rhodoraonline

Archive for the ‘Quran’ Category

MIND’S I EXPLORATIONS: The Wise Window on the World

In consciousness, Mind's I Explorations, Mind|Body|World, perception, psychology, psychology of religion, Psychology|Religion, Quran, sources of knowledge, The Method, universe on September 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm

This is the second edition of Mind’s I Explorations, a series I began with a view to base my reflections on the nature of reality (and how we come to learn it) on the anthology: The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.

 

On having no head

The second piece of the anthology is a ‘charmingly childish’* narration of how one day in the Hamalyas, the author↓1  discovered (or rather realized) that he had in fact no head on his shoulders! In his own words, the discovery (or rediscovery) was an ultimate outcome of pondering a question for a long time: “What am I?”

*according to editors of the anthology, in their commnetary following the original piece.

If there was no head, what was there?:

It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow-peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

Indeed imagine not having grown up mentally, only developing the sharpened skill of seeing. And what would you have seen? No, you won’t see a head on your shoulders!

We conclude the presence of this head by comparing ourselves with others who have two sets of limbs and an overall physique similar to ours, and who speak, walk, eat and generally live like us. And based on this comparison, we deduce, that if they have a head, we must have one too. For although we can see our heads in the mirrors, can the testimony of a mirror (in a way, an optical illusion) be trusted?

This is the apparently naive explanation of the author. It’s not a philosophical explanation, rather it’s intuitive, describing things on an strictly ‘as is’ basis rather than distorting the first native experience of the world through rational logic. When we are born we have no idea of how the ‘uppermost part’ of our body looks. Our view is just like those film camera views when the directors are trying to show things from the ‘eyes’ of a particular character. Again, no head is visible in that view, only the body and limbs. And in place of the head is the view, the scene, itself.

In the author’s own words:

It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind … It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see.

The essence of this way of thinking really is: that the experience we go through at first hand must always be fundamentally different from all others. Yet, in this subjective experience lies a greater and more peaceful unity with the external world, than in reliance on logically deduced objective experiences.↓2(the anthology editors who comment on every piece seem to have interpreted it slightly differently).

All twoness—all duality of subject and object—has vanished.

 

The subject and the object: dichotomous, complementary, or uniform?

A duality or dichotomy refers to “two mutually exclusive, opposed or contradictory groups (such as): a dichotomy between thought and action”. Such dichotomies or dualities are of concern in nearly all major fields of knowledge. In human sciences and philosophy, often such dichotomies are subject of much debate as to their respective significance in some area and as to how much in distinction &/or opposition they stand with respect to each other. Examples include wave-particle duality, mind and matter/body, good and evil, creationism vs evolution, etc. Complement is what supplies the lack of another entity; literally, something which makes another thing complete, whole, or perfect. Uniformity may refer to an overall sameness, homogeneity and regularity.

In philosophy, the subject-object problem is concerned with delineating what is objective and what is subjective in our experience. As a starting point, we can think of ‘objects’, different beings in the universe, being perceived by an observer: the ‘subject’.  Thus on the face of it, the two entities appear to be dichotomous. However, we encounter various problems when we attempt to further elaborate this basic premise. For instance, if we depend on our own sensory experience to perceive an object, discerning only those properties which our capacities enable us to, can we really know the object objectively, as it really is?↓3 This also relates to the ‘observer vs the observed’ problem in physics epitomzied by the uncertainty principle so recently discussed on this blog. And then, to what extent our own properties (i.e. the subject’s) affect what has been observed?  

Thus, the way we actually experience the object (or the universe) certaintly seems to unify us (the subject) with it (the object). This is despite the fact that, through logical analysis, we may feel certain that the object (or the universe) has its own reality independent of our sensibility of it↓4, and also despite the fact that the total dependence for our own experience on our own devises of sensation and perception may also lead us to doubt whether ‘it’s all in the head’ or not↓5. Perhaps it’s best to say that what is out there complements what is in here (in me and in you), and that they are unified into one experience by the device of the mind which has no way to see the separation of the two.

Now, let us return to the original piece for further deliberations:

 

On regaining the pure nativity of one’s original perspective on the world:

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking … as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories … like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming.

I had been blind to the one thing that is always present, and without which I am blind indeed—to this marvellous substitute-for-a-head, this unbounded clarity, this luminous and absolutely pure void, which nevertheless is—rather than contains—all things.

…no arguement can add to or take away from an experience which is as plain and incotrovertible as hearing middle-C* or tasting strawberry jam.

— *a note in music

There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

—-

These quotes let us infer four different aspects about the experience.

i) Our intuitive experience is pre-verbal; language is not involved. All thinking and speaking is learned from the world. The nature of the kind of thinking and speaking we learn from the world is rational: we learn to associate features with specific objects, objects with specific categories. We usually learn not to cross-over between concepts. As we grow older our creativity dies down since we are taught to think in terms of what’s rational and familiar, not what’s new and different.

ii) The ‘burden’ of all this rational knowledge and way of thinking tends to bury our own sources of pre-verbal thought (let’s call them intuition and the freshness and naitvity of creativity) farther and farther beyond the boundaries of conscious life. Whereas, the fact remains that this intuitive thought is as basic and primary to us as ‘tasting jam’ or hearing a melody.

iii) The burden is not just metaphorical, it’s literal: The more thought we put into issues, the more we experience generally negative emotions and the more the issue (that we have been thinking on) seems like a ‘pressure’ or ‘full of stress’. The most peaceful moments of our lives are indeed those when we are simply submerged in an experience rather than caught in the tangles of thought.

iv) Hence, the sense of joy and peace on having reconnected with one’s innate perspective on the world: that the whole world is unified by the fabric of first-hand experience. It’s the artifact of logic that ‘divides’ the world into things and categories and hierarchies, and into I and it. This is this and that is that. The author has replaced it with the original ‘I≡universe≡reality’ kind of experience that would have remained in our consciousness if we had not been trained otherwise by the rigors of reason.

In addition to explaining how we come to loose the freshness of our inborn perspective, these conclusions also touch upon another commonly discussed ‘duality’: nature and environment. However, the whole discussion might remain a heady philosphical or incomprehensibly mystical narrative if not made plainer.

 

How the world conditions us

The best way to clarify the subject is to recast it in terms of a famous (though not very widely known in mass media) person-centered theory of personality by Carl Rogers. In addition to becoming more familiar, an additional advantage in speaking in terms of this theory is that a lot of general psychological insights abour how life works might be gained.

In Rogers’ theory, the counterpart of the ‘native perspective on things’ is a process called ‘organismic valuing’. The counterpart for ‘the perspective the world imposes on us’ is ‘conditions of worth’. Before coming to these concepts, however, we must first consider what Rogers meant by conditional and unconditional positive regard.

When we give a person our trust and acceptance, with an expression of genuine positive sentiment towards them, despite their shortcomings, faults and mistakes, they have recieved ‘unconditional positive regard’.

On the other hand, when we treat a person based on how they behave, and how well they perform tasks, we are treating them with conditional positive regard: we love them when they are good to us, and neglect or mistreat them when they are incapable of goodness. In a way, we expect them to ‘conform’ to our standards of behavior; if they don’t meet those standards they are somehow worthy of inferior treatment.

These standards that others must meet to obtain our regard are what Rogers called as the conditions of worth.

Typically, learning takes place through the application of these conditions on the growing child. The child is given the impression of being a ‘bad child’ and treated with various forms of punishments (at the very least, the withdrawal of positive objects such as attention, praise or toys), when he/she fails in behaving as expected. It is the incentives of parents’ love and attention (positive regard) that prompts the child to learn speech, get toilet-trained, and learn to eat with manners. If parents are not very mindful of the balance in their attitude (specifically, in giving the child a steady sense of unconditional positive regard through all the ups and downs of child development) the child might well loose the innate interest and ‘fun’ in learning and exploring new things. As such, the child will learn to do every new thing just to obtain someone’s regard or to avoid someone’s punishment. That is also how many children come to despise any new learning, except what they learn from play-at-will.

Many a children have ‘discovered’ that playing with a certain child was ‘bad’ given his/her background; that someone we never thought of as good or bad is now definitely good or certainly bad since we have heard some of our elders announce and reinforce that; that even thought the idea that an act of dishonesty is unjust and harmful makes perfect sense, whether it’s ok to engage in it or not depends on who does it. Thus even when children have received noble and valuable guidelines for living at a formal level, they are more often than not negated by actual conditioning.

In adulthood, the primary forms of conditions may be replaced by other more sophisticated ones: money, power, status, achievement, renown and fame, and a luxurious life. Even though we come to experience them as our own needs, their common sense definitions contain the sense of comparison with ‘others’: more money than others, power over others, satus higher than others, achievement better than or different from others’, renown and fame among others, more luxury and comfort than others…. Our life is reduced to nothing but a race for meeting more and more worthy conditions of being.

 

What we loose in the process

What we loose in the process is our own pre-verbal, intuitive, and emotionally tinged sense of things—what Rogers called as ‘organismic valuing’. According to Rogers, all organisms (humans or lower) have a tendecy to develop as fully as possible. For lower organisms, this is restricted more or less to the physical sense: body needs and survival. For humans however, there is an additional dimension called as self-actualizing. This tendency refers to our innermost urge to realize all the possibilities of experience and capacity innate to us. This urge creates in us ‘organismic valuing’: an inner voice (of course, experienced as a feeling rather than a thought) that tells us that some things are superior and make us more content and peacefully satisfied from the inside than some other things, without anybody’s commentary as a go-between. In cases where conditioning has been rather foolproof, we never even come to realize that there are whole undiscovered, and unexplored sides of us suppressed beneath the life of society-imposed ‘values’ we are pursuing.

This rosy existence is unfortunately uncommon. We remain pressurized by the need to do more for others and for ourselves as our worth has been attached to certain objects valued by our society. We have to force ourselves to ways of behaving and thinking that are inferior in our own eyes, but suit others. We have to hide our true inclinations, attitudes, and opinions on grave matters of character and way of life so that they don’t meet with censure, ridicule, indifference, bigotry, or plain misunderstanding. Our happiness comes to reside solely in other’s being happy with us; moments of peace, contentment, and joy that originate solely from inside are few and far between.

And buried deep beneath the compost of all the negated inner and intuitive knowledge of good and right, bad and wrong, must be that original and fresh perspective on the world: of being at one with the whole universe, of experiencing the whole universe at first hand.↓6

 

Where do our innate knowledge and perspective come from

Scientists may call it nature; but nature means what is there already existing before worldly learning takes place. Hence ‘nature’ is not an answer to the above question; if used, it’d merely be a ‘circular’ definition. Nature is what has been created by God:

فِطْرَتَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا

 … this (faith) being the nature designed by Allah on which He has originated mankind. (in Ar-Rum, 30)

According to the Ma’ariful- Qur’an, English version,  two interpretations of ‘nature’ are derivable from sources. One is that nature here means Islam, in reference to the following Ahadith in Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 6:

There is none born but is created to his true nature. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Majoosi… (#6423)

and:

Every new-born babe is born on the millat, and remains on this until his tongue is enabled to express himself. (#6427)

According to the second, equally acceptable interpretation, “Allah Ta’ala has bestowed the capability to every human being to discern his Creator and believe in Him”. Once this capacity is allowed to develop, it will ultimately lead the person to submission to God in the form of Islam. In fact, Maulana Taqi (the author of the Tafseer) presents arguments clarifying that the meaning that resonates with both the context of the full ayah and the ahadith quoted above is this second one:

All children are born with the natural instinct to perceive and identify the truth through an observation of their environment; however, once they develop the skill of speaking (which actually means the ability to understand logical concepts and think accordingly) their conscious development falls dependent on the teachings of their respective social environments.

 

Where does it all fit in the subject-object problem?

