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Chapter 7: Conception of the Universe

Every doctrine and every philosophy of life is indispensably based on a sort of belief, an evaluation of life and a sort of interpretation and analysis of the world.

The way of thinking of a school in respect of life and the world is considered to be the basis of the entire thinking of that school. This basis is called the world conception of that school.

All religions, social systems, schools of thought and social philosophies are based on a particular world conception. All the goals which a school presents, the ways and methods which it brings into existence are the corollaries of the conception of the world that it entertains.

The philosophers say that there are two kinds of wisdom: practical and theoretical.

Theoretical wisdom is to know the existing things as they are. Practical wisdom is to find out how one should lead his life. This 'should' is the logical result of 'how they are', especially those 'how they are, with which metaphysical philosophy deals.

Conception of the World and Perception of the World

Evidently we should not confuse the conception of the world with its sense perception. Conception of the world has the sense of cosmogony and is linked with the question of identification. Unlike sense perception, which is common to man and other living beings, identification is peculiar to man, and hence conception of the world is also peculiar to him. It depends on his thinking and understanding.

From the point of view of sense perception of the world, many animals are more advanced than man, because either they are equipped with certain senses which man lacks, as it is said that birds have a radar sense, or their senses, although common to them and man, are sharper than the senses possessed by man, as is said of the sight of the eagle, of the sense of smell of the dog and ant and of the sense of hearing of the rat. Man is superior to other animals because he has a deep conception of the world. Animals only perceive the world, but man can interpret it also.

What is identification? What is the relationship between perception and identification? What elements other than perceptional ones are part of identification? How do they enter identification and from where? What is the mechanism of identification? What is the standard by which correct and incorrect identification are judged?

These are the questions which require a separate treatise, and at present we are unable to take them up. Anyhow, it is certain that perception of a thing is different from its identification. Many people view a scene and all of them see it alike, but only a few of them can interpret it, and they too often differ?

Varieties of World Conception

On the whole there are three kinds of world conception or world identification or, in other words, man's interpretation of the universe. It can be inspired by three sources: science, philosophy and religion. So we can say that there are three kinds of world conception: scientific, philosophical and religious.

Scientific Conception of the World

Now let us see how and to what extent science helps us form an opinion. Science is based on two things, theory and experiment. For the discovery and interpretation of a phenomenon first a theory comes to the mind of a scholar and then on its basis he carries out experiments in the laboratory. If it is corroborated by the experiment, it gains acceptance as a scientific principle and remains valid till a better and a more comprehensive theory appears and is corroborated by experiment. With the appearance of a new and more comprehensive theory, the old theory becomes invalid.

That is how science discovers the cause and the effect of a experiment. Then it again tries to discover the cause of that cause and the effect of that effect. This process continues so long as possible.

The scientific work has many advantages and disadvantages as it is based on practical experiment. The greatest advantage of the scientific discoveries is that they are specific and particular.

Science can impart to man a lot of information about a particular It can give a volume of knowledge about one single leaf of a tree. Furthermore, because it acquaints man with the particular laws governing each thing, it enables him to control and use things his advantage, and thus promotes industry and technology.

Though science can teach man thousands of things about a particular thing, yet the knowledge imparted by science being specific, its scope is limited. Experiments place a limitation in it. Science can go forward only to the extent it is possible for it to make an experiment. Obviously it cannot experiment with the entire creation and all its aspects. Science can go forward in pursuit of causes and effects only to a certain extent and then it reaches the stage of 'unknown'.

It is like a powerful searchlight which illuminates a limited area, and does not throw light beyond its range. No experiment can be made on such questions whether this world has a beginning and an end or is it infinite from both sides? When a scholar reaches this point, he consciously or unconsciously resorts to philosophy to express his opinion. From the stand point of science this world is an old book the first and the last pages of which have been lost. Neither its beginning is known nor its end. The reason is that the scientific conception of the world is the outcome of the knowledge of a part of, not of the whole.

Science informs us of the position of some parts of the world, not of the features and the characteristics of the whole of it. The scientific conception of the world held by scientists is like the conception of an elephant acquired by those who passed their hands on it in darkness. He who touched the ear of the elephant thought that it was like a fan; he who touched its leg thought that it was like a pillar and he who touched its back thought that it was like a raised platform.

Another drawback of the scientific conception of the world is that it cannot be the basis of any ideology, for science is inconstant and changeable from its practical aspect, that is the aspect of showing reality as it is and inviting faith in the nature of the reality of creation. Scientifically the features of the world change from day to day, because science is based on a combination of theory and experiment and not on self-evident rational truths. The theory and experiment have a temporary value only. As such the scientific conception of the world is an inconstant and changeable conception and is not fit to become the basis of faith. Faith requires a more stable or rather an eternal basis.

The scientific conception of the world, because of the limitation imposed on it by the tools of science (theory and experiment), is unable to answer a number of questions, the definite answer of which is essential for an ideology. Such questions are: From where has this world come? Where does it go? From the viewpoint of time has the world a beginning and an end? What is its position from the viewpoint of place? Is or is not the existence, on the whole, something good and meaningful? Is the world governed by some essential and unchangeable norms and laws, or does no such thing exists?

