Individual Versus Society


         Individual Versus Society

Freedom is a prerogative of all living things, man being no exception. Liberty is the most cherished fruit of life. Man is the epitome of liberty which is ingrained in him. His very texture is woven with the yarn of liberty. Yet, amazingly, we find all man-made institutions shaped to work against the liberty of man in the final analysis.

A careful study of the history of progressive growth of traditions, customs and legislation is sufficient to prove this assertion. The evolution of the state when viewed from an unbiased, detached angle of perception will appear no more than an institutionalized journey of man towards progressive self-imposed slavery. To resolve this dilemma requires a deeper understanding of the factors which are responsible for this step by step transition from freedom to bondage.

One thing must be noted at the outset, that man by nature will bow to the authority of society only when he is driven by selfish motives; otherwise he will have to be coerced into submission. But to socialise is not a prerogative of man alone. As the animal kingdom moves from lower to higher orders, there appears to be a gradual transition from a chaotic to a more disciplined, organized and centralized animal society. Sometimes we notice it as a trend, where necessity must have taught the animals to live together in their common interest of survival. Sometimes, to our utter amazement, we find social order and meticulous discipline ingrained even in such animal species as are not very highly placed in the ladder of evolution. No gradual evolutionary influences can be traced in their highly disciplined order which seem to have erupted as such in their final perfected form. All that we can infer from the study of their institutionalized existence is that it is naturally ingrained in them.

Take for example the case of certain insects. Where would one place in the ladder of evolution the society of honey-bees? What could possibly have preceded them if they had slowly evolved step by step? Where would one find the evidence of a gradual stage-by-stage development of a long line of insects culminating in the creation of honey-bees? Likewise, when we examine the case of termites and some of the other species of ants belonging to the order of insects, we experience similar problems.

Without any trace of gradual evolution, they are all precisely made to perform specific functions with an ingrained discipline which they follow meticulously. With them it is an inviolable law etched upon their RNA and DNA. By comparison they put to shame even the most strictly regimented and disciplined communist societies. They are all exceptional solitary cases of organized creative wonders which show no traceable history of a crude elementary beginning, gradually evolving into higher complex societies.

We can safely conclude from this that life as such offers two types of disciplines for us to study. One appears to be spontaneous, as though born out of nothingness in a sudden outburst of God’s creative wonders. The scientists, however, may refer to it as a host of mutative changes all taking place simultaneously in one single moment. This hypothetical proposition is of course scientifically unentertainable.

The second type of development of social orders in the animal kingdom is much more generalized and progressive in nature; though the results are not so dramatic as the previously mentioned examples. Even dogs and wolves and wildebeests exhibit this positive trend of living together in societies in the interest of class survival. Whatever the reason, we also find a similar trend in the flocking together of birds of the same feather. Likewise shoals of fish, turtles and sea urchins display similar tendencies. This bonding together, therefore, is common to life.

With discipline, authority is born and leadership emerges. A vague precept of crime and punishment begins to creep into the society at every level. For man to have evolved as a social animal, therefore, is not a solitary accident but is in conformity with a predesigned plan of behaviour shared equally by most other animals to a lesser or greater degree.

How the institution of society developed all over the world simultaneously is a question which requires a lengthy discussion. We intend only to deal with a few important features of social development among humans which are directly related to the subject under discussion.

Individual liberty has always been intrinsically at odds with the restraints imposed by society. A deeper understanding of the dilemma presented by this equation is most essential for a better comprehension of the forces which finally determine the boundaries of individual liberty on the one hand and the rising power of the society on the other. Individual–family relationship, individual–clan relationship and individual–State relationship are all examples of how life can be studied in its institutionalized conduct. If man is by nature free and loves freedom, then why at all bow to any social authority is the prime question which has to be addressed first.

Whenever a social, racial, economic or political order evolves, it always evolves around an unwritten understanding of give and take between the society and the individuals which collectively make the society. No individual will ever readily surrender his freedom but only on the understanding that in the bargain he gains more than what he has lost.

Primarily, it is individual security which he bargains for at the cost of some personal freedom. On the one hand he surrenders some of his rights to whatever institution he becomes a member of and, on the other, he gains some guaranteed protection and such assistance as would make his individual existence easier and more comfortable.

It is interesting to note that in the beginning of the formation of society at all levels, individuals always emerged as beneficiaries. This is what we find as a natural trend in the animal kingdom. This is also true of human societies at their rudimentary level. But human societies as they grow more organized, tend to become lopsided in the distribution of power between them and the individual. The larger the ratio between the membership of the society and the ruling few grows, the greater becomes the danger of misappropriation and exploitation of power by the ruling minority.

Although theoretically it is possible for the individual to gain some value in exchange for every loss of his liberty, it does not always happen in accordance with what should normally be expected. The prime principle of individual liberty is gradually and progressively sacrificed at the altar of society. It often happens that the society as it grows, becomes more authoritative and less mindful of the ultimate interest of the individual.

On this subject we shall have a more comprehensive discussion later, when we take up the issue of Marxism. Here the purpose is merely to determine the basic cause of this degenerative process. Why should not an individual feel more comfortable and better protected in a more developed and powerful society? Among animals we never come across a decadent and degenerative trend in their social conduct. Why should human society alone fall short of its expectations in relation to its responsibilities towards the rights of the individual?

One dividing line between animals and humans which distinctly separates them is the powerful tendency in man to defraud, cheat and break the laws of nature. In this game the humans outpace all other animals by a phenomenal margin. Animals too, sometimes appear to cheat but it is always a strategy on their part, and not a deception in the criminal sense. There is no breach of trust in their case such as we observe among the humans. They live a normal and simple disciplined life within the gamut of natural laws which control and command them. If they do ever seem to cheat they do so only intuitively, as governed by their genetic pulses which lie outside the definition of crime.

This in fact is a by-product of the gift of freedom of choice. Animals are strictly governed by intuitive and instinctive laws and have little choice in the matters of right and wrong. In fact no right or wrong exists for them.

It is humans alone who can wilfully ignore their responsibilities and usurp the rights of other members of society knowing it to be wrong. So the individual freedom in relation to the collective responsibility man owes to any institution is undermined and sabotaged by his propensity to break laws, commit frauds and act wrongfully, yet hoping to run away with whatever he can. Hence when Karl Marx observed that man is a corrupt animal, he was very right indeed—only he had no right to exclude himself. Nor had he any right to exclude the socialist leadership which was to be built upon the bricks of immorality. This has been the tragedy of human society throughout the ages. No institution is exempt from this. This inevitable built-in flaw in the individual social relationship promotes the tendency among systems towards ever increasing legislation.

Apparently, every new law is aimed at protecting the right of the individual on the one hand, and the right of the society on the other, from unjustified trespass into each other’s exclusive domains of rights and prerogatives. But unfortunately because of the corruption in man, the legislators fail to remain loyal to the principles of absolute justice. During the collective process of legislating, many a time the individual will be deprived of his fundamental rights at the hands of the very institutions which were created to defend them.

We do not propose here to take up the issues of religious societies at length, but from the secular viewpoint of social philosophy, religion should also be briefly mentioned. The sociologists as a class do not treat religion as a Divine phenomenon. Hence, from their vantage point religion is just another expression of the social behaviour of man.

If their view of the development of the institution of religion is right, then all religious societies should be viewed as occupying a unique position among the human social systems. They would be perceived as symbols personified of fraud committed both against the society and the individual. Evidently, in that case, all founders of religions should be classified as prime crooks who wilfully deceive the common masses in the name of gods of their own creation as implied in the sociologist’s theory. Some crooks indeed!

They, according to the sociologist’s view, legislate themselves on behalf of God to keep the simple unsuspecting common people chained to the so-called Divine laws. Thus, in the name of God it is a fraudulent religious hierarchy which rules to its own advantage. This is the sociologist’s perception of a religious society. Karl Marx also seems to be in full agreement with this view of religion as an opiate concocted to keep the labouring multitudes forever doped, lest they should wake up to the awareness of their merciless exploitation by the bourgeoisie. The name of this potent opiate which keeps the proletariat drugged is the code of morality advocated by all religions. As such, morality is always linked to the idea of God which commands and trims human behaviour in His name.

Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

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David(as)


David(as)

David(as) is highly respected in all of the Abrahamic faiths, as the great second King of the Kingdom of Jews, an ancestor of Jesus’ ‘adopted’ father Joseph, and as a spiritual leader. There are detailed accounts of key events in his life in both the Bible and the Holy Qur’an, and one of the divine books the Zabur, is also attributed to him. This article explores the circumstances of Judaism at the time of David(as) and his impact and legacy on Judaism, and also seeks to confirm the identities of Jalut and Talut as described in relation to David(as) in the Qur’anic account.

Judaic Context

Before the advent of David(as), Judaism was splintered into the kingdoms of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. There was little unity amongst the various Jewish tribes. Moreover, they had gradually diverged from their monotheistic origins by incorporating Canaanite deities and practices (Wilson, p.103).

So Judaism, far from being a uniting and powerful force, was a fragmented and failing cluster of tribes, bickering with each other for land and worldly influence.

Amid this disunity, David(as) was born in 1040 BCE in the town of Bethlehem, the same town which would host Jesus(as), the Messiah of Judaism, a thousand years later. David(as) was the youngest son of Jesse and the Bible records Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah as being among his seven older brothers (1 Samuel 16:6-8). Ibn Kathir, a great 14th century Muslim historian from Syria, records his lineage back to Abraham(as) and cites according to a genealogist of the time, his full name as being; “David bin Jesse bin Aweid bin Aber bin Salmun bin Nahshun bin Amenadab bin Iram bin Hasrun bin Fars bin Judah bin Jacob bin Isaac bin Abraham.”

He was known as a great warrior and then became King of Judah, (a territory south of Jerusalem down to Beersheba and including Hebron), in 1010 BCE. At that time the unifying king of the greater Israel (including Judah), was Saul. This was in the context of trying to stop the attacks of the Philistines and Goliath.

Philistines

The story of David(as) comes to life with the victory over Goliath, who was from one of the Philistine tribes at war with the Israelites. Many Jewish scholars believe that the Philistines were not a single tribe, but rather a collection of local tribes as well as sea peoples, from Crete and southern Turkey. These tribes had been raiding Egypt and the Middle East and had eventually settled at the start of the 12th century BCE, in the cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. They were also at war with Ramesses III in Egypt (Shanks, p.86). They used the most advanced weaponry of their time.

In order to understand the situation in which David(as) found himself, we need to turn back two hundred years before his era, to the original conflict between the Israelites and Gideon, and the forces of Jalut (the same Philistine tribes).

Gideon was a mighty warrior, but also a spiritual man who wanted his people to return to the monotheistic belief in Yahweh (Jewish name for God). In an act reminiscent of a forefather Abraham(as), he destroyed the idol and altar of Baal (a regional pagan deity). Whilst reminding the Jews of their monotheistic origins and beliefs, this act also antagonised neighboring tribes who similarly worshipped Baal, and sparked a battle with the Midianites and their allies.

The Jews had a large army but most were reluctant to fight, and the following incidents related in both the Bible and the Qur’an, describe how the troops were reduced in number to those that believed in the unity and power of God:

So he (Gideon) brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” (Judges 7:5-7)

The Qur’an describes the battle between Jalut and Talut (Gideon), and then the intervention of Dawud(as) (Arabic form of the name David(as)) as follows:

And when Talut set out with the forces, he said: ‘Surely, Allah will try you with a river. So he who drinks therefrom is not of me; and he who tastes it not is assuredly of me, except him who takes a handful of water with his hand.’ But they drank of it, except a few of them. And when they crossed it – he and those who believed along with him – they said: ‘We have no power today against Jalut and his forces.’ But those who knew for certain that they would one day meet Allah said: ‘How many a small party has triumphed over a large party by Allah’s command! And Allah is with the steadfast.’ And when they issued forth to encounter Jalut and his forces, they said: ‘O our Lord, pour forth steadfastness upon us, and make our steps firm, and help us against the disbelieving people.’ So they routed them by the command of Allah; and David slew Jalut, and Allah gave him sovereignty and wisdom, and taught him of what He pleased. And had it not been for Allah’s repelling men, some of them by the others, the earth would have been filled with disorder. But Allah is munificent to all peoples. (Ch.2:Vs.250-252)

In these verses Jalut (or Goliath) is not an individual, but a collection of the Midianite and Amelakite tribes described as ‘Jalut and his forces’. The trial of the water describes an incident in which the forces of Talut are asked to show self-control and faith in God, before their trial against Jalut. Although reduced to just 300 men Gideon (in the Bible) was successful, because those few men were charged with a unique Divine zeal. Interestingly, the Biblical account is similar to the Qur’anic account in describing the incident at the water or river as a means of refining the army, and identifying those with true faith from those without. The Qur’anic verse also proceeds to the later events about David(as), which we will explore in more detail here.

David(as) and Goliath

Having survived a lengthy war and internal strife, in which the Philistines had killed thousands of Israelites and captured the Ark of the Covenant (sacred tablets of the Jews), the Israelites desperately sought a new and powerful King. Samuel the last of the Judges, anointed Saul as the King, but despite battles with the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the King of Zobah and Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:47-48), Saul and his 3 sons were unsuccessful and died near Mount Gilboa.

David(as), under persecution from Saul who had seen him as a rival, had previously fled to Gath and fought the enemies of the Philistines, in a pact with them. He later returned to Hebron to become the King of Judah. In 1003 BCE, after the death of Saul, he became the second and the greatest King of the United Kingdom of Israel, a position he held until his death more than thirty years later. As King of Israel the Philistines now saw him as their enemy, and tried to attack him but failed twice, since the ability of his troops had greatly advanced with Divine guidance.

The Qur’an also mentions David(as) as having been given Divine knowledge of how to make armour from softened iron:

And remember David and Solomon when they exercised their respective judgments concerning the crop when the sheep of certain people strayed therein by night, and We were witness to their judgment. We gave Solomon the right understanding of the matter and to each of them gave We wisdom and knowledge. And We subjected the mountains and the birds to celebrate God’s praises with David. And it is We who shall do all such things. And We taught him the making of coats of mail for you, that they might protect you from each other’s violence… (Ch.21:Vs.79-81)

The Bible describes Goliath as a Philistine giant, the champion of their army, whom the young and fearless David(as) struck down with a slingshot:

When the Philistine (Goliath) drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. (1 Samuel 17:48-51)

David(as) is mentioned as the Prophet Dawud(as) 16 times in the Holy Qur’an in Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, 17, 21, 27, 34 and 38. The Qur’an describes David(as) as dealing the final blow to Jalut (Holy Qur’an, Ch.2:V.252) two hundred years after Talut (Gideon). Interestingly in this case also, the leader of the warring tribes is given the name Jalut (Ahmad, vol.1, p.318-320). It is noteworthy that the Bible story of the fight with Goliath does not appear at all in the Qur’an. Furthermore, the account later in the Bible (2 Samuel 21:18-20) is with various relatives of Goliath being killed.

The incidents at the time of David(as) happened because of the weakness shown by Saul. After his death, David(as) was given permission to annihilate the forces of Jalut, because of their continued assaults and denial of God.

Jerusalem. Old city

David(as) as King of Israel

In his new role as King, David(as) moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, taking the Ark with him. He united all of the Jewish tribes into a single force and restored a single Jewish faith, worshipping the one God Yahweh. This proved to be a wise decision. Jerusalem was centrally located and not associated with his old kingdom of Judah, nor the tribes to the north, so Jerusalem became a new neutral city, through which all the tribes could be united (Wilson, p.109). One of the significant verses is:

…And We subjected the mountains and the birds to celebrate God’s praises with David… (Ch.21:V.80)

But this verse is not to be taken literally. The Arabic terms used for mountains and birds can be interpreted as great men with the power and strength of mountains, and spiritual men who ascended great spiritual heights. Some commentators have suggested that David(as) literally gained control of mountain tribes around the city of Tyre. Nevertheless, the verse is likely to have the metaphorical meaning described above.

The truth of this verse is evident if one reflects the extent to which David’s empire grew.

David(as) led his armies to combat injustice and defeated the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. He grew his united Kingdom from the Dead Sea to the south, up to the bend of the Euphrates covering Syria, Lebanon and parts of modern Iraq.

