Foundation, NJ U. S. A
the Message Continues ... 5/74
Newsletter for October 2007
Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12
Unity Of Mankind
“ya ayyuhan naasu attaqoo rabbakum
allazi khalaqakum min nafsin waahidatin”
[O mankind! Revere thy Lord who created
you from a single Soul] (Surah Al-Nisa, verse no.1)
We live in a fractured world that is increasingly permeated by confused concepts resulting in general discord
and the spread of cultivated violence that kills with abandon. We have a world where various parties and interest
groups cling to ideas that are mere self-righteousness and a chauvinistic belief that only they are on the right
path to spiritual triumph and salvation. This trend can ultimately lead to a world becoming devoid of common human
values. A place where turf wars based on misplaced morality replace a sense of togetherness and universal brotherhood.
The spirit of universal brotherhood is a noble sentiment that many a progressive leader has paid heed to.
South Asian leaders too, both Hindus and Muslims, are no exceptions to this understanding.
Time and again they have reminded their flock of the spirit of humanity. Recently, the noted Hindu spiritual leader,
Shri Shankaracharya, reminded his constituents yet again of the noble ideal of the brotherhood of Man.
This is all the more important as India, just like other countries, has seen and continues to see communal
and sectarian tensions give way to bloody rioting or worse. Pakistan too has seen a rise in sectarian violence.
More than 100 years ago at the first World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, the famous Hindu reformer
and thinker, Swami Vivekananda made these remarks:
"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have
filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and too often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent
whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than
it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this
convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all
uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal."
One can only wish that Vivikananda was right and that sectarianism, bigotry and fanaticism were all things of the past
by now as he had so wished. Many of us blame religion for such dissonance while conveniently forgetting that the 20th
century bore witness to some of the worst acts of genocide by professedly secular regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam
Hussein and Pol Pot. Secularism has its virtues and life in a secular society is eminently liveable, as many of us can
testify, but when secular ideals are accompanied solely by unbridled materialism then it has the makings of a catastrophe
and a sure recipe for untold human misery.
Overarching religious chauvinism too has played its part in human tragedy through the ages. The 11th century Syrian
poet Abul ‘Alaa al-Ma’arri, a firm critic of hollow religiosity, made the following observation about the world he
“man raa’ahu ‘ajab auw haalahu sababa
li samaaneen Huwulan laa ‘ara ‘ajabaa
ad-dahr kad-dahr wal ayyaam waahida
an-naas kan-naas wad-dunyaa liman ghalaba”
[If to anyone it all seems strange
I am eighty and see nothing strange!
One epoch is like another, all times the same
One people is like another and
The world is his who dominance gains]
These lines exude an overabundance of cynicism. But we need to remember that al-Ma’arri lived in vexed and anguished
times. The Abbaside Caliphate, by then well established in its seat of power, had proved to him as corrupt and as
morally deficient as the preceding Umayyad dynasty that he lambasted as follows:
“’ara al-ayyaam taf’al kullu nukrin
wa maa ana fil ‘ajaaa’ib mustazeedu
‘a laysa qurayshikum qatalat husaynan
wa saara ‘ala khilaafatikum yazeedu”
[I see Time use every deception
Consider it I no longer strange
Did not your Quraysh kill Husayn
And let Yazid over you reign ]
(“Nukrat-ul-Ayyaam” – The Deceit of Times)
Al-Ma’arri was above all a humanist who became very disillusioned with all forms of organised religions. He saw them
only as a means for those in power to control the people. He has also been accused of being a blasphemer, composing
verses targeting any and every religion, including his own. But this indictment might ignore an important fact. It
appears that his opinions were driven as much by his innate pessimistic nature as they were by the discord he felt
in the world in general and the Muslim world in particular of his day. The cynicism in the above verses is a testimony
to his underlying attitude towards unprincipled authority. An authority he saw exploit a corrupted religious doctrine
to advance its program based not on morality but tribalism.
At present we too are living through ongoing conflicts driven by corrupted ideologies and defunct beliefs. They
threaten to erode our very basic civil and civilising qualities of compassion, altruism, fairness and a desire to
build a just and equitable society. While material and economic considerations are very important in this enterprise,
they need to be within a moral framework of global reach where zealotry, religious bigotry and grand chauvinism coupled
to a cynically overriding political agenda have no place. The threat from this myopic worldview needs to be countered
with humanity and a spirituality-based common morality that are the hallmark and elemental beliefs of all world religions.
Such an approach would require the recognition of the unity of humanity, an idea recognised since ancient times by
prophets, reformers, philosophers and poets belonging to all cultures and nations.
