Reflections

Jahangir Haneef

There seems to be a consensus that the world is becoming a dangerous place to live in. Its peace is threatened by the very creature expected to preserve it. Surprisingly, the weapon that has been used to destroy the tranquility of our 'home' is indeed a 'gift' from our Creator, to save us from differences and cultivate peace and serenity in our hearts. This 'gift', which was originally intended to be the source of love, tolerance and forbearance, was somehow taken by men to be the basis for spreading hatred and disorder in every society across the world. The nature of the danger is so profound that, in case the world fails to respond to it properly, it would not only devastate our worldly life but would also take many away from our Creator since it is in His name that this nuisance is being spread.

In my humble opinion, the source of the problem is not one. There are indeed many factors which have given rise to this destructive behavior. I shall attempt to cover them all in this article. I have identified certain questions which I believe, if addressed and understood properly, will certainly help resolve the crisis. The questions are:

1. What is the 'reality' of a religion?

2. Can one ever claim to have stumbled upon the ultimate truth?

3. What is the proper channel to attract people to your viewpoint?

4. What are the criteria for success in the Hereafter?

Each question will be dealt with such that, first, the correct stance in this respect is presented and then a conclusion is drawn on the basis of the correct standpoint. In the end, the whole discussion shall be concluded to highlight the response that I wish to draw from the readers.

1. What is the 'reality' of a religion?

Everyone loves their own religion. There is nothing wrong with that, but what actually prompted God to formalize a religion for mankind in the first place must be understood in its proper perspective.

The Qur'an tells us that apart from the respective religions we give credence to, there is a 'Universal Religion' that all mankind share. This is the religion that is innate to us. We learn it neither in the mosque nor in the church nor in a synagogue. It is something we receive as inheritance. This 'inherent guidance' helps us differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil. In other words, every one of us inherently knows what is good and what is evil. The Qur'an alludes to this fact in the following words:

ThenHe inspired the soul to understand what is right and wrong for it. (91:8)

We showed him the path. It is now up to him to be grateful or ungrateful. (76:3)

Thus, this guidance has been provided to all mankind by the Almighty without any distinction. This is why people, the world over, regard justice, veracity, honesty as virtues and consider lying, oppression, adultery wicked crimes. Hence, this is the guidance that is common among all humanity.

A study of the Qur'an reveals that if man had not manipulated his 'inborn guidance' to establish his undue authority and to oppress the weak, the Almighty may not have chosen to send down His 'divine guidance'. The Qur'an maintains that mankind was initially one single nation but they began to differ among themselves about the very basic truths that the Almighty had decreed within each soul1.The Ever Merciful Creator, then, raised a series of prophets who delineated the basic truths afresh and removed all the misconceptions that surrounded them2. In addition, He substantiated, several times, the veracity of these basic truths through a special agency of His Rusul by rewarding those who followed the message and by destroying those who disbelieved in spite of being convinced about the truth of the message3. This visual divine substantiation was last carried out in the era of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), which, unlike the previous ones, was formally recorded and documented. It is also important to remember that these Prophets also brought with them certain instructions for their followers to act upon. These instructions coupled with innate guidance took the form of a formalized religion for the respective addressees of these Prophets.

Unfortunately, when Jesus (sws) called upon Israelites to listen to him and pay heed to the message that he brought for them from the Almighty, they defied him and rejected his message. Unlike the opponents of the previous Rusul, they were spared since they were basically adherents to monotheism, though, they were given the punishment of living under subjugation for denying the status of Jesus (sws) as the true Prophet of God4. Thus the 'religion' of the Israelites remained alongside the 'religion' of the followers of Jesus (sws). Had the Israelites not been the adherents of monotheism, they would have been destroyed and only one religion would have prevailed. The same sort of situation arose in the era of Muhammad (sws), in which the followers of two previous religions, namely Judaism and Christianity, were spared and allowed to live alongside the religion of Islam.5

One may think of the other theologies to which a significant number of people are devoted, for instance, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. It needs to be appreciated that, as has already been explained above, religion is not something external to man. Rather, it has deep roots in his soul implanted by the Almighty Himself. These ideologies must have been developed by some noble souls on the basis of the inherent guidance that we all have. Since this was a human endeavor, it could not have been devoid of the shortcomings to which all human works are subjected. The Qur'an does not mention any Prophet who was sent to territories like India, deep southern Africa or western countries. It is, however, known from the Qur'an that it is the established Sunnah of the Almighty to send a Prophet to a central city in each territory. It seems that, under the same scheme, the Almighty chose the Middle East to depute all His Prophets in the center of the earth. The underlying objective being that, like a fountain spreads water around it, His word would flow and irrigate each and every patch of this world.

