Comparisons Between Quran And Modern Civilization
A parable to understand the fundamental differences between the Quranic wisdom and human philosophy:
Once, a religious and skillful, renowned ruler wanted to write the Quran as beautifully as required by the sacredness of its meanings and the miraculousness of its wording. He wanted to do this so that he might adorn its wonderful words in a worthy array. So, the artist ruler wrote out the Quran in a truly wonderful fashion. In writing it out, he used all kinds of precious jewels. In order to point out the variety of its truths, he wrote some of its letters in diamonds and emeralds, and some in pearls and agate, and others in brilliants and coral, while others he wrote in gold and silver. Also, he adorned and decorated it in such a way that everyone, those who knew how to read and those who did not, were full of admiration and astonishment when they saw it. Especially in the judgment of the people of truth, since the outer beauty was an indication to the brilliant beauty and striking adornment within, that Quran became a most precious artwork.
Then the ruler showed the artistically wrought and bejeweled Quran to a foreign philosopher and a Muslim scholar. In order to test them and for reward, he commanded them; ‘Each of you write a work about the wisdom of this!’ First the philosopher, then the scholar, composed a book about it. However, the philosopher’s book discussed only the shapes and decorations of the letters and the relationships between them, and the properties of the jewels and the way they were used. He did not make any observations at all about the meaning. He was not even aware that the embellished Quran was an invaluable, book having depths of meaning. He rather looked on it as an ornamented art-object. He was well-informed about engineering and chemistry. He had also a great ability to describe things and much knowledge about jewelry. So he composed his book according to these skills.As for the Muslim scholar, on seeing the book, he understood that it was the Clear Book, the Wise Quran. So, he-this truth-loving person-neither paid any attention to its outward ornamentation nor busied himself with the decorations of the letters. He was rather engaged in something else which was millions of times more exalted, more valuable, more worthy of respect, more useful and more comprehensive than the issues with which the other man was occupied. Therefore he composed an interpretation in which he described the sacred truths and secret lights behind the veil of decorations.
Both men-the foreign philosopher and Muslim scholar- presented their works to the renowned ruler. The ruler first took the book of the philosopher, and saw that conceited man had worked very hard but not written anything about the true wisdom of the bejeweled Quran. He had not understood its meaning at all, and holding that book, which is a source of truths, to consist in meaningless decorations, showed disrespect for it. Therefore, the wise ruler refused his book.
Then, the ruler looked through the book of the truth-loving, meticulous scholar, and seeing that it was a very beautiful and useful interpretation, a wise and illuminating composition, congratulated him. It was pure wisdom and the one who wrote it was a real scholar, a genuine sage. The other man was an impertinent artificer not knowing his place. Then, he willed that, as reward, for each letter of his work should be given ten pieces of gold out of his inexhaustible treasury.
Now, if you have understood the meaning of the parable, reflect upon its real meaning:
The embellished Quran is this artistically fashioned universe. The ruler is the Eternal Sovereign. As for the two men, one represents the line of philosophy and philosophers, the other, the way of the Quran and its students. Indeed, the wise Quran is the most exalted expander, a most eloquent translator of this macro-Quran of the universe. It is the Criterion, which instructs the jinn and men in the signs of creation-Divine laws of the creation and operation of the universe-inscribed by the Pen of Power on the sheets of the universe and pages of time. It looks upon creatures, each of which is a meaningful letter, as bearing the meaning of another, that is, on account of their Maker, and remarks, ‘How beautifully they have been made, and how meaningfully they point to the beauty and grace of the Maker.’ Thus, it shows the real beauty of the universe. As for philosophy, it is absorbed in the design and decorations of the ‘letters’ of creation and, in bewilderment, it has lost the way to truth. While it ought to look upon the letters of this macro-book as bearing the meaning of another, that is, on account of God, it does the reverse. It looks upon them as signifying themselves, that is, on account of themselves, and remarks: ‘How beautiful they are’, not ‘How beautifully they have been made!’ By doing so, it insults the creation and causes it to complain about itself. In truth, materialistic philosophy is a falsehood bearing no truths, and an insult to the creation.
A comparison between the Quran and modern civilization and philosophy with respect to the moral training each affords to human personal life
A sincere student of modern civilization and philosophy is a Pharaoh-like tyrant, but one who abuses himself so far as to bow in worship before the meanest thing to serve his interest. That materialist student is also a stubborn, misleading one: unyielding but so wretched as to accept endless degradation for the sake of a single pleasure; unbending but so mean as to kiss the feet of devilish people for the sake of some base advantage. That student is conceited and domineering, but since he can find no point of support in his heart, he is an utterly impotent vainglorious tyrant. That student is also a self-centered egoist, who strives to gratify his material, carnal desires and pursues his personal interests after certain national interests.
As for the sincere student of the wisdom of the Quran, he is a worshipping servant of God, but one who does not degrade himself to bow in worship even before the greatest of the created. He is a dignified servant who does not regard as the goal of worship a thing of even the greatest benefit like Paradise. Also, he is a modest student, one mild and gentle, but he does not lower himself voluntarily before anybody other than his Creator beyond what He has permitted. He is also weak and in want, and aware of his weakness and neediness. Yet he is independent of others, owing to the spiritual wealth which his Munificent Owner has provided for him, and he is powerful as he relies on the infinite Power of his Master. He acts and strives purely for God’s sake, for God’s pleasure, and to be equipped with virtues.
