Posted by: divinewisdoms | September 11, 2007

James / Jamal Lutfi


I was raised in a Mormon family (my father was a Bishop) but also attended a Pentecostal Church. I converted to Islam about two years ago. My parents converted to Mormonism (LDS Church) when I was only 3 and so it was the only religion I knew up until I was a teenager. I lived in Central Florida (Bible Belt) where there was little tolerance for Mormons, much less Muslims. I really tried to get a grip on the Mormon faith. I went on Temple trips to do the baptisms for the dead, I read the Book of Mormon, I prayed, etc…. However, I never received that testimony they always talked about. Sometimes I think we can convince ourselves of anything (gain a testimony) if we tell ourselves we want to believe something enough. I became so frustrated with teaching in the Mormon Church and nobody could answer my questions (why could African Americans not hold the priesthood until 1976, why would God curse someone with darker skin, why could Jesus create wine but we are forbidden to drink it, why could we not drink coca cola through my whole childhood and then when the Church gets stock in the company we can drink it and nothing is wrong). I left the church with much heartache.I used to go with my friend to his Catholic Church but that made no sense to me at all.The first time I heard of Islam from a Muslim was when I was in the Army training as a radio repair technician. While training we had a soldier from the Jordanian Army training with us, I believe his name was Sergeant Mutasum. I thought Islam was somewhat like Hinduism so I questioned him about how many gods he believed in and what he thought of Jesus (peace be upon him). I was really shocked when I found his beliefs were not all that different from mine except he believed in a Prophet named Muhammad (peace be upon him). I lost track of the Sergeant after the school ended and never thought much of Islam after that day. While in the Army I attended a small Pentecostal Church a few times and thought I would give it a go when I got out.After leaving the Army I met some people that were Pentecostal and decided to join the “mainstream” Christian community. The people seemed really friendly and well intentioned. After about a year of going there I began to question again. Why were these people so caught up in emotion with no theological study? How could Jesus be God and make claims against it? What was this speaking in tongues nonsense, the people did not understand what they were saying? I felt there was more to the religion that Jesus left but I didn’t know where to find it. I quit the Pentecostal Church and went back to Mormonism.Later in my life I travelled to Ogden, Utah to go to Weber State University. I wanted to give the Mormon Church another try. I signed up for religious classes at the LDS institute. I was not on a pilgrimage to get a theological degree but I wanted to be in the Mormon stronghold where I was not a minority. I really liked going to college and started going to Church regularly. While there I met a woman in an institute class. After one year of school and a stronger belief in the Mormon faith I decided to get married and it was sealed in the Salt Lake City temple. Everything was perfect, or so I thought. After a few weeks of marriage I began to feel those thoughts of doubt about the Mormon Church and what they taught. I tried to believe so hard but it is difficult when the teachings are so contrary to what I perceived God to be. Can a man become a God? Can a God become a man? Can I create my own world one day? etc…. My ex-wife and I got along perfectly except in the area of religion. Eventually, after 4 years, we separated quite amicably and were better off. I felt that my lack of faith tore her down and I could not believe some of what I considered non-sense.After my divorce I began searching the Internet for truth. I joined chat rooms on religion and joined in discussion boards. I met some Muslims and was fascinated. The beliefs they held were so close to mine. I did not believe Jesus was God, I believed Jesus was more than a normal man (a Messenger). After talking online I wanted to go meet some real Muslims so I went to a Mosque in Tempe, Arizona (next to Phoenix). While there I met a group of American Converts that were doing Dawah (basically telling people about Islam). They were just getting ready to leave when I walked in and told them I wanted to learn more about Islam. I told them where I stood and that I already believed much of what they did. After a long discussion and a study from the Quran and Bible I came to conclusion that I was a Muslim at heart, it was my parents that has raised me with those beliefs contrary to Islam. I told them I wanted to take my Shahadah (declaration of faith) and I embraced Islam that day. Imagine my surprise when the first time for Jummah came (Friday, the congregational day for Muslims to gather) and the Imam (leader) announced my conversion to Islam. I had hundreds of people giving me their phone numbers, hugging me, and accepting me as their brother. That brother hood and my faith have not wavered to this day. Anytime I have a question it is answered and that is the beauty of Islam.

Holy Quran 39:18

Those who listen to the word, then follow the best of it; those are they whom Allah (swt) has guided, and those it is who are the men of understanding.

Posted by: divinewisdoms | September 11, 2007

Jameka Neil


I will say right away that I am very young. I am only 18, and that fact seems to astound most people. I think it is proof that we are never too young to begin looking for God, or to understand His truth. I was raised Christian, nondenominational. We were never big churchgoers, but we always knew who our God was and what our obligation was to Him. In my living room to this day hangs a big velvet painting of Jesus as a black man. That left a huge imprint on me, because it made God real to me. Not only did he come to earth as a man, but also he was black like me. In my preteen years I was a crusader for Christ. I wanted to convert the world and save souls. I believed blindly 100% in everything that was given to me by the Bible and my pastor/youth leader. Then one day I ran across something in the Bible that didn’t sound anything like the God who I had learned to love and obey. I thought perhaps I was just too young to understand and took it to a more knowledgeable Christian who confirmed that it was what I thought it was. My world fell apart. I read the Bible, cover-to-cover, and marked along the way all of the things that were contradictory or ungodly. By the time I got to revelations I had a large segment of the Bible marked as invalid. So, thinking maybe I needed to look at it in a historical perspective I did my history work. There I found even more hypocrisy, blasphemy, and human tampering with Holy Scriptures. What shocked me was the story of the council of Nice where human men “divinely guided” decided which text would be in the Bible and which ones needed editing. I also had to ask myself how God could be three and one at the same time. What happens to a good man like Ghandi when he dies without Jesus? Does Hitler get to go to heaven if he accepts Christ as his lord and saviour? What about those who have never been exposed to Christianity? I was once told that the trinity was part of the essence of God and that since the breadth and scope of God is beyond my understanding I should simply believe. I couldn’t worship a God I couldn’t understand. I never lost my faith in God, I just decided that Christianity was not the right path for me to travel. I felt no kinship with fellow believers. I never felt anything special while attending service except that I was doing an obligatory service to God. So I wandered faithless, looking for something to hold on to. In my search I found Wicca, the Bahai faith, and finally Islam. I studied Islam quietly, on my own, in secret, for two years. I wanted to be able to separate fact from fiction. I did not want to confuse Islam with the cultures that claim to practice Islam while instituting things that are clearly against all that Allah has revealed to us. I wanted to make the distinction between the religion and the societies that adopted it. That took time and patience. I met a lot of helpful brothers and sisters via e-mail who answered all of my questions and opened their lives up for me to examine. I never liked the image that I was handed as to what a woman was. In popular culture we are portrayed as very sexy, lady like, independent enough so that men have no real responsibility toward us or the children they help create, but dependant enough that we are continually in search of a new man. The average woman on the street is honked at, whistled at, has had her butt or breasts pinched, slapped, rubbed, or ogled by some strange man. I never agreed with any of that and never found a “come on” flattering. In Christianity I was taught that as a woman I should not teach in church or question the authority of any man in public. The picture painted of women in Christianity was one of inferiority. We were supposed to be chaste and silent with children about our feet. In Islam I found a voice, a system that gave me ultimate respect for being a mother and acknowledged the fact that I was equal to man in every way except one: physical strength. The hadith are littered with stories of women who spoke publicly and Islamic history is full of women who were leaders. It was a theology that I could respect because it respected me. I had to ask myself if I really wanted to be like all of the people I saw around me. Who was really oppressed? The girl wearing skin-tight jeans getting catcalls from boys rolling by in cars was not free. She was society’s whore and she got no respect. I was thankful that my mother had never allowed me to wear such things, not that I ever wanted to, but her disapproval was an added incentive. After examining the position of the Muslim woman and what I felt to be truth in my heart, how could I deny Islam? Six weeks ago I made the decision to convert to Islam. I did so and have not looked back since. My friends respect it because they see that it has not changed who I am and what I stand for, in fact it has backed it up. My advise to any woman out there is to ask herself these questions: What do you want your daughter to believe about herself? How should she allow herself to be treated? Is she really born with evil tendencies because she is a descendant of Eve? How do you want her to feel about her body? What are you modelling for her? What image of womanhood are you promoting? How do men treat you and how do you allow yourself to be treated?

Holy Quran 29:69

And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways; Allah (swt) is most surely with the doers of good.


Posted by: divinewisdoms | September 11, 2007

Dr. Bilal Abdul-Alim

Personally, I embraced Islam at the age of 24, in the summer of 1975, while studying medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. After a long day of study, I went to bed on a Saturday night with no intention of becoming a Muslim. However, two things happened during that night that would change my life completely. First of all, I had a dream in which I was commanded by a strong and firm voice, to embrace Islam immediately. I was reminded of how I had previously studied comparative religion at Wesleyan University, but refused to accept Islam even though I felt in my heart that it was the most practical way of life. When I woke up the next morning, I sat on the edge of the bed contemplating what to do, when the telephone rang. The call came from my ex-roommate from Wesleyan who had embraced Islam after graduation and was living in Washington, D.C. At that time, he was studying to be an attorney at Catholic University School of Law. This phone call was the second and final thing that convinced me to embrace Islam immediately.

My friend asked me, “Are you ready to become a Muslim?” I replied, “Why are you calling me this early in the morning with such a question?” He answered in the following way, “Last night, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw you smiling, surrounded by a sort of spiritual light (called Noor in Islam). Then, I heard a strong and powerful voice saying, ‘Allah has made this man a Muslim in the night and Allah has given him the name, Bilal Abdul-Alim (3 times). So, your job is to call him in the morning, and invite him to accept Islam and, give him his new name.” My friend continued by saying, “Don’t play games with me! Tell me what happened!” I then related my experience the night before with tears in my eyes. A few days later, I drove non-stop from Houston, Texas to Washington, D.C to accept Islam in the presence of my dear friend, Attorney Haroun G. Cook.

Holy Quran 14:12

And what reason have we that we should not rely on Allah(swt)?, And He has Indeed guided us in our ways; and certainly we would bear with patience your persecution of us; and on Allah(swt) should the believers rely.

Posted by: divinewisdoms | September 11, 2007

God is Absolute Reality and Source of Life


God is Absolute Reality and Source of Life


         Man is a realistic being. A new-born human child from the very first moments of its life, while looking for its mother’s breast, seeks it as a reality. Gradually the body and the mind of the infant develop to the extent that it can distinguish between itself and other things. Though the new-born child’s contact with other things is established through a series of its thoughts, it knows that the reality of the things is distinct from that of the thoughts which it entertains and uses as a medium only.

Integral Characteristics of the World
The realities which man can perceive through his senses and which we call the world, have the following integral characteristics:


         Everything perceptible, from the smallest particle to the biggest star has spatial and temporal limitations. Nothing can exist outside a particular space and a particular period of time.
Certain things occupy a bigger space and last longer while some others occupy a smaller space and last comparatively for a shorter time. But in the final analysis they are all limited to a particular portion of place and a particular period of time.

        Everything is subject to a change and is indurable. Nothing perceptible in the world is in a standstill state. It is either growing or decaying. A material and perceptible being throughout the period of its existence passes through a constant course of change as a part of its reality. It either gives something or takes something or gives as well as takes. In other words, it either takes something out of the reality of other things and adds it to its own reality or gives something out of its reality or performs both the actions. In any case, there is nothing that remains static. This characteristic also is common to all things existing in this world.

        Another characteristic of the perceptible things is their attachment. We find that they all are conditional. In other words the existence of each one of them is attached to and , conditional on the existence of one or more other things. None of them can exist if those other things do not exist. If we look deeply into the reality of the material and perceptible things, we will find that many ‘ifs’ are attached to their existence. We do not find a single perceptible thing which may be existing unconditionally and independently. The existence of everything is conditional on the existence of something else, and the existence of that something else in its turn is also conditional on the existence of something else, and so on.

       The existence of all our perceptible things depends on the fulfilment of the numerous conditions attached to it. The existence of each of these conditions again depends on the fulfilment of a series of some other conditions. There is no perceptible thing which may exist independently, i.e. in the absence of the conditions on which its existence depends. Thus dependence pervades all existing things.

       All perceptible things are relative as regards to their existence a well as to their qualities. When we attribute to them greatness, power, beauty, antiquity and even existence, we say so in comparison to other things. When we say, for example, that the sun is very large, we mean that it is larger than the earth and other planets of our solar system. Otherwise this very sun is smaller than many other stars. Similarly when we say that such and such ship or such and such animal is powerful, we compare it with man or something weaker than man. Even the existence of a thing is comparative. Whenever we speak of any existence, perfection, wisdom, beauty, power or grandeur, we take into consideration a lower degree of that quality. We can always visualize a higher degree of it also and then a further higher degree. Each quality as compared to its higher degree is changed into its opposite. Existence becomes non-existence, perfection is changed into defectiveness. Similarly wisdom, beauty, greatness and grandeur are changed respectively into ignorance, ugliness and despicability.
       The thinking power of man, the scope of which, contrary to that of the senses, is not confined to the exterior features, but also penetrates what is behind the screen of existence, tells us that existence is in no way confined to these perceptible things which are limited, changing, relative and dependent.
        The scenery of existence which we observe appears on the whole to be self-existing and self-dependent. Hence there must be an everlasting, unconditional and ever-present absolute and infinite truth behind it on which everything must depend. Otherwise this scenery of existence could not stand so firmly. In other words nothing would have existed at all.

        The wise books describes God as Self-existing and Self-dependent, and thus reminds us that all existing things, being conditional and relative, are in need of a Self-existing truth to support and sustain them. God is Self-dependent because everything else depends on Him. He is Perfect, for everything else is hollow from within and needs a Truth which may fill it with existence. The wise books describes the perceptible things as ‘signs’. In other words everything in its turn is a sign of an Infinite Being and His knowledge, power and will. From the viewpoint of the wise book the world is like a book composed by a wise and sagacious being, every line and every word of which is a sign of the wisdom and sagacity of its author. From the point of view of the wise books, the more a man comes to know the reality of the things, the more he gets acquainted with Divine wisdom, power and blessings. From one angle every natural science is a branch of cosmology. From another angle and from a deeper way of looking at things, it is a branch of the knowledge (recognition) of God.[]

Posted by: divinewisdoms | September 11, 2007

Eternity of Moral Values


Before entering the discussion concerning the eternity of moral values it should be noted that according to the philosophies of `being’ reality and knowledge as well as moral values are considered to be permanent. Though here I will not be concerned with the permanence of reality, but it is necessary to deal with the question as to why reality and ethmics are dealt with separately. What is the difference between moral principles and other principles which we refer to as `reality’? After all moral values also constitute certain principles and that which is said concerning scientific principles, that they are eternally true, should also apply to moral values. However, I also think that the right thing is to keep these two issues separate. But first of all I must refer to a minor issue to establish that the issue of eternity of moral values is very important for us and that it is closely related to the eternity of Islam.

