Spirituality In The 21st Century
San Francisco, USA
August 15-21, 1990
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful, the Lord of all Heavens, Earth, Man and Creatures.
I am grateful to the Assembly of the World's Religions for giving me the opportunity to make this speech about spirituality in the 21st century.
Whenever man examines his universe closely, he will inevitably reach the conclusion that there is an Omnipotent Creator. The universe is an integrated, well-organized system, proving the existence of an Organizer, a Ruling, Consummate Mind. Now that we are able to explore outer space, we see even more clearly the magnitude of God's creation and the position of man within it. Man's intellect comprehends more than just physical observations; it is able to perceive the spiritual aspects of the universe as well.
Divine compassion is revealed as it comes to mankind through certain individuals, upon whom Allah has bestowed a spiritual capacity, that makes them capable of receiving the underlying secrets of the universe and its mysteries through their souls and transmitting it to others. We call these people prophets and apostles.
Abraham earnestly sought the Creator by rejecting the worship of the sun, the moon, and the idols of his people. He, thus, confirmed for himself that God is the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Now it is most befitting for man in the 21st century to strive hard to find the relationship between him and his Creator. This is particularly important as man investigates the frontiers of modern science, making new discoveries in order to ascertain the greatness of our Creator and to quench his spiritual yearning for truth and reality. However, today man has stripped himself of this noble purpose, pursuing only material gain, causing him to lose himself in a desert of sensuous desires without any shade, oasis or brook.
Man cannot attain salvation except by following the example of the prophets. Divine providence protected Abraham from Nimrod, and allowed Moses to part the Red sea. It was by the authority of God that Jesus Christ brought the dead to life, and that Muhammad vanquished the heathen armies with the aid of a handful of sand. These prophets and apostles represent the human ideal, for they were able to quench the yearning of their spirits and become absorbed in their love of God. Their lives followed the straight path, in the footsteps of their predecessors, confirming the revelations of the prophets that came before them.
Crises and calamities have befallen man throughout his entire history. These events almost inevitably lead to a moral decay that undermines the stability of society. This is no more true than in the twentieth century, where human security and happiness have reached an all time low. This trend will continue into the 21st century if man does not promptly return to true spirituality.
Religions, which are supposed to be the ever-overflowing sources of spirituality, are now, owing to the abuse of some clergymen and their ineffective practices, in utter failure. They have not been able to grant man his aspirations or peace. On the other hand, our materialistic advances, in which man has placed much of his hope for happiness, have also proved disappointing. Human society now suffers from the plagues and infections of bestial desires, savagery, and atheism, which robs man of his tranquillity and peace of mind. Consequently, man's very life is threatened by different forces of his own thoughtless creation, such as pollution, desertification, famine, and the menace of nuclear holocaust.
I believe the people of the earth cannot live except under the laws of Allah, which provide for both our spiritual and moral lives. It is by following these laws that man can attain the happiness of this world along with its bounties. However, man has neglected to take care of his spiritual life. He has given free rein to his carnal appetites, to greed and egotism, which are opposed to true faith and has led to the misery that eats at the fabric of man's society.
The solution to man's problems lies in his return to a rational spirituality, which is the essence of the teaching of all the divine missions. Furthermore, it complements man's inner nature and structure in a symbiotic relationship that will guarantee for man the happiness of body and soul that he so much desires, securing for him the two paradises of heaven and earth. Allah says:
But for those who fear the majesty of their Lord there are two paradises. T.Q., Sura 55, The Most Gracious, verse 46.
The combination of the material and the spirit go together to form the foundation upon which the building of the revealed religion resides. Their combination is a balance that if tampered with would uproot this foundation, robbing man of his link to the Creator.
Perhaps what accounts for most people's abhorrence of spirituality is the cultural accretions and additions that have crept into religion over the millennia, and the battles that have taken place over these innovations. These have marred the once beautiful vision of the Here and the Hereafter and deprived religion of its original purposes and intents. In my opinion, the responsibility for this lies with all of us, the patrons and sponsors of religion, for we have failed to recognize or admit that the essence and truth of divine instruction, or revelation, is only one and that it came through successive messengers with one complementing the other, and that the last could not demolish the first. There is neither enmity nor malice in the essence and reality of religions. They do not contradict reason, and are indispensable for man's peace and welfare.
The cause of discord in religions today is the lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness from which some suffer, as well as the lack of learning and deficiency of knowledge. This is despite the fact that the source of the revealed faiths is One and their messengers essentially complement one another. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, illustrated this point in the following tradition: The comparison between me and the earlier prophets is like a man who constructed a house so beautifully and left the place of one stone empty. The people came and walked round the house admiringly and said: Why has not that stone been laid? I was that stone and I am the last of the prophets. Altaj Aljamee, Vol. 3, Page 205 .
