By Ali Unal
Modern man’s consciousness is manipulated and, to some extent, entrapped, by slogans. Conceptions like democracy, freedom and human rights usually serve as the three most effective of the slogan words which are used to benumb public opinion and which play a considerable part in the continuation of the present order in the world. As ideas, even as values, we do not necessarily object to them, rather, we approve them, but in the hands of certain powers, they are a cruel and cynical deception, as corrosive as chemical weapons.
The world powers usually have no objection to the most ruthless tyrannies for as long as they can easily manipulate them. Their interest is really in ‘stability’ in those areas of a country’s life which allow their economic interests to function and flourish unopposed. And the same powers will give no respite to a democratic country if their interests are jeopardized in that country by its people’s will to political or cultural independence. They do not refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and claim to do so for democracy and freedom. Their own record of human rights is by no means good: leaving aside the past excesses of colonialism and its present excesses in different guises, racial, cultural and religious discrimination has by no means ended in their own territories, rather concessions are regularly made to extremist political parties (ostensibly in order to deny them greater popularity), the number of crimes and prisoners rises unstoppably, and physical torture, especially of activists on behalf of minority interests, is often enough reported to be unofficially tolerated. Yet, despite their known record, the same powers claim the right to champion democracy, freedom and human rights anywhere and everywhere—if it suits them. They do so in order to justify to their populations the resort to military or economic force abroad. While they themselves do not avoid waging war thousands of miles away to assert their interests in an island, they do not allow others to use their right of guarantee in an island on their very borders. The operations Western intelligence agents carry out in other countries are invariably presented as heroic acts, whereas directly comparable, even identical, actions others attempt to maintain their independence and self-defense are equally invariably presented as barbarism and terrorism. In short, the moral or philosophical value of such concepts as democracy, freedom and human rights is utterly compromised by the naked and cruel cynicism with which they secure their dominion in the world. The cynical abuse of these concepts reminds us of the famous chant in Orwells’ Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Nothing stands so effectively against the cynicism with which power is handled in the ‘modernized’ part of the world than religious belief where such belief is both serious and sincere and can seriously inspire thoughts and actions to govern life. Therefore it is no surprise that, from time to time, political opinion-formers will take swipes at religion, claiming quite absurdly that religion is responsible for inspiring killing. Thus, in one of its latest issues, a famous, world-wide circulating magazine presents the Divinely-inspired religion—whether it be Judaism or Christianity or Islam—as a way of life that encourages ‘killing for God’. We do not deny the misrepresentation of religion by some extremist groups who take religion as a narrow political ideology, making it a means of displaying their hard-heartedness or rigidity or of sublimating their inferiority or superiority complexes. However, it can never be justifiable to blame any order or system as such, specially for something it essentially condemns, because of the wrongs committed by some marginal groups or individuals who claim to act on behalf of that order or system.
Religion is a contract between God and man, all of whose conditions are in favor and for the benefit of man
Religion is a contract between God and man, all of whose conditions are in favor and for the benefit of man. As a complex, civilized being in need (besides innumerable other things material and spiritual) of secure co-existence with his fellow-men, man seeks peace and justice in his individual and collective life. Just as individual motives differ from one another to a great extent, so too the ‘collective reason’ of mankind is unable to comprehend the true nature of that peace and justice and how to realize it in practice. Therefore, there is a felt need for a ‘transcendent’ reason, and this was granted to man in the form of religion, which is, in fact, an assemblage of the principles laid down by God for the happiness and security of mankind in both worlds and for the realization of justice in practical life. Since, in terms of his essential nature and needs, man has never changed, nor will do so, all of the Prophets preached the same fundamentals of religion, although there were naturally some differences in secondary matters relating to the ever-changing circumstances of life. This religion, which God Almighty chose for man’s felicity, individual and collective, and in both worlds, and which He revealed through the Prophets, including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, upon them all be peace, is Islam. Islam means belief in and submission to God and thereby peace and justice in man’s individual and collective life. Judaism and Christianity are the names given to its former forms by others after the Prophets Moses and Jesus respectively. No Israelite Prophet mentioned the word Judaism. Jesus never claimed to establish Christianity on earth and never called himself a Christian. The word Christian is mentioned only three times in the New Testament and first by pagans and Jews in Antioch about 43 AD, long after Jesus had left this earth (Acts, 11.26).
Islam is based on mercy and compassion
Islam can be best summed up in the Basmala, the formula pronounced at the start of every good act: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. The word translated as the All-Merciful is al-Rahman, which denotes God as the One Who, out of His infinite Mercy for all His creatures with no discrimination of plant or animal or human, of sex or race, of believers or unbelievers, protects, sustains and provides for all beings. The word translated as the All-Compassionate is al-Rahim denoting God as the One Who has special mercy for His good, believing, devoted and upright servants in this world and the next. Al-Rahman guarantees the life and provision of all beings, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, believers or non-believers. In addition, the Qur’an plainly states that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent as a mercy for all worlds [all species of beings] (21.107). A religion thus based on mercy and compassion aims at reviving, not killing.
Islam gives life
Unfortunately, materialistic thought, fed by the extreme positivistic and rationalistic attitudes on which science is made dependent in the modern world, views life reduced to the physical or material dimension. However, the spiritual domain of existence is much broader and of greater significance for life. The peace, harmony and contentment obtainable in the physical domain depends, first of all, on spirituality. One’s spiritual life, which is based on enlightenment of mind or intellect through scientific knowledge, and the enlightenment of the heart and refinement of feelings through belief, religious knowledge, worship, and inspiration, has an essential place in the preaching of the Prophets. For example, the Qur’an proclaims: Respond to God and the Messenger, when the Messenger calls you to that which will give you life [that is, which will revive you intellectually and spiritually] (al-Anfal, 8.24).
Islam is, in the words of Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other, nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure (Islam at the Crossroads, p.5). Therefore, it gives almost as much importance to man’s physical life as it gives to his spiritual life. First of all, Islam regards each individual as the representative of its kind. In other words, in the view of Islam, each individual human being is of the same value as humankind as a whole. For this reason, Islam has condemned Cain, the son of Adam, who killed his brother unjustly and, since he opened the way to murder in human history, holds him indirectly responsible for all killings until the end of time. Also, for the same reason, because of the gravity of the sin, the Qur’an declares that one who slays a soul unjustly is as if he had slain all human beings, and one who either revives a human being spiritually or restores him to life physically, is as if he had restored all human beings to life spiritually or physically (al-Ma’ida, 5.32).
It is clear that a religion which attaches to life much greater value than any other thing and presents the life of each individual human as being as weighty as the lives of all human beings, will never preach killing for its own sake nor glorify it. Furthermore, Islam does not approve of compelling people to accept any belief. Islam aims to remove all obstacles before man’s free choice; it seeks a climate where beliefs can be freely preached. Once this climate is guaranteed, it leaves the choice to individuals themselves, which is required by the fact that God has endowed man with free will and calls him in the Hereafter to account for all that he did in the world. The Qur’an declares: There is no compelling in religion, as right and guidance have been distinguished from wrong and deviation (al-Baqara, 2.256).