THE WAY IT WAS: Of truth and falsehood —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan
Chestnut leaves of varying sizes are clustered together in bunches of eight.
Each cluster is similar in form, all leaves converting to a round tip of a stem
that then attaches itself to a twig. Leaf joined to leaf, cluster over cluster
assemble in multitude a glorious unity of vivid green
I am told that in the old days there was a clear distinction between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, right and wrong. As human civilisations advanced it became increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. Today, it is asserted that there are no absolute truths. There is in fact no consensus even about general truths. The authority that good exercised over evil in the past has been engulfed by doubt and self-interest.
Doubt is the very essence of knowledge. Human beings invented science to discover truths but have, at the same time, often regarded scientific truths as evil. Galileo claimed that earth went around the sun and not the other way, as was the belief passed on by the church. The church maintained that the pope, who represented god, presided over the earth, the centre of the solar system — a false but tidy platonic concept that served the church well. Galileo soon discovered another truth, if he were not to retract from his theories, he could be tied to a wheel, flogged, have his legs and arms broken to pieces with an iron staff, possibly blinded and then roasted over a slow fire.
Galileo was a brave and a wise scientist who, in the light of this immediate truth, recanted. He did this ostensibly to pursue his research in the laws of gravity and motion that guided the heavenly bodies. A smart move on his part because there was no way he could have convinced the Italian inquisition about the veracity of his truth.
The vast majority of people will not accept truths that are unproductive and unprofitable. It is rare that a religious leader quotes anything from the scriptures that can put him to a disadvantage. Religious edicts in contemporary politics are more often than not employed to incite and divide rather than to appease and unite people for a common good cause. It is unfortunate that the definition of good differs from believers to believers. Some believers regard slaughtering fellow humans a virtuous religious obligation. They are convinced that to be a ‘proper’ Muslim it is fundamental for all believers to agree with their interpretation of Islam, or to be ready to die and burn in hell.
There are others who are equally certain that such dogmatic assertions are an anathema to the very spirit of Islam. One of the essential features of Islam that distinguishes it from other religions, they argue, is that a Muslim needs no pundit or priest to act on his behalf to commune with God. A person could have access to Him at all times through prayer or his thoughts. If this definition was accepted, it is natural and logical that the role of the ulema — assuming they are all learned and virtuous as some of them are — would become academic in nature. Would the ulema accept a definition that would marginalise their role in religion and politics but impose a heavier responsibility on them in terms of scholarship?
It is not Islamic to let the mosque, the House of God, become the political fiefdom of the mullahs. Let the community invite religious scholars to mosques for religious discourse but allow no one to take it over for their private agendas. There should be a free learned debate on religious issues and their social implications but that should not induce sectarian dissention. The diversity of views cherished by individuals and groups of individuals should not divide but enrich them all.
They say nature is a good teacher. It expresses spectacular diversity and unity. Even among the common brotherhood of a particular species, each form and shade of colour is unique. I have been recently painting chestnut trees in the hills in Nathiagali. I have observed that each leaf is different in size, shape and its demeanour. Chestnut leaves of varying sizes are clustered together in bunches of eight. Each cluster is similar in form, all leaves converting to a round tip of a stem that then attaches itself to a twig. Leaf joined to leaf, cluster over cluster assemble in multitude a glorious unity of vivid green. A person who has the patience to conceptualise the whole, without sundry diversions can find the experience overwhelming. Trees are nature’s own mosques and temples with domes and steeples of all conceivable form colours and hues.
A person does not have to be a pantheist to be touched and moved by the abundance of wondrous things that surround him, be it:
Blades of grass
A stone with moss
Ivies scampering up trees
Patter of rain
Wet walnut leaves.
Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist