Raguel arbitrates between God and the spokesman for Muslims: A Response to Muhammad Iqbal’s Complaint & Answer (Shikwa – Jawab-e-Shikwa)

shikwa

Note: I originally wrote this poem, preceded by its description, as an assignment for one of my courses, whereby we were supposed to draft a creative or poetic response to any of the themes in Muhammad Iqbal’s Complaint and Answer (Shikwa – Jawab-e-Shikwa). Now, my poetic expression is admittedly low-quality but I still believed that the theme of Divine Justice I identified in these works and the discussion built around it is worth sharing.

Footnotes to the poem are crucial.

Description:

The main theme of this poem titled ‘Raquel Arbitrates between God and the Spokesman for Muslims’ is reflection on the conversation between God and Muslims particularly in light of the idea of Divine Justice, and that the essence of ‘Muslimness’, as per Iqbal’s conception, may not be unique to Muslims alone.

In this poem, the Archangel of Justice and Fairness takes over the task of arbitrating between God and Muslims, in the interests of restoring peace and harmony in the heavens and the Universe. He realizes that Ultimate powers of arbitration and dispensing Justice lie with God, but God Himself appearing as the accused party is a very unusual and striking situation for the angel, and he is left with no other choice but to intervene as a third party in order to resolve this conflict between God and the Muslims. After all, he has been trained in the Just ways of God, by God himself. Apart from adjudication, this Archangel’s role is also important in that he is deeply familiar with his main occupation: the principle of Justice, which leads him to repeatedly emphasize its importance to persuade the Muslims to reconsider their complaint and position.

In the Complaint, Muslims repeatedly lament their suffering disloyalty at the hands of God, and express their resentment over seeing God favour ‘others’ over Muslims. There tone is, for the most part, of a jilted and betrayed lover, to the point that they even refer to God at one place as ‘harjaayi’, which literally means someone who will go to anyone, an unfaithful lover; someone who enters into a relationship, and then terminates without a reason, to unite, temporarily or otherwise, with someone else. One of the verses in the Complaint, in Urdu, reads like: Rahmatai’n hai’n teri aghyaar kay kashaano’n par. A.J. Arberry translates it as ‘But the showers of Thy mercy other thirsting souls assuage’ (p. 16). I feel Khushwant Singh’s translation captured the sentiment more accurately: ‘Your blessings are showered on homes of unbelievers, strangers all’ (p. 41). This captures the dismay of Muslims seeing God bless ‘others’, who Muslims believe do not deserve to be favoured, since Muslims alone are supposedly the special, chosen people of God. There are various references to this sentiment: ‘Be it so; bid us gone and let the earth belong to others’ (Arberry, p.20); ‘Yet Thou too, alas, art changed, now us, now others favouring’ (Arberry, p.24); ‘But that infidels should own the houris and the palaces – ah, woe!’ (Arberry, p. 18). Raguel begins by recounting these complaints, by Muslims, of blessing ‘others’ as well as those of being abandoned by God. The Archangel finds it curious that the Muslims’ sense of entitlement mainly arises from their martial victories, or their imagination that since they spread the word of the God, they had entered into a perpetual covenant with God whereby they deserve to be protected, indulged, and esteemed for the eternity. So, Raguel inquires them of what else have they accomplished, in the fields of self-development and creative intellect for instance, to make their mark in the eyes of God. In Complaint, Muslims’ shock at seeing non-Muslims thrive mainly springs from their belief that unbelieving peoples, in terms of the Muslim conception, do not deserve God’s attention. Khanda-zan kufr hai ehsaas tujhe hai kay nahee’n: Disbelief is loud with laughter; art Thou deaf, indifferent? (Arberry, p.17). The use of ‘kufr’ is crucial because Muslim seems to highlight that the successes of non-Muslim nations in the fields of economy, politics, culture imply a victory of infidelity over Islam, which conjures up a dichotomy of Islam vs. Kufr, in which everything not Muslim is kufr, and vice versa. Raguel reminds the Muslim how this division is not entirely clear since Quran often refers to the word kufr to mean ingratitude, and it does not necessarily and invariably have theological connotations. Thus, I submit, an ungrateful Muslim (characterized by incessant ‘complaining’), too, can have the qualities of kufr, just as a non-Muslim can have the qualities of a ‘true Muslim’, as we shall see shortly. Raquel also chastises the Muslim in the court for repeatedly asserting that without his (Muslim’s) existence, God’s name would cease to be remembered; For Raquel this is arrogance of radical proportions and he analogizes it to that of his former colleague Azazil, later Iblis, who was expelled from the heavens because of such a heightened sense of self-importance and superiority.

