By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
The new Hijri year began without much fanfare; year 2011of the common era is about to begin. It will ushering us into the second decade of a century already red in blood and feared to be soaking in it if nothing changes in the way events are unfolding around the world. Cataclysmically violent as they are, all events follow a natural course. “Natural” in the sense that there is a direct relationship between what human beings do and what follows. “As you sow, so shall you reap” is as true today as it was when it was first said by Paul some two thousand years ago in his letter to the Galatians.
Yet, the changing of the calendar is inevitably linked to Hope with a capital “H”, no matter how dark the external realities are, for every new leaf in the human chronicles need to be welcomed with fresh hope and commitment to be what human beings were supposed to be: vicegerents of the Creator on earth. In a certain sense, this is true for all humanity, even for those who do not believe in a Creator, because “vicegerency” here includes a dimension of being shared by all humanity no matter what their beliefs are.
This common human element stems from the basic human dignity which all human beings possess. In that sense, all human beings have a certain common domain of responsibility toward each other and toward the natural habitat of their one and only home—planet earth. This common existential basis includes the unique human gift of articulation of hopes and desires, joys and sorrows, feelings and thoughts, all of which we actually experience alone as an entity, a small cosmos, a universe more dazzling than the one constructed with brilliant stars and constellations.
This universe is born within the confines of our perishable bodies; it goes through periods of infancy, youth, and old age before passing on to another life at the moment when it is released from its narrow and perishable confines of the flesh. Taken as a whole, this inner world, where we witness the passing of time as if it were droplets of water falling down, is the invisible common stage on which humanity has been performing since its creation.
In addition to this invisible inner world, we also share a visible outer world with others. This outer world is in a constant flux. Although we participate in the creation of this flux as one of its constituents, yet our understanding of this outer world develops under certain constraints all of which stem from the fact that as members of the human race we are also the observers of human deeds as if from within. While it is true that our behaviors, attitudes, and ideas are marked by the geographical coordinates of our physical presence at a particular point in space and time, it is also true that this physical boundary creates many barriers in the way of our perception of our role as individuals in the creation of this flux.
As we turn the calendar, humanity grows older as a collective. We realize that increasingly number of factors which condition humanity today are increasing exponentially in a world where information travels instantaneously. In the past this was not so. Then the basic set which defined and conditioned human beings remained constant. It included the place of their birth, their inheritance in the form of a particular biological makeup, their tradition, and a particular history they inherited. Today, humanity is in a flux. In addition to the accident of birth and all that it sets in motion, we are now experiencing a rapid influence of global nature which was not there before. As a result, there is a constant process of fragmentation of humanity into smaller and smaller units, as—paradoxically—the world contracts to become a village-like place.
Yet, despite this hopeless fragmentation of humanity, we cannot help to discover at one or another point in our itinerary on earth that in spite of all barriers, there is a certain area of human domain where all human beings come face to face with each other without any regard to race, nationality, beliefs and ideas. Lacking another epithet, this domain can be called “Our Common Present”.
What we have in common with our fellow men and women is this present moment in which we are all breathing the same air, and are capable of looking at the same moon and stars under one sky. At this fundamental level, humanity as a unit faces certain dilemmas. The outcome of these dilemmas may very well lead to a universal calamity. This fear of total annihilation by our own folly is sustained by the hope that, in spite of everything against us, we may yet learn to create out of the human spirit a force so elemental and basic that it will shatter all barriers and constraints in the realization of a transcendental unity with all human beings now living on earth.
The hope that one day we may very well learn to live with each other without the constant presence of tragedies in the back ground may seem Utopian, even Quixotic, but it is sustained by the fact that unification of our planet is taking place at a speed unprecedented in the history of mankind. More and more human beings are discovering that as members of the human community, they all equally participate in the making of whatever lies ahead for the human race.
By experiencing this solidarity we strengthen that elemental force which alone can liberate us from our most horrifying fears of a universal inferno. By experiencing this solidarity we also see ourselves, not as droplets of water falling down, hopelessly separated, but as men and women capable of contributing that very special role which our most marvelous creation demands from us.
Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of
Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).
During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.
Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.
His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.
He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker