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All Proceed towards Absolute Ideal

All Proceed towards Absolute Ideal “Surely you, O men, are striving hard toward your Lord and so you are going to meet Him.” (Surah al Inshiqaq, 84:6) This Qur’anic verse sets a very high target for human society. It says that humanity endeavours on every level to meet its Lord. In this verse the word, ‘kadh’ has been used, which means persistent movement and tedious and irksome progress. The whole human society has to work hard to move forward, for this is not an ordinary movement. It is an ascending movement representing development and evolution. It is evident that this persistent movement requires a way along which man marching towards perfection should move till he reaches his destination. This way has been described in several verses of the Qur’an as the way of Allah or the path of Allah.

Surely you, O men, are striving hard toward your Lord and so you are going to
meet Him. (Surah al Inshiqaq, 84:6)

This Qur’anic verse sets a very high target for human society. It says that
humanity endeavours on every level to meet its Lord. In this verse the word, ‘kadh’
has been used, which means persistent movement and tedious and irksome progress.
The whole human society has to work hard to move forward, for this is not an
ordinary movement. It is an ascending movement representing development and
evolution. It may be compared to the serious effort the mountaineers have to
make to get on the top of a mountain. They have to cross many heights to reach
the summit. Their movement is irksome and requires great effort. The same way
humanity endeavours to reach Allah. Only by making a persistent effort it is
possible to climb the ladder of perfection, to make evolutionary progress and to
proceed to the high position that befits humanity.

It is evident that this persistent movement requires a way along which man
marching towards perfection should move till he reaches his destination. This
way has been described in several verses of the Qur’an as the way of Allah or
the path of Allah. These expressions of the Qur’an indicate the existence of a
way along which man must move. As a way is necessary for movement, similarly
movement is a necessary corollary of a way. When the above quoted verse says
that man is striving hard, it speaks of an actual fact and an existing reality.

This verse is not a call to the people to follow Allah’s way. It is not meant to
urge people or to encourage them to take any action. Unlike some other verses it
does not express a command. It does not ask people to come to Allah’s way or to
repent in Allah’s House or to do any other such thing. Instead it says: Surely
you, O men, are striving hard towards your Lord and so you are going to meet
Him. Thus it mentions an actual fact that man’s every movement in his long
historical march is towards Allah. Even the groups which have chosen from
themselves inferior ideals and false gods and are called polytheists by the
Qur’an, take steps towards Allah, when they are found advancing in their long
journey. Their advancement towards Allah depends on the motivating power of
their ideals. If these ideals push them forward, that means that they become
nearer to their Lord. But there is a difference between the progress which
creates a sense of responsibility and the progress which, as we shall explain,
does not have this characteristic. When humanity makes progress while fully
conscious of its ideals, it is said that worship has been performed. It is a
characteristic of worship that all along it is analogous to the world and in
complete harmony with world conditions. Yet even an unconscious advance in
relation to an ideal is a movement towards Allah, though as we pointed out,
irresponsible.

Hence every advance is a movement towards Allah, even the advance of those who
go after a mirage. As it is inferred from the above quoted verse, those who tend
to proceed social mirages and choose inferior ideal for themselves, when reach
these mirages, they notice that there is nothing there and find in place thereof
Allah who pays them their due. It is evident from this verse that, Allah is the
end of their journey, yet He is not a geographical and like the end of a
geographical route. For example, if we take into consideration the route between
Tehran and Isfahan, Isfahan is the terminal point, that is the end of this
geographical route.

In other words, Isfahan is situated at the end of the route, not in between. If
a person travels towards Isfahan and stops somewhere on his way, he cannot be
called to have reached Isfahan, which is the terminal point and which we call
the end of the route. Anyhow Allah is not a geographical end in this way. Allah
is Absolute. He is Self-existent. There is no place where Allah is not present.
His existence has no limit. He is the end of the journey, but He is all along
the way also. The person who traverses only the half way – he who reaches a
mirage, stops at it and discovers that it is only a mirage – what does he find?
We observe that according to the Qur’anic verse, he finds that Allah is there
and that Allah pays him his due, for the Absolute is present at every point on
route also. As man advances on his way, he realizes his ideal in proportion to
his progress. He finds Allah as much as he advances along his way. As Allah is
Absolute, the way to Him also has no end. Therefore a journey to Him means only
to come near to Him. The more man advances, the nearer to Allah he comes, but
this nearness is always relative. Man only can take some steps along the line of
march, but he cannot traverse the whole route, for a limited being can never
reach the Absolute. A limited being cannot reach the unlimited one. Therefore in
this case there exists an unlimited field between man and his ideal. In other
words, man has an unlimited field of action. He can make unlimited progress. The
scope of his development is unlimited, for the way before him is indefinitely
long and limitless.

