ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE (MUIS)
ON COMMUNITIES OF SUCCESS (ICCOS)
Singapure, 9-10. September 2022.
Speech by Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Ph.D.
ETHICO-THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF A MUSLIM COMMUNITY OF SUCCESS
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله رب العالمين، والعاقبة للمتقين، والصلاة والسلام على عبده ورسوله وخليله وصفوته من خلقه نبينا وإمامنا وسيدنا محمد بن عبد الله، وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن سلك سبيله واهتدى بهديه إلى يوم الدين
Not long ago, just 11 years, I had the honor to be the gust of MUIS when I delivered on 1 October 2011 my paper at the Grand Hyatt Singapore on “The Challenge of Diversity in Modern Society.” Ever since that unforgettable visit I was longing for coming to Singapore onca again.
Thanks, Almighty God, the Corona Pandemic has slowed down so that we may now meet in person in Singapore by the grace of Allah and by the goodness and kindness of H.E. Masagos Zulkifli bin Masagos Mohamad, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs of Singapore.
Thank you, Minister Masagos, for inviting me, for inviting us all, to speak on communities of success, while we should rather humbly listen to the story of the diverse communities of success in Singapore.
Indeed, you in Singapore are a good example of success not only for Muslim minorities but also for some majority Muslim societies.
I just want to say that I am proud of your visible success in Singapore because of your exemplary moral and ethical attitudes as well as your productive communal work towards a harmoniously successful Singaporean society.
Now, let me start my presentation with a quote from Imam Ali bin Talib, may Allah be please with him:
People are travellers, the world is a place to pass through, not to settle in. His mother’s womb is start of his journey. The Hereafter is the end of his destination. His life is the length of the distance to cover. Years are his stations, months are his parasangs, days are his miles, and his breaths are his steps. He is made to travel like a ship with its passengers.
Notions about the ultimate genesis, the beginning of the cosmos (cosmogony), and visions of the ultimate eskhatos, the last day of the cosmos (eschatology), shape deeply moral and ethical orientations and behavior of man.
In all three Abrahamic religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – cosmogonic notions and eschatological visions make up the most important concept for normative relations between God and humans as well as non-human creatures.
Specific interconnections of cosmogony and eschatology may sustain different ethical orientations and reveal a mindset of a religious tradition and its theological articulations.
Indeed, the concept of religious cosmogonies and eschatologies may be a source for a moral and ethical orientation of today, which is characterized by a deep moral and ethical crises of humanity despite the power of the science of success.
By the term cosmogony is meant an account of how the universe (cosmos) came into being. It differs from cosmology, which is the science of the universe. Cosmology deals with the actual composition and governing laws of the universe as it now exists, whereas the cosmogony is concerned with the question as to how the universe first came to be.
This is something we know that we don’t know. We don’t know how the universe first came to be.
All cosmogonic ideas are just theories mixed with mythologies and scientific assumptions against religious beliefs of creationism, a doctrine holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world as a whole were created by Almighty God out of nothing.
We don’t know how the universe first came to be because we were not eyewitnesses when God created the universe. This is what the Almighty Allah, the Creator of the universe, nay the multiverse, rabbu-l-ʿālamīn, is telling us as clearly as it might be, in the Holy Qur’an:
Allah, praised be to Him, said: I never called them to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth or even their own creation, nor would I take the misguided as my assistants. (Qur’an, 18: 51).
ما أَشْهَدتُّهُمْ خَلْقَ السماوات والأرض، وَلَا خَلْقَ أَنفُسِهِمْ، وَمَا كُنتُ مُتَّخِذَ المضِلِّينَ عَضُدًا.
There is a unanimous perception among the Muslim scholars that the multiverse was created by God, the Omnipotent.
Most Muslim scholars believe that the universe was created ex nihilo “from nothing” (lā min šayʾ). They say that the essence of God, the Creator, is separated from the creation by veils (ḥijāb) impregnated with the God’s attributes.
Two parallel series of “first created things” are described. On the one side, there are creations that can be considered archetypes, like the pen (al-qalam), the well-preserved tablet (al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ), the throne (al-ʿarsh), and the seat (al-kursī).
It is said, for example, that at the divine command the pen of light was dipped into the Letter nūn. God said: Nūn! By the pen and what everyone writes (Qur’an, 68:1).
The pen wrote with ink of light on the tablet of light all that was destined to happen until the resurrection, yawm al-qiyāmah.
On the other side, they say that the creation has begun with the elements: First was the water on which the divine throne rests. God said: It is God who created the heavens and the earth in six days – and His Throne had been upon water – that He might test you as to which of you is best in deed. But if you say, “Indeed, you are resurrected after death,” those who disbelieve will surely say, “This is not but obvious magic.” (Qur’an, 11:7).
وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ وَكَانَ عَرْشُهُ عَلَى الْمَاءِ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا، وَلَئِن قُلْتَ إِنَّكُم مَّبْعُوثُونَ مِن بَعْدِ الْمَوْتِ لَيَقُولَنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَذَا إِلّاّ سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ.
All in all, the point here is to emphasize the acknowledgement of and belief in God’s creation of the universe, which is a starting point of a moral and ethical worldview based on a conscientious dept (al-dīn) to the Creator in the sense of a voluntary – ṭawʿan not compulsory – karhan submission, indeed, in the sense of the awareness of being a Muslim – a peaceful man of submission to the spiritual laws of Malakūt, the world of spirits as well as of the cosmological laws of Nasūt, the world of physics.
Again, this is something we know that we don’t know either. We don’t know when the cosmos, at least our small planet Earth, will come to an end.
Therefore, as in the case of man’s failure to figure out with certainty how the universe begun because he was not an eyewitness to it, we are told that we should be aware that the date of the end of the world is out of the reach of man’s mind.
Man is not in charge the laws of physics. He is not responsible for the function of natural laws. He is responsible only for his moral conduct – indeed for his decent relationship with human and non-human beings.
“Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice—and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man—by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it—by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues—by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.” (Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Ethics, The Virtue of Selfishness, 23).
Thus, man’s focus should be on harmonizing his relationship with God, his Creator and Sustainer, with man his fellow brother in humanity and with the natural world his temporary abode. He should avoid being a cause for an ultimate disaster of existence of his as well as of the rest of God’s creatures. He should think about consequences of his moral and ethical behavior. A corruption (fasad) on Earth is always a result of filthy and sinful human hands.
ظَهَرَ ٱلْفَسَادُ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِى ٱلنَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ ٱلَّذِى عَمِلُوا، لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ .
Corruption has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done, so that Allah may cause them to taste ˹the consequences of˺ some of their deeds and perhaps they might return ˹to the Right Path. (Qur’an, 30:41).
Again, here comes the importance of the interconnections of cosmogony and eschatology in the sense of belief rather than knowledge.
Because we believe not only in what we know, but also, we believe in what we do not know but have faith and trust in trustworthy reports about unknowledgeable things, which are metaphysical or transcendental truths revealed by Omniscient God to His chosen messengers.
This does not mean that we should disregard the results of the real scientific efforts of physicists and cosmologists who are making their reports about Big Bang and likewise theories in regard to the genesis of the universe.
Despite the fact that some of scientist have us believe that the universe came to be a mere chance of the play of blind cosmic forces rather than by a Wise, Ḥakīm, Creator, we should appreciate objective scientific research for truth.
But we should be careful about some nihilists who are telling us that this world has no purpose whatsoever as well as about some apocalyptic minds who are predicting an immediate end of the world in their lifetime because they cannot afford to imagine that the world will continue after their inevitable departure.
It is our choice to believe in them or to have faith and trust in God Almighty who is teaching us through His messengers that this world is not created in vain for a game but it is created for a serious aim and purpose.
The aim is God’s aim to reveal His glory to His creatures by His love and mercy and the purpose is to make of insān, man, an example of harmonious combination of an animal and rational being, to make of man the best of animal senses as well as the best of angelic spirit.
Indeed, by this very purpose of the creatin of the world, God Almighty is telling us that insān, man, is His only creature who is made to encompass both abodes, the physical as an animal and the spiritual as an angel whereas neither an animal is made for a spiritual world nor an angel is created for a physical world.
Thus, because insān, man, is a unique creature, he is advised by his Creator how to survive physically and how to improve spiritually in order to achieve a success (najāḥ and falāḥ) in this world as well as how to win a salivation (najāt and falāḥ) in the Hereafter.
It is interesting to note that the Arabic colloquial term najāḥ, meaning success, is not used in the Qur’an at all.
Instead, the term falāḥ is used in the Qur’an to designate not only the meaning of success in this world but also the meaning of a salvation in the Hereafter.
Thus, when we hear adhān, the call for the Muslim prayer, ḥayya ala’l falāḥ it is an invitation to both a success in this world and a salvation in the Hereafter: – Come to success, come to salvation.
Besides, the reason why Arabic term falāḥ is used instead of the term najāḥ lies in the fact that the term falāḥ designates the sense of a permanent, continuous and thus eternal success and salvation, while the term najāḥ indicates to a temporal or shortcut success usually in business and likewise.
This understanding of the falāḥ in the Qur’an leads us once again to the idea of an interconnectedness between cosmogony and eschatology in terms of a moral and ethical worldview.
If you believe that the universe was created by God Almighty from nothing, ex nihilo, then you believe that this universe has its Owner, Mālik or Malik who has certain rights of His ownership. Here lies the idea of dīn as a dept to the Creator, Khaliq, and the Owner, Mālik of the multiverse.
Hence, if you believe that the universe has its Khālq, the Creator and Mālik, the Owner, then you will accept the dictate of Mālik’s guidance.
However, man is a big puzzle.
To the dictate of faith, he responds with his “dictate” of prayer: God, forgive me! God, save me! God, don’t forget me!
When he is tested with affluence, he boasts that God loves him, but when he is tested with poverty, he complains that God has abandoned him (Qur’an, 89:15-16).
Whatever, man is ungrateful: when evil befalls him, he despairs, and when good happens to him, he goes astray (Qur’an, 70: 19-21).
When he is in trouble, he returns to faith with the dictate of prayer to God, but when the trouble passes, he forgets the dictate of faith, which protects him from trouble.
When he dictates a prayer, he expects an immediate response, but when he is reminded of the punishment for sin, he demands immediate forgiveness.
Man is impatient when he begs for patience by saying: God, grant me patience, but immediately.
He is always in fear of fear and of hunger.
He likes to dictate his prayer to God, but he does not like to listen to God’s dictates of faith.
He is happy to hear that God loves him, but he is not ready to submit himself to God except when he is in trouble.
He likes to be seen as God’s khalīfa, vicegerent on Earth, but without a moral and ethical responsibility.
He tends to judge God, but he does not like to hear God’s judgment on him.
He cannot live alone, but it bothers him to share his life with others.
But before he thinks of being khalīfa, vicegerent man must understand that he is God’s debtor, al-madīn, confidant, al-waṣiyy, reliable agent, al-amīn that he is al-mu’min, trustworthy.
Man is God’s debtor because God gave him life.
God did not ask him anything in return except for being grateful in good faith/trust in Him as well as that he is committed to doing good deeds for his fellow human beings.
Man’s life is a gift from God, the Giver, to whom man, as the recipient of life, is obliged to be grateful.
The word dīn, which is commonly translated as faith or religion, literally means debt. The translation of the word “dīn” in the 30th verse of Surah al-Rūm in the Qur’an as “debt” and not as “faith” confirms the thesis about man as God’s debtor: – Turn your face towards authentic debt. It is God’s natural way of creating people. There is no change in God’s creation. It’s an authentic debt, but most people don’t realize it.
The term yawm al-dīn in a figurative sense means judgment day, but in a literal sense it means “the day of debt” or “the due day”, the day when man will return what was entrusted to him, which is his own life.
In return, man is rewarded if he was aware of the value of his life and if he protected it from fasād, corruption; but man is punished if he was not aware of the value of his life and if he did not protect it from fahšā’, immorality.
It is so simple that there is no need to explain it anymore, but there is a need to repeat it constantly because man is a being of forgetfulness, he is insān, nisyān or ʿiṣyān.
