In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Before I start with the proper subject, I may state that all my assertions and arguments shall be based upon and drawn from the Quran.(1) I deem it a matter of the first importance that anybody, who believes in any sacred scripture as the revealed word of God, should so set limits to his advocacy of the religion he supports as not to go out of the Holy Book or depend upon arguments other than those which it furnishes. For, if he does not observe this rule in this auspicious meeting, he makes and advances a new book and not the one, which he professes to support.
Therefore, as it is my object to show the beauties of the Quran and to establish its exclusive excellence over all other Books, I shall observe the rule stated above. As the other speakers are also expected to observe this rule, there will be a good opportunity for judicious minds to form judgment as to the comparative merits of the various Books claiming to have been revealed. For the same reason, I shall avoid all reference to the authorities containing the reported sayings of Prophet Muhammad and shall not go outside the word of God as revealed in the Quran.
Some preliminary notes have been made at the outset which may appear as not bearing upon the questions. However, as they are necessary for the full comprehension of the subject, I have been obliged to resort to them.
The first question relates to the physical, moral and spiritual conditions of man. The Quran observes this division by fixing three respective sources for this threefold condition of man, that is, three springs out of which these three conditions flow. The first of these in which the physical conditions of man take their birth is termed the nafs al-ammara, which signifies the "uncontrollable spirit", or the "spirit prone to evil". Thus the Word of God says:
It is characteristic of the nafs al-ammara that it inclines man to evil, tends to lead him into iniquitous and immoral paths, and stands in the way of his attainment of perfection and moral excellence. Man's nature is prone to evil and transgression at a certain stage in his development, and so long as he is devoid of high moral qualities, this evil nature is predominant in him. He is subject to this state so long as he does not walk in the light of true wisdom and knowledge, but acts in obedience to the natural inclinations of eating, drinking, sleeping, becoming angry or excited, just like the lower animals.
However, as soon as he frees himself from the control of animal passions and guided by reason and knowledge, he holds the reins of his natural desires and governs them instead of being governed by them -- when a transformation is worked in his soul from grossness to virtue - he then passes out of the physical state and is a moral-being in the strict sense of the word.
The source of the moral conditions of man is called, in the terminology of the Quran, the nafs al-lawwama, or the "self-accusing soul" (that is, On every dereliction of duty or on the slightest act of disobedience, being conscious of having offended):
This is the spring from which flows a highly moral life and, on reaching this stage, man is freed from bestiality. The swearing by the self-accusing soul indicates the regard in which it is held. For, the change from the disobedient to the self-accusing soul being a sure sign of its improvement and purification makes it deserving of approbation in the sight of the Almighty.
Lawwama literally means "one who reproves severely", and the nafs al-lawwama (self-accusing soul) has been so called because it upbraids a man for the doing of evil deeds and strongly hates up-bridled passions and bestial appetites. Its tendency, on the other hand, is to generate noble qualities and a virtuous disposition, to transform life so as to bring the whole course and conduct of it to moderation, and to restrain the carnal passions and sensual desires so as to keep them within due bound.
Although, as stated above, the "self-accusing soul" upbraids itself for its faults and frailties, yet it is not the master of its passions, nor is it powerful enough to practice virtue exclusively. The weakness of the flesh has the upper hand sometimes, and then it stumbles and falls down. Its weakness then resembles that of a child who does not wish to fall but whose legs are sometimes unable to support him. It does not, however, persist in its fault, every failure bringing a fresh reproach. At this stage, the soul is anxious to attain moral excellence, and revolts against disobedience, which is the characteristic of the first, or the animal stage, but does, notwithstanding its yearning for virtue, sometimes deviate from the line of duty.
The third or the last stage in the onward movement of the soul is reached on attaining to the source of all spiritual qualities. The soul at this stage is, in the words of the Quran, the nafs almutma'inna, or the "soul at rest":
The soul is now freed from all weaknesses and frailties and is braced with spiritual strength. It is perfectly united with God and cannot live without Him. As water flows with great force down a slope and, on account of its great mass and the total absence of all obstacles, dashes down with irresistible force, so does the soul at this stage, casting off all trammels, flow unrestrained towards its Maker.
It is further clear from the words "O soul that art at rest with thy Lord, return to Him" that it is in this life, and not after death, that this great transformation has worked and that it is in this world, and not elsewhere, that access to paradise is granted to it. Again, as the soul has been commanded to return to its Master, it is clear that such a soul finds its support only in its Supporter. The love of God is its food, and it drinks deep at this fountain of life and is, therefore, delivered from death. The same idea is expressed elsewhere:
In short, these three states of the soul may be called the physical, the moral and the spiritual states of man. Of these, the physical state-that in which man seeks to satisfy the passions of the flesh-is most dangerous when the passions run riot, for it is then that they deal a death-blow to the moral and spiritual qualities of man, and hence this state has been termed the "disobedient spirit" in the Holy Word of God.
What is the effect of the teachings of the Quran upon the physical state of man, how does it guide us with respect to it, and what practical limits does it set to the natural inclinations?
It may be remarked at the outset that, according to the Muslim Scripture, the physical conditions of man are closely connected with his moral and spiritual states, so much so that even his modes of eating and drinking play a part in the molding of his moral and spiritual qualities. If, therefore, his natural desires are subjected to the directions of the law, they take the form of moral qualities and deeply affect the spiritual state of the soul. It is for this reason that in all forms of devotion and prayer, and in all the injunctions relating to internal purity and moral rectitude, the greatest stress has been laid upon external purity and cleanliness and on the proper attitudes of the body.
The relation between the physical and spiritual natures of man would become evident on a careful consideration of the actions of the outward organs and the effect they produce upon the internal nature of man. Weeping, whether artificial, at once saddens the heart, while an artificial laugh makes it cheerful. Likewise, prostration of the body, as is done in prayer, causes the soul to humble itself and adore the Creator; whereas strutting stimulates vanity and vainglory.
Experience also shows the strong effect of good upon the heart and brainpowers. For instance, the vegetarians ultimately lose all courage, and the result of giving up animal food is weakness of heart and loss of a noble quality. The same law is witnessed even among the animals. The herbivorous animals do not possess even a hundredth part of the courage of the carnivore, and the same may be said of birds. There is not the least doubt, then, that food plays an important part in the formation of character. Further, as actual exclusion of meat from diet causes certain deficiencies in the body of a person, so is excess of meat harmful to character for it would tend to suppress the qualities of humility and meekness. But those who adopt the middle path are heirs to both the noble qualities: courage and meekness. It is with this law in view that the Quran says:
( That is, in any particular forms of diet so that one's character and Health may not suffer from it.)
The effect of the physical upon the moral nature of man has been spoken of; but it should also be noted that internal movements produce external actions. Grief brings tears into the eyes of a person and joy makes him laugh. Thus there is a natural relation between the body and the soul, and all the actions of the body such as eating, drinking, walking, sleeping, etc., necessarily produce a corresponding effect upon that which pertains to the state of the soul as distinguished from external action. It is a well-known fact that a shock communicated to one point in the human brain causes loss of memory and that to another, brings about insensibility.
Air containing the poisonous germs of plague soon corrupts first the body and then the mind, and in a few hours the whole internal system in which reside the moral impulses is impaired and the unfortunate victim passes away. All this goes a long way to prove that there is a mysterious relation between the body and the soul of man and the solution of the mystery is undoubtedly beyond human comprehension.
Another argument is that the body itself is the mother of the soul. The soul does not come from any place in the heavens and seek connection with the body in the womb of the mother, but it is, as it were, a light or an essence that lies concealed in the seed and grows with the growth of the body.
The Word of God gives us to understand that the soul grows from the body while it is developed in the womb of the mother:
(This verse throws light on the nature of the soul and indicates the strong and inexplicable tie between the soul and the body.)
The indication, which the Quran has here given us as to the nature of the connection between the body and the soul, leads us to other important conclusions. It teaches us that the words which a man speaks and the deeds which he does, if said or done for the sake of God and to manifest His glory and, if regulated by His commandments, are subject to the same Divine law: that in all the outward actions there is a soul hidden as in the seed of man, and as the body of these actions is gradually developed, the hidden soul appears in it. When the complete embodiment of the actions takes place, the soul flashes suddenly in perfect brightness and glory, and shows itself so far as the spirit can be seen and there appears a plain movement of life. The full development of the body of actions is followed by a blazing of the light within like a flash of lightning. This stage is allegorically described in the following words of the Quran:
This verse also suggests the same idea that on the complete embodiment of good action, the spirit within brightens up. God describes this as His own soul, thus indicating that it partakes of a Divine nature. For, the body is fully developed only after the extinction of the physical desires and, consequently, the Divine light, which before was dim, shines out in full luster, and thus makes it incumbent upon everybody to bow down before the manifestation of this glory. Therefore, everyone Is naturally attracted towards it and prostrates before it, except the spirit of evil, which loves nothing but darkness.
To return to the subject, the soul is a light, which springs up from the body, which is being prepared in the womb. By the springing up of the soul is only meant that at first it is hidden and imperceptible, although its germs are present in the seed itself, and that, as the body is gradually developed, the soul grows along with it and becomes manifest. There is no doubt that the inexplicable relationship of the soul with the seed is in accordance with the design of God and His will. It is a bright essence in the seed itself. It is not a part of it in the sense in which matter is part of matter, but at the same time it would be incorrect to say that it comes from outside or, as some wrongly imagine, falling upon the earth, it is mixed with the substance of the seed. It is hidden in the seed as fire is latent in the flint. The Word of God lends no support to the view that the soul comes from the heavens as something distinct from the body, or that it falls suddenly upon the earth and, mixing with the seed accidentally, finds an entrance into the womb. The idea is utterly false and totally opposed to the law of Nature.
The thousands of insects which can be observed daily in rotten articles of food or in unwashed wounds do not come from outside or descend from heaven. Their existence proves that the soul comes out of the body and is as surely a creation of God as anything else. From this, we conclude that the Almighty, Who with His wisdom and omnipotence, has created the soul out of the body, has willed and intended that a second birth of the soul should also be made manifest through the body. The movement of the soul depends upon that of the body, and if the body is drawn in any direction, the soul must follow. The physical state of man's life being of such great importance to the soul, the Word of God cannot be silent on the point. The Quran has, therefore, applied itself abundantly to the reformation of the physical state of man's life. It gives us the most valuable and minute directions on all matters of importance with which man is concerned: all his movements, the manner of the satisfaction of all his requirements, his family, social and general connections, health and sickness, are all regulated by laws and it is shown how external order and purity have their effect upon his spiritual state.
A few of the guiding rules will now be briefly noted, for, to describe them in detail would require much time. A close study of the Word of God on this important point - the injunctions and directions relating to the reformation of the external life of man and his gradual advancement from a state of barbarity to one of culture and then onward until he reaches the highest pinnacle of spiritual development - reveals the following all-wise method.
In the first place, God has been pleased to lead man out of darkness and raise him up from a savage state by teaching him the rules relating to his ordinary daily actions and mode of social life. Thus the process begins at the lowest points of man's development and, first of all, drawing a line of distinction between man and the lower animals, teaches him the elementary rules of morality which may pass under the name of social behavior. Next, it undertakes to improve upon this degree of morality by regulating man's conduct and actions, thus turning them into sublime morals. Both these methods relate only to one stage of advancement, the difference being only one of degree. The Creator has so arranged the system of moral evolution that one can advance from a low state to a higher state.
We now come to the third stage of advancement when man completely forgets himself in the love of God and in doing His will, and his whole life is lived only for the sake of his Master. This is the stage to which the name Islam refers, for it signifies total resignation to the will and service of the Lord and total forgetfulness of self:
Before I deal with the three states of life, I must repeat the caution that the physical state of man's life, the dominant factor in which is the "disobedient soul" cannot, according to the Word of God, be treated as something quite distinct from the moral state. All the natural inclinations of man and all the desires and passions of the flesh have been placed by the Quran under the heading of physical conditions. These, when operating under proper regulation and co-ordination, are converted into excellent moral qualities. Similarly, no hard and fast line can be drawn between the spheres of the moral and spiritual states. Man passes from one into the other after a total extinction of self in God, complete sanctification of the soul, entire severance from all low connections and thus achieving union with, unswerving loyalty to and extraordinary love of the Almighty and full submission to His will. One does not deserve the title of man so long as one's physical conditions are not in harmony with one's moral qualities, for the natural desires are common to man and the lower animals, and there is nothing to mark the distinction between them.
In the same manner, the mere possession of a few moral qualities does in no way bring about spiritual life. For instance, meekness of heart, peace of mind, and avoidance of mischief are only so many natural qualities which may be possessed even by a person who is quite ignorant of the significance of moral and spiritual values. Not a few animals are quite harmless and apparently free from savage tendencies. When tamed, they are not offensive in the least and, being lashed, do not resist. Yet it would be wrong to ascribe moral qualities to them. Likewise, persons who entertain the worst beliefs nay, sometimes even those who otherwise are guilty of the blackest deeds, may possess such qualities.
It is possible for a person to be so tenderhearted as not to suffer the killing of the worms in his own wounds, intestines, or stomach. In some instances, tenderness of heart may induce a man to give up the use of honey or musk as the procuring of the one involves the dispersion and destruction of the bee, and that of the other the killing of the deer. There may even be persons so compassionate as to refrain from the use of pearls or silk, as both are obtained by the destruction of the life of worms. There also exist persons who would suffer severe pain rather than have leeches applied to them as the alleviation of the pain would be procured at the cost of the lives of these tiny worms. It is also possible that the feeling of tenderness may grow so strong in a person that he may even give up drinking of water, and thus put an end to his own life rather than destroy the animalcules contained in the water.
All this may be admitted, but would any reasonable person consider all such folly to be productive of any moral excellence or necessary to the state of a moral being? Is it thus that the soul of man can be purified of all internal corruption which is the obstacle in the way of the true realization of God? Such harmlessness or inoffensiveness, which is met with to a greater extent in some animals and birds than in man, can never be the means of attaining to the desired degree of perfection. Nay, it is fighting with Nature and opposing its laws. It is rejecting the faculties and blessings with which we have been endowed. We cannot attain to spiritual perfection unless we bring into play the various faculties in their proper place as occasion may require, and walk with perseverance in the path which God has pointed out to us, submitting ourselves wholly to His will.
As already stated, there are three factors which give rise to the threefold nature of man: the disobedient soul, the self-accusing soul and the soul at rest. Accordingly, there are three stages of reformation corresponding to these three factors. In the first stage, we are concerned with mere ignorant savages whom it is our duty to raise to the status of civilized beings, by teaching them the social laws regulating their mutual relations. The first step, therefore, consist in teaching the savage not to walk about naked, or devour carcasses, or indulge in other barbarous habits. This is the lowest stage in the reformation of man. In humanizing people upon whom no ray of the light of civilization has yet fallen, it is necessary, first of all, to take them through this stage and make them accustomed to elementary rules of morality.
When the savage has learnt the rudiments of society, he is prepared for the second stage of reformation., He is then taught the high excellent moral qualities pertaining to humanity as well as the proper use of his own faculties, and of what lie hidden beneath them.
Those who have acquired excellent morals are then prepared for the third stage and, after they have attained to outward perfection, they taste of union with, and the love of God.
These arc the three stages which the Quran has prescribed for a wayfarer who desires to travel along the path that leads to the Creator.
Attention must also be called to another very important point. The Quran does not inculcate doctrines, which are contrary to reason and which, therefore, a person can follow only against his better judgment. The whole purpose of the Book, and the pith of its teachings, is the threefold reformation of man, and all other directions are simply means to this end. As is seen in the treatment of bodily diseases, the physician recognizes the necessity of dissecting or performing surgical operations or applying ointments to wounds, etc. The Quran also employs these means on fit occasions to serve the purpose when necessary and advisable. All its moral teachings, precepts and doctrines have an all-pervading purpose beneath them which consists in transforming men from the physical state, which is imbued with a tinge of savageness, into the moral state, and from the moral into the spiritual state, which is boundless.
