event or effect. Cause and effect are relative terms. Each can be defined only in terms of the other. We are not concerned with cases where both the events are physical. These fall within the purview of physical sciences. But we have seen that man too acts as a causal agent in the world and his actions also produce effects. From the point of view of din, man's actions and their effects are seen as exemplifying the Law of Requital. The effect is what man earns by his action, whether he welcomes it as a reward or dislikes it as a punishment. If a man puts his hand in fire it gets burnt; if he plunges it in water, it gets wet. If he acts wrongly, the consequences are harmful to him. He has to suffer because he has brought the calamity on himself. It is his own doing and he cannot blame others. The child as it grows up, quickly learns how the Law of Requital works in the physical sphere and how, by respecting it, he may protect himself against physical injury and pain.
2. In the social sphere, the Law of Requital operates in the form of civil law. Society cannot exist without law and order. Actions which threaten the integrity of society have to be punished. Men often act in an anti-social way. Impelled by selfish desires, they often act in such a manner as to disrupt the group to which they belong. They can be restrained only by the knowledge that their wrong actions will bring upon themselves highly unpleasant consequences. A man may inflict injury on his fellow-being or rob him of his property, but he knows that afterwards he will have to serve time or pay a heavy fine. The prospect of suffering punishment deters him from acting against the interest of society. In a well organised society men are usually law-abiding because they see that everyone who transgresses the law is invariably punished. However, we must not forget that even in a well governed state, some criminals go unpunished while some innocent men are unjustly condemned. Human laws are not perfect and there are, in every society, serious defects in the administration of justice. Cunning men, especially if they are wealthy, can often find some way of evading the punishment which they deserve. That is why every society has its criminals. The only remedy lies in perfecting the machinery of the administration of justice. Thus we see that the Law of Requital does operate in the social sphere, although its working is not free from defects.
3. In the moral sphere, the Law of Requital is seen in its purest form. Here it points to the necessary connection between man's action and the ensuing modification of his personality. Man's action, besides producing effects in the world and in society, produces also effects within him, changing his self for better or worse. External factors have no effect on a man's personality. Man can be free although he is confined in a prison cell. On the other hand, though outwardly free, he may have a cramped and inhibited personality. Human personality is keenly sensitive to the moral tone of his actions. Every transgression of the moral law debilitates it in its ability to play its proper role. 'The working of the Law of Requital is much more subtle in this sphere than in other spheres. A man may casually take a wrong turning and may go on committing trivial misdeeds, without being aware of the gradual harm he is doing to his personality. One day, he will be shocked when he realises the cumulative deterioration in his personality. Though subtle, the working of the Law of Requital in this sphere is relentless. Every action leaves its effect, good or bad, on the personality. The effect at a time may be so slight as to be hardly perceptible, but if the man continues to act in the wrong way, the cumulative effect may transform his personality. The infection of bad actions may be negligible at the beginning but it works insidiously, and gradually undermines the self. The man who is morally sensitive can perceive this effect coming about and check himself in time and retrace his steps before an irretrievable damage is done.
III. Its Working
All our actions are not subject to the Law of Requital. Involuntary acts and those performed heedlessly or with little ego-involvement may be regarded as morally neutral. But deliberate acts, through which we express our real self and which can acknowledge as our own, are inevitably rewarded if right, and punished if wrong. The moral order in the universe is based on this Law. We can claim only what is due to us. Only right actions entitle us to reward. The Quran confirms this view:
And unto Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, that He may (according to His Law of Requital) reward those who do A'mal-us-Sayyiah with what they have done, and reward those who do A`mal-ul-Hasanah with goodness (53: 31).
God has granted man a measure of freedom but He keeps watch over man to see how he uses the freedom:
And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth...... that He might afford you opportunity to show which of you is best in conduct (11: 7).
The Quran declares that God "sees" not only the overt actions of man but also his inner motives and hidden intentions, and His judgement of man is on this broad basis:
Alike to Him is he among you who hides his word, and he who speaks it aloud, and he who hides by night and he who goes forth openly in the day. He has pursuers from before him and from behind him, who watch him by the command of God. Lo ! Allah does not change the condition of a folk until they (first) change what is in their own selves (13: 10-11).
Whatever man desires, he must get through his own efforts. If it were offered to him as a free gift, it would not benefit his personality. He cannot hope to deceive God by a pretence of striving. He must strive earnestly:
There are guardians over you, who arc honourable reporters (82: 9-10).
And again it is said:
We created man and We know what his mind whispers to him; and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (50: 16).
