Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth
|Mirza Tahir Ahmad|
Islamic Schools of Thought
HE ISLAMIC POINT OF VIEW can be presented from two different perspectives: first by analysing the work of various Muslim thinkers, and second by attempting to directly assess the Quranic stance in the light of the Sunnah which comprises both verbal instructions as well as the practice of the Holy Prophetsa. The authenticity of the former’s understanding of Islam becomes more and more dubious with the passage of time. It is so because they are inclined to turn progressively more dogmatic in their inferences which may not always be rational and justified. Otherwise what they call Islamic is of course initially based on their study of the fundamentals of Islam. Those who draw their inferences from the Quran and theSunnah can only be treated as a separate category if they strictly adhere to the principle of rationality. Such an analytical study of the major issues will be made later in this book. Presently, we turn our attention to the former and discuss the thought processes of early Muslim scholars, sages and philosophers in the era that led to the formation of many different schools of Islamic thought. Two distinctive influences were at play during the early period of Islamic history:
- The most powerful and predominant was the influence of the Quran and the Sunnah, which had revolutionized the concept of knowledge and broadened the horizon of study and investigation to unsurpassed dimensions.
- A growing interest in Greek philosophy and sciences, as well as the study of classical philosophy of India, Persia and China, had also a role to play in the development of Muslim thought. This paved the way for various alien philosophers to become the focus of Muslim attention independently or in conjunction with Islamic teachings.
Because of this interest in various alien philosophies and a desire to interrelate them with Quranic revelations, new schools of thought developed. These schools are called Islamic for the simple reason that Islamic thought, education and beliefs had primarily cradled them. Hence, the philosophies foreign to Islam interplayed with their previously held views, founded solely on the basis of the Quranic studies. Despite the fact that they were branded as un-Islamic because of their flexible accommodating attitude by some of the narrow-minded scholars, there is no shadow of doubt that these great scholars remained essentially Muslim. Their association with secular branches of knowledge was seldom at the cost of their faith. In this regard, everyone has the right to decide for himself whether, after an appropriate study of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, any philosophical point of view presented by such thinkers is to be accepted as Islamic or not. However, the conclusions they draw always remain open to question. Some may find them in accordance with the Islamic teachings and some may not. Yet it does not give anyone the right to suspect their intentions. It is the right of every seeker of truth to form his own conclusions after sincerely attempting to understand the Quran and the Sunnah in depth. So also is the right of others to disagree with him, but neither has the authority to deprive the other of his fundamental right to believe in whatever he may and believe himself to be true.
We will now briefly introduce a few of the varied schools of Islamic thought which arose because of different conclusions they drew from the study of the same sources. However, it should be remembered that every school that claims to be based on the Holy Quran and Sunnah ought to be carefully evaluated with direct reference to the evidence they quote in their support. Of the various ideologies and points of view thriving in the age of Muslim domination, not all could be described as Islamic in character. Some of them were partially contradictory or even diametrically opposed to each other. This however does not divest them of the right to be referred to as Islamic by their proponents.
The Ásháriyyah school of thought is indebted to Imam Abul Hassan ‘Ali Bin Isma’il Ál-Áshári (260–330 AH) for giving it its distinctive style among the other prevalent schools of thinking. This was an era when some Muslim scholars of the period were rapidly inclining towards rationalism, a need was thus felt to react against this trend. At the head of this reactionary movement was the famous Imam Isma’il Ál-Áshári. It is ironic that Ál-Áshári’s own teacher, Al-Jubbai (d. 303 AH), was one of the leading rationalist scholars of the time. Imam Áshári not only voiced his disagreement with the rationalist, but also powerfully revealed the inadequacies of any system placing total reliance upon rationality for the discernment of truth.
For the Ásháriyyah, rationality led neither to the acquisition of certain knowledge nor to eternal truth, rather they considered that it led to greater doubt and contradictions. The Ásha’irahstressed that real knowledge applied only to the recognition and acceptance of revelation as the only means to reach eternal truth because the ultimate source of truth is God Himself. Therefore the only way to attain it is through Divine revelation.
In their reaction against rationality, some Ásha’irah went to such extremes as to reject any explanation of Quranic verses supported by human logic. They went so far as to totally deny any figurative interpretation of the Holy Quran. Imam Áshári himself was a skilled logician. The arguments he forwarded against the use of rationality were, interestingly, themselves based on rationality. One of his famous public debates against his own teacher, ‘Allamah Al-Jubbai, highlights this point.
‘What is your opinion about the salvation of three brothers: a believer, a non-believer and a child?’ Áshári questioned Al-Jubbai.
‘The believer will go to heaven, the non-believer will go to hell, but the child will neither go to heaven nor to hell, because none of his acts are worthy of reward or punishment’, Jubbai replied.
Áshári commented, ‘The child could argue with God, “If You had given me some time, I would have done some good deeds. So why should I be deprived of heaven?” ‘
Jubbai retorted, ‘God could reply, “I knew that if you had grown older you would do bad deeds. Thus your death at this early age is really a favour, because you have been saved from hell.” ‘
Áshári replied, ‘At this stage the non-believer will interrupt and will blame God for not granting him death at the same age as the child so that he could be saved from bad deeds.’
It is worthy of note that Áshári while arguing against rationality was himself employing all the weaponry of the rationalists. Thus it is not correct to say that he was totally against rationality. The followers of this school of thought, such as Imam Ghazali and Imam Razi, relied heavily on rational arguments to resolve their problems and establish their beliefs. Possibly the excessive reaction against reliance on rationality was due to a fear that new philosophies, which were being introduced to the realm of Islam, might jeopardise the Islamic viewpoint. It was suspected that the use of reason might lead to movements that would ultimately deviate from the true Islam. Hence, all such movements with rationalistic leanings were dubbed as Ilhadi or innovative, which is a derogatory term because it implies deviation from the right path. The concern of the rigid orthodoxy was reflected in the terms they used to describe the founders of the rationalist movements. They referred to them as Mu’tazilah or those who had strayed from the true path and become Ilhadi.
Another group known as Maturidiyya believed that revelation should be first accepted as such and then logical explanations required to support it should be sought. They believed that revelation strengthened faith while logical explanations provide further satisfaction to that faith. The Ásháriyyah did not reject logical explanations entirely, but considered them superfluous; if they were available, then well and good, otherwise whatever was received through revelation was quite sufficient, even without the props of logic and rationality.
On the right wing of the Ásháriyyah movement another sect came into being, known as Sulfia (the blind followers of well-established scholars of old). According to them, revelation should be accepted without question. No philosophical or logical explanation was permitted as they feared this would lead to deviation from the correct path.
The Mu’tazilahs on their part did not reject revelation to be the most reliable instrument for leading one to the truth. They, however, emphasized that the real message of revelation could not be properly understood without the use of reasoning. Thus they gave reason preference over revelation only in the sense that whenever the two appeared to clash, rationalistic understanding must prevail, not as an alternative to revelation, but as a genuine clarification of the revealed message. They held the view that it becomes very difficult to get to the truth of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah without rationally deciphering the various similes, metaphors and symbols that are extensively used therein. For example they pointed out that expressions such as God’s hand and face must be interpreted to mean His power and grace and so on. Ál- Áshári in turn stressed that such references in the Quran represented real attributes of God whose precise nature was not known, albeit he agreed that no physical features were meant by such terms.
Although the Mu’tazilah movement appears to resemble in character the European schools of thought from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries, it did not take the Ilhadi (innovative) turn which European rationalism had taken during its progressive decline. The Mu’tazilah always drew upon the originAl-Islamic sources of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah to support their arguments, always remaining comfortably close to them—never permitting themselves to drift far apart.
