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Old Sunday, August 28, 2016
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Default August 26th, 2016

Knowledge lost


BESIDES the Quranic verses laying strong emphasis on acquiring knowledge, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Acquire knowledge from cradle to grave”. In another hadith, he underlined the importance of knowledge by declaring it fard (obligatory) on every Muslim man and woman.

Hence, the first and foremost binding duty on every Muslim from infancy is seeking knowledge or education. In contrast, for other duties such as prayer, zakat, and Haj, Muslims are qualified only when they reach a certain age or meet certain conditions. To further stress the primacy of education over other duties, another hadith states: “Seeking knowledge is superior to salat, zakat, Haj and jihad near Allah.”

Such emphasis on education by Islam is fascinating and unparalleled. But contrary to what the religion teaches, it is also true that Muslim societies are apparently the most backward in terms of seeking knowledge, education and scholarship, while non-Muslims are putting education on top of their priority list. The question arises: why are Muslim countries not attuned to their fard regarding education?

It is unfortunate that after the birth of many philosophers, scientists and intellectuals in Muslim lands and after their pioneering work in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and other fields, these lands have ceased to produce such people. The progress in different fields in the developed countries would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Muslim thinkers and scientists from different walks of life. Alhazen’s work on optics, Al Khwarizmi’s work on algebra and Avicenna’s Al Qanoon fi tib are some of the examples of the glorious past.

We glorify our past without attempting to understand it.
Yet our present and future appear to be very bleak, as we have not been able to establish any link with the past, except that we glorify it without actually attempting to understand it. The environment in which those figures attempted to contribute, and the subsequent scholarship that developed, have been analysed by some intellectuals; however, these analyses have never been internalised.

Today, the names of such figures have been included in textbooks in the hope that perhaps learning about the scholars would help generate similar figures, without adopting their ways of free inquiry and scholarship and without giving education its due priority.

In fact, the work of these men of knowledge had long been rejected by none other than many Muslim ‘scholars’ of the 13th century, whereby certain branches of knowledge such as philosophy were jettisoned while mathematics, geometry and astronomy were declared less useful. Consequently, the intellectual and scientific thinking of Muslims was badly impeded. Afterwards, with the passage of time, a certain type of education was declared Islamic, while other knowledge was declared ‘un-Islamic’. These divisions turned Muslim societies, in most cases, against education and the spirit of true inquiry.

Furthermore, education was reduced to a tool to spread ungrounded ideologies. Thus there have been deliberate efforts — of varying degrees — to control the spirit of free inquiry. The worst form was seen recently in our region, in the attempt to totally uproot education from society. The bombing of schools in Pakistan and other countries can be seen as the direct result of terming certain forms of learning as ‘un-Islamic’. Thus acquiring knowledge became a secondary obligation for most Muslim societies. They even forgot that they are the followers of “the city and gate of knowledge”, ie the Holy Prophet and Hazrat Ali, respectively. How can the followers of “the city and gate of knowledge” be among those nations on the lowest rung of the education ladder?

On the contrary, education in the developed world has been vie*wed as a basis for economic growth and mitigation of conflict, as well as a solution to many issues. That is why they view investment in human capital as the best inves*tment and have been constantly investing in quality education.

To be claimants of a faith that passionately stresses continuous engagement with learning, Muslim societies need to pay special attention to this fard that has remained neglected so far. They also need to assess their issues on the basis of scientific thinking.

However, scientific thinking may not be developed with existing policies and institutions as these are following a pattern that is devoid of the spirit of inquiry and independent thinking. Therefore, they are unable to create newer systems capable of steering societies towards progress.

In recent years, in Pakistan’s context, some increases in the educational budget have been seen, which is a good omen. However, increasing the budget alone may not serve the purpose. Instead, multipronged efforts need to be initiated. Among them is the need of quality policy formulation and implementation. Chiefly, an educational emergency must be declared so that education is brought to the top of national priorities. Only then can we dream of evolving into a prosperous Muslim society.

The writer is an educator.

Source: Knowledge lost
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2016
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  #532  
Old Wednesday, October 05, 2016
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Default 23 Sep, 2016

Seed of arrogance

MANY Muslims around the world have been conditioned to believe that they are the preferred ones of God. The rest of the people are ‘infidels’, and, as such, are to be destroyed or ostracised one way or another. This belief has been extended to Muslims of different sects, with disastrous consequences.

In Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi, one of the greatest humanitarians the world has known, became the target of similar propaganda. Such toxic beliefs have moved Muslims away from attending to their own moral failings and need for correction, and focusing on slogans and practices that are opposite of the Islamic spirit of tolerance, peace and compassion. They forget that diversity in all forms is part of God’s plan on earth. And more importantly, others might be worthier of God’s blessings.