God Almighty did not ask man how he have would wish to look like or what status he would have desired to have had on Earth. It was “God’s dictate” that man could not resist about his shape and status on Earth.
But God did ask man if he was ready to be a trustee on Earth, God asked him if he was capable of accepting al-amānah, the trust. Man was warned, however, that the heavens, the earth and the mountains rejected that offer.
Flattered by the idea of a khalīfa, God’s deputy on Earth, although he did not understand it well either, the man accepted the commissioner’s offer without thinking what it exactly meant to carry out the heaviest burden, which scared the heavens, the earth and the mountains. God said: – The man is indeed incorrect and hasty (Qur’an, 33:72).
Sure, if man is not willing or not capable to understand the fact that he is in dept (al-madīn) to his Creator during his first initiation, he will for sure understand it at the time of his second initiation.
Here we call one of the greatest Muslim minds on morality and ethics Al-Rāghib Al-Iṣbahānī to guide us through the idea of the first and second initiation (النشأة الاولي والنشأة الأخرة) of man and what it is in-between these tow destinations of man in terms of his success or failure measured by his moral and ethical performance.
In the introduction of his book: “The elaboration of tow initiations and the achievement of two promises of happiness” (Kitāb tafṣīl al-nash’atayni wa taḥṣīl al-saʿādatayni), Al-Iṣbahānī observes some paradoxes in man’s attitudes in-between this tow ultimate destines of man:
1) Man does learn but his learning neither benefit him nor harm him;
2) Man knows only phenomenon of this word but he is indifferent about the Hereafter;
3) Man writes books saying that it is from God in order to gain some cheap profits;
4) Man debates by a wrong argument to kill with it the truth;
5) Man believes but in Jibt and Taghut.
6) Man does worship but besides One God those that do not benefit him nor harm him;
7) Man comes to prayer but in laziness and he remembers God very little;
Man prays but he is yet unmindful of his prayers;
9) Man is aware of God but when he is reminded on God’s presence, he does not mind;
10) Man is calling but other than God Almighty;
11) Man spends of his wealth for good but unwillingly;
12) Man governs but in the way of ignorance;
13) Man is creative but in spreading gossip.
قال الله سبحانه وتعالي:
وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ النَّشْأَةَ الأولى، فَلَوْلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ (الواقعة، ٦٢)
You have already experienced the First Initiation, don’t you remember!
ثُمَّ اللَّهُ يُنشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ، إِنَّ اللَّهَ على كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ (العنكبوت، ٢٠)
Then, God will initiate the Second Initiation because God is Omnipotent
to do anything and everything.
In his book Al-Rāghib Al-Iṣbahānī explains that the destiny of insān, man, is to know his own nature as a prelude to know his initiator, God Almighty – indeed, to know his role in the universe, where he is designated as a khalīfa, vicegerent of God, because of his ability to know the difference between good and evil as well as the distinction between morally right and morally wrong.
It is this criterion by which the success or failure of a human individual as well as a human community is measured here and now in the immediate life of man, i.e., his ability to command good and prevent evil. Almighty God said in the Holy Qur’an: You might have earned the title of the best community in human history provided that you are capable to command good (maʿrūf) and prevent evil (munkar) in the world (Qur’an, 3:110).
In conclusion, we say that the way of man’s belief that the universe is created by Almighty God as well as his belief that at the end the day he will have to account for his life before God Almighty determine his moral and ethical behavior for his success or failure here and now, al-dunyā, as well as for his salvation or loss there and then, al-ākhirah.
اللهم أصلح لنا ديننا الذي هو عصمة امرنا، وأصلِحْ لنا دُنيانا التي فيها معاشنا، وأصلِح لنا آخرتنا التي إليها معادنا. اللهم اجعل الحياة زيادةً لنا من كل خير، واجعل الموت راحةً لنا من كلِّ شرٍّ، يا ربَّ العالمين.
– O Allah, set right for us our religion, which is the safeguard of our affairs, set right our world in which our livelihood is, and set right our hereafter, to which is our return. Oh God, make life an increase for us from every good, and make death a relief for us from every evil, O Lord of the worlds.