Human beings have been crowned with the title of the “cream of creation” by dint of the gifts which they have been gifted with, both tangible (material) as well as intangible (immaterial). Nothing among the creation has been bestowed with what has been provided to humans and it is apparent that the rest of the creation has been made subservient to them. This is the reason that, since time immemorial, humans have tried to exploit the gifts spread through the length and breadth of nature. The word exploit, however, shouldn’t be taken in a negative sense because here it simply means that humans tried to utilize the gifts of nature to suit their needs in a natural way. It was through this “exploitation” of nature and its gifts that humans were in a position to raise their standards of living, erect edifices and found civilization(s) whose remnants are still traceable and the origin thereof makes an interesting subject to study and go through.
This lofty position and sublime status which human beings have been bestowed with has been referred to time and again in the Qur’an. God, in this regard, says: “We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation.” (Qur’an, 17:70) This not only speaks of the intellectual and rational gifts given to humans but it also hints to the honour and respect given to them amidst the creation. Even the bodily structure given to human beings is a witness to the degree of dignity which they have been dignified with. This has been referred to by God as: “We have indeed created man in the best of moulds.” (Qur’an, 95:04) And, this rational and structural distinction together makes the human beings capable of the Vicegerency (Khilafah) of God on the earth.
This lofty position of humans demanded that human beings should have bowed before and served (worshipped) the One God alone because any thought, word or deed, on the part of man, which involved deification of anything other than the One True God was much below the stature of man as the Vicegerent of God.Although the lessons vis-à-vis the servingof the One True God had been given to man but rot set in with respect to the concept of God with the passage of time. This rot resulted in man’s deifying and worshipping the very natural phenomenon which had been made subservient to him. So the pantheon of gods continued expanding as new gods were added to it day in and day out.
This state of affairs also gave rise to multifaceted superstition which added “holiness” to almost the whole natural phenomena and, in its wake, all nature became inaccessible to man for investigation, exploration and experimentation.The direct outcome of this situation was that the doors of of knowledge were shut on man and what was left was nothing but mythology. And, whenever some person emerged as a “seer” to reform the condition(s) of a particular community of people, he, very soon after his death, was seated on the seat of godhead and, as such, superstition continued to reign supreme.
So, not to speak of the faith systems which openly preached superstition, but the Abrahamic religions which were known for their attachment to monotheism had become stakeholders in superstition by preaching and practicing the worship of multipledeities as well as two or three (Trinity of) gods! It was amid these circumstances that God raised the Last Prophet of monotheism, the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah. The time was enough ripe not only because the world, by and large, was in the grip of superstitionbut man had also lost his dignity and grace in its wake. Moreover, a substantial span of time had elapsed since the time of Jesus, as says the Qur’an: “O People of the Book! Now hath come unto you, making (things) clear unto you, Our Messenger, after a break in (the series of) messengers.”(Qur’an, 05:19)
As we know that the Prophet Muhammad (SA‘AS) began his mission with the simple monotheistic formula, “la ilahaillaAllah, there is no god but God,” therefore, it was the basic step towards the “restoration of human dignity” because not only was the lost link between humankind and God re-established but it cut the very nerve of superstition which had dashed man to the depths of darkness and ignorance (asfal al-safilin).The Arabs, especially the Quraysh, in spite of being the progeny of Ibrahim (‘AS) and Isma‘il (‘AS), who had been the paragons of the monotheistic creed, offered stiff resistance to the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (SA‘AS) only because of the fact that they knew what monotheism actually meant and stood for? Their opposition to the Prophet (SA‘AS), however, was neither unexpected nor new in any sense because like the kings and emperors of yore they were afraid of their being dethroned and unseated if they let the call of monotheism spread unhindered and unchecked. Rulers of all hues in the past had banked upon superstition to gain the docility of the common populace by declaring themselves “shadows of God” on earth and whenever anyone dared challenge them they had resorted to severest persecution (fitnah) to force the commoners to toe the religious line of the rulers.
As the Quraysh had apprehensions that they would be relegated to oblivion if they let the mission of the Prophet (SA‘AS) flourish unopposed, they resorted to all kinds of persecution to dampen the monotheistic zeal of the new community of believers. Amid such circumstances, when the believers were exposed to all kinds of cruelty on the part of the Quraysh, once some of the Companions asked the Prophet (SA‘AS) about the promised “succour of God,” the Prophet (SA‘AS) replied that “the believers of the bygone times were put in pits, their bodies cut into pieces and the flesh of some was combed with iron combs, still they didn’t waver from their firm stand!” The Prophet (SA‘AS) also said that this call (of monotheism) would succeed indeed!
When this call of the Final Prophet (SA‘AS) reached Madinah, the world witnessed the “first written constitution” of a State which is known as the Charter of Madinah (Mithaq-i Madinah). History also saw a pluralistic society emerging in Madinah for the first time which was constituted by the Muslims, Jews as well as polytheists. One of the clauses of this Constitution read as: “For the Jews, their religion and for the Muslims, theirs!” Moreover, the Jews had the freedom of resolving their intra-community disputes according to their own Jewish code. The Prophet (SA‘AS), however, was recognized as the highest court of appeal in inter-community issues and disputes.
The Prophet’s call of monotheism also uprooted the tradition of “hero worship” which had been rampant in the neighbouring empires, especially the Sassanians. It once happened that one of the Prophet’s sons passed away in his infancy. His death, however, coincided with a solar eclipse. On this coincidence, the people started discussing the issue and thereby tried to count the infant’s death as the reason of the eclipse because, “loss to any significant person,” thought the people, “would affect the natural phenomena!” However, the Prophet (SA‘AS) corrected the people by saying that all the changes happening in nature were nothing but “the signs of God.” This incident and the Prophet’s response thereof, on the one hand, tore asunder superstition and, on the other hand, established equality among the people of different statures.
This process of the “restoration of human dignity under the monotheistic creed” by the Prophet Muhammad (SA‘AS) was taken to even greater heights by his Companions, especially the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Once during the Caliphate of ‘Umar (RA), the Second Caliph, the son of the governor of Egypt whipped one Copt (Egyptian) on a trivial issue. The Copt complained before the Caliph at Madinah. ‘Umar (RA), at once, summoned both the governor and his son. After completing the legal formality, the Egyptian Copt whipped the governor’s son in front of the Caliph and the governor to avenge the wrong meted out to him.The historical utterance of ‘Umar (RA) on this occasion vis-à-vis the attitude of the governor and his son that “whence have you started enslaving (those) people whom their mothers had borne free?” was perhaps echoed by J. J. Rousseau in the 18th century through his famous words: “Man was born free, but I find him in chains!”
Didn’t the real age of human dignity with social justice, equality, equity and democratic values as its constituents dawn with the coming ofthe Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah (SWT)?
(The author is Assistant Professor at HED, J&K. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org