Monotheistic Conception of the Universe
- :Sheikh Murtada Mutaharri
Monotheistic Conception of the Universe
Sheikh Murtada Mutaharri
Every doctrine and every philosophy of life is indispensably based on a sort of belief, an evaluation of life and a sort of interpretation and analysis of the world.
The way of thinking of a school in respect of life and the world is considered to be the basis of the entire thinking of that school. This basis is called the world conception of that school.
All religions, social systems, schools of thought and social philosophies are based on a particular world conception. All the goals which a school presents, the ways and methods which it brings into existence are the corollaries of the conception of the world that it entertains. The philosophers say that there are two kinds of wisdom: practical and theoretical.
Theoretical wisdom is to know the existing things as they are. Practical wisdom is to find out how one should lead his life. This 'should' is the logical result of 'how they are', especially those 'how they are, with which metaphysical philosophy deals.
Conception of the World and Perception of the World
Evidently we should not confuse the conception of the world with its sense perception. Conception of the world has the sense of cosmogony and is linked with the question of identification. Unlike sense perception, which is common to man and other living beings, identification is peculiar to man, and hence conception of the world is also peculiar to him. It depends on his thinking and understanding.
From the point of view of sense perception of the world, many animals are more advanced than man, because either they are equipped with certain senses which man lacks, as it is said that birds have a radar sense, or their senses, although common to them and man, are sharper than the senses possessed by man, as is said of the sight of the eagle, of the sense of smell of the dog and ant and of the sense of hearing of the rat. Man is superior to other animals because he has a deep conception of the world. Animals only perceive the world, but man can interpret it also.
What is identification? What is the relationship between perception and identification? What elements other than perceptional ones are parts of identification? How do they enter identification and from where? What is the mechanism of identification? What is the standard by which correct and incorrect identification are judged?
These are the questions which require a separate treatise, and at present we are unable to take them up. Anyhow, it is certain that perception of a thing is different from its identification. Many people view a scene and all of them see it alike, but only a few of them can interpret it, and they too often differ?
On the whole there are three kinds of world conception or world identification or, in other words, man's interpretation of the universe. It can be inspired by three sources: science, philosophy and religion. So we can say that there are three kinds of world conception:
Scientific Conception of the World
Now let us see how and to what extent science helps us form an opinion. Science is based on two things, theory and experiment. For the discovery and interpretation of a phenomenon first a theory comes to the mind of a scholar and then on its basis he carries out experiments in the laboratory. If it is corroborated by the experiment, it gains acceptance as a scientific principle and remains valid till a better and a more comprehensive theory appears and is corroborated by experiment. With the appearance of a new and more comprehensive theory, the old theory becomes invalid.
That is how science discovers the cause and the effect of a experiment. Then it again tries to discover the cause of that cause and the effect of that effect. This process continues as long as possible.
The scientific work has many advantages and disadvantages as it is based on practical experiment. The greatest advantage of the scientific discoveries is that they are specific and particular.
Science can impart to man a lot of information about a particular. It can give a volume of knowledge about one single leaf of a tree. Furthermore, because it acquaints man with the particular laws governing each thing, it enables him to control and use things his advantage, and thus promotes industry and technology.
Though science can teach man thousands of things about a particular thing, yet the knowledge imparted by science being specific, its scope is limited. Experiments place a limitation in it. Science can go forward only to the extent it is possible for it to make an experiment. Obviously it cannot experiment with the entire creation and all its aspects.
Science can go forward in pursuit of causes and effects only to a certain extent and then it reaches the stage of 'unknown'. It is like a powerful searchlight which illuminates a limited area, and does not throw light beyond its range. No experiment can be made on such questions whether this world has a beginning and an end or is it infinite from both sides? When a scholar reaches this point, he consciously or unconsciously resorts to philosophy to express his opinion.
From the stand point of science this world is an old book the first and the last pages of which have been lost. Neither its beginning is known nor its end. The reason is that the scientific conception of the world is the outcome of the knowledge of a part of, not of the whole. Science informs us of the position of some parts of the world, not of the features and the characteristics of the whole of it.
The scientific conception of the world held by scientists is like the conception of an elephant acquired by those who passed their hands on it in darkness. He who touched the ear of the elephant thought that it was like a fan; he who touched its leg thought that it was like a pillar and he who touched its back thought that it was like a raised platform.
Another drawback of the scientific conception of the world is that it cannot be the basis of any ideology, for science is inconstant and changeable from its practical aspect that is the aspect of showing reality as it is and inviting faith in the nature of the reality of creation. Scientifically the features of the world change from day to day, because science is based on a combination of theory and experiment and not on self-evident rational truths. The theory and experiment have a temporary value only. As such the scientific conception of the world is an inconstant and changeable conception and is not fit to become the basis of faith. Faith requires a more stable or rather an eternal basis.
The scientific conception of the world, because of the limitation imposed on it by the tools of science (theory and experiment), is unable to answer a number of questions, the definite answer of which is essential for an ideology. Such questions are: From where has this world come? Where does it go? From the viewpoint of time has the world a beginning and an end? What is its position from the viewpoint of place? Is or is not the existence, on the whole, something good and meaningful?
Is the world governed by some essential and unchangeable norms and laws, or does no such thing exists? Is the creation on the whole a living and conscious unit or is man alone an accidental exception? Can an existing thing become non-existent or a non-existing thing become existent? Is the restoration of a non-existing thing possible or impossible?
Is the exact re-creation of the world and history in all their details possible even after billions of years (Theory of recurring in Cycles?) Is unity preponderant or multiplicity? Is the world divided into material and non-material, and is the material world a small part of the entire world? Is the world rightly guided and perceptive or is it imperceptible and blind? Are man and the world in a state of reciprocity? Does the world show reaction to the good and bad deeds of man? Does there exist an eternal life in the wake of this transient life? There are so many other similar questions.
