The dignity of mankind – 2: Other aspects
Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 9 December 2022
“(21) And of His signs is this, that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect. (22) And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. Surely there are signs in this for the learned. (23) And of His signs is your sleep by night and by day and your seeking of His bounty. Surely there are signs in this for a people who would hear. (24) And of His signs is this, that He shows you the lightning for fear and for hope, and sends down water from the cloud, then gives life with it to the earth after its death. Surely there are signs in this for a people who understand.” — ch. 30: Ar-Rūm, v. 21–24
وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖۤ اَنۡ خَلَقَ لَکُمۡ مِّنۡ اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ اَزۡوَاجًا لِّتَسۡکُنُوۡۤا اِلَیۡہَا وَ جَعَلَ بَیۡنَکُمۡ مَّوَدَّۃً وَّ رَحۡمَۃً ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّقَوۡمٍ یَّتَفَکَّرُوۡنَ ﴿۲۱﴾ وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖ خَلۡقُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ وَ اخۡتِلَافُ اَلۡسِنَتِکُمۡ وَ اَلۡوَانِکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّلۡعٰلِمِیۡنَ ﴿۲۲﴾ وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖ مَنَامُکُمۡ بِالَّیۡلِ وَ النَّہَارِ وَ ابۡتِغَآؤُکُمۡ مِّنۡ فَضۡلِہٖ ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّقَوۡمٍ یَّسۡمَعُوۡنَ ﴿۲۳﴾ وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖ یُرِیۡکُمُ الۡبَرۡقَ خَوۡفًا وَّ طَمَعًا وَّ یُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَآءِ مَآءً فَیُحۡیٖ بِہِ الۡاَرۡضَ بَعۡدَ مَوۡتِہَا ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّقَوۡمٍ یَّعۡقِلُوۡنَ ﴿۲۴﴾
Continuing with the subject on which I spoke last Friday, the dignity of mankind, I will look at some other ways in which mankind and individuals are given a dignified place in the teachings of Islam. Here, in four successive verses, various phenomena in nature are mentioned as being “signs” of God, and at the end of each verse it is said that those who use their sense and reason will find these signs. In other words, within all these happenings of nature there are clues to the existence of God, or knowledge to be discovered. But in order to interpret those clues and discover that knowledge what is required is thinking and pondering. In each of the four verses a different word is used for those who think and ponder: in v. 21 it is people who apply tafakkur or “reflection”, in v. 22 it is people who have learning, the ‘ālimīn, plural of ‘ālim, in v. 23 it is people who hear, yasma‘ūn, and in v. 24 it is people who use ‛aql or reason. Of course, they all amount to the same sort of actions: observing and analysing. But the fact that this is put in four different ways shows that there are different aspects to these human faculties. Whichever type of thinking, data gathering, reasoning or logic we employ, we can find signs of God, or knowledge, in nature around us.
It is also noteworthy that in three of these four cases the Quran has used the word qaum or “people”. This may be an indication that these are national traits: “a people who reflect”, “a people who hear”, and “a people who understand”. History, old and new, shows that certain nations excelled others in contributing to science and knowledge while other nations fell behind. So it is not only individuals who should reflect, be learned, and develop understanding of nature, but it should also be done at the national level and promoted as public policy. Mankind as a whole, nations as a whole, and also individuals are given the opportunity to hold a dignified position, the position of having knowledge, and applying reason and sense. That dignified position is far superior to people just being told to obey orders and rules that they are given, without understanding them or thinking about them. Unfortunately, many people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, mistakenly believe that this is what Islam requires of its followers.
Another aspect of human dignity is that a human being is far above being forced to accept some belief, without his or her consent. The Quran says: “The truth is from your Lord; so let him who pleases believe and let him who pleases disbelieve.” (ch. 18, v. 29). Belief is something which must convince and satisfy a human being’s heart and enter into it. When God told Abraham that He, God, would give life to the dead nations, Abraham asked Him: “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” God said to him: “Do you not believe (that I can do this)?” Abraham said: “Yes, but that my heart may be at ease” (ch. 2, v. 260). So God said to him: if you take four birds and tame them to come to you, then place them on various distant mountains separately, and call them to you, they would come to you flying. The meaning is that if Abraham were to teach his message to people with love, gentleness and patience, attracting them to himself by his teachings and his personality, showing them that he was not a threat to them but he was their well-wisher, in the manner of a person taming birds, then no matter how far they were from accepting his message for any reason, they would join him. Thus people who were spiritually dead would be revived.
When some Arab tribes newly joined Islam, and said about themselves “We believe,” the Quran told them not to say “We believe,” but rather to say that “We have become Muslims” or “We have submitted” because, says the Quran, “faith has not yet entered into your hearts” (ch. 49, v. 14). Therefore Islam does not consider it sufficient to merely follow the commands of the religion in the outward, mechanical sense, but the hearts must become convinced of the truth of the faith. Until a person reaches the stage of having faith enter into his heart, he cannot claim to be a believer, and can only say that he has submitted to the commands and requirements of the religion outwardly. This passage of the Quran establishes another very important teaching of Islam. A person who is a complete novice in Islam, or one who has yet only a very basic knowledge of Islam, or one who does not or cannot understand the deeper matters of faith, but who says he submits to the commands of Islam, he is entitled to be known as a Muslim among people. He is just as entitled to call himself a Muslim, a member of the Muslim brotherhood, as much as some great Muslim scholar or some Muslim fully acting on Islam with his heart, mind and body.
Another way in which Islam has dignified the individual is by making him or her responsible for his or her own beliefs and actions. The Quran says: “No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another” (ch. 6, v. 164, ch. 17, v. 15). Each individual bears his or her own responsibility and is treated by God as a person in his or her own right. The Quran says: “We have made every human’s actions to cling to his neck, and We shall bring forth to him on the day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open. Read your book. Your own soul is today sufficient as a reckoner against yourself” (ch. 17:13–14). The individual is not treated as just one member of a group, with no identity of his own, and judged by God as a member of a certain group. Even if you belong to a group or nation whose members are committing wrong, you are not held responsible for their misdeeds if as an individual you do not commit those wrongful acts or support their commission by others. Likewise, if you are a wrong-doer you cannot escape responsibility for your actions if you happen to belong to a group of good and righteous people, and no one, however good and holy, can volunteer to bear your responsibility upon his shoulders. This principle means that each one of us is treated by God as an individual. This is also a way of dignifying a human being.
Blind following of leaders is also condemned in the Quran. It says that if someone who commits a misdeed puts forward in his defence the plea that he was only following and obeying orders, that is not an acceptable defence. Although the leaders do bear responsibility for misleading their followers, nonetheless each individual is expected to use his own sense and reason, to the extent of his capacity. The Quran quotes wrong-doers as saying to people: “Follow our path and we will bear your wrongs”. It says in reply to this: “And they can never bear any of their wrongs at all” (ch. 29, v. 12). It is not that the leaders are superior humans, and the ordinary people are inferior humans, so that the leaders can shoulder responsibility for the deeds of their followers committed under their orders.
Similarly, blind following of one’s ancestors and of inherited beliefs and values is condemned by the Quran: “And when it is said to them, Follow what Allah has revealed, they say: But we follow that (path) upon which we found our fathers. What! Even though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right way.” (ch. 2, v. 170). You should apply sense and reason to test whether your inherited beliefs are right or not. Again, these teachings of the Quran dignify the position of the individual because he is told not to blindly follow his leaders or forefathers or society.
Another principle the Quran teaches is that an individual must not join in acts of wrong-doing with his community or his fellow-countrymen or brethren-in-faith. It says: “And help one another in righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression, and keep your duty to Allah” (ch. 5, v. 2). It does not befit a human being that he should just follow the crowd, even the crowd of his own people, without thinking about the right or the wrong of the matter. Rather, the individual should stand up for the right, even against his own people. The Quran says to the Holy Prophet: “Surely We have revealed the Book to you with truth that you may judge between people by means of what Allah has taught you. And do not be one pleading the cause of the dishonest, and ask the forgiveness of Allah. Surely Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And do not contend on behalf of those who act unfaithfully to their souls. Surely Allah does not love him who is treacherous, sinful” (ch. 4, v. 105–107). In other words, always act according to the truth and according to justice, and don’t support the dishonest and the liars just because they belong to your community. By doing that, you fall to a low position, rather than holding a position of dignity.
May Allah enable us to reach the status of dignity that He has meant human beings to attain. — ameen.