At the threshold of a new millennium

At the threshold of a new millennium

Just as every dawn, every sunrise, and every coming spring signifies a new beginning and hope, so does every new century and every new millennium. In this respect, within the wheels of time, over which we have no control, humanity has always sought a new spark of life, a breath as fresh as the wind of dawn, and has hoped and desired to step into the light, leaving behind the darkness, as if one were crossing a threshold.

We can only speculate as to when the first man and woman appeared on Earth. The Earth is equated with the Heavens as it exhibits the divine creations and because of the ontological meaning it contains; the value of the Earth stems largely from its chief inhabitant: humanity. According to the calendar we use today, we are at the threshold of the third millennium after the birth of Jesus, peace be upon him. However, since time revolves and advances in a helicoidal relativity, there are different measures of time in the world. For example, according to the measure of time that currently enjoys global acceptance, the world is about to cross the threshold of a new thousand-year period. According to the Jewish calendar, we are already in the second half of the eighth millennium. Within the Hindu timeframe, we are living in the Kali Yuga era. If we follow the Muslim calendar, we are approaching the end of the first half of the second millennium.

We should remember, however, the fact that each measure of time is nothing more than a relative measurement. While a 100-year period is assumed to be the measure for a century, the idea of a 60-year century, based on the life span of an average person, is also worth mentioning. From this point of view, we are already in the fourth millennium after the birth of Jesus, peace be upon him, and the third millennium after the hijrah (the Emigration of the Prophet from Makka to Madina), the starting point of the Muslim calendar. I bring up this issue because there are people suffering spiritual discomfort engendered by the terrifying auguries believed to be associated with the upcoming millennium, especially in the West.

People live in perpetual hope, and thus are the children of hope. At the instant they lose their hope, they also lose their "fire" for life, no matter if their physical existence continues. Having hope is directly proportional to having faith. Just as winter constitutes one-fourth of a year, the periods in the life of a person or a society that correspond to winter are relatively small. The gears of Divine acts revolve around such comprehensive wisdom and merciful purposes; these inform us, just as the circulation of night and day builds one's hope and revivifies one's spirit and every new year comes with the expectation of spring and summer, that both in the life of an individual and in the history of a nation the disastrous periods are short and they are followed by happy times.

This cycle of the "Days of God," which is centered in Divine Wisdom, is neither fearful nor overly pessimistic for those who have faith, insight, and real perception. Rather, it is a source of continuous reflection, remembrance, and thanksgiving for those having an apprehensive heart, inner perception, and the ability to hear. Just as a day develops in the heart of the night, and as the winter furnishes the womb in which the spring grows, so one's life is purified, matures, and bears its expected fruits within this cycle. Also within this cycle, God-given human abilities become aptitudes and talents, sciences blossom like roses and weave technology at the workbench of time, and humanity gradually approaches its predestined end.

Having stated this general view, which is neither personal nor subjective, but rather an objective fact of human history, it should not be thought that we welcome either winter or the winter-like events corresponding to sorrow, disease, and disaster. Despite the general fact that disease eventually increases the resistance of the body, strengthens the immune system, and drives medical progress, it is pathological and harmful. It is the same with terrestrial and celestial disasters. From a theological and moral point of view, they result from our sins and oppression which are great enough to shake the Earth and the Heavens, and from engaging in deeds that have been declared forbidden and despised by law and ethics (whether religious or secular). Even though these diseases awaken people to their mistakes and negligence and provoke developments in geology, architecture, engineering, and related safety measures, even though they elevate the demolished belongings of believers to the level of charity, and the believers themselves to the level of martyrdom, these disasters cause much destruction and harm humanity.

In the same way, we read in the Qur'an:

If God had not hampered some (of you) with some other (of you), the mosques, monasteries, and synagogues in which God is worshiped would have fallen into ruins. (Al-Hajj 22:40)

In other words, God would be so little known that men and women, who are inclined not to recognize anything as superior to themselves nor to believe that their deeds will be questioned in the Hereafter, would have gone completely astray, thereby making Earth unsuitable for human life. There is also the divine decree:

You consider something as evil although it is good for you; you also consider something else as good although it is bad for you. (Al-Baqara 2:126)

For example, war is permissible. Although wars based on specific principles and with the intention of improving the existing situation may have benefits, they should not be mandate as they bring harm; they leave behind ruined houses, destroyed families, and weeping orphans and widows.

