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Islam And Modern Life - Ii

Islam and Modern Life - II

    Man is not the only living being which leads a social life. Many animals, especially insects, are gregarious. They follow sensible but fixed rules of co-operation, division of labour, production and distribution, and giving and receiving orders.

    The bees, and certain kinds of ants and termites enjoy such superb systems, that it will take man, who considers himself to be the prince of creation, years, even centuries, to reach that level.

    Their civilisation, contrary to the human civilisation, has not passed through such periods as the forest age, the stone age and the atomic age. They, from the very beginning, have had the same civilisation and the same system as they have today. It is man who started his life from a scratch: Vide Surah al-Nisa, 4 : 28 "Man was created powerless" and is marching forward towards infinity.

    For the animals, the requirements of life are always the same. For them, modernity and new fashions have no meaning. The ancient world and the modern world do not exist for them. So far as they are concerned science does not make new discoveries everyday. The latest products of light and heavy industries do not come to their market; why? Because they live by instinct, and not by reason.

    But the social life of human beings is always subject to change. Every century, the world is changed. There lies the secret of man's being the prince of creation. Human being is the mature and worthy child of nature. He has reached a stage, where he does not require the direct guidance of that mysterious force which is called instinct.

    Nature recognises that man is mature, and that is why it has left him free. What an animal accomplishes by its instinct and by following inviolable natural laws, human beings should accomplish by one's intellect and knowledge, and by following the viable enacted laws.

    Man, being the master of his own destiny, can always deviate from the path of progress, and there lies the secret of his slips, setbacks, lapses and failures.

    Just as the way to progress and advancement is open to him, the way to corruption, perversion and failure is also not closed.

    Human beings have reached such a stage that, in the words of the Qur'an, they can shoulder that trust which the heavens, the earth and the mountains could not carry. In other words, they can lead a free life and can accept legal, professional and other responsibilities. That is the reason why they are not immune to mistakes, selfishness, ignorance and injustice.

    Where the Qur'an refers to this wonderful human capacity, it also immediately describes man as 'unjust' and 'ignorant'.

    These two human capacities - the capacity of evolution and the capacity of deviation, are inseparable. Man is not like an animal which, in its social life, goes neither forward nor backward. It turns neither to the right nor to the left. On the other hand, man, in his life, sometimes goes forward and sometimes backward. In human life if there is motion and speed, there is halt and pause also. If there is progress and evolution, there is corruption and perversion, too. If there is justice and virtue, there is injustice and aggression also. If there are manifestations of knowledge and wisdom, there are manifestations of ignorance and base desires, too.

    It is possible that the changes which take place and the new phenomena which appear, may be of the latter category.

The Rigid and the Misinformed

    It is one of the characteristics of man that he sometimes overacts and sometimes underacts. If he adopts the middle course, he endeavours to differentiate between the changes of the right type and that of the wrong type. He endeavours to push time forward with the help of his knowledge and creative power, and to identify himself with the manifestations of progress and advancement. He also tries to arrest perversion, and not to associate himself with it.

    But unfortunately, man does not always adopt this course. He is liable to be afflicted by two dangerous diseases, the disease of rigidity and the disease of ignorance. The first disease results in stagnation and abstention from progress, and the second in perversion and ruin.

    The rigid is averse to everything new and cannot reconcile himself with anything, except the old. On the other hand, the misinformed regards everything new to be modern and progressive and considers it to be the requirement of time. To the rigid, every new development means corruption and perversion, whereas to the misinformed, all new developments indiscriminately mean the expansion of culture and knowledge.

    The rigid does not distinguish between husk and kernel and between the means and the end. In his opinion the duty of religion is to preserve all that is obsolete and antiquated. He thinks that the Qur'an has come down to arrest the motion of time and to nail down the world conditions as they were.

    According to this view, old and outdated customs, such as to begin reading, from the last part of the Qur'an, writing with a reed-pen, using a cardboard inkstand, washing in the tank of the Turkish bath, eating with the hands, burning an oil lamp, and remaining illiterate, are religious rites which must be preserved. In contrast, the misinformed keeps his eyes fixed on the Western world to be able to imitate every new fashion and every new custom. He calls this modernity and the compulsion of time.

    Both the rigid and the misinformed suppose that all old customs and usages are a part of religious rites, with the difference that the rigid wants to preserve them, whereas the misinformed may conclude that religion is tantamount to stagnation and inertia.

    During the past few centuries, the question of contradiction between religion and science has been much debated among the people of the West. The idea of contradiction arose from two developments. Firstly, the Church had accepted some ancient, philosophical and scientific notions as religious beliefs, but the progress of science has proved their falsity. Secondly, science has changed the form and the conditions of life.