Sheikh Sa'di (1184-1283,CE) was a great poet and like many of his kind also a great humanist. His view of the unity
of mankind has been expressed as follows:
“bani aadam a’zaa-e-yak piekarand
keh dar aafreenish ze yek guharand
choo ‘uzwi bedard aawarad roozgaar
degar ‘uzwhaa raa namaanad qaraar
tu k’az mehnate deegaraan bighami
nashaayad keh naamat nehand aadami”
[Of one body is Mankind made
And from a single soul shaped
When one limb suffers pain
Others too feel the same
If others’ sufferings you ignore
Human you be called no more]
It is only fair to consider that Sa’di being a well-travelled man -even reached the court of the Sultans of Delhi,
where he tried his hand at the then rather primitive Hindavi / Rekhta / Urdu poetry- would have been influenced by
various religions and cultures he encountered. These contacts would have bestowed on him a universal spirit. However,
given that he was born and brought up as a Muslim, it stands to reason that we look first to his Islamic roots. These
sources must have been the initial font for his inspiration, as they were for Rumi, Hafiz, Ibn al-Arabi, Hallaj and
Humanism as expressed in our faith and culture can be gauged from the following Qur'anic verse:
“ya ayyuhan naasu attaqoo rabbakum allazi khalaqakum min nafsin waahidatin”
[O mankind! Revere thy Lord who created you from a single Soul]
Surah Al-Nisa, verse no.1
One can say these savants and philosopher-poets of the East drew their inspiration from a verse like this and
others found in the Qur’an. However, we also need to keep in mind that there are other sources too which must
have similarly influenced them. The following examples illustrate the point as they reinforce the idea expressed
in the verse above.
“al-mo’min min ahl-il-eemaan bemanzilat-ir-ra’as min al-jasadi
ya’lam-ul-mo’min le ahlil-eeman kama ya’lam-ul-jasadu lemaa fir-
[A believer relates to a community of the pious like the head to the body. When one suffers pain the other feels the same.]
Nahjul Fasaahah*: Prophetic Hadith No. 3106
hadith above. Some scholars believe that this is not coincidental; rather Sa’adi was most directly influenced by
this Prophetic saying as much as he and others were by other similarly inspiring ideas. For example:
"an-naas min jihat-it-tamseel akfaa'u
aboohum aadamun wal ummu hawwa'u
fa in yakun lahum min aslihim sharafun
yufaakhiroona bihi fat-teenu wal maa'u"
[All mankind in its constitution is equal
Its father is Adam and mother, Eve
And if there be any nobility in their origin,
Humans pride on no more than water and loam!]
-- from the Diwan of Imam Ali [AHS]
Here Imam Ali [AHS] emphasises the common traits of mankind and its equality. There is no reason for anyone of us
to show pride. All of us are after all made of the same base ingredients and have a common origin. (Both these ideas
have in essence been shown to be true now. We all are indeed made from elements and genetically have a common origin.
The specifics and details may have changed, thanks to modern science, but the general idea is the same).
In prose Imam Ali [AHS] has expressed this same humanism as follows:
"wa 'ash'ir qalbaka ar-rahmata lir-ra'ayyati wal mahabbata lahum, wal lutfa bihim,
wa laa takununanna 'alayhim sabu'an dhaariyan taghtanimu aklahum, fa innahum sinfaani:
'immaa akhun laka fid deeni, auw nazeerun laka fil khalqi."
[Be kind to your subjects. Care for them and show them affection. Be not like a voracious beast that consumes
their share! THEY ARE OF TWO KINDS: EITHER YOUR BROTHERS IN RELIGION OR YOUR COUNTERPARTS IN CREATION!!]
(Nahjul Balaghah: Imam Ali's letter to Malik al-Ashtar, when he appointed the latter as governor of Egypt.)
Similarly, Imam Hasan [AHS] too stressed the importance of compassion and kindness:
“ya-bna aadama ‘af ‘an mahaarimillahi takun ‘aabidan, wa ardh
bimaa qasamallahu subhaanahu takun ghaniyyan, wa ahsan jiwaara
jaawaraka takun musliman.”
[O son of Adam! Refrain from what God has prohibited if you wish to
be pious, be pleased with what God has given you if you desire to
be contended and BE KIND TO YOUR neighbour AND THOSE AROUND YOU IF
YOU WISH TO BE A MUSLIM!]
-- Sahifatul Hasan: qisaar no. 10 of Imam al-Hasan [AHS]
Again, the message is very clear. There are certain simple rules to follow if one wishes to be pious and happy.
But if you wish to call yourself a Muslim then you ought to begin by being kind and compassionate to your neighbours
and those in your community. One cannot emphasise enough that in all of this no condition has been laid such that we
be kind only to those who follow our faith. They can follow any faith and if they happen to be your neighbours then
it is your duty to be kind to them if you wish to be considered a Muslim. This same argument can be extended to include
not just one’s immediate neighbourhood but neighbouring countries and finally the whole world. Other faiths emphasize
this idea as well.
The pluralism and humanity laid down in the very foundations of our faith, as shown above, has inspired many poets
apart from Sa’di. Ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), also called al-shaykh al-akbar (the Great Master), was a sufi and
a philosopher-poet. He too was a humanist, as is evident from his poetry. Consider these verses:
“laqad saara qalbi qaabilan kullu suratin
fa mar’a le ghizlaanin wa dairun ler-rahbaani
wa baitun le ausaanin wa Ka’batu Taa’ifin
wa alwaaHu tauraatin wa muSHafu qur’ani”
[My heart can take all forms
It is a pasture for the gazelle
For the monks a cloister
A temple for idols and
Ka’bah for the pilgrim
Tablets of the Torah
And pages of the Qu’ran]
Regrettably, this message of togetherness, humanism and the acceptance of plurality of faiths is all too often lost
and bigotry comes to rule our actions. Many Urdu poets have satirised and attacked fanaticism:
"sab tere siwa kaafir aakhir is ka matlab kya?
sar phira de insaa(n) ka, aysa khabt-e-mazhab kya"
[All save you are infidels, pray what means this?
Such religious zealotry puts your head in a spin! ]
(Yaas Yagaanah Chengezi, 20th century Urdu poet)
“ta’assub choRd dey naadaa(n) dahr kay aa’eenah khaanay mei(n)
yeh tasweeray(n) hai(n) teree jis ko samjhaa haiy boraa too nay”
[Forsake bigotry in this abode of mirrors, O’ imbecile!
They are but your own portraits that you detest so much!]
(Allamah Muhammdad Iqbal, South Asian Urdu and Persian poet)
In the West too, poets have expressed the oneness of the human community. This is especially clear from the likes
of John Donne (1572-1631):
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
(For Whom the Bell Tolls: John Donne, English poet)
We need to ask ourselves some simple questions: What is the purpose of our existence? Is to amass untold wealth,
blindly follow rituals and pursue petty, chauvinist agendas? Or is it to seek out universal brotherhood and the
pursuance of a just society based on shared moral values where compassion is paramount. Compassion, the raison
d’etre of Man, has been expressed by an Eastern poet thus:
“dard-e-dil kay vaastay paiyda kiya insaan ko
warna Taa’at kay liyae kam nah thhay karroobiyaa(n)
[For the purpose of compassion was Man created,
Else, for obeying the Lord there were angels enough!]
(Khwaja Mir Dard, 18th century Urdu poet)
The spirit of human unity and togetherness should be a powerful driving force for the recognition of shared moral
“hum muwahhid hai(n) hamaaraa kesh hai tark-e-rosoom
millatay(n) jab mit gai(n) ajzaa-e-eemaa(n) ho gai(n)”
[We follow one Creator, abandoning rituals is our forte,
When nations and creeds fade, they become one faith]
(Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, 19th century Urdu poet)
It might at first appear that Ghalib is being something of an exclusivist by defining himself as a muwahhid,
a monotheist. Such a definition would of course include the Semitic religions of Jews, Christians, Muslims and
Mandeans, as well as the non-Semitic faiths of the Zoroastrians and the Bahais, though the latter have been
influenced by Semitic ideas. But where in the world does this leave the Indian religions and, say African, or
North American and Australian native religions. Needless to say their followers too are humans, to say the least,
and ought to join the club. One could also argue that at the very heart of Hinduism is a monotheistic vision and
that Buddhism while not propounding any kind of monotheism is not denying it either, therefore they can also be
included in this vision. However, when we start indulging in these kinds of arguments we are apt to do just what
Ghalib is shunning – partitioning humanity by defining it through rituals (rusoom). According to him all faiths
are essentially one and that oneness is achieved after various creeds and nations are dismantled. The process is
mental not physical!
Cultivation of values is more important than the performance of empty rituals by unthinking believers; the very people
who are so easily exploited by those with extreme agendas. The Qur’anic verse above, the saying of the Prophet[PBUH]
and those of Imamayn Ali wal Hasan [AHS] implore us to recognise our humble origins, a common morality and shared values,
and to be kind to our fellow humans regardless of what faith they follow. This pluralism can form the basis of a morally
just world given that we all share many common beliefs amongst ourselves. As we begin to seek a better way to live together
in a place where violent conflicts cease, instead becoming matters only of academic and historical interest, we’ll need
such aims and ideals to work towards. Some would say I am being too much of an idealist, perhaps even a naïve one at that.
But we all do need high ideals to look up to and live by. Our prophets, reformers, poets, spiritual leaders and
philosophers have already shown us the way both by word and by deed.
*Nahjul Fasahat is a collection of Prophetic ahaadith compiled from both Sunni and Shi’i sources. Ed. Abul Qasim Paayendeh,
Islamic Press, Iran
Note: All translations above are by the author.
Dr. Aqeel M. A. Imam (PhD), is a scientist working at the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Apart from
his work, his interests include history, philosophy, theology, mysticism, music and languages & literature of the East and
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