Science does not answer all these questions, for it cannot make an experiment with them. Science can answer only limited and particular questions, but is unable to draw a general picture of the world. We give an example to make our point clear.
An individual may have a local knowledge of a big city. He may know a part of it in detail and may be able to draw a picture of its roads, lanes and even houses. Another person may have a similarly detailed knowledge of another part of the city, and a third, a fourth and a fifth person may know other parts of it. If we collect information from all of them, we may get enough information about each part of the city.
But will this information be enough to have a complete and overall picture of it? For example, can we know what shape the city is; whether it is circular, quadrangular or of the shape of a leaf? If it resembles a leaf, then a leaf of which tree? How are various areas of it connected with each other? What sorts of automobiles connect them? Is the city on the whole beautiful or ugly? Evidently we cannot get all this information.
If we want to have such information and for example if we want to know the shape of the city or want to know whether it is beautiful or ugly, we should ride an aircraft and have an overall aerial view of it.
As we have said, science is unable to answer the basic questions necessary to form a conception of the world. It cannot provide an overall picture of the whole body of the universe.
Leaving all this aside, the value of scientific conception of the world is practical and technical, not theoretical, while an ideology can be based on theoretical value only. Had the reality of the world been as depicted by science, that would have constituted the theoretical value of science. Its practical and technical value lies in the fact that irrespective of its depicting or not depicting reality,
it enables man to perform fruitful tasks. Modern industry and technology demonstrate the practical value of science. It is really amazing that in the modern world while technical and practical value of science has increased, its theoretical value has been reduced.
Those who are not fully conversant with the role of science, may think that along with its undeniable practical progress science has also enlightened the conscience of man and has convinced him of the reality as depicted by it. But that is not a fact.
From the foregoing it is clear that an ideology requires that kind of conception of the world which (i) may answer the basic questions concerning the universe as a whole, not only a part of it; (ii) may be an eternal and reliable conception, not a transient and passing one; and (iii) may have a theoretical and realistic value also not merely a practical and technical one. Thus, it is also clear that the scientific conception of the world, despite of its other merits, lacks all these three requirements.
Though philosophical conception of the world is not as exact and specific as scientific conception, it is based on a number of principles which are self-evident and undeniable by the mind. These principles proceed logically and are general and comprehensive. As such they have the advantage of being firm and constant. Philosophical conception of the world is free from that inconstancy and limitations which are found in scientific conception.
Philosophical conception of the world answers all questions on which the ideologies depend. It identifies the overall shape and features of the world.
Both the scientific and philosophical conceptions are a prelude to action, but in two different ways. Scientific conception is a prelude to action because it enables man to control nature and introduce changes in it. Man by means of science can use nature to his advantage as he wishes. Philosophical conception is a prelude to action in the sense that it determines man's choice of his way of life.
It affects his reaction to his encounter with the world. It fixes his attitude and gives him a particular outlook on the world and the creation. It either gives an ideal to man or takes away an ideal from him. It either gives meaning to his life or draws him to absurdity and nothingness. That is why we say that science cannot give man a world conception that may become the basis of an ideology, but philosophy can.
Religious Conception of the World
If we regard every expression of an overall view of the world and the creation as a philosophical conception, not taking into consideration whether the source of this conception is a guess or reasoning or a revelation from the unknown world, religious and philosophical conceptions belong to the same domain. But if we take their source into account, philosophical and religious conceptions of the world are undoubtedly two different things.
In certain religions like Islam, religious conception of the world, has taken a philosophical or argumentative colour and is an integral part of the religion itself. The questions raised by religion are based on reasoning and proof. Thus Islamic conception of the world is rational and philosophical. Besides the two merits of philosophical conception, namely eternity and comprehensiveness, religious conception of the world unlike scientific and purely philosophical conceptions, possesses one more merit of sanctification of the principles of world conception.
If we keep in view that an ideology, besides requiring faith in the eternity and inviolability of the principles held sacred by it, requires a belief in and adherence to a school of thought, it becomes clear that its basis can be only that conception of the world which has a religious colour.
From the foregoing discussion it may be inferred that a conception of the world can be the basis of an ideology only if it possesses stability, philosophical broad thinking and the sanctity of religious principles.
A perfect ideology is that which:
(i) Can be proved and expressed in a logical form; in other words, is logically and intellectually tenable;
(ii) Gives meaning to life and removes nihilistic ideas from the mind;
(iii) Is inspiring;
(iv) Is capable of giving sanctity to the human and social goals;
(v) Makes man accountable.
If an ideology is logically tenable, the way is paved for its being accepted intellectually and there being no ambiguity about it, action as suggested by it becomes easy.
An inspiring ideology makes its school attractive and gives it warmth and power.
The sanctification of the goals of a school by its ideology, makes it easy for the adherents of this school to make sacrifice for its cause. If a school does not declare its goals to be sacred, it cannot create a sense of adoration and sacrifice in regard to its principle, nor can there be any guarantee of the success of such a school.
The accountability of man declared by a conception of the world, commits the individual to the depth of his conscience and makes him responsible to himself and to society.
All these qualities and characteristics which are an essential requirement of a good conception of the world are found in monotheistic conception. It is the only conception which has all these characteristics. Monotheistic conception means the realization of the fact that the world has come out of a wise will and that its system is founded on mercy, munificence and all that is good. It aims at leading the existing things to a perfection befitting them. Monotheistic conception means that the world is 'mono-axis' and 'mono-orbit'. It means that the world is 'from Allah' and returns' to Allah'.
All the existing things of the world are harmonious and their evolution proceeds towards the same centre. Nothing has been created in vain and without having a purpose. The world is being managed under a series of definite systems known as 'Divine law'. Among the existing things man enjoys a special dignity, and has a special duty and a special mission. He is responsible for his own promotion and perfection as well as the reform of his society. The world is a school, and Allah rewards everyone according to his intention and valid effort.