    The rigid, who are apparently religious, want to make the external form of the material life a part of religion, just as they have unnecessarily given religious colour to some philosophical questions.

    The uninformed and the misinformed people are also under the impression that religion has prescribed a particular form of material life, and as science has decreed a change in this form, religion should be abolished.

    The rigidity of one group, and the ignorance of the other, have brought into existence the fictitious idea of contradiction between science and religion.

A Parable of the Qur'an

    Islam is a progressive religion and wants its followers to be progressive. The Qur'an has employed a parable to persuade the Muslims to keep marching forward, under the light of Islam. It says that the followers of Prophet Muhammad (P) are like a seed which is sown in the soil. First, it shoots out in the form of a tender seed leaf, then it grows stronger and stronger till it stands on its own stalk. It grows so rapidly that it causes great surprise to the farmers.

    It is an analogy of the society which the Qur'an aims at. What the Qur'an desires is growth. The Qur'an wants to lay the foundation of a society, which should always be growing, developing and expanding.

    Will Durant says that no religion has called upon its followers to gain strength as Islam has done. The history of early Islam shows how powerful a force Islam is to rebuild a society and to push it forward.

    Islam is opposed to both rigidity and ignorance, and regards both of them as dangerous. The intellectual sterility of the rigid and their clinging to the old customs having no connection with Islam, have provided a pretext to the misinformed to consider Islam to be really opposed to modernity. On the other hand, the following and patronising of the latest fashions and modes of the West by the misinformed, their belief that the prosperity of the people of the East depends on their complete westernization, both physically and spiritually, their acceptance of the habits, manners and traditions of the West, and the blind adaptation of their own civil and social laws to those of the Western nations, have provided a pretext to the rigid to look at everything new with suspicion and to regard it as a threat to their religion, to their independence and to the social personality of their community.

    In the meantime, Islam has to pay the penalty for the mistake of both the parties.

    The rigidity of the rigid has left the field open to the misinformed to play havoc, and the ignorance of the misinformed has made the rigid more stubborn in their beliefs.

    It is surprising that these so called cultured, but really ignorant people, think that time is infallible. The fact is that all changes are brought about by man, and man is not infallible at all. Then how can it be presumed that the changes of time must necessarily be free from error.

    Just as man has scientific, moral, aesthetic and religious inclinations, and constantly takes new measures for the benefit of humanity, he has certain negative tendencies also. He is selfish, power- hungry and pleasure-seeking. He loves money and exploitation. Just as he is capable of making new discoveries and finding better ways and means of doing things, he is liable to commit mistakes also. But the misguided and misinformed do not understand these things. They simply go on harping on the same tune and repeating that the modern world is like this, and like that.

    What is more surprising is that they compare the principles of life to such things as a shoe, a cap and a dress. As these things are sought after when they are new, and thrown away when they get old and worn out, the same, according to them, should be the case with universal truths. To them, good and bad has no sense other than that of new and old. Feudalism is bad only because it has become old and has gone out of fashion. Otherwise, it was quite good when it was first introduced into the world.

    Similarly, exploitation of women is bad only because it is disliked by the modern world; otherwise, till recently, these same people had not given her a share of inheritance. They had not recognised her right of ownership, and had not respected her will or views.

    According to such people in the present age, being the space age, just as it is no longer possible to ride a donkey and leave aside the aircraft, light an oil lamp and not to use electricity, use a hand-spinning mills, and to write with hand and leave aside gigantic printing machines, it is not possible not to attend dance parties, swimming-costume parties and barbecue dinners, not to take part in merry-making, not to play poker and not to wear mini-skirts, for all these things are the phenomena of the present century. If they do not indulge in such things, they fear that they will go back to the days of donkey-riding.

    They assert that this is the atomic age, the age of science, the age of the artificial moons and the age of ballistic missiles. That is very good! We also thank God that we are living in this age, and wish that we may be able to enjoy the benefits of science and industry to the utmost. But have all the springs, except that of science gone dry in this age? Are all the phenomena of this century an outcome of the modern scientific progress? Does science claim that it has brought nature under its complete control?

    Science makes no such claim. The tragedy of our century is that a group of scientists, with good intentions, applies itself to making new discoveries, but another group of selfish and power- hungry opportunists and money-worshippers misuses the fruit of the scientists' labour to achieve its own questionable ends. Science complains constantly that it is misused by stubborn human nature and this is the misfortune of our age.

    Science moves forward in the field of physics and discovers the laws of light and reflection, and an opportunist group uses them for the preparation of blue films of a hostile and destructive nature. Chemistry makes progress and discovers the properties of various substances and their combinations. Then certain individuals exploit this discovery for the preparation of heroin, which is a curse to humanity. Science found its way into the inside of the atom and brought a wonderful source of energy under its control, but before it could be used for the benefit of mankind, the power-hungry people hastened to make the atom bomb, and to drop it on innocent people.

    When a reception was arranged in honour of Einstein, the great scientist of the 20th Century, he himself mounted the rostrum and said: "Do you honour the man who has been instrumental in the making of the atom bomb?"

    Einstein himself did not exercise his knowledge for its making. It was others, who harnessed his discoveries for this purpose.

    The use of heroin, the atom bomb and the blue films cannot be justified on the ground that they are among the phenomena of the present century.

    If the latest type of bombers are used for throwing the most perfect bombs on the people of another country, and the most highly educated people are employed to perform this job, can all this modernity reduce the inherent barbarity of the act?

Islam and Modern Life - III

    The main argument of those, who say that in the matter of family rights we should follow the Western system, is that times have changed, and the requirements of the 20th century demand that we should do so. We propose to make our views on this point clear, because without doing so, the discussion of any other point will remain incomplete, though, owing to the limitation of space, it is not possible to discuss the question from all its philosophical, legal, social and moral angles. For the present purpose, it is enough to make two points clear:

    The first point is that the harmony in and conformity to the changes of time is not such a simple question as some misinformed people think. The changes, brought about by time, are sometimes progressive and sometimes retrogressive. We should march forward along with the progressive changes, and should fight the retrogressive tendencies. To distinguish between these two kinds of changes and to determine their nature, we should find out the source of the new developments, and which way they are directed to. We should see what human tendencies have brought them into existence, and which classes of society are behind them. We should see whether they have been motivated by high human tendencies or by low animal propensities, and whether they have come into existence as a result of selfless investigations of scholars and intellectuals, or have been motivated by the base desires of self-seekers and the corrupt elements of society.

The Flexibility of Islamic Laws

    The second point, to be made clear, is that the Muslim thinkers believe that Islam has certain potentialities which have made it applicable to all times. According to these thinkers, Islamic teachings are in harmony with the progress of time, the expansion of culture and the resulting changes. Let us see what is the nature of the potentialities which Islam has. In other words, let us see what devices have been put into the structure of this religion, and whether they have given it the characteristic of being in harmony with all the changing situations, without there being any need of dropping any of its teachings and without any conflict taking place between its teachings and any situation arising out of the expansion of knowledge and civilisation.

    Although this question has a technical aspect, in order to remove the misunderstanding of those who doubt that Islam has any such characteristic, we briefly deal with it here.

    For further discussion of the subject, the readers may refer to Tanbihul Ummab by the late Ayatullah Naini, or to the Marjaiyyat Wa Imamat by the great contemporary scholar, Allamah Tabatabai. Both the books are, however in Persian.

    There are many points, which form the secret of Islam being in harmony with the expansion of knowledge and civilisation, and the applicability of its firm and stable laws to the varying circumstances of life. We mention here only a few of them.

Emphasis on Spirit and Indifference to Form

    Islam has not dealt only with the external form of life, which depends upon the degree of the development of human knowledge. Islamic teachings are concerned also with the spirit and the goals of life, and determine the best way to reach these goals. Science has neither changed the spirit and the goals of life, nor has it suggested any better, shorter and safer route to reach them. It has only provided better means and facilities to traverse the way to those goals.

    Islam, by keeping only goals within its domain and leaving the form and means to the domain of science and technology, has avoided any clash with culture and civilisation. Not only that, but by encouraging the factors helping the expansion of civilisation, namely, knowledge, labour, piety, will, courage and perseverance, it has undertaken the role of the main factor working for the cause of the expansion of civilisation.

    Islam has set up traffic signposts all along the route of human progress. They, on the one hand, indicate the route and the destination, and, on the other, warn against pitfalls and dangerous spots. All Islamic laws are posts, either of the first kind or of the second.

    The means of life in every age depend on the degree of the sum total of human knowledge. As human knowledge expands, more perfect means of life come into existence, and automatically take the place of the imperfect ones.

    The external and material forms of these means have no sanctity in Islam, and the Muslims are not bound to preserve them forever.

    Islam has not said that such and such tools are to be used for the purpose of tailoring, weaving, cultivation, transport, war or any other jobs. Hence, there can be no question of any conflict between science and Islam, in case any tools or implements become obsolete. Islam has not prescribed any particular design of shoes or dress, nor has it suggested any particular style of construction for buildings. Similarly, it does not insist on any particular methods of production and distribution.

