Ziauddin Ahmed Interviewed by Dr Khalid Sohail

Dear Zia, I am sending you 20 questions I promised to ask. I will look forward to your honest and scholarly answers.

1. Let me start with your childhood. What were the religious values of your family of origin?

I was born of traditional Muslim parents. Their religious values were based on the beliefs of sunni Muslims.

2. When did you discover that you were a creative person?

I cannot lay claim to any creativity. My own conviction is that creation is not the domain of humans. The act of creation is only the prerogative of the Creator and that it has been done ex-nihilo i.e. from nothing. Humans may at best discover i.e. remove the cover of, or invent i.e. give vent to or expose that which is under cover; or assemble i.e. try to put together and rearrange that which already exists. As per Plato all knowledge lies within, it has to be laboriously dug up and given vent and shown the light of the day, or in other words brought to the conscious level from the unconscious domain. So you see, I feel that I and all the rest of us are either discovering, inventing or rearranging knowledge that already lies under cover or hidden within us, in our own individual capacity and unique manner. This individual capacity can, however, be evolved like everything else.

3. How did Dr Ahmed Ali affect your personality and philosophy?

Prof. Ahmed Ali was not only my uncle but I took him as my mentor. I emulated him from an early age and worshiped him as my hero. Since we lost our father at a young age we got immense help and guidance from him. Ahmed Ali was a man for all seasons. He was a scholar, poet, teacher, author, diplomat, civil servant and so much more. He was a polymath in the real sense of the word. Above all he was a benevolent family man.

4. When did you start questioning the traditional values and religious ideology of your community?

I am fortunate to have been exposed to different environments and cultures during my work assignments and travels, both in my homeland and abroad. Travel, they say, is education itself, and I have travelled a bit and seen some world around me. Questions of all sorts started creeping up from an early age and the conflicts between preaching and practice became apparent even during student years. Being students of science we discussed the various differences we saw between the scientific explanations and myths of religious ideas. The mundane sermons from the pulpit by the clergy, made me and my friends, early critics of the ‘mullah’ and his myopic view of religion. We could see the emptiness in the porous rituals and started to avoid them, first out of fashion then out of resolve not to comply with what we could not rationally verify.

5. Did you ever consider yourself a non-Muslim or an atheist?

No, I did not. I have thought and have grown firmer in my belief that there is a basic need for a belief system in life. Without a system in life there is chaos and nothing can be accomplished in chaotic conditions. Earlier in life I developed skeptical traits and a questioning attitude but I did not reject faith and belief altogether. My younger rebellious instincts made me shun the rituals, not because I hated them, but because I did not understand their essence or philosophy and their need, and I disliked the orthodoxy for preaching them blindly. Today, having read and explored religion a little more extensively, I can say with more confidence that most people are by far ignorant of what they say and practice and the need and philosophy behind that need. They follow the dictates of religion, and this is true for all faiths, for the sheer satisfaction of the desire for having to believe and some sort of a spiritual solace. The more I explore Islam the more I feel that it’s essence has not got fully exposed and fathomed, both rationally and philosophically. I consider myself a rational believer and feel that belief can and should be based on rational foundations. Only then will the need and necessity of it be fully appreciated. Irrational belief and blind following is the main reason for the conflict among various faiths, for, in their true essence no faith teaches inhuman values or morals. I feel that the place for religion and faith is central to the providing of direction to human thought towards the quest of the basic answers of Who, What and Why we are what we are?

6. How did you deal with the conflict of rational thinking with blind faith?

Faith has been made blind by our own blindness to see its inherent need and its keystone position in our lives. I see the answer to your question in the question itself. I deal with blind faith through rational thought. Let me explain this further.
Faith is really the desire to see the satisfaction of humanity’s own questions about itself. A rational person tries to answer these for himself in a logical and pragmatic manner. But as logic and pragmatism are not the most common and easiest of methods, and that everyone cannot practice them independently, and that since everyone is not geared to deep thought, one relies on answers of those who one feels are capable of providing them. The great thinkers like sages, philosophers, prophets etc are respected and revered because they tend to say and provide novel and unique answers to these basic quests of humanity. Then there builds up a following for these stalwarts and a movement gains momentum, it can eventually acquire universal and religious status. I however feel that the theory of the ‘God of the gaps’ has a lot of merit and that humans are rationally getting to the essence of the Creator or the Deity through rational means.

