27 November 2014
In these verses form Sūrah al-`Alaq, Allah links knowledge with faith to counteract the self-deception and vanity that often comes with knowledge. Likewise, Allah prescribes for us to worship Him and prostrate before Him to counteract the tyranny of the self that is disconnected with the Lord.
Immediately thereafter, Allah mentions our human mortality and the resurrection, so that we can reflect on the true state of ourselves. “Indeed, to your Lord is the return.” [Sūrah al-`Alaq: 8]
The chapter then goes on to mention Abū Jahl who tried to prevent people from having the freedom to worship Allah, saying about him: “Let him beware! If he does not desist, We will drag him by the forelock,- a lying, sinful forelock!” [Sūrah al-`Alaq: 15-16]
This short chapter of the Qur’an encourages people to elevate themselves from their self-absorbed state and use their minds to reflect. This is why it begins by mentioning our origins: “Recite in the name of your Lord who created - created the human being from a clot.” [Sūrah al-`Alaq: 1-2]
And then goes on to assert how Allah has graced us by endowing us with knowledge. “Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous - Who taught by the pen, taught the human being that which he knew not.” [Sūrah al-`Alaq: 3-5]
When we become heedless of this, that same knowledge can make us into tyrants. This is because the ego is a tyrant. It begins by asserting the “I” and ends by asking: “Who are you?”
Prophet Muhammad said: “Arrogance means to reject the truth and look down on people.” [Sahīh Muslim]
The Prophet is describing the tyranny of the self, which is the source of disbelief and ingratitude.
Those who are self-deceived in this way despise others, even when those people are from the same background. This is especially the case when the self-deceived people have a high social status or enjoy some historical prestige. We find many examples of this in the Qur’an:
Satan refused to bow down to Adam, saying: “I am better than him.” [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 12]
Pharaoh proclaimed: “I am your Lord on High.” [Sūrah al-Nāzi`āt: 24]
Korah said about his amassed wealth: “I was only given it because of knowledge I have.” [Sūrah al-Qasas: 78]
Nimrod said: “I give life and death.” [Sūrah al-Baqarah: 258]
The man who possessed two gardens said to his companion: “I have more wealth than you and more might in my progeny.” [Sūrah al-Kahf: 34]
People can become self-deceived on account of their race, nationality, wealth, power, knowledge, or position. They start to idolise themselves. This is why Satan said to Allah after he disobeyed: “My Lord! Because you have sent me astray, I shall adorn the path of error for them in the Earth, and shall mislead them every one.” [Sūrah al-Hijr: 39]
By contrast, after Adam and Eve disobeyed Allah, they said: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, surely we are of the lost!” [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 23]
The ego is arrogant, seeing nothing but itself alone without partner.
Scientific knowledge progresses through individual people. We say: “I know that the speed of light is such-and-such and that the Sun is larger than the Earth by such-and-such.”
Then, when those same people come to the truths of Allah’s religion, they think they can subject it to their intellects, taking what they like and abandoning what they do not like, misinterpreting the sacred texts according to their whims without any real knowledge, and making baseless pronouncements in the most authoritative of tones.
The self-aggrandised person cannot remain quiet while people around him are asking about a matter related to their faith. He believes that all people are in need of his wisdom and penetrating insight.
Those who do not worship Allah will start worshipping themselves.
People who think about themselves all the time have a harder time remembering Allah. Allah says: “Remember Allah as you used to remember your forefathers, or with an even greater remembrance.” [Sūrah al-Baqarah: 200]
Commemorating one’s forefathers is an aspect of commemorating oneself. Instead, Allah tells us to commemorate Him.
Whoever forgets Allah, Allah will make them forget themselves, and they will become ignoble in their ways: “And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient.” [Sūrah al-Hashr: 19]
Most ignoble and sinful behaviour comes as a result of idolising the self.
Joseph Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister. On one occasion, he was in charge of executing a priest. The priest said to him: “Fear God in what you do with me, and do not murder me.”
Goebbels replied: “You fool. This age is not the age of God. It is the age of Hitler.”
Goebbels ended up committing suicide with his family in the wake of Hitler’s own suicide. His ignoble end was in accordance with his shameful conduct.
The self can only be exalted by putting other people down. Tyrants see the people as uncouth riffraff who need to be firmly guided and protected from themselves.
We can see a stark contrast to Goebbels in the behaviour of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War Two. He achieved the greatest victory in British history. He refused to impose martial law on the people during the war, saying he would not impose the burden of martial law upon the people in addition to the burden of war.
After the war victory, Churchill’s party lost in the general elections. He relinquished his position as Prime Minister without incident.