Man's Innocence, Deeds of Man, Faith Needs Art
Issue 700 » August 24, 2012 - Shawwal 6, 1433
Al-Najm (The Star) Chapter 53: Verses 38-39
Islam holds that man is created innocent, and plays out the drama, as it were, after his birth, not before. No matter who his parents were, who his uncles and ancestors, his brothers and sisters, his neighbours or his society were, man is born innocent. This repudiates every notion of original sin, of hereditary guilt, of vicarious responsibility, of tribal, national or international involvement of the person in past events before his birth. Every man is born with a clean slate, it asserts, basing its stand on the absolute autonomy and individuality of the human person. No soul, the Quran declares, will bear any but its own burden. To it belongs all that it has itself personally earned, whether merit or demerit. None will receive judgement for the deed of another, and none may intercede on behalf of another.
Islam defines man's responsibility exclusively in terms of his own deeds and defines a deed as the act in which man, the sane adult person, enters into bodily, consciously, and voluntarily, and in which he produces some disturbance of the flow of space-time. Guilt and responsibility are ethical categories and are incurred only where a free and conscious deed is committed.
"Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life" - Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi, pp. 68, 69
Deeds of Man
Narrated by Ziyad ibn Thabit and Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them), the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "If Allah was to punish the people of heaven and earth, He would have done that without being unjust towards them, and if He were to have mercy on them, His mercy would be far better for them than their deeds." (Abu Dawud)
In a sahih hadith the Messenger of Allah said: "No one will attain salvation by virtue of his deeds." The people asked, "Not even you, O Mesenger of Allah?" He said, "Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His mercy and blessings."
The deeds of a man cannot pay for even one of the many blessings of Allah, because even the smallest of Allah's blessings and favours far outweigh the deeds of man. So we must always bear in mind the rights which Allah has over us.
"Patience and Gratitude" - Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, p. 70
Faith Needs Art
Everywhere, in all cultures and civilizations, from the oldest to the most modern, the arts have always expressed and conveyed humankind's common aspiration to remain upstanding, to try to understand, and to tell the meaning of their lives, of their sufferings, of their loves, and of their deaths. Those works are invaluably rich and the various societies' cultural heritages must be studied from within. All that a culture produces is not always satisfactory from an artistic or ethical standpoint and it is important to adopt a critical approach that manages to be both inclusive and selective. Innumerable works produced by non-Muslim cultures and artists by no means contradict Islam's ethical goals: those varied forms of art, literature, or music must, in the name of universality of principles, be integrated into the shared cultural and artistic heritage of societies and, more generally, of humankind.
There are higher ethical goals in art, as in any other human activity. Preserving the common good, dignity, and welfare is, of course essential, as is the importance of dignity, creativity, and diversity. In addition to celebrating those higher goals, it should be possible to discuss tensions, doubts, grief, and suffering, not to nurture them morbidly but to come to terms with them in a quest for balance, peace, contemplation, and sincerity that can never be fully achieved.
The Universe of art is a Universe of questions rather than answers, and it should not be reduced to conveying only religious answers. Artistic expression precedes such answers and the accompanying norms: it seeks to reach and convey the essence of emotion and meaning, and any attempt seeking to reduce it to a strictly religious or Islamic message would naturally leave people unsatisfied. Art asks questions, faith supplies answers: it is important for faith to allow the heart a space where it can express with freedom and dignity its simple, human, painful questions, which may not always be beautiful but are never absolutely ugly. Moreover, faith needs it, for such a experience enables it to gain depth, substance, and intensity.
"Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation" - Tariq Ramadan, p. 202