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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Man Know Thyself

Man Know Thyself

If a group of people were asked what the most important issue for mankind was today, different people would have different answers. Some would say the spread of nuclear weapons, some, the population explosion, while others might say that the production and distribution of wealth were of paramount importance. Such diversity of opinion shows that people in general do not properly recognize what they themselves are. If they did, they would all agree that the most critical issue facing mankind was man’s disregard of his real nature, and his persistence in ignoring the inescapable fact that one day he must die, and be called to account before his Maker. If we were to become aware of the reality of existence, it would be to the afterlife rather than to this world that we would direct our attention.

Today, most people do believe in God and in the afterworld. It is not as if they deny these things; but their actions bear no relation to their belief. In practice, all that people are concerned about is worldly success. If our research laboratories were one day to declare that the earth’s gravitational pull had ceased to exist, and that the planet was being pulled towards the sun at a speed of 6,000 m.p.h., then panic would strike the whole world, for such news would imply that within a few weeks all life would be obliterated from the face of the earth.

This globe, however, is perpetually facing a peril much greater than this, yet no one feels the need to become anxious about it. What is this peril? It is the peril of the Last Day which has been destined for the world since the creation of the universe and towards which we are careering at a reckless speed. As an article of faith, most of us accept this reality, but there are few indeed who actually feel compelled to give it serious thought.

If you stand in a busy shopping-centre during the evening rush-hour and observe what people are hurrying towards, you will realize what today’s human-being has chosen as his fundamental issue. Why do you think there is an endless stream of traffic in the streets? Why has the merchant decorated his shop? Where are the crowds of people coming from and going to? What is the main topic of people’s conversation and the true purpose of their meetings with one another? What interests them most? To what use are their finest talents and resources put? What has this exuberant person obtained that has thrilled him so, and what has that dejected face been deprived of that it has so stricken a look? What have people taken with them, from their homes, and what do they intend to return with? If you can answer these questions,—judging from the nature of people’s preoccupations, the sounds they emit, their agitation and quiescence—you will also be able to deduce exactly what it is that mankind has chosen to base his life on, and what he is endeavouring to achieve. It is plain for all to see from the constant procession of people to and from the towns and their continuous comings and goings on the crowded streets that today’s human being is simply running after the satisfaction of his own desires. It is the world rather than the afterlife which he is eager to obtain. His happiness hinges on the fulfilment of his worldly ambitions, while his grief stems from the fact that this seemingly eludes him. The everyday concept of success is the immediate acquisition of commodities, and the enjoyment of leisure and popular acclaim, while failure, to them, means to be deprived of these things. This is what the whole of humanity is chasing after. No one cares about tomorrow; everyone becomes frenetic about getting his share now, today, this very minute.

This state of affairs is prevalent not only in our big cities but even in the tiniest human settlements; wherever one goes, people seem to be similarly obsessed. Male and female, rich and poor, old and young, urbane and rustic, even the religious and irreligious—all are running in this same direction. What man is most pre-occupied with is grabbing whatever he can in this world. This is what he considers to be worthwhile and this is what he spends his precious time and talents on. This is what obsesses him night and day. No sacrifice, however dubious in character is too great if it brings him these things. He is even ready to sacrifice his faith and his conscience for them at the altar of worldly gain. His struggle is for worldly ends alone, and he cares not what this struggle entails. No compromise is too base for him.

Every success gained in this way, however, is trivial and mundane and will be of no avail in the afterlife. He who is concerned with consolidation of his worldly position at the expense of the afterlife is like the young man who does not care to save up for his old age. Eventually the time comes when his limbs fail him and he becomes unfit for further toil. Suddenly he realizes his predicament: he is without food, clothes and shelter. He is no longer able to provide for himself. In rags, he lies down in despair in the shade of some wall where the dogs bark at him and boys throw stones. Though we witness with our own eyes the plight of those who have not ‘saved up’ for the afterlife, we are still not galvanized into action. All of us are too concerned with the consolidation of our present positions. No one gives a thought of tomorrow.

When the air-raid siren sounds in wartime and proclaims in its chilling wail: “Squadrons of enemy bombers are approaching to blast this city to eternity. To the air-raid shelters at once!” everyone immediately takes the quickest route to the shelters and, in an instant, the busiest of streets are deserted. Anyone who does not react in this manner is considered idiotic, mentally deranged. The same applies to any material hazard, no matter what it may be. There is another danger, however, even more terrible and inevitable, concerning which the Lord of the Worlds has given us due warning, proclaiming his imperatives through his prophets: “Mankind! Worship Me, fulfill your obligations to one another and live in accordance with My will. I will punish those who fail to do this in a way that cannot be imagined. They will writhe forever in a torment from which they will never be able to free themselves.” Every ear has heard this declaration and every tongue acknowledges it in one form or the other, but the general attitude is to treat it as a matter of no consequence. In order to avail themselves of worldly advantages people perpetrate every form of misdemeanor. In this way life’s caravan is proceeding heedlessly towards a point of no return. People start in response to the siren screeching out from the military H.Q., but no importance is attached to the danger signal which the Lord of the Universe sounds for mankind. Far from hastening at the sound of it, no one even alters his pace.

What can the reason for this anomalous state of affairs be? It is simply that the danger about which the military headquarters’ siren warns us is of this world. Everyone perceives this and knows that its effects will be immediately felt. The danger which God has cautioned us about, on the other hand, will be felt in the afterlife. The wall of death stands between us and its realization: the eyes of the world cannot penetrate it. Neither its planes, nor its bombs, nor its engulfing fire and smoke, are apparent to us. Although people immediately respond to the airraid siren, they remain unaffected and dispassionate on hearing of the calamity of which God has given us ample warning. The news does not impress upon them the absolute certainty of their doom and, this being so, they do not feel spurred on to atone for their sins, or to begin leading righteous lives.

God Most Sublime, however, has given us not only our two eyes with which to perceive the external world, but also a third ‘eye’ which can scan the invisible realities which lie beyond the horizons of perception. This eye is that of the intellect. People remain in a state of doubt because they do not use this third eye. They reckon that reality is what they see before their own two eyes, whereas, if they were to ponder over the matter, they would become even more certain about what remains unseen than about what is visible.

What is the one reality that everybody acknowledges? Death must be the unanimous answer to this question. Death is a reality to which everyone, big or small, has to reconcile himself. Everyone realizes that death can overtake one at any time, but whenever the thought of death occurs to people, all that concerns them is : “What will happen to my children after I die?” Before death, thoughts of life dominate their minds, but if they project their thoughts beyond death, all that claims their attention is of a domestic nature. Most of their lives is spent safeguarding their children’s future, but no efforts are made to insure themselves for the life that lies ahead. It seems from their attitude as if only their children will survive them, and that they themselves will be non-existent and so have nothing to prepare for.

People behave as if they are totally unaware of the fact that there is a life after death, whereas, in fact, the real life only commences after death. If they only realized that when they enter the grave, rather than being buried, they were being ushered into another world, they would be more worried about themselves than about their children’s future. The fact is that most people whether religiously or agnostically inclined, are not convinced that after death they do not cease to exist, but expect rather to discover a new life more consequential than the present one.

Two factors cause one to have doubts about life after death. Firstly, on dying, every human being turns into dust and all traces of his body are effaced. How then can he subsequently be revived? Secondly, the life after death is not visible to us. The world of today is an observable phenomenon, but what about the afterlife? If no one has actually seen it, how can we place implicit trust in its advent? Let us look at both these objections in turn.

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