One example of his superior judgement came when he needed to appoint a chief priest. As with his choice of Jerusalem, he also appointed two priests: Abiathar (Samuel 23:9) descended from Moses(as) lived in the north in Shiloh, and Zadok (2 Samuel 8:17) descended from Aaron(as), lived in the south in Hebron (Wilson, p.112). This was again a wise decision as it prevented regional factions from forming during such a turbulent time. Whilst being aware of the needs of the various tribes, he had also proven himself to be decisive and ruthless in key policies, such as when he sent an army to utterly destroy the Edomites. At the same time, he allowed the Philistines to retain a token presence on the coast. David(as) was also able to build strategic alliances with the Phoenicians and other tribes with whom the Israelites established successful trade links, as is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:

And We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and decisive judgement. (Ch.38:V.21)

So this verse describes his attributes of strength, wisdom and judgement. It was in his reign that Israel reached its zenith due to his vision, religious conviction, leadership qualities and his ability to dispense justice fairly, to all people under his leadership. Thus, it was during the reign of David(as) that through its spiritual and secular development Israel enjoyed its golden age.

Zabur (Psalms)

David(as) is also portrayed in the Qur’an as a great spiritual leader. In the Qur’an, David(as) is described as being given the Zabur (Psalms) through divine revelation (Ch.4:V.164). Hence, according to Islamic tradition it would be incorrect to claim that he wrote the Psalms through his own authorship. The Bible names his scribe as Jehoshaphat (2 Samuel 8:16), who recorded these revealed verses and poems for the wider Jewish population.

The Arabic name Zabur is similar to the Hebrew names Zamir or Zimra (song) and Mizmor (melody), which could be used to describe the Psalms. In the Qur’an, the Zabur is described as one of the revealed books of the Jews, alongside the Torah of Moses(as) and the Injeel (Gospel) of Jesus(as). All three of these are elements of the modern Bible, supplemented by letters and other historical texts, incorporated into the Bible at various stages of history.

The Qur’an repeatedly mentions the Psalms and even quotes them:

And already have We written in the Book of David, after the exhortation, that My righteous servants shall inherit the land. (Ch.21:V.106)

Interestingly, this verse validates the authenticity of the Psalms, as Psalm 37, verse 29 in the Bible reads:

The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever. (Psalm 37:29)

In the modern Bible, at least 73 of the 150 Psalms are directly attributed to David(as), although older Bibles lack a lot of these references. Thirteen also carry additional contextual information before the Psalms, describing the events when the Psalms were written. David(as) was known for his beautiful singing voice when reciting from the Psalms.

The Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw)) recorded by Imam Bukhari, record a Tradition narrated by Adbullah bin ‘Amr(ra) in which the Holy Prophet(saw) said:

‘The most beloved fasting to Allah was the fasting of (the Prophet) David who used to fast on alternate days. And the most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of David who used to sleep for (the first) half of the night and pray for 1/3 of it and (again) sleep for a sixth of it.’ (Bukhari, vol.4, ch.34, Hadith no.631)

This illustrates another side of David(as)’s character, for whilst he is often depicted as strong and brave, his spiritual devotion here is considered exemplary. His reciting of the Zabur is described here as the most beloved prayer.

Conclusion

David(as) died in 970 BCE at the age of 70, in the city of Jerusalem. On his death, he passed his kingdom to his son Solomon(as). The Tomb of David(as), lies just outside the Sion Gate in Jerusalem (Murphy-O’Connor p.93).

Much folklore has evolved around David(as). However, it is indisputable that he united the Jewish tribes into a single Kingdom, ruled with strength and justice, and restored the Jewish monotheistic faith to its original, spiritual level. This would not have been possible for a purely secular ruler, so there is no doubt that he was bestowed with a divine mission.

A thousand years later the Jewish Messiah Jesus(as) was born both as the son of God and of Davidic descent. His followers claim that he was born in Bethlehem, (although this may have been recorded in the Bible in order to reinforce his credentials as being from the Davidic family line). Many other notable figures have claimed their lineage back to David(as), including the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1st, and Maimonides, the great 12th century Spanish philosopher of Andalucia. There is no doubt that all notions of a great Jewish nation and state originate from his time.

What is evident is the cycle of history. The Jews and their nation of Israel always prospered when they became spiritual and acted with justice, equity and mercy. This is apparent when they escaped bondage from Pharaoh in Egypt and repelled the Philistines, and later at the hands of Cyrus the Great. But whenever they moved away from their faith and became tyrants, ignoring the several opportunities to change God gave them over many decades, their lands and power were taken away from them, as happened notably at the hands of the Persians and Romans.

References

1. Abu Khalil, Dr Shauqi, Atlas of the Qur’an, Darussalam Publishers, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2003.

2. Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary (five volumes), Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 1988.

3. Ali, Maulawi Sher, The Holy Qur’an – Arabic Text and English Translation, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 2004.

4. Armstrong, Karen, The Great Transformation – The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah, Atlantic Books, London, UK, 2007.

5. Khan, Dr Muhammad Muhsin, The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, Vol.IV, Islamic University, Madinah, Saudi Arabia,

6. Glasse, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Stacey International, London, UK, 1999.

7. Ibn Kathir, Imam Imaduddin Abul-Fida Ismail, Stories of the Prophets, Darussalam Publishers, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2005.

8. Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome, The Holy Land – An Archaeological Guide From Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1986.

9. Shanks, Hershel, Ancient Israel – A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, SPCK, Washington DC, USA, 1988 (Chapter 4 – The United Monarchy was edited by Andre Lemaire).

10. Wilson, Ian. The Bible is History, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, UK, 1999.

The Truth About Eclipses


The Truth About Eclipses

Hazrat Imam Baqar Muhammad bin Alira has narrated the following Hadees (saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa):

For our Mahdi (Divine Reformer) there are two signs which have never appeared before since the creation of the heavens and the earth, namely the moon will be eclipsed on the first night in Ramazan (i.e. on the first of the nights on which a lunar eclipse can occur) and the sun will be eclipsed in its middle (i.e. on the middle day of the days on which a solar eclipse can occur), and these signs have not appeared since God created the heavens and the earth.
(Dare Qutani Vol 1, page 188)

In the literature of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the dates of the lunar and solar eclipses have been taken as 13, 14, 15 and 27, 28, 29 respectively of the Islamic calendar. Dr David Mc Naughton has pointed out that lunar eclipses can occur on 13th, 14th and 15th and solar eclipses on 28th and 29th. Only under special circumstances, a solar eclipse can occur on the 27th of the Islamic month. Also, under special circumstances, a lunar eclipse can occur on the 12th. Hence the dates of the eclipses should be taken as 13, 14, 15 and 28, 29 or as 12, 13, 14, 15 and 27, 28, 29.

Perhaps the author is the first person to point out that it is possible to observe a lunar eclipse on the 12th. On the other hand, it seems to be well known from observational records that a solar eclipse can occur on the 27th. I present two examples taken from important books wherein 27th is considered as one of the dates for the solar eclipse.

Nawab Siddeeq Hasan Khan writes in his book Hujajal Kirama (in Persian, published in 1271 Hijri ) on page 344 that according to astronomers a lunar eclipse does not take place on any date other than 13, 14 and 15; and in the same way a solar eclipse does not take place on any date other than 27, 28 and 29.

Professor F. Richard Stephenson, who has devoted considerable effort in the study of ancient records of eclipses, writes in his book, “Historical Eclipses and Earth’s Rotation” (Cambridge University Press 1997) on page 436 as follows:

“In the Islamic calendar, lunar eclipses consistently take place on or about the 14th day of the month and solar eclipses around the 28th day”

Hence considering the dates as 13, 14 and 15 for the lunar eclipse and 27, 28 and 29 for the solar eclipse for interpreting the prophecy in 1894, at the time of the claimant, is quite reasonable. The purpose of the prophecy is to help people to recognize the Promised Divine Reformer and the prophecy has served the purpose very well.

It may also be noted that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas claimed on the basis of Divine revelation, which he received, that the prophecy has been fulfilled in his person. He also declared on oath that he is the Promised Messiah and Mahdi.

