- :Martyr Murtadha Mutahari
Martyr Murtadha Mutahari
I have been asked to discuss the question of the criteria for humanity. If we were to do so from the viewpoint of biology, this would be an easy matter since we would be dealing with the human body and the place of human beings in the animal world, in which case there is no difference between individuals. By the standard of anatomy, medicine, and, even to some extent, psychology, there are no major differences between two or more individuals.
But is humanity limited to the body? Is human perfection and mobility confined to man's physical aspect? In humanistic sciences there is talk of perfect and imperfect man, of the low and high kind. What type of human being is ethically and socially worthy of respect because of his or her perfection, or deserving of contempt because of his or her imperfections? This is a topic which has always attracted attention not only in human knowledge, but also in various religions. For example, the Quran speaks of human beings who are higher than angels and worthy of homage by the latter. It also mentions human beings who are inferior to animals.
What is the criteria which measures the differences between human beings? This question is not only related to religion. Materialistic philosophers, too, who do not believe in God and religion, discuss the question of man, humanity and superior and inferior beings.
What is the criteria according to these philosophers? Can we say that human beings are equal genetically, but that they differ in knowledge. That is, something which is acquired not inherited, so that a person with more knowledge is higher than one with less? Is this related to academic knowledge which gives superiority according to the level and stage of one's studies? Do we respect people only in proportion to their learning? Is Abu Dhar honoured because he was more learned than his contemporaries? Is Mu'awiyah blameworthy and disliked because he had inferior knowledge?
I do not believe that learning is a criterion for humanity. If it were so, we should say that Einstein was the most endowed with qualities of humanity since he was the most learned man of his time.
Another view is that although knowledge is one of the requisites of humanity, and although the importance of awareness of the self, of the society and of the world cannot be denied, it is inadequate. This view claims that humanity is measured by character and disposition. A person may be very learned, but if he has a bad character, would he be considered to be a real human being?
An animal behaves according to its instincts and it possesses no will to rule over its instincts. When we call a dog a faithful animal, its faithfulness is instinctive. An ant is prudent by instinct. There are also human beings in the world who have a disposition resembling that of an animal. They possess their natural instincts, but have done nothing to refinethemselves, and are condemned only to follow their nature.
The awareness of an animal is limited to its own time and place, while man's awareness allows him to know the past and have an idea of the future and also step beyond his own area and even his own planet. But the question of character is a different matter. Knowledge is related to what one is taught, while character is related to training and the forming of habits.
I do not think that knowledge as a criterion of humanity is acceptable and I will later explain what type of people support it. The second view, i.e., characteristics as a criterion of humanity, has more supporters. But we may ask what kind of characteristics and dispositions? One of the answers to this question is that love is the desired criterion, love, which is the mother of other fine dispositions. Thus, if one bases one's character on the love of human beings, one has real humanity. Such a person is as interested in others as in one's '"self " or even more interested in them.
In religion this is called self-sacrifice. There is a statement in a book that there is an instruction in all religions to love for others what you love for yourself, and dislike for them what you dislike for yourself. This has been stated in our traditions. This is the logic of love. As we know, in the Hindu schools and in Christianity, much emphasis is laid on love. But they have gone so far as to lose sight of everything else and maintain that love is to be a course of action in all circumstances. Thus the love of both these ideologies is a kind of stupefaction and the adequacy of love as a criterion of humanity is to be discussed.
But if we accept the love for other human beings as the criterion, the issue will be solved more easily than if we accept knowledge as the criterion. For example, concerning our preference for Abu Dhar over Mu'awiyah, we are in a better position to judge them on the basis of love. Mu'awiyah was a selfish and ambitious man who exploited others by force. Abudhar was the reverse, and although he had all the possibilities and even though Mu'awiyah was prepared to offer him many privileges, yet he was anxious about the fate of others, particularly those who were oppressed by Mu'awiyah. That is why he arose against this wicked man and spent his last years in exile where he died. Thus, we call Abudhar human as he loved others, and we consider Mu'awiyah inhuman as he was only interested in himself.
Or, similarly, why do we think Hadrat Ali, peace be upon him, is a perfect human being? Because he felt society's pain, and his 'I' had become 'We'. His personality attracted all others. He was not an individual separated from others. He was a limb or organ of a whole body. He himself said that a pain in one part of society, as in a body, made itself felt in the other parts, one of which was himself. Ali had declared this long before the humanistic philosophy of thetwentieth century claimed it as an ideal.
When he heard that a governor appointed by him had attended a feast, he wrote him a letter of protest which is quoted in the Nahj ul-Balagha. It is not mentioned what kind of a feast it had been, whether there had been drinking or gambling or dancing. The governor was considered guilty by Hadrat Ali because he had participated in an aristocratic feast which was not attended by any poor people.
He says, "I never believed a governor and representative of mine would attend such a party of the nobility." He then describes his own life and says that he felt other people's pain more than his own and their pain prevented him from feeling his own. His words show that he was a truly learned and wise sage. Yet the reason why we honor him so deeply is not only because of his wide knowledge, but because he was human. He was not unaware of the destiny of others.
Another school of thought considers resolution and will power as the criterion for humanity. It claims that if a person can dominate himself, his instincts, nerves and passions by his will-power and reason and not be dominated over by his inclinations and desires, he is really human.
There is a difference between desire and will. Desire is an attraction by an exterior force, a relation between man and external objects, like a hungry man drawn by food, or sexual attraction. Even sleep is an attraction. So is desire for rank and position. But resolution is some thing internal, which liberates one from the urges of desire. It places desires at the disposal of will-power to employ them as it considers expedient. Most of our past moralists emphasized resolution as a criterion for humanity. People, unlike animals, which are ruled by instinct, can decide to act against their own inclinations. Thus a person of resolution is more human than one who cannot control the 'self'.
Another criterion for humanity is freedom. What does this mean? It means that to the extent that one tolerates no force, and is not captivated by any power and can choose freely, one is human. In modern schools of thought, much emphasis is laid on freedom as one of the criteria of humanity. Is this view correct or not? It is both correct and incorrect. As a requisite for humanity, it is correct, but as the sole criterion for humanity, it is wrong.
