بِسْم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise is due to Allah, The Almighty, the All-Wise, The Creator, The Fashioner; He it is, alone, Who is Pure and Perfect and without deficiency. We praise Him due to His being the possessor of every quality of Beauty and Majesty and we thank Him due to His being the source of every good. He is the Loving, The Merciful. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the best of creation, the pinnacle of humanity, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the seal of prophethood sent for the guidance of mankind. To proceed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned in the essay entitled “Plato” that, “Children cry, scream and stamp their feet with fury, unable to express their desires. As soon as they can speak and tell their want and the reason of it, they become gentle. In adult life, whilst the perceptions are obtuse, men and women talk vehemently and superlatively, blunder and quarrel; their manners are full of desperation; their speech is full of oaths. As soon as, with culture, things have cleared up a little…they desist from their weak vehemence…”.
These stages are not just in speech but also our behavior. They are also not just due to maturity of age but of perspectives. When we are unable to understand the harmony of the world at all but feel constant neediness and fear we tend to lash out due to our feelings of weakness and helplessness. At this point we are little more than beasts living and reacting according to instinct. When we mature to a level where we can better articulate the levels of our wants and fears but still lack in our understanding of the nature of this life, there seems to remain within us a void and so we then find ourselves between man and beast. We give the outward appearance of control but our interactions are full of ego, foul speech and vying for possession or control of this temporary life. Only when we come to know our Lord do we find ourselves becoming virtuous, upright and able to communicate at a level of humanity, in our words and deeds. What then is necessary? If we wish to progress and become more fully human, arriving our our own fullest potentials, we must seek to develop ourselves in relation to our Lord and His creation.
The belief in the absolute singularity of God has historic roots in the U.S. and the western world. Interestingly, the animosity shown to this concept also has roots and has historically used force against those who uphold it. The force shown is not always physical, sometimes it was the psychological force of propaganda, but force none the less. To uphold the concept of Tawheed, the concept that God is absolutely One, without partners or equals, is not a foreign concept in America and as Muslims living in the western world, I believe it our duty to remind our fellow man and cal them back to this concept.
Though it is true that we live in a sea of Christianity, it is equally true that ebb and flow of the Christian beliefs allows room for such a discussion of the divine singularity of our Lord. Unfortunately, pollution has entered the water to such an extent that we find it common that many of our Christian neighbors are unsure of what their beliefs are or where they stand in regards to them. With the onslaught of commercialism and the call for Americans to enter the faith of consumerism, many of our fellow citizens are divorced from religion altogether and are in desperate need to hear the message of truth and guidance.
Plato wrote long ago about the city of Atlantis. A real mass of land, which is easily located today, with a people who were technologically advanced in their age but were ultimately destroyed. The Atlantans, we are told, were strong militarily, economically, and intellectually, but they had two shortcomings. The first was that they became greedy for power and so, unhappy with just commercial strength, they began conquering and enslaving others until the Greeks finally defeated them centuries before the time of Plato. The second was, they sought to establish their empire upon proportions that seemed strong and firm and harmonious but were out of harmony with the heavens. They wanted to establish their empire upon a human eye of perfection as opposed to the greater harmony with all creation, the guidance of their Lord. In the end, their empire divided, they became defeated and, ultimately, God destroyed them by sinking their entire continent. Much mythology has arisen concerning them and much foolishness as well. But this is what we know to be true through historic records.
These tales are important for us. Living in our lands, we can not help but see the hubris of the leaders not taking lessons from the histories that arrive to us through western narratives. Plato was a philosopher but perhaps his teacher, Socrates, was something more. Ralph Waldo Emerson described Socrates’ account succinctly and beautifully in his essay “Plato”. He said about him, “…enthusiastic in his religion. When accused before the judges of subverting the popular creed, he affirms the immortality of the soul, the future reward and punishment; and refusing to recant, in a caprice of the popular government was condemned to die, and sent to prison. Socrates entered the prison and took away all ignominy from the place, which could not be a prison whilst he was there, Crito bribed the jailer; but Socrates would not go out by treachery. ‘Whatever inconvenience ensue, nothing is to be preferred before justice. These things I hear like pipes and drums, whose sound makes me deaf to everything you say.’ The fame of this prison, the fame of the discourses there and the drinking of the hemlock are one of the most precious passages in the history of the world.”