       Ethics comprises certain teachings, and if we believe the moral, humane, and social teachings of Islam to be transitory then the conclusion will be that the teachings of Islam dealing with morality and education are also subject to change. That is, it would imply that such principles had a validity in their own their time, and with changes in conditions these moral principles should also change and so should the basic teachings of Islam. As a result the major part of Islam would be obsolete and should be abolished. Of course, the issue of evolution of reality is related to this matter, but the issue of relativity of moral values has a greater bearing on the eternity of Islam. Let us now proceed to clarify the point as to why the issue of ethics is separated from the issue of reality.  


Speculative Wisdom and Practical Wisdom

       Reality relates to theoretical principles and ethics deals with practical principles. In other words, ethics is subsumed under practical wisdom (hikmat-e `amali) and reality is subsumed under theoretical wisdom (hikmat-e nazari); therefore, we cannot apply the principles of practical wisdom to reality, for theoretical wisdom deals with facts as they are or were; whereas practical wisdom is confined to man and deals with things as they ought to be-that is, as to how man is to conduct himself-and hence is prescriptive (insha).

        But the nature of theoretical wisdom is descriptive (ikhbar), that is, it deals with the question as to whether a certain proposition corresponds to facts or not, and if it is does, whether it is eternally true. But such questions do not arise in ethics.

        In our philosophical literature, theoretical reason and practical reason are regarded as two different types of human faculties. But Muslim philosophers did not discuss their features and differences in sufficient detail. However, they have left useful hints concerning the issue. They suggest that the former faculty is inherent in the soul by means of which it tries to discover the external world; whereas the latter consists of a series of perceptions of the soul, which administers the body, for the body’s management.

        Practical reason is considered to be a natural arm of the soul and theoretical reason as a metaphysical arm. Thus the soul possesses two perfections: theoretical perfection and practical perfection (the philosophers hold that the essence and nature of human being is knowledge and its perfection lies in knowledge, whereas the mystics do not consider knowledge as the ultimate perfection of man and are of the view that a perfect man is one who attains to reality not one who discovers it).

        Regarding the faculty of practical reason, they hold that the soul as the administrator of the body is subject to certain principles for better governing the body as a prelude to its attaining perfection.

        Early Muslim philosophers defined justice in terms of freedom (justice in body). The soul stands in need of-the body and it cannot attain theoretical perfections without it, but in order that the soul should be able to make the best use of the body, it must establish a kind of balance between its faculties. The faculty which establishes such a balance between. soul and body is an active faculty. In case this balance is established, the soul is not dominated by the body, rather it is the body which is subordinated to the soul. They considered justice to be a kind of subordination of the body to the soul in which the body is controlled by the soul. This is all that our early philosopher have said on this issue. It seems that, relatively speaking, Ibn Sina (980-1030) has treated the issue of theoretical and practical wisdom more thoroughly than any other Muslim philosopher.

        In the section on theology of his al-Shifa’, Ibn Sinaa classifies wisdom into practical and theoretical. In the section on logic of the Shifa’; he treats it in more detail and probably in his Mubahathat he discusses it in greater detail than in any other place. On the whole these old discussions provide a good ground for study, but they have not treated the -subject sufficiently and there even exists some ambiguity about practical reason. That which can be inferred from the statements of some of them is that practical reason is a kind of cognitive faculty of the soul. That is, they maintain that our intellect possess two kinds of cognitive faculties, one is the faculty of cognition used in theoretical sciences and the other is the faculty used in practical sciences. But others like Mulla Hadi Sabzawari (1833-1910) hold that the term `intellect’ (`aql) is used equivocally for theoretical and practical reason and that practical reason is not a cognitive faculty, that it is a faculty of action and not one of cognition. Hence their statements do not make clear whether or not practical and theoretical reason are two cognitive faculties (regardless of whether they are two distinct faculties or two aspects of one faculty), or if one of these is a cognitive and the other a practical faculty. In the later case, using the term `reason’ for practical reason is equivocal, that is, practical reason is not reason in the sense of a cognitive faculty.  


Subjectivity of Normative Judgements:

        It should be noted that Allamah Tatatabais discussion of i ‘tibariyat (subjective or normative ideas) in the sixth chapter of his book Usul-e falsafeh wa ravish-e realism (`The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism’) is undoubtedly an invaluable and original idea (unfortunately I was not able to write complete footnotes on it). Its only demerit is that he has himself conceived this idea and then followed it up without relating it to the statements of his predecessors which could help us in tracing the roots of these issues in the words of thinkers like Ibn Sina and others on practical reason and theoretical reason. It would have been better if he had started from their statements. The reason for such a gap is that his point of departure was jurisprudence (‘ilm al-usul) not philosophy. He was inspired by the ideas of the late Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Isfahani regarding itibariyat. Therefore, he did not relate it to the views of the philosophers.

  Allamah Tabatabai maintains and this is of course my interpretation-that whatever we ascribe to practical wisdom relates to the world of i’tibari (subjective) notions. Thus, theoretical wisdom or objective truth consists of objective ideas which are the real face of things. Practical ideas are normative notions. Normative ideas comprise of commands and prohibitions and all those notions which are dealt with in ‘ilm al-usul.

  The Allamah considers all itibariyat of the type where an objective idea is extended and applied to something else; human reason or the soul as a cognitive faculty cannot originate or create a concept, as in its literal and metaphorical use of words. A metaphor consists of the application of the literal and non-metaphorical meaning in a metaphorical sense. Whether we agree with Sakkaki’s view and hold that the word retains its original meaning and some other thing is imagined as its instance, or disagree with him and believe that the word is used in another meaning, one thing is clear: that the intellect and the soul are unable to spontaneously create concepts like ownership. On the contrary it borrows a concept that already exists in its objective form and applies it in its metaphorical sense.

  He started from this point and followed it up opening up a very extensive field. In this approach all moral concepts, including good and evil and the like, are considered to be itibari concepts. He has discussed in detail whether the notion of `good’ is derived from `ought’ or `ought’ from `good.’ Earlier in Najaf he had written an article in Arabic on the normative sciences (‘ulum-e itibari) and the article in Persian (i.e. the sixth chapter of his above-mentioned book) is based on its contents.

  Regarding the concept of `ought,’ he arrived at the conclusion that all ‘oughts’ stem from the fact that nature in itself has some ends towards which it moves. In all activities in the domains of inanimate objects, plants, animals, and man, so far as they fall within the domain of instinct and are not voluntary, it is nature that moves towards its goal. At the human level there are certain acts which takes place by the means of volition and thought. In such acts, too, man has certain objectives which have to be attained voluntarily. These ends are also the ends of nature, but it cannot achieve them directly but only through the agency of man’s will and thought. It is here that a need for these normative notions arises and they come into existence spontaneously. For example, man’s nature, like that of plants, needs food, but he should obtain it by means of volition and thought, unlike plants, which obtain food from the ground directly through their roots, and unlike animals, which are drawn towards food by instinct (whose nature is also not well understood). But man has to do this by conscious volition and effort, without being aware that the system of nature uses his apparatus of thought as its instrument in order to achieve its goals. Man innately possesses two systems: the system of nature as well as the system of thought and will. The latter is subordinate to the former and it is directed to achieving nature’s ends. The natural end is reflected in the form of a need or desire in man’s soul, for instance, the inclination towards food.

  Early Muslim philosophers defined the process of voluntary action as follows: first there is conception of the action, followed by judgement of its usefulness and inclination towards it (there were different views of it), then the stage of resolution, which is followed by emergence of will, after which the voluntary act takes place.

  Allamah Tabataba i s agrees with this description, but he considers the role of judgement as fundamental. However, here the judgement of the soul is not the kind of theoretical (descriptive) judgment which earlier Muslim­ philosophers used to call `assent of benefit,’ but is a prescriptive judgement (You ought to do this).

  He stresses mainly on the point that all voluntary acts contain a kind of command and a prescriptive and normative judgement, for example, “This ought to be done,” “This ought not to be done.” It is such oughts that cause man to be drawn towards the natural end. The Allamah probably conceives all acts of volition as terminating in knowledge.

  These ideas came to the mind of Allamah Tabatabai and he followed them up independently without studying others’ views in this regard. Once I even asked him whether what he says in this regard is in agreement with the ideas of the early Muslim philosopher regarding the difference between practical and theoretical wisdom and their view about the normative character of the notions of good and evil.

  In their debates with the theologians (mutakallimin) our early philosophers mention certain basic criteria for logical argument and they mention good and evil as criteria that pertain to rhetoric and dialectics, and maintain that the notions of good and evil cannot be employed in logical arguments. They are of tile view that good and evil derive from custom and cite the example of Indians who consider killing of animals as immoral.

  If one were to scan philosophical works one would not find a single instance, where the notions of good and evil have been employed to decide a theoretical issue. On the contrary the mutakallimin always base their arguments on the notions of moral and immoral. For instance, they hold that the rule of Divine grace is good and that such and such a thing is unseemly for God and that such and such a thing is obligatory for Him, and the like.

  The philosophers consider these as normative issues which cannot form the basis of rational argument. Like Allamah Tabatabai, they also consider good and evil as normative notions. Another point which gives further importance to his statements is that others like Bertrand Russell, who claim to have originated a new approach in contemporary philosophy, also. have a similar viewpoint. Undoubtedly Allamah Tabataba i was unaware of their views, and I myself, while writing explanatory notes on the Allamah’s book Usul-e falsafeh wa rewish-a realism, did not notice that his view of the practical sciences and ethics is something new and identical with the latest views about ethics. Perhaps the development of such an idea in the Allamah’s mind (about forty years ago in Najaf) was contemporaneous with the development of this view in European thought. In any case the Allamah was definitely unaware of their views.

  Among modern European philosophers, Bertrand Russell has elaborated this issue seriously. In his book A History of Western Philosophy, Russell states his viewpoint while discussing Plato’s philosophy.

  Plato has sublime ideas on the topic of ethics. In his view theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom are of the same kind and he looks at them from the same point of view. Regarding the concept of good in ethics he holds that morality means that man should seek what is good, and the good is a cognizable reality independent of the soul. That is, the object of human quest is the same in ethics and objective sciences, as in mathematics or medicine, which are concerned with external objects independent of the human mind.

  According to Plato moral values are realities independent of man, so man should try to know them as he tries to know any other reality.

  Here it becomes clear that early Muslim philosophers had selective approach in relation to the views of the ancient philosophers. They accepted some of their views and discarded their incorrect views without indicating what they were accepting and what they were discarding. So far as ethics is concerned, they accepted many of Plato’s views but they rejected this idea of Plato, and with justification.

  While discussing Plato’s views, Bertrand Russell expresses his own viewpoint. He says that we have to analyze the issue of ethics and see where it leads to. How did Plato think when he said that the good exists independent of us. Then he proceeds to analyze in a way very similar to the Allama’s analysis.

  Russell holds that good and evil are relative terms whose meaning is determined by man’s relation to objects. When we wish to achieve a goal, we say of a means that helps us attain that goal that `It is good.’ Now, what is meant by saying of a certain thing that `It is good’? It means that in order to achieve that goal we ought to use this means. The very `ought to use is equal to saying `it is good.’ Hence it is wrong to hold that the good is an objective quality inherent in a thing. Plato thinks that goodness is inherent in things, like whiteness or roundness etc., while it is not so. For example, when we say `Honesty is good,’ it is because of a goal which we have chosen. In other words, it is good for us for achieving our goal and therefore we ought to employ it. Yet, it does not mean that it is good for everyone. It is good only for those who have such a goal. Otherwise if one had an opposite goal it would not be good for him.

  Bertrand Russell and other philosophers applied their logical analysis to ethics. They come to the conclusion that `good’ or `evil’ are normative in nature. The mistake of the philosophers down to the present day is that they have thought ethical issues to be like those of mathematics or science. Their approaches to ethics has been similar to their approach to mathematics and physics. For example, as in physics one studies the nature of the magnet to discover its properties, in ethics as well they thought that good and evil are discoverable properties of things.

  Q: Ethical issues are like scientific issues with the difference that they belong to different realms; otherwise the criterion is the same in both the cases.

  A: There is no difference between this domain or that. For example, when man speaks, his speaking is a concrete fact no matter whether what he says is true or false. Does this speech have an external and objective property called `good’ or `evil’? No. Truth or falsehood do not have any objective quality called good or evil. Basically, the meaning of good and evil are determined in term of goals. Truth helps one to achieve one’s goal, therefore, one must be truthful. Here the property of goodness is attributed to truthfulness. Lying, owing to its effects, prevent individuals and society from achieving their goal. Therefore, one must not lie and lying is bad. Here one does not have anything except “one ought to say” and “one ought not to say” Good and evil are abstracted from `ought’ and `ought not.’ Of course, it does not mean that ethics is devoid of reality. Later on we will explain it.

  The Europeans thought that they had discovered a very new idea and even today it is a live issue in European philosophy and enjoys wide acceptance. In their view, the ethical theories of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and the like are outdated. They have finally reached this viewpoint. As I said, the early Muslim philosophers also have dealt with this issue and a shortcoming of Allamah Tabataba i s work is that he does not relate it to their ideas.

  According to Mr. Ha’iri, one of the questions he was asked to answer in a test (in the West) was concerning the relation between theoretical and practical sciences. As the theoretical sciences are related to the practical sciences, they are not isolated from one another. In modern terms, theoretical science constitutes world view whereas practical science constitutes ideology, as in the case of dialectical logic and materialist philosophy which constitute the Marxist world view and their ideology is also based on their world view.

  Now the question is how can we derive a prescriptive and normative judgement from factual premises? If the premises are descriptive, no problems arises if the conclusion is also a descriptive statement. For example, we may say A is equal to B, and B is equal to C; therefore, A is equal to C. However, in the other case the reasoning will have this form: A is equal to B, and B is equal to C; therefore, it ought to be that . . . . How can we drive a normative judgement from a descriptive proposition? Is there any syllogism whose premises are factual and its conclusion is normative and prescriptive? I am not saying that there isn’t. But if it exists, how should it be analyzed?

  The point is that this topic is a live issue in the West. Russell and his like-minded philosophers are of the view that eternity of moral values is meaningless.

  Until this point my purpose was to clarify this point that good and evil are not objective and concrete properties of things that can be discovered, as is the case in theoretical sciences. That is, it will be wrong to investigate ethical principles by such a method, for it confuses between normative and factual propositions. However, it may be asked whether there are two types of norms, one mutable and the other immutable. This is another point of contention which we have with them (European thinkers). Incidentally Allamah Tabatabai is also of the view that norms are of two types, immutable and mutable. He has not discussed immutable norms-and the entire issue in general-in any great detail, but he bases his theory on two types of norms. For immutable norms he has given the examples of justice and injustice, stating that the goodness of justice and the evil of injustice are immutable, and there are many mutable norms as well.  


Permanence of Ethical Norms

  From this point onwards we shall take up the discussion about the issue of `ought.’ No doubt some ‘oughts’ are particular and related to individuals. For instance, one person may need a certain kind of training, and he might say, “I should take this subject,” while another who does not need it would say, “I should not take that subject.” Basically, when two persons fight each other, each of them fights for the sake of a certain ought. There is no doubt that individual and particular ‘oughts’ are relative. For example, when I say that this food is good for me, this statement has a theoretical and a practical aspect. My conclusion concerning the benefit of the food constitutes its theoretical aspect and `I .ought to eat that food’ constitutes the practical aspect. In short, these kinds of oughts are particular and changeable.