Islam has laid great emphasis on self-control. I relate a story here in connection with it. It is narrated that the Prophet was passing by a place in Medina where a number of young men were testing their strength by lifting a heavy stone. When they saw the Prophet, they asked him to act as judge. The Prophet agreed, and at the end of the competition he said, "Do you know who is the strongest? It is he who controls his anger and does not allow it to overcome him. He must not use his anger in a way contrary to God's satisfaction and should be able to dominate over his own desires."
On that day, the Prophet transformed a physical contest into a spiritual one. What he meant was that physical strength shows manliness but it is not the only sign of it. True manliness is in the strength of will power.
We call Hadrat Ali the 'Lion of God', for he was more manly than all in two ways: Externally in society and on the battlefield where he could overthrow his strongest opponents; and, more important than that, internally, meaning that he was in perfect control of himself and of every whim and wish.
Jalal al-din Rumi tells a story in his Mathnavi about Hadrat Ali as a young man of 24 or 25 in which he portrays a fine picture of manliness. He had thrown down his adversary in a battle and was sitting on his chest, about to kill him. The man spit on Hadrat's face. Annoyed, Hadrat Ali temporarily leaves the man and walks about for a while. The man asks why he left him to himself. Hadrat answers, "If I had killed you then, it would have been in anger, not in the way of my duty to my goal and for the sake of God." This is a wonderful example of self control.
Hadrat says in his testament to his son, Imam Hasan, peace be upon him, "Consider yourself and your life above every mean deed. In return for what you pay out of your life for desires, you receive nothing. Do not make yourself a slave of others, for God has created you free." The question of freedom is something that the school of existentialism, too, accepts as a criterion for humanity.
Another criterion for humanity is the question of duty and responsibility which began with Kant and has been emphasized in our own time. This means feeling responsible to society, to oneself and to one's family. How should one obtain this feeling and what is its basis? Is it created in one's conscience?
Another school of thought, including Plato, considers beauty as the criterion for humanity. All schools recognize and approve of justice. One school approves of justice from an ethical viewpoint. Another one approves of it because it considers that there is a relation between justice and freedom, while Plato thinks justice is good in both the individual and society, because it leads to poise and beauty. Of course, his idea of beauty is obviously spiritual beauty.
On another occasion we will judge between all these schools and we will review the views of Islam on this issue.
The subject of our discourse is 'the school of humanity'. The human being who is the only inquisitive being in the world that we know, has always been subjected to investigation and discussion.
The word 'humanity' has always been connected with a sense of loftiness and sanctity as a being superior to animals from various points of view, such as knowledge justice, freedom, moral conscience, etc. Although many of humanity's sacred objects have been subjected to doubt and even denial, apparently no school of thought has yet gone so far as to scorn the special dignity of humanity andits superiority over other Creatures.
This fact has been elegantly expressed in the poems of Rumi and Sa'adi and by other poets of ours. This topic is also the theme of most of the world's literature, both religious and non-religious, in which the question of humanity and its glorification has been described. In Islamic literature, too, both in Persian and Arabic, we come across many such statements.
In the last two centuries, with the great advance of science, humanity has suddenly fallen from that pedestal of sanctity it had always been given. It fell with a real crash since the more one is elevated, the greater is the damage Caused by the fall. In the past, mankind has been exacted to the rank of a demi-god as witnessed in the poems of Hafiz and other poets.
The first discovery of humanity was the form of the universe which revolutionized its ideas. Before that, the earth was believed to be the center of the universe round which all the plants and stars revolved. Science proved that the earth was a small planet which revolved around the sun and the solar System was only an insignificant part of the universe.
It was then that the position of humanity as the center of all possibilities and as the goal of creation was subjected to doubt and denial, and no one dared any longer to make claims about its exalted position. Then, another severe blow dealt, was the idea that the human being was no longer a divine creature and vice gerent of God upon the earth was given up.
Biological research on the question of evolution and the origin of species at once showed the relationship of people with those same animals which they Scorned and despised. It proved them to be an evolved form of a monkey or some other animal and thus they lost their divine origin. Another strong blow as against humanity's apparently brilliant record of activities, namely, that it could act in such a way that showed only goodness and benevolence, whose motive was only the love of Cod, and lacking all animal aspects. The new thesis was that the claim of humanity to all that sanctity and virtue was false and all the activities to which it had given the name of the love of knowledge, art, beauty, morality and conscience, prayer and devotion and everything supernatural, are similar to those which can be found in animals, too, except in a more complex form and mechanism. It was said that the stomach is the source and cause of all activities. Some went so far as to say that the stomach was also the basis of its thoughts and feelings. There were still others who considered this position too high and claimed that the human being was even lower than he is.
Eventually it was concluded that this being who had formerly claimed divine origin and exaltation must be subjected to a careful study to discover its true nature. Another theory was offered that there is no difference between humans, plants and even inanimate objects. There is, of course, a difference in the texture and form, but not in the substance of which they were all made. It was stated that spirit and divine breath were non-existent because the human being is a machine which is only more complicated than other machines such as cars, planes, and satellites; that is, only a mechanical creature.
This was a great blow to humanity and yet human values were not wholly condemned except in some schools of thought where ideas like peace, freedom, spirituality, justice and compassion were considered as jokes.
But since the middle of the 19th century, humanity has won fresh attention in philosophical schools Such as schools of humanity and even worship of human beings. In the past the human being was only a sign of spirituality and the Quran speaks of the human being as being the worthiest creature through whom God could be understood.
Now the human being is trying to recover its former honor and sanctity and become a goal in itself but without the adoption of the former criteria and without a regard for its divine or non-divine aspect, or the points stated in the Quran that everything that is created on earth is for it and that God has breathed some of this spirit into it to making it a manifestation of Himself.
