Reflections on the Islamic Ethic of Animal Sacrifice and Meat-eating

Indonesian Muslims Celebrate Eid Al-Adha
 (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

 

P.S. : This is a Rambling-on-Facebook-status-turned-blog-post.

A few gentle reminders to myself first and foremost, and friends and family at home celebrating ‘Id al-Adha 🙂

The whole idea of pronouncing God’s name over the animal while killing it for the purposes of food is not just a ritual to officially legitimize the slaughter; the wisdom underlying this is for us to develop not only an ecological sensitivity but also understand the gravity and implications of the idea that you are taking the life of a fully-fledged sentient being, a breathing creature of God, and it is by no means a trivial matter.

Let us be mindful this ‘Id that a large number of Prophet’s sayings deal with admonitions and rules regarding a sensitive concern for animals, their treatment, rights, natural dignity and interestingly even their unique individual identities (!).

Traditionally, Muslims would deem it ideal to slaughter their animals by themselves, rather than hiring a butcher or conveniently receiving their meat on the kitchen-counter heedless if any unethical practice went into the production of their meat and completely oblivious to the process we all like to call a ‘sacrifice’ without really asking the question as to what really did ‘we’ sacrifice, and without really fully understanding the essence and import of what a sacrifice must entail.

The corpus of Hadith also presents very detailed ethics of slaughtering prescribed by the Prophet, because for someone who wiped the mouth of his animals with his personal cloth and urged tying them with a long rope to avoid causing them discomfort, it is only natural to expect the exhortations for minimum suffering. When slaughtering your animal for food, “use a good method” he said, and that give it “as little pain as possible”. According to this Prophetic tradition, it is reprehensible to slaughter one animal in front of the other, or to even sharpen your knife in front of an animal. “Do you wish to slaughter the animal twice: once by sharpening your blade in front of it and another time by cutting its throat?” “How many deaths do you intend that this animal should die? Why did you not sharpen your knife before you put the animal down?” We could tell from these exhortations that the Prophet was sensitive not only to the bodily pain of the cattle but also to their psychological suffering; thus, according to fiqh-legislation it is makruh to unnecessarily augment the pain of the animal, physical or psychological.

Another wisdom inherent in the suggested necessity of personally handling your own Dhabh (sacrifice) is to closely observe and feel on your skin the immense magnitude of the idea of killing a sentient being of God, that this process has deep symbolic meaning, and that it cannot be carried on mindlessly, immoderately, and unnecessarily to satisfy the meat addictions and immoderate appetites of the affluent.

This is perhaps a good opportunity to bring up an important related idea: Despite the common assumption that meat eating, particularly cow meat, is an integral part of Muslim life; and in the context of South Asia, even synonymous to being Muslim, Prophet Muhammad has been described by traditional Islamic scholars as a semi-vegetarian as evident from the study of his sira, someone who never ate beef (and as Muslims we believe there has to be a hikmah in whatever the Prophet did), and ate other types of meat only very rarely on special occasions. This is not to push vegetarianism or reconcile it with Islam for we all know Prophet’s most preferred piece of meat was a lamb’s shoulder 🙂, but to reflect on whether or not excessive meat consumption is in line with Islamic ethics. Various madhhabib (schools of law) of Islam even stipulate the ideal amounts of meat intake which can sometimes look like ‘once a week’ (!). The idea is moderation and mindfulness, and not swearing off.

This is also to reflect on the health problems caused by excessive meat consumption and the unethical practices associated with meat production in the context of the modern world, and to be always reminded of the Quranic injunction “do not transgress the balance” (55:9).

Let us be generous this year with the portions of our ‘id meat prescribed for the poor and under-fed, and when running into the risk of ‘id celebration, or our lives in general, descending into an orgy of meaty gluttony, it might be helpful to remember these telling words by Imam ‘Ali in which he urges us to “not make your stomach a graveyard of animals.”

Also, let us be reminded that the essence of sacrifice on ‘Id is to commemorate an event which urges believers to be willing to sacrifice their most cherished possessions if that is what God wills from them. A logical prerequisite to genuinely living this spirit on ‘Id is to be able to cherish your qurbani animals first, viewing them as much a handiwork of God as we consider ourselves to be, and thus as much worthy of ethical treatment as prescribed by sunnah.

On a comical (and a slightly politically incorrect) note: in our traditional belief-system, cattle is happy to be made useful as food for human inasmuch as it can become, in the form of energy, part of a pious, God-conscious, individuals. So, if you are a horrible human being, you are probably doing gross injustice to a mute creature anyway by going against its most important desires, and should probably consider swearing off meat altogether. *laughs*

Have an infinitely happy, blessed, and deeply God-conscious ‘Id.

‘Id Mubarak 🙂

 

 

Jesus Christ & a Religion Based on Empathy

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Drawing credits: Me , Text reads a verse by Faiz: Tera husn dast-e-Isa, teri yaad ru-e-Maryam

Even though the Christian Bible is filled with Jesus’ acts and words urging selfless behavior and unconditional love towards righteous and sinner alike, I identified an overwhelming emphasis on the virtue of empathy in his model and teachings, even though the word empathy itself has not been mentioned anywhere explicitly in the text but implied: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Empathy is generally defined as attempting to understand someone’s situation or feelings by identifying oneself with them, or imagining oneself in their place. So, empathy is evident even in the terms a command as basic as “love thy neighbor” has been formulated: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”” (Galatians 5:14).  It is interesting to note that this urges not just to love your neighbor in any extent, for that could have been understood to mean that even loving slightly or being faintly concerned about them was enough. But this adds an empathetic sense to the command by stressing that one’s love and concern for the neighbor should be matched by one’s concern for one’s own comforts.

The following formulation “do not do unto others what you would not want to be done unto you” has been attributed to Jewish rabbis as well as Confucius’ thought. However, it is interesting how Jesus takes this formulation and transforms it from a command to refrain into a command to act: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law of the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). One can spend a life of inaction and become complacent, deeming oneself to be virtuous on account that one is not causing anybody else any harm. Thus, merely avoiding action which causes others harm is not enough, but you should proactively work and seek to benefit them in ways you want to be benefitted, even if it means suffering to bring good for others: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This attitude is clearly evident in Jesus’ own lifestyle whereby he not only sympathized with the helpless (“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36)) but also went around helping the weak and curing the sick: “This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). In fact, it can be argued that the whole idea of Jesus suffering for the sins of others is grounded in the virtue of empathy: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). An act of empathy would also include that instead of preoccupying oneself with one’s own salvation, one should also encourage others to do good and thus effect their salvation as well: “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrew 10:24-25). Thus, the principle of empathy can be identified working behind almost all aspects of social ethic preached by Jesus.

 

Exodus in Hebrew Bible: Political Liberation or Spiritual Liberation?

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Clearly, the event of Exodus was an incredible event of political liberation whereby God emancipated the enslaved Jews from the strongest powers of Egypt and created a sense of Israelite nationalism in them. It is interesting to note that this political liberation cannot be attributed to any intrinsic motivation for freedom or victory within the Jews themselves (which can be seen in their murmurings against Moses first when he asks Pharaoh for their freedom and later when they are led by him through the wilderness – Ex 16) but to Yahweh’s intervention, which in turn can be attributed to Yahweh’s overwhelming concern for the Jews, owing to His covenant with Abraham, and the hardships imposed on them by Pharoah: “And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them” (Ex 2:25). Nationalism generally entails patriotic sentiments for one’s own people, but it can also constitute a strongly exclusive feeling of superiority over other peoples. Clearly Yahweh’s choosing Jews over Egyptians naturally engendered this latter strain of Jewish nationalism: “And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians” (Ex 11:3), “and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex 16:6).

However, can the Jews’ successful attainment of political freedom from Pharaoh be seen as an absolute freedom for them from all restraints? Can we identify an element of spiritual liberation in the event of Exodus? Clearly, Exodus had to be followed by a strong sense of gratitude and worship towards another stronger power: “When they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Ex 4:31).  It is telling that Moses was instructed by God to repeat the following refrain to Pharaoh: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex 9 – emphasis added). This suggests that, in Exodus’s direct corollary, the Jews were essentially going from serving Pharaoh to serving another power, the Yahweh. Arguably, this was not an absolute freedom rather a different type of servitude. Yahweh’s power, goodness, help, and miraculous intervention was not unconditional rather it placed strict expectations and laws, the Ten Commandments, from the Jews in return. Also, God reminded the Jews to always remember this day of Exodus and that their freedom from bondage was due to the power of His hand so He expects all Israelites to sanctify everything unto Him, and every human and animal born in Israel belongs to Him, and that they will have no leavened bread (13:1-3).

