Be Like Adam's Son: Self-analysis

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We need to be flexible in our understanding and in what we think to be true. History teaches us to review and revise, and to do that time and again. Have we not been shown to be wrong about the most glaring of facts? Have we not been asserting all along that it is impossible to be wrong about something, like the sun, and then shown to be so wrong? Is there no reason enough to reconsider what we hold to be right? Having failed in attaining what we wish to attain must teach us, must force us to think again, and to put into our consideration that there is something wrong about our conception of things. We have so long insisted that Adam's son was wrong, and his aggressive brother was right; we took Adam's son to be crazy or something like that; but we were wrong. Can we then change our attitude? Can we reverse our attitudes? Generally and about this issue of spilling blood?

But our values and ideas, taken without examination, still hold fast; and we still attribute causes to events without any reasonable examination or testing. Should I desist and say that all my going round the story of Adam's son is to no avail, is all in vain, is a cry in a valley?

But no, I have no reason to accept Nietzsche's claim that history is no more than a series of lies, and a curse after a curse. I have no reason to accept the Muslims' assertion that the world is getting more violent, and it is going to be more violent. Am I the odd man, the discordant tune? How long shall I have to repeat and fish for my evidence here and there until the message finally gets home, until something happens in the minds of people? Is there something to remove those plugs from ears?

The way Muslims perceive things makes them say: "What rubbish is this man dishing out while violence has been there in Islam, and for the support and promulgation of Islam? Where can you hide the great battles of the Prophet, Badr, Uhud, and all the great battles of Islam, the battles that raised the word of God?" I do realize the difficulty, especially when both God-fearing Muslims and secularists find violence to be the right solution. It is a universal shift that is needed, and not a minor thing.

One point about this difficulty is that it is just a permanent and fixed idea in the minds of Muslims of any group. Yes, it is proving to be quite obstinate to shake, but with enough patience it will begin to change. I do realize that the Qur'an says about a certain community at a certain juncture that, "Those who reject Our Signs and the Meeting in the Hereafter – vain are their deeds: can they expect to be rewarded except as they wrought?" (7:147) But the Prophet, peace be upon him, would not give up, and he did see light at the end. It happens the world is primed for accepting this kind of idea. We really need to know the history of humankind, as the Qur'an says, "Travel through the earth and see how Allah originated creation." (29:20) Was not there a time when humans ate human flesh? When we say that creation is not a one-time act, that it is a process, and that there is always something more – well what is it that we consider more, or better, in the life of mankind? And more challenging to philosophers is the question about the criterion that lets us tell the false and the true. It is indeed the normal thing for a human to keep questioning his/her way, and others', of judging something to be right or wrong. The Qur'an leaves no doubt that what is true is true and what is false is false, that things must be tackled and sorted out, "The blind and the seeing are not alike; nor the depths of darkness and the light; nor are the chilly shade and genial heat of the sun;" (35:19-21), and "Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal." (41:34)

To deny such basic facts would render any discussion pointless and in vain, although we must realize at the same time that there are always some borderline details that may not be decided upon, no matter how hard you search. The world goes by the law of the more beneficial, what does more good to more people for a longer time. Not to realize that there is some good to help people attain, and some harm to help them avert, would make life nonsense; and people who do not realize that may admit of no responsibility, and may turn to destruction: just a blind chaotic eruption. That is why history is so vital; and of course when you understand the past, your mind will see some steps ahead. We need to believe in development and progress, and when a human intervenes, with a good base of knowledge, he/she can accelerate change, and can eliminate the mistakes of the past.

It is possible to view human history as one of treachery, falsehood, meanness and villainy; but it is equally possible to see in it the nobility, truthfulness, loyalty and virtue. One good example of good effort is the UNESCO's project of writing human history, started in 1950, and concluded in 1969; and then it was realized that they needed to rewrite history twenty years after the first project, and they actually started doing that, their first volume being published in 1994. That is good news, for as long as humans survive, their history must be written and rewritten. When will Muslims have an active role in such projects? Will they even read what others publish? How many copies will be sold of a book of this quality? How many Muslims will read it? It does not help us be just proud of Ibn Khaldoun.

Indeed to realize this state of being well-guided, or right minded 'rashad, in Qur'anic terminology' must be quite hard; otherwise how can we understand there not appearing any 'upright' ruler after the four Upright Caliphs? But is it not worth our while to look into that, how we lost the state of right-mindedness, and how we can regain it? According to the Qur'an (7:147), people lose this faculty when they do not turn their attention to the signs around them, those who turn a blind eye to the facts around them. At the same time, to see right from wrong is within human ability, "Truth stands out clear from Error," as the Qur'an says. (2:256) Moses had this crave for acquiring right-mindedness, and he accepted the condition of the wise man to learn more right-mindedness, "May I follow you, on the footing that you teach me something of the Truth which you have been taught?" he asked, as the Qur'an reports. (18:66) We speak now of rationalizing our use of water or electricity, but what about our direction in life?

The Qur'an stipulates a state of maturity for running one's own finance. "If you then find sound judgment in them, release their property to them;" (4:6) so what about this state of maturity in education, in social change? Unless we rise to a certain threshold of maturity we have no right to complain that the world is just not coming under control. As you see, I move about and find myself discussing the same things. Here I find that somehow we come to the issue of the two readings of the Qur'an, and men's responsibility to choose their way and to have control of changing their conditions.

I keep raising a lot of questions, but can I give some answers? It is thrilling to see children, at a certain stage of their development, raise questions about all sorts of things; quite an endless battery of questions, but that stage seems to come to an end after about two years. Maybe they discover that those around them do not have the answers; and they go on accepting the world as incomprehensible. But it is fascinating, nonetheless, to observe this potential for a creative approach to life and the world, and this happens again with every new child. It is also interesting because the children reproduce in their questions the whole history of humankind.

Some of children's questions are quite intriguing, but more intriguing is the question about the way to distinguish wrong from right. But we need to discuss this question often enough to make it much easier. Was it not impossible one day to think of domesticating animals? And then we came to a time when we no longer used them as our means of transport. Things are open to humans, and it is time that we worked on telling what is right and what is wrong. Do not you see how in many parts of the world they have gone beyond transferring rule through violent means, and even through inheritance? For other parts of the world, mainly in Muslim states, it is unthinkable. So human beings can develop and go ahead. But what they have achieved so far is modest.

Does all this help, even a little bit? I am trying to indicate that we are not blocked from living a mature life.

One important question is what it is that prevents men from attaining this stage of good guidance and maturity. According to the Qur'an the major hurdle is arrogance, which prevents people from being wakeful to the signs around them, "Those who behave arrogantly on the earth in defiance of right – I will turn away from My Signs; Even if they see all the Signs, they will not believe in them; and if they see the way of right conduct, they will not adopt it as the Way; but if they see the way of error, that is the Way they will adopt. For they have rejected Our Signs, and failed to take warning from them." (7:146). When a human can turn his head from the signs before him, he is really arrogant. Have they not learnt in many parts of the world about a rational way of transferring rule? And they learnt it from observing the facts of life, not from revelation from heaven. Again you see how much of what we attribute to God is really the responsibility of humans. Somehow Muslims find it more convenient to discuss that which is in heaven, but I like to come down to earth.