Raquel then looks at the argument of the defendant – God – and notices that, to all these charges of infidelity, God responds precisely, on the mark, with the reiteration of his Law of Justice. ‘The Creator’s law is justice, out of all eternity/ Infidels who live like Muslims, surely merit faith’s reward’ (Arberry, p.48); and ‘If there were one deserving, We’d raise them to regal splendor/ To those who seek, We would unveil a new world of wonder’ (Singh, p.66). For Raquel, this short reminder is of such substantial significance that it brings the case on the verge of closure by highlighting how there was never a breach of promise by God, rather He unequivocally communicated to His creation that all efforts, irrespective of faith professed, shall be proportionately rewarded, and by that logic, lack of effort to be met with disappointment. God sees human as His co-creator in shaping the world. So for Iqbal, a true Muslim is the one who embodies ‘khudi’ which can be defined as the ‘realization and expansion of self-hood’, thus a non-Muslim who adopts these ‘Muslim’ qualities is promised commensurate success and reward. Thus, the boundary between Muslim and non-Muslim is not merely theological rather a non-Muslim can choose to adopt a Muslim lifestyle by exerting, relying on, and developing himself. Raquel poses to Muslims, how they can claim to love and know a God and yet be unfamiliar with His principles and promises of Justice, which is an essential part of God’s reality, and his Oneness. If they were acquainted with these precepts before, they would not find any logic in complaining about betrayal and neglect, rather they would look at their condition and that of others in the light of this very justice dispensed. Raquel also recounts Words of the God from the Quran, and finds it curious how the Muslim, even though when he professes nearness with the Quran, displays an appalling unfamiliarity with the principles laid out in it. To conclude, Raquel rules that the Muslim’s charges are weak and unfounded, since God has always been fairly explicit about his Principle of Justice, by virtue of which he blessed the ‘other’, and therefore He is not found guilty of cheating the Muslim.

-Sarah Khan

Raguel arbitrates between God and the spokesman for Muslims…

 

God, herein the accused, by Muslim a party aggrieved

Behold! Creator and created, entangled in a heated debate.

Though an intriguing spectacle, a rarity of a kind,

The unrest of it now must abate.

As the spirit of fairness and justice, the seeker of harmony, truth

After hearing both sides, I seek to adjudicate.

O Muslim, you blame your Lord,

For showering, upon unbelievers, His favors and grants.

Whilst you, the pious devotees, suffer His rage and neglect

And thus these resentful chants!

You brandish your victories with wars and swords,[1]

Can we hear, too, of thy creative, intellectual advance?

O brazen plaintiff, like a jealous lover

Charges of infidelity, towards God, you submit

For from you He snatched the world’s reins

And passed to ‘others’ whom you deem unfit,

Whilst you found yourself stranded, empty handed, mere promises

Your enemy brims with joyous riches, so enviously you covet

Conceitedly, you repeat: “Without our existence

The humankind would cease to remember Him.”

Such arrogant self-importance mirrors just the kind

That got Azazil exiled for refusing to submit to Adam

And God’s abandonment, you view as the smirking triumph of ‘kufr’

‘Kufr’ and this ingratitude, yet, could be one and the same[2]!

O God of all the worlds, comprehensible and unknown

To his accusations of infidelity, You reply with Your vital decree

Your law of Justice, eternal and universal

Rewards non-Muslims, for their Muslimness[3], equally

Those who seek, who work, and thus deserve

Are granted with splendor of powers that be

This jury then inquires you, O oblivious Muslim

That while you profess to uphold Tawhid, so you claim

How could you remain seemingly ignorant

Of Al-‘Adl, your Lord’s most striking name[4]?

Your God avers to be more than an entity Just,

But Justice and Him are to be one and the same

You declare you walked the earth

Holding Quran close to your heart

Open and Read; therein he says unmistakably He would not

Deal with anyone in ways unjust[5]

Nor does He wrong peoples

But it is they who themselves hurt[6]

Your case, O Muslim, turns weaker,

More on His Justice do we dwell,

That if you don’t exert to change your condition

He surely never will[7]

Where, then, do we find a promise violated

When He does not promise what He won’t fulfill[8]

Your God then bestows success

Upon ones who work for it

For Him a non-Muslim, assiduous and creative

Is a vicegerent, better than a sulky slothful Muslim

By a simple rule of Justice,

Not your forsaken fancy, nor His heedless whim.

