some stage in our life we find an apprehension of our own mortality.
Well, in several stages, from the first obstruction of our
sovereign will, early in childhood, to our final quiescence in the face of
death. It is the way of
things. There is no escaping
death. If we are open with
ourselves, each stage of understanding must be more profound than the one
that came before it.
grandparents and then our parents die: graves begin to open up in our
lives. We want to make some
sense of what we see. If we
are born into a society which acknowledges a god of creation and judgment,
belief may become a part of our reality before we are able to reason, and,
from that belief, an external god stands before us when we pray.
From a time which came before our independence our mortality is
allowed. Such a god may be
closer to us than our heart’s pulse, but it will not share our mortality
(1). Our dying is beyond its
thought goes beyond belief. My
understanding of what I am is as a facet of a conscious whole: I was born
in first-light, and when the shadows deepen, I have to depart.
In the intervening hours I must learn, in quietness, the wisdom of
what it means to be here, and then to understand that I must go.
systems, too, are mortal. Communism
could not comprehend mortality, and, together with its prophet, is laid to
rest in Highgate, London. Christianity,
since its eighteenth century, has had an apprehension of the mortality of
belief, and is adapting: many know Jesus through the humanity of his
teaching rather than through belief in the literality of a later creed.
Hinduism knew the mortality of belief long ago; in its development of the
concept of karma, it saw that karma applies to cultures and systems just
as much as it does to lives of persons.
Furthermore, Hinduism explores the nature of mortality: indeed, one
of the Upanishads contains a parable in which Death himself teaches
a belief-system cannot comprehend its own mortality, it must die.
does this leave Islam? We are
living in times when Islam is feeling the first inklings of its mortality
as a system of belief. And it
is in denial. This denial is
manifest in the resurgence of extremism; in the hardening of attitudes; in
the recrudescence of jihad in its original offensive sense.
It is manifest in the extreme sensitivity which orthodox Muslims
exhibit when even the smallest aspect of their faith is examined. This anger is the result of fear, and fear always has — at
its heart — an unresolved apprehension of mortality.
is already present in the new-sown seed, even though we do not see it.
Mohammed was fearful of death from the very beginning: his own
death, that of his young child, that of his nascent Ummah.
Criticism made him angry: those who criticised were killed, yes,
even the scribe who began to suspect that the evolving Qur’an was
science, information, a need for individual expression, an exploration of
both the world and oneself, true freedom of women, an understanding of the
legitimacy of other cultures: if
Islam cannot adapt to meet these, it will die.
And I mean adapt — not pretend to adapt.
At the moment moderate Muslims (good, fine people) are beginning to
question — but their adaptation must not be one of pretence.
The Qur’an must be read in its completeness, in one’s one
birth-language, to understand. The
major Ahadith must be read in their completeness, again, in one’s own
birth-language, to understand. Then the question must be asked: are these
remote and often barbaric texts something by which I wish to live my life?
The question must be asked: is this the literal word of God, true
for all time? Can we find no
direction but towards Makkah? These questions have to be faced.
these questions have to be asked, and real changes must be made.
And it has to be said that so far the efforts made have not been
good. If true, the Qur’an
should stand for itself; it should not have to be bolstered by specious
reasoning which, however
fervently swallowed by the believer, merely serves to weaken.
The arguments used are similar to those used by young-earth
creationists (3): they are thesis-led, often circular, tautological, prone
to partiality: they tend to touch upon minor matters — usually
self-evident truths — and inflate them (4).
should stand for itself: it shouldn’t have to be propped up with facile
numerological games in order to ‘prove’ the divinity of the text. It shouldn’t have to be preserved in an ancient language.
It should be accessible and understandable to all.
Otherwise it is merely opinion.
scripture is not a theorem to be proved.
Of itself it has no value. Its
value depends on the human understanding it allows to those who read it.
It recognises the limitation inherent in the language in which it
is written, for it sees that language is a minor part of consciousness; it
cannot encode or contain the consciousness which made it.
the following story. There
was once an illiterate tribesman born in a time of brutalizing conflict;
he was seized with a sudden conviction that God was close to him, speaking
divine truths to him. He
would go into a trance and, when he woke up, he would recite.
His words were written down by those close to him.
He became convinced that the Word of his solitary God should
prevail in the world. Largely by chance, he was able to begin a series of
conquests, terrible in their onslaught.
He was a capable military commander.
Does this sound familiar? The
name of this man was Temugin. He
was later known as Genghiz Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, which was
to reach from Poland to Vietnam, Iraq to China — the largest empire, in
terms of area, the world has ever seen, and, in terms of time, one of the
parallels are uncanny (5). Temugin’s God was the Creator God of the
Mongols. Temugin, a monotheist, singled down the Mongol pantheon to a
solitary God, much as Mohammed singled down the Makkan pantheon to Allah. Was Temugin a prophet?
Was his God, Tengri, an analogue of Allah? Do Temugin’s words abrogate those of Mohammed?
We shall never know. His
writing has not survived, even though it is recorded that ‘All human
sons are born to die in time, as determined by Tengri’.
what of Allah? Was he, like
Temugin’s Tengri, the externalized ego of a stressed man (6)?
When Mohammed died, Allah died too.
But the writing (7) and the body of the faithful remained.
The inability of a creator-god to experience mortality was, perhaps, the
necessary beginning of the Christ and Krishna myths.
God took on human form to experience mortality.
Christians explain this in terms of the Trinity — three aspects
of one God. Christ, having
lived and died, knows what it is like to live and to die.
The third aspect remains as an spiritual guide.
God is personal and momentary as well as impersonal and timeless.
This is a kind of way of looking at the compassion of God.
Ossification into dogma did nothing for this allegory.
The Katha Upanishad.
‘Young earth creationists’ are those, mostly fundamentalist
Christians, who say that the earth is no more than six thousand years old.
This age is derived by biblical genealogy.
Their argument is flawed — driven by thesis and relying on
selective evidence — and is scientifically nonsensical.
Maurice Bucaille, in his book The Bible, Qur’an and Science
uses a similar thesis-driven reasoning.
Let’s consider a little of it.
My comments are in square brackets.
31, verse 10:
"(God) created the heavens without any pillars that you can
13, verse 2:
"God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you
can see, then He firmly established Himself on the throne and He subjected
the sun and moon . . ."
These two verses refute the belief that the vault of the heavens was held
up by pillars, the only things preventing the former from crushing the
two verses do no such thing. They
were not written to refute. Why
should a creator need to refute? A
creator should hardly need to convince his creation.
The verses certainly go against the notion that the heavens might
be held up by visible pillars. But
the very invocation of the notion of ‘pillars’ is of its time.
Heaven and earth are regarded in architectural terms.
The heavens are ‘raised’ from the earth.
The heavens are an entablature: to stand over the earth, they must
be supported. By what? By
pillars. But we see no
evidence of these pillars. It
follows that the heavens must be supported on unseen pillars.
overall impression is that of a man speculating upon what he sees; not a
maker giving an account of what he has done.
sees in these verses an argument for a Newtonian idea of planetary motion.
Such a leap is unwarranted. He
himself uses the term ‘the vault of the heavens.’
What does he mean by this expression?
is no understanding of a heliocentric system in the Qur’an.
The very verse Bucaille chooses (but does not quote in its
completeness) describes a sun and moon which travel above a stationary
earth. Solar and lunar
traverse of day and night is solely for the benefit of mankind.
The point of view is always strictly anthropic.
Bucaille’s arguments could probably be deconstructed thus, but it
isn’t really necessary. One
example is enough. Life is
The parallels between Mohammad and Temugin are pointed out in Sita
Ram Goel’s online book The
Calcutta Qur’an Petition. http://www.bharatvani.org/books/tcqp/index.htm
Repeated psychological stress in childhood can lead to the
phenomenon of an apparently externalized ego.
This seems to be an unconscious attempt to put oneself beyond the
reach of further hurt. It is
a strategy not without cost, for the externalization is, of course,
illusory. Such an ego finds
love and commitment (and even dialogue) next to impossible: the risks of
any approach would be too great. This
ego’s preoccupation is with survival and control.
It is fearful that, should it forget itself, it would no longer
exist. Psychosis is never far
away. (I’ve seen this in my
It is pertinent here
to consider that Islam regards shirk — the association of other
entities with Allah — as the greatest sin.
If committed consciously it results in damnation.
If Allah is omnipotent, why is he afraid of this?
Even the casual reader of the Qur’an will notice that there are
two distinct styles. One is
written in an involved explicatory tone; it claims to be a God revealing
himself, demanding (and needing, and even pleading for) belief.
The second style is very different in its mode of thinking; these
verses are directed towards God in praise; even in translation they have a
very beautiful, pacific quality. This
poetic beauty cannot be gainsaid. Perhaps
a closer attendance to the second style may allow the way into a true
must create my own system, or else be a slave to that of another.’ William Blake