HUMAN life is at the centre of all Islamic teachings. It is said that Allah created human being in His own image, awarded him life and made him His khalifa — vicegerent. He is made superior among all creatures and supervisor over the land, waters and skies (17:70).
While on earth, he was promised that whenever guidance comes and whoever follows it, there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve (2:38). Thus, he is required to adhere to and comply with the holy guidance in letter and in spirit. But very few people remember the divine promise while most of us are forgetful.
Forgetfulness is a part of human nature. We are called ‘insaan’ — an Arabic word derived from verb ‘nasiya’ which literally means to forget. This indicates the human tendency to forget. It is evident through Quran which says “… Indeed We made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot. ...” (20:115).
In daily life, we experience forgetfulness. Sometimes we forget names/appointments or petty items. We often forget what we listen to, read, watch, think and encounter directly or indirectly in life. Many of us do not even remember what we have eaten a week before. The positive side of forgetfulness is that it ‘lessens’ our mind enabling it to remember what is most essential. It also allows us to be oblivious of the bitter memories of the past and move forward.
Every religion prescribes rites to help its adherents be aware.
Similarly, nations forget their past enemies with whom they have fought wars over years in order to build a strong future. The example of the Second World War can be cited in which many nations fought against each other but now they are friendly.
But the negative side of forgetfulness makes people ignore their origin and specially the purpose of coming into the world. It is a plain truth that no one can achieve his/her goals unless they remember them. The ensuing struggle rests on the constant remembrance of the exact goal.
To obviate this human weakness, every religion has prescribed certain rites and ceremonies for its adherents to perform in order to make them constantly aware of their goal. These are not an end in itself but means to an end. It is for this very reason that Islam stresses on the importance of matters of practice and the significance of ritualistic acts. These are often repetitive in nature because they are our reminders.
For instance, the daily ritualistic prayers are considered significant because they are the most powerful reminder of our submission towards our Omnipotent Master. Similarly, Islam’s utmost emphasis on reflecting upon natural signs carries multidimensional significance.
Moreover, nature has devised its own system of reminding every individual on a regular basis. It manifests signs and signals around every individual’s life to remind him or her to be careful and conscious. For example, in every society, we observe diseases, death and distress. These are natural signs for every individual to be careful and understand the inherent message of every occurrence. In short, each sign indicates that life on earth is but a short passage in eternity; it is a testing ground and everyone has to reap what they sow.
Though these signs are reminders, they also open new avenues for further progress and development. They propel humans to think and discover divine secrets, unfold puzzles. They also make humans strong and courageous in adversity, humble in success with a sense of realisation that success or failure is not only due to human efforts.
But most people do not heed the natural signs and reminders. They are beset by their worldly problems with a tendency to be hypnotised by the temporal and to forget the eternal. They just want to improve the mundane aspects of life by getting good food, good clothing, good housing and improving their social status. Sometimes they drift away from the right path to get things done by indulging in unfair means and unethical practices. Thus they forget the noble cause of their life enshrined in the teachings of Islam.
In addition to this, the task of reminding people is also assigned to a special group whom Allah has rewarded. Allah says that there should be a group of people inviting to all that is good (3:104). This group may include a variety of dignified people such as Imams, mystics, scholars, historians, intellectuals, philosophers, educationists, and all other leaders known by different titles/designations who have excelled in their field of endeavour. During the last 1,400 years, Muslim history has witnessed many dignified people who have reminded the ummah of its purpose.
Forgetfulness at the level of worldly matters can be excusable but one must not forget the Creator. Allah warns us “And be not like those who forget Allah and He caused them to forget their own selves. …” (59:19).
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019