For example in the Holy Quran it is stated: “If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed — all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” (10:99).

Few Muslims would ponder over why they indulge in hollow and showy acts that are meant to declare their piety but are anathema to Islam and the Prophet (PBUH), and simultaneously, they pour hatred over others who they deem to be different. Surely, love of the Prophet would entail emulating his actions and not whipping up emotions against others. Unfortunately, a favourite pastime of some Muslims is to brand others as non-believers.

People today are quick to brand others as non-believers.
‘Kufr’, in Arabic, means denial. It also means ingratitude, among other things. In the Quran, it has been used with a particular connotation — the denial by the Quresh of the Prophet and his teachings. The word was used solely for the contemporaries of the Prophet. These people, despite being called to the message of Islam over many years, continued to deny the truth. Except for the last group of the Quresh who insisted on denial, the Quran has not called any non-Muslim group kafirun. In ‘Surah Rum’, the Byzantines are mentioned as such, and not as kafirun. Similarly ‘Surah F’il’ mentions Abraha as the “man of elephants”, not as a kafir.

It is also commonly but disastrously believed that the Quran instructs Muslims to kill all those they deem to be kafir. For example, there is the injunction in 9:12, “But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith, fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained”. It is in fact a call to fight those kafirun not because they were kafir, but because they were aggressors and had renounced their promise of peace.

People today, unfortunately many religious scholars included, are quick to brand non-Muslims and other Muslim sects as kafir. The common Muslim, (mis)guided by those he follows, believes that followers of all other religions are deniers of his particular brand of faith and hence, in the name of Islam, it is incumbent upon him to abuse and hate them, whether in speech or action.

In addition, several scholars have been free with their fatwas, calling groups which would call themselves Muslims but differ from them in some beliefs and practices as kafir. Few people are aware of the fact that Islam has no place for such fatwas, just as it does not recognise organised clergy and the latter’s dominion over politics. How is it possible for anyone to look into the heart of another person, and decide who is a better follower of faith? Is there a measuring instrument which can determine the level and purity of faith?

Anyone who does not follow Islam may be a non-Muslim, but cannot be declared a kafir. All individuals on God’s earth are humans, and everyone has a right to live the life God has given, with weaknesses, difficulties or blessings. If we, as Muslims, believe that we have true faith, all that God has made us responsible for is to spread the message of Islam in peace and communicate and educate others in a loving manner, giving logical arguments, attempting to emulate the Prophet when he used to call upon the hardened leaders of the Quresh.

By giving ourselves the authority of calling another group ‘kafir’, and, in addition, ‘wajibul qatal’ (liable to be killed), we commit triple sins. We take upon ourselves the authority that rests with God alone — that of determining who is a better believer. This is shirk in itself, a sin of the highest order. Secondly, we abuse, or worse, incite killers or kill another human being and thirdly, we demonstrate an attribute disliked by God, arrogance, by believing that we are better than others.

Perhaps we need to ponder over the following hadith: “No one who has the weight of a seed of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise” (Sahih Muslim 91).

The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.

Source: Seed of arrogance
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2016
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  #533  
Old Sunday, October 09, 2016
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Default October 7th, 2016

One goal


ONCE a mother gave her son a candy to eat at a place where he would be all alone. The child went into his room, locked it from the inside and ate the candy as per the wish of his mother.

After a while when his mother inquired where he had eaten the candy, the son replied that he ate it in his room when he was all alone. The mother said we are never alone. Allah Almighty is always with us. He accompanies us, watches and supports us all throughout our lives. What we lack is His consciousness.

While visiting a book exhibition, a student tried to steal a book from a stall where hundreds of books were on display and the seller was busy with a group of customers. Then, immediately a thought came to him that this was not a good act as Allah watches us every second of our life.

Consciousness of Allah is an essential part of Islamic teachings.
Consciousness of Allah and feeling His presence is an essential part of Islamic teachings. It requires believers to be ever-conscious of Allah’s presence in every breath of life. His presence is ubiquitous and this has been amply mentioned in the Holy Quran. This kind of feeling makes one fearless, steadfast and strong in one’s righteous mission. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was much concerned before going into the battle of Badar to defend Madina. Allah gave His assurance that He was with him (8:12).

Chapter 20 of the Quran mentions that when Moses and his brother were deputed with certain guidelines to the pharaoh, they were afraid, but Allah reassured them by telling them He was with them (20:46). This lessened their fear in conducting their mission. Therefore, those who undertake risky business to serve humanity with uncertain results need to be assured of Allah’s support.

