The Darkness of the Enlightenment
by Abdalhaqq Bewley
Qul huwa'llahu ahad, Allahu's-Samad
Say: He is Allah, One, Allah, the Eternal Sustainer of all Beings.
Apart from the Fatiha, this ayat is probably the most-repeated ayat in the Qur'an.
The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said that the Qur'an was one-third devoted to tawhid - unitary knowledge - and that all tawhid was contained in Surat al-Ikhlas, whose beginning we have quoted. Unitary knowledge constitutes the core of all Divine revelation. It is what all the Prophets brought to their people. The possibility of comprehending it is what sets apart the human being from all other creatures.
Say: He is Allah, One. There are two words in Arabic for "one". Ahad and wahid. Wahid is the one of arithmetic, one as the first of a sequence, one which leads to two, three, four, etc. One as opposed to any other number. So Allah says in the Qur'an, "Ilahukum ilahun wahid." "Your God is One God" as opposed to two or more gods.
However, the meaning of one as expressed by ahad is not like this. The word ahad signifies a kind of oneness that does admit the possibility of anything else with it. With the one of ahad there is no possibility of twoness. It is the "absolute singularity" of the atomic physicists that precludes the possibility of the existence of anything else whatsoever alongside it. It indicates the absolute, impenetrable, transcendent, unapproachable unity of Allah with Whom nothing whatsoever can be associated in any way.
If Allah had left it here there would have been no possibility for the existence of anything at all besides Him in His own sublime and unknowable Essence. However He opens the door to the endless richness of His own creative power with His words, "Allahu's-Samad." The name as-Samad cannot be properly translated. It is by it that the Absolute transcendent Unity becomes that which gives being to everything in existence and supports and sustains it in every moment, that on which everything in existence is totally and continually dependent for its being.
Presented in this way it is difficult to grasp, to assimilate exactly what this means, to understand its implications for us as human beings sitting here in this room; but throughout His Book, Allah gives us many examples, shows us in many ways how, far from being a remote intellectual concept, His unity is demonstrated to us in every moment. He makes it clear to us that He is directly involved in everything that happens in this world. He sends down water from the sky, He brings out the plants from the earth, He forms us in and brings us out from our mothers' wombs, He holds the birds in the air. Everything that happens, everything we do, is by Him directly. There is no life, no power except by Him. This is absolutely explicit in the ayats of the Qur'an. This is the way existence is. This is the core teaching of Allah's Deen. There is only one thing happening in existence and that is the Act of Allah in every place in every moment.
There is terrible danger both for Muslims and non-Muslims of labelling this description, of filing it away as the "Islamic concept of unity" or some such thing. The Qur'an is the description of Existence as it is. There are not two realities, there is only one and it is the same for all human beings. It is this understanding of existence which lies at the core of all the true religious and philosophical traditions - that has always been at once the starting point and the goal of human knowledge.
It is my assertion that human beings have been almost completely cut off from access to this understanding of existence. Human beings are at a point in their history when they have all but lost the capacity to understand tawhid in any real way and yet it is precisely our capacity to understand the Divine Unity that makes a human being truly human. In other words, what I am saying is that to all intents and purposes human beings have lost touch with the very thing that gives them their purpose and fulfillment as human beings. Far from evolving into a higher species, we as human beings have devolved to a point where the very thing that makes us human is slipping or has slipped from our grasp. I realise that this is a somewhat extreme claim but I will try to show how this alarming state of affairs has come about and, Allah willing, indicate a way forward from it.
First of all, it needs to be said that, while there were from very early on fatal flaws in Christian theological thinking, the basic European intellectual perspective, partly through its regeneration with the introduction of Greek metaphysical ideas in the third century and partly through reliance on genuine revealed knowledge, reflected the unitary view of existence we have already outlined, and it continued to do so well into what is commonly known as the Middle Ages. The classical philosophical tradition of Ancient Greece was harmonised with revealed knowledge gleaned from the Bible into a synthesis which became known as scholasticism, one of the greatest exponents of which was Thomas Aquinas. According to scholastic thinking, All things proceed from God; and God is not only the ground of their being but also the supreme Good with which all seek to be reunited. God created the world in order that He might know Himself more completely. God not only created but continuously sustains the world and governs it both directly by the eternal laws and indirectly through angelic forces. To all creatures He has given a "nature" or "form" in virtue of which they are necessitated both to be what they are, and to seek that which is proper for them. Man is different from other creatures in that only he can aspire to know God and in this lies his only fulfilment but he can either choose or deny this glorious possibility. Man is by his very nature oriented towards the supernatural world; he was created for knowledge of God.
