Ali Unal, The Circle
At birth man has no conscious knowledge about himself or about the environment around him; nevertheless, he is not an alien but fitted for the world into which he is born. To begin with, his body is made up of the same elements as exist in nature: the building blocks that make up the mineral, vegetable and animal elements of the earth also constitute the sperm and the egg which, when they are joined, marked the first moment of his earthly life. And yet, how the inanimate matter is converted into living forms defeats all our inquiries: it is a direct gift of the Creator. Man is thus a ‘child of nature’ and aware of himself as a creature of the Creator’s making. That awareness distinguishes the second aspect, the ‘heavenly’ side of being human, beside the merely ‘natural’ aspect.
A human child is, typically, born into a welcoming environment, and knows the embrace of parents and a wider family of relatives. Moreover, the baby is immediately provided with the most perfect nourishment, exactly adapted to its needs in the form of the mother’s milk. The world, as the child grows, will be experienced as an environment fully ordered–with sight and sounds, with heat and light and rainfall, with an infinitive diversity of plants fruits and animals–to enable, exercise and enlarge all the faculties of sense and feeling and intellect that the Creator has created in the child. Likewise, the body in which the child’s life is held functions without conscious effort or decision–brain, heart, lungs, stomach, senses, limbs, and so on. All this, minutely arranged and coordinated, is the gift of the Creator, the apparatus that He gives when He gives life to a human being, to support and mature that life. Very little of what man has is his own doing–if he was left to manage only his own body, unaided by the Creator, he could not do it and so could not survive.
The One who created the universe and subjected it to man’s stewardship is also the One Who created man. It behoves us, then, to consider what our responsibility is, considering all that we have been given, to reflect on how we will answer for ourselves and for what we have in our care. Human responsibility before the Creator is voluntary, whereas every other creature carries out its particular duties without reflection but also without defect in its duties.
Because the apparent efficiency of modern technology obscures it from us, we need to remind ourselves of the relative impotence and vulnerability of man. Man cannot create so much as a leaf or a fly, though he is free to tamper with Allah’s creation to the extent He wills. Man has no domain over even the operation of his body, let alone over the world as a whole. He cannot prevent himself from getting hungry and thirsty; he has no part in determining his parents, or his time and place of birth, nor his physique or physical structure, nor does he know when and where he will die. We affirm that man needs to use the natural world to sustain and enlarge his life. The One Who subjected nature to man has also created in man the necessary means to use nature, namely his intellectual faculties. By exercising his intellect man obtains some knowledge of the orderly operations of natural phenomena; the uniformity and reliability of these phenomena enable him to formulate ‘laws’. Such ‘laws’ are our imperfect, human intimations of the supreme laws according to which the Supreme Being has created what He has created.
Humanity, that is the quality or the being fully identified as human, does not come from man’s natural, material aspects but from the immaterial and spiritual. His spirit and intellect do not originate in his physical structure. When he dies or, in different words, when the spiritual part of him leaves his body, he is reduced to something that will decompose into the earth.
He no longer has senses, even though, for a short time, his body is still there. This means that it is the spiritual part of him that uses the body. It is life that gives the body meaning. The relation between man’s body and spirit can be understood somewhat by analogy with a factory and electrical power. It is of no value how complex, sophisticated and excellent a factory is unless there is electrical power to put it into operation, without which it is no more than a piece of mechanical junk. We do not therefore mean to imply that the spirit is everything by itself, that the body is ‘junk’; on the contrary, spirit needs matter or a corporeal form to express its powers and functions.
Just as the future life of a fruit tree is encapsulated in its seed, and the worth of the tree is in the worth of the fruit it yields, so too the life-history of man is also recorded, and his life is worthwhile in proportion to his good deeds and virtues. Again, just as the tree increases by means of the seed in its fruit, so too does man prosper by his good deeds, all of whose weight and consequence will become known to him. This world is the field where man scatters his deeds to be harvested in the next. So the Majestic Creator, Who brings man into existence from non-existence, and Who brings him to life by breathing the ‘spirit’ into the body that he fashioned from the clay of nature, will quicken him again after his decomposition in the earth. This is as easy for Him as bringing day after night, spring after winter, and making what looks, at the end of autumn, like dry wood, yield grapes the following summer.
Man has, in addition to the faculties and means we have mentioned, three principal drives or kinds of energy. These are the desires, anger and intellect. He desires or lusts after the opposite sex, he desires and loves his children, and worldly possessions such as houses, money, and cars. His anger is directed at what opposes him, and by means of it he also defends himself against all antagonistic forces. His intellect enables him to make ‘right’ decisions. These powers in man are not restrained by the Creator; rather, man is required to seek perfection by disciplining himself against misuse of them. It is this struggle for discipline which determines his ‘humanity’. Otherwise, there would be no purpose for him in the universe, seeing that all other creatures lead relatively untroubled lives without causing any organized disorder in nature.
Man is the creature who matures spiritually and intellectually; the other creatures have no freedom of will and so do not evolve or mature in this way, their whole lives being wholly determined within nature. Only man has freedom of will which he must apply to his energies in order to keep them within the correct limits. If he does not recognize any limits to his desire he may, for instance, usurp the property of others, seek illicit sexual relations, and so on. If, again, he does not recognize limits to the use of intellect, he may exploit it to deceive others. That is why man’s powers must be held in check: his intellect must be exercised with ‘wisdom’, and his desire and anger restrained by lawfulness and moderation. We should remember too that man is a social being: if he does not restrain himself, certainly wrongdoing, injustice, exploitation, disorder, and revolutions will occur in the society.