Among the beautiful names of Allah is Ar-Raqeeb, which means the Watchful One; He watches our activities and not a tiny act escapes his sight. At one place Allah says “…And He is with you wheresoever you may be. And Allah sees well all that ye do” (574).

We live in a material world and are confined in a material body, therefore, feeling Allah’s spiritual presence within and without is not easy for everyone.

This requires intense introspection — a more soul-searching exercise at the personal level aimed at reforming thoughts, actions and attitudes.

There are two broad ways of leading the worldly life — one with a sensitive mindset guided by Allah’s consciousness, and the other with the absence of such consciousness.

The Islamic view of life is fundamentally based on the concept of the constant presence of Allah.

He is all-encompassing, all-accompanying and all-knowing. He is the origin of all and all are to return to Him.

In this world, we are different and our paths are also different but the goal is one, like Maulana Rumi explains in his Kitab Fihi Ma Fihi (‘A book which contains what it contains’). He says “...Though the ways are various, the goal is one. Do you not see that there are various roads to the Kaaba? For some the road is from Rome, for some from Syria, for some from Persia, for some from China, for some by sea from India and Yemen. So if you consider the roads, the variety is great and the divergence infinite; but when you consider the goal, they are all of one accord, and one. The hearts of all are upon the Kaaba. The hearts have an attachment, an ardour, and a great love for the Kaaba, and that there is no room for contrariety.

“The attachment is neither infidelity nor faith; that is to say, that attachment is not confounded with the various roads which we have mentioned. Once they have arrived there, that disputation and war and diversity touching the road ... once they have arrived at the Kaaba, it is realised that the warfare was concerning the road only, and that their goal was one” (The Discou*rses of Rumi by A.J. Arberry, p109).

This kind of sensitive mindset can be generated more easily in the early years of life when a person is nursed and nourished in an environment of spirituality. Our school textbooks should have stories on these topics, which can attune students towards God. There can be great impact if one is sensitive to these kinds of feelings. A person’s mindset keeps him pure in his imagination, thinking and acting and he does not commit sin, nor can he be easily deceived or defrauded by satanic acts.

All God’s creatures have their own spiritual relationship with their Creator; but human beings are highly developed and are far more advanced than the countless number of other beings in the universe. This realisation should bring man closer to spirituality.

Source: One Goal
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2016
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  #534  
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Default Peacemaker Rumi

ONE of the world`s most celebrated poets, storytellers, and mystics, with a universal appeal in his message, is Mawlana Jalal alDin Mohammad Rumi (1207-1273). Indeed, he is like a diamond among the Muslim thinkers that dazzles a jewel in the crown of Muslim civilisation. Acknowledging his greatness, Unesco dedicated 2007 as the `Year of Rumi`.

Rumi is well known not only in the Muslim world but in many other societies as well.

William Dalrymple, in a Guardian article on Nov 4, 2005 says, `It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilisations, but the bestselling poet in the US in the 1990s was not any of the giants of American letters Robert Frost, Robert Lowell ....; nor was it Shakespeare or Homer or Dante or any European poet.

Instead, remarkably, it was a classically trained Muslim cleric [Rumij.

Great scholars like A. Schimmel, R.A.

Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, to name a few, have devoted substantial time studying Rumi. In Muslim societies, he has been highly regarded as a Sufi, and his Mathnavi is termed as the `Quran in Pahlavi language` due to its teachings based on the Holy Book.

Rumi promoted many significant concepts, but the one I wish to focus on is peacemaking. He promotes peace by reconciling contradictory, paradoxical riddles caused by the diversity of human experience through simple stories. Take, for example, his story of the elephant and blindfolded strangers experiencing the elephant in a dark room. The people end up debating among themselves whose knowledge is accurate as to what kind of an animal it is. When they are shown the entire animal by lighting the room with a candle, they feel nabbergasted to see the actual animal as compared to what they had felt in the absence of light.

Rumi implies by the story that human experiences create multiple perspectives that often lead to debates about the truth, and what we need to do is to share our interpretations and learn from, rather than fight with, each other. In one of his Mathnavi verses, he says, `Do not take a single step towards separating people from each other; as the Prophet (PBUH) has said the most unwanted thing to me is the separation (talag)`, thus giving a strong message of unity. Similarly, in another verse, Rumi says/: `[O human beings], you have been commanded to unite, not to divide, people.

Rumi draws arguments for diversity of forms by appealing to human nature.

Referring to diversity of languages in which God is worshipped, he says: `God`s praise is in many forms; for a person living in Hind, his language of praise is Hindi, and for the same reason, a person living in Sindh, willuse Sindhi [language] to praise God.` His story of Hazrat Musa and the shepherd further supports this argument.