From this brief summary of the scholastic perspective the basic correspondence with true tawhid must be clear. It is not that there are no differences, indeed there are deep and irreconciliable ones and it is to some extent the contradictions, anomalies and rigidities inherent in scholastic thinking that permitted and even encouraged later developments. However, there is no doubt that the basic world view and fundamental approach to existence of the true unitary teaching is the same as that of medieval scholasticism.
Then along came Bacon (and I don't mean the kind you eat although the one I am referring to was quite as dangerous to the spiritual health of the human being as the other). It is not that Francis Bacon single-handedly changed the way that people viewed existence but that every intellectual movement has those who epitomise and express it and Francis Bacon definitely does this in respect of that peculiar and significant change in human perspective which took place at the time of what is known in historical terms as the Renaissance.
Before this time the truth of any proposition lay in whether or not it accorded with datum supplied by divine authority. From this time on the measure of truth was whether a proposition accorded with human reason. Before the Renaissance men were not concerned with things in themselves and their individual make-up and behaviour but with how they were connected with Total Being. At the Renaissance men began to wish for a new life-orientation and this involved a hitherto unthought of analysis of and control over things. As Bacon said:
"Those therefore, who determine not to conjecture and guess, but to find out and know; not to invent fables and romances of worlds, but to look into and dissect the nature of this real world, must consult only things themselves."
Admirable sentiments you might say, but wait and see what their implications are. The real world for pre-Renaissance man had been the realm of divine power. Bacon's real world is the limited realm of sense perception. For Bacon, and those who followed, truth became increasingly to mean scientific truth. Scientific truth gradually became the only genuine truth. Metaphysical truth, which can sometimes appear to be at odds with a limited scientific understanding became increasingly pushed to one side and eventually ignored. What was sound in the Medieval tradition tended more and more to be rejected.
Existence, which had been considered as one thing, as a totality with interpenetrating spiritual and material dimensions, became split into two. Now there was the truth of religion and the truth of science in two quite separate domains and it is clear that Bacon's desire to separate religious truth and scientific truth was in the interests of science and not of religion. He wished to keep science pure from religion. All of this is encapsulated in Bacon's famous dictum which is at the same time both the denial of true tawhid and also the source of all scientific truth. He said: God works in nature only by secondary causes.
This basic fallacy metaphysically totally untrue and yet deceptively verifiable empirically became the foundation stone of the scientific world view. There was a general transference of interest from metaphysics to physics, from the contemplation of Being to the observation and analysis of physical phenomena. Scientism under the name of natural philosophy claimed to replace theology as the supreme form of knowledge. As M. Maritain says in his book about Thomas Aquinas what really happened at the Renaissance was that:
"The mathematical science of the world of sense perception and its phenomena took precedence over metaphysics and the human mind began to profess independence of God and Being."
Instead of being satisfied with the kind of truth which was consistent with divinely revealed teaching, men began to desire the kind which would enable them to measure, to weigh and to control the things around them: they desired, in Bacon's words, "to extend more widely the limits of the power and greatness of man."
"God" gradually receded further and further into the inconceivable and became, in practical terms, irrelevant as the frontiers of natural causation were pushed back and back until finally He was merely, in the scientific world view, nothing more than a scientific hypothesis almost identifiable with absolute space.
Revealed knowledge began to appear, if not superfluous, at least definitely secondary and often highly inconvenient, while scientific knowledge, which had been considered merely a supplement to revelation, became the standard against which revelation should be tested, and if the scientific fact apparently contradicted the revealed text, revelation was rejected in favour of science.
With the French philosopher Descartes, Bacon's split between religion and science, between the spiritual and the material worlds, became hardened and widened. Descartes posited the basic dualism of subject/object, spirit/matter. Man is likewise split in two as mind and body although exactly how the two are connected is never completely made clear. Man according to Descartes is a thinking mind, stuck in a material body looking out on an alien world. Descartes is rightly known as "the father of modern philosophy" since nearly all thinkers since him have taken as their starting point the view of existence formulated by him.
