Something happened once, something that changed everything:
I began to think. It was the best thing that ever happened, it was the worst
thing that ever happened. I became more certain than I was ever before, I became
more uncertain than I was ever before. I came to know that I could know, but was
not sure whether I should know. I conquered a thousand fears and faced a
thousand more. Between this confusion and certainty, I asked myself a thousand
questions, and a voice within me began to answer...
...why am I? I know I am: I exist. But so does a dog.
The dog serves its master. A very useful animal, this. (But whom does the dog's
master serve?)... a tree -- yes, yes, very useful indeed. The dog's master gets
his apples from the tree. Very tasty, and useful too: you know, an apple a day
keeps the doctor away. The dog guards my house, and the apples make me grow
strong. Strong. Why? For what? What am I supposed to do with my strength, with
my prowess. There are so many things I could do: fly aeroplanes, build huge
buildings, compose music, build up a business empire, outwit others, conquer
nations..., but I want to do more. I want to have power over the elements, over
the sun and the moon and the stars... over life and death. "But...", the voice
within me began to speak. And though I would have hushed its whispers, I could
not deny the fact to which it was alluding. "Yes, yes", I sighed, "I know, I
die". Suddenly, tears came to my eyes. I began to cry. "But why?" I cried out.
Why indeed? I could have done so many things, I could have defied the stars. By
Jove! I could have made a new universe! I could have been God! But alas! I die.
Is that it then? Is that my destiny? Billions and billions of stars, billions
and billions of processes, billions and billions of years of evolution -- and
not a single thing I know of that came even close to matching the beauty, the
intelligence and the excellence that I have --, and then, speaking of myself as
an individual, out of millions of spermatozoa, one wee, little spermatozoon
became -- would you believe -- me. Which one of the other cells could have been
another Einstein or an Edison or a Newton or a Marx, I don't know. Give me time,
and I'll be another Newton, another Einstein, another Marx. Yes, I have said it
before, and I shall say it again: Give me time, and I'll be God. "But...". Ah!
woe betide this "But"! Woe is me due to what follows this "But": but I fall
sick, but I become old, but I have accidents..., and the unkindest but of them
all: I die. Am I then just a combination of molecules which by some strange
chance developed into a thinking being? If so, then my existence is the greatest
tragedy on the face of this earth, then nothing means anything anymore, then
nothing exists except darkness:
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe.1
In bygone days, I would have found solace in the words of
the philosophers of the West. Ol' Bertie Russell, for example, used to sound
very convincing. But not any more. Conquest of happiness by serving humanity --
Bah! Humbug! Well, its nice to make little sacrifices for others, especially
when one is certain of recompense not always in the form of money. (One likes to
be applauded by others: "There's a kindly man", "You know Mr so and so? He's
really a nice fellow", "Three cheers for Mr so and so", and all that. It feels
good). But why the hell should I stick my neck out for something which is not
even going to be appreciated by anyone? Why should I sacrifice my all -- my life
-- for the sake of nobler ideals? For the society? Be like Father Damien2 or
Albert Schweitzer? No way man! No way! Stupid fellows, these. A mention in the
list of notable people for one and a Nobel peace prize for the other. Bullsh --!
Hey fellas, both of them are soil now, vegetables at best. And people talk as if
they were somewhere up there, still enjoying all the applause and recognition.
What superstitious nonsense! How unscientific! The best defence could be that
they got satisfaction from their work. Well, maybe. But you see, gettin' kisses
from lepers and bites from malaria carrying African mosquitoes isn't really my
conception of satisfaction, if you know what I mean. Maybe I get more
satisfaction from seducing young, innocent girls than from mosquito bites.
What's wrong with that? You know, love 'em an' leave 'em, James Bond style.
Agent 007. Or maybe I get my kicks from killing people. What's wrong with that?
The society? Who cares for the society! As long as I can outwit the society --
may be even make a few small sacrifices (as I explained earlier) to make people
think I am a nice guy -- I suppose I can continue to have my fun. In Mario
Puzo's novel, The Godfather, Michael Corleone's girlfriend tries to convince him
into taking up an honest man's career. She asks Mike what would happen to a
society if everyone thought like he did. Take up an honest career to be kicked
in his ars- for the rest of his life by people not even half as competent as he,
only to receive a floral wreath and a few words of praise on his funeral? No
sir, Ol' Mike is the intelligent type. He kills a couple of guys and becomes the
most powerful Mafia chief in New York. Nice work Mike!
If death is my destiny, then this short span of life is all I have. In
this short span, I can, if things go my way, be a god -- but only for a very
short time. Nothing, nothing, therefore, is more important than that ephemeral
divinity of mine. I know if everyone thought like that, there would be chaos and
disorder in the world. The world would be hell. But what care I? I'd be gone by
the time disorder affects my life. And if things started going wrong, I could
always shed a few tears to invoke the mercy of those soft-headed and
soft-hearted Psalm singers who, I think, would not become an endangered species
in my lifetime at least. I'd be the meanest, the most ruthless, the most clever
person that ever was for as long as possible. And if things didn't work out, I'd
always have the option of committing suicide: no use prolonging misery for a
noble cause, no need to `do perseverance' when an easier alternative exists. In
any case, life is meaningless, if death is its destiny. For beyond death is
darkness. Nothingness. As far as I am concerned, ultimately everything is
meaningless, for anything I achieve ultimately passes into nothingness...