 In Qur’an the world has been described many times as a thing of play and pastime:

وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ

… the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play… (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

And it’s objects a vehicle of deception:

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

THE worldly life is no more than a deceitful possession. (in Al-i-Imran, 185)

And it has indeed succeded in deceiving a majority of the people:

وَغَرَّتْهُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا

 … and they have been deceived by the life in this world… (in Al-An’am, 70)

And the real life will be the one to come after:

وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ 

whereas, the life in the hereafter is indeed the real life: if they but knew this! (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

 

Even research in astrophysics has progressed to the point that some authors have speculated on the ‘tentative’ and ‘image-like’ nature of this world. According to Michael Talbot, in his book The Holographic Universe:

… there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.

The interesting part is that the way we experience it, we are never in a position to ascertain whether this world is a literal inter-play of light and other energies. All our experience tells us directly is the uniqueness of one’s own window on the world — a window we cannot share with anyone else, nor can we ever succeed in ‘peeping’ out from any one else’s window. What we call red, is what we have heard others calling red and teaching us to do the same; we are not even sure (by direct experience) that what looks as red in our eyes looks the same in anyone else’s eye or not!

On the other hand, the tangibility of the objects of this world is also directly experienced by us. So we can’t be inherently sure of any ‘philosophical idealism’ either (the idea that we experience nothing but what our minds make up). Moreover, at the level of daily life, questions of what is good and bad behavior, what is just and unjust, etc affect us more though deeper deliberations do have their effect.

We also get a similar attitude from the Qur’an. While, at least at the meaningful level, the belief in the transience of this life (meant to be ever inexplicable at the level of this world and this humanity) is a direct corollary of the belief in a more real and eternal life; pondering too much on ‘how to explain it all in terms understandable to us’ won’t serve us in any practical matters:

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ

وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا

وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord’; and only people of who are wise take heed.  (Al-i-Imran, 7)    

 

This wisdom is again pre-endowed; the same inner wisdom that begins to loose its voice pressured by the outward-imposed ‘lessons’. Attempts to scientifically analyze and study this wisdom will again fail; one cannot expect the ‘subject’ to turn back on itself and to study itself ‘objectively’. This wisdom is our side of the reality: our window of the world, whether blurred termporarily by the conditions of worth; or, open and receptive and accepting of all the mysticalities of the world, humbly accepting its own and the world’s true nature for what it is.  

This wise consciousness could well be the primary fact of life; that elusive insightfulness that imbues with belief on and certain and intimate knowledge of the only Source deservant of that belief. Interestingly, I stumbled upon but last night on an online ‘course on the consciousness‘ by a Professor Emeritus in physics, in the University of Virginia, Stanley Sobottka. It resonates nearly perfectly with the above conclusion:

Because most scientists of all types are mentally wedded to a belief in an external reality, they are unable to see an alternative picture. In particular, they are unable to see that Consciousness, rather than external reality, is the fundamental Reality. Thus, they persist in attempting (and in failing) to create an objective theory of Consciousness. When the contents of Awareness try to objectify Awareness, it is like a puppet trying to “puppetize” the puppet master, a picture on a movie screen trying to “pictureize” the actors, a shadow striving to “shadowize” the object that is casting it, or humans trying to “humanize” God.

The problem of trying to create an objective theory of subjective experience has been labeled the “hard problem” of consciousness by David Chalmers… In fact, there is no hard problem for those who are aware they are aware.↓7  

 

Notes

1. D. E. Harding was a mystical writer on the nature of self and reality.

2. The commenting editors have not articulated this angle. To read the chapter along with the commentary, click this link.

3. Read “the problem of substance” on the pertinent wikipedia page. I mentioned a relevant example formerly in Prophetic revelation and subjectivity.

4. A view called as philosophical realism.

5. The issue is examplified by this famous question that if there is no one in the jungle to hear a sound produced, can we say that the sound was really there? Yes is the answer given by subjective idealists who say, in essence, that the mind makes the world (or the subject makes the object).

6. This idea, of course, is not part of Rogers theory but links this psychological discourse with the more philosophical one we began with.

7. For flow reading I have removed internal hyperlinks in the quote pointing to sections in the course which have already elaborated in various points in here. I have also removed the cross-reference to David Chalmers. To see the original go to the section of the course here: http://faculty.virginia.edu/consciousness/new_page_13.htm#9.6

 

Related posts from this blog:

On scientific speculativeness vs certainty of Divine knowledge: Assumptions vs Certainty (Synopsis)

Note that all the related links noted down in the above-linked post page are relevant to this discussion as well.

Also, more on mysteries of consciousness ordinarily hidden from our perception: Outrageous Sensations: What can we learn from LSD?

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: True knowledge, and actual ignorance

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, philosophy, poetry, Quran, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, The Method on September 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The insights revealed by literature are sometimes more powerful and incisive than the best of sciences…

I have found many extracts from Rumi’s spiritual outpourings that expand and illuminate on the current topic of this blog.

My interspersed commentary is an attempt to both link the extracts and make them more accessible to readers. Note that any underlining in the excerpted poetry is mine.

 

Rumi on the true versus the weak sources of real knowledge↓:

1. A QUATRAIN

Ignorent men  are the soul’s enemy

Shatter the jar of smug words

Cling for life to those who know

Prop a mirror in water, it rusts

———-

We are coming straight from a discussion with the upshot that how science, despite all the progress it has incurred, must still fall short on revealing the true nature of this world and the truest guidelines for human living. It’s the divine which makes up for this lack in our lives, not the human. The wordy lectures and papers of the self-claimed ‘learned’ men while ‘informative’, actually tell us nothing about what we really need to know.

____________________________________________

2. A QUATRAIN

Reason, leave now! You’ll not find wisdom here!

Were you thin as a hair, there’d still be no room.

The Sun is risen! In its vast dazzle

Every lamp is drowned.

—————-

From:

3. STORY WATER

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know

and then not.

————

4. From

GOD IN NATURE

Ascend from materiality into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud voice of the universe;

Then thou wilt know that God is glorified by all inanimate things: the doubts raised by false interpreters will not beguile thee.

———————–

5. From

IMMEDIATE KNOWLEDGE

Come, recognize that your sensation and imagination and understanding are like the reed-cane on which children ride.

The spiritual man’s knowledge bears him aloft; the sensual man’s knowledge is a burden.

God hath said, Like an ass laden with books: heavy is the knowledge that is not inspired by Him;

But if you carry it for no selfish ends, the load will be lifted and you will feel delight.

____________________________________________________________________

God with His Brilliance and Actuality certainly pales any other source of enlightenment and illumination possible. Not only that, Our Creator’s mysterious workings and intricate powers seem to have enmeshed themselves with the fabric of the ‘apparent’ world created for our temporary existence. Such that the closest possible examination of any corner or pattern on the tapestry of this world either blinds us (given the Dazzle of the Source of things). Burdened by the contradictory and mutative conclusions from our observations and the enigma of explaining what we can see and can’t see in the terms of our limited understanding, we remain ignorant and indifferent to the Light. Or, we experience a touch of the dazzle ourselves in form of awe, wonderment, a sense of being in the presence of the Sacred, and a sweet and submissive urge to bow down our heads before this Source.

______________________

6. A QUATRAIN

Body of earth, don’t talk of earth

Tell the story of pure mirrors

The Creator has given you this splendour —

Why talk of anything else?

—————-

From:

7. IF YOU DON”T HAVE

you’ve carved a wooden horse

riding and calling it real

fooling yourself in life

though only a wooden horse

ride it again my friend

and gallop to the next post

you’ve never really listened

to what God has always

tried to tell you

—————–

In the physical world, every level of existence (such as the cultural, the individual, the biological, the chemical, and the subatomical) requires it’s own set of explanatory processes and phenomena. How can we claim to deduce understandings of how this world was created by restricting ourselves to the level of this earth? This will never be possible, unless we stop taking the things of this earth as the end of the road, as the literal reality itself. We must take them instead as signs, pointers or mirrors to the deeper nature of things at a level far far beyond the earthly. Instead of restricting ourselves to the details of this earth, we should move ahead to what this detail signifies: the magnificence, the splendour, the sublimity of how it all came to be.

_____________________

8. A QUATRAIN

I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!

—————–

And so external observations are not the end of the road for the one earnest seeker of the Truth. After you’ve completed your observations, then, like Ibrahim, you must close the door of externality and turn on the fountain of contemplation from within.

___________________________

From:

9. THE TRUTH WITHIN US

‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit

And vines and greenery. A Sufi there

Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,

Sunk deep in meditation mystical.

‘Why,’ asked another, ‘dost thou not behold

These Signs of God the Merciful displayed

Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?’

‘The signs,’ he answered, I behold within;

Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.’

—————–

God has already planted the germs for recognizing the truth within us. When we trun inwards, rather than remaining blinded by the tangled mechanisms of the outer world, we come to access and reinstill these germs.

_________

From

10. THE TREASURE-SEEKER

That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.

The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.

Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.

While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes, in the bosom of the Deviser.

————————

The huge enterprise of science is not even needed to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Those who know the art of looking within (rather than remaining stuck on the without) for answers, even if they lack the material sophistication of the externalists, have more easily acquired that personal and intimate connection with our God that we either are magnetically attracted to or crazily run away from.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I finish with an ayah and a quatrain…

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ 

OF ALL His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God. (in Sura Fatir, 28)

 

11. A QUATRAIN

I know nothing any more, except

That knowing you, I know the source

Of Knowing ; this fire-spring you pull me in

Sometimes, where ‘you’ and ‘I’ burn.

 

Notes

All translations have been taken from the Rumi edition of the Everyman’s Library of Pocket Poets. In order of appearance of quoted poems, here are the translaters with page number references.

  1. Andrew Harvey, p. 60
  2. Andrew Harvey, p. 62
  3. Coleman Barks, p. 86
  4. Nicholson, p. 128
  5. Nicholson, p.130
  6. same as 2
  7. Nader Khalili, pp. 76-7
  8. Coleman Barks, p.84
  9. Nicholson, p. 93
  10. Nicholson, p. 96-7
  11. Andrew Harvey, p. 163

 

 

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: How God relates to His subjects…

In God, Islam, Quran, Ramadaan, spirituality on August 18, 2011 at 12:05 am

16th Ramadaan, 1432:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ قَتَلَهُمْ

وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ رَمَىٰ

IT WAS not you who killed them but Allah who killed them;

 and it was not you (o Prophet) who threw (sand at them) rather Allah who threw (in Sura Al-Anfal, 17)

 

Background and Preamble

In Sura Anfal, describing the events of Ghazwah Badr (the first battle of Prophet Mohammad, salla-Allahu alaihi wa-sallam, and his followers with Mecca’s polytheists) Allah Ta’ala attributes the actions of all muslims (includig the prophet) to Himself. Given it’s context and background, the ayah has many specific and significant interpretations; however, I was struck by the ‘relating’ sense of the meaning of this ayah.

By relating, here I don’t mean the nature of our relationship with God, that of being His creation, His subjects, His dependents and worshipers. To relate also means to connect, to associate with, to concern with, to ally. God is the Sole Creator, Emperor and Controller of the whole universe and we are a tiny part of the vast universe. We are powerless before Him, in essence nothing. And yet, when the same of our kind attempted to follow His path and act out it’s demands, see how that same Omniscient, Omnipotent, All-encompassing God identifies Himself with them and endearingly attributes their actions to His Self. 

 

The backdrop for a relating God 

 There is abundant evidence in the Qur’an, as well as in hadith, that Allah Ta’ala extends His Love towards all His creation. In Arabic the most common word for love is hubb ( حب ). Other related words also used in the Qur’an are: rahmah ( رحمة ) meaning kindness and benevolence, rabubiyah ( ربوبية ) meaning to care for, ra’fah ( رأفة ) meaning tenderness and gentleness, wuddah ( وده  ) meaning to be fond of some one, and wilayah ( ولاية  ) means being a friend.