The other celebrated achievement of Descartes was his famous scientific method, which dove-tailed in with and helped to form the newly emerging scientific view of existence. The old way had been to basically take things on trust as manifestations of Divine creative power. But Descartes' starting point is complete scepticism regarding both received opinions and beliefs and also sense data. Nothing is to be considered true until it has been conclusively proved to the observer to be so. He himself expresses it thus:
"Never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such. . . to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt."
Thus he made his own, and by extension human reason in general, the ultimate arbiter of what is true or not true.
What Descartes left us with is a picture of the human being as a mind enclosed in a body looking out as subject/observer on an objective/separate world surrounding him which had to be brought under control and made to serve him.
He says in his Discourse on the Method:
"I perceived it to be possible to arrive at a knowledge highly useful in life. . . to discover a practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us. . .we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adopted and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature."
And not only was man separate from the material world outside himself, it was basically not to be trusted and all incoming data had to be subjected to intense scrutiny before it could be admitted as trustworthy and true.
He was indeed the philosopher of the new age of science and at the same time undermined by his scepticism the inherent sense of a benevolent providence that had existed until that time.
So from a situation where the spiritual was given precedence over the material we moved with Bacon to a situation where pride of place was given to the material and the spiritual took on a background role. With Descartes the spiritual side of existence was divorced from the material and banished to the outer reaches of the universe. It was now but a short step to the logical conclusion, the final stage in the process, which was to do away with the spiritual altogether. This position found expression in the work of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. In his own words:
"This Universe, that is, the whole mass of things that are, is corporal, that is to say, body , and hath the dimensions of magnitude, namely length, breadth and depth; also every part of the body is likewise body, and hath the like dimensions, and consequently every part of the universe is body, and that which is not body is not part of the universe; and because the universe is all, that which is no part of it is nothing, and consequently nowhere."
In other words what Hobbes is saying is that all that is real is material existence and anything other than material existence is not real. What Hobbes was in fact doing was giving expression to what had in fact already become the dominant view of existence which was that only that is true which could be verified empirically. The limits of human sense perception had in fact become the limits of existence. If you couldn't weigh it or measure it or time it or in some other way control it, it was not real. This meant that already by Hobbes' time mechanico-materialism was accepted as an exhaustive account of reality.
This view of existence has, of course, profound implications for the way the human being was perceived. From being a prisoner inside a body, man was now totally identified with that body. Hobbes writes:
"When we say that 'a man is a living body,' we mean not that the 'man' is one thing, the 'living body' another, and the 'is' or 'being' a third; but that the 'man' and the 'living body' is the same thing."
With Hobbes any spiritual dimension of existence whether in man or the universe, microcosm or macrocosm, was denied altogether. The world of the spirit had ceased to exist.
This also had profound social and political implications for human communities. In the old view absolute authority was synonomous with God in the new view the embodiment of authority on the earth achieved absolute status. The state became the absolute authority. Government, the state apparatus, the laws of the land became the absolute arbiters of human behaviour.
Hobbes decries the possibility of spiritual influences "and other such things that serve to lessen the dependence of subjects on the sovereign power of their country."
So that rather than being servants of a benevolent universal order the human being is reduced to being identified as the subject of a limited temporal authority dictated by the place he lives to which he owes absolute allegiance.
Alongside this philosophical unfolding, hand in glove with it, inseparable from it, we find its practical expression in the outward world at the hands of those natural philosophers who chose practical research and experimentation and scientific theory as the field of their endeavour. They started as astronomers, turned into physicists and eventually into engineers as the application of the new philosophy became increasingly devoted to control and domination of the natural order.
Again the whole process is embodied in a number of landmark figures who epitomise the spirit of their time to use what in the circumstances is perhaps not the most appropriate expression! Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, these are the names that stand out in the scientific pantheon.
