An Unbalanced Civilization
The Young Islam, 1st August 1934 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 5, pp. 3–4)
اِنَّا عَرَضۡنَا الۡاَمَانَۃَ عَلَی السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ وَ الۡجِبَالِ فَاَبَیۡنَ اَنۡ یَّحۡمِلۡنَہَا وَ اَشۡفَقۡنَ مِنۡہَا وَ حَمَلَہَا الۡاِنۡسَانُ ؕ اِنَّہٗ کَانَ ظَلُوۡمًا جَہُوۡلًا ﴿ۙ۷۲﴾
“Surely We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to be unfaithful to it and feared from it, and man has turned unfaithful to it. Surely he is ever unjust, ignorant” (The Holy Quran, 33:72).
The modern civilization is dazzling to most of us. It has certainty made gigantic strides in the sphere of intellect. Nature has been harnessed to man’s benefit. Man has invented things existing perhaps only in the imagination of his forefathers. If a man dead thousand years ago were to come back today, he would find himself in a land of fairly-tales. The telegraph and the telephone, electricity and the wireless, the sea-ships and the air-craft are all wonders of modern science. Time and distance have been much shortened. The whole earth appears today to be more like a single country. It seems as if it has actually contracted. Peoples and races are intermingling freely. Inventions and discoveries are being carried on at a rapid pace. The luxuries abound in form and number. What an enormous variety of articles of ‘comforts of life’! How extensively are they manufactured and distributed! The modern man himself is no less changed in form and spirit. His ways are polite and polished. He is orderly and systematic, possessing a spirit of organization. Mentally he is educated and enlightened. He is a gentleman, inoffensive in his talk and manners. He is industrious and persevering. He readily submits himself to laws and regulations of society. The homes are equipped richly and beautifully. Places of public resort are arranged so nicely for entertainment of every sort. In fact, looking at the world from this point man has created a heaven for himself on this earth.
Besides the outer world there is also an inner world. Though invisible, the world of man’s thoughts and imagination, of his emotions and motives is nevertheless much the more important of the two. Let us have a little peep into this world as it stands today. What is the driving urge for any activity? What is the one pivot round which revolve all the energies of the man of today? What is the most primary and deciding question for the solution of a problem before us? “What shall I gain by it? How much likely is it to benefit me?” These are the questions that echo in the mind of a modern man. Does the man of today ever ask within himself, “How should I act so that my neighbour or my friend or the society at large may benefit? An occasion is given to me to choose between augmenting my own pleasures and desires and sacrificing them for the sake of my fellow beings; which line of action is the better of the two for me to select?”
If perchance he happens to reflect like this and if he ever gets the right answer, in how many cases is he prepared to act according to it? What is his outlook on life and its problems? What does he exactly signify by the words “gain” and “benefit”? Money, luxuries or “comforts of life,” position, power for his person are the beacon-lights towards which the man of today is steering the ship of his life. To compete and to excel one’s neighbour and friend in these things is the desire of his heart—the supreme bliss he can attain to. Self in all its hideous and ugly forms is reigning supreme in the world.
The methods employed are neither pure nor fair. When the natural desire of man to advance has been perverted to unnatural appetites of greed and lust, how can he maintain equity and justice? So long as police and jail can be avoided everything is right and just. So long as any move satisfies his self, it is in the proper direction. Honesty, simplicity, straight-forwardness, truthfulness, compassion, a spirit of sacrifice and service are, all in their true form, regarded to be not only un-essential accomplishments for the gentleman of today but are taken positively to mean as relics of backwardness and stagnation—a definite impediment to his progress.
No doubt we hear much of these admirable traits but the painful fact remains that the inner consciousness of the man of today is entirely empty of them. What is trumpeted in the name of service and sacrifice is in reality some remote and subtle way to appease the pangs of hunger of the ever-alert and aggressive self. We may, in all fairness, consider within ourselves the question, “How much is the man of today less greedy, less selfish, more sacrificing, more sympathetic towards humanity than his fellow who lived a thousand years ago?” To anyone approaching the problem with an unbiased and deep mind it is not difficult to conclude that the degree to which greed and lust, malice and rancour, jealousy and hatred, rivalry and ill will have been nurtured is unprecedented. If it were not so, why at all should there be so much agitation and unrest? The outward agitation rampant in the world of today is but an index of the degree of unrest prevalent within every human heart. While the external world is so attractive and beautiful, the internal is so ugly and repulsive. While the man of today is so rich in the possession of material resources, he is so poor in having developed the better side of his nature. Certainly, humanity has far advanced in conquering the natural elements outside man but it has surely lagged behind, if not actually retrogressed, in subduing the nature within him. All the desires of the body and the brain are satisfied but the aspirations of the soul and the heart are ruthlessly denied their self-expression. The head of modern man is so big; but his heart is so small. Man has evolved his one side to such an extent to the total suppression of his other and better side that if a picture of him were drawn it will reveal a most disproportionate and unsymmetrical a portrait. Humanity can never advance collectively. The individual himself can never attain the happiness he aims at. Man must be developed as a whole—his body, his brain and his soul all receiving their due attention. We cannot violate natural laws without paying the penalty. There can be no real bliss and progress unless each and every aspect of human nature finds its proper place in the scales of evolution. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said that the one functioning eye of the Anti-Christ would be very prominent and bright while its other eye would be absolutely blind. Do we not see a parallel state of affairs at the present time? Again, he is reported to have said that the Anti-Christ’s heaven will in reality be a hell. Studying deeply, do we not find a corresponding phenomenon today? The society and its frail machinery of law cannot detect, much less guide and control, man’s inner thoughts and emotions. And if the society connives at or positively sanctions and admires vicious ideas and harmful sentiments, how is the poor individual to be saved? If religion and religion alone can infuse a true spirit of selflessness and service, how does the man of today deny its value? Is it at all possible for an ever advancing humanity to move on with harmony and concord without the individual acquiring the essential traits that distinguish man from the beast? How true the Quranic picture:
وَ حَمَلَہَا الۡاِنۡسَانُ ؕ اِنَّہٗ کَانَ ظَلُوۡمًا جَہُوۡلًا ﴿ۙ۷۲﴾
“And man has turned unfaithful to his trust for he is unjust, ignorant” [The Holy Quran, 33:72].