Of these various words, rahma, rabubiyah, and ra’fah have been used to express the more general and all-encompassing love of God for His creatures. Kindness is a virtue that springs from love: you cannot be kind with someone if you have an incapacity to feel love for them. The natural consequence of love and kindness is caring. Caring, as in rabubiyah, involves specific actions such as helping one grow and develop, and providing for one’s sustenance. Of course, God has provided us for our growth in various ways and reminds us of that numerously in the Qur’an. As for His rahmah, He announces:

 ۖ وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ

  MY mercy (or benevolence) embraces all things. (in Al-A’raf, 156)

and:

كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ 

… WHO has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy. (in Al-An’am, 12)

 

And how can the One who produced everyone and everything and is responsible for their care, not have a basic attitude of tenderness and gentleness upon those whome He created?

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ

 INDEED, Allah is Gentle with people (in Al-Baqara, 143)

 

These defining attributes of God are amazing enough. Can we think of anybody else, no matter how loving in our eyes, who loves us so thoroughly who is ready to come to us ten steps if we only take one toward him? Who is ready to forgive all our mischief, disobedience, indifference, forgetfulness, or outright stubbornness in exchange for one truthful moment of acknowledgement (of His Sole Godness and of our having done wrong)? Who tenderly arranges for all the elements for our survival in this world, in the physial, psychological, and spiritual paths so that we may arrive soundly at the gate of the Real World to be? Who is not in the example of a self-satisfied pampering mother who spoils her children in the name of her ‘love’, rather who even cares for our being as optimally human as possible, thus even tests us with ordeals and shakes us with hardships so that we do not get lost in the maze of superficial luxuries and comforts?

And yet He remains Supreme, far far above us, the Incomparable, the One and the Sole. His Status is undeniably High and Mighty. So how can we expect the King of the whole universe to relate to us in the fashion of a one-to-one relationship?

 

God’s special love for His special subjects

The special more relational love of God is a reward of those of His subjects who acknowledge and depend upon His general Loves of Kindness and Tender Care. From the above list of love-related words, those that directly reflect the sense of love and affiliation are hubb, wuddah, and wilayah. Throughout the Qur’an, Allah Ta’ala has used these words as either affirmed fact or promised reward for those who obey Him truly.

And so Allah Ta’ala announces, because we believe in Him, He is our Friend. And not just a friend, rather, a true friend who works as a guide and benefactor (for that is covered in the meaning of the word wali):

اللَّـهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

ALLAH is the friend of those who believe (in Al-Baqra, 257)

And, as we follow the teacher (Prophet Mohammad s.a.w) He appointed out of His Kindness and Care, He promises us His Love:

إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّـهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّـهُ

Say: ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you (in Al-i-Imran, 31)

And when we place our trust in Him, as any proclaimed friend merits, again He loves us:

فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

… WHEN you decide upon something, rely upon Allah; indeed Allah loves those who trust (Him). (in Al-i-Imran, 159)

And when we, after believing in Him, try to practice all the various meritable attitudes and behaviors that He inspires us to, He promises His most special fond, friendly and affectionate love to us:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ سَيَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ وُدًّا

SURELY, Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do the right. (Sura Maryam, 96)

 

The relational attributes of God

We all know that any real-life one-to-one relationship based on love, friendliness and affection is operational. By that I mean, it is not just in the form of proclamations, rather it expresses itself in specific actions, prerequisites of being a loving friend. God who is already acting as a Kind, Gentle Caregiver for the entirety of His creatures, believing or unbelieving, is indeed acting as a real Friend to us, those who believe and trust and rely on His Friendship, all the time:

And so He is there, close by us, whenever we need to talk to Him:

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

AND if My subjects ask you, O Prophet. concerning Me, tell them that I am quite near to them. I hear and answer the prayer of the suppliant, when he calls to Me. So let them respond to My call and believe in Me. Convey this to them, O Prophet; perhaps they may be guided aright. (Sura Baqra, 186
 

And just as we remember Him, He does the same:

 فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ

 SO remember me, and I shall remember you. (in Al-Baqara, 152)

And in times of difficulty when we are threatened, like a true friend, He defends us:

 إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُدَافِعُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

SURELY Allah defends those who believe. (in Al-Hajj, 38

 And just like we greet each other in our friendliness, so He will greet us (InshaAllah, in Heaven) when finally the time for the meeting arrives:

 سَلَامٌ قَوْلًا مِّن رَّبٍّ رَّحِيمٍ

SALAAM! shall be the greeting from the Merciful Lord. (Sura Ya-Sin, 58)

And not only that, He will express His appreciation for whatever little we could do for Him in our earthly lives: 

إِنَّ هَـٰذَا كَانَ لَكُمْ جَزَاءً وَكَانَ سَعْيُكُم مَّشْكُورًا

 “SEE this is your recompense and your striving has been thanked.” (Sura Al-Insan, 22)

And like a true reciprocating friend, He doesn’t just care for Himself being pleased with our friendship, He cares for our being pleased with His friendship, too…

 رَّضِيَ اللَّـهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ 

 ALLAH is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him. (in Al-Mujadila, 22 and in Al-Bayyina, 8)

 

 …. only if we were sensible enough to long to and strive to merit it….

 

Is there anything left to say?

 

Source

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: The determined vs the uncertain

In excerpts and quotes, psychology of religion, Quran, Ramadaan on August 14, 2011 at 12:38 am

 12 Ramazaan, 1432:

إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ 

I HAVE turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, as a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.’ (Al-An’am, 79)
 
 
I came across the ayah more than a week ago in my recitation cycle but the topic once again proved very interesting and also analyzable from a psychological point of view, hence the delayed posting.
 
This line is the great conclusion to Quran’s description of Hazrat Ibrahim’s (alaihi-s salaam) deduction of the Truth from his observations.
 
Background
 
Allah ta’ala thus begins the great but succintly and beautifully described incidence in Sura An’am:  

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُرِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُوقِنِينَ  

AND thus We gave Abraham [his first] insight into [God’s] mighty dominion over the heavens and the earth – and [this] to the end that he might become one of those who are inwardly sure. (75)
 
 
 The lines describing the observations of the skies that Hazrat Ibrahim made before reaching his conclusions are immensely beautiful. Those familiar with tajweed should read with care (and preferably meaning in mind) for full effect:
 

فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَىٰ كَوْكَبًا ۖ قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآفِلِينَ 

 فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِن لَّمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ 

 فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي هَـٰذَا أَكْبَرُ ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ

WHEN night drew over him, he saw a star. ‘This’ he said: ‘is surely my Lord’ But when it set he said: ‘I do not like the setting ones’. (76)
WHEN he saw the rising moon, he said: ‘This is my Lord’ But when it set, he said: ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I shall surely be amongst the astray nation’. (77)
THEN, when he saw the sun rise, shining, he said: ‘This must be my Lord, it is larger’ But when it set, he said: ‘O nation I am quit of what you associate (with Allah, the Creator). (78)
 
 
Some tafaseer-al-Quran describe elaborate stories to explain how, while the sun, stars and moon are open to observation any night, Hazrat Ibrahim seems to have done his deliberation at one go. However, more moderate mufassirs such as Maulana Taqi and Maulana Maudidi remind us that collapsing relevant snippets of happennings apart in time and condensing them into a single lyrical and succint narration is a common feature of the Qur’an; wherein details that do not matter at the place are simply left out. So here it seems.
 
What is apparent is that despite being raised in an environment where idolatory and worship of celestial bodies was the absolute custom and his own father was a respected sculptor of idols, Hazrat Ibrahim probably retained his doubts since the beginning, and after his observations and thinking, finally reject once and for all such ‘obviously’ ‘created’ ‘things’. He realized that something which is subject to such a firm set of rules and cannot deviate from those rules (of rising and shining and setting on a tic-toc schedule) cannot be the creator itself, and doesn’t really merit the designation of ‘deity’ that his society had accorded it. The one who must have created these large floating bodies in the skies must be the Sole Creator.
 
We know that he used to think nothing of the sculpted idols of his nation on grounds that they are powerless and really helpless sittting dolls that cannot eat or speak (in Sura Al-Anbya and Sura As-Saaffaat).  Thus after final deliberations regarding the religious customs of his nation, he turned away from all false gods and declared his allegiance to the Sole God in the words that make up the focused ayah of this post.
 
There is one major concept in one word of this ayah that I wish to share with my readers:
 
 
Hanif: the upright, the pure-faith one, the focused
 
Although my search in online Arabic dictionaries mostly yielded the meaning ‘upright’, wikipedia describes hanif as a term for one having the pure monotheistic faith typical of Muslims. The reference to Hazrat Ibrahim is obvious since he rejected other idols in favor of the Sole God. In one Qur’an search engine↓1, I found the following description of the root ha-nun-fa that makes up hanif:
 
To lean to one side, incline, turn away from error to guidance, incline to the right religion, stand firmly on one side, leave a false religion and turn to right.
 
In addition, in Urdu translations of Quran I have often read the word yek-su as a proper rendering of the concept. ‘yek’ means one and ‘su’ means direction. Whole, the word again refers to one who has got rid of other distractions and now sticks firmly to one well-chosen side.
 
All the meanings of the word hanif have a close relation to the above history of Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam). Naturally so, since Allah Himself associates the word so often with the prophet, throughout the Quran. (Basic root search on tanzil.net will confirm that 8 out of 12 times, the word is used in connection with the prophet, including the ayah above. The remaining instances are interpreted to have similar meanings as already referred to).
 
 
Of being hanif and ‘determination’
 
Later history of Hazrat Ibrahim confirms that once having made his decision, he was tested as fiercely as anybody could and yet did not deviate for the slightest moment from the firmness of his belief. How did he make such a strong decision that he turned out to be so determined? Apart from his being a prophet, the qualities of his decision-making are worth examining for our own learning. Many people in the world do not have the strength to make such a strong decision at all; many others (like us), when they do, are not so stoically adherent to it as he was all his life: we keep faltering, forgetting, ignoring, or chickening out.
 
 
The process of decision-making
 
Decision-making is obviously a mental process. It begins when a person is faced with a set of alternatives in the environment. The process is not restricted to humans; however, the scale from simple organisms to humans increases in complexity: the situations posing alternatives are complex, and some alternatives are not even directly related to sensory information (Berthoz, p. 86 in Plmerol, 2010, see below for reference link). The decision Hazrat Ibrahim had to make (it was in his younghood, certainly well before Allah Ta’ala guided him through His message) was thus a very complex one: multitude of choices well-embedded in his environment against the One choice for which no salient sensory help was available.
 
Back to theory: each alternative is weighed in terms of costs and benefits before settling on one. Now what costs and benefits the young Ibrahim must have considered, indeed, which must have propelled him towards his deliberations as desirable incentives vs aversive risks. I think the answer must be the contrast between nobility vs lowness that I have already posed in my last Ramadaan post. As a resummary I will quote one famous line from Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, with its translation:
 

وہ ایک سجدہ جسے تو گراں سمجھتا ہے 

ہزار سجدوں سے دیتا ہے آدمی کو نجات 

[Woh ek sajda jise to giraan samajhta hai
Hazar sajdon se deta hai admi ko nijat ]
 
The one sajda that you often find difficult
Relieves you from stooping to a thousand gods
 
 
Two contrasting human tendencies that exist side-by-side in any human are the drive to avoid unncessary risk and be safe, and the urge to realize one’s true potential which entails risk-taking (Raufaste and Hilton in Polmerol, 2010, p. 475). It’s clear which tendency must have been superior in Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam).
 
Finally, “after a complicated physiological process involving numerous parts of the brain, a dominant solution eventually inhibits all the other possible solutions” (Polmerol, p. 177). Thus the process of decision-making ends with a final choice which may  be expressed as an action or opinion.  In Islam, however, mere declaration of monotheism earns mere name tag; action is required to be a true hanif, which Hazrat Ibrahim proved to be, earning good mention from such a High Source.
 
 
The mechanisms of decision-making
 
Ideally, decision-making would be a tight logical process. All the available alternatives would be examined with an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis for each of them; the solution would be an optimal one in consideration of all this information.  This is the rational approach to decision-making. In most cases this absolute rationality is impossible, since the human mind cannot think of all alternatives nor do a true exhaustive analysis for each of them (Simon, 1997,  in Polmerol, 2010, p.166). The reason for this is the future.
 