7. Do you believe Quran is a word of God?
8. What is your concept of divine revelations?

The two questions above are being consolidated in the answer below:
The entire subject needs a little background to the entire concept of a Creator or deity, and the relationship between the creator and the created and the evolution of human thought in the religious field.
The three main monotheistic religions are based on an anthropomorphic concept of a creator. The human attributes assigned to the deity were perhaps needed to explain to the common man in humanistic terms the nature of the Creator God. This idea has been dealt with in some detail in my essay ‘The nature of a natural Deity’. The development of human intellect over the years has given it more complex ideas, those that can be fathomed with the advancement of scientific and other facts available about both nature and nurture. In the essay, I hypothesize that Nature, or God, or the Creator, can be seen from a new angle; as a self perpetuating System of Evolution, capable of creating and reverse engineering Itself (God) through the created ( man). In the process of this reverse engineering the Creator is engaged in Self-analysis and the vehicle for the purpose is a self-correcting ‘System of evolution’, enacted through progressive steps. Evolution started at the instant of creation, say, the Big Bang. Creation may have started from Nothingness or ex-nihilo, but the process of evolution is taking it back to the understanding of Everingthingness, or the Deity Itself. At present It has reached the level of man and he is endowed with an intellect. The purpose ingrained in the very nature of this entity (human) is to seek and find the answers to the eternal questions mentioned above. From the rung of the human inception, on the ladder of evolution, the unit become conscious of itself, whereby it makes the evolved entity (man) capable of participating in the functioning of the System as a whole. All creation follows the dictates of Nature. Man, by virtue of his evolved position, which is manifest in the form of freewill, has the prerogative to either comply or deny the system of which he is himself a part. Further, by his position on the ladder of evolution he can both construct or destruct, submit to the laws that govern him consciously or reject them knowingly, utilizing the use of this free will. He can even participate and influence, as said earlier, the working of the System itself. However, if he violates the basic premise and laws of the System i.e. the laws of Nature, he will meet his own doom. This is in consonance with the theory of ‘Gaia’, where the stronger System will destroy the weaker in self- defense, if and when it feels its own existence is threatened.
Now in light of the above hypothesis and under its derived logic, there must be an interaction and communication between the Whole (Creator) and the Parts (created) for the System to function as a homogeneous unit. The modes and levels of communication can be both varied and different for different levels and different status of the individual’s intellect. Both the level and status of the intellect can be enhanced and elevated by fathoming the laws of Nature and with the concerted efforts of the individual being.

I have dealt with the issue of the Quran in detail in the paper I read out at the FOTH seminar on ‘Relevance of Quran in the twenty first century’, in May 2009. It is available in the archives of FOTH. To briefly recapitulate, I feel that all knowledge, whether acquired rationally or irrationally, consciously or unconsciously, and by any means, and in whatever form, is an integration and offshoot of human capabilities with Nature and nurture. Some relevant excerpts of the paper are: (there may be some repetition here)
It is inbuilt in the nature of man to enquire, seek and find. When all else fails and his own efforts have been exhausted, one turns to mother Nature, which in its classical fundamental form is known as God or the Deity. The answer, is in fact, revealed by one’s own Inner-self, or if you wish to call it, the Over-self, as in the end both are the extension of the same Self. The answers can come in a number of ways. The solution may appear in a dream. There may be a flash of intuition. One may make autosuggestion to oneself. These again, may either be conscious, those, which one is fully aware of and are based on one’s rational thoughts; or unconscious, whereby the hidden idea comes to the surface like a bubble rising from within the depths of oneself -- in a, hitherto, inexplicable manner. This is the same form in which the deepest of thinkers like sages, prophets and men of spiritual elevation get their knowledge and wisdom. As this form of release of information is still commonly unfathomed, and is not completely rationalized, it is usually pushed in the background and not readily accepted. Modern science is making much effort in the study of the functioning of the brain and the mind and will perhaps come up with some plausible explanation of this phenomenon also. This uncontrolled and unconscious enlightenment has been termed as revelation. Such means of communication have been established only by a few –- called the enlightened ones -- those who have fathomed the means to tap into the mysterious ‘Cosmic Consciousness’, and perhaps understand its message. To attain this level of rapport with the Source one has to liberate oneself from the mundane traps of physical hindrances and become able to communicate with the deepest of one’s inner depths. It is said, all knowledge seems to lie buried within, and has to be exposed and brought to a conscious level by a concerted, laborious and painstaking process of disciplining oneself for self -exploration and self- discovery.