There is no longer any talk of the above matters, nor even a discussion of internal human motives, but only a belief in the sanctity of humanity and its intelligence. Now we see all schools of thought and even the declaration of human rights beginning their claims with respect for the inherent dignity of human beings. They say this in order to base their education on its foundation and though each individual is able to violate the rights of others, this respect for the dignity and sanctity of humanity will serve as a check to such violations.
Most of those who follow the philosophy of humanitarianism, have criteria different from those of the past. But the difficulty lies in this same contradiction in the life, thought and logic of mankind today, a logic which lacks foundation.
I do not think that there are any scholars in the world who would interpret humanitarianism to mean universal peace. There are, of course, ordinary people who think all human beings in the world are the same and of equal worth. But this is not true. One is learned, another is ignorant; one is virtuous, another is impure; one is tyrannical, another is oppressed; one is benevolent, another is malevolent. Should we consider them all the same from a humanitarian point of view, irrespective of their knowledge, faith, chastity and benevolence or vice versa?
If we say so, we are betraying humanity. Let me give an example. Both A and B are human beings who are biologically similar. If you dislike one of them, it has nothing to do with his blood group. But if you are humanitarian, you cannot be indifferent to both of them and claim that they are equally human; for then both should be equally liked, or both equally disliked. But this is not so since the human being's basic difference with animals is that the human being has more potentiality than animals and less actuality. What does that mean? A horse on its birth possesses all the peculiarities that a horse should have and if it has less than that, it can gain it by practice. But a human being has potential only at birth. lt is not known what he or she will be in the future. The shape is human hut that person may, in reality, become a wolf or a sheep or a human being.
Mulla Sadra, the great Iranian Islamic philosopher, in pointing out the error of people in thinking human beings equal in everything, says that there are as many kinds of individuals as there are individuals. He is, of courses regarding the human being philosophically, not biologically. A biologist pays attention to human organs and limbs, while a philosopher concentrates on the human being's qualities and thus he cannot believe that human beings are all of the same kind. That is why human values are potential. Some attain the height of humanity while others fail to do so. As Hadrat Ali says, "The shape is humans but the mind may be a beast." Not all individuals have an interior proportionate to their exterior.
As I said before, to a great extent, the world is returning, once again to the school of humanity, meaning that philosophies of humanity have appeared; and the strangest of them all is the creed of humanity which Auguste Compte originated in the middle of the 19th century. This man wavered between his intelligence and mind on the one hand and his heart and conscience on the other and came to the conclusion that the human being needed a creed, the absence of which results in all kinds of social corruption. According to him, past religion (Catholicism) is not adequate enough for modern mankind. He describes three stages of religion; The divine supernatural stage, the philosophical reasoning stage and the scientific positive stage. He said that Catholicism belonged to the human being's supernatural thinking and this is not acceptable to the person of the scientific age. His invented religion however, lacked an occult root, but he accepted all the traditions and rites which existed before, and even proposed having priests in this new creed, presenting himself as its prophet, but a prophet without a god. They say about him that he got his rites from Catholicism and he was criticized for this since he disbelieved that religion but imitated and adopted its ceremonies and traditions. He was right in one thing, that the human being needs worship and devotion as well as the performance of a number of rites.
He seems to have found a large number of followers in Europe and America and his house has become a center of pilgrimage for them. According to some Arabic books, he had fallen in love with a lady whose husband had been condemned to life imprisonment, but she died before he could win her and consequently he turned away frown the world of the intellect to the world of sentiments and eventually started his creed of humanity. This lady-love is considered by his followers as holy as Mary, the mother of Christ. But this school of humanity underwent a number of changes which gave it its present form.
One of the questions concerning the human being is freedom and responsibility. Is the human being really free and independent or does it have a responsibility and a mission to perform? According to the Quran, the human being is faced with no compulsion before God. On the contrary, the human being is created a free being with a fixed responsibility and mission. The Holy Quran refers to the human being as the vice-gerent of God, while no others Holy book has given such sanctity to the human being.
God says in the Quran, "And when your Lord said to the angels, I am setting on the earth a vice-gerent, they said,What will You set therein one who will do corruption there and shed blood ... But God answered, Assuredly I know what you know not." (2:28)
All that, is evidence of the human being's talents and potentialities. You see, then, that Islam, which is a school of humanity, believes in the exalted position of the human being from a philosophical point of view. The Quran says again that God taught the human being the names of all things. Then it showed itself superior to the angels in this knowledge and God reproached the angels for what they did not know about humanity and while they supposed the human being to be a creature of wrath and lust, they had ignored the other side of its character. The angels confessed their ignorance and begged for His forgiveness. Then God told the angels to prostrate themselves before His creature.
The greatest interpretation that can be given to this command in order to show the human being's mission freedom and option is that God makes it the vice-gerent of and the successor to himself. God is the Creator and here He confers some of His creative power on the human being to benefit from.
Another question shout the human being is its happiness and pleasure. I say briefly that the human being seeks pleasure. Where Should it be found? Is it from within the self or from without, or from both within and without and in what proportion? Those who focus their attention on sures outside themselves, wrongly supposing that the whole joy of life is this, have not been able to know themselves as human beings. They cannot consider the life within themselves as a source of joy and pleasure. Their exhilaration lies in a wine-cup, a cabaret.
How well does Rumi describe a person addicted to drinking and direct that person to righteousness and away from evil saying,
You are the symbol of existence, wherefore do you seek annihilation?
You who are an ocean, what do you intend to become?
Why do you make yourself indebted to wine?
He continues to say that the human being is the essence and the world is the form.
It is equally wrong to reject all external things and go to the other extreme of thinking that all joys must be sought internally. In some poems of Rumi we come across such an exaggeration when he says,
Consider that the way of pleasure is all from within, not without
And think it foolish to abandon customs and traditions.
Someone is happy and intoxicated in the corner of prison,
And another is full of grief in his garden.
He does not mean that all external things should be put aside but, at the same time, it Should not be supposed that all joys are found in material things. The self is the center of joy and there should be an equilibrium between the internal and external.
