By Sheikh Ali Gomaa
It seems that we need to rephrase the epistemological paradigm which formulates the Muslim mind. This paradigm includes his theological beliefs and his comprehensive vision towards human beings, universe and life at large along with his perception of pre and after life. This paradigm of thinking carries a lot of weight as it represents the Muslim’s reference point and accurate measure upon which his character is formulated and his thoughts are generated.
We want to redefine this epistemological paradigm in order to be able to answer the three big questions in people’s lives and the answers of which will determine how we look at ourselves and how we deal with our surroundings and the universe at large. Also with such paradigm we are able to deal with the challenges of our modern life and be able to speak in a language which enables others to appreciate and maybe embrace our paradigm of thinking.
The fact is that we find this epistemological paradigm embedded in our hearts and its building blocks are found in our creedal beliefs and juristic rulings and all we need to do is to rephrase this paradigm to activate it as an essential foundation for our life.
We are about to embark on a journey into the Muslim mind in which we discover his foundational bases of thinking along with the advantages of his intellect and heart in order to explain how such paradigm affected his contribution in art and literature and how we can activate this paradigm once again for the Muslim to be a positive contributor in developing the world today.
According to the Muslim’s theological creed, he managed to answer the first of three big life questions which is “where did we come from?”. This question has to do with the past and stemmed from human’s confusion and absence of knowledge regarding his origin and his starting point. This question is more like the question of a young child who lacks the ability to remember the day in which he was born so he asks about where he came from. God says in the Quran, “I did not make them witness to the creation of the heavens and the earth or to the creation of themselves…” (18:51). For the Muslim, he is able to answer the faith based question with a full certitude that God is the one who created the heavens and the earth along with creating human beings among everything else. God says in the Quran, “The Most Merciful, Taught the Qur'an, Created man” (55:1-3)
The Muslim also believes in unity and monotheism not only when it comes to God but such belief extends to encompass his theological structure. Therefore, there is only one final prophet who is the seal of all prophets as God says in the Quran, “Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah , of all things, Knowing” (33:40) and there is only one final holy book which is preserved from all sorts of fabrication and alteration as God says in the Quran, “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian” 15:9.
Also the Muslim Ummah or nation is one as God says, “Indeed this, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” (21:92) along with having one direction of prayer as God says, “We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a Quiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do”. (2:144)
Finally there is one divine message across ages as God says “And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give Zakah and hold fast to Allah. He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper” (22:78)
Monotheism and oneness according to this perception encompasses the elements of people and things and transcends the factors of time and space and therefore must affect the mind of the contemporary Muslim and should become a base for his understanding of life and his behavior towards the universe at large.
The Muslim believes that God did not create humans to leave them stranded without divine guidance. God has ordained divine laws and revelations as God says in the Quran “And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” 5:48 yet chose Islam to be the name for the religion which He ordained since the time of Adam until the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). God says in the Quran, “Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them - out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allah , then indeed, Allah is swift in [taking] account” (3:19) and also says, “…This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion…” (5:3).
The issue of ordaining divine laws should be able to answer the second big question which deals with the issue of what we are doing on earth. There are three bases and purposes for the divine decree. The first of which is worshipping God Al Mighty and out of this worship stems a human being who is able to develop the world and build civilizations. God says, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me, I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me, Indeed, it is Allah who is the [continual] Provider, the firm possessor of strength.” (51:56-58). The second base is developing the world in which we live in as God says, “…and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption." (2:60) and the last element for creation is purifying our souls as God says, “He has succeeded who purifies it, And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].” (91:9-10)
The Muslim also believes that there is a day of judgment in which both punishments and rewards are granted. God says, “So whoever does an atom's weight of good will see it, And whoever does an atom's weight of evil will see it” (99:7-8). This belief directly affects the believer’s behavior in terms of performing or restraining from certain acts. For this reason we find the believer performing an act which encompasses hardship while missing out on another act which grants him pleasure when he sees that performing such an act or refraining from another will grant him paradise and earns him a heavenly reward. Therefore such understanding is tightly connected with the issue of believing in God and the decreed laws which in turn yield a positive effect on people’s lives or else seeking God’s pleasure through performing good deeds and fearing God’s wrath through refraining from bad deeds will turn to reasons which hinder our abilities to enjoy life and fulfill our mission in it.