9. How do you reconcile with different rather contradictory interpretations of Quran? How do you know which is the right interpretation?

Interpretations of holy scriptures are done by individuals other than the receiving or revealing personality. In interpretation the subjective thought of the interpreter is bound to play a role. The exact meaning and the intention behind the idea of another’s thought process is more or less impossible to judge. My own observation is that even factual and well documented historical accounts are tainted by who is narrating the facts. Even in historical episodes the victor’s point of view gets precedence and the position of the vanquished is easily sidelined or omitted. Motives of the interpreters and their own biases also play a large part. In interpretations of scriptures like the Quran there is ample margin of over-reverence and the amplification of myth. The true reference to the context of the period and the human aspect of the personality of prophets are overshadowed by the orthodoxy.
The main aspect to observe in religious scriptures is primarily the philosophy behind the core message. Again, the study of the scripture has different levels of exposition. The apparently simple episodes are multidimensional. They can be metaphoric, i.e. the application of a name or descriptive phrase to an object or action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable e.g. glaring error, white lie; or allegoric i.e. where the meaning or message is represented symbolically; or metonymic, where the attribute of the thing is used to represent it; or historic; etc. The Quran is especially rich in its language and the multifarious use of the various shades of etymology. I feel that interpretations that conflict with logic and rationality should be avoided and analyzed before blind acceptance. Also the reference to context and the various traditions of the period should be kept in mind.

10. What is your understanding of zana and sin from Quranic viewpoint and what is the punishment?

Zana can be of two main types (a) zana bil jabr or rape and (b) zana or fornication i.e. sex out of wedlock.
In my view Zana bil jabr i.e. rape is a cardinal sin because it enforces the hegemony and physical dominance of the male over that of the female by the sheer dint of his physical prowess, an acquired and assumed advantage of male chauvinism. The Quran has repeatedly given the message that the sexes have equal rights and obligations. The very first ayaat of sura no. 4, An-Nisa, gives the clear injunctions of equality of the male and the female in the Quran. The note on that ayaat in Al-Quran ( a contemporary translation by Ahmed Ali, Princeton University Press) is a deeply researched and an intellectual explanation of the verse. I suggest it be read and reflected upon. The punishment for this act is inexcusable both socially and morally. I would go as far as to say that it could be even harsher than sanctioned, as much as severing the organ that has been employed in the act. Again, in my opinion, rape is also an act for the untamed sexual gratification generally prompted for a quick satisfaction of one’s barbarous animal hunger. I feel all Religions in their essence of social morality have promoted the need of human control over their raw animal desires. If a male is unable to get consensual sex it would be preferable to indulge in self-gratification, or a lesser evil of homosexuality, than Zana bil jabr. Uncontrollable sex is one desire that makes a devil out of a human and is thus shunned by religious pronouncements, and if I may say that it is rightly so.
Since in the past the outcome of sex could not be as well regulated and planned as at present, it had to be handled through tougher injunctions. Hence fornication got the harsh treatment and such tough sanctions as stoning to death. My own feeling is that sex, like many other natural needs and desires, be performed and managed by mutual consent and understanding and within the framework of ‘don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you’. Sex, like many other acts of humans, has certain prerequisites of social and moral obligations which should, however, be borne in mind.
I dealt with the entire subject of sex in my essay, ‘Sexual reorientation and society’. Some relevant passages are reproduced below:
Love becomes a vulgar and a repulsive act if performed on the public platform. A certain amount of secrecy enhances its charm and aesthetic value and a little imaginative admiration is an addition to its pleasure. It is nature’s design to keep the sexual organs under cover and when over exposed their ugliness becomes pronounced and they tend to lose their inherent integral beauty. Humans are both physical and spiritual beings. They have to try and maintain a balance in these two sides of their nature. A one sided physical pleasure in the sexual act, without keeping in mind the spiritual aspect of it, disturbs this balance and leads to perversion and abusive tendencies. And perversion has no limits. This is seen in the modern trends of the material tilt of the human beings present lustful exploits, where the spiritual or the metaphysical aspect of their natures is being pushed in the background. To validate this contention one has just to see the present rise of pornographic activities, both in adult and child sex. Further, as sex is a natural desire and tendency of the life cycle of the animal, human practice and promotion of unnatural designs of Celibacy and Puritanism is not a durable design either. It is bound to break down sooner or later. This is becoming clearly visible in some religions, where the unwarranted abuses of the helpless and the week among them, due to restraints on the otherwise normal sexual needs, is now coming out in the open. Another phenomenon that is being openly discussed these days is the abuse of the blood relations by their own siblings and parents. This is perhaps a purely lustful or a psychologically distorted behaviour and needs to be handled at that level. It may be true that in the olden days, both in history and mythology, marriages between brothers and sisters and even fathers and daughters have been recorded, especially in the ruling classes; but those were then justified to be the necessity to keep the lineage and the wealth and power secure in the family. The same practice seen in the animal kingdom may be condonable, but certainly not in humans. Incest in human relations cannot be justified at the stage of a developed and evolved race. The practice in the past too seems to have ended when it was seen that it did not well serve the purpose it was intended to.

Seeing the advancement of knowledge and its affect on human lives and their behaviour it is worth noting that the sexual endeavours have also undergone a radical change, and are bound to get free of the past impediments of religious and social morality. From the primary source of reproduction, sex has now taken on a more explicit and glamorous secondary role of exploitation, entertainment and motivation in many different ways. It is these secondary uses that have diversified and changed its position in priority, practise, and thus its very inherent nature. The approach to sex also differs between the genders, mainly due to their physiological make up and hence their natural demands and predispositions towards it. The male, by virtue of the fact that he does not play a major role in the incubation, birth, and the initial nurture of the offspring, does not attach as deep a value to the very act of sex or its repercussions, and so usually gives more importance to the fetching, implementing and forgetting the relationship after its conclusion. The female on the other hand, being imbedded by nature for a longer duration of attachment to the outcome of the act, is naturally more intent upon longer term relationships and more sentimental involvement in the whole affair. Yet again, the gender distinction incorporates in each of them a difference in their roles of the enticer and the enticed, with the ‘tender and more alluring’ role usually shown by the female and the more aggressive and a ‘ matter of fact’ attitude by the male.

What was primarily the function in the ‘Foraging’ and ‘Agrarian’ societies is seen to have radically changed in the ‘Industrial’ and then the ‘Information’ age. Heterosexuality was the naturally accepted mode of sex in the first two, as there was the inherent need to increase the ‘pair of hands’ needed to accomplish different tasks. This has changed in the Industrial age due to the promised advantage of machine over the sheer strength and numbers of manual labour. The Information society of the present times, with all its re-evaluation, in addition to experimentation and readjustment in every field, has changed even the male female equality role in society. This has led to the innovation and diversification of sexual pursuits. Coupled with the modern techniques of birth control and the means to the aversion of unwanted pregnancies, has changed the natural power over its consequences. This has thus altered the postponing of the inevitability of marriage itself. Call it a perversion or a need for change of taste, sex is now seen more of an exploit for pleasure than reproduction. Its need as a sole means of reproduction of the species too, is decreasing with the rapid developments in bio-physics, and with the explosion in the knowledge of genetics and pharmacology. Now, it is not pure speculation or scientific fiction to think that man may be able to replicate himself through artificial methods over and above the natural way of reproduction. Animals of various types have been successfully cloned and even human cloning has been reasonably well experimented. What is there to stop man from walking side by side with Nature and replicating his own species?

Seeing all this and with a possibility for much more, what is the need for dependence on Mother Nature for generating and keeping the sanctity or the purity of the descendents through the act of mating alone. Once the natural recipe has been decoded and understood it can also be manipulated at will to suit the desire and need of the individual. Made to order babies is now a conceivable possibility. The scenario becomes more and more interesting with the possibility of self- imposition and adjustment according to the wish and whims of humans. Since the need for reproduction and propagation of the human race is now becoming manageable by man himself, there is apparently no need for the then naturally imposed, and now, the apparently artificial binding relationship between a male and female. This is evidently seen in the progress of homosexuality and same - gender attachments. Time is very conducive to take up our destiny in our own hands and see how many combinations besides heterosexuality can be promoted. The need to encourage and establish homosexuality, both gay and lesbianism, are thus the natural outcome of the above scene. Added to the fact of rapid scientific advancement in making possible ‘made to order babies’, heterosexuality somehow now, seems over extended as the only viable means of a reproductively meaningful relationship between the sexes. There remains little reason for debate of whether homosexuality is a natural or acquired desire for sex, because as just seen, its primary need for human reproduction is well on the way of being satisfied by other means. So shouldn’t the way of looking at sex itself be modified? It seems a natural progression in the evolution and readjustment of human thought and behaviour that, this change of gender relationship be started and well established, by the time the capability of ‘ marketable child production’ becomes a reality, and child production may not be restricted to male and female copulation. Now, is this not ample reason to justify the diversification of the sexual relationship and its methods? When the natural need of reproduction can be satisfied by other means, does it really matter who weds whom? The very question of marriage becomes questionable. Yet the natural affinity for relationships will some how keep the institution alive in one form or another.

The punishment to be meted out for any crime should be in accordance to the severity of the damage it does. Punishment should be both corrective and exemplary. Now what the level of punishment should be depends upon the conditions of the period and the society that is enacting it. As different people understand things differently each sector has to be spoken in the language they comprehend. The means and method of punishment too are evolving like everything else in society.

11. why do you think there is a tradition of killing Murtads in Islam and Muslim history?

A Murtad acts against the tenets of his adopted faith by renouncing it. The punishing of a murtad by putting him to death is rather harsh and overwhelming in the present day of liberated human thought. In the time and conditions of its origination it was perhaps much more important to support and stay within the framework of the accept ideals of society, and faith being one of pillars of tribal society had to be enforced to keep the unit firmly adhesive and functional.

12. Do you agree Muslim counties should make their constitutions based on Quran? If not then what should be the basis?

Muslims should base their lives on the philosophy of Islam, which in one sentence can be said to be, “ the promotion of a welfare society based on a system of justice and balance”. How should the details function is for the people of the country to decide. The greatest lesson from religion for the subservience to the dictates of the laws of Nature, willingly and consciously, has been given by prophet Abraham.

I had written an open letter to president Obama last year after his state of the union address. I quote some portions from it to highlight my two pence worth of advise to leaders and thinkers about the single most important idea for conscious Universal deliverance from the ills of avarice.

………………………………The single most striking phrase of the speech is the ‘ Sputnik moment ‘. The moment referred to is the incident that took place in the Soviet Union, which then launched the space race some fifty years ago. Which, as you explained, was thrown in the lap of America, and to which it responded by reaching the moon.
A sputnik event that has recently happened in the Americas itself seems to have gone largely unnoticed. I mean the formation of the “Giving Pledge Project” by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Whether the organizers are themselves conscious or not of the implications and long term outcome of their proposed act, is not for me to judge. I can, however, feel it as the tip of an iceberg or the rumblings of an avalanche, the immensity of which, when fully fathomed can be more far reaching than the previous sputnik effect.
Just imagine if all the rich people can be coaxed to think and act in a similar manner, the complexion of the entire world community may be changed. If we can think and then act on the theory of willingly and voluntarily pledging the surplus of our own wealth towards a common cause of the uplift of man, will not humanity as a whole be on the road to uplift? The term Wealth, it may be pointed out here, should not be restricted to materials alone. For, wealth of knowledge, power and other human resources can also be gracefully shared, and their excess passed on to others without hurting one’s own needs. Will not such a way of approach in human thinking be more beneficial, in raising the resource level of man, than acts of coercive and punitive means of forced taxation and other harsh administrative measures? Until visionary leaders adopt innovative and more natural methods of governance, mankind will keep rebelling to change the conditions, or may become victim of their own ill-conceived annihilative plans.
It is ideas such as these that are really the base of innovation and need to be picked out and patronized at the state level. Is not the willing and conscious submission shown by Abraham, one of the greatest of patriarchs of all time, the most profound lesson given to mankind? Is not willing submission better than painful surrender in the end? For, if we do not heed the call of the times the present day scenario of agitation around us may engulf the entire globe. If on the other hand we realize the need of the hour within the timeframe, the generous and the needy may both benefit in the long run. Willing and conscious parting is a source of growth of the giver as the graceful acceptance is that of the receiver. Will not conscious parting and partaking of resources be the ultimate means of self-amelioration of the entire human race?

