Thursday, November 20, 2008

Islam: Religion of Humanity

The Oneness of Allah (SWT) and the necessary unity of His created manifestation mean that the Creator (SWT), from the ontological perspective, must stand in absolutely the same creatorly relationship to all humans. The converse of this relation is that all humans must stand in absolutely the same creaturely relationship to their Creator. In so far as their being is concerned, they cannot be ontically plural without this plurality implying an equal plurality in the Creator (SWT).

Certainly, humans can and do have different characteristics such as race, color, physical build, personality, language style, and culture. But none can have ontological value, i.e., constitute the person it qualifies as a different being. None of them can affect the person’s creaturely status before Allah (SWT). Their value remains accidental to the person’s being Allah’s creature.

By determining the personality and/or content of their possessor, ethnic characteristics may and very often do bring about his moral felicity or ruin. But their determination of the ethical outcome is never final or ultimate. For it is never ultimately impossible that a person with any imaginable combination of such characteristics be morally worthy or unworthy. The inner core constitutive of the person’s being must therefore remain somewhat free of them, capable of following their determinative power or doing otherwise, i.e., of channeling their causal efficiency to other ends.

The foregoing argument is the reason underlying the divine statement in the Qur’an, “O People, We have created you (all) of a single pair, a male and female (namely, Adam and Eve); and We have constituted you into tribes and nations that you may know one another. Nobler among you in the estimate of Allah is the more virtuous” (Surah al-Hujurat: 13). Belonging to one gender or another, to “tribes and nations” or one ethnicity or another, is perhaps the most obvious characterization of, and first differentiation among, humans. Second come language, physiognomy, intelligence, dexterity, and body strength, which are less fixed at birth and more apt to undergo change. Third are the readily changeable characteristics of personality, which constitute the virtues and vices: from wisdom and knowledge, and piety and patience, to ignorance and foolishness, and faithlessness and rebellion. All these constitute the human personality or life style, at least in its foundation and base. The rest of personality and life style is built up as habit or judgment, tendency or temperament, reputation, and the history or tradition of that personality through the accumulation of its own deeds. All of them are constitutive and determinative of the human person. The difference is wide between those that are predetermined before birth and hence immutable and those that are acquired in various stages of life and hence are subject to growth and development and to change and abolition.

Humans are very apt to mistake the values of these differing levels of characteristics and of the roles they play in the life of a person. In history, no other facts have determined the human judgment of persons and groups more than the first order of characteristics, namely, gender and ethnicity. And yet these are the most innocent, because they are the least dependent upon moral decision and action, and the least susceptible to change. In most cases, their immediacy and obviousness mislead people to take them as ontic and differentiate and discriminate on their basis. This is why the Qur’an picked them first and sought to demolish all judgments dependent upon them. These characteristics are the work of Allah (SWT), necessary and unchangeable, and created by Allah (SWT) merely for the purpose of identification. They are to be regarded solely as a “passport” or “identity card,” saying absolutely nothing about the moral character or value of the carrier. If the term “know” is taken figuratively, then the Qur’an would be telling us that gender and ethnic characteristics were created by Allah (SWT) so that humans might find in them mutual complementation and cooperation.

Hence, all humans are one and the same. On this ground the universalism of Islam is based. All humans are one in the eyes of Allah (SWT), except as their deeds might distinguish them in moral virtue and in cultural or civilizational achievement. If one’s attitudes and actions toward others are dependent upon one’s own group or personal characteristics, it is a moral duty to grow, develop, and change or radically alter those characteristics. And it is always possible to do so. The door to such cultivation or alteration is never closed. On the other hand, where judgment does take place on the basis of one’s own or others’ immutable characteristics, a mortal crime - namely, ethnocentrism - is committed.

