The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – Part 3No Comments | March 2011
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Three Methods of Reform
After this digression I revert to my earlier discussion. I have just mentioned that there are three springs from which human states flow, namely; the self that incites to evil, the self that reproves and the soul at rest. There are also three methods of reform. The first is that senseless savages should be taught the elementary social values pertaining to eating, drinking, marriage etc. They should not go about naked nor eat carrion, like dogs, nor practise any other type of wildness. This is an elementary stage of the reform of natural conditions of the type that would have to be adopted, for instance, if it is desired to teach a savage from Port Blair the elementary ways of human behaviour. The second method of reform is that when a person has adopted elementary human ways, he may be taught the higher moral qualities and should be instructed to employ his faculties in their proper places and on their proper occasions.
The third method of reform is that those who have acquired high moral qualities should be given a taste of the draught of the love of and union with God. These are methods which the Noble Qur’an has mentioned.
The Advent of the Holy Prophet(saw) at the Time of the Greatest Need
Our lord and master, the Holy Prophet(saw) was raised at a time when the world had been thoroughly corrupted. As God Almighty has said:
[Corruption has appeared on land and sea (the Holy Qur’an, Ch.30:V.42)]
Corruption has spread over land and sea. This means that the People of the Book, as well as those who had no experience of revelation, had all been corrupted. The purpose of the Holy Qur’an was to revive the dead, as is said:
[Know that Allah is now quickening the earth after its death. (Ch.57:V.18)]
Know that Allah is about to revive the earth after its death.
At that time the people of Arabia were steeped in barbarism. No social pattern prevailed and they took pride in every type of sin and misconduct. A man married an unlimited number of wives, and they were all addicted to the use of everything unlawful. They considered it lawful to marry their mothers, and that is why God Almighty had to prescribe:
[Forbidden to you are your mothers, (Ch.4:V.24)]
That is, today your mothers are made unlawful for you. They ate carrion and some of them were even cannibals. There is not a sin of which they were not guilty. Most of them did not believe in the afterlife. Many of them denied the existence of God. They killed their female infants with their own hands. They killed orphans and devoured their substance. They had the appearance of human beings but were bereft of reason. They possessed no modesty, no shame, and no self-respect. They drank liquor like water. The one among them who indulged indiscriminately in fornication was acknowledged as the chief of his tribe. They were so utterly ignorant that their neighbouring people called them the unlettered ones. At such time and for the reform of such people, our lord and master, the Holy Prophet(saw) appeared in Makkah.
This was the time that called for the three types of reform that we have just mentioned. That is why the Holy Qur’an claims to be more complete and more perfect than all other books of guidance, inasmuch as the other books had not the opportunity of carrying out the three types of reforms which the Holy Qur’an was designed to carry out. The purpose of the Holy Qur’an was to elevate savages into men, and then to equip them with moral qualities, and finally raise them to the level of godly persons. The Holy Qur’an thus comprehends all those three projects.
The True Purpose of the Teachings of the Holy Qur’an is the Reform of the Three Conditions:
Before I embark upon a detailed exposition of the threefold reforms that I have just mentioned, it is necessary to point out that there is no teaching in the Holy Qur’an which is imposed by compulsion. The whole purpose of the Qur’an is the three reforms, and all its teachings are directed towards that end. All other directions are the means for the achievement of those reforms. As sometimes a surgeon has to perform an operation in order to restore the patient to normal health, or has to apply an ointment, in the same way the teachings of the Qur’an, out of sympathy for mankind, have recourse to such means also. The purpose of all Qur’anic insights and admonitions and directions is to raise man from his natural condition of barbarity to a moral state, and then to lift him from that state to the limitless ocean of spirituality.
Natural Conditions by Regulation become Moral Qualities
We have already stated that natural conditions are not something distinct from moral conditions. When they are regulated and are used on their proper occasions, under the direction of reason, they acquire a moral character. Before they are controlled by reason and understanding they have not the character of moral qualities, but are natural impulses, however much they might resemble moral qualities. For instance, if a dog or lamb displays affection or docility towards its master it would not be described as moral or good-mannered. In the same way a wolf or a tiger would not be described as ill-mannered on account of its wildness. A moral state emerges after reflection and regard for time and occasion come into play. A person who does not exercise reason and deliberation is like a child whose mind and intellect are not yet governed by reason, or is like a madman who has lost his reason and good sense. A child or a mad man sometimes behaves in a manner that has the appearance of moral action, but no sensible person calls such conduct moral, as such conduct does not proceed from good sense and appropriateness, but is a natural reaction to the circumstances.