The training the Quran and philosophy give may be understood through this comparison of the two students.
A comparison between the Quran and modern civilization with respect to human social life
According to modern civilization:
The point of support in social life is force or power. Force calls for aggression.
The aim of life is held to be the realization of self-interests. Seeking the gratification of self-interests causes fighting for material resources.
Conflict is the principle of relationship in life. Conflict brings strife.
The bond between communities is racism and negative nationalism. Racism feeds by swallowing others and therefore paves the way for aggression.
The fruits it produces are the gratification of carnal desires and multiplication of human needs.
It is because of those principles of modern civilization that despite all its advantages and positive aspects, only twenty percent of mankind are superficially contented while the other eighty percent are in hardship and misery.
As for the wisdom of the Qur’an,
It accepts right, not force, as the point of support in social life. Right calls for unity.
It holds, in place of the realization of self-interests, virtues, and God’s approval as the aim in life. Virtues bring mutual support and solidarity. The principle of mutual assistance means coming to the aid of one another.
Instead of conflict, it takes mutual assistance as the principle of relationship in life.
It accepts, not racism and negative nationalism, but the ties of religion, profession and citizenship, as the bonds between communities. Religion secures brotherhood and mutual attraction.
Its aim is to put a barrier against the illicit attacks of lusts, to urge the soul to ennoble and satisfy its lofty aspirations, to encourage man to human perfections and so make him truly human. Restraining the carnal self and urging the soul to perfections bring happiness in this world and the next.
Thus, despite its borrowings from the previous Divine religions and especially from the guidance of the Quran, which accounts for its agreeable aspects, modern civilization is the losing side in the view of the truth in its controversy against the Quran.
The laws and principles of the Quran are beyond time and space, therefore they never become out of date like those of modern civilization.
Despite all its charity foundations, institutions of intellectual and moral training, and severe disciplines and laws and regulations, modern civilization has not been able to contend with the Quran on the following two matters and has been defeated:
The Quran decrees:
Perform the prescribed prayer, and pay the zakat. (2:43)…
God has made trading lawful and usury unlawful. (2:275)
As was explained in Signs of (the Quran’s) Miraculousness, the cause of all revolutions and social upheavals, and the root of all moral failings, are these two attitudes or approaches.
I don’t care if others die of hunger so longer as my own stomach is full.
You must bear the costs of my ease-you must work so that I may eat.
A peaceful social life depends on the balance between the elite and common people or the rich and the poor. This balance is based on care and compassion on the part of the elite, and respect and obedience on the part of the latter. Nevertheless, the first attitude (Let others die of hunger so long as I am well-fed) has driven the rich to wrongdoing, usurpation, immorality and mercilessness, while the second one (You toil so that I may be at ease) has led the poor to hatred, grudges, envy and conflict with the rich. As this conflict has destroyed social peace of mankind for the last two or three centuries, so too, as the result of the century-old struggle between labor and capital, those famous upheavals have taken place in Europe. So, despite all its charitable societies, institutions of moral training and severe laws and regulations, modern civilization has succeeded in neither reconciling these two social classes nor healing those two severe wounds of human life, whereas the Quran eradicates the first attitude through the obligation of zakat and heals the wound caused by it, and eradicates the second through the prohibition of all interest-bearing transactions. Indeed, the relevant verses of the Quran stand at the door of the world and turn away interest. ‘In order to close the doors to social conflicts and struggles, close the doors of banks or houses of interest,’ it decrees to mankind, and orders its students not to enter through them.
A comparison between the Quran and modern civilization with respect to bringing happiness to men and women
Together with severely prohibiting idol-worship, the Quran also condemns the ‘worship’ of images, which can be a sort of imitation of idol-worship. In an attempt to contest with the Quran, modern civilization, by contrast, regards sculpture and making pictures of living beings, which the Quran condemns, as one of its virtues. Whereas, forms with or without shadows (sculptures and pictures of living beings) are each either a petrified tyranny (tyranny represented in stone) or embodied ostentation or embodied caprice, which urge people to tyranny, ostentation and capriciousness.
Also, out of compassion, the Quran orders women to wear the veil of modesty in order to maintain respect for them, and so that they who are mines of compassion will not be abased under the foot of low desires, nor become the worthless means of exciting lusts. However, modern civilization has drawn women out of their homes, torn aside their veils and led mankind astray into corruption. Whereas, family life is based on mutual love and respect between man and woman, both modestly dressed; modern civilization has destroyed sincere love and respect, and poisoned the family life. Sculptures and pictures, especially obscene ones, have a great share in this moral corruption and spiritual degeneration. Just as to look at the corpse of a beautiful woman deserving of compassion with lust and desire destroys morality, so too looking lustfully at pictures of living women, which are like little corpses, troubles and diverts elevated human feelings, shaking and destroying them.
Thus, besides serving to secure the happiness of mankind in this world, the Quranic commandments also serve their eternal happiness. You can compare other subjects with those mentioned.
As modern civilization stands defeated before the Quran’s rules and principles concerning social life and mankind, and is bankrupt before the Quran’s miraculous content, the European philosophy and scientism, which is the spirit of that civilization, is helpless in the face of the miraculousness of the Quran’s wisdom.
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi