Knowledge, Humanity, Religion, Culture, Tolerance, Peace



Before explaining the fundamentals of faith, which are the subject matter of this book, I would like to deviate a little and say a few things in connection these fundamentals which are, though not related to this topic, yet will through light on the circumstances which influenced the genesis of these fundamentals and were responsible for their arrangement and compilation. Just before the Second World War when I was teaching Arabic literature in Baghdad, I was asked to teach religious Studies. The syllabus consisted of certain Surah (chapters) of the Holy Qur’an which had to be explained and interpreted. I arrived at my class to find a completely undisciplined group of students who had turned the period designated to religious studies into a time for recreation and idle chat. But when I was teaching "the very same class literature, you could hear a pin drop. I realized that their poor attention in the religious studies class was due to their wavering faith. So I told them to put A way their copies of the Holy Qur’an - and listen. As soon as I started reciting from the Holy Qur’an, I felt inspired by God. This led to my producing a new work on the abject of Iman, in which I incorporated the Principles of Belief. These Principles (of conceptualization of faith) are as follows:-
The First Principle:
We have no doubts about anything that we can perceive through our senses we all accept this fundamental truth. However, if I walk through the desert at noon and see a lake in the distance, but only find sand when I reach that spot, what appeared to be a lake turned out to be mirage. Likewise if I put a pencil in a glass of water it will look as if it is broken, though in actual fact it is not, You might go to a party where, as it gets late, you start talking about the supernatural - ghosts, etc., and get so carried away that you feel as if a ghost or demon is following you, whereas in reality there is nothing there. It's rather like a conjuring trick. A magician will produce strange objects which seem to be real, even though they are not. So our senses can delude and deceive us. But does this mean that I should doubt the existence of something I can feel? Quite the reverse because if I doubt what I see, hear and feel, there will be a conflict between fact and fantasy that will eventually drive me crazy. But I would like to add another condition here about obtaining knowledge - meaning 'certainty regarding the existence of what I sense'. The mind may misjudge something the first time it perceives it. For example, it may think a mirage is a lake, but the second time it sees it will not make the mistake. Similarly it will soon realize that even though the pencil on the glass of water looks as if it is broken, in fact it is not. The various ways in which the senses delude us are limited and easy to recognize. This includes the tricks that Pharaoh's magicians used to perform in the past, and the circus tricks we enjoy in this day and age.
The Second Principle:
Certainty about past and present events received through a reliable source is as reliable as the certainty we would have had if we had been present. There are certain facts about which we are sure, even though we may not have direct experience of them. For example, we all know that India and Brazil are countries that exist though we may not have visited them. We also know for a fact that Alexander the Great conquered Persia, even though we did not witness the battles in which he fought. In fact, if we all looked inward, we would soon realise that the number of facts about which we are sure even though we cannot perceive or experience them directly, far surpass those we have actually experienced, such as countries we have not visited and events, both past and present, that we have not witnessed directly. What evidence, then, do we have of their existence? Of course we draw certain conclusions from what we have always been told throughout history and our own lives. It would be absurd to think that each generation has fabricated events and ideas to pass on to the next.
The second principle therefore is that; just as we get conviction and belief through perception and observation, so do we get it through the report of a person whom we believe to honest and truthful.
The Third Principle:
How much knowledge can we perceive through our senses? Can our senses comprehend everything that exists? We can compare the human mind in relation to the senses as follows. Imagine that orders have been given to shut us up in a tower. All the windows and doors are shut, so that all we can see of the outside world is through cracks in the wall. If we peep through one crack facing east, we can see a river, looking west through another crevice, we can see a mountain. In a northerly direction we can see a large mansion, and south a playground. The human mind is the prisoner and the body the tower, with the cracks representing the senses. The sense of sight sees colors, the sense of hearing picks up sounds, the sense of taste awakens our appetite for food, the sense of smell introduces us to the world of fragrances, and the sense of touch makes us aware of physical bodies and objects. At this point we can ask certain questions:
1)         Can each sense perceive everything that exists in this universe? Does the river a prisoner sees through a crack in the tower wall represent the entire river? Of course not He only sees a part of it. Similarly the sense of sight cannot perceive the whole spectrum of colours. The fact that I cannot see an ant crawling three miles away from where I am does not rule out its existence. In the same way we are unable to see all the tiny bacteria in a glass of water. Neither are we able to observe the electrons revolving in an atom, or the planets in their orbits, with the naked eye. The vibrations of an ant's voice are outside the range of our auditory sense, which is from five to twenty thousand whatever, is less than five vibrations or beyond twenty thousand is outside our hearing range. Nor can we pick up the scent of sugar that attracts ants and flies. All this proves that we are only able to perceive a part of what is around us.
