THE PERENNIAL DILEMMA OF FLESH vs SPIRIT
In Lesson 2 we had studied how civilization results from expanding the individual crude self to become the universal refined, charitable Self. No doubt this process benefits from reducing our interest in and the demand our egos make for the immediate satisfaction of its lusts and whims and in fact parents do exactly that on their children. The child must wait for its turn for needed satisfactions and make do with enough and not over-help himself with anything. Not only it must not eat too much or too frequently but must not buy or ask for items which are too expensive by the family’s standards to be bought. There are some families in which one child always agitates for expensive clothes or toys and almost bankrupts the partents while another sibling are happily too busy with its lessons or freely satisfied hobbies and will wear almost anything or play with any toy. Parents try to achieve some sort of realism and moderation in their offspring and get some results thereby putting at the disposal of the society new citizens of varying moral and spiritual quality. If they themselves are depraved and degenerate (like being of low intelligence or soft morals or outright criminals or unwisely too merciful to impose adequate discipline softly they fail to present the society with high quality citizens.
No doubt one of the most important factors in deciding the moral and spiritual quality of new generations is the degree of resistance parents can show and teach their children to material temptation. Resistance to things like over-eating, obsession with and demanding items beyond the financial resources of the family or lusting after things which are not essentially proper or not as yet proper for them. In this respect and on the financial side the Prophet’s sws well-known attitude must be the benchmark: He is said to be in the habit of “economy both in poverty and prosperity”. If poor, the good habit economy (thrift) curbs the tendency to falling into debt or crime. If rich economy (reasonable thrift) prevents that dangerous pampering of the ego which quickly develops an insatiable appetite which in turn may persuade the ego to look for bigger income through crime, like commercial cheating. If the good habit of economy is established then what is saved can and should go to relieve the sufferings of other less fortunate than ourselves. Let the reader not worry; only extremely rare souls are capable of showing so great a generosity towards others so as to make them lazy and complacent economically and themselves go hungry. Most of the times what most of us dare to give are peanuts in comparison what we have and keeep for ourselves and as a result even societies presided over by prophets and saints came nowhere near abolishing poverty. But any degree of approaching that target though charity (moral and spiritual motivated re-distribution of means) is a big step towards a more advanced- read HUMANE and peaceable- civilization.
The means to contribute to this ideal is obvious: Curbing the waste-provoking material lust culture which is the wages from a cult of the flesh or body and redirecting our ambition to more spiritualization of our self by means of expanding it into the universal self- which is the Godly self awaiting to be woken up in and put in charge in us.
THE CULT OF THE FLESH
“Man is made of flesh and spirit” they say. Scientific theories are not proper bases to criticise such a belief, for example saying that, man is nothing but another machine made of flesh and that there is nothing in him like a spirit. Moral issues and the values embedded in them (like compassion, sense of justice etc.) are not subjects within the competence of physics or chemistry for which everything is dead and unconscious matter or energy.
All sane and cultivated minds recognize that man is not a mere lump of matter but an unfathomably sophisticated as well as profound being whose ultimate worth is in his spirit which can be intellectually analysed into his values (what he values or detests), his character (sociable, charitable, honest, patient, polite etc. or otherwise- all these in one piece and seen as his ‘character’) and his conduct in general. Because man’s spirit, whatever its ultimate nature might be, is contained in a fleshy package and at least at the present seems inalienably tied to it man is born with a vital and compelling instinct of looking after his bodily welfare. He must feed, shelter and defend his body at all times as necessary. This inseparability of man’s survival and comfort from his flesh normally makes him to be very aware of his body’s needs before and above all else. This is understandable and excusable to the extent that the person is young. But as we grow older we find that we are offered growing social responsibilities and are pressed to add adequate social responses to our growing repertoire of skills. We must wait for our turn in a food queue at school for example and not to try get the foot first while arriving as the last. After puberty we cannot view or treat members of the opposite sex like a cat would treat a bird but if we take fancy of somebody work patiently and socially properly to make a claim on him or her and be prepared for a refusal without becoming hostile. In other words, in a civilized society competitions must be fair and defeat must be accepted gracefully.
