The need to reflect

25 Aug 2011


RIGHT from the time of its revelation, the Holy Quran has provided us with an all-inclusive value system to lead a successful life in this world and also to reap benefits in the Hereafter.

Among its many unique characteristics, the Quran places immense importance on the capacity of the human mind to reflect on the signs of Allah that are spread all round in nature.

The Quran requires humans to think over matters of fundamental importance seriously, objectively, competently and purposefully. This is aimed at learning and discovering the natural truth. Some ulema and Sufis, too, have emphasised the use of the human intellect to the extent that they have included it in the essentials of the faith as they practised it.

They argue that the human being has been declared by Allah as the crown of creation on the basis of this intellect. It is the only distinctive feature that differentiates humans from other creations. Now, as to where and how to use this intellect, the Quran very emphatically says that it is to be used in the service of faith (and fellow human beings), in sifting right from wrong, in discovering the secrets of the universe, in promoting the ethics preached by Islam, in shunning evil practices in society, in solving social problems, in meeting challenges and in fixing the future direction of the community.

The Quran likens people who do not think to cattle. They have been termed ‘deaf’, ‘dumb’, ‘blind’ and ‘dead-hearted’ as their hearts have been sealed off. In verse 25:44, Allah says, “…or do you think that most of them hear or understand? They are only like cattle — nay, they are even farther astray from the Path.”

Though many Quranic chapters constantly call for reflection, chapter 45 (Surah al-Jathiya) particularly invites believers to reflect over the phenomena that are the heavens, the earth, the birth of human beings and of creations, the difference between day and night, and so on. These are called ayat, i.e. signs or hints from Allah, whereby a believer can upgrade himself/herself spiritually by discovering and reflecting on the secrets of nature and the laws governing it.

Almost all the prophets mentioned in the Quran have left examples for us to follow of their reflection on the universe in their respective times. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to reflect in the cave Hira just outside Makkah before his declaration of Prophethood. Hazrat Ibrahim, too, had an inquiring mind. The Quranic verses 6:75-79 narrate his reflections.

For instance, he saw a star on a dark night and said “this is my Lord”, but when it set, he said, “I like not those that set”. Then subsequently he saw the moon rising, then the sun rising. He said the same thing about those heavenly bodies, and ultimately was led to the Truth.

In the early period of Islamic history, Muslims pondered over the prevailing situations. That is why they conquered the world within the shortest possible time. They ruled over the hearts and minds of the people and won converts wherever they went.

They expanded their vision of creation by constant reflection. However, after the 16th century they gave up reflection and became static.

Europeans, on the other hand, learnt to reflect and thus expand their rule over other nations. Today, they have well-established universities and research institutes where the process of reflection is carried out in a very scientific manner.

Besides, they have established think tanks which think and reflect strategically, suggest planning prerogatives and forecast possible outcomes for national and human development. By this they influence the world and enjoy superiority.

At the individual level, it is also fundamental that a person should think positively. Sometimes negative thinking besets an entire people, causing them immense harm. In order to be positive, faith, sincerity and prayers seeking divine help are a must. One must guard one’s thinking as to where it leads; it is tough but with practice one can master the thinking process.

By logically thinking ahead, one may pre-empt possible bad results, avoid repercussions and help prevent harm from coming to one’s growth and development. Many of our problems are due to knee-jerk actions without thinking or reflection. A human being is programmed by Allah to think forward and arrive at the right conclusions; this ability must be developed.

Unfortunately, some Muslim youth have become ultra-emotive and are drawn to militancy instead of reflecting on their attitudes, thus inflicting tremendous damage on the entire ummah. The example of 9/11 illustrates the point. If the young people who planned and carried out those terror attacks had thought of the after-effects of their action on Muslims everywhere, they would not have done it.

Our present problems need deep reflection; they cannot be solved overnight. Islamic teachings provide us the basic parameters on how to go about resolving many issues. There is a need to develop systematic thinking at the school level. The educationists are the people to design a curriculum for purposeful reflection along scientific lines. The students’ minds need positive direction at an early age to help form desirable habits and build a dignified character.

What they think leads to their subsequent actions, and their actions ultimately determine their habits, character and personality. Our education system usually stresses memorising Quranic verses. This is okay but once these verses are memorised, the very next step is to develop an understanding of them through reflection. The third step should be to encourage students to apply the message of Quranic teachings to their lives.

The writer is an educationist.