The Quran assures man that his actions are not like ripples on the surface of a lake, vanishing one after the other for good. On the contrary, they leave indelible imprints on his personality. They are entered on the debit or credit side of the ledger kept for him:
And on every man We have fastened his record about his neck; and We will bring forth to him, at the time of judgement, a book offered to him wide open (17: 13).
Man bears responsibility for all those actions in which his self was involved. If the action was wrong, he has no option but to submit to the "punishment" which is the necessary result of his action. It will not avail him to offer excuses, that he acted heedlessly in a fit of abstraction, or with a good intention. His own heart will bear witness against him:
Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself, although he tenders his excuses (75: 14).
The Law of Requital works unerringly. There is a necessary connection between acts and their effects. Good actions are necessarily rewarded and wrong actions are invariably punished. In social life, however, the connection between a socially approved act and its reward is external and contingent. Let us illustrate this point. A man undertakes to perform a job on the understanding that he will be paid an agreed sum of money on its completion. He may do the work but may not get the reward. His employer may die, become insolvent or prove faithless. On the other hand, the connection between moral actions and their effects is internal and necessary. The effect is on the personality of the doer. If the effect is good, the doer is carried forward towards his goal of self-realisation; if it is bad he is necessarily thrown back. Every moral act works consequential changes in the human personality. These changes may be in the direction of greater integration or of disruption. They may or may not be conducive to "spiritual" health. The requirements of "spiritual" health are different from those of physical health. Suppose a man somehow finds himself in possession of a sum of money and spends it to buy butter and eggs. His health will improve on this nourishing diet. Whether he had honestly earned the money or had stolen it, makes no difference to the effect on his health. But his "spiritual" health is a different matter. It will suffer if the money had been stolen, even if he has put it to a good use. We have, therefore, to distinguish between the physical effects of our actions and their moral effects. The Law of Requital, in the moral sphere, refers exclusively to the moral effects, to the enhancement or deterioration of the human personality.
The above discussion leads to the following conclusions:
(a) Man's voluntary actions directly influence his personality.
(b) Dedication to a noble end results in the development of personality.
(c) Indifference to, or denial of, absolute values leads to the disintegration of the self.
(d) Man is responsible for his actions and must accept their consequences.
(e) Man cannot shift the responsibility to any one else.
The Quran lays stress on this last point:
Whosoever commits a wrong, commits it only against himself (4:111).
Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own self that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden self can bear another's load (17: 15).
Man's responsibility for his actions is again stressed in the following verse:
Each soul earns only on its own account, nor does any one bearing a load shall bear another's load (6: 165).
The following verse leaves no doubt on the point that man can attain his goal solely by his own efforts. No external help will avail him at all:
No self will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will atonement be received from it, nor will they be helped (2: 48).
It is not only individuals who are subject to the Law of Requital: nations too have to suffer if they fall into wrong courses. However, if a nation adopts a wrong course of action, it may be years before it begins to experience its effects. The law may operate slowly in the case of nations, but sooner or later every nation will have to face the consequences of its wrong actions. (The point will be elucidated in a subsequent chapter).
Finally, for the question as to what actions are right and what actions are wrong, the answer is supplied partly by reason and partly by Revelation. Revelation gives general guidance and broadly indicates the difference between right and wrong actions. Human reason acting in the light of Revelation, cannot miss the right path. Revelation, again, may be tested by acting upon it and examining the results. The Quran offers to be judged by this pragmatic test.
Say (O Muhammad)! O my people, work according to your power (and plan). Lo! I too am working (according to mine). Thus you will come to know for which of us will be the happy sequel. Lo! The wrong-doers will not be successful (6: 136).
The Quranic concept of the Law of Requital raises a very vital question which requires serious consideration. We have seen that this law is based strictly on justice. The point for consideration is whether it has any place for "forgiveness" or "mercy"? The reply is both no and yes. If I do some wrong to somebody else, he may forgive me, i.e., may not take revenge from me: but if I do wrong to my own self, none can forgive me. Similarly, mercy is an emotional reaction which can obviously find no place in the working of law and justice. Still, there is a place for "forgiveness" and "mercy" as will be seen from the following example. You put your finger in fire and it gets burnt. And you must suffer the consequence— the pain and agony which is its inevitable result. There is no question of anybody forgiving you or taking mercy on you. But the same God Who has made the law that fire burns and pain is its inevitable result, has made another law. It is that a certain medicine has the property of giving relief to the pain and effacing the devastating result of burning. A recourse to this law of God would do away with the painful result of your former action. The provision of this second law is "mercy" from God, and obedience of this law results in "forgiveness" of our wrong doing. This law is as universal as the former one and does not work differently in different individual cases. Nor has it any appeal to emotion. This is the Quranic concept of "forgiveness" and "mercy."