Friday 28 April 2017

Who are the Ulul Albaab? - Synthesis of Iman

Who are the Ulul Albaab?

The passage we are trying to explain deals with the subject matter of iman in reference to a particular type of human individuals viz, the ulul albaab. Naturally, the question arises as to what is meant by ulul albaab? In Arabic, albaab is the plural of lubb which means “core”, “essence”, and “innermost”. This means that the real essence of  something is called its lubb. The lubb of the human being is consciousness, intellect, and intelligence. For this reason the philosophers have defined man as an “intelligent and rational being” (Haiwan-e-aqil), pointing to the fact that the essence of man is his intellect and reasoning capacity. Ulul albaab, therefore, are the people of deep reflection and contemplation who follow their intellect and not their vain desires or the carnal promptings of their baser self.

A golden rule of Qur'anic comprehension is that one part of the Qur’an is supported or explained by other parts. Inspecting the Qur’an, we find a similar discourse in ayah 164 of surah Al-Baqarah:

“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; (here) indeed are signs for a people that are wise (qaumun ya`qiloon).”
[al-Qur’an 2:164]

Note that the above ayah ends with the term “qaumun ya`qiloon” (the people of intelligence), whereas the passage of surah Al-e-`Imran under discussion used the term ulul albaab. Consequently, qaumun ya`qiloon and ulul albab are one and the same; that is, they are the people of intellect, deep thought and reasoning whose vision of reality has not been beclouded by prejudices and pursuit of purely carnal desires.

One should keep in mind that the vast majority of mankind does not comprise of people who utilize their intellect and reasoning faculty. It would not be too far fetched to term such people as “two legged animals”. They follow their society’s conventional trends and simply mimic the behavior of those around them. They swim in the direction of the social current and tide of their time and only change their direction as the current changes. They never question as to who they are, where have they come from or where they are going?

Contrary to such a character, there always exists, in each society, a minority group who is never satisfied with the practices and beliefs prevalent in their society. They demand rational arguments and logical proofs for the validity of all beliefs and practices. They want to discover for themselves the realities of life via their own intellect and reasoning. This group comprises a society’s intelligentsia (the intellectual elite or the brain trust). These are the people whom the Qur’an calls qaumun ya`qiloon or ulul albaab. When these people study the universal, natural phenomena, they find them laden with the signs of the Creator-Lord (SWT) – His Creativity, Wisdom and Power. Hence, the universal, natural phenomena lead them to the gnosis of Allah (SWT).

Meaning of “ayah”

Both quoted passages (of Al-Baqarah and Al-e-`Imran) use the word “ayaat”. What exactly is meant by this term? ayaat is plural of ayah which literally means: “sign”, “signpost”, and “memento.” An ayah then is something that reminds you of something else. For example, a handkerchief of an old friend, whom you have forgotten, may serve as a memento to remind you of him. This implies that the memory of the friend had always been in your subconscious mind; the memento simply helped to activate it and bring it to the plain of your consciousness. In this way, the objective of an ayah is thus identified – to remind one of a forgotten truth or reality. From the Qur'anic perspective, the two universes – the outer universe of nature and the inner universe of the self – are replete with the signs (ayaat) that serve as mementos and reminders of the Creator (SWT). Qur'an distinctly points to this reality:

“Soon shall We show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this Qur'an is indeed the truth.”
[al-Qur'an 41:53]

The creativity in the universe should remind the thoughtful person of the Creator who created the universe. The artistry of the universe should point to the Artist who painted the universe. The unity of laws and regulations working in all constituents of the universe, both at microcosmic and macrocosmic levels, should indicate the Ultimate Unity responsible for the presence of such laws. The presence of moral law within should direct one’s attention towards the moral being who embedded these laws deep within the human psyche. In this manner, everything in the universe is an ayah (sign) of the Creator’s existence (SWT).

To be continued....

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