Complacency is the greatest obstacle in developing our thinking. To believe that your intellectual journey has concluded and you have attained perfection before reaching a decrepit old age is perhaps the greatest error, if not the biggest sin. Thought is a flowing river, by its nature bringing together the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’ and it does not exclude anything, great or small. Rarely can anyone claim to have attained perfection in the path of learning. If this happens, all mental activity ceases and stagnation takes hold of the mind. When the pure and clear water of a fountain stops flowing, the result is only stench and decay.
Our thinking becomes restricted by goals which drive us. The capacity of the mind quickly reaches its limits because of the boundaries we set for ourselves. We find it very difficult to stretch or go beyond these intellectual confines. To dismiss God based on limited intelligence is unacceptable by any standard of research. Where the human mind reaches its own limits, it erects a temple. The Self continues to worship at the altar of its own intelligence for the rest of its life. Rarely will it see beyond its walls or break out from its confines. Only by objectively pursuing an alternative course of action can the mind escape from its self-imposed boundaries. Curiosity driven by an insatiable appetite to understand reality is the secret for cultivating a healthy vibrant intellect, otherwise the mind becomes like an empty stomach that licks its lining to satiate itself. It does not obtain sustenance from anything else.
The remembrance of God gives life to dead hearts. The life of the mind is nourished by reflecting upon God. The mind of Man is programmed to imagine greatness and perfection. The only being who can satisfy the curiosity of Man is God, the Sublime and Perfect. Of course no human can claim to have acquired absolute wisdom: this is an impossible goal. But the dream of the intellectual is to come as close as possible to something which approximates this. Contemplation of the absolute continues to provide stimulation for the mind. Without God, the intellect succumbs to stagnation and develops a sense of complacency that is the product of self-centredness. It is for this reason that the Quran specifies a limited scope for the human intellect and refers to it as ‘lam’ . Prolonged inertia kills the mind's capacity to develop further insight and wisdom. Ultimately, every branch of science, with the exception of Mysticism, centres on the physical and practical aspects of life. This is not knowledge, as it doesn’t address the deeper issues of human existence. The result is that the experts of worldly sciences are in the end gripped with a sense of dissatisfaction at the meaninglessness of life. The ultimate cause of this is the stagnation of the intellect which prevents the mind from attaining an insight into the reality of existence.
For centuries Man has lived under the binary tyranny of punishment and reward. Fear of being answerable to an authoritarian God haunts him. Yet the idea of reward from God imprisons him in the realm of actions, stunting his intellectual development. This model of religion does not allow him to develop insight into reality, but encourages him to fulfil the rituals of religion in a robotic fashion. His mind remains disengaged and not satiated. Man's response to this is simple: reject God. This is a knee-jerk reaction to rid himself of the God who threatens him and a religion which does not satisfy him intellectually. The option of denial is the easiest way out. The struggle involved in pursuing the path of thinking and understanding reality is too arduous. Modern Man chose not to verify the truths of religion and God, but threw the baby out with the bath water. The irony is that he finds it difficult to maintain a state of denial of metaphysical realities. The human mind, divorced from God, lacks the capacity to provide a compelling solution to the problems of life and the universe. All such attempts are doomed to failure if they do not understand the nature of human beings and their dependence on the ‘Universe’ (God). Self-denial can never be a substitute for self-awareness. Many people persist in this denial out of fear of intellectual isolation. If they were to challenge the consensus of denial they would find themselves abandoned and alone. The only way to save yourself from such ignominy is to seek out like-minded people who suffer from similar moral and intellectual crises, and find comfort in people like them.
Who you follow depends on providence. Your desires and attitudes before you commit yourself to the ideas of another, have already determined, whether you want to be a friend of the Rahman (God) or the ‘sidekick’ of Shaytaan. The vital ingredient of humility is lacking in our leaders. When a scholar eventually realises that he was in the wrong, we find that he lacks the moral courage to openly admit this and save many others from making the same mistakes in thinking. True following is characterized by the accurate assessment of your intellectual capacity, followed by a realization that you lack the qualities to attain such a level of understanding. This insight leads you to seek the guidance of those who are better qualified and more capable. On the other hand, the corrupt model of following others is when you possess the intellectual capacity but still insist on imprisoning yourself to a narrow school of thought. This form of ‘taqleed’ (blind following) produces some of the worst types of bigotry and prejudice. It can result in the decline of thinking and understanding that impacts on future generations.
