It is claimed that God is an idea forged in the mind. An observation of the workings of the human mind shows that it has the capacity to produce the concept of a Supreme Deity. God is seen as an imagined entity who does not possess real existence, created through the sophistry of words. He is an assumption produced in times of tragedy. It is a strange irony that God has been accepted by whole swathes of humanity and mighty civilisations that gave birth to some of the giants of human thought. The search for God has existed throughout the ages. People have turned to Him to find solutions to the problems of life. The language of every human culture contains the word ‘God’.
The concept of God became so powerful that later intellectual movements were unable to subjugate it. Attempts to refute it only strengthened it. However, according to some intellectuals, if one peels away the layers of words surrounding the concept of God, you will be left with just an idea and lots of empty space. This view found favour with many proponents of social justice. Perhaps this was because these people observed that the sublime values contained in God’s speech and the divine order had not been fully realised or even partially implemented by those who claimed to speak on behalf of religion. They failed to distinguish between the corrupt followers of religion and the universal realities of religion.
During the limited span of human life we may notice that there is no justice in the world: compassion and kindness are hard to find. This observation gives rise to the argument that if God were real, He would not allow the human race to experience such inequality and injustice. Furthermore, history would not have chronicled in its record stories of slaughter, bloodshed, death, destruction, tyrants and unimaginable atrocities. The truth is that the concept of God is a reaction to such unjust social conditions and a means of escaping the harsh realities of life. If God were real, would He not grip the hand of the oppressor the moment he lays a finger on the weak and helpless? Should He not intervene and rush to the aid of the enslaved and downtrodden? Why does He encourage people to question the limits of His power and might because of this failure to intervene? Is it too much to demand from His Supreme power and unlimited attributes of perfection to create a system which would guarantee compassion and kindness between the inhabitants of planet Earth?
To answer this question, however, we need to have some awareness of the framework and principles by which God engages with the world. This is not possible without the study of religion. According to the conceptual outlook of religion, the life of this world is like an examination hall in which candidates are tested. It is not the place or time where decisions are made and results are given. Mankind are being examined in relation to its actions and behaviour through a series of life challenges. Any interference and support during an examination would be regarded as unfair and thus is not allowed. Matters of life, such as victory and defeat, knowledge and understanding, beauty and ugliness, good and evil are all things by which people are tested. These matters are not dependent on the choices and wishes of individuals and nor are they dependent on any individual or organisation for the extent of their duration.
Whereas the sphere of accountability of an individual is limited to their lifetime, the period of testing of nations can extend over several centuries. Both individuals and nations are judged according to their individual and collective response. This is not possible without the occurrence of events and situations by which individuals and groups can be tested fairly. As a result ultimate accountability, feedback and the outcome of the test cannot be given during the period of examination in this life and on earth.
The time for this is the period of life after death, the duration of which is beyond measure. It is not possible to test someone without externally imposing and setting up the appropriate conditions. Mankind can be provided with support and assistance to get through this test, but they cannot be given the power to change the test. All people pass through a pre-defined course of examination by which they reveal their reactions and record their responses to every situation whether good or bad. No final judgement can be reached during this period of life. Circumstances are constantly changing and the balance of power never stays the same; individuals and nations are tested in circumstances of poverty and opulence. The identity of the oppressor and oppressed is interchanged. Those in authority are tested by being made into subjects.
The cosmic order of God is totally objective. There is no scope for any subjective interference with it. We can of course, express our transient feelings and put them on record, but we can never change the nature of the test or unfairly influence its results. This is not to say that God has not supported humanity or given them any guidance. For instance, through the agency of the Holy Prophets, God has taught Mankind the principles which will ensure stability in society and thereby increase our chances of being successful in the test of life. The test paper of life contains many questions. The biggest and most important question is this: does Man regard God as a reality or a mere supposition? Does he allow his real creator to play a rightful part in his life? Does his submission to God support his contemplative, intellectual and practical faculties to recognise a goal and meaning to life? Has Man risen to the challenge of utilising his intellect for its intended purpose? Was he able to rightfully occupy the status of the ‘best of creation’? In the words of the Quran, does he live up to the standard of ‘Ahsan-e-taqweem’ (the most beautiful of forms)? This way of thinking, however, is only possible after one accepts God.
