Zaid: ‘Have you read much?’

Khalid: ‘Not much. But I have thought much.’

Zaid: ‘You’ll not be offended by my questions?’

Khalid: ‘I hope not.’

Zaid: ‘You might find them rather unconventional – and quite provocative.’

Khalid: ‘A good question is a sign of intelligence. But not just any question. The greatest fool can ask more questions than the wisest man can answer.’

Zaid: ‘Are you calling me a fool?

Khalid: ‘No. What I am trying to say is that a question hurled as a criticism usually fails to give you the other person’s perspective. If the desire to seek the truth is genuine, one can learn from a fool; if it is not, one often comes back with little information and no wisdom even from a wise man.’

Zaid: ‘(He smiles): Are you calling yourself a wise man?

Khalid: ‘You have come to me, I have not come to you. If I am not a wise man, then either your intention to learn is not serious or you are not wise.

‘If you wish to learn something that is truly important to you, you must be careful in the choice of the person you select for consultation. You don’t go to just any Tom, Dick and Harry for diagnosis of an ailment or for a medical prescription. You go to a person you think is competent. And then you listen to what he has to say. You show him respect. Similarly, when you seek knowledge and truth, go to the person you think is capable. And show him respect, if you wish to learn. Only after you have understood what he has to say should you begin thinking about the flaws. First learn, then evaluate, then criticise. For though knowledge leads to greatness, it begins in humility. The seeker of truth is always humbled by his thirst. He genuflects in prayer to gain knowledge from the most ignorant person even though he endeavours to go to the most wise.’

‘I am most certainly not the wisest man around. In all probability, I am not even wise. But since even a fool may have some words of wisdom, I may be of service to you. However, if I feel that you are discussing only for arguing, questioning only for ridiculing and criticising without learning, then, I am afraid, I shall not be able to go on. For one thing is certain: if you are not a student, then I am not the teacher – even if I have something to teach.’

Zaid: ‘Okay. You’ve made your point. But if during the discussion, I feel that you are not giving me my time’s worth, I walk out.’

Khalid: ‘Fair enough.’

Zaid: ‘Okay. Question number one: Who do you think is more important in the history of nations: a philosopher or a leader?’

Khalid: ‘Both have their place.’

Zaid: ‘But in the final analysis, which of the two makes the difference?’

Khalid: ‘Let me ask you a question to answer this one: Why do you think the U.S. waited so many days to get the approval from the U.N. for a strike against Iraq in Desert Storm?’

Zaid: ‘International community pressure.’

Khalid: ‘And what were they pressurising it with? Guns? Economic sanctions?’

Zaid: ‘No, that’s not the point. Maybe the U.S. thought that the strike would be detrimental to its economic interests.’

Khalid: ‘You mean the U.S. thought it would face an oil embargo from the Arabs, who, with their mighty army, obviously didn’t need America? Or, perhaps, it thought that after the war, all the contracts for reconstruction would go to Pakistan. Perhaps, it also feared that Saddam Hussein’s defeat would make the U.S. lose respect. And quite obviously the fact that after the Gulf War the U.S. was able to avert the S&L crisis is absolutely of no relevance here.’

Zaid: ‘Okay, okay. So what’s the point.’

Khalid: ‘No point. Just the question: What stopped the U.S. for so many days? Why did it want to get the U.N.’s approval?’

Zaid: ‘Beats me. You tell.’

Khalid: ‘To my mind, among other reasons, one very, very important one was moral justification.’

Zaid: ‘So?’

Khalid: ‘The philosopher provides the leader with that.

   As I said, both have their place.’

Zaid: ‘But moral justification can be given for the most ignoble of deeds.’

Khalid: ‘True. All the more need for moral values.’

Zaid: ‘But those who succeed usually don’t give two hoots for moral values – especially leaders. And those who care, usually bite the dust.’

Khalid: ‘Yet moral values are important to most people.’

Zaid: ‘Oh, come on! You don’t believe in the tooth fairy as well, do you?’

Khalid: ‘Tell me what kind of person you think is the most difficult to kill?’

Zaid: ‘The Head of a State.’

Khalid: ‘Like Zia-ul-Haq? Or Bhutto? Or J.F. Kennedy?’

Zaid: ‘Who then?’

Khalid: ‘A child.’

‘An innocent child.’

‘For most part of our history, that has been the most difficult murder – stymied by moral values.’

Zaid: ‘Have you read Machiavelli’s The Prince?’

Khalid: ‘The little treatise in which he says to the Medici prince to whom it was dedicated: “May you assume the task with courage and in the hopes inspired by a just cause…”?’

‘Inspired by a just cause?!’

Zaid: ‘Yes, but the means….?’

Khalid: ‘Yes, and his own paragon of those means, Cesare Borgia, was successful?

Zaid: ‘If his measures failed, it was only “by the most extraordinary malignity of fortune”.’

Khalid: ‘And what about Hilter?’

Zaid: ‘What about Lenin?

Khalid: ‘What about the U.S.S.R.?’

Zaid: ‘At least, he was successful. Stalin and he, they lived like God.’

Khalid: ‘And died like Him?’

Zaid: ‘Yes. Your God has been living clinically ever since the dawn of logical positivism.’

Khalid: ‘If you call living in the hearts and minds of the majority of the people in the world for most part of history – before and after you logical positivism – living clinically, then hats off to you.’

‘Just go through Larry King’s book on prayer and you’ll find out how many of the most powerful and well-known people believe in God. If from Morocco to Indonesia, the majority don’t eat pork, it’s because their religion still is a very, very important basis for their decisions. In contrast, speaking pragmatically, your logical positivism isn’t exactly alive and kickin’.’

Zaid: ‘Yet, the most successful are those who do not let moral values and other such unverifiable or unconfirmed notions stand in the way of economic political and social gain. And usually the suckers left holding the bag are those soft-hearted and soft-headed Psalm singers who put their trust in values.’

Khalid: ‘Yes, but what about the fact that the collective adherence to moral values is indispensable for the prosperity of a nation. If everyone’s a thug, how will the country progress?’

Zaid: ‘Everyone isn’t.’

Khalid: ‘So what are you saying.’

Zaid: ‘That only a few have that superior intelligence. Only a few have the sense. They are the leaders. They are Machiavellian Princes, for they hold and wield all the power. People like Lenin… people like me.’

Khalid: ‘So what you are saying is that these “leaders”, as you call them, have the right to hurt people for their own gains.’

Zaid: ‘Only when they stand in their way. Lenin didn’t go about killing everybody. Only those who stood in the way.’

Khalid: ‘Like about five million in the first few years of his rule?’

Zaid: ‘The Law of the Jungle. Survival of the Fittest.’

Khalid: ‘And the fittest would include Hilter?’

Zaid: ‘No, He failed. “Success” as he himself put it “is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong”.’

Khalid: ‘And what exactly is success?’

Zaid: ‘To me, it’s power – power through economic, social and political gain. But otherwise, anything that gives you satisfaction.’

Khalid: ‘Anything?’

Zaid: ‘Anything. Provided you can get away with it.’

Khalid: ‘Rape? Seduction? Serial-killings.’

Zaid: ‘Maybe. If you can get away with it.’

Khalid: ‘If you can get away with it.’

Zaid: ‘Yep, if you can get away with it.’

Khalid: ‘So, in case you got satisfaction in sleeping with your mother – and both of you could get away with it – you would have no moral qualms in doing so?’

Zaid: (Silence)

Khalid: ‘Would you do it?’

Zaid: ‘I don’t believe that would in any way give me satisfaction.’

Khalid: ‘The Ceteris Paribus here covered that bit. By the way, I hope you know that this is just a hypothetical.’

Zaid: ‘Yes.’

Khalid: ‘So would you?’

Zaid: (Silence)

Khalid: ‘Would you?’

Zaid: ‘Yes.’

Khalid: (Silence)

‘And the same goes for seduction, murder, etc.’

Zaid: ‘Yes. Ceteris Paribus.’

Khalid: ‘Ceteris Paribus.’

‘By the way, can you declare all that in public?’

Zaid: ‘Why should I? I am not stupid. This knowledge is for the select few. Morality is the yoke with which the likes of me harness the masses. I’ll always uphold moral principles in public.’

Khalid: ‘Excellent! So, at least you’ll admit that deep within you are a coward and a hypocrite of the lowest order.’

Zaid: ‘These are subjective terms. Unverifiable empirically. They don’t mean anything to me.’

Khalid: ‘So in your opinion, the likes of Mother Teresa, Sir Thomas More, and Father Damien were essentially stupid.

Zaid: ‘Yes.’

Khalid: ‘What guarantees do you have?’

Zaid: ‘Sorry?’

Khalid: ‘What guarantees do you have in life?’

Zaid: ‘I am sorry, I don’t understand.’

Khalid: ‘What if, right after you leave my home, you have a complete and permanent paralysis? That can happen, can’t it?’

Zaid: ‘Yes, it can.’

Khalid: ‘Then, what would you do, if it did happen?’

Zaid: ‘Somebody would take care of me, I suppose.’

‘Somebody in my family.’

Khalid: ‘But why should they take care of someone – something rather – who cannot possibly afford them any material benefit ever? Aren’t they as intelligent as you are?’

Zaid: (Smiles)

‘Maybe not.’

Khalid: ‘What if there is no one. Just no one to take care of you as such. You are just fed somehow. Charity or something. But just that. What then?’

Zaid: ‘Well, I guess, then I am finished.’

Khalid: ‘And you admit that the possibility of such a disaster – or of something less or of something more – does exist, and that there are no absolute guarantees in life?

Zaid: ‘Yes.’

Khalid: ‘Then what does your immense confidence rest upon? At least, I know whatever happens in this world to me, I’ll be more than compensated in the next one if I remain steadfast in my principles – moral principles.

Zaid: ‘My friend, my “confidence”, as you put it, rests upon probability. Ever heard of it? Just because of a remote possibility of some misfortune, I cannot throw away my life in the name of moral principles, especially those laid down by others.’

Khalid: ‘What about those who are facing such misfortunes? What compensation in your opinion do they have? What should they live for?’

