Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When death is not the end

A Palestinian man visiting graves of relatives during Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Nablus. Death is an inescapable fact. Living in the knowledge of that fact bestows the most agreeable attributes upon a person. AP pic
SOME sayings work for millions of people in the world, no matter what language they are spoken in. Carpe diem is definitely one of these. But how correctly is this saying by Horace perceived today?

Carpe diem, in fact, means that one should be aware that death can come at any moment and, therefore, you should value each and every second. What the famous poet meant when he said, “In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away. Seize the present; trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may”, was that the life of this world is very brief, and that sooner or later, we will return to the earth.

Yet today, this concept is regarded as encouraging a philosophy of hedonism and meaning “live for today, have fun, and forget about tomorrow”.

As one can see from their lifestyles, speech and behaviour, a great many people today really choose to live as if they were not going to die and elect to make maximum use of the benefits of this world; indeed, death is what these people care to think about least.

Never mind thinking about death, they do not care even to remember it. When a friend or someone they know dies, they are utterly devastated. Facing the fact that they, too, will one day die literally makes them sick, inflicts upon them a psychological breakdown and makes them unable to take any pleasure from anything.

The reason why they are so afraid of death is that they regard it as the end and imagine they will cease to be after they die. They, therefore, seek a solution in living as if they will never die.

But the true face of the life of this world is always at their heels and makes its presence felt at every moment, despite their wishes. Although they wish never to grow old or sick, and to remain forever young and healthy, their youth departs in a few brief decades, and they become afflicted by sickness.

Even the most perfect and healthy-looking person inevitably grows old and dies. Thousands of deaths take place every day. The roads are filled with cemeteries. The people buried just a metre or two apart once ate in restaurants, watched television, went to the movies, took photos with their loved ones on their travels and made plans for the future, but these things lost any significance when they died.

The surprising thing is that those left behind are themselves keenly aware of all this but their devotion to this world never decreases, and they continue chasing after the things of this world even though they are, step by step, day by day, drawing closer to death.

Yet, death is one of the greatest realities of all. It is foolish to disregard that reality and forget that life is brief and death can come at any time. Death may come when you never expect, and everything that one has acquired in this world, property, possessions and rank, will be left behind.

Nobody will be able to take his wealth, rank, prestige or anything else into the hereafter. A person enters the grave with his body, clad only in a shroud, and even that soon begins to decay.

In short, death is an inescapable fact. Living in the knowledge of that fact bestows the most agreeable attributes upon a person.

One has a clear and sharp mind: Someone who knows that everything and everyone in this world is finite, and that death can come at any moment, first and foremost has a high level of awareness. He begins purging himself of the transitory desires of this world and of feelings of the lower self. He begins to realise his own weakness. Someone who grasps his own weakness becomes more virtuous, more tolerant, more forgiving and more conciliatory.

He becomes more loving, compassionate and affectionate. He becomes altruistic and humane and thinks of others’ comfort rather than his own. Most importantly, he begins seeking the purpose of life and becomes aware of the extraordinary order that pervades the universe.

On the other hand, he sees the blessings he possesses and realises that it is God Who bestows them all. As he comes to know God, he begins to realise that life is not only the brief span allotted here; he comes to recognise that God, Who created this world, will also create an eternal life after death, and that this eternal life will start after death.

As we have seen, reflecting on death leads on to the true path. It enables a person to be someone who believes in God and knows that he has a soul, who knows that his purpose in this world is to serve God, that he has been sent into this world to be tested and that after that test he will have to account for himself in the hereafter.

For such a person, death is not something to be feared, but a means to come to our Lord, Who we love above all else and to Whom we are devoted with fervour and passion, and a doorway to eternity. Death is not the end, but rather the beginning of the real, eternal life.

