Aspects of Islamic monotheistic world conception (2) stages of polytheism

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2) stages and degrees of polytheism

As monotheism has degrees, so has polytheism. By comparing the two we can know both monotheism and polytheism better, for comparison of opposites makes the things clear. History shows that different kinds of polytheism have always existed side by side with monotheism preached by the Prophets.

I. Belief in the Plurality of Divine Essence
Certain nations have had belief in two (dualism), three (trinity) or more original and eternal source independent of each other. They have believed that the world is multi-polar and multi-cent red. What has been the root of such ideas? Is each one of these ideas a reflection of the social conditions of the people concerned? For example, when the people believed in two original and eternal sources and two original orbits of the world, their society was divided into two different segments, and when they believed in three sources and three gods, their social system was trilateral. In other words, in every case the social system has reflected on the minds of the people in the form of a doctrine. Is it also a fact that Prophets preached monotheism only when the social system tended to be unicentered?

This view stems from a philosophical theory which we discussed earlier. According to this theory, spiritual and intellectual aspects of man the moral and conventional tendencies of society such as sciences, law, philosophy, religion and art are subordinate to man’s social systems, especially to his economic systems, and have no independent position. We have already refuted this theory. As we believe in the intrinsic value of thinking, ideology and humanity, we consider such sociological views in respect of monotheism and polytheism to be baseless.

What the school of the Prophets vehemently rejects is the idea that every ideology is necessarily a crystallized form of the social desires which in turn are created by the economic conditions. According to monotheistic school of the prophets is in itself a crystallized form of the social desires and was produced by the economic needs of the time of the Prophets. The development of the implements of production originated a number of social desires which were explained through the monotheism idea. The Prophets were in fact the expounders of this social and economic need. There is a universal rule every idea every belief has an economic infrastructure. This rule applies to the idea of monotheism also.

As the Holy Qur’an believes that the innate nature of man is a basic dimension of his existence, and maintains that this innate human nature initiates a number of desires which can be met only by monotheism, it consider the monotheistic call of the Prophets to be meeting a great human need. It does not believe in any other infrastructure of monotheism, nor does it regard the class conditions as a factor compelling the emergence of any idea or a belief. Had the class conditions been the infrastructure of man’s belief, everybody would have been bound to incline too direction that his class position required. In this case there would have been no choice in the matter of belief for anybody. Neither the Fir’awans could be blamed nor could their opponents be praised, for a man can be blamed or praised; only when he has choice to be what he is not. Otherwise he can neither be blamed nor can be praised. A negro or a white man cannot be blamed or praised for the colour of his skin. But we know that man is not bound to think in accordance with his class. He can revolt against his class interests, as Prophet Musa did, though he was brought up under Fir’awnic luxuries. This proves that the question of any infrastructure and superstructure besides depriving man of his humanity, is no more than a myth.

Anyhow, this does not mean that material and intellectual conditions do not effect each other. What is denied is their being infrastructure and superstructure respectively. Otherwise the Holy Qur’an itself says: Surely man is rebellious when he thinks that he is independent. (Surah Alaq, 96:6-7) (کلا ان الانسان لیطغی ان راه استغنی 7-6: 96).

The Holy Qur’an accepts that the rich and the powerful play a special role in opposing the Prophets whereas the downtrodden and the underprivileged play their role in supporting them. But because of their human nature, they all are capable of accepting the truth.

From spiritual point of view the only difference is that one group in spite of its human nature, has to cross a great barrier before it may be persuaded to accept the truth for it has to relinquish its material gains and unjust distinctions , whereas the other group has no such obstacles. In the words of Salman, (the distinguished companion of the Holy Prophets) those who have a light burden are saved. Not only that, but the latter group has a positive incentive. Consequent to its accepting the truth its living conditions improve and its life becomes easier. That is why the majority of the followers of the Prophets has consisted of the underprivileged. Anyhow, the Prophets have always been able to recruit some of their followers from the privileged classes and have been able to persuade them to fight against their own class and interests.

Some people maintain that the Holy Qur’an endorses the Marxist theory of historical materialism. We will discuss this question in detail when we undertake the study of society and history in another section of this book. This theory is neither in conformity with the actual reality of history, nor is defensible from scientific point of view.

Anyhow, a belief in several sources is belief in the plurality of the Divine essence, and is diametrically opposed to the belief in its unity. Advancing an argument in this connection the Holy Qur’an says: If there were therein deities besides Allah then surely the heavens and the earth would have been disordered. (Surah al-Ambiya, 21:22) ( لوکان فیهما الهة الا الله لفسدتا 22: 21).

A belief in the plurality of Divine essence puts the holder of such a belief outside the pale of Islam which totally rejects this belief in every form of it.

II. Plurality of Creatorship
Some people acknowledge that Allah is peerless. They recognize Him to be only source of the word. Nevertheless, as far as His creatorship is concerned, they associate some creatures with Him. For example, some of them hold that evils have been created by some other beings, not by Allah. This kind of belief is also tantamount to the belief in the plurality of creatorship, and is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the unity of Divine actions. Anyhow, a belief in the plurality of creatorship has several degrees. Some of them do not amount to open polytheism and as such do not put the holders of the belief concerned outside the pale of Islam.

