Humans are social beings in the sense that they can hardly actualize their potential in the solitary status. Although animals and birds have their own pattern of group living, but the intellectual, aesthetic and moral dimensions of human beings can hardly flourish and cannot find their fruition without collective living. These faculties can unfold only when human beings live together across time and space to pass on their knowledge, based on concrete and lived experiences, to the following generations. This is where the birds like swallows and the insects like honey-bees which, in spite of their inborn expertise based on instinct, cannot deviate from the set patterns which they exhibit while constructing their dwelling places, such as caves, burrows, beehives, nests etc. The creatures other than humans cannot thus add anything to what they are able to create.
Human beings, on the other hand, have the capacity to pass on their knowledge, both practical and theoretical, to the generations next and, as such, their faculties remain ever evolving and renovating according to the needs of the times concerned. Although the philosophers like the Andalusian-Arab (Spanish-Arab) Muslim polymath Ibn Tufayl, through his philosophical romance, The Living One, the Son of the Vigilant (Ar. Hayy ibn Yaqzan), have tried to prove that human beings, through their solitary encounter with the nature, can develop a code of ‘self culture’ and ‘moral discipline’, but such culture and discipline could hardly be accepted by the majority of people.
Moreover, it couldn’t appeal the devotional psyche of humans which is satisfied by nothing less than ‘encountering’ the ‘personal God’ instead of the abstract ‘Supreme Being’ of the philosopher moralists and is pleased by exhibiting empathy towards the fellow humans living in an established society. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), the English writer, influenced as he was by the same philosophical epistle through the 1708 English rendition of its Latin edition, Philosophus Autodidactus by Simon Ockley, gave it an entirely different hue in his Robinson Crusoe. Here, it has been shown that, aloof from the society, the solitary human being ‘struggles with faith as he bargains with God in times of life-threatening crises, but turns his back after his deliverances!’
As such, not only the intellectual and aesthetic faculty of human beings but their moral acumen as well is fully unfolded amidst a human society. Now, a society by its very definition comprises of a group of individuals who are bound together by mutual interests. The individuals of this group help each other to overcome their individual shortcomings. These individuals thus develop and prosper together and their individual weaknesses do not stop them from marching towards their mutual goal. Therefore, the religious or, for that matter, the mystical experience doesn’t remain confined to the solitary individual in the society. The religious or moral devotion of such an individual connects him vertically to God and to multiply his devotion, he connects himself horizontally with the humans which he lives amidst.
Such an individual thus becomes ‘ritualistic’ in the sense that he follows the commandments of God in letter and spirit! His routine activities are indeed dyed by the ‘consciousness’ (fear, taqwa) of God. However, his whole being is so much immersed in the ‘ocean of God’s love’ that he ‘experiences the presence of God’ in his every act. Thus he reaches the level of ‘excellence’ (ihsan) where his every deed becomes real service and worship of God. This is the real purport of the Prophet’s (pbuh) explanation of ‘excellence’ (ihsan) as: “Worship God as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him, He (still) watches over you!”
Now, this ‘doing of good’ or ‘excellence’ (ihsan) which is derived from ‘husn’ (beauty) in Arabic has great implications in the reconciliation of broken ties between the members of the society. This makes a person more duty-conscious than being always an agitator of one’s rights. Such a person gives his fellow beings more than what is due to them by law. He doesn’t weigh every act by the scale of law. Forgiveness thus becomes his main feature so far as his own person is concerned. However, he is uncompromising vis-à-vis the established norms of the society and the etiquettes of the social order.
It is such people who tranquilize the society by their words and deeds. Qur’an calls them by the title of ‘the Servants of the Merciful’ (‘Ibad al-Rahman) because they internalize God’s attribute of ‘mercy’! And, it is these real well wishers of the society whom Shaikh Nuruddin, the patron saint of Kashmir, has called ‘real Muslims’:
One who saves others and (not) himself (alone);
He ought to be called a (real) Musalman!
(The Author is Assistant Professor Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: email@example.com)