Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Thinking properly: a view from the Qur'an

"Do you not see how God presents a parable : a wholesome concept (Kalimatan Tayyibatan) is like a wholesome/healthy  tree (Shajaratin Tayyibatin), firmly planted in its roots, yet it's branches reaches out to the sky. It brings forth its fruit at all times, by the permission of it's Lord. God sets forth parables (Amthaal) for people's [benefit] so that perhaps they will engage in thinking. And the parable of a repugnant concept [ Kalimatin Khabeethatin] is that of a repugnant tree, torn out of the land, having no stability." ( Qur'an 14:24-26)

The Importance of a Correct Foundation

The Qur'an has not come forth in order to make us blind or mindless followers, rather it has come in order to create a solid or positive foundation upon which to develop further. "Indeed, We (Allah) have made it a pure recitation, in order that perhaps you will use your minds." (Q 12:2).

Yet, what is that thinking supposed to be built upon? How are we supposed to identify what constitutes Kalimah Tayyibah, as mentioned in the above-mentioned Quranic text? The attributes of a wholesome concept is Firmness, Far Reaching and having a widely felt positive impact. Thus, Allah says "..firmly planted in its roots, yet branching out to the sky, it brings fruit at all times, by the permission of its Lord"

The Muffasiroon generally assert that the expression Kalimah Tayyibah in verse 14:24 is a reference to the confession of faith in the One and Only God and that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger. If we do adopt that view, the implication would be that when this Shahaadah becomes the core of the believer, that it belongs to you [as opposed to simply an inherited religious formula] your life and your thinking will get better and better.

A person who is firm upon the teaching that God alone deserves worship and that God has inserted his mercy and will into the collective life of man [by sending forth messengers, ending with the Quranic revelation to Muhammad, upon whom be peace] won't be stuck in incorrect thinking, If they are stuck in incorrect thinking, and yet  still claiming to be believers, than the implication is that they have serious deficiencies in their foundational roots, despite their claims to the contrary. The Qur'an informs us:  "They seek to deceive Allah, and those who hold to [real] faith, yet, they deceived themselves, but perceive not. In their hearts is an illness, and God has [as a consequence of their own acts] increased that illness, for them is a terrible penalty, for they are lying." { Q 2: 9-10}

Believers can sometimes make mistakes and hold onto wrong concepts, yet, like the flu, in time the sincere ones recover and head towards that which is correct. "And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messenger have achieved a mighty achievement" { Q 33:71}.

Yet, in all honesty, we are reading the term Kalimah Tayyibah as referring to more than the Shahaadah. We understand this to refer to the foundations of correct thinking, that wholesome concepts are identified by the attributes of stability, positive impact, and far reaching.

Look at the benefits trees bring. There are countless variety of trees worldwide, all of which having different types of benefit. Allah presents to us that lasting ideas are like those fruits that the healthy trees are producing!

We see this in both religious and non religious contexts. We see this in Prophet Jesus as well as Prophet Muhammad, peace be on them both, but also in the great social reformers and minds such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X [Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz].
Repugnant concepts are not long-lasting

The parable continues by telling us of the  repugnant tree [Shajarah Khabeethah]. The Repugnant concept is compared to such a tree. It is a waste of soil. It produces nothing except headache and worry. It is always on the warpath.

Wrong thinking and wrong concepts are like that, even though initially it looks attractive. Consider Eugenics, as well as Fascism and Nazism. These three very related and intertwined pseudo-scientific ideologies attracted the love of millions, including highly educated people. They held political power in important nations [notably Germany under Adolph Hitler  and Italy under Benito Mussolini ] . Yet, the ultimate fruit from those ideas was racial hatred, wars, genocidal actions [perpetrated against the Jews in concentration camps, leading to the death of an estimated six million in those camps] and dictatorship. Today, even in the places where these destructive ideas were given birth, these ideas have, at best, followers on the fringes. They are, by and large, seen for what they were, terrible ideas that are best forgotten rather than remembered (ft.1) .

Believers have to always be on guard to protect their core

In light of the realities of confusion and misguidance, Muslims in particular, but people in general, have to be on guard to protect themselves from being upon or following repugnant concepts, regardless if the source of it's preaching is from the Imam's podium on Fridays or from the office of political leaders!

For Muslims, aids in protection include, but are not limited to, praying, fasting, regular Qur'an study, the company of goodly persons and strong family. For Non Muslims, the same formula can be applied.  For all their faults, both Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi  [Non Muslims]  were deeply spiritual people, dedicated to certain principles obtained largely from seeking out Divine guidance.This is a reality that should not be denied simply due to religious label!

In today's world, we see a rise of narcissism, of racism, scapegoating and stereotyping of peoples. Most disturbing, modern culture seems to glorify all the repugnant behavior that is ultimately destructive. Ignorance is not only tolerated, it is preached, and knowledge, even the seeking of knowledge, is seen as an oddity{ft.2}.

More than ever, we have to seek to be connected to God, we have to divorce ourselves, even if only in a limited way, from a destructive world, particularly from entertainment which is not wholesome, from people who seek to use and abuse, and from vices which can be used against us or work against us.

Wonderful ways of maintaining some levels of protection include simple things like going to the park, exercise, staying off one's mobile phone/computer sometimes, praying not only in the places of worship but also outside, goodly company on family and intimate level, and of course, travel.

Particularly for Americans, who traditionally have been reluctant to leave North America, it is important to see the world. Travel opens up one's mind to new and better things, to see how others live and think. The Qur'an speaks highly of travel { 12:105, 22:46, 45:3, among other places}.

I would dare say that traveling is embedded into the religious tapestry of Islam. After all, we are all obligated to make Hajj, where one sees the many nationalities and peoples created by Allah on this Earth.

Allah ends this particular exposition in these powerful words:

'Allah is establishing those with faith with the firmly established expression [Al Qawl Ath-Thaabit], in this life and the Hereafter: Allah lets stray the oppressive, and Allah does what He wills." { Q 14: 27}


[1] In many European nations, open support for Fascism and Nazism are deemed criminal offenses, even things such as doing Nazi salutes and the like.

[2] This writer has in mind many of the entertainment programs such as The Fox production It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The protagonists are narcissistic bar owners, drifting from one relationship to another, using people and seeking out a quick road to riches in the process. It glorifies, in many of it's episodes, ignorant behavior and thinking. However, this is not the only program which does this. This is found in much of entertainment today. 


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