The implications of such crime are ominous: the unity of humanity is violated, and Divine Oneness is violated as well. Nothing is more odious to Allah (SWT) than shirk, which is creating and worshiping would-be rivals to Allah (SWT) in what is known as associationism or polytheism; and nothing less than shirk is the implication of ethnocentrism, because it rejects the unity of creation and therefore the Oneness of Allah (SWT). Nothing has been more productive of hostility, war, and bloodshed among humans than ethnocentrism. Religion and all sorts of causes have been paraded as causes of various conflicts among groups of humans. In reality, nearly all these conflicts among groups are ultimately reducible to ethnocentric decisions made on the basis of the immutable characteristics of a so-called “enemy.”

With ethnocentrism, of which racism and nationalism are the commonplaces expressions, Islam can make no compromise. The conflict between them is irreconcilable, because the damage that ethnocentrism inflicts upon the human spirit - whether as the subject or the object of discrimination - is irreparable.

To condemn ethnocentrism as Islam does is not to condemn patriotism. The latter means the attitude of love and endearment, of appreciation of the life and value of the group, of self-preparation to undergo any exertion or sacrifice, including laying down one’s life, in defense of the community. As such, patriotism not only is not an evil, but is a positive good enjoined by Islam. It is both a religious and ethical duty to love, serves, and defend the moral community of one’s own people and land against aggression and injustice.

Ethnocentrism is far removed from patriotism. Its essence is to assume the advantage of the ethnic entity as an ultimate criterion of good and evil; and it’s most common expression is to hold the ethnic entity superior to mankind because of the innate characteristics of its members, and to regard and pursue that advantage at the cost of any other. It is because ethnocentrism makes such an assumption that it is possible for it to command the absolute loyalty of the adherent. The claim it makes is the claim of ultimate reality.

The committed ethnocentrist, whether Jew, German, French, or Russian, genuinely assumes the Jewish people, Germany, France, or Russia to be ultimate realities constituting ultimate criteria of good and evil. What Zionism built in the psyche of the Jewish people, what Hegel, Fichte, Nietzsche and other Romantic thinkers built in the psyche of the German people as to what “Deutschland” is, and what Rousseau, Fustel de Coulanges, and others had built in that of the French people as to what la nation or la France is, was nothing short of a mystique that bloated the Jewish People, Germany, and France into something approximating the ultimate reality of religious faith. The pride and inspiration commanded by these mystical entities, and the moving appeal they exercise upon the heart and imagination of the adherent, are indeed those of a purported reality that is mysterious, tremendous, fascinating, transcendent, and ultimate.

The Muslim is the person who believes the exact opposite precisely because his God is absolutely the only God of all. This is the premise that necessitates his assumption of all the unities we have been discussing. A Muslim nationalist or racist is therefore a contradiction in terms; and the Muslim who claims commitment to nationalism is either a zindiq (a non-Muslim pretending to be one), or a munafiq (a hypocrite), or one whose commitment is so superficial that it cannot withstand the lure of bribe or personal advantage. That is also the reason why the careers of the overwhelming majority of so-called committed Muslim nationalist leaders have left much to be desired by way of consistency and fidelity.

In modern times, knowledge of man has nearly all been based upon ethnic entity as the ultimate definiteness of humanity; and knowledge of society has rested on ethnic entity as the first and ultimate ground of social order and organization. The universalism of the Enlightenment had never been given a chance of implementation before it was repudiated in favor of the ethnocentric approach of romanticism. Indeed, the universalism of the Enlightenment was theoretical and suspicious, considering that even in the hands of the prince of the movement, Immanuel Kant, the various people of mankind were graded as superior and inferior on the basis of traditional European prejudices toward the innate characteristics of Asians, Africans, and Europeans. Romanticism swept over the whole of the West, wiped out every trace of rationalist or Christian universalism, and provided the greatest impetus for the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences. Man was defined by the thinkers as a function of facts, faculties, and forces that spring and nourishes themselves from a land mystically conceived, from a race or people or blood mysteriously standing in an infinite dimension of time, and from a tradition whose roots run infinitely in depth and extension through both space and time. Furthermore, these are not understood by reason but are grasped by feeling, immediate experience, and intuition. Their most eloquent and clearest expression is to be found in the arts, especially in music, painting, and literature. Even religion was reconceived by these romantic thinkers, notably Schleiermacher, as founded solely on the ineffable experience of the adherent, i.e. his personal feeling, thereby conceding the point to the detractors of religion that it is irrational and arbitrary and of the same nature as “illusion” and “opium.”