Zaid: ‘That’s not exactly my problem. Besides, with advancement in science, we’ll be able to take care of most of them.’

Khalid: ‘What about those who’ll die much before that ‘imaginary advancement’ of science that will be a panacea for all unhappiness and suffering including the fear of losing perfect happiness if ever one achieves it?’

Zaid: ‘I’ve told you that’s essentially not my problem. Life is harsh. Some win, some lose. Even some Roman nobles had to commit suicide to save their own selves from dishonour.’

Khalid: ‘So that’s it, huh? When the going gets tough, you chicken out. Ever heard of perseverance?’

Zaid: ‘Again subjective terms. I could put the whole thing as: When life is not worth living, you bail out. Ever heard of euthanasia?’

Khalid: ‘All right, so you have all the answers. We’ll carry on this discussion later. First let’s have some tea.’

Zaid: ‘That, presently, is the greatest need of the hour. (He laughs).

Khalid: ‘Here you are.’

Zaid: ‘Thanks.’

Khalid: ‘(Just when Zaid is about to take a sip) whoa, wait a minute. My servant tells me there might be poison in this tea. Don’t drink it.’

Zaid: ‘What?’

Khalid: ‘Yes. That is what I’ve been told.’

Zaid: ‘B-but why are you taking yours.’

Khalid: ‘Because there is no poison in it.’

Zaid: ‘And there is in mine?’

Khalid: ‘There is that possibility.’

Zaid: (Stares at Khalid)

Khalid: ‘Why are you not taking your tea?’

Zaid: (Stares incredulously at Khalid). ‘You yourself said there might be poison in it!’

Khalid: ‘But you said you felt like having tea.’

Zaid: ‘Don’t be funny. I can’t risk my life for a trivial pleasure.’

Khalid: ‘You don’t think it’s wise to risk losing a long-term benefit for a short-term benefit.’

Zaid: ‘That’s one way to put it.’

Khalid: ‘What if there is a God?’

Zaid: ‘Sorry?’

Khalid: ‘Don’t you think that the possibility of eternal damnation is a greater risk than whatever this short life of ours has to afford? What is fifty or sixty or seventy year’s of life in comparison with eternity. Besides, worshipping God does not mean giving up living or giving up life or giving up the good things it has to offer – except in some exceptional circumstances.’

Zaid: ‘Hey, you make me look like a bad guy. I am not necessarily that bad. I don’t get satisfaction in killing people or in seducing girls.’

Khalid: ‘I know, but in making personal satisfaction rather than God as the deal-breaker, you give one who might want to go to that extent the perfect excuse, and very little to hope for to one who might want to sacrifice his all for the sake of a nobler ideal.’

‘The point is very simple. You might be fulfilling a number of responsibilities, but it seems that in your aversion to accepting them as an obligation, you negate a fundamental principle of knowledge: In life, we make decisions on the basis of existing knowledge, which we inherit from our predecessors, and continue to do so until our faculties of reason and understanding disprove something; for these faculties cannot be regarded as the final source of knowledge in themselves. When I see a vehicle approaching, I get aside on the assumption that it will hit me and on the assumption that getting hurt in such a way is not good. Both the assumptions could be incorrect, but until they are proved so, I base my decision on them. In a laboratory, I might be able to do otherwise – that too for a short period of time –, but in life I can’t. I regard murder as bad, I wear clothes when I go out, I look after my parents when they are old and unable to give me any material benefit, I use principles and concepts of science and technology –, all on the same basis. For instance, I take a pill on my doctor’s prescription until it is proved harmful. Knowledge, therefore, does not lead from confusion to more confusion but from certainty to more certainty.’

‘Belief in God has existed in the majority of human beings right from the beginning. There have been polytheists and monotheists in almost every era just as there are now. Belief in God and in a system of accountability for our actions and attitudes in life has always been there. The exceptions to this have never been able to prove the belief incorrect, for there is nothing in our understanding or reason that can negate this belief.’

‘And then there is this point about possibilities. I’ve tried to tell you that life seems meaningless and debased without God. That is the consequence of imagining that He is not there. But what if He is there? What if He holds you accountable for denying all the inherited knowledge without anything in your reason or understanding to justify that denial? Are the paltry pleasures of this ephemeral life a reasonable basis to risk eternity?’

‘I swear by all the knowledge passed on to man by man and by the holy and blessed lives of the Messengers of God and by the Divine guidance they gave us and by my conscience and my intellect that not only does the existence of God demand that He be worshipped; even the possibility of His existence entails that. If it is difficult to believe in God, it is impossible not to believe in Him.

Zaid: ‘All I can say is that from a pragmatic point of view, I don’t have any problems right now. I’ll decide what I have to do when I see Him.

Khalid: ‘Well, then we shall see – when you die and when I die.’

Zaid: ‘Right. We shall see.’

 

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‘Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth.’ (The Qur’an 24:35)

‘Deaf, dumb and blind; they will not return.’ (2:18)

‘And how can you deny God; you were without life then he gave you life, then he will make you die, then he will bring you to life again, then to him will you return again. (2:27)

(Asif Iftikhar)

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