Islam says All Humans are equal, but I see them Otherwise
Question: From what Islam says, I get the impression that all human beings are equal. However, I do not really see them equal. Can you explain please?
Answer: What Islamic teachings tell us is that all human beings are equal in the eyes of the Creator as far as their status of human beings is considered. These teachings also tell us that we should likewise make no distinction between human beings while dealing with them as humans. In other words, Islam does not wants us to be arrogant because of our family, status, and abilities. The Qur'an says:
O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous. Allah is All-Knowledgeable, All-Aware. (49:13)
However, that doesn't mean that people are not different from each other; it also doesn't mean that one individual cannot be better than another in some areas. The Almighty has created a lot of diversity in us. Had it not been there, the system of our world wouldn't have been able to function properly. We need different people with different interests and abilities to take care of the different obligations that our societies need to discharge. Had everyone been alike, this wouldn't have been possible. The Qur'an says:
It is We Who distribute the means of their livelihood in the life of this world, raising some in rank above others, so that one may take others into his service. (43:32)
Thus all humans are equal as humans. They are however different in their abilities. They are also different in the most significant criterion of piety, about which only God Almighty is the best judge. No human can claim superiority over a fellow human on the basis of family, race, status, or any other worldly criterion.
Is there a Cause-Effect Relationship beyond the Scope of Science?
Question: Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy in one of his recent presentations in LUMS mentioned the fact that one of the reasons why Science couldn't get popular in Pakistan was that instead of having confidence in cause-effect relationship, the people of the country believe in such unscientific things as the claim that rainfall can be caused by the prayers of people. What are your comments on it?
Answer: The fact that rainfall sometimes is caused in response to the prayers is a matter of human experience. Although I cannot narrate an incident directly, I know from the observations of people who would not exaggerate unnecessarily that such things have happened before their very own eyes. However, this fact should not cause people to believe that there isn't any cause-effect relationship operating in our world. What this definitely means is that there is much more to reality than what we know.
We can keep exploring to know more about how it comes about that the Almighty causes things to happen in ways that are sometimes unexplainable. However, to deny a known, observed reality is not a very rational approach. Whether it is scientific or not is something I don't know nor do I care.
Most religious people, not just the Muslims alone, have a common experience of observing that their prayers get responded in ways that cannot be explained by applying the logic of cause-effect relationship. You just have to be in your senses to know that they do happen when they happen before you. Had that not been the case, most people wouldn't have been religious in this world.
I think that the mistake committed by Dr Hoodbhoy is that he has set forth for himself a very limited criterion for judging what is correct and what is not. His line of logic seems to be that since Science is what we need the most, therefore we ought to have knowledge of Science at all costs in our country. Whatever conflicts with the popularity of Science education, therefore, would be condemnable.
To me the correct approach of any rational person should be to decide that he is eager to know the truth, whether it conforms to the scientific standards or not. The problem I can see Dr Hoodbhoy is going through is that since he has narrowed down his mind to be influenced by only those facts that could be explained, by the cause-effect relationship, he has in the process denied himself the possibility of accepting any reality that seems to be happening in defiance of that line of logic. That's a classic example of academic prejudice: You decide beforehand that you would only accept a certain point of view and as a result of your decision you refuse to see anything else that is presented to you, even if it is as obvious as the bright sun. If a religious person falls into the same trap because of his predisposition towards a certain religious point of view, his religious bias is condemnable. Likewise condemnable is the bias of the person who has blindly made Science and the principle of cause-effect relationship a religiously binding principle for himself.
The truth of the matter is that the more Science progresses the more it shows to man that he knows very little. Indeed Science has progressed by emphasizing the significance of cause-effect relationship in our world. However, to assume that there isn't anyone who can do things by defying it is taking the understanding too far. It amounts to suggesting that the believers in the inviolable application of the cause-effect relationship are not going to accept any reality except the one that appears to them as scientific. That is the kind of attitude that blinds an individual from a good part of the truth because of an exaggerated emphasis on one aspect of reality.
The example that comes to my mind to describe Dr Hoodbhoy's mistake is that of a student of a language who after mastering its principles of grammar starts looking at the masterpieces of that language and concludes that they carry some 'grammatical errors'. Of course, the problem doesn't lie in those masterpieces; instead, it lies in the erroneous perception of the simpleton student who thinks that the masters of the language were bound by the principles of grammar discovered by the grammarians by carefully reading those very masterpieces! Likewise, our world is not running on the principle of cause-effect relationship. It is running the way it is being run by its Master. Man has discovered that, generally speaking, the physical phenomena of our world are following the principle of cause-effect relationship. However, that may not always happen, because the One who is running it has never committed Himself to stick to that principle. Moreover, we don't even know that certain happenings that seemingly defy the cause-effect logic may actually have been caused by a cause that we cannot, at least for now, perceive.
There are two reasons why Dr Hoodbhoy's observation about reason for the lack of development of Science in Pakistan is unacceptable:
i) There are many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America which though not Muslim are doing equally bad in Science.
ii) Many Muslims belonging to earlier generations were pioneers in discovering new fields of scientific enlightenment despite their strong faith in God's ability to defy cause-effect relation in this world.
Spam urging Readers to Forward them
Question:I've received a forwarded message that tells us about some Sheikh who saw the Holy Prophet (sws) in his dream; he regretted the depraved situation of the Muslim ummah and beseeched them to mend their ways. In the end of this email, glad tidings have been announced for those who forward the message and death threats sounded for those who do not. Please guide me in the light of Qur'an and Hadith what should be done or how this kind of emails should be treated.