2)         Is it not possible that another world exists between the world of colour and sound, which we are unable to observe because we are not equipped with the particular sense of Perception? The prisoner in the tower may not have actually been able to see a beautiful garden between the river and the mountain, but this does not rule out its existence. Again we have the example of someone who is born blind and is only able to learn by what he is told that the sea is blue and the grass is green. Yet physically he is unable to see the Manifestation of these colours. In the same way, someone who is deaf, though he may learn about musical notes, he cannot actually hear them. But this does not mean that a blind or deaf person denies the existence of colour or sound. The room where you are sitting may seem to be free of all sound though, in actual fact, it contains all the sounds that are being broadcast in the air from various radio stations. You are only unable to hear them because they are outside the range of your sense of hearing. They are vibrations which can only be picked up by a radio. And there are other things going on in the atmosphere that humans are unable to perceive. For example, we cannot pick up the slight variations in atmospheric pressure though a barometer can do this. Likewise, a radar picks up mild tremors we cannot feel. So, there are many things which exist outside the range of our senses, but not perceiving them does not mean denying their presence.
3)         The next question we need to look at is whether our senses are all pervading and complete? Until recently it was thought that we only had five senses. Now a few more have been discovered, and it seems there can be more. Therefore, anything that can be increased can be described as being incomplete. I may do things which I do not perceive, but am aware of For example, if I shut my eyes and open or close my hand I am aware that it is open or closed without actually seeing it. And do we perceive our moods of happiness or unhappiness, weakness or sickness through our five senses? Of course not. We perceive them with an inner sense. Similarly, I do not sway from left to right when I am walking because an inner sense infuses me with a sense of balance. The same goes for a cyclist or a trapeze artist who performs amazing balancing acts. This means that there must be an eighth sense - the sense of balance. And it has been discovered that God created this sense in the form of liquid matter in the inner ear. Experiments carried out on rabbits show they lose their balance if this liquid is removed, and totter around as if they were drunk.
This Third Principle is that we have no right o refuse the existence of certain things which are not perceptible thorough senses.
The Fourth Principle:
The human imagination can only perceive that which the senses are able to perceive. We have already discussed the limitations of our senses: we cannot see every visible object with our eyes, etc. But God has granted us with the power of imagination to serve as a supplementary tool. For example, I cannot actually see my home in London if I am in New York - though I can picture it in my mind's eye. The power of imagination therefore complements our sense of perception. But is this power limited - or is it fathomless? Can I imagine something I haven't actually seen?
Psychologists classify imagination in two categories:-
1)             Imagination based on reality and creative imagination. The example of imagining my house in London when I am in New York illustrates the former.
2)             The latter is the fertile ground poets, writers, painters and other artists use to create from. Look at what they have achieved. Have they produced anything not based on reality? For example, did the sculptor who sculptor who sculpted the statue of Venus depict someone in real life? No-he did not However; it is not a totally new image but a synthesis of several images. We can trace the end result back to various sources and say .{hat that the sculptor used the best physical features from different women to produce his art form; the nose and mouth represent the perfect female form in real life and so on. As a result the end product though 'new' represents different parts already in existence.
In the case of the Winged Assyrian Bull, found in a museum in Paris, the sculptor created a patchwork of a human face and the body of a bull to which he attached the wings of a bird. Again, the result is a new kind of image compiled of existing forms. Poets illustrate their mental images through the use of metaphors, similes, metonyms and, sometimes, deliberate exaggeration. Various strands of their imagination come together to form the poetry they produce. If we were to delve more deeply into such fantasies; however, we would find they have their limitations and that it is not possible to piece together components which are mutually incompatible. For example, we cannot say that a song smells like a rose or that the fragrance of a perfume is red. If you visualize such illustrations you will not be able to relate the image to anything concrete which is already in existence.
We are only able to see three dimensions with our eyes namely, length, breadth and height. We cannot imagine circle without a circumference any more than we can imagine triangle without angles. So how can we possibly imagine the 'other world' and everything that is to be found in it?
It is different from ours, and comparing it with this world is like comparing this world to a mother's womb. If we were able to make contact with a fetus and ask it about its idea of what our world is like, he or she would reply "The universe is the membrane and darkness which surround me." Even if the fetus were able to understand our description of the sun and the moon, day and night, land and sea, beautiful gardens and fields, etc., he or she would not be able to imagine them. This is why Ibn Abbas, one of the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, said "Things of this world have no similarity to those in the next - except in name". This means that the wine and women in the next world will be different from the wine and women in this world. Likewise, the fire of hell will not be like the fire we know, and the 'straight path will not resemble the bridges that span across rivers and valley in this world.
The fourth Principle, therefore, is that the human imagination is unable to encompass things which are beyond the reach of human senses.
The Fifth Principle:
Even though the eye observes that a pencil in a glass of water looks as if it is broken, the mind is not deluded; in the same way that it realizes the mirage in the desert is nothing but sand. When we see a magician take handkerchief out of his mouth and twenty rabbits from his sleeve, our mind being more accurate than our sight, alerts us to the fact that it is a trick. Does this mean that the mind can rule over matters that fall beyond its scope?
The mind rejects anything that does not fall within the framework of time and space. If a history teacher were to tell you 'that a war between the Arabs and the Persians took place neither before nor after the advent of Islam-yet it still took place, your mind would reject this statement as being completely contradictory. Or if a geography teacher told you that a country existed but was not situated on land or sea, or in the earth or the sky, your mind would take this as a contradiction in terms. So we can see that the faculties of the human mind are finite and refuse to accept anything infinite, which is outside the scope of time and space. Therefore issues concerning the problems of the soul, destiny, (metaphysical) signs of God and His attributes are all beyond the scope of the mind. If we look at the concept of immortality for example, a believer is sure in his mind that immortality is an unshakable truth which has been conveyed to mankind through the divine message. But it is not possible to fit that concept into a framework of time and if we try to do that, we will fail and give up. In fact we may visualise a millennium of centuries, millions, trillions -- but then what? Our minds get tired because they fail to reach a final point. And if they claim to have reached such a point it will contradict the very meaning of immortality. The famous German philosopher Kant published a well-known work "Contradictions", in which he said that the, human mind can only judge the physical world. But Muslim scholars had proved that before Kant's time and had, on the basis of mathematical theories, proved the falsity of circuits vitiosus (vicious circle). Their simple evidence is evident form this example.
If you draw two straight lines as two rays coming from one point, and you connect these two lines at equal distances, will the line connecting the two infinite ends be considered to be the ultimate line? If you say it is, it will be argued that it is between unending points. If you say that it is infinite, people will reply that this cannot be so, as it is between two finite points. Therefore, it is a contradiction in terms. It is clear that the human mind goes off balance when it tries to dominate the unlimited or infinite; it becomes the victim of impossible contradictions when it delves deeply into anything which is unlimited. The human mind, therefore, cannot go deeply into the realm of metaphysics, as proved by Kant and stated by Muslin scholars earlier. And we can refer to this theme in the works of Islamic scholars, such as al-Ghazali in his books on scholastic theology.
The Sixth Principle:
All human beings, believers and non-believers alike feel worried and anxious in the face of a serious crisis in their life. At such times they find no consolation in their material surroundings and seek solace and comfort in a power beyond the material world, a power that filters through every aspect of our existence, bodies and souls. Examples of such crises are illness, the stress of taking important examinations and so on. Why then do people turn to God at such times? From my own observation of two world wars, I noticed how people cling to religion: everyone, from heads of governments to military generals, it seemed, became devout worshippers of God and impressed their subordinates to do the same. I remember reading a story in a magazine during the war, a story related by a young paratrooper (parachutes were something new in those days). The young man had been born and brought up in a household where there was no mention of God and his family did not pray. He was educated in secular schools where religion was not included in the syllabus and so he grew up rather like a ‘human animal’, eating, sleeping and enjoying himself. But when he found himself descending from a great height and having almost landed before his parachute started to open, he found himself praying involuntarily, and from the bottom of his heart. The words "Oh Lord -Oh creator!" came to his lips instinctively. He was completely overwhelmed and could not explain how he had suddenly acquired this faith.
Stalin's daughter describes in her memoirs as to how she fumed to religion after many years of living forgetful of God. She marvels at this - but there is no reason to be in wonder, because faith in the existence of God is something which is inborn in every individual. It is a natural instinct and an urge-rather like the sexual drive. So we can say that man is an animal with a religion. This instinct may be overrun by physical desires, passion, ambition and craving for material comfort. However, when overcome by fear, danger or other crises, it rejects these desires and appears in its true and natural form. This is why we describe a non-believer as a kafir, which literally means 'one who hides'. 1 was surprised to find the same concept by two eminent figures from backgrounds which were entirely different in very way, including the time and place they lived, their circumstances and the purpose for which they expressed this idea, One of them was the Muslim, Rabia al Adawiya, known for her piety, and the other was the famous French writer, Anatole France. While discussing his disbelief an abandonment of faith, Anatole France declared “A person becomes a believer when he learns, as a result of a urine test that he has diabetes”. (He made this statement before insulin was discovered). On the other hand, Rabia al Adawiya replied in answer to a statement made by someone who claimed he had found a thousand proofs of God's existence, "One proof is enough". When asked what that proof was, she responded If you were walking alone in the desert and happened to fall in to a well from which you were unable to get out - what would you do?" The answer was "I'd call out - Oh God!". "Then that’s your proof!" she declared. Faith in God exists in the core of every human being. We Muslims know this fact, because God has informed us that Iman is a natural characteristic that He has created in each of us.
In Europe recently many people have seriously address the question of faith and have recognised its value. Professor Durkheim (1852-1917), the famous Jewish French sociologist who had, like Freud, a negative influence on some minds for some time, has written a book to his credit, where he states that faith in the existence of God is a self-evident truth. No one can go through life without at some time reflecting on the existence of a Lord of this universe. But man, due to his short sightedness, may not find his way to God. He therefore worships certain objects which he imagines to be God, or that he thinks will help take him near to Him. And yet when faced with a major crisis man returns to God and gives up all objects of worship. The polytheists of the Quraysh tribe worshipped various idols, known as Hubal, Lat and Uzza. They were simple stones or statues. Hubal was made of cornelian, a semi-precious red stone transported from the Syrian spa of Himmah. They described the statue as a great almighty god. It was transported on the back of a camel and en route fell off and its hand was smashed. This hand was replaced by a gold hand. But how the hand of God get broken! However, even after that incident, they continued to worship the statue. But even enough they worshipped it in times of peace, this was not the "case when they were at sea, and the sea became rough and danger was imminent. At times like this, they did not call out ‘’Hubal!" but they called out to Allah. Even today during times of disaster and accidents you will notice that proud adversaries of God return to the fold of religion. Why is this? Simply because Iman is a natural instinct, and that, as we have already seen, leaves us with the most precise definition of man: "an animal with a religion'.
Do you imagine that materialists, such as Karl Marx and Lenin, called out to production and manufacturing industries -those ideologies they had worshipped as God, when they were on their death beds? Or did they call out to God? You can be sure they prayed to God when drawing their last breath. Pharaoh, who posed as being high and mighty, used to Declare “I am your supreme lord” But when he was about to drowned he said "I have believed in what the children of Israel have believed". The sentiment of love expressed by lovers is yet further evidence of Iman being an inborn characteristic of man. Love is a micro-projection of Iman; it is a kind of worship, In fact, when so many of the French turned away from religion they used the word 'worship' to mean 'love'. Arabs influenced by European ideas started to imitate them using phrases such as ‘’He loved and worshipped her" and "He loved her so much that he began worshipping her". You will find such expressions in Arabic short stories and novels. But this was only because worship is the natural manifestation of belief in God, and because there is a degree of similarity between love and faith. A lover obeys his beloved's wishes and desires. And this is exactly the same relationship as the one a believer has with God. A lover is never bothered if everyone around him is angry, as long as he is able to please the one he or she loves. That too is the case between a believer and God. What's more a lover fears the loved one to the extent of not wishing to make him or her angry, and has nothing but praise for whatever the beloved says or does. This is just the same way that a believer accepts what God has ordained. So we can see that love passionate love, is a testimony to the fact that faith is inborn.
The inadequacy of Language:
The above statement does not purport to equate the love of God with the sentiments of passionate love between human beings. We simply need to take into account that a person in a passionate relationship obeys the beloved and is afraid of him or her, and admires and praises whatever the loved one does being able to endure other people's anger in order to please the loved one. But he does this because it fulfills a desire. In fact, we express our love for our own self through the love we have for our lover. We can look at the example of one of the most famous lovers in Arabic history, Laila. Let us imagine that she was afflicted with leprosy and that the disease had disfigured her face. Would her lover Quais have approached and made advances to seeing her in this state? He wouldn't even have given her a second glance - and would have abandoned her. This is the difference between love of mortals and love of God.
