This book is a precious gem, not to be missed, full of valuable insights on how to live a more meaningful life.
Reviewed by Roshan Shah
The Moral Vision
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Published by Goodword Books, Noida
Author of several dozen books, New Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is one of the most widely-known present-day Islamic scholars. This delightful book is a collection of more than 100 short essays (mostly of single page length) by the Maulana, each of which highlights one or more moral value and indicates the importance of ethics as the basis of a truly meaningful life.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has a deep understanding of the Islamic scriptural tradition, but in this book he draws insights from other sources too, indicating a universal understanding of spirituality based on an ethical core which people of all faiths might easily connect with. Reflecting the Maulana’s understanding that spirituality isn’t something cut off from daily life, but, rather, is deeply rooted in it, this book is framed around anecdotes from the lives of people (famous as well as ‘ordinary’), aspects of Nature, key events in the history of countries, reports in newspapers, and so on, through which the author derives useful moral lessons which we can put into practice in our everyday lives. In this way, he shows us how every experience can be a source of spiritual growth if we care to reflect on and learn from it. From such experiences, no matter how ‘negative’ some of them might seem, one can draw spiritual nourishment, growing in awareness of such values as God-consciousness, forgiveness, patience, compassion, determination and positive thinking. The many little stories that this book narrates strikingly highlight these and other such values, embodied mostly in the form of real-life events and phenomena.
A few examples from the book vividly illustrate this powerful technique. In a story titled ‘Teacher Tree’, the Maulana tells us that the tree-trunk forms only one half of a tree, the roots being the other half. The top half of a tree can only stand erect and verdant above the ground when the tree is prepared to bury its other half beneath the ground. “A tree stands above the ground, fixing its roots firmly beneath the ground. It grows from beneath, upwards into the air; it does not start at the top and grow downwards”, the Maulana notes. “The tree is our teacher”, he writes, “imparting to us the lesson of nature that if we seek to progress outwardly, we must first strengthen ourselves inwardly; we must begin from the base of our own selves before we can hope to build society anew.”
In another chapter, showing how individuals can draw useful spiritual lessons for their own lives from the history of entire countries, the Maulana highlights the case of Japan. In 1941, Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, destroying a large number of American vessels. In retaliation, in 1945, America dropped two atom bombs on Japan on the two major Japanese industrial cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima thus annihilating Japan as a military power. Thereafter, America kept up a tight military and political hold on Japan. However, instead of taking revenge on America for the large-scale atomic devastation, Japan responded peacefully and positively to the new situation. Before World War II, Khan explains, Japan relied on the power of military weapons. But after witnessing the destruction that these weapons caused, it relinquished their use and set about progressing entirely on peaceful lines, so much so that in a few years, it became an economic superpower. Simply by accepting the fact that aggression could not serve dividends and then channelizing its potentials towards the field of industry, Japan reached new heights. It was able to turn its military defeat into an economic victory by abstaining from retaliation, encouraging patience and perseverance, avoiding provocation and focusing on fields of peaceful activity, getting busy with the task of economic rehabilitation without wasting any time on bewailing lost opportunities, blaming others for one’s misfortunes or engaging in pointless nostalgia. Instead of seeking revenge, Japan focussed on availing existing opportunities. It accepted, the Maulana tells us, the blame for its destruction, and, once having done so, was able to seriously work for its own economic uplift.
Perceptive readers can draw numerous from this little snippet of Japanese history for their own personal lives. One of these is how to deal with others in this world of competition. The Maulana notes that one can approach this predicament in two ways: one is to collide with that which obstructs one’s path. The other is to circumvent the obstacle and then go one’s way (the path adopted by post-World War II Japan). The first, Khan explains, is self-destructive, while the second is much more likely to prove advantageous.
Another story from which the Maulana derives useful spiritual insights relates to the island of Sicily (now part of Italy), which was under Muslim rule for many years until 1090, when it was conquered by the Normans. The founder of the Norman kingdom of Sicily was Roger II (1095-1154). Although he belonged to a nation of conquerors and it was the Muslims whom he had defeated, the Maulana writes that he retained high respect for Arabs and Islam. His coronation mantle was designed by a Muslim artist and had Arabic inscriptions woven into it. After his coronation, Roger II wanted a chart showing the full extent of the Norman empire. He chose a Muslim cartographer, Al-Idrisi, to design it because the latter was a leading expert in this field. Al-Idrisi went on to prepare an atlas for Roger II, consisting of 70 maps and extensive geographical data.
Khan suggests that Roger II’s selection of Al-Idrisi for the mammoth task of preparing maps of the whole known world shows that at that time the Muslims’ intellectual and academic expertise was widely accepted by others. Although defeated militarily in Sicily, Muslims continued their intellectual and academic brilliance, even in the court of the conqueror.
The Maulana contrasts this with what he regards as the present-day Muslims’ predicament. He writes:
‘Muslims today complain of their political, economic and military subjection to non-Muslim nations. They think they can take back, by protest and militancy, what has been seized from them. But the case of Roger II of Sicily his respect for Muslim scholars and their continued intellectual domination even after military defeat shows that the solutions to the problems of the Muslims in the modern world lies in their cultivating technological capability, and establishing dominance in the field of modern scientific knowledge. This can be achieved not by protests and militant “fundamentalism”, but by earnest academic endeavour alone; it can be acquired by seeking to give to the world, rather than just take from it.’
Wise words these!
This book is a precious gem, not to be missed, full of valuable insights on how to live a more meaningful life. The approach to spiritual growth that it articulates, based on deriving lessons from every single event and situation, is a valuable tool that perceptive readers can use in their own lives, with great benefit to themselves and others. Just as scriptures can be a source of moral instruction and spiritual growth, so too can ‘everyday’ experiences our own as as well as others this book teaches us. well as others this book teaches us.