Consequently, there are now three main Semitic religions and many other theologies, whose adherents, upon discovering irreconcilable differences among themselves and as a result of the natural love for their own, begin to denigrate people of the other faiths. This innocent hate when exploited by religious scholars, gives way to deadly encounters and horrible incidents of which religious history has recorded many examples. If the discussion given above is understood properly, one is able to construe the following points:

1. We all are the adherents of a universal religion.

2. No nation can ever claim to be the 'chosen nation' merely on the grounds that it received many or a prominent Prophet since it was because of their faults that the Almighty deputed His representatives among them to rectify their condition.

3. When God has been so tolerant in matters related to the adherents of monotheism, so should those people who put their faith in Him.6

2. Can one ever claim to have stumbled over the ultimate truth?

One cannot refute that there is only one truth. It is actually absurd to claim that Mr. A and Mr. B both have the truth even if what Mr. A has to say clearly contradicts what Mr. B holds as true. If there is only one straight line from one point to the other, then there can only be one truth that is to prevail. The word 'truth' itself entails that one aspect of a matter should win and all others ought to be declared false.

The point that needs to be kept in mind is that we determine truth using our reasoning faculty and the information available to us and both are undoubtedly susceptible to errors and mistakes. This follows that while we may claim that keeping in view the corroborative evidence what we have arrived at is the truth, it does not preclude the possibility of our taking things wrongly. In other words, while truth remains the same, our perception of it varies widely since we perceive it using agents which are prone to faults and errors. Here, I would like to give a very simple example to clarify my point. There was a time when people maintained that the earth was stationery. At that time, no doubt, the truth of the matter was that the earth was revolving around the sun. However, since people did not have access to advanced equipment and could not ascertain reliable information, they held something false as true. Thus, it can safely be concluded that truth never changes although we, sometimes, mistakenly tend to take something untrue as truth.

Properly understood, the above discussion suggests that a person must never be held responsible for not arriving at the right version of the truth. What should matter and what must be given high value is the sincerity of heart with which a person embarks on the journey to find truth. While a person cannot eliminate entirely the obstacles which come his way, he can at least be true in his search. This is the ultimate requirement that is incumbent on every person who wishes to enter Paradise. In other words, since the sincerity of heart is an internal matter not exposed to any other person, we must not risk our success in the Hereafter on judgment of the sincerity of others. Consequently, the search for the truth is a matter assigned to each person and each will be tried and tested for his own understanding of the truth.7This understanding will be probed to ascertain whether it was acquired sincerely and whether it was acted upon throughout a lifetime. As pointed out earlier, the sincerity of a person is something which cannot be precisely determined by another person; it is, therefore, not appropriate for us to judge anyone. It is the prerogative of the Almighty and must be left to Him to decide on the Last Day.

3. What is the proper channel to attract people to your viewpoint?

The spirit that should develop when faith grows deep roots in a person's heart is naturally calling other people to feel the warmth of the burning flame of the truth and to pursue their goals under its shining glow. Faith is like a healthy seed which if sown in a sincere heart grows into a strong imposing tree, which serves multi-purposes for the community. Not only do people who live near it benefit from it, others who are miles away also enjoy the cool breeze which was a hot wind. The most amazing thing is that the tree happily gives away its most valuable part, for no cost, without discriminating among the recipients of these parts. The point is that it innately knows how to live for others and how to breathe what others breathe without distinguishing between 'who is who'. This is indeed the attitude that man is required to develop and live with in this world through unending struggle and effort. While he is expected to attract people to his viewpoint, he is never supposed to disparage them. He must share the truth that he believes in with everyone around him but he must never sneer at the truth that others hold dear.

The stance of the Qur'an in this respect is very clear. It totally disapproves of those people who would impose their beliefs on others because this amounts to disorder and anarchy in society. It explicitly states that if such circumstances should arise somewhere, they must be crushed with force only when diplomatic efforts fail. The Qur'an terms it persecution and urges the believers to stand against it since it is a crime against very basic human values.

What has come upon you that you fight not in the cause of God and for the oppressed men, women, and children, who pray; 'Get us out of this town, O Lord, whose people are oppressors; so raise for us from Yourself one who will protect and raise for us from Yourself one who will help'. (4:75)

The correct attitude in this regard is also favored by the Qur'an. It emphasizes that this exhortation to the truth must be in such a way as is approved by sense and reason. It must be brimful with soft words of good advice and also be supported by lucid arguments. Having done this, the whole matter must be left to the Almighty alone since it is He who knows who is denying the truth on purpose and who has genuine reasons for not comprehending it. In the words of the Qur'an:

Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and words of good advice, and reason with them in the best way possible. Your Lord surely knows those who stray from His path, and He knows those who are guided the right way. (16:125)

Thus, the attitude delineated by the Qur'an, if is developed and adhered to, will certainly alleviate the tense atmosphere that is created when we assume the status of the Almighty and jump to judge someone else. It is, therefore, recommended that our preaching endeavor must remain confined to humbly presenting our point of view and always adhering to the role of an exhorter.

4) What are the criteria for success in the Hereafter?

This is an imperfect world. We have to lose what we hold dear and we have to endure while our aspirations are shattered and our dreams are eroded beyond repair. We overcome one obstacle and the next one smiles at us standing right in the middle of our path that we wish so much to tread. Justice, that is our very basic right, continues to elude us in this world for people of affluence and good connections often manage to get away with the crimes they commit. If we succeed to build a prestigious career and amass a great deal of wealth, death finally overtakes us and we have to leave it all here for others to enjoy. In this entire discouraging situation, there is only one hope: Allah and the Paradise He has consummated for the believers. How a person should feel when he is told that he is not going to make it to the Heaven just because he does not have the version of the truth that his contender has? Is this behavior going to create feelings of love and affection in the addressees' heart? Will it not sweep away every possibility of living together peacefully?

The Qur'an mentions that when the Prophet (sws) and his followers immigrated to Madinah, they had to face a similar situation from the two religious groups that settled there, namely, the Christians and the Jews. In spite of accepting the long-awaited Prophet, Muhammad (sws), the both factions started to sing their own praises. The Christians claimed that the way to Heaven was only through Jesus (sws) and the Jews boasted that they were only entitled to enter the Paradise. The Qur'an reprimanded them that they had better avoid saying things for which they had no evidence whatsoever from the Almighty:

They boasted that no one would ever enter the Paradise save those who are either the Jews or the Christians. This claim is but their own fabrication. Ask them [O Prophet] to bring some evidence [from the Almighty] if they are true in their claim. (2:111)

The implication being that success in the Hereafter is not something that depends on the 'label' that a person is known by in this world. He is not going to succeed merely on the grounds that he belongs to a particular sect. Successful is indeed the person who surrenders and submits to God's will and who opens his heart sincerely to receive the truth that is presented before him no matter if it means to destroy his worldly status or career:

Indeed, for those who submit to Allah's will sincerely is reward with their Lord. They will not fear nor shall they grieve. (2:112)

What is evident from the verse is that, at times, a person tends to place other things above his Lord. This is the attitude that is accepted not the least by the Almighty. In all matters, He must remain on the top of our priority list. Hence, the verse was in fact a warning sounded to the Jews and the Christians of Madinah that how they would be able to enter the Paradise when they had given priority to the worldly benefits by closing their eyes and hearts in order to reject the message of their Lord.

It is known from the Qur'an, while this submission to Allah's will requires that our heart should remain open to welcome the truth that is unveiled to us, it manifests itself in the following:8

1. Belief in One God: That there is no one else who shares His attributes or is able to influence His decisions in any manner whatsoever.

2. Belief in thet Day of Judgment: That the wise and sagacious Lord has not created this world in vain. There is a special objective that shall be achieved on the Last Day when the good are rewarded fabulously and the bad are put through the torment of Hell.

3. Performance of Virtuous Deeds: These good deeds are performed in order to attain inner-purification, which is the ultimate objective that is set for all believers to achieve in order to win entitlement to Heaven.

It, however, needs to be kept in mind that these are only the basic criteria of success that every person must comply with in order to succeed on the Last Day. In other words, this verse puts forth the positive aspect of the obligations that all believers must fulfill. One of the obvious conditions of success in the Hereafter is, therefore, that a person is not guilty of such blemishes as entail eternal punishment in the abyss of destruction. The Qur'anat various instances has shed light on these crimes and warned humankind to be careful not to go even near them. The list includes intentional murder (4:93), polytheism (4:48), living a life of sin (2:81), and deliberately denying a Prophet of the Almighty (98:6)9. These all obligations may at a first glance seem distinct and disparate but if are viewed from a holistic perspective, one will be able to see that they are evidently an offshoot of one's willingness to surrender to God's will alone. Again, since a person's willingness to submit is an internal matter and no other person can be aware of that, this must also be left to the Almighty and no judgment should we pronounce against anyone.

Consequently, the criteria offered by the Qur'ando not limit success in the Hereafter to a particular faction because it bases the success on values that a person knows about intuitively as well as through the testimony of his sense and reason. It is, therefore, asserted that this criteria be appreciated and, adopted and propagated across the world in order to curb the tension that is the outcome of confining success in the Hereafter to a particular sect alone.

Concluding Remarks

It is evident from the foregoing discussion that the source of society's problem is not isolated and that no specific faction can be held responsible for the present situation. All religious communities have contributed to the conflicts that we see the world over because they have misplaced some in respect of their religion. It is, therefore, incumbent on each group to look inward instead of blaming others. This introspection if sincerely carried out will surely let them know their faults and mistakes. They had better be concerned with correcting what is wrong on their part. If each community performs this task sincerely, there is no reason that we remain unsuccessful in reducing the problems that we have to face on this earth. What must be borne clearly in mind is that the day is soon to come when the truth shall stand unveiled in its ultimate form, then all the defaulters, who in spite of being aware of their faults made no effort to correct them, shall be brought to justice.