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Of Human Bondage

 

Of Human Bondage

Dr. Pasha

 

A Book Called Of Human Bondage

Somerset Maugham, acclaimed novelist, medical doctor, playwright, traveler and a few other things, wrote a famous autobiographical novel – was it around 1915? – he called Of Human Bondage.

Among Maugham’s other works, some better known than some others, were: Liza of Lambeth, A Man of Honour, The Circle, Our Betters, The Constant Wife and the rest.

Among Maugham’s accomplishments was also the fact that in Russia, during the Russian Revolution of 1917, he disguised as a reporter and worked for British intelligence. His experiences as a spy are reflected in his book Ashenden: or the British Agent, which went on to become a style sourcebook of sorts for subsequent political and spy thrillers by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and others.

Reporters as Spies

Does anyone ever wonder how many reporters may be doing that same thing today? I mean masquerading as journalists while actually engaged in spying for this or that government involved in a war effort against one country or another.

Maugham then seems to have tired of wars and intrigue and sought refuge and final spiritual solace in Indian philosophical systems such as Vedanta. It is said that at one time he even asked the famous logician-philosopher A. J. Ayer to visit him and assure him that there was no God.

If I had been around, and if I had access to him, I would have gone up to him and assured him that not only was there a God but that he was closer to him than his own jugular vein and that he was ready to extend his hand of forgiveness, love and compassion to anyone who would turn to him in genuine repentance and ask for it.

That is the business Muslims need to be in but, sadly and unfortunately, they are not. Muslims need to get organized with things like that at least for the future.

Indications are they will, maybe. Should that, however, be the will of Allah the Almighty God.

Turning to Islam for Spiritual Solace

I wonder if the reporters of our age, who may or may not be working as spies in war situations, ever pause to reflect on the mayhem, to the unleashing of which, on often defenseless civilian populations including women and children, their partisan and shady activities may have contributed.

It is also worth asking how many of these reporters-turned-spies ever reach a point of self-examination where they would want to go on a personal spiritual quest to soothe and mend their bruised and battered souls in the direction of Vedanta or Buddhism. Or Islam for that matter, for, it is mostly Muslim populations and Islamic societies and cultures that may have been the target of their mischief and machinations.

If Maugham could be looked upon as the father of the genre of modern spy stories, Ayer was in some ways the father of logical positivism, which put some teeth into abstract philosophical thought in Europe. His books Language, Truth and Logic and The Problem of Knowledge have played a key role in the advancement of more recent approaches to epistemology and human knowledge in the Western world.

What neither the West nor, for that matter, the East seems to understand fully is the fact that it was a belated awakening on the part of the Western thinkers and philosophers to the fundamental Islamic teaching that required all human beings to carefully observe and analyze their environment and draw conclusions based on the facts they had thus marshaled.

Human Bondage to God Almighty

I am, however, using the expression “Human Bondage” here to reflect the relationship of total, complete, utter, eternal and irrevocable bondage that human beings have to God Almighty, their maker, master and owner.

He designed, shaped and made them – out of nothing. He made the world in which they live and operate. He makes the food they eat; the water they drink; the oxygen they breathe; the ground on which they walk.

He controls and manages all aspects of their life on earth. And he brings them death when he thinks it is time for them to leave this world. There is no such thing as “premature” or “untimely” demise of a human being, or of any other living thing, in the meticulous divine calculus of life and death.

God Almighty, the one and only – Al-Ahad, As-Samad – who himself is without any kind of a dependence on anyone or anything. And on whom all things must depend for their coming into being; all through their existence; and for their departure from this world.

He is the one in whom all dependencies of all kind end. And in whom all beautiful attributes find their perfection and their highest point of fulfillment.

So, human beings are God Almighty’s slaves. What other words will you use to describe that very unique relationship of total and utter dependence of humans on God: for their origin; for the duration of their tenure on earth; and for their end and disappearance from this world?

But some people seem to balk and squirm at the use of the words “slave” and “slavery” to describe human relationship to God Almighty.

While I can understand why these words would make some people feel uncomfortable, especially given how human beings have treated their slaves over the centuries, I take the position that nothing else captures the relationship of utter and total dependence that humans have with God better than slave and slavery.

I base my reasoning and conclusion on some simple logic – and on Qur’an.

Qur’an on the Subject of Human Slavery to God

I found strong support in the Qur’an for the concept of human slavery to God.

Slave” seems to be the closest translation to the expression “‘Abd” that the Qur’an uses frequently to define the role of humans in relation to God Almighty. Both etymologically, which means analyzing the roots and origins of words, as well as contextually, by which I mean the specific context in which the Qur’an uses that expression, I am quite satisfied by that rendering. I mean the rendering of the Qur’anic expression “Abd” in English as “slave.”

God, on the other hand, is Rabb – Master. He is the maker. And everyone else is a fully owned “slave.”

Cherisher, nourisher, sustainer, provider, keeper, maintainer and every other description of that kind follows from that basic premise.

But the bottom line is that God is the sole master and proprietor and humanity is the fully owned slave. The relationship, therefore, is one of master and slave.

