Be Like Adam's Son: Guidance and Misguidance

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Can we really find in history an inspiration about guidance and misguidance? Guidance is a synonym of 'no compulsion in religion and opinions', and misguidance is a synonym of 'compulsion in religion and opinions.' And compulsion is not confined to any particular religion; it has rather to do with a human himself/herself: it is a human who does the compulsion, and it is a human who can be prey to compulsion. We need to explore history to ascertain the first seed of compulsion, who imposed it, and who was the victim? And what happens to the characters of both? Is this not a beautiful topic to work on?

What I am doing here is not a study, but some leads to whet the appetite of young men and young women to study. For the problems of Muslims are so numerous that the more layers you remove, you find more layers.

Let us for instance reflect if guidance (as in the verse "Truth 'or guidance' stands out clear from evil 'or misguidance'" 2:256) has really been distinguished from misguidance. I say it has. And it is those who know the history of a human and his/her nature, who study the progress of history – it is these who can discriminate guidance from misguidance. Muslims will come to see that a no-compulsion policy is right-guided policy, and that compulsion is misguidance. The elimination of compulsion in faith and opinion will mark major development in the history of humankind. Only history can teach us these facts. How sublime this task of protecting man's free choice of his faith is: it is continuing the prophets' work. We should see this in the Qur'an, too. The Qur'an teaches Muslims this policy, "Allah does not forbid you, with regard to those who do not fight you for your faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for your faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support others in driving you out, from turning to them for friendship and protection. It is such as turn to them, in these circumstances, that do wrong." (60:8-9)

Seeing things in this light will make us realize that a well-guided society is one where all the various opinions and faiths are upheld freely, openly and not clandestinely; except for those who intimidate others or force them out of their homes or convictions. When we understand this, and refer to the above-quoted verses (60:8-9), we can see that harassing people here to abandon their religion is not just about other religions, but about any religion, including harassing people to convert to Islam. And this means we must announce distancing ourselves from any person who uses violence in proselytizing people, even if it is to Islam.

From this it must be clear that the party of the prophets' followers are worshippers of God; and the idolaters are those who serve any associate beside God; the first party use no compulsion, and the latter party resort to compulsion. Any one who resorts to compulsion is acting in contradiction with the belief in the one God.

Have I expatiated long on the topic of right guidance and misguidance? If I have overdone it, it is because we often practice misguidance when we pride ourselves on being well-guided. And we may sacrifice even our life and wealth for the sake of a misguided or deluded endeavor which we take to be righteous. It is easy to see how much was sacrificed for false causes. It is so strange that people do not even wish to stop and reconsider the practices followed by other people, even those who are counted the brightest and most enlightened.

Paradoxically, however, despite all the darkness, there remained traces of coherence in the minds of the simple Muslim. One sign of this coherence is naming the four Caliphs after the Prophet 'the Upright Caliphs 'al-Rashidoon in Arabic': They are the caliphs who rose to the position without compulsion. That in contrast with all the later rulers, who acceded to their position by force. It is to be noted that Muslims never called a ruler who attained his place through compulsion 'an upright ruler'. It is a very good, and intuitive, insight.

But we need to follow guidance and misguidance through their manifestations in history. We need to look well to perceive how guidance does go ahead and gains ground, goes slow but sure; and how history is advancing towards good guidance, though very slowly. We have not reached the day when the angels' prediction that a human will do mischief and spill blood (as in 2:30) is falsified by humankind's conduct. And when we are not allowed to practice compulsion in the most sacred thing, religion, then we are not allowed to practice it in lesser things, as in the case of politics, doctrines, and persuasions. As people believe or disbelieve inside their minds, and as we have no access to that, then if you compel someone to agree with you, you are inducing him/her to be a hypocrite.

We have also to repeat that what is right now is not necessarily so for ever; the process of renewal of creation does not stop, and so something more upright comes up and abrogates what used to be the best but is no longer the best. What used to be good stuff will be froth at a later stage, and it will be pushed aside and replaced. The general progress of history is going towards what is better and meritorious.

When hardworking scholars rise to explore history and examine the causes of progress and regression, and when a lot of good studies are made available to people, this will accelerate the advance of history. No despair will settle in as long as the light of the future is brought to the notice of the best minds.

In the case of the Muslim world, we did enjoy a spate of good guidance, at the time of the Upright Caliphs, but then all the chaos and scramble for power took sway, and submerged any sense of a more sober life. Is it not deplorable that the bright minds did not even feel the need to explore this unfortunate decline?