Freedom from the paralysis of inaction

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Hamlet’s Soliloquy, Act III, Scene 1
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare

What is the “native hue of resolution”? Can we point to a moment in history when the native hue of resolution became sicklied over by the pale cast of thought? In my opinion, it was the moment of the following utterance.

Cogito, ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am.)

Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, by Rene Descarte

In positing thinking before being, Rene Descartes unleashed the lie that inverted the value system of the world and turned the ascent of man into his descent. The period in European history when this statement was made is called the Age of Enlightenment. It was a philosophical movement that laid the foundations for modernity in Western Europe. The goal of the Enlightenment philosophers was to overthrow the spiritual authority of the Roman Catholic Church. There were some good reasons to do this because the Church had failed as a social institution but what began as a reformation turned into a total elimination. There were naturally some ideological difficulties to grapple with. When you remove the idea of a creator, you also have let go of the idea of man as a created being. You then have a lot of explaining to do. How did man come “to be” (or not to be)? One of the ways out was to say that thinking is the cause of being. Thought was the highest faculty of man and it is what made him specifically human. Further, that thought sufficed man in all matters including matters of truth-seeking. Meaning that the correct method of seeking truth was by rightly conducting one’s own reason rather than depending on someone else’s guidance. People did not need to simply believe what Jesus, may peace be upon him, had to teach when they could arrive at “right” decisions by observing the world and think things through on their own. In the Enlightenment, “reason” meant a substitution of individual thought for inherited religious authority1.

And thus, science was designated as the vehicle not only of devising mechanisms to conduct the affairs of life but also of distinguishing right from wrong. If you wanted to know the right course of action in any matter, you had to undertake a hypothesis, conduct an experiment and then see if you were correct or not and then act accordingly. You can’t fault the Enlightenment gang for being banal. This was a revolutionary idea in a devoutly Christian society. Unfortunately, the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment did not remain confined to Western Europe. The colonialists carried and established them through their politico-economic campaigns in the rest of the world and they were enormously successful. The scientific method is now sine qua non in modern “secular” education everywhere including Muslim countries and the consequence is the collective moral rigor mortis of mankind. In recent times, Dr. Richard Dawkins has championed the philosophy of the Enlightenment. He says that “God is a hypothesis that can be tested like any other hypothesis.” This is the false final frontier of scientific supremacists, an extremism extraordinaire. Thankfully, not everybody was fooled. Consider the following by Allama Iqbal, may Allah have mercy on him.

ishq farmūda-e-qāsid se subuk-gām-e-amal
aql samjhī hī nahīñ ma.anī-e-paiġhām abhī 2

Love is swift in action under the messenger’s precept
Intellect has not understood Love’s message still 3

Bang-e-Dara, Allama Iqbal

Iqbal’s poetry is rooted in tasawwuf, Islamic mysticism; so we might interpret these verse in that tradition although syncretic interpretations are also possible. The idea in the first verse is that man is “moved” by love and guided by the messengers of Love itself. The concomitance of love and movement is perhaps best rooted in the word “affection,” which comes from the Latin afficere – meaning “to influence” in the emotional and behavioural sense. Through Old French and Middle English, this word has come to its modern connotation of love. The word is interesting in this context because it contains within it the simultaneity of love, action, movement and change. The essence and originator of love is Allah Himself and He has imbued His Creation with love and He has created the human being with the foremost capacity to love. The descent of the human soul from the realm of decree to this worldly existence makes him forget where he came from and his purpose in life is to return to that state of love. This journey is guided by the spiritual experiences of certain selected human beings who fall back into Love and become recipients of revelation. These are the messengers of Allah, may peace be upon them. The critical part of Iqbal’s message is in the second verse which says that the intellect cannot penetrate, unravel, explain or obtain the Revelations. No scientific basis can be established for these revelations because science is rooted and rationality which is ontologically inferior to love. Love is a pre-existent with respect to humanity whereas reason is merely a co-existent. While man’s reason distinguishes him from all of Creation, it is ability to love that elevates him above it. Love is not conditioned by science. Science, instead, must be conditioned by love.

