, by PROF U. MUHAMMAD IQBAL
Swami Harshananda distinguishes between culture and civilization in these words: External progress leads to a better standard of living, i.e., civilization. Internal progress, on the other hand, results in greater refinement of the whole personality, i.e., culture. (An Introduction to Hindu Culture, p.1) A widely held view is that civilization is a construct of culture. Maulana Maudoodi of respected memory maintains that what is known as civilization has five constituents – concept of earthly existence, purpose of existence, basic postulates and doctrines, upbringing of individuals, and collective living. [Islami Tahzeeb (Urdu), p.12)]
Some associate civilization with economic means, political organisation, moral code, durability of arts and crafts, a collective attitude towards religion, language and education, and the establishment of a social order in which concept like justice, peace and the reduction of pain and the abolition of torture, human rights and personal discipline and self-control are upheld in letter and spirit, and in theory and practice.
Civility and civilization are nouns formed respectively from an adjective ‘civil’ and a verb ‘civilize’. Consequently, civility is akin to a product and civilization, to a process. Civil rights and duties have been codified in order to render the art of living smooth and pleasant. Civilization is a never-ending and ongoing process. That is why, it is claimed that the civilization of mankind has taken thousands of years.
One civilization emerges, holds sway and then goes into oblivion. Civilizations may come and civilizations may go like the Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician, Canaanite and Pharaonic, but man’s experiment with civilization goes on forever. The Qur'an draws our attention to this phenomenon: “Did they not journey in the land that they may behold the end of those who had gone before them? They were more numerous and greater in strength and left more splendid traces in the land. Yet their attainments did not avail them.” (40:82)
C.E.M. Joad says, “Most of the previous civilizations known to history came to an end because vigorous and uncivilized peoples broke in upon them and destroyed them.” On the basis of this theory, it is contended that the Muslims who broke in upon India must be vigorous and uncivilized people or barbarians, and so they should not be credited with any attainment like civilization.
The external threat becomes successful only when the internal decay is ripe enough. The Greeks experimented with truth, beauty and goodness and blazed a trail. The impact of their culture and civilization can be felt even now in enlightened circles. Still they were not without their fatal flaw. Socrates, who criticised their gods and goddesses, was not a welcome figure in their midst. “The Athenians, at the height of their power and glory, deliberately ordered the massacre of the whole male population of Melos.”
Muslim civilization is essentially a religious civilization. As long as Muslims were faithful to the values the Qur'an inculcated in them, they remained at the peak of power and glory. When they abandoned the Quran, humiliation and degradation fell to their lot.
The Western attitude to religion per se is ambivalent. On the one hand, religion is a yearning for the Beyond, and for the Infinite. It is looked upon as an antidote to fear, crisis, privation and injustice. On the other hand, “Religion is the joint produce of the duplicity of the first knave and the simplicity of the first fool.” Critias said, “Some clever man invented the fear of God, so that there might be something of which men were afraid, even in their secret deeds and words and thoughts, a Being who would hear all that men said and see all their actions, and even their unspoken plans for sin.” Such assertions are as ridiculous as Nietzsche’s view that justice and mercy are the ‘the inventions of the many to protect themselves against the few’.
The Western attitude to Islam in particular is reflected in two representative phrases such as, ‘petrified Judaism’ and ‘bastard Christianism’. Westcott noticed elements of Judaism and Carbyle found elements of Christianity in Islam. Instead of appreciating the eclectic and comprehensive nature of Islam, they betrayed their prejudice and pride in the choice of the adjectives. Jawaharlal Nehru is of the opinion that the things religious “said may be good but when it is claimed that the last word has been said, society becomes static.” What Westcott called petrified, Nehru prefers to describe as static. As Islam is presented as the last and complete revealed religion, it is sarcastically called a closed circle.
A cameo of Muslim civilization at its peak, given below, reflects the deep-rooted bias. “From 750 to 936, the Abbasid dynasty ruled Islam from Baghdad, while Muslim civilization came to its golden flowering in architecture, poetry, philosophy, and art. Harun al-Rashid, the Caliph of Arabian Nights, dining off gold and silver plates, toying with the scented beauties of his harem, served by an army of officials, eunuchs, and slaves, was the richest potentate on earth.” (Wonders of the World, AA publishing, pp. 114-115)
The most representative literary document of the Muslim civilization, in the eyes of the West, is the Arabian Nights!
C.E.M. Joad has his own definition of civilization and describes the caliphs of the Arabian Nights as uncivilized. For one thing, “Civilization is not just being splendid and grand and living in luxury.” For another, “There must also be beautiful things like the plays and pictures.” Dr Joad demands plays and pictures from the characters of fiction!
He does not seem to make any distinction between characters of history and characters of fiction. So, his denigration of the characters in the Arabian Nights is tantamount to the denigration of the historical Muslim rulers. When this point is borne in mind, his comparison of the Muslim rulers with the gluttonous Romans and pigs is in very bad taste. How distressing it is to see a man talking about civilization in an uncivilized manner!
CEM Joad selects some famous individuals from the fields of music, painting and drama as symbols of civilization, ignoring the fact that in their personal lives they were found wanting in inter-personal relationship. He is proud of the fact that practically no part of the world is untouched by the Western civilization.
Sir Richard Livingstone says, “We need to have a clearer idea about the distinction between first-rate and second-rate, between good and bad, in conduct and in life. Ignorance on this vital subject is written all over modern civilization. The films, the radio, the press are among the chief influences which form the public view, impressing on it the view of life which they embody.” If they are anything to go by, they mostly paint Islam as a religion of violence and terrorism, and present homosexuality as an issue of human rights and not of Maroof and Munkar.
The Qur'an uses three terms for a large group of homosexuals who dominated the town of Prophet Lut (unto him be peace). They were guilty of other crimes too like engaging in highway robbery. (29:29). The angels describe them to Prophet Abraham (unto him be peace) as Qowmin Mujrimeen (a guilty people) (15:58). Prophet Lut tells his own people to their faces that they are a grossly ignorant people – Qowmun Tajhaloon (27:55). He describes them in his prayer to Allah as Qowmul Mufsideen, a mischievous people. He says, “My Lord, aid me against these mischievous people.” (29:30) These terms of the Qur'an make it clear that homosexuality is an act of guilt, an act of perversity, and an act that will create chaos in the relationship between men and women as defined by the institution of marriage and law of procreation. These terms are enough to arouse moral sensitivity and create an awareness that homosexuality may pose a terrible health hazard.
In order to have a proper perspective, an issue must be approached from every possible angle. As there can be a legal angle, a moral angle, a medical angle, a psychological angle, there should be a religious angle too. In fact, the Bhagavad Gita asserts, Let the scriptures be your authority in deciding what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. (16:24) This excerpt implies that the religious angle, instead of being brushed aside, should be given paramount importance. Homosexuality will remain a forbidden act in the religious sense to all religious-minded Muslims. They detect signs and portents of decadence in the predominantly industrial civilization of the West when homosexuality receives religious sanction and judicial protection and social tolerance.