In order to understand the Hadees on the basis of our present knowledge we should note that the time between the astronomical new moon and full moon varies between 13.9 days and 15.6 days as mentioned by Dr Mc Naughton. Hence if a lunar eclipse occurs on the 12th of a month, the solar eclipse cannot occur on the 28th of the month because in that case the interval between the new moon and the full moon would exceed 15.6 days. If the Hadees had not laid any restriction on the date of the solar eclipse, the first date of the lunar eclipse may have been considered as 12th. But since the Hadees has specified the date of the solar eclipse, the first night in the Hadees has to be interpreted as the first of the well known three nights, i.e. 13th.

The Promised Messiahas also gave another explanation for the Hadees which is simple but very illuminating. He wrote in his book Noorul Haq Part 2, Roohani Khazaen Vol 8 page 196:

“Dare qutani has recorded that Imam Muhammad bin Ali has narrated that there are two signs for our Mahdi which never appeared before, that is, never occurred for any other person since the creation of the earth and the heavens and these are that the moon will begin to be eclipsed in the beginning of the night in Ramazan and the sun will be eclipsed in the remaining half of the month.”

Professor G.M.Ballabh and I had prepared a list of the years in which both lunar and solar eclipses occurred in the month of Ramazan from the time of the Holy Prophetsa until the year 2000 A.D. We found that 109 times both lunar and solar eclipses occurred in the month of Ramazan over some part of the earth or the other. Out of these only seven pairs of eclipses were visible from Qadian. Only in the year 1894 the moon began to be eclipsed in the beginning of the night in Ramazan. The sun set in Qadian at 18 hrs 41 min and the eclipse of the moon began at 18 hrs 56 min. (Review of Religions Vol 89 No 9 September 1994 page 47)

For a detailed discussion of the fulfillment of the prophecy, please see my article entitled “The Advent of the Promised Messiah as vindicated by the Signs of the Lunar and Solar Eclipses” in the Review of Religions, Vol. 84, No 11, November 1989, pages 3 to 24. Answers to some of the objections have been given in my article “The Truth about Eclipses” published in The Review of Religions, Vol. 94, No’s 5 and 6, May & June 1999.

Almighty God says in the Holy Quran:

He (Allah) is the Knower of the unseen, and He reveals not His secrets to anyone, except to him whom He chooses, namely a Messenger of His. (Chapter 72 Verses 27, 28.)

The remarkable prophecy of the Signs of the eclipses and its fulfillment in our age bears eloquent testimony to the greatness of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa

May Almighty God guide mankind to the right path.


See also: The Truth About Eclipses by Saleh Mohammed Alladin

Comments on the article entitled “Flaws in the Ahmadiyya Eclipse Theory” by Dr David McNaughton

Saleh Mohammed Alladin
Retired Professor of Astronomy
Osmania University, Hyderabad, India

Zoroastrianism


Zoroastrianism

IN PERSIAN HISTORY, the most noteworthy contribution to religious philosophy is made by Zoroastrianism. According to this philosophy, not only are truth and goodness eternal, but falsehood and evil also share eternity with them. Both have separate gods who have their own independent orders of management. There is a god of goodness, Ahura Mazda, also known as the god of light and there is a god of evil, Ahraman, also known as the god of darkness; each has his own well-defined role to play. All activity within the universe results from the collision and interaction of these two combatant gods, who are eternally locked in a grim battle of survival and supremacy.

The powers of the god of goodness are constantly endeavouring to dominate those of the god of evil. Like a see-saw, the outcome of this struggle is always changing sides sometimes in favour of goodness and sometimes in favour of evil. Thus Zoroastrian philosophy presents a simple explanation for the coexistence of evil and suffering, goodness and happiness, by attributing their origin to two different sources. All the ills in the world—pain, grief, distress, ignorance and suffering—are believed to ensue when the god of evil gains the upper hand.


* Zoroaster, a great Prophet of Persia, is understood by many
Zoroastrians to be a dualist. Many others insist he was a monotheist. His name is spelt and pronounced differently. We have adopted Zoroaster, the English version, with which most people are familiar. Nietzsche, however, refers to him as ‘Zarathustra’. In this context we have used his term with his spelling but the person is the same.

It should be noted that what Zoroasteras* (c. sixth century BC) really taught was that the force of good and evil coexist to enable man to exercise his free will. Thus, man would ultimately be judged in accordance with his good or bad intentions and deeds. Zoroasteras also taught that the universe was created by the god of light and that the forces of good will ultimately prevail.

One can safely deduce from an in-depth study of Zoroastrianism that what was later referred to as an independent God of darkness, was only identical to the concept of a devil found in traditional religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It seems that at some stage the followers of Zoroasteras began to misunderstand his philosophy of good and evil, and took them to be the manifestation of two independent, conscious supreme beings who coexisted eternally. This is the essence of the Zoroastrian concept of dualism. A second glance at Zoroastrian philosophy can lead a careful observer to the conclusion that it is only a matter of different terminology which creates a false parallax between them.

The role ascribed to Satan in other religions is ascribed to Ahraman in Zoroastrianism. Most likely the adherents of Zoroastrians of later ages got the concept of Satan mixed up with the idea of an independent god of evil, believed to be the supreme master of the forces of darkness. This one blunder on their part led to yet another blunder. Ahraman, the ‘God of Evil’, is portrayed as sharing eternity with the One and Only Supreme Creator.

It is hard to identify the age when this erroneous belief crept into Zoroastrian doctrines but one thing is certain that Cyrus (c. 590–529 BC), an exemplary pupil of Zoroasteras, was far from being a dualist. The lofty position he held in Zoroastrianism was even higher than that held by Ashoka in Buddhism.

To judge Zoroastrianism through the mirror of Cyrus, therefore, would be no less reliable than judging Buddhism through the mirror of Ashoka. The monotheism of Cyrus can be proved from the tribute paid to him in the Old Testament (Isaiah 45:1–5). It is impossible to conceive “the God of Israel” to have praised Cyrus in such high terms if he were a dualist. Thus spoke prophet Isaiahas:

“Thus says the LORD to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings,
To open before him the double doors,
So that the gates will not be shut:
‘I will go before you
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the gates of bronze
And cut the bars of iron.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the LORD,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.
For Jacob My servant’s sake,
And Israel My elect,
I have even called you by your name;
I have named you, though you have not known Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
There is no God besides Me…” 1

Cyrus the great is also remembered in the Cyrus legend as a tolerant and ideal monarch who was called ‘father of his people’ by the ancient Persians. In the Bible an outstanding homage is paid to him as the liberator of the Jews captive in Babylonia.

In short, the figure of Cyrus has survived throughout history as a man of exceptional qualities. He built a vast empire the like of which was seldom created by other warriors of heroic fame. Among the emperors, he is the only one who escaped censure by all the historians who ever wrote about great men of history. None could ever find a speck of a blemish in his character as a man or in his conduct as a monarch. He became the epitome of the greatest qualities expected of a ruler. In wars he was bold and dauntless, in conquest magnanimous. His unshakeable belief in the Unity of God must have sprung from Zoroasteras himself.

Zoroastrianism in all its features is closest to Judaism and Islam. Hence its precept of goodness and evil, light and darkness had to be the same as it was in Judaism and Islam. ‘Ahraman’ is very likely therefore, another name for Satan and no more.

THE ONLY QUESTION which remains to be resolved is, why do the Zoroastrians find the idea of duality so fascinating that once it took root into their doctrine, it continued to flourish securing a permanent place for itself? It must have happened during the phase of intense philosophical activity when the question of evil and suffering specifically bothered their thinkers. This is a problem which has been plaguing man since time immemorial. Many religious intellects in different ages have offered different explanations to justify their belief in a good God. In Athens too, during the same general age, this question had engaged the attention of many ethical, religious or secular thinkers. For them it was not too difficult to resolve the question, because the majority of Athenians believed in mythical gods for whom it was not rare to tell lies or play tricks upon humans or even gods. The concept of such trickster gods is fully endorsed by the Iliad of Homer.