In fact God has decreed these laws to regulate our life preserve it and develop it so if we by our own misbehavior turned these decreed laws to obstacles which hinder our ability to develop and enjoy life then we have acted in a way which contradicts the purpose of God’s divine law both in letter and spirit.
These three big questions led to the establishment of the intellectual components which formed the basis for building the Muslim character. We hope that Muslims turn to these components again and to have an accurate understanding of the divine revealed message.
The Muslim also believes in the absolute because he believes that God is infinite. The belief in God’s infinity stems from the belief in God’s divine names and attributes as God mentioned in Quran more than 150 of His divine names. God says “And to Allah belong the best names, so invoke Him by them…”(7:180) In the Prophetic traditions there is more than 160 divine names of God so the sum total with the subtraction of the repeated names would be 220 names. These divine names and attributes can be divided into attributes of beauty such as the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiving and the second section is the attributes of majesty such as the Avenger and the last section is the attributes of perfection such as the First, the Last.
For the believer he embraces the divine attributes of beauty so he would be loving and forgiving, kind and generous. As for the attributes of majesty, he doesn’t embrace it yet have some sort of attachment to it without embracing them. The third type of attributes which has to do with divine perfection, the Muslim needs to have deep faith in them. So embracement, attachment and faith are the three characteristics which identify the Muslim mind.
The believer also realizes that the human being is dignified and honored and he is not merely part of this universe. God says, ” And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference” (17:70). Therefore the human being is indeed a unique creature in this universe because he is the carrier of God’s divine message and the holder of the trust. God says “Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant” (33:72).
The believer also understands that he is the master in the universe and not the master of it as God al Mighty is the master as Prophet Muhammad stated. The whole universe is in a constant state of praising God as it is mentioned in the Quran that everything prostrates before God, God says, “Do you not see that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people?...” (22:18).
During the believer’s journey on earth he walks as a master not as an inanimate object. God says, “And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth - all from Him. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought?” (45:13) and also says, “Do you not see that Allah has subjected to you whatever is on the earth and the ships which run through the sea by His command? And He restrains the sky from falling upon the earth, unless by His permission. Indeed Allah, to the people, is Kind and Merciful” (22:56).
The believer realizes that time; place, people and circumstances are legitimate factors according to which juristic rulings change. Therefore, Muslims pay special glorification to the Night Journey. God says “Indeed, We sent the Qur'an down during the Night of Decree” (97:1) And also says, “Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night…” 44:3). The Muslim also glorifies and sanctifies the Kaabah as God says, “Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah - blessed and a guidance for the worlds” (3:96). God also places Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in such high status when he says, “Do not make [your] calling of the Messenger among yourselves as the call of one of you to another...” (24:63) and also says, “O you who have believed, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet or be loud to him in speech like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become worthless while you perceive not” (49:2)
All these bases form the Muslim mind and shape his character. These components formulate the thoughts of the Muslim who believes that the divine message of Islam is universal and that God has sent messengers with the Old Testament and the New Testament and sent Prophet Muhammad with the last testament and made all people one nation since the time of Adam till our present day. God says in the Quran “And [recall, O People of the Scripture], when Allah took the covenant of the prophets, [saying], "Whatever I give you of the Scripture and wisdom and then there comes to you a messenger confirming what is with you, you [must] believe in him and support him." [Allah] said, "Have you acknowledged and taken upon that My commitment?" They said, "We have acknowledged it." He said, "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses." (3:81)
This epistemological paradigm should be the standard for our evaluation and the measure for accepting other people’s ideas and thoughts as well as being the nucleus for renewing the religious discourse to be compatible with the reality in which we live.