It is inconceivable that any ideology will permit the dictates of pure reasoning to penetrate the walls of its intellectual edifice. It is common practice amongst many schools of thought that they attempt to conceal their intellectual shortcomings by resorting to false claims and attributing sacred and divine qualities to themselves. The entire focus shifts to the outward form and imitation of external practice: the conditions of colour and dress become the means of your salvation. This false notion of ’taqleed’ does not only hinder understanding, but also does not tolerate even the hint of an alternative viewpoint. These religious and narrow-minded groups continue to instil ideas, which they believe are vitally important, in the minds of their followers. The result of this ‘brain washing’ is that many simple and respectable people are transformed into insane and fanatical bigots.
This indoctrination of the masses is motivated to some extent by the desire of shallow-minded scholars to safeguard their vested interests. Under no circumstances or at any cost will they allow the bartering of the privileged position they occupy. There is only one way to maintain their grip over the minds of ordinary followers and that is by inhibiting their capacity to think. With extreme skill and mastery, this clique creates feelings of fear in the minds of its devotees, and in this way maintains a strong influence over them, very similar to the way Hindu Brahmins maintain their power and authority over their followers. This tradition continues over generations. All schools of thought are limited in their thinking to the ideas of their founders. Everything else is heresy and disbelief (kufr), and the fear of falling into this cursed category weighs heavy on the mind of the follower.
The testimony of faith (Shahada) is no longer for God but for the ‘bricks and beliefs’ of your school of thought. No religion in the world preaches fanaticism. How could the eternal message of moderation end up as a cult of extremism? From Adam to Muhammad not a single Prophet of God was intolerant or of shallow understanding. Each challenged exploitation and oppression, and liberated the minds of their people from the shackles of custom and tradition. Not one of them followed the path of extremism. These Messengers of the Absolute Intellect (God) came to give choice to people: the poverty of ignorant practices can never touch the station of Prophet-hood.
As religions strayed from the path of moderation, they were diverted by feeble-minded individuals from an all-embracing gospel and chained to the values of tribal prejudice and personal honour. Each nation believed that it owned religion and all outsiders were personal and religious rivals. The degree of self-interest, prejudice and bigotry which the Jews displayed in matters of religion later infiltrated into Christianity and went on to inflict immense damage to the universal outlook of Islam. The religion of Islam itself began to be associated with the bigotry of its small-minded ‘scholars’. The promoters of Islam turned out to be its deadliest enemies. Instead of the Quran, the ideas of these ‘scholars of the externals’ began to be regarded as the teachings of Islam: the foundations of an intensely distorted approach to religion were laid. Regrettably, this tradition continues to spread its poison. Unlike science, where men of thinking mutually respected each other’s contributions and ideas for the sake of advancing knowledge and research, the proselytisers of religion created their own sects and viewed all other schools of thought as enemies. The most sublime message of the entire universe was manipulated by senseless and unprincipled individuals to wage war and incite hatred in order to pave the way for their grip on power and privilege.
While science continued to advance, religion split into cliques justifying their existence by rejecting others. The Jews refused to accept the ministry of both Jesus and Muhammad; Christianity denounced Islam; and the followers of Islam felt the wrath of both. How could anyone find the way to God, or understand His message, without being sucked into this quagmire of bigotry? God was not about to dispatch another Messenger. Nothing was left apart from common sense and ‘reason’. This was the only tool, on an individual level, which enabled people to climb out of this crisis of religions, comprehend reality, and accept the message of a Unified God.
However, some people attempted to solve this religious crisis by ignoring the fundamental question. They flung the issue of the purpose of life behind their backs and restricted the meaning of life to the pursuit of limited worldly benefits. The religious fanatics had made a mistake by dividing religion, but modern intellectuals made an even bigger mistake. They confused religion with those who claimed to be its followers and rejected it, not on its own merits, but on the feeble-minded misconduct of religious bigots. Has the study of any other scientific phenomenon been subject to this baseless approach? Would the personal character or private beliefs of a scientist have any bearing on the validity of a scientific formula or change the equilibrium of Nature’s laws? Why then does the reality of religion change because of the erroneous views of some fanatics? Truth requires all phenomena to be researched with integrity and an open mind, including God and religion. Sadly, the true face of religion is unrecognisable and instead of believing and worshipping God, the masses prostrate their foreheads at the altar of idols, concealed in the bosoms of the narrow-minded ‘scholars’.
Translated from Muqaddama-tul-Quran (pp.63-67)
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran by Prof.Ahmad Rafique Akhtar