Monotheistic conception of the world is supported by logic, science and sound arguments. Every particle of the world is a sign of the existence of an All-Wise and All-Knowing Allah and every leaf of a tree is a book of spiritual knowledge.
Monotheistic conception of the world gives to life a meaning, a spirit and a goal. It puts man on a way to perfection on which he continues to march forward without stopping at any stage.
Monotheistic conception of the world has a special attraction. It gives vitality and vigour to man. It puts forward lofty and sacred goals and produces selfless individuals.
Monotheistic conception of the world is the only conception of it which gives meaning to the responsibility of people to each other. Similarly it is the only conception that saves man from falling into the abyss of absurdity.
Islamic Conception of the World
Islamic conception of the world is monotheistic. Islam has presented monotheism in its purest form. From Islamic point of view, Allah has no like of Him and nothing can be compared to Him:
"There is nothing like Him."(Surah ash-Shura, 42:11)
Allah is absolutely independent. All depend on Him, but He depends on none:
"You are in need of Allah. And Allah! He is Absolute, Laudable."(Surah al-Fatir, 35:15)
Allah is aware of everything. He can do whatever He likes:
"He is fully aware of everything." (Surah ash-Shura, 42:12)
"He is able to do all things." (Surah al-Hajj, 22:6)
Allah is everywhere. Every place, whether it is above the sky or in the depth of the earth has the same relation to Him. To whatever direction we stand, we face Him:
"Wherever you turn, there is Allah's countenance" (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:115)
Allah knows what is in the hearts of people. He is aware of their intentions and aims:
"Indeed We have created man and We know what his soul whispers." (Surah Qaf, 50:16)
Allah is closer to man than his jugular vein:
"We are nearer to him than his jugular vein." (Surah Qaf, 50:16)
Allah has all the good attributes and is free from every defect:
"Allah's are the fairest names." (Surah al-A'raf, 7:180)
Allah is not a material organism and cannot be seen with eyes:
"Vision does not comprehend Him, but He comprehends all vision." (Surah al-An'am, 6:103)
From the stand point of monotheistic and Islamic conception of the world, the universe is a creation and is looked after by Divine will and attention. If Divine attention were withheld for a moment, the whole universe would be annihilated in no time.
This world has not been created in vain or in jest. There are many advantages implied in the creation of man and the world. Nothing has been created unbecoming and futile. The existing system of the universe is the best and the most perfect. It manifests justice and truth and is based on a sequence of causes and effects. Every result is a logical consequence of a cause and every cause produces a specific effect.
Divine destiny brings a thing into existence through its specific causes only, and it is a chain of causes which constitutes the Divine destiny of a thing.
Divine will always operates in the world in the form of a law or a general principle. Divine laws do not change. Whatever changes take place, they are always in accordance with some law. Good and evil in the world are related to man's own conduct and his own deeds. Good deeds and bad deeds, besides being recompensed in the next world, have their reaction in this world also. Gradual evolution is a Divine law. This world is a nursery for the development of man.
Divine destiny is supreme in the whole world. Man has been destined by it to be free and responsible. He is the master of his own destiny. Man has his special dignity. He is fit to be the vicegerent of Allah. This world and the Hereafter are but two interconnected stages like those of sowing and harvest, for one reaps what one sows. They may also be compared to the two periods of childhood and old age, for the latter period is the outcome of the former.
Islam is a realistic religion. The word "Islam" means submission. This indicates that the first condition of being a Muslim is to submit to the realities and truths. Islam rejects every kind of obduracy, stubbornness, prejudice, blind imitation, bias and selfishness, and regards all of them as contrary to realism and realistic approach to truth.
From the point of view of Islam a man who seeks truth, but fails in his efforts may be excused, but the acceptance of truth by virtue of imitation or heredity by a man who is otherwise stubborn and arrogant has no value. A true Muslim, whether a male or a female, eagerly accepts truth wherever he or she may find it. As far as the acquisition of knowledge is concerned, a Muslim shows no bias.
He may go even to the farthest corner of the world for acquiring knowledge. His efforts to gain knowledge and to find truth are not confined to any particular period of his life nor to any territorial region. Nor does he insist to acquire knowledge from any particular person. The Holy Prophet has said that to seek knowledge is the duty of every Muslim, whether a man or a woman. He has also asked the Muslims to receive it even from an idolater.
There is another saying of the Holy Prophet which exhorts the Muslims to seek it even if they have to go to China for that purpose. He is also reported to have said: "Continue to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave". Superficial and partial notions of the problems, blind imitation of the forefathers and submission to the absurd hereditary traditions, being contrary to the spirit of submission to truth, are censured by Islam and regarded as misleading.
Allah is Absolute Reality and Source of Life
Man is a realistic being. A new-born human child from the very first moments of its life, while looking for its mother's breast, seeks it as a reality. Gradually the body and the mind of the infant develop to the extent that it can distinguish between itself and other things. Though the new-born child's contact with other things is established through a series of its thoughts, it knows that the reality of the things is distinct from that of the thoughts which it entertains and uses as a medium only.
Integral Characteristics of the World
The realities which man can perceive through his senses and which we call the world, have the following integral characteristics:
Everything perceptible, from the smallest particle to the biggest star has spatial and temporal limitations. Nothing can exist outside a particular space and a particular period of time.
Certain things occupy a bigger space and last longer while some others occupy a smaller space and last comparatively for a shorter time. But in the final analysis they are all limited to a particular portion of place and a particular period of time.
Everything is subject to a change and is indurable. Nothing perceptible in the world is in a standstill state. It is either growing or decaying. A material and perceptible being throughout the period of its existence passes through a constant course of change as a part of its reality. It either gives something or takes something or gives as well as takes.
