RELIGION: THE OPIUM OF THE PEOPLE?
Karl Marx said so. The communist propagandists in tile Islamic Orient have not only faithfully repeated this fallacy ever since but they even attempt to apply it to Islam as well.
It might well be said that Karl Marx and other communist pioneers in view of the peculiar circumstances obtaining in Europe at the time, had at least an excuse for revolting against their religion and churchmen. At that time feudalism played a most monstrous role in Europe and particularly in Russia where thousands of people were starved to death every year and millions of people died of consumption and other diseases while cold killed an equal number of people every winter. But the feudal lords still wallowed in the blood of the working people and led a life of licentious luxury enjoying all imaginable kinds of pleasures.
But if the working people ever thought of protesting or even tried to feel the gross injustice to which they were subjected, the clergy would hastily tell them: "Whoever beats you on your right cheek turn the left cheek for him; whoever takes a part of your garment give him the rest of your clothes".
The churchmen stupefied the people and tried to divert them from the path of revolution by administering to them dopes of promises of an eternal heaven and paradise where those who bear injustice in this world will live for ever in comfort and pleasure.
If church promises did not work, they would resort to threatening, saying that he who disobeys his feudal lord disobeys God, the church and the churchmen. It should be remembered that at the time the church itself was the greatest of all feudal lords, with millions of serfs working on its estates. Therefore it was only natural for the church to join forces with the Tzar and the nobility against the hard working people. They all belonged to the same camp and knew full well that if revolution broke out it would spare no blood sucker whether he was a nobleman or a churchman.
When both promising and menacing did not work, force was resorted to and punishment was inflicted on the rebels for rebelling against God and religion. That is why religion was regarded as the real enemy of the people there. Hence the remark of Karl Marx: "Religion is the opium of the people"
The communists in the Islamic Orient refer to the behavior of professional "men of religion" and to how they ingratiate themselves with the rulers at the expense of the nard workers and try to induce them to bear humiliation and injustice by promising them an eternal paradise which will be the recompense of the patient. By such promises "men of religion" try to dope the sensitivity of the hard workers so that the criminal blood-suckers may safely enjoy themselves.
The communists also refer to some of Al-Azhar men who used to kiss the hands of kings and interpret the provisions of the glorious Qur'an to their satisfaction and falsify the spirit and principles of Islam in order to establish the power of the rulers and prevent the hard working people from revolting against them by warning them that they would be committing a rebellion against the word of God which required obedience to the rulers.
All this may have been true; but were such professional men of religion really acting in accordance with the word of God, and the principles of the Islamic faith? Or did they act in a way that served their personal and selfish interest?
The fact is that such professional men of religion were acting against the word of God and the principles of Islam. Their case is similar to that of the impious poets, writers and journalists of today who would gladly wallow in dirt if they are sure to obtain thereby some transient though forbidden pleasure. But the crime of such "men of religion" is nonetheless far greater and more monstrous than that of the impious poets, writers and journalists because the men of religion are supposed to guard the word of God, and to know the essence of religion more than anyone else. They are supposed to realize the reality of their own attitudes when they falsify the word of God for a worthless price.
Before proceeding further we would, however, like to stress the fact that these are no "men of religion" as such in Islam and that what they say is not binding on Islam. The misfortune of Islamic people, in fact, sprang up from their ignorance of their own religion.
The false accusation that Islam discourages the rebellion of the working people against oppression is best refuted by the fact that the movement which deposed the ex-king of Egypt was, to start with, essentially a religious movement.
It should also be mentioned that all the liberation movements in the Islamic East were inspired by Islam. The resistance of the Egyptian people against French occupation was led by Muslim scholars (Ulama). The rebellion against the injustice of Mohammad Ali was advocated by a religious leader, Omar Makram. The rebellion against the British occupation of Sudan was led by Al-Mahdi, still another religious leader. The rebellion against the Italians in Libya and the French in Morocco as well as the Kashani Revolution against the British occupation, all these were rebellions inspired by and launched in the name of Islam. Every rebellion in the Islamic East contains evidence to show that Islam is a great liberating force directed against all forms of injustice and humiliation.
Communist propagandists often refer to certain verses of the Holy Qur'an from which they try to extort evidence that Islam calls on people to bear patiently all kinds of injustice and humiliation.
They refer to this verse:
“And do not Covet that by which God hath made some of you excel others" (iv 32),
and to the following verse:
“Nor strain thine eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to parties of them, the splendor of the life of this world through which We test them, but the provision of they Lord is better and more enduring” (xx: 131).
Interpreters of the Holy Qur'an say that the former verse was revealed when a woman asked: "Why are men privileged with the obligation of fighting in Allah's way while women are deprived of such a privilege?" According to another and more generally accepted interpretation, this verse forbids empty longings that are unaccompanied by practical effort: such longings are apt to make men envious, which represent, a morbid state of mind and feelings without any material gains such as humanity may benefit from. This verse exhorts the people to do acts which might gain for them merit and honor instead of merely building castles in the air, desiring benefits but not prone to put in any effort for their realization.