Science cannot answer the “why” question. Why are we here? Only the “how” question? How did we come to be? By indoctrinating minds with the idea of scientific ultimacy, we have created what I might term the “crisis of why.” Even the most motivated people today harbour in the depths of their being the question “what is it all for?” The only way forward for them is an act of “covering up” that subtle sense of purposelessness. To veil yourself from your innermost is the essence of kufr – disbelief.

The invocation of love annihilates the “why” question. The reward of love is love itself. Love is the only verb that unites the subject with the object in that it is at once the action and the destination. Once we understand this, we can bring into the picture all of those other innate attributes of man that are associated with the act of love. Things like mercy, compassion, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, beauty, honesty, goodness and ultimately faith. These are what comprise the “native” hue of resolution in man in the proper sense of the word. These are built into human nature and the human being seeks them out for no reason other than the fact that they are the most elevated expression of his own true nature. The falcon is born for naught except flight.

هَلْ جَزَاءُ الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ
Can the reward of goodness be any other than goodness?

The Noble Quran, 55:60, Translation by Mawlana Syed Abul Ala Mawdudi

Love takes man towards unity whereas reason allows him to exist in multiplicity. Both are needed for the fulfilment of destiny. All men and women must trace out individual paths toward the same destination. A friend from the mass communications world shared an interesting insight. He said “you can’t make everyone think the same thing, but you can make everyone feel the same thing.” This is why advertisers rarely offer logical arguments for why you should buy their products. They play with your emotions because they know that the way to make a person act is to move their hearts. Advertising is only the public face of the diabolical entity that is so familiar to us all – the modern corporate firm. Internally they ignore love and all human feelings altogether4. The ideological core of the modern corporate entity comes from a science called neoclassical economics which also has its antecedents in the Enlightenment of Western Europe. It complements the Cartesian precept that human beings exist because they think with the idea that what human beings ultimately want is to prevail over others. The two when ground together and rubbed through a magic lamp give rise to the demon of capitalism – the idea that the reason for human existence is the accumulation of wealth and power through the employment of reason to the total exclusion of any considerations of love. This is the shadow of “rationality” in economics. They invented a behavioural species called homo-economicus – economic man, who acts purely out of greed for something (profit or otherwise) and then set him up as an ideal toward which men in general should aspire if they wish to qualify as being rational.

The reason for this digression into economics is to encourage you to notice how the Enlightenment philosophers were bringing to life a false humanistic ideal. Having gotten rid of what was sacred in humanity, they had to scramble to replace it with the profane. The human faculty of reason and his propensity to dominance, both of which are indeed part of human nature, were reframed from being means to the attainment of love to being ends in themselves. The lower human nature was then touted as being the higher. While on the subject, I might relate an incident that was narrated on LinkedIn to help understand how false ideas have given rise to an unjust world. A man found himself in a shared cab with two others who were gossiping about their workplace. The “manager” among them was talking about how her employees wish to take leave for a religious holiday and she had “had enough of it” and therefore refused to grant such leave. The man listened for a while but when he couldn’t take the complaining any more he turned around to them and said “be human before being manager.” Why do managers often forget they are human beings?

The human being exists for the sake of love and his ultimate want is the attainment of faith. When you take man out of this native environment, his situation is like a fish out of water, thrashing about trying to get a breath of air – all its muscular faculties intact except that they do not avail him outside the water. The journey of revival must begin when the dead fish makes it way back into the water.

The purification and revival of the human heart and its restoration to the position of supremacy over reason is the key to the escape from the prison of inaction. There is a narration from the Prophet Muhammad (s) in which he says that the servant is closest to Allah in the position of prostration5. Commentators have noted that one of the things that happens during prostration is that the heart becomes elevated over the brain. This is of course only symbolically meaningful. What is needed ideologically is a reversion from Descartes where mankind must act in life by placing reason at the service of revelation.

The difficulty is that we have a world population that has been “schooled” into the mechanistic worldview. What they detest most is obedience to something of which they do not have direct knowledge. Everyone demands to know “how something works” before they are willing to admit it is true. For example, if someone wants to take a drug for an illness, they first have to be given a scientific reason for why taking the drug will remove the illness. This is actually good in the sense that it supposedly prevents superstition but this type of thinking fails on its own terms. The reason is that it is not possible for any common person to undertake the kind of study that is required to actually make a sound judgment about even a thing as small as whether to eat a certain kind of packaged food. Drugs are considerably more complicated. Even experts in molecular biology will not be able to judge correctly regarding anything other than a certain specialized type of drug that happens to be their area of research. What happens is that instead of actually making rational judgment people conduct their business with a general blind faith in science. It is enough for most people to have read a newspaper article that cites “scientific” studies in order to be swayed. So science is first posited as the instrument to remove the darkness of blind faith and then becomes the object of blind faith itself – an incoherence built into the fundamental principle of modernity. The outcome of this blind faith in science is that people are dismayed by text of Revelation because it does not “appeal to reason,” and in fact it does not. The problem is that Revelation is not meant to approached with doubt and reason, it meant to be approached with certainty of faith but our faith, at the behest of our schooling, is already reserved for reason and profit. When the moderns read the Quran, they reject it as non-rational whereas it is indeed in proper sense, supra-rational.

Islamic intellectual life has been characterized by reason in service of a supra-rational revealed code of conduct6. It is only when Divine Revelation and the human intellect are situated in their correct places and applied towards their particular purposes does rightly guided action result. In order to be guided by Revelation, the faculties of the heart must be developed in children by schooling. In traditional Islamic schooling, children are first taught to love Allah, His Messenger and His Book and afterwards taught to interpret using reason. Children in today’s school are taught only to love themselves and the faculties of their mind are developed in order to serve their self-seeking needs. The particular strain of self-love promoted in schools is one that is measured by the extent of their intellectual dominance over their peers through a numerical system of grades. You are as worthy as your quantified academic achievement. These beliefs are then reinforced both in higher education and in the workplace and by the time a person is forty years old, their heart has either been pushed far into the background or recessed into complete oblivion. This is symbolised in ancient literature by the image of a human being turning into stone. What are the properties of a stone? It exerts it weight, is resistant to change, blocks the light, and water does not enter it. This last one is important. The symbol of sacred knowledge in the Quran is water and a stone is exactly that thing into which water permeates only a little but almost not at all. When knowledge encounters such a person, it has no option but to go around them. Even stones though are known to burst open by the force of water, so there is always hope.

Dancing down the mountain, the river
ever so often comes across a rock.
Silently, it splits, without question
embraces the rock and becomes one again.

The take-away, as they say in business school, is that love resides at the heart of man’s being and the intellect is the mechanism through which the power of love is channeled into action. When Descartes et. al suppressed the very existence of love by placing reason above being, they stalled the inward action of man and only allowed the outward appearance of movement to continue. This outward movement is simply the transfiguration of material forms and cultural attitudes without any inward movement that we moderns call “progress.” A great symbol for this type of progress is the virtual reality headset that is now so popular. A man puts it over his eyes and his mundane reality is replaced by an enchanting virtual reality that moves all around him while he remains standing in place.

Next we need to discuss how the materialistic and mechanistic worldview freezes man into inaction but I will reserve this for another post because I fear boredom may have already set in. As a bait I will conclude with another portion of Hamlet’s soliloquy in which he laments over inaction in the face of injustice.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all

Hamlet’s Soliloquy, Act III, Scene 1
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare

  1. Walbridge J., God and Logic: The Caliphate of Reason Walbridge J., God and Logic: The Caliphate of Reason, Cambridge University Press, pg15.
  2. Transliteration by
  3. Translation modified from
  4. There are good reasons to believe that the modern corporation is a sociopath. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
  5. Sahih Muslim 482, The Book of Prayers, Sahih Muslim 482
  6. Walbridge J., God and Logic: The Caliphate of Reason Walbridge J., God and Logic: The Caliphate of Reason, Cambridge University Press, pg3.

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