Our philosophy

Our philosophy

An inquiry into the system of the laws which govern the process of history and the effects which historical events produce on the life of society is one of the most important needs of our society at the present juncture. An insight into this system is essential for the continued vitality of our cultural revolution […]

  • Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr
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    An inquiry into the system of the laws which govern the process of history and the effects which historical events produce on the life of society is one of the most important needs of our society at the present juncture. An insight into this system is essential for the continued vitality of our cultural revolution and its extension to other peoples of the world. There is no doubt if a society wants to free itself from its environmental limitations, suffocating atmosphere and overbearing conditions, it must know to what extent societies are compulsorily regulated by their circumstances and how they can overcome their limitations in this regard. What is important is only to find out the ways and means of overcoming the limitations and hinderances. It is immaterial to us whether this discovery is called a scientific discovery or is given the name of a religious, philosophical, gnostic or some other kind of unravelling. Now let us see what Ayatullah Sadr has said on this subject from the standpoint of the Qur'an in his last lectures in the Religious Centre, (Hawzah `Ilmiyah) Najaf Ashraf (Iraq). This study is significant, as it relates to the Religious Centre and Ayatullah Sadr. In our institutes of learning, study is mostly based on the four sources of law, the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the Reason and the Consensus of the juristic opinions. Naturally in these seats of learning the Qur'an is studied either from the juristic point of view or with a reference to fundamental, philosophical, scholastic and moral questions, which all come under the term of the exegesis (Tafsir) of the Qur'an. In the Religious Centre two different methods of teaching the exegesis are followed. One of them is the old and conventional method and the other is topical. In the first two lectures Ayatullah Sadr has explained in detail the difference between these two methods. According to the traditional method either the Qur'an from its beginning or a particular chapter of it is taken and explained verse by verse, chapter by chapter and word by word. First the linguistic, grammatical and literary characteristics of every verse are dealt with, and then the subtleties of its meaning are elucidated. Next its historical background and the occasion of its revelation are explained. Simultaneously the relevant traditions (Ahadith) and other similar questions are also discussed. In this way the whole Qur'an is expounded. This type of exegesis may be called the split and part by part exegesis (Tafsir Tajziyah). The other method is that of topical exegesis (Tafsir Mauzu'i). In this method a particular subject is chosen and studied from various angles. First suitable mental data are formed, and then a reference is made to the Qur'an in order to seek its verdict on the subject. From the traditions of the Prophet's progeny it is gathered that this method is more desirable than the other one. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said: "Here is the Qur'an. Let it express its opinion". The fact is that the Qur'an can reveal every truth. It is only up to the people to refer their questions to the Qur'an so that it may answer them. If we refer to the Qur'an in the form of a question an idea which has already been investigated and discussed by various schools of human society, we can be guided by the Qur'an as to which is the best answer. In order to prepare ground for this kind of exegesis, it is necessary that the study of the whole Qur'an should first be completed in accordance with the first method. In other words to be able to undertake topical study one should to some extent be familiar with the verses connected with the Islamic and Qur'anic questions and should be able to bring together all the verses concerning the subject under study. This kind of work has already been accomplished in connection with the Islamic law when all the traditions pertaining to each subject have been brought together and elucidated. Ayatullah Sadr wanted to make a topical study of several subjects and deduce from the Qur'an its view on them, but unfortunately he could get the opportunity of completing his study of only one subject, namely the methodology of history or the philosophy of history. What is important to us is that this subject has been studied for the first time from religious and Qur'anic point of view. This study has been given the name of 'The Trends of History in the Qur'an'. Now let us see what these words signify and what points they are expected to cover. Here it may be appropriate to point out that history has several connotations. One of its connotations is the transmitted history, that is an account of the events concerning a past subject. Another is the study of the historical events concerning a particular society. The third is a broad view of history detached from every limitation of time and place. So far we have been studying the Qur'an from the standpoint of the transmitted history or have occasionally studied some past society in the light of what the Qur'an has said about it. In this connection we have been confronted with some difficulties too. For example we find that while relating the stories of the past the Qur'an does not describe the events in the terms of numerical facts. Not that it has any doubts about the figures, but it omits them intentionally. For instance, in the story of the People of the Cave, the Holy Qur'an says: Some will say: They were three, their dog the fourth, and some say: Five their dog the sixth, guessing at random; and some say: Seven, and their dog the eighth. Say: (O Prophet!) My Lord is best aware of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them. (Surah al-Kahf, 18:22) This way of expression shows that the Qur'an intentionally does not pay much attention to transmitted history. For the purpose of being benefited by historical events, it does not want to make us prisoners of any conventional form. In contrast it wants to break the rigidity of such