    This is one of those aspects of Islam, which have facilitated its applicability to all the developments of time.

Stable Laws for Stable Requirements and Varying
Laws for Varying Requirements

    Another characteristic of Islam, which is of great importance, is that it has envisaged stable laws for the stable human requirements and varying laws for the varying requirements. A part of the human requirements, both individual and collective, is of a permanent nature. They do not undergo any change with the change of time. The principles of the systems regulating human instincts and social relations always remain uniform.

    We are aware of the theories of the "Relativity of Morals" and the "Relativity of Justice" which have their supporters, and would express our views with regard to them, later.

    Another part of the human requirement is of a varying nature and this demands varying laws. Islam has visualised such requirements, and has linked them with certain principles which have subordinate laws for every changed situation.

    To elucidate this point, I give a few examples :

    Islam has laid down a social principle which has been stated in the Qur'an thus: Provide force against them (the enemies) to the utmost possible extent (Surah Anfal, 8 : 60). At the same time, a number of traditions of the Holy Prophet handed down to us, are mentioned in the books of Islamic law under the heading 'Horsemanship and Archery'. The Prophet directed that the Muslims should learn the arts of horsemanship and archery and teach them to their children. These arts were a part of military science in the ancient days. It is quite obvious that the basic order is 'to provide force'. Bow and arrow, sword and lance and mule and horse are not important. What is important is to be militarily powerful against the enemy. To acquire skill in horsemanship and archery is only a form of acquiring military strength, or a way of implementing the basic order. To provide strength is a standing law which has sprung from a permanent need.

    However the necessity of acquiring skill in horsemanship and archery is a temporary requirement, which varies with the change of time. With the changed circumstances, skill in firearms etc. has taken the place of skill in archery.

    Another example is the social principle concerning the exchange of wealth, mentioned in the Qur'an. Islam has recognised the principle of individual ownership. However, the ownership as recognised by it is different from that found in the capitalist world. A characteristic of the individual ownership in Islam is the principle of exchange.

    In this connection, Islam has laid down certain rules. One of them has been enunciated by the Holy Qur'an in these words. And do not consume each other's wealth in vain. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2 : 188). In other words, in the case of business transactions, money must not pass from one hand to another, except in exchange for some lawful return which has a recognised value. Islam does not admit that ownership is equivalent to absolute authority.

    It is specified in the Islamic law that the sale and purchase of certain things is forbidden. Such things include blood and human excreta. The reason is that these things do not have such a value that they should be considered to be a part of human wealth. The underlying principle is the same as contained in the above quoted verse. The invalidity of the sale and the purchase of blood and human excreta is only an instance of the application of that principle. Even where no exchange is involved, money or property belonging to someone else cannot be appropriated and disposed of gratuitously.

    The law forbidding the appropriation of another's property gratuitously is a firm principle which is applicable to all time, and has emerged from a permanent social need. But the rule that blood and excreta are not to be regarded as wealth and are not saleable is related to time and the degree of civilisation. This rule is subject to modification with the change of conditions, the progress of science and industry and the possibility of the correct and useful utilisation of these items.

    Another example: Imam Ali (peace be on him) never dyed his hair, though it had become grey during the last years of his life. One day a man said to him: "Didn't the Prophet order grey hair to be covered with dye?" 'Yes, he did", Ali replied. "Then why don't you dye your hair?" the man asked. Ali said "At the time the Prophet gave that instruction the number of the Muslims was small, and there were many aged people who used to take part in the battles. The Prophet ordered them to dye their hair to conceal their real age, for if the enemy could see that he was faced with only a bunch of old men, his morale might have been raised. With the spread of Islam to the whole world, that situation has changed. Now every body is free to dye, or not to dye, his hair".

    In the opinion of Imam Ali, the Prophet's instruction was not a basic and permanent law. It was only a way of implementing that law, which says that we should not do anything which might raise the morale of the enemy.

    Islam attaches importance to the external appearance., as well as to the inner spirit. But it wants the husk only for the sake of the kernel, and the garb only for the sake of the body.

The Question of the Change of Script

    Recently in Iran, there has been a controversy about the change of script. This question can be considered from two angles from the point of view of the Islamic principles, and in two forms. The first is whether Islam favours any particular alphabet and discriminates against others. Does it regard the present alphabet, known as Arabic, as its own and others such as Latin as alien? Islam which is a universal religion considers all the alphabets of the world as equal.

    The second form of the question is how far the change of script will lead to the cultural merger of a Muslim nation with the other peoples, and what effects will it produce on the culture of this nation? After all, during the past 14 centuries, the Islamic and scientific literature produced by Iran has been recorded in the present script. With the change of script, will not all connections with this literature be severed? Another question is: "Who are the people who propose this change, and who will be the people who are going to implement it?" All these questions are relevant.

