The Story of the Two Books

Alhamdullilah I was recently published in Young Muslim Digest, a Bangalore based magazine in print for the last 3 decades. I have included the article in full here and you can access the same and other great sections like the editorial and letters to the editor at http://www.youngmuslimdigest.com

If you are reading this, chances are you live in a city; you are currently inside a building with both adjustable heating and lighting and oblivious to much of the natural world around you. You aren’t alone, millions around the world, increasingly live in urban areas due to the greater economic opportunities they provide. Yet financial security through urban living has its pitfalls; as our world gets increasingly urbanized, humanity is getting increasingly isolated from the marvels of nature and the simple life of the past.

A recent trip to a sea-side city in India afforded me an opportunity to wonder and marvel upon the Creation of Allah (swt). For what else can one do, when one is humbled by the pristine beauty in front of him? The shores each different from the other in appearance – some with clear water, others with angry waves, bordered by beaches covered in white or red sand, lined by sheer cliffs in some and surrounded by rocks in other, the sheer diversity of hues and colours takes one’s breath away. Having grown up in a sea-side town, the very nature of the beach from the soothing sound of waves to the cool breeze at the shore to the spectacular view of the sunset has always encouraged me to marvel at the creation of Allah (swt).

Yet, beaches are only a glimpse of the wide earth that Allah (swt) has created, and as one travels through the land one is, indeed, bound to be awestruck by the nature of His creation. Living as we are in cities, limited to glancing upon some trees in parks and roadside, we are isolated away from the beauty and wonder of the earth which serves an important purpose – to make the observer aware of Allah (swt) and His Perfection. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding.” (Chapter Aal `Imran:191)

He then explains that the people of understanding are those who remember Him often.

Contemplating on the fact that both the revealed verses and the creation of Allah (swt) is referred to as Ayah, the scholars of the past termed the creation as a Kitab al-Manzur (The Visual Book) and the revealed Ayah as Kitab al-Mastur (The Written Book). It is often said that the greatness of scientific inquiry during the Muslim Golden Era was due to the scientists’ curiosity of wanting to know how Allah (swt) made the physical realm work. The deeper they looked into this aspect, they more their faith grew, in the same way as the Prophet Ibraheem (asws) and his reflection over the heavenly bodies that he witnessed day and night. As time passed though, for various social and political reasons, the prominence of the Muslims fell away.

Comparing the breakneck speed of today’sscientific development to the days of the past, Muslims often wish that we could go back to the dominance of the old. After all, if our scientists were teaching the world then, why not today? The answer to this lies in the fact that the science of our forefathers in Islam and the science of today are built on completely opposite world-views. Whereas, in the past, science was based on increasing one’s faith in Allah (swt), today’s science, bereft of its connection with God, is increasingly used to challenge faith in Allah (swt).

People could argue that science and morality are two separate philosophies, and are necessarily distinct. Indeed, that was the argument between the church and the scientists which led to the end of the domination of one over the other. Post this fission, starting in the early 1800s, the technological advances that have taken place are simply astounding. Sample this: it took humanity a mere 150 years to go from inventing mechanized transport vis-à-vis the steam engine, to putting a man on the moon using rocket engines.

Divorced from the Divine Reality though, humanity, beginning from Europe, took economic progress through scientific achievement as the new purpose of life. MuhammedAsad’s words, in Road to Mecca, are evidently timeless when he said:

“The average European – whether democrat or communist, manual worker or intellectual – seemed to know only one positive faith: the worship of material progress, the belief that there could be no other goal in life than to make that very life continually easier or, as the current expression went, ‘independent of nature.’ The temples of that faith were the gigantic factories, cinemas, chemical laboratories, dance-halls, hydroelectric works; and its priests were the bankers, engineers, politicians, film stars, statisticians, captains of industry, record airmen, and commissars.”

Indeed, the world of today offers unparalleled luxury and, perhaps, the only difference between the world Asad described to us then and the one we inhabit today would be the definition of the European extending to a wider segment of the world.

But every fairy tale has a dragon as the villain, and so does this extraordinary tale of human genius and inventiveness. The earth today has become an exceedingly uncertain place to live in. Issues like global warming, climate change, polluted environment and depleting resources make headlines today. The attempted subjugation of the planet to expedite the path of economy and progress is rapidly coming back to haunt us. Extreme weather conditions, worsening food and water security and cities rendered unliveable due to pollution are the global problems that humanity has to contend with now.