Answer:My recommendation to you is that you should not bother to respond to this message. There is no divine guidance promised to come to us directly after Prophet Muhammad (sws) left this world. The Qur'an tells us that the Prophet delivered to us a message that was complete for the purpose of religious guidance. It says:
Today I have completed your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and approved al-Islam as a din for you. (5:3)
Therefore, if anyone claims to have received any direct guidance from the Almighty which requires people to follow that message is claiming that the message of Islam as contained in the Qur'an and Sunnah was incomplete or insufficient.
In addition, such messages tend to make people superstitious, which is extremely damaging for the religiosity of a Muslim. We have been asked repeatedly in the Qur'an to trust Allah Almighty under all circumstances:
Allah! There is no god but Him, therefore, in Allah Alone let the believers put their trust. (64:13)
Why should we have a fear of punishment for no fault of ours? Is there anyone other than Allah ruling over this existence? If He is the only Ruler who is in charge of all the affairs and we are not doing anything against His commands that He sent to us through His messenger, why should we feel threatened of serious retributions for ignoring a message which carries no authority whatsoever from Him?
Are we Accountable for Personality Differences?
Question:I like being on my own and not a big fan of human interaction. I heard Hamzah Yusaf say in one of his tapes that consider it a sign of danger when a Muslim only says salam to only people he knows. I often miss people who could have made a big difference in my mind due to my indifferent nature. I also don't really bring out the meaning of the Muslim ummah in any sense. What I'm worried about is that is this type of attitude a sin or just a personality trait?
Answer:My understanding is that we are all being tested as individuals within the constraints of our personality traits, our potential, our circumstances, and our environment. There are some people who are born extroverts, and there are others who are introverts by their natural inclination. It is neither possible to change the nature of individuals nor is it the purpose of the Almighty's message that our personalities be artificially changed. We are expected to operate within the boundaries of our personalities. The diversity in human nature is a beauty, and it would be a disaster if it is attempted to be bulldozed by a system for its own narrow purposes. We can only come up with the best of our potential if we are given to perform in accordance with what we are.
It is therefore a mistaken view that Islam wants to achieve the undesirable and impossible task of forcing all humans to become identical. Whenever any such effort would be undertaken it would lead to disaster. Unfortunately, such disasters have taken place in the name of Muslim unity and uniformity of identity. Abu Bakr (rta) and 'Umar (rta) had different personalities before they formally accepted Islam, and they remained different in many ways even afterwards. Both excelled in their own respective ways, by operating within the limits of Islam.
Your attitude, to me, is therefore not condemnable. You, apparently, do not like to mix up too much with people. If that tendency is your nature and not the result of arrogance, then there is nothing wrong with it. Saying salam to everyone, to me, means that when you enter a place where there are many people, one should say salam to everyone and not to a particular individual. Saying salam to everyone you confront in the streets would make life extremely difficult. The Hadith that the worthy speaker quoted has to do with etiquette the Prophet (sws) taught to Muslims while living in society with others. Indeed such manners should be displayed by all good Muslims.
How much are we Responsible for others around us?
Question:My question is that to what extent is an individual responsible for his/her surroundings?
To what extent am I to instruct those around me? Especially when I do not know much myself. To what extent am I responsible for the conduct of my family? Circle of friends? University? The dorms I live in?
There is obviously a lot of wrong and ungodliness happening everywhere: drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol etc so what am I supposed to do? To what extent will I be held accountable for those around me?
My first impulse would be to save myself rather then think about others. But I know Allah doesn't want us to be this selfish.
What should then be the best strategy?
Also there is such diversity within families, e.g. the father might be a scholar or religious person but his children could be at opposite poles as far as religion is concerned. Does this point out towards how ineffective the message is or how ineffective and dubious the scholar is?
Answer:You are indeed responsible for nobody else's faith or actions except yours. The Qur'an says
O believers! You are accountable for none but for yourselves; anyone who has gone astray cannot harm you if you are on the Right Way. To Allah you shall all return and He will let you know the truth of all that you did. (5:105)
However, a part of the accountability you will go through will entail your attitude towards others, especially those who were close to you. The Qur'an mentions the following conditions for those whom salvation has been guaranteed in the Hereafter:
Time bears witness! Surely mankind is in loss, except those who believe and do good deeds; exhort one another to the truth and exhort one another to patience. (103)
However, your responsibility is only to the extent of letting others know of what the right path is. Changing others is neither your responsibility nor was it that of the prophets:
O Prophet, you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is Allah Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are to be guided. (28:56)
If a scholar hasn't been able to influence his family, it is most certainly not the failure of the message. It may or may not be the failure of the scholar, depending upon how well he tried to influence his family. Let's not forget that the best of men, the prophets of Allah, in some cases, were not able to influence their close relatives. Of course it was none of their faults. The reason why it so happens is that this worldly life is a trial wherein everyone is being tested in a way that he/she has been given freedom of choice to exercise. Those who make the right choices succeed; those who don't fail. Had Allah willed, He could have forced everyone to believe, but that would have defeated the purpose of this life. He wanted this life to be a testing ground to choose those who deserve to enter Paradise. For that purpose, freedom of choice was an essential element of the trial. That's what causes it to happen that a good father some times has a bad son and vice versa.