In the first glimpse, it appears that the event of Exodus proved quite costly to the Jews in terms of them ending up being subject to an extensive set of restrictions in their new-found ‘freedom’. However, when God commanded “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3), it signifies that Jews were emancipated from all earthly powers only to submit themselves to one higher Divine Power. This submission to Yahweh was not going to be a humiliating experience as the enslavement by Pharaoh was, rather this surrender to the Divine was going to exalt Jews above all the peoples and distinguish them from the rest. In this sense, submitting to God can be seen as an instance of spiritual liberation, because it entails following the Divine law, instead of human subjugation, and finding strength in it. “The Lord is my strength and song, / And He is become my salvation” (Ex 15:2). The dietary restrictions as well as prohibitions from adultery, murder, theft, lying, and envy can be considered by some as commandments militating against absolute human freedom. However, if we view them as intending to emancipate human beings or Jews in particular, from enslavement to the primal instincts of their base self and the state of nature, they can be unequivocally considered by the Jews as leading to a spiritual freedom. This is a spiritual freedom which regulates morality through law and is illustrated by the famous formulation: “the wise restraints that make men free.”

To conclude, if we define spiritual liberation as a freedom from earthly control in favor of a Divine power, or as a freedom from chaotic human instincts in favor of a Divinely-ordained order, then we can see this spiritual freedom as a corollary of Exodus. However, if we define spiritual freedom as freedom to seek out God on one’s own terms, then we fail to find this kind of freedom in Exodus because the laws ordained to please God are very precise and very exacting.

The Analogy of Water in Tao Te Ching

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In Tao Te Ching, Tao is described as a “deep pool that never dries” (ch.4). In some places, it appears that Tao, though incomprehensible, refers to an Ultimate Reality behind all existence; in other places it appears as a way of life or ‘the highest good’ that individuals are encouraged to inculcate by imbibing the power of the former Tao. For me, the most interesting metaphor in Tao Te Ching was the analogy of water to describe Tao and to illustrate the model of ideal Taoist behavior.

I identified two, distinct yet interrelated, facets of the aforementioned water metaphor. Hence, water becomes a symbol of: i) virtues of humility, benevolence and inactivity ii) leadership and governance methods, and the ability to overcome obstacles.

  1. i) “The highest good is like that of water. The goodness of water is that it benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the places that all men disdain. It is this that makes water so near to the Way” (ch.8). Thus, selflessness and willingness to be indiscriminately useful to others can be considered one of the highest goods. Moreover, highest good entails not being over-assertive, not striving to appear on the fore, or not obsessing with getting ahead, but effortlessly adapting to one’s surrounding and surrendering oneself to natural forces (force of gravity in case of water) and being satisfied with being on a low ground, ever-humble, at the same time effectively providing essential support to everyone. The sage avoids positive action “working only through the power of Tao, which alone cuts without wounding” (ch.2). From this I understood to mean that the wise person avoids acting in attention-seeking ways but still manages to make a significant mark in the world. Nonetheless, letting oneself go does not entail being ineffective or purposeless: “The sage just because he never at any time makes a show of greatness in fact achieves greatness” (ch.34) and “By this very inactivity, everything can be activated” (ch.48).[1] Thus, from water, one can learn virtues of a soft yielding nature that seem to bring inner contentment at the personal or individual level. Fascinatingly, stillness of water is concomitant with its clarity: “which of you can assume such murkiness, to become in the end still and clear” (ch.15), which can be correspondingly seen as a reference to the stillness of mind and senses, as in meditation, leading to clarity of thought.
  2. ii) The second aspect of water metaphor seems to have a firmer quality and a social dimension to it in that it seems to teach about the ability to overcome obstacles (by flowing around them) and an effective method of governance (following or remaining low). “What is of all things most yielding, Can overwhelm that which is of all things most hard.”(ch.43). “Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water; but when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail. For they can find no way of altering it” (Ch. 78). This verse highlights the fascinating paradox of water that despite being the most yielding substance, it can cut through mountains through perseverance. For instance, in case of an obstacle in its way, the water continues to flow around it forming new channels at the same time eroding the edges of the obstacle and altering its shape in the process, and in the end it is the water that prevails. Attempting to translate this symbolism into human social conduct, the first example that strikes to me is that of overlooking or forgiving a person even if he advertently caused the most serious damage or loss to you, which may perhaps melt his heart and make him regretful of his actions and desirous of being friends with you (deeply reminiscent of Quran 41:34). Water can also be instructive in demonstrating leadership qualities: “How did the great rivers and seas get their kingship over the hundred lesser streams? Through the merit of being lower than they; that was how they got their kingship” (ch.66). This chapter explains that in order to be above the people, one must act in ways whereby one appears lower than the people. Also, a good general “fulfils his purpose but without violence” (ch.30). Thus a good leader can emulate the non-arrogant and non-violent qualities of water and still be able to achieve his purposes; a humble and kind ruler will draw the love of his followers which is arguably more enduring than evoking fear (though Machiavelli would disagree).

