Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

Rajab 1424 H
September 2003
Volume 16-09 No : 201
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Quran speaks to You


Idolatry and Human Dignity

Idolatry and Human Dignity

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Indeed, Allah bestowed a great favor on the believers
when he sent them a messenger from among themselves,
to recite to them His revelations, and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and wisdom,
whereas previously they were surely in plain error.

(The House of Imran, Aal Imran : 164)
Commentary by
Sayyid Qutb
Translated by A.A. Salahi and A.A. Shamis

 

The Quran speaks to You

Ignorance remains the same. Every form of ignorance has its own manifestations of debasement, regardless of where it exists and in which age it exists. When people live without a divine faith and a code to regulate their lives, they will sink into one form or another of ignorance. We can easily draw parallels between the ignorance prevalent in our modern world and that which prevailed in Pre-Islamic Arabia or with other contemporary forms elsewhere in the world. It was only through Islam that Arabia was saved from and purified of that ignorance.

We have already explained in our commentary on this verse over the last two issues that the great favour Allah has bestowed on the believers manifested itself in their purification. We continue now with explaining how far-reaching is this purification by the Prophet of the Muslim community.

As we have already said, every ignorant system has its evil and debased practices. Perhaps most prominent among these in Pre-Islamic Arabia was idol worship as described by Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi in his priceless book Islam and the world: “The belief in an over ruling providence had grown very feeble among them (meaning the Arabs in Pre-Islamic days). It was confined to a select few, while the religion of the great mass of them was gross idolatry. The idols that have originally been introduced to serve as devotional media had got elevated to the status of divinity. Homage was still paid to one transcendent God, but only verbally; in their hearts a host of deities were enthroned, whose goodwill they sought to propitiate and displeasure to avert.

Each tribe, city and locality had its own god. Alkindi has stated that every household in Makkah had its own idol, when a Makkan started on a journey, his last act at home would be to invoke the blessings of the family deity and the first thing he did on return was to pay reverence to it. “People used to vie with one another. “We worshiped stones. When we found a better stone than the one we had, we took it up and threw away the old one. Where no stones were available, we made a sandmound, milked a goat over it and worshipped the most beautiful of them and used the other three to rest his pots on for cooking. Angels, stars, Jinns (i.e. spirits) found in polytheistic faiths were adored as divine beings by the Arabs. The angels, they believed, were the daughters of God, whom they besought to intercede with Him on their behalf, Jinns were regarded as the co-sharers of the Almighty in the practical control of the world.

Al Kalbi says that Banu Malik, a branch of the tribe of Khoza’ah, worshiped the Jinns; and Sai’d reports that the tribe of Himiar worshipped the sun; the tribe of Kayarah adored the moon; the tribe of Tamim worshiped Al Dabran; the Lakhm, and the Juzam, Tai’e, Banu Qais and Banu Asad worshipped Jupiter and Mercury.

A quick look at this crude, primitive form of polytheism is sufficient to formulate a good idea at the sort of feelings, principles and practices it generated. We can also appr-eciate the great transformation Islam managed to bring about in the lives of the Arabs. It purified their thoughts and their lives of those evils which gave rise to the sort of social and moral ills which prevailed in their society and in which they took pride. Any incident could start off a bitter inter-tribal war. The war, for inst-ance between the descendants of Wa’il, Bakr and Aemim dragged on for a full forty years. There were innumerable casualties in this war. An Arab chief, Muhalhil, has thus depicted the consequences of this war: “Both of the tribe have been exterminated; mothers have become childless; children have become orphans; the flow of tears does not cease; the dead are not buried.”

The same can be said of the war known as Dahis and Al-Ghabra’a. What caused this war to flare up was that Dahis, a horse belonging to Qis Ibn Zuhair, was leading in a race arranged between the horses of Qais and Hur thaifah Ibn Badr, with bets placed on which horse will be the winner. A tribeman of Asd, on instructions from Hurthaifah, hit the face of the leading horse and this allowed other horses to catch up and pass him by. A killing followed and vengeance was sought. Both tribes tried to revenge the killings of their murdered children. Many were taken captive. Tribes were displaced and thousands killed.”

All this was evidence of the fact that their lives had no worthy preoccupation. Therefore, they had to use up their energy in such trivialities. They had never thought of what sort of role they should play in improving human life. They had no faith to purify them from such social evils. Without faith, people can easily sink to such a level of debasement.

Ignorance remains the same. Every form of ignorance has its own manifestation of debasement, regardless of where people live without a divine faith and a code to regulate their lives. They will sink into one form or another of ignorance. We can easily draw parallels between the ignorance prevalent in our modern world and that which was prevalent in Pre-Islamic Arabia or with other Arabia was saved from and purified of that ignorance.

Humanity lives today in great vice. We have only to look at is media, films, fashion shows, beauty competitions, dancing places, public houses, and the widespread use of photography in literature and art. Combine this with the fact that its economic system is based on usury and all that it entails of materialism, which motivates people to try to be rich even if they have to resort to cheating, embezzlement and other immoral ways. Doubt has affected every individual, family, system and community. It is sufficient to cast a quick glance at all that to recognize that the ignorance which has prevailed in our world is leading humanity to lawful doom.

The humanity of man is wearing thin as people continue to seek animal pleasures. Indeed animals have a standard of life, which is cleaner and purer. They are governed by a serious law of nature, which is applicable to them.

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