In other words, it either takes something out of the reality of other things and adds it to its own reality or gives something out of its reality or performs both the actions. In any case, there is nothing that remains static. This characteristic also is common to all things existing in this world.
Another characteristic of the perceptible things is their attachment. We find that they all are conditional. In other words the existence of each one of them is attached to and, conditional on the existence of one or more other things. None of them can exist if those other things do not exist. If we look deeply into the reality of the material and perceptible things, we will find that many 'ifs' are attached to their existence.
We do not find a single perceptible thing which may exist unconditionally and independently. The existence of everything is conditional on the existence of something else, and the existence of that something else in its turn is also conditional on the existence of something else, and so on.
The existence of all our perceptible things depends on the fulfillment of the numerous conditions attached to it. The existence of each of these conditions again depends on the fulfillment of a series of some other conditions. There is no perceptible thing which may exist independently, i.e. in the absence of the conditions on which its existence depends. Thus dependence pervades all existing things.
All perceptible things are relative as regards to their existence a well as to their qualities. When we attribute to them greatness, power, beauty, antiquity and even existence, we say so in comparison to other things. When we say, for example, that the sun is very large, we mean that it is larger than the earth and other planets of our solar system.
Otherwise this very sun is smaller than many other stars. Similarly when we say that such and such ship or such and such animal is powerful, we compare it with man or something weaker than man. Even the existence of a thing is comparative. Whenever we speak of any existence, perfection, wisdom, beauty, power or grandeur, we take into consideration a lower degree of that quality.
We can always visualize a higher degree of it also and then a further higher degree. Each quality as compared to its higher degree is changed into its opposite. Existence becomes non-existence, perfection is changed into defectiveness. Similarly wisdom, beauty, greatness and grandeur are changed respectively into ignorance, ugliness and despicability.
The thinking power of man, the scope of which, contrary to that of the senses, is not confined to the exterior features, but also penetrates what is behind the screen of existence, tells us that existence is in no way confined to these perceptible things which are limited, changing, relative and dependent.
The scenery of existence which we observe appears on the whole to be self-existing and self-dependent. Hence there must be an everlasting, unconditional and ever-present absolute and infinite truth behind it on which everything must depend. Otherwise this scenery of existence could not stand so firmly. In other words nothing would have existed at all.
The Holy Qur'an describes Allah as Self-existing and Self-dependent, and thus reminds us that all existing things, being conditional and relative, are in need of a Self-existing truth to support and sustain them. Allah is Self-dependent because everything else depends on Him. He is Perfect, for everything else is hollow from within and needs a Truth which may fill it with existence.
The Holy Qur'an describes the perceptible things as 'signs'. In other words everything in its turn is a sign of an Infinite Being and His knowledge, power and will. From the viewpoint of the Holy Qur'an the world is like a book composed by a wise and sagacious being, every line and every word of which is a sign of the wisdom and sagacity of its author. From the point of view of the Holy Qur'an, the more a man comes to know the reality of the things, the more he gets acquainted with Divine wisdom, power and blessings.
From one angle every natural science is a branch of cosmology. From another angle and from a deeper way of looking at things, it is a branch of the knowledge (recognition) of Allah.
To elucidate the Qur'anic point of view in this respect we quote here just one verse of the Holy Qur'an out of so many similar verses:
"Surely in the creation of the heavens and the alternation of night and day, the ships which sail on the sea with (cargoes) beneficial to man, the water that Allah sends down from heaven with which He revives the earth after it is dead and replenishes it with all kinds of animal life, in the movement of the winds and in the clouds held between the sky and the earth, there are signs for the people who have sense."(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:164)
In this verse the Holy Qur'an invites the attention of the people to general cosmology, to the ship-building industry, to tourism and its financial advantages, to meteorology, to the origin of winds and rain, to the movement of clouds, to biology and zoology. It regards the pondering on the philosophy of these sciences as something leading to the recognition of Allah.
The Holy Qur'an says that Allah has all the attributes and characteristics of a perfect being.
"He has the most beautiful names."(Surah al-Hashr, 59:24).
"His is the sublime similitude in the heavens and in the earth" (Surah ar-Rum, 30:27)
As such Allah is Living, Almighty, All-Knowing, Master of His Will, Merciful, Guide, Creator, Wise, Forgiving and Just. There is no sublime quality which He does not possess.
On the other hand He is not a body or a compound. He is neither weak nor cruel.
The first group of the sublime attributes of Allah, denoting His perfection is called His affirmative attributes and the second group of His attributes denoting His freedom from every kind of defect and imperfection is called His negative attributes. We both praise and glorify Allah. When we praise Him we mention His affirmative attributes and when glorify Him, we say that He is free from all that is not worthy of Him. In both the cases we affirm His Knowledge to our own benefit and thus uplift ourselves.
Allah has no associate or partner. There is none like Him. It is basically impossible that there should be anyone like Him, for in that case we shall have two or more Gods instead of one. To be two, three or more is a characteristic of the limited and relative things. Plurality has no meaning in regard to an absolute and infinite being.
For example, we can have one child. We can also have two or more children. Similarly we can have one friend. We can also have two or more friends. A friend or a child is a limited being, and a limited being can have a like of him and can be multipliable. But an infinite being is not multipliable at all. The following example, though not adequate may be found useful for the purpose of elucidating the point.
In respect of the dimensions of the material world, that is the world which we can see and perceive, the scientists have two theories. Some of them maintain that the dimensions of the world are limited. In other words this perceivable world reaches a point where it ends. But some others are of the opinion that the dimensions of the material world have no middle, no beginning and no end.
If we accept the theory that the material world is limited, a question arises as to whether it is one world or more than one? But if we maintain that this world has no limits, the question of the existence of another world becomes absurd. Whatever we may presume to be another world, it will either be identical with this world or a part of it.