There are many things to say about the human being. The school of thought which considers itself human should be able to answer certain questions in order to be accepted as a true human school. The human being was considered as the door of spirituality, that is, one could discover the spiritual work through one's own essence. Spirituality and humanism or religion and humanism are two inseparable matters. We cannot accept one of them and abandon the other . The contradiction which we claim to exist in various genuine humanistic schools lies in this point that when humanity suffered a downfall, however wrongly, namely through a change in the Ptolemaic astronomy, it should not make us doubt the exalted position of the human being as a goal in the course of creation. The human being is the goal of the universe whether the earth is the center of the universe or not. What does the phrase 'goal of the universe' mean? It means that nature moves in a certain direction in its evolutionary course whether we consider the human being a spontaneously created being or a continuation of other animal species. it makes no difference to this process whether we think it to possess a divine spirit or not.
God has said, "We have breathed some of Our spirit into him." He has not said that the human being is the race of God. If He had said that thee substance of which the human being is made was brought from another world, then the human being would be a lofty and sacred being.
To those of you whose philosophy is humanitarian, we say, is there a sentiment in the human being either called benevolence, goodness or service, or not? If you say there is not, then to attribute Such a quality to the human being would be as meaningless as calling him a stone or an animal. But the human being has the sentiment. What is it? Some one may say the feeling of service in us is a kind of substitution. What does that mean? When we witness something and our humanitarian feeling is supposedly roused to go and instruct, serve and save the oppressed, we are told that if we ponder about it, we as human beings are putting ourselves in their place, thinking of them first as belonging to our group or our group related to them and then we substitute ourselves for them. Then, the feeling of selfishness which makes us defend ourselves is roused to defend the oppressed; otherwise there is no genuine sentiment in the human being to defend an oppressed person directly.
The school of humanity must firstly answer whether such a sentiment exists in the human being or not? We answer that it does on the basis of its being appointed the vice-gerent of God and as the manifestation of divine generosity and benevolence. It means that while the human bring in its Selfishness is duty-bound to show activity for its survival, tile whole of its existence is not selfishness. The human being also has benevolence, humanity, world-build ing and moral conscience.
Some time ago when I was in Shiraz, an organization called the Happy Organization was introduced to me consisting of individuals with an internal sentiment and personal faith and a gathering of the deaf and dumb. I visited one of their classes. For us fastidious people it would he exhausting to spend even one hour in such a class and watch them and their strange gesticulations for a remark. Their teacher was a Sayyid who was named after the first son of Imam and he was showing a great deal of interest and sympathy in those children even though his salary was less than an elementary school teacher's, for that organization was short of funds. He taught them how to write and made them understand words with a great expenditure of effort.
What is this sentiment in the human being? It is the manifestation of humanity and its genuineness. Generally speaking, what is this sense of praise for the good and dislike for the sick, even though they belong to the distant past? When we hear the names of Yazid and Shimr and remember their wickedness and crimes, and on the other hand, when the names of the martyrs of Karbala are mentioned, we have a feeling of hatred for the first group and a sense of wonder and respect for the latter. What is the reason for it? Is it a class feeling which makes us think of ourselves as belonging to the group of the martyrs of Karbala and dislike Yazid and Shimr as we dislike our enemies? Do we project our feelings of sympathy and hatred on to each group respectively, while in truth both are related to ourselves? If this is so then the person you consider your enemy will be no different from you. For in his turn he has the right to praise those you dislike and hate those you praise.
On the contrary you may look upon it from a different angle which is not personal and individual but is related to the whole of humanity in which there is no question of personal dislike but the truth. There your connection with the martyrs in your praise, and your dislike of their enemies, is not personal but general and universal.
The school of humanity must supply an answer to what these feelings are and whence they arise and to such problems as the human being's honest love of gratitude, to some one who has done a good deed. When the genuineness of human values are discovered, then the question of the human being crops up. Is the human being who has such genuine qualities the same person spoken of by materialism? Is that person a machine, a satellite? A machine, however big, is only big, if a machine is made a thousand times bigger than an Apollo, what could we say about it? We could say it is great, amazing and extraordinary but not noble or sacred. Even if it is made a billion times bigger, possessing a billion pieces, again it can only be called amazing and extraordinary but never noble, holy and honorable. How can the declaration of human rights and communist philosophers who support human genuineness in various forms, speak of the human being's inherent prestige and sacredness without paying attention to God's words saying, "We breathed some of Our spirit into him," When they ascertain the genuineness of these values then they can realize the genuineness of the human being itself.
Now supposing we realize this genuineness of the human being is it only the human being who exists in this universe which is in infinite darkness? As a European says, is the human being only a drop of sweat in an ocean of poison created accidentally? Or is the human being a drop of sweet water in a sweet ocean? Does this small light represent universal light?
Here the relation of the genuineness of the human being with God will become clear, for both of them are inseparable. In the phrase of the Holy Quran, God is the light of the heavens and the earth, the word God is not what Aristotle calls the first Cause for that is different from the God of Islam. His god is separate from and foreign to the universe. But the God Of Islam, when the phrase, He is the First, He is the Last, He is the Outer and He is the Inner. (57:3) is heard, it at once gives you a different view of the universe. Then you understand the meaning of all the genuine qualities within yourself and realize that there is a goal. You will see that if you are a beam of light then a whole world of light exists and if you are a drop of sweat water it is because an infinite ocean of sweetness exists there and a ray of His light is within you.
Islam is a humanistic school based on human criteria There is nothing in it based on wrong discriminations between human beings. In Islam there exists no country, race, blood, zone and language. These things are not an evidence and criterion of privilege for human beings. That criterion in Islam is those human values. If it respects those values, it is because it believes in the genuineness of the human being and the universe; that is, it believes in God Almighty. That is why Islam is the only humanistic school that has for its foundation proper logic and there exists no other such school in the world.
Say, oh people of the Book! Come now to a word common between us and you that we worship none but God and that we associate not aught with Him and do not some of us take others as Lord, apart from God. (3:64)
The subject of our discussion is spiritual freedom. The points that I wish to submit to this gathering tonight are as follows: Firstly, the nature of freedom; secondly, how many kinds of freedom there are though I confine myself to two types here, namely, spiritual freedom and social freedom and thirdly, the relationship between these two types of freedom and the extent to which spiritual freedom is possible without social freedom and vice versa. The discussion will mainly be centered round the last point, namely, the connection between the two types of freedom.
I begin my discourse with a point which is relevant to this occasion, the birthday anniversary of Hadrat Ali, the Master (mawla) of the virtuous, peace be upon him. One of the words we often use in connection with his personality is the word master and master of the virtuous and master of the masters. When we quote his sayings we add one of the above epithets instead of his name.
This epithet was first used by the Holy Prophet about him in his famous remark, "Ali is a master for him who accepts me as his master (when he lifted him up to present him to his followers), an uttering unanimously affirmed by both the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. The word has also appeared in the Holy Quran, "If you both turn to God then indeed your hearts are already inclined (to this); and if you hack up each other against him, then surely God is Who is his Master and Gabriel and the believers that do good, and the angels after that are the aiders. " (66:4)
What does the word master mean? I do not wish to go into great lengths about it tonight but to be brief. The original meaning of it is 'proximity' of two things which are close to one another. Therefore it is sometimes used with two opposite meanings. For example, God is said to be the Master of His servants. It is also used to mean a master or even a slave. Another meaning of it is both liberator and liberated.
In which sense, then, did the Prophet use the word 'mawla' in his utterance meaning, "As I am a master and friend to a person, then Ali is his master and friend."I have no intention of saying which meaning was, in my opinion, expressed here. But in connection with my discourse I may mention that the poet Jalal ul-din Rumi has tastefully used the word in his Mathnavi and taken it to mean liberator. The word occurs in chapter six of his work in a well-known story of the woman and the treacherous judge. In this story the judge wants to hide in a chest. He is hidden there and the chest is given to a porter to carry. The judge begs the porter with the promise of a fine reward to go and find the judge's assistant to come and buy the chest. The assistant comes and buys the chest. Here the poet makes a digression to say, "All of us are confined in the chest of the lustful body without being aware of it and we need liberating prophets and apostles to deliver and save us." Then he goes on to say,
It was for this reason that the assiduous Prophet Applied the word Master to himself and Ali
Saying whoever has me as his master and friend
Must have Ali, my cousin, as his master too.
Who is a master? He is one who liberates you.
And removes the fetters from your legs.
This is really true whether the Prophet's remark, "Whoever has me as his master has Ali as his master," would have the same meaning or not, that is, whether he used the word master to mean that he and Ali were liberators or not. The fact remains that every rightful Prophet is sent to liberate people and every rightful Imam possesses the same quality.
Now let us see what is the meaning of freedom and liberty. Freedom is a requisite of life and evolution and one of the greatest needs of living creatures, whether they are plants, animals or human beings. The difference in their freedom lies in their differences of structure. The human being needs a freedom beyond that of plants and animals. Every living thing must grow and find perfection. It cannot remain stationary. Solids do not grow so they have no need of freedom. But living creatures need three things for their growth and evolution: nurturing, security and freedom.
Nurturing consists of a number of factors required by living creatures for their growth . For example, a plant needs soil and water as well as light and heat in order to grow. An animal needs food and other things. A human being's needs are the same as those of plants and animals plus a series of other needs which would come under the heading of nurturing, all of which are like food for it. How can one live without food? The faculty of nourishment is a necessary asset to a living being.
The next requisite of a living being is security. What does security mean? It means being able to keep the means and equipment necessary for living. It should not be withheld from them by an enemy or a foreign power. Next to this nurturing it needs security in order to keep its life and wealth and health and belongings safe against aggression.
The third need is freedom. What does freedom mean? It means the absence of obstacles in the way of growth. For example, in growing a plant, in addition to other requisites, you must provide a suitable environment for it and remove all obstacles. If you plant a tree under a roof, you are depriving it of free space above to attain its full growth. Thus every living being needs freedom for its growth and evolution. What is this freedom? It is the absence of barriers. Free persons are those who fight against all obstacles set in their way of growth and perfection. They do not submit to obstacles.
Now we must see what types of freedom there are. The human being is a peculiar being and his or her life is a social one, in addition to being a complex creature in his or her individual life. Human beings are quite different from plants and animals; they have certain other needs which may be divided into two kinds. One of them is social freedom. What does social freedom mean? It means having freedom in connection with other individuals in society, so that they do not hinder their growth, do not imprison them to check their activities, do not exploit or enslave them, do not exploit all their physical and mental powers in their own interests. This is called social freedom which may in its turn be of several types.
One of the greatest problems of human beings throughout history has been this same abuse of power by powerful elements in subjugating others and enslaving them so as to enjoy the whole fruits of their lives and labor.
Do you know what exploitation means? It means picking someone else's fruits. For each person his or her essence is a fruitful tree and his or her labor and thoughts are the product of that tree. This crop must be his or hers. But when others seize these fruits by one means or another, we say a person is exploited by another or others. Throughout history one person has been exploited by another person or a people by another people or enslaved by them. Or at least they have been deprived of the opportunity to give the exploiter a greater chance to secure maximum benefits. For example, suppose a piece of land belongs to two men but one of them who is stronger takes possession of the whole land and expels the other or employs him as a laborer; that will be a form of slavery.
In the Holy Quran, one of the explicit purposes of the prophets has been to offer mankind social liberty and deliver them from their mutual enslavement. The Quran is a wonderful Book. Some ideas flourish in a particular period while they lose their brilliance at other times. But the case is different with the Quran for its ideas and words possess a permanent lustre and this is something of an epic and miracle. One example of which is this idea of social liberty. I do not believe that you can find a sentence elsewhere or at any time about this matter more lively and surging than what you meet in the Quran. It has been unrivaled in all the last three centuries when the motto of philosophers has constantly been liberty. This is the sentence, "Oh Prophet tell all those who claim to follow a divine book of the past (to the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians or perhaps even the Sabeans whose name occurs in the Quran and to all people who follow a previous divine book) to come and assemble around one tenet and under one banner." (3:64)
What is this banner? The banner consists of two sentences: The first one is that nothing must be worshipped but the unique God, neither Christ nor any other nor the devil should be worshipped. Only God. The second one is that 'none of us must consider another as his slave or master.' This means the abolition of the order of servitude, the system of exploitation, of the exploiter and exploited, getting rid of inequality and doing away with the right of enslavement. This is not the only verse about this matter in the Holy Quran. There are many of them but as I wish to be brief, I will mention a few of them. The Quran, quoting Moses in his argument with the Pharaoh, quotes the latter's remarks: "And you did (that) deed of yours which you did; you are one of the ungrateful." (26:19) Moses answers, "And is it a favor of which you remind me that you have enslaved the children of Israel?" (26:22)
The Pharaoh had said to Moses, "You are the man who grew up in our house and at our table and when you grew up you committed the crime of killing a man."(All this was meant to make Moses feel lowly and under obligation.) But Moses answered, "Should I remain silent at your enslavement of my people solely because I have grown up in your house? I have come to save these slaves."
The late Ayatullah Nai'ni says in his book Tanzih ul-ummah, "Everyone knows that the tribe of Moses never worshipped the Pharaoh as the Egyptians did but as the Pharaoh used them as his slaves, the Quran employs the word enslavement as uttered by Moses." We definitely know that one of the aims of the Prophets is to establish social freedom and fight against every form of enslavement and social deprivation.
The world of today, too, considers social freedom as being sacred and if you have read the universal declaration of human rights, you will see that the major cause of all wars, bloodshed and misfortunes in the world is that individuals do not respect the freedom of others. Is the logic of a Prophet so far in accord with modern logic? Is liberty sacred? Yes, it is sacred and very much so.
The Prophet always feared the Umayyids and was worried about their future in connection with the Islamic ummah. So he (according to a successive narration) said, "If the offspring of Ibn Aas reach thirty in number, they will consider God's property as their own and God's servant as their own servants and will introduce their own innovations in God's religion."
It is true then that social liberty is sacred. Another kind of liberty is spiritual freedom. The difference between the Prophets' school and other human schools is that the Prophets have come to offer spiritual freedom to mankind as well as social freedom, the former having a greater value than anything else. Both social liberty and spiritual freedom are sacred and the former liberty is not possible without the latter. The trouble with modern human society is that it tries to safeguard social liberty without seeking spiritual freedom. In fact it has not the ability to do so, since spiritual freedom is obtainable only through prophethood and Prophets, and through faith and divine books.
Now let us see what spiritual freedom is. The human being is a complex being with various powers and instincts, with strength, appetites, anger, greed, ambition and love of excess. On the other hand, it has been granted reason, mental and moral conscience. Internally and spiritually the human being may feel the self free or enslaved. It may be a slave of its greed, lust, anger and love of excess or it may be free of all these vices. As the poet says,
I tell the truth and feel thereby happy
I am a slave to love and free in both worlds.
A person may be so human that that person is socially free and rejects abjectness and servitude and preserves social liberty so ethically; that person also keeps his or her conscience, spirit and intelligence free. This kind of freedom is called 'self-purification' or 'virtue' in religion.
Can human beings have social freedom without spiritual freedom? That is, can they be slaves to their own lust, anger and greed and at the same time respect the freedom of others? Today they say yes and they practically expect each person to be a slave to his or her greed, anger and lust and at the same time to respect social liberty. This is one of the many examples of contradictory ideas from which human society suffers.
Human beings in ancient times had no respect for freedom and trampled upon it. Why? Was it because they were ignorant and so they deprived others of their freedom? Can we say that when they gained wisdom, they found it necessary to respect the freedom of others? Is this similar to the question of illness? Faced with sickness, they could rarely find their accidentally-found drugs effective but now with their increase of knowledge they can afford to discard old treatments and resort to new and efficacious ones.
We wish to know whether the action of ancient people in depriving others of their freedom was solely due to ignorance? No. It had nothing to do with ignorance or knowledge. Human beings were fully aware of their actions which served their interests. Was their lack of respect for the rights of others and liberty due to the forms the law took? If so, could a change of law bring about a change of behavior? For example, did the abolition of slavery in America really put an end to slavery? Or did it only change the form of slavery without changing the context? Was this disregard of the freedom of others due to their way of thinking and their philosophy?
It was none of these; it was nothing but self-interest. As an individual, the human being sought only to secure maximum profit for himself and get benefit from every possible means. Other human beings were one such means for him and he used them in the same way that he used wood, stone, iron and domestic animals. When he planted a tree or cut it down, the last thing that he cared about was the tree itself. He thought only of the way that the tree benefitted him. When he fattened a sheep and then slaughtered it, what was his purpose but self-interest? When he enslaved other human beings and deprived them of their rights, it was to benefit himself. Thus all his actions including trampling on other people's liberty were based on self-interests. Is he the same today? Yes. He is and he has not changed at all. On the contrary, it should be said that his mouth is even opened wider to swallow more.
Neither science nor law has been able to check greed. The only thing they have done is to change the form of it. The content is the same with a new cover. Ancient man was an outspoken being and had not yet reached the state of hypocrisy. When the Pharaoh enslaved people, he frankly declared to Moses, "What is your answer, Moses? These are my servants and slaves." (23:48)
The Pharaoh did not hide his deeds of exploitation and enslavement. But today human beings deprive others of all their rights and freedom in the name of a free world and under the pretext of defending peace and liberty. Why is it so? Because human beings lack spiritual freedom and are not virtuous and free in their souls. Hadrat Ali has an utterance about virtue which, like his other sayings, is highly worthy, even though to some people it seems old fashioned. He says, "Divine virtue is the key to every truth, provisions for the resurrection day, factor of release from any sort of slavery and deliverance from any cause of perditions."
The phrase shows that virtue delivers the human being from every kind of servitude and frees him or her spiritually to enable him or her to give freedom to others. Who, then, is a true liberal in the world? It is men like Ali ibn Abi Talib, peace be upon him, who stand in the same rank as he or are trained in his school. For they are, in the first place, liberated from the bonds of sel f. Ali, peace be upon him, says, "Shall I content myself with being entitled 'Amir ul-muminim' (the master of the faithful) and how can I oppress anybody for my own sake?"
Only a person who resembles Ali can truly be free and generous at all times or is at least his follower and calls his mind and spirit to account. When Ali was at the altar of prayer, stroking his beard, he said, "Oh worldly things. Oh gold and silver. Go away and deceive others but Ali, for he has divorced you forever." Only a person in whose heart and conscience there is a heavenly call can truly have a respect for people's rights and liberty without feeling the slightest hypocrisy. When such a man who possesses such chastity and spirituality and fears God is in a position of governor, he never feels that he is a man of power and other men are subjugated by him. Although custom makes people keep their distance from him, he persuades them not to do so and to come close to him. When Ali started his campaign for the battle of Siffin, he reached the town of Anbar which is now a part of Iraq but was then an old Iranian town. A number of the great citizens such as the mayor and aldermen had come forth to welcome the Caliph in a fitting manner, for they imagined Ali to be a royal successor to the Sassanid Kings. The moment he arrived on horseback, they started running towards him. Ali called them and asked what they meant by such behavior. They answered that it was their way of showing respect to their kings and great men. The Imam told them not to act thus for it meant abasing themselves before their Caliph. He said, "I am one of you and you are treating me badly by such behavior for you may (God forbid) fill me with pride and cause me to consider myself superior to you."
This is what is meant by a generous person who possesses spiritual freedom and has welcomed the call of the Quran, "To worship nothing other than God " . No man or stone or heaven or earth or any human attribute is worthy of worship but God. I will read you a sermon of Ali, peace be upon him, so that you may have an idea of his generosity and spirituality.
The sermon is rather long and is related to the mutual rights of the governor and the governed towards one another. Ali as a ruler advises his people to feel free with him and not to consider their governors as being superior to themselves. He says, "Do not use for him the expressions they use for tyrants by which they might abase themselves and elevate them." He wants them to speak with him as they do with ordinary people. He says, "If by chance they found him angry and hot-tempered, they should not lose courage, but should freely state their objections." He continues that they should not confirm and express agreement with every word and action of his . He says that they should not suppose their true words to seem to him too heavy to bear. On the contrary, he would be well pleased to hear truth and proper criticism. He goes on to say that even though he is their ruler and Caliph and they are his subjects, they should not praise and flatter him. Then he lays down a general principle by saying that a man who cannot bear hearing truth will find it even more difficult to act truly.
Christensen writes that Anushiravan, the Sassanian King, had assembled a number of people to discuss a matter. He stated his own opinion and everyone agreed with it. A secretary present, supposing this gathering to be a truly group discussion was duped into asking permission to express his own view. He did so and criticized the King's opinion. The King angrily called him insolent and at once ordered him to be punished. They knocked him so much on the head with his own pen box that he died.
In conclusion, Ali makes a request . He begs them never to withhold their true words and objections and counsels from him.
This is an example of a perfect man who is spiritually free while he enjoys the rank of a ruler and in this way he grants social liberty to others. I pray God to make us a follower of Ali, peace be upon him.
Last week I mentioned that our discussion consists of three parts: The meaning of freedom, the two kinds of freedom, namely social and spiritual freedom and the dependence of these two types of freedom upon one another, especially the dependence of social freedom on spiritual freedom.
Tonight, I wish to devote myself to the subject of spiritual freedom, its meaning and its necessity for mankind. This is particularly urgent since today little attention seems to be paid to spiritual freedom by human societies, which is the cause of many present troubles. This is so evident that many people consider spiritual freedom as something abolished, even though the need for it is much greater than in the past. What does spiritual freedom mean? Freedom requires two sides so that one side becomes free of the bond of the other. In spiritual freedom what must the human be free of? Spiritual freedom is freedom from one's self as against social freedom which is freedom from the bonds of others. One may be asked whether the human being can be enslaved by the self.
Can a person be both a slave and a slave owner? The answer is in the affirmative. In the case of animals this may not be true but what about this strange being called the human being? How is it possible for it to be at the same time a slave and master? The reason is that the human being is a complex creature and that is a fact which has been confirmed by religion and philosophy by scientists and psychologists and about which no doubt exists.
Let me begin by an interpretation of the Quran on Creation which says, "So when I have shaped him and breathed into him of My spirit, fall you down, bowing before him." (15:29) It is not necessary to know what this divine spirit means, but it is enough to know that this earthly being is granted something else which is unearthly. According to a Tradition, the Prophet says that God created angels and granted them only intelligence. He created animals and gave them only appetites and He created man and granted him both intelligence and appetite; an utterance of the Prophet that has been used in a poem by Rumi. Now, besides these verses of the Quran and Traditions and what has been affirmed by philosophers and psychologists, what does spiritual freedom consist of in simple language. We will begin with something which everyone would understand. Undoubtedly we need food to live and the more of it the better, and we need clothing and the finer the better and we require a dwelling and the more magnificent the better. We desire wives and children, luxury, money and material things. But at one point we may reach a cross-road where we should keep our honor and nobility and at the same time put up with poverty, eat dry bread, wear shabby clothes, live in a poor hut and have no money and be distressed. If we ignore our honor and nobility and submit to abjection, then all material benefits will be provided for us. We see that many people are not willing to suffer abasement for the sake of material things while others readily accept this exchange, even though they and their consciences are ashamed of themselves.
In the Gulistan, Saidi describes two brothers, one of whom was rich and the other poor. The former was in the service of the government and the latter was an ordinary worker who secured a livelihood by manial labor. One day thc rich brother said to his poor brother, "Why don't you accept government service, to be delivered from hardship and distress?" The poor brother answered, "Why don't you work to be delivered from abjection?"