  An important question in ethics is, Are there any universal and absolute ‘oughts’ shared by all human beings? In case there are such oughts, how can such universal oughts be explained on the basis that every `ought’ is directed towards some goal? Incidentally, we reach some fine conclusions at this point.

  Concerning the difference between theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom it is not sufficient to say that the formers deals with `is’ and the latter with `ought.’ This is not a sufficient explanation for practical wisdom. After all practical wisdom is wisdom and wisdom deals with universal issues. Hence practical wisdom should be defined as dealing with universal ‘oughts,’ otherwise there are also certain ‘oughts’ in geometry, industry etc., but they have nothing to do with practical wisdom. What is to be noted here is that there are universal ‘oughts’ which are familiar to every mind. Therefore, such ‘oughts’ must be directed towards goals which are not particular and individual. If we could prove such ‘oughts,’ we will have to accept that they are rooted in the soul and that man is not confined to physical nature only. This will be one of the proofs of the immaterial nature of soul.

  Kant also reached the immortality of the soul through moral issues: Man’s physical nature has some needs which are limited and relative. The needs of one person differ from those of another person. The ‘oughts’ for meeting such needs are also different and often contradict one another. There are many ‘oughts’ which are opposed to other `ougths’ and so such ‘oughts’ are not of an ethical nature. But man, by virtue of his soul, enjoys a station which-like man’s physical nature, to which his outward will and thought are subject-draws him towards its own goals. Man’s physical nature draws him towards its goals in order to attain its own perfection. It needs food, and we say we ought-to eat food. According to Schopenhauer, we are made to feel pleasure and to be on look out for pleasure in the world of ideas, while we are unaware of the fact that within our inner being it is nature which seeks to achieve its ends. It is nature that moves towards its end, but it provides pleasure for us in order to make us serve its own purposes. While in the world of ideas we are drawn towards pleasure, in reality we move to fulfill the goals of nature. For example, when the baby cries, it is nature which seeks to bring him up. When the baby cries due to the feeling of pain, it is nature which declares its need, having subjected the baby’s feeling and mind.

  Man enjoys a certain spiritual perfection and sublimity which is rooted in his God-given nobility and dignity (some ‘oughts’ are meant to achieve that spiritual perfection). When someone says, `I ought to do such and such a thing,’ it means `I must attain to that excellence,’ although such a goal may not be reflected in his outer consciousness. Those excellences are common to all men, and, therefore, in this respect all men feel the same kind of imperative. The second justification for universal imperatives is the issue of social spirit. It is said that man is a social creature and he has certain oughts, to meet not his individual but his social needs. In the same kay that man is impelled to seek the satisfaction of his individual needs he is impelled to seek the satisfaction of his social needs. Had there been no relations between man and his fellow men, such oughts would not have arisen. For instance, if I had no relations with anyone I would not make any efforts to feed other people. Such imperatives are related to a higher self, be it an individual higher self or a higher social self. That higher self seeks to achieve its goals. That self causes man to perform moral acts. Those acts which are performed for the sake of the higher individual self or the social self have permanent principles, which are, firstly, universal and same for all individuals and, secondly, are permanent and not temporary.

  The other point which has been raised concerns the philosophy of being and the philosophy of becoming. According to the philosophy of being moral values are permanent and therefore ethical principles are eternally true. However, according to the philosophy of becoming moral values are relative and transitory; that is, they are valid during a certain time and invalid in other times.

  This is a very important issue, for apart from ethics it touches other judgements as well. According to the philosophy of becoming no truth is permanent. Reality is transient and therefore prescriptions are also transitory, for the difference between truth and morality is that the former is descriptive and the latter is prescriptive, one is theoretical and the other is practical. Inevitably this question also arises in the case of all religious precepts and is not confined to what we mean by the term `ethics’ (akhlaq). What they (i.e. Westerners) imply by `ethics’ is a more general sense which includes all prescriptions and the notions of good and evil.

  At the outset an objection may be raised here, that the philosophy of becoming does not necessarily imply that truth is changeable. For as we have said the philosophy of becoming relates to external reality, and even if one were to admit that there is nothing except becoming, it does not imply that truth (which is related to the mind) is subject to change. Of course, we accept the implication that should facts, which include human thought, be subject to change, consequently truth as human thought will also be subject to change. But they do not make such an assertion. We believe that truth, which is the content of thought, is inseparable from external and mental existence except in conception.

  For example, the statement “Zayd was standing on Friday” is always true This statement itself, apart from external or mental existence, is not something that may be said to be neither in the mind nor in external reality, a proposition that is eternally true. This proposition has either external existence or mental existence.’ But when man thinks about it, he first abstracts it from mental existence, and after abstracting its meaning declares it to be eternally true. We believe that if thought itself were changeable, its content will also be changeable, and the statement “Zayd was standing on Friday” will not be conceived today in the mind as it was conceived yesterday. It will change into something else.

  This was in relation to the permanence of truth. The same objection can be raised in relation to morals values. Suppose we believe in a philosophy of becoming, and it implies that truth is changeable. But morals and precepts are a set of prescriptions and these are normative in nature. The changeability of truth does not necessitate the changeability of norms. In an article, “Khatm-e Nubuwwat,” (“The Ultimacy of the Prophethood”), I have pointed out that if anybody claims that all things are subject to change, then the ultimate prophecy and everlasting laws become meaningless. Our position is that if truth be mutable it does not imply that prescriptions should also be mutable. For prescriptions derive from convention and the law of change of facts does not apply to prescriptions. Thus, it is wrong to assert that a philosophy of becoming will imply mutability of moral values. However, there is another argument that may be offered to support this view.

  This other argument is that every prescription, ethical or non-ethical, is based on certain expediencies. This view coincides with the view of the theologians, and jurisprudents following them, who maintain that “religious obligations are subtle instances of rational obligations,” or, in the words of Nary, certain benefits and harms underlie the causes of religious precepts, which are meant to achieve those benefits and are therefore subordinate to objective benefits and harms, like an effect subordinate to its cause. The benefits are facts and commands and prohibitions are based on conventions and norms. But the benefits and harms from which the commands and prohibitions stem are not permanent, for they are facts. Thus when the former are not permanent the latter also will not be permanent. The objection to the eternity of moral values takes another form in accordance with this argument.

  Now we wish to make a fundamental examination of ethical criteria and confine our discussion to ethics in our own special sense. The question of religious precepts requires a wide-ranging study and has many ramifications pertaining to worship, social and financial issues and other matters.

  In the sphere of ethics, one may maintain that moral values are permanent on the basis that moral values are identical with reality, in the sense that a moral act is good because it is essentially attributed with the quality of goodness. The immoral act is bad because it is attributed with the quality of badness. Hence every act is either essentially moral or essentially immoral, although it may be said that there are some acts which are neither essentially moral nor immoral. It means that moral goodness and evil are objective qualities of things inherent in their essences, and that which is essential is not mutable. That which is morally good is good forever and that which is immoral will always remain immoral. We should do that which is morally good and refrain from that which is immoral, and this is a self-evident and indisputable judgement of reason. This is one of the arguments that may offered in favour of the permanence-of ethical values. Such an argument is based on the essential character of good and evil which are considered as objective attributes.

  Muslim philosophers have not discussed this issue but they do not believe in good and evil as being inherent in things. In logic, they consider any reference to morality or immorality as reference to popular convention which finds use only in dialectics and rhetoric. They even point out that morals vary with nations and they cite the example of Indians .who consider slaughter of animals as immoral. However they do not elaborate and do not explain why the notions of moral goodness and evil cannot be employed in rational arguments. They do not explain why they are different from mathematical propositions and what criterion underlies this distinction. They only say that morality or immorality pertain to the rules of practical reason. However it is dear that practical reason develops such notions in order to achieve certain goals. In any case they have not elaborated upon this matter.  


The Origins of Normative Notions

  Among philosophers Allamah Tabatabai has treated this issue more thoroughly than anyone else. In the sixth chapter of his book Usul-e falsafeh wa ravishe realism, he has discussed profoundly this issue, which is related partly to philosophy in that it explains the process of development of ideas by the mind. However, the greater part of this discussion relates to jurisprudence (`ilm al-usul). There he has discussed the origin and character of the development of normative ideas, and this topic deserves to studied in greater depth and thoroughness. However, here I will give a brief summary of his ideas relating to this discussion.

  He begins by asserting that one of the functions of the mind is that it abstracts certain ideas from external objects (an operation that does not involve any innovation) then applies them to another reality, that is, it applies the definition of one thing to another thing. In technical and literary terms, it invents metaphors. A metaphor, especially in accordance with Sakkald’s view, is not simply the use of a word in some other meaning It does not simply involve applying, for instance. the word `lion,’ after divesting of its meaning, to a person with a similar quality. No. A metaphor involves a change in meaning not a change in word. Actually what we do is that we see, for instance, Zayd as an instance of the meaning of `lion,’ then we apply the word `lion’ to him. This is a kind of innovation of the mind. The late Ayatullah Burujerdi would make an interesting remark in this relation. He would say that when we say, “I saw a lion shooting’, this statement is actually composed of the two following statements: “I saw Zayd shooting,” and “Zayd is like a lion.” lie agreed with Sakkaki’s conception of the metaphor.

  Such is Allamah Tabataba i s notion of the mind’s capacity to formulate and invent concepts by supposing-not arbitrarily but in accordance with a certain basis-one thing as an instance of another thing.

  Another observation that he makes (though I do not agree with its generalization) is that the difference between animals on the one hand and plants and inanimate things on the other is that the latter move towards their end in one predetermined direction alone. Nature, in the course of its normal movement, is equipped with means through which it moves inexorably towards its goal. Animals also, in respect of their physical and natural being (not as beings possessing cognition and mind), like plants move directly towards their end in the natural world. But in their case, in most of their activities, the means of nature do not suffice to direct animals towards their goals. That is why they employ their mental and cognitive faculties to achieve their ends and in fact there emerges a kind of harmony between physical nature (which is unconscious) and the mind which functions in a manner enabling nature to achieve its ends. The mind is however directed to achieving a series of ends which are supposed to be different from the ends of nature and one imagines that the harmony between the two is accidental.

  The cognitive nature of man and animal is such that when they perceive and conceive an object there arises a desire and appetite for it as [an expectation of] pleasure in attaining it and of pain in the failure to attain it. This is followed by the motive to obtain the pleasure or to avoid the pain. For instance, man feels hunger and with his past experience’of the pleasure in eating food he seeks food in order to obtain that pleasure. But at the same time in the process of this act nature too attains its end, for the body needs food in order to replace the materials it has consumed. Eating serves both the ends, the conscious purpose of pleasure is attained and at the same time nature also satisfies its need. Hence, the question arises: Are these two acts unconnected with each other and is their coincidence something accidental? Is it possible for the case to be otherwise, that is, a person might feel pleasure in eating stones while his stomach requires some other food? Is it an accident that delicious foods which bring pleasure to one who eats also helps satisfy the nature’s needs? Or is it the case that there is no accident involved here and there exists a kind of harmony between the two, where one is primary and the other is secondary? In case there is no accident involved here, is the conscious desire to obtain pleasure and to avoid pain the primary principle which requires an apparatus that may cooperate with it for the end of pleasure by digesting food and absorbing nourishing substances? Or is the case quite the inverse and it is nature which constitutes the primary principle, having subjugated the conscious mind to its service. Undoubtedly, there is some kind of harmony between the natural and conscious ends. Hence every animal takes pleasure in what nature needs and nature also needs that which brings pleasure. For instance, a woman is equipped with organs and glands required for child bearing and nursing and she finds pleasure in these acts. The animal that lays eggs takes pleasure in that act, and an animal that gives birth to a child takes pleasure in child bearing. There exists a strong harmony between them.

  It is wrong to think that purposive movement is confined to conscious beings only When it is said that nature has certain ends, some people may raise doubts as to whether unconscious nature may have ends. In fact ends are related to that very unconscious nature and the conscious mind has ends which are incidental to the ends of nature. The end of nature is to move. towards its perfection. As remarked by Ibn Sinn, the possession of consciousness does not make puposive a being that lacks purpose. Purposiveness is related to the essence of a thing. Sometimes a thing is aware of its end and sometimes it is not.

  Q: There is not always a harmony between pleasure and natural need. Many pleasures are harmful for nature and injurious to its perfection.

  A: Deviant cases are not to be taken into consideration, particularly in die case of human being who act according to reason. What I mean is that there is a general harmony that exists to such an extent that it cannot be accidental. Exceptional cases, like that of the sick person who needs medicine without feeling any pleasure in taking it, arise out of a kind of difference between two exigencies, a topic which has its own details. An animal takes pleasure in eating its medicine because it acts according to instinct, while the human being, who acts according to his reason, does not take pleasure in it.


Allamah Tabataba i says that the world of normative concepts begins here. The way he explains the issue it appears as if all animate beings including man and animals possess such ideas. But I do not agree with this generalization. According to him there is a necessary relation between nature and ends, like the concrete, objective and philosophical relation between cause and effect. Now in the world of conception man takes the objective relation of necessity-as opposed to the relation of contingency-between two things in nature and applies that relation to two things between which there is no such real relation. For example, he applies the term `lion’ to a brave man. Here, too, man applies the term `necessity’ as found in external nature to the relation between himself and his goal. Such necessities and oughts created by the mind, arise out of such conceptions. The Allamah is of the view that such oughts exist in every voluntary act and in every conscious animal.


The earlier Muslim philosophers did not believe in such an ought or imperative. They only held that man first conceives the benefit in something, then there arises a desire for it, followed by a resolution. They described its various stages stating that first there is conception followed by a judgement of the benefit. This judgment in their view posits something objective, that is, a certain object has a certain benefit. The final stage is the stage of volition. However, they did not believe that a normative judgement was involved here.


But Allamah Tabataba i holds that such a conception and imperative is involved here and the statement that something is good has no other meaning. When we say that it is good to do something, its `goodness’ arises from here. There is another issue involved here as to whether `good” arises out of `ought’ or the case is the reverse. As the Allamah holds that `ought’ is the first formulation (itibar), he holds that `good’ arises from it. “It is good to do so” signifies a kind of inclination towards something and it is as if one were attributing objective and concrete qualities to human actions.  


The Theory of Employment

  Then he has some other views to which he repeatedly refers in his exegesis of the Holy Qur’an, al-Mizan, and in other places. He holds that one of the normative formulations is that of `employment’ (istikhdam). To explain, man has a certain relation to his limbs and faculties and this relation is objective, real and concrete. My hands are at my service. All bodily organs of man are owned by man and form an integral part of his being and are really at the service of man. He says that every external object may-take the form of a tool in the service of man, and in the same way that his hands belong to him he considers other objects as his own. This kind of extension is what typical of subjective formulations. (itibar). Man extends the boundaries of that which is limited to his existence to other beings. He considers such a human tendency to extend concepts as something instinctive Then he adds that this kind of conceptual attitude is not limited to inanimate objects, plants, etc.; rather man views even other human beings from the viewpoint of `employment.’ Man is created an exploiter and this is a natural tendency in him. He accepts social and moral issues as secondary principles. However, in this chapter he does not discuss this issue in detail but he does so in his exegesis, al-Mizan, under verse 2:213, “Mankind were a single nation”. Perhaps there is apparently a contradiction in his statements in different places. At one place he says that `employment’ is a natural principle and that social justice is at the same time natural to man but is modified by the other natural principle. Sometimes in his exegesis he is explicit that man is not social by nature but social by adaptation. In the sixth chapter of his Usul-e falsafeh wa ravish-e realism, he states that man is social by nature, but what he means is by adaptation, as mentioned by him elsewhere. So he does not hold that man is social by nature. His socialization is outcome of the result of equilibrium between two opposite instincts. His statements appear in this regard to be similar to the views of contemporary evolutionists and Darwinians who believe the struggle for survival to be fundamental in man.

  The principle of employment is a respectable form of the Darwinian idea, for according to it struggle for survival constitutes the basis of the human being and cooperation arises out of struggle. Man struggles for survival, but the enemy is not always of one kind; when several men face a common enemy and feel that they cannot defeat him individually, cooperation is the only way to survival. Here cooperation is like political treaties between states, meant only to deter the common enemy In fact such cooperation arises out of struggle. Hence when there is no more a common enemy, conflict begins among apparent friends. Again after some dine differences arise within the dominating group and grow into a war among them. If finally there remain only two individuals they fight against each other until the fittest survives. If we trace the roots of moral rules on cooperation, friendship, and unity, they will be seen to stem from conflict. The implication is that if you want to survive in your confrontation with the enemy (whether it is nature or something else) you should be honest, truthful and so on. This is the viewpoint of the evolutionists, and the Allamah’s ideas lead to such a conclusion, though he does not say so explicitly.

  Q: Does man have a natural inclination towards evil?

  A: That is what it means. However, evil is relative, and from the viewpoint of the individual it is good. Every individual has a natural tendency to seek his own good, which makes him treat others as tools (such is the Allamah’s view). Man cannot refrain from treating others as tools.

  Q: Struggle for survival is not the same as `employment.’ Sometime they may coincide and sometimes not.

  A: I did not say that the two concepts are identical. What I means is that both of them lead to the same conclusion. When we say that every individual tries to treat others as his tools and to use them, when such a tendency is universal it will automatically lead to conflict.

  The Allamah continues his discussion on normative formulations and most of it has greater relevance to jurisprudence than to ethical philosophy and its relevant part was that which we have described.

  He further holds that man formulates the oughts and ought nots to attain certain ends. Since these ends are transient, precepts and laws will also be subject to change and as long as those ends remains the ought will remain as well, and when the end changes, the ought will also change. Thus the Allamah holds that normative conceptions, unlike objective conceptions, are transitory and impermanent and almost concludes that moral values cannot be eternal. Nevertheless, it is to be pointed out that he maintains that there are certain normative principles which are immutable, which are five or six and these are permanent and the rest of them are subject to change. The principles which he regards as permanent are not of much relevance here, like the principle of necessity in general, the principle of employment and other similar things whose discussion will be fruitless here.  


Will and Natural Urge

  An explanation that is necessary here is that his application of the principle of employment to all animate beings is not acceptable. In my footnotes to the chapter I have discussed the issue in a manner which does not assume such a generalization. It is not even true of man in all his voluntarily acts but only of some of his voluntarily actions which are performed thoughtfully. It is here that the issues of moral imperative and the rational character of what is moral and immoral arise. The acts of immature persons, like infants taking milk, are rather derived from instinct. Elsewhere I have drawn a distinction between urge and will. The animal, contrary to what is said loosely that an animal is that which moves voluntarily, acts according to inclination and urge. In a mature human being there is a relation between will and reason on the one hand and between inclination or appetite and reason on the other. Urge is a passive state. In an animal or man that acts under urge, the greater the influence of urge the lesser is the role of thought, consciousness and reason and the action takes an involuntary form. For example, when man sees food, he feels inclined towards it and it is as if there were something external that draws him towards itself. On the contrary, when man acts according to his will, he withdraws from what is external to his being and his decision arises from his inner being. For example, if he has feels an inclination for a certain kind of food, he thinks over its consequences and then decides to take some other food for which he feels a lesser inclination. He controls himself by his will and it is his will which enables him to dissociate himself from that which is external to his being. Hence will is identical with freedom. Reason and will liberate man from the tyranny of urges and make him rely upon himself. Of course, sometimes both inclination and will may be present. That is, one may be inclined towards something which may be the object of one’s will due to the judgement of reason.


Q: Is will totally absent in cases where there is an inclination, or is it only weak?

  A: Will is there, but it is weak. What I want to point out is that will and inclination are two separate things. To the extent that man is subject to inclination, his will is proportionately weak. I do not agree with Mulls Sadra (though elsewhere he has expressed an opposite opinion), Mulls Had! Sabzawari and Ibn Sina in considering inclination and will as one thing. Elsewhere they, including even Ibn Sina, have drawn a distinction between the two. Will is the state of self-possession of the soul, a state of resolution, where reason is involved and rational calculations are made and the judgement of reason prevails.

  Moral imperatives relate to man as a rational being (in the same way as early Muslim Philosophers consider them as part of practical reason), not to the soul from a practical aspect. Moral approval and disapproval are judgements of practical reason (the contemplative faculty which comprehends universals) from the aspect of the government of the body. Otherwise moral norms are irrelevant to animals or to man from the viewpoint of not being subject to the judgements of reason.

  Metaphorical ideas are exclusive to man. His thought has reached the point where he can apply the term for something to another thing. For instance, he sees the moon and then sees a human being possessing beauty to whom he is drawn. He applies the term for the former to the latter and transfers to the latter his feelings evoked by the moon. This act signifies man’s developed nature and no animal is capable of such an act. This act is a kind of make up and adornment; i.e. man observes a kind of beauty in someone and then he adds to it by supplementing accidental graces, while he knows that these graces do no belong to that person but are charms borrowed from extraneous colour, water, and line but which heighten his feelings of attraction towards that person. This is what happens in metaphorical and poetical expressions. When the poet refers to something with metaphors, that thing assumes a greater charm in his sight, as in the case of Rudaki who wrote those verses for the Samanid prince using those metaphors for Bukhara. Bukhara remained what it was but he projected the city in such charming terms that they moved the prince. These are miracles of the human mind.


Q: Is this the Pavlovian conditioned reflex?

  A: No. Pavlovian conditioned reflex relates to the materialist approach to perception (not to normative concepts) which tries to give a materialist interpretation to human thought. Pavlov talks of involuntary human reflexes. The issue of conditioned reflex or association of ideas is different from the issue of values and metaphor. In the latter there is no succession and association. Here one sees something as something else. That is, he joins it to the other and applies the definition of one thing to another thing. There is no succession of ideas as in association. In metaphor there is a simultaneous unification of two things, not a succession of several things. This is what gives the power of passion and pathos to elegies.

  Thus one of the objections against the Allamah’s view is that he generalizes the faculty of normative formulation to all animate beings, whereas it is exclusive to man and that too to his practical reason.

  Early Muslim philosophers defined practical wisdom, which includes ethics, as the science of man’s voluntary actions in respect of how they ought to be and how they can be best and most perfect. This definition given by early Muslim philosophers is somewhat similar to that of theoretical wisdom which deals with the most perfect order and the question whether or not the existing order is the best and most perfect order possible. This question however relates to whether something exists or not, and in the discussion of man’s voluntary acts the question relates to how something ought to be and how it can be most perfect.

  According to modern philosophers ethics deals with the question, How should one live one’s life, i.e. it does not deal with how men live but with how they should live. This almost amounts to the same thing with certain added qualifications. One relates to universality. When the early Muslim philosophers defined ethics as a science of man’s voluntary acts they meant a universal prescription for all human beings, not for any particular person. The other point that should be mentioned here is that when modern philosophers hold that ethics deals with how one should live one’s life, a qualification is to added here-and they often add it themselves, thus coming closer to the viewpoint of ancient philosophers-stating that what is meant is a life imbued with sublimity and sanctity. The meaning of ethics is loaded with a sense of sublimity and sanctity, or value in contemporary terms.

  Another point whose mention here is not without benefit is that when it said that ethics is the science of how one must live one’s life, that includes behaviour and habit, that is, what kind of conduct and habits one must have to lead a worthy life.

  Another point that is mentioned nowadays, which is also found in our philosophy, is that ethics deals only with how man should live and it is assumed that man’s nature is already known, and it is with the knowledge of this nature that the question of how he must live so that his life possesses sublimity and sanctity arises. As we know, the existentialists have certain views about the fundamentality of existence (Mulls Sadra’s philosophy is also based on the fundamentally of existence) and they hold man to be a potential and indeterminate being. That is, his essence is not predetermined and it is man’s acts which form his habits and these habits constitute man’s identity and essence. Man does not have an essence apart from his habits and they constitute the substantial actuality of man’s existence. It is his habits and traits which make and determine man’s being. More precisely, ethics is not only the science of how one should live but the science of what one should become. When we talk of ethics as the science of how one should live, it is assumed that we know what we are and then go one to discuss how man with his fixed nature and essence, which is the same in all men, is to live. But if we hold that habits constitute the essence of man then ethics will take a new dimension. If man can shape his reality with his morals and habits, then his inner being and essence will change and accordingly ethics assumes a more profound meaning.

  Men have the same form, but from the spiritual viewpoint their reality depends on their morals and habits. Hence the definition of `man’ may apply to some persons in respect of form while in respect of their inner being the term `animal’ may be true of them.

  With this definition of practical wisdom let us follow up the foregoing discussion. We said that the issue of moral imperatives signifies man’s relation to a certain act and stems from his feeling. That is man’s nature seeks certain goals and in consonance with those ends certain feelings emerge in his conscious faculty. He desires what his nature seeks, and this finally leads him to declare, `I like that thing’ and `It is good.’

  Bertrand Russell and others hold-and Allamah Tabatabai’s views lead to the same conclusion-that there can be no objective criterion for ethics. For instance, when I say that something is good, it means I like it, and my liking it does not mean that somebody else should also like it. Others may like something else. Those who lived in the past regarded what they liked as good, while today people regard something else as good.

  Here a question arises: How can ethical issues be demonstrated?, How can we argue as to what is good and what is bad? The Allamah is of the view that these are indemonstrable, for normative matters cannot be proven. We can only test them on the basis of utility (futility). That is, the mind’s normative formulations are meant to achieve certain goals and if they do not help one reach them they are invalid.

  Moral issues cannot be tested except through the test of utility. They are not objective matters that can be proven by experiment or reasoning. They can be proven neither be deduction nor by the empirical method. In deduction the premises are based on self evident-principles, or on empirical experience, whereas practical wisdom is concerned with the concept of good and bad and these concepts are derive from ought and ought not, which in their turn depend upon likes and dislikes, which are not identical in all people and vary according to their personal situation, interests, pursuits and their attachments to various creeds, groups, and nations. Therefore, every individual and groups likes certain things and therefore moral values are inevitably subjective and relative. Hence moral concepts are not objective issues susceptible to logical proof or deductive or inductive methods.  


Three Ethical Theories

  Bertrand Russell is one of the thinkers who arrived at the same conclusion through his philosophy of logical analysis. In his book, A History of Western Philosophy, while examining Plato’s conception of justice and Trasymachus’s famous objection against it, that justice is nothing but the interests of the powerful, Russell is of the view that this is the basic problem of politics and ethics: is there any criterion iii ethics to distinguish between good and bad except that which is meant by those who use these terms? If there is no such criterion then most of Trasymachus’s conclusions will inescapable. But how can one say that such a criterion exists? Elsewhere Russell says that the difference between Plato and Trasymachus is very important. Plato thinks that he can prove that his idea of republic is good. A democrat who accepts the objectivity of ethics may think that he can prove the Republic to be immoral; but anyone who agrees with Trasymachus will say: There is no question of proving or disproving; the only question is whether you like or not. If you do, it is good for you; if you do not it is bad for you. It is like matters of taste; one may like a certain kind of food and say that this food is good and others may like another kind and say that, that food is good. There is no absolute good to compare other goods with. He further says that if you like it, it is good for you; if you do not, it is bad for you. If some like it and some don’t the matter cannot be decided by reason, but only by force. That which is said that justice belongs to the powerful, that is because when some people like something and others don’t, those who have greater power impose their wishes on others by force and that becomes law.

    The gist of Russell’s statements is that the concepts of good and bad indicate the relation between man and the thing in question. If this relation is one of liking it is good and if it is one of dislike then it is bad. If it is neither liked nor disliked, then it neither good nor evil. We have written that the answer to Russell is that first we have to trace the roots of why man likes something and dislikes something else. Man likes anything that serves the purpose of life even if from a particular aspect. In other words, nature always moves towards its perfection and in order to impel man to carry out that which must be accomplished through his will and choice it has placed desire, liking and love in him in the same way that it has informed him with the notions of good and evil.

      As nature moves towards individual perfection and expediency, it also moves towards the perfection of the species as well. Basically the individual’s perfection is not separable from the perfection of his species. The individual’s perfection lies in that of the species, and inevitably a kind of likes equally shared by all individuals take shape equally in all individuals. These similar, uniform, universal and absolute likes constitute the universal criterion of morality. Justice and other moral values are the ends towards which nature moves for the perfection of the kind. In order to attain such ends through voluntary action it creates a liking for these ends in all individuals. By virtue of that liking the oughts and ought nots appear in the form of a series of universal imperatives in die soul. Accordingly, to have a universal criterion in ethics it is not necessary to consider good and evil objective entities like whiteness and blackness, roundness and squareness. Russell considers the ego in “I like it,” as an ego solely concerned with its material and physical interests, not as an ego which is concerned with its spiritual nobility or as an ego that is concerned with the interests of its kind.

      Here we will mention two or three hypotheses and then try to substantiate the above remarks. First we have to see whether or not there actually exists a set of common, universal and permanent imperatives in man’s soul (this minor premise has to be derived through experience). That is, do there exist in the human conscience any notions commonly held by all individuals in addition to the temporary, particular, and individual notions of good and bad? I mean those universal imperatives that are devoid of personal preferences and tastes in which all that is relevant is personal interest. Do such imperatives exist according to which man makes judgements occasionally even despite his personal preferences?

      One may say I don’t know the analysis of such an issue, but I know this much that I and all people have certain universal precepts according to which we judge, for instance, that honesty is good in itself, whatever the basis of this judgement, or that it is good to return kindness for kindness. This judgement transcends all personal interests, and one cannot deny if someone says that a kindness returned for kindness a thousand years ago is praiseworthy or that anyone who ever returned evil for kindness is blameworthy. Undeniably there are two kinds of acts involved here; one act is praiseworthy and valuable for man and the other is worthless or has a negative value. If one were to compare with a free mind two kinds of characters, such as Abu Dharr and Mu’awiyah, in order to make a judgement concerning them, he will see that Abu Dharr was a man to whom Mu’awiyah was ready to give everything to buy his loyalty and to make him relinquish his higher principles. He did not surrender to the devices of Mu’awiyah who had made everything a means of attaining his ambitions.