Simple Logic of God’s Ownership of Humanity and the World

The logic of divine ownership of the world and all that it contains is a most simple one. God Almighty is the owner and master of the world and everything in it by right of invention, creation, concept, design, manufacture, patent, management, maintenance, claim, repair, recall and the rest.

If someone has got time, and is serious, these things can be fairly sustainably discussed at greater length, provided intentions are pure on both sides, and provided an attempt is made on all sides not to waste time or hide behind tired clichés, and provided no side is after scoring cheap points at the expense of the other.

The overall argument of limited human potency and capability for self-sustenance is a fairly strong one.

“Abdan Mamlookan,” is how the Qur’an describes a fully owned slave.

“Laa Yaqdiru ‘Alaa Shaiy,” is how the Qur’an describes the total inability of such a wholly owned slave to do anything by himself, without help from his master.

These are empirical statements whose validity is clearly and easily demonstrable. It is simple science and logic.

God, Chance or Fate: It Is Your Call

I am not saying you can put God in a laboratory. All I am saying is that human inability to invent itself, or to sustain itself indefinitely, or to totally transcend the limitations of time and space as well as the vagaries of circumstance and situation, including the working of the natural forces that operate in the universe, is not a matter of dispute or speculation, it is a self-evident fact.

No human being lives a 1000 years. No one can fly in the air without appropriate gadgetry and instrumentation. No one can breathe underwater.

It is God Almighty who makes all things possible for humans to live their life on earth. Atheists and unbelievers can call it Chance. They have every right to do that. But what they have no ability to do is to be able to show or prove that there is no God.

That means if the believers cannot show there is a God the unbelievers also cannot show there is no God. It is thus a perfectly level playing field, on which both sides are evenly matched. And that is exactly the way God wants it.

As a result, what no one in the world can dispute or question is the utter and absolute dependence of humanity on something beyond itself. That is what the believers call God and the unbelievers refer to as Chance.

Or Fate if you will.

Thus, God, Fate or Chance, ultimately it is your call. And the outcome of the game of life for you – both in this world and the next world – and for a lot of others around you, depends on the call you make.

Inherent Human Helplessness

Forgive me for saying this, but anyone with any sense can see the degree to which utter helplessness is inherent in the human condition.

How much evidence and how much logic, support and argument do we need to prove this most obvious and self-evident of facts?

If Shakespeare had had time, or if he had known Islam and Muslims better than he quite probably did, he would have said something like: “Humanity, Thy Name Is Frailty and Helplessness!”

I am saying “he quite probably did,” because how else did he come up with the title or story of Othello, the Moor?

Moor, indeed!

The British had to hedge on the question of Islam and Muslims, didn’t they, even though they got rich not only plundering Muslim lands and treasures but also selling Muslims as slaves for generations.

And how could Shakespeare have built Venice, the European gateway to the Muslim world, into his plays the way he did and not be aware of what lay beyond the gates of Europe?

Shakespeare’s Misogynistic Myth

If he had known and understood Islam fully and properly, Shakespeare would not have felt the need to malign and denigrate the prodigious strength of “Woman” – as in “Frailty, thy name is Woman!” He would not thus have perpetuated a sexist and misogynist theme in the English language down to our times.

For, Shakespeare should have known that it is only the woman – any woman anywhere – who conceives a child; carries it around in her belly for nine months; feeds it of her own body; eats, sleeps and walks about with that child still bouncing around in her tummy; delivers it through an orifice in her own body which tears open to allow the baby to pop out; nurses it endlessly at all times of day and night; takes care of it through thick and thin; and dotes on it through a succession of most demanding and painful stages of growth, development, education, health and illness.

Which man can do any of that, other than maybe take care of the baby a little bit after it is born and delivered – that too accompanied by a thousand complaints and excuses.

If all these things add up to one large human quality of “frailty,” then Shakespeare did not know a thing about the English language. Nor did he seem to understand how things work in the real world.

Either he should have studied Islam more carefully. Or he should have observed the world around him more rigorously.

Qur’an and Islam Exalt Womankind

In sharp and clear contrast to Shakespeare referring to womanhood as “frailty,” the Qur’an puts the woman on a pedestal. It gives the woman a place of honor and respect which she did not have before Islam and which she has not fully attained to this day, even after 1400 years after the advent of Islam in this world.

Among other things, the Qur’an predicates a woman’s exalted position in the world on her unique gift to bear children and all the challenges and hardships that are associated with that role. Listen to the Qur’an state it in its own inimitable style:

Hamalathu ummuhoo kurhan wa wada-athu kurhan.

Paraphrase: His mother conceived and carried him in pain and distress and gave birth to him in pain and distress.

Elsewhere, the Qur’an sums it up thus: Wahanan alaa wahanin.

Paraphrase: the entire process of pregnancy and childbirth was a succession of one stressful situation after another.

Human Frailty and God

At the same time, Shakespeare’s plays – both comedies and tragedies – can in some ways be summed up to precisely one clear conclusion: human frailty, dependence, helplessness, unpredictability, lack of mastery and control over life and the vagaries thereof.