Einstein seems prescient when he said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We, as humanity, are attempting to right the wrongs of the past; yet, we continue to do so within the narrow and limited vision of economic development. Efficiency, encouraged through penalties and taxes, is touted as the solution to all ills that would still allow unabated economic growth. The natural environment continues to be viewed as a resource to be exploited without any metaphysical significance.

Yet, as Muslims who understand the deeper implications of the natural world, it is imperative upon us to contribute urgently to the discourse of environmental responsibility. Living within a culture and atmosphere that denies God itself, it is the natural environment which can help us in contemplating over His existence and our duties towards Him. This relationship, however, extends in both ways. Only through contemplating God, the temporal nature of this life and the eternal abode of Hereafter, can we truly protect the environment from our greed for prosperity.

Advertisements

A Quake in Bangalore, Tremors in the Heart

A couple of days back in Bangalore, many of my friends and family would have felt the mild tremors that occurred due to earthquake of the coast of Aceh province of Indonesia. The tremors were quite mild with the earth actually shaking for mere seconds causing little or no damage altogether. In most of southern India, these tremors weren’t the kind that set the heart racing and or caused panic among the masses, though people near the coast were still worried about the possible tsunami. But if you were to take a glance at the pictures and videos of people in Indonesia, you would see that the memories of the last great quake 2004 are still raw.

In my mind earthquakes are associated with the one that hit Indonesia in 2004 causing the massive tsunami and the one that struck the region of Bhuj in Gujarat in 2001. The massive destruction caused in these regions due to the population density is something I can never forget. All praise to Allah SWT that I have never had to experience something like an earthquake or tsunami nor can I truly imagine the feelings of horror and dread that fill the individuals caught in such situations. I can still remember watching on the news, huge waves of water that crashed through the lower lying regions of Indonesia, stopping at nothing and reducing everything in its path to rubbish. I can recall the newscast after the tsunami where nearly every half hour the number of dead reported rose in hundreds and thousands until it was finally declared that nearly 200,000 people had lost their lives in the region.

Since then no earthquake has been so destructive yet it would be hardly respectful to consider any other event less tragic. It is definitely an underlying human characteristic that even after such momentous events, we are able to pick ourselves up and start rebuilding our lives. With the passage of time we are always able to replace destruction with order and sadness with numbness. The advent of modern technologies such as the early warning system may make the recovery process easier by preventing loss and allowing swifter responses post the disaster. But the very nature of these systems, for me, serves to remind us of our frailty.

 For as human beings we cannot stop a disaster from occurring nor do we design technologies to do so. We try at best to minimize the damage caused in any situation. Our science enables to explain events like why there was no tsunami this time or why there is night and day. But sometimes we need to go deeper than the surface and see things with perspective. Human beings have existed for a long time now and each and every one of them has experienced night and day, rain and shine, food and drink – all of these phenomena ever present without a need for explanation. For think about it – we do not control the sun or the moon yet we take it for granted that there will be a day for our work and a night time for our rest. In an earlier piece I mentioned how we do not get a lot of choice but events such as earthquakes serves to remind us that even the semblance of control we have may not really exist.

I might come across as a pessimist or a cynic given how I go on about a lack of choice or control and such matters, yet I feel optimistic about my state and I will let you know why in a moment. Before I do though, I would like to ask you what you think. How do you perceive such disasters? Does it make you ask deeper questions about yourselves or do you just choose to cover up such feelings? Reflection is a lost art in this modern world of distraction but do you not think you would like to take a few minutes and connect with yourself seeking answers to bigger questions or do you just take 42 as the ultimate answer?

As for my optimism, I’m reminded of the many instances in the Quran where our creator mentions

“And in the alternation of night and day, and the provision (rain) that Allah sends down from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the turning about of the winds (i.e. sometimes towards the east or north, and sometimes towards the south or west etc., sometimes bringing glad tidings of rain etc., and sometimes bringing the torment), are signs for a people who understand.” [The Crouching 45:5]

And in another place

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah has power over all things. Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire. [Family of Imran 4:189-191]

I leave you with a short recitation that should serve for us an early warning system for the ultimate end