Has it occurred to you, in the moments of introspection?

That according ‘unbelievers’ riches, the favours and the reins of the world

Merely springs from His promise of Divine Justice

They appeared more deserving, more striving – thus more Muslim – in eyes of your Lord

Thus the premise of your complaint

Breaks and falls apart

When he spoke these words eternal:

Nought shall be granted unto human but what he is striving for[9]

He addressed to humankind: believers, unbelievers alike

Are you unfamiliar with the ways of your God whom you claim to adore?

That glorious past, the lost esteem, you may well restore

If you complain less, and strive more

To the standards of justice, thy allegations do not hold

So close the case, to turn a leaf anew

Thus make your peace, and cure your fancies

For thy Lord hasn’t broken a covenant with you

Your understanding of the covenant, His principles and promises,

Merely turned out to be flawed: deluded, untrue

 

 

[1] From fifth to tenth stanzas in the Complaint, there are repeated references to the martial accomplishments of Muslims, and little or no mention of accomplishments in the field of science, literature, intellect, knowledge, creativity etc.

[2] The Complaint mentions that ‘kufr’ smirks at the losing Muslims; ironically ‘kufr’ does not necessarily mean theological dividing line between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is used in the Quran (14:7) in the sense of denoting ingratitude. I submit, when Muslims refuse to acknowledge favors granted to them and incessantly ‘complain’, they can also be accused of ‘kufr’.

[3] A term to denote that being Muslim, for Iqbal, does not merely entail professing shahadah, but it also involves a sense of self-respect, struggle, personal growth and development, a set of attitudes that can fairly well be embodied by non-Muslims.

[4] Al-‘Adl is one of Allah’s ninety-nine attributes which implies that God is Justice. Adl, in itself, means justice; Justice, therefore, is not merely a characteristic of Allah, but rather Allah is the embodiment, the realization of Justice. Therefore, anyone claiming to know Allah cannot miss this aspect of his existence.

[5] Translations by Muhammad Asad: Quran 18:49; For they will find all that they ever wrought [now] facing them, and [will know that] thy Sustainer does not wrong anyone.

[6] Quran 16:118; And no wrong did We do to them, but it was they who persistently wronged themselves.

[7] Quran 13:11; Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves.

[8] Quran 3:194; Verily, Thou never failest to fulfil Thy promise!

[9] Quran 53:39; And that nought shall be accounted unto man but what he is striving for.

Schleiermacher’s Theory of Religion: Feeling, in Relation to Knowledge and Activity, and how it can inform the study of religion

schleiermacher

Note: I am reproducing this article which I originally wrote as a report over one my course readings. Friedrich Schleiermacher was a German theologian and philosopher; he wrote this book in 1893 to address the Western European intellectuals’ criticism towards religion. I particularly enjoyed his conception of religion and reflected on how it can inform our study of religion in the modern age.

 

“The sum total of religion is to feel that, in its highest unity, all that moves us in feeling is one; to feel that aught single and particular is only possible by means of this unity; to feel, that is to say, that our being and living is a being and living in and through God” (p. 50). Schleiermacher puts feeling or intuition – of unity with God – at the heart of religion such that “religion’s essence is neither thinking nor acting but intuition and feeling” (p. 22). In this paper, we will examine the argument behind Schleiermacher’s conception of the essence of religion as a feeling and piety, its relation with knowledge and activity, and analyze how this conception differs from and impacts the popular understanding and examination of religion.

Religion as a feeling: Schleiermacher is not interested in tracing the historical origin of religion as certain anthropological, psychological, or sociological approaches to religion attempt to do, instead he maintains that in order to truly understand religion, one “must transport oneself into the interior of a pious soul and seek to understand its inspiration. In the very act you must understand the production of light and heat in a soul surrendered to the Universe” (p. 18). Thus for Schleiermacher, religion is this ‘surrender to the Universe’ and not a system, in that he does not consider the theological and doctrinal frameworks erected around the religious feeling to be real religion. “Blame those who corrupt religion, who flood it with an army of formulas and definitions, and seek to cast it into the fetters of a so-called system” (p. 55). By highlighting the dissimilarity between true religion and mere systems, Schleiermacher addresses the critique of religion developed by the ‘cultural despisers’ who, according to Schleiermacher, are only criticizing the systems of religion, which may or may not be truly representative of the kernel of religion. By emphasizing on religion as an experiential category, a feeling or intuition, Schleiermacher has been evidently keen to disentangle it from the domains of knowledge/perception and activity/morality. After establishing that religion is not particularly a way of thinking or acting as asserted by its ‘despisers’, Schleiermacher goes on to suggest that religion is essentially contemplative

but this contemplation is not turned, as your knowledge of nature is, to the existence of a finite thing, combined and opposed to another finite thing… The contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things, in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal. Religion is to seek this and find it in all that lives and moves, in all growth and change, in all doing and suffering. It is to have life and to know life in immediate feeling, only as such an existence in the Infinite and Eternal… Yet religion is not knowledge and science, either of the world or of God. Without being knowledge, it recognizes knowledge and science. In itself it is an affection, a revelation of the Infinite in the finite, God being seen in it and it in God. (p. 36).

This sums up Schleiermacher’s view that religious contemplation is not finite as scientific contemplation might be, rather it is marked by an immediate feeling, and an affection or feeling oneness with the Infinite, Eternal or God. Even though knowledge may be informed by religion or piety, religion is not to be deemed as any form of knowledge. Religion can thus be seen as the mediatory force between theoretical and practical, between finite and Infinite, but not a combination of the two.

Description of piety: An immediate but fleeting feeling with the infinite world, for Schleiermacher, is the true sphere of religion (p. 41). He describes piety as an immediate union with the Divine which dissipates as soon as the individual becomes conscious of it. This feeling of God-consciousness as well as the oneness with the Infinite universe, rather than parochial particularism or ego-centric conduct, is what Schleiermacher deems as piety. “Your feeling is piety in so far as it is expresses the being and life common to you and to the All. Your feeling is piety in so far as it the result of the operation of God in you by means of the operation of the world upon you” (p. 45).

Relation with knowledge and activity: Both knowledge and activity, the interplay of which constitutes human life for Schleiermacher, are marked by “a desire to be identified with the Universe through an object.” (p.44). Objects pressing upon us to create perceptions is knowledge whereas activity is when we leave our impress upon the world and reflect ourselves in the objects. Thus for Schleiermacher scientific life springs out of knowledge and moral life out of activity. Piety on the other hand is a rejuvenating impulse for both these domains of knowledge and activity; for Schleiermacher, religion is a third sphere whose existence is essential; it is neither entirely independent of, nonetheless, nor identical with science and ethics (p. 41). Schleiermacher makes a remarkable distinction between religion and the knowledge about religion which means theological or doctrinal principles: “These feelings are exclusively the elements of religion… wherefore it follows that ideas and principles are all foreign to religion… if ideas and principles are to be anything, they must belong to knowledge which is a different department of life from religion” (p. 46). Viewing the products of religion as science and religion at the same time, for Schleiermacher, leads to what he considers vain mythology (p. 49). Schleiermacher is of the opinion that “scientific treatment of religion” is merely knowledge about religion and not religion itself, because if theological ideas are not a reflection of a person’s own feeling, they must be externally imposed, forcefully learnt and hence rendered void and stripped off of the true essence of religion, as per Schleiermacher. It is important to appreciate Schleiermacher’s distinction between religion and knowledge in order to understand his claims of difference between religious feeling and religious systems. Just as Schleiermacher distinguishes between knowledge and religion, he also separates activity from religion, such that any acts, moral or physical, committed in the name of religion would not be considered religious by him. He maintains that religion, by virtue of being pure feeling, does not urge humans to activity at all; piety or the feeling of consciousness of the Infinite is passive as opposed to the active concerns of morality. Piety has also a passive side. “While morality always shows itself as manipulating, as self-controlling, piety appears as a surrender, a submission to be moved by the Whole that stands over against man” (p. 36)