All education in family must be and often reasonably is directed to this end: Making the new citizen a moral being displaying good manners. Both need sacrifices from the demands of our coarser layer of our natures and reward uswith more refined satisfactions one of which is sense of self-respect and the other social approval. In religion these combine and sublimate into the Pleasure of God (Ridwan Allah).
This said coarser layer of man’s nature are made of his basic and unmodified instincts which he shares with animals as low as reptiles. The neurological site for these instincts is the most primitive parts of the brain just above the insertion of the spinal cord which primitive parts is the whole brain for a crododile for example. As a result, apart from a its automated care for its eggs and hatchlings, a crocodile has very little social instincts enabling it to sacrifice anything for the good of the other crocodiles. In higher mammals like the elephant and the chimpanzee the brain is far more developed by the addition of new and higher layers, intelligence is many times higher than a reptiles and social awareness and cooperation incomparably more obvious and effective. Elephants jointly and in shifts look after their young, fight to defend the herd and even mourn over their dead. Chimpanzees and in fact all apes have social structures, attitudes and responsible behaviour quite suggestive of human civilization in its infancy.
Tests show that home trained adult chimpanzees are more intelligent than human babies up to 3 years (note, ‘up to’) old but afterwards the rise of human intelligence over that of a chimpanzee’s is phenomenal. Yet there are human adults who are hardly more socially adapted than a chimpanzee! Barring mental subnormality the blame for this goes mostly to education, beginning that in family before going to school as well as after. Some parents are good at molding their children to fit into their expected responsible and cohesive social roles whose highest is charity while others cannot simply cause their children to outgrow much their coarse layer of selfishness. This is sometimes caused by the parents over-indulgence of their children either because they are unwisely too soft or so busy and too ambitious with their demanding jobs that they are secretly happy with the idea of morally neglecting their children and compensating them with- LUXURIES AND COARSER PLEASURES OF LIFE: The bodily ones!
Because the modern full-employment oriented industrial society barely favours traditional family system with traditional gender roles children are discriminated against in their production rates as well as moral and social education levels. Thus deprived of their potential and possible refined levels of human satisfactions they are left to supplement the pleasures deficit by more amounts and kinds of bodlily pleasures. And the social organization and national could not be more helpful. Family homes lose a lot of their rewards and satisfactions with the possible exception of a Sunday dinner and family outing and the rest are provided by drink houses, music and dance halls, sports facilities and non-committing sexual pursuits all of which make mandatory a lot of expenses on the grooming and dressing, priming and diversifying the body and its interests. Industry turns out thousands of basically unnecessary and often harmful products and services from the contraceptives to hair gels, and pre-torn up jeans to conraband drugs like ecstasy to help the masses abandoned by both their parents and their God and in need of assuaging their existential anxiety and essential spiritual malaise. The more they indulge their flesh the more desperate they get, of course after the brief euphoria of ‘having done it once more’. The ultimate conclusion can only be that indulging the flesh to the exclusion of cultivating the spirit for its more refined rewards is like a thirsty man’s drinking salt water. It fills the belly but does not quench the underlying thirst.
Because man’s morality consists of his values and these are not visible or verifiable from the outside it is largely possible to appear a moral person without in fact being one. Normally our inner values should mould our outer manners. If I am a merciful person I join a friend’s mourning a loss by unhelpably being sad about his state and say genuinely-felt words of consolation. But it is also possible to pretend sadness and say the words of consolation like an actor would and get away with it and even reap the rewards. Time and again history of civilization have shown that as a social group become more educated in a secular or mercenary sense they lose more of their ancestral faith and respect for tradition, move more away from spiritual living and its rewards and more towards the indulgence of the body and all that help it (like wealth and power).
