the essence of Islamic civilization: Metaphysics and Ethics
No Comments
Share Topic

Ismail Farouqi

Tawhid as First Principle of Metaphysics
To witness that there is no God but God is to hold that He alone is the Creator Who gave to everything its being, Who is the ultimate Cause of every event, and the final End of all that is, that He is the First and the Last. To enter into such witnessing in freedom and conviction, in conscious understanding of its content, is to realize that all that surrounds us, whether things or events, all that takes place in the natural, social, or psychic fields, is the action of God, the fulfillment of one or another of His purposes. Once made, such realization becomes second nature to man, inseparable from him during all his waking hours. One then lives all the moments of one’s life under its shadow. And where man recognizes God’s commandment and action in every object and event, he follows the divine initiative because it is God’s. To observe it in nature is to do natural science.22 For the divine initiative in nature is none other than the immutable laws with which God had endowed nature.23 To observe the divine initiative in one’s self or in one’s society is to pursue the humanities and the social sciences.24 And if the whole universe itself is really the unfolding or fulfillment of these laws of nature, which are the commandments of God and His will, then the universe is, in the eye of the Muslim, a living theater set in motion by God’s command. The theater itself, as well as all that it includes, is explicable in these terms. The unity of God means therefore that He is the Cause of everything, and that none else is so.
Of necessity, then, tawhid means the elimination of any power operative in nature beside God, whose eternal initiative are the immutable laws of nature. But this is tantamount to denying any initiative in nature by any power other than that which is innate in nature, such as magic, sorcery, spirits, and any theurgical notion of arbitrary interference into the processes of nature by any agency. Therefore, tawhid means the profaning of the realms of nature, their secularization. And that is the absolutely first condition of a science of nature. Through tawhid, therefore, nature was separated from the gods and spirits of primitive religion. Tawhid for the first time made it possible for the religio-mythopoeic mind to outgrow itself, for the sciences of nature and civilization to develop with the blessing of a religious worldview that renounced once and for all any association of the sacred with nature. Tawhid is the opposite of superstition or myth, the enemies of natural science and civilization. Tawhid gathers all the threads of causality and returns them to God rather than to occult forces. In so doing, the causal force operative in any event or object is organized so as to make a continuous thread whose parts are causally — and hence empirically — related to one another. That the thread ultimately refers to God demands that no force outside of it interferes with the discharge of its causal power or efficacy. This in turn presupposes the linkages between the parts to be causal, and subjects them to empirical investigation and establishment. That the laws of nature are the inimitable patterns of God means that God operates the threads of nature through causes. Only causation by another cause that is always the same constitutes a pattern. This constancy of causation is precisely what makes its examination and discovery — and hence, science — possible. Science is none other than the search for such repeated causation in nature, for the causal linkages constitutive of the causal thread are repeated in other threads. Their establishment is the establishment of the laws of nature. It is the prerequisite for subjecting the causal forces of nature to control and engineering, the necessary condition for man’s usufruct of nature.
Tawhid as First Principle of Ethics
Tawhid affirms that the unique God created man in the best of forms to the end of worshipping and serving Him.25 This means that man’s whole existence on earth has as its purpose the obedience of God, the fulfillment of His command. Tawhid also affirms that this purpose consists in man’s vicegerency for God on earth.26 For, according to the Qur’an, God has invested man with His trust, a trust which heaven and earth were incapable of carrying and from which they shied away with fear.27 The divine trust is the fulfillment of the ethical part of the divine will, whose very nature requires that it be realized in freedom, and man is the only creature capable of doing so. Wherever the divine will is realized with the necessity of natural law, the realization is not moral, but elemental or utilitarian. Only man is capable of realizing it under the possibility of doing or not doing so at all, or doing the very opposite or anything in between. It is this exercise of human freedom regarding obedience to God’s commandment that makes fulfillment of the command moral.
Tawhid affirms that God, being beneficent and purposive, did not create man in sport, or in vain. He endowed him with the senses, with reason and understanding, made him perfect ? indeed, breathed into him of His spirit28 — to prepare him to perform this great duty.
Such great duty is the cause for the creation of man. It is the final end of human existence, man’s definition, and the meaning of his life and existence on earth. By virtue of it, man assumes a cosmic function of tremendous importance. The cosmos would not be itself without that higher part of the divine will which is the object of human moral endeavor. And no other creature in the cosmos can substitute for man in this function. Man is the only cosmic bridge by which the moral ? and hence higher ? part of the divine will may enter the realm of space?time and become history.
The responsibility or obligation (taklif) laid down upon man exclusively knows no bounds. It comprehends the whole universe. All mankind is object of man’s moral action; all earth and sky are his theater, his material. He is responsible for all that takes place in the universe, in every one of its remotest corners. For man’s taklif or obligation is universal, cosmic. It comes to end only on the Day of Judgment.
Taklif, Islam affirms, is the basis of man’s humanity, its meaning, and its content. Man’s acceptance of this burden puts him on a higher level than the rest of creation, indeed, than the angels. For, only he is capable of accepting responsibility. It constitutes his cosmic significance. A world of difference separates this humanism of Islam from other humanisms. Greek civilization, for instance, developed a strong humanism which the West has taken as a model since the Renaissance. Founded upon an exaggerated naturalism, Greek humanism deified man, as well as his vices. That is why the Greek was not offended by representing his gods as cheating and plotting against one another, as committing adultery, theft, incest, aggression, jealousy and revenge, and other acts of brutality. Being part of the very stuff of which human life is made, such acts and passions were claimed to be as natural as the perfections and virtues. As nature, both were thought to be equally divine, worthy of contemplation in their aesthetic form, of adoration — and of emulation by man of whom the gods were the apotheosis. Christianity, on the other hand, was in its formative years reacting to this very Greco-Roman humanism. It went to the opposite extreme of debasing man through “original sin” and declaring him a “fallen creature,” a “massa peccata“.29
The degrading of man to the level of an absolute, universal, innate, and necessary state of sin from which it is impossible for any human ever to pull himself up by his own effort was the logical prerequisite if God on High was to incarnate Himself, to suffer, and die in atonement for man’s sinfulness. In other words, if a redemption has to take place by God, there must be a predicament so absolute that only God could pull man out of it. Thus human sinfulness was absolutized in order to make it “worthy” of the Crucifixion of God. Hinduism classified mankind into castes, and assigned the majority of mankind to the nethermost classes — of “untouchables” if they are native to India, or malitcha, the religiously unclean or contaminated of the rest of the world. For the lowest as well as for the others, there is no rise to the superior, privileged caste of Brahmins in this life; such mobility is possible only after death through the transmigration of souls. In this life, man necessarily belongs to the caste in which he is born. Ethical striving is of no consequence whatever to its subject as long as he is alive in this world. Finally, Buddhism judged all human and other life in creation as endless suffering and misery. Existence itself, it held, is evil and man’s only meaningful duty is to seek release from it through discipline and mental effort.
The humanism of tawhid alone is genuine. It alone respects man as man and creature, without either deification or vilification. It alone defines the worth of man in terms of his virtues, and begins its assessment of him with a positive mark for the innate endowment God has given all men in preparation for their noble task. It alone defines the virtues and ideals of human life in terms of the very contents of natural life, rather than denying them, thus making its humanism life-affirmative as well as moral.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *