The Future does not equal the past, does it?
Ever since man was created, the Angels questioned the Creator about the bloodshed and mischief that would be manifest due the actions of man. Almighty God, the Greatest, replied “I know that which you do not” (Quran 2:30). God knew that He had created a being that was capable of bringing the forces of nature under his control – so long as he acted aright and with full reliance in his Maker. And so man was set on Earth to fulfill the noble mission of this stewardship: to ensure that the environment, nature, and all people co-exist peacefully with due rights and consideration given to all the elements.
But man was created in a complex fashion – his mind, heart, body and inner-self would be in constant flux and imbalance, with passions and desire often getting the better than reason and intellect; with negative attitudes such as arrogance, greed and envy getting the better of virtues like humility, charity and forgiveness. This battle of the inner and outer forces of man are the very basis of his ‘testing period’ here on Earth, as God, the Almighty states “Who created death and life in order to test which of you is best in deed” (Quran 67:2).
The crowning glory of every man is to be successful on the The Great Day when he will be held responsible for all his thoughts, intentions, feelings, motives and actions. There will be no escaping from the Accountability of Almighty God in His Great Court – all of a person’s life will be laid bare – his own limbs, emotions and motives will give evidence to testify either for or against him. Successful will be the man who earns God’s grace That Day and successful will be the ones whose balance of good is weightier than his bad deeds.
Islamic Awakening of an individual can only occur when every person realizes his and her own personal duty towards themselves, their neighbors and society, towards nature and the environment, and ultimately towards God. This realization will lead to a heightened level of personal honor and a sense of nobility – that he has been created by God "Then He (God) fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him a spirit from us (the soul)" (Quran 32:9). This realization combined with an attitude of accountability will help create an atmosphere of responsibility and due care.
Every child, mother and person knows what it means to act with love, care, kindness, patience and understanding. These virtues are recognized the world over as they are a part of God’s nature: as all good belongs to Him, emanates from Him, and returns to Him alone. We, who call ourselves as Muslims – who wish to lead an Islamic life – need to be more aware of when our passions and evil forces are attempting to make us act contrary to the higher virtues, values and characteristics. We need to understand that our benevolence, grace and compassion are much greater at winning the game of life than when we exercise our lesser selves – acting with anger or irrationality will only debase our own credibility, it goes against our moral nature, and is not befitting for our purer soul.
In this way, Awakening occurs precisely due to Awareness: the keys to this awareness are many, but to mention some important ones here (a) every person has to increase their knowledge of life, the truth of this world, and the grand scheme of God; (b) they ought to ensure that they use the ‘aql (intellect), which has been bestowed upon humans to differentiate them from other living entities, working for the greater good through beneficial innovation, functioning within the framework of God’s Law; (c) to retain a healthy level of critical thinking, to have an attitude of curiosity, and to question openly the norms of our times, life, history and nature.
As well as this personal responsibility given to every man, there is an added responsibility upon the leaders of every nation to help ‘navigate mankind’s ship to a safe and prosperous destination’; as Muslims, we believe this is the fulfillment of the soul’s yearning – to be in proximity with its Creator. On Earth, we are guided to seek this divine proximity through prayer, devotion, positive contribution, self-sacrifice and charity. There is not a person on Earth who will not recognize a genuine act of kindness, care or charity. We must give more back than we take, if man is to reach the heights that have been destined for him.
In Surah Al-Ma’ida (‘The Table Top’, Chapter 5 of the Final Testament, The Holy Quran) (Quran 5:15-5:19) we read:
15. O people of the Book! There has come to you our Messenger, revealing to you much that you used to hide in the Book, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary).
16. There has come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book – wherewith Allah (God) guides all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leads them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light – guiding them to a path that is straight.
17. In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then has the least power against Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every – one that is on the earth? For to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He creates what He pleases. For Allah has power over all things.”
18. (Both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are sons of Allah, and his beloved.”
Say: “Why then does He punish you for your sins? Nay, you are but men – of the men he has created: He forgives whom He pleases, and He punishes whom He pleases: and to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between: and unto Him is the final goal (of all)”
19. O People of the Book! Now has come unto you, making (things) clear unto you, Our Messenger, after the break in (the series of) our apostles, lest you should say: “There came unto us no bringer of glad tidings and no warner (from evil)”: But now has come unto you a bringer of glad tidings and a warner (from evil). And Allah has power over all things.
When we wish to understand world events, we cannot really dissociate the spiritual dimension from the physical one, as this will only lead to a lesser understanding of causes and effects. As believers in God’s Message, His Book and His Messengers, we must trust in His Judgment and Wisdom at all times: that He is ultimately The One Who controls all affairs and to Him is our final return. Despite confusion, turmoil, politicking, double standards, negation of rights, injustices, propaganda, subjugation, oppression, denial of truths and fairness, we must remember that “God (Allah) has power over all things.”
Much can be said about the world events and current ‘Islamic Awakening’ but the central point, as it always is, is about higher matters of fairness, justice and trust in God, His Commandments and His Order. Herein lies the ‘test’ referred to earlier, of not only every individual, but of also the nations and states that constitute such people and races. God’s mercy and bounties are distributed freely – imagine for a moment that there are now over seven billion people inhabiting the Earth, and still there is more than sufficient food, water, shelter and clothing to for all. Truly, “Allah has power over all things.”
When people are taken away from this central point of acting in accordance to God’s commands, they rely on their own senses and faculties alone – perceiving that their strengths and judgments are greater than any other. This only happens when a person, or a people, who are depending on God’s mercy anyway to live on this Earth of His, begin to consciously deny God as the rightful Owner, Creator, Provider and Master of the Universe. Steeped in self-indulgence, the luxuries and comforts surrounding them dull their spiritual senses and arrogance, false pride and jealousy take over. This arrogance leads to corruption and abuse of power, which in turn leads to acts of greed and monopolization.
Greed, Envy, Corruption and Over-Consumption
This is precisely how the rulers and dictators in the Middle East region have been behaving over the past 40 to 50 years or so. They are no different to a dictator from any other region of the world, as the nature of a dictator is the same whichever country he maybe ruling: to rule with tyranny and disregard of basic freedoms of speech, consultations, debates and democratic processes. But sometimes, it can be argued that a people bring to power such dictators, or rulers, as they themselves deserve: it’s a two-way process. Let us continue with Surah Al-Maida (Quran 5:20-5:26) and hear what Allah instructs us:
20. Remember Moses said to his people: “O my people! Call in remembrance the favor of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.
21. “O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will you be overthrown, to your own ruin.”
22. They said: “O Moses! In this land are a people of exceeding strength: Never shall we enter it until they leave it: if (once) they leave, then shall we enter.”
23. (But) among (their) Allah-fearing men were two on whom Allah had bestowed His grace: They said: “Assault them at the (proper) Gate: when once you are in, victory will be yours; But on Allah put your trust if you have faith.”
24. They said: “O Moses! While they remain there, never shall we be able to enter, to the end of time. Go you, and thy Lord, and fight you two, while we sit here (and watch).”
25. He said: “O my Lord! I have power only over myself and my brother: so separate us from this rebellious people!”
26. Allah (God) said: “Therefore will the land be out of their reach for forty years: In distraction will they wander through the land: But sorrow you not over these rebellious people.
The Children of Israel were granted manifest bounties from God, not least the land, opportunity to thrive, power, provisions, free-trade, commerce, travel and security. But they abused their position and became weak-hearted after Moses led them away from the bondage of Pharaoh towards Mount Sinai. Clearly they had rebelled, which led to their own ruin. Rather than working for their own inheritance and future with faith and courage, they relied on Moses and his God to turn out the enemy first. In God’s law, we must work and strive for what we wish to enjoy.
This passage of events is not only referred to in the Final Testament (The Quran), but also in the Old Testament in the Book of Numbers, where we are informed how Moses sent a group of 12 men to examine the land North of Sinai. They came back with reports of “a land with milk and honey” – a rich country full of delights like pomegranates, figs, olives and grapes. Joshua (who took the leadership of the Israelites after the “forty years of wandering.”) and Caleb were the only ones amongst the twelve men who reported back positively.
However, the remaining ten men reported badly of strong men – the great stature of the Canaanites – in the new land, and this further inflamed the crowd, who were prepared to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, and return back to Egypt. Their reply to Moses was full of irony, insolence, blasphemy and cowardice. In effect they said: “You talk of your God and all that – go with your God and fight there if you like – we shall sit here and watch.” The people of Israel had no faith, nor courage, and Moses remonstrated with them.
