ABUSE OF RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS SENTIMENTS
The quest for truth has two principal branches which, if the quest is motivated by sincere love of the truth sought, are radically joined - that is, they have fundamentally the same root and goal even though the branches diverge. The two branches are the seeking represented by religion and the seeking represented by science. The effort of the quest is aimed at discovering the relation between existence and human consciousness and perceptive powers within that existence. But the effort is also directed at what it (the effort) is for, and what attitude is to be taken to the knowledge we are given or obtain. This means that purpose and moral judgements enter the quest for truth and shape and colour its achievements. Now some people pretend that the science of nature is neutral about such matters. They are wrong to do so. In fact, though an individual working at some particular problem may believe him or herself to be applying neutral, objective procedures, that person’s work nevertheless entails sharing in all the structures of thought, the assumptions and purposes, which are a part of the culture of science as a whole in any particular epoch. That culture is not independent of questions of purpose and meaning: it is simply that such questions are not the immediate objective or concern of the individual scientist, and, for that reason, they remain implicit in the work being done. They become explicit in human attitudes (personal and societal) and in the technology that funds and (by its success) justifies the quest for scientific knowledge.
True science and true religion should be, as it were, fellow-travellers in that both passionately oppose superstition and falsehood; and, in any case, both have the same right of appeal to reasoned argument and to experience. Religion is the older quest in two important respects: first, in that it teaches and inspires love of truth for its own sake (that love is not and cannot be generated by science itself, though it motivates the best science); and, second, in that it upholds the Authority which gives to human reason its conditional authority - the Revelation of Gods Will to His Messengers, most comprehensively, reliably and finally in the Qur’an and in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace. Religion has a moral and philosophical, as well as a historical, priority. Denial of that priority in human life robs it of its most vital element, its deepest dynamic, and it deprives science of nobility of purpose. Scientific endeavour which does not aim to understand existence, which does not depend on the love for and zeal to know the truth, is liable to blindness and falling into contradictions. Perhaps without knowing it, but (surely) sometimes also knowingly, science becomes captive to ideological and doctrinal preconceptions, cultural prejudices, to the pursuit of power (instead of knowledge and understanding). When that happens, the inquirer’s way to truth is blocked up, and the endeavour of science as a whole does not yield understanding or improvement in either physical or human nature, but leads to the opposite, the ruin and degradation of both.
The priority of the religious quest for truth over the scientific quest for truth does not mean that it is exempt from falling into error and wrongdoing. Rather, it is the reason for even greater vigilance to maintain the soundness of beliefs and principles, the purity of intention and practice. Just as science can be rash and intolerant in attitude towards that which it regards as outside its culture, and so fail its vocation to seek the truth, so too religion can be abused and turned from a quest for pure, heavenly truth into a means for hatred, rancour and vindictiveness. A dogmatic and narrow-minded scientific community, enslaved to certain philosophical or ideological prejudices, can become more fanatical and dangerous in its consequences than ignorance. So too can a religious community when it reduces religion to a device to serve certain political interests or worldly advantages. Religion then ceases to be a heavenly inspiration for thought and conduct, and becomes instead an assemblage of meaningless ceremonies and a worldly ideology.
Institutions where sciences are taught and scientific studies are conducted are to be esteemed as highly as places of worship. However, the institutions where sciences are used to promote certain ideological biases or impose certain concepts to obtain material advantages, no longer deserve respect, as they are structures where selfish, ignoble desires and passions are nurtured. Likewise, if religion and religious sentiments are exploited to promote political ambitions and to divide people into factions, and if religion is taken as a rigid ideology giving rise to polarization and disruptions among people, then religion is no longer a means serving to lead people to God; rather, it is an obstacle before the true religion of God, an obstacle made up of fanaticism, enmity, hatred and belligerence.
However he may outwardly appear, a man unconscious of the true nature of belief and deprived of knowledge and love of God, who cannot measure the principles of religion in the scales of the religion itself, who does not give priority to that to which God gives priority, is disrespectful of the heavenly and universal identity of religion and has no right to claim to be truly religious. What is most opposed to both religion and science is that selfish desires and fancies are presented in the guise of objective knowledge and religious sentiments. This is a weakness in human nature leading people to ostentation and worldly expectations. People tend to sublimate their defects and shortcomings and science and religion are two important devices they use to this end. The most effective weapon of conscience against such a tendency is love of truth; if there is an elixir to dissolve from minds the ‘scientific’ dross, and remove from hearts the tendency to false show of religious devotion, it is love of the Creator and love of truth and the love of His creation arising there from. If hearts are ardent with love and spirits with yearning, it is possible to mend moral defects and elevate human beings to true humanity.