That kind of service with all its accompanying wealth means lack of freedom, for, it involves bowing to others and being humbled. Sa'di goes on to say that according to the wise, sitting down to eat your own bread is far better than wearing a golden belt and standing to serve others.
You may be well-versed about this subject but I wish you to analyze it from a psychological point of view. What feeling makes the human being prefer pain and hardship, labor and poverty to humbling himself or herself betore others? He calls it captivity to serve others though it is not of the type of material slavery. It is not his or her strength that is enslaved but the spirit. There is a quatrain attributed to Ali, peace be upon him, saying, "If you desire to live freely, labor like a slave, work and suffer pain and shut your eyes from Adam's offspring whoever they may be, even from Hatam Ta'i (a heroic figure famous for his generosity in pre-Islamic Arabia). So have no expectation not only from mean people but also from the generous."
He goes on to say that when a job is offered to someone, that person considers it below his or her dignity to accept it. He or she thinks every kind of manual labor as mean. But Ali, peace be upon him, believes that every kind of work and labor is better than extending your hand before others begging for something. He says, "Nothing is worse than going to others to beg for something."
Having no need of others means being superior to them. Once I came across a remark of the poet Hafiz who was an extraordinarily eloquent man and had a deep respect for Ali, peace be upon him. He quotes nine sayings of his which are relevant to our discussion, one of which is, "You may be in need but remember that if you have need of someone, you still turn yourself into his slave. But if you do away with that need, you will be his equal and if you show benevolence to someone, you will be his master."
So you see that your need makes you someone's slave What kind of slavery? Slavery of spirit. These sayings are fine but today they are disregarded since mankind prefers to discuss other problems and pays little attention to ethical ones.
Again Ali, peace be upon him, says, "Greed means perpetual slavery." Thus he considers greed worse than slavery. Here then, spiritual slavery is mentioned as something worse than physical slavery. There is also slavery to wealth against which all moralists have warned mankind.
Another saying of Ali is, "The world is a passage not a residence." Again he says, "There are two groups of people in the world." He continues, "One of these two groups come and sell and enslave themselves and go and the others come and buy their freedom and go." These two attitudes can also be applied to wealth, either to be a slave of wealth or free from it. A person should say that as he or she must not be a slave to riches, he or she should say, "I am a human being. Why should I make myself a slave of inanimate things like gold and silver, land and other things?"
But the truth is that when a person thinks the self to be a slave of wealth, that person is in fact a slave to his or her mental characteristics, a slave to greed and one's animal nature. For inanimate things like money, land, machine and even animals have no power to enslave that person. When one ponders deeply over this matter, one finds the source of slavery to lie in one's own peculiarities such as greed, lust, anger and carnal desires.
The Quran says, "Have you noticed someone who 11as made his carnal desires his god?' Wealth itself is not to blame when a person is warned against his or her own desires. Thus if one liberates oneself from the bond of one's wicked desires, one will realize that one is not at the service of wealth.
It is then that one finds one's own true worth and understands the significance of this verse of the Quran, "All We have created on the earth is for you. " Thus riches are at the service of the human being and not vice versa. If so, then, envy and avarice have no meaning and if one engages in them, one is enslaving oneself. There are two stages for the human being: A lower, animal stage and a higher, human one.
The Prophets are sent to preserve the spiritual freedom of humanity. What does that mean? It means preventing human honor, humanity, intelligence and conscience from being subjugated to its own lust, passion and love of profits. If you overcome your passion, you are free. If you conquer your lust and not vice versa, you are free. If you are in a position to gain an illegitimate profit, but your faith and conscience and intelligence forbid you to do so, you have overcome your desire and then you can say that you are really spiritually free.
If you see a woman, but you check your lustful desires and obey your conscience, then you are a free human being. But if your eyes, ears, and stomach incite you to satisfy them by whatever means, then you are their slave. The human being is ruled by two types of ego: An animal ego and a human one. This fact and this contrast are well illustrated by Rumi in a story of Majnun (in eastern literature, Majnun is the equivalent of Romeo and Laila is the equivalent of Juliet) and the camel.
The story goes that Majnun was riding a camel intending to visit Laila's home. The camel happened to have a baby camel and Majnun, in order to ride faster to his destination, confined the baby camel to the house. He was deep in thought about his Beloved while the camel was worried about its young. Every moment Majnun absentmindedly let the reins loose, the camel turned back towards home. This was repeated several times until the camel collapsed. The poet digresses to say that thc human being has two kinds of inclinations: that of the spirit and that of the body.
If you wish to be free in spirit, you cannot be a glutton, a woman-worshipper, a money-lover, a lustful person of passion. I have come across a narrative in the Nahj ulbalagha which says that one day the Prophet went among the Companions (the ansar who were the poor followers of the Prophet in Medina who had migrated there. The Prophet first let them stay in a mosque, but a divine command was issued to him to find another home for them since a mosque was not a proper place to live in and they obeyed the order. Subsequently, they lived in a large shelter near the mosque). One of them said to the Prophet, "I feel as if the whole world is worthless in my eyes." He did not mean that he made a similar use of stones and gold but that neither of them had the power to attract him. The Prophet looked at him and said, " Now I can say that you are free." Thus we can say that spiritual freedom is in itself something real.
We can give other reasons to show that the human being's personality is complex and that one can either be spiritually free or a slave. God Almighty has granted this power to a person to be one's own judge. In society, a judge stands apart from the plaintiff and defendant. Have you ever heard a person to be his own plaintiff and defendant and judge, all at the same time?
A person is called just. What is a just human being? Does it not mean that a person can judge impartially about one's own problems and issue a verdict against one when guilty? Does this not show the complex nature the human being? Many a time you have seen people who judge fairly about themselves and prefer the rights of others to their own. The late Sayyid Husain Kuh Kamari who was a great religious authority with a following and an uncle o the late Ayatullah Hujj
Share this article