By Dr A Q Khan
March 24, 2014
There is a wrong perception in the west that Islam creates hatred, wars, discrimination, violence (especially against women), etc. Yet nothing is further from the truth. This judgement is based on the deeds of misguided Muslims who have indulged in such acts and brought a bad name to Islam.
Recently my dear friend, a very competent former ambassador and former foreign secretary, Riaz M Khan, drew my attention to this. I then discussed the issue with another good friend and religious scholar, Prof Dr Muhammad Al-Ghazali, and the resulting thoughts are as follows.
Let us first define what we mean by rational, rationale and rationality in Islam. According to the dictionary, rational is something based on reason and logic; rationale is a set of reasons or a logical cause for a course of action or a particular belief; rationality is a derivative (noun) of rational and covers the same meanings.
In Islam, all actions are supposed to be based on reason, logic and consideration of the feelings of others. This is derived from clear and emphatic instructions in the Quran (17:89). In the west, rationalism came in the wake of a massive social and cultural movement in the religious establishment, thus invoking reason as an alternative to religious precepts. This came about because the church had established absolute domination over society and had chained human thought and conduct to arbitrary clerical authority in the name of God.
In contrast, the Quran clearly states that Allah did not enjoin any kind of priesthood for His servants (57:27) and even condemned those priests and monks who exploited people’s religious sentiments for material benefits (9:34). In no period of Islamic history did any class of priests ever find space in Muslim society simply because there can be no intermediary between man and God. Every human being can reach out to God without a human go-between. The Quran even went so far as to declare that “God was nearest to man; that he was nearer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16).
Muslims were always free to pursue rational enquiry. Their belief in the Quran did not prevent them from doing so, simply because the Quran itself often urged them to use their intelligence and senses to pursue the truth. It disapproved of blind faith and liberated the mind of superstition. It invited man to think and reflect upon the reality within and without. It condemned “those who have eyes but do not see, have ears but do not hear, have minds and hearts but do not think” (7:179).
Over and above the clear incentives to make the most of one’s faculties, the Quran invites man to think and reflect on his environment to discover eternal truths in the light of which man could attain progress towards a better life – of success and happiness in both worlds. The world-view of Islam is based on the reality of both worlds. The present world is seen as a temporary resting place. Whatever is provided is a divine bounty placed at the disposal of man to discover and enjoy its benefits.
Man has been made a custodian (Khalifah – trustee) over these bounties and has been urged to make the best use of the vast resources of the world and of his own tremendous potential. Man is not born with any burden of sin, nor is this world a satanic machination incompatible with his spiritual development.
Among the 99 Divine Attributes (al-Asma’ al-Husna) is ‘al-Hakim’, the All-Wise. If God is all-wise, then it follows that whatever He has created has been done with a definite purpose. Nothing has been created in vain (3:191). The purpose of man’s creation has been explained in the Quran and further elaborated upon in the prophet’s Sunnah.
The realisation of the purpose of all things can be discovered by the human mind by utilising the faculties of thought, observation and reasoning. That is why progress in Islamic culture and history was accompanied by a simultaneous progress in rational enquiry and science. This fact has been duly acknowledged by historians – from Gibbon to H G Wells to Arnold Toynbee. A very clear statement to this effect can be found in ‘The Making of Humanity’ by Robert Briffault.
It is very unfortunate that the west projects Muslims as mostly terrorists, racist, religious zealots, orthodox, etc purely in the light of the activities of some misguided fundamentalists. Had they had more knowledge of the Quran, they would have realised that it contains golden edicts from God Almighty covering the whole way of life and behaviour.
It has been ordained that one is to live and behave with humility, show tolerance to others, safeguard the rights of everyone and observe modesty. All these instructions are given in clear and unambiguous words. It is impossible to quote all the Surahs in which clear instructions have been given based on reasoning, logic, philosophy, the psyche of mankind, traditions, habits, etc. Included are such things as charity, patience, secrets of the universe, laws of nature, psychology and nature of human beings, value of knowledge, social and family conduct, rights of people in general, the rights of non-Muslims, morals, manners, ethics, social evils, economics, honesty, the avoidance of cruelty and oppression, peace and understanding, mutual agreements, relations with Christians and Jews, the acquiring of modern knowledge, etc.
Great emphasis is placed on morality, ethics, moderation and rationality – all in the light of human psychology. For instance, if a person is murdered, the relatives have the right to demand retribution (a purely human reaction), but it is considered better to forgive, thus avoiding the loss of yet another life. It has been strictly forbidden to be arrogant or to shout or talk loudly.
Despite such clear instructions on every aspect of life, Muslims are generally considered to be a bad lot. This is due to our own behaviour and the examples we set. Nothing is being practised in the way that it should be as was laid down by the Almighty. We have totally ignored Divine edicts and are indulging in all sorts of wrongdoings. Let us not forget the severe chastisement which the Almighty has in store for wrongdoers!