III. Plurality of Divine Attributes
This being subtle question is not raised by the common people. Only some thinkers lacking deep insight have given a consideration to it. Among the scholastic theologians the Asha’irah believe in the plurality of the Divine attributes. As this belief does not amount to open polytheism, it does not put its holders outside the pale of Islam.

IV. Plurality of Worship
There have been many peoples which have worshipped pieces of wood, stone or some metal or they have worshipped an animal, a star, a tree or river. Formerly this kind of polytheism was common. It is still found in several parts of the world. The plurality of worship is the opposite of the unity of worship. All the degrees of polytheism mentioned previously were the various of theoretical polytheism. They may be described as false cognition. The plurality of worship is practical polytheism. It is a sort of false “being” and false “becoming”.

K. Description of “hidden polytheism” according to the prophets (p.b.u.h)
Anyhow, practical polytheism also has so many degrees. The highest of them is that which puts a man outside the pale of Islam. It is called plain polytheism. But there are many kinds of hidden polytheism. Islam in the course of its programme of practical monotheism fights against all of them. Certain varieties of polytheism are so minute hidden that they can hardly be observed. The Holy Prophet has said:

“Polytheism” is more imperceptible than the crawl of an ant on a smooth stone in the darkness of night. The slightest degree of it is to prefer any act of injustice to an act of justice. Religiousness is nothing but to love and hate for the sake of Allah. Allah says: If you have love for Allah, then follow me so that He may love you. (Surah Ale Imran, 3:31) ((الشرک اخفی من دبیب الذر علی الصفار فی الیلة الظلماء و ادناه یحب علی شیء من الجور یبغض علی شیء من العدل و هل الدین الا الحب و البغض فی الله. قال الله تعالی: قل ان کنتم تحبون الله فاتبحببکم الله.).

B)polytheism and polytheistic relations according to the Qur’an
Islam regards any kind of self –indulgence, love of position, honour and money as well as hero-worship as assort of polytheism. In the story of the conflict between Prophet Musa and Fir’awn the Holy Qur’an described the tyrannical rule of Fir’awn over the children of Isra’il as the imposition of devotion and slavery. Prophet Musa is described to have said in reply to Fir’awn:

The favour for which you reproach me is that you have enslaved the children of Isra’il (and imposed on them the devotion to you). (Surah ash-Shu’ara,26:22) ( و تلک نعمة تمنها علی ان عبد ت بنی اسرآء یل 22: 26).

It is evident that the children of Isra’il neither worshipped Fir’awn nor were they his slaves. They were only under his tyrannical domination as in another place Fir’awn himself is described to have siad: “Surely we have full power over them.” Still at another Fir’awn described to have said: “Their people (the people of Prophet Musa and Harun) are our slaves (and devoted to us)” In this verse the word “our” in significant. Even if we presume that the children of Isra’il were forced to worship Fir’awn, it is unimaginable that they worshipped all this entire people. They were forced only to submit to and obey Fir’awn and his nobles.

In a sermon Imam Ali, describing the pitiable plight of the children of Isra’il under tyrannical rule of Fir’awn, says: “The Fara’ina had enslaved them.” He explains their enslavement in the following words. “They tortured them and made their life bitter. The children of Isra’il lived under most oppressive conditions and could find no way to escape from persecution and humiliation or to defend themselves.”

The verse that promises vicegerency of Allah to the believers is the most express one in this connection. It says: Allah has promised to make those of you who believe and do the good deeds, successors in the land, as He had made those before them, and will establish their religion which He has chosen for them and change their fear into security. They will worship Me, and ascribe nothing as a partner to Me. Those who disbelieve henceforth are the wicked indeed. (Surah an-Nur, 24:55)((وعد الله الذین امنوا منکم و عملو الصلحت لیستخلفنهم فی الارض کما استخلف الذین من قبلهم و لیمکنن لهم دینهم الذی ارتضی لهم و لیبد لنهم من بعد خو فهم امنا. یعبدوننی لایشرکون بی شیئا. و من کفر بعد ذلک فاولئک هم الفاسقون 55: 24).

This verse shows that when a rightful government and Divine vicegerncy are established, the believers get rid of the obedience of every tyrant. The verse says that they worship Allah alone and scribe no partners to Him. This shows that from the viewpoint of the Holy Qur’an the obedience of the ruler is an acts of the worship of Allah provided he is obeyed for the sake of Him. Otherwise it is polytheistic act.

It is astonishing that forced obedience which is not morally regarded as an act of worship, is considered to be so from a social angle. The Holy Prophet says:

“When the number of the children of al- As (ancestor of Marwan bin Hakam and most of the Umayyad caliphs) reaches thirty, they will seize the property of Allah and turn it into their private property , will enslave the bondmen of Allah, and will interfere in His religion.” ((و اذا بلغ بنو العاص ثلاثین اتخذوا مال الله دولا وعبادالله خولا ودین الله دخلا ).

Here the Holy Prophet has hinted at the oppression and despotism of the Umayyads. Evidently the Umayyads did not ask people to worship them, nor did they make them slaves of theirs. They only imposed on them their despotic rule. The Holy Prophet through his Divine foresight calls this position enslavement and a sort of polytheism.

Note: In the 3rd part of Aspect of Islamic monotheistic world conception, the following point will be studied: Boundary between Monotheism and polytheism.


Man and Universe- part Monotheistic conception of the world - pages: 84to90


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