For all religions and traditions, whatever their philosophical and structural defects have as their aim of moderating the ultimately unavoidable demands of the flesh while at the same time adding by way of compensation and profit the development of socially as well as individually helpful moral and spiritual interests with their higher rewards. Once the individual abandons the latter yet not prepared to appear an immoral, dangerous brute he finds the cultivation and deployment of affected good manners often help in social advancement as much as personal satisfaction of coarser desires. Well enacted good manners help to get a good job or high public office as much as it helps a sexual seduction or a financial confidence trick. The merely good-mannered is clever enough to give a large charitable donation if he calculates that what he may get in return will leave him with a lucrative profit. So, a businessman may wine and dine another businessman less immoral and more naïve than himself to persuade him to make a purchase he as buyer will later regret and he the seller will cherish with wolfish satisfaction.
We have seen for example a shop being sold by one failed trader to another over a sumptuous dinner with wives in their most gorgeous in attendance and when the new owner steps in in his new shop to find all those cases and cupboards supposedly full of raw materials and finished product contain them only in the front and replaced by tonnes of scrap paper etc for the rest! Politicians are generally notorious for their good-manners to hide their bad morals as market stallers are notorious for filling the bags of customers with rotten apples from behind the bench while in the front is a box of superb apples (good apples representing the false promise of mere good manners). There is a pervasive ethos in both developed and developing countries for manners growing at the expense of morals simply because the education of both school and life is eating into their faiths and traditions and making them hungrier for the coarser, flesh-based satisfactions to compensate their loss of the spiritual.
A TYPICAL FLESH-OBSESSED PERSON’S ROUTINE OF LIFE
He wakes from a sleep helped at least by some chemical agent like glass of wine from a cupboard which looks like mini bar, full of all sorts of alcoholic drink bottles and cans. Added the expenses incurred on other drinks outside home his monthly drink bills come to about £100.
His bathroom cabinet is full of shampoos, cosmetics, conditioners, deodorants, creams and washes while he could well do without any except the soap. Their monthly cost to him is £50. Once a French wit remarked “Civilization is the proliferation of unnecessary needs”. Add to this the weekly grooming at the hairdresser where his hair is given sculpted forms to the monthly cost of £ 80. He could just wash or wet and comb his hear and pay £10 each month to the hair dresser for a haircut and save as a result £ 240 minus £2 for soap and tooth paste. What about the rest of his luxuries? We may define a luxury as something whose abandonment does no harm at all to time and space economy nor to the health of the user. In fact it may bring definite benefits. So a washing machine is not a luxury, nor a reasonable car but paying £20 for a fixed hairdo which washing the hair may destroy is both a luxury and health hazard. A watch costing more than £50 is a luxury even for a millionaire because it is not value for money by any standards. And there are watches which cost a few thousand pounds each which neither does more than telling the time nor looks beautiful. On the contrary it may look plain ugly. Any jewels in it may be worth only £100.
The man who cannot resist luxuries has no other benefit than feeling important and that importance is only in his imagination. If we take the same man above, abandoning his luxuries could do no harm either to his health nor his handsomeness and could even enhance both. For most chemically formulated complex products are harmful and a clean and tidy natural grooming without cosmetics etc. coupled with the innocence of naturalness and the humble aura of non-affectation may project a more appealing and endearing image of the person opting for it. The saved £200+ each month then could make a BIG difference to many who are needlessly suffering for the lack of a few pounds somewhere else. But the waste made for the sake of the mere body is not only £200. It is calculated that only 20% of a Western working adult’s earnings go to his basic needs like foodstuffs and clothing and sheltering while in a poor country only foodstuff purchases almost consume the whole earnings leaving little for clothing often minus shoes. In fact economists measure the prosperity of each country’s citizens in terms of what percentage of the average income for that country goes to basic necessities of life beginning with food. The less this and more the surplus the more prosperous the nation. The same differences apply also within each nation. The gap between the poorest and the richest is lower in a prosperous country than a poor one and in the latter it is accounted by feudalism (supposedly noble born having a great advantage) and corruption. But luxury and waste are there in all societies.
How much difference it could make to the lives of such poor fellow human beings of ours had we reduced our obsession with and lavishing on our bodies luxuries and vices so much and learning to appreciate and enjoy spiritual satisfactions like making others stop weeping and suffering and begin smiling and enjoying life thanks to our ability to part with a mere £10 per month!
WORSHIPPING THE BODY IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE AND SELF-PUNISHING
The worshipping itself is the main disaster. A baby’s main obsession is stuffing itself through its mouth, so much so that it will reach out for anything within reach just to put it in its mouth. It is almost as if for a baby everything is edible and it is not rare for babies sometimes to put their own excrement in their mouths and even swallow some. From this level of crudest body-obsesssion and lust man can go as far away as fasting for weeks and leading a rigid celibate life despite perfect sexual powers- all thanks to the power of a developed mind over the body!
Although that is an extreme case and by no means conducive to social good in any reasonable sense, somewhere in between must be an optimal point where the legitimate needs of the flesh are balanced by the inalienable social responsibilities whose best and securest foundation is spiritual. We mean by spiritual not ethereal or occult but plain moral and charitable. Human flesh does not automatically produce morality but mind must discover morality and then act on other minds to transmit it. Each and every citizen (society member) must be moralized and spiritualized by those who has already been made so and the family is the first educational institution for that. It begins and diminishingly continues with the mothering experience the mother providing not only milk and bodily comfort to the infant but also unconsciously transmitting to it the values and manners, the spirit and the culture of the society it is born into. From belief in God and in an afterlife to charity and patriotism the mother informs the future citizen who unconsciously and automatically sublimates its early total and blissful dependency on the loving-merciful as well as fragrant and beautiful mother into God and His Garden of Eternal Delights (remember that babies are unaware of time and live ‘timelessly’ in an ever-renewing ‘now’. The infant is totally trusting in and dependent on the loving-merciful mother who is also fully competent in her duties. That must be why Allah Who is behind the mother as the Real Loving-Merciful and Real Competent says that Islam is the natural creation man is created upon (30: 30). Modern education is totally unaware of this and even if pointed out, dismissive and disrespectful towards it.
With such a poor education, impoverishment of the human spirit is unavoidable and the deification and idolization of the body to be expected.
ISLAM’S POSITION vis-à-vis THE WEST’S
Islam neither advocates too much denial of the needs of the flesh and in fact insists these needs should be adequately met by the reputable standards of the society the Muslims lives in and can afford. So, in a prosperous Western city a Muslims is entitled to eat enough meat rather than make do with cheap and poor substitutes like beans and pulses or dress adequately and smartly so that he is not looked down- but all without waste. A £100 suit can and often look as smart as a £500 one and serve one equally well while a new car costing £10,000 can basically do everything another costing £40,000 can. But beyond protecting the health and honour spending on vanities is frowned upon (makruh) and may even become unallowable (haram) if too much.
Equally Islam does not approve waste and luxury. Waste, for example whether rich or poor each eater must so measure a meal as to eat all the food given him and not throw away any. But he may give with great merit any surplus food to those who need it. As for luxury, whatever has no use in promoting health and legitimate success is luxury and spending on it is haram however rich the spender might be. For example a Muslim millionaire cannot build and live in a palace while living in a lesser home amply enough to accommodate all his family and sevants and the more lavishes on the palace in terms of luxuries like huge chandeliers with real jewels for beads or gold wash basins for his toileting thus leaving too little if at all for charitable spending is prodigality and therefore haram.