In conclusion, water seems to illustrate virtues with both a soft/individual and a firm/social dimension, although the latter appears to be derived from and built on the former. Taoist advocacy of inactivity cannot be seen either as an end in itself or as a resigned passivity, but as a means towards the end of activating inner powers that affect the world in imperceptible ways. This appears to be a world quite different from our own which increasingly values continuous perceptible activity as a sign of progress.

[1] I could not help but be reminded of these verses, which now strike as quite Taoist, from my favourite poem by Robert Frost: “Beware of coming too much to the surface / And using for apparel what was meant/ To be the curtain of the inmost soul.”

Filial Piety in Analects: Importance, and Ethical and Political Dimensions

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Coming from a Muslim background, I had been under the impression that Islamic tradition’s emphasis on respecting one’s parents is strikingly exacting: for example certain Quranic verses (such as 17:23) enjoin the reader to not even utter a spoken expression of exasperation (“uff” in Arabic) while conversing with one’s parents. To my surprise, Confucian tradition’s instructions, as laid out in the Analects, for dealing with parents turned out to be overwhelmingly more emphatic than any tradition I have previously read about. A man of excellence is described as someone “who exerts himself to the utmost in the service of his parents and offers his person to be service of his lord” (I:7). This significance attached to service of one’s parents makes it look like almost an article of faith, not just good behavior. Confucius directs his disciples: “What is difficult to manage is the expression on one’s face. As for the young taking on the burden when there is no work to be done or letting the old enjoy the wine and the food when these are available, that hardly deserves to be called filial” (II:8). “Managing the expressions on one’s face” can be implied to mean interacting with one’s parents with a polite countenance instead of annoyed or angry facial expressions (a directive certainly a degree higher than merely controlling verbal expressions of frustration). Clearly, for Confucius materially providing for parents is worthless without being being kind and reverential towards them even in conscious and unconscious body language. To me, this was not only a profound suggestion but also one displaying incisive insight into human nature, and awareness of the incredible patience required when living with aging parents. Against these observations, it was interesting to note that one could trace an ethical as well as, remarkably, a political dimension in Confucius’ stress on filial reverence. Ethical: i) Confucius believes filial reverence to be a mark that distinguishes humans from animals: “Nowadays for a man to be filial means no more than that he is able to provide his parents with food. Even hounds and horses are, in some way, provided with food. If a man shows no reverence, where is the difference?” (II:7). ii) It is also apparent that Confucius teaches love and respect for parents out of moral concerns of gratitude and reciprocity. For instance, in (XVII:21), when Yu articulates his displeasure with the custom of three years mourning period in the wake of parents’ death as too long, Confucius expresses his disapproval by rhetorically asking whether or not Yu was given three years’ love by his parents. iii) One can also deduce that Confucius suggests parents, on account of their old age, deserve comfort and a sense of security: “Give your father and mother no other cause for anxiety than illness.” (II:5). The following teaching appears to me remarkably specific in the context of staying connected to parents and keeping them informed: “While your parents are alive, you should not go too far afield in your travels. If you do, your whereabouts should always be known” (IV:19).

Political: Even more interestingly, Confucius seems to add a larger societal or political dimension to being an obedient son: “Simply by being a good son and friendly to his brothers a man can exert an influence upon government. In so doing a man is, in fact, taking part in government.” (II:21). This appears to imply that since the purpose of the government is to keep order in the society, one could work towards that larger end by starting with being an obedient or ‘good’ son at home.  In the same vein, “he is good as a son and obedient as a young man [will not have the inclination]… to start a rebellion.” (I:1).  Children who develop the temperament to respect and not transgress authority at home, certainly of the parents, will grow up to be citizens with no penchant for inciting rebellions in the society or causing anarchy of any kind.

To conclude, one can identify an ethical aspect in the Analects’ emphatic teaching of filial piety wherein it can be seen as an end in itself: individuals are to cultivate excellence and benevolence within their own character to be true gentlemen. However, one can also view a political dimension in these teachings whereby filial reverence is seen as a means towards another end: a well-ordered society wherein children’s deference for parents will be reflected in citizens’ respect for order and authority. Thus, it can be interpreted as an attempt to reform the character of the society by reforming the character and conduct of the individuals at the familial level.

 

Postscript: It has been pointed out to me that the Quranic verse I refer to in the article does not merely speak of the ‘speech aspect of good treatment of parents’ but has wider connotations. To this I fully concede. To clarify, I focused on the second part of the verse فَلَا تَقُلْ لَهُمَا أُفٍّ which particularly deals with spoken expression; whereas the first part of the verse says بِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ‘ihsaan’ being ‘beautiful treatment’ which encompasses a wide range of behavioral goodness in addition to speech. After my initial encounter with the Analects, I suppose I was just struck by the incredible ‘frequency’ with which filial piety is mentioned in the Confucian tradition; but the ‘scope’ of this piety might not be much different from what is commanded in the Islamic tradition. Last year, when I mentioned to one of my teachers that I feel like the emphasis on filial piety in Confucian tradition appears overwhelmingly more forceful than Islam’s, he said: “That is not accurate! Confucianism hoists up the idea of heaven to be a source of virtue and moral order overruling human efforts, and Islam simply places it under the mother’s feet!” 

Ideas of Non-attached Action and Focusing of Mind in Bhagavad Gita

 

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Two themes in Bhagavad Gita that I found pertinent even in the context of modern age and valuable for a reader who may not even be from a Hindu religious tradition are: i) advocacy of the idea of detached action as opposed to inaction as a means to the goal of self-realization and ii) the importance of focusing and controlling mind to find oneself integrated and at peace. It is evident, as we shall also see shortly, that one may not be well-versed in Hindu theology, or may find it baffling to perceive metaphysical notions such as the all-pervasive Brahman or the mind-body duality; one may still find these themes applicable within one’s own contexts.

In contrast with Upanishads wherein the sages seemed to urge renunciation as a means to attain unity with Brahman, Krishna in Bhagavad Gita encourages action rather than inaction: “so perform action which is restrained, for this action is better than non-action; and even the working of your body would not succeed without action” (p. 38). Krishna suggests that action cannot be avoided and there is no possibility of life without it; however the action that he prescribes as correct is in line with one’s dharma and also “restrained” or “without clinging”: neither attached to the outcomes of the action nor directed to please ones sensual desires or ego. Gita appears to teach that such attitude can be developed through devotion to Brahman or Krishna (Brahman is Krishna’s “womb” (p. 155)) and transcending bodily concerns. Krishna discourages renunciation by implying that people may renounce out of confusion, pain, or fear (p. 186) which makes renunciation selfish or “based on desire” (p. 185). Acting without a desire or “giving up of all fruit of action is called letting go” (p. 185). This prescription of detached action makes it more practicable than renunciation because of the ever-present necessity of earning a livelihood. Moreover, in current age wherein most individuals oftentimes find themselves amidst aggressive competition and challenges, the idea of detached action whereby the individual cultivates the serene mindset through which he strives only to do well without either excessively obsessing about winning or attaching his self-worth to the result of his actions may be helpful in curbing the routine anxieties. Such attitude may bring a feeling of mental ‘liberation’ – even if not in the spiritual sense of the realization of an eternal divine acting through the person.

Krishna teaches the importance of self-discipline achieved through meditative exercises to attain not only union with Brahman but also an eternal state of bliss: “who is peaceful in mind, whose passions are calm without evil, of one being with Brahman, reaches the highest joy” (p. 77), and “for one whose thought does not ever go elsewhere, who eternally remembers me … who practices yoga… I am easy to find” (p. 96). In the modern age wherein technological inroads have deeply impacted the human mind, even my personal experience at meditating has more often than not been thwarted by multiple distractions, ever-present in the mind and oftentimes trivial, caused by electronic gadgets, social media notifications, information overload, insurmountably distracting thoughts, and concerns about important emails or deadlines to meet and so forth. These battles a modern person faces against the scattering influences that damage the unity of the mind were surprisingly voiced by Arjuna’s relatable concerns when he pointed out the difficulties in the way of focus caused by “the mind’s instability” and “the mind is ever straying, troubling, strong and unyielding; I think holding it back is as hard to bring about as holding back the wind” (p. 79), to which Krishna assures that “straying mind, without doubt, is hard to hold back – but by practice… it is held back… …it is possible to reach yoga for one whose self is reined in by striving in skilful ways” (p. 79-80). Thus Krishna assures, to Arjuna but also to a modern reader, that focus, elimination of distractions, and single-mindedness of meditation is possible by skill and perseverance. Even if not to realize union with Brahman, a modern person may find this assurance of successful meditation (by devoting thoughts to a single point of focus or any higher power) helpful in the interest of self-integration as well as a peaceful and focused mind.

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

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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.