Quantitative and Qualitative Changes

Two changes, one quantitative and the other qualitative appear in man when he
regards his real ideal as the indicator of his route to humanity and reconciles
his reason and understands with the universal truth ensuing from the ideal which
he holds to be the true reality. In other words when man’s conscious advance is
reconciled with the cosmic reality of his advance, quantitative and qualitative
changes appear in him, for man and the world both are advancing towards Allah.

Man’s movement towards Allah produces a quantitative change in him, because as
we said earlier, the way towards his true ideal has no limit. In other words,
there always exists for him an opportunity for self-construction,
self-development and progress and the door for his going forward is ever open,
for the ideal can remove from his way every false god, every idol and every
idol-like impurity that may become a barrier between him and his Allah.

Hence the monotheistic religion constitutes a constant struggle and a continuous
war against all false gods and low and repetitious ideals, for an ideal other
than Allah always requires man to confine his movement up to a particular point
only. The false gods want him to stop in the middle of his journey. All over
history the monotheistic religion has borne the standard of opposition to all
false gods and low ideals. That is why the true ideal brings about a
quantitative change in man’s movement, unties his shackles and liberates him
from the bonds of artificial limits and thus enables him to continue to march
forward.

As for the qualitative change in the man’s movement, it is brought about by the
true ideal through providing a basic solution of human contradictions and
controversies. Man gets a sense of responsibility as the result of his faith in
this ideal and a consciousness of his universal limits. This consciousness
creates in him a deep sense of responsibility. Unlike all other motivating
ideals over human history, it is only to this ideal that man feels responsible.
Why so? It is so because this ideal has a concrete reality and in no way depends
on man. It is from here that the logical condition of responsibility
materializes, for a true responsibility two sides are required: a responsible
person and to whom he owes responsibility. If there is no higher side or the man
responsible does not have faith in it, no sense of responsibility can be
produced at all.

For example take low and inferior ideals into consideration. These important
gods and abject deities have done over human history nothing other than creating
dissensions and undue discriminations among mankind. These ideals along with man
form one whole and are reckoned as a part of a total. Man cannot feel to have a
sense of responsibility towards something which he has set apart from himself
and which he himself has shaped and developed. The Qur’an says: They are but
names which you have named. (Surah an Najm, 53:23)

These ideals cannot create a sense of personal responsibility. Owing to them
laws may be framed and habits and customs may be framed but all such things
remain superficial and seeming. Man can throw off these habits and customs at
the first opportunity available to him.

On the contrary the ideal which has been presented as the monotheistic religion
of the Prophets, having all over history a concrete reality independent of man
and fulfills all the necessary conditions in this respect.

Why have the Prophets brought about the most intensive revolutions in human
history? Why have they been the soundest revolutionaries in the world? Why have
the Prophets on the historical stage been above all personal consideration? Why
have they not agreed to any compromise? Why have they never wavered in their
mission?

Why have the Prophets been like that? We find many revolutionaries in history
who changed their doctrines, but it has never been heard that a Prophet ever
wavered in his mission or faltered in his compliance with the teachings of his
revealed Book. The Prophets always remained steady because they had an ideal
which was independent of man and superior to him. This ideal gave them a glimmer
of the sense of responsibility. This sense is not a matter of secondary
importance in man’s spiritual journey. It is the basic condition of his success
in this respect. It is the sense of responsibility which resolves man’s inner
conflict and contradictions. According to his creational scheme man always lives
in a state of contradiction, for according to the Qur’an he has been created of
clay as well as of a flash of divine spirit.

