For those who reflect - Editorial
Issue 60 September 2009
“We have profoundly disengaged from the Qur’anic counsel to reflect and contemplate; thus we see the results – appalling spiritual and economic poverty.”
Militant atheist Richard Dawkins said of religion,
“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfi ed with not understanding the world.” Others think the same as Dawkins. And there are times when I meet some ‘religious’ people and almost sympathise with the Oxford academic.
Too many people hide behind religion in order not to think, or as Dawkins puts it, “Faith is the great cop-out; the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” But this is not the Qur’anic embodiment of faith. Rather, throughout the Qur’an, humanity is called upon to think, contemplate, ponder, refl ect. God challenges human beings to engage all of the faculties at their disposal to make an assessment of the universe which they experience: “Thus do We provide ayah for people who refl ect.” (Qur’an 10:24) The word ayah is the word used for a Qur’anic verse. It is also the word used for a sign, an evidence – referring to the signs of the natural world. Thus the word ayah conveys the sense that revelation has two forms: the revealed word of God as in the Qur’an, and also what God reveals of His Creative powers through the natural world.
Both forms of revelation work in harmony, and humanity is called to refl ect on both. The Qur’an explicitly dedicates itself to a people who think, and so history has seen the great flourishing of science, technology, medicine, jurisprudence, and much more by those who were inspired and motivated by the Qur’an. The momentum created by the Qur’anic paradigm of engagement with the intellect was so great that it took eight centuries for it to even begin slowing down. However, we have profoundly disengaged from the Qur’anic counsel to refl ect and contemplate, and thus we see the results of this disengagement in the appalling poverty – economic, social, intellectual and spiritual in today’s Muslim world.
Modern society is not conducive to reflection. We live in a world of instant news and minute-by-minute updates. We Tweet and we renew our Facebook status. We are plugged into our iPhones, iPods, Blackberries and other such devices. Satellite TV gives us constant news, and if that were not enough the web gives us second by second updates. So, what time is there to think about and process this information? No sooner have we begun to absorb and explore more deeply a topic, then along comes the next ‘breaking story’.
Yet, this is when principle and a deep intellectual reasoning are most critical. When there is so much information to be processed, so many needs to be met, so many injustices to be righted, then we need to be at our most engaged mentally; this is the moment that we have to make sure decisions are not made purely on a whim or passion but on evidence, critical thinking and reflection. The process of thinking and reflection brings to the fore the essential, the important, the fundamental – away from the distraction of the noise that surrounds us.
Only through such deep reasoning and reflection can we hope to make a profound impact on the world today, and for our faith to be truly realised within us and within the world. “The opiate of the masses,” was how Karl Marx described religion. This is defi nitely not the Qur’anic model. We cannot allow ourselves to be in slumber or drugged from the reality of the world. We must be alert, thinking, involved. If our experience of religion becomes too routine, too ritualised, too dogmatic then we are on the wrong road, however pious our outward appearance might seem.
The Qur’an demands us to be awake. “Arise and warn,” it ordered the Prophet. “Actions are judged by their intentions,” the Prophet said, which means our mental faculties have to be exercised; we have to be intellectually conscious. Islam is not for the unconscious. Our relationship with God is not about blind faith; it is not about stumbling through the world without thinking how and why we act in a certain way. We may hear and we may obey, but that must be predicated upon refl ection and understanding, otherwise we are like sheep, bleating our way to nothingness.
So, read the Qur’an again, through different eyes, and renew the understanding of this great Book that dedicates itself to those who think and reflect.
Sarah Joseph, Editor