..."Unless..." the voice within me said. "Unless what?" I cried out.
"Unless death is not the end, but the beginning. Unless life is not a reward but
a trial. Here ye O man, you cannot even conceive of nothingness. Your whole
being repels the idea of a meaningless life. I swear by the billions of stars
and by the billions of processes that went into making thee, and by the billions
of processes which still go into making thee, and by the billions of spermatozoa
of which one spermatozoon became thee that thy life is not meaningless. It
cannot be. Kneel down, thou fool, and prostrate thyself before the One -- the
Lord of the worlds, and know the meaning of life...
...Life is not a reward. Nor is it punishment. It is a trial. `Tis thee
know full well, and yet ye ask foolish questions":
"But the fact is that man is well-aware of himself even though he puts
up his excuses." (75:14-15)
If this world were not a trial, then your existence, O man, would be the
greatest tragedy on the face of the earth. A child is born poor and another
rich. For a poor man his poverty is a trial of his perseverance. For a rich man
his wealth is a trial of his compassion and concern for others. It is because
the Hereafter exists as the reward (or punishment) for man's deeds and attitude
that sacrifice for nobler ideals has never been regarded as foolishness by his
intuition and greed and selfishness have always been regarded as evil despite
the obvious material benefit they afford.
Fear ye then your Lord. And be not afraid of being afraid, for it is
fear which conquers fear. And a fear which emanates from love is not bad. Know
ye not the parable of the brave man who fell in love with a woman and said to
her one day, "I fear that enemies of our love will kill thee. Art thou afraid?",
the woman asked. "Yes", replied the brave man "I am afraid because I love thee".
Don't ye O man fear losing that which ye love? Fear then losing the love of thy
Lord, for there's no greater loss than that. In that fear is wisdom. Know ye
what wisdom is? Wisdom means to sacrifice a temporary benefit for the sake of a
better and permanent one. Know then that this life is neither permanent nor
better and that which follows it is not only permanent but also much better than
anything you can imagine. And remember God ye cannot be -- neither in this world
nor in that one, for ye come from that which gushes forth. Be then ye thy Lord's
servant, for in humility shall ye find thine greatness. For verily the dog,
whose master thou art, is more worthy of being thy servant than thou art of thy
Master. For ye created neither the dog nor that which it devours. And thy Lord
created thee and thy dog and that which ye eat. And thou dost much less for thy
Master than thy dog doth for thee. But if ye fear Him, ye can have your
salvation. And if you get it, you will find it the greatest reward -- better
than anything you can imagine and everlasting:
"Nay [behold], ye prefer the life of this world; but the Hereafter is
better and everlasting. And it is this which is in the Books of the earliest
[revelations] -- the Books of Abraham and Moses." (87:16-19)
Ye say, "why am I?" Thou art to serve thy Master.
"And I have created not the jinn and men save that they
worship Me." (51:56)
This is the meaning of life. Learn therefore how
ye can serve Him. Read the Book. Read in the name of thy Lord -- the Lord of the
worlds, who in His infinite and perpetual mercy made this world a trial that
justice be done. Ask him to show ye the right path.
The voice within me had spoken. And it had spoken well. I opened the
Book and began to read:
"This is alif laam meem. This is the Book. There is no doubt in it.
Guidance to those who fear God." (2:1-2)
I read and I understood. And I said: I shall do Thy will, my Lord. When
I shall be unable to run fast, I shall run slowly. When I shall not be able to
run slowly, I shall walk. When I shall not be able to walk, I shall crawl. But
move in Thine way, I shall! In my sacrifice shall I be rewarded. In losing shall
I gain. In persecution shall I rejoice. In perseverance shall I grow. In
humility shall I be great. And in my sacrifices shall values be preserved. And
in preservation of values society shall prosper, for end of values means the
death of society. Yes, everything -- everything from the greatest of objects and
ideas to the smallest of particles -- has meaning now. The billions of processes
shall not go waste. Everything is there to help me to move towards my destiny --
which is not soil; it is an everlasting life of bliss where every moment shall
be better than the preceding one and my happiness shall be complete and
enduring. This is beautiful, this is perfection. So imperfect, yet so perfect.
So incomplete, yet so complete. This is me folks -- Man.
I knelt down and prostrated myself in gratitude, and began
to pray in fear and in hope:
"Our Lord! call us not to account over our forgetfulness and mistakes;
our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before
us. Our Lord! lay not on us a burden greater than we have the strength to bear.
Blot out our sins; and grant us forgiveness; and have mercy on us. Thou art our
Lord! help us against those who stand against faith." (2:286)
Darkness now was no longer visible. There was light. That of my voice
within and that of the Book. Light upon light:
"Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth." (24:35)