This example applies to the material world as well as the material beings which are limited, conditional and created. The reality of none of them is absolute, independent and self-existing. The material world, though limitless from the viewpoint of its dimensions, is limited from the viewpoint of its reality. But as its dimensions are limitless, we cannot presume the existence of another world.
Almighty Allah has an infinite existence. He is an absolute reality, and He pervades everything. No space or time is devoid of Him. He is closer to us than our jugular vein. Hence it is impossible that He should have a like of Him. We cannot even suppose the existence of another being like Him.
Furthermore, we see the signs of His wisdom and attention prevailing everywhere and pervading everything. We observe that one single will and one single system govern the entire world. That shows that our world is unicentred, not multicentred.
Furthermore, had there been two or more Gods, evidently two or more wills would have applied to everything and two or more realities having a different centre would have existed in every existing thing. As a result everything would have become two or more things. This being an absurd proposition, in fact nothing would have existed at all. This is what the Holy Qur'an means when it says:
"If there were therein (in the Universe) Gods besides Allah, then surely both the heavens and the earth had been discorded." (Surah al-Ambiya, 21:22)
The acknowledgement of One Allah as the most perfect being, having the most sublime attributes and free from every defect and deficiency, and the recognition of His relation to the world consisting in His creatorship, guardianship, munificence, compassion and mercy, create a reaction in us which is called adoration and worship.
Worship is a kind of relationship which man establishes with his Creator. It consists of man's submission to Allah and extolling and thanking Him. It is a relationship which man can establish with his Creator only. The establishment of such a relationship with anyone else is neither conceivable nor permissible.
The acknowledgement of Allah as the only source of existence and the only Master and Lord of everything makes it incumbent on us not to associate any creature with Him in adoration. The Holy Qur'an insists that Allah alone should be worshipped. There is no sin more deadly than associating anyone or anything else with Him.
Now let us see what worship is and what kind of relationship is that which is peculiar to Allah and which cannot be established with any other being.
Definition of Worship
To make the meaning of worship clear and in order to define it correctly, it is necessary to mention two points as a prelude:
(i) Worship may consist either of words or of actions. The former kind consists of a series of words and sentences which we recite, such as praising Allah, the recitation of the Holy Qur'an or the recitation of the formulas normally recited while offering prayers, and pronouncing 'Labbayk' during Hajj.
The worship which consists of actions is represented by such acts as standing, bowing and prostration in prayers, circum-ambulation of the Holy Ka'bah, and staying at Arafat and Mash'ar. Most of the acts of worship, such as prayers and pilgrimage (Hajj) comprise words and actions both.
(ii) Human acts are of two kinds. Some acts have no remote purpose. They are not performed as a symbol of something else, but they are performed for their own natural effects. For example, a farmer carries out the functions connected with farming in order to secure their natural results. He does not carry them out as a symbol or to express any feelings. The same is the case with a tailor when he is doing his tailoring. When we proceed to school, we have nothing in mind except reaching there. With this act we do not intend to convey any other purpose or meaning.
But there are acts which we perform as a symbol of a series of some other objects or in order to express our feelings. We lower our head as a sign of confirmation, we sit in the doorway as a sign of humility and bow to someone as a sign of reverence.
Most of the human acts are of the first kind and only a few of the second. Anyway, there are acts which are performed to express our feelings or to show some other objectives. These acts are used in place of words to express an intention.
Now keeping in mind the above two points, we may say that worship, whether it is performed by means of words or acts is a meaningful deed. Man by means of his devotion gives expression to a truth. Similarly by means of such acts as bowing, prostration, circumambulation etc. he wants to convey what he says when he pronounces devotionals and liturgy.
Spirit of Adoration and Worship
Through his worship, whether it is performed by means of words or acts, man conveys certain things:
He praises Allah by pronouncing His peculiar attributes having a sense of absolute perfection, such as absolute knowledge, absolute power and absolute will. Absolute perfection means that His knowledge, power and will are not limited by or conditional on anything else and are a corollary of His total and complete independence.
He glorifies Allah and declares Him free from every defect and deficiency such as death, limitation, ignorance, helplessness, stinginess, cruelty etc.
He thanks Allah, considering Him to be the real source of everything good and of all bounties, and believing that all favours are received from Him alone. Others are only intermediaries appointed by Him.
He expresses total submission to Him and acknowledges that unconditional obedience is due to Him. He, being the Absolute Master of all that exists, is entitled to issue orders and we being slaves, it is our duty to obey Him.
In regard to His above attributes Allah has no associate or partner. None other than Him is absolutely perfect and none other than Him is absolutely free from every defect. None other than Him is the true source of all bounties and none other than Him deserves to be thanked for all of them. None other than Him deserves total submission and to be obeyed unconditionally.
Every other obedience like that of the Prophet, the Imam, the lawful Muslim ruler, the parents and the teachers must culminate in His obedience and be subject to His good pleasure to be lawful. That is the appropriate response which a man should show to his Almighty Lord. Except in the case of Allah this kind of response is neither applicable nor permissible.
Both monotheism and polytheism have degrees and stages. Unless a man passes through all the stages of monotheism, he cannot be a true monotheist.
To acknowledge the unity of His essence means that Allah is One in His essence. The first impression of Allah which anybody has is that of His Self-dependence. He is a Being who is not dependent on any other being in any way. In the words of the Holy Qur'an, He is Ghani (the Absolute). Everything depends on Him and seeks His help. He is independent of everything. The Holy Qur'an says:
"O men, it is you who stand in need of Allah. As for Allah, He is above all need, worthy of praise." (Surah al-Fatir, 35:15)
The philosophers describe Him as Self-existent or as a being whose existence is necessary.
The second impression of Allah which everybody has is that of His creatorship. He is the Creator and the ultimate source of all the existing things. All things are "from Him". He is not from anything. According to the philosophical terminology, He is the First cause.
This is the first conception of Allah which everybody has. Everybody thinks of Allah, and while thinking of Him, he has this conception in his mind. Then he decides whether there, really exists a truth, which is not dependent on any other truth, and from which originate all other truths.
Unity of essence means that this truth is not multiplicable, and has no like of it. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Nothing is similar to Him." (Surah ash-Shura, 42:11)
"And there is none comparable to Him." (Surah at-Tawhid, 112:4)
The rule that an existing being is always a member of a species is applicable to the created beings only. For example, if is a member of the human species, we can presume that may be other members of this species. But no such thing be presumed in the case of the Self-existing Being. He is above all such notions.
The Self-existing truth being one, this world has only one source and one end. It has neither originated from various sources nor will it return to various sources. It has originated from one source and one truth. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Say: Allah is the Creator of everything." (Surah ar-Ra'd, 13:16)
Everything will return to the same source and the same truth:
"Do not all things reach Allah at last?" (Surah ash-Shura, 42:53)
In other words, the whole universe has one centre, one pole and one orbit.
The relation between Allah and the world is that of the Creator and the created that is the relation of the cause and the effect, not that kind of relation which exists between light and lamp or between human consciousness and man. It is true that Allah is not separate from the world. He is with everything. The Holy Qur'an says:
"He is with you wherever you are." (Surah al-Hadid, 57:4)
Anyhow, the non-separation of Allah from the world does not mean that He is to the world as light is to a lamp or as consciousness is to a body. Had it been so, Allah would have been the effect of the world, not the cause of it, as light is the effect of a lamp. Similarly the non-separation of Allah from the world does not mean that Allah, the world and man, have the same orientation and they all move and live with the same will and spirit. All these are the attributes of the created and non-self-existing beings. Allah is free from them. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Glorified be your Lord, the Lord of Majesty, from that which they ascribe to Him." (Surah as-Saffat, 37:180)
The unity of His attributes means to recognize that the essence and the attributes of Allah are identical and that His various attributes are not separate from each other. The unity of essence means the negation of there being any peer or likes of Allah and the unity of His attributes means the negation of any kind of multiplicity or plurality within His essence.
Allah has all the attributes implying the perfection of majesty and beauty, but His attributes have no aspect really separate from Him. The separation of the essence from the attributes and the separation of the attributes from each other, are the characteristics of the limitation of existence, and are not conceivable in the case of infinite existence.
Multiplicity, combination and the separation of the essence and the attributes are inconceivable in the case of the Absolute Being. Like the unity of the Divine essence, the unity of the Divine attributes is an Islamic doctrine and one of the most valuable human ideas which has exclusively crystallized in the Shi'ah school. We here quote a passage from the first sermon of the Nahjul Balaghah 1 which corroborates as well as explains this idea:
"All praise is due to Allah, who cannot be adequately praised by any rhetoricians, whose blessings cannot be counted by any enumerators, whom due homage cannot be paid by the most assiduous, who cannot be fully comprehended howsoever one may try, who cannot be reached by intelligence howsoever deep it may go, whose attributes are not limited by any limitation. There exist no words to describe Him fully."
As we see, in the above passage the boundlessness of the Divine attributes has been emphasized. In the same sermon after a few sentences Imam Ali says:
"Perfect devotion to Him means to deny the imputation of attributes to Him, for the person to whom an attribute is imputed, bears witness that he is different from the attribute imputed to him and every attribute of him bears witness that it is different from the person to whom it has been imputed. He who imputes an attribute to Allah compares Him (to something and he who compares him. . .". (See: Sermon - 1, p. 137, Peak of Eloquence, ISP, 1984
In the first passage it has been affirmed that Allah has attributes (whose attributes are not limited by any limitation). In the second passage also it is confirmed that He has attributes, but instruction has been given to impute no attributes to Him. The wording of these passages shows that the attributes which He has are unlimited like the limitlessness of His own self,
that they are identical with His essence, and the attributes from which He is free are those which are limited and separate from His essence and from each other. Thus the unity of the Divine tributes means to acknowledge the unity of Allah's essence and His attributes.
Unity of His work means to recognize that the world with all its systems, ways, causes and effects is the work of Allah alone and has originated from His will. Nothing in the world is self-existing. Everything depends on Him. In the words of the Holy Qur'an, He is the sustainer of the whole world. The existing things are not independent with regard to their effect and causation. As a result, as Allah has no partner in his essence, similarly He has no partner in His work.
Every agent and every cause owes its existence and effectiveness to Him and depends on Him. All power as well as ability to do things belong to Him alone.
Man is one of the existing things and hence a creation of Allah. Like other things he is effective as far as his own work is concerned and unlike of them, he is the master of his own destiny. But Allah has in no way delegated His powers to him. Thus he has not got complete discretion.
"By the power of Allah I stand and sit".
The belief that any being, whether man or a being other than man, has a complete discretion, amounts to believing that being to be a partner of Allah as far as independence of activity is concerned. As independence in activity amounts to independence in essence it is contrary to Allah's unity of essence, what to say of His unity of work.
"All praise is due to Allah who has taken no spouse nor a child. He has no partner in His sovereignty, nor has He a helper to help Him out of weakness. Therefore glorify Him a great deal." (Surah Bani Isra'il, 17:111)
The three degrees of monotheism mentioned above are theoretical and a matter of creed. They are to be recognized and acknowledged. But the unity in worship is a practical matter. It is a form of 'being' and 'becoming'. The above degrees of monotheism involved right thinking.
This degree is the stage of becoming righteous. The theoretical stage of monotheism means to have a perfect view. The practical stage of it means to move forward to attain perfection. The theoretical monotheism means to comprehend the Divine oneness and the practical monotheism means man's becoming one.
The theoretical monotheism is the stage of seeing and the practical monotheism is the stage of going. Before we further explain the practical monotheism, it is necessary to mention one more point about the theoretical monotheism.
The question is whether it is possible to know Allah together with the unity of His essence, the unity of His attributes and the unity of His work, and if possible, whether such a knowledge is conducive to human weal and bliss; or out of the various degrees and stages of monotheism it is only practical monotheism that is useful.
As far as the possibility of gaining such knowledge is concerned, we have discussed this problem in our books, Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism. As far its being useful or otherwise, that depends on our own conception of man and his weal and bliss. The modern wave of materialistic thinking has induced even the believers in Allah to consider the questions related to His knowledge to be of little use.
They regard such questions as a kind of mental exercise and an escape from the practical problems of life. But a Muslim who believes that the reality of man is not his physical reality alone, but his true reality is his spiritual reality and that the essence of human spirit is the essence of his knowledge, sanctity and purity, knows well that the so called theoretical monotheism, besides being the basis of practical monotheism, is in itself a psychological perfection of the highest order. It uplifts man, leads him towards the Divine Truth and makes him perfect.
"To Him good words ascend and the pious deeds does He exalt." (Surah al-Fatir, 35:10)
Humanity of man depends on his knowledge of Allah. Man's knowledge is not something separate from him. The more man attains knowledge of the universe, its system and its source, the more will develop his humanity, the 50% substance of which consists of knowledge.
From the point of view of Islam, especially the Shi'ah doctrine, there is not the least doubt that the attainment of the knowledge of Allah, irrespective of its practical and social effects, is in itself a goal of humanity. Now we take up the question of practical monotheism:
Practical monotheism or unity in worship means to worship Allah alone; In other words to be single-minded in respect of the worship of Allah. Later we will explain that from the viewpoint of Islam, worship has a number of degrees. The clearest degree of it is the performance of the rites related to glorification and exaltation of Allah.
The performance of such rites in respect of anyone other than Allah, means total exit from the pale of Islam. Anyhow, from the viewpoint of Islam worship is not confined to this degree alone. Every form of spiritual orientation and accepting something as one's spiritual ideal is included in worship. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Have you seen him who has chosen for his god his own lust?" (Surah al-Furqan, 25:43)
He who obeys someone whom Allah has not allowed to be obeyed and submits to him totally, worships that person:
"They have taken their rabbis and their monks as their lords besides Allah." (Surah at-Tawbah, 9:31)
"And similarly none of us shall take others as our lords besides Allah." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:64)
Thus practical monotheism or unity in worship means to accept Allah alone as fit to be obeyed unconditionally, regard Him alone as one's ideal and the direction of one's conduct and to reject all others and consider them to be unfit to be obeyed unconditionally or regarded as one's ideal. Practical monotheism means to bow to Allah alone, to rise for Him, to live for him and to die for Him.
"(Prophet) Ibrahim said: I have set my face earnestly to Him who has created the Heavens and the earth. I am not a pagan. My prayers and my sacrifice, my living and my dying all are for Allah, the Lord of the universe. He has no partner. So have I been commanded, and I am the first to submit to Him."(Surah al-An'am, 6:79 & 163- 164)
This monotheism of Prophet Ibrahim is the practical monotheism. This is what the creed, 'There is no god but Allah", visualizes.
The unification of the existential reality of man in a psychological system in consonance with his human and evolutionary tendencies and similarly the unification of human society in a harmonious and evolutionary social system are the questions which have always engaged the attention of mankind.
As opposed to unification is the polarization of individual personality and its split into discordant segments, and the division of society into conflicting groups and classes. The question is: what is to be done to ensure the harmonious development of human personality both from psychological and social points of view? In this respect there are three theories:
I. Materialistic Theory
The upholders of this theory think of matter only and give no importance to soul. They claim that what splits an individual psychologically and a society socially and cause discord and incongruity is the existence of the system of private property. Man by nature is a social being. In the beginning of history he led a collective life, and was not conscious of his individual existence. At that time he had a collective spirit and a collective feeling.
His life depended on hunting and everybody could obtain his means of living from the river and the forest according to his requirements. There was no question of surplus production till man discovered the art of cultivation. With it the possibility of surplus production and the possibility of some peoples' doing work and some others simply eating without doing any work appeared.
That was the development which led to the practice of ownership. The private ownership of the sources of production like water and land and the production tools like plough, did away with the collective spirit and split the society which was so far living as one unit, into 'haves' and 'have not's.
The society which lived as 'We' took the shape of 'I'. As a result of the appearance of ownership man became unconscious of his own reality as a social being. Previously he felt that he was just a man like others. Now he regarded himself as an owner instead of a man. Thus he became unconscious of himself and began to deteriorate.
Only by abolishing the system of private ownership man can once more regain his moral and social unity and his mental and social health. The compulsory movement of history is already taking place in this direction. Private properties, which have turned human unity into plurality, and collectivity into dispersal, are like the turrets mentioned by the Persian mystic poet,
Mowlavi in a beautiful simile. He says that the turrets and pinnacles divide one single and extensive sunshine into compartments by introducing shadow pieces in between. Of course Mowlavi visualizes a Gnostic truth that is the emergence of plurality from unity and its ultimate return to unity. But with a little twist, this simile can also be used to illustrate the Marxist theory of socialism.
II. Idealistic Theory
This theory gives importance to man's spirit and his relation to his inner self only. According to this theory, it is true that the relation between man and the material things does away with unity, causes plurality and dismembers collectivity.
It leads the individual to psychological split and divides society into classes. But it is also to be remembered that in the case of the attachment of one thing to another, it is the latter that causes the split and dismemberment of the former. Hence the attachment of such things as property, wife and position to man is not the cause of his psychological split and the dismemberment of society.
In contrast, it is the heart-felt inner attachment of man to the material things that causes this split and dismemberment. Ownership has not alienated man from himself and society. It is his 'being owned' that has alienated him. What dismembers his individuality from moral and social point of view is not 'my property', 'my wife' and 'my position'. It is 'my being property', 'my being wife' and 'my being a position' which dismembers his individuality.
