Be Like Adam's Son: INTRODUCTORY: THE LANGUAGE OF WORDS AND THE LANGUAGE OF CONCEPTS

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Let us start our discussion with the following short tradition of the Prophet's (peace be upon him): "Follow the example of Adam's son" (an authentic tradition, reported by al-Tirmidhi, and also, in slightly different wording, by Abu Dawood.)

Is not this a tradition of the Prophet's? If so, why have Muslims generally not cared for it? Or even flouted and derided the concept in it? I still remember when, as I was once elaborating on this, one among the audience said: "Nay! I will never buy this! If I am to enter Paradise, I want to enter it with my sword brandished high in my hands; never with my head bent down with submission and surrender."

Often have we seen a Muslim scholar devote a whole book to the explication of one tradition of the Prophet's (peace be upon him), so why have all the scholars totally ignored the above tradition?

To go one further step; let us inquire what renders a certain text idle and inoperative? It is worth our while to inquire how the Qur'an and the sunnah (the Prophet's traditions) have fared across the ages, how certain portions are ignored and others attended to. A whole science should be dedicated to the study of the processes through which texts come to be brought into life or thrown into oblivion. I know some light has been thrown on this, but it is not yet developed into a science, which we do need.

We do notice how humans' minds go through changes, as a result of which they are most inattentive to things that used to be of primary importance; and how often this happens to us, and in connection with our most precious texts! That is why I yearn to see people investigate why for instance we ignore certain parts of the Qur'an and the Prophet's traditions. (I did raise such inquiry in my Foreword to the book No, Jury, God Before King!)

The Messenger was once mentioning a certain future event, when he commented: "This will take place when men have deserted knowledge." One companion, Ziad bin Labid, objected: "How can this be, Messenger of Allah, when we learn the Qur'an and will have our children recite it, and they will have their children recite it, and so on until the Day of Judgment?" "Oh, Ziad! I used to take you to think better than most in Medina! Do you not see how the Jews and the Christians still hold the Bible, yet it does them no good at all?" (A fairly authentic tradition, reported by al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.)

We may say in light of the above tradition that we have the language of letters and words, and the language of concepts and ideas. In the above parable of Adam's two sons, the aggressor could not grasp certain notions – his concepts were not mature enough to handle the situation as a human being should do. And when the Prophet spoke to the Quraish tribe in Makkah (Mecca) they failed to comprehend, though he used the same medium they used – they all shared the same Arabic language; but the dispute was over a certain rigid worldview of theirs which they refused to reconsider.

I do realize that the modern age is beginning to see more into such matters. The problems connected with this have been with humankind since humans walked on this planet, but analyzing them is quite recent. The average Muslim is happy that he/she was born in a certain culture, for he/she says: "Thank God I was born in a Muslim culture; for if I were born elsewhere, I would be a follower of a different religion." He is virtually saying here: "If I had been born in a different part of the world, I would have followed that culture's religion, would have taken over their worldview, their ideas about salvation, about sacred texts, and about whence we came and where we go. I would have taken other men for models of perfection, and as my reference for right conduct."

How hard it is to make a fresh start and to change direction can be ascertained from exploring precedents in history. But we may begin to open our eyes by reflecting on how the Muslim has come to a state when many texts, those of the Qur'an and sunnah (the Prophet's traditions), fall on deaf ears.

Muslims are especially wary of social sciences – they are worried that such sciences would unearth facts about humankind which contravene the Qur'an or the sunnah, for Muslims would not say then that what proved to be false was their own comprehension of the Qur'an and sunnah, but the Qur'an and sunnah themselves. It is hard for them to admit that their minds can have borne illusions that blur comprehension. The cocoon in which they hide all that they take to be sacred is believed to be inherent in texts; and that is why men have often preferred to die in defense of concepts which they sanctify, for they take them to come from God. If the Prophet's companion failed in the above tradition to comprehend how knowledge may deplete, then how can we be sure that we have not fallen into the same pit in which the Jews and Christians fell? And by the way we are again wrong when we do not delve into the Bible and see in it the light that the Qur'an has asserted it has: " It was We Who revealed the Law to Moses: therein was guidance and light. … therefore fear not men, but fear Me, and do not sell My Signs for a miserable price." (5:44) Instead, we quite simply say: "They have gone astray because their Scriptures have been distorted while we will never go astray as our Scripture will never be distorted, for it has been preserved by God Himself."

One thing one may conclude is that texts may often not help in leading people out of their dilemmas; we may be in need of another paradigm that helps us benefit from the light of the Qur'an; we really need to reflect on that which the Messenger was concerned about, and foresaw that the Muslims would encounter in the same way as other nations had encountered.