Man’s Place in the Universe (II)
Written by: Amin Ahsan Islahi, Translated by Saeed Ahmad
For the second group, man is part of a great machine. All importance is of the machine and the part is insignificant. This view is also incorrect. Everything of the universe, the sun, the moon, the clouds the air, summer and winter, day and night, is engaged in the service of mankind in one way or the other. But it cannot be said about man. The function of a part is to help other parts of the machines, but man seem to have no such function to perform. Sheikh Saadi’s saying appears to be apt: The clouds and the air, the sun, the moon. And the sky are busy, so that you. Have bread to eat, but not in forgetfulness.
The sun, the moon the clouds, the air, are all ceaselessly serving man and this should impel him to be grateful to his Lord. Thus, the philosophers who regard man as a cog of the machine suffered from a great delusion in observation.
The third group regards man to be the focus and central object of the universe. This view appears to be reasonable and is shared by all great philosophers. Present day atheists also hardly deny this view. Man’s urge for mastery over the universe is reasonable only if he enjoys a special status in the universe coupled with a strong realisation of his position.
TEACHING OF PRECEDING RELIGIONS
Two schools are prominent: the Jewish and the Christian. In the Hebrew school man enjoys a very exalted position. A study of psalms of David and the proverbs indicates that the place of man is so high that he is a little lower than God. God crowned him with greatness and dignity and entrusted him with His State. He made the earth and everything else under his feet. A study of these things in the Psalms of David and the Proverbs lift man to ecstasy. It supports the version of the third group that regards man the sole object of the universe.
The Christians decimated this grandeur and sublimity of man. Their dialectics speak of man’s grandeurs only because they cannot defy the earlier scriptures. According to their own dialectics, man is eternally condemned for the sin of the first man, Adam (sws) who disobeyed his Lord. His sin has entangled the whole mankind in such a manner that there is no escape possible. God, however, sent down His son, Jesus Christ, who, by crucifixion, became the Redeemer. According to them, man is a combination of soul and matter, the latter being dominating in that the soul cannot get out of its tangle. None can seek emancipation except with His benevolence.
St. Augustine is a representative of the dialecticians. According to him, God is the cause of everything, the universe and man. Man is His crowning creation, a union of body and life. The life of man in the world is a journey towards God because real life begins after death. According to Saint Augustine, the first man, Adam (sws), determined the conduct of life for mankind with his own conduct. He committed the sin but its consequences have to be suffered by the whole human race. He corrupted the entire human race with the result that all men are condemned to sin for all times. Adam’s sin is therefore hereditary. Only God can purge man of sin. He, however, has chosen certain men for salvation and certain others for enternal punishment. Through this dialectic the Christianias, in an attempt to reserve emancipation for themselves, invented Monasticism and prescribed self-attrition and rituals to an extent which surprise us to this day.
MAN’S PLACE ACCORDING TO THE HOLY QURAN
The Holy Quran has determined man’s place as vicegerent of Allah on the earth. While describing first man’s creation, God informed the angels of His intention to set up His viceroy on the earth. The angels understood that the new creation will be armed with will and freedom of action. Therefore, they expressed their apprehension that, as a deputy, man will spread violence on the earth. The said that for His praise and recital of His Holiness, they spared no pains. God informed the angles that their apprehensions were due to their ignorance of the whole scheme. While free to act, man would be provided Divine guidance. If, inspite of that, he acted wrongfully, he would receive due punishment. Thereafter, the Lord ordered the angles to bow before Adam after He had perfected him and breathed unto him His spirit.
This is true knowledge about man as described by the Holy Quran with regard to Adam’s creation. On the contrary, the knowledge of man, as spread by the West, is hypothetical and is based on the study of skulls and broken earth untensils from the ruins and layers of the earth. Social experts build up their philosophy on assumptions. At times the conclusions drawn by them are not commensurate with the observations. This bespeaks the hollowness of their research. They proudly postulate about the origin of religion, development of civilisation and evolution of the social and economic system.
One can doubt about the knowledge given by the Holy Quran by saying that we cannot say with certainty whether this incident of Adam’s creation (sws) and the dialogue between God and the angles occurred or not. All this may be a concocted story.
To understand the correct position, it is essential to realise the difference in the methodology for philosophy and for religion. There are two methods, to discover realities, the philosophical and the religious. In philosophy, every step is guided by reason and is rationally proved. Among many postulates if only one falls short of proof, the whole philosophical chain is broken.
In the religious approach, God leads us to realities. He being the Creator of the universe, knows the past, present, and future. He tells us those things for which we cannot adduce rational arguments but our mind is satisfied and even testifies to their correctness. Most of the things do stand the test of reason but there are others which belong to the Unseen, and God Almighty reveals them to us. Although these may not be repugnant to reason, these cannot be intellectually proved. For example, Allah mentions reward and punishment, Heaven and Hell. Regarding Hell, He says that cactus trees will grow in it and these will make food for the wicked. This is difficult to prove by reasoning but there is nothing against reason in this statement. It is possible that Allah’s Fire has such characteristics as do not destroy the trees or the trees may have characteristics of immunity from the Fire.