A human infant, as soon as it is born, seeks its mother’s breasts, and a chicken, as soon as it is hatched begins to pick up corn. In the same way the spawn of a leech behave like a leech, a baby serpent behaves like a serpent and a tiger cub behaves like a tiger. A human infant begins to exhibit human reactions as soon as it is born and those reactions become more and more remarkable as it begins to grow up. For instance, its weeping becomes louder, and its smiles become laughter, and its gaze becomes more concentrated. At the age of a year or eighteen months it develops another natural trait: it begins to display its pleasure and displeasure through its movements and tries to strike someone or to give something to someone. All these motions are natural impulses. Similarly a barbarian who possesses little human sense is like such an infant and displays natural impulses in his words, actions and movements and is governed by his natural emotions. Nothing proceeds from him in consequence of the exercise of his inner faculties. Whatever surges up from within under the operation of a natural impulse and as a reaction to external stimuli, becomes manifest. It is possible that his natural impulses that are exhibited as a reaction to an external stimulus may not all be vicious, and some might resemble good morals, but they are normally not the consequences of reasonable reflection and consideration, and even if they are to some degree so motivated, they cannot be relied upon on account of the domination of natural impulses.
In short we cannot attribute true morals to a person who is subject to natural impulses like animals or infants or the insane, and who lives more or less like animals. The time of true morals, whether good or bad, begins when a person’s reason becomes mature and he is able to distinguish between good and bad and the degree of evil and goodness, and begins to feel sorry when he misses an opportunity of doing good and is remorseful when he has done some wrong. This is the second stage of his life which is designated by the Holy Qur’an the self that reproves. It should, however, be remembered that casual admonition is not enough to lead a barbarian to the stage of the self that reproves. It is necessary that he should become conscious of the existence of God to a degree at which he should not consider his creation as without purpose, so that an understanding of the Divine should stimulate his true moral qualities. That is why God Almighty has drawn attention to the need of understanding of the Divine, and has assured man that every act and moral produces an effect which brings about spiritual comfort or spiritual pain in this life, and will be manifested clearly in the hereafter. In short, at the stage of the self that reproves, a person is bestowed so much of reason and understanding and good conscience, that he reproves himself over a wrong done by him and is anxious to do good. That is the stage when a person acquires high moral qualities.
Distinction Between Khalq (creation) and Khulq (morals)
Here I would like to define the word “Khulq”. It should be kept in mind that “Kh” in the word “Khalq” followed by Fatha denotes physical birth, and “Kh” in the word “Khulq” followed by Zamma denotes the spiritual birth. Khalq connotes physical birth and Khulq connotes inner birth. As inner birth is perfected through moral development and not merely through the exercise of natural impulses, Khulq connotes moral qualities and not natural impulses. It should be pointed out that the common conception that morals merely mean meekness, courtesy and humility is entirely mistaken. The truth is that corresponding to every physical action there is an inner quality which is moral; for instance, a person sheds tears through the eyes and corresponding to that action there is an inner quality which is called tenderness, which takes on the character of a moral quality when, under the control of reason, it is exercised on its proper occasion. In the same way, a person defends himself against the attack of an enemy with his hands, and corresponding to this action there is an inner quality which is called bravery. When this quality is exercised at its proper place and on its proper occasion, it is called a moral quality. Similarly a person sometimes seeks to relieve the oppressed from the oppression of tyrants, or desires to make provision for the indigent and the hungry, or wishes to serve his fellow beings in some other way, and corresponding to such action there is an inner quality which is designated mercy. Sometimes a person punishes a wrongdoer and corresponding to such action there is an inner quality which is called retribution. Sometimes a person does not wish to attack one who attacks him and forbears to take action against a wrongdoer, corresponding to which there is a quality which is called forbearance or endurance. Sometimes a person works with his hands or feet or employs his mind and intellect or his wealth in order to promote the welfare of his fellow beings, corresponding to which there is an inner quality which is called benevolence. Thus, when a person exercises all these qualities on their proper occasions and at their proper places they are called moral qualities. God, the Glorious, has addressed the Holy Prophet(saw) in the words:
And you do surely possess high moral excellences. (Ch.68:V.5)
That is, thou dost most surely possess high moral excellences. This means that all high moral qualities such as benevolence, courage, justice, mercy, bountifulness, sincerity, high mindedness etc. were combined in the person of the Holy Prophet(saw). In short all the natural qualities of man as courtesy, modesty, integrity, benevolence, jealousy, steadfastness, chastity, piety, equity, sympathy, bravery, generosity, forbearance, endurance, bountifulness, sincerity, loyalty etc., when they are manifested on their proper occasions under the guidance of reason and reflection would all be accounted moral qualities. In reality they are the natural states and impulses of man and are designated moral qualities when they are exercised deliberately on their proper occasions. A natural characteristic of man is that he desires to make progress and, therefore, through following a true religion and keeping good company and conforming to good teachings, he converts his natural impulses into moral qualities. No other animal is invested with this characteristic.
Continues in the next edition.