Book Review

  • Issue 8 / October - December 1994



    Questions: A Key To Knowledge

    A. Fredericks

    Knowledge is a treasury, the key to which is the question. The vast treasury of Islamic knowledge remains unchanged, but, from time to time different keys may be needed. Every generation asks new questions. It takes individuals of great insight to draw on the fountain of knowledge and settle the thirst of a hungry, questioning generation. Fethullah Gulen in this unique book has proven that he is one of these persons. He is following a tradition which goes back to the Prophet Muhammad himself. However, unlike most 'traditional' scholars, he does not restrict his answers to sacred texts, nor does he shy away from difficult issues like 'Did God create the universe?' Or 'Why is atheism so widespread?' Or 'Is artificial insemination permitted?' Or 'How is it that Islam, a religion inspired by God for the good of humanity, allows slavery?' lie not only draws on the traditional sources, he applies them wisely to the questions put to him.

    In Islam, asking questions is considered a legal obligation where knowledge of the obligatory duties is the issue; and it is, correspondingly, considered a virtue in the case of knowledge of the supererogatory observances. It is encouraged in the Qur'an which orders us to: Ask those who recite the Book before you (Yunus, O: 94), and Ask the people of remembrance if you do not know; with the clear signs and the Scriptures. (al-Nahl 16.43-44). The Messenger, upon him be peace, said: 'A good question is half of knowledge'. The Companions of the Prophet and the generation that followed them encouraged those around them to ask as many questions as possible. The jurist and ascetic, Sufyan al-Thawri would leave any town where its people did not ask him questions. He would say, 'This is a town where knowledge dies.' Al-Shibli, the great scholar of Baghdad, if no question was put to him in his teaching circle would recite: And the word shall fall upon them because of their wrongdoing; they do not speak (al-Nahl, 27.85).

    I was once fortunate enough to attend a teaching session where many questions were put to Fethullah Gulen. Lawyers asked him about certain legal practices in the light of Islam. Doctors asked him about foetal development as described in the Qur'an. Since that day, I have been waiting for the publication of this book. It has answered many questions put to me by Muslims who are keen to practise their religion hut still cannot address certain controversial issues. A good example of this is 'Why did God not endow his servants equally? Why did he create some of them blind, disabled or afflicted in other ways?'

    His answer begins with a statement of his own certainty. God is Sovereign. He is the Lord of earthly and spiritual dominions. He wills and creates whatever in them and however He pleases. After quoting the relevant verses, he does what very few scholars are able to do. He explains in simple terms our relationship with the Creator. 'It is God who created every cell of every tissue of every thing and the whole of inanimate creation besides. It is God who bestows our human nature upon us. We have given nothing to God but He has given us everything without our deserving it. What claim or right have we therefore over anything'?' With this approach, he makes the reader think. If we have given nothing to God, how can we impute injustice to Him. Injustice comes from not giving what is due. Is it right for the person who has been given a body with one arm to complain about not being given a second'? He makes the reader think about his or her own situation. There are creatures around us who are in some ways inferior or superior, yet we would not want to change places with them. He inspires gratefulness.

    Fethullah Gulen looks, in this question and in many others, beyond the simple wording. He often sees a deeper disturbance in the questioner. He identifies, in this particular question, a misunderstanding of or unwillingness to accept the notion of Divine Providence. He explains:

    God may deprive an individual of something he or she values, but grant that individual a manifold return for that loss in the Hereafter. By means of that loss, God makes you feel your need, your powerlessness, your poverty in relation to Him. In this way, He makes you turn to Him with a weightier sincerity, a fuller heart, and so makes you worthier of His Blessing and Favour. Thus, your apparent loss is in reality a gain. This is comparable to death in the way of God or martyrdom for which the return is heaven.

    The martyr may he dismembered but that would not mean a loss in relation to what he has gained. This is the same for most people who suffer losses or disabilities. Most of them do not feel rejected and cast down. A few may stray from their faith, but many have their faith strengthened by these 'misfortunes'. He warns those who may put such questions that 'it is not correct to pretend to an exaggerated, indeed false, sympathy with the disabled as a pretext for disbelief. Far better is it, even essential, that an ardent yearning for eternal life be aroused in such people, for then they are worthy for an immense reward in eternity.'

    Fethullah Gulen answers every question in such a reasoned, easy style. As a teacher, I have found this book both spiritually uplifting and practical in answering real questions put to me by enquiring minds. It is a great key to great knowledge.

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