With his work, "The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres", the Polish astronomer Copernicus single-handedly tore apart the traditional view of the universe. Men had always seen the earth on which they lived as the stationary centre of physical existence, around which the sun, moon, the planets and galaxies revolved in their various orbits. In the Copernican system the earth became merely one of several planets orbiting the sun and this solar system, one amoung countless others dotted about in an unimaginable vastness. Mankind from being physically central to the life of the universe became an insignificant species living somewhere undefined in limitless space. This theory of Copernicus, based in fact on limited observation and which he himself was reluctant to publish in his own lifetime, is the foundation stone of all those scientific advances that flowed thick and fast from that moment on. He hold the same position in the scientific line as Bacon did in the philosophic one in that he opened the way for all who followed.
The Italian Galileo took up where Copernicus left off. His invention of the telescope enabled him to effectively and devastatingly demonstrate the facticity of Copernicus's theory and to disprove many of the unfortunate scholastic excursions into the world of natural science. For instance by his visual evidence of the moon's cratered surface he demolished the theory of perfect spheres which had been central to the scholastic view of the physical universe, showing beyond doubt that the physical universe was different from what had been posited by metaphysical speculation. In spite of being hounded by the ecclesiastical authorities for his faith-shattering disclosures, he nevertheless ensured by them the demise of the old order.
However, his possibily even more significant contribution to the scientification of the world was in the field of mechanics. By dropping things off the Leaning Tower and watching a chandelier swing to and fro in a church, if the stories are true, he hit upon ideas that were eventually to prove truly earth-shattering! For his work on the laws of motion and momentum and his discoveries in the field of mechanics were to form the groundwork on which almost all the subsequent developments were based. To him also can be attributed the modern form of the scientific experiment with its data collection and subsequent analysis. Strangely enough, there is a correlation between Galileo and the second of my philosophers, Descartes. By his work in mathematics and physics, Galileo brought together the heavens and the earth which had previously been considered totally independent spheres of existence. He joined together what had previously been separated. As we already noted, Descartes separated body and spirit, thereby separating what had previously been considered joined together. However the joining of Galileo and the separating of Descartes had in fact the same result, the distancing of the human being from the realm of spirit.
The third in our triad of scientist-philosophers - practical exponents of the new philosophy - is the Englishman Isaac Newton to whom is attributed the astounding discovery of the fact that if you sit under a tree in an orchard in early autumn you are quite likely to be hit on the head by a falling apple. Whether or not it was, as legend would have it, this event which lead up to it, what is certain is that, taking over where Galileo, and another astronomer Kepler, had left off, Newton formulated what he called the law of universal gravitation and the three fundamental laws of mechanics, to the incalcuable advancement of scientific knowledge, even if to the eventual detriment of the natural and human environments. His work on light and optics and his discovery of calculus, an indispensible tool in many later discoveries, were without doubt significant but it is his magnum opus, Principia Mathematica, in which he formulated the laws of mechanics and gravity, which proved to be the fundamental work for the whole of modern science. There are few people who have so changed people's perception of the universe they live in. After Newton mystery disappeared from the universe. Everything was now self-explanatory in terms of mutually dependent, internally self-consistent, interactive forces needing no extra-universal stimulus. He fulfilled the same role in the scientific domain that Hobbes did in the philosophic. After Newton there was no longer any need for God; everything was perfectly explicable without positing Divine intervention. God had been expelled from the physical universe.
Now what, it might be asked, has all this stuff about philosopher scientists and scientist philosophers of 16th and 17th centuries got to do with ordinary people today. The answer is: unfortunately almost everything. These men I have talked of expounded and exemplified a way of looking at existence which rapidly disseminated itself through every strata of human society and into every sphere of human activity. Before then human beings had lived at the centre of the universe with the sun and moon and stars revolving around them, above which were the celestial spheres of angelic activity all encompassed by the Throne of God, whose unseen Hand moved and directed the whole affair. After them people lived on an insignificant mineral mass, a mere part of a minor planetary system, one of countless others lost in the unimaginable vastness of limitless space. The former perspective metaphysically true but empirically inaccurate, the latter empirically true but spiritually and psychologically disastrous.
For the human being the result was devastasting, just like being suddenly uprooted from a small village environment where everyone is known to each other, the hierarchy clear and unquestioned, all the relationships tried, tested and trusted, the atmosphere benign, all the paths well-trodden, every corner familiar, every livelihood assured, and off-loaded into the alienation and impersonality of a giant modern megapolis whose barren streets seem to go on forever, where every quarter is the same yet unfamiliar, where the dominant energy is fear and mistrust, where even near neighbours are strangers.
Professor E.A. Burtt writing about about what had happened says:
"It was of the greatest consequence for succeeding thought that now the great Newton's authority was squarely behind that view of the cosmos which saw in man a puny irrevelant spectator (insofar as a being wholly imprisoned in a dark room can be called such) of the vast mathematical system whose regular motions according to mechanical principles constituted the world of nature...The world that people had thought themselves living in - a world rich with colour and sound - a world of purposive harmony and creative ideals no longer existed except in imagination. The real world outside was a hard, cold, colourless, silent and dead world - a world of quantity, a world of mathematically computable motions in mechanical regularity. . . . In Newton, the Cartesian metaphysics . . . finally overthrew Aristotle and became the predominant world-view of modern times."
It was as if an impenetrable barrier had been erected between the spiritual and material. Belief in God, which had been an inextricable part, a given, of the human situation became at best an optional extra and increasingly frequently not an option at all. God became a hypothesis, an immaterial abstraction, a philosophical postulate, dependent upon argumentation for His very existence. And because of the way scientists explained away natural phenomena, making them merely a matter of analysis and calculation, the true unitary view of existence, that Qur'anic tawhid with which we started this talk, became to all intents and purposes completely inaccessible. Human beings, as the scientific world view inexorably imposed itself and permeated human consciousness, became cut off from true knowledge. Human consciousness became confined within the limits of the material universe. There were, of course, rare exceptions - God's mercy is inexhaustible - but for the overwhelmingly majority of people the scientific world view has proved an insuperable obstacle between themselves and a true view of existence.
Now what about the Muslims in all of this. Until the end of the 18th century, the physical and intellectual frontiers of Dar al-Islam proved resilient enough to withstand the onslaught of the new philosophy and the military might that came in its tow. However, the physical breach came with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1797 and within a very short time the intellectual barriers started to fall as well. Muslims began to make the pilgrimage to European universites for "higher" learning and European professors were invited to Muslim universites to teach. There was spirited resistance to this on the part of some clear-sighted traditional ‘ulama', whom as we can tell from what they said and wrote at the time, understood very well the direction that things were heading, but in vain. The flood could not be stemmed. As the caliphate weakened and government after government toppled, capitulated or compromised, traditional Muslim education was replaced by the European model, part and parcel of which was the Cartesian/Newtonian world view, with the result that now, a full traditional Muslim education is no longer available anywhere. As the education died out so of course did those trained within it. I have been privileged to meet one or two great men of knowledge educated without reference to this world view, but those I knew have died, may God have mercy on them, and there is no doubt that as a species they are all but extinct.
The scientific world view has now intruded into every aspect of life and every corner of the earth and our education merely serves to reinforce it and articulate it. All of us have been immersed in it since our childhood and none of us has escaped its influence. If anything, the Muslim is in a worse position than the non-Muslim, because the Muslims think that because they have the formulae of tawhid on their tongues they are somehow immune from the insidious effects of the scientific world view, if indeed they are aware that there are any. However in my experience, Muslims are just as susceptible to its destructive effects as non-Muslims and often more so. I have talked over the last twenty years to a great many Muslims about this matter and what I have found is that almost all of them have a completely Baconian approach to the subject. Science and religion occupy for them seperate spheres, different spaces in their consciousness. They speak about the truth of science being somehow distinct from the truth of religion. In the mosque and the Islamic students' society, they use one vocabulary and in the laboratory and classroom another. The scientific world view is necessarily based on Bacon's dictum that God only works in the universe through secondary causes. The God the Muslim worships in the mosque is the only Actor without intermediary in every phenomenon. These Muslims are leading double lives, often without being aware of it. It constitutes a kind of hidden shirk, and as such is very dangerous indeed to the spiritual health of those subject to it. And even worse than this you find Muslims interpreting and even justifying ayats of Qur'an with reference to scientific hypotheses that are at best half-truths and sometimes nothing more than speculative probablities.