Religion teaches certain things which cannot be proved by absolute reasoning but these are not against reason and we are satisfied that these cannot be understood in this world. For example, man is obliged to believe in the existence of God. But what is His personality what is His shape, what He is made of, what is the nature of His attributes, how He knows the secrets of the universe all at a time? These things cannot be proved in this world. God can be known but it is impossible to understand His nature and attributes. Nevertheless, in principle, there is no reason to deny His existence. The same is true of the incident of the creation of Adam (sws) God Almighty has described the facts that were beyond the reach of human understanding but were essential for his knowledge. Intellectually, we cannot deny them as we have no other means of knowing these details. And there are manifest signs of the incident occurring in the manner described by the Holy Quran. Think of man’s capabilities, his wisdom, his ambitions, his food, his place and status in the universe. In the face of this, can one deny that he is God’s deputy? All these are the signs of his resolution and courage. He wants to understand, master and discipline everything. In fact, this is the obvious result of his having the perception of will and the freedom of action. If the Holy Quran tells us that man is His deputy, it is hardly questionable.
Now, we consider the characteristics of man’s position as a being the last and protected sources from all aspects deputy of Allah and how he has been attuned to be worthy of this position.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND ACTION
Why did God Almighty need a deputy? He is never absent, never sleeps, never undertakes a journey, is immortal, is living and everlasting, is Omnipresent and all watchful. What then is the necessity of a deputy?
No part of His kingdom is out of His reach that He needs a deputy to run it. The obvious answer to the questions is that He wants to see how man behaves when he is armed with discretion in a specified field. Whether he acts whimsically or realises his position as a deputy of Allah and acts in obedience to His orders or he rebels against his Lord. So it is inevitable for man that man should have freedom of choice and action. A helpless man with constraints cannot be made a deputy to shoulder the responsibilities of the position. The Holy Quran has described these characteristics and termed it as the “burden of trust in the verse”.
“We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and got afraid of it, and man carried it”.
Its means that the heavens, the earth and the mountains were afraid of the responsibility so they declined to accept the burden of trust. In the whole universe, it was man alone who could bear this burden and therefore entrusted with it.
This discretion is not absolute but only a limited one. Deputy’s rights are subject to the will of the Lord and relate only to the spheres of his responsibility towards Him.
No discretion has been given to man in the field for which he is not responsible to his Lord. None will be questioned about his birth in a particular tribe, or about his height and stature. These and other similar aspects are outside the jurisdiction of man. Nor was it necessary to give him choice in such matters. Man will, however, be questioned as to why he did not do good, why he did evil deeds, why he told lies and did not speak the truth? Therefore, man has been given discretion to do good or evil or to tell a lie or speak the truth.
In the matter of discretion, it must be remember that man is not completely free to use it. It is possible that God may, in His Wisdom, prevent him to do a certain good act and leave him free to do a particular evil act. If God does not let a certain good act done, He will not deprive one of its reward. Similarly, if one is the determined to do an evil act and is on the look out for an opportunity to accomplish it, one will not escape punishment. It means absolute power lies with God; man’s discretion is subject to God’s will. Mere compulsion is against his position of being a deputy.
A second characteristic of the position is man’s exalted status over the rest of the Creation. The Holy Quran says:
We honoured the children of Adam and provided them with conveyance on land and preferred them greatly over many of those we created with a marked preference (33:70)
This dignity and excellence is concomitant to the position of the caliph of Allah. Obviously, man is not among the horses, asses or other animals. He is also not a developed monkey. He has an evident superiority over all things and animals. God has granted him nobility and he has its clear awareness and often displays it.
One can question the above mentioned argument by saying that some men worship animals. The answer is that it is owing to the infirmity of human reason, which does not negate man’s nobility. This is foolish of them. And shows that these stupid men did not make correct use of the capabilities blessed by God. It is absurd to say that man is one of the many animals. He is no doubt a being but the one who can speak and is rational. The faculty of reason also is sufficient to raise his status in the universe.
SOLICITUDE FOR GUIDANCE
A third characteristic of caliphate is a three-fold arrangement for guidance through reason, nature and Divine to know the wish of his Lord, and to understand what His likes and dislikes are? God has therefore made arrangements for his deputy’s guidance in the from of intuitional knowledge, intellectual knowledge and religious knowledge.
The original, real and universal source of knowledge is intuition. Though all knowledge is within man himself, he forgets most of it. He can recollect it through experience, observation, meditation, incidents and calamities. Socrates incites this intuitive knowledge through dialogues. As the whole treasure of knowledge is contained in man, he can revise it through intensive thinking. Science and man’s thinking are the manifestation of knowledge in man’s nature. If the arithmetical laws are not within man, then from which source these have been derived? These are either from the Creator of the universe or He has inscribed these in man’s nature.
