‘Perfect’ End: The Most Enduring Idea In The History Of Mankind
It’s all about ideas—ideas are the drivers of history, they make human society evolve and achieve new heights of progress. But some ideas are more powerful and more enduring than others. They are so well ingrained in human psyche that even passage of centuries don’t make them disappear. They mutate and adopt different forms with the passage of time but the central element of the idea remains the same despite the fact that thousands of years had passed since they first made their appearance in human history.
One such idea is the religious concept that human history is progressing towards a just end—an end when everything will be hunky and dory, God’s justice will prevail and human beings will live happily in such an end of times’ era. According to many historians of the Middle Eastern Religions this idea first made its appearance in Zoroastrianism in Iran—Muslims remember this religion as religion of those who pray before fire. The origin of this religion remain obscure in pre-history, although in later times this religion started to be associated with Great Persian empire that spanned over whole of Central Asia, Iran and Iraq, up till the border of Syria.
The founder of this religion started to preach an end of human history where the creator will lay the foundation of a just world, where everybody would live in peace and all the oppression will cease to exist. Later this idea found its place in all three Middle Eastern monotheistic religion including Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In fact the three monotheistic religions based their moral systems on the concept of an afterlife, where absolute justice will prevail and oppression of humans at the hands of other humans will cease to exist. This concept developed into the most enduring idea of human civilization, when entire societies based their systems of morality on the belief that humans will be made answerable for their deeds on the day of judgment, when everything will assume its just place and oppressions will come to an end. This idea became the basis of pious and puritanical moral and political systems, vast empires and basis of mighty rulers’ political and military power.
But religions were not the last abode of this idea—the idea or concept mutated and assumed a secular form when Karl Marx—founder of Marxist theory of Revolution prescribed that the human history is gradually moving towards violent political change that would spawn a classless and stateless society, where everything will assume its rightful place, justice will prevail and oppression will come to an end. This Revolution will emerge from the throes of capitalist economic system, which would collapse as a political and economic system just before the revolution and socialist and later communist, stateless and classless society will emerge in its place.
This idea’s Marxist form shared another feature with its religious cousins—it described the moral or political society or social system immediately preceding the “End of times” as the most ruthless and most oppressive that in fact distorted the nature of humans living under it. This is the commonality between the religious and secular version of this idea—both delve on the utter despondency that prevails in the pre-revolutionary change period of human history.
In Islamic history the idea that All Mighty Allah will one day make justice prevail and that day will be the end of human rule over human or human oppression over other human. Strong governments of empires and kingdoms in the Islamic world have drawn legitimacy from this idea. In fact the very nature of Islamic theology and its expectation from ordinary mortals is based on the premise that they would answerable before God on the day-of-judgment—judgment day being the day when justice will prevail and oppressions will end.
In fact, starting with pre-modern times, revivalist movements all over Muslim World based their political campaigns on this idea that human history is heading towards final resolutions of all problems of human society, when God’s justice will prevail. There is, however, a distinction between, say Christian and Judaic conception of this idea, where humans are silent spectators to the will of the God. In fact Orthodox Jewish movements consider it a sin for humans to intervene in history—to bring about a political change, (that’s why orthodox Jewish groups opposed Zionist move to establish state of Israel), which moves only with the will of God. Similarly Orthodox Christians reject the role of human will in the development and progress of history. As opposed to this concept, Muslim orthodox groups like revivalist groups in Indian-subcontinent instigate the believers to rise up against oppression to bring about the just society, which God has ordained in the scriptures.
There is, however, a theological as well as political problem, which remains unresolved as far as revivalist thought is concerned. If a political revolution brought about by Islamic Orthodox groups as a result of political activism enforces justice in the society, how it would be different from justice of God on Judgment Day—especially in the face of Islamist propaganda that enforcement of Islamic sharia would bring about perfect justice in the society, despite the clear Islamic Injunctions that perfect Justice is an attribute of God.
Besides, the politically inclined revivalist movements, Islamic history have seen the rise of non-coercive Sufi movements, which were sometimes unorthodox, and which also relied on the idea that human history is heading towards a stage where all humans will be answerable to God Almighty and complete and absolute justice will prevail. Unlike orthodoxy, Sufi movements resulted in the cultural flowering in Indian society in pre-modern times.
Marxist’s idea of proletariat revolution was not the only secular mutation of idea of human history heading towards a perfect stage. Besides, Marxism, Western liberals democracies also have a sense of history that indicates that they have a self-image of epitomizing the final and perfect stage of human development. This was reflected in the thinking of Harvard professor of political science and one of the brightest minds American society has produced, Francis Fukuyama, when he said in an article he authored in 1989 (at the time of fall of Berlin Wall and demise of communists states in Eastern Europe) that Western democracies are the ultimate and logical end of human political evolution and mankind has in fact reached the “End of history”. The shattering of western democracies’ dream of a perfect capitalist society with affluence reaching every segment of the society and political rights rampant, have led people to make fun of Fukuyama’s idea of “End of History”.
Karl Marx was an atheist out and out, but none other than Bertrand Russell himself described Marx’s concept of proletariat revolution as a derivative of religious idea of human history heading towards a perfect solution, which basically belonged to monotheistic religions.
We as Muslims believe and practice this idea as part of our religion that human history is finally heading towards the Day of Judgment—when everything will assume its perfect form, justice will prevail and oppression will come to an end. This provides a moral framework to the pious for designing their personal as well as their communal lives. Revivalists in our society have based their political program on this idea. They have changed the aim of their moral lives to be the attainment of political powers as opposed to personal salvation, which was the original objective of leading a moral life in classical Islamic times. The result is ritualization of Muslim religious practices as opposed to moral purification—the original aim of religious life.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.