Such prodigality is very prominent in Muslim countries where one sees such fabulous living from where it is only a mile or two to the mud or shanty dwellings of extremely poor people among whom many ill people, young or old, have little prospect of deliverance from their sufferings except death. This was not the Prophet’s sws way, nor his Rigthly guided khalifas whose practice was working towards general welfare somewhat like today’s Western welfare state. To make this possible a tax on riches (zakat) was charged and further charity constantly encouraged. Zakat went to the relief of poverty first and foremost and the total charitable spending of the society represented a substantial ratio of its overall spending. It is well documented, for example, that the Ottoman state and Muslim society was consistently charitable and both the state and the more prosperous section of the civil society greatly enjoyed applying their fortunes to the establishment and maintenance of charitable institutions like ‘soup kitchens’ which in fact offered a square meal to all who just walked in, public baths for all to have a good wash, hospitals ready to admit anybody and schools to provide any level of free education to anybody who asked for it, often within the context of a large mosque around which all such charitable premises were arranged. There were even foundations to look after any stray animals. All such were funded by pious foundations (awqaf) contributed to by the pious rich.
Such diversion of funds to alleviate the sufferings and privations of the weak and the promotion of the chances in life of the talented but poor was created by indulging the bodies lusts and vanities less and on the contrary cultivating the pious spirit which did not regret its generosity but thrived on its enjoyment. At no time an Ottoman sultan’s palace had been more luxurious and wasteful than a Western emperor’s and the sultan’s intentions in allowing what magnificence he allowed was impressing the potential enemies and not so much enjoying the luxuries themselves. Many Muslim kings lived like dervishes in their palaces. Some pious Christian kings and high churchmen and even some popes are also known for such ascetism. Such true successes were the fruits of the awareness of the futility of worshipping the weak and fragile yet insatiable flesh and instead worshipping God’s eternal Face in us which is our spirit’s interface with Him.
In our age when Muslims are so divided, disorganized and under-performing in every department of world affairs our future will be better served if we, rich or poor, fight against our vanities and aping of Western good-livers and re-schedule our budgets so as to save enough to spend in charity in the form of helping fellow Muslims in need beginning with any among our blood relations. This of course does not mean giving in such a way as to make the receivers complacent first and parasitical and greedy later. In fact the Prophet sws encouraged well-directed charitable loans more than donations towards temporary relief of needs.
To enable ourselves to save enough for charity we must curb any tendencies in ourselves to imitating the West’s cult of the body (its obsession with its looks in or out of dress, full exploitation of its salacious and gustatory potentials, its demand for fabulous comforts and delights and as a result not spending so much on its unhealthy acquired tastes and invented ‘needs’, and instead make to with reasonable basics and make charitable spending one of the greatest hobbies and pleasures of our lives. Then there can be no doubt that once more Islam will ascend and win.
11. MODERN EDUCATION- ALMOST AMORAL AND PURELY TECHNICAL
Education is part and parcel of all higher animals’ preparation for adult life. From one-celled organisms to most species of fish instincts are so strong that in themselves ensure automatic survival of the animal without help from another; So, members of the species need teach nothing to each other.
As for those animals who need education we can begin from the fishes. Among fish we have a few very intelligent species which are mammals and therefore have mammalian brains with veritable language skills. Most famous of such intelligent fish is the dolphin which we can regard the marine equivalent of the dog. Moving on to land and taking birds we find the crow which looks and behaves queerly intelligently that it reminds us a fox. Of course it is nowhere as intelligent as a mammal but among birds it stands out as one specially intelligent. And birds overall look more intelligent than reptiles and are more social than reptiles.
Such intelligent animals need parental and social education with its censures and punishments included and go through a long apprenticeship until they can survive without further help except in collective acts like hunting in packs or starting a family. Lastly in man we find that education is as vital as food if man is come anywhere near realizing his potential in his social environment. Which means a society taken collectively has as much survival power as its level and scope of education allows. It was on this basis that the Western European nations had the power to almost exterminate the aborigines of
Japan which joined the Western way should be enough proof that it is possible to build up a great power with not so much natural resources but sheer power of intellect and character both of which are honed by education. A more recent and perhaps even more impressive example is
Muslims then have to educate themselves in their own modern and flexible Islamic way to turn the tide but are busier in aping the Western education at the one end and continuing with the primitive way of the Islamic at the other.