See If You Can See
The scientists say among themselves about the quantum mechanics theory in physics that whoever said he understood the theory, doesn’t know what he is talking about. Apart from other things, it has something to do with the uncertainty principle at the sub-atomic level, something which is, even for the specialists, quite an exercise to conceptualize. Moreover, it involves a lot of higher mathematics. Indeed, we are to learn that if any, it is those who sit down with a paper and pencil and do the calculations painstakingly through the night, that might get a glimpse of the complication by the first light of the dawn.
Islam, as in the source books, in the life of its Prophet, and in the living example of the first generation Muslims, is no less daunting to understand. What with a million concepts to be fused into one all-comprehensive philosophy that can guide through the thick and thin of life with ready-made solutions, that do injustice to no other soul! Even specialists find it mind-boggling and must say at the end of their lives, “I’d like to die on the faith of an old woman.” The amount of data defeated them. And a scholar, famous for a wonderful comprehensive book on Hajj, gave himself up to a Makkan barber during his own pilgrimage when the latter pointed out three faults in his understanding of the rituals. Whoever said he has understood Islam, doesn’t know what he is talking about.
A definition itself is discouraging to start with. For, Islam is not a religion in the sense of any other religion. For a definition of any other religion you can look up a dictionary. They will say that religion is a set of beliefs, rituals, modes of worship, social taboos, a few moral precepts, and so on: things of that nature. Islam is all of that, but refined. Further, they are only its parts. They are not the whole story. Everyone knows its several parts. No one knows the whole with such confidence as to look into your eyes and say so. Little surprise then that when the Prophet asked someone to embrace Islam and he said he couldn’t sort it out to the satisfaction of his intellect, the Prophet advised him to embrace it anyway. That is, he had a life-time to sort out its issues. But, if he delayed to accept the whole because he understood only some of its parts, and not the whole, then, the matter might get delayed beyond his life span.
But what’s the problem? Why should Islam, the whole of it, should be so difficult to understand? Well, one reason has already been stated: the data input proves too much for a single brain’s capacity. An average book of law, followed in today’s courts, say the Hanafiyy school’s “Fataawa Aalamgiriyyah”, or the Hanbali school’s “Al-Mughni”, runs into several volumes, roughly 20 volumes of 400 page each in English. If law is your specialty, and you sat in a court as a judge, you might be, with the aid of one of these books, able to pass your judgement over most of the cases concerning disputes that arise between people as they try to live a civilized life out there in the vast, complicated, modern world. But: caution. Note the words, ‘most cases.’ For a few cases, you might need a few other books. (By the way, a Christian jurist in Europe had once suggested in a seminar that if a country in modern times wished to adopt the Islamic civil law for its courts, it wouldn’t find them, at least, incomplete).
But law is only one aspect of a religion that embodies instructions and guidance to every aspect of life and can tell you to organize almost every minute of your life. And the quality of that guidance is such that you need not look in askance at any other source thereafter. Whether the issue is moral, political, economic, or spiritual, the guidance is comprehensive and complete. And there goes with each of these disciplines, say twenty years of your study. When will you finish the whole of which you can’t understand the parts today?
So, a reasonable proposition is that if you are sure of the starting points, the first few signposts, you better start off with the journey. Be on the road and see where it goes – as it takes you along into the realm of the unknown: a few surprises for “alladheena yu’minuna bil-ghayb” (those who have faith in the Unknown) – those who know that the Unknown is God Himself, and that God is All-goodness. And it is in the realm of the Unknown that you encounter Him.
Oneness of the Divinity, Messengership of Prophet Muhammad, Revelation of the Qur’an, etc., are a few clear sign-posts to start with as you come out with your backpack. They are solid, irrefutable, unambiguous facts. No man with average intellect and some integrity can deny their validity. Why hesitate to start when you are on solid ground? In contrast, in other religions the bugle call is for the acceptance of postulates. For example, “God is one of the three.” (Aha!!). “Jesus Christ was the son of God.” (Really?). Or, “there are a million gods.” (Say it again!). These are postulates that tax your mind. Compare now: “God is one.” (Any protests?). “He sent Messengers.” (Plausible). “Muhammad was one of them.” (Can be cross-checked. He came in light of history). “The Qur’an is a revelation.” (If our opinion of Muhammad is correct, then, how could he have produced this work?) So you see, in Islam you start with solid, irrefutable, unambiguous facts, and not postulates. You can use them as signposts and move on. No need to get stuck in the loose sands of philosophy. The Islamic road is metallic. Run yourself a few miles, and, so far you can go, so good you will discover the journey is.
