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Man Between Fall And Ascension
Jan 1, 1997

Ibn Sina, called Avicenna in the West, summarizes man’s earthly life in his poem on the human soul as follows:

It descended upon thee from out of the regions above,

That exalted, ineffable, glorious, heavenly Dove.

‘Twas concealed from the eyes of all those who its nature would ken,

Yet it wears not a veil, and is ever apparent to men.

Unwilling it sought thee and joined thee, and yet, though it grieve,

It is like to be still more unwilling thy body to leave.

It resisted and struggled, and would not be tamed in haste,

Yet it joined thee, and slowly grew used to this desolate waste,

Till, forgotten at length, as I ween, were haunts and its troth

In the heavenly gardens and groves, which to leave it was loath.

Until, when it entered the D of its downward Descent,

And to earth, to the C of its centre, unwillingly went,

The eye (I) of infirmity smote it, and lo, it was hurled

Midst the sign-posts and ruined abodes of this desolate world.

It weeps, when it thinks of home and the peace it possessed,

With tears welling forth from its eyes without pausing or rest,

And with plaintive mourning it broodeth like one bereft

O’er such trace of home as the fourfold winds have left.

Thick nets detain it, and strong is the cage whereby

It is held from seeking the lofty and spacious sky.

Until, when the hour of its homeward flight draws near,

And ‘tis time for it to return to its ampler sphere,

It carols with joy, for the veil is raised, and it spies

Such things as cannot be witnessed by waking eyes.

On a lofty height doth it warble its songs of praise

(For even the lowliest being doth knowledge raise).

And so it returneth, aware of all hidden things

In the universe, while no stain to its garment clings.

Now why from its perch on high was it cast like this

To the lowest Nadir’s gloomy and drear abyss?

Was it God who cast it forth for some purpose wise,

Concealed from the keenest seeker’s inquiring eyes?

Then is its descent a discipline wise but stern,

That the things that it hath not heard it thus may learn.

So ‘tis she whom Fate doth plunder, while her star

Setteth at length in a place from its rising far,

Like a gleam of lightning which over the meadows shone,

And, as though it ne’er had been, in a moment is gone.

(Translated by E. G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia (London 1906), vol. 2, pp. 110- 11.)

The Creator’s being One means or requires His being absolutely independent. God made man as the exhibition of the manifestation of all His Names and attributes, and His being independent is manifested on man as the desire of freedom. Therefore, in the worldly life, which the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, described as a few minutes’ halt in the shade of a tree during a long journey, and Ibn Sina likened to a flash of lightning on the grass, man’s primary concern is freedom.

We have witnessed that many atheist communists-who regard life as only this worldly and ascribe all human motivation to economic factors-have sacrificed their lives for the sake of an illusory communist society. It has always seemed to me unreasonable that one who does not accept meta-economic values and does not believe in an eternal life, sacrifices his life which must be his only aim, for the ‘economic relations’ which are the means of living that life. So, there must be some other motives behind such a person’s sacrificing his life. Man can manage without ‘bread’, but he cannot manage without freedom, nor can he easily give up his inborn nobility as a human being. Since he is noble in creation, he pursues guidance, but sometimes the ‘stone’ of misguidance falls on his head. In consequence of his ego, man can become trapped in a vicious circle, his inborn dignity and freedom, his nobler aspirations to justice and equality, being exploited by certain centres of power or leaders of communist movements.

The ontological nature of man

The universe, an integral, composite entity all of whose parts are interrelated, interlinked with one another, may be likened to a tree. Particularly in oriental traditions, it has been so likened and some Muslim sages have even written books on it under the title of ‘the Tree of Creation’.

As everybody knows, a tree is grown from its seed or stone. The whole future life of the free, the program of its life, is pre-recorded, compacted in the seed. The laws, such as the law of germination and the law of growth, which the Creator has established for the seed to germinate in propitious land and climate and grow into a free, have the same meaning for the tree as his spirit has for a man. With the sowing of the seed in earth, the life of the tree proceeds through certain stages to yield its fruit and, having begun in a seed, ultimately ends in another seed which is almost identical with the original one and includes the whole past life of that tree. 