      Here one naturally commends the former and condemns the latter. The same test may be applied in case of other characters and the result will invariably be the same. We are not concerned with the opinion that all judgements concerning goodness and badness derive from likes or dislikes. That may be true, but firstly we want to see whether or not there exist common and universal judgements. Secondly, if they do, how can we justify them? Are they justifiable according to what the A(lamah and Russell have said?

      We said that there are two kinds of ought and ought not; one kind is particular and individual which we regularly come across in everyday life. For instance, I ought to eat such food, I ought to wear such a dress, and so on. The second kind of imperatives, of which examples were cited, is universal in nature.

     Now the question is what is the basis of such universal judgements? If we do not agree with the theologians in considering goodness and badness as objective attributes and hold that these notions ultimately pertain to man’s relation to a thing, then how can we justify universal moral judgements?


First Theory:

   There are three kinds of justification. According to the first, man has certain urges which serve to fulfill his individual needs. For instance when hungry, he feels an urge for food. Man has also another kind of urges which are species oriented. That is, man may desire something which is not for his individual benefit but for the sake of others. For instance, man does like others to, go hungry in the same way that he does not want to remain hungry himself. God has created man such. If we accept this justification, then the Allamah’s view becomes implausible for he holds that man’s motives are consonant with his natural urges. That is, man’s motives are subject to his individual nature. He holds the principle of employment to be a universal principle and this conflicts with the foregoing justification. For according to it a self-seeking act is ordinary and mediocre, but when the same act is formed for the sake of others it is considered to be sublime and sacred. Here serving others is a criterion of sanctity and self-seeking a criterion of its absence. If an act is meant for one’s own benefit it is for individual benefit and if it is for others it is for mankind in general, and such an act is moral in nature. Thus the criterion of the moral or immoral character of an act depends in one sense on its being for one’s own self or for the sake of others, that is, in its purpose being individual or universal. It is universality that gives value to an act although in other respects it is no different from an act done for personal and individual motives.

     Accordingly, it is true that `It is good’ means `I like it’, but sometimes I may like something for myself and sometime for the sake of others. Inevitably, what I like for others and for their benefit takes a universal aspect (for it is not for the sake of any particular persons among others) and is permanent value. Accordingly, moral acts are also universal and permanent. A moral act is one that stems from liking others’ good and benefit. This makes ethics universal and permanent. This approach to ethics also justifies certain cases like lying for the sake of some beneficial purpose. Why is truthfulness good? Because the general good lies in truthfulness. If truthfulness should prove to be injurious then it is immoral, for truthfulness is not good in itself. The criterion of goodness is service to others. In cases where truthfulness amounts to betraying others, it becomes bad. Here ethics assumes solely asocial dimension (nowadays `ethics’ is usually considered to mean social ethics). Accordingly, we arrive at a conclusion that there is a universal principle in ethics which is eternal and permanent, although. it may have changing instances. There is a diference between the impermanence of an ethical principle and the impermanence of its instances. The question is whether moral principles are permanent or not. Accordingly to our justification moral acts are reducible to one immutable principle, that is, service to others.


Q: In fact this principle is a kind of hypothesis, that is, it is assumed that ethics is service to others, then it is declared that it is universal and permanent principle. However, someone may make some other assumption and hold that ethics means self-help in which case he would produce another immutable and universal principle.

  A: You have missed the first premises. As I said there are certain issues on which all men make the same judgement. That-is, all viewpoints are identical about a certain act. Besides, all consider it a valuable act. Service to others is something about which I and you have the same feeling. Moreover, I view it as something sublime and above personal interests in the same way that you view it. Then we posed the question as to how such a universal principle could exist when values like goodness and badness stem from likes and dislikes, which are changeable. Yes, if all likes were rooted in selfish motives, as Russell believes and as can be inferred from the Allamah’s words, then such an objection could be valid, but not if it is held that man is created with two kinds of motives.

  Q: The word `others’ in the foregoing discussion is somewhat ambiguous. It seems that it cannot be taken in an absolute sense. For example, a soldier who fights for the interest of foreigners, fights for others but his act is not ethical.

  A: By `others’ I mean mankind. That is, an act that is for the sake of mankind, not for the benefit of one individual and to the detriment another. We have an individual ego as well as a collective ego, which includes a person’s family and relations (every tyrant is a benefactor for his family). Here the concept of the self is extended. Moral acts go beyond the limit of the ego and sometimes transcend even the domain of humanity (being for the sake of God). Morality begins where the confines of the ego are transcended.

  However, this theory cannot be accepted due to the objections that arise against it on the basis of the Allamah’s theory, which cannot be set aside so simply by conceding that there is a disharmony between man’s conscious being and his individual nature. For that would mean that individual nature moves in one direction and his conscious being in another, solely pursuing the perfection of species without attending to individual perfection. The result would be that man’s conscious being, which is at the service of his nature-and so it must be-will be brought into the service of the species without any concern for the individual’s interests.


Q: On the basis of what you have said, service to the species is also part of man’s nature?

  A: No. Service to species is not part of individual nature, but man takes pleasure in helping others and that is not without reason. For individual nature cannot derive pleasure without moving towards perfection. According to Ibn Sina if man feels pleasure, it does not mean that nafure and feeling move on different independent courses. Rather it is nature that achieves its perfection, and when that happens pleasure is felt if it is perceived through knowledge by presence. That is, the very movement of nature from potentiality to perfection is identical with pleasure when perceived through knowledge by presence. Pleasure is nature’s attainment to perfection when it is perceivable. It is impossible for man to take pleasure without nature attaining a perfection.


Second Theory:

  There is another theory advocated by some contemporary thinkers. According to it, it is impossible for man to desire anything that is unrelated to his own self. Whatever the individual enjoys doing is ultimately related to his own self. However, man has two selves: an individual self and a collective self. Biologically man is an individual, but from the social point of view he has also a social self. The other point that Durkheim and others have made-and Allamah Tabatabai has derived it from the Qur’an without being aware of their ideas-is that society has also a self and personality which is real and objective. Society is not a sum total of individuals in the sense of a numericat totality, and it is not the case that it is individuals who are fundamental and they merely influence society. Rather, society is a real and unique compound of individuals (of course, it is different from natural compounds in which individual elements totally lose their independent identity). In this kind of composition, individuals, who retain their separate wills and independence, share in a single self. Every member has a feeling of possessing two selves; sometime it is conscious of the individual self and sometime of the social self. According to some sociologists society reaches self-consciousness in the individual; that is, society is conscious of its being in the individual being.

  The sufis and gnostics hold a similar view. William James also has a similar view. With certain a difference the gnostics believe in a kind of unity among the souls and hold that the real self is the universal self. They say that man mistakenly considers his own as a distinct self and they ultimately reduce the real self to God, believing that the individual self is nothing more than a manifestation of that real self. It is as if there were a universal spirit that reveals itself in different individuals and all these selves derive from the one Divine self.

  William James also arrived at the same conclusion through psychological experiences. He holds that there is an inner connection between individual selves of which they are often unaware. One who purifies his self can get to know the contents of consciousness of other selves through that inner connection (like wells that are connected to each other under the ground while they are separate on the surface). This connection stems from their union with the Divine source. But sociologists are of the view that individuals on merging in society develop a social self which is a real cultural entity. Sometime man is conscious of this self which is not his individual self but a universal social self. Accordingly man’s has two kinds of activities those motivated by individual motives and others prompted by social motives.

  According to the first theory man has dual motives, one of which is directed to serves his own self and the other to serve others. According to the second theory man has two selves and two sets of feelings: the individual self and feeling which serve the individual self and another self and feeling which serve the collective self. A moral act is one which is not motivated by the individual self but by the collective self. The collective self is permanent and universal. The conclusion that follows from the second theory is that every action that stems from the collective self is a moral act and that which stems from the individual self is not moral in nature. Of course, the instances of this principle may vary, but in any case this can be a universal and permanent principle.


Third Theory:

  There is a third theory according to which it is impossible that man should do anything which is unrelated to the domain of his self and has no relation to his personality, being exclusively in the service of something external and without being related to the realm of his being. Man, however, has two selves, higher and lower. That is, man is a being with dual aspects. In one aspect he is an animal like other animals and in the other he has a higher reality. It is amazing why Allamah Tabatabai did not advance such a view, for it is consistent with his own principles including those relating to ethics. When we speak of `man’s nature,’ we mean man’s reality, not merely his physical nature. Man has an ontological reality and his emotional being is subordinate to that reality. The ontological being of man one plane consists of his animal being and on a higher plane of his spiritual being.

  Man completely realizes this higher self in himself or rather considers it his more original self. When animal needs conflict with his judgement based on reason and will and he wishes to subject his animal needs to his reason there may be two kinds of consequences. At times he succeeds and at other time he fails. For instance, in the matter of food and its quantity, reason has its own judgement whereas his appetite requires something else. When man yields to his appetite he has a feeling of defeat, and when he overcomes his appetite he feels victorious, while in reality he has neither been defeated by anyone nor has he been victorious over anyone. Here one aspect of his existence is dominated r by another aspect. Apparently, he should feel either defeated or victorious in both cases, for both belong to the realm of his existence. But practically we see that it is not so. When reason dominates over appetite, he has a feeling of victory and when appetite overcomes reason he feels defeated. That is because his real self is the one associated with reason and will, and his animal aspect constitutes his lower self. Actually the lower self forms a prelude to his real self. If we believe in such a duality in man’s being then we can justify ethical principles in the following manner.

  Man has certain perfections by virtue of his spiritual self. These perfections are real and not conventional, for man is not only body but soul as well. Any act that is consistent with man’s spiritual perfection is valuable, and any act that is irrelevant to the higher aspect of our soul is an ordinary and mediocre act.

  I agree with the Allamah, Russell, and others that good and bad, ought and ought-not derive from man’s likes and dislikes. But the question is: the likes or dislikes of which self are to taken as the criterion, those of the higher self or those of the lower self? Moral value arises if it is the higher self that likes. This is the reason why ethics is felt to have a higher station. That man sees one aspect of his existence and acts pertaining to it as possessing sublimity is not a mental construct or convention. Rather, that is because he feels that aspect to be a more perfect and stronger aspect of his being. All his perfections derive from that aspect of his existence and its intensity, and all defects derive from its weakness.

  In accordance with this approach, virtues like honesty, truthfulness, kindness, mercy, beneficence and the like are notions which have affinity to the higher self. The philosophers have also said that practical wisdom relates to voluntary acts from the viewpoint of being more perfect and excellent. They relate the matter ultimately to the soul, and maintain that the human soul possesses two kind of perfections: theoretical and practical. Theoretical perfection of soul lies in the knowledge of the realities of the world and the higher virtues are considered practical perfection of the soul. That is, they develop the soul practically and brings about a harmony in its relation with the body and pave the way for the real perfection of the soul. Here we reach a most significant Islamic principle which has not been discussed by the philosophers. That principle is as follows: man has an innate nobility and sublimity which is the same as his spiritual being and the Divine breath. Subconsciously he senses that dignity within himself. In confrontation with actions and habits he ascertains whether they are compatible with his innate nobility or not. When he feels that there is a compatibility and harmony, he regards it as good and virtuous, otherwise as evil and vicious. In the same way that animals are guided by instinct to what is beneficial or harmful for them, the human soul has perfections transcending nature and some actions and habits are compatible with those perfections.

  Universal values relating to good and evil, oughts and ought-hots may be justified in the following manner: Human beings are created alike in respect of that in which their spiritual perfection lies, with similar and uniform likes and viewpoints. Although physically and naturally all men live in different conditions and situations and with varying physical needs, but they are equally situated in respect to their spiritual perfection. Inevitably, in that domain likes and dislikes and notions of what is good and evil assume a uniform, universal and permanent aspect. All moral virtues, whether individual or social, such as patience and the like, can be explained from this viewpoint. The two theories mentioned earlier can explain only social values like self-sacrifice, helping others, etc., but they cannot explain values like patience, fortitude and so on. The last theory on the contrary can explain all moral values. Though I agree with the view that all perceptions of good and evil signify a thing’s relation with its perfection, nevertheless such perceptions of good and evil can be universal and permanent. []

Posted by: divinewisdoms | August 20, 2007

Human Knowledge

Man is self-conscious as well as world-conscious. He wants to have more and more knowledge of himself and the world. His evolution, progress and happiness depend on these two kinds of knowledge. Which of these two kinds of knowledge is of greater importance and which of lesser? It is not so simple to answer this question. Some attach more importance to the knowledge of oneself and others to the knowledge of the world. One reason of the difference in the answer to this question may be a difference in the way of thinking of the East and the West. Another reason may be the difference in the outlook of science and faith. Science is the means of knowing the world whereas faith is the outcome of self-consciousness.

Anyway, science tries to make man aware of himself in the same way as it tries to make him aware of the world. Various branches of psychology bear this responsibility. But the self-consciousness given by science is dull and lifeless. It does not enliven the spirit of man nor does it awaken his dormant faculties. In contrast, the self-consciousness provided by religion makes man aware of his reality, removes his apathy, fires his soul and makes him compassionate and sympathetic. That task cannot be undertaken by any science or philosophy. Not only that, science and philosophy sometimes even add to man’s insensitiveness and make him oblivious of himself. That is why many scientists and philosophers are insensitive and selfish like the proverbial dog in the manger. They are unconscious of their selves while many an uneducated man is self-conscious.

Religion calls for self-consciousness. The head lines of its teachings are: Know yourself so that you may know your Lord. Do not forget your Lord so that you may not forget yourself. The Holy Qur’an says: “Do not be like those who forget Allah, and so He caused them to forget themselves. Such are really the wicked.” (Surah al-Hashr, 59:19)

The Holy Prophet said: “He who knows himself, knows his Lord,”

Imam Ali said: “The most useful of all knowledge is the knowledge of oneself”.

He has also said: “I wonder how a man who looks for the things lost by him, does not look for himself”.

The basic criticism levelled by the knowledgeable circles of the world against the Western culture is that this is the culture of knowing the world and forgetting oneself. Here lies the real secret of the fall of humanity in the West. If a man, in the words of the Holy Qur’an, loses himself, what is the use of his gaining the world? As far as we know, it is Mahatma Gandhi, the late leader of India who from this point of view has most aptly criticised the Western culture. He says:

“The Western man can accomplish great feats which according to other nations can be accomplished only by God. But he cannot do one thing. He cannot look into his inner self. This fact alone is enough to prove the worthlessness of the false glitter of modern culture”.

“If Western culture has led the Europeans to indulging in wine and sex, it is because they are bent upon forgetting and wasting their ‘self’ instead of seeking it. Most of their great and heroic achievements and even their good deeds are the outcome of their forgetting themselves. The practical ability of the Western man to make discoveries, inventions and provision of war equipment, originates from his escape from ‘self’ and not from his extraordinary self-control. If man loses his soul, what is the use of his conquering the world?”

