By M. Naseem
The month of Ramadan occupies an auspicious position in the Muslim calendar. It is the month during which the Divine revelation was revealed:
“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the Criterion (between right and wrong).”
The Qur’an: Baqarah, 185
it is apt now that minds be turned to the nature of this guidance, its purpose and the obligations it lays on those who profess to have faith in its truth and promise.
The history of mankind reveals that whereas the achievements of our species have been remarkable and dazzling, our failures have been equally astonishing. Like the earth we inhabit, the human race has exhibited its dark and bright aspects at one and the same time. The grip of ignorance seems to be on us all the time. This perhaps is an inherent weakness which we need persistently to guard against if we want to ensure steady and sustained progress.
In the matter of understanding man’s position, his purpose, his relation to the universe and vice versa, this trait of ignorance has led to two modes of thinking:
(a) that there is no meaning or purpose in life and that all is an enigma and an accident and
(b) that man is insignificant, created by a whimsical, playful despot who does as He pleases and the best course for us is to placate His ego by constant prostration and praise.
The first is the attitude of those who obviously must be irreligious, but the second paradoxically is the attitude of those who traditionally are regarded as believers in a creation and follow what they regard as divine religion. The first group is out of the scope of our present discussion but the second is very much our concern as their line of thinking has crept into every religious denomination -Muslims’ included-and has affected the outcome of religious thinking and behaviour. These people may not regard their attitude in the same harsh terms as have been described above and may think that they are only endeavouring to exalt His highness and bear in mind their own insignificance by this practice of praise and prostration. But one may submit that the end result of both attitudes is the same-the stagnation of the human character and culture.
It is therefore of primary importance that when considering the purpose of this Book-the Qur’an-one must first get one’s perspective right and there is no better way of doing so than going back to the Book itself for clarifying our position because as narrated earlier this Book is not only a guidance, it draws our attention to the clear proofs that verify its guidance, and besides it is also a criterion to which all conflicting evidence may be brought for verification.
It not only lays down laws but also promotes search and enquiry for which it also offers to act as reference in order that this search does not become wild and pointless. This it does because it regards man to be faced with problems and responsibility and in need of help and guidance to meet those problems and discharge such responsibilities.
To this God refers to His first explanation of the purpose of the creation when he said in reply to an enquiry by the angels, “I am going to place a vicegerent (khalifah) on Earth”. It is evident from the word ‘vicegerent’ that the purpose of creation as conceived by God was to establish a being who could use divine attributes on a limited scale and within the context of his circumstance and do whatever he could to the utmost of the ability and power that the creation had laid on him.
The further purpose of creation is contained in the information that the life of this world is only a passing phase and that our real destination is the Hereafter to which alone we must set our sights. The Qur’an says:
“You wish for the world whereas God desires the Hereafter, and God is Mighty and Wise.” (Al-Anfal, 67)
“Are you contented with this world’s life instead of the Hereafter? The provision of this world’s life is but little as compared with the Hereafter.” (Al-Tawbah, 38)
“To Him all of you have to return.” (Al-Maa’ida, 5)
“And the Hereafter is better and everlasting.” (AI ‘A’la, 17)
From the above Qur’anic statements it can be said that God created man for organising the set of circumstances in which he was created and exercising the powers that were laid on him to the best of his ability with a view to progress towards the Hereafter which is the better and permanent abode and where the type of man to thrive will be him who successfully managed his stay in this world and discharged his responsibility in a befitting manner. So it can be seen that from the point of view of the Hereafter and the divine will, that the life of this world contrary to the traditional religious belief is the centre for all attention and care and not something as insignificant to be left in the hands of the “seekers of the world”. This is very much the concern of a believing person because his Hereafter depends on his performance here, performance not as an onlooker or a passerby, but as an organiser, as a controller and as a developer.
It is logical to presume that on the Day of Judgement it is this aspect of his existence that man will be most questioned about and not the religious practices which are only a means to develop abilities for the proper discharge of his main duties. These will be certainly questioned but only in the context of how far these were utilized to enhance the potential ability that has been bestowed on him. Their neglect will certainly be punished not because this manifests any insult to God (He cannot be insulted) but because it is an insult to ourselves and a neglect of ourselves. In the Divine judgement the man at the Hereafter could only have developed by progressing through the circumstances of this existence and that is why He has taken upon Himself to guide him through this life with His wisdom and knowledge. In doing so the attribute of Himself that He has willed to play the predominant role is His attribute of Kindness and Generosity as He says:
“He ordained Kindness and Generosity (rahmah) for Himself.” (Al-An’am, 12)
“And My Mercy encompasses everything.” (Al-Aaraf, 156)
So given the objective of revelation as mentioned earlier and the influencing background as mentioned later one may postulate that this revelation is laden with a promise of hope, a promise of success, a promise of unlimited peace and glory provided of course it is rightly understood and applied.
