Be Like Adam's Son: Language Is the Problem

From Jawdat Said

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It is in a very real sense a problem of language. It is also in a very real sense a problem of seeing, hearing and intellect. When the Qur'an says to the Prophet, "Allah can make any that He wills to hear; but you cannot make those to hear who are buried in graves;" (35:22) do we recall the two readings of the Qur'an? God's bounty has endowed a human with hearing, but how he/she hears and how he/she listens is their responsibility. If men go very far in never heeding, they will not have the last word there – there are the lashes of history, which will at some stage bring them back to their senses.

Language comes first here. You tell someone not to touch something, as it will burn his hand; not to take drugs, as they will have grave consequences for him and his family; not to break a pledge, even if he thinks his treachery will be of advantage in the short run. When you tell people all this, when you tell them that justice will do them much good, but they refuse to heed, then God's law says: "Well, then, receive such torture as those before you suffered!" Language should be good enough for thinking people, but if they fail to learn and if that does not make them see and hear, then, as the Qur'an says, "no change will you find in Allah's way of dealing; no turning off will you find in Allah's way of dealing." (35:43)

Nothing has sense before we look at its consequences, for a human can ascribe whatever meaning to anything; even words like Allah, the Messenger, the Scripture, the Last Day, the disbeliever – they are words, and it is up to us to provide them with what we imagine is right, or claim is right. The evidence for any sense that people claim is the consequences of their claim; consequences have no favorites. We are given the option to learn the consequences without paying dearly for our blindness. But, sooner or later, we shall have to succumb to consequences as the real criterion. Let us again remember the verse, "thus Allah by parables shows forth Truth and Vanity. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of humankind remains on earth." (13:17). If you learn from the past, you are in your right sense; if you fail to learn from the past, then the future will make of you a lesson for others, as you suffer the consequences of your heedlessness.

So when some philosophers speak of the death of God, or the death of man, it is the contents of their minds about God or about a human that have died. They had attributed to those concepts a certain sanctity, but then discovered that what was in their minds was not sacred, nor absolute; it is the sense in their minds that is bound to die. But the consequences do not belong to a human, nor do they just fail to happen if a human thinks they will not happen. A human often has a most deluded idea about God, as the Qur'an reminds us, "But this thought of yours which you entertained concerning your Lord, has brought you to destruction, and now you have become of those utterly lost!" (41:23), and "another band … moved by wrong suspicions of Allah – suspicions due to Ignorance." (3:154)

A human is a historical being; that is, he/she keeps changing as time passes; he/she acquires more knowledge, and he/she comes to divine the laws that control his/her dealings with the cosmos around him. Whatever a human learns and wants to transmit to others, he/she will have to use language as the medium. But language is not the facts – only symbols that stand for the facts. The real sense lies in the good consequences and the bad consequences; and as long as those consequences are not clear to men's minds, they keep disputing and wrangling.

Now we see that in a very real sense language is not the real problem; and even the historical events have sense to the extent that we understand the consequences of behaviors. If we do, we cease to scream or be aggressive: We would say: "You just show me a solution with a better outcome and I follow you." That is why the Qur'an asserts that once the right thing is there, the false thing will just vanish, "And say: 'Truth has now arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is by its nature bound to perish.'" (17:81). And if the world believes, from the tiniest of villages, to the halls of the UN, that falsehood will sway and dominate for long, then they will be disproved; not because I say it, but because the consequences of their ways will show that.

So it turns out that we still live in darkness, that there is so much to discover. I just have a glimpse of a solution for the problem of humankind, something like the discovery that the earth is round. Was that not so hard to accept, and now is admitted by everybody. The same will happen when people understand the problem of humankind.

The problem now is that each society believes itself to be the center of things, that its race is the purest and highest. My proof for that is the Veto Right, a most flagrant example of arrogance and self-centeredness. It is like a very loud cry, "Me the mightiest; me the final truth; if you deny it, remember what happened to Galileo, when he denied that the earth was the center of the universe!"

Of course there were tyrants in history who claimed to have unlimited power. The Qur'an tells us about the arrogant kind who bragged, "I give life and death." (2:258). The real problem in such cases is not in the despot, but in that the others around him envy him; they do not really wish to see his example disappear, but wish they were in his place. We can now see how really little that king was, and even how little Pharaoh was. There is a huge difference between endeavoring to see privileges withdrawn from a particular person or group, and endeavoring to see that privileges are eliminated altogether.

This last is the target that we must act to see realized. The prophets came to rid both the arrogant of his arrogance and the oppressed of his oppression. But that target seems to be a far cry to us. We do not even feel that the downtrodden is laboring under fetters; it is farther from our consciousness to perceive that the tyrant labors under fetters. It is the same game that both parties share, the game of the oppressor and the oppressed. It is a way of life; the alternative being a society of equality and justice. Maybe one short rule stated by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, can help one go one step out of the game of the arrogant and the submissive, his saying, "No obedience is due in contradiction with God's commands."