Gandhi further says: “There exists only one truth in the world and that is the knowledge of self. He who knows himself, knows God and all others. He who does not know himself, does not know anything. In this world there exist one force, one freedom and one justice, and that force is that of ruling over oneself. In this world there exists only one virtue, and that is the virtue of liking others as much as one likes oneself. In other words, we should look upon others as we look upon ourselves. All other questions are imaginary and non-existing”. (Introduction to My Religion, 1959)

Whether we attach more importance to the knowledge of self or to the knowledge of the world or we attach equal importance to both of them, it is certain that expansion of knowledge means expansion of human life. Life is tantamount to knowledge and knowledge is tantamount to life. He who has more knowledge of himself and the world has more life.

It is obvious that in this context the knowledge of self does not mean. the knowledge of the contents of one’s identity card, which include one’s name, names of the parents, place of birth, place of residence etc. Nor does it mean the knowledge of one’s biology which can be summarized in the knowledge of an animal higher than the bear and the monkey. To make clear what is intended, we refer briefly to the various kinds of self-consciousness. We skip over the figurative and unreal self-consciousness as that of identity card. We have several kinds of real self-consciousness:

I. Innate Self-Consciousness:

Man is self-conscious innately. It is in his nature to be self-conscious. It is not so that first man’s ego is formed and thereafter he becomes conscious of it. The birth of ego is tantamount to the birth of self-consciousness. At that stage the knower, the knowing and the known are one and the same. Ego is a reality which in itself is the knowledge of self.

In later stages when man more or less becomes aware of other things he knows himself also in the same way as he knows other things. In other words, he forms a picture of himself in his mind. Technically speaking, he becomes aware of himself through acquired knowledge. But before knowing himself in this way and even before knowing anything else, he knows himself through innate and ever-present self-consciousness.

The psychologists who usually discuss the question of self-consciousness, take into consideration only the second phase of it, that is the acquired mental knowledge, but the philosophers mostly concentrate on the first phase, that is the stage of non-mental innate knowledge. This kind of awareness is the same which in philosophy is described as one of the convincing proofs of the abstraction of ego.

In the case of this kind of knowledge there is no question of any doubt or such questions as: “Am I or am I not? If I am, who am I?” Doubt arises only in the case of acquired knowledge, that is in that case in which the knowledge of a thing is different from its actual existence. But where the knowledge, the knower and the known are one and the same, and the knowledge is of ever-present kind, the existence of doubt cannot be imagined. In other words the existence of any doubt in such a case is impossible.

It is here that Descartes made a basic mistake. He did not realize that ‘I am’ cannot entertain any doubt, and hence there is no need to remove it by saying: “I think, therefore I am”.

Though innate self-consciousness is real, it is not a thing to be acquired. Like the existence of ego it is a basic human characteristic. Hence this inborn self-consciousness is not that self-consciousness which man has been called upon to acquire.

Mentioning the various stages of the development of a foetus in the womb, the Holy Qur’an describes the last stage by saying: “Thereafter we made it a different creation”. This verse refers to this very innate self-consciousness which develops as a result of the change of non-conscious matter into a self-conscious spiritual substance.


II. Philosophical Self-consciousness:

A philosopher wants to know the real nature of self-conscious ego. Is it a substance or a form? Is it a matter or an abstraction? What relation does it bear to the body? Did it exist before the existence of the body; or did it come into existence alone with it; or has it sprung out of the body? And so on.

At this stage of self-consciousness the main question is: What is the nature and the class of ego? If a philosopher claims to be having self-consciousness, that means that he claims to know the nature, the class and the substance of ego.

III. Universal Self-consciousness:

It means the knowledge of self in its relation to the world – the knowledge of the answer to such questions as: Where have I come from? Where am I going to? In this kind of self-consciousness man discovers that he is a part of a whole called the world. He also discovers that he is not an independent being, but he is dependent on some other being. He has not come on his own; does not live on his own; will not go on his own. At this stage man tries to determine his position in this whole known as the world.

These significant words of Imam Ali visualize this sort of self-consciousness: “May Allah bless the man who knows wherefrom he has come; where he is and where he will go”.

This kind of self-consciousness creates in man the highest and the most subtle kind of longing for truth which does not exist in animals nor in any other being. It is this self-consciousness which makes man inquisitive, and persuades him to look for satisfaction and conviction. It inflames him with the fire of doubt and denial and makes him waver from one course to another. It is the same fire which impassions the souls of the “Gazalis”, makes them so restless that they can neither sleep nor eat, brings them down from the seat of the head of the Nizamiyah, and makes them wander about in the deserts and pass many restless years of their lives away from their hearth and home. It is the same fire which makes the ‘Inwan Basris’ run after truth from house to house, from street to street and from town to town. It is this self-consciousness that draws the attention of man to the idea of destiny.

IV. Class Self-consciousness:

Class self-consciousness is a form of social self-consciousness. It means a consciousness of one’s relation to the class to which he belongs. In a class-dominated society from the point of view of the style of life and its blessings and miseries everyone has to belong to a particular stratum or class self-consciousness is the realization of one’s class position and class responsibilities.

According to certain theories man has no ego beyond his class. The ego of everyone is the sum-total of his psychic forces, that is the sum-total of his feelings, thoughts, intentions and desires. These all take shape within the framework of a particular class. The proponents of this theory are of the view that man as a mere human being does not exist. His existence as such is only conceptual, not real. What actually exist are the aristocrats and the masses. Man as such could exist only in a classless society, had there been any. Hence in a class-dominated society social self-consciousness is identical with class self-consciousness.

According to this theory class self-consciousness is equivalent to the consciousness of one’s own interests, for its philosophy is based on the view that the personality of every individual is governed by his material interests. In any social structure the most important factor is its economic basis. It is common material life and common material interests which give the individuals belonging to a particular class, common conscience, common taste and common judgement. Class life begets class out-look and class out-look makes a man look at the world and society from a particular angle and interpret them as the class interest demands. Accordingly his efforts and social out-look are always class-oriented. Marxism believes in this kind of self-consciousness, which may be termed as Marxist self-consciousness.


V. National Self-consciousness:

It means the consciousness of one’s relation to the people with whom one has national and racial ties. Man as a result of passing a common life with a group of people having a common law, a common way of life, a common history, common historical successes and failures, a common language and literature and finally a common culture, develops a sort of fellow feeling and a sense of oneness with that group. As an individual has an ego, similarly a nation also by virtue of its having a common culture develops a national ego. A common culture resulting from belonging to a common race brings about similarity and unity among human individuals. Nationhood backed by a common culture turn ‘I’s’ into ‘We’ for the sake of which people often make sacrifices. They take pride in its successes and feel ashamed of its failures.

National self-consciousness means the consciousness of national culture, national personality and national ego. Basically there exists no world culture. Various cultures exist simultaneously, and each one of them has its own basic characteristics and distinguishing features. Therefore the idea of one single world culture is absurd. Nationalism which was popular in the nineteenth century and is still more or less being preached, is based on this very philosophy. In this kind of self-consciousness everything, that is evaluation, decision making and orientation, has a national aspect and moves along a national orbit, whereas in class self-consciousness everything has a class aspect.

Though national self-consciousness does not fall within the category of the consciousness of self-interest, yet it belongs to the family of selfishness. It suffers from all the maladies and defects of selfishness, such as prejudice, partiality, over-looking one’s own faults, conceit and vanity. As such, like class self-consciousness it also has no moral side.


VI. Human Self-consciousness:

It means consciousness of one’s relation to all other human beings. Human self-consciousness is based on the philosophy that all human beings taken together, form one single unit and are endowed with a ‘common human conscience’. A sense of love of humanity and fellow-feeling exists in all men.

Sa’di, the world famous Persian poet says: “All men are like the organs of one body. A man who has no sympathy with others, does not deserve to be called a human being”.

That is the idea which is entertained by those who like Auguste Comte have been and are still in search of a religion of humanity. That is also the fundamental principle of humanism which is more or less a prevailing philosophy subscribed by most of the broadminded people of our times.

Humanism looks at all men as one single unit irrespective of their classes, nationalities, cultures, religious affiliations and races. It rejects every kind of discrimination and distinction. The charters of human rights issued in the world from time to time are also based on this philosophy. They too preach such a kind of human self-consciousness.

If this kind of self-consciousness is developed by an individual, his feelings and desires become human, his efforts are oriented towards humanity and his friendships and hostilities take a human colour. He begins to like knowledge, culture, healthy activities, human welfare, freedom, justice and kindness, and to dislike ignorance, poverty, cruelty, disease, feeling of suffocation and discrimination. If developed, this kind of self-consciousness, in contrast with national self-consciousness and class self-consciousness, will have a moral significance. Though this kind of self-consciousness is more logical than any other kind of ‘it and though there has been much fanfare about it, but in actual practice it is something which is comparatively rare. Why? The secret lies in the actuality of man. The nature of his actuality is different from that of all other existing things, whether they be any kind of inorganic matter, or a plant or an animal. Everything in this world other than man is actually what it has been created. Its nature, its actuality and its characteristics are fixed by the factors of creation. But as far as man is concerned, the stage of what he will be and how he will be, begins after his creation. Man is not what he has been created. He is what he wants to be. He is what he is made by the factors of up-bringing, which include his own will and choice.

In other words, with regard to its nature and quality every thing else is actually what it has already been created, but man from this point of view has been created only potentially. There exists the seed of humanity in him in the form of his potentialities. If it remains unaffected by any pests, this seed shoots up gradually from the existence of man and develops into man’s instincts and later into his human and natural conscience.

Contrary to the inorganic matter, the plants and the animals, man has a person and a personality. The person of man, that is the sum total of his physical systems comes to the world in an actually existing form. From the point of view of his physical systems man is as ‘actual’ as other animals are. But in view of the later development of his human personality he is spiritually only a potential being. Human values are present in his existence, ready to develop and mature.[1]

The spiritual and moral formation of man is one stage subsequent to his physical formation. His body is formed in the womb by the creation factors. But his spiritual and moral systems and the components of his personality have to be developed later. As such every man is the builder and the engineer of his own personality. The brush which paints the personality of man, has been given in his own hand.

Separation between anything other than man and its nature is unimaginable. A stone cannot be separated from its stoneness. The same is true of a tree, of a dog and of a cat. Man is the only existing being in the case of which there is a difference between himself and his nature, that is between man and his humanity. There are many men who have not been able to attain humanity and like some barbarians and nomads have stayed in the state of animality. There are many others who have been dehumanized, as is the case with most of the quasi-cultured people. As regard to the question how the nature of a thing can be separated from the thing itself when its nature is essential for the existence of everything, it may be said that if the existence of a thing is actual, its nature also will consequently be actual, but if a thing exists only potentially, it will naturally be lacking a suitable nature.

That is the only correct philosophical explanation of the existentialist theory maintaining that existence is basic and that it is man who chooses his nature. The Muslim philosophers, especially Mulla Sadra, have laid ample stress on this point. It is with this view in mind that Mulla Sadra says:

“Man does not belong to one single species, but is a multi-species being. In fact an individual may one day belong to one species and another day to a different species”.

From here it becomes clear that the biological man is not the real human being. Biological man only provides the ground where the real man can exist, and in the words of the philosophers, has the susceptibility of having humanity, but does not possess it actually. Evidently it is meaningless to talk of humanity without accepting the basic role of soul.

After going through this preliminary discussion we are now in a better position to understand the meaning of human self-consciousness. As we have already pointed out, human self-consciousness is based on the conception that all men collectively form one unit and are equipped with a common human conscience transcending their religious, national, racial and class conscience.

Now it needs to be explained what kind of men collectively have one ego and are governed by one spirit and who are the people among whom human consciousness develops and creates fellow-feeling? Does it grow and develop only in the men who have actually attained humanity and human values, or in those who have not yet crossed the stage of potentiality or in those who have been transformed into worst animals, or in all of these together?

It is obvious that the question of mutual sympathy and fellow-feeling arises in the case of only those, who are compassionate and feel that all men are the organs of one body.

Naturally all cannot have this feeling. A wild man who is still in the stage of childhood and whose human nature is still dormant, cannot have a feeling of active sympathy. He cannot be governed by a common spirit. The case of the dehumanized is too obvious to admit any comments.

It is only the men who have attained humanity and whose human nature has fully developed, that actually are the organs of one body and are actually governed by a common spirit.

Only the faithful can be the men in whom all natural values may develop, for it is faith which is the basic and the most important human value.

It is a common faith, not a common race, a common country or blood-relationship that actually turns people into ‘we’ and infuses a common spirit in them. This miracle is brought about by faith only.

A Moses can have no sympathy with a Pharaoh, nor an Abuzar with a Mu’awiyah.

What is an actual fact as well as an ideal is the unity of those real men who have attained humanity and acquired virtues. That is why the Holy Prophet instead of making a general statement to the effect that all men are the organs of one body, has said: “The faithful are the organs of one body. When one organ is afflicted with pain, fever or sleeplessness, other organs automatically sympathize with it”

There is no doubt that a man who has attained humanity, shows kindness to all human beings or rather to all things, even to the dehumanized men whose nature has been deformed. That is why Allah has described His Prophet as a blessing to the whole universe. Those who have attained humanity, show kindness even to those who are hostile to them. Imam Ali in respect of Ibn Muljam Muradi said: “I like him to live although he likes me to be killed”. Only in a society of the faithful it is possible to talk of mutual love and mutual sympathy.

Evidently love of mankind does not mean total peace, lack of responsibility and indifference to what the wicked do. On the contrary real fellow-feeling imposes heavy responsibilities in this field.

In our times Bertrand Russell, the outstanding English thinker and mathematician and Jean-Paul Sartre, the well-known French existentialist thinker, are the two figures best known for their humanism. Incidentally Russell has based his moral philosophy on a principle which is contrary to his humanism in two ways: His philosophy is based on pragmatism in personal gains, that is in ensuring optimum personal gain while abiding by the moral principles. He does not believe in any other moral philosophy. Hence his humanism emanates from giving importance to personal interests only.

That enthusiastic bourgeois, who conquered the past and unfurled the banner of nationalism, has no longer anything to think of except thoughtlessness. The young generation of Europe is standing at the point of absurdity. Today the West is receiving back what it once exported. Social confusion, despair, bewilderment, nihilism are the things which it used to impose on other nations and cultures ….. The nihilist thinks that if a thing is not mine, let it not be of anybody else also …. That is why he tends to self-destruction.

We see another reaction to this situation is the emergence of romantic movement, a sort of pro-human philosophy that has engaged the attention of the Western people on various levels. At one end of it is Russell with his simple and practical views and at the other end is Sartre with his complex and restless philosophy. In the middle there are many broad-minded politicians and economists who try to find a practical solution of the problems facing them and others.

As for Sartre, he, with his free outlook and complex theory of responsibility, is another manifestation of Western spirit which with some sense of guilt wants to make amends for the past mistakes. Like the stoics, Sartre believes in the brotherhood and equality of mankind as well as in the world government and in freedom and virtue being the highest good. He today represents that tendency of the broad-minded people of the West who try to overcome their mental uneasiness caused by the hollowness of the Western culture by throwing themselves on the lap of abstract humanity and replacing religion by humanism. They seek for themselves and the entire West the forgiveness of humanity as a whole which, according to them, has replaced the idea of God.

A glaring outcome of Sartre’s humanism is that every now and then he sheds crocodile tears for the alleged injustice done to Isra’il and for the so-called tyranny of the Arabs, especially the Palestinian refugees.

The world has seen and continues to see the practical demonstrations of the humanism of Western humanists, who have signed high-sounding charters of human rights. These demonstrations need no comments.

Social self-consciousness, whether it is national, human or class consciousness has come to be known in our times as the liberal-minded consciousness. A liberal-minded is he who has got some variety of social consciousnesses, is interested in the national, human or class problems and makes efforts to uplift and liberate his class, his nation or the whole mankind. He tries to transfer his consciousness to others and make them work for social emancipation.

VII. Mystic Self-Consciousness:

Mystic self-consciousness is the knowledge of self in relation to Allah. According to the mystics this relation is not of that kind which normally exists between two things existing side by side, such as the relation between a man and other members of his society. It is that kind of relation that exists between a main and a subsidiary, or a genuine and a figurative. In the terminology of the mystics themselves, it is the relation between the limited and the absolute.

The feelings of a mystic or a sufi are different from that of a liberal-minded. They do not represent the consciousness of the inner anguish felt by man as a natural need of him. A liberal-minded first becomes aware of the anguish prevailing outside and then feels it within himself. On the other hand, the anguish of the mystic is an inner consciousness of a spiritual need just as a physical pain is the warning of the existence of a physical need.

The anguish felt by a mystic is different from that felt by a philosopher also. Both of them long for truth. But the philosopher wants to know the truth, whereas the mystic wants to reach it and be absorbed in it.

The anguish of a philosopher is a characteristic that distinguishes him from all other phenomena of nature – the plants, the animals and the inorganic matter. No existing thing in nature except man longs to have knowledge. But the anguish of the mystic is that of intense love and spiritual exaltation. It is a thing which is missing not only in animals, but even in angels whose very essence is self-consciousness.

The anguish of a philosopher is the proclamation of his instinctive need of seeking knowledge, which man by nature wants to acquire. The anguish of a mystic, on the other hand, is the proclamation of the instinctive need of his sense of love which wants to soar and cannot be satisfied unless he touches the truth with his entire existence. A mystic believes that real self-consciousness is nothing other than having knowledge of Allah. According to him, what the philosopher calls the ego of man, is not the real ego. It may be man’s spirit, soul or the factors determining his existence. The real ego is Allah. Only by breaking through the factors determining his existence, man can know his real self. The philosophers and the scholastic theologians have written a great deal on the subject of self-consciousness. But no knowledge of self can be obtained through such methods. Those who believe that what these philosophers have discovered concerning self-consciousness, is a fact, are sadly mistaken. They wrongly take swelling for fatness.

In reply to the question, what self and ego are, Shaykh Mahmud of Shabistar has composed his celebrated, mystic poem known as Gulshan-i Raz. In it he says: “When truth assumes a fixed shape because of determining facts, in words it is expressed as ‘I’ and ‘You’. But in reality ‘I’ and ‘You’ are mere manifestations of one real existence. Bodies and souls are the reflections of the same light which sometimes appears in a lamp and sometimes in a mirror”.

Criticizing the views of the philosophers about soul, ego and self-consciousness he says: “You think that the word ‘I’ always refers to the soul. You do not know what is self, because you follow reason. ‘I’ and ‘You’ are above body and soul, for both of them are a part of the ego. ‘I’ does not refer to any particular person so that it might refer to his soul. Try to be above all creation. Renounce the world and you will automatically become the world yourself”.

So according to the mystic soul or life is not the ego, nor the knowledge of them amounts to self-consciousness. Soul and life are only the manifestations of ego and self. The real ego is Allah. When man annihilates himself and breaks the factors determining his existence, no trace of his life and soul is left. At that time the drop of water which had separated from the sea, returns to the sea and is obliterated there. That is the stage of real self-consciousness. At this stage man sees himself in everything and everything in himself. Thus he becomes aware his real self.

VIII. Prophetic Self-Consciousness:

Prophetic self-consciousness is different from all other kinds of self-consciousness. A Prophet has a Divine consciousness as well as a profane consciousness. He is devoted to Allah as well as to His creation. That does not mean that he believes in any sort of dualism or that half of his attention is towards Allah and another half towards the creation. His goal and objective are not divided at all.

The Holy Qur’an says: “Allah has not put two hearts into the bosom of any man.” (Surah al-Ahzab, 33:4)

With one heart one cannot have two sweethearts.

The Prophets are the champions of monotheism. There can be no question of any trace of polytheism in all that they do, neither in their doctrine, nor in their goal, nor in their devotion. The Prophets love every particle of the world as a manifestation of the person and the attributes of Allah.

A poet says: “I am happy with the world because this thriving world is His and I love the whole world because the whole world is His”.

The love of the holy men for the world is a reflection of their love for Allah and not a love for anything besides Him. They are concerned with the creation only because of their devotion to the Creator, and not for any other reason. Their sole aim and desire is to go up (promote their spiritual power) step by step towards Allah and lift others along with them.

The career of the Prophets begins with an intense Divine love which pushes them forward to the proximity of Allah and quickens their evolution. It prompts them to undertake the journey which is known as ‘the journey from the created to the Creator’. The keen and intense feeling of this Divine love does not allow them to rest for a moment till they, in the words of Imam Ali, reach the “place of security”.

The end of this journey is the beginning of another journey which is known as the “journey from Allah to Allah”. It is during this journey that they are filled with truth and achieve still another kind of evolution.

A Prophet does not stop even at this stage. Having been filled with truth, completed the circle of existence and having become conversant with spiritual stations, he is raised as a Prophet and then begins a third journey of his, which is from Allah to people. But this does not mean his return to the point from where he had started and the loss of all that he had achieved. He returns with all his achievements intact. His journey from Allah to the people is performed with Allah and not away from Him. This is the third stage of the evolution of a Prophet.

His being raised as a Prophet at the end of his second journey means the birth of a self-consciousness in respect of people out of his self-consciousness in respect of Allah and the birth of devotion to people out of his devotion to Allah.

With his return to people the fourth journey of a Prophet and a fourth period of his evolution begins. During this journey he moves among the people alone with Allah. He moves among them in order to lead them to unbounded perfection by the way of truth, justice and human values and to give a concrete shape to their limitless hidden capabilities.

From here it is clear that what is the final goal to a liberal-minded reformer is only one of the stages to a Prophet to cross which he helps people. Similarly the highest point which a mystic or a sufi may claim to have attained is only a point on the way of a Prophet.

Describing the difference between prophetic and mystic types of self-consciousness, Dr. Iqbal says: “Prophet Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by Allah that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned”. These are the words of a great Muslim saint, Abdul Quddus of Gangoh. In the whole sufi literature it will probably be difficult to find words which in a single sentence disclose such an acute perception of the psychological difference between the Prophetic and the mystic types of consciousness. The mystic does not wish to return from the repose of unitary experience; and if he does return, as he must, his return does not mean much for mankind at large. The Prophet’s return is creative. He returns to insert himself into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history and thereby to create a fresh world of ideals”. (The Reconstruction of Religious thought in Islam, pp. 143 – 144)

At present we are not concerned whether the mystic interpretations are correct or otherwise. What is an indisputable fact is that a Prophet in the beginning has an intense longing for Allah. That is the only anguish which he feels. He seeks Allah and soars towards Him. He draws on that source. Then he feels sympathy with his fellow-beings. The sympathy of a Prophet is different from that of a liberal-minded reformer or a philanthropist. It is not simply a human sentiment, nor is it like the feeling of pity excited by the sight of a crippled man. A Prophet’s anguish is of an entirely different nature and bears no resemblance with the other compassionate feelings and sentiments. His self-consciousness in respect of people is also unique. The fire which inflames his soul is quite different.

It is true that the personality of a Prophet gets so expanded that not only his life gets united with the lives of all others, but his personality takes the whole world under its fold. He feels sorry for the sufferings of mankind. The Holy Qur’an says:

“There has come to you a Messenger from among yourselves to whom your misfortune is too hard to bear and who is eager to see that you prosper.” (Surah al-Tawbah, 9:128)

Addressing the Holy Prophet it says: “Yet you will possibly destroy yourself with grief, feeling sorry for them if they do not believe in this statement (the Quran).” (Surah al-Kahf, 18:6)

It is true that a Prophet is grieved for the hunger, deprivation, disease, poverty, persecution and harassment of the people. He feels so worried that he cannot sleep peacefully because of his apprehension that somebody might be hungry in the farthest corner of the country.

Imam Ali once said: “What a bad idea it would be that I should ever be overwhelmed by my evil desires and should be led by my greed to choose tasty dishes while there may be in Hijaz or Yamamah somebody who has no hope of getting coarse bread and who has never eaten to his fill! Is it reasonable that I should sleep satiated while there are empty bellies and burning hearts around me?” (Peak of Eloquence, Letter-45)

These sentiments should not be considered to be the result of simple compassion, kind-heartedness or fellow-feeling. A Prophet, being a human being, has in the beginning of his career all human virtues in the same form and colour as other human beings have. But after his entire existence is inflamed by a Divine flame, his virtues take a new shape and a new colour, that is a Divine colour.

Those who are trained by a Prophet are absolutely different from those who are trained by a liberal-minded reformer and the society that is formed by him is different from the society formed by the thinkers and the intellectuals.

The main difference is that a Prophet tries to stir up the instinctive forces of man. He stimulates man’s mysterious consciousness and kindles his hidden love. A Prophet calls himself a ‘reminder’ or an ‘awakener’. He creates in man sensitiveness to the entire existence, and transfers his own self-consciousness in respect of the whole existence to other people. As for the liberal-minded reformer, he at the most awakens the social conscience of the individuals and acquaints them with their national or class interests.

 [1] Islamic conception of man’s innate nature is different from that of Descartes, Kant, etc. Man’s innate nature does not mean the actual existence of certain amount of understanding or the actual existence of certain tendencies and desires in him from his very birth, or as the philosophers say that man is born with rationality and will. Similarly Islam does not accept the theory of the Marxists and the Existentialists who deny the existence of innate nature and say that man is born like a blank sheet and is equally receptive to any idea which is imprinted on his mind. According to Islam in the beginning of the period following his birth man has certain potential tendencies towards the realization of which he wants to move. An inner force drives him towards his goal, of course with the help of, external conditions. If he actually achieves what is befitting of him, he secures what is called humanity. If an actuality other than that is imposed on him by compelling external factors, he becomes a deformed being. That is the only plausible explanation of the metamorphosis of man of which even the Marxists and the Existentialists talk. From the point of view of this school, the relation between man at the birth and the human values and virtues is similar to the relation between a sapling of pear and a fully grown tree of it. An inner link with the help of external factors turns a sapling into a tree. This relation is not similar to that existing between a plank of wood and a chair, for in this case only external factors turn the former into the latter

Posted by: divinewisdoms | August 20, 2007

Is Rational Knowledge Possible?

         Should we rely on rational concepts, in addition to the things perceptible through the senses? It is a subject of great controversy among the western scholars of the later days. All Muslim philosophers as well as most of the western ones of ancient times believed that we could rely on the rational as well as the sensual perceptions.

        They were rather of the opinion that an academic premise does not look at a tangible and sensual factor as such. But most of the modern scholars, especially the scientists, hold that nothing can be relied upon except what one perceives through the five senses. Their proof is as follows: Pure rational proofs often go wrong.

        There is no test or experiment, perceptible through the senses, to verify those rational proofs or their premises. Sensual perceptions are free from this defect; when we perceive a thing through a sense, we verify it through repeated tests and experiments; this testing continues till we are sure of the characteristics or properties of the object of test. Therefore, sensual perception is free from doubt, while rational proof is not.

        But this argument has many flaws: First: All the above-mentioned premises are rational; they cannot be perceived by any of the five senses. In other words, these scholars are using rational premises, to prove that rational premises cannot be relied upon! What a paradox! If they succeed in proving their viewpoint through these premises, their very success would prove them wrong. Second: Sensual perception is not less prone to error and mistake than rational proof.

       A cursory glance at the books dealing with the optics and other such subjects is enough to show how many errors are made by sight, hearing and other senses. If rational proof is unreliable because of its possible mistakes, sensual perception also should be discarded for the same reason. Third: No doubt, there should be a way to distinguish the right perception from the wrong. But it is not the “repeated testing”, per se, that creates that distinction in our mind. Rather, it becomes one of the premises of a rational proof, which in turn provides that distinction.

      When we discover a property of an object, and the property remains the same through repeated tests, a rational proof, on the following lines, is offered by our thinking power. If this property were not this thing’s own property, it would not be found in it so unfailingly; But it is always found in it without fail; Therefore, it is its own property. It is now obvious that sensual perception too depends on rational premises to finalize its findings. Fourth: Let us admit that practically every sensual perception is supported by test. But is that test verified by another test? If yes, then the same question will arise about this later one.

       Obviously, it cannot go on ad infinitum; there must come at the end a test whose verification depends not on a visible test but on the above-mentioned rational proof It means that one cannot rely on sensual perception without relying on rational concepts. Fifth: The five senses cannot perceive absolute and major issues; they know only the particular and minor things. Knowledge depends on absolute issues, which cannot be tested in a laboratory nor can they be grasped by the five senses. A professor of anatomy operates upon, or dissects, a number of living or dead human bodies – it does not matter how large or small that number is. He finds that each of the bodies – which he has opened – has a heart, a liver and the like.

       And after looking at those particular cases, he feels bold enough to teach an absolute proposition that all men have a heart and a liver. The question is: Has he seen inside “all” the human beings? If only that much can be relied upon which is perceived by the five senses, how can any absolute proposition of any branch of science be accepted as true? The fact is that sensual perception and rational concept both have their place in the field of knowledge; both are complementary to each other.

       By rationality and understanding, we mean that faculty which is the source of the above examples of absolute principles. Everyone knows that man has such a faculty. How can a faculty created by God (or as they say, by nature) be always in wrong? How can it always fail in the function entrusted to it by the Creator? The Creator never entrusts any work to an agent until He creates a connecting link between them. So far as mistakes in rational and sensual faculties are concerned, the reader should look for it in related subjects like logic etc.[]

Posted by: divinewisdoms | August 12, 2007

Obligations, Doubt and Who is God?

 The son was watching TV when his father came home late at night. He knew that there was something serious his father wanted to say. The family had just finished supper when the father asked his son to go into a quiet room nearby to have their conversation. The son was very curious to know the subject to be discussed with his father.

F        Do you know why I wanted to see you tonight, son? S         No Dad. But I guess it is something serious.

F        I have been thinking and planning for this meeting and the coming ones for a while.S         Since when, Dad?F        Since your puberty, about a year ago. I’ve been preparing a special program for you.S         What is this program? And what does it have to do with my puberty?

F         Puberty is the transition period between childhood and manhood, fun and seriousness, unlimited freedom and responsibility, as you know. In this program, I’m going to have a series of discussions with you about religion, beliefs, faith, life, mankind, society, the universe and many other things that you should know the true meaning of and develop an opinion and attitude suitable to your state of maturity and adulthood.S         Thank you, Dad, for trusting me.

F        Son, first of all this trust is God’s trust. And if you didn’t have the capacity, He wouldn’t entrust you with obligations. It is an honor that humans alone, of all the creatures of the Earth, are entrusted with obligations.S Quite right Dad, what you say makes me feel proud, and love God even more because He obliges me with responsibility. I hope to be a good servant of God and love and obey him.

F        Well-said. A righteous servant loves God and obeys Him. Love and obedience are inseparable. A poet said “A lover obeys the beloved.”S         It seems to me that those who disobey God do this because they don’t have the love of God in their hearts.

F        Exactly, even some of those whose faith is weak don’t feel the love for God so when they perform their religious duties, they do so with reluctance, and when they pray, they pray with laziness.S         Yesterday, I read this in the Quran: “If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you.”

F        What do you understand from this verse?S         I infer that there is a mutual love between God and the believer.F        And that love means obedience and enduring hardship for the sake of the beloved.S         I liked the supplication that Mom read yesterday in the al-¯Shahifah as-Sajjadiyah [1] and I’m trying to memorize it.

F        Which supplication, son?S         The supplication that says: “… I ask for your love and the love of those who love you; the love of every task which brings me closer to You, to be my strongest love rather than any others’, and to make my love towards You as a lead to your Heaven, and my eagerness to You as a prevention of disobedience.”

F        This supplication also sheds light on the relation between love and obedience.S         But Dad, how can we find God’s love in our hearts?F        It is simple: by knowing Him. If you truly know Him, you’ll get the ultimate love. S  So, the first step is: knowing God.

F        “The first thing in religion is to be aware of it”, mentioned in Nahj al-Balaghah.[2]      
Knowing God is the first thing in religion, and this knowledge is a prerequisite for loving Him. Therefore, knowing God is a prerequisite for religion and for loving Him. This is a mathematical equation, son, or something similar to a math equation.
S         How?

F        In math, there is something called substitution when dealing with equations, S   Yes, yeah you remind me of that.
When we apply it, we say: Knowledge = Religion. Knowledge = Love; and by substitution we find that religion is love, don’t we, Dad?

F        And this is what Imam al-¯¡diq (Peace be upon him) said.S         What did he say?!

F        He said “Is religion anything other than love!” Son, love is the most beautiful thing in the world.S         God is great[3], you are speaking with me in the youth language, the language of…

F        An adolescent?S         Well, Dad, I was shy to say this

.F        Yes, I spoke to you using the teenager’s language, as God’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) commands us to speak with people according to their way of thinking. God sent each messenger to speak to people in their own language. So why shouldn’t I speak with you like a teenager?S         Exactly Dad, unless someone hears something in his own language, he won’t understand it and hence won’t interact with it. One of our teachers had given me a religious book as a present. I struggled when I tried to read it, and after a while I gave up because of its language which sounded like that of our ancestors who lived ages ago; therefore, it had nothing to do with our life today.

F        This is the reason why some youth turn away from religion because they find no representation of religion in a language that they can understand. This time is the time of computer and internet, and it’s impossible to present Islam through very old books written long time ago.S         How nicely you speak, Dad! I feel I love you more than ever and love God and thank Him for giving me such a wonderful father.

F        And I love God more for giving me such a son.S         Praise is to God!

F        Praise is to God!

S         We wandered away from the subject, Dad.

F        On the contrary, we have reached the core of the subject… we reached the subject of love. My love to you and my love to God lead me to talk to you about religion, life, God, human beings, the world and the hereafter… I want you to have a comprehensive review of all thoughts related to religion after you have reached your maturity.S         But Dad, you have discussed with us almost all of our religious issues, explained many ideological problems, clarified the principles and the components of the religion and showed us the path of guidance. Do you see a shortcoming in my faith, or defect in my behavior?

F        It’s not about a shortcoming in faith or misbehaviors, son. It is something else, completely different and extremely dangerous. That’s why I want you to be prepared and informed about some issues without being shocked.S         OK, Dad! What’s that important and dangerous matter which I should know after my puberty?

F        I wanted to tell you that what you have learnt from me about religion was incorrect.S         What?! Dad! What are you saying?!

F        As I said, all that you have heard from me about religion was completely wrong.S         Dad! What are you saying?! What do you mean? Which aspect of religion was wrong? The ideology? The manners? Please Dad, be frank with me.

F        I mean the basics of religion, the ideology: the faith in God, the hereafter, The Prophet and the messengers and all what you have learnt about is incorrect.S         Seek God’s forgiveness. Dad, what happened to you? Sorry Dad for being impolite. How can believing in God, the hereafter and the messengers be wrong? I cannot believe what I’m hearing.

F        I will answer this question tomorrow.S         Dad! Please be frank about your intentions, for you made me feel uncertain. How can you leave me in this state? And how can I pray then, while I’m in a state of uncertainty.

F        Who asked you to pray?S         Didn’t you ask me to pray and to perform it patiently?

F        Then your prayer is not accepted at all.S         Not accepted? What does that mean? Shall I abandon praying then?

F        It is up to you whether you want to pray or not.S         That’s strange. I’m going crazy. How can my father ask me to give up praying? How? My father, who taught me how to pray, is asking me to give it up now!

F        I am not asking you to give it up. I am telling you that you may give up or continue praying, as you wish.S         This is strange too. Didn’t you say that praying is the pillar of religion and the first thing I’ll be asked about in the hereafter? And that God says: “Establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise.”

F        I told you that all you’ve heard from me before your puberty was wrong.S         Dad, it’s forbidden to say so!F        What is the meaning of forbidden?S         Forbidden means that God doesn’t allow it.

F        God? Who is God?S         O God… this is madness!F        Don’t be mad. I asked you a question; answer me or say ‘I don’t know’.S         But you asked me “Who is God?”

F        What’s wrong with this question?S         Dad, please! What is going on? Is this real that you, my father, are saying what you’re saying? I cannot believe it.

F        Yes, I’m your father saying this. If I didn’t do so, then I wouldn’t be your father.S         My God! What happened?

F        We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. Now go to bed. Good night! 

[1] Ash-Shahifah as-Sajjadiyah (also called the Psalms of Islam) is a famous book comprising a collection of prayers said by Imam `Ali bin al-Husain al-Sajjad (A.S.).

[2] Nahj al-Balaghah is a book comprising a collection of sermons, epistles, and aphorisms of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (A.S) compiled by al-Sharaf al-Radhi (406/1015).

[3] In the original text, the author wrote, “allahu-akbar.” In Muslim heritage, this phrase is used to express surprise.

Posted by: divinewisdoms | August 12, 2007

Native American Muslim


My name is Mahir Abdal-Razzaaq El and I am a Cherokee Blackfoot American Indian who is Muslim. I am known as Eagle Sun Walker. I serve as a Pipe Carrier Warrior for the North-eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in New York City. There are other Muslims in our group. For the most part, not many people are aware of the Native American contact with Islam that began over one thousand years ago by some of the early Muslim travellers who visited us. Some of these Muslim travellers ended up living among our people. For most Muslims and non-Muslims of today, this type of information is unknown and has never been mentioned in any of the history books. There are many documents, treaties, legislation and resolutions that were passed between 1600s and 1800s that show that Muslims were in fact here and were very active in the communities in which they lived. Treaties such as Peace and Friendship that was signed on the Delaware River in the year 1787 bear the signatures of Abdel-Khak and Muhammad Ibn Abdullah. This treaty details our continued right to exist as a community in the areas of commerce, maritime shipping, and current form of government at that time which was in accordance with Islam. According to a federal court case from the Continental Congress, we help put the breath of life in to the newly framed constitution. All of the documents are presently in the National Archives as well as the Library of Congress. If you have access to records in the state of South Carolina, read the Moors Sundry Act of 1790. In a future article, Inshallah, I will go in to more details about the various tribes, their languages; in which some are influenced by Arabic, Persian, Hebrew words. Almost all of the tribe’s vocabulary includes the word Allah. The traditional dress code for Indian women includes the kimah and long dresses. For men, standard fare is turbans and long tops that come down to the knees. If you were to look at any of the old books on Cherokee clothing up until the time of 1832, you will see the men wearing turbans and the women wearing long head coverings. The last Cherokee chief who had a Muslim name was Ramadhan Ibn Wati of the Cherokees in 1866. Cities across the United States and Canada bear names that are of Indian and Islamic derivation. Have you ever wondered what the name Tallahassee means? It means that He Allah will deliver you sometime in the future. The Message, July 1996

Holy Quran 10:57

O men! There has come to you indeed an admonition from your Lord and a healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and a mercy for the believers.


Posted by: divinewisdoms | August 8, 2007

Dialogue Muslim-Christian [1]

Freedom of Discussion in Islam 

Wilson: Some religions discourage the questioning attitude in regard to the soundness of their teachings. They advise their followers to follow their instructions without examination. They demand faith and prohibit acquaintance with any other faith because it may lead to doubt. What is the attitude of Islam towards questioning its teaching and comparing its principles with those of other faiths? 

Chirri: Islam is very liberal in this matter. It may demand from a person to believe in certain principles but, at the same time, it advises him to try to base his belief on evidence. It sets him free to raise any question and does not condemn him when he doubts, if his doubt is followed by an intensive effort to find the truth. If any other religion advises him to avoid discussing principles other than its own and makes him fear provoking the anger of God by doing so, Islam makes one feel secure from God’s anger if he pursues his search for the truth. As a matter of fact, Islam never advises one to avoid discussion that may lead to a new knowledge and a new discovery of a truth. Be not afraid, Islam advises, to discuss any religious principle, whether it is Islamic or non-Islamic. Never worry or fear God’s anger because He is the God of truth, He never condemns a person for seeking truth. On the contrary, the more one seeks the truth and conducts intensive research, the more he deserves the Divine reward from the Islamic point of view. The most rewarding and meritorious attitude, in the eyes of Islam, is to approach religious issues with the spirit of a scientist who welcomes any evidence that may prove or disprove his theory (or a theory to which he may subscribe).

 Wilson: Does Islam have any specific rule or advice concerning religious research? 

Chirri: There are certain rules contained in the Holy Qur’an to be followed in religious research for the safety of any conclusion that may be reached. 1. Never embrace a doctrine when evidence stands against it, nor should one follow a principle without evidence. If God wants a person to believe in a principle, He should make it clear and evident. He is the Most Fair and Just. He knows that belief is not a voluntary thing; that is, it is not up to the individual. A person is not able to believe or disbelieve anything he chooses. The human body is at one’s command but not the mind. I can obey a command that tells me to move my hand up or down, to walk or sit, even if such a command does not seem to be wise. But I am not able to obey a command, for example, that tells me to believe that two and two are five, or that three are one, or that fire is cold, or that snow is hot. Our human knowledge comes from direct or indirect evidence, and it does not follow our own whim and will. An acceptable religious belief must be based on knowledge. When God wants me to know something, He should make such a knowledge possible by making its evidence available. Should He demand from me to believe something while evidence is standing against it, He would be asking me to do the impossible. This contradicts His justice. Islam never condemns an individual when he does not believe in a principle because of lack of evidence; on the contrary, Islam blames a person when he follows a principle while groping in the dark without illuminating evidence, or when such a principle is not in accordance with the truth. Following a principle against evidence, or with lack of evidence, is like a judgement of a court against a defendant without any evidence. Such an attitude is not to be praised. From the Holy Qur’an: “And follow not that of which thou hast no knowledge. Surely the hearing and sight and the heart, all ofthese will be asked about it.” 17:36 2. Never accept popularity at face value. A religious researcher should not take the popularity of a religious doctrine in his society as an evidence of its truth. Many popular ideas have been proved wrong. At one time, it was believed that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth. People believed this for thousands of years, but now we know that neither of these ideas is true. Furthermore, what is popular in one society may be unpopular in another. The opposite is also true. If popularity is a sign of soundness, all those popular ideas which contradict each other would be true, but truth never contradicts itself. When the first prophet came to proclaim the concept of one God, his message was not popular in any society because the people of the world were either pagans or non-believers. The unpopularity of such a Divine message did not prevent that message from being true. As a matter of fact, all the prophets came to their societies with unpopular messages. Their aim was to correct the popular wrong and replace it with the unpopular truth. From the Qur’an: “And if thou obey most of the inhabitants of the earth, they will mislead thee far from the way of God: They follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess.” 6:116 3. Inherited religious principles should be examined. Islam advises every adult to examine the religion which he inherited. Inherited religion, like any other religion, is subject to proof. One may rely on the judgement of his parents as long as he is a child and not capable of making his own decisions. When he becomes an adult, his religion becomes his own responsibility. Respect and honor towards parents is one of the Islamic commandments, but that does not mean accepting their opinions in important matters such as religion when their opinion is wrong. As a matter of fact, when parents adhere to a wrong religious principle and demand from their children to follow them, they should not be obeyed because such action would be contrary to the will of God; that is, if a person obeys his parents when they are wrong, he disobeys God. From the Holy Qur’an: “And we have enjoined on man concerning parents…. saying: ‘Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming. And if they strive with thee to make thee associate with Me that of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not, and keep kindly company with them in this world. ‘ ” 31:14-15 Islam commands the individual to examine its own teaching as well as any other teaching. By doing so, one may be able to value Islam more than ever before. 4. Doubters are not excused. When a person is not committed to any religion and doubts the whole religious concept, he should not be satisfied with his doubt. It is his duty to protect himself and his vital interests in this world from any harm and damage. Similarly, he has the same responsibility and duty in protecting his spiritual interest from being damaged. His serious inquiry about what may have a bearing on his spiritual life is as important as his inquiry about what may have a bearing on his physical life. In order for a person to carry out his responsibility and to fulfill his obligation, it is necessary for him to inquire, and inquire seriously, about his religious doubts. There may be many accessible facts in the doubted area; therefore, he has to try to find them. When he conducts his research and exhausts all his means and fails to find the truth, he would be excused in the eyes of God. God asks the individual only to do what is possible for him to do. From the Qur’an: “God does not impose on a soul a duty but to the extent of its ability.” 2:286 5. When you conduct a religious research, let no one make decisions for you. Do not rely on the judgement of any other person, even if he is sincere and highly intellectual. There are sincere and intellectual teachers in every faith. If a person allows them to make religious decisions for him, he will be lost because these teachers will undoubtedly contradict each other. If he relies on the judgement of teachers of only one faith, disregarding the teachers of other faiths, he will be biased. A sincere and highly intellectual teacher can be wrong, and one is not excused if he follows the judgement of this teacher. One’s religion is his responsibility and after he makes his extensive inquiry, he is the sole judge to reach conclusions and form opinions. From the Qur’an: “And no bearer will bear other’s burden …. ” 35:18, 53:38 Thus, we can see from these five Qur’anic verses that Islam is not afraid of being questioned or analyzed. Only those who fear failure forbid free discussion of their religious principles and avoid examination by researchers.[]

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