Ask The Review of Religions

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Does society really need religion or is it just a mere obstacle that has long been  in the pathway of man’s progress?

In today’s world, whereby standards of living have so vastly improved and common values of good are enjoyed and practiced by even non-believers of any particular religion or faith, one may perhaps question the validity of religion in modern-day society.

Man’s deep association with religion has been since time immemorial. The followers or believers of any particular faith vary in their reasons for adopting religion; for some it’s a source of peace, and offers comfort when most needed; whilst for others it’s a sense of hope and attaches meaning to our existence, as opposed to atheism, which proposes nothing more than a meaningless existence followed by death.

However, the importance of religion is far more significant than perhaps the individual benefits one reaps. Religion, whether or not we are consciously aware of it, has in fact benefited and continues to play a pivotal role in shaping our society as a whole. Civilization is indeed the essence of our society, yet the very seed of civilization has germinated through the constant nourishment of religious teachings.

The Neolithic Revolution is considered one of the major turning points in human history which caused a change in the way people lived and led to the eventual rise of civilizations. There has been much debate and research as to what exactly was the cause of this sudden change and it is often said that it was agriculture that gave rise to our civilization. However, the Holy Qur’an speaks of this revolutionary change that occurred and which eventually led to the new social progress of man. Almost over 6000 years ago, God Almighty spoke to Adam and appointed him as His vicegerent on earth. He revealed to Adam the divine truths, in which he was told that if the divine law were to be followed then “it is decreed for thee that thou shalt not hunger therein nor shall be naked; and that thou shalt not thirst therein, nor shalt thou be exposed to the sun.”1 According to the Holy Qur’an, the divine law formed the precepts which gave birth to a civilized society.

“These two verses point to the fact that to provide food, clothing and shelter to its people – their prime necessities of life – is the first duty of a civilized government and that a society can only be called civilized when all its members are adequately provided with these necessities. Mankind will continue to suffer from social upheavals, and the moral tone of human society will never really improve unless economic inequalities of such a serious nature, that some sections of society roll in wealth and others die of starvation, are done away with. Adam is told here that he will live in a place where the amenities and necessities of life will be adequately available to all its inhabitants. This state of affairs has been described elsewhere in the Qur’an in the words, “and eat therefrom plentifully wherever you will “(2:36). The verse under comment also shows that with Adam began a new social order and that he laid the foundations of a kingdom which ushered in the era of a social progress of man.”2

Mesopotamia which is considered ‘the Cradle of Civilization’ is said to have emerged around 3100 B.C.E. Interestingly, the accoutrements of this civilization are said to have appeared around the same time and place that the religious scriptures postulate the advent of Adam. However, the commonly held Biblical view of Adam being the first man created by God on earth is certainly not supported by the modern scientific study of human evolution.  In fact, man has roamed the earth for over tens of thousands of years and has passed through numerous cycles of creation and civilization. However Adam, the progenitor of the present human race, is only the first link in the current cycle and through whom our present civilization took root.

Indeed, before our present cycle, many nations and civilizations have risen and fallen. However, those that have come to pass before us, it is religion that seems to be at its root yet again. A recent study on one of the world’s oldest temples, Gobekli Tepe, which dates back to 12000 years ago, was recently published and suggested that perhaps agriculture was not the driving force behind the emergence of early civilization. Rather, “the construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization.”3

Even if we confine ourselves to our present civilization alone, we find that religion has continually played a crucial and pivotal role in the advancement and betterment of mankind. A strong proof of this lies in the close study of the advent of the Prophets and the Divine laws which were revealed to them. All of the revealed religions have in essence come with the same universal objective, that is, man attaining a communion with his Lord and to manifest within him His attributes. However, the laws pertaining to society that these holy founders introduced have never been the same, rather each of them carried forward the baton from his predecessor and introduced a profound teaching specifically designed to meet the requirements and needs of the society of the time. And in each instance their teachings proved to bring about a revolutionary change. A close study of the lives of prophets such as Moses, Jesus and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon them all) confirms that their advent took place when their society was at its lowest ebb and in complete decline and within their lifetime they were able to transform a deteriorating and divided mass into a powerful nation; they enlightened a latent society; they inspired dormant minds and paved the way for the emergence of yet another illustrious civilization that decorates the history of our world. Thus, it is of no surprise to find that among the top 100 most influential people of all time, according to Michael H. Hart’s book, The 100, more than half of those who occupy the top 10 spot are religious figures, with the Holy Prophetsa of Islam being number one. Indeed, the selection was based on those who were the most influential, ‘people who swayed the destinies of millions of human beings, determined the rise and fall of civilizations, changed the course of human history.’4

History bears testimony that the advent of Prophets has had a tremendous impact on its people, the astonishing contrast of the circumstances before their advent and after their departure is a universal theme reflected in the life of every prophet. The transformation they brought in their society and the lasting legacy they left behind helped culminate if not a new era of civilization but most certainly revived a decaying one.

Endnotes

1. The Holy Qur’an, Ch.20, V: 119 -120.

2. Farid, M. (2006). The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Short Commentary. Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications Ltd.

3. Mann, C.(2011)C.Göbekli Tepe-The Birth of Religion.[online] Ngm.nationalgeographic.com.Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeo-graphic.com/2011/06/gobekli-tepe/mann-text/1[Accessed 28 Dec. 2015].

4. Hart, M. (1992). The 100. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group.

 

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