By Wajahat Qazi
As talk of a “ Clash of Civilizations”- a thesis developed by a great American political scientist, Samuel Huntington- is again doing the rounds and is validated by the quotidian acts of strife across the world, the spotlight, in some senses, shifts to the nature of Islam and the West and the “inherent” tension or conflict between the two. Critics across the Islam- West fault-line point out to the irreconcilable differences between the two-especially philosophically and conceptually. This may or may not be true and I profess my inadequacy and inability to bridge the divide. But what I would like to do here is to draw or tease out the salient features of Islam. Before I delineate my thesis, I would like to assert that I am not a scholar of Islam; I am what I am: a Muslim who cherishes his faith and belief(s). And I would like to put my faith into perspective as I have understood it. By its very nature and the various dimensions of Islam, my understanding cannot be perfect. I, therefore, begin with an apologia about my inherent and obvious limitations.
Islam, as we all know, is defined perhaps by faith (Imaan) and belief in One God, His Prophet(SAW) and the Angels. It is a revealed religion- revealed through the agency of Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by God Himself. Faith in Islam is affirmed by the recitation of the Kalima which begins with a negation: “There is no God but God”- which roughly means that God is Supreme and there can be no parallel to Him. Faith(Iman) is reified and reaffirmed by following the obligatory Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah( bearing witness to God and His Prophet) ,Salah( the five times prayer each day), fasting in the month of Ramadhan, Zakat( charity), and the Hajj(pilgrimage to Mecca). There is also the Sunnah( the practices of Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and the Hadeeth(his utterances). This brief description , familiar to all Muslims, is by no means exhaustive but is in the nature of a compendium of Islam and the Islamic faith.
Ritual(s) in Islam are, to my understanding, aimed to reorient Man to the Divine amidst the tumult of the world. Form is then a means to an end. This appears to be a critical point. But the question is: if the end is reorientation to the Divine is the end of formalism and ritualism in Islam, is Islam only an Other- worldly religion? Here time and space become important. By reorienting Man to the Divine and the Hereafter, it may be that Islam calls attention to the mutability of time and space and is a future oriented faith- a point eloquently and powerfully demonstrated by the great poet philosopher, Allama Iqbal, in both his prose and poetry.
If then, Islam is a future oriented faith, it is in contrast to the West, which or whose impulse of modernity is derived from the “now”- that is, the present. In materialistic terms, the West’s progress is said to derive from the “now”. But the “ now” can rob mankind of what may be called the “creative impulse”. This is not to demean the West but to put matters into perspective. The gist of the “now” and its consequences might be material progress, which is important, in its own right. But a future oriented approach, besides the obvious spiritual connotations, has esoteric and mystical implications. It is not implied here that the esoteric or the mystical is equal to ascetism- that is, withdrawal from the world. The issue is more profound.
As the great Allama Iqbal points out or even asserts in his poetry and prose, the ultimate finale, or capstone of Man’s quest is action. It is through action, oriented toward and for the Divine, that man can redeem himself and attain the state of Super Ego( Khudi). In this sense then action is the crucible of faith(Iman). This is a profoundly practical and mystical point. If action is the affidavit of faith(Iman), so to speak, and it is through action that Man can redeem himself, the future ( with profounder time space connotations) is the end state of Man, a certain creative tension is the “logical” consequence. This creative tension can lead to the creative impulse- the ultimate arbiter of progress , in both material and spiritual terms.
But the paradox here appears to be that for the future, the now is critical. The now is the preparatory interlude for the future. Action in the now can lays the ground for the future. Returning to more prosaic foundational narratives, the “ Clash of Civilizations” appears to be a facile and flimsy construct. The future and the now, with action as the ramrod, that determines the future, in all permutations and combinations of time and space, in synthesis determines civilization and its creative impulse and prowess. Can the world, which appears to have lost its moorings, find this golden mean and integrate and synthesize the now and the future? This remains to be seen and perhaps, in the final analysis, civilization might be contingent on finding an answer to this vital question.