Moreover, the realities of life cannot be neglected, nor should they be ignored. Human beings are mirrors of the Names and Attributes of God, and therefore have been distinguished from the rest of creation by being honored with the responsibility for making Earth prosperous in His name. If they cannot grasp the wisdom and purposes behind any good or evil that has been sent their way by their Creator, then they cannot escape despair or pessimism. For such people, as can be seen in Existentialist literature, life turns into a meaningless process, existence into a purposeless vacuity, nonsense into the only criteria, suicide into a meritorious act, and death becomes the only inevitable reality.

The Basic Nature of Humanity

After presenting the issues that constitute the basis of this subject as an introduction, we can switch to our considerations regarding the third millennium.

Human history began with two people who constituted the essence of humanity and complemented one another. People lived a tranquil life during this time of the original mother and father and the families that descended from them. They were a united society that had the same views and shared the same environment and lives.

From that day on, the essence of humanity has remained unchanged, and it will remain so. The realities surrounding their lives, their physical structure, main characteristics, basic needs, place and time of birth and death, the selection of the parents and their physique, their innate characteristics, as well as the surrounding natural environment, have not changed. All of these require some essential, vital invariable realities and values. Thus, the development and alteration of the secondary realities of life should be based on the axis of these primary realities and values, so that life will continue as a worldly paradise under the shadow of Heaven.

We mentioned above some issues that seem to be harmful or unpleasant. Similarly, there are human traits that seem to be evil at first glance, such as hatred, jealousy, enmity, the desire to dominate others, greed, anger, and egoism. A human being also has other innate drives and needs that allow the continuation of his or her worldly life, such as the need to eat and drink and the drives of lust and anger. All human drives, needs, and desires should be guided and trained in the direction of the eternal, universal, and invariable values that address the fundamental aspects of humanity. In this respect, the need to eat and drink, and the desires associated with lust and anger can be tamed and transformed into means of absolute or relative good.

Likewise, egoism and hatred can become sources of fine attributes and goodness. Jealousy and rivalry can be transformed into competition in charitable and good deeds. The feeling of enmity can be transformed into enmity against Satan, the greatest enemy of humanity, and against the feeling of enmity itself and hatred. Greed and rage can force one to perform good deeds without tiring. Egoism can point out the evil aspects of the carnal soul (nafs), thereby seeking to train and purify the soul into not excusing its evil actions.

All negative feelings can be transformed into sources of good through training and making an effort. This is how one reaches the level of "the best of Creation" by traveling on the way of transformation from a potential human being to a real and perfected human being, to the best symbol, model, and personal representative of creation and existence.

Despite this fact, the realities of human life do not always follow these guidelines. Negative feelings and attributes often defeat people, dominating to such an extent that even the religions that guide people to goodness and kindness are abused, not to mention the feelings and attributes that are sources of absolute good. Human life, at the level of the individual and of humanity as a whole, is merely the summation of internal, personal struggles and their external manifestations. These tides make society, history, and the personal world of the individual an arena of battle, struggle, war, oppression, and tyranny. As a result, it is usually human beings who suffer the consequences.

We always reap the harvest of our deeds. In the first period of its history, humanity lived a happy life as a united society, the members of which shared their joys and sorrows. But later on they bound their necks and feet to a rusty yoke composed of the chains of oppression; this was the result of jealousy, greed, and the coveting of the rights and property of others. The consequence was the murder of Abel by Cain. As a result, humanity stepped onto the path of disunity. Despite millennia flowing one after the other, like days, seasons, and years, this "cycle" still continues.

The Second Millennium

The second millennium started with the Crusades and then the Mongol invasions of the Muslim world, which at that time was the heart of the world and history. Despite the wars and destruction, and despite the crimes committed, sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes in the name of economic, political, and military supremacy, this millennium saw the apex of the civilizations of the East, civilizations based on spirituality, metaphysical, universal, and eternal values, and of the civilizations of the West, those based on physical sciences. Many significant geographical discoveries and scientific inventions occurred during this millennium.

Yet, the civilizations of the East and the West existed separately from each other. This separation, which should not have occurred, was based on the fact that the former retired from pursuits of intellect and science, while the latter retired from spirituality, metaphysics, and eternal and invariable values. As a result, the last centuries of the second millennium witnessed disasters that we find hard to comprehend. Due to the growing arrogance and egoism of humanity, caused by its accomplishments, people had to experience worldwide colonialism, rampant massacres, revolutions that cost millions of lives, unimaginably bloody and destructive wars, racial discrimination, immense social and economic injustice, and iron curtains built by regimes whose ideology and philosophy sought to deny the essence, freedom, merit, and honor of humanity. It is partly because of this and partly because of some auguries from the Bible that some people in the West fear that the world will again be soaked in floods of blood, pus, and destruction. They are quite pessimistic and worried about how the new millennium will proceed.