The writer has authored more than 300 books, translated into 73 languages, on politics, religion and science.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Understanding The Concepts Of “Sharia” And “Jihad” Correctly

The word “sharia” has become the reason for major apprehension and fear, especially in Western societies, for quite some time now. When you speak of sharia, what comes to people’s mind is such acts as killing, stoning, slitting people’s throats and oppressing women and depriving them of their rights, especially the right to education. In fact, this situation is due to not knowing the true Islam as described in the Qur’an and seen in the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and it derives its strength from the centuries-long presentation of the dark, extremist mindset’s ongoing practices as sharia. But how are we supposed to understand what sharia and jihad truly mean?
Sharia: The path to follow
Sharia literally means “the path that leads to water; method; tradition.” It is described in the Qur’an as the life-giving path God enjoined on the Prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). (Qur’an, 42:13) A Muslim can easily tell what “path” to follow by looking at the Qur’an. Few things are forbidden in the Qur’an, and these are made clear with explicit prohibitions; none of them are open to discussion or interpretation. This is one important characteristic of the Qur’an. For example, killing, adultery, earning interest, eating pork or drinking blood are all unlawful actions revealed in verses of the Qur’an in explicit and definitive terms. For this reason, those who aim to come up with prohibitions by interpreting verses in light of their own desires invariably refer to some scholastic explanations, dubious accounts with uncertain sources and fabricated hadiths and proceed to produce their own deductions from them. God reveals the existence of people with this mindset in the Qur’an:
Do not say about what your lying tongues describe: “This is lawful and this is forbidden,” inventing lies against God. Those who invent lies against God are not successful. (Qur’an, 16:116)
Following the time of our Prophet (pbuh), numerous communities emerged who, as described in the verse, “invented lies against God.” These people, who didn’t take the Qur’an as their guide, produced an entirely different conception of Islam by inventing various lawful and unlawful things. The system which is imposed today as “sharia,” but which in fact completely conflicts with Islam and encourages oppression, tyranny and violence, is a result of turning away from the Qur’an. The “true sharia” which is explained in the verses of the Qur’an, that is, the true path of the Qur’an, can be defined in this way:
The sharia of the Qur’an means love, respect, and affection and protection toward people of all faiths and opinions. The sharia of the Qur’an insists upon democracy and freedom of thought. Under the sharia of the Qur’an, people are knowledgeable, educated, open-minded, respectful of other ideas, modern and high quality; they value art and aesthetics and they also value unity, love and friendship. There is no hatred, intolerance, conflict, despotism, imposition, intimidation, or war in the sharia of the Qur’an. In the sharia of the Qur’an there is absolute justice, equality, as well as rendering back the trusts to those who are due. There is no bribery or favoritism. It is forbidden to impose a belief by force in definitive terms in the Qur’an; everyone is free in their own faith, choices and lifestyle. Islamic sharia offers people a life in which a Muslim, a non-Muslim, an atheist, an unbeliever or a pagan all can live freely.
But is there any Islamic country compatible with the sharia of the Qur’an in the world today? Of course there isn’t. Perhaps the names of a few Islamic countries which are considered to be governed under sharia law come to people’s minds, but in fact a conception of law which has nothing to do with the sharia as defined in the Qur’an but which is instead oppressive, tyrannical and unjust, and not giving women the right to a normal life, rules in these countries.
The sharia defined in the Qur’an has not been applied since the time of our Prophet (pbuh). The countries claiming that they are governed under sharia law or those extremist and radical groups that seek to enforce a “sharia” in line with their ideas are actually very far removed from the sharia of the Qur’an: Therefore, they cannot support the oppression, violence and outlandish rules they apply with evidence from the Qur’an and they are merely basing them upon their ulama (religious scholars), general consensus, the tribal notions of their ancestors and their cultural customs and traditions; that is to say, upon various traditions which are in conflict with the Qur’an.
What should the “jihad” of a Muslim be?