Although the two forms are entirely different from each other, the same word is used to denote both because the human language lacks a better expression, with a wider scope and range -of meaning, which would include the spiritual aspects of love. We use the same word 'love' to denote a variety of meanings from love of the countryside and history to love of rice and curry! A father loves his son. Prince Charming loves Cinderella and the believer loves God. Each one of these loves differs from the other. With regard to this concept of ‘inadequacy of language (words)’ we should also include the word ‘beauty', which is used to denote so many meanings. The same applies to the words 'hearer’ and ‘seer’ with reference to God being the Hearer and Seer and a human being a hearer and seer. Referring to a human being, we mean that that person is neither deaf nor blind. But Divine Seeing and Hearing is not like that of mortals, because God is unlike anything in creation. Likewise, nothing in creation is similar to Him. All the Divine attributes given in Qur’an come under this heading. Allah says: “This in nothing whatever like unto Him” (Qur’an;42:11). They are not to be compared with the faculties of mortals.
The Seventh Principle:
Man recognises intuitively that the material world is not every thing. There is a spiritual world beyond that, the nature of which we do not know. Man is only able to catch glimpses of the unseen world when he realises that material pleasures are limited and, after a certain point, they lose their attraction and become a source of boredom and monotony. When a poor man sees the material possessions of a rich man, he feels that the wealthy man has achieved the ultimate in life. However, when the poor man succeeds in acquiring such possessions he loses interest in them. Likewise, a lover who longs to meet his girlfriend, and spends sleepless nights dreaming about being with her believing that all the pleasures of life will be encompassed by his love, is disappointed when he finally marries the girl. The feeling of ecstasy disappears, and within two years the whole affair may be a thing of the past. Another example is of a man who falls ill and gets very depressed, imagining that all the pleasures of life depend on his recovery to health. But once he is well he not only forgets those unhappy days, but he takes his health for granted too. And how about the young artist who seeks fame and popularity, and is overwhelmed with joy when he hears his name being broadcast, or sees his picture in a paper. Yet once he is recognised and established, the attraction for fame loses its charm and becomes part of his everyday life. By the same token we may be moved by a romantic song, which brings up intense feelings of love, stirring our hearts and kindling the fire of our imagination, sending us into raptures. A well written story can have the same effect, carrying us away from reality into a world of fantasy, full of poetry and romance; But at the end of the story we are jolted back to reality, with a sense of longing. We yearn to return to that fantasy world in vain.
During moments of contemplation our souls may rise to sublime heights, where this material world appears trivial and unworthy. The joy of this experience will far surpass the Joy of a starving person finding food, the lover meeting his loved one or the pleasure and satisfaction a poor man when he finally acquires wealth and influence. This self is always eager to rise to sublime heights, to an unknown world, the identity of which can only be acquired. Through the few glimpses we catch of it, as mentioned previously. But it is through such experiences that man realises how trivial and limited material pleasures are, compared with spiritual pleasures. As a consequence, he becomes convinced, intuitively rather than intellectually, that this material life is not the ultimate goal and that there is beyond doubt another world beyond this. This is the world which our souls yearn for and try to reach, but the human body becomes an obstacle and hampers its efforts. This subjective and psychological perception and intellect are the proofs of the existence of another world called Hereafter.
The Eighth Principle:
Faith (Belief) in another world (Hereafter) is a natural consequence to the, belief in the existence of God. The above statement can be further explained by stating that the Lord of this universe is fair, and that anyone who is just will not allow for injustice. He will not let the oppressive person go unpunished, nor will he deny justice to anyone who has suffered unfairly. We find many people in this world who live and die as oppressors without ever being punished (people like Hitler, who killed millions). We can also see people who are victim of unfair treatment throughout their lives. But how can this happen if God exists and is just? It only proves that there is a life after this worldly life where the doer of evil will be punished and the doer of good rewarded. The story does not finish with the end of this world. If a feature film were to be shown on television and were to be stopped abruptly, with the viewers being told that the film ended at that point, they would most certainly complain and want to know what was going on. "What happened to the hero?’’ ‘’What happened to the rest of the film?" would be some of the questions they would ask. These questions would crop up because they would expect the script writer to give a full account of the story. But if this is how people would react to a story on life in this world, can any intelligent person accept the statement that life ends with death? How could it be possible? It therefore becomes clear to the human mind that there must be a Lord of this universe and a life hereafter. That unknown world that we catch glimpses of when we hear romantic music or read a moving story, or experience in moments of intuition, is not 'the world of ideas' as depicted by Plato. It is a world created by the Lord of all creation; a world offering everlasting pleasures and not the ephemeral pleasure of this world which are but a mere flavor of what is to come. And what's more, we will never get used to these eternal pleasures. They will never lose their beauty and become ordinary - as is the case with the pleasure of this world.
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