Personality and Our Muslim Identity

by Navid Zaidi

Life is a forward assimilative movement and in humans the center of life becomes a Person. Personality is strengthened by Love. Although the word ‘Love’ is used in a very wide sense, it means the desire to assimilate, to absorb. Its highest form is the creation of values and ideals and the effort to achieve them. The whole gamut of art, religion, philosophy and ethics is based on the human desire to create values and ideals.

Personality is a state of tension and can continue only if the state of tension is maintained, otherwise relaxation will ensue and damage the structure of human personality. For the state of tension to continue requires a continuous creation of values and ideals. We must criticize our values, perhaps change them and, if necessary, create new worths; since the immortality of a people, as Nietzsche put it, depends upon incessant creation of new worth.

Throughout the history of humanity it seems that the process of creation of ideals and values in every culture has taken some form of Naturalism peculiar to its own worldview, and in some sort of ‘ism’. Thus, the modern humanity fondly hopes to unravel fresh sources of energy that results in the creation of new loyalties such as nationalism, patriotism, atheism and communism.

These we might call the ‘new religions of earthly salvation.’ Unable to continue believing in God, the Moderns invented substitute religions, godless spiritualities professing a radical atheism and clinging to the notion of giving meaning to human existence and, in some cases, justifying why we should die for them.

No wonder then that Nietzsche described patriotism and nationalism as ‘sickness and unreason’ and ‘the strongest force against culture.’

Since Personality is the most valuable achievement of humans, it becomes extremely important for us to see to it that it does not regress. Thus, our Personality gives us a standard of value; that which strengthens Personality is good, that which weakens it is bad. All values and ideals must be judged from the point of view of Personality.

It is in view of the fortification of his or her Personality that a Muslim sees Islam as an enterprise to harness this ultimate principle of value and thereby reintegrate the forces of one’s own Personality.

However, no doubt we live in an era of Islamophobia. Islam is under attack from the forces of Criticism and Scientific Specialism. Indeed, all faiths are under such attack. Muslims are in a strange predicament. Islamophobia is robbing us of faith in our own future.

Says Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Indian poet-philosopher, 1877-1938):

‘…….It is the future which must always control the present; to the species taken as a whole, its unborn members are perhaps more real than its existing members whose immediate interests are subordinated and even sacrificed to the future interests of that unborn infinity which slowly discloses itself from generation to generation.’  (The Muslim Community-A Sociological Study. Lecture delivered at the MAO College, Aligarh, India in 1910).

Now, it is from this standpoint – from the standpoint of the future that we need to test the worth of our Muslim personality and identity.

The basic difference between the Muslim identity and other identities is in our unique conception of nationality. It is not the unity of language or country or any specific economic interest that forms the basic principle of our nationality. We all believe in a certain view of the universe and we participate in the same historical tradition. It is because of those factors that we are members of the society founded by the Prophet of Islam.

Our nationality is based on a purely abstract idea. Its life-principle is not dependent upon any particular people or country. In other words, with us nationality is purely an idea; it has no objective basis which means that our only rallying-point as a people is a kind of purely subjective agreement in a certain view of the world.

This point of universal agreement on which our Muslim identity depends has basically a national rather than intellectual significance for us.

Islam has a much deeper significance for us than merely religious; it has a peculiarly national meaning for us.

Our communal life is unthinkable without a firm grasp of the Islamic Principle. The idea of Islam is, so to speak, our eternal home or country where we live, move and have our being. To us it is above everything else, as England is above all to the Englishman and Deutschland uber alles to the German.

The moment our grasp of the Islamic Principle is loosened that our identity is gone and we become an abstract, disembodied universality like a chemical or mathematical formula, a nameless nothing.

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