He alludes to the diversity of human conditions in which we practice certain things, which may, in appearance, look awkward, but, at a deeper level, are reconcilable. In another verse, he further extends this thought by saying, `God looks not at just the outer (biroon) condition and words spoken (qaal) by those who worship; but their inner condition (daroon) and state (haal) of their existence with which they pray`.

In times of the dialogue of civilisations today, Rumi provides firmer grounds, and powerful language for meaningful engagement. He demonstrates by examples the rootedness of the human experience in sociocultural contexts while admitting the essential unity of human oneness. He does not base his message of peacemaking on mere superficial grounds of `tolerance` but on much deeper grounds of human nature and diversity ofexperience. He demonstrates the dictum `we see things, people, events and phenomena, not as they are, but as we are! G. Hofstede, a researcher, calls culture the `software of the mind` which filters all information that our brain accesses, in terms of our own cultural norms. Seeing the`other` in an objective manner becomes very, very difficult, if not impossible. Rumi tries to sensitise us to this position of the `other` advising us to be humble and not arrogant.

Rumi`s approach is so inclusive that people of many backgrounds Muslim or otherwise find relevance in his thoughts. The latter promote peace and connectedness. He abhors dividing people based on differing interpretations oflife.

In sum, Rumi`s humanistic and inspiring thoughts promote brotherhood and peace among the entire human fraternity by showing reconciliation between apparent contradictions and inner harmony. He urges us not to just observe only external appearances and forms and pass judgements, but also to reflect on the diversity of human experience in different cultural contexts. For building peace on sound ideas, such rich thoughts may be the guiding principles for inter-communal and civilisational dialogues and harmony. • The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

Source : Dawn..
Friday 21-10-2016.
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Default December 16th, 2016

Healthy society


HUMAN societies are different in many ways. However, on the moral plane, there are two types of society: healthy and sick. If the majority members of any society are morally good, their society would be healthy. If the majority is depraved, their society would be sick.

In this way, societies are either sick or healthy around the world. A sick society usually lacks strict adherence to its value system and resorts to unethical means to get its work done, while a healthy society adheres to its value system.

Islam provides basic guidelines to make a society healthy. Islam says that all of humanity is created from a single soul (4:1). They are descendants of Adam, and, therefore, spiritually one. However, at the physical and social levels, humanity lives in tribes, nations and societies.

All individuals in a society are interlinked.
Like all organs in a human body are interlinked, if a single organ is upset, the entire body suffers. Similarly, all individuals in a society are integrally interlinked. If someone’s character is depraved, the entire society suffers. All humans are woven into the larger social network and their actions have implications all over society. In other words, actions impact each other. This has been described beautifully by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) through a parable. He is believed to have said that a group of people boarded a ship and set upon the sea tearing apart the waves. Every one of them had a seat reserved for himself. But one of the travellers started making a hole under his seat with a sharp tool. Unless all the travellers immediately held his hand and stopped him from doing so, they would risk drowning and also fail to save the poor wretch from being drowned.

Islam emphasises that individuals are to be responsible and supportive for the mutual good. It encourages enterprise, but warns that enterprise, without social conscience, is not acceptable. It directs us not to eat up one another’s property unjustly (2:188).

This way Islam enjoins us to be mindful of each other’s welfare. We also find such positive examples early in the Muslim era. Ibne Shirin, an agriculturalist, once cultivated grapes in his field. The crop yielded high produce and its demand was also great. However, on inquiry Ibne Shirin found out that some unscrupulous elements in society were buying these grapes to make wine, thus destroying the health of many people. He immediately withdrew his produce from the market.

This mindfulness is the need of the hour as a healthy society is a society concerned for all. Its members are watchful and stop anti-social activities. Members of a healthy society are caring and above all show mutual consideration for one another.

In modern parlance, such behaviour is called civic sense — a requirement for the good of society. This means showing consideration for others, especially for the elderly, women, children and disabled, not disturbing others with our actions. For example, everyone should be mindful while parking his or her vehicle at a designated place, throwing garbage in dustbins, avoiding smoking, spitting and shouting in public places and above all, we should feel a deep sense of responsibility for every action.

In his farewell sermon, the Holy Prophet, addressing the thousands of pilgrims at the foot of the Mount of Mercy, said: “Allah had made inviolable for you each other’s blood and each other’s property until you meet your Lord.” He was reminding them of the Quranic decree that to destroy the life of one individual amounts to destroying the entire humanity (5:32).

