Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Throughout history, the manifestations of the sacred and the forms of religiousness have undergone a myriad of variations, which are manifested by excavations and archeological discoveries, the beliefs of “primitive” peoples, the socalled
mystic religions, and, of course, the prophetic or revelation. In this context I do not intend to go into any detail about the characteristics of ancient beliefs or doctrines, such as the annual ritual festivities held in most agricultural societies at the beginning and end of the fertile season. These rituals were related to death, birth, puberty, marriage,illness, and other crucial events in life. They also
included the consecration of trees and places as well as some natural phenomena such as the sun, the moon, and other planets, the adoption of idols and the deification of
kings, legends of kings and deities, etc. Their diversity, profusion, and complexity makes them extremely difficult to summarize without distortion. What concerns me most
in this history are the characteristics of the main phases that man passed through in his search for the meaning of existence on this earth, as he strove to comprehend his origin and his fate, and to invent an order of things in an attempt to escape from the chaos that appears to engulf all creatures. Man can only live in a systemized world, no matter what the system may be. Thus, it is inevitable that he should attempt to harmonize in his mind both the human social phenomena and the natural ones, and to seek justifications to protect these phenomena from the charge of arbitrariness. In the process of producing the constituents of that system,
man in fact creates what differentiates him from animals: he creates culture. Culture in this sense includes moral as well as material achievements. However, as time passes, the new devices, institutions, and values become more and more
independent of their source, and seem to acquire their own logic. As a result, man adopts and retains them as if they were postulates inherent in the “nature of things.” In other words, he “internalizes” them, as the social epistemologists
put it, and submits to them with absolute spontaneity, for 6 ISLAM getting that it was he who produced them in the first place.2 And so it continues. Past human achievements become the foundation of new ones, which in their turn acquire an objective tinge and an existence of their own, as man “internalizes” them and their seeming objectivity in a continuous dialectic and interplay. That is why in ancient times man lived in a mystery, unconscious of the significance of his deeds and behavior at both the individual and the collective level. For example, man lays down rules and restrictions governing sexual relationships. Such restrictions, despite numerous differences between them, exist in all cultures. They define what is permissible and licit, and what is forbidden and illicit. Eventually, they become constituents of man’s own personality. In fact man defines himself through the eyes of others. If his social upbringing is completely successful, the set rules acquire a certain spontaneity and intuitiveness,preventing the individual violating them. What is more, he cannot even imagine himself violating them without feeling
guilt and remorse. And if he happens to disregard these rules and is punished for doing so, he considers himself, in his own mind, as guilty and deserving of that punishment. The same applies to all other social relationships. Complete commitment to the rules and restrictions prevalent in a group leads man to accept reality as it is, without ever entertaining the thought of objecting to it or violating it. Indeed,
he can see no other alternative to what the group has established and agreed upon. This may even lead him to sacrifice himself willingly for these rules, as in a war or feud in whichthe tribe, the populace, or the nation participates.

No comments: