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Saturday, April 26, 2008


Ustaz Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail
(Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association)
for “Sree Narayana Mission World Convention 2000”
7 August 2000 / 7 J’Awwal 1421

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.


“Corruption (and chaos) has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what, men’s hands have wrought: and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path].”
(Qur’an: Al-Rum: 30: 41)

Conflagrations of wars and killings today have reached such a proportion that the numbers of death have exceeded that of two world wars combined. It is a paradox that in spite of the tremendous progress achieved in technology, mankind in general has not truly and fully learnt to live peacefully. Although we have begun to show much concern for species of fauna and flora that we declare as endangered but we dare to ignore that the greatest danger in our actions which may eventually lead to our own extinction. We have acknowledged that much of the damage to this earth we call home has been from our own doing, but as yet reluctant to seriously look within ourselves and restrain the source from which the greatest ‘evil’ emanates. When men deviates away from his own nature and arrogantly asserts himself, not as a part of this Eco-system, but as exploiters of world resources; when he fails to acknowledge and accepts the reality that every individual person is but a member of humanity though they may be different (plural). Then, the damage would still persist – and we would be deemed to have failed to learn from the tragedies that are self-inflicted. Actually, these afflictions are consequences, which we must see as a warning from Divine Mercy for us to reform and save ourselves.

Man is basically good

“Verily, We create man in the best conformation, and thereafter We reduce him to the lowest of low – excepting only as such as attain to faith and do good works: and theirs shall be a reward unending!”
(Qur’an: At-Tin: 95: 4-6)

From the Islamic perspective, man by nature has been created in the best conformation, yet with potentials to either become the best or conversely, the worst. Within us we are imbued with moral consciousness, which we are expected to cherish, preserve and develop. But no moral values can be sustained except when founded on the basis of religion that deals with metaphysical questions - the question of Truth and of good and evil. Although today there are some that advocate human philosophy in place of religion (viz. ‘moral relativism’ or ‘moral subjectivism’), I believe only religion has the authority to shape a truly moral society because it is religion that claims to answer the questions about the absolute. Although religious creed may be founded upon metaphysical questions, yet all religion are primarily concerned with instilling and shaping morality upon its adherents on the basis of these. Yet, sometimes the corruption in men have crept into and changed or may try to change the noble teachings of a particular religion from its pristine original resulting thenceforth, instead of religion becomes a means of uniting mankind, it became the very reason for disputes and enmity. But all is not lost as long as there are people willing to communicate and reason with sincerity, and be willing to return to the ethical teachings on which originally the religion was founded. There is always hope when Truth becomes the most important and the most cherished quest in us as humans. The change should begin with our own individual self, by focussing within us as human beings:

“Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change what is in their inner selves”
(Qur’an: ar-Ra’ad: 13:11)

Plurality – boon or bane?

“O Men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another (li-ta’aarafuu). Verily the noblest of you in the sight of God is one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.”
(Qur’an. Al-Hujurat: 49: 13)

As in the above verses, Islam acknowledges the reality that there are differences in us. Yet, these are not to be regarded as justification for frictions amongst mankind. Our difference viz. of color, race or tribes and nations etc. does not make any one of us to be less human than the other. Such differences (most of which are permanently endowed in a person) are meant to complement, to add variety to the tapestry of God’s handiwork, for purposes of ‘li ta’aarafuu’ – i.e. for us to know one another, and not to despise each other. Even in the whole creation, there is harmony and unity in spite of diversity. Each objects and species co-exists within the limits ordained in their creation. For us human, we must learn to know our own ‘place’ and the ‘place’ of others, and respect the limits for peaceful coexistence. If any positive effects is possible for one to induce change in the other, it should be as ‘catalyst’ that unlocks the potential goodness in others, not one of ‘acidic’ imposition. Even if we acknowledge the reality, which makes us recognize hierarchy in terms of quality in each person, the issue of nobility amongst men should be measured on the basis of our “consciousness of God “. With this consciousness (i.e. believe in God Who is all-knowing, all-aware, the attending implications) it should bring us away from obsession with outward forms towards a realization that each one of us must measure our whole life and behavior in terms of service to God. And service to God is also dependent upon serving others and the rest of creation. Man’s role and responsibility (from the Islamic perspective) is as caretaker of this world, as guardian for one another and of the world. We are to vie in righteousness and not be obsessed with nationalistic xenophobia, and racial or social discriminations, which is the bane to the survival of the entire human race.

The concept of the Unity of God (Tawhiid) which is the foundation to the religion of Islam necessarily seeks to bring mankind towards striving for the unity and brotherhood of the human race. As the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] said, “We are all of Adam and Adam is from dust!” Yet, since the true submission (al-Islam) can only come from the personal consciousness in each man, no one should be compelled by force or deception. The right for each individual to exercise this essential free-will (choice of religion) rest with them and must be respected. Thus in the Qur’an:

“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. The right way has now become distinct from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which will never be shaken: for God is all hearing, all-knowing.”
(Qur’an: al-Baqarah: 2: 256)

The plurality in matters of faith (religion) amongst men has to be tolerated. We can invite, counsel and call people to what we believe but the line must be drawn, such that finally it is the individual themselves that must decide. Their personal right (freedom to choose) must be respected. Respect for “the right of every person” would mean that whatever preaching and exhortations must neither by coercion (force) nor by deception. We must never condone such means in matters of proselytizing.

“And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: do you [O Muhammad], then, think that you could compel people to believe, notwithstanding that no human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God’s leave, and [that] it is He who lays the loathsome evil [of disbelief] upon those who will not use their reason?”
(Qur’an: Yunus: 10:99-100)

As mankind is a rational being (al-nafs al-naatiqah) endowed with the ability to reason, (which thus distinguishes human from non-human), appealing for them to use this is the only way that we are allowed. Thus we are commanded:

“Call (or invite all mankind) unto Thy Sustainer’ path with wisdom and goodly exhortation and argue with them in the most kindly manner: for behold, thy Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are the right-guided.”
(Qur’an: An-Nahl: 16: 125)

Tolerance must be with justice

Islam advocates mutual invitation towards truth, as a platform – Free from any form of oppression or deception. Let the mutual striving for Truth is the common platform. As regards common concern for universal values amongst mankind, Islam believes that other religion too would uphold the same fundamental values, because in our natural innate purity as a human being, these would be recognisable. It must begin with the upholding the concept of Justice (al-‘Adl). When any who are deprived of the basic justice e.g. tyranny, oppression etc., their struggle and exertion to redeem it must not be stereotyped (simplistically) as being due to their religion or religious orientation. Perhaps the basis of what they are struggling are basic principles which may not be alien to others of differing faith. Perhaps theirs is a cry of humanity. Labelling them in terms of their religion (such as stereotyping them as religious terrorist, fanatic etc.) may distract us from understanding that perhaps their basic human rights have been deprived. Their actions may seem uncommon and somewhat disturbing the status quo but it may just be a form of reaction to injustices done to them, compounded by a feeling of being neglected by the human race. Due to it, perhaps their action is a symptom of deeper malady affecting us all as a human race. To ignore them is to ignore our shared responsibility to look after each other’s rights. In the context of man’s survival, we ought to focus on the preservation of the basic rights and responsibility of every man to their life, religion, property, intellect and family. These, for us, are the basic edifices, which can ensure the survival of the human race. Thus irrespective of our differing tenets and creed, our common enemy is thus all forms of unjustified murder and killings, religious bigotry, economic oppression, the destruction of the intellect through abusive substances, and the destruction of family as a an important social institution. Thus Islam stipulates:

“O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice (equity), bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!”
(Qur’an: An-Nisa’: 4: 135)

“Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that run’s counter to reason[1], as well as envy; [and] He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.”
(Qur’an: an-Nahl: 16: 90)

Respect for each religion: the right of cognizance over their own

Tolerance towards those of other faith extend to respecting the right for them to follow their own religious laws and dictates, even though these laws may seem strange to our own. The edifice of any religious practices ultimately is linked to the concept of God that they hold. While much of the moral laws may be shared by all other religion, yet we must not forget too that there may also be differing standards of law and practices peculiar to each which may be different from what we (who do not belong to their faith) hold. If those laws and practices emanate from the teachings of that particular religion itself, then we should respect the right for their followers to practice them. Others (outside their faith), if there is a need, may only offer advice regarding the veracity of these practices from the original sources of that religion concerned, but not by methods which may be misconstrued as an attack, condemnation or acts which tantamount to being ‘disrespectful’ to the religion.

“Say: ’O you who deny truth! I do not worship that which you worship and neither do you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have [ever] worshipped, neither will you [ever] worship that which I worship. Unto you, your religion and unto me, mine!”
(Qur’an: Al-Kafirun: 109:1-6)

Invite towards Mutual teachings of Truth and Patient Perseverance

But by tolerance, we do not imply a selfish disregard for the sharing of ideals, well being and happiness with others. We cannot live in isolation and not interact with one another. Tolerance would entail efforts at understanding each other’s concern whilst respecting the personal rights of others (which has been mentioned). While respecting the right to ‘space‘ and freedom for each other, our responsibility as a member of humanity is also towards assisting and helping one another towards spiritual growth and progress; sharing our ideals and well being. Though each religion may claim to have the truth, which their adherent may feel a duty to convey with others, yet to share this must be through peaceful dialogue, with sincerity and compassion, respecting the boundaries and avoiding sensitivities. The religious communities, at least, are closer to each other than those who have rejected morality and spiritual guidance and have embraced hedonism and materialism.

In today’s life, which heavily veered towards a totally materialistic orientation, the risk of detachment from the moorings of religion is alarmingly greater. The greatest fear is with too many obsessions with the external and the forms; mankind may loose his ‘soul’. When this happens, the true meaning of ‘humanity’ becomes meaningless except as mere word devoid of value. Thus mankind needs to be always reminded of his spiritual essence. Every religion acknowledges that human life pursuit must not merely revolve around material comforts. There is a higher ‘station’ (maqam) to be attained. Every one wants ‘happiness’. State of true happiness (as-Sa’adah) as common denominator of what we, as humans, hope to achieve, lies within each of us in our spiritual essence. Islam believes that the attainment to this state is dependent upon actualization of fundamental virtues in our lives viz. of faith, good works and the fulfillment of our social duties amongst fellow human. The Islam’s message regarding, is summarized thus:

“Consider the flight of Time!Verily Man is bound to lose
himself unless he be of those Who attain to faith and do good works,
And enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth,
And enjoin upon one another patience in adversity.
(Qur’an: Al-’Asr: 103: 1-3)

Islam’s message for mankind is to be shared, and in the teachings of others we Muslims are commanded to be open, as for us the signs of God is also manifested in the whole of the Universe. Collectively, we Muslims are reminded that mankind’s whole existence is deem to be of no profit unless we, apart from holding to our faith and strive to do good deeds, also participate in the mutual teachings of truth and of patient perseverance. I am grateful to the organizer of this seminar – the “Sree Narayana Mission” - for the opportunity to share whatever little I know and I hope it can be of some small benefit. In all humility I must admit that much more can be said on this subject and I hope this platform of sharing continues towards attaining religious tolerance and harmony in a pluralistic world.

Thank you!
And May Peace be unto all who follow true Guidance.


[1] The term here in Arabic ‘al-munkar (M Assad rendered in other parts of his commentary as “that which is wrong”) has here its original meaning of “that which the mind [or the moral sense] rejects”, respectively “ought to reject”. Zamakhshari is more specific, and explains this term as signifying in the above context “that which [men’s] intellect disown” or “declare to be untrue” (maa tunkiruhu al-‘uqul): in other words, all that runs counter to reason and good sense (which, obviously, must not be confused with that which is beyond man’s comprehension). This eminently convincing explanation relates not merely to intellectually unacceptable propositions (in the abstract sense of the term), but also to grossly unreasonable, and therefore, reprehensible actions or attitudes and is, thus, fully in tune with the rational approach of the Qur’an to questions of ethics as well as with its insistence on reasonableness and moderation in man’s behaviour.

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