This indeed may be used as a cross-check for one’s own understanding and application. If its observance leads to the promise that it extends then one may assume that one’s understanding and application may be on the right lines but if it leads to decay and downfall- as has been the state of Muslim people for quite some time-then it must be as evidence of incorrect understanding and application as the word of God cannot be untrue. This hypothesis may be verified in the pages of history since neither the Book is new nor are its followers new. God has revealed His guidance in all times and has given it many names of which the Qur’an is one. God says:
“We have revealed to you the Book with the truth verifying that which is before it of the Book and a guardian over it.” (Al-Maa’ida, 48)
Referring to all deniers of divine revelation and all messengers of God within the context of their state on the Day of Judgement, God says:
“0, Woe is me! Would that I had not taken such a one as friend who has led me away from the Admonition (dhikr) after it came to me . . . And the messenger of God will say, Surely my people treated this Qur’an as a forsaken thing.” (AI-Furqan, 28-30)
The people who accepted this guidance were called Muslims at all times in history as God says:
“It is He who named you Muslims in earlier times and In this Book.” (Al-Hajj, 28)
This is so as far back in human history as the time of Noah who said:
“My reward is with God and I have been commanded to be among the Muslims.” (Yunus,22)
About the people of Lot, God says:
“We did not find any house of Muslims except one.” (Az-Zari’al, 25)
So neither is this guidance new, nor are the people who accept or reject it any different. The truth of the promise that this Book extends can be read in the achievements of Abraham, In the success of Joseph, in the power of David, In the grandeur of Soloman, in the history of the Israelites and in the rise of Muhammad (peace be upon then all) and the spread of his followers.
This guidance has come from a source of true knowledge who is also the Creator of the universe that surrounds us. The Qur’an says:
“He it is who made the sun a shining brightness and the moon a fight and ordained for it stages that you might know the computation of years and the Reckoning. God created not this but with truth. He makes the signs manifest for a people who know.” (Al-An’aam, 73)
So another aspect of the nature of this revelation is that it is in tune with our nature and environment and thus most suited for the solution of the problems that confront us. It is not a matter of philosophical conjecture or the product of mental wanderings. It comes from One who has created all this with precision and definiteness. This awareness of the nature of revelation should promote our enquiry and appreciation. The system on which the order of nature, whether in man or in his environment, is based on the one that is true and any deviation from it is bound to lead to disorder with consequent hampering of human progress, and misery and suffering to the human race. That is why He has ordained:
“And We certainly wrote in the Book after the remainder that My righteous servants will Inherit the earth.” (AI-Anbiya, 105)
It is this obligation which the believer in divine revelation has a sacred duty to honour otherwise the world would be filled with chaos and disorder. It is this consciousness which moved our predecessors of whom the Qur’an informs us as follows:
“And David killed Goliath and God gave him dominion and wisdom and taught him what He willed. And were it not for God’s removing some men by others the earth would certainly be in a state of disorder. But God is full of grace to all peoples.” (Aal ‘Imran, 251)
It was in the pursuit of this struggle and the confidence in the final outcome which was responsible for the historical expression of Moses recorded in the Qur’an as follows:
“Surely the land belongs to God. He gives it for an inheritance to such of His servants as He wills. The end is for those who keep their duty.” (Al-A’raaf, 129)
And this is the promise which the Qur’an extends to all those in the present and in the future who bring themselves up to the discharge of their obligation. It is an obligation that we have a responsibility to discharge by virtue of our declaration of faith in divine revelation. It is an obligation that we have to discharge for other people because of the promise it holds for them, as God says:
“if the people of the towns had believed and kept their duty We would certainly have opened for them blessings from the heavens and the earth.” (7)
It not only promises unlimited prosperity as mentioned in the preceding quotation but also an equanimity and peace of mind that is so important for the mental health of our society. So God says:
“God guides those who follow His pleasure into the ways of peace and brings them out of darkness into light by His will and guides them to the straight path.” (Al-Ma’ida, 16)
It was this realisation of the potential of this message of hope that kept Prophet Muhammad,peace be upon him, to his struggle in the most adverse days and made him give his historic answer to those who came to his uncle with the proposition that if he stopped attacking their way of life, they will let him live by his way of life. But to the one whose vision had been extended by divine revelation this was a poor alternative for the society of his time. He could see a much better future for them and so he came with the alternative and said:
“Shall I tell you something which if you accept them Persia will come under your sway and Byzantium will give tribute to you?” They asked what it was and he replied, “There is no God but One God and Muhammad is His messenger.”