Is the creation on the whole a living and conscious unit or is man alone an accidental exception? Can an existing thing become non-existent or a non-existing thing become existent? Is the restoration of a non-existing thing possible or impossible? Is the exact re-creation of the world and history in all their details possible even after billions of years (Theory of recurring in Cycles?) Is unity preponderant or multiplicity?

Is the world divided into material and non-material, and is the material world a small part of the entire world? Is the world rightly guided and perceptive or is it imperceptible and blind? Are man and the world in a state of reciprocity? Does the world show reaction to the good and bad deeds of man? Does there exist an eternal life in the wake of this transient life? There are so many other similar questions.

Science does not answer all these questions, for it cannot make an experiment with them. Science can answer only limited and particular questions, but is unable to draw a general picture of the world. We give an example to make our point clear.

An individual may have a local knowledge of a big city. He may know a part of it in detail and may be able to draw a picture of its roads, lanes and even houses. Another person may have a similarly detailed knowledge of another part of the city, and a third, a fourth and a fifth person may know other parts of it. If we collect information from all of them, we may get enough information about each part of the city. But will this information be enough to have a complete and overall picture of it? For example, can we know what shape the city is; whether it is circular, quadrangular or of the shape of a leaf? If it resembles a leaf, then a leaf of which tree? How are various areas of it connected with each other? What sort of automobiles connect them? Is the city on the whole beautiful or ugly? Evidently we cannot get all this information.

If we want to have such information and for example if we want to know the shape of the city or want to know whether it is beautiful or ugly, we should ride an aircraft and have an overall aerial view of it.

As we have said, science is unable to answer the basic questions necessary to form a conception of the world. It cannot provide an overall picture of the whole body of the universe.

Leaving all this aside, the value of scientific conception of the world is practical and technical, not theoretical, while an ideology can be based on theoretical value only. Had the reality of the world been as depicted by science, that would have constituted the theoretical value of science. Its practical and technical value lies in the fact that irrespective of its depicting or not depicting reality, it enables man to perform fruitful tasks. Modern industry and technology demonstrate the practical value of science. It is really amazing that in the modern world while technical and practical value of science has increased, its theoretical value has been reduced.

Those who are not fully conversant with the role of science, may think that along with its undeniable practical progress science has also enlightened the conscience of man and has convinced him of the reality as depicted by it. But that is not a fact.

From the foregoing it is clear that an ideology requires that kind of conception of the world which (i) may answer the basic questions concerning the universe as a whole, not only a part of it; (ii) may be an eternal and reliable conception, not a transient and passing one; and (iii) may have a theoretical and realistic value also not merely a practical and technical one. Thus, it is also clear that the scientific conception of the world, despite of its other merits, lacks all these three requirements.

Philosophical Conception of the World

Though philosophical conception of the world is not as exact and specific as scientific conception, it is based on a number of principles which are self-evident and undeniable by the mind. These principles proceed logically and are general and comprehensive. As such they have the advantage of being firm and constant. Philosophical conception of the world is free from that inconstancy and limitations which are found in scientific conception.

Philosophical conception of the world answers all questions on which the ideologies depend. It identifies the overall shape and features of the world.

Both the scientific and philosophical conceptions are a prelude to action, but in two different ways. Scientific conception is a prelude to action because it enables man to control nature and introduce changes in it. Man by means of science can use nature to his advantage as he wishes. Philosophical conception is a prelude to action in the sense that it determines man's choice of his way of life. It affects his reaction to his encounter with the world. It fixes his attitude and gives him a particular outlook on the world and the creation. It either gives an ideal to man or takes away an ideal from him. It either gives meaning to his life or draws him to absurdity and nothingness. That is why we say that science cannot give man a world conception that may become the basis of an ideology, but philosophy can.

Religious Conception of the World

If we regard every expression of an overall view of the world and the creation as a philosophical conception, not taking into consideration whether the source of this conception is a guess or reasoning or a revelation from the unknown world, religious and philosophical conceptions belong to the same domain. But if we take their source into account, philosophical and religious conceptions of the world are undoubtedly two different things.

In certain religions like Islam, religious conception of the world, has taken a philosophical or argumentative colour and is an integral part of the religion itself. The questions raised by religion are based on reasoning and proof. Thus Islamic conception of the world is rational and philosophical.

Besides the two merits of philosophical conception, namely eternity and comprehensiveness, religious conception of the world unlike scientific and purely philosophical conceptions, possesses one more merit of sanctification of the principles of world conception.

If we keep in view that an ideology, besides requiring faith in the eternity and inviolability of the principles held sacred by it, requires a belief in and adherence to a school of thought, it becomes clear that its basis can be only that conception of the world which has a religious colour.

From the foregoing discussion it may be inferred that a conception of the world can be the basis of an ideology only if it possesses stability, philosophical broad thinking and the sanctity of religious principles.

How to Judge an Ideology?