But what is lawful and right; what is moderate and wise? Who will decide the criteria, and how will these criteria be accepted by people? This is where the essential problem of human life lies.
It is rare for even two or three people to agree on the truth of even a single subject. If the rich and powerful decide what the truth is then their ‘truth’ will exclude or disadvantage the poor and vice versa. Nor if the truth is truth can it be decided by majority vote: for the truth as truth will be compelling no matter how many or how few people vote for it. The truth is, and can only be determined by Truth, that is, by Allah, Who has created man and the universe. What falls to man to do is to discover that Truth and abide by it.
No one doubts that there are some verities that are universally recognized–such as honesty, generosity, altruism, truthfulness, helpfulness, compassion, etc. These are essentially reflections of man’s true nature. Created by the One, Who is All Wise, All-Generous, All-Compassionate, every man has an innate inclination towards these virtues and it is the God–revealed religion which confirms and establishes these truths, showing the straight path out of man’s psychological and social problems. This religion was revealed through God-chosen men revered as ‘prophets.’
While constant change is observed in nature, there is an underlying aspect of permanence in everything. For instance, a seed germinates under the earth and grows into a tree, without the laws of germination and growth changing. Likewise, human beings, no matter the changes in clothes, houses, vehicles, etc., in the material or form of their lives, have remained unchanged in respect of the essential purposes they serve and their impact on our lives and environment. We all share as human beings, certain general conditions of life and value; we are all born, mature, marry, have children and face death; we all possess some degree of will and common desires; we share also certain values–we all know the meaning of honesty, kindness, justice, courage, and so on. All the prophets sent by Allah were therefore sent from first to last, with the same message. This message, whether preached by the Prophets Moses, Jesus or Muhammad ( peace be upon them all) is based upon the Absolute Oneness and Absolute Transcendence of God: He does not beget, nor is begotten, being Eternally Self-Existent. Each created being naturally depends on its Creator, only the Creator Himself is Self-Existent, unique, single, nor composite, not subject to change, not contained by time or space. Belief in such a Divine Being constitutes the primary foundation of the Divine Religion, as preached by all prophets. The other pillars of Divine religion are belief in resurrection, in all the prophets without distinction, in the angels, the Divine Scriptures, and the Divine Destiny which embraces human free will. Through sincere faith and worship and by adhering to the pristine teachings of the prophets, mankind can obtain the highest degree of elevation, even be worthy of heaven. Certainly there is no other escape from the snares of the worldly life, nor from the oppressive ignorance of false, man-made systems, or the tyranny of self-appointed priestly authority.
Man, when he does not employ his free will in the right way, to discipline his energies, can be too obedient a slave to his passions. They will incite him to wrong his fellow human beings in order to satisfy his desires. Since the Divine religion does not allow such wrong-doing, those whose desires lead them from the straight path seek to corrupt the religion in order to shape it to their whims and fancies. This results in disorder, oppression, unending conflicts and destruction on the earth. Allah wills mercy for his creation, not oppression or injustice. He wills that human beings should live in peace and, accordingly, that justice should prevail amongst them. It is a fact of history that the followers of prophets who preceded the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, split into opposing factions, with the result that the religion was corrupted to serve the local cultural preference (or the interest) of one or another sect.
The Israelites, the Jewish people, deviated from the straight path and changed their scriptures. In the course of time, they broke with the original Torah and were finally reduced to being poor slaves of their lust and materialistic desires. When Jesus was sent to them to restore the Divine religion, very little of the pure teaching of Moses remained. The followers of Jesus, after the first generation, followed the footsteps of the earlier people. They split up into many factions. There were at one time as many as three hundred Gospels. One faction allied itself to the Roman Empire and so was able to prevail, more or less, over the others. The Nicene Council imposed the Christian creed throughout the Empire, and eventually a ‘canon’ of accepted texts was established as a new ‘Scripture’. Christianity deified Jesus and the Holy Spirit, thus introducing a mysterious, irrational trinity into the pure teachings of Jesus. Having deified Jesus, some of the more irrational of his followers, following their own reason, found themselves obliged to deify Mary, the mother of Jesus also. These dogmas were combined with other pagan beliefs such as blood atonement and original sin.
The reason for sending all the previous prophets including Moses and Jesus one after the other was that the religion needed to be returned to its original purity after the introduction of innovations and deviations by its adherents. For this reason the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was sent after Jesus. He came with the same pillars of faith, and Allah revealed to him the Our’an which contains eternal principles for man’s individual and collective life. Because, by Divine Decree the Our’an is, above all scriptures, preserved absolutely and permanently, the Prophet Muhammad is the last of the Messengers. No other is needed by mankind and, by Allah, no other will be sent. Unlike any other religion Islam honors the religious experience of mankind before Islam, because Islam confirms and completes what is true in the religions before it. This is expressed by our saying that, for example, the Prophet Ibrahim was a Muslim. This is why Islamic civilization was, from the outset, tolerant, plural, inclusive–regarding the whole of mankind as its proper constituency–and why, with the rarest exceptions has always remained so. Western- Christian civilization, despite the self-delusion of European assertions to the contrary, has typically been intolerant, exclusive and, often, explicitly racist. There is but one religion which recognizes as a part of its own system of beliefs that other religions exist; and only this religion is capable of guiding man and human civilization towards the higher levels of humanity. Without a return of authority to Islamic principles, we live in danger of increasing selfishness and destructiveness whether as mutually hostile individuals or as mutually hostile nation-states.