13. Why do you think so many Muslims hate Jews and Hindus?

Let me play the devil’s advocate by turning the contention on its head and see how it sounds. My own feeling is that it is Islam that is hated by other faiths. By way of argument I may be allowed to say that it is but natural for earlier ideas and faiths to oppose a newer idea which, not only encompasses their basic qualities, but also refines them by its more evolved logic and methods. This notion of resistance is well documented in many other fields of human endeavor, science for example, where many an old theory had challenged the new hypothesis in the beginning but finally gave in after being exposed for its own shortcomings. Also, it is in the nature of things to have inertia which is responsible for the maintenance of the existing status quo, and which resists change. This natural tendency works in nature in many fields and circumstances. Religious thought is no exception. As a matter of fact religious fervor and the intensity of its dictates makes its followers defend it vehemently. It is commonly agreed that religion and faith has been the source of more ferocious wars and battles than other reasons of conflict. Is it then not possible that the faiths are fighting for self-preservation and holding on to dogmatic fundamental beliefs?

14. What kind of conflicts you experienced between your creative and religious lives? How did you deal with them?

I think I have covered this under earlier questions 6 and 9

15. How did you deal with conflicts between your family and creative lives?

I have had very congenial family relationships. We are rather democratic in our approach and try to practice the rule of ‘ live and let live’. One of the basic ideas I learnt when I had children, two daughters, is that there is no such thing as a generation gap. There only develops a gap of communication between parents and children when we stop seeing and appreciating each other’s point of view. By keeping the channels open many misunderstandings can be resolved. We do talk and thrash out things from time to time and we have not had any major ideological conflicts. We each try to keep an open mind about things and ideas and try to understand the logic of the other’s argument. I coined a simple rule for my daughters when they were leaving for University and that somehow did wonders for our relationship and understanding. I told them that whenever they felt like doing something in hiding or on the sly they should just stop and think as to why they want to do it. Ever since then they have not done anything that made us feel sorry or embarrassed. As a matter of fact my elder daughter, Ayeza chose to get married to Christopher, a Caucasian Canadian, and we are now completely satisfied that she made the right decision. When I felt hesitant that it may not be the right choice, for Chris is not of our faith, Ayeza asked me a simple question which completely won me over. She asked me what was more important to be ‘a good person or to be first and foremost a Muslim’, for, she said, doesn’t every religion aim at making a good human being of a person. At that moment I learnt a new tenet to strengthen my faith.

16. What do you see the future of Islam and Muslims?

I have dealt with this subject in my essay ‘ A Muslim’s destiny’. I quote some relevant portions from there to answer this question:
Let us examine the definition of Islam in the broadest possible terms and see if it makes any logical sense in today’s society. The word ‘Islam’ is said to mean submission, surrender, perhaps alignment and integration with. --- Submit, surrender or align with what, and why?