Sometimes he has felt himself to be like a stone cast down aimlessly on the desert of the world, seen the world as devoid of intellect, the heavens devoid of feelings, and the whole of existence as meaningless, and regarded suicide as having the same meaning as sacrifice. Consider this: In order for a book to come into being, it must first exist in meaning in the mind of its author. If that author does not put that meaning in his mind into words on a page, it does not mean that the book does not really exist. By putting the meaning in his mind into words on a page, the author ‘materializes’ that meaning so that it takes a form visible to others. What we intend to conclude from this is that the origin, the real existence, of something is not its material, visible form. Rather, it is the meaning, which is invisible and whose existence is not material and does not need matter to subsist which constitutes the essence of existence or creation. Thus, the real existence of the universe, which we have preferred to call the tree of creation, is in its primordial form in the Knowledge of Cod as a meaning. It is by the action of the Divine Power on the premordial forms of things in the Knowledge of God, in accordance with the measures of the Divine Destiny, that things come into existence in different worlds, one surrounding the other like concentric circles. Like things reflected in different forms and dimensions in different mirrors facing each other, all things or beings have different forms of existence in those worlds according to the particular conditions of each. Muslim sages call some of those worlds the high empyrean world, where God Almighty manifests His Names almost without veil and therefore things exist in almost pure forms, the world of unconditioned existence, the world of symbols or ideas, the visible, material world, the intermediate world between this and the next, and the other or eternal world. In the material world, things or beings exist in a hierarchy formed by elements, plants, animals, certain unseen creatures like jinn, and human beings.

Any work points to the one who does it. A book shows its writer. Similarly, all creatures which come into existence by the manifestations of the Divine Names-they exist because there is One Who eternally exists and makes them exist; they have relative powers of seeing and hearing because there is One Who absolutely sees and hears and makes them see and hear; they have relative powers of acting and speaking because there is One Who never rests, nor sleeps, nor dozes, and Who has the absolute power of speech; they may have certain knowledge because there is One Who is the All-Knowing and enables them to learn; they have relative power to do some things because there is One Who is the All-Powerful and gives them power- function as signs to demonstrate the Almighty Creator or signposts to lead to Him and make Him known. So, this naturally requires that there should be one equipped with certain faculties like intellect, consciousness and heart, who will recognize God and serve as a most comprehensive mirror to reflect Him. There are other creatures like angels who have a certain knowledge of God, but since they are devoid of free will, they cannot be such comprehensive mirrors as to reflect God with all His Names and attributes. Also, they are not so perfect as to be able to acquire perfect knowledge of things and use them as steps to reach God. For this reason, the Divine wisdom in the creation of the universe required that a being that would manifest all of the Divine Names and attributes, primarily including Knowledge and Will, should appear in the realm of existence as the furthest and most perfect fruit of the tree of creation. This being is man.

The existential reality is almost the same and identical in the whole of the universe as macro-cosmos, in man as normo-cosmos and in an atom as micro- cosmos. Whatever God has included in the universe, He has compacted it in man’s nature. So, being a specimen of creation, as Muslim sages tend to describe him, man, with his pure spiritual aspect, corresponds to angels, with his memory and power of conception, to the Supreme Guarded Tablet where all things and events are pre-recorded and preserved both before and after they appear in the universe, with his bodily composition, to the main elements in nature, with his evil-commanding self, to devils, and with his power, lusts and certain negative feelings and qualities requiring to be disciplined (like vindictiveness, cunning, deception, greed, rapaciousness, etc.) to certain animals each of which is distinguished with one of these qualities.

Thus, man mainly has two aspects: one angelic, pure and spiritual; the other, turned to elements, plants and animals, as he is the ‘child of the world’. He has been equipped with lusts to maintain his worldly life-lusts for the opposite sex, offspring, money, earning, and the comforts of life; with wrath or the power of anger to protect himself and his values; and with intellect. Besides, he is, by nature, fallible, forgetful, neglectful, fond of disputing, obstinate, selfish, and jealous, etc. Since man is distinguished from other conscious beings like angels by his being endowed with free will, these powers, faculties and negative-seeming feelings of his have not been restricted in creation. However, in order to attain happiness as a social being, both in his individual and social life, in the world and in the Hereafter, and climb the steps of elevation to higher and higher ranks of humanity, he should either restrict them according to certain precepts or channel them into virtues. For example, obstinacy can be channelled into steadfastness in right and truth, and jealousy into a feeling of competition in doing good things. Humanity lies in man’s struggling against the negative aspects of his nature and restricting them or channelling them into virtues, and in his acquiring distinction with his good qualities, thus becoming a useful member of society. The Last Prophet of God, upon him be peace and blessings, said: 1 have been sent to perfect the standards and beauties of good morals.

Man in the course of falling

Many writers and thinkers in the West assert that Christianity (of course, in its corrupted form, not its original form as preached by the Prophet Jesus, upon him be peace) stood against natural knowledge and learning. By condemning man’s desire to learn as a veil separating him from knowledge and love of God, by assigning the ‘heavenly’ value and quality of the earth to churches and monasteries, by denying man free will before God’s absolute Will, and by the doctrines of original sin and atonement, it caused man to stand aloof from learning, separated him from nature, prevented him from acquiring authentic belief based on investigation, and regarded him as fallen and sinful by birth. Additionally, after its acceptance as the formal religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine and finally being almost identical with the Roman type of government after the agreement of the Pope and Emperor Charlemagne the Great, Christianity came to be seen as a religion approving injustices for the sake of the continuance of a worldly, unjust power disguised as a sacred, theocratic one.

The Renaissance movements in the West developed against the world-view of Christianity and its views of man, life, things and art. Likewise, the Reformation movements aimed to reform the Catholic Church. While Catholicism regarded man as a desperate, wretched one sinful by birth, Protestanism did not grant to him any will-power to reform himself. Rather, it held that man is sinful by birth and, whatever he does, he cannot be saved through his actions. Instead, whoever God pre-ordained to be saved, only he can be saved, and what demonstrates that one was pre-ordained to be saved is that he works unceasingly. Thus, man was confined within the vicious circle of working, earning and consuming or working to consume and consuming to work.

It may be said that in the West following the Renaissance Huxley’s Brave New World has been steadily becoming more and more of a reality and less a satirical fantasy. In this world human beings are produced, classified and conditioned in tubes according to the functions they will serve in society as Alfa, Beta, Gama, Delta and Epsilon types. The old world where traditional values and feelings such as fatherhood, motherhood, kinship, love, sacrifice, altruism and chastity were still prevalent has been replaced by this new one. Having freed man from religion, morality thought, art, production sufficient for a moderate life, and sharing and mutual helping, the new world has reduced the individual and community to the functions of consumption, entertainment and stability. But the proper dignity of man is to carry the trust laid upon him which comprises the human ego and the risks and promises of freedom-a burden so heavy that man’s reason, free will and power are scarcely able to bear it.

As Alexis Carrel puts it, in the modern world as established by engineers under the guidance of scientists, man lives in metropolises where he has set up factories, opened offices, founded schools and invented various kinds of devices for amusement. The house where he lives and the office where he works are no longer dark and dingy. The devices of heating and lighting keep the temperature at the desired level and all kinds of measures have been taken against changes in weather. He is no longer oppressed by either freezing storms or suffocating heat. He no longer has the trouble of using his feet while going to work or returning home. Distances have diminished and, due to the gigantic advances in transportation and communication, the world has become like a big village. Wide highways, comfortable houses, air- conditioning devices, washing machines, fridges, electrical and electronic appliances of all kinds, modern baths, luxurious cars, computers and tele-communicative devices incite modern man to sing songs of victory-the victory won against the traditional values and nature!

Man has done all this and he can achieve many other things. But he has not been able to solve the mysteries of his ego, to know the meaning of being human, and he has not been able to perceive that he is a part of the natural environment to which he is related with unbreakable ties. As Mefisto says in Goethe’s Faust, when he attempts to recognize any living being, what he does first is to drive away its spirit. In order to meet ever-increasing needs, natural sciences-which Muhammad Iqbal described as a flock of vultures, crowding round the flesh of nature and after each picking a part of it, flying off- have developed greatly but man has not fully grasped that he is as unable as ever to make even a blade of grass, a gnat’s wing, a single living cell. Sometimes he has felt himself to be like a stone cast down aimlessly on the desert of the world, seen the world as devoid of intellect, the heavens devoid of feelings, and the whole of existence as meaningless, and regarded suicide as having the same meaning as sacrifice. He has supposed that he would be able to overcome the threats and worries of life by co-existing with his fellow-men and co-operating with them but his selfishness and materialism have not allowed him to do so with sincerity. He has submitted his ego, which he has deified before God in rejection of Him, to worldly enjoyments, his freedom to his endless desires and the manipulations of a cheating minority who try to continue their dominion by ‘finger-counting’-that is, attempting to find the truth in quantity and therefore the dominion of quantity over the truth and quality-a dominion which they have established over the majority by making use of certain possibilities such as coming to the world earlier, cunning, deception and the power of wealth. He has also submitted his honour and dignity to consumption, luxuries and cynicism. This is natural for a being who has broken with God and his primordial nature. Such people are described in the Qur’an as more astray than domestic animals, that is, they are more unable than domestic animals to find the true path they should follow and therefore need to be guided. It is not a coincidence that man is described in the West as an animal: a responsible animal, a symbolizing animal, a rebellious animal, a social animal, a hypocritical animal, an imagining animal, and so on.

In the delusion of thinking to discover himself by rejecting servanthood to God (as Erich Fromm explains), to be himself and attain his true freedom, man has not been able to escape the realities and requirements of his inborn disposition and be freed from the need and emotions of worship. As Erich Fromm also points out, modern man has numerous fetishes, he has more deities or idols than the primitive man. Causality, ‘nature’, means to attain something, desires, ambitions, power-seeking and lusts are modern man’s deities. Fetishism, totemism, ritualism, self-dedication to a party or state and idolizing certain men are some aspects of his modern religion. The Prophets of revealed religions have been replaced in his religion by politicians, ‘stars’ of football and music, stage and cinema, and those who ‘set’ fashions. Although modern man supposes that he himself determines his way (of life and thinking), he is little more than a robot programmed by the mass-media and an oppressing minority which own them. Banks, cinemas, universities, night clubs, stadiums and factories are the temples of modern man’s religion.

There are walls between men today; man is the wolf of man. The relations between men are no longer human, they are of the kind that each sees the other as a tool to use or an enemy to remove from the earth or a rival to defeat. Market laws direct the relations between men. In the capitalist’s view, man is only a machine, a means of production, an object to exploit. Modern man sells himself like selling merchandise. The manual worker sells his labour, the businessman, the doctor, the official, their skills. The answers given to the questions ‘What is your occupation?’, ‘How much do you earn?’, determine one’s social standing and value. One’s respect for oneself consists in what others think of one. Not being liked by anyone at all means being non-existent.

The traditional man who lived together with his family, brothers and near relatives, has been replaced by modern man who, as Erich Fromm states, in order to overcome his weakness and helplessness, seeks refuge in trade unions or the power of monopolist capital or the shade of weapons or other such things. Multinational companies continually gnaw away at humanity just so as to earn more and more, and man lost in supermarkets is seen in the crowds of metropolises as less than even the simplest things, reduced to nothingness among skyscrapers. The sounds coming from TV, radio, cassette player, do not allow him to speak, and advertisements addressing his desires and passions both stimulate consumption and determine his taste and choice.

Neither contemporary arts, nor modern socio-political systems, nor philosophies such as existentialism and structuralism, nor class consciousness, nor superior-race theories, nor new-world-order theses and fantasies, nor man’s tendency toward destruction, can satisfy modern man who plays the role of a Faust who studied not theology but modern sciences. In such an atmosphere as this, neither Satan-worshipping dealt with in best-sellers, nor false beliefs and practices such as necromancy, ‘transcendental’ meditation and reincarnation, sorcery and fortunetelling and so-called mystical movements, nor false occult sciences with which innumerable Europeans and Americans are preoccupied, can replace the true religion and give to modern man who, by losing his true human identity freedom and personality, has fallen to the lowest of the low, the possibility of ascending to the heaven of true humanity.