The Qur’an says that man has been created of clay. It also says that a breath or
a flash of divine spirit has been breathed into him. As such man is a
combination of two things. His clay (origin) draws him to the earth and calls
him to base desires, material tendencies and all that is low, vile and becoming
of the earth. At the same time the breath of divine spirit breathed into him
calls him to high and noble qualities and lifts him so much that he comes near
to the divine qualities and adopts them. Divine spirit invites him to Allah’s
endless knowledge, His endless power, His endless justice, His generosity and
magnanimity, His mercy, His retribution and His other attributes and qualities.

Man finds himself in the midst of the contradiction. He had fallen into this
conflicting situation as a result of the nature of his psychical content and his
inner structure. It is man’s inherent nature which has given rise to this
conflict and contradiction, as we shall elucidate by explaining the story of
Adam, the first man. The only way of resolving this contradiction is the
creation of a sense of responsibility. Mere perception of this inner conflict
can identify this conflict, but cannot do away with it. Nothing can create a
sense of personal responsibility in man except his choice of the supreme ideal.

It is this lofty ideal that makes man realize that he is accountable to his
Lord, Who is Omnipotent and Omniscient and who recompenses him for all his good
and bad deeds. Therefore a sense of inner responsibility which is a sort of a
qualitative change in man’s behaviour, is the only way of resolving the
contradiction and conflict having their roots in man’s nature.

The role of the monotheistic relation is to facilitate the adoption of this
solution and with the growth of its quantitative and qualitative effect to
remove the obstacles in the way of human progress. While supporting this
solution the monotheistic religion carries out an incessant and intensive
struggle against artificial, low and repetitious ideals which stop man’s
progress on the one hand and make him devoid of the sense of responsibility on
the other.

That is why, as already mentioned, the fight of the Prophets against false gods
has throughout history been incessant and intensive. Every low ideal on
completion of its incubation period assumed the form of an idol and gains
supporters. It is but natural that those whose material interests and worldly
position depend on such ideals, keenly defend them.

That was the reason why those whose interests depended on the low ideals or
idols tooth and nail opposed the Prophets and fought against them in defense of
their own material and worldly interests and the luxurious life which they led.

The Qur’an has revealed a norm of history when it states that there has been a
continuous clash between the Prophets, because they were the people who were
benefited by the false ideals. When these ideals assumed the form of idols, they
were against those given to easy life and enjoyment who reaped all the benefits
and justified their own existence by the existence of their idols.

Therefore it was but natural that the people living at ease who had vested
interests were always in the front line of those who were hostile to the
Prophets. The Holy Qur’an says:

We did not send a warner before you to any township but its luxurious ones said:
‘Surely we found our fathers following a religion and we are following their
footprints’ (Surah az-Zukhruf, 43:23)

We did not send to any township a warner, but it’s pampered ones declared: ‘No
doubt we are disbelievers in what you bring to us’ (Surah as-Sabah, 34:34)

I shall deprive them of the blessing of My revelations those who are arrogant in
the earth, and if they see any sign, they do not believe it and if they see the
way of righteousness, they do not choose it as their way, and if they see the
way of error they choose it as their way. That is because they deny Our
revelations and are used to disregard them. (Surah al-A’raf, 7:146)

And the chieftains of his fold, who disbelieved and denied the meeting o f the
Hereafter, and whom We had made prosperous in the life of this world, said: ‘He
is only a human being like you, who eats like you eat and drinks like you drink’
(Surah al Mu’minun, 23:33)

Therefore in order to exterminate their false gods the monotheistic religion has
taken steps to neutralize the interests of these luxurious people. In the
beginning these false gods were only ideals, but subsequently their statues were
made and thus they were converted into idols. The monotheistic religion severs
man’s relation with these low and abject gods. Yet is it possible to sever the
relation of humanity with these abject ideals and bury their heads under ground
simply to allow them to raise their heads again in a different godless form, as
has been the case with the dialectical-materialistic revolutionaries who take
inspiration from historical materialism and from what they call the materiality
of history. They also like us fight against false gods and call a belief in them
the opium of the nations. Yet the difference between our thinking and theirs is
that we do not fight against the false gods to convert man into an animal or to
sever man’s relation with his spirit of lofty love and adoration. We do not
fight against them to drag humanity to a lower course. We sever man’s relation
with inferior ideals to establish his relation with his real and supreme ideal,
to guide him back to the course of humanity and to attach him to his Almighty
Allah with a view to bring about in him the desired quantitative and qualitative
changes in the course of his development.

