The Quran declares Abraham as the ‘Friend of God’. This is a noble title that confers great honour and privelege. But is this friendship a unilateral and arbitrary selection by God? Such a friendship confers immense rank: is it therefore, based purely on the personal preference of God the Absolute? This doesn’t appear to be the case. Abraham was a person who proved the truth of God’s faith in Man. He was the first person in human history who used the gift of the intellect and consciousness that Mankind has been entrusted with, to achieve the ultimate purpose and priority for which we were created.
Before the age of philosophy and science, much earlier than the philosophers of Greece and Rome, Abraham was undertaking research in line with accepted and universal principles of intellectual thought and inquiry. A type of research that is absent even today. The people of Abraham worshipped the stars. They did not reject God, but accepted many different gods. The family trees of the gods were larger than those of people. In the midst of all this, Abraham was gripped with a determination to understand reality and establish the facts. In a very objective manner he first observed, analysed and understood the social customs and rituals of worship, employing both deductive and inductive processes of reasoning to arrive at his conclusions. How could he accept as his God an idol carved from stone which he could trample beneath his feet?
Who or what can be my God? Abraham developed a hypothesis. God cannot wax or wane but must exhibit permanence. If there really does exist a perfect being who has ultimate control of the cosmos, it would not fear disobedience or suffer from decline. Having established his research methodology, Abraham began the process of testing and scrutinising the gods of his time. He examined the Sun, Moon and the Stars and others like them. He found that they were all dependent on laws of motion and rest, compelled to act in a certain way, and that they disappeared from view at certain times of the day. His conscience could not accept that something dependent could be God. His heart searched for something with total power, a being whose power was divided up between countless statues by his community.
Day and night he thought about and analysed his data, trying to find the truth. Eventually he gained a level of insight and certainty that even the fire of Nimrod could not shake his confidence and conviction of the conclusions of his research. God took a liking to Abraham. This was the reason why God had created the human race, so that they might find wisdom and guidance through the use of intelligence and reason; that based on knowledge and insight they might come to recognise God; and that through reflection and remembrance they might seek the closeness of God. Abraham was successful, and his reward was the friendship of God. This friendship has never been restricted. All those who have awakened their consciousness can expect the friendship of God. But the unfair and bigoted individual tries his best to disprove the claim of God’s friendship. No matter how many educational degrees he holds, ignorance is still the main characteristic of the intellectual bigot.
Nowadays, educational institutions across the world do not permit any possibility of researching the basic and vitally important question of human purpose. This makes me wonder where people endowed with spiritual insight are going to come from. We cannot rely on religious establishments. They produce students obsessed with the formalities of outward conduct but are totally lacking in religious insight. Shaytaan is repeating the same line of attack, entangling Mankind in external issues at the expense of God. Why should God be concerned about reward and sin? These are secondary issues. If the boundaries of human weakness have been laid out in the sacred book, how much of a victory is it for Shaytaan to push people to commit acts of adultery or gambling? What use is it to Shaytaan if a sin creates feelings of regret which lead a person towards sincere repentance and God’s forgiveness?
It was never Shaytaan’s assertion that he would invite people to acts of sin. His claim was that he would mislead the human race and divert them from their true purpose. He would confuse the priorities dictated by reason and intelligence - turning their focus away from their fundamental purpose. Instead he would lure them towards lesser worldly priorities. His aim was to undermine the trust that God placed in Adam and the human race, that if they arranged their priorities based on reason and insight, and pondered, reflected and observed both themselves and the Cosmos, they would then be able to recognise their Sustainer. Numerically, Shaytaan appears to be very successful. In the midst of a vast and sprawling human population of six billion the recognition of God is like a long forgotten story. A huge number of laws exist to punish and rehabilitate people for offences relating to the human body. But the crime that most of the human race has grown accustomed to is beyond remedy: perhaps not even Jesus or Mahdi could cure it. It seems that total annihilation, a minor apocalypse, or a sudden calamity is the inevitable outcome for the human race. The attempt to recognise God has itself become a psychological disorder.
Shaytaan’s web of deception has blocked the flight path of human reasoning, making them forget their purpose. Their memory only takes into account secondary priorities. Forgetfulness has become the disease of spiritual and worldly life. Humanity has forgotten God, and He has forgotten them. The Skies seem deserted, the Earth barren and dry, and the meadows abandoned. Perhaps this is what led T.S.Eliot to describe it as the ‘Wasteland’. But there is still hope that a spark from the dying flame of human intelligence will transform into a raging fire of research and enquiry, a passion that will produce in a world of doom and gloom, another friend of God like Abraham. It will signal the beginning of a period of illumination and freshness on Earth.
The time of Moses and Jesus was full of miraculous events. The widespread use of magic, sorcery and fortune-telling increased people’s appetites for extraordinary events that defied imagination. On the one hand there where those similar to some people today, who wanted to lay the foundations of a mighty empire with a king who claimed to be God, their aim was to gain control and seek glory. On the other hand there were the dominated and helpless Israelites reduced by slavery to living from hand to mouth. These were the same Israelites who had seen the glory days of Prophetic rule. But now they were forced to witness the dishonouring of their ancestral bloodline. They could find no way of stopping this act of extreme humiliation. There was no hope, not even a slight possibility that could inspire them to rise up against the mighty Egyptians. There was only Moses. It is no wonder then that God had to come to their aid. Because of this an amazing and miraculous event occurred in the history of the world. One man acting alone brought a mighty, ancient empire crashing to the ground. Without the intervention of God, events such as this are rare in history.
What is fascinating is that it was the sorcerers who accepted the truth of Moses. They understood better than anyone the nature of optical illusions and mind tricks. Because they knew the limits and reality of magic they were able to distinguish between illusion and reality at any level. So when the staff of Moses swallowed up their rope snakes they were compelled to acknowledge the power of God. Their acceptance was such that they sacrificed their lives in exchange for this realisation of reality. There has to be some explanation behind the parting of the Nile, and perhaps one day Man may understand what it is. But every event has to be placed in its temporal and spatial context. Many miracles of yesterday have become part of everyday life. The destruction of Pharaoh’s army, the prophecy that his body would be preserved, and the deliverance of Moses’ people became part of Jewish history. Miracles are the best hope of the helpless. The long-term effects of slavery meant that education had no influence on the people of Moses. Lowliness and domination by others led to the Israelites being gripped by feelings of negativity and inferiority.
History shows us that the intellectual and moral benchmark of the Jewish people dropped to a low level. Deception and deceit, conspiracies and lies wiped out their reliance on higher morals. Having become accustomed to such ways of thinking they committed the murder of their prophets under some pretext or other. This hypocritical mindset led to the ridiculing of God’s laws, the killing of prophets, and the invention of new and twisted arguments. Despite continuous instruction and teaching this mindset could not be aligned with God. They were dropped from the ‘list’ and the selection of lots fell in the favour of the children of Ishmaeel. The children of Israel had forfeited the right to be ambassadors of God.
The birth and death of Jesus were both miraculous events. Every moment of his life was a miracle. His mission meant crossing paths with religious bigots who proclaimed their holiness under all circumstances. Extremely hypocritical, rebellious and head strong, arrogant and hungry for glory, full of racial pride, it seems that these people were totally in tune with the mind of Shaytaan. For them there was no room for any sort of spirituality in religion. They manipulated the teachings of the religion of Moses in whatever way they wished to achieve their selfish ends. Religion was a component of worldly power and status. At the same time they adhered strictly to empty knowledge and external rituals. In many ways they surpassed themselves in this. But like the religions of today, their acts of worship promoted only self-interest. The miracles of Jesus in their entirety aimed to show them another aspect of divine submission. Instead of acceptance they chose jealousy and malice that led them to take the lives of prophets.
For centuries God had overseen the experiences of Mankind. Now He too, instead of expressing surprise and wonder, had ultimately arrived at fully realising the purpose behind creation. If the point of human life was the recognition of God, then the intellect alone was the only thing that could help in achieving this aim. Man’s intellectual development was to be accomplished. Knowledge was to be perfected. The blessing of prophethood was about to be made complete. Time was running out. Life was no longer to be arranged according to reptilian instincts but in accordance with the standards of the intellect. Thus the prophet Muhammad was sent and God’s mercy was perfected. The ball was now in Man’s court. He became the arbiter.
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran (pp.154-159)
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran by Prof.Ahmad Rafique Akhtar