It has already been observed that physical conditions of man do not differ in quality from his moral state. The fact is that physical conditions, when subjected to regulation and used within proper limits according to the directions of reason and good judgment, are transformed into moral conditions. Before a man is guided in his actions by the dictates of reason and conscience, his acts do not at all fall under the heading of moral conditions however much they may resemble them; they are but natural and instinctive impulses. For instance, the affection and docility which a dog or a cat or any other domestic animal shows towards its master cannot be designated as courtesy or refined manners, nor can the fierceness of a lion or a wolf be classed as rudeness or misbehavior. What we call good or ill manners or morals are the results of the exercise of reason that comes into play on appropriate occasions. A man who is not guided by the dictates of reason in his actions may be compared either to a child whose reasoning powers are not yet matured or to an insane who has lost all reason. The only line of distinction that can be drawn between the movements of a madman or a child, on the one hand, and the actions of a man of reason, on the other, is that the former are only natural impulses while the latter are the result of an exercise of the reasoning faculty. For instance, the child will, as soon as it is born, seek the breast of its mother, while a chicken will, after it is hatched, begin to pick up food with its beak. Similarly, a leech inherits instinctively the habits of that worm and a serpent or a lion the habits of its own kind.
The child begins, soon after its birth, to show human peculiarities. As it advances in years, these become more conspicuous. It cries louder and its smile develops into laughter. It expresses its pleasure or displeasure in its movements. but these movements are still more the result of impulse than of an exercise of the intellect. Such is also man in his savage state when his intellectual faculties are met in an embryonic state. He is subject to the impulses of his nature and whatever he does, he does in obedience to them. His deeds are not the result of due deliberation. The impulses of his nature, subject to external conditions, take an outward shape.
It should not, however, be assumed that all these movements are necessarily improper; some of them may resemble the deliberate acts of a reasonable person, but it cannot be denied that they are not preceded by any exercise of the reasoning faculties or by any deep consideration of their propriety or impropriety. Even if we assume the presence of a slight degree of reasoning in some acts of the savage, we cannot class them generally as good or bad actions, for the more powerful factor in bringing them about is not the reasoning faculty but an instinctive impulse or a yielding to desire and passion.
In short, we cannot class as "moral" the acts of a person whose life is akin to that of the savage and who is subject to his natural impulses like the lower animals, infants or madmen. The first stage of a moral being - of one whose acts can be classed as good or bad morally is that in which he is capable of distinguishing between good and bad actions, or between two good or two bad actions of different degrees. This takes place when the reasoning faculty is sufficiently well developed to form general ideas and perceive the remoter consequences of actions. It is then that man regrets the omission of a good deed or feels repentance or remorse after doing a bad one. This is the second stage of man's life which the Quran calls nafs al-lawwama, "self-accusing soul" or, to take a more familiar term, "conscience".
But it should be remembered that, for the savage to attain to this stage of the self-accusing soul, mere admonition is not sufficient. He must have so much knowledge of God that he should not look upon his own creation by the Almighty as an insignificant or meaningless act. This soul-ennobling perception of the Lord can alone lead to actions truly moral, and it is for this reason that the Quran inculcates a true knowledge of God along with its admonitions and warnings and assures man that every good or bad action bears fruit which may cause spiritual bliss or torture in this life, while a clearer and more palpable reward or punishment awaits him in the next.
In other words, when man reaches this stage of advancement, called the "self-accusing soul", his reason, knowledge and conscience reach the stage of development in which a feeling of remorse overtakes him in the doing of unrighteous deeds and he becomes eager to perform good ones. This is the stage in which the actions of man can be said to be moral.
It seems necessary here to define the word Khulq (moral). There are two words alike in form except in the vowel point: khalq, which signifies "external creation" and khulq, meaning "internal creation" (or inborn quality). As the perfection of internal creation is achieved through moral excellence and not through the innate passions of man, the former is the proper significance of the word khalq, and not the latter. We may take this opportunity of exposing the error of the popular view that forbearance, humility, meekness and the like are the only qualities, which constitute good morals. The fact is that, corresponding to every external action, there is an inner quality which, when exercised in its proper place, is termed "moral". For instance, in weeping the outward action is that of the eye from which tears flow, but corresponding to this there is in the heart a quality of melting which may be called "tenderness" which, when properly applied by a moral being, is one of the excellent morals.
Again, a man uses his hands in defending himself against, or opposing, an enemy, but corresponding to this power of the external organ, there is in the heart a quality which we call "courage" and this, when properly used, is also one of the high morals, the possession of which is necessary for man to attain perfection Similarly, a man sometimes saves an oppressed person from the oppressor with his hands or feels impelled to give something to the helpless or the hungry or serve mankind in some other way. All such actions proceed from the inner quality, which is called "commiseration". Or, sometimes, a person inflicts punishment upon a wrongdoer and the source of this outward action is the moral quality termed "vengeance". Or, again, there are occasions upon which a man who receives an injury, refrains from injuring in return, and he passes over the action of the aggressor. This refraining results from the moral quality, called "forbearance'. In like manner, man sometimes employs his hands or feet or brain or wealth in doing good to his fellow-beings. In such cases the corresponding moral quality is 'charity'. The truth is, as already stated, that all these qualities are only ranked as moral qualities when they are used on the proper occasion. Thus, in the Holy Book, addressing Prophet Muhammad, the Supreme Being says:
(This means that all the high moral qualities such a, charity, courage, justice, mercy, kindness, truth, high-mindedness, etc., are combined in the prophet's person.)
In short, all the qualities with which man's mind is naturally endowed, such as politeness, modesty, honesty, generosity, jealousy, perseverance, chastity, devoutness, moderation, compassion, sympathy, courage, charity, forgiveness, patience, kindness, truth, fidelity, etc., when they are called into action within their proper spheres and on proper occasions, fall under the definition of virtue. All these grow out of the natural inclinations and passions of man when the latter are controlled and regulated by reason. The desire for progress is an essential characteristic of man and is not shared by the lower animals. Hence it is that true religion, good company and virtuous injunctions transform man's natural inclinations into morals.
Prophet Muhammad's advent took place at a time when the whole world had sunk to the lowest depths of ignorance. To this, the Quran refers in the following words:
The metaphorical phrase translated into plain language would mean that the "people who had been given the Scriptures from God" (Ahl al-Kitab) had become corrupt as well as those who had ever drunk of the fountain of Inspiration. The Quran was, therefore, sent to bring life to the dead:
Utter darkness and barbarism at that time prevailed over the whole of Arabia. No social laws were observed, and the most despicable deeds were openly committed. An unlimited number of wives was taken, and all prohibited things were made lawful. Rapine and incest raged unchecked and, not infrequently, mothers were taken for wives. It was to prohibit this horrible custom that these words were revealed:
Like beasts, the people did not even hesitate to devour carcasses, and cannibalism was not unknown. There was no vice, which was not freely practised by them. The great majority of these people did not believe in a future life, and not a few were atheists. Infanticide prevailed throughout the country, and they mercilessly killed orphans to rob them of their properties. To the outward eye, they had the forms of men, but they were totally devoid of rationality, modesty, jealousy and other manly qualities. Their thirst for wine was excessive and fornication was committed unscrupulously. Ignorance prevailed so widely that the neighboring people called them the "ignorant" (Ummi).
Such is the dark picture of the time and the country in which the Prophet of Islam appeared, and it was to reclaim such wild and ignorant people that the Word of God came upon him. The threefold reformation of man to which attention has been called was, therefore, destined to be brought about at that period by means of the Quran. It is for this reason that the Holy Book claims to be a perfect guidance for mankind as to it alone was given the opportunity to work a reformation complete in all respects. It had a grand aim before it. It had first to reclaim mankind from savagery and to make them men, then to teach them excellent morals and make them good men and, finally, to take them to the highest pinnacles of advancement and make them godly.