A New Approach Needed?
Is it a striking co-incidence that the people across the Middle East and Asia have suffered an almost similar fate as the Israelites over the past 40 years or so? Could it be said that the people across the region in general became weak-hearted, lost faith and courage and were left to wander in distraction for this period? Libya has been ruled by a dictator for forty two years, and Syria an equivalent time – so too in Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and many other countries where authoritative regimes have been ruling autocratically.
But now the people are re-inventing themselves and saying a resilient “no!” to dictatorship, authoritative rule and brutal regimes. Using technology, combined with the spirit and dynamism of youth, strengthened with values of fairness, equality, truth and transparency, people are rising to make unprecedented changes sweeping the whole region. No-one had any idea that this would happen the way it has in such a short span of time. This is why it is important to refer back to Scripture/s to see the events through the spiritual lens and put such aspects into proper historical context and reading.
We like to believe that now there seems to be a ‘new approach’ towards self-expression that is helping to re-balance the power struggle in the Middle East and across the World. The vibrancy of the recent ‘Arab Spring’ is having effect in places further outside of the Middle East, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Europe (Spain, Greece, Turkey), South Russia and Latin America. Some may claim that the current uprisings have their seeds in the recent events of the Intifada in Palestine and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, both inspired by spiritual leaders like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Imam Khomeini, respectively. Every part of the world has deep history and pages can be written about them – about Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Malaysia, Lebanon and on it goes. World events will never stop happening, as long as the World keeps spinning around its axis till The Great Day.
So let us take a closer look at why these struggles occur; what drives them not only on the state level, but at an individual level, for we have come to realize that the individual constitutes the nation. We have also seen how a people can be deserving of a type of leader (such as dictator) due their own characteristics, and as in the case of Moses and his people, how a good leader can be the head of a stubborn, stiff-necked and uncooperative mass. History reveals many answers; Nature reveals many answers; and Revelation provides us many answers and insights.
Pride and Jealousy: Powerful Drivers and Tools of Evil (Quran 5:27-5:36)
27. Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam. Behold! They each presented a sacrifice (to God): It was accepted from one, but not from the other. Said the latter, “Be sure I will slay thee.” “Surely,” said the former, “(Allah) doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous.
28. “If you do stretch your hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against you to slay thee: for I do fear Allah, the cherisher of the worlds.
29. “For me, I intend to let thee draw on thyself my sin as well as your own, for you will be among the companions of the fire, and that is the reward of those who do wrong.”
30. The (selfish) soul of the other led him to the murder of his brother: he murdered him, and became (himself) one of the lost ones.
31. Then Allah sent a raven, who scratched the ground, to show him how to hide the shame of his brother. “Woe is me!” said he; “Was I not even able to be as this raven, and to hide the shame of my brother?” then he became full of regrets-
32. On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
33. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
34. Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
35. O you who believe! Do your duty to Allah, seek the means of approach unto Him, and strive with might and main in his cause: that you may prosper.
36. As to those who reject Faith- if they had everything on earth, and twice repeated, to give as ransom for the penalty of the Day of Judgment, it would never be accepted of them, theirs would be a grievous penalty.
The two sons of Adam were Habil and Qabil (in English Bible Abel and Cain, respectively). Cain was the elder and Abel the younger – the righteous and innocent one. Presuming on the right of the elder, Cain was puffed up with arrogance and jealousy, which led him to commit the crime of murder. The cool, calm reply of Abel “Surely,” is full of meaning. He is innocent and God-fearing and the threat of death does not alter his state of belief and trust in God. He loves his Maker as he is effectively saying: “I am not going to retaliate though I have as much power as you have against me. I fear my Maker for I know He cherishes all His Creation. Let me warn you that you are doing wrong. I do not intend even to resist, but do you know what the consequences will be to you? You will be in spiritual torment.”
The innocent unselfish pleading of the younger brother had no effect, for the soul of the other was full of pride, selfishness and jealousy. He committed the murder, but in doing so, ruined his own self. The story of Cain is referred to in order to tell the story of Israel. Israel rebelled against God, slew and insulted righteous men who did them no harm, but on the contrary came in all humility.