Our Expectations

Modern means of communication and transportation have transformed the world into a large global village. So, those who expect that any radical changes in a country will be determined by that country alone and remain limited to it are unaware of current realities. This time is a period of interactive relations. Nations and peoples are more in need of and dependent on each other, a situation that causes closeness in mutual relations.

This network of relations, which has surpassed the period of brute colonialism and exists on the basis of mutual interest, provides some benefits for the weaker side. Moreover, owing to advances in technology, especially digital electronic technology, the acquisition and exchange of information is gradually growing. As a result, the individual comes to the fore, making it inevitable that democratic governments which respect personal rights will replace oppressive regimes.

As every human, unlike animals, represents the whole of humanity, individual rights cannot be sacrificed for society, and social rights should depend on individual rights. This is why the basic human rights and freedoms found in the revealed religions were taken on board by a war-weary West. These rights are given priority in all relations. The primary right is the right to life, which is granted by and can only be taken by God. To accentuate the importance of this right in Islam, a basic Qur'anic principle is that:

If one person kills another unjustly, it is the same as if he has killed all of humanity; if one saves another, it is the same as if he has saved all of humanity. (Al-Ma'ida 5:32)

Other rights are the freedom of religion and belief, thought and expression, to own property and the sanctity of one's home, to marry and have children, to communicate and to travel, and the right to an unimpeded education. The principles of Islamic jurisprudence are based on these and other rights, all of which have now been accepted by modern legal systems, such as the protection of life, religion, property, reproduction, and intellect, as well as the basic understanding of the equality of people, which is based on the fact that all people are human beings, and subsequently, the rejection of all racial, color, and linguistic discriminations. All of these will be—and should be—indispensable essentials in the new millennium.

I believe and hope that the world of the new millennium will be a happier, more just, and more compassionate place, contrary to the fears of some people. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all stem from the same root; all have essentially the same basic beliefs, and are nourished from the same source. Although they have lived as rival religions for centuries, the common points between them and their shared responsibility to build a happy world for all of the creatures of God make interfaith dialogue among them necessary. This dialogue has now expanded to include the religions of Asia and other areas. The results have been positive.

As mentioned above, this dialogue will develop as a necessary process, and the followers of all religions will find ways to become closer and assist each other.

Previous generations witnessed a bitter struggle that should never have taken place: science versus religion. This conflict gave rise to atheism and materialism, which influenced Christianity more than other religions. Science cannot contradict religion, for its purpose is to understand nature and humanity, which are each a composition of the manifestations of God's Attributes of Will and Power. Religion has its source in the Divine Attribute of Speech, which was manifested in the course of human history as Divine Scriptures, such as the Qur'an, the Gospels, the Torah, and others that had been revealed to just prophets since Adam. Thanks to the efforts of both Christian and Muslim theologians and scientists, it seems that the religion-science conflict that has lasted for a few centuries will come to an end, or at least its absurdity will finally be acknowledged.

The end of this conflict and a new style of education that fuses religious and scientific knowledge with morality and spirituality will produce genuinely enlightened people with hearts illuminated by religious sciences and spirituality, minds illuminated by positive sciences, characterized by all kinds of humane merits and moral values, and cognizant of the socioeconomic and political conditions of their time. Our old world will experience an amazing "springtime" before its demise. This springtime will see the gap between rich and poor narrow; the world's riches will be distributed more justly, according to work, capital, and needs; there will be no discrimination based on race, color, language, or worldview; and basic human rights and freedoms will be protected. Individuals will come to the fore and, learning how to realize their potential, will ascend on the way to becoming "the most elevated human" on the wings of love, knowledge, and belief.

In this new springtime, when scientific and technological progress has been taken into consideration, people will understand that the current level of science and technology resembles the stage of life when an infant is learning how to crawl. Humanity will organize trips into space as if they were merely traveling to another country. Travelers on the way to God, those devotees of love who have no time for hostility, will carry the inspirations within their spirits to other worlds.

Yes, this springtime will rise on the foundations of love, compassion, mercy, dialogue, acceptance of others, mutual respect, justice, and rights. It will be a time in which humanity will discover its real essence. Goodness and kindness, righteousness and virtue will form the basic essence of the world. No matter what happens, the world will come to this path sooner or later. Nobody can prevent this.

We pray and beg that the Infinitely Compassionate One will not let our hopes and expectations come to nothing.

* This article originally appeared in The Fountain, Issue No: 29 (January-March 2000): pp. 4-9

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