By MANSOOR ALAM
Fourteen hundred years ago, when the world was shrouded in darkness, the Quran mentioned that the Universe is expanding – “AND IT IS We who have built the Universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.” (51:47).
Human beings have been given the power to control the forces of Nature:
ARE YOU NOT aware that God has made subservient to you all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, and has lavished upon you His blessings, both outward and inward? And yet, among humans there is many a one that argues about God without having any knowledge [of Him], without any guidance, and without any light-giving revelation. (31:20)
Definition of knowledge
- The word “Science” is derived from the Latin word “Scientia” which means “knowledge”
- Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning [Wikipedia].
Quran describes three kinds of Knowledge
- Knowledge that is born of certainty.
- Knowledge that is visual certainty
- Knowledge that is certain truth
- It is duty for believers to acquire knowledge. God has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with truth: for, behold, in this there is a message indeed for all who believe.
Some facts about the Universe and human body
- There are about 300,000 x 1018 stars within our observable universe.
- It is estimated that there are between 1078 to 1082 atoms in the known, observable universe.
- There are at least 10 x 1018 planetary systems in the known universe. Earth would be “1” of those.
- The Earth has roughly 7.5 x 1018 grains of sand.
- If you took 10 drops of water and counted the number of water molecules in those drops, you would get a number equal to all the stars in the universe.
- The surface of the earth at the equator moves at a speed of roughly 1,000 miles per hour.
- The earth is moving about our sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
- Our solar Earth and all–whirls around the center of our galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour.
- The galaxies in our neighborhood are also rushing at a speed of nearly 2.3 million miles per hour towards a structure called the Great Attractor.
- For a typical human of 70 kg, there are almost 7×1027 atoms (that’s a 7 followed by 27 zeros!) Another way of saying this is “seven billion billion billion.” Of this, almost 2/3 is hydrogen, 1/4 is oxygen, and about 1/10 is carbon. These three atoms add up to 99% of the total.
Importance of acquiring knowledge
And never concern yourself with anything of which you have no knowledge: verily, [your] hearing and sight and heart – all of them – will be called to account for it [on Judgment Day]! (17:36)
And so that they who are endowed with knowledge might know that this [divine writ] is the truth from your Sustainer, and that they ought to believe in it, and that their hearts might humbly submit unto Him. (22:54)
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to humankind: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had, been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason. (2:164)
He it is who has made the sun a radiant light and the moon a reflected light, and has determined for it phases so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure [time]. None of this has God created without truth. Clearly does He spell out these messages unto people of knowledge: for, verily, in the alternating of night and day, and in all that God has created in the heavens and on earth there are messages indeed for people who are conscious of Him [Muttaqi]! (10:5-6)
Quran’s miraculous description of Earth 1400 years ago
He it is who has made the earth a cradle for you.
Regarding earth’s motion, the Quran says in verse (31:10):
If you want to estimate His powers and the wisdom behind all His flawless planning, just have a look at the universe and observe how wonderfully He has placed huge celestial bodies in the outer space without any visible columns (by invisible gravitational pull). Furthermore, he has set huge mountains on earth, in spite of which it continues to rotate at its speed and you abide therein with comfort.
Another verse (16:15) says:
Allah has formed the earth in such a way that you may sit on it firmly while it revolves. He has also created mountains and rivers and land tracks so that you may reach your destination.
Behold, in the heavens as well as on earth there are indeed messages for all who believe. And in your own nature, and in all the animals which He scatters [over the earth] there are messages for people who are endowed with inner certainty. And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence which God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the winds: [in all this] there are messages for people who use their reason. (45:3-5)
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! (3:190-191)
God is sublimely exalted. The Ultimate Sovereign, the Ultimate Truth and do not approach the Qur’an in haste, ere it has been revealed unto thee in full, but say: “O my Sustainer, cause me to grow in knowledge!” (20:114)
Iqbal in his lecture “Knowledge and Religious Experience” says: The search for rational foundations in Islam may be regarded to have begun with the Prophet himself. His constant prayer was: “God! Grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things!”
Iqbal further says: “The spirit of the Quran sees in the humble bee a recipient of Divine inspiration and constantly calls upon the reader to observe the perpetual change of the winds, the alternation of day and night, the clouds, the starry heavens and the planets swimming through infinite space! ….. [The Quran] regards hearing and sight as the most valuable Divine gifts and declares them to be accountable to God for their activity in this world.”