Societies are constantly in a state of flux. They change as time goes by. People’s knowledge, thinking and work patterns, requirements, priorities and sources of income change over time. The Pakistani society of several decades ago is different from our present society. There are aspects which change, but there are aspects which should not change; for example, building peace among people, which enables societies to live in an honourable manner that lets the weaker sections to turn for help and obtain succour, should be the goals of society. These are the principles of Islam and should remain valid and practical at all times.

The present age is described as an age of technology and humanity is blessed as through technological discoveries it has conquered space and eliminated crippling diseases. But through all these developments, hand in hand with it, the spirit

of Islam must remain a source of motivation. A society without such a spiritual source is like a kite — its string cut — wandering aimlessly in the air with no particular destination and on the way to destruction.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.

Source: Healthy society
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2016
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Value system
AMIN VALLIANI
IN a world where the quality of life is increasingly measured in material terms, there is risk that the essential value system of Islam is ignored, eroded, or even threatened with disappearance.
Therefore, while respecting people’s individual identities, various sections of the Muslim community should collaborate to articulate common social and moral principles that form the foundation of the Islamic value system.
Certainly, Islam has a great role in defining and determining the norms and values of a Muslim society. Interestingly, some other major world religious traditions appear to have lost relevance in modern times. Practices that were regarded as ‘sinful’ 50 years ago in the Western world have become acceptable.

Islam provides Muslims with essential principles to live by.

For a Muslim, whether living in the East or West, Islam provides him/her with an essential value system to live by. Life becomes meaningful only if one lives by it. It is aimed at man’s physical, aesthetic, economic, social, intellectual and spiritual growth, aligned with natural principles. Allah says: “We showed him the way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful” (76:3).
The understanding of a value system is the need of the hour. What is a value? It is a quality that renders something desirable. In other words, it is an ideal liked and wanted by all of us. At a higher plane, values are ordained by Allah and are also considered to be the prime objectives of life, attainable and achievable at the individual and collective levels through best practices, with the blessing of the Almighty. The Quran says: “... For all things has Allah appointed a due proportion” (65:3).
Values are numerous, covering the entire spectrum of life. They cover the economic, social, moral and spiritual aspects of life. The science of economics, for example, not only deals with wealth it also deals with human needs. It stresses the value of hard work, legitimate earning, saving, careful use of resources and avoiding wastage etc.
In social aspects, all activities need to be in the larger interest of society. Everybody should live and act for the benefit of others. Islam emphasises the values of helping others, respecting neighbours and seniors etc. Similarly, at the aesthetic plane, one needs to adorn life with beauty and on a moral level, one has to display good conduct. Spiritual values enable one to get closer to Allah.
At the personal level, there are some permanent and eternal values, while others are transitory, impermanent and time-bound. These transitory things include physical health and beauty, material wealth, power, status and other such time-bound characteristics which one enjoys during one’s life but that ultimately depart as time goes by. Their presence depends on scrupulous abidance by natural principles. They can be prolonged to some extent but eventually leave.
For instance, human health is transitory, which a person enjoys in his/her prime years of life but ultimately, in the end, many of us lose our health. This is the case with almost all transitory values. People can have physical power, beauty, position and status at some point in life but in the end, upon retirement, these are gone.
Along with transitory values, there are permanent values which become the guiding principles of life. For example, if a person lives with the principle of adjustment, being flexible and adaptable, he would be more soft, elastic to different situations, less worried in hard circumstances and survive because of fluidity. Rigidity is contrary to the natural way of life. There are no cut-and-dried rules; even holy laws are directions guiding us about how to proceed and are not detailed orders about the results to be obtained.
The Holy Book warns that one must be conscious of evil planning, especially as satanic propensities try to divert us from the truth. In our country, for instance, we think nothing of paying a bribe to a person to set things right or bribing others to have work done. This has become the normal way of operating to such a great extent that we do not even think twice about it.
Yet, if we are to strictly follow the Islamic value system, all of these acts would be clubbed under corruption.
Besides, there are eternal values which we must desire to embrace. They are time-tested and time-resistant. There is a long list of such values which the Holy Book often refers to while narrating events and incidents of past prophets. They consist of a number of latent values that need to be manifested in life. One has to mould his/her life in accordance with values provided by Islam to attain eternal success.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
valianiamin@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2017
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Default February 24th, 2017

Faith & rationality


MANY Muslims today might be offended by the statement that the Quran wants people to use their powers of reasoning and intellect. For such Muslims, faith should be blind, followed with emotion and demonstrated through traditions established by clerics and forefathers.

The Quran specifies that the only characteristic that differentiates humans from animals is one of rationality (aql): “For the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb — those who understand not” (8:22).