The second verse cans on people to rise higher than merely material considerations and should not covet or think highly of others simply because they happen to enjoy material prosperity. The verse is believed to have been originally addressed to the Apostle (peace and prayer of God be upon him) to belittle the unfaithful who had been endowed with plenty of materialistic pleasures. The Apostle is more elevated than such people because he has right and truth on his side.
Nevertheless, let us suppose, for the sake of sheer argument, that these verses advocate contentment with what we have, forbidding to long for what others have. But the question is as to when should such an injunction be put into effect? When should it be complied with?
In this connection it may be pointed out that Islam should either be adopted and applied as a whole or wholly abandoned. As a system of life it can bear fruit only if all its demands and its instructions are followed and complied with in total. This call on the poor and the deprived ever to be patient and refrain from longing for what the rich people have been given is only one side of the picture. On the other hand, there is another call on the rich people to be selfless and spend their money in the way of God. They are threatened with great punishment in the hereafter in case they should in this world stoop to hateful selfishness. If we view the question in this light, the scales of the balance seem to be in perfect equilibrium.
On the one hand, there is the invitation to spend selflessly and, on the other, the invitation to purify the spirit from malice and not to humiliate oneself by coveting what others have been given. In this way Islam makes the community live in spiritual peace which is fully in keeping with the economic justice that demands that wealth should be evenly and fairly distributed among the people without making some people live in luxury or leaving others to suffer privations. When a society adopts the principles of Islam there will be neither injustice nor economic deprivation which the oppressed are called on to accept and bear in non-Islamic communities. But where the rich people do not fulfill their obligations of spending their money in the way of God or to serve the public interest, who would call on the poor and the deprived to accept and bear their deprivation? Surely Islam would not do such a thing. On the Contrary, Islam threatens with ill fate in this world as well as in the hereafter all those who submit to injustice or forbear from resisting it. Says the Holy Qur'an:
"When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: "In what (plight) were ye?" They say: “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell, -What an evil refuge! Except those who are (really) weak and oppressed- men, women and children- who have no means in their power nor (a guide post) to direct their way. For these there is hope that God will forgive: For God doth blot out (sins) and forgive again and again” (iv: 97-99).
It is an unforgivable crime to submit to injustice on the excuse that one is weak or oppressed on earth. The Qur’an uses this term, self oppressors or sinners against their own souls in describing people who accept a position less than the honorable one which God wants all people to enjoy and calls on them to work with all their might for its achievement.
The call for migration from places where Islam was being persecuted was revealed on a specific occasion, for migration is not the only mean, of fighting against injustice. There are many other ways of resisting and struggling against Injustice. What we want to stress here is that Islam deems it very horrible to bear injustice patiently. Even those who arc really very weak and oppressed and have no means in their power nor a guiding post to direct their way have been in the above verse promised only a prayer for forgiveness, and not a certain express forgiveness, though their excuse is clear and their weakness is real. The verse does not mean that God would not forgive such weak and oppressed people-as God would not do injustice to His creatures-but stresses the fact that no one with even an iota of strength should forbear struggling against injustice.
As for the Muslims who are really weak and oppressed, they would not be left to themselves. It is the obligation and the duty of the Islamic nation to light for their sake and liberate them from oppression:
“And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)-men, Women and children whose cry is "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors" (iv : 75).
God is never satisfied with those who willingly accept and succumb to injustice. They are rather required to struggle against injustice and rescue the Oppressed that God may be satisfied with them.
Some people may think that these verses apply to the practice of faith only i,e. when Muslims live among infidels who force them to disown God or prevent them from performing their Islamic duties as Muslims.
Islam does not make any distinction between the performance of religious rites and the improvement of Social, economic and political life of the people as they are all based on the basic creed of Islam. It makes no difference whether those who prevent the performance of Islamic rites and the establishment of Islamic system are infidels in name and practice or are Muslims in name but infidels in their practical life. Says the Holy Qur'an: "Those who do not rule in accordance with what was revealed by God are the unbelievers" (v: 44).
Islam prescribes that wealth should not be confined to the few rich people. It also lays down that the state should ensure, by all possible means, security of employment for its subjects: either by providing honorable jobs for them or by Supporting them from the Public Treasury in the event of their incapacity to work.
Moreover, the Apostle of Islam orders that certain guarantees that have already been described in the foregoing pages should be accorded to government employees-the guarantees that also apply to those working in private or public establishments, all this forms an integral part of the religion of Islam. It does not as such regard anyone a true Muslim unless he is ready to endeavor to enforce divine law on this earth. The above-mentioned verses regarding acceptance of injustice willingly and those who commit injustice towards their own souls apply to those who do not fight for the enforcement of the political, economic and social legislations of Islam.