This is Socrates. Despite the state of Greece and the western world in his day, despite their beliefs in the pantheons of their deities, their economic and military strength, the “superiority” of their democracy and the historic roots of their arts and culture, Socrates called them to the belief that there is only One True Creator and that after death we return to Him alone for judgement; a judgement which culminates in reward or punishment for our eternal souls. He called his students to establish uprightness, virtue and justice in this life, regardless of the status quo. The youth were eager to hear his message, as was the poor and disenfranchised, and so those in authority blamed him for corrupting society and arrested him as a threat and a source of unrest. Yet, even imprisoned he refused to give up his call or even to compromise. He was indifferent whether he was free to walk throughout the lands or held within the prison walls. Ultimately, he was put to death, not for a crime but for a call.
Many accusations are flung at Socrates. Because sodomy was an open secret in Greece at that time and Socrates was often surrounded and followed by young men, people make claims against his character. What is more, myths about this figure are often mixed with the narratives of history due to the oral traditions’ passage through time. What is worse, there are no writings left by him so all that we have either comes through his students or his opponents. Still, given the accounts that have reached us, we are reminded of the Prophets of Bani Isra’il (peace be upon them all) and the accusations their own people recorded regarding them. Allah knows best his reality.
My point for mentioning all of this is that we live in an age where our own nation (and many nations around the world) take great pride in their military, economic, and technological might. Oddly, in an age where people are divorcing themselves from and being further and further separated from all forms of culture and tradition, we also hear calls to return to a more historic way of living and being. Yet, despite the pride and arrogance found in today’s nationalism, we are still looking at the ideals of men. Systems rooted in a humanistic, material perspective of the world that fails to see the harmony that flows throughout all of creation; instead of looking at the guidance of our Lord with certainty. Any failure in acknowledging the unity of creation as well as its variety – and to simultaneously take these into account – (and hence the unity of the Creator of that Harmony) will certainly lead to destruction. This is a truth regardless of how “beautiful and perfect” these endeavors may seem in their beginnings.
Allah is the Lord of the heavens and earth and all that is between them. There is no power or might, no movement or change except by His will. He created all of creation in such a way that no flaw can be found and in every age more and more of the mysteries of His creation, the signs of His greatness, are discovered and rediscovered. All of creation indicates back to the Singularity of our Lord and Creator. He is not one of a duality between good and evil. He is not one of a trinity. He is not one of a pantheon. He is absolutely One and all of creation glorifies His praises and testifies to that fact.
This reality is before our eyes but many of us remain blind. Like the nations we live in, we seek pride in our wealth, our strength, our intellects, our technological gadgets and gizmos. We see the life of this world and its adornments before us and we get caught up in our own little worlds, our own “greatness”, and we forget about the vastness of creation and the wonder of His signs. To strengthen ourselves we seek to usurp the rights of others, oppressing them with our foul speech, backbiting, slander, and destructive behaviors. But like nations of old, if we do not heed the call to Tawheed in our own lives, we too will fall into destruction. This tawheed should be manifested at three levels. The first level is that we live congruent within ourselves. Live principled lives according to our faith. Be real. The second level is to live in harmony with the world around us. Our families, our communities, our natural environments and the creation as a whole. The third level is that we live recognizing that all of creation has a Single Lord and submitting ourselves to Him; worshipping Him alone and adhering firmly to His guidance. If we are deficient in any of these three, surely we will find ourselves falling short in this life and the next. Socrates serves to remind us, just because we were borne out of the west, just because we live in the U.S., just because we are surrounded by disbelieving people does NOT justify our faltering in manifesting our faith regardless of our circumstances.
In his essay on Plato, Emerson said, “It is as easy to be great as it is to be small. The reason we do not at once believe in admirable souls is because they are not in our experience. In actual life, they are so rare as to be incredible; but primarily there is not only no presumption against them, but the strongest presumption in favor of their appearance.” We have the choice at every moment to be great or be small. It is a choice we have and a state within ourselves. The only reason we are skeptical regarding this is because so many of us choose again and again to be small. It is time to be great.
And with Allah alone is every success.