What an interesting and thought provoking article which in my opinion is greatly needed on this subject.
I am glad that you brought up the example of the Prophet‘s (pbuh) life, as to me he most surely is the most obvious example of Iqbal‘s: insan al-kamil or manifestation of khudi. I think that most people fail to see that all the answers they perhaps seek, lie in the most luminous light of his existence while here on this earth. He was kind, honest, very level headed and fair…as well as being endowed with a tremendous empathy which stemmed from God given sources and from a childhood wrought with much difficulty as he endured poverty, lost both his parents, and bore witness to many difficulties among other looming challenges. But as the Qur’anic line tells us: “Verily with every difficulty there is relief, verily with every difficulty there is relief.” And as the scholar Tariq Ramadan points out to us in his book on the Prophet, the repetition in those two lines beautifully underscores this point about relief. And so his relief was metted out as a gift to all of human kind and was surely lit from a most blessed tree, which we learn about it Sura an-Nur, where it shines as a brilliant ‘Light upon Light’ for all those who chose to see.
But to your point on rulers and such, I think that we must all remember that the entire Near East had an impressive Golden Age which lasted for over a thousand years…it was a time when scientific advances burst forth onto a most dry scene, thoroughly saturating the entire region with profound discoveries that lit the way for the rest of the world to follow and benefit from…particularly in math and science. All these great advances then traveled out, coursed in fact along the world’s original high speed information highway (aka the silk road) where they ended up in one form or another in the west. Much of this has been forgotten of course…and never mind that some of Einstein’s greatest discoveries were already spelled out quite clearly in the Qur’an… as I believe Iqbal was fond of pointing out.
We might do well to also consider that the United States, is already (in my opinion) in a state of decline and is but a small infant in the vast sweep of time if we compare it to other parts of the world. So really, within this context, it didn’t even get that far..not nearly as far as the Near East did. If we draw upon the life of Khadijah for instance and the rights that the Prophet gave women, we can’t get away from the fact that those rights were so revolutionary, and progressive for their time that they didn’t chance to hit the shores of the West until the last one hundred years! The other issue that one should raise in this discussion, is that regionally speaking, the Near East covers a vast territory with an even richer mix of cultures, religions and languages…one cannot lump it all together…something which western scholars all seem to do. And the challenges that plague that region of the world are firstly human problems and thus face every region at one time or another.
My point is, the near east, is truly the cradle of all civilization…and with this comes a whole host of challenges which will take up too much time to discuss here. Rulers and politicians, regardless of who and what they rule tend to all be the same, as they are surely motivated by the same internal quest…just as their subject’s problems, hopes and dreams all tend to be the same. It can only be up to the individual to transcend all of this and hopefully rise to a higher state of being in which there lays more questions than answers…where the Iman is raised to such a high degree that free will has almost evaporated and in which the human soul is drawn toward the One true Light of His Existence. There are many over the decades that have tried to pick apart the Qur’an for instance, but I am convinced that there is no problem with the Qur’an, no contradictions or strange assertions…it is only our inability, our lack of capacity to understand it that gets in the way… For this reason I believe that there is truly no division between religion and science. If we would all focus on leading a life by a good example…as set forth in the Qur’an and be like the Qur’anic verse, “A good word is like a good tree.” Then everything else would become most clear and the theater of this world would be seen for the temporary stage that it is, a simple stop along the way to a far greater Reality. For the tree I speak of has strong roots that keep it centered from all worldly storms and limbs which reach upward toward the heavens and His Divine Light.
And so, Intellectuals, which exist everywhere and in varying levels of spirituality, do need to be ‘free’ for sure. But I would first ask, what of the invisible chains that bind the human spirit due to an appalling lack of empathy, lack of faith, and lack of spiritual integrity? For it is these chains, in my opinion that force the human soul into the root causes of all our dilemmas, a type of Iqbalian state of stagnation…a deadly slumber that deprives the self of all oxygen, finally forcing the human animal asleep when one should be most awake in this world.
Iqbal once said: ‘Tawhid was once a living force in the world…’ gone is that Bilalian spirit. And so the suppression of ideas, of the voices of people is the bane of our existence.But it is a most human problem with deep spiritual roots.
Katherine Schimmel Baki
Katherine Schimmel Baki
Director of Global Partnerships
Chief Correspondent on Islam
Curator of The Mystic Pen Series
Host of Peace Routes
Wild River Review
Katherine Schimmel Baki is Director of Global Partnerships at Wild River Review, a 501 C3 not-for-profit whose mission is to build bridges of understanding between cultures and to highlight all the positive work going on around the world. She hosts a series at WRR called The Mystic Pen (http://themysticpen.org) which focuses on the life and scholarly works of the late, legendary specialist of Indo-Muslim culture and religion, Dr. Annemarie Schimmel (http://themysticpen.org). Katherine holds a B.A. in professional music from Berklee College of Music, and a graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University, where she was the Islamic representative for the Eastern Chapter of the United Nations World Religions and Peace, Youth Program. Additionally, she has spent much time in Egypt where she conducted original research on the Adhan. That work commenced in a book entitled, Hayya ‘ala al-Salat, the Socio-Religious Impact of the Adhan on the Muslim Community of Cairo. She also writes for the San Diego Examiner, where she hosts a new series called MOSAIC, which focuses on Islamic art and architecture in California.
Katherine’s interests are in profiling the work of peaceful visionaries, and in particular those of Muslim extraction. She and her team at Wild River Review were honored to be chosen as the exclusive media escorts to Nobel Prize recipient, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, while on tour through Ecuador in 2008. Her academic collaborations include the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Harvard University, The Davis International Center, Princeton University and the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.
Currently she is continuing her work on the Adhan and is engaged in several large research projects whose aim it is to highlight the Islamic contributions to western society and to fight Islam phobia in the west.