The Quran asks people to ponder deeply over the signs in the universe: the sun, moon, stars and the relationship with the earth; the changes in weather, rain and its effect upon food production; the creation of species including humans and their interrelationships. There is a system that is working in the universe and it has been put to the use of humankind so that the latter may benefit or be harmed, according to its own deeds.

Islam encourages people to ask questions.
Had God wished, He could have demanded complete and immediate faith, without providing arguments that relate both to the mind and to the heart. However, He preferred to give freedom and choice based on the exercise of intellect and will. He presented reasons for and wisdom behind all His instructions and demonstrated that evidence is essential for any truth to be proven (10:100; 2:111; 21:22). He wants humans to reflect, deliberate, and ponder before any belief or action.

There is no scope in God’s world for randomness and sudden events, unlike what scientists may claim. Every action has a cause and effect, as described by God when He asks people to learn from the history of previous nations.

The fate that befell them was a result of their chosen actions, and if people would learn this lesson, they would avoid such mistakes. “Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts” (22:46).

The Quran encourages people to ask questions, provided they do so with sincerity and the desire to understand the truth. The Quran answers every one of these questions, patiently and consistently (21:7).

Just as God has given us rationality, so has He limited the powers of the human mind. Some matters transcend the human powers of reason and logic and the recognition of such limitations is also a result of human rationality: “And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge. ...” (17:36).

Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari, the famous Iranian scholar and philosopher, states four reasons for errors in reasoning by human beings, as given in the Quran. The first is our failure to adopt a neutral and objective stance and, instead, base our beliefs on heresy and assumptions.

The second is to follow the beliefs of others, particularly of one’s forefathers or those whom one assumes to be more knowledgeable, despite knowing that everyone is responsible for one’s own beliefs and must reflect and think for oneself. People, especially today, are ready to accept traditions, customs and practices without question, giving them the status of religious sanctity.

The third reason for error in reasoning is to be swayed by emotions, personal desires, whims and motives so that the search for the truth becomes obscure.

And the fourth is a “sickness of the heart”, the corruption of the human self through continuous exposure to and delving in sinful acts without any retrospection and penance.

If rationality and evidence are emphasised to such a degree in the Holy Book, to claim inconsistency with science is in itself contradictory. All knowledge that seeks to answer questions that is proven through experimentation and used for human benefit is exactly according to God’s scheme for the world.

But should religious edicts be mixed with science, and time and effort expended on trying to extract scientific facts from sacred texts? Religion — especially as emphasised by Islam and the Quran — has come for spiritual purification and is not meant for other ends except where there may be a direct link with morality. Religion must not be used to alter scientific facts and vice versa. There is no scientific evidence against any divine truth revealed by God.

Our beliefs must be tested on the scale of our rationality, provided we are humble enough to understand that it has limitations. Our soul manifests itself through our conscience, which recognises the truth even though we may not use our six senses.

The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.

Source: Faith & rationality
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2017
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Society’s seniors



EVERYTHING in the cosmos passes through various stages of unfoldment. This unfoldment — from lowest to highest — is inherent in the nature of all things.

We, as human beings, also pass through the different stages of life. We are born here as children, grow up as adults and then ultimately move to become seniors before departing the physical world. These three stages are explicitly mentioned in the Holy Quran.

Among all these stages, the last stage of seniority forms an important part of life because seniors are the banks of knowledge, experience, culture and tradition. At the onset of seniority, they are to make room for the younger generations to come forward and lead the nation. However, their prayers, support and encouragement are continuous sources of inspiration for strengthening society.

‘Zikr’ can combat loneliness.

Their grey hair, wrinkles and slow moments are evidence of their experience, skills, knowledge and wisdom, gained over years of hard work, sweat and toil. Many have lived through situations others cannot even imagine. Their contribution to building and sustaining society cannot be undervalued.

Pakistan is likely to see a growing number of seniors in its population in the coming years. It is for society and government to take advantage of their experience, knowledge and wisdom by formulating a national policy for this segment of the population.

At reaching the age of retirement, senior citizens face a variety of problems. Among them some are more crucial and deserve special attention. These include problems related to health, finance, loneliness and detachment from family and society. Consequently, many seniors live a life of boredom and monotony. Their young and adult family members become indifferent to their problems, having no time to share even a few moments with them.

With regard to health, one must be mindful that our body works like a machine. Any newly acquired machine works fast and smooth, but over time it starts to experience wear and tear. Similarly, our bodies are machines made up of flesh, blood and bones. One must be cautious about its wear and tear. It requires proper maintenance and upkeep to enhance its working condition. If ignored, one has to face difficulties in the twilight years.