The Western humanities continued to speak of “man” and “humanity.” But in their romanticized understanding, these terms denoted Western man and Western humanity. If they did not exclude the billion “blacks,” the billion “browns,” and the billion “yellows” of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, it counted them only as approximations of humanity which might be colonized, exploited, and used for the welfare of Western humanity. Certainly they ought to be studied; but they ought to be so as specimens of a bygone age, and thus contribute to Western man’s historical (evolutionary) understanding of himself.

Ethnocentrism is internally divisive, for it is always possible to find within any defined group a few sub-groups that reveal a greater concentration of innate characteristics than the larger group. Such “facta” could then furnish the base for a smaller group to call itself an ethnic entity endowed with a stronger particularism. Hence, besides separating the Westerners from the rest of the world with which they were coming into more intensive contact because of the development of industry and transportation, romanticism divided the West into mutually hostile and competitive nations, each seeking its “national interest” as if it were the criterion of all good and evil. The nations of the West learned from and readily accepted the findings of one another. The romantic insights, analyses, and expressions of one nation were quickly acknowledged as true of another, adopted, and applied as if they were one’s own.

The Western social sciences - history, geography, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology - were all developed under the impetus provided by romanticism. All of them, each in its own way, are based upon the ethnocentric view that the nation, or ethnic entity, with its well defined geography and demography but infinite and woozy history is the ultimate unit of analysis and value. When they speak of “society” or “social order,” they mean their own national entity or order. Some say it openly on their first pages; others leave it unsaid as their most basic needless-to-be-said assumption or premise. Sociology boldly affirms the ethnocentrist thesis because it deals directly with society and social order. Political science follows. Western geography can conceive of the world only as a satellite of the West, a world revolving around England, America, France, Germany, or Italy as its heart and core, depending on the author and place of publication. Western economics was at its earlier stages impertinent enough to claim for itself the status of a universal science. But it was put back in its place as a Western analysis of a Western nation by the arch-romanticists and ethnocentrists of Europe, the Nazis. The same bombastic claims made on behalf of the discipline by Karl Marx were denied in practice by Lenin and Khrushchev. Their regime, however, never permitted a statement to this effect to appear in print; but it allowed a fair measure of ethnocentric (in this case, national-socialistic) declarations to be included in the new USSR constitution of 1978.

Finally, anthropology is the boldest of all. In its view, “humanity” means ethnicity and is logically equivalent to and convertible with it. In the last two centuries, its effect has been to whip up humankind into a frenzy of ethnocentric consciousness by singling out one subgroup after another, and constructing for it an ideology and axiology out of that group’s innate characteristics or what its advocates have fabricated and declared to be innate and particular to that ethnic group. Instead of identifying and emphasizing what is universally human, its whole concern is to identify the particular, and to develop and blow it far out of proportion.

Islam recognizes the family as the constitutive unit of social order, and buttresses its extended form with legislation regarding inheritance and dependence in order to enable the largest possible family membership to eat from the same kitchen and hence mutually and economically to support the social, emotional, and mental health and prosperity of its members. Beyond the family, Islam recognizes multiple levels of community in humanity, and finally the universal social order of the largest community, mankind. Man’s membership in this order generates interest in the social sciences, or should do so. Human groupings without a moral basis between the family and humankind, such as country, region, the “people,” or “nation-state,” Islam regards purely as administrative units absolutely irrelevant to the definition of good and evil and to the interpretation and application of the shari’ah. The arts, the humanities, and the social sciences of the modern West must therefore be totally recast. A new foundation of first principles should be given them concordant with the universalism of Islam. And they ought to receive from the Islamic thinker a new axiology - viz., Islamic values and ends - as ultimate objectives for guiding all thought and action [ed., which is precisely the raison d'etre of shari'ah thought and tawhid cybernetics].

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