Today there is very little apparent difference between Mu’tazilahand Ásháriyyah viewpoints. Although the historical perspective portrayed above has left its mark on the scholarly pursuits of the contemporary generation of Muslim scholars, the sharp divisions of the past are no longer clearly defined. The scholars of today seem to advocate their personal views more than the views of any previous sectarian schools of thought. However, the remnants of past conclusions are still discernible. They are the product of a gradual compromise that developed between the different schools over the ages. Among them are those who are decidedly medieval in their attitudes but they do not quote exclusively from any previous school to support their viewpoint. They jump from one to the other in search of any scholar belonging to any school of thought who can be quoted in their favour. For them the boundaries between different medieval sects disappear but medievalism itself continues to exist, guiding their path. The same is true to a degree of the so-called modernists. Whenever it suits their purpose they will not hesitate to quote any of the earlier scholars in their favour but they feel free to innovate in other areas of their personal views.
Sufism was quite popular in Turkey, Iran and in the countries to the east of Amu Darya, an area historically referred to as the Trans–Oxus. Many Muslims from the former USSR were followers of Sufism, which has played a very important role in keeping Islam alive in their countries during the Tsarist as well as the Communist era.
The point most forcibly stressed by Sufism was that beneath the form of religion, there operates an underlying spirit of revelation which must be given preference over the form. What the Sufis understood to be the underlying spirit was simply the ultimate goal which all religions strive for. The ultimate goal was identified as the love of God and communication with Him. Hence, to them, if you reach this goal somehow with or without adherence to the form, the purpose will be served and that is all that is required. All the Sufis however, did not abandon the form altogether and kept subjecting their lives in accordance with the laws of Islamic Shari’ah as they understood them. Yet they would spend most of their efforts not engaged in formal worship but repeating certain attributes of God day in and day out to help focus their attention entirely to the memory of God. Such practices, at times, drifted close to the yogic practice discussed in the section on Hinduism. Sometimes new ways and modes of remembrance were innovated by different Sufi saints, which, finally, got almost entirely divorced from the well-establishedSunnah of the Holy Foundersa of Islam. Yet the followers of such Sufi sects adhered to them more passionately and vehemently than to the Quranic teaching itself. Thus, new schools of Sufism cropped up at different times and in different countries of the Muslim world.
The purpose of this exercise is not to go into a detailed account of the development of Sufi thought—or the schisms which appeared among the Sufis later on—but one thing which most clearly distinguishes Sufism in Islam from all other similar practices is the unshakeable belief of the Sufis in the continuity of revelation or their communion with God. In fact, all the eminent Sufis in Islam have claimed to be in constant communication with God and many a revelation bestowed upon them has been recorded in authentic books. Yet there are some among the Sufis who have broken all ties with the fundamentals of Islam. To them the purpose of religion is only to lead man to God and the forms of worship have become redundant for those who have already achieved this purpose. They introduced certain mental and spiritual exercises with the claim that they were sufficient to establish a sort of communication between man and God which is sometimes described as an awareness of oneness with Him. It did not take long for music and drug addiction to find their way into this school of Sufism, to break them loose from reality to drift aimlessly into a world of delusion. However, all Sufi movements did not start their journey with innovations, though, very often they were led to them during their decadence later on.
There are four major well-established and highly revered sects of Sufism which also deviated from the path of Shari’ah with the passage of time. Yet as for their founders, their loyalty to the Holy Quran and the Sunnah remained unquestionable and uncompromising. These major sects are Chishtiyyah,Soharverdiyyah, Qadiriyyah and Naqshbandiyyah—which are further divided into many other sub-sects. They all stress the importance of abstinence and austerity to facilitate the attainment of truth. Initially, these practices were not a substitute for the traditional Islamic observances, but were carried out in addition to them.
Gradually the Sufi understanding of the creation-creator relationship began to be influenced by such philosophies as were alien to Islam. For instance, the influence of classical Greek philosophy can be traced in some Sufi sects. The Greek notion of pantheism was adopted in a modified form by some Sufi sects, though strongly opposed by others. The opponents of pantheistic tendencies stress that there is a clear and distinct separating line between God and His creation. According to them though the creation bears a stamp of the Creator and reflects Him, yet it is not diffused with His identity. By contrast, some other factions believe that because the whole universe is a manifestation of God, there can be no clear distinction between the Creator and the creation. For them, creation cannot be separated from God because His attributes are inseparable from the nature of all that He has created. No separating line can be drawn. Hence God is the universe and the universe is God. Yet He has His own independent Will, which works like the natural properties in matter.
At first sight this view of the universe may appear to be entirely pantheistic, in which God is everything and everything is God. But a significant difference should be noted. The pantheistic notion of God is not one that recognizes an externally existing Conscious Creator, a Being who communicates with man through revelation, who takes interest in their trials, tribulations and joys and offers them guidance. The Muslim Sufis, in contradiction to the classical pantheistic view continued to believe in the independent identity of God who, though reflected in His creation, was also the Creator.
As for the Sufis’ temperament, they were seldom inclined to fierce, strongly worded debates. They often practised moderation in their belief, while respecting and tolerating views opposing their own. The same cannot be said of the orthodoxy which grew progressively jealous. Hence most sufi sects had to encounter extreme hostility at the hands of the orthodox clergy. Very often there arose a countermovement from among the orthodoxy. Every Sufi sect had to encounter similar experiences of extreme hostility from time to time. The Sufis who adhered to the pantheistic concept of God were specifically targeted by the mainstream clergy for their wrath. At times they were even condemned to death and brutally murdered. Their protestations that their pantheistic philosophy in no way compromised the unity of an independent Supreme Creator were of no avail and they were roundly condemned for claiming to share godhead with God. Hence the orthodoxy often resorted to perpetrating crimes of persecution against them.
The case of the renowned Sufi, Mansoor Al-Hallaj, would serve a befitting example of how such Sufis were treated for their alleged proclamation of being God themselves. He was condemned to hang by the neck for shouting in ecstasy ‘Anal-Haq, Anal-Haq’ (I am the Truth, I am the Truth). The orthodoxy understood this to mean that he was claiming to be God himself, whereas he had proclaimed in his sublime spiritual ecstasy, simply a total annihilation of himself. What he meant was that he mattered naught; all that mattered was He (God). Mansoor Al-Hallaj climbed the gallows with his head held high, not the least daunted by his imminent death. Nor could his shouts be drowned in the tumult of abuses which were hurled at him; they rose loud and clear and high ‘Anal-Haq, Anal-Haq’ until his soul departed to the fountainhead of his life on high.
Another Sufi sect was born on the issue of whether the external universe was a fact or merely an impression of the mind. This in fact was an age-old question which was even addressed by Plato and Aristotle. It could not come to a conclusion then, nor could it be concluded by the Sufis. Still it is a live debate among philosophers. No contemporary philosopher can ignore it because neither time nor space can be visualized without the coming into play of the human mind. A mad man’s imagination seems as real to him as a scientist’s observation of the laws of nature in action. Examined from such angles, these problems appear to be insoluble.
Again, every person’s impression of the external universe is different from that of others. However, some perceived images of the elementary world around us and the understanding of their properties are often shared by most observers. For example, most people would agree about the definition of an article as simple as a chair or a table. Yet there are numerous other common things about which people may not necessarily agree with each other. For instance, the colour of things may appear different to people with different eyesight. Similarly, all faculties which we possess are not shared equally by everyone else. Sense of smell differs, so also the sense of heat or cold varies with every person. Moreover, a change in the point of observation will present a different visual percept to the same observer. Hence the perception of the same thing by the same observer will vary with the change in point of perception. Add to this, different moods and different states of health, the problem would be immensely multiplied. No objective truth would seem to completely agree with the subjective truth which people fathom within their brains. In short, subjective impressions cannot always be related to the outer world in exactly the same way. This, in the opinion of some philosophers, deprives the viewer of the possibility of ever achieving absolute certainty in relation to whatever he perceives.
The aspect of uncertainty and unreliability of impressions as mentioned above, gave birth to another Sufi sect which totally denied the outer existence of things and claimed that eternal truth was merely a subjective notion. Those who were more extreme among them totally denied the existence of any external physical form, including their own. Thus, an intellectual movement that started with an attempt at an extra fine discernment of detail and perception of outside reality ended up in utter madness. Yet there was a strange magic in this madness, that sometimes spellbound the wisest of the logicians and the academics of their time.
An interesting episode is related about a renowned Sufi leader of this sect, who was summoned to the court of a king to hold a debate with some of the outstanding scholars of his time. But to the amazement and chagrin of all, the outcome of the debate turned out to be exactly the opposite of what they had expected. Within a few exchanges of arguments and counter-arguments the great academics were driven out of their depth, gasping for their breath and groping for words. None could succeed in matching the intricacies of the Sufi’s ethereal logic. At this point, the king was struck with a brilliant idea and ordered the warden of the elephants’ house to have the most ferocious of his elephants brought to the palace grounds. This particular elephant happened to be stricken with a madness no less than that of the Sufi. The only difference perhaps was that in the Sufi’s mind the outer reality did not exist. But the elephant wanted to destroy all outward reality himself. From the one end the Sufi was pushed into the open and from the other the elephant was let loose. The Sufi without losing his breath, ran for his life forthwith.
Observing this, the king shouted from the balcony of his palace, ‘Don’t run away O Sufi, from this phantom elephant. He is only a figment of your imagination!’
‘Who is running away?’ shouted back the Sufi. ‘It is only a figment of your imagination.’
Thus ended the predicament of the Sufi but not the debate itself. It still rages on.
he Spanish School of Islamic Thought
We have already discussed the controversy regarding the superiority of revealed truth, vis-à-vis observational truth. Some thinkers give preference to revelation over logic, and some others do the vice versa. Ibne Rushd (known in the West as Averroes), one of the greatest Muslim thinkers of all-time, proposed the idea that the above views express parallel realities and should be treated separately. Revealed truth should be accepted as such and the knowledge gained from observation and experiment should be accepted for what it is. For him, it was not necessary to seek a correlation between the two, nor was there any need to search for contradictions and attempts to resolve them.
This was the age when Muslim scientists were making rapid progress in Spain in their pursuit of scientific knowledge. They did so undeterred by the fact that some religious scholars of the older schools were issuing edicts of Ilhad (innovation) against them. Ibne Rushd may have thought it better not to get involved in such controversies, lest it should impede the progress of science.
What he evidently avoided was the danger of finding contradictions between religion and science. A true believer in Islam and a scientist dedicated to the truth without prejudice as he was, this policy served the cause of both religion and science in Spain admirably for a long time to come. The danger of contradiction between the revealed truth and the observed truth was never squarely confronted. Hence the issue of preferences never arose seriously. This ‘no-conflict policy’ remained predominant in Spain for many centuries, thanks largely to the prudence of Ibne Rushd.
When we re-examine the possible issues of controversy in the afterglow of what followed, we can say with certainty that the age was not yet ripe for such issues to be addressed. The possibility of defective or partial perception or even a complete misunderstanding of the observed facts could not be ruled out.
For example, in medieval times the ideas adopted by Muslim scientists about the universe were not really based on the Holy Quran or Hadith, but were, for the greater part, influenced by the prevailing ignorance of that age. The religious scholars as always happens, considered their own views to be Islamic and as such final, while there was little they could understand of the true Quranic views in the context of the prevailing knowledge.
On such a matter in Spain, there does not appear to have been any dialogue between scientists and religious scholars. There was no forum for the transfer of knowledge between these two groups, nor any debates about the comparative merits of their respective beliefs. Consequently, there were no Galileos in Spain who had to choose between life and truth. The scientists and their contemporaries did not even attempt to explain to the religious scholars their compulsion to call a spade a spade when they saw one, nor did they find it necessary to prove to them that their interpretation of the Holy Quran was wrong because it contradicted the known scientific facts of the time.
As a result, there developed two parallel movements which gradually grew further apart with the passage of time. It so happened at last that Islamic knowledge took a completely different course from that of the philosophical and scientific channels of thought, never to cross their path. They were like two streams running in parallel without interrupting each other’s flow.
Consequently, the Islamic nation of Andalusia (the title of the Muslim Empire in Spain), outpaced other Islamic countries in most fields of scientific research. Further to its advantage, Spain enjoyed a long and seldom broken period of relative peace, safe from the attacks of invaders such as Ghengis Khan and Halaku Khan. This period of Islamic history in Andalusia could be rightly considered as the golden age of Rationalism. With the expulsion of Muslims from Andalusia, the great era of Muslim domination came to an end. All ties of Islam with the Spanish people were severed. If ever a tragic retrogression of intellectual and scientific advancement took place anywhere in the world, it took place in the land of Andalusia. And what a tragic retrogression it was. As the gates were opened at the southern end of Andalusia for the exodus of Islam, out went along with it wisdom, knowledge, fair play, truth and light in all its spectra, perhaps for centuries not to return. But the light flooded out not in the direction of the journey of the Muslim expatriates. Spain was once again plunged into the utter darkness of the pre-Islamic era. The world of Islam elsewhere did not fare better either. There, the darkness was to grow from within. It was the darkness of religious prejudices, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, arrogance, egoism and mutual jealousies, which began to rage like hellfire. It began to rise like a column of smoke spreading far and wide screening the light of heaven out. Thus the land beneath was covered by progressive shadows of darkness which grew and thickened over the years.
As for the inhabitants of northern Europe, it was a different story altogether. That which was lost to the people of Spain turned out to be their gain. And what a gain it was. The same Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand who had thrown the Muslims out of the country did not take long to turn their wrath upon the Jews under the ever growing influence of a bigoted, despotic Christian priesthood. As the southern gates of Andalusia were opened to flood out the Muslims, the northern gates were opened wide for a large-scale exodus of the Jews. Among them were highly knowledgeable people, great scholars, scientists and intellectuals who excelled in many professions. They had mastered many skills during the seven centuries of the beneficent Muslim rule. They had gained excellence in all fields of human occupation such as industry, trade, scientific research, architecture, sculpture, surgery and many other similar areas. A persistent well-organized scheme of persecution banished the Jews out of the country, after dispossessing them of all their belongings. It were they who carried the torches of knowledge all the way from Muslim Andalusia to the South of France and beyond. The philosophies of Aristotle and Plato began to reach Europe through the Muslim philosophers of Spain. The healing genius of Avicenna, the greatest physician ever known to the world till his time, and the wisdom of Averroes who combined in himself secular and religious philosophies and sciences also began to dawn upon the European horizon. Thanks largely to the exodus of the Jews, their great works were transported across and translated into various European languages by scholars. In fact, it was they who laid the foundation of a new era of enlightenment in Europe, known as the Renaissance.
he Plight of the Muslim World
Turning our gaze to the post-Spanish era we observe the same gloomy view fraught with tragedy hanging over the entire world of Islam. From then on, Muslim countries other than Spain lost their interest in the secular sciences and their quest for investigation and research which they themselves had once promoted and advanced to such high levels of excellence.
This unfortunate trend proved counterproductive not only in the field of science, but also in the field of religion itself. The MuslimUmmah (the Muslims as a people) further split and broke into schisms and factions. The noble doctrine of the unity of God became the victim of this destructive suicidal trend. Cracks began to appear in the image of God itself which began to be interpreted so differently as though they were talking of different gods rather than One. Their search for knowledge was not quenched however, only their preferences were changed.
They continued to debate the issues of right and wrong with the same vehemence as before while the subject of discussion had changed. Yet they remained engrossed in the same questions which for centuries had agitated them. Instead of the serious issues of fundamental practices, their jurisprudence remained occupied by trivialities such as the eating of the flesh of crows. Riots are reported to have erupted on this issue between the supporters of the two opposing views. The polemics which resulted grew progressively more complicated and involved. It is a tribute to their intellect that they could really build mountains out of molehills—a tribute which at the same time was reflective of an utter lack of common sense. Senseless intellectualism is the name for what they did!
Some of the other so-called “highly important” questions which kept agitating their minds also stirred their blood to a pitch of high frenzy. Among them was a question as banal as that the case of a dog which may have fallen into a well. How many bucketfuls would have to be drained out before the remaining water became clean for the purpose of ablution, was the all-important question which engaged the attention of great scholars of that time. Let alone a dog, if a Mullah accused of heresy, by the clerics of another school, fell into a well of theirs, the question would acquire far more serious implications. How many buckets would have to be hauled would become a complex mathematical exercise. Many may have preferred that well to be filled with earth, having turned into the burial pit of the same Mullah. Such was the time and such were the tales built on the realities of their mad intolerance.
Bizarre as they may appear, seldom were they altogether false. The jurisprudence of that period must have gone beserk! They were involved in such meaningless debates as made a mockery of the holiest of the Muslim religious practices such as “Salat”—the formal prayer.
The Muslims always recite the fundamental article of faith during the sitting posture of the second Rak’at of their prayers. During this declaration some raise their index fingers and some do not. But jurists of that period were sharply divided on this issue. They were bent upon punishing the finger which had offended their sensibility. Raised or not raised, the offending wretch must be chopped off, was their unanimous verdict. They differed on everything else but not on this. To go to the wrong mosque was a grave risk indeed. The entry was no problem of course but it was the exit which posed real problems. They might have to walk out with one finger less than the five Allah had bestowed upon them!
A third small issue was related to the saying of “Ameen“, which is recited after the recitation of Surah Fatihah by the Imam. The ‘vital’ point under discussion was whether it should be said aloud or quietly. It was quite likely for the ‘loudists’ to be beaten if they had blurted Ameen loudly in a mosque where it was considered a serious crime. A silent Ameen among the loudists was no less provocative.
The most prominent among such doctrinal differences which acquired deadly dimensions was concerning the creation or the non-creation of the Holy Quran. The holders of these opposite views had no doubt whatsoever that disagreement on such vital issues was punishable by death. But it all hung on the great dispenser of justice—chance. If the king was on the side of eternalists, the holders of the contrary doctrine were not only murdered, but even burnt alive in their homes. When chance took the swing to the other side, the persecutors became the persecuted. Many a time, the long dead and buried were not spared the punishment either. They were dug out from their graves and publicly hung, for the living to learn their lesson. But what lesson could one draw anyway? Which side of the see-saw was safer remained the unanswered question. For those involved in these trivial broils with such seriousness, their life upon earth was turned into hell. And the threat of hell after death, hurled at them by their opponents, did not have to wait to be reached till after death!
The centuries of darkness of the medieval ages began to cast their deadly shadows far and wide, and the world of Islam which had emerged from darkness to light as the sun of Islam rose from the deserts of Arabia, was plunged once again into the abyss of ignorance. The vision of Islam began to flicker and change colours like distant stars seen through dark, gloomy nights with the change in the vantage point and the shifting of the angle of vision. The image of Islam lost its lustre and constancy.
The two major channels of enlightenment which could turn the darkness of ignorance into knowledge seemed to be shut forever. Neither was there clarity or integrity of vision left, nor was there any hope entertained for revelation from on high. To them both windows were closed. What a tragic end indeed.
However, some centuries later, the sun of secular knowledge began to rise once again but this time from the West. The transmitters of light from the East looked westward hoping to catch a glimpse of that which they had themselves bestowed upon the West some interminably long centuries ago it seemed.