Many people develop disabilities in later life related to wear and tear or the onset of chronic diseases or degenerative illnesses. But disabilities associated with ageing and the onset of chronic diseases can be prevented or delayed, if certain rules are observed strictly so that the body remains in the finest fettle all through life.

Though modern science and technology have resulted in longer lifespans, a person’s period of productive working life remains the same. New ideas are being developed to reverse the ageing process but it will take a long time before we can come up with some concrete ideas.

The second important problem relates to finance. On attaining the age of superannuation, many seniors face a money crunch, sometimes become penniless, and their dependence on their families increases. In order to pre-empt such a situation in later life, one should save and invest money in the prime of life, so that he/she may not hold a begging bowl in front of others in the twilight years.

Another major issue relates to loneliness. With the pressure of modern life, the traditional family bonds are being loosened or even broken. This has created a gulf between the youth and their seniors resulting in unhappiness. The ongoing rapid change in family structure and emergence of nuclear families versus the age-old joint family system has resulted in many young couples preferring to ‘go nuclear’. In this way, seniors are left to fend for themselves in their twilight years.

In traditional societies, where the joint family system prevails, the latter is instrumental in safeguarding the social and economic security of the seniors.

Besides, with increased mobility of the young from one city to another and rise in migration abroad for work and study, many seniors are left to cope with the challenges of ageing alone.

One must realise that human relations are unlikely to remain evergreen; they are neither permanent nor of sufficient interest all through life. Therefore, everyone should strengthen the spiritual connection with Allah by developing a habit and interest in remembrance through zikr.

This would keep people happy, tranquil and busy against the growing winds of loneliness and detachment within the family system. It is an effective tool to combat loneliness especially at the time of embracing seniority and the facing indifference of others. Allah says: “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest…” (13:28).

We must find some way to address the problems of seniors by providing them some safety net to cope with the challenge of this modern life.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.

Source: Society’s seniors
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2017
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FAITH EDUCATION.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.
RELIGIOUS education is an integral part of all faith communities, who try to acculturate their young according to their own worldview. Since each community develops its own doctrines, history, and worldview, dialogue among faith communities becomes often a ‘dialogue of the deaf’ because their reference points become mutually exclusive.

It leads to a siege mentality. Rather than learning from one another about how each community approaches faith, they stand apart and become hostile, despite the commonalities in faith communities. This attitude has developed largely due to internecine wars and conflicts of interest between and among communities over who controls the minds and the souls of people.

Living as we are in the 21st-century global village, if these attitudes are to be replaced with a more positive outlook and mutually enriching approaches, what do we need to do?

First, the whole meaning of religious education may be revisited. Traditionally, it has been seen as a process in which the young are encouraged to accumulate and memorise a body of knowledge that is self-defensive, polemical, and rejecting the interpretations of the ‘other’. This approach promotes conflict rather than unity among faiths.

No faith community is an island unto itself.

On the other hand, new approaches have emerged that see religious education as a dynamic process to help learners engage with the phenomenon of faith as an experience of a community, and how it has been, and could be, interpreted in their own times as it relates to awe and wonder of the Divine. It helps the young to delve deeper into the depths of religious traditions, the moral dilemmas of a community, and how they have evolved over time. Learners are helped to see both the divine ‘hand’ — ie how ‘revelation/inspiration’ functions as stimulus — and the human ‘hand’, how this message has been interpreted and reinterpreted as a lived experience of a faith community vis-à-vis other communities.

From this perspective, the meaning of religious education is not limited to just memorising religious texts without much understanding. No religious education is complete unless the learners are able to grasp the interplay of complex factors as religious traditions evolve. One must move beyond imparting religious education, based only on a literalist reading. Religion always interacts with other factors, such as socio-cultural, politico-economic, local and historical traditions, in a dynamic process. This involves a deeper understanding of other faiths as an integral part of better understanding of one’s own faith. No faith community is an island unto itself.

This religious education approach involves at least three ‘h’s’ and one ‘s’. The first relates to the education of the ‘heart’, the seat of revelation and emotions in that it needs to learn how to be caring, compassionate and open to ideas. The second ‘h’ relates to the education of the ‘head’ that involves how to think about the Divine and mysteries of man and nature. The last ‘h’ relates to the education of the ‘hand’, ie, how to guide our actions (ethics), how to extend help to protect against harm.

The ‘s’ relates to the nurturing of our soul that leads to spiritual awakening, and soulful living. Such a religious education is not frozen in time, but is rather a dynamic and changing process of teaching learners the skills to interpret religious language, history, rituals, symbols,and metaphors from different perspectives.

This approach to religious education requires not just studying theology and hair-splitting debates of a particular faith, but how the spirit of faith has expressed itself through the lived experience of the faithful. A comprehensive religious education would include a whole web of subjects, such as beliefs, rituals, poetry, storytelling, mythology, art, histories, symbolism, to name a few. These have been avenues for expressing faith through the creative process of interpretation, leading to the enrichment of civilisations.

Equipping the young with intellectual, emotional, ethical and spiritual tools can enable them to become creative in their own times, and in turn, not just consume, but contribute to, the knowledge of their tradition.

This is often called a cultural approach as opposed to the theological one. The key difference between the two is that whilst in the first, only the body of beliefs and rituals are focused on, in the second, their expressions and their meanings are included as well. The first tends to promote an exclusive approach, while the second, an inclusive one, leading to pluralism of interpretations.

Those responsible for religious education must ensure a high quality of teachers with a background in educational psychology and possessing a child-friendly attitude, careful selection of the body of knowledge sensitive to our interdependent world and multifaith societies in which we live today, as well as an inspiring environment of teaching and learning.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017

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Pilgrimage of heart

THEY are not drawn to it because of advertisements. No one goads them to it. There are no social pressures and no statutory requirements to make the trip. Yet every year millions crave the journey. For many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to which they have devoted their life’s savings.

It is a desire for which tears are shed and supplications made not only with hands held high towards the heavens but also with foreheads touching the ground in deep prostration. When the wish is granted, the supplicant feels a calm which cannot be described but can only be felt.

That first sight of the Kaabah adorned in the ever-familiar black and gold kiswa and surrounded by a white necklace of pilgrims in motion is a surreal moment, where suddenly the notion of time and space disappears. It is a mystical moment when tears cannot be held back and one is lost for words. All is forgotten. You don’t realise who or what is around you while in your first tawaf for then there is only you and Allah.

It is a desire for which tears are shed and supplications made.

We should not make the mistake of thinking that Makkah has a successful ‘marketing strategy’. Rather it is Prophet Ibrahim’s prayer about its citizens “...so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them. ...” (14:37) that draws millions to the city.

So let us not forget that the Haj is in fact a pilgrimage of the heart. It is not the outcome of a glossy tourist brochure, or some lure of entertainment. There are no such incentives and, in fact, it is a journey which takes the traveller out of his comfort zone, away from the amicable surroundings of his life at home, to a physically demanding event, bereft of pleasures and full of hazards.

There you will have to brave severe weather, face sickness, safeguard yourself from stampedes, be vigilant to avoid accidents, walk great lengths and experience exhaustion.

Yet some people risk life and limb and even make their way on foot amid a landscape fraught with peril. Let us not forget that the crowds are in fact a fulfilment of prophecy, as Ibrahim was foretold: “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways” (22:27). Thus each year people make it to Makkah from just about everywhere on Earth.

The Haj is indeed a life-changing experience when it is done as the Quran says “Lilah” or for Allah and no one else (3:97). Its motivation is the love of Allah; and it is a hardship undertaken only for His sake. The transformation takes place by self-imposed regulations for a fixed number of days and by experiencing some events which will all leave their mark on the pilgrim.

Here is an event which will enable you to spend time with people other than your own kind. You will mingle and mix with people from all walks of life; rich and poor, black and white, young and old. You will be helping people on the way and will experience communal living rather than selfish individualism.

You will be tested on numerous occasions. You will be required to control your temper, abstain from carnal pleasures, forego vanity of dress and appearance. There is no better way to diminish pride and learn humility, appreciate diversity and practise charity.

Being in ihram for a number of days when one is not used to the attire, and that too while observing certain restrictions, is a training in itself.

To be camped and cramped in Mina, to sleep under the open sky at Muzdalifa, to be a small unit of the concourse of humanity at the plain of Arafat, to walk miles to Jamarat and back, to perform tawaf around the Kaabah and the sa’y between Safah and Marwah — all require considerable patience and endurance.

To travel and lodge with strangers for many days, to feel the hard ground instead of a soft bed, to have one’s hairstyle and fashion disappear; all these experiences aren’t exactly joys but are tests that prove to us our mettle and inform us whether we are willing to move out of our comfort zones solely for Allah. These experiences are meant to break us from our preferred status quo of life and respond to a higher calling.

Those having the means should not delay Haj unnecessarily for the Quran orders: “...Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah, — those who can afford the journey. ...” (3:97). While those who do not take the obligation seriously are also reminded: “...but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures” (3:97).

The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.

Source: Pilgrimage of heart
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2017
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