By: Dr. E. Safty
Moral direction is a self-propelled energy that, when unobstructed by the burden of sins, spontaneously sets in motion one's whole being toward the reminiscence of the most basic truth: the perennial existence of the One and Only God. In the Holy Koran, the All-Mighty reminds us of a decisive pre-existential event: "When the Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam from their loins, their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves (saying): 'Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes and sustains you)?' They said: 'Yea! We do testify!' (this), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgement: 'Of this we were never mindful' " (VII, 172). Ibn Kahtheer, Al Qortobi, Al Tabarey and many others, who all quote numerous Hadiths sustaining the idea of testimony, extensively explain this verse. Verse XXX implicitly alludes to this pre-existential event by using the word Fitra, i.e. true faith of Islam or the pattern on which God has made mankind (Verse 30. See also, in the Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet Mohammad's "PBUH" explanation of this Fettra, in Vol. 2, Book 23, No 441. Narrated Abu Huraira).
The relentless search for God conducted by Prophet Abraham (PBUH) is a palpable example of an unblemished fitra, which prompted him to pronounce a star, the moon and the sun all unworthy of being the sought out One and Unique God (VI, 75-79). In his exegesis of verse 76 of this Sourate, Al Qurtobi quotes El Nahaas, who says that, Ibn 'Abbas comments the verse "[Allah is] Light upon Light" (XXIV, 35) this way: "So is the heart of a believer: when it apprehends God, it is filled with light upon lightÈ. Abraham, indeed, comprehended the existence of God through the scrutiny of His Signs, and, thus, in consultation with his own heart. Likewise, the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) concludes a well-known hadith on the clear nature of both legal and illegal things by saying: "There is a piece of flesh in the body: if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart. (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 2, No 49. Narrated An-Nu'man bin Bashir). An untainted heart, i.e. fitra is therefore the only spiritual viaticum that is needed for rediscovering, in the journey of this earthly life, the road to God: this is all men's intuitive guidance.
Now, if human creation is endowed with this primeval notion of the One and Only God, then Revelation becomes not only a Reminder as it is often stated in the Koran, but a further proof of the indulgence of the All-Merciful. Should the absence thereof absolve human beings from seeking the road to God? Not in the least. For there is an intimate association between individuation and knowledge of God: to be born is but to be innately held accountable toward the Creator. Hence the use, above, of the term reminiscence, which, in mystical philosophy, evokes the imperfect recollection of the Divine Idea (i.e. God) in a previously disembodied existence.
The history of humanity testifies indeed to the insightful perception by numerous clear-minded historical figures of a Supreme and Unique Power through mere metaphysical meditation and spiritual exercises. Early Greek Philosophers, for instance, were called Physicians (< physis is Greek for Nature) quite simply because, despite the polytheistic age they lived in, they organized their thought around the meticulous reflection on the faultless architecture of the Universe, whose harmonious creation and intricately accurate moves were ascribed by them to this Supreme Power. Hence the genesis of the word Cosmos (perfect beauty, order, harmony, etc.), which is Greek for Universe. Socrates, as we all probably know, was sentenced to death in 399 B.C. on the charge of youth corruption, i.e. for having publicly professed the existence of One God [sic]. Without always explicitly asserting the existence of a Unique God and in an effort to purify the very concept of divinity, other thinkers (i.e. Xenophanes, Aristotle, Theophrastus, etc.) have launched ruthless campaigns against the undignified concept of anthropomorphism.
These are indeed poignant instances of fitra at work. And I must confess that I was left with a tinge of discomfiture when I first became acquainted with such examples of men who, disdainful of the contemporaneous and petty accounts on fictive deities, sought the road to one God either through the examination of His signs in the Universe or in consultation with their own heart.
Obviously, the fact that they have not been enlightened by a formal Message from God had no impact on their natural ability to acknowledge, in accordance with all men's primal heritage, the existence of God. Both their gnomic literature and their reported personal conduct, which constantly denoted the fear of God and the faith in a rewarding hereafter, have secretly furnished my own spiritual consciousness with a tint of guilt, wherein I have summoned some of my fellow Muslim brothers nowadays.
It is reprehensible and shameful, indeed, to see the extent to which we sometimes reckon without bequeathed and ascertained knowledge of God. A countless number of Muslims have even the unequalled bequest of being born Muslim. But, in fact, how many of us would voluntarily and meaningfully choose to be so should Islam not be our inherited credo? Moreover, in terms of proper spiritual enlightenment and religious fervor, tyrannical demands and incalculable ludicrousness of modern life have introduced an absurd ideological inversion, which translated into the neglectful oblivion of revealed divine Messages, whereas fitra had prompted earlier generations to long for the Holy and to act accordingly. Furthermore, it is dreadful and utterly alarming to see that, in some Muslim societies, the five-times a day call to prayer has become not a reminder, but a solitary and empty cry for some people, who are not even embarrassed to be seen hanging around in a nearby cafŽ during prayer time. Some of us are even fortunate enough to be native Arabic speakers, but we are inclined to disdain this extraordinary gift from God by not honoring and protecting our language the way it deserves.
In addition to being the language of the Holy Koran, Arabic language, be it colloquial, is in fact remarkably abundant in consecrated idioms. To mention but one example, it is quite natural for a native Arabic speaker to say "in sha'Allah" when speaking in particular about a future event. Whereas to say "God willing" while speaking English would be perceived as a rather deliberately religious way of expressing one's thoughts. The notorious misinterpretation of the expression "Tawakalt'ala Allah" [I put my faith in God] involved in the November 2000 crash of an Egypt air plane is a saddening example not only of the instinctive flow of such idioms for native Arabic speakers, but of the gigantesque misinformation regarding the obviously sacred nature of the language.
This being said, as Muslims, we should keep away from walking in the foot steps of those who are guilty of frivolousness and deep spiritual unconsciousness. We all should have the courage to face the truth: for some of us, the primeval knowledge of God, fitra, has been obscured by countless mundane and ephemeral pursuits; linguistic reminders have often become insentient onomatopoeias; the call to prayer seldom interrupts daily activities, and our utmost gift, the Qur'anic Revelation, is wholeheartedly neglected for the benefit of transient affairs. This marathon of morale and religious unconsciousness should therefore come to conclusion.
There is indeed ample room for guilt, shame and distress when we see that some have engaged in the path of righteousness and pious deeds by following their simple fitra, while others, supposedly better equipped for following the road to God, have chosen to deliberately blind themselves. For: "Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts." (XXII, 46).
Dr. Essam Safty is a professor St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB, Canada