Besides intuition, God has blessed man with reason for his guidance in all spheres of life. It leads him from parts to the whole, measures up the length and breadth of the skies and the earth, innovates scientific discovery and philosophy. In case of doubt it tests it on its own criteria and distinguishes between right and wrong of intuitional knowledge. Although the reach of reason is very high, its pitfalls are many. Its limits are determined. It is influenced by many factors and is prone to make incorrect decisions. Therefore, it was necessary that God make some other arrangement for the guidance of this deputy.
The third arrangement for the guidance of man is the Divine revelation. God Himself informs man of the realities and makes him aware of His laws and orders through His prophets to enable him to follow them faithfully. This source of knowledge is free from the defects and drawbacks of the two sources mentioned earlier. There is complete coherence in intuition, reason and revelation, but if there is any seeming disagreement between these sources, the revelation, being the last and protected source from all aspects, will be decisive. The Holy Quran makes us use all the three sources of knowledge and postulates the principles of distinction between right and wrong, correct and incorrect, good and evil.
God Almighty has made these three arrangements for the knowledge and guidance of man. Equipped with this knowledge and guidance, he acts according to His wishes. God Almighty says that those who will follow His guidance will have neither apprehension nor repentance. They will enjoy protection from the Devil’s persecution and also immunity from the Devil’s whispers and mischiefs.
MASTERY OVER THE UNIVERSE
A fourth characteristic of the deputy mentioned by the Holy Quran is that the universe has been placed in the service of man. The whole universe is busy in mankind service, welfare and servitude. The sun, the moon, the clouds and the air, animals, organic and inorganic matter have all been created for man’s welfare and benefits. As deputy, man has a right of use according to his own discretion, and these things should be suitable so as to be of benefit to him. As he is God’s deputy for the entire universe, he must search out its every nook and corner, conquer its heights and explore its depths, reach the bottom of the seas, go up the mountains, find out the mysteries of physics, chemistry and usefulness of everything as is appropriate to his position. If some men, live in seclusion, it is because they are ignorant of the status of a deputy. Otherwise the ambition and urge for control are the imperatives of this position of a deputy.
The views of some philosophers that this universe is under man’s control, is incorrect. It is not in man’s hands but is made for him. God has put it into his service. Man’s control is very limited.
REQUISITES FOR THE POSITION OF A DEPUTY
Man’s position as a deputy of Allah carries with it certain responsibilities corresponding to the privileges. The foremost is the responsibility for his acts in the sphere in which he has been allowed freedom of action. This fact has aptly been explained by the Prophet (sws) in the saying ‘Everyone has been entrusted with some responsibility and he will be answerable for his conduct’. Being the deputy of Allah, man has not been left free. One day, he has to return to his Lord and meet his reckoning. The day of Resurrection is inevitable. Accountability is a must to determine whether he faithfully discharged the responsibilities of his position of a deputy. If he fulfilled his duties satisfactorily he would be fully rewarded. Failure to discharge the functions of a deputy, will entail the punishment deserving a rebel or a malefactor.
Care for Social Welfare
Man’s position as a deputy requires a perception of politico-social life and he must live a political life. Sociology and politics are natural, not artificial. As a deputy, he has discretion of action in a particular field and he has to govern in this sphere to run the administration in that field. He has the right to order or prohibit certain things. All these factors make the socio-political institutions inevitable.
The political system of caliphate has certain fundamental conditions. It entails the supreme sovereignty of Allah alone. Caliphate is not a private affair but it is a power delegated by the Almighty. Caliphate means the representation of a superior authority. Therefore, man is free to use his rights and discretion within the four corners of the delegated authority. He is not supposed to transgress the limits of authority, and if he does so, he is but a rebel and a malefactor. The rights and discretion can be used within the limits and in accordance with the principles and rules laid down by the Almighty. The mandate given has to be respected and honoured.
All men are equal and equally entitled to be God’s deputy. As a result, all men of a society are equal. No tribe or a group belonging to a particular area has any preference, superiority or edge over others. The distinction, if any, is due to the capabilities or on the basis of beliefs, attributes conduct and work but not due to caste, creed, tribe, country, language, culture, etc. A state set up on these principles will be a universal state and not a racial or a national state. Such a state will not be limited by the boundaries of countries, mountains, rivers and sea. Any bottlenecks found in the formation of a universal state need to be removed.
Title to Caliphate
All men are entitled to caliphate in their own right but in reality it belongs to only those who are loyal to the Almighty. Those who disobey Allah’s orders. are rebels and malefactors. He has clearly determined man’s place in this universe. Nevertheless, the Bible also describes it in explicit terms. Jesus (sws) explained this in the example of two slaves entrusted with the care of two gardens. Obviously a garden cannot be entrusted to those who would destroy but only to those who would maintain and develop it. The lesson of the example is that all are eligible for looking after the garden as men, but as of right only those are entitled to its care who come up to the owner’s wishes. Thus caliphate is the right of only those who fulfil the Almighty’s mandate.