Posted by Shadra_Institute 12:11 AM, under | No comments

Culture means 'cultivation' and, generally nowadays,
when this word is used alone, it means 'the cultivation of
the human mind.' Islamic culture differs from other
cultures in that it can never be the aim and object of the
cultivated individual, since its aim is not the cultivation
of the individual or group of individuals, but of the entire
human race. No amount of works of art or literature, in
any land can be regarded as the justification of Islam so
long as wrong, injustice and intolerance remain. No
victories of war or peace, however brilliant, can be
quoted as the harvest of Islam. Islam has wider objects,
grander views. It aims at nothing less than universal
human brotherhood Still, as a religion, it does encourage
human effort after self, and race, improvement more
than any other religion and since it became the power in
the world, it has produced cultural results which will
bear comparison with the results achieved by all the
other religions, civilizations and philosophies put
together. A Muslim can only be astonished at the
importance, almost amounting to worship, ascribed to
works of art and literature (which one may call the
incidental phenomena of culture) in the West; as if they
were the justification, and their production the highest
aim, of human life. Not that Muslims despise or ever
should despise, literary, artistic and scientific
achievements, but that they regard them in the light of
blessings by the way, either as aids to the end or
refreshment for the wayfarer. They do not idolize the aid
and the refreshment.

The whole of Islam's great work in science, art and
literature is included under these two heads: aid and
refreshment. Some of it, such as the finest poetry and
architecture, falls under both. All of it recognises one
leader, follows one guidance, looks towards one Goal.
The leader is the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), the guidance is the
Holy Qur'an, and the Goal is Allah.
By Islamic culture, I do not mean the culture derived
from whatever source and attained at any given moment
by people who profess the religion of Islam, but the kind
of culture prescribed by a religion of which human
progress is the definite and avowed aim.
No one who has ever studied the Qur'an will deny that it
promises success in this world and the hereafter to men
who act upon its guidance and obey its laws, that it aims
at nothing less than the success of mankind as a whole;
and that this success is to be attained by cultivation of
man's gifts and faculties.

If any development in Muslim society is not sanctioned
by the Qur'an or some express injunction of the Prophet,
it is un-Islamic and its origin must be sought outside the
Islamic polity. The Muslims cannot expect success from
their adoption of it, though it need not necessarily
militate against success. If any development is contrary
to an express injunction of the Qur'an, and against the
teaching and example of the Prophet, then it is
anti-Islamic. It must militate against success, and
Muslims simply court disaster by adopting it.
Certain art forms were discouraged by Islam at the
beginning, because of their association with the
idolatrous worship of the pagan Arabs and its vicious
orgies, the utter extirpation of which was necessary for
the progress of the race. But the discouragement of
certain art expressions and encouragement of others
were both, like the works of art produced, regarded as
subsidiary. The culture of Islam aimed not at beautifying
and refining the accessories of human life, it aimed at
beautifying and exalting human life itself. There is today
a large and undoubtedly intellectual school of thought in
the West which seems to hold that the production of fine
works of art by a small minority of a community as
sufficient reason for acclaiming the civilisation and
culture of the community, even though the huge majority
of its members may be forced by the social order under
which they live to lead ugly and degraded lives. Nay,
there is an intellectual school of thought which seems to
hold that the production of fine works of art by a
minority of many nations as sufficient justification for
condemning the majority to conditions of perpetual
ugliness, servitude and degradation.

Some of you will no doubt remember a discussion in the
English press some years ago. The question was this:
Suppose a famous and very beautiful Greek statue,unique of its kind and therefore irreplaceable, is in the same room with a living baby, and the room catches fire;
it is only possible to save one or the other. Which
should be saved? Very many correspondents, men of
intellect and good position, I remember, held that the
statue should be saved and the child left to perish. Their
argument was that millions of babies are born every day,
whereas masterpieces of old Greek art could never be
replaced. That is a view no Muslim could have taken, the
very latest, cultivated form of idol worship.
Islam foresees, and works for, a radiant future for the
human race. And although every Muslim holds his own
life cheap in the service of Allah, which is the service of
humanity, he would never dream of sacrificing a human
life, however seemingly insignificant, to the work of
human hands. The adoration (it amounts to that) of works
of art is due to disbelief in Allah's guidance and His
purpose of mankind. These things are the best that man
has produced in the centuries. Beauty is decreasing,
human beings are deteriorating, (so runs the argument)
therefore, we must cling to those beautiful productions
of the past as the one ideal left to us. That is pessimism,
and Islam is optimistic - optimistic not with the
"optimism" satirized by Voltaire in the character of Dr.
Pangloss, the absurd philosopher, who kept exclaiming
"Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes
possibles." (All is for the best in this best of possible
worlds). That is the kind of remark which passes with the
unthinking for optimism, but it is really fatalism, which
is a form of pessimism, and Islam is not fatalistic. Yes,
I repeat that statement. In spite of all that has been said
and written of the fatalism of the Muslim Islam is not
fatalistic in the generally accepted meaning of the world.
It does not bid man accept the existing conditions as a
necessary evil, but commands him never to cease
striving for improvement.
Islam is a religion, which specifically aims at human
progress, and shows the proper way of it in a number of
commands and prohibitions covering every avocation of
man's daily life, his social life and politics as well as
every prompting of his mind and spirit. These commands
and prohibitions have been codified into a complete
social and political system. It is a practicable system, for
it has been practised with success, which is the great
astonishment of history. Many writers have tried to
explain away the amazing success of Islam by ascribing
it to outside causes - weakness of the surrounding
nations, free use of the sword, the credulity of the times,
and so forth. But how would they explain away the fact
that so long as the Muslim implicitly obeyed a particular
injunction of the Sacred Law they succeeded in the
sphere of that injunction, and whenever they neglected to
obey . . . it failed. And who would they explain the fact
that many non-Muslims, doing what the Muslims are
enjoined to do, have always succeeded in that special
direction, except by the supposition that the injunctions
of the Qur'an and the Holy Prophet are laws for all
mankind - natural law which men transgress at their peril,
or rather at the peril of the race?


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