Yet among them, there was born in 470 BC a monotheist philosopher whose name was Socrates. He was a prophet among philosophers and a philosopher among prophets. He believed in the unshakeable Unity of God. Of His absolute goodness he did not entertain the slightest doubt. This is what he pronounced during his last speech before the Athenian senate. He believed in God, the possessor of absolute goodness, not merely through his intellectual and metaphysical exercise, he believed because he had personally known Him as such, right from the early days of his childhood. Nay, he was brought up in the very lap of God with His personal love and care. This was Socrates who also tackled this question with profound logic but it is a logic largely spent on proving the impossibility of any evil originating from God. When it came to the issue of evil and suffering in the world, he dismissed them as human errors, logically impossible to have emanated from Him. He had to be good, He was good and He could not be anything but good. Hence, evil must have been generated by earthly people, God having no share in their defiled practices. His answer was simple but left room for others to assail him philosophically so that ultimately he could be driven to an indefensible position. The Zoroastrian thinkers in Iran however, could not be satisfied with this answer. They probed the question and further enquired as to who those evil men were and who had created them. If it were God, He had to be ultimately responsible. Thus to break His ties with evil altogether, the Zoroastrian intellects must have devised the existence of another creator beside Him. One was referred to as the god of goodness and the other as the god of evil; both enjoyed their godhead in their exclusive areas of light and darkness.

Incidentally, it should also be mentioned here that all Zoroastrians do not subscribe to this so-called Zoroastrian doctrine of duality. There are those, though small in number today, who strongly defend the cause of Unity within Zoroastrianism. Most of these unitarians must have been powerfully pulled towards Islam as it entered Persia. It should be remembered that apart from duality and the consequent fire worship, the rest of the Zoroastrian faith is much closer to Islam than to any other faith.

In Zoroastrianism, God—referred to as Ahura Mazda—is described exactly in the same terms and with the same attributes as in all other major religions. Thus by blaming all the evil and suffering upon the scapegoat Ahraman, the Zoroastrian thinkers thought they had ultimately resolved the dilemma. But it was not to be so. Socrates, also a contemporary of theirs, might have heard of it or thought of it himself, yet he rejected it and faithfully adhered to the Unity of God. This Zoroastrian excuse, though it seems to solve one problem, creates an even more defiant one. To that we shall turn later but presently it must be remembered that evil in itself has no independent existence which needs to be created.

In reality however, evil is only another name for the absence of goodness. Its absence only becomes conspicuous when light and shade play hide and seek. Yet shade is not a substantial thing. It is only light that matters and seems to create shadows. Shadows however are not created by light but are the name for its absence. They are born whenever light is obstructed. There was no need therefore for the Zoroastrians of later ages to create a devil of their own by the name of Ahraman. Likewise it is goodness alone which needs to be created, sin will by itself appear whenever goodness is eschewed. Thus if Ahraman is the god of darkness, he himself is the outcome of the negation of light and virtue, and not a creator of them.

In the light of what has passed, we can safely conclude that Zoroasteras believed in the God of goodness and in Him alone. He was a recipient of revelation from Him. For him knowledge and eternal truth were directly bestowed by revelation, not merely deduced through logic or inspiration.

Returning once again to the Zoroastrian solution of the dilemma of the existence of suffering and evil, let us examine this philosophy once again in depth. How did suffering come into being? Whatever is the meaning of suffering? If there was a separate god who contrived evil and another who fashioned goodness, then what will be the final outcome of their strife to gain victory over the other? Who will win and why? Although the Zoroastrians seem to entertain the hope of a final victory of goodness, their philosophy does not offer any explanation as to why the power of goodness must prevail. If the two gods are independent, but one is weaker than the other, then the powerful God must have annihilated the weaker since time immemorial. Thus with the passage of time goodness should have finally prevailed over the forces of evil. Since this is not the case, both the gods could have been equally balanced in their respective powers, engaged in an endless game of see-saw. In that case the hope for the ultimate victory of goodness over evil is impossible to entertain.

Another important question to which we feel the need to return, is the question of suffering. As has already been demonstrated, the dualist philosophy of Zorastrianism despite its apparent advantage fails to resolve the dilemma. Dualism when examined in depth is found to be absolutely inadequate in solving the mystery of suffering in the scheme of creation by a Benignant Creator. This question we propose to take up in the following chapter independently on its own merit.


REFERENCES

  1. The Holy Bible (1982) The New King James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville. Isaiah 45:1–5

Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

Aspects of Islamic Prayer


Formal prayer is an important part of any religion and it comes in different forms, and is offered in different ways. In Islam, Prayer also plays a central and fundamental role, as it provides the opportunity for man to develop a personal relationship with his Creator.  This relationship is set in the context of humility, whereby man, in awe of the perfect and boundless attributes of God, places himself at the threshold of the Divine, beseeching His forgiveness, help and blessings.

The format of Islamic prayer is reflective of this spirit. Its various postures and prescribed prayers focus the mind and soul on God.

Ablution

Before a Muslim can begin to worship Allah, he must prepare himself physically and mentally. Physically he must make himself clean for Prayer. For this reason it is mandatory for a Muslim to perform ablution before the commencement of prayer, so long as water is available.1 The Holy Qur’an is quite explicit about this requirement, and states:

O ye who believe, when you stand up for Prayer, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and pass your wet hands over the heads and wash your feet to the ankles. (Ch.5:V.7)

The Holy Prophet(saw) taught his companions how to perform ablution. He has also explained to us the significance of wudhu, or ablution. In Tirmidhi, a Hadith (sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw)) states that the Holy Prophet(saw) said that when a believer washes different parts of his body whilst performing ablution, his sins pertaining to those parts are drained or washed away with the last droplet of water which falls down from those parts. That is to say, while performing ablution, the believer should firmly resolve to not commit any sin with those parts of the body, and to keep them as spiritually clean as they are physically clean. In this way, the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) himself has explained the philosophy behind Islamic ablution.

Preparing the mind and soul for Prayer starts from the moment the call to Prayer is heard and is then followed by the prescribed Prayers themselves that bring one’s attention to God.

The Call to Prayer is often made from minarets, although early Mosques were built without them. Picture: Mosque of Uqba in Tunisia. The Oldest Minaret in the Muslim world (836).

Call for Prayer

Before the congregational five daily Prayers are offered, a believer stands up and calls people to the Prayer. While ringing bells and blowing the trumpet have been used in different faiths to inform people of the time to go to worship, in Islam the call to Prayer is done by human voice alone. The words of the Islamic call serve a dual purpose of informing worshippers about the time for Prayer as well as inspiring them to come for Prayer and prosperity, and to prioritise it over other matters. The words of the Islamic call to Prayer, therefore, act as a great incentive for worshippers to converge upon the mosque. The words of the call to Prayer are:

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest.

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

Come quickly to Prayer.

Come quickly to Prayer.

Come quickly towards success.

Come quickly towards success.

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest.

There is none worthy of worship except Allah.

Five Daily Prayers

Islam prescribes five obligatory Prayers each day. One of the beauties of Islam is that the entire Shariah (Law) has been both described in the Holy Qur’an itself, and was actually demonstrated by the Holy Prophet(saw). The five daily Prayers have been prescribed as a blessing for Muslims in the Holy Qur’an:

And if We had not strengthened thee with the Qur’an, thou mightest have inclined to them a little. (Ch.17:V.75)

The frequency of Prayer is designed to continuously nourish the soul in the same way that food continuously nourishes the body. Furthermore, this provides a constant reminder of God and the blessings of His support in all activities of our daily lives. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community(as) has elaborated on the philosophy of the five timings of Prayer:

“These are a picture of your different states. Five mutations are inevitable in your life when a misfortune befalls you. And these must occur naturally: (Kashti Nuh, p.64, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.19, p.69, Nazarat Ishaat, Rabwah, computerised ed 2008)

(i) This first state is when you are informed that a misfortune is about to befall you, say, for example, if you are served with a warrant from a court of law. This is the first state, and in it your comfort and happiness is disturbed. This state is like the time of the declining of the sun, because your happiness has started to decline as well. Against this, the Dhuhr (afternoon) Prayer, whose time starts with the lowering or declining of the sun, has been prescribed.

(ii) The second change happens to you when you are brought very close to ruin, say, once you have been apprehended, as per the warrant, and brought before the judge. This is a time when fear petrifies you, you are extremely scared, and any semblance of comfort has deserted you. So this phase resembles the time when the brightness of the sun has dimmed and you are able to set your eye on it and it becomes evident that its setting is imminent. Against this state, the ‘Asr (late afternoon) Prayer has been prescribed.

(iii) The third change happens when you lose all hope that you will be able to escape disaster, say, when the charge-sheet has been written against you, and witnesses have given evidence to support your capital punishment. This is the time when your senses start to leave you and you begin to realise that you are a captive. This condition resembles sunset. By this point there is no hope for any sunlight. Against this spiritual condition Maghrib (sunset) prayer has been prescribed.

(iv) The fourth change occurs when the calamity has actually happened and its utter darkness has encompassed you, say, when, after the charges and the trial, the verdict is announced to you, and you are handed over to a policeman for custody. So, this condition resembles nightfall; it becomes pitch dark. Against this spiritual condition ‘Isha (night) Prayer has been prescribed.

(v) Then, after you have spent some time in this trouble, God’s mercy is moved and He delivers you from that trouble, just as morning breaks out of darkness and then light makes itself manifest with all its brightness and sparkle. So, against this spiritual condition Fajr (morning) Prayer has been prescribed.

So God, seeing five stages in your character, has prescribed for you five Prayers…” (Kishti-e-Nuh (pp. 63-65)

Qiblah

Muslims all over the globe pray in one direction, towards the Qiblah, the Holy Ka‘bah in Makkah. Islam is unique because in other religions the adherents in different parts of the world face each other, or in various directions for worship.

Turning to the Ka‘bah while praying is a means of establishing complete unity amongst the believers, and provides them with a focal point of congregation – although the focus remains firmly on God.

The Prayer

Different societies have different ways of showing respect and reverence. For example, historically the Turks stood up with hands folded on the chest, and the Iranians simply stood with hands hanging down; bowing down is a sign of reverence amongst Hindus as well as some other cultures; in India and Africa to prostrate is a sign of great respect, while in Europe people kneel as a sign of submission.

Islamic worship includes these as well as other postures in its Prayer, thereby demonstrating a culmination and refinement of the various forms of worship found in preceding faiths.

The formal act of Prayer begins when the worshipper raises his or her hands to the lobes of the ears, or up to the shoulders. This is a sign of surrendering to God. The arms are then folded, hands on chest, placing the right hand over the left. This is a symbolic statement of giving preference to religion over worldly matters.

While standing with folded hands the worshipper pours praise upon the Highest Entity being addressed by him or her, recites several prayers, including an excellent prayer comprising all seven verses of the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an, Surah Fatiha:

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.

All praise belongs to Allah alone, Lord of all the worlds,

The Gracious, the Merciful,

Master of the Day of Judgement.

Thee alone do we worship, and Thee alone do we implore for help.

Guide us in the straight path,

The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favours, those who have not incurred Thy displeasure and those who have not gone astray.

After Surah Fatihah, a portion from the Holy Qur’an is recited. The worshipper then bows at the waist, resting his hands on his knees in adoration, to the Most Holy Entity just addressed, that is to say – Allah. The worshipper then stands upright, this time with his hands hanging down by his sides, and praises Allah. After this, he or she prostrates, with the forehead and nose placed on the ground, demonstrating the height of reverence, humility and submission to Allah. This represents the climax of the Prayer. In prostration the worshipper praises Allah. The Holy Prophet(saw) has said that one is closest to Allah while in prostration and therefore should pray to Him earnestly. Many believers, in addition to reciting the short prescribed prayer – Holy is Allah, the High – also whole-heartedly supplicate and earnestly seek Allah’s succour, to get rid of their difficulties both spiritual and worldly. This is followed by assuming a position of sitting with the legs folded and time is then taken to supplicate to Allah for provision and spiritual elevation etc. Then the worshipper goes down a second time into prostration.  In one unit (Rak‘ah) of Prayer it is only the prostration which is done twice, all other acts of worship are performed once only.

This completes one Rak‘ah (unit) of the Prayer. Two, three or four Rak‘aat are prescribed for different Prayers over a 24-hour period.

After the last Rak‘ah, the worshipper sits with legs folded. The left foot lies flat, while the right foot is kept upright. Sitting on the left foot, the right foot is balanced on the ball of the foot with the heel up, keeping the right foot upright. This position signifies subordination of our worldly matters and giving preference to spiritual goals.

In this position, one praises Allah, invokes His  blessings on the Holy Prophet(saw), recites further prescribed prayers, then turns one’s face to the right, reciting in Arabic, ‘Assalamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah’ – “on you be the peace and mercy of Allah”, – then to the left saying the same greeting. This salutation completes the Prayer.

While in Prayer, it is prohibited to turn one’s face right or left, or to talk. One stands before the countenance of Allah while praying and is cut off from others. When the Prayer is completed the believer is back among people of this world, once again. Hence, one greets them with the salutation, ‘Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahamatullah’. Salaam (peace) is one of the attributes of Allah so by saying “Salaam”, the worshipper expresses the fact; ‘I have come from Salaam (peace), and have brought you peace.’

Footnotes

1Where water is not available, then a shorter symbolic ablution can be performed with clean dust. This signifies the importance of Prayer in Islam.


The Question of Suffering


The Question of Suffering


WHEN WE EXPLORE the history of evolution in search of the causative factors which gave birth to the sensory organs as life evolved, we can safely conclude that right from the beginning they have always been the sense of loss and gain. We identify the journey of evolution to be a long procession of some obscure realization of gains and losses which gradually evolved the sensory organs to register the presence of pleasure and pain, comfort and suffering. If we look back at the lower forms of life, at the first few rungs of the ladder and compare them with the higher forms of life near the top, it is not difficult to recognize that in real terms the evolution is the evolution of consciousness. Life is constantly spiralling up from a lesser state of consciousness to a higher state with continuously sharpening faculties of awareness.

The awareness of gain and loss is rather vague and obscure in the beginning, and we cannot locate a definite seat for this awareness in the anatomy of rudimentary organisms. But we know from their reactions to the surrounding elements and situations that they do possess some defused sense of awareness. It is this diffused inexplicable sense which is employed somehow by the Creator to initiate the sense of perception in life. This sense of perception gradually developed and created its own seats in the organism of life. It is these seats which got precipitated ultimately into what we know now as sensory organs. The creation of the brain was not a separate and unrelated incident. No development of sensory organs could be meaningful without a corresponding development of a central nervous system and a simultaneous evolution of the brain, which could decipher the messages transmitted by the sensory organs. Evidently therefore, the brain developed as an essential counterpart of the system of perception. The more evolved the consciousness becomes, the more intense grows the sense of loss and gain felt by specific nerve centres which translate the awareness of loss as suffering, and gain as pleasure, to the mind through the brain.

The less developed the consciousness, the smaller is the awareness of suffering. The same goes for happiness. Thus, the sensory provisions for the recognition of suffering and happiness are indispensable to each other. It is quite likely that if the level to which suffering can be experienced is reduced, its opposite number, the capacity to feel pleasure and happiness, will also be lowered to the same degree. The two seem to participate equally in propelling the wheel of evolution; both possess equal significance. One cannot be done away with alone without the other, thus nullifying the entire creative plan of evolution.

We understand from the Holy Quran, that God did not create suffering as an independent entity in its own right, but only as an indispensable counterpart of pleasure and comfort. The absence of happiness is suffering, which is like its shadow, just as darkness is the shadow cast by the absence of light. If there is life, there has to be death; both are situated at the extreme poles of the same plane, with innumerable grades and shades in between. As we move away from death, we gradually move towards a state of life which is happiness; as we move away from life, we move away with a sense of loss and sorrow towards death. This is the key to understanding the struggle for existence, which in turn leads to a constant improvement in the quality of life and helps it to achieve the ultimate goal of evolution. The principle of the “survival of the fittest” plays an integral role in this grand scheme of evolution.

This phenomenon is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following verse:

Blessed is He in whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things;

It is He Who has created death and life that He might try you—which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving. 1

The answer to the question ‘Why is there suffering?’ is clearly implied in this verse in its widest application.

The profound philosophy of life and death, the innumerable shades in between, and the role they play in shaping life and improving its quality are all covered in the above verse. It is the very scheme of things that God discloses here. We know that life is only a positive value, and death merely means its absence, and no sharp border exists separating one from the other. It is a gradual process, the way life travels towards death and ebbs out, or from the other direction we view death travelling towards life gaining strength, energy and consciousness as it moves on. This is the grand plan of creation, but why has God designed it so? ‘That He might try you—which of you is best in deeds’, is the answer provided by the Holy Quran.

It is the perpetual struggle between life and death that subjects the living to a constant state of trial, so that all who conduct themselves best survive and gain a higher status of existence. Herein lies the philosophy and the machination of evolution as described in the verses above. It is this constant struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death which provide the thrust to the living to perpetually move away from death or towards it. It may result either in the improvement or deterioration in the quality of existence in the wide spectrum of evolutionary changes. This is the essence and spirit of evolution.

Suffering could only be considered objectionable if it were created as an independent entity with no meaningful role to play in the scheme of things. But without the taste of suffering or an awareness of what it means, the feeling of relief and comfort would also vanish. Without an encounter with pain and misery, most certainly, joy and happiness would lose all meaning. Indeed the very existence of life would lose purpose, and the steps of evolution would stop dead in their tracks.

Thus in the evolution of our five senses, the awareness of loss and gain has played an equally essential role like the two wheels of a wagon; remove one, and the other would also lose its meaning. The very concept of the wagon would be grounded. The struggle between life and death, which produces suffering, is also the means of creating pleasure. It is the primary motivating force which fuels the carriage of evolution to move forward eternally.

During the long history of evolution, disease has arisen from various causes, directly or indirectly related to developmental changes. Environmental variations, the struggle for existence, mutations and accidents, have all jointly or severally played their part. Disease, defects and shortcomings all have a role to play in effecting improvement. This is how various animal species went on evolving unconsciously it seems, but certainly with a direction, which appears to follow a consciously designed course towards greater consciousness.

LET US NOW try to conceive another scheme in which the element of suffering is set aside by the application of a hypothetical rule: all forms of life must be equally provided with an equal share of happiness with no portion of suffering at all. Perhaps then we shall be able to eliminate suffering altogether from afflicting life. There would be absolute equality and everyone would be placed on a level platform, but how and where should we introduce this new scheme? Alas! Wherever we attempt to introduce it in the long chain of evolution, we are bound to come across insurmountable problems. These new rules either have to be introduced at the very beginning of creation or not at all. To apply absolute equality at any following stage would be impossible without creating insoluble contradictions. We shall thus need to return to the point where life started.

We must go back all the way in the history of life; all the way to the very beginning and start to build the ladder of evolution anew, rung by rung. But try as we may, we are bound to get stuck at the very first step, the starting point of life. We would not be able to take a single step forward because an equal distribution of happiness and total absence of suffering would entirely eliminate the impetus for evolution. There would be no struggle for existence, no natural selection, no survival of the fittest. Not a single progressive step would be taken by the first, most rudimentary forms of life.

Picture the stage of life represented by the three earliest life units known to man, i.e. bacteria with nuclei, bacteria without nuclei and pyro-bacteria (born by the energy of fire). In this imaginary system there would be no competition for food or survival, because all are equally provided for; there would be no suffering either. As a consequence, in that hypothetical revised plan of creation, life would certainly remain stationary and stagnant, forever fixed at its earliest rudimentary form. The creation of man would remain a far cry from the point of its ancient beginning. Therefore the real question is whether to choose a system with suffering as its integral part, perpetually spiralling evolution in the greater interest of life, or to abandon the plan altogether for the fear of unavoidable suffering. In the final analysis therefore, the only question we are left with is, ‘To be or not to be’?

The rudimentary forms of life, if they had a brain to think, would much rather wish ‘not to be’ than ‘to be’ in such meaningless drudgery of existence.


Suffering is also associated with the idea of retribution and punishment. Glimpses of retribution can be witnessed in the animal kingdom only in a narrow and limited application. They can be observed in the behaviour of many animals of land, sea and air. Elephants and buffaloes are notorious for their propensity towards revenge. This gradually developing trait of life is inevitably linked up to the gradual synthesis of choice. To do something or not to do something can either be an intuitive compulsion or a calculated decision of mind. We are not yet certain about how far the element of choice plays a role in animal conduct, but we know that choice begins to play a vital role in the decision-making process of humans. Whether one moves towards light or darkness, towards life or death, is most often a conscious decision on the part of man. If therefore, as a natural consequence of man’s wilful actions, a reward is provided or penalty exacted, none else is to be blamed but man himself.

Sometimes people may suffer without realizing that they themselves are to be blamed—that there is a general principle of retribution operative in nature known as nemesis. They may have earned that suffering advertently or inadvertently, without identifying the cause. It is so because every fault does not result in an immediate punitive consequence. It often happens that nature executes justice against transgression imperceptibly.

However this is not the whole problem. It is far too complex, vast and intricate and needs to be further illustrated with the help of specific scientific examples, hypothetical or real. There are some very difficult cases to explain, like those of children born with certain congenital defects. Why are they made to suffer? It cannot be said that it is through any fault of theirs. If there is any fault it might have been of their parents, yet that may not have been intentional on their part. In this context the term “fault” should be understood in its widest application, covering even accidental occurrence of congenital diseases. Such faults are far from being conscious crimes. Whatever the nature of the particular cause of some defect, one thing is certain that the poor innocent child who is born with any disadvantage is not responsible for the cause of this suffering in any way.

The solution to the understanding of this problem lies in the realization that all suffering cannot be categorized as punishment, nor all happiness as reward. There is always a small percentage of individuals who will seem to suffer as though without justification. However, a closer more careful examination of such cases would reveal that there is no question of wilful injustice involved. They are merely an unavoidable by-product of the wide plan of creation, but they also play a meaningful role in the general advancement of human society.

One must not forget that ’cause and effect’ is one thing and ‘crime and punishment’ is quite another, however closely they may seem to resemble each other. It is correct to say that a crime may work as a cause and every punishment that may ensue would be an effect of that causative crime. But it is not correct to claim that every suffering is a punishment of some crime committed before. It is wrong to say that all healthy babies are healthy because they are rewarded for some act of goodness of their parents. So also it is wrong to maintain that every unhealthy baby is punished for an unidentified crime of its parents or forefathers. Health and disease, ability and disability, fortune or misfortune, congenital advantages or disadvantages are themselves but indispensable to the grand scheme of things, in which they play a causative role. They are distinctly apart from the phenomenon of crime and punishment, goodness and reward. As we have discussed above, suffering, like happiness, is an essential prerequisite for life to evolve and in the course of evolution it is not related to the phenomenon of crime and punishment at all. Suffering in its causative role produces a wide spectrum of useful effects which amply justify its existence.

Suffering has been a great teacher, cultivating and culturing our conduct. It develops and refines sensibilities, teaches humility and in more than one way, prepares humans to be able to turn to God. It awakens the need for search and exploration and creates that necessity which is the mother of all inventions. Remove suffering as a causative factor in developing man’s potential and the wheel of progress would turn back a hundred thousand times. Man may try his hand at altering the plan of things, but frustration would be all he will achieve. Thus, the question of apportioning blame for the existence of suffering upon the Creator should not arise. Suffering, to play its subtle creative role in the scheme of things, is indeed a blessing in disguise.

The secret of all scientific investigation and discovery lies in a constant quest for the relief of pain and discomfort. The motivation behind scientific exploration and discovery is based less on a desire to gain luxuries than on a need to escape pain. Luxury itself is, after all, a further extension of the same tendency to move away from a state of discomfort to a state of comparative ease.

Let us once again examine the scenario of the ‘innocent sufferers’, the newborn babies with congenital defects or those falling ill at a later age with typhoid or some other disabling disease, rendering them blind, deaf and dumb, or even partially or totally paralysed for life. Worse still may be the case of those, whose central nervous system is damaged by mishaps during birth, resulting in mental disorders. Is the question valid: Why this particular child, A or B? Why not another, say for instance C or D? Would not the same question repeat again and yet again: Why C or D? Why not E or F and so on? The only valid question therefore, would be: Why anyone at all? Hence the only option the Creator is left with is either to create all babies equally healthy or equally unhealthy. This leads us to the realization that the health of a baby itself is merely of relative value. Perhaps it is hard to find any two babies equally gifted with the health of mind and heart and all the physical organs alike. To resolve the question of suffering, there is another valid question to be raised against the Creator. If one child is born with pinhole eyes and a large ugly nose and other disproportionate features, will he not suffer all his life comparing his disadvantages with the advantages of other more fortunate fellow human beings?

