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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan


An Unnatural Pursuit

ARISTOTLE, one of the greatest thinkers of the world, is known as “The First Teacher”. His philosophy had a profound influence on the history of thought. Aristotle believed that man has been created with many attributes and abilities. Initially, these abilities exist only as potential in the human personality. In order to convert these potential abilities into reality, a favorable socio-political system is necessary. Alexander the Great (d. 323 BCE), was a student of Aristotle. With Alexander’s support, Aristotle desired to establish an ideal sociopolitical system in Greece. Despite Alexander’s leadership, this desire could not be fulfilled and Aristotle died in a state of despair at the age of 62.

According to Aristotle, human accomplishment is possible only through a virtuous socio-political order. He presented this argument in the language of philosophy. In other words, he philosophized this theory. He remarked, “The legal system alone saves people from their own savagery”. Many centuries later, Karl Marx (d. 1883) expressed the same idea, using economic terminology. In other words, he secularized the same theory. The global communist movement and the Soviet Union (USSR) that came into being on the basis of the Marxist ideology completely failed in bringing about this ideal socio-political system that was envisaged.

After this, the same way of thinking developed amongst Muslims as well. Some Muslim scholars, consciously or otherwise, introduced this theory into ‘Islamic’ thought. They propounded a political interpretation of Islam. They declared the establishment of an ‘Islamic’ socio-political system as imperative for Islamic life.

Looking back at history, one can now see how Aristotle had prepared a philosophical edition of the concept of an ideal socio-political system. Marx invented a secular edition of this concept. And later, Muslim scholars devised an ‘Islamic’ version of it.

History reveals that during the last 2500 years or so, beginning with Aristotle, this concept has never been realized. Never and nowhere has it happened that any collective or socio-political system as devised by any such reformer was established in practice. History tells us that the flag-bearers of this concept and the ideology based on it, all died in a state of despair and frustration. They all failed in bringing about the socio-political system of their dreams.

An even more bitter aspect of this issue is that all these so-called social reformers emerged in the name of constructive revolutions, but in practice they only gave the world a gift of destruction. Aristotle’s student Alexander unleashed wars against the entire world. In the name of establishing the ideal social system of their dreams, the followers of Marx killed millions of people in Russia alone.

Why did all these movements for collective reform and social transformation meet with the same negative end? The answer lies in the fact that a collective order or sociopolitical system is directly related to the issue of political power. So, whenever some people try to establish a collective system of their dreams, they will necessarily come into conflict with those who at the time hold the reins of power in society. As a result, the idea of establishing a social system, from its very outset, becomes synonymous with confrontation and conflict.

Political confrontation is no minor matter. In terms of its results, it necessarily divides people into two rival camps. In the words of those who propounded the political interpretation of Islam, one group is regarded as taghoot (evil or falsehood), and the other group is considered its polar opposite. This latter group launches its movement in opposition to an established government. To start with, the initiative begins in a peaceful manner. But when peaceful efforts seem to fail, gradually violent activism begins against the established government. Then, when through violence the desired success is not obtained, terrorism and suicide-bombing is resorted to. In its final outcome, this ‘collective social revolution’ only turns into ‘collective devastation’ for all.

The cause of this devastating failure is that the concept of social revolution is in itself an unnatural concept. It is against the creation plan of the Creator. And it is a fact that in this world, no concept or ideology that is against the creation plan of the Creator can produce any positive result.

The Creation Plan of God

The Quran, being a preserved book, is a reliable source to know God’s creation plan. A study of the Quran informs us that the plan according to which God created human beings is not based on any assumed social system. It is based entirely on the notion of individual reform. In order to put into effect His scheme in the world, the Creator sent prophets in every age to instruct man. The target of the call of all the prophets was always the individual, and not any sort of socio-political system. According to God’s creation plan, the establishment of an ideal social system at the collective level in the world is of no real concern. The Creator’s target is the individual―the preparation and selection of the individuals, not the establishment of any ideal society. It is simply not possible for an ideal collective system to be established in this world.

An ideal system or ideal society can be established only in Paradise. The status of the present world is of a selection ground. God’s will is that, in the present world, such righteous individuals be selected who would be deserving of being settled in the eternal Paradise of the Hereafter. To further understand this matter, we should study Chapter 2 (The Heifer) of the Quran.

The relevant verses from the Quran (2: 30-31) tell us:

When your Lord said to the angels, “I am putting a successor on earth,” they said, “Will You place someone there who will cause corruption on it and shed blood, while we glorify You with Your praise and extol Your holiness?” [God] answered, “Surely, I know that which you do not know.” He taught Adam all the names, then He set them before the angels and said, “Tell Me the names of these, if what you say be true.”

When God created man as a free creature and decided to place the earth in his charge, the angels expressed the apprehension that with the free will, man would create strife and corruption on earth and would shed blood. This apprehension of the angels was not unfounded. The Quran itself verifies that this is indeed what happened. In the first quarter of the seventh century CE, when the Quran was revealed, God included this verse in it: Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of the evil which men’s hands have done. (30: 41)

Here, the question arises that when the phenomenon whose apprehension the angels had expressed actually occurred, why did God create Adam and his progeny and give them the opportunity to live on earth?

From the birth of Adam to the first quarter of the seventh century when the Quran was revealed, in every community and nation, messengers were sent by God. Despite this, the majority among the later generations of Adam’s descendants proved to be corrupt, so much that the whole of history was one of strife and corruption. In such a situation, the question arises: Why did God create man? The answer to this question is found in the above-mentioned verses of the Quran (2: 30-31).

From these verses of the Quran we learn that God taught Adam the names of his progeny. Here, ‘names of progeny’ meant the knowledge of the ‘selected names from humankind’; ‘names’ meant ‘named individuals’ or ‘selected persons’. It must be noted that the progeny of Adam that was presented before Adam and the angels on that occasion was not the whole of humanity or the entire offspring of Adam. If all of humankind was revealed, the apprehension expressed by the angels could not have been alleviated; rather such a demonstration would only have confirmed their fears. As affirmed by the Quran, a major portion of all of humankind would practically prove themselves corrupt

Contemplating the matter from this perspective, it can be understood that it was not the entire progeny of Adam, but only the selected few individuals who were presented before the angels. These ‘selected individuals’ were those referred to at other places in the Quran as “the messengers, the truthful, the witnesses, and the righteous” (4: 69). This demonstration was not exclusively for the angels, it was also addressed indirectly to those individuals who desired to understand the creation plan of God.

Further proof in this regard is present in verse 67: 2 (The Kingdom) of the Quran:

He created death and life so that He might test you, and find out which of you is best in conduct. He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving One.

From this verse and from other verses of the Quran we learn that the purpose of God’s creation is the selection of ‘righteous individuals’. It is not the intention of God that a social system of justice and welfare be established on the earth for the whole of humankind. In line with the plan with which God created man, an ideal social system was simply not possible at all. According to this creation plan, every human being was given full freedom. Every person had complete freedom of choice. It was absolutely natural, therefore, that people would misuse their freedom and in this way the majority of them would become corrupt. On account of this, God chose an attainable target, i.e. to establish His creation plan based on individuals, not on the principle of a collective community. According to this plan, there is an atmosphere of complete freedom on earth. People are born here, one after another. Among them, some individuals use their freedom in the right manner, while others use their freedom in the wrong manner. At the same time, in accordance with an unseen system of recordkeeping, the angels are compiling a complete record of every person. This record will be presented before God on the Day of Judgement. The events of that day have been foretold and explained elsewhere in the Quran. For example, it has been said

(42: 7): ….. warn them of the Day of Gathering which is sure to come:

when some will be in the Garden, and some will be in the Fire.

According to this understanding of creation, in the Hereafter, from among the whole of humanity, only the righteous individuals will be selected, i.e. those who had given evidence by their deeds that despite their freedom, they did not use their freedom wrongly. Despite their freedom, they led a principled life and saved themselves from going astray. In this way, they proved that they were worthy of being settled in the ideal society of Paradise. In the Hereafter, these selected individuals from the whole of human history will be settled in Paradise

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