Salman Ahmed Shaikh
A lot of people these days present themselves as ‘Realists’ and ‘Atheists’. Often, they do not understand the basic premise of religion. Religion concerns itself first and foremost with the question of ‘Why’ rather than ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. In answering the question of ‘Why’, Islam’s basic demand is ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and ‘ibaadat-e-ilahi’ (submission to Allah and worship only Him) in a person’s life.
Allah asks in Quran, ‘Were they created by nothing, or were they themselves the creators?’ (At-Tur: verse 35). If we have been created, then the intellect with which we discover knowledge about matter in physical sciences to answer the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’ and the conscience with which we differentiate between right and wrong, both are bestowed by Allah.
Inner conscience, intellect and external guidance through Prophets are all given by Allah. Atheists deny Prophets and commonly shared history of more than three-fourths of human beings belonging to Abrahamic religions, but do not answer where the conscience and intellect come from?
Some Atheists refer to their doctrine as Secular Humanism. The basic source of knowledge and guidance then becomes conscience alone. That still begs the question that who created conscience and why it does not go through a biologically evolving process. Another problem with conscience only approach is that it cannot settle conflicting moral axioms and it also does not answer at all the purpose of existence and why exactly one should follow the righteous path if one can avoid material law, especially if there is no life after death.
Animals wake up, find food, eat, sleep and wake up again. As per Atheism, humans are also supposed to have only that same purpose. If I believe in this life only, then as long as I can avoid conflict with material law, control legislation by funding political cronies and muster military and diplomatic strength, I can commit genocide, kill, steal, rob for 50 years of my life and the victims and society cannot do anything unless they gain same power and make me powerless and define a different standard of justice and ethics.
According to this belief, a murderer who died before punishment or who committed more than single murder cannot be given absolute justice and victims cannot be given life again since this life is the only life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice for any tiny act of evil or kindness in this life.
Conscience may not err in helping to differentiate between right and wrong, but the right ethical choice may not be chosen by a person if it conflicts with self interest. If I believe that this life is the only life, then why shall I use my limited time, income, abilities and resources to help others? Altruism and sacrifice shall be nonsense. Belief in Atheism entails evading responsibility and encourages pursuit of absolute freedom.
Atheists sometimes argue that science and its advancements have dispelled the need to use religious explanations to events and how things work. First, it must be understood that religion concerns with the moral conscience and strengthening it to elicit positive actions and behavior. Belief in the Creator without seeing Him personally does not mean that one can believe in all types of magic, superstitions, miracles and dogma.
Science concerns with the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’. Any physical explanation of matter, either correct or incorrect, complete or incomplete, does not answer ‘Why it is’. Religion answers the question about purpose of existence and that can help humans to use matter in ways that can result in societal well-being. Else, the same technology bestowed by scientific advancement can be used to kill millions and millions of people instantly with the latest weaponry. Every civilized society with law accepts freedom with responsibility. When that responsibility is determined and guided by the Creator Himself, belief in Tawheed enables a person to be free from being subservient to anyone else except the Creator. Belief in Tawheed ensures equality since every human being is the creature of Allah like everyone else.
Religion has a distinct worldview. It does not have to borrow it from any other doctrine. Science is not a worldview since science is just a way to simplify the understanding of matter in a way to be able to make use of it. The intellect with which we discover nature’s wonders is created by Allah. If religion is not used to suggest lawmaking, then we will be using collective conscience of human beings which is again created by Allah. The Creator of conscience and the Creator of intellect has also provided a third source of guidance through the pious Prophets. Religion does not argue for ‘Creation’ doctrine alone. It gives a worldview which explains the meaning and purpose of life which is ‘aboodiyat’ (submission to Allah) and ‘tazkiyah-e-nafs’ (ethical purification of actions) and which will bring deterministic rewards with absolute justice in afterlife. The alternate worldview to religion is emptiness and anarchy of mind, soul and action.
It is correct that conscience is a powerful source to guide towards the straight path. Conscience is created by Allah. The important thing is that having knowledge of the right path, what will encourage righteous action. When someone believes that there is no Creator and that there is no afterlife and one musters diplomatic, media and military strength, then even if genocide is committed, how shall absolute justice be ensured in this world? What makes the conscience functioning? Religion is not just a source of information to know right and wrong. Religion gives a worldview that explains the purpose of life. Belief in afterlife accountability promises absolute justice which is not possible in this world for crimes like genocide or crimes for which criminals could not be convicted or punished in proportion to their nature of crime because of informational, legal, time and other natural constraints. The promise that every action and even intention will be given full justice by the Creator makes the ‘static conscience’ created by Allah a ‘self-regulated functioning conscience’.
The objective of religious guidance is submission to Allah alone and ethical purification of one’s actions and it should be reflected in one’s duties to the Creator and the environment (which includes other humans and animals of present and future generations).
Atheists often argue that why would Atheists doing good acts not get anything in afterlife from Allah. If a person does not believe in Allah and afterlife, then, it is important to understand what will have been the motive of that person for good actions. Among other reasons, it may be one of these things: 1) helping others and to see their lives improve IN THIS WORLD, 2) getting a good name and die in good records TILL THIS WORLD ENDS and 3) gain self-satisfaction TILL THE LIFE ENDS. These can be some of the broad objectives for a person who does good act and who knowingly does not believe in Allah and afterlife. As far as this world can provide justice, all of these objectives will be achieved to a certain extent. If not achieved or if a person anticipates that the world will not be just enough to reward good actions and right intentions; then, one has to explore as to how the ‘aspiration of absolute justice’ can be fulfilled. Religion promises absolute justice for every willful action and intention in afterlife for everyone. To expect any gain from Allah in afterlife, one already believes that there is Allah and that there is afterlife.
Human mind wants absolute justice, but it is not possible for natural reasons like an army general cannot be given equivalent punishment for committing genocide and in cases where the oppressed are in weak position legally, diplomatically, politically and militarily. Human conscience wants justice for oppressed and for all events where there is injustice. But, this aspiration is not possible to be realized in totality in this world for natural, informational, political and legal constraints. Belief in afterlife accountability gives meaning to the life and what we and others do in it. Else, in an Atheist paradigm, it is just the game of survival of the fittest. Animals play it as well as humans with no difference between the two.