Religion is the source of every praiseworthy human value. It is the creator of every moral and ethical principle, and the origin of all concepts of what is permissible or prohibited in society can be traced to it. A cursory glance is enough to highlight the fact that self-proclaimed, advanced and civilised societies have insisted on adopting practices which contradict fundamental principles of ethics. The twisted and ego-driven ideas of a handful of individuals led to the production of irreligious sentiments in the minds of unthinking people, gripping them like a deadly virus. Economic progress acted like a catalyst for such thinking. Many armchair intellectuals equated material progress with spiritual progress, and this led them to produce a new vision of society.
The modern conception of society affirms the habits and customs of modern ethics. The ultimate benchmark of every human value and noble character trait is money. The intermingling of wealth and power led to a single response - religion and religious values were declared as outdated and new notions of good and evil, permitted and prohibited, and justice and oppression were promoted. As a result new forms of chaos and corruption began to surface both on land and sea. An ethical system based on commercial interests could only view God and the Divine Order as a fairytale made up by backward people. The mechanical age changed the direction of the novel, and alongside this it completely defaced the understanding of spiritual matters. The soul was seen as an unnecessary burden which the body was forced to carry.
Terror-stricken minds shrank back from the hope of tranquillity and expression of gratitude. Anxiety, nervous breakdowns and future uncertainty spread to such an extent that dark and agonising shadows of death began to dominate life. Those who claim to believe are ignorant, since their belief is devoid of certainty. The evidence to denounce such believers as out of the fold of religion is perhaps not sufficient. Nevertheless, their hearts do not lean towards sincere acceptance of God. Mosques and temples are impressive and beautiful monuments, but their worshippers are distracted, restless and without feeling. There are also some insane individuals who have succeeded in defiling religion with their narrative of extremism and violence.
The followers of religion find no joy, and the lives of those without religion feel empty and unsatisfied. People feel trapped in a major crisis of anxiety, uncertainty and helplessness, and are blindly beseeching God for solace. They anxiously wait for a single ray from the sun of certainty to fall on them. Without God, life would be utterly desolate. The scientists who hold the fuses of the atomic and hydrogen bombs are fully aware of this. The culmination of modern intellectual thinking is this: that the scrolls of life should be rolled up and the Earth should return to the barren state in which it existed four billion years ago!
The rise and fall of nations, their freedom and enslavement, and their poverty or prosperity is not entirely driven by theories manufactured by human minds, such as communism. Even the reign of Prophet Kings did not result in the creation of a classless society. A truly classless society has never been seen on Earth and nor has any single nation on Earth ever experienced abundant prosperity and continuous liberty. It is difficult even today to find a situation in which people nurture the dreams of an imaginary paradise on earth. However, there has always been a conspicuous difference in the social history of the East and the West.
The nations of the West have suffered many horrific revolutions, but in the East revolution by the masses did not occur. It is difficult to find parallels of popular uprisings such as the French revolution, the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution in the history of the East. All these revolutions failed to live up to their ideals. For instance the French revolution began with the proletariat but ended with the most despotic kind of monarchy. Similarly, the Russian revolution was buried in its own shroud without delivering the dream of a classless society. This also happened to the first major communist movement known as Mazdakism (founder Mazdak d. 524) which spearheaded a bitter revolt against the rule of monarchy in the reign of Noshiravan.
The ideological success of Marx and Lenin in European culture can be explained by several factors. Russian society had entered the final phase of its decline. Almost all the notable writers of the time, such as Tolstoy, Sholokov, Dostoevsky, Boris Pasternak, Schoenstein and so on, alluded to the cancerous state of affairs of Russian society. This perhaps explains why Russian literature attained a realism which no other literary tradition did. However, the revolution of Karl Marx was short-lived. The reason for this is because it was not a revolution of positive ideas, but one of a negative reaction against the tyranny of the rulers, nobles and gentry.
The historical analysis of Marx does not have a universal application, and nor can it be utilised in Non-European societies. For instance, in Eastern Islamic societies there was no possibility of such a revolution ever occurring. The existence of not one, but two systems of social security and welfare ensured that mutual respect, positive dealings and social ethics were never absent from the social fabric. The institutions of Zakat and Sadaqa (giving for the sake of God) promoted social stability that gave no reason or excuse for the poor and dispossessed to develop a negative reaction. As far as equality of distribution and treatment is concerned, we find that the kings and sultans of the time did not develop notions of racial or personal superiority, with the result that even slaves were able to become kings- such as the Mamelukes (Slaves) who ruled Egypt between 1250 and 1517. Similarly, the subservient Seljuq tribesmen of Asia Minor, on the basis of their ability alone were able to gain such power and honour that they became King of Kings, laying the foundations of the Ottoman Empire.
To declare religion as an opium is both right and wrong. A glance at the role and character of the religious scholars in the Christian world makes it easy to understand why it is correct to call religion as the opium of the people. For instance, the priests were exploiting the rich and poor alike by distributing ‘tickets’ to paradise which could be bought for a meagre sum of ten or fifteen pounds. The nobles and aristocrats were devoted to tyranny and despotism. Religion was reduced to a temple whose priests showed an interest in the wealth and status of the worshippers, purely for selfish gain. The situation regarding taxes was such that there was a tax levied on even the essentials, such as walking in the street and on baking bread. Killing and bloodshed were common occurrences. Human life was cheap; even shadows had more value.
This atmosphere of oppression and exploitation led to slogans which fanned the flame of hatred against the bourgeoisie, ensuring that this way of thinking became entrenched in the minds of the poor. It was these same negative sentiments which Marx ignited. Like the French revolution, the Russian revolution sowed the seeds of such intense hatred whose embers continued to smoulder in Europe long after the event. The French Revolution laid the foundations of colonial thought, and the Russian revolution, because of the negative emotions it unleashed, became the source of fear and apprehension to the world.
In contrast Islamic culture, despite a period of decline, was able to provide two basic values to people. First, justice was never threatened to the extent that social actors gave up all hope of fairness, and second, no group in society ever reached a state where they came to the brink of total annihilation. No doubt, Islamic lands experienced internal struggles for power, and much blood was shed in the fight for the crown. However, the masses did not experience any catastrophic effects as a result of these internal feuds. In some cases sovereignty changed hands several times in a matter of days and months, but this had very little impact on the way of life, morality and social norms of ordinary people. The morals of the ruling class, too, did not exceed the boundaries of God. Even the worst of rulers felt constrained to stay within the confines of the Islamic social and moral order.
This proved to be a stabilising influence for society. Even communism and socialism were unable to convincingly attack religion in Islamic societies. Although, in relation to Christianity they did have some success, when it came to the Muslims this ideological clash was faced with a powerful response which defended the moral values of Islam, which compared to Christianity did not have the same level of ambiguity. It was a pure and simple faith, a complete and structured book of law which contained a framework encompassing all the principles of socialism and communism. In fact it went further and offered psychological and spiritual benefits whose outcomes would continue into the next life. Marxism and Leninism failed to make a dent in the power of the teachings of Muhammad the Messenger of God, and when they began to force themselves on Islamic societies and began taking practical steps towards this, they were greeted with a final and crushing blow at the hands of Islam and its followers.
In fact, Islam has come under attack by three main ideologies: nationalism, secularism and religious extremism. Dealing briefly with nationalism, this did not remain for too long amongst Muslim societies, and the only recognisable outcome of this ideology was the division and separation of the Muslim Ummah. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the founder of Modern Turkey was a military genius, but he had a limited intellect characterised by a negative and reactionary response. Gaining freedom for Turkey from its enemies was a supreme achievement, but to attack Islam due to the practices of some corrupt scholars can only be the result of a narrow and shortsighted mind. In the same way, Arab nationalism was also a conspiracy devised by certain political and military leaders who aimed to benefit personally from the break-up of the mighty Ottoman Empire. Of course, we must acknowledge the important role which nationalism played in the struggle for freedom from colonial powers such as Britain. However, power hungry politicians were unable to adapt and turn away from nationalism after independence had been achieved. Entangling themselves in the peaks and troughs of power, they sowed the seed of political disunity amongst the Muslims, the effects of which live on even today.
The religious extremists, on the other hand, were so impressed with the pragmatic and objective approach of Europe that they swept away the sublime intellectual traditions of Islam and claimed to lay the foundations of an Islamic state based on the outward compliance to the laws of the Shari’ah. This partial view of Islam plunged the Muslims into an intellectual and religious crisis. Centuries have lapsed and the bosom of Islam continues to produce long-bearded Mullahs complete with Turbans and religious paraphernalia, but as yet not a single Ghazali, Shaadhli, Ali bin Uthman Hujweri or Abdel Qadir Jeelani has been born.
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran (pp.120-128)
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran by Prof.Ahmad Rafique Akhtar