Let us suppose that people will forbear from struggling against social injustice in compliance with the mistaken understanding of the verses: “And in no wise covet that by which God hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others," and the verse: "And strain not thine eyes towards that which We cause some classes among them to enjoy" What would be the outcome of forbearing to fight against social injustice?
Wealth will be hoarded up in the hands of a particular class of people sharing it among themselves and depriving of it the majority (just as what actually happened under feudalism and capitalism). But this is a monstrous evil; it violates God's express order that wealth should not be confined to the rich. Another consequence of such a forbearance to fight against social injustice would be that the wealthy people will withhold their wealth or they will spend it on their own selves and indulge in luxury and extravagant pleasures. The former state is an evil one: "And there are those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of God: announce unto them a most grievous penalty" (ix: 34). In the latter case, there are many verses in the Qur'an which explicitly prohibit luxury and dub those who live in luxury as impious disbelievers:
"And We sent not unto any township a warner but its pampered ones declared: Lo! We are disbelievers in that which ye bring unto us" (xxxiv: 33). "When We decide to destroy a population, We (first) send a definite order to those among them who are given the good things of this life and yet transgress: So that the Word is proved true against them: then (it is) that We destroy them utterly" (xvii: 16).
"And those on the left hand: what of those on the left hand? In scorching wind and scalding water and in shadow of black smoke, neither cool nor refreshing. Lo! Heretofore they lived in luxury"(lvi : 41).
Nothing but evil will result from people's forbearing from struggling against social injustice. How can Islam be accused of calling on people to accept evil for the pleasure of God, when God Himself says: "Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected faith by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary: Because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses. Nor did they (usually) forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did" (v; 81-82). God treats acceptance of iniquity and evil and the forbearance of these as a mark of disbelief that brings forth God's wrath, Curses and castigation.
The Apostle says, "He who sees evil should prevent it" and he also says: "The greatest (jihad) struggling for the sake of God is a Word of justice said before an unjust ruler".
The above-mentioned evils call never Spread ill the society and be acceptable to a ruler unless he is unjust who as such should be resisted and fought against for the sake of God.
No one of sound mind can accuse Islam of enjoining upon people to cringe before injustice or to accept deprivation. Only those who are prejudiced against it or dominated by their lust and passion can dare utter such a falsehood.
The above-mentioned verses prohibit the idle longings which are not accompanied with productive effort. They also advocate acceptance of situations such as cannot be altered by any Power on earth: the state, society or any people. They are natural, not an artificial outgrowth.
There are many people who have the talents that may bring them fame and popularity. Others long to have a similar fame but they do not have the necessary talents to achieve or deserve it. What can the state do in order to satisfy such idle longings? Can it prevent them from degenerating into morbid malice? Will or can the state "manufacture" a talent for such people?
Let us take the example of a beautiful woman who captures attention or admiration and still another one who lacks beauty as well as grace but nonetheless desires to be considered very beautiful so as to attract attention and admiration. What can the state do in order to establish equality in this case? Or take the case of a married couple living in happiness and love begetting children who become a source of happiness for them, and another couple that are far from leading a happy life of love with no children to please them despite all medical treatment. How can all the powers on earth try to make up for what the second couple lack in this respect?
There are innumerable examples of such cases in life. Neither economic solutions nor any scheme of social justice can do anything about it. The only solution in such cases is the acceptance and contentment with God's provisions that are given out to people in accordance with measures other than the earthly ones, and which recompense this worldly deprivation with the heavenly bliss.
Even from the social and economic points of view, who can say that absolute equality is attainable on this earth? Is there a single country in the world where all wages and all posts are equal?
Take for instance life in the Soviet Union, the country that claims to have established absolute equality. Supposing that there is an ambitious workman who longs to become an engineer but his mental ability does not qualify him to become one despite all fair opportunities that are given to him. How can the state help him realize his wish? Similarly, there might be another worker who does not have the physical ability to take up a voluntary work-shift for which he can get extra wages, but still he desires to get the extra wages which only the stronger workman can earn. What can the state do in his case? How can such people enjoy a life full of constant worrying, incessant longing and morbid malice? How can such people properly perform the duties of their work without looking up for greater power and expecting swollen salaries there from. Is it better to cure this malady with fire and sword from without or to remedy it willingly and with one's own initiative from within?
In short, the message of Islam is to work actively for the realization of lawful desires and to accept willingly that which cannot be altered. But where there is injustice that can be prevented, God will not be pleased with such people unless they rebel against it and do away with such injustice: "To him who fighteth in the cause of God whether he is slain or gets victory-soon shall We give a reward of great (value)" (iv : 74).
Should there be in the world any religion that can be termed as an opium of the people, surely Islam is not that religion, as it disowns all forms of injustice and threatens those who accept it with the most grievous chastisement.