A perfect ideology is that which:

(i) Can be proved and expressed in a logical form; in other words, is logically and intellectually tenable;

(ii) Gives meaning to life and removes nihilistic ideas from the mind;

(iii) Is inspiring;

(iv) Is capable of giving sanctity to the human and social goals; and

(v) Makes man accountable.

If an ideology is logically tenable, the way is paved for its being accepted intellectually and there being no ambiguity about it, action as suggested by it becomes easy.

An inspiring ideology makes its school attractive and gives it warmth and power.

The sanctification of the goals of a school by its ideology, makes it easy for the adherents of this school to make sacrifice for its cause. If a school does not declare its goals to be sacred, it cannot create a sense of adoration and sacrifice in regard to its principle, nor can there be any guarantee of the success of such a school.

The accountability of man declared by a conception of the world, commits the individual to the depth of his conscience and makes him responsible to himself and to society.

Monotheistic Conception of the World

All these qualities and characteristics which are an essential requirement of a good conception of the world are found in monotheistic conception. It is the only conception which has all these characteristics. Monotheistic conception means the realization of the fact that the world has come out of a wise will and that its system is founded on mercy, munificence and all that is good. It aims at leading the existing things to a perfection befitting them. Monotheistic conception means that the world is 'mono-axis' and 'mono-orbit'. It means that the world is 'from Allah' and returns' to Allah'.

All the existing things of the world are harmonious and their evolution proceeds towards the same centre. Nothing has been created in vain and without having a purpose. The world is being managed under a series of definite systems known as 'Divine law'. Among the existing things man enjoys a special dignity, and has a special duty and a special mission. He is responsible for his own promotion and perfection as well as the reform of his society. The world is a school, and Allah rewards everyone according to his intention and valid effort.

Monotheistic conception of the world is supported by logic, science and sound arguments. Every particle of the world is a sign of the existence of an All-Wise and All-Knowing Allah and every leaf of a tree is a book of spiritual knowledge.

Monotheistic conception of the world gives to life a meaning, a spirit and a goal. It puts man on a way to perfection on which he continues to march forward without stopping at any stage.

Monotheistic conception of the world has a special attraction. It gives vitality and vigour to man. It puts forward lofty and sacred goals and produces selfless individuals.

Monotheistic conception of the world is the only conception of it which gives meaning to the responsibility of people to each other. Similarly it is the only conception that saves man from falling into the abyss of absurdity.

Islamic Conception of the World

Islamic conception of the world is monotheistic. Islam has presented monotheism in its purest form. From Islamic point of view, Allah has no like of Him and nothing can be compared to Him: "There is nothing like Him." (Surah ash-Shura, 42:11)

Allah is absolutely independent. All depend on Him, but He depends on none:

"You are in need of Allah. And Allah! He is Absolute, Laudable." (Surah al-Fatir, 35:15)

Allah is aware of everything. He can do whatever He likes:

"He is fully aware of everything." (Surah ash-Shura, 42:12)

"He is able to do all things." (Surah al-Hajj, 22:6)

Allah is everywhere. Every place, whether it is above the sky or in the depth of the earth has the same relation to Him. To whatever direction we stand, we face Him: "Wherever you turn, there is Allah's countenance" (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:115)

Allah knows what is in the hearts of people. He is aware of their intentions and aims: "Indeed We have created man and We know what his soul whispers." (Surah Qaf, 50:16)

Allah is closer to man than his jugular vein: "We are nearer to him than his jugular vein." (Surah Qaf, 50:16)

Allah has all the good attributes and is free from every defect: "Allah's are the fairest names." (Surah al-A'raf, 7:180)

Allah is not a material organism and cannot be seen with eyes: "Vision does not comprehend Him, but He comprehends all vision." (Surah al-An'am, 6:103)

From the stand point of monotheistic and Islamic conception of the world, the universe is a creation and is looked after by Divine will and attention. If Divine attention were withheld for a moment, the whole universe would be annihilated in no time.

This world has not been created in vain or in jest. There are many advantages implied in the creation of man and the world. Nothing has been created unbecoming and futile. The existing system of the universe is the best and the most perfect. It manifests justice and truth and is based on a sequence of causes and effects. Every result is a logical consequence of a cause and every cause produces a specific effect. Divine destiny brings a thing into existence through its specific causes only, and it is a chain of causes which constitutes the Divine destiny of a thing.

Divine will always operates in the world in the form of a law or a general principle. Divine laws do not change. Whatever changes take place, they are always in accordance with some law. Good and evil in the world are related to man's own conduct and his own deeds. Good deeds and bad deeds, besides being recompensed in the next world, have their reaction in this world also. Gradual evolution is a Divine law. This world is a nursery for the development of man.

Divine destiny is supreme in the whole world. Man has been destined by it to be free and responsible. He is the master of his own destiny. Man has his special dignity. He is fit to be the vicegerent of Allah. This world and the Hereafter are but two interconnected stages like those of sowing and harvest, for one reaps what one sows. They may also be compared to the two periods of childhood and old age, for the latter period is the outcome of the former.

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