Groups or people who embrace extremist or radical ideologies misinterpret the concept of “jihad” just as they do with sharia. Under the jihad which our Lord reveals in the Qur’an, there is no killing, bombing or suicide bombers; under the jihad of the Qur’an there is not violence, oppression, intimidation, or hatred. Islam, contrary to what fanatics describe, is not a faith reeking of death, hatred and rage. These distortions are later additions to Islam, which is in fact based on pure revelation. Therefore, if a person says, “I have learned it from the Qur’an; I should kill, massacre or use violence against anyone who does not think like me”, this person is simply not telling the truth, because this person adheres not to Islam, but to an entirely different faith, an invented pseudo-religion whose source is not the Qur’an. Everything in this faith is completely dark: There is hatred instead of love, rage instead of compassion, enmity instead of brotherhood, and ignorance instead of art, aesthetics, science and culture. It is very easy to put a weapon in the hands of a person who believes in such a faith, to say to him, “That community over there is your enemy,” to incite him to violence and thus build fanatical sects and armed groups.
So, how did this radical and bigoted mindset emerge? The miseducation of a great part of the Islamic world with this wrong-headed concept and far too many Muslims not being genuinely aware of the Qur’an properly are the reasons for the emergence of this mindset. These people have been left ignorant, ghettoized and kept far away from arts, science and human values. They have considered those who do not think as they do and have different lifestyles as their enemies. They have misunderstood both the sharia and the jihad and applied them wrongly. Most of them have not read the Qur’an, even once. They have deluded themselves to be on the truest path despite the fact that they have merely applied what they learned from their ignorant and bigoted ancestors, someone the Qur’an warns against. They have never stopped to think that they have badly damaged themselves, their religion, their families, their communities, and of course, other people. However, the jihad described in the Qur’an is very different from what these radical bigots consider it as.
The word jihad comes from the Arabic word “jahd.” It means “to work, to strive, to exhibit determination and persistence or self-sacrifice.” Waging jihad in Islam means striving to inform people about the truth of the faith, to teach people proper moral values and to turn them away from evil. While doing this, a Muslim must also train his own lower-self in the direction of moral virtue and strive to be a good person and remove himself from rage and hatred. In other words, jihad means to train oneself on the one hand, while simultaneously striving to teach people truth and goodness on the other. What is principally important in Islam is that this spiritual jihad is carried out intellectually.
The word “jahd” is not used in any other meaning apart from the above in any part of the Qur’an. Therefore, those who are now slaughtering people in the name of jihad, taking their own lives as well as those of defenseless civilians as suicide bombers or inciting war are committing a grave sin; this is easily proved in the verses of the Qur’an. Yet most of them do this because of their ignorance and because they simply do not know the true Islam that is described in the Qur’an. That’s why it is essentially an exercise in futility to kill, bomb, imprison or exile these people. What is important is to eliminate the underlying mindset upon which extremism thrives. The core problem is that extremists, both as individuals and as groups, have never been educated in the Qur’an and they do not understand the law of God. Since that is the fundamental problem, so long as these false views persist, there will be radicals who are ignorant of what they do. Therefore the only thing that those who spread violence and terror under the name of jihad need is a proper education; they must be taught the true sharia and the beautiful path of the faith.
Those who think the problem of extremism is inherent in Islam are causing the swamp to grow even further by thinking that the solution to radical terror is to kill these people; these attacks do nothing but cause the further strengthening of radicalism. The solution is certainly not to take a back seat after saying, “Well, Islam is not this; Islam is the religion of peace” as some Muslims do; nor is it to be found in endless conferences and ceaseless debate on some terms and concepts. The solution is to explain the true Islam described in the Qur’an to these extremist groups and people, to educate them and thus turn them away from the radical mindset, and to start an educational campaign that genuinely addresses the root of the problem. There is a problem of a false belief system that has crept into Islam and false beliefs can only be done away with by replacing them with true ones to be found in the Qur’an.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Diplomacy Pakistan: