Is it ever possible to resist all impulses and temptations to experience the Divine and to be oblivious of God? Is not denial of God denial of Man and a revolt against one's own self?
Take all the classics in literature, poetry, painting, music, performance, frescos and murals and how many of them were really inspired by atheism? How many schools, colleges, hospitals, universities and charitable institutions are there founded, funded and run by atheists. Is it because of dearth of money and materials or is it because of the pitiless indifference and lack of inspiration? Most of the premier institutions, both in the west and the east, had humble beginning as religious seminaries that later flourished into finest universities in the world. In the heyday of Islamic civilization, centers of worship also functioned as centers of Learning and Healing.
Materialism generally played a more constructive role in the advancement of science and technology in post enlightenment Europe, and this progress emboldened and armed messianic political ideologies and racist enterprises that resulted in pogroms, genocide and ethnic cleansing. The trans-Atlantic slave trade, extermination of the indigenous population and subsequent colonization of Americas and Australia, opium wars and dehumanization of people of Africa and Asia all cast serious doubts both on the claim of
Man's altruistic nature and the humanistic pretensions of the secular West. Most of the Enlightenment thinkers from Voltaire to Pascal couldn't hide their racist arrogance and many openly expressed their faith in the unique nature of their civilization and considered colonization a civilizing mission, a duty of the White Man, to spread so called enlightenment values. The worst fears of Dostoevsky were materialized when the secular West lost all moral restraint and orchestrated world wars, developed weapons of mass destruction and used them against populations whom they considered inferior to them.
Dostoevsky considered collapse of the belief in an Absolute Being to be the worst disaster in the history of mankind, consequently eliminating the belief in a real world. This leaves the human being with two alternatives. One is the hopeless and depressive state that is caused by believing that life has no meaning, all is in vain; the other, in the words of a hero in
Dostoyevsky's works, is "if there is no God, then God is I"; or, in other words,
Nietzsche's notion of "Now, I've got the power." The twentieth century turned out to be the bloodiest in the history of mankind with countless wars and proxy wars under the tutelage and patronage of the secular west which were condoned and sanctified and continue to be glorified as just wars and lofty missions for the promotion of human values and virtues.
The centuries of slave trade, subjugation of other races and imperial onslaughts filled the coffers of the west with gold and resources that enabled them to perpetuate their control and domination both as hard military power and as a soft power of knowledge and learning and effectively cleaved the world into two unequal entities - a prosperous centre of the North consisting of Europe and US and an enfeebled periphery of the south consisting of Latin America, Africa and Asia and through an unfair fiscal system and the arms trade and unjust sanctions control over the periphery is perpetuated.
In short, the history of rise of western civilization is complex and variegated and the idea that secularization of a society and obliteration of religion from public life will herald progress in science and technology and will automatically create a humane and egalitarian society is a naive self deception at its best and dangerously misplaced at its worst.
For almost a millennium the Islamic community could play a leadership role in illuminating the world in every field of human endeavor, from science to art to mysticism without any conflict between faith and reason and without clash between religion and science and it was following the loss of Spain and many other factors that Muslims fell from grace and they lost control of their destiny and the last century witnessed the deliberate attempts made by the Muslim elites totally disconnected from the masses to enforce militant versions of secularism in different parts of the Muslim world and it only augmented misery and poverty and produced dysfunctional societies .Generally the leaders with heightened sensitivity to Islamic values have been more successful in energizing their constituencies towards a brighter future and making advancement in science and technology a fall back upon the values and ideals of Al -Andalusia.
Michael Hamilton Morgan's " Lost History; the enduring legacy of Muslim scientists, thinkers and artists " painstakingly chronicles how Islam laid the foundation for the Renaissance of Europe, but paradoxically Muslim communities largely became victims of the ferocities of a rejuvenated west rather than being its beneficiaries. Let me quote Morgan "This author does not believe there was any inevitability to the rise of the west .Why did these societies that for centuries led the world in many areas and laid the foundation for the rise of European thought and science fall behind ?
" some were the result of sheer bad luck, and some the result of cultural evolution"
"The geography of Islam lies in the cradle of civilization...These same regions have turned into deserts over the millennia..
" the impact on the Muslim heartlands by the successive waves of central Asian invasions. gradually destroyed the centers of Muslim invention ,while central and western Europe were spared the devastation and disruption at the time....
" In the 17 the century, as European Nations began to colonize the Americas, they received a flood of overseas wealth that enabled them to also undertake colonial ventures in the Muslim world
" the world is changing once again. For every crisis spot, there is now a promising centre of innovation in the Muslim world..."
An important dimension is often missed when the concept of human progress is discussed. Just like Man is not linear, his progress is also not and there is a steady regression in the fields of Art, culture, religion and Philosophy. Science and technology is consistently progressing, our means of communication and mode of transport have improved beyond imagination and from astrophysics to biotechnology all branches of sciences are soaring to new heights and Man has moved from Stone Age to atomic age. But what about Art and culture? There is an unmistakable decline in the quality and nothing comparable to Indian epics or Greek tragedies is going to happen ever. Can we confidently state that the English Language is going to claim another Shakespeare or birth of another Rumi or Hafiz in Persian? Einstein is going to be challenged for sure, but Dostoevsky will remain unscathed and unmatched. This is the nature of science and Art.
Post Modern man is enjoying unprecedented wealth and comfort brought about by the progress in science and technology but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is happier than his predecessors. Theatre and Literature, a reflection of reality paint a pessimistic and nihilistic picture of Man whereas the folklore and murals of ancient communities are full of life and exuberance of joy despite their material poverty.
At the root of the chasm between religion and materialism is the question of Man's place in the universe. The religious view is that Man has another dimension beyond his biological existence and his presence here is with a purpose and for a mission. To be responsible means to be free. Does man have freedom of choice and freewill or is it an illusion? Do we have an inner self capable of exercising freedom? Are we socially conditioned and biologically determined as materialist thinkers advocate? If we buy the argument that human behavior is biologically determined by neurotransmitters, chemicals, genes and mirror neurons its inevitable corollary is that our freedom is an illusion and this proposition raises serious ethical questions. If human beings have no Freewill and freedom of choice, by implication, we are precluded from the moral responsibility of our actions. Can someone be punished for a crime which he is programmed for? Any independent judiciary takes into consideration the degree of premeditation and intention to judge the seriousness of the crime .Where does the intention come from if we assume that there is no independent self and no free will? How can we say that one is culpable and punishable for a crime he commits over which he has no control? Doesn't it mean that manipulation of gene, mirror neurons and the neurotransmitters the better solution for theft, rape and murder than judgment and punishment ? Recognizing the presence of an inner self exercising freedom and executing free-will makes us accountable for our deeds as well as our words and intentions, but recognition of inner self is the recognition of its author, God and denial of God is denial of Man and his free-will.
Man still remains unknown to the men of both science and religion and the correct balance between faith and reason is the way forward, but how to reach and maintain that dynamic balance is a challenge to everyone and every
Dr Jafer Ajanur Palaki is a medicine specialist at Department of Medicine,
Wakra Hospital, Doha, Qatar.