Now it must be understood clearly that the march of humanity towards this
supreme ideal depends on certain prerequisite conditions which are as under:

(i) Clear Intellectual and Ideological Approach to the Supreme Ideal: To have a
clear idea of the supreme ideal prevailing over history and which depended on
monotheism. This belief co-ordinates and unifies all ideals, goals, aspirations,
desires and all human knowledge in the Person of the Supreme Ideal, who is
all-Knowledge, all-Power, all-Justice, all-Mercy and all-Retribution.

The doctrine of monotheism gives us a clear idea of this ideal who has realized
all aspirations and goals in His Person. This doctrine teaches us that we should
regard all Divine attributes as concrete facts, but dissimilar to our own
qualities and characteristics.

We should regard the Divine attributes as a model, as a practical guide, as a
goal for our practical advance and as mile-stones on our long route to the
Almighty. The doctrine of monotheism fulfils the condition of providing a clear
ideological and intellectual approach to our ideal.

(ii) The existence of a psychological force emanating from this ideal so that it
may serve as a permanent asset and a motivating force for human will over
history. This spiritual force which we call the motivating force of will, is
inspired by our faith in Allah. This faith crystallizes in the belief in the
Doomsday and the Day of Resurrection, which are a continuation of the life of
this world. A belief in resurrection and the life after death teaches man that
the small historical field in which he plays his role in this world, has a
strong link with other fields or worlds called barzakh (purgatory) and the
hereafter. Man’s condition in those great and perilous worlds depends on the
role he plays in the historical field of this world. This belief equips man with
a spiritual force that brings his will into action and fortifies it for
successfully performing his role in the other worlds.

(iii) This supreme ideal of which we are talking differs from inferior ideals
because it is outside the existence of man. It is not a part of man detached
from him. The supreme ideal has its own separate and independent existence. It
is everywhere and is not a part of man. Its separation from man makes it
necessary that there be a link between man and this ideal. Other ideals have a
human aspect and they have been detached from man. As such it is not necessary
that man should have any link with them. Of course the devils and the Pharaohs
have over history tried to establish links of some sort between man and the so
called gods of the sun and the stars. But such links are false, for these gods
are imaginary and fictitious. They are only a mental concept detached from man
and given a concrete shape.

In contrast the supreme ideal has no existence absolutely separate from man, and
hence there should be genuine link between man and this ideal. It is this
genuine link that has found full expression in the role of the Prophets. Every
Prophet has pointed out the existence of this link, for a Prophet is the person
who fulfils in himself the first and the second conditions of arranging the
progress of humanity to this ideal by the Will of Allah. He has a clear
ideological vision of this ideal and at the same time his psychological force is
fully saturated with this belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment. These two
elements combined in his person help him play the role of a Prophet, and the
link between the supreme ideal and humanity expressed in this combination makes
the Prophet a warner and bringer of good tidings.

When humanity arrives at the stage called by the Qur’an the `Decisive’ stage,
the significance of which we shall explain in our forthcoming lectures, things
so develop that the coming of a warner and bringer of good tidings becomes
insufficient, for this is the stage when the low ideals or false gods block the
road of man’s development. At this stage it becomes necessary to remove the
obstacles and pull down the barriers which prevent man from proceeding towards
Allah – the Almighty. At this stage it is necessary for humanity to launch a
campaign and fight against the false gods, vicious and malignant beings and low
ideals which regard themselves as the guardians of humanity but actually are a
sort of highwaymen, for they block the way of humanity and prevent it from
continuing its onward historical movement. For this purpose a leader is
required. Such a leader is called Imam and his role is known as Imamat. An Imam
is the leader who guides and supervises human combat against falsehood. At a
stage of Prophethood the roles of the Imam and the Prophet are amalgamated. The
Qur’an has spoken of this feature and we shall discuss it shortly. Most probably
this amalgamation began with Prophet Nuh.

The role of the Imam is though amalgamated with that of the Prophet, yet it
continues even after the role of the Prophet has come to an end. This happens
when a Prophet quits the field while the fight is still on and it is necessary
in the interest of his mission that the struggle for crushing the false gods be
continued. In such a case the period of Imamat maintains the continuity of the
role of Prophethood even after its coming to an end

This was the fourth condition of arranging the way of human progress to the
supreme ideal. In its light we can have a clear idea of what we call the five
cardinal principles of religion. Now we shall see how sound these five
principles are and how they determine man’s historical course.

The five cardinal principles of religion are as under:

(i) Monotheism: The role of monotheism lies in the fact that it provides us with
a clear intellectual and ideological point of view. Monotheism attaches all
human aspirations and goals to the supreme ideal, that is Allah.

(ii) Divine Justice: Justice is just another dimension of monotheism. From
social point of view knowledge, power and other attributes of Allah are not His
distinguishing features, but justice is, for justice is the quality which can
give many things to society and can make it independent of others. In the course
of our social progress we need justice more than any other quality. Justice has
appeared as the second cardinal principle of religion, because from social point
of view it has a guiding and instructional aspect.

We have said earlier that Islam teaches us not to regard the Divine attributes
as mere metaphysical realities having no connection with us. We should look at
them as sign-posts which guide us to pursue a certain way of life. From this
point of view, justice is the biggest concept that can guide humanity, and for
this very reason it is distinguished from other attributes. Otherwise justice
lies within the framework of total monotheism. It is an essential quality of a
perfect ideal.

(iii) Belief in Prophethood: It is the third cardinal principle of religion. It
establishes a genuine link between man and his ideal. As said earlier humanity
needs this link when it marches toward its ideal, that is Allah who is
independent of man, and has neither been detached from him nor produced by-him.
It is a Prophet who ensures the establishment of this link. Throughout history
the Prophets have satisfied this real need.

(iv) Imamat: It is that leadership which amalgamates with Prophethood. A Prophet
is an Imam also. He performs the functions of Imamat as well as Prophethood. Yet
Imamat continues if the struggle is not over even after the end of the period of
a Prophet, and a leader is still required to carry out his mission. In such a
case an Imam shoulders this responsibility and during the period of his Imamat
supervises the unfinished work of the Prophet. Thus Imamat is the fourth
cardinal principle of religion.

(v) The Day of Resurrection: The fifth principle is the belief in the Day of
Resurrection. This principle ensures the fulfillment of the second condition out
of the four prerequisite condition of arranging the progress of humanity to the
true ideal, as mentioned above. The principle of the Hereafter creates a
psychological force that motivates and fortifies human will and guarantees man’s
responsible behaviour. From the foregoing it is clear that in the final analysis
these cardinal principles of religion are the elements which take part in man’s
adoption of the supreme ideal. They have also determined the social relationship
of this ideal over history as we explained in a previous lecture when we
discussed the four-fold advantage of religion.

We explained earlier that according to the concept presented by the Qur’an the
social relations are four-dimensional and not three-dimensional. We deduced this
concept from the word `istikhlaf (appointing a vicegerent) used by the Qur’an.
Explaining this word we said that appointing a vicegerent had four dimensions.
It required the existence of man, nature, Allah – the Almighty and the person
appointed the vicegerent. This combination of four-fold social relationship is
another way of expressing the combination of the five-fold cardinal principles
of religion for the purpose of the tedious and long journey of man to Allah –
the Almighty.

The above mentioned facts explain man’s role in determining the course of
history. In his historical journey man is the centre of gravity, not as a
physical body, but because of his inner content, the meaning of which we have
already explained. The basis of man’s inner content is the ideal which he
himself chooses. The true ideal is only that which can ensure to man all his
main and prior goals and objectives, which serve as historical incentives to his
activities on the stage of history. Hence the choice of the supreme ideal by man
as his ideal lays the strong foundation of his inner content. This shows the
importance of the role of this fourth dimension.

Source: Selected Chapter from
Trends of History
in the Qur’an
by Shaheed Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr

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