No, there is no doubt that our understanding of tawhid has been weakened and corrupted by the dominant world view. Like almost everybody else, the modern Muslim has in fact divorced Allah from direct involvement in natural processes, seeing them only in terms of secondary causation, and is therefore precluded from seeing things as they really are. He too views existence through a Galilean telescope and sees a Newtonian mechanistic universe with a mind permeated by Cartesian dualism.
Well, if this were the whole story, the outlook, to borrow a metaphor from that bastion of the new philosophy, the weather forecast, would be gloomy indeed. But God's mercy is infinite, dawn follows the darkest night, there is no cloud that is not silver-lined. Beginning in the 16th century and becoming firmly established, as we have seen in the 17th, the new philosophy swept all before it throughout the 18th and 19th. Its practical application in science and technology, the ever increasing flood of inventions and discoveries banished every doubt and secured undreamed-of wealth and political domination from those who controlled them. The juggernaut proved unstoppable, scooping up or crushing everything in its path. Nothing was able to stand in its way.
And then as the 20th century got under way cracks started to appear in the previously unbreachable edifice of mechanistic science not inflicted from outside, there was nothing left with the strength to do it, but from within. That very matter, the solid substance upon which the whole edifice rested and of which it was supposedly built, was suddenly discovered to be quite other than had been supposed. That very spirit of enquiry and experimentation which had been the energy behind the new philosophy and had brought it into being was now to prove its undoing.
Rutherford and Bohr showed conclusively that the atom, the supposedly basic building block of existence, was mostly empty space. Max Planck showed that some of the basic premises of classical physics were mistaken. The proud edifice of classical physics was cracking everywhere, threatening to crash down on its practitioners. When Werner Heisenberg formulated his famous uncertainty principle, the cat was really among the pigeons.
Rutherford's atomic model, with its minute particles coursing through empty space, had given a severe jolt to the classical concept of solid matter. Its transformation into a diffuse wave pattern had made things even worse. These worries, however, were completely eclipsed by Heisenberg's uncertainty relation. Determinacy, the singular connection of cause and effect, was rightly regarded as the rock on which natural philosophy was built and now with Heisenberg this safe basis, this basic premise, had been taken away.
This whole revolution in the understanding of the nature of matter is as important for our understanding of the nature of existence as were the discoveries of the 17th century. Matter, rather than being the lifeless substance posited by Newton, mechanistically determined by being acted on by outside forces, turns out, at its very heart, to be composed of energy itself. Rather than being inert and predictable it is in fact highly dynamic and very mysterious. While the philosophical implications of all this have yet to make themselves generally felt in everyday life, they are certainly in evidence at the leading edge of every field of scientific enquiry. For the purpose of this talk, I will take one example as an illustration but the same applies in almost every other field of research.
In 1965, after more than ten years clinical research into the way human beings experience pain, Professor Patrick Wall published his Gate Control theory which has revolutionised understanding of this important area of medical knowledge. Before Wall's theory there had been no previous model of pain since that proposed by Descartes, significantly enough in the light of this talk, in 1664, whose ideas survived for three hundred years curiously intact in spite of their inapplicability to patients' actual experience of suffering. Such was the power of the dominant thinking. Descartes' theory simply was that pain travelled as a straight through pathway from the to the point of injury to the brain where it was perceived by the mind, as a bell-rope is pulled at the bottom of a tower causing a bell to ring in the belfry. Professor Wall, however, discovered many anomalies between this theory and people's actual experience of pain and in the spirit of the fresh avenues of thought opened up by the new scientific revolution came to see that the perceived sensation of pain could not in fact be considered separate from the perceiver.
"We came to the conclusion," he says of himself and his collaborator, Ronald Metzack, "that Cartesian dualism really is a philosophical trap, and that in fact what you are thinking and what you are feeling are so intimately connected that it is actually not useful to separate mind and body in this sense. They are really acting as a unity."
The "basic truths" of 17th century science have one by one been knocked down and shown to be a completely inadequate way of describing a physical reality vastly more complex, subtle and unified than had previously been supposed. Far from being the rigid barrier barring access to spiritual possibilities, a role it has been falsely playing for three centuries, matter turns out to be the very opposite. It is in fact a window onto, a gateway to, an access point for, a world which defies any definition in physical terms and which can only be explained in terms formerly reserved for spiritual realities.