Imran Khan-Batting for Peace
By K. K. Shahid
In his victory speech the day after the July 25 elections, in which the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won by a convincing margin, Imran Khan underlined a willingness to take up a progressive brand of diplomacy. This was punctuated by an exhibit of the proverbial open arms towards India, with Khan saying that “if India took one step forward, we would take two.”
Consequently, it was surprising that a detailed sketch of the diplomatic strategy was missing from his inaugural address as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 19, triggering fears of pressure being exerted by the military leadership, which has historically enjoyed hegemony over diplomacy and veto power over the India policy.
As Khan takes over the reins of government, Pakistan faces a wide range of diplomatic challenges in which India features heavily. These challenges, in turn, are linked to the state’s security and economic policies, over which the PTI-led government is making significant noises.
But while PTI’s economic vision is a continuation of its pre-election narrative, it is on the diplomatic front that Khan has made a U-turn.
“One must differentiate what is said during election campaigns from what happens when a political party or leader comes into power,” says Husain Haqqani, former ambassador to the US and author of India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? “Every Pakistani civilian prime minister, irrespective of what he or she said during an election campaign, has understood the need to improve relations with India.”
Haqqani adds: “If Pakistan wants to prosper economically and grow, then the only way is to improve relations with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India. For Pakistan to stabilise politically and rid itself of the menace of terrorism, again what it needs is better relations with India and changes in the policy of sponsoring jihad.”
The view in India with regards to Imran Khan’s win has been particularly pessimistic with the media underscoring him as the ‘Army’s man.’ Khan addressed this in his victory speech as well, calling out the Indian media for portraying him as a ‘Bollywood villain.’
“From Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif to Gen. Pervez Musharraf to Imran Khan, all political leaders or quasi-politicians in Pakistan have employed the rhetoric of peace and dialogue with India only to be followed by something sinister,” says Aarti Tikoo Singh, Senior Assistant Editor at The Times of India.
“While Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was talking peace with Benazir Bhutto, she and the Pakistani Army were sending hordes of terrorists to Kashmir. Similarly, while Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed the Lahore declaration with Nawaz Sharif, Gen. Musharraf was quietly launching a war against India in Kargil. “So Imran Khan’s post-election change of heart is nothing but good optics to impress the West. Only a naive leadership in the world would trust Imran Khan’s rhetoric.”
A major reason why scepticism prevails with regards to Imran Khan playing a role in improving relations with India is a combination of the army’s influence in helping him become the premier, and the military leadership’s security policy.
It is this security policy that Nawaz Sharif had vowed to challenge in what eventually became the Dawn Leaks scandal. And considering that the army leadership propped up groups affiliated with Hafiz Saeed – the man that the civilian leadership has had to account for around the world – it became evident that the military does not plan to switch any gears on that front.
This further handicaps Khan’s diplomatic ambitions, should they exist, as he portrayed in his victory speech. For it isn’t New Delhi alone that points fingers at Islamabad for providing safe havens to militants; similar allegations have been levelled by each country that borders Pakistan.
Afghanistan maintains that a majority of the attacks on its territory originate in Pakistan – an allegation that Islamabad reciprocates – while Iran and China have maintained that jihadism has spilled over from Pakistani soil into theirs.
Last year Tehran said it was ready to strike militant ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan when 10 Iranian border guards were killed by groups based in Pakistan. China says jihadists based in Pakistan enter Xinjiang to participate in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Professor Shameem Akhtar, a former Dean at the International Relations Department at Karachi University, says Khan is saying the right things to address allegations of cross-border militancy. “He wants open borders with Afghanistan, to promote people-to-people contact. This undercuts misunderstandings and has a positive influence on the psychology of the states. For if there’s no tension between the masses, why should states be hostile towards each other?” he says.
“Also, since the US is ready to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, it would need Pakistan. And a Pakistan under Imran Khan would be best placed to negotiate with the Taliban.”
Professor Shameem Akhtar says Imran Khan might even be able to finally fulfil Pakistan’s long-held ambition of mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“We have traditionally been the agents of Saudi Arabia, especially under Nawaz Sharif, who was indebted to the al-Saud family. Imran Khan is in a more neutral position and he might be able to fulfil Pakistan’s desire of being the reconciliatory force between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he says.