When God withdrew His favor from Israel because of its sins and bestowed it on a brother nation, the jealousy of Israel plunged it deeper into sin. To kill, or seek to kill, an individual because he represents an ideal is to kill all who uphold the ideal. Whereas saving an individual life in the same circumstances is equivalent to saving the whole community. What could be stronger condemnation of individual assassination and revenge?
So the current uprisings and revolutions are a culmination of years of inward reflections, yearning’s of the people’s soul to be closer to Him, free to call out His name with genuine pride and real honor and to live under His safe rule and good law. These revolutions are still taking shape – five months is nothing much in the grand scheme of things.
The Future of the any nation belongs to the people and in the world-over the people, want the same basic human rights: freedom of speech, opportunity, livelihood, education, travel, trade, business and security. The ‘war on terror’ was a convenient phrase to pursue the policy of ‘forward presence’ in sovereign lands according to the (non)-rules of ‘asymmetric warfare’. The so-called ‘axis of evil’ has been presented to the world as a way of dividing the planet along the ‘you are either with us or against us’ paradigm.
It is the current uprising and revolutions that is re-shaping the whole pattern and the re-shuffle of traditional power grids continues. Now a new language and a new idiom are required to secure the hearts and minds of the masses. People are not afraid of calling out for the truth. They are no longer afraid of pulling the reins of power in confidence towards the path of self-determination. The old regimes are losing ground, and I believe the East-West divide is narrowing all the time because the human needs, values, ideals and sufferings are the same as expressed the world over.
The ‘new approach’ is in fact a return to the honest self-expression as Abel demonstrated to his murderous brother Cain: “do what you want, the truth is on my side.” This same truth is what is causing pain to people across Europe and America – the great divide between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘have not’. The once great institutions of Education, Health, and Care Support are dwindling in face of huge economic crisis brought about due to the greed of the few in the banking world. This very economic crisis is causing the current political re-shuffle as people are claiming back their basic rights and privileges.
The whole world is undergoing a soul-searching exercise – the negative forces and impurities are being purged. The Earth is tired of carrying evil on its stomach, and the Great God above is allowing enough time for a rational re-assessment to take place country-by-country, people-by-people, and individual-by-individual.
A return to the historical era of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is beckoning. The re-alignment will be complete with the old order crumbling and the new, purer, just order replacing it. The Islamic Awakening is still nascent, as much remains to be done, and the impurities still need to be filtered post-colonization era and dictatorial rule. Again, it will be deemed by some, and the question presents itself once again, could the colonization process itself be considered an act of God? That US is currently the world’s dominant superpower, despite its huge deficit of $14trillion, so are not its actions a result of following Divine inspiration? This can be argued, but surely a sea-change is in process, with the former attitudes of complete hegemony arguably not plausible anymore as actions and motives are scrutinized ever-more with today’s communications methods including social media.
The role of the next batch of purer leaders will be to write a new narrative – one of peace, security, love and charity. They will demonstrate Higher Order by living by Principles of Justice and Divine Commandments. The Holy scripture/s will not be diluted or relegated to abstract theological polemics, but be the guiding light for the people and nations who wish to prosper, because they understand that the spiritual and physical dimensions are closely intertwined.
The on-going story of life is always the same as re-accounted here through the case of Moses and his people, as well as between Cain and Abel; the tussle between good and evil, light and dark, truth and falsehood, greed and generosity. It is the law of nature and history that the pendulum always swings to normalize the world affairs, though the history of conflict will continue due to our testing probationary period here on Earth.
Peaceful, democratic dissent and demonstrations are paving the way for change. Nations are healing and reconciling their differences. The contradictions between the elite and the masses are being re-addressed. Injustices and overstepping of boundaries may still occur here and there, but the new dialogue has the pendulum swinging well in the favor of Justice. Cultural forces are shaping a new vision for the people that have unleashed their creative power. Democracy will now be on suitable terms, not just on grounds of self-interest. People know who they really are, and deep down they sense that there is an alternative, indeed a better way to prosperity and global peace.
Asad Khan is a contemporary commentator who Likes to understand both the east and west of our world. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AsadRKhan