The atomic physicist Frithjof Capra has expressed this in a particularly lucid and eloquent way, saying:
"When quantum mechanics - the theoretical foundation of atomic physics - was worked out in the 1920's, it became clear that even the sub-atomic particles were nothing like the solid objects of classical physics. . .At the sub-atomic level the solid material of classical physics dissolve into wave-like patterns of probablities . . .A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the sub-atomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities but can only be understood as correlations between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement. This implies, however, that the Cartesian division between the I and the world cannot be made while dealing with atomic matter. Quantum mechanics thus reveals a basic oneness of the Universe. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated basic building blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole and these relations always include the observer in an essential way."
So this is where our scientists have ended up but what about our philosophers? Philosophy no longer has the status it had at the beginning of the modern age because as we have seen the modern age has been largely devoted to quantity and practical considerations and so only those ideas that lead directly to practical results are really esteemed. However, some people have continued to think and Bacon, Descartes and Hobbes have had their successors. The philosophy that has emerged is a very specialised esoteric affair highly involved with semantics and linguistics with a very particular language that is quite inacessible to the uninitiated and largely trapped within a view of existence that never permits the philosopher to escape from his own ratiocination.
However, there has at the same time been a line of thinkers who were not entirely happy with the world view being propagated by Descartes and Newton and these philosophers have been continually struggling to break free from the shackles of dualism and materialism. This line can be traced down through Leibnitz, who quite literally came into conflict with Newton, and Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche and finally in this century to Martin Heidegger who was significantly a great friend of the physicist Heisenberg. Just as the great physical breakthrough came with Heisenberg, the philosophical breakthrough came with Heidegger. There is no time nor am I qualified to give even a resumé of Heidegger's conclusions, but suffice it to say that with Heidegger man is no longer considered as a mind in a physical body looking out on a separate world but as Dasein, literally being-there, a complex fusion of past, present and future and the world he lives in, only truly brought to life by the search for the meaning of Being itself, which is what gives existence to himself as one being among others. Heidegger says about Being itself:
"Being is what is emptiest and at tbe same time it is abundance, out of which all beings, known and experienced, or unknown and yet to be experienced, are endowed each with the essential form of its own individual being.
"Being is most universal, encountered in every being, and is therefore most common: it has lost every distinction or never possessed any. At the same time Being is most singular, whose uniqueness cannot be attained by any being whatsoever. Over and against every being that might stand out, there is always another just like it; that is another being, no matter how varied their forms may be. But Being itself has no counterpart.
"Being reveals itself to us in a variety of oppositions that cannot be coincidental, since even a mere listing of them points to their inner connection: Being is both utterly void and most abundant, most universal and most unique, most intelligible and most resistant to every concept, most in use and yet to come, most reliable and most abysial, most forgotten and most remembering, most said most reticent."
You would have to go a long way to find a clearer or more complete exposition of pure Unity than that contained in these few lines.
What is clear from this and the position reached by scientists at the leading edge of research is that the door to understanding the unity of existence is once again open. The history of Being, to use Hegel's expression, has reached a point where the prevailing climate of opinion has made tawhid, unitary knowledge, the true description of reality, once more accessible to human consciousness in a real way. Scientific truth no longer stands in opposition to metaphysical truth barring the way to a deeper understanding of the nature of existence. While the full implications of the quantum change in perspective have yet to filter down to the level of general consciousness the forest has been cleared and the path is open. And this is once more where the Muslims come into the picture.
Only Islam can provide the necessary spiritual, intellectual and physical framework to enable the opportunities made available by the breakthrough in science and philosophy to bear fruit and be used for the benefit and fulfillment of the human being. The other spiritual traditions are archaelogical fragments, incomplete or altered teachings intended for other peoples and former times. The philosophical tradition has worn itself out and become lost in details and abstractions. The scientific tradition is inhuman and appears bent on self-destruction. It is the final dispensation of divine guidance expressed in the Qur'an and demonstrated by the last of God's Messengers, Muhammad, that is the key to the future. It shows us the form that the unitary knowledge implicit in the emerging world view should take, how it should be expressed in each individual and society as a whole.