While Islamabad’s diplomacy is intrinsically linked to its security, Pakistan’s economic woes have also created foreign policy challenges. The most prominent among these has put Islamabad in the middle of an economic warfare spearheaded by the US and China in the region, with Pakistan’s need for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) providing the latest battleground.
US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has asked the IMF not to bail out Islamabad. “Make no mistake. We will be watching what the IMF does. There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that, American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself,” he said.
With the IMF set to ask Islamabad to ensure transparency of transactions pertaining to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a precondition for the expected bailout, Pakistan finds itself in a tough spot. “Pakistan is in the middle of the fight between China and the US, and considering our economic vulnerabilities it will naturally face tough diplomatic choices,” says economic theorist and political analyst Farrukh Saleem. “Unfortunately, given the fact that we’re carrying a begging bowl, it makes it harder for us to take decisive action, and it is more likely that things would be imposed on us.”
While the battle between Beijing and Washington poses an external challenge for PM Imran Khan, domestically he faces the risk of alienating his heretofore backers in the military leadership, if he were to attempt to uphold civilian supremacy.
“Offering talks, shaking hands and meeting their Indian counterparts is the easy part. The challenge every Pakistani civilian prime minister faces arises when he or she tries to actually change policy,” says Husain Haqqani.
“Will Imran Khan dare to confront the military and intelligence services that helped him win? Or is the military leadership looking to normalise ties with India and will encourage Imran Khan to take steps they prevented his predecessors from taking? The answers to these questions will determine the path ahead.”
Of Lions and Dogs
By D. Raja
The RSS has sought to engage with the civil society and political formations without substantially altering its sectarian, divisive, communal and fascist outlook. Its diabolic adherence to the unconstitutional proposition of Hindu Rashtra was best manifested in the pronouncements of the RSS sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, at an event in Chicago organised to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic address. While calling for Hindu unity and consolidation, Bhagwat disparagingly said: “If a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy it.”How can any outreach be based on such a disdainful attitude and approach to a substantial section of society? It is ironic — and tragic — that in Chicago, where Vivekananda, in his mesmerising lecture delivered on 9/11, 1893, outlined the defining aspects of Hinduism in terms of tolerance, acceptance and interpretation of truth in a variety of ways, the RSS chief negated whatever the swami stood for.
If the RSS chief had cared to read the speeches of Vivekananda, he would have found that the swami had used the word lion in the context of the awakening of consciousness among all human beings. It was to remind people that they are not weak and fragile and they are children of pure nectar born to tune in with infinity, even while leading life in the finite spheres and dimensions. He explained the idealism guiding human destiny based on the ideals enshrined in the Upanishads, which are at the core of Vedanta.
In Chicago, Vivekananda rejected the description of human beings as sinners and invoked the Upanishads to call them children of immortal bliss. He boldly stated that “the Hindu refuses to call you sinners” and added, “Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.” Such assertions highlighting the positive aspects of all beings irrespective of their faith became the defining feature of Vivekananda’s expositions on spirituality. He also said that “religion is not the crying necessity of India”.
He turned the searchlight inwards when he wrote to a disciple that, “No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hindusim”. The RSS and its chief must learn from the life and work of Vivekananda, who described himself as a socialist and interrogated Hinduism with honesty.
Vivekananda proclaimed his self-esteem and pride as a Hindu because as he said, it was Hindus who built mosques for Muslims and churches for Christians. On December 6, 1992, the BJP and RSS mobilised people to demolish the Babri Masjid in the name of Hindusim. This was contrary to the vision of Vivekananda and ethos of the freedom struggle. No wonder that the then chairman of Rajya Sabha, K R Narayanan, said on the floor of the House that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was the worst tragedy India faced after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Dravidian movement since its inception has been fighting caste domination. An editorial in the 1920s in Justice, the organ of Justice Party, recalled Vivekananda’s words that the chief goal of spirituality is to put an end to all privileges even as differences remained. Justice also quoted Vivekananda as saying Lord Buddha was the chief destroyer of all caste privileges. That legacy deeply inspired the movement for equality and equal opportunity to all.