forms. The Qur'an has an identical attitude in respect of all historical stories. It makes no difference to it whether the events narrated concern such eminent people as the Prophets, or some wicked tyrants or some other extraordinary people. As such we have no right to fill in any gaps in the Qur'anic stories with any lore, myth, guess or our own personal opinion. We have only to find out what Islam (the Qur'an) aims at by narrating these stories. The fact is that Islam has a special philosophy in regard to the nations and the communities. Similarly it has its own so called sociology. It does not want simply to recount the events, nor is it interested in any particular period of history or in the sociology of any particular people. If Islam has referred to these things, it has done so purely with a view to deduce certain universal laws which govern all human societies and determine their future course, whether good or bad. Therefore it is of utmost importance for us to find out what laws of history the Qur'an puts forward so that we may understand our society as well as the past societies, be able to ascertain our future course and distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. There is no doubt that for this purpose the Qur'an is the only reliable source on which we can depend. If we want to know if there has been any precedent for such a deduction of the laws of history, we see that a great thinker and philosopher, Ibn Khaldun made such deductions eight centuries after the revelation of the Qur'an. He for the first time in `The Introduction' of his history turned his attention to the question of the development of societies and to the basic laws of history. Unfortunately after him his ideas were not pursued further and were almost entirely forgotten. It was four centuries after Ibn Khaldun that the so called progressive elements of Europe who claim to be the forerunners of all sciences, and experts in every field, realized that human societies are governed by certain laws and norms. They called these laws the philosophy of history. With the passage of time every scholar began to interpret these laws according to his own thinking, his mental background and his personal whims. Consequently now we are faced with divergent philosophies of history, the most well-known of them being those of Hegel, Toynbee and Marx. Each of these philosophies has its own method. As for our own society, it took eight centuries to turn its attention to this subject and then abandoned it before long. Others took to it, but they fell in grave errors, some of which we propose to point out later. Another point which needs clarification before we enter upon our main subject is whether the Qur'an has a right to intervene in the discussion of the norms of history? Is it within its bounds to discuss a scientific subject at all? If it is admitted that the Qur'an can put forward the laws of history, this subject becomes of utmost importance to us in our present circumstances. We have many problems of physics, chemistry, nuclear technology, mathematics etc. Can we turn to the Qur'an for their solution? Has the Qur'an dealt with scientific subjects? If it has, why has the scientific progress of the Muslims been so much delayed? Why have we reached, even the present level of our culture, at least 1000 years after the revelation of the Qur'an? Should we not have attained this level when the Qur'an was revealed? And if the Qur'an has not dealt with the scientific subjects, why should we seek their solution in it now? It is a fact that the Qur'an is not a book of science. But the question is: Why is it not a book of science when science solves so many problems of society? The answer is that science is unable to solve any problem unless and until it runs parallel to the course of guidance. Otherwise it only adds to the problems and aggravates them. Anyhow, this is a social question and outside the scope of our present discussion. Briefly it may be said that the Qur'an is a book of Divine guidance. It tells the human beings what will happen in the wake of and in consequence to what they do. There is no information service in any part of the world which may tell us what the consequences of our deeds will be at a time subsequent to these deeds. The knowledge which science provides is in its entirety based on the causative system, but it cannot envisage the future relation of any cause and its effects. It cannot say in what way the effect produced by a cause will be useful to man and in what way it will be harmful to him, nor can science indicate the direction to which man should be guided so that he may enjoy the beneficial results of a cause. The function of science is confined to showing only the insipid relation between a cause and its effect. Even to discover this relationship man himself has to make effort and study nature so that his talent may unfold to the extent of understanding this relationship. He can exploit this relationship only through his own endeavour and experience. All the tribulations and sufferings of the world including the wars, the diseases, the tragic incidents and all other problems and difficulties which man has to face are meant to give him impetus to surmount the difficulties and to find his way through them. Still the question of Divine guidance is something different. If a man is not religiously guided, he is bound to be swayed by the ideas and the problems which would ultimately pervert him. It is the Grace of Allah that He guides men and sends for them Holy Books and clear guidance. The Prophets come so that men may not be perplexed and deviate from the right path. Hence it is an indisputable privilege of the Qur'an to guide people. It is also a fact that due attention to the laws and the trends of history is an important part of guidance, for it protects man from the evils of deviation and perversion. There is an important difference between the laws of history on the one hand and the laws of physics and chemistry on the other. The laws of physics and chemistry, which are based on the causative system of the world, apply to inanimate objects unable to receive any guidance. On the other hand the laws of societies, though as firm and definite as any scientific laws, apply to human beings. It is the peculiarity of man that he can take himself out of the scope of one law, which he considers to be harmful to him, and put himself under the purview of another law which he regards as beneficial. In other words he can decide for himself which law should apply to him, whether the law which leads him to happiness or the law which leads him to misery. The choice is with man himself. Anyhow, that does not mean that man can violate any law. All that he can do is that instead of being under the purview of one law he may make himself subject to another law. He can do so because it is within his power to make or mar himself. It is for this reason that the Qur'an has paid special attention to the history of the nations and human societies. It has done so mainly with a view to give an opportunity to the people to derive from the laws of history the best systems suited to them. History helps man in deriving general laws. If the Qur'an has referred only to some laws of history, it is because the Qur'an does not want to curtail the role of man's effort. There is no reason to think that the laws to which it has referred, are the only laws concerning human life and human society. According to the Qur'an it is man's own duty to find out the trends of history and derive the laws. Man must take this problem seriously, try his best to discover the laws of history and accept their firmness. As an example of the verses which explain the laws of human history, we come across a verse in which the Qur'an in connection with the Battle of Uhud says: If you have suffered a setback, a similar setback was suffered by these people (your enemy) also. And We bring about these vicissitudes in man's life. (Sarah Ale Imran, 2:140) No people can say that they will always be victorious, nor are any people condemned to be always defeated. Victory and defeat depend on certain social conditions and are subject to the laws of history. Any nation or community which abides by these laws, gains victory, irrespective of the fact whether there are any virtuous people in it or not. In fact, what is important is the system prevailing on the whole in a society. A few individuals do not count. That is why it should cause no surprise if in a bad society good people are also affected by adverse social laws, for the destiny of a society is determined by the conduct of the great majority of its masses. If a society on the whole is perverted, a good man, howsoever exemplary his personal conduct may be, will certainly suffer the evil consequences of the misdeeds of his society. The Qur'an says: And beware of involving yourselves into a trouble the consequences of which shall surely not affect in particular those who are wrong-doers. (Surah al-Anfal, 8:25) This verse conveys the same idea as mentioned above. The behaviour of a society is different from that of the individuals. Although it is the individuals who make society, yet the virtuous individuals singly cannot escape the evil consequences of the misdeeds of their society as a whole, unless they are able to change its general condition. The best proof of the correctness of this rule, is provided by the story of Prophet Musa (Moses) and his people, as narrated in the Qur'an. The people of Musa wanted to reach the land of the covenant and settle there. But they asked Prophet Musa to wrest the holy land first from the oppressors with the help of his Lord, Allah and then invite them to enter it. They said to Prophet Musa: So go you and your Lord and fight them. We are sitting here. (Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:22) The Qur'an says that this attitude of theirs proved that they were not fit to gain victory. He answered: Then this land shall be forbidden to them for forty years during which period they will be wandering aimlessly across the earth. (Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:26) And so it happened. Prophet Musa undoubtedly had true faith in Allah, was sincere in his purpose and had heroically carried out a successful struggle against Fir'awn. But because his society was not disciplined and lacked forbearance and spirit of self-sacrifice, he like others had to wander in the desert and undergo hardships. In this connection the charming interpretation of the Karbala tragedy made by Ayatullah Sadr is note-worthy and thought-provoking. He says that the people of Kufah were coward and timid while the people of Syria were perverted and covetous. The Kufans tolerated the despotic and blood-thirsty rule of the Umayyads. It means social behaviour of theirs was bound to cause disorder and bring about calamities. Accordingly the Kufans were beset by adversities, famines and bloodshed: The incident of Karbala in which Imam Husayn and the members of his family suffered very heavily, was one of a series of such incidents. It was a social process which culminated in such a great tragedy. Such a process cannot be halted unless something is done to change its course. In case we succeed in doing so, we save ourselves from the impact of an adverse law and put ourselves under a different law. Another point is that according to the Qur'an societies are governed by some fixed and unchangeable laws. The Qur'an has laid much stress on this point. The relevant verses can be divided into several categories: (i) The verses which lay down a general rule - The Qur'an says: Every nation has a term; when it comes, they cannot put it back a single hour, nor can they put it forward. (Surah al-A'raf, 7:34) - This is a universal law of history. (ii) There are other verses which refer to the consequences of injustice and oppression. One of them says: If Allah took people to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a single living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieves them to an appointed term. (Surah Fatir, 35:45) No doubt it is within the power of Allah to punish and destroy the unjust and perverted societies immediately, but He has given them some respite. Here it may be pointed out that as regards to time the law of societies is different from the law of individuals. An individual may be punished or rewarded immediately after doing an evil or good deed. But as it is gathered from a number of verses of the Qur'an, the social changes may take hundreds or even thousands of years. In the case of societies, the time is relative and only relative promptness is taken into consideration. Hence, one should not expect a quick change in society, for social changes have their own appointed time under the laws governing them.

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