What I am saying is however no cause for self-congratulation on the part of the Muslims for they do not possess Islam nor exemplify it in any way that could make it serve the purpose to which I allude and for which it is intended.
There are basically three kinds of Muslims in the world today and they can be loosely categorised as traditionalists, modernists and fundamentalists although the categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
The traditionalists are Muslims who are happy with what they have received from their forbears. Their Islam is inextricably bound up with the history, culture and geographical location of the place where they live or from which they came. There is nothing wrong with this but it is not applicable to our present situation.
The modernists are those Muslims who strive to make Islam compatible with the modern world. The trouble with this is that as we have seen the modernist world-view is fundamentally incompatible with Islam and the modern age has now come to an end in any case.
The fundamentalists want to return to fundamentals; they want to go back to the Book and the Sunna, hoping to find in the past the key to the present. The trouble with this position is that the past can never be recovered and imitation of it can never be more than just that.
Most Muslims view Islam as a more or less rigid structure with an independent existence that you somehow get hold of and apply to the situation you are in it. The difference between the various types of Muslims concerns the exact shape that the structure is reckoned to take.
However, to view it in this way is to fundamentally misunderstand the Islamic phenomenon. Islam is not a structure, it is a process. It is not a template that came down out of the sky to be picked up and used again and again like a suit of clothes to be handed on from generation to generation, it is an organic growth pattern for human society. We could take the metaphor of an oak which starts as a shoot, becomes a sapling and matures into a magnificent tree giving food and shelter to many creatures and producing seeds. Some of these seeds, depending on the conditions will also, going through the same process, in their turn develop into mature oak trees. According to the type of soil, the amount of light and water, etc. these trees will flourish to a greater or lesser extent. Each one will be different but each one will at the same time be unmistakably an oak tree, just as the first one was, and also each in its turn will sooner or later die. But the process will continue.
What is needed now is a new growth of Islam completely distinct from any discrete form that Islam has taken in the past. We have to bring out a new growth of Islam from the very texture of our own time, an expression of Islam that will embrace and encompass and absorb and transform the classical tradition of Greece and the European tradition I have been talking about which has now reached to the point where it is once more potentially open to Divine Guidance.
We cannot go back to the Book and the Sunna. This would suggest that Allah's Book is a historical document, something from the distant past and that the Sunna was like an ancient suit of armour. The Qur'an is the uncreated word of Allah, outside space and time. We must rediscover the ayats in the present, reflect on them anew, seek out their light and energy and make them our springboard for the re-establishment of Allah's guidance. The Sunna is the archetypal record of how human perfection, in the person of the Prophet, salla'llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, turned divine guidance into a living reality and how he and his Companions, radiya'llahu 'anhum ajma'in, transformed themselves and their situation. To follow the Sunna, we must discover something of the qualities of the Prophet in ourselves, transform ourselves in the way the Companions did, transform our situation as they did theirs. In other words, we must go forwards to the Book and Sunna, not back to them. The people of our time need Islam freshly cooked, not reheated. We must have the thing itself not an imitation. Nothing else will do.
This is certainly not a task for the faint-hearted. It will require great courage, total commitment and absolute trust in Allah. What is needed is a new generation of Muslims who have jettisoned their pre-conceptions of Islam, new men and women ready and able to face the challenge of this new age, capable of transforming themselves and the society they live in, capable of breaking out of the enslaving enchantment of the modernist perspective with its illusory shadow-show politics and real economic domination, able to grasp the opportunities opened up by the new world view, determined to establish Allah's deen anew in all its simplicity and splendour. It is quite clear that the way is open and that there is no alternative course of action possible and if we do not take it on ourselves there are certainly other people who will.
Allah, may He be exalted, says in the Qur'an:
O you who believe,
Whoever of you turns from his deen,
Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love him,
humble towards the believers, uncompromising towards the kafirun,
who do jihad in the way of Allah and do not fear the blame of any critic.
That is the bounty of Allah which He gives to whomever He wills.
Allah is all-embracing, all-knowing.
Your friend and protector is only Allah, and His Messenger and those who believe,
who do the prayer and pay the zakat and bow themselves down.
Whoever takes as his friend Allah and His Messenger and those who believe,
the party of Allah, they are the ones who gain victory.
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