Be Like Adam's Son: The Physical Conflict and the Intellectual Conflict

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By showing the distinction between physical conflict and intellectual conflict, the prophets liberated humankind. They established a new and liberating state of affairs when they put forward debate as the basis for changing the contents of the mind. It is a really new type of challenge; it calls a human to move on from muscular challenge to intellectual challenge, from conflict that is more suitable for animals, to a conflict that is worthy of the human being. An expressive verse of the Qur'an about this shift is "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands our clear from Error." (2:256)

This move from the struggle of physical force to the conflict of ideas is decisive. So much mischief results from confounding the two types of conflict – no one who understands 'Let there be no compulsion in religion' should be led to confound the two. Remember that those who try to challenge you by trying to lead you to a physical clash when your cause is intellectual, are essentially people who have nothing of any solidity to put up for an intellectual conflict or debate.

It may help if I provide some details about the evolution of ideas. An idea is conceived as an embryo for some time before it is born, and when it is born it is such a weak being. At that time it requires a lot of tender care and support to acquire some sturdiness. Indeed, the foundation for the intellectual argument was laid down at the same time when the first human being was created, or even just before his creation: this is what we find in the Qur'an: "Behold, your Lord said to the angels: 'I will create a vicegerent on earth.' They said: 'Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? While we do celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy name?' He said: 'I know what you do not know.' And he taught Adam the nature [and naming] of all things." (2:30-31) You see how the angels were baffled – why should God place on earth a creature that was unlike anything they had known? But God did not say much about this new creation; He merely said, "I know what you do not know" (2:30) The angels expressed their pessimism about human future – they expected only mischief from this new creature. But God's reply was laconic, though it stressed hope in humankind, that the way was open for something other than doing mischief and the spilling of blood.

But let us move from the unseen to the material world, how men responded to that new spirit breathed in man, when man learned the naming of things, when he was ordained to learn through reading, when he was entrusted with putting right his life, correcting his ways, and dealing with his world through a study of the outcome of any behavior.

Man was given the potential to transcend the laws that restrict other creatures to the physical sphere. It is your duty not to regress to the laws of the body; let your aspiration soar to the laws of the soul, to knowledge, to thinking and to creativity.

Jalalud-Deen al-Rumi, the great poet, has something to help us understand this higher order open to man, in the symbolic story of the chickpea. In this story, a woman is cooking chickpeas in a pot, and she addresses a chickpea in these words: "Do not blame me, chickpea, that I boil you! Once you were nothing but a lump of earth, and then you were promoted to a blooming flower in the field, then to a new fruit. And now you are rising higher: through cooking you mature, and you will be a constituent of a human." And the chickpea replies: "Yes, ma'am, let your fire blaze hotter! Let me rise to a higher order!"

Is not this parable most significant? Why should a human regress to the domain of the body, when he/she is endowed with the soul and the intellect! This is indeed what Adam's son attained: he established the new order, the law of knowledge and understanding to counter the law of the body. It is unfortunate that the human often does not sense this right for him/her to think about things in the heavens and on the earth. The prophets' mission was in this: to urge a human to renounce all fetters to his/her mind's right to wander and wonder; therefore we were taught this verse in the Qur'an, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). And the good thing about the prophets is that they did not teach thinking as a sermon; they actually practiced it. They did away with the high-handedness of physical force as a factor in the debate of ideas and faith. It was raising a human to a new order.

When you hold on to the debate of ideas, you proclaim peace for the other, and you are entitled to get peace for yourself. You announce that you leave the domain of repression and compulsion and enter the domain of "no compulsion" in faith and thought. If you still do not see the discrimination between intellectual and physical conflicts, then your faith has not taken its place in your heart. It is only a weakling in the sphere of ideas who resorts to physical force. Try all the time to remember Abraham (as in the Qur'an, 6:80 etc.), and his rejection of being intimidated as long as he holds to his ideas and calls to a debate of ideas. Such rejection of fear cannot happen by acting out a part. It only happens as a result of steady faith. He most lucidly perceived who was entitled to feel safe and who could not enjoy this contentment.

And Abraham was in perfect harmony with his ideas from beginning to end. He asked his people what made them worship the idols? Did those idols cause harm? Did they benefit their followers? Abraham lays the basis for the best realistic dealing with the things of life: to see the benefits and harm as the basic criterion; his adversaries, on the other hand, found it sufficient for them to decide about things on the basis of their forefathers' way. Elsewhere in the Qur'an, God lays down the general criterion in different words, "Thus Allah shows Truth and Vanity. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth;" (13:17) as the major law that governs the world: what does good will stay; and what does harm will go. Of course, people may be deluded when they see falsehood survive for some time, but the law will remain true at present and in the future. What is good for people will stay, and what brings harm, or no longer does any good, will vanish: we should not even cry over its disappearance.

It gives one great contentment to know this law of history; a human has no reason to worship things of the earth, and no reason to hold any thing as associate to God. Hence Abraham's feeling of security.