The Quran illustrates the unity and the convergence between the revealed religions, which confirm one another. Allah says addressing all true believers:
He has ordained for men the faith He has revealed to you; and formerly enjoined on Noah and Abraham, on Moses and Jesus, saying Observe this faith and be not disunited in it But that to which you call them is unacceptable to the idolaters. Allah chooses for it whom He will, and guides to it those that repent. T.Q., Sura 42, The Consultation, verse 13.
Allah sent at certain times a prophet to solve the problems of his people and to bring them happiness, tranquillity and fraternal love. Those apostles were like schools for they were instructors and educators of their people. Furthermore, the Quran says:
. . . for there is no nation that has not been warned by an apostle. T.Q., Sura 35, Originator of Creation, verse 24.
Muhammad clarified the role of such apostles in their connection to revealed religions by saying: We prophets are the sons of one father, our religion or faith is one but our canonical laws or programs of procedure are different.
The Quran cites the examples of many such prophets. It tells the story of Abraham, who denounced man's worship of idols and his submission to despotism. It devotes a whole Sura to the story of Joseph, who rescued his people from famine and death by his wise planning and economic measures, after being placed in charge of the treasury of Egypt. He was a prime example of the ideal divine envoy, kind and forgiving by nature and disposition.
The Quran also tells the story of Moses as a man of great spirituality, who secured freedom for the Israelites. He called his people to monotheism and told them to obey the heavenly law for the sake of their human happiness. The victory of Christ over sheer materialism is also mentioned in the Quran. He proved that the soul could cure itself of all its ills despite the chronic diseases that infest it as a result of this materialism.
When ignorance prevailed in the crumbling Persian and Byzantine empires, suppressing the people of their regions, Allah sent Muhammad to liberate these people from this imperialism. Muhammad invited people towards moral sublimity through fasting and prayer. He worked for the propagation of knowledge and the purification of the soul, thus seeking and establishing the Utopian ideal. In less than half a century he had set free half of the peoples of the known world of his time. His struggle resulted in the forging of much of mankind into a single brotherhood, establishing the nucleus of an international state, and giving the opportunity for the emergence of men in later generations to come to fill the world with wisdom, philosophy, learning and spirituality.
Muhammad's approach in dealing with the divine mission assigned to him was one of complementation and compliance with the already established schools of thought that had preceded him through the work of the earlier prophets. The Quran summarizes the mission of Muhammad in the following verse:
Say: we believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us; we believe in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets, we make no distinction between any of them, and to Allah we have surrendered ourselves. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 136.
Allah seals in the Quran the role of Muhammad with the following verse, and thus by it Muhammad forms the seal of all the heavenly sent messengers:
We have not sent thee save as a mercy to all worlds. T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 107.
In his capacity as the last heavenly-sent messenger, Muhammad defined for mankind the pinnacle of his role in this worldly life by saying: The example of the believers in one God is as the example of a single body. If an organ of this body were to complain of an ailment the rest of the body would respond in its compassion for it with sleeplessness and fever. Therefore, he called for an international fraternal state that guaranteed for mankind paradise in this world until man reached the eternal heavenly paradise.
I appeal to all my colleagues of the revealed religions to strive hard in creating this fraternal community, so that by it we may realize the paradise of the worldly life. Mankind suffers in this century from the atrocities of his own hand work, such as extreme poverty and ignorance. He agitates his sorry situation further by exposing his fellow man to the vices of pornography and the misuse of narcotics, and as such destroys the fabric of his societies. These self-inflicted diseases narrow the horizons of men, who would otherwise aspire to more aesthetic goals of hope and optimism, given the opportunity, instead of these which bring such despair and anguish.
I therefore call for the establishment of institutions and universities whose graduates excel in their ability to deal with the diseases of man in the 21st century, who call man to a more virtuous life, and are examples of piety and good conduct. It is such men and women graduates who will safeguard the interests of the human community and its welfare.
Let us be united and act jointly in this aim, and employ all the scientific, and intellectual means available at our disposal. Let us take advantage of the modern means of communication and through the public media educate the masses. Let us conduct free dialogues to restore the heavenly faith, and the spirituality of the prophets. Allah says in the Quran:
Good is the reward of those that do good works in this present life, but far better is the reward of the life to come. Blessed is the dwelling place of the righteous. T. Q., Sura 16, The Bee, verse 30.
Let us begin by sowing this seed, and nurture the seedling, so that it will grow and future generations may reap the rewards and benefit from our hard work and sincere efforts.
Peace be upon you all.