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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Is Islam a Failure ?

This question should worry every student of the rise and fall of the Muslim people. At their dawn they rose high and reached the far ends of the then known world with a speed unknown in history. Equally steep has been their fall, too steep for a recovery. Hard facts of history lead a group of students to the conclusion that while Islam undoubtedly infused a new spirit among the Arabs, enabling them to over-throw the Persian and the Roman empires and become master of the world, it did not have the capacity to keep pace with the times, Islam lagged behind and the steep rise of the Muslims took a precipitous downward trend for good. The experiment has failed and it would, according to M. Abul Kalam Azad, be stupid to give it another trial, see his book India Wins Freedom (page 227). There is another group of students, which though not so out-spoken, finds it hard to reconcile that if Islam sponsors eternal truth and is capable of keeping abreast of the times, why it should have, only a while, come to a dead stop. Skepticism born out of the irreconcilable, shakes the very foundation of their faith in the eternal truth of Islam. The question is important and deserves to be seriously considered and satisfactorily answered.

What is Islam :
Everything in this wonderful universe is, on the face of it, bound firmly by God's permanent and inviolable laws. Says the Holy Quran “Nature' Islam”. Laws on Nature have never failed, nor have they ever ceased to operate. They work non-stop without let or hindrance, “you will see no imperfection in God's creation”, (67/3). On the same pattern there are inviolable principles and permanent values for mankind, made known to man through Revelation, which enable him, individually as well as collectively, to grow and develop in life and taste all the good it can afford here and in the hereafter. Unlike things in nature, however, which must observe God's laws, man is free to adopt or reject them and to follow whatever his desires might dictate. But whereas observance of God's laws assures a rich and fruitful life, adoption of man­made laws offers no such guarantee and might, on the other hand, lead life to decay and destruction.

Struggle Between Right and Wrong :
The way of life revealed by God and called Al Deen or Al-Islam, provides that whatever gifts this beautiful earth of Ours has in store or can produce, should be available to all mankind in an equal manner. There is a section of people, however, who dislike it and would, on the basis of might, control the sources of production, so that they might with-hold God's gifts from His creatures and avail of them personally according to their sweet will. The group, opposed as it is to God's way of life (Al Islam), places all sorts of hindrances in its establishment among mankind, bringing about, what the Holy Quran describes as a struggle between Right and Wrong. Whereas Islam has unquestioned sway in nature, it has to contend with stiff opposition in human society. Consider the example of a seed sown in the earth. Given the requisite means of growth a healthy and vigorous seed will sprout, the shoot will rise high slowly and a day will come for the tiny little seed to swing as a full fledged and robust tree. The seed has the capacity to grow and attain its destiny. Likewise the eternal laws and the permanent values which, as already referred to, make up Al-Islam, have the capacity to overcome impediments in the way of their materialization and to attain their goal. In the words of the Holy Quran the “healthy concept of life, Kalema-e-Tavvib, has the capacity to go up to Him” (3 5/10), that is, to attain the heights which God has destined for it. In other words Right has the capacity and power to grapple with and overcome Wrong and pursue its own course. Happenings in human society, past and present, seem, however, to belie the conclusion. There is untruth everywhere, having full sway and giving no quarter to truth. Tyranny, exploitation, dishonesty, fraud are rampant. Appearances may, however, be deceptive. Let us clear the misunderstanding underlying the confusion.

Slow Speed :
According to the Holy Quran the concepts of life revealed by God have the capacity and inherent strength to clear impediments and prevail but they do so at a slow speed, that is when judged by man's counting. “He directs the affair from heaven to earth” (32/5), that is, at His will, He formulates a plan in the high heavens, but initiates it practically at the lowest level, even as the live seed is buried under the earth to become a hung tree later on, “then it goes up to Him in a day whose measure is a thousand years of your counting”, (32/5). God's plans, based always on truth, must materialize. Impediments cannot hold them up. But they progress at a speed too slow to be visible. Abstract truths apart, even in the case of material things the pace of evolution remains imperceptible. Scientists say that in organic evolution the smallest change in a species takes thousands of years to take effect. During this long period the change goes on taking shape gradually but unnoticed and becomes visible only at the end of a millennium. This should give art idea of the speed at which God's plans materialize, whose one day measures a thousand or even fifty thousand years (70/4) of our counting. One might sit by a plant day and night, for weeks or months or even years, but although it will be growing all the time, he will not perceive the change as it is coming on slowly, very slowly. In a watch if the minute hand drops and the hour hand moves on from one hour mark to the next, the movement' remains invisible to the naked eye.