Vivekananda went to America to find remedies for the poverty and inequality in India. He, therefore, needs to be understood not only in terms of his exposition of Hinduism and spirituality but also in terms of his explanation of social and economic problems. He famously spoke of Islam as a mighty force for equality and brotherhood and held that as the reason why many “untouchables” embraced Islam. He said India needed the Vedantic brain and Islamic body.
Death: an inevitable reality?
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
A few days ago, a student wrote to me, recommending that I discuss death: something we all know is a reality which nobody can deny. Let me define death, as the termination of metabolism in the human body so that it ceases to function. The heart stops beating, the brain stops working and all normal processes of life come to standstill.
The question philosophers, founders of religions, kings and emperors, businessmen, sportsmen, workers — all pose to themselves from time to time is the following: is there a purpose of life and what happens when we die? As far as we know, only human beings reflect about the purpose of life and about death. Other living creatures are too concerned about their survival. The survival instinct is inherent in all forms of life, but for human beings who can think and reason and remember the past and so on, death has always been the ultimate challenge to their intelligence and power.
The biggest appeal of religion is that in one way or another, it offers hope of an existence beyond physical death. That is why a belief in God or some Supreme Spirit or Supreme intelligence is common to all cultures. Some societies are obsessed with such concerns and strive to their utmost to connect salvation in the hereafter with life on earth.
When I was young, I thought death is something for others, something which will happen to me far away in time. Now at 71, I do think about it more often, but I am not afraid death. Or so I believe. I would like to live to be over a 100 years old, like my paternal grandparents, but would prefer to die quickly instead of suffering a slow, painful death.
What I know for certain is that in the last 100 years or so, longevity has increased dramatically. People live longer, healthier lives, more babies survive and thus the world population has been increasing, which in the long run can be a big problem.
All this has been possible because of improvement in healthcare, better medicines and improving diet and lifestyles. Have miracles or religious mantras made any difference except in some psychological sense? That can be discussed and should be discussed because without proper information, no contribution to knowledge is possible.
However, how long will I live is not in my control — more or less, though some people want to decide to finish a painful and meaningless existence, and I think that is their choice. The prevailing ethical thrust is that life should be preserved at all costs and not destroyed. That limits individual choice on this matter.
Of course, one would like never to break the link with people one loves and cares. All the friends and other wonderful people one has come across make life enriching and rewarding. The fact however is that, one day that linkage is going to break and nothing can prevent that from happening. That is the saddest aspect of death. When one wants to live it is because of all the associations which one cherishes and treasures.
The most central question people seek an answer to is whether there is life after death or not. Frankly speaking, only religion can answer that question. Science, experience and observation do not verify that conclusively. It has to remain a matter of belief and faith.
Before writing this op-ed, I watched some videos about people claiming reincarnation happens. Panels of doctors, scientists and academics gave examples of it happening. How reliable are their studies, mostly done in the United States? One can always be wonder. What they seemed to say was that such things happen to very few people and it is not a general experience or claim.
The above discussion on death is based on historical evidence and contemporary experience. However, things may change in the future. I also watch videos of projections about advances in science and technology for the year 2050. I learnt that by that time, the length of life would extend to 120. Cancer will be eradicated and many other fatal diseases as well.
Not only that, but it will be possible to save memory, and thus death would become obsolete and meaningless. However, reproducing a body which will never decompose may take much longer. If that were to happen, death in the sense of memory being disrupted would not only be overcome but it will continue in a body which may also be renewable and thus forever.
By 2050, robots will be taking over many tasks now performed by human beings. The amusing thing and good news are that people will partner with robots instead of only human beings. Just as same-sex marriage is now getting acceptance in parts of the world, a relationship with a robot will initially be a novelty but then become simply another choice. That would transform sexuality and increase infinitely freedom of choice. There is of course, the danger that robots may become too intelligent and start defining and determining the lives of human beings.
Alas for people like me, that future is too far away, but children born now may come to live in a very different world. All this would be possible if, as we say in science, ‘All other things remaining the same’. By that I mean, if human beings do not destroy one another in wars of religion, sect and nationalism using nuclear weapons and other instruments of mass destruction. Ultimately, it all depends on how human beings use their intelligence.
For many of us reading this, it is sad that we will not be around in 2050. Death is a reality and for us, the story will be over sooner or later. However, we should not fear death because when we are dead we would be free from the worries of the living.
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