The variable of future makes everything uncertain. New, better alternatives may arise in the future. Chosen alternative may turn out to have unforseen consequences. Left out alternatives may turn out to be better than initially asumed. Etc. In Hazrat Ibrahim’s case, unforseen consequences did come up such as being thrown in a fire, having to leave one’s hometown, etc, but by that time future had already rewarded him with prophethood thus removing any possibility of uncertainty. But what about before the first message from God arrived, what about then?
 
In going through his deliberations, did he unconsciosly rely on recognition-primed decision-making? Now what is that? I quote wikipedia here: “Recognition-primed decision (RPD) is a model of how people make quick, effective decisions when faced with complex situations. In this model, the decision maker is assumed to generate a possible course of action, compare it to the constraints imposed by the situation, and select the first course of action that is not rejected.” The question is what suggests this first, intuitive course of action? According to one scholar (Polmerol, 2010, p. 158)↓2, such an intuition is suggested by “an affective, visual, or other stimulus” [the underlining is mine], “the recognition being that of matching to some pattern in making the decision”.
 
Above, we’ve seen that experts already recognize that in complex human decisions all alternatives are not suggested by sensory stimuli. So what could be the ‘pattern’, the ‘stimulus’ that the to-be-prophet must have recognized that was enough to embue him with such a near-certainty about his first-choice alternative? Is it that God has already embedded deep inside us some inkling of the True Reality that holds fast when all the other outside, apparent and obvious alternatives have been cancelled out by the rational mind? It turns out, He has:
 

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَنِي آدَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ

 أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ  شَهِدْنَا ۛ

أَن تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَـٰذَا غَافِلِينَ  

AND recall (O Prophet) when your Lord brought forth descendants from the loins of the sons of Adam, and made them witnesses against their ownselves. asking them: ‘Am I not your Lord?‘ They said: ‘Yes, we do testify.’ We did so lest you claim on the Day of Resurrection: ‘We were unaware of this.’ (Al-A’raf, 172)
 
This is an unconscious memory that will surface at the conscious level after death removes us from this ‘cover-up’ world. This is the one that guides the fortunate among the non-believing ones towards the right path. Prophethood is not an excuse for being able to connect with this memory. Many stories of conversion will attest to how an inner drive led people to see prevailing customs and conceptions for what they were and to enter the honest quest for truth which Allah does reward.  
 
Now it’s time to turn to the other end of the continuum and see what prevents us, the ordinary human beings, to have strong decision-making power in the arena of faith.
 
 
The pitfalls of decision-making
 
Decision-making is not foolproof and the two factors that make it so are risk and uncertainty. Humans have a tendency to avoid risk or losses which makes them a biased decision-maker when risks of a situation are highlighted above benefits. This is a well-known phenomenon for psychologists called as framing effect. Humans also tend to lack tolerance for ambiguity which makes uncertainty a highly unpleasant emotional and mental state. Let’s overview these major pitfalls separately.
 
 
Risky Business
 
What kind of risks dissuade people from making the right choice or from sticking to it through thick and thin given the set of alternatives we have been considering in this post?
 
…I will have to face criticism, ridicule or oppression from others who do not think as I do…. I will be cut-off from my family or friends…. I will have to sacrifice my time and effort for the sake of worship…. My lifestyle will change…. I will have to confront and quiten the arguments of friends and family…. I will lose the petty comforts I am accustomed to…. I will have to drop many low habits which were fun and cool…. I will be left alone in the world if I change my religion…. I will be accused of accepting a terrorist religion by my acquaintances… etc…
 
For many people in the world unfortunately, the negatives, the risks get to be highlighted automatically far above the benefits when they begin thinking seriously about choices of faith. There are many reasons for it. For one, the alternative choices are more prevalent, familiar and habitual,  easily accepted and taken for granted, and we fear we are leaving so many things for the sake of a big and difficult step. Others: family, friends, institutes, media, reinforce the thinking all the more. At this point, many people do not realize that people adhering more firmly and consistently to the tenets laid down by the One True God are also leading comfortable, fulfilled and happy lives though certainly within the necessary limits imposed for our own good. Another major reason is that the benefits of the Choice tend to be long-term and seem to develop gradually, whereas the benefits in the alternatives are immediate and often exuberant and flamboyant. Thus it is easy to be impatient enough to be trapped by the transient and short-term manifold pleasures.
 
Apart from that, others also have difficulty of accepting or allowing a change of thought and lifestyle in a well-intentioned person. Needs such as the need for control, authority; the belief of oneself being in the right and deigning to stop someone else from the ‘stupid’ choice; or the hidden discomfort that is caused in one’s ownself when soemone else thinks of taking the bold step on issues oneself has been ignoring, avoiding or running away from… all these factors play a role so that our own acquaintances are sometimes the biggest barrier in taking the right steps.
 
These difficulties confuse the purpose and feul the intensity of the many uncertainties that have already troubled the changing person’s mind.
 
 
To be or not to be …. that is the question
  
Uncertainties plague even those who do believe in God. Does He really listen to us when we call? How is that possible? How can He take care of so many things at once? Among so many of His subjects do I really count? After all that I have done will He forgive me or must I suffer through Hell, before reaching Heaven? These uncertainties make our beliefs weak and dissuade us from being sincere or doing more than we currently do in the way of purity and goodness.

However, the uncertainties of those who do not believe at all (or do not really believe despite appearances) blaze like a burning wind in the desert of mind. Who really made this world? Or did it evolve itself? Who are truer, the scientists of today or the religious scripts of old? Is religion really a necessary part of life or just one of many areas, neglectable and forgettable? Is God really there?  What happens after death? Why death at all? Can it be avoided? Is there really a life after death or is it the end, the total, absolute, final end, and how does that feel?

 If you doubt the existence of God, you must also doubt the existence of Afterlife for that is then pointless. And it’s then that the idea of Death becomes the horrible, terrifying end that anyone wishes to avoid at all cost. Shakespeare’s famous verses from Hamlet (Act III, Scene I, lines 63-95) are so apt here  (I have underlined the more accessible and relevant portions):
 
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
 
And then…
 
Thus conscience* does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
 
 
Is there a solution….?
 
God has not left us without answers to many of the key questions whirling around in an uncertain mind. Any basic text or popular nonfiction will tell you to at least systematically find out information about your alternatives before choosing between them. Unlike pious people of old and dark times who arrived at monotheism purely on their own, without any explicit guidance (there are many documented examples from the pre-prophethood era of Hazrat Mohammad (sallahu alaihi wasalaam); we have the advantage of having a Guidebook, A Manual, A Reference-work of the highest calibre, waiting to be consulted with a rational mind.
 
 Although I always used to read Qur’an in a traditional way, when I started to read it in the true sense of the word I discovered that Qur’an has an answer for all the boggling, dissuading, or unnerving questions that can pervade the human mind who is misguided in any form. By any form I mean misguidance in the form of atheism, polytheism, idolatory, or even any of the misguidances prevalent in the vast Muslim nations including the kind encountered in the South Asian subcontinent (revering pious men to the extreme, according them godly status, etc).
 
At this point I must give way to the direct and chastising invitation in the Qur’an itself:
 

 أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا

DO they, then, not reflect on the Qur’an? Or are there locks on their hearts? (Sura Mohammad, 24)
 
  
 
 Notes
 
1. It’s the Quran verses application on facebook and belongs to the same group responsible for creating the Beautiful Online Quran tanzil.info (I have begun to refer my readers to every ayah I quote on tanzil.info) and well as for developing the Quran Explorer software.
 * interpret as ‘conscious thought’

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Nobility or Inferiority?

In God, Islam, Quran on August 9, 2011 at 3:12 am
5th Ramadaan, 1432:

Today I would like to focus and reflect upon a favorite prayer of mine from the Qur’an which I came in Sura Al-i-Imran in my recitation cycle.

 قُلِ اللَّـهُمَّ مَالِكَ الْمُلْكِ تُؤْتِي الْمُلْكَ مَن تَشَاءُ وَتَنزِعُ الْمُلْكَ مِمَّن تَشَاءُ وَتُعِزُّ مَن تَشَاءُ

وَتُذِلُّ مَن تَشَاءُ ۖ بِيَدِكَ الْخَيْرُ ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

تُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَتُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ ۖ وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَتُخْرِجُ

 الْمَيِّتَ مِنَ الْحَيِّ ۖ وَتَرْزُقُ مَن تَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

 SAY: “O Allah! Lord of Power (And Rule), You give power to whom You please, and You strip off power from whom You please: You endue with honour whom You please, and You bring low whom You please: In Your hand is all good. Verily, over all things You has power. (26)

YOU make the night to pass into the day and You make the day to pass into the night, and You bring forth the living from the dead and You bring forth the dead from the living, and You give sustenance to whom You please without measure. (27)

Background with preamble

There are many prayers that Allah Subhanahu has taught us directly in his own words. Naturally, these prayers have a special status given the status and words of the Teacher. Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) was taught this prayer after Ghazwa (war in which the Prophet directly participated) of Ihzaab when he predicted that Muslims will concquer Persia… At this prediction, the non-believers of those times taunted Muslims. To appease His prophet and disciples, Allah ta’ala sent a reply to the taunts in the form of this prayer.

The properties of a prayer

Some of the ‘heaviest’ prayers mentioned in the Qur’an are in the form of a plain statement, rather than as an imperative sentence. I share two instances here, both of which are actually injunctions of great prophets:

حَسْبُنَا اللَّـهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ

 ALLAH is sufficient for us and most excellent is the Protector. (in Al-i-Imran, 173)

لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

‘THERE is no deity but You. Glory be to You! I was indeed wrong.’ (in Al-Anbya, 87)

In context, the Al-i-Imran one was quoted as invocation of a group of Muslims who followed the instructions of Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) after Ghazwah of Badr, despite extreme fatigue, tough circumstances and people’s taunts. However, tafseer informs us that these words (replacing the plural pronoun with the singular one) were the ones spoken by Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam) when he was about to be thrown into Nimrod’s fire. As a result of these words, Allah Ta’ala order the fire to go cold on him and to let him stay in peace (in Al-Anbya, 69).

The second quote is the well-known prayer of Hazrat Younus (alaihi-s salaam) when he had made a decision beneath his station of prophethood. To correct him, Allah Ta’ala made him end up in the belly of a whale where he stayed for a considerable period such that his skin was all vulnerable as a result of being treated by the acids in the belly. Finally, he used the above words for forgiveness and repentance and Allah Ta’ala ordered the whale to throw him up on a beach (references throughtout the Qur’an).

Both these prayers were made in instances of intense ordeals, when an ordinary person is very likely to loose his mind in desperation. Both these prayers are characterized by a simple and straightforward acknowledgment of a fact — the fact of supreme trust on God, in one case, the fact of His lone Divinity and of the supplicant’s being in the wrong, in the other. Also, no specific end is sought after in these prayers, even though the extremeness of circumstance in each case merits yearning for a specific relief from adversity.

Another instance of such a prophet-prayer that comes to mind is that of Hazrat Yaqoob (alaihi-s salaam) when following the long-term separation from his beloved son Hazrat Yousuf (alaihi-s salaam), he was given the sad news of separation from his youngest son Bin-Yamin:

إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّـهِ

‘I ONLY complain of my anguish and my sorrow to God.’ (in Yousuf, 86)

Here, the Prophet merely puts his case before Allah with a frankness that only those can procur who truly sustain a true mental relationship with their God.

All these prayers show a highness of belief that Allah Ta’ala is listening to all our statements at all time, and that His being turned to in a worry is a must for His subjects, and He knows best of the turmoil and ordeal the supplicant is going through. Thus these prayers are bereft of an ordinary supplicative style, powered by the consciousness that merely invoking His Being by acknolwedging His Status and the status of one’s own relationship with Him is enough to grant hearing from that High court and enough to bear the fruit that Allah sees best for the caller.

Similarly, today’s chosen prayer is the one in the same manner taught by Allah Subhanahu Himself. It, along with announcing the High merits of the Al-Mighty God, invokes His attention towards power, honor, and rizq without directly asking for any of these.

The High Merits of God

Allah Ta’ala is the Lord of all Power. Power of creation and destruction, of sovereignty, of death and life, of giving and taking; more basically, Power to do anything He wants anytime! The different, most important and global facets of this Power are covered in the various statements of the two ayahs in the prayer. Whereas the first ayah mentions facets of power, that are more relevant to human life on this earth (and also more relevant to the context in which the ayaats descended), the second one mentions more universal and wonderous and awe-inspiring powers. These are such powers that considering them aids us in confirming our belief in God and finding solace in being His subject. By implication, by invoking Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala’s attention with such amazing and all-encompassing range of His powers, we feel sure and secure of gaining hearing in His court. By the same token, we feel sure of getting a response and relief in the earthly life (in addition to rewards in the hereafter); for its worth-noting that the objects mentioned in this prayer are more of an earthly (though not necessarily of ‘wordly’) nature. So let us consider what the objects of these prayers are:

The high objects of the prayer

Mulk, in Arabic, means command, control, capability, and authority. Although the specific context of the ayah is concerned with rule over land, but the word is general, and its use here also seems to be general (in fact, its a general rule of the Qur’an that most statements retain a general interpretation despite specific circumstances of their descendence).

Izzah,  means strengh, severity and conquest. The property defines one who is invincible, who cannot be overwhelmed. The picture is of extreme honour with someone possessive of control within and without.

Khair, means all goodness, material and otherwise.

Rizq means all kinds of provisions that a provider can grant us. It ranges from food, through worldly possessions to capabilities, talents and honorable traits.

Thus, this prayer combines, at one go, invocations for all the things anyone could desire for. It just does not limit to ‘things’ in the worldly sense, but asks for everything that is noble, honorable and desirable at all levels of human existence. Moreover, it also implicitly asks for protection from the opposite of the scenario: inferiority.

Nobility vs Abasement

The word used here is one that us Urdu-speakers are highly familiar with: Zillah.

Zillah entails all the horrible concepts of ‘lowness’ that our minds-in-terror could conjure up. Humiliation, degradation, humble submissiveness, disrepute, weakness, despice, wretchedness.. May God save us from all of it!

The strong contrast of izzah vs zillah in the first ayah of the prayer reminds us that a life without the noble blessings of God is indeed a life spent in zillah. We can look at this point from many angles and instances.

The extreme example of zillah is being zaleel in God’s own eyes. Think of a son who has made himself low and inferior in his parent’s eyes. Imagine what kind of deeds he must have done and what kind of treatment he must have given to his parents to fall that low? Now multiply this scenario thousands of times! See how Allah Ta’ala speaks of the capable, intelligent, and inherently noble creature Allah so proudly created and had angels bow before him, but who through his stubbornness and willfulness has turned away from that Loving Creator and goes out in the word for the mean purposes of making his selfish ends meet at the expense of others, of straying people from a life of true nobility, and even to destroying (or at least making hard) the pathways and channels that aid in finding true nobility:

إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِندَ اللَّـهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ

THE worst creatures in God’s eyes are those who are deaf and dumb, and who possess no understanding. (Al-Anfal, 22)
 
Another way of being zaleel is of being so in others’ eyes. Here we can understand easily how those who roam rampant in their ungodly lives will be viewed by those who do the opposite. However, it might be more of a stretch to see how such are zaleel in each other’s eyes..
 
Even in the unbelieving (or the not-really-believing) section of the human population, many people are so obviously strayed such as criminals, and mean and murdering politicians, and looting profiteering or corrupt businessmen and professionals, and wild battering husbands, and those on drugs etc that they have already earned lowness in people who despite their lack of belief are at least not openly harming themselves or others.
 
There seem to be many who enjoy fame, renown, in addition to wealth; people run for a glimpse of them, dream of taking their autographs etc. But are they really respectable and truly viewed as such? Just wait until a little piece of dirt about any single one of them comes up and then read the tabloids and hear people talk. Conversely, even if something suspicious ever comes up (or is spread around) about someone in our lives who is respectable in it’s truest sense (i.e. character and belief), how difficult we find to believe and argue in favor of the one without being told. Only those who already had a jealousy of the person-in-question are likely to dip their tongues in evil ink at such times.
 
Still many examples remain (both in the non-believing and less-than-strongly believing sides) that don’t fit any of the descriptions I have discussed. Yet as I mention their examples, reason speaks out of the lowness of such existences.
 
So think of a person too drunk to drive home; think of a person whose, nose, chin, belly, tongue etc, etc, are all pierced; think of women who share their bed with countless others; think of an essentially healthy person who has adopted begging as his fulltime occupation; think of a young man whose life is nothing but a series of video games and music concerts; think of a person who must stoop to other low persons like him, bribing or flattering them, to get the tasks of his life done; think of a person who thinks so high of oneself that s/he has even forgotten how to live and behave among people;  think of a man who thinks of himself as low __ too low to expect any good in life, too low to move his limbs into action in hope of a better tomorrow. Examples upon examples __ lowness of various kinds and degrees.
 
These examples also serve to remind us to look for certainly numerous instances of lowness in our own lives and character; when we were too insecure, or too proud, or too angry, or too scared, or too dependent, or too stubborn, or too shy, or self-righteous to do the right noble and respectful act on our own, independently, depending on no one but God.
 
The more we come to depend on God, the less we stoop before others, literally or comparatively.
 
Not for nothing the Al-Mighty Subhanahu reminds us in His Book:
 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ۖ وَاللَّـهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

O PEOPLE, it is you who stand in need of Allah; as for Allah, He is Self-Sufficient, Immensely Praiseworthy. (Al-Fatir, 15)

 

So let us turn toward the Highest of all beings, with the high words He Himself endowed on us, and ask for that human highness of character He wants to see in us, for every moment of our lives.

 
 

 

 

QUR’AN IN RAMADAAN: The enjoining Light

In God, Quran, science, universe on August 5, 2011 at 4:48 am

2nd Ramadaan, 1432:

Ramadaan Mubarak to all the readers of this blog and to all Muslims in general.

Two years ago I began the Quran in Ramadaan series on my blog and wished to continue it beyond Ramadaan as The Qur’an Cycle. However things don’t always go as intended. Beginning from last year, I have taken a long gap in my blogging, the reason of which I will explain InshaAllah on my post re 14th August. May Allah accept my intentions this year to continue my blogging especially my Qur’an Cycle series, Amen.

 As I began the yearly Quran recitation cycle most of us complete in Ramadaan, I was struck by this ayah as related to a recent advance in my knowledge that had hit me as worth sharing with my readers:

صِبْغَةَ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ صِبْغَةً  

THE Color of Allah… And who can be better than Allah in color… (in Al-Baqarah, 138)

I have used the literal dictionary meaning of the Arabic word sibghah over here, as translators generally place the word in a context and replace it’s literal English equivalent with some meaningful concept helpful in tafseer. I have also provided a link to the Beautiful Online Quran at tanzeel.info so that readers can go through the different meaningful renderings of the word themselves.

Color, Light and the Creator of the Universe

We all know that ‘color’ is nothing but a byproduct of how light interacts with objects. Sunlight has all the primary colors in it (different wavelenghts corresponding to different hues). When light falls upon an object, the object absorbs some wavelenghts and reflects back the rest. This ‘reflected’ combination of wavelengths, upon reaching our eyes, literally colors the object with its particular shade. When an object absorbs all the wavelengths, we see it as black. Objects look white when all of light is reflected back, none is abosrbed.  That is why black objects are warmest while white objects are coolest, since we know light is a form of energy and energy prodcues heat.

We also know, that while Allah Ta’ala is incomparable and indescribable, the closest real-world entity with which He associates Himself is Light.  In one of the most beautiful ayahs in the whole Qur’an Allah Ta’ala says:

اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ

 ALLAH is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp __the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star __kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (in An-Nur, ayah 35)

This ayah is rare in the Qur’an not only because of its sonic and literary beauty or because it uses such a sparkling series of metaphors; but also because this is the only ayah in Qur’an where Allah describes His nature other than by referring to His actions and powers.

He proclaims He is Light, and that same light which the whole universe depends on. It’s as if the whole universe springs from Allah, that His Being spans and pervades the whole universe, and indeed these are the belief-points about Allah that are familiar Muslim household lessons.

Light and the Creatures of the Creator

Those familiar with the Qur’an know that light is also mentioned in connection with the creatures of the universe, in particular us humans.

Surah Hadeed, in particular, describes how Light is one of the Blessings of God that will help the good Muslims on the Day of Judgment:

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم

ON that day you will see the faithful men and the faithful women– their light running before them and on their right hand– (in ayah 12) 

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصِّدِّيقُونَ ۖ وَالشُّهَدَاءُ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ وَنُورُهُمْ

THOSE who believe in Allah and His Messengers are the sincere and the martyrs before their Lord, they shall have their reward and their light. (in ayah 19) 

In Surah Tahreem we are taught how to ask for this blessing of light:

رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

‘OUR Lord, complete our light for us and forgive us. Surely, You have power over all things.’ (in ayah 8 )

 At other places in the Qur’an the good people are described as having shining faces on the day of Judgment, whereas the bad ones are described as having black faces. For instance, in Al-i-Imran:

يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ

THE Day when faces will be whitened and faces blackened. To those whose faces have become blackened it will be said: ‘Did you disbelieve after you had believed? Then taste the punishment for that you disbelieved’. (Ayah 106)
And then:
 
AS for those whose faces will be whitened, they shall be in the Mercy of Allah for ever. (Ayah 107)
 
Light and the Human Body
 
It seems Light does have a connection with the human body, tied to the purity of one’s character. But the things of that world will be revealed in that world, not here. However, one wonders, does light have a connection with the human body even in this world?
 
 
 
My attempt to move towards possible answerws must begin with the counterpart of light — matter. Everything in this world, living or non-living is made up of atoms. An atoms itself is a dynamic arrangement of particles: neutrons, protons, and electrons. Nearly every process that takes place in this world is influenced by a constant interaction between light and atom, when looked at the atomic level. Making and breaking of things, heating up and cooling down, etc. Even processes of life (taking place in the body) are influenced. This is because all processes involve either  joining or unjoining of atoms (chemical bonds), or involve movement of electrons from one state to another and both these processes include light particles (photons) as a must.
 
Photons are either released or absorbed when electrons move between states and depending upon the direction of movement a chemical bond may be formed or broken. This is what effects both color (when the photons involved are at the level detectable by the eye) and heat. There are familiar examples in the living world already: All plants rely on photosynthesis, the absorption of light to create food energy. Many living things exhibit glowing in the dark (bioluminescence), a process that involves the release of light. In humans most electron-photon interactions take place at levels that do not translate into visible light, however visible light does effect well-known biological processes, such as:  as metabolism (making and breaking of food for energy and storage), circadian rhythms (roughly 24-hour cycles of various behaviors and bodily life processes), and even reproduction↓1.
 
So far so good; we are on familiar ground.
 
However, what inspired me to write this post was how a bunch of scientists are attempting to find bolder instances of how light interacts with our body, in particular with our DNA and our brain. The light involved in body processes may be termed as biophysical light, to distinguish it from more familiar light of the outside world.
 
Light and the DNA? … and the Brain?
 
That DNA interacts with light was a fact known before (though I had no idea) but which remains unexplained (reference, p. 27).  However, a group of Russian scientists (whose reference I have provided) have used this ability of DNA to influence it’s basic task: development of an organism. For instance, by manipulating this ability, scientists have achieved “superfast growth of potatoes” and a “statistically authentic ‘resuscitation’ of dead seeds [of a plant] taken from the Chernobyl area in 1987”.
 
More importantly, these experiments support the “contention that this newly detected phenomenon of quantized optical activity can be considered as the means by which the organism obtains unlimited optical information on its own metabolism.” Specifically, the patterns of polarization that interaction with light creates is a direct and holistic source of information for the DNA and for every gene located on it. These scientists, hence, propose that DNA and gene have a holographic memory through which they can read the genetic information as a text in context.
 
We all know that DNA is composed of a series of genes, each gene storing a particular bit of information about the organism. Each gene is made up of series of 3 nucleotides (called as codons). Actually, each gene stores the recipe for making of a particular body protien which in turn influences a particular life process. Now, proteins are essentially chains of amino acids. Well, each codon of a gene holds information about a particular amino acid. Each codon itself is a series of three neucleotides . All students of bio-chemistry know that transcripts of any given gene chain-of-codons is ‘run’ like a tape on ribosomes and turn by trun the amino acids coded by the codons are brought on-site and joined up one by one to create the protein chain. However, it seems that “that only the first two elements of the DNA codon triplet … are the significant ones”, giving rise to the question that “how does the reading ribosome know which protein has to be generated, if the third nucleotide in codon’s triplet does not of itself provide the answer with total certainty?” 
 
Based on the knowledge of DNA’s interaction with light (and related quantum phenomena), combined with their experimental and theoretical research, the quoted group of scientists conclude the above under-lined statement. Simply, that “this ambiguity might be resolved by some kind of context dependent reading similar to that inherent in human speech and language understanding.”  That is Genes and DNA have a ‘holistic’ awareness of the information contained by them, which in turn guides the selection of specific amino acids for specific proteins. This holistic awareness is likened to a holographic memory since it supposedly arises from the wave pattern that interactions with photons produce throughout the DNA in each cell of the body. For more curious readers wishing to clarify themselves what a ‘holographic memory’ is and why are DNA’s capabilities being likened to it, I point you to the crystal-clear post of an interesting fellow blogger Jim Cranford.
 
Another scientist Karl Pribram had similarly proposed that the cereberal cortex (the intelligent part of the brain) also has holographic memory. Read his quote below taken from a fellow blogger (see the source here):
 

“ …brain models need to take into account the type of processing performed
by optical systems. Such optical information processing is called
holography, and holograms display exactly the same sort of
imaging properties observed for brain…”

Source

To understand further we first need to reconsider how a hologram works. By splitting a light beam into two beams after it has passed through a crystal (and is thus amplified) and focusing the two beams on the subject from two different angles, the recording of unlimited bits of information about the subject is made. When light rays strike an object in front of us and the information reaches our brain, the effect is similar; plus the totality of information about the subject (e.g. sounds, taste etc. as the case may be, even feelings and thoughts) is stored in a holistic way. Not only that, as we have seen, actual interactions of electrons and photons are involved in the brain. So the recording of information holistically may be holographic in a way similar to that of the DNA. Our memories, our intelligence, our personalities, all work holistically, nobody needs to tell us that. We don’t think one little piece of thought at a time. A multitude of images, feelings, stimuli, opinions, habit patters impinge upon us at the same time any single moment of our life. Some metaphyhsical authors are even wondering if the ventricles (the liquid-filled chambers deep within the brain) really act as  crystals in an ongoing holographic process resulting in consciousness.

 
So much for science talk, but what are the points of awe and wonder that inspired me to write this post?
 
Light — the spiritual connection between this world and the next?
 
There are a lot of references in Qur’an and Hadith which inform us that this world has been designed as a stage. Qur’an uses words such as lahv (useless thing), la’b (plaything), and ghuroor (deception) to describe the world and its objects. One Hadith likens this world to a drop of sea-water. Contrast with the Ocean, likened to the eternal world, or let us say, the reality before, behind, and after this deceiving useless for-play dunya (world). Naturally, as one hadith informs us, God’s Eye doesn’t weigh this world even as much as a wing of a mosquito. This world was created as a test for the will of humans (and jinns), and will be destroyed after all the generations destined to be born have completed their alloted life-spans. Not just this world, the whole universe will be destroyed and then made in a new shape when the Day of Judgment arrives. Our bodies will have been lost long before that day; new ones will be made for us and our souls (recalled from the World of the Barzakh) will be reunited with them. All of this is salient in the open-to-all sources of Quran and Sahih Hadith.
 
Light is the one familiar thing from this world, however, which has been given special status. Looking deeply, each and every object of this world is made up of atoms. And all that happens at the physical level and chemical level (e.g. movement, breaking, joining or combining of things, etc) takes place at that level and often involves the interaction of atom’s particles with the particles of light, photons. Not only light interacts significantly with the human body, there are pointers in still developing fields of science that light circulates inside and guides the two basic structures of the human body which ‘run’ it in the most literal sense. 
 
God has said that:
 

 AND of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. (Al-Zariyat, ayah 49)

Is it that light forms a pair with matter (atom), the former being the fluid, immaterial yet more lasting (indeed, ever-lasting), intrusive, all-pervasive, partner of the pair; while the latter remains the more limited, temporary and destructible partner? Indeed, scientists have already procurred evidence that atom and photon can share the same information. Just as Atom is the essense of this world, may be light is the essence of the other one? It must be, if the very Al-mighty Lord likens Himself to it. May be that is why the properties of the two correspond perfectly with the two worlds they are associated with, this stage-like world and the Real Eternal world behind it all..

Indeed mind-boggling research on light-related quantum phenomena have already lead authors such as Michael Talbot to propose that this whole universe is nothing but a phantasm, a giant hologram!

Source

 

Notes

1. Scholarly reference here.

 

POINT|COUNTERPOINT: Global Islamic Guidelines for Education

In education, Islam, Quran on April 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm

This post is a result of a challenge given by Umer Toor over at his blog.

THE POINT: The Association for Childhood Education International, in collaboration with the World Organization for Early Childhood,  developed five premises in order to guide the structuring of the education delivery systems across the world. They are fueled by similar to initiatives by other world organizations, such as the UNESCO’s Education for All, are based around the idea of ensuring sensitive and intelligent education of children keeping with all that is rightfully due to them. (In order to read out the five premises, kindly proceed to Umer Toor’s.)

The Challenge: Umer Toor aspires towards “an educational model which be the Mercy for whole humanity“. He has given his readers a challenge to come up with 5-6 premises for education based on our religion. He prospectively calls these premises the Global Islamic Guidelines for Education. What I understand from all the givens of this challenge is:

  1. that the guidelines should be universally applicable, even in non-religious settings (hence global)
  2. and, that the guidelines must be firmly rooted in the holy traditions emanating from Allah’s Word and the Prophet’s Life.

(Right, Umer…?) Here is my meek attempt to meet the challenge. I have consulted only one source: The Qur’an. It is my belief that Al-Qur’an is COMPLETE in its base of knowledge (as, indeed, is certified by the Qur’an itself!*). All the world’s knowledges can be derived from it and return ultimately towards it when studied with true lack of  bias. I have kept to five premises and I try to present them in a meaningful order. May Allah accept my meek effort and enable all of us to institute the true Islamic vision in our homes and societies. Ameen.

The COUNTERPOINT:

Premise #1:

ذٰلِكَ الكِتٰبُ لا رَيبَ ۛ فيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلمُتَّقينَ

I have already laid down the first premise in the above paragraph! The Truest source of knowledge is Qur’an. All knowledges derive from it and return to it.

هُوَ الَّذى أَنزَلَ عَلَيكَ الكِتٰبَ مِنهُ ءايٰتٌ مُحكَمٰتٌ

He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves. [Aal-i-Imran, 7]

In contrast, the traditional worldly knowledges (sciences and humanities) are based on probabilities and uncertainties. I do not think I need to write much on this topic here;  any resource on the theory of science will reveal the essential ‘tentative’ property of the logic on which the castle of Science is raised. However, I once reflected on this topic by reference to quotes from Robert’s Pirsig’s book. The validities of all ideas and theories in science are only as long as the next contradicting research. Even the many conclusions which are firmly believed in at the public level, are based on research methods which provide ‘circumstantial’ evidence at best. [To elucidate this point I will have to describe in detail the distinctions between experimental and correlational evidences; but that is obviously beyond the scope of this post]. On the other hand, Allah’s call to believe in Him, His Prophets and His system of life and universe is tightly logical. His call rests on the means of observations (to support and verify His logic) that He points out amply throughout His Book. Indeed, this is what constitutes the next premise. Any other approach to education will lead to wayward,  contrary, and ‘apparent’ (skin-deep) progress in human lives rather than a true enlightenment of character.

Premise #2:

وَفِى الأَرضِ ءايٰتٌ لِلموقِنينَ﴿٢٠﴾ وَفى أَنفُسِكُم ۚ أَفَلا تُبصِرونَ

And for those with sure belief, there are signs the earth (20). And also in yourselves; Can you not see? (21) [Al-Dhaariyaat]

The whole Creation of Allah serves as the means of observation. The universe is like a web; you begin with any thread, any lead, and it leads you towards the Centre: God. Many specific ‘Signs of God’ are mentioned throughout the Qur’an. Examples can be traced to myriads of the popular academic fields of study such as astronomy, botany, embryology, psychology, geology and physics. Listing all the examples is clearly beyond the scope of the current post. Thus God’s call to the pondering mind encompasses all domains of knowledge that one may be inclined towards. This is in sharp contradiction to some very narrow-minded people who stereotype Islam as backwards and incapacious. Also, the premise indirectly emphasizes the richness, diversity and vastness in the scope of the learned person’s mind – a feature often missing in our worldly ‘specializers’. Now the question is, how and who can these diverse means serve best? The answer leads us to the next premise:

Premise #3: A devote mind, an open heart, and a readiness to acknowledge the truth are the prerequisites to benefit from the means of observation. This premise has been literally lifted from the following verse, though many elaborations of these ‘learner characteristics’ are distributed liberally throughout the Qur’an:

إِنَّ فى ذٰلِكَ لَذِكرىٰ لِمَن كانَ لَهُ قَلبٌ أَو أَلقَى السَّمعَ وَهُوَ شَهيدٌ

Authentic translation: Most surely there is a reminder in this (book) for him who has a heart or he gives ear and is a witness. [Sura Qaf, 37]

That learning cannot take place without proper attention and concentration is a very basic premise and a well-established research finding in psychology. The inclusion of ‘heart’ in the equation might emphasis the ‘with body and soul’ kind of earnest involvement of the learner. In a cliche, you can’t learn unless you really want to learn. In Islam, you can’t learn and benefit unless you really want to learn. The nexus of control here is clearly with the learner unlike the current traditions in educational psychology. The process of learning is not expected to be one-way, driven solely by teacher skills and talent. In fact, nearly a century of research on achievement spectacularly fails to consistently find any additional benefit of teach skillfulness beyond a basic influence**.

Placing emphasis on learner’s attitude also involves reinforcing values for proper and responsible behavior – a feature SO absent in the education systems around the world. The next premise is a further elaboration of this last para:

Premise #4:

Learning cannot take place unless the learner really values and (hence) respects the penultimate source of knowledge (the Creator) as well as the dispenser of learning: the teacher.

Apart from the multiple references through hadith, a direct Qur’anic reference to this premise may be traced to Sura Hujraat:

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تُقَدِّموا بَينَ يَدَىِ اللَّهِ وَرَسولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَميعٌ عَليمٌ ﴿١﴾ (1)

O you who believe! be not forward in the presence of Allah and His Apostle, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تَرفَعوا أَصوٰتَكُم فَوقَ صَوتِ النَّبِىِّ وَلا تَجهَروا لَهُ بِالقَولِ كَجَهرِ بَعضِكُم لِبَعضٍ أَن تَحبَطَ أَعمٰلُكُم وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ ﴿٢﴾ (2)

O you who believe! do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive.

These rulings directly override the presumptive arrogance of many present-day Students.

How can you expect to gain anything from someone you don’t deem worthy of deference and esteem? With respect come trust and confidence. Many ‘modern’ students lack these two qualities. They don’t trust their teacher (showing patience) when its they, out of their huge lack of exposure and experience in the world, are unable to make out something in the lesson. They become easily judgmental of teacher’s evaluation of their performance because they don’t respect enough to place confidence in the teacher’s discretions.

