Auron ka hai Payaam aur, mera Payaam aur hai, / Ishq key dardmand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai! (Iqbal)
It is neither science nor common sense, when human life is sundered into artificial compartments of sacred and secular, just because it is expedient to do so, and when all human effort is devoted to finding ways to live a life on earth in which tested and true divine guidance plays a minimal and ever-receding role on a day-to-day basis. It is a shame and a disgrace, and it is an unmitigated disaster, when human character degenerates to a point when relations between men and women turn not on respect and caring but on exploitation, lying, cheating and abuse.
When for all too many men and women it becomes preferable to live together in the ignominy and shame of adultery and fornication, rather than seek the protection, sanctity, honour, dignity, glory and blessing of matrimony.
And when, on the other hand, men and women are forced to keep bad marriages and broken relationships festering and fostering sin and corruption, rather than use options of annulment and divorce made available to them by God that will allow all parties dignified and honourable exits out of irreparably broken marriages, to find more virtuous, peaceful and honourable ways to live. The fact is that life for too many human beings on earth has becomes a roller-coaster of disasters and tragedies, each more grim, each more hair-raising and each more heart-breaking than the other.
Therefore, it is not that things have gone slightly wrong in our world. But it is rather that humanity is in a terrible, unspeakable, colossal mess. Our world is in a state of utter and unspeakable loss.
A PLANET IN PERIL
Our planet is in peril. And human life is in peril, as the Qur’an says. This was a diagnosis of the state of humanity and the world by none other than the Creator of humanity and the world. This was a diagnosis He provided in the very book that He sent down to save humanity and the world – the noble, the clear and open, the most accessible and easy and the most glorious Qur’an. Thereafter, it is for you and me – for the educated, thinking, reasonable, conscious and caring people in the world – to gauge, determine and establish the nature and degree of that loss and disaster in which humanity is today mired.
And then it is up to all of us to decide how best to cope with this disastrous state of affairs that is upon us. To get a sense of what is going on in the world today, all we need to do is to look around. All we need to do is to read the newspapers. All we need to do is talk to people. It would then become clear to us how terrible, how encompassing and how utterly overwhelming is the state of loss and suffering, pain and deprivation, trouble and tragedy which has enveloped us like a cocoon from every direction.
The analysis I provided above, gives us some clues as to where humanity’s loss and tragedy have gone from one disastrous outcome to another, each more terrible and tragic than the other.
PLAYING CATCH-UP TO THE QUR’AN
At this point, it seems to me, a word about the Qur’an is in order. For one simple reason: whether we see it or not, and whether we say it or not, it is clear that the Qur’an seems to be quite clearly connected to much of what is going on in the world today – in one way or another, to one degree or another. In fact, this has been the case since the first revelations of the Qur’an descended upon Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, nearly 1400 years ago.
Ever since, much of the history of the world has been a history of the unfolding and advancing of the Qur’an in much of the world: in Arabia; in Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia; in what later was to become Spain and a cultural capital and political, commercial and economic powerhouse in Europe and the world; in Italy; in Hungary; in India; in Prague; in France; in China; in Russia and elsewhere.
Ever since, it has really been a saga of the world learning to react to, deal with and adjust and adapt to the Qur’an – to the teachings and messages of the Qur’an as well as to the methods and approaches of the Qur’an. Ever since, the Qur’an has stood at the centre of events around the world. Ever since, as journalists would say, Qur’an has been news and headline news at that.
And ever since, it has been, in more ways than we have time here to recount, a story of the world catching up to the Qur’an – to its teachings, principles, precepts, mores, norms, ideals, methods, approaches and practices. That means the world that took shape after the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, is a world created in the image of the Qur’an. That is the long and short of the story. There is no escaping this fact, no matter how you look at it.
IN THE IMAGE OF QUR’AN
That means we can argue all we want, we can fight all we want, we can disagree all we want, but the conclusion that repeatedly, inescapably and indelibly imposes its imprint on our consciousness is this: The post-Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, world is a world shaped largely and significantly in the image of the Qur’an.
Let me illustrate this by providing two examples – no more than two examples. Each one of these two illustrations is as simple and clear, as it is powerful and decisive. Together these two examples cover two of the most important, most pervasive and most influential aspects or areas of human life. One is what people call “religion.” The other is education.
The word religion is a rather misunderstood and misused expression in the English language. Everybody uses it but not too many people seem to know what it really stands for. But when it is applied to Islam, it is a total misnomer – nothing short of a disaster I should say. For, Islam is anything but a “religion” in the way the world understands and uses that expression.
Still, the historic fact is that “religion” is one aspect of human life that Islam totally transformed. Islam put the stamp of the Qur’an on religion and brought it closer to what it should be from a Qur’anic point of view.
As for education, we may not right now appear to be so, but we are the ultimate “education people” of the world. Even though present Muslim reality may belie this assertion but we have reason to proclaim to the world: Education Is Us!
Our current pathetic and deplorable condition not withstanding, we totally changed the way the world looked at education. We made education Qur’anic in its content, scope and application.
‘RELIGION’: A GREAT MISNOMER
I usually put the word religion in quotation marks – “religion.” There is a reason for that.
In the olden days, when the world used the expression religion, it meant some specific things. Everybody in the world understood it to mean certain specific things.
For example, religion had traditionally meant the division of human life – and the world – into sacred and secular, with the secular part of life being controlled by kings and tribal leaders and the sacred part of life being controlled by priests and the magic men. One was “holy” and the other not so. Life, the world, people, books, objects, acts and pretty much everything else was subjected to this division that I am here today so direly tempted to call “unholy.”
It was a practical mechanism that the world had developed for two competing kinds of aspirants to power and control over the lives, minds and souls of humans to co-exist in tolerable accommodation and adjustment in the same society. It was a mechanism for them – this division of the “holy” and what I call the “unholy” – to divide up, conquer, rule and exploit the world and its people together.
“Religion” was thus the prerogative of the priestly classes, of the lords and princes of the church – of the clergy – while the rest of the realm was under the authority of the royalty and the nobility – the kings, the lords, the barons and the nobles.
“Religion” thus became a set of “holy” rites, rituals and sacraments that needed “holy” men for their performance on “holy” occasions, in “holy” ways, using “holy” objects such as sacred water or fire, in “holy” places such as a temple or an altar using readings and chanting from the “holy” scripture. That is what “Religion” meant to most people before Islam.
This represented a nice, neat and highly functional divvying up of the world of Allah, and the life of human beings, into two unequal parts – with the giant-size part going to kings, nobles and princes of the realm and the pint-size part going to the priests and the hierarchy of holy men – the lords, nobles and princes of the church.
This was the fractured and confused world upon which the Qur’an descended from heaven. The Qur’an came to set the world free from this artificial, unfair and unfortunate dichotomy of the sacred and the secular. And it came to set humanity free from the clutches and control of kings and nobles on the one hand and of the clergy and holy men on the other hand.