Take any action as an example; be it an act of thought, word or deed. Every act must submit to a logic, plan or scheme for it to make sense, or be called a meaningful pursuit. Unplanned behaviour is aimless and unpredictable and may not achieve any result, except perhaps destruction or negation of order — that which some planned or coherent action is trying to establish. One may however say, that this too is a pursuit; but destruction is generally not accepted as a viable purpose. It is perhaps a negation of the very concept of a purposeful action. A purpose is progressive and forward bound, where as negation is annihilating in its approach. We thus infer that, submission must also make some logical sense and should have a purpose to be viable and generally acceptable. Now, submission itself becomes a voluntary act if one’s awareness and knowledge support its reason and logic. The whole exercise of ‘ being ’ must have had a motive, for otherwise, it becomes a meaningless farce. Now, for the fulfillment of any motive, some tools, means or implements are essential. In the case of human beings these means may be mental , verbal or physical in nature. Thoughts are mental tools, language and words are verbal aids and actions are means of physical expression. To elaborate and explain it a little more, let us say that, to praise or curse someone one needs thoughts and /or words -- which are the tools for accomplishing the desired act. And, to physically help or harm someone one needs appropriate tools to do the job. Now again, the tools and implements must be functional, within ones control and must somehow relate to the task. For example to kiss someone lips would be a more appropriate tool then legs. The latter, though also a tool and perhaps functional, would be more appropriate to implant a good kick instead. Again, the tools or implements one chooses must perform well and efficiently to accomplish the task, or they will either be modified or replaced. The tools must also obey and serve the master. Each one of us has some natural tools and some others one can improvise. The personal tools would be the parts of ones body -- arms, legs, eyes, heart, liver etc. Some of which are external and some internal. Some work under the control of ones free- will, and some function autonomously, under natural laws. Each part of the body has a specific function that it performs dutifully and efficiently according to its nature and structure. All things that function and perform their naturally assigned tasks are called ‘Muslim’ as they obey and submit to the laws that govern them, that is, the laws of Nature. In nature, everything obeys these natural laws and cannot deviate from them. Humans however, have a unique position in this regard. They have the extra quality of a ‘free- will’ ; which becomes pronounced with development in age and sense. This free-will is an inherent human quality and comes from the fact that they have evolved as a species and have reached a high level in Nature’s design of things. The free will is human being’s most distinguishing attribute. It can be put to use with the aid of the mind and its power of reasoning. How one uses this free- will is the real test of ones ability to discipline and control one’s other faculties and their function, those that he/ she has in common with other living things. E.g. hunger, self-preservation, need for shelter, love and hate etc. etc. The faculties therefore, too, are also all Muslims because they all submit and perform the assigned tasks competently and diligently under the laws that control them – the system of free-will of a person.
So what is the purpose of human beings?
If the definition of Muslim, given above is understood, then to begin with, every person is a born Muslim, because at that stage one is completely under the control of nature and its laws and dutifully submits to them. One does not have a developed sense or free-will and in fact very limited independence. Notably, a human baby is more helpless than the offspring of other creatures, and remains so for a relatively longer period. Even here there is a logic, but we will deal with that some other time perhaps. The thing to note however, is, that this most helpless of creatures eventually becomes the most powerful, and perhaps the most useful in the scheme of nature’s evolutionary process. At the present stage of evolution humans have gained the ability to be aware and also be able to participate in nature’s own scheme of things. Every thing thus seems to have a purpose and value on the scale of nature’s balance. In fact human beings can aid in it and even promote certain natural processes by virtue of their intellect and consequent overall superiority. This may sound as an ode to ourselves, but which other creature has the ability to write an ode to itself, or for that matter even read and write on its own.
The higher up on the scale of evolution the creature is, the more the awareness it has, and can understand both its own rights and obligations. As evolution progresses and reaches the stage of self- perpetuation, it becomes self-participating and self-directing as well. For, if it is not so the result would be self-destructing and self-diminishing. Now the tendency of self-destruction in an evolving system is a negative or detrimental trait, and does not serve the logic of its very existence. Humans are also a part of this self - perpetuating system and are positioned at a very high level in the whole spectrum of evolution -- whereby they have gained the capability of being conscious of the system itself. They may not fully appreciate or understand the purpose of the system of which they are a part, yet they are aware of it and know that such a structure exists. They probe and search for its meaning in everything around them. They do this by the use of their most important and uniquely individualistic tool – the mind. This mind however, like everything else, is a double-edged sword. It is both positive and negative. It is both creative and destructive. It has the power to both accept or reject. This in turn, depends on the basis of the thought itself, and ones approach to the subject. If the basis or origination of thought or conscious analysis is positivism and open mindedness, it will endow progressive and constructive results. But if the idea takes birth in doubt and deceit it will promote negativity and resistance to progress. Let us take an example. The splitting of a heavy atom (fission), or joining two small atoms (fusion), releases tremendous energy. This release of power can be utilised either constructively, e.g. to generate electricity; or destructively, e.g. to make a bomb. Interestingly enough, however, the process for electrical power generation is based on the principle of a controlled and balanced nuclear reaction; whereas a bomb is uncontrolled release of energy. This points to the fact that progressive processes are usually harnessed, balanced and controlled activities. Uncontrolled reactions can be catastrophic.
We have now come to a stage where we can understand what it means by — ‘to submit, surrender and align with’. It is really, Nature, and its process of self-propagation and perpetuation which is to be accepted, submitted to and participated in. One who consciously does so, with a belief that there is such a thing as a Natural system with its supreme laws and submits, is a consciously believing Muslim; and one who denies it, is not. Questioning, probing, fathoming and then accepting natural phenomena are all Muslim traits. Our tasks as humans is then to study, explore, understand, align and harness the progressive aspects of the Laws of ‘Cause and Effect’; in other words to correctly use ones personal and or improvised tools towards the furthering and promoting, not only of the self, but of the system as a whole. Is this not alignment with the ‘Laws of Nature’?. These Laws are the frame work under which Nature Itself operates and accomplishes the process of change and evolution. .... We have now reached that stage of our discussion where we can perhaps appreciate the fact that submission, surrender and conscious willingness are the only ways and means to align with the dictates of Nature and the Natural Law in order to progress. This will perhaps, not only unveil the secrets of those Laws, but in turn alleviate the Self to a level of awareness where the Created can look at the Face of the Creator and admire His/ Her work.