On the other hand, a truly lasting change in one’s repertoire of skills and attitudes (the true definition of learning on which psychologists also agree) cannot come about unless you first accept and honor the authority of the teacher.

In fact, the premise can be extended towards the means of observation as well. (Indeed, appropriate authentic references may be found in hadith.)  Trees, animals, earth, water, and all the other objects and resources in this world deserve the same treatment with dignity. It’s contradictory to learn your lessons about an object, or use it for other self-centered purposes while also wasting it, or abusing it in any manner otherwise.

The emphasis on this premise highlights that a truly Islamic system of education must have a single criterion to gauge its success: behavioral outcomes.

Premise #5:

إِنَّما يَخشَى اللَّهَ مِن عِبادِهِ العُلَمٰؤُا۟

Those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah [Fatir, 28]

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لِمَ تَقولونَ ما لا تَفعَلونَ

O you who believe! why do you say that which you do not do? [As-Saf, 2]

I feel that these two verses effectively summarize the essence of the fifth premise:

Learning is not meant to be theoretical. It must translate into a stable system of beliefs and behaviors in order to pass quality standards.

The purpose of sending the Qur’an and the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) was to reconstruct society, not to entertain or to philosophize.

The outcomes of  education are not meant to be seminars, conferences, and research-for-the-sake-of-research. Education serves a purpose and is useless without the purpose achieved. The specific outcomes expected of the true Student of Islam at the personal, interpersonal, spiritual (means in relation to God), societal, national (means the level of ummah), and international levels are manifold and, again, beyond the scope of this post. Summary In summary, a minimum of five premises, grounded in the authentic tradition of Islam, with universal applicability, might be:

  1. True knowledge cannot be based on changeable assumptions and tentative methodologies. It can only come from the Penultimate source of all things: The Almighty.
  2. Everything that is created by the Source can serve as an effective means of observation and vehicles for deriving knowledge.
  3. Learner’s role in the above exercise (point 2) is essential. Full and honest involvement of the learner’s psyche is needed for true learning to be gained.
  4. In the process, the dispenser of knowledge, i.e. the teacher, cannot be ignored. The learner cannot bypass or mistreat the teacher in the quest for knowledge. Otherwise, the outcome will merely be failure.
  5. Education is nothing without its purpose which is a noble character to which only humans (out of all creatures) can aspire. If knowledge does not result in firm and visible changes, the learner has failed to engage properly (or the teacher has failed in their duties).

____________________________________________________________

Notes

* ما فَرَّطنا فِى الكِتٰبِ مِن شَيءٍ (We have not neglected anything in the book) [Al-An’am, 38]

** I’m lazy here. Search out the internet for any reviews on the topic by Hanushek. You will need a basic knowledge of the pertinent subjects, though. ____________________________________________________________

وَما تَوفيقى إِلّا بِاللَّهِ

HAJJ MUBARAK! (Three stages of the Muslim Faith; Part III)

In Islam, Quran on November 26, 2009 at 7:17 am

Hajj is the last point on the Muslim scale that we have been following through the previous two posts of the series. [Link to Part I and Part II]

Just like Ramazaan, Hajj also comes with a season all its own starting from 1st Zil-Hajj. The seasons are experienced distinctly by the aspiring Hujjajs and the rest of the Muslim world. Both flavors though are intoxicatingly enticing!

In the families applicant to be Hujjaj, the season is marked by their Hajj classes, their preparations and arrangements for the auspicious journey, congratulations and farewells from friends and relatives and finally by the Sacred Hajj itself and topped with Qurbani and the pilgrimage to the Prophet’s Mosque.

The rest of us also have many opportunities to share in the sanctity of the occasion. Regarding the first ten days of Zil-Hajj it was narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “There are no days that are greater before Allaah or in which good deeds are more beloved to Him…” Narrated by Ahmad, 7/224.

This hadith assures us that whichever of our many options of worship we are able to avail during this period will be valuable for us. Thus we may fast, offer more than the obligatory salat, read, recite and learn Qur’an, and engage in a constant remembrance of our Maker.

In the same hadith as above, the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa aalihi wasallam) instructs us to: recite a great deal of tehleel, takbeer and tehmeed in (these days).

Today’s day, the Day of Arafah is of particular significance with reference to fasting. According to a hadith in Muslim: The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) used to fast on the ninth day of Dhu’l Hijjah and he said: “Fasting the Day of Arafah is an expiation for (all the sins of) the previous year and an expiation for (all the sins of) the coming year.”

And, of course, we share in the spirit of Qurbani, thus directly participating in one of the most important of Sunnahs in our religion. In Sura Kausar, Allah Subhanahu gave a direct command for this sacrifice to our Prophet (salla Allahu alaih):

110:2

In a hadith narrated by Hazrat Aeysha (razi Allahu unhaa) and quoted in Tirmizi and Ibne-Maja, our Prophet (salla Allahu alaih) says:

There is no dearer deed of ibne Adam in the days of Qurbani than flowing the blood (i.e. doing Qurbani) and that animal will come with his horns, hair, and hooves on the day of Qayamat. The blood of the Qurbani reaches the stage of acceptance before it reaches the floor.

Our precautions

Since, it’s the intentions behind our actions, that are of real worth; there is cause for a lot of care in removing any hint of pretentiousness in our Zil-Hajj worships. Both the act of Qurbani and the act of Hajj have unfortunately been embellished with a lot of pomp and show in recent times which hurts the intended purity of the acts.

Regarding Qurbani, Allah Subhanahu says in ayah 37 of Sura Hajj:

لَن يَنالَ اللَّهَ لُحومُها وَلا دِماؤُها وَلٰكِن يَنالُهُ التَّقوىٰ مِنكُم ۚ كَذٰلِكَ سَخَّرَها لَكُم لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلىٰ ما هَدىٰكُم ۗ وَبَشِّرِ المُحسِنينَلَن

It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah. it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right.

Similar care needs to be applied when going for Hajj. The attitude of the Hujjajs and their acquaintances should be one of humbleness; the spirit should be of a loving entreaty to Allah Subhanahu that He accept this worship.

In some part of the worlds, the Hujjah karam are made into sanctified personas whose departures and arrivals are celebrated with pomp and they are glorified to an extent which is rather opposite to the picture of humility and earthliness that might be expected in a person who has just returned from the House of God.

We should remember at all times, that by offering Qurbani or by going for Hajj, we are not (naoozubillah) doing some ‘favor’ to God Almighty. It is rather for the sakes of our own spiritual welfare. In ayah 17 of Suray Hujarat, Allah Subhanahu has used very strict words against such an attitude of ‘favor-boasting’.

يَمُنّونَ عَلَيكَ أَن أَسلَموا ۖ قُل لا تَمُنّوا عَلَىَّ إِسلٰمَكُم ۖ بَلِ اللَّهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيكُم أَن هَدىٰكُم لِلإيمٰنِ إِن كُنتُم صٰدِقينَ

 Translation: They impress on thee as a favour that they have embraced Islam. Say, “Count not your Islam as a favour upon me: Nay, Allah has conferred a favour upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if ye be true and sincere.

At the other end of the continuum, there are also people who are extremely lackaidaisical regarding their obligation towards Hajj. The obligation from Hajj is proved from Sura Al-i-Imran, ayah 97:

وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النّاسِ حِجُّ البَيتِ مَنِ استَطاعَ إِلَيهِ سَبيلًا ۚ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِىٌّ عَنِ العٰلَمينَوَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النّاسِ حِجُّ البَيتِ مَنِ استَطاعَ إِلَيهِ سَبيلًا ۚ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِىٌّ عَنِ العٰلَمينَ

Translation: Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures

There are many people out there who clearly have the means to perform Hajj at least once, but they ignore it. In order to clarfiy this topic, first let us review the conditions which make the Hajj obligatory.

When does Hajj becomes obligatory?

1. When we attain physical maturation.

2. When we own enough money to afford the journey of Hajj after i) fulfilling all the needs of our dependents in our absence and after ii) paying any due debts.

3. When we are physically capable of making the journey. Physical or mental illness/injury, or physical dangers in the way to Mecca will rule out the Hajj for us.

4. When, as a female, a Mahram male is also available to accompany us with the Hajj.

[Source: http://www.alminbar.com/khutbaheng/444.htm ]

Neglecting Hajj

If we refer to the ayah quoted above, the term of kufr has been applied when warning those who ignore the commandment for Hajj. Remember that Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, the last member of the group of obligations which completes our identification as a Muslim. Anyone who deliberately and clearly negates that Hajj is one of the obligations when its prerequisites (as referred above) are met is NOT a Muslim. And anyone who does not so negates but still ignores the execution of the duty despite affording it, is seriously hurting his/her status as a Muslim.

May Allah shower his many blessings on his House and all those members of the Muslim Family who are there prepared to encircle the Ka’aba in their loving devotion. May Allah accept their Hajj and their Qurbani and all of their worships obligatory or nafil.

May Allah accept the efforts of the rest of the Muslim world, accept our worships, our remembrance of His Being, of the Hujjaj and the House, and of that glorious Abrahamic history which was the origin point of this major Sign of the Muslim Faith. May He also accept our Qurbani. And may He remove and ignore our ills in our performance of worships, qurbani and Hajj. Finally, may He count this little effort of my writing about Hajj  among those special worhips of the first ten days of Zil-Hajj. Ameen.

 

THE QURAN CYCLE: Imitation or Cooperation?

In Islam, psychology, Quran, Uncategorized on October 2, 2009 at 5:45 am

وَتَعاوَنوا عَلَى البِرِّ وَالتَّقوىٰ ۖ وَلا تَعاوَنوا عَلَى الإِثمِ وَالعُدوٰن

Translation: And cooperate in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate in sinfulness and transgression

06 Shawwal, 1430:

Ramadaan ends. Qur’an – its recitation, its wisdom, and the learning from it – continues. I had begun the “Quran in Ramadaan”  series with the ambitious intent of sharing my inspirations from my reading of the Qur’an on a daily note basis. My high-flying dreams soon crashed back flat on earth what with the realities of PC problems, connection failures, and the intensely on-edge schedule of Ramadaan. Ultimately, I was able to manage barely 5 posts instead of my orignally imagined 29!

However, with the grace of God, the sane idea has entered my head that Qur’an is not really meant to be restricted to Ramadaan; nor is Ramadaan really meant as a once-in-a-year occasion for serious thinking and behaving. Our salat, our strivings, our zikhr, our practices of sunna, our recitation of the Qur’an everything continues beyond Ramadaan so why not this practice of sharing observations inspired by the Book.

I sincerely pray that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guides me well and helps me increase my own understandings and insights foremost through this exercise. I also depend on my readers’ feedback. I intend it as a cooperative learning venture.

Today’s Ayah

Today’s ayah is a segment from ayah no. 2 of Sura Al-Maida. It is in the context of warning Madina’s Muslims against unfair dealings with Mecca’s polytheists (mushrikeen) after the latter had stopped these Muslims from performing the Hajj of Ka’aba.

Our Creator lays down an overarching rule of cooperation, not just with non-Muslims; the rule is general and can be applied to any case of group interaction. The translation for bir is righteousness and is applicable to any form of good deeds. The word taqwa is a multi-faceted word and in different translations and tafaseer it is elaborated as “God-consciousness”, “protecting oneself from doing wrong” or “fear of incurring God’s wrath or punishment” The word “icm” refers to all forms of wrong and immoral acts and the word “udwaan” implies criminal violation of the rights of another individual, group or institution.

Very simply, our Creator here asks us to cooperate in good things, and not in bad things.  

Co-operating with the non-believers

This is one of the verses that clarifies the nature of permissible relations with the non-believers. There is a common myth that has been wrongfully popularized in the name of Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims alike that Islam encourages hatred, prejudice and violence towards non-believers. But that is not true as evidenced by this, and indeed, many other verses in the Qur’an.

Qur’an clearly distinguishes those non-believers who have actually transgressed against the believers, who plot and conspire against them and act out their conspiracies, in particular those who are directly responsible for wrongful group actions taken against muslims (re: a’immat-al-kufr, the archetypes of faithlessness, Sura Tauba 12) with those peaceful ones who are simply leading their lives according to their belief systems. These distinctions have been most plainly clarified in Sura Al-Mumtahina 8 & 9:

As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for verily, God loves those who act equitably. (8). God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship, it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (9).

Forms of Cooperation

When it comes to actual cooperation, Qur’an only distinguishes in terms of the areas of cooperation. For here, we clearly see that this injunction is in direct reference to those Mushrikeen (polytheists) who fall on the criteria of antagonism laid out in the verse referenced above. They drove Muslims out of their homes, they had a history of plotting war and breaking pacts with Muslims, and they had stopped Muslims from performing an act of worship which was annualy performed by millions of pilgrims from all over Arabia.

So even with these enemy-minded people, Qur’an distinguishes and permits cooperation where it leads to the general good of mankind.

Cooperation with non-Muslims indeed exists at many levels in today’s world. But an obvious question enters our mind, that is: is the kind of cooperating taking place really the Qur’anic kind? More often than not, sadly, the answer is not. We do not just cooperate in the really goodly things. We cooperate primarily in wasteful, and mostly sinful activities in the name of culture. We cooperate in mass capitalism that makes it more and more difficult for the ordinary citizen to eke out an honest living. We cooperate through political alliances (and dalliances!) that ultimately serve against our own brethren. And, speaking of lifestyles, values, attitudes, and aims of life, we actually do not cooperate. We IMITATE. Let us differentiate between cooperation and imitation.

Cooperative Learning

[cross-reference here]

Cooperation refers to making a joint effort to accomplish common goals beneficial to oneself and to all parties concerned. In contrast with imitation learning, any cooperative learning effort involves a positive-minded interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, use of interpersonal and group skills, and group processing such as monitoring one’s own progress towards the goals, and maintaining effective working relationships.

Both experimental and correlational research on use of cooperative learning strategies (as reviewed by Johnson & Johnson, 1989) has shown that, in contrast to traditionally competitive and individualistic learning or work efforts, cooperative learning leads to i) higher achievement and greater productivity, ii) care, support and commitment in relationships, iii) and greater levels of psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem.

These effects can, of course, only be achieved if the true spirit of cooperative learning has been applied: equal effort by all parties involved, and the sole regard of communal benefit.

Imitation Learning

Imitation learning is a form of observational learning whereby an individual observes and retaisn the behavior of a model, and is motivated enough to reproduce it in one’s own life.

This concept was originally researched by Albert Bandura. His work reveals three principles involved in imitation learning (click here for cross-reference of the following):

1. The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behavior into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.

2. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value.

3. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.

Bandura also  identified three basic models of observational learning (cross-reference of the following):

  1. A live model, which involves an actual individual demonstrating or acting out a behavior.
  2. A verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior.
  3. A symbolic model, which involves real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in books, films, television programs, or online media.

The prevalent Muslim trend

An analysis of these points reveals what has happenned in Muslim nations which has ended in the mass cultural invasion that now continues. The majority of the blame lies on our own shoulders. Had we maintained or promoted the highly functional Muslim guidelines for societies in our respective families, neighborhoods and governments, we could have been adequate role models for our subsequent generations.

Through categorical, incomplete, and distorted application of Islamic guidelines, over the years a number of Muslim societies associated negative outcomes (torture, undue restrictions, superstitiousness, and impracticality) with otherwise universal and highly constructive principles. “Valued outcomes” seem to come more often from Western cultures in form of intellectual stimulation, skill development, technological advancement and comfortable lifestyles. On the other hand, history has witnessed these same outcomes as the hallmark of Muslim, rather than non-Muslim, societies.

Two things have further reinforced Western role-modelling in our generations’ conscious and subconscious mind:  Our education system and entertainment channells. The structure of the education system prevalent all over the globe is now Western. But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that we are mostly teaching Western content at all levels. This does not apply only to Cambridge or Oxford exam systems in our countries. All university level teaching relies on textbooks from the Western worlds. The same is now happenning in many of the private schools of Pakistan (Of relevance here is the infamous matter of Dawood public school in my city, Karachi).

The primary reason, of course, is the lack of genuine research and quality textbook writing on OUR part. However, even while teaching, it is possible to tailor concepts and research findings in the context of our values which teacher typically do not do. More criminal: few educationists (teachers and mangers) actually encourage the kind of sincere, purposeful, and truly scientific effort-making needed to replace the easy models with more indegenous ones. That is why our generations do not seem to adopt the more functional values apparent in Western societies; rather, in the name of progressiveness, we readily focus and copy only the very material, short-sighted and mostly sinful styles and values.

These effects are multiplied many times by the entertainment industry. Being open-minded is being equated with physicality in illegitimate relationships and blind acceptance of everything offered in the name of science and technology. Being achieving is equated with self-centered individualism that cuts the flow of positive human sentiment in society leading to more and more alienation, selfishness, disregard of others’ right and benefit, dishonesty and lack of quality in one’s own duties, and single-minded pursuit of concrete comforts stripped of the glow of interpersonal satisfaction.

It is clear that we cannot derive the intended benefits of cooperative learning unless the demands of this form of learning are fulfilled.

It is certain that we can NEVER obtain (neither deserve) the fruits of our Creator’s wisdom unless we are prepared and ready to study and incorporate our rich Islamic heritage and to transfer it to our developing generation.

May Allah guide us. Ameen

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Perfect Attributions

In psychology, Quran, Ramadaan on September 19, 2009 at 4:43 am
ما أَصابَكَ مِن حَسَنَةٍ فَمِنَ اللَّهِ ۖ وَما أَصابَكَ مِن سَيِّئَةٍ فَمِن نَفسِكَ ۚ وَأَرسَلنٰكَ لِلنّاسِ رَسولًا ۚ وَكَفىٰ بِاللَّهِ شَهيدًا ﴿٧٩﴾ (79) Whatever good happens to thee is from God; and whatever evil befalls thee is from thyself. AND WE have sent thee [O Muhammad] as an apostle unto all mankind: and none can bear witness [thereto] as God does.
1430, 28 Ramadaan:
The above quoted is Ayah no. 79 from Sura Al-Nisa. It is taken from the portion of the text where in a series of verses, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala exposes the true state of minds in Madina’s hypocrites and reveals and corrects their explanations of events.
These hypocrites, while acknowledging God as the source of happy events (reference: Al-Nisa, 78), used to blame the holy Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) on unhappy occurings such as death and injury in confrontations with the enemy.
People’s attempts to explain the causes for events and happennings have been referred to as ‘attributions’ in psychology. I will first describe the concept as explicated in psychology and then I will come back to the perfect attributional style that Allah teaches us here in conjunction with another verse in Quran quoted below.
Attributional Style
Attribution is a concept in social psychology. All of us attempt to explain our own behavior, other’s behaviors as well as circumstances and events occuring arround us. Where various psychologists have contributed various concepts and research findings, the one I’m focusing here is Weiner’s attribution theory.
Weiner’s dimensions of attributions
Weiner (1986) argued that people’s attributions can be characterized in terms of three dimensions (below, as originally adapted by Abrahamson, et al. 1978):
1. internality/externality
2. stability/unstability
3. globality/specificity
Internal explanations look for personal causes of positive or negative occurences: such as ability, effort, shortcomings, behavior, etc. External explanations look for causes outside oneself such as others, chance, fate, God. Stability refers to the fact that the proscribed cause is supposed to be permanent such as a ‘irrecovable handicap’, ‘being the decided victim of someone’s cruelty’, or ‘a permanent fixture for misfortune’. Instability means the assumed causes have a changeable nature; for instance a ‘transient lack of practice’, ‘a stroke of luck’, ‘an accidental mistake’. Global attributions are supposed to prevail across most of the situations of one’s life; for e.g. an ‘overarching lack of general intelligence’, ‘being a good person’, etc. Specificity implies causes that relate only to the particular situation or event being explained; such as ‘being good in maths’, ‘the trouble-giving interview panel’.
The Quranic concept of Attribution
Quran divides attributions into basically two types: Events resulting from our own actions (or lack of actions) and events resulting by the decree of God.
These attributions correspond with the choice vs fate distinction in Quranic thought. At the abstract level and in principle everything happens directly or indirectly as a result of God’s interventions (i.e., fate). These interventions could be in the form the laws of nature formulated by God upon which the whole universe (including the human world) is running. They could be in the form of what happens to us as a result of others’ actions. They could be in that rare form of miracles. They could be in the form of that general decree by God that whatever deliberate action (good or bad) we fix upon and attempt to engage in, angels have been pre-ordered to let it happen (as in authentic ahadith).
However, as part of this fate, we can also achieve specific ends on our own as specific outcomes: a phenomenon which has been discussed in Quran and hadith in terms of two related concepts: Ikhtiyar (choice) and Tadbeer (strategy). For these specific outcomes then we are responsible and the internal attribution is then valid. On the other hand, some negative occurences also happen as more indirect consequences of our own negative (bad or faulty) behaviors. These may be considered as Jaza-e-Dunya (retribution in the world) and here too internal attributions are valid.
In all other cases, only external attribution (that is, those referred to God’s decree) are the best course as apparent when we consider the verses Al-Nisa 79, and Al-Hadeed 22 & 23 in conjunction; an idea that is supported in many other instances in our religious texts.
ما أَصابَ مِن مُصيبَةٍ فِى الأَرضِ وَلا فى أَنفُسِكُم إِلّا فى كِتٰبٍ مِن قَبلِ أَن نَبرَأَها ۚ إِنَّ ذٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسيرٌ ﴿٢٢﴾ (22) NO CALAMITY can ever befall the earth, and neither your own selves, unless it be [laid down] in Our decree before We bring it into being: verily, all this is easy for God لِكَيلا تَأسَوا عَلىٰ ما فاتَكُم وَلا تَفرَحوا بِما ءاتىٰكُم ۗ وَاللَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُختالٍ فَخورٍ ﴿٢٣﴾ (23) [Know this,] so that you may not despair over whatever [good] has escaped you nor exult [unduly] over whatever [good] has come to you: for God does not love any of those who, out of self-conceit, act in a boastful manner –
For instance, many a times when something negative befalls us it is to be supposed as a test of our faith from God. This corresponds with the concept of “acceptance/resignation” as an effective coping strategy when all other attributions (blaming oneself, or someone else, or ‘chance’) will backfire (for an interesting explication of this concept, click on this Google Books link).
The same attribution holds when positive occurences take place. However, here there seems to be an apparent contrariness: what are we supposed to think when something negative happens? Is it a Jazaa or a Bala (test)?
After some ponderance, firm believers can easily resolve this issue in a manner that their readings of tafseer and hadith will validate:
The Perfect Attributions
  • All events that take place in one’s life or around one are by default from God.
  • Regardless of the nature of the occurence – positive or negative – , it is a test for our skills, attitudes and most importantly our faith.
  • In case of negative occurences there is cause for additional thought particularly when we can relate the happenning to a particular chain of events involving a series of actions on our part that fall under the head of Choice (Ikhtiyar) and Strategy (Tadbeer). When the link between our intentional and strategic choices with the subsequent outcomes is logical, we are to accpet the responsibility rather than just file it away under the head of Bala bis-Sayyi’ah (Test by a negative occurence).
  • In case of a positive occurence, there is a particular need to focus on the ‘blessidng’ side, no matter what the contribution of our own Choice and Strategy in it. This is in view of our essentially weak natures consistently accessible to satanic attitudes of arrogance, self-promotion, inflated self-esteem, and a foolish  superiority (which are always followed by belittling others by heart, tongue, or hand).  
 

 May Allah allow us to benefit from His perfect guidance.

NOTES
Abrahamson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49–74.
Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.