Ends of religion: For Schleiermacher, the goal of religion is not establishing a just society, a perception of immorality among individuals, or attempting to conceive God; such attempts for him are “seldom entirely pure and always inadequate… Religion is in the midst of finitude to be one with the Infinite and in every moment to be eternal in the immortality of religion.” (p. 101). Since religion, for Schleiermacher, is grounded in feeling, he makes his point that each individual would access this feeling in his own unique way, hence for him in religion there is no place for “the bald uniformity which would destroy this divine abundance” (p.55). For Schleiermacher, even philosophy brings its followers to common knowledge, however “there is in religion such a capacity for unlimited manysidedness in judgment and in contemplation as is nowhere else to be found…Religion is the natural and sworn foe of all narrow-mindedness” (p. 56). It is interesting to note how Schleiermacher reconciles universality and particularity by terming religious feeling as a feeling of union with and surrender to the Universal and the Whole, and also allows individuals unique and particular ways to experience that feeling. According to Schleiermacher, the charges of narrow-mindedness advanced towards religion are, again, a consequence of confusion between religion and theology, the former being a feeling and the latter a mere branch of knowledge.

Approaching religion: Schleiermacher’s approach towards religion is inward as opposed to outward, as he suggests to view the “interior of a pious soul” to understand religion, by which he suggests the individual experience as truly representative of religion. This differs from the mainstream method of examining religion through either studying doctrines and commentaries, or critiques of religion as well as propositions of its historical origins developed by non-religious philosophers. Schleiermacher would not discourage this approach per se, but he would insist that this is only a way of acquiring more knowledge, and it should not be considered as if it enhances understanding of the essence of religion. Since all other disciplines are studied as they are, Schleiermacher would contend that similar treatment should be advanced towards religion as well instead of approaching it as if it were science. This can be taken to suggest that if one wants to examine religion, one needs to understand it first, and this understanding is more effective if it comes from within i.e. the individual feelings and motivations behind the experience of religion, rather than without i.e. critiques of externally imposed constraints in the name of religion. Schleiermacher would suggest that studying the critiques of religion contributes nothing towards understanding religion, because these critiques are in fact only a product of confounding systems of religion with the true religion, and that these critiques have been advanced by the remote observers of the religious traditions and not by those who have experienced the religious feeling first-hand.

Whereas most approaches towards religion in the beginning of twentieth century attempted to trace the historical origin of religion, and viewed it as a result of an encounter with the external world, Schleiermacher seems to propose a different approach to studying religion whereby he accepts religion to be a necessary, essential and eternal part of human existence, which, instead of tracing the historical or anthropological explanations of religion, focuses its attention on human and his religious experiences. This can perhaps be termed as subjective or traditionalist approach to studying religion. Schleiermacher’s view of religion also goes against modernist approaches to religion that – because of their viewing the world through the lens of rationalism – tend to deny or doubt everything that appears to be supernatural or non-rational. Schleiermacher seems to accept, as the starting point of understanding religion, the supra-rational nature of religion, as he talks at length about religion being the expression of human’s subconscious and non-rational thought, and abstract, metaphysical principles such as union with the Infinite, and the universal state of consciousness as the religious feeling. This conception of religious feeling may be diametrically opposed to popular psychological or anthropological explanations of feelings that view emotions as self-seeking, rational, or inward-looking.

Whereas some popular approaches to religion tend to view it as a means to the attainment of certain social ends such as perception of immortality amongst individuals, or justice and morality in the society, Schleiermacher, on the other hand, considers the notion of religion having a purpose beyond itself as “degradation” (p. 20). For him, religion has no outer task or utility but it is an end in itself: and that end is to create, among individuals, a “sense for the unity of the original source of life” (p. 55) and the “love for the World-Spirit” (p. 65). Interestingly, for Schleiermacher, it is true that moral action springs from piety, but that is incidental, and morality is not the purpose of piety. Schleiermacher’s conception of religion as a feeling – of a merger with the Divine- which mediates between Universal and the particular can also inform the study of religions in that all religions can be viewed as trajectories springing from the same Divine source, but manifesting in different ways.

In sum, we have examined Schleiermacher’s conception of religion as a feeling and described, at length, the nature of that feeling from which the notion of piety entails. We have then looked at Schleiermacher’s distinction between religion, activity and knowledge, which is important because this distinction has helped Schleiermacher distinguish between religion and systems of religion, and also helped him to establish that the ends of religion are not to be considered to lie in the sphere of activity or morality. In the end, we attempted to view how Schleiermacher’s approach towards religion is different from other popular methods, and how his approach gives us an insight into looking at religion differently as an experiential category.

References

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. Trans. John Oman. New York: Harper, 1958. Print.