Thus, if correctly analyzed and understood, Islam is willful submission to the laws of Nature. Its philosophy is closest to human nature. In my opinion human progress due to the development of knowledge is proceeding to a stage where we will rationally understand religion and its meaning, and Islam will be seen in its right perspective. Evolution is leading humans to the conscious and willful submission to the laws of Nature.

17. What do you see the future of Pakistan?

It is better to direct this question to socio-political analysts. I do not feel competent to tackle it.

18. Of all the poets and philosophers you studied, which one impressed you the most and why?

I am a ‘divana e Ghalib’, the poet philosopher of the East. Some of the reasons for my admiration and fascination for Ghalib is both his philosophy and his poetry. I quote from my introduction to ‘Ghalib – as I understand him’ to give you a better idea of my admiration for the genius of the thinker.
Ghalib was a “progressive Muslim”, one who questioned, deciphered, understood and only then submitted to Nature’s laws. He did not surrender to the dictates of the dogmatic or the fundamentalist’s school of thought. His questioning mind brought him to the zenith of detached self-observation and critical personal analysis. He understood the workings of human nature from outside the shackles of ignorant and dogmatic religious beliefs and practices.
All original thinkers have a sensitivity about them. They are aware and gain consciousness of phenomena which are beyond ordinary humans and want to share it with the world; only to be rebuffed and ridiculed by conformists and propagators of status quo. Original thought leads to the reality of extreme loneliness and elevated comprehension, and is insatiable by temporary companionships which one seeks in the surroundings. Ghalib’s awareness and vision were so acute and penetrating that to preserve sanity he sought some relief. Knowing fully well that exceeding the limit would tilt the balance and lead to addiction and escapism.
The liberation of the trapped treasures of ones nature is every ones desire, but the majority of us are lost and tangled in the achievement of glamour and material glitter of this worldly life. Only some can see the truth beyond its physical garb. Ghalib was one who saw it. His view encompassed the universe it self; as is evident from:

Hastee kay muth farayeb may ajayeeoo Asad
Aalam tamam halqa-e daam-e khayaal hai.

Be not deceived, O Asad, by the dazzle of creation
All existence is encircled, by the net of imagination.

19. Do you consider yourself successful as a writer and a human being?

I do not feel competent to answer this question. It is for others to judge. I try to seek, question, understand, rationalize and then learn. I then try to implement the ideas that coincide with my psyche in my own life. Sometimes I succeed sometimes I don’t. The quest continues and time alone will tell how far I have succeeded to consciously evolve or devolve.

20. What are your future dreams?
Read the following poem, reflect and enjoy:
My Days Among the Dead are Passed
by Robert Southey

My days among the Dead are passed;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.
With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.
My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears;
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.
My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
hat will not perish in the dust.


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