Truth Prevails :
In its struggle with untruth, truth must prevail ultimately although it may take long to do so. Says the Holy Quran, ‘We hurl truth against untruth and it crushes its brain and untruth vanishes away” (21/18), leaving the way clear for truth to pursue its normal course. It would be incorrect to expect a result of the struggle within decades; it needs centuries to determine the outcome of the struggle. The fact, however, is that a conflict between a divine principle and a man-made system has always ended in the victory of the former and a rout of the latter. Examples will be given a little later.

Reiteration :
The ground covered so far might be reiterated briefly:-­

(1) Islam is a collection of inviolable principles revealed by God for the guidance of man to enable him to attain his destiny in life.

(2) Those who would exploit fellow men, oppose the divine code and give rise to the struggle between Right and Wrong.

(3) Right has an inherent capacity to overcome Wrong and pursue its own course.

(4) The process is a slow one, so slow that its one day equals a thousand years of man's counting.


Pace can be Accelerated :
The Process can, however, be quickened. The verse (35/10) already quoted “healthy concept of life, Kalema-e­Tayyib, has the capacity to go up to Him” goes on to say, “and healthy action (of man) gives it a push upward”. That is, divine laws left to themselves, operate at their normal slow speed, but if at times a people adopt them in giving shape to their social structure, the speed gets accelerated and the results which would have normally taken thousands of years to produce, are achieved within a few days. Normally divine laws operate by evolution; man's cooperation makes them work by revolution or, to use the scientific term, by Emergent Evolution.

The process of normal evolution allows human mind time to develop gradually and appreciate divine laws. The onset of emergent evolution brought on by man's cooperation is, however, too fast for human mind to keep pace with. The cooperating community itself is undoubtedly equipped to appreciate divine laws and assimilate their spirit, but those outside it lack the mental development needed for the purpose, and in consequence experience difficulty in owning them.

A student brought up and educated normally to the final stage of his study, will tackle difficult problems with ease; but they will baffle one who is still in the middle of the course. To enable the latter to grapple with them, his education must be improved and special arrangements made for quicker mental development.


How Human Intellect Works :

The modus operandi of human intellect consists in the method of trial and error. It formulates a theory, puts it into practice and takes decades or even centuries to discover its weaknesses. Then it devises another theory and repeats the process. It might take hundreds of years to arrive at the right solution. The solution thus reached is then welcome, since during the intervening centuries the requisite mental development has already taken place.


What Revelation Does :

Divine Revelation does away with the method of trial and error. It gives outright solutions without waiting for the normal mental development of mankind taking place. Special effort bas consequently to be made to familiarize man's mind with the principles revealed much in advance of the times. The introduction among mankind of eternal divine laws (Al-Islam) proceeded at the normal pace apropos man's mental development, who accepted what was within his ken and remained a stranger to the rest.

All of a sudden Rasoolullah appeared on the scene in Arabia with a complete code of the laws revealed to him by Allah. Portions of the code, which happened to be beyond the mental stage of his listeners, aroused opposition. By his inimitable teaching and practice Rasoôlullah tried hard to explain to them how the code guaranteed human dignity and welfare. Some of them who shed their prejudices and cared to understand appreciated Rasoolullah's message and cooperated with him. They gathered around him a concourse of believers and their healthy deeds greatly accelerated the normal pace of divine laws and in a short while produced most surprising results unparalleled in history. There was nothing extraordinary and supernatural about the achievement.

It followed the eternal divine law that “healthy concept of life has the capacity to go up to Him and healthy action (of man) gives it a push upward' (35110). Their deeds accelerated the pace of divine laws and achieved in the matter of days what should have normally taken thousands of years to materialize. Had the cooperation between divine laws and human activity been maintained, quicker achievements under the laws would have also maintained their pace, and who can guess what heights man would have attained by now! The cooperation ceased, however after a while and the laws resumed their original speed. The short span of time during which quicker results were achieved according to man's counting of time, is the period during which, in the view of thinkers and historians, Islam was a success and thereafter it proved a failure.

The bare fact, however, is that while moving at its normal pace of a day equal to a thousand years, Islam got extra help from man which accelerated its speed, but that later on the extra help was withdrawn leaving Islam to get along at its original normal pace. The process has been very much like the running of a stream of water, which as a result of a fall on the way, flows faster for a while and then, on the e4iaustion of the impetus provided by the fall, resumes flowing at its original speed. To say that the stream flowed only while the movement of currents was visible as a result of the fall's impetus and then it turned into a standing pool would be very short sighted indeed.

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