Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The search for perfection

September 21, 2012

HUMAN beings are endowed with an innate nature that always strives for beauty and perfection. This natural urge towards ultimate happiness drives all men and women as they continuously search for the means to reach the pinnacle of human satisfaction.

This desire to attain perfection in life is firmly rooted in individuals and societies, as witnessed across human history, in different times and places.

The inclusion of society as an organism alongside an individual may seem strange, but it is a truth beyond doubt and worth realising that the relentless movement and march towards perfection is not only a characteristic of human individuals but also a trait of human societies. Society too has a mind.

The questions instantly arising are: what is a perfect society? What is the route to perfection? And most importantly, what is that criteria of perfection, upon which every cross-section of society can agree?

Defining perfection is a philosophical matter, but attaining perfection is purely a practical problem and a pragmatic pursuit. Defining perfection in terms of achieving satisfaction and happiness is like succumbing to a set of purely subjective terms. But fortunately, achievement of bliss is gauged by certain parameters that are more or less uniform among humans.

These parameters are actually the characteristics which every human being adores and holds in high esteem. And if there is one quality that can stand out among all those and remain agreeable to everyone for development of a perfect society, it is justice. Simply put, justice implies giving everyone his due right and share in life, without any bias and prejudice.

The pivotal importance of justice for a society can be inferred from the following Quranic verse: “Surely Allah orders you to hand over trusts (amanaat) to their (rightful) owners and whenever you judge between people do it with justice. Without doubt Allah admonishes you with excellent advice and surely He is all hearing and seeing” (Surah Nisa, verse 58).

As a human body cannot exist meaningfully without a sane mind, likewise society cannot survive with a government devoid of justice. One of the most quoted but least followed sayings of Hazrat Ali that succinctly encompasses the concept is: “A government can survive with kufr but cannot sustain (itself) if it is unjust.”

Please note the analogy of mind to body with that of government to society. As mental control and supervision is responsible for bringing order to all bodily functions in a just manner and hence allowing the human faculties to flourish, similarly the just rule of a government is essential to maintaining order and bringing prosperity to a human society.

If justice is the foundation of a perfect society and proves to be the most important guiding factor, then why is there so much diversification and discrepancy in managing and running society? Why are there a number of approaches and concepts, with each one claiming to be just?

Worth mentioning is the fact that attaining perfection through a just society is not the bone of contention. Instead, the differences are totally dependent upon the worldview prevailing in society. If the dominant perception is limited to the confines of touchable and visible matter, then the search for perfection will also be restricted to material pleasures and happiness. All efforts will be directed towards the single goal of keeping the material body in a state of bliss amid satiation of desires of the flesh.

But in contrast, if more value is attached to the spiritual dimensions of human existence then the material pleasures will take a back seat and emphasis will be on perfection through the development of spiritual character, the prime features of which are honesty, wisdom and abstaining from all deeds that can corrupt society.

A note of caution here is that I am not trying to stress the point that society exists in black and white i.e. it is either material or spiritual. What I intend to elucidate is that every society has a bit of both, because humans are simultaneously material and spiritual. But the main difference lies in the perceived objective or ultimate goal. If the end objective is materialistic then spirituality becomes a tool to that end, and if the ultimate pursuit is perfection of spiritual values then the materialistic self becomes a vehicle towards reaching that goal.

Thus it is the mindset of society that sets the course and direction for social perfection or demise. And that’s why primary focus must be placed on developing positive and logical perceptions of life through (i) education that inculcates spiritual values and (ii) nurturing/training that motivates people towards positive behaviour and attitudes.

Finally, we must never forget that the journey to perfection is undertaken through an evolutionary process — step by step with no shortcuts. It is like nurturing a huge tree from a single seed, carefully providing for all its needs and efficiently protecting it from what is harmful.

Although it is not our point of discussion at the moment, but worthy of clarification in the context of the topic is that some people make the mistake of presenting revolution as the shortcut to perfection, eliminating the need for evolutionary stages. We must never be misled by such a notion.

‘True’ revolution is like a catalyst that only helps in increasing the rate of evolution, like a balanced flame reduces the cooking time of ingredients in a cooking pot. But Allah knows better what will happen to a nation with an empty pot and only a burning flame.

The writer is a freelance contributor.