Inequality of health and looks will continue to irritate most individuals and will even agonise some at finding themselves to be at a disadvantage in comparison to others. Does it not warrant in the name of absolute justice and fair play that God should create every human exactly alike in health and looks? Widen the area of comparison by bringing into play the faculties of head and heart and disposition and the contrast between those who have advantages and those who have disadvantages will become even more pronounced. In the absence of extreme cases even the mild cases will appear offensive to the sense of justice. One has to begin somewhere to create variety and diversity to break the monotony. Wherever there is variety and diversity, comparative suffering and happiness are bound to be generated. To object against the plan of things in the name of compassion for disabled children is one thing, but to replace the plan with a more just and compassionate viable plan is quite another. One may try one’s hand at altering the scheme for aeons of time but one will still not be able to replace the plan of God’s creations for a better one. In other words, we shall be again reverting to the question of why any disease and suffering at all; why should they be inevitable? One answer to this question, we have already given above.

LET US EXAMINE the same question from yet another perspective: from the viewpoint of an atheist as well as from the viewpoint of a believer in God.

For the atheist, strictly logically speaking, there should be no problem to be resolved—there should be no question to be answered. They do not owe their existence to any creator, and no creator is accountable before them if they find any distortion in the random unrolling of creation. For every suffering, every misery, every unequal distribution of happiness, nothing but chance is to be blamed and that realization ends the age-old debate. Chance being the creator, or nature, as we may call it, being unconscious, deaf and dumb, blind and chaotic cannot be blamed for any flaw in what is born out of chaos. The outcome of chance, without a creator, has to be blind and disorderly, without reason, without design, without direction.

For those who believe in God, the Creator, there should be no problem either, because they see enough direction, balance and purpose in creation, to submit to the wisdom of the plan in its totality. An odd thorn jutting out here and there from a most artistically arranged, colourful and fragrant bouquet of flowers will not provide sufficient cause for the rejection of the bouquet, or will it?

If the atheist’s scepticism is correct, then death seems to be the only solution for the drawn out misery of the innocent sufferers. If the believer’s scenario of creation is right, then death again acquires the role of a redeemer, but in a completely different way. For them, death acts only as a gateway to the life after death, which will usher the innocent sufferers into an era of unlimited reward. If they could only dream of what rewards were waiting for them in the Hereafter as compensation for their transient misery on earth, they would smilingly jog along despite suffering as though it were mere pinpricks or an odd thorn on the way to an eternal life of comfort and happiness.

Some people may not accept this and may still insist that they are not satisfied because there is no God and no life of reward or punishment after death. For them there is no value in this answer. If so, then the question should not be discussed at all. The question, they should remember, can only be discussed in relation to the role of God as Creator. The question of morality, the right and wrong of something, arises only with the belief in the existence of God. If there is God, then the suggestion of a possible compensation presented above cannot be dismissed merely with a scornful chuckle. If there is no God, then we cannot blame Him or anyone else for any chance suffering that we may encounter. We must then take life and all that pertains to it merely as an accident without meaning, without direction, without goal. Suffering has to be accepted as a part of nature, as something that cannot be done away with and cannot be run away from. Either way, one must learn to live with suffering.

Of course, suffering is a vital constituent of the motive force of evolution. However the question of balance between suffering and the pleasure derived from the consciousness of existence, remains to be decided. If, in this simple equation, suffering offsets the deep-rooted satisfaction born out of the awareness of one’s existence, then most people would rather die than live to suffer. If most of those who suffer would much rather lose conscious identity of existence than compromise with unhappiness, then the very wisdom of such a plan would be called into question. But that, which we actually observe in real life, is exactly the opposite of what is suggested above. Life dearly clings to the very awareness of its existence, sometimes even at the price of immense misery and unhappiness. That is the predominant rule with minor exceptions too insignificant by comparison.

Again we should remember that the perspective of suffering is variable. It constantly keeps changing when viewed from different angles of observation. Those who are healthy themselves perceive the state of a subnormal child as that of extreme suffering, but those who are placed at an even lower level of deprivation than the subnormal child in question may look up to him with envy.

N A MUCH WIDER CANVAS, each form of life is either superior or inferior to the forms of life below or above it respectively. Throughout the process of evolution our awareness of values has kept changing as they evolved from lower to higher orders. The stages that occur in the upward spiralling course of evolution, when looked down upon from a higher vantage point, appear to be at a disadvantage. The higher forms of life cling dearly to the greater awareness of values which they have gained over millions of years of evolution. Any reversal or loss of such values and faculties would inevitably result in suffering, which by itself is indispensable for the promotion of the same values. Consider the state of worms in comparison to some higher forms of life, and compare yet again the state of those higher forms of life in comparison to the more advanced animal species placed even higher in the ladder of evolution. They all are certainly not equally gifted. The worms that thrive on the product of organic decay and filth could not by any means perceive themselves to be at par with the freely roaming wild horses, grazing in prairies on tender grass. Yet they cannot perceive themselves at a disadvantage either. Theirs are two different worlds, different faculties, different requirements and different aspirations—if aspirations could be attributed to worms at all!

Thus this imbalance does not suggest that they have been the target of any injustice. Visualize, for instance, the case of a few happy healthy worms. They all seem to be perfectly adjusted to their environment which in turn is well adjusted to them. They are fully content with the faculties they are provided with, and are incapable of yearning for things beyond the scope of their senses. Yet, if a human child were to be offered to exchange his suffering state of life with that of a happy contented worm, would he not rather die than to accept this option of living the lowly existence of a worm?

The very awareness of one’s life and the higher status one occupies in the grades of life is sufficient in most cases to offset the disadvantage of suffering. It transpires that suffering is after all a relative state. The source of suffering is embedded in the sense of deprivation. It is the awareness of loss of some familiar cherished values which generate a sense of pain. It can only happen when one has already tasted the pleasure of such values or has observed others enjoying them. The loss of such values once enjoyed or the knowledge of others possessing them, while one cannot, are two powerful factors which generate pain. But the lack of such values, the nature of which one does not perceive cannot cause suffering. What is pain after all, if not mere signals of a variety of losses? Despite the fact that we cannot always relate all our varied encounters with pain to specific bereavements, an in-depth study would always reveal that every sense of pain is inseparably connected with a corresponding sense of loss.

The creation and evolution of sensory organs owe their existence to interminably long encounters with loss or gain. They are the two most potent creative factors created by God. All the five senses which we possess are the products of our awareness of them, as discussed before, which during a billion years of our evolution, gradually materialised into sensory perceptive mechanisms. Suffering and happiness could not by themselves have created the mechanism of consciousness. To register their presence without such mechanisms, they themselves would cease to be. How then can nothingness create anything? Unconsciousness cannot design and create consciousness even in trillions of years. It has to be a conscious Creator to endow death with consciousness and create life out of it. The Most Masterly Creator seems to have employed pain and pleasure in an, as yet, unknown manner to create the very organs which perceive them. Remove the pain as an instrument in the making of this masterpiece of creative wonder and life will be rendered into a senseless mass of vegetation, not even aware of itself. Are a few odd cases of misery and deprivation too big a price to pay for the prodigious marvel of consciousness?

Let us remind the reader that Islam defines evil only as a shadow created by the lack of light. It is not a positive existence in itself. We can imagine a source of light (a lamp or the sun), but we cannot imagine any object as a source of darkness. The only way in which an object becomes a source of darkness is through its ability to obstruct light. Likewise, it is only the absence of goodness that constitutes evil. The grades of evil are only determined by the opacity of the obstructing medium.

Likewise, it is the awareness of possession which constitutes happiness. Any loss or threat of loss to possession constitutes pain or agony. But they must coexist in an equation of positive and negative poles. Remove one, and the other will disappear. Hence no one on earth can interfere with the creative design of pain, pleasure, goodness and evil and succeed in altering the plan of things. It is beyond the reach of human compassion to efface suffering without effacing life itself.

Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

Women in Islam


Women in Islam