Dependence on Others is Forbidden
Not the European Hat

    People like me are often faced with such questions, asked contemptuously and sarcastically. "What does Islamic law say about eating food while standing?' "What about eating food with a spoon and a fork?" "Is the wearing of the European hat forbidden?" "Is the use of a foreign language forbidden?"

    Answering such questions, we say: Islam has not given any particular instructions in this respect. Islam has not directed its followers to eat food with the hand or with a spoon. It has directed them only to observe cleanliness. Islam has not prescribed any particular design of shoes, cap or dress. From the Islamic point of view, the English, Japanese and Persian (languages) all have just the same status.

    However, Islam has said something else also. It has said that to lose one's identity is forbidden. To be over-awed needlessly by others is forbidden. Mimicry is forbidden. To be merged with others is forbidden. To be charmed by others, as a hare is charmed by a snake, is forbidden. To consider an alien dead donkey to be a mule is forbidden. To import their perversion and immorality, in the name of a phenomenon of the 20th century, is forbidden. To believe that the Muslims should be westernised internally and externally, physically and spiritually, is forbidden. To go to a Western country for a few days and on returning, to start pronouncing our own words in their way is forbidden.

Important and More Important

    Another aspect of Islam which makes it compatible with the requirements of the time is the conformity of its teachings to reason. Islam has proclaimed that its laws are based on considerations of higher interest. At the same time, Islam itself has given out the degree of importance of these interests. This facilitates the work of the experts of the Islamic law in those fields where various interests appear to be in contrast with each other.

    In such cases, Islam has allowed the experts of Islamic law to weigh the relative importance of the various interests, and keeping in view the guidance which Islam itself has provided, to determine the more important interests. In Islamic jurisprudence, this rule is called the question as 'important and more important'. There are many instances where this rule of high and higher interests has been applied. Anyhow, for lack of space we skip over them.

The Laws Which have a Right of Veto

    Another aspect of Islam which has given this religion the characteristic of mobility and applicability to varying circumstances, and has kept it as a living and everlasting religion, is that within it there exists a body of laws whose object is to control and modify other laws. They are called by the jurists, 'the governing rules'.

    The rule of "No harm" and "No loss", that a law will not apply to those cases in which it may cause hardship or harm the interests of an innocent person, pervades the entire legal system. The object of such rules is to control and modify other laws. In fact Islam has given a veto power to these rules which change other rules.

Powers of the Ruler

    In addition, there is a further series of checks and balances which has given this religion the characteristic of finality. Ayatullah Na'ini and Allama Tabatabai have, in this respect, mostly relied on the powers delegated by Islam to the righteous Islamic Government.

The Principle of Ijtihad

    The Pakistani poet and philosopher, Iqbal, says that Ijtihad (the deducing of laws from their original sources) is the motivating force of Islam. He is right in saying so. But what is more important is that Islam has a special quality of being amenable to Ijtihad. No other religion possesses this quality in the same manner. The internal structure of Islam has been so designed that, with the aid of Ijtihad, it can always cope with the ever-changing pattern of the requirements of life.

    Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) in his book, Al-Shifa, has based the need of Ijtihad on this very principle of ever-changing requirements. He says that conditions of life change constantly. New problems frequently crop up, but the fundamentals of Islam are constant and unalterable. Hence, in these circumstances, there should be some people who, with their full knowledge of all the points of law and precepts, may be able to answer all the questions which may arise from time to time, and thus meet the needs of the people.

    The constitution of Iran provides that a body consisting of not less than five Mujtahids (eminent scholars of theology, capable of practising Ijtihad) should keep a watch on the laws enacted by the State from time to time.

    The idea is that such people, as are neither rigid and opposed to the modern developments, nor uninformed, blindly following others, should keep a watch on the legislative activity of the country.

    It is worth mentioning that Ijtihad in the real sense means specialisations and requires a deep insight into the fundamentals of Islam and a thorough knowledge of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, which naturally cannot be claimed by everyone who might have passed some time in an Islamic academy.

    No doubt, it is a lifetime job to specialise in the principles and precepts of Islam, and it requires Divine help besides a taste, a talent and a special aptitude.

    Apart from specialisation and Ijtihad, some people may acquire knowledge to the extent that their views may be regarded as authoritative. Such people must be pious and God-fearing to the utmost extent possible. The history of Islam mentions those people who, despite their vast knowledge and high morals, were cautious and fearful when they expressed their opinions, on points of law.

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