To change 'I' into 'we' it is not necessary to sever the relation of the things with man. It is the relation of man with the things that should be severed. Release man from the bondage of the things, so that he may return back to his human reality. Give man his moral and spiritual freedom. To release things from his ownership will serve no useful purpose. The moral and social unification of man is a matter of spiritual education and training. It is not an economic question.
What is required is inner development of man, not his outer curtailment. Man is first an animal and then a human being. He is an animal by nature and a human being by acquisition. Man can regain his latent humanity by correct education. So long as he does not gain it, he remains an animal by nature and there is no question of the unity of his spirit and life.
It is unhumanistic to consider material things to be the cause of the split and coalescence of man and to think that with their division man is divided and with their unification he is united, and that his moral and social personality is subservient to economic and production situation. Such notions are the result of not knowing man and not believing in his humanity and his faculties of understanding and will.
Furthermore, it is impossible to sever man's private relation with other things totally. Even if his relation with wealth and property is severed, it is not possible to do so in the case of wife, children and family. Is it possible to introduce socialism in this field also, and to establish sexual communism?
If this is possible, then why are the countries, which abolished private property long ago, still sticking to private family system? Suppose the natural family system is also socialized, what will be done about jobs, positions, prestige and honour? Is it possible to distribute these things also equally? What will be done about the physical and mental abilities of the individuals? These relationships are an integral part of the existence of every individual and are not separable from him.
III. Realistic Theory
According to this theory, what splits and divides man from individual and social point of view is neither man's relation with the things nor the relation of the things with man. Man's bondage neither originates from his ownership nor from his being owned. This theory gives first importance to such factors as education, training, revolution, thinking, ideology and spiritual freedom. It believes that man is neither a purely material being nor a purely spiritual being. This worldly life and the next worldly life are closely interconnected with each other. The body and the soul interact.
A struggle should be made against the factors causing psychological split with the help of faith and unity in worship, and a war should be waged against discrimination, injustice, deprivation, oppression, suffocation, and false gods.
This is the Islamic way of thinking. As soon as Islam appeared, it started a movement and began to bring about a revolution. But it never said that if discrimination and injustice were removed or private property was abolished, everything would be all right. Nor did it say if you reformed yourself from within, had nothing to do with the external world, and improved your moral qualities,
society would automatically be reformed. Besides other things Islam raised the slogan of internal monotheism to be secured through jihad and a struggle against social inequities. The following verse which shines on the firmament of human unity and which was incorporated by the Holy Prophet in his letters addressed to the heads of various countries manifests the all-round realism of Islam:
"Let us come to an agreement between us and you: that we will worship none but Allah, that we will associate none with Him." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:64)
Up to this point this verse deals with the unity of man through faith, a common ideal and attaining spiritual freedom. Thereafter it says:
"None of us shall take others as Lords besides Allah"
Should we act according to this teaching of Islam we will not be divided into masters and slaves, and will be able to forestall wrong social relationships that lead to discrimination?
Following the chaos and agitation during the caliphate of Uthman leading to his murder, people rushed to pledge their allegiance to Imam Ali, who was forced to accept the responsibilities of caliphate against his personal liking. It was his legal duty which compelled him to accept the caliphate. He describes his personal dislike and his legal duty in the following words:
"Had not the people gathered round me, had not the presence of the helper left me no choice and had not Allah taken a promise from the learned not to agree to a situation in which people were divided into the oppressors having too much and the oppressed having too little, I would not have cared who becomes a caliph and my attitude would have remained the same as it had been throughout". (See: Peak of Eloquence, Sermon - 7)
We all know that Imam Ali after taking over his assignment gave the foremost importance to two things. One was the spiritual and moral reform of the people and the dissemination of Divine knowledge, the examples of which we find in Nahjul Balaghah, and the other was his struggle against social discrimination. He was neither contented with inner reform nor regarded the mere social reform as adequate. Islam had in one hand the programme of educating the people and of preaching faith in Allah in order to secure individual and social unity of mankind, and in other it had a sword in order to sever the unbalanced human relationships, to break up class distinctions and to knock down the false gods.
The classless Islamic society means a just society in which there is no discrimination, no deprivation, no tyranny and no false gods.
It does not mean a society in which there is no disparity, for the absence of disparity is in itself a form of injustice. There is a difference between discrimination and disparity. In the creational system there exists disparity, which gives it variety and beauty, but there exists no discrimination in it. The perfect Islamic society is a society that is against discrimination, but is not opposed to disparity. Islamic society is a society of equality and brotherhood.
But its equality is positive and not negative. It takes into consideration the natural differences of the individuals and does not deprive anyone of his acquired distinctions. It establishes positive equality by providing equal opportunities to all and by abolishing unjust eminence and imaginary superiority.
The negative equality is similar to the equality narrated in a legendary tale. A tyrant used to live in the hills. He received the passers-by as his guests. When the guest retired for the night, he was required to sleep on a particular bed. If by chance the body of the guest was equal to the size of the bed, it was all right. But woe to the poor guest if his body was not equal to it! If it was taller, the servants of the tyrant chopped off a part of it from either side and if it was shorter, they pulled it from both sides to make it fit in the bed. The result in both the cases can easily be imagined.
The positive equality is like the equal treatment meted out by an affectionate teacher to all his pupils. If in a test the answers of all of them are correct, he awards them equal marks. If their answers vary, he awards each of them as many marks as he deserves.
The Islamic society is a natural society. It is neither discriminative nor a society of negative equality. The Islamic principle is 'work according to one's ability, entitlement according to one's work'.
In a discriminative society relations of people are based on subjugation and forcible exploitation. But in a natural society there is no exploitation and nobody is allowed to live at the cost of others. The relations of people are based on reciprocal service. All work freely according to their abi
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