Individuals practicing Islam, (appallingly a few million even today), all over the landscape surrounding you, are other pieces of solid facts. When compared with others, any others, they stand apart. What makes them different? They can withstand your scrutiny. Honest, simple, just, compassionate, and well-balanced. Who can miss them in a crowd? Serenity in bold announces their identity. Could a false religion produce these humble men, chaste women? Churned out faithfully, centuries after centuries, by a broken machine? Look at the destruction of the family, at the wretchedness of the individuals, at the superficiality – nay, bestiality – of today’s civilization, and look at their lives in contrast. Why is theirs filled with tranquility? Where are the husband and wife quarrels? Where are the uncontrollable children? Where are the abandoned parents? Why they don’t commit suicide? How can they avoid music and hard drugs in this tension-filled life? What power makes them pray five times a day? There has to be some substance to these things. Come on now. Consider. These are not phantoms. Every now and then one of them pops up around you as a reality.
So these are solid facts that no reasonable man can reject. And enough they are as signposts: if signs is an outdated term. One can go a few miles with their help. As one travels down, he might feel less hazy about the path and the destination. But understanding the whole path, and the whole landscape surrounding it? Well, life is too fast for one to get a good view of them, far from understanding them. Who has ever understood the landscape as it ran by a train’s window as it winds through a terrain dotted with the farmer’s fields, hills, valleys, meadows, patches of thick trees embracing each other in love and, aha, occasionally a wild animal staring at you in disbelief?
Those then, who wait to understand the whole of Islam, before they will accept a part of it (and only a part they will ever understand, even if they accepted the whole), are waiting for the mysteries of quantum mechanics to dawn upon them while they refuse to accept the fact of the earth’s gravitational force. Quantum mechanics theory might be difficult to grasp, but that does not give you licence to deny other simpler physical laws – those that affect your day to day life. Islam, as a whole, might be difficult to comprehend. Its social system, its economic system, its spiritual system … intelligent men (many of them non-Muslims) have spent their lives to come to grips with them, and have always ended up admitting that there is more depth and reality to it than what the surface leads you to believe.
To cite an example, Harvard University (USA), recently organized a seminar on the “Economic system of Islam.” (How about “A Christian Economic System”? Or “A Hindu Economic System?” So you see, there is substance to Islam. Much of it. You need to know, for e.g., something about market economy, a few other principles, and maybe some experience to appreciate what this new economy is that those Harvard chaps talked about. But that’s not all to Islamic knowledge. There are many other things, concepts, systems: those that Islam challenges your intellect with. And so, if you have a problem understanding the whole of Islam, then, that is entirely natural. If you spent a good number of years grappling with some of its issue, it’s not your fault. The issues are indeed vast, taxing, and, what is more, can be put to practice today. Many do it.
But while you grapple with its issues, you cannot get a licence to deny the obvious: for e.g., Oneness of the Divinity. Can you? If you can’t, and if you think that it would be wrong to have such a licence, then, pronounce it. Say your opinion aloud. Say out loud, “Yes, I cannot understand quantum mechanics. But I do believe in Newton’s laws.” Or, “I can’t understand Islamic economics, or its political system, or, this or that, but I do believe God can only be one (as in fact Newton maintained in one of his secretly published, but by now well-known treaties).
Or, let’s take the Qur’an. What explains it? Nothing. As a man of science, or of philosophy, or of social sciences, you know that a book is old in 10 years time. 1500 years? And still as fresh as ever, as applicable as ever? A modern state built on principles enunciated by it? Come on now. An intelligent man needs an explanation. Or consider Muhammad. A fake and a phoney? No problem that. We have a 100,000 statements of his recorded by his posterity. But why a hundred thousand? A hundred are enough to judge a phoney. Indeed, for those who can understand Newton’s laws, ten randomly selected statements might be enough. These you see, are truths that cannot await your decision long. They need acknowledgment. Refusal to pronounce truths your own mind cannot argue against, can lead some people to the conclusion that there is perhaps a lack of basic intelligence, or integrity, or honesty!
Moreover, pronouncement qualifies you for further light. Ignorance is darkness. Acknowledgment is the other word for knowledge. When you refuse to acknowledge, you recede into darkness. Not an external darkness, but an inner one: of the mind and the soul. It is not the eyes on the forehead that go blind. It is the inner eye that does. It sees, but it sees not.
Further, to act against your own intellect, which assures you – time and again – of the reasonableness of certain basic truths .. promises you that you will never encounter Him – Lord, your God – anywhere. Neither now, nor later. Have an honest and a dishonest person been friends? Has a man of character ever been on good terms with a rogue? Not to be allowed the presence is a condemnation great in significance. To be told that you didn’t qualify because of your blindness can be devastating. Of all reasons, blindness? But you can see, can’t you? Consider how a Qur’anic revelation describes it (20: 124, 125): “He who turned away from My reminder, shall have a wretched life. And We shall raise him on the Day of Judgement blind. He will say, ‘My Lord! Why did You raise me blind when I earlier possessed sight?’ He will be told, ‘That is how. My signs came to you, but you forgot all about them. That is how you shall be forgotten today.’”
See if you can see now.