The world of mankind recognized love of truth through the Prophets, and it is this love which leads people to love of God and to build healthy relations with existence. From the very beginning, all Prophets guided their followers to that love and based their relations with their people on that love. It was only when absorbed in love of God that men have been able to find their true identity and value. The Prophet Jesus upon him be peace, composed a poem of life based on love of man and fulfilled his mission by conveying it to others. The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, honoured the world as, in the words of a classical Turkish poet, ‘the commander of the army of lovers’ and expressed love throughout his life. When love of God became in him irresistible, he went on to the other world. The Qur’an, when recited with conviction and concentration, will be understood as a declaration of love, in addition to the charm of its music and phrasing. Love of truth, love of science, the urge to research, the call to reason and to exercise self-control - these are the points which the Qur’an reiterates and about which it warns people. They are like mines in which a careful, believing reciter of the Qur’an can find new, different jewels every time he seeks.
How unfortunate it is that, despite its wealth of power to heal all our wounds, to end all our centuries-old pains and cure our diseases, this precious Book has long been approached with superficial attitudes and disagreeable intentions and used by many capricious persons, desirous of the world and in pursuit of self- interests, as a device to always accuse others and acquit and absolve themselves, and exploited as an excuse for the hatred, belligerence and impudence originating in their own dark souls. This is why many seeking truth and the true path come to it with suspicion and doubt. Approaching people with anger and feelings of enmity and vengeance in the name of the Qur’an, and confusing communicating its message with looking for ways to satisfy certain political or worldly ambitions disguised under religious aims, results in imitating others in atrocities and wrongdoing. It should be understood that Islam is neither an ideology nor merely a political, economic and social system, nor is the Qur’an a book calling its followers to kindle fires of war and enmity among people.
The Qur’an came down to the world with a balance. It seeks to establish a perfect balance - the balance observed in the whole of the universe which the Qur’an orders us not to destroy - in the relations of an individual with other individuals, with his family, his community and with the whole of existence. The Qur’an aims to establish peace and harmony. So, it ought never to be used to cause disruptions and mischief among people and it by no means sanctions or allows putting pressure on consciences and minds. Rather, it seeks to remove pressure from consciences and minds so that people may find truth.
Those who set their hearts upon the lofty ideals established by the Qur’an continue to live until eternity and have an honoured place in the hearts of others, similarly inspired. But those who exploit those ideals in pursuit of their debased ambitions remain as chained slaves of their desires and fancies. Their lives are spent in humiliation and end in doom.
A true, sincere student of the Qur’an aims to convey others to eternity. While he is constantly advancing to his destination along his own way, those drowned in their wrong suppositions and ambitions regard him as mad and see him as misguided.
The aim of a sincere student of the Qur’an is like a catapult throwing him directly into the world of pure spirituality beyond this base world tainted with selfish interests and mean aspirations, or it is like a rocket put in orbit round the truth. Religion is the pure source feeding him and the Prophet is the one who offers it. Those who cannot approach this blessed source through the gate of the Prophet, those who cannot dive deep in this source after the guidance of the Prophet with the necessary equipment to find the gems of truth required in this age, will not succeed in presenting as religion the ideas originating in their dark minds and souls, nor succeed in disguising their fancies and desires as religious ideas.
The Qur’an is a resource of infinite depth; whoever dives in it with a sincere intention to satisfy his needs of every kind - spiritual, intellectual, social, etc.- will find the cure he seeks. The deeper one grows in understanding and knowledge, the more one will find the Qur’an, like a rainbow, far above one’s level, impossible to reach. Following religion means being able to see the light of the Qur’an and the Prophetic way of life reflected through the prism of one’s time, place and conditions and being illumined by it.
Abuse of Religion and Religious Sentiments
- By M. Fethullah Gulen
- Category: Issue 21 (January - March 1998)
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