The mysterious workings of “Fate,” (or Chance if you will) some people may call it. I call it God.

You can’t prove it is not. I can’t prove it is. We are even.

So, let us talk. Wow!

That is where God wants it to be: a level conceptual field for humans to play their little mind games on.

Even though individual powers and capacities vary, and even though access to resources is often uneven, success in this world is still tied to effort, and outcomes are fairly open if the game of life is played observing the rules of truth, justice, equality, generosity and compassion mandated by God Almighty in all human dealings.

God Abhors Injustice and Oppression:
An Abomination Called Zulm

God Almighty abhors injustice, oppression and coercion. He calls it Zulm and says in the Qur’an that Zulm is one of the worst things anyone can do.

As a result, God does not want to stack the cards at the one level that really matters: the simple threshold of saying yes or no to him.

When it comes to that one, he wants you to be fully and entirely on your own.

Everything else you can negotiate. But that simple affirmation of his existence and your relationship of slavish servitude to him and dependence on him he makes entirely your business.

If you are confused about that most fundamental fact of life, then he says go and find yourself another master. Go, be the slave of anyone and anything you want.

Go back to the one(s) you think you love and cherish most and who love and cherish you most and hook up with them. Then come back when your mind is a bit clearer and when experience has taught you better.

How fair the whole deal!

What a master God Almighty is! How fair indeed! How respectful of the autonomy you don’t have and would yet like to claim and cherish the illusion of!

But of that another time.

Being God’s Slave Liberates and Empowers You

So, that is your master, your Rabb!

That is the one you should be proud to be a slave of, without any hesitation or prevarication or reservation whatsoever.

Dhaalikumullahu Rabbukum, as the Qur’an puts it.

Being his slave shall set you free from all other types of bondage. And it shall empower you.

His slavery shall empower you and give you access to and mastery over the rest of his creation: not to control, abuse, manipulate, dominate, tyrannize, corrupt, lie; not to propagandize about, misrepresent, mislead, waste and exploit; but to love and to serve and to protect and to cherish and to nurture.

And to leave it all in a better condition than you found it.

If there is a better deal being offered anywhere in this world, let us hear about it. As someone once put it: Bring It On!

Whose Slave Are You Anyway?

So, in this sense, “slave” implies extreme dependence and lack of full autonomy on the part of humanity, which I think is a fairly defensible proposition.

No matter how you look at it, human life is a jumble of multiple dependencies – some more serious and more stark than some others; some more real than some others. The most complete and real of these dependencies of course is the total and utter dependence of the created on the creator, the made on the maker, the designed on the designer and the invented on the inventor.

Unless it is Herr Frankenstein who plays the “creator” in which case he himself ends up being at the mercy of the monster that he crafts with body parts stolen from corpses.

Allahu Akbar, how the truth comes out from sources you least suspect: Didn’t somebody sing “Everybody Is Somebody’s Slave“? Or was it fool? What is the difference?

While human abuse of their fellow humans as slaves may have given the expression slave a bad aura, when applied to characterize the relationship of human bondage and beholdenness to God Almighty, it is apt nevertheless and actually elevating.

Be No One’s Slave but God’s

I guess what I am trying to say is this: While a human being should not be a slave to anything or anyone, with God it is different and unavoidable.

Provided of course people believe in God in the first place, which they have a perfect right not to, if they so choose. A right given to them by God Almighty himself.

Islam came into this world – and the Qur’an came into this world – to guarantee people – all people – that right: the right to say “No!” to God himself.

Say “No!” to God? Who but God himself can grant that right to anyone?

That is the kind of “slavery” we are talking about when we talk about people being God Almighty’s slaves.

Who other than God – which individual, group, party, organization, society, business, employer or government – grants you the inherent right to be a rebel against them?

Why Is the 21st Century So Special?

As for the demands of the 21st Century being somehow different from the demands of the 20th Century – and I presume all the other centuries before that – I mean people saying that we should not be talking about “slaves” and “masters” and all that kind of stuff in the 21st Century, well that is a different matter. And for all practical purposes irrelevant.

For, what is so sacred or special about the boundary line of that particular midnight – the midnight that separates the 20th from the 21st Century – that what was permissible in the former suddenly becomes unacceptable in the latter?

Huh?

Explain that to me. Don’t give me your tired clichés and your meaningless mumbo jumbo, religious or secular, give me the plain truth. And give it to me in the simplest and most direct and straightforward language. Don’t sell me snake oil in the name of religion or politics.

I can smell snake oil from a mile.

What I am saying is, how is the 21st Century all of a sudden more civilized and more perfect in every way than the 20th Century.

Some people can perhaps even build a fairly plausible case of how the 21st Century thus far has been a step backward for humanity in some ways. I am not saying it is, but it is altogether possible to mount such an argument with some degree of plausibility.

So, to argue that it is superstitious and backward for people to regard themselves as “slaves” of God in the 21st Century is little more than silly if not outright foolish and disingenuous.

The fact is every one and every thing is God Almighty’s slave: yesterday, today and tomorrow.

END

© 2008 Syed Husain Pasha

Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional 
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at] 
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.