Chapter Seven: Impressed and Expressed Ideas
The world of ideas is a disc that individuals carry from birth. It differs from one society to another by certain fundamental notes. One may be surprised that Hindu music is not like any other music. I have always enjoyed it without being able to know the reason; it addresses the spirit in a different manner for it is differently impressed in India's subjectivity. Each society's disc is impressed in a different way. Individuals and generations record in it their own notes as harmonics of the basic notes. The world of ideas is also a disc, which bears its fundamental notes, its archetypes: these are but the impressed ideas.
The Greek genius was thus molded according to the essential of Homer, Euclid, Pythagoras, Socrates and Empedocles and the harmonics of Plato and Aristotle that were enriched by the subsequent Athenian generations. This has provided mankind with that melody some echoes of which are found in modern civilization.
In physics, the relationship between the basic vibration and its harmonics is such that the latter vanish as soon as the vibration stops. The same phenomenon manifests itself at the level of the relationship between the impressed and expressed ideas. As the impressed ideas start fading away from a civilization's disc, the expressed ideas start, first, producing false notes, whistling and crackles and, finally, silence and rest.
Fourteen centuries ago, Muslim society received its impressed message in the form of revelation. That message was readily engraved in the subjectivity of the generation contemporary to Ghar Hira' which made the world listen to the heroic symphony of a "religion of men", as Nietzsche used to say about Islam. The ideas impressed in that disc have raised a host of storms in the history of mankind for the last fourteen centuries. At the beginning, they had radically transformed a primitive environment by putting its vital energy within the limits of civilization and subjecting it to its rules, norms and strict discipline.
The Archimedean moment experienced by Arabia while it was receiving its message was incomparably great. On the material level, it generated totally unprecedented events and completely new social results with the same means already available since the world of objects had not yet undergone any change at least at the moment when the Ansar and Muhajireen were pooling together their resources in order to face the demands of the new stage. On the intellectual level, it created many criteria and a new way of thinking in order to meet the imperatives of a new organization and orientation of the activities of such a nascent society.
Finally, on the psychological and moral levels, it brought about new centers of polarization for the vital energy. Around those new centers, one could witness the birth of incommensurate moments of greatness such as when Muslims, in accordance with Salman's advice, dug the ditch which stopped the last Jahili wave at the foot of the walls of Medina. The paucity in the world of objects could only allow them to make use of primitive means to undertake a very hard and difficult task. So aware of their pain, the Prophet used to sustain them by repeating a scanned wish and promise:
O God, no life is but the life of the hereafter. Have mercy on the Helpers and the Emigrants!
While the companions, echoing him, were singing the hymn that successive Muslim generations have passed on to us:
We have sworn fidelity to you and to Islam
O Muhammad, as long as life remains in us!
These centers of polarization focused the vital energy on the new concepts, new ideas and archetypes of a new cultural universe. It was thus converged in an explosive manner and its dramatic explosion was of a novel and different type. A man kissed a woman. This was but a moment in which the vital energy overflowed its new limits. The reminding forces of the new cultural universe were immediately triggered off. Consequently, the drama exploded within the conscience of the man who rushed to the Prophet to confess his sin. The answer that was to clear up such a drama was but the following Quranic verse:
And be constant in praying at the beginning and the end of the day, as well as during the early watches of the night: verily, good deeds drive away evil deeds. This is the reminder to all who bear [God] in mind.
Then, the man asked: is this (verse) for me alone? The Prophet answered: "It is for all my community".
In another instance, a woman came before the Prophet to confess that she had committed the sin of adultery. The term adultery was no longer a simple word on one's lips. It rather condensed in it all the horrible things that would deeply agitate the human conscience since the shari:~ah had laid down the most severe punishment for it: stoning to death. The lady was thus aware of what she was incurring. But, the punishment on her flesh was for her far more tolerable than the effect of the sin on her conscience. Her feeling was so strong that she had to present herself on three occasions to the Prophet who every time postponed the pronouncement of the verdict.
Firstly, he wanted to give the woman enough time for reflection. Secondly, he wanted to allow her to deliver since she was pregnant. On the third occasion, he sent her back to wait until the end of breastfeeding her newly born baby. Finally, the law was put into effect as the sinner never ceased to demand its implementation since she had committed the sin!
The dramatic events knotted around the new centers of polarization, the archetypes of the new cultural universe, did not concern only their authors. Rather, they included in their tension the whole community. This was the case of the mukhallafun, those who failed to join the Tabuk expedition. They were three people: Ka'b b. Malik, Mararah b. al-Rabial-'Amri and Hilal b. Umayyah al-Waqifi. It was Ka'b who gave the detailed account of the dramatic event.
It was the Quran that had disclosed the explosive degree of tension within the conscience of those who lived it and cleared it up in the following verse:
And [He turned in His mercy, too; towards the three [groups of believers/ who had fallen prey to corruption, until in the end - after the earth, despite all its vastness, had become [tool narrow dor them and their souls had become [utterly] constricted - they came to know with certainty that there is no refuge from God other than [a return] unto Him; and thereupon He turned again unto them in His mercy, so that they may repent: for, verily, God alone is an acceptor of repentance, a dispenser of grace.
Al-Tawbah 9: 118.
It was a day of joy and happiness not only for the three mukhallafun, but also for the entire community.
In such a strained atmosphere, the impressed ideas put their sacred note in all the expressed ideas, thus stamping all the attitudes everywhere such that the Prophet used to say: "All the earth has been made a place of prayer for me". There was nothing simply profane. Everything bore the sense of the sacred. The world was all made sacred. One can easily realize the weight of the slightest sin in such a universe as it scrapes the disc of the cultural universe. Each individual would realize and react to the distorted tone emanating from the scraped spot. In such blessed moments, there is, in each person, a melodic sensitivity spotting the sources of dissonances.
When this ethical and aesthetically sensitive element is exhausted, the degree of its exhaustion in fact reflects the incoherence of the world of ideas and the degree of social deterioration in general. This deterioration will continue up to the moment when the concert of ideas stops as the disc becomes obliterated and erased in every person, up to the moment of complete silence as there is no longer any enthusiastic reaction to the lofty notes, nor any reprobate reaction to dissonances.
When the archetypes are obliterated, one can no longer hear the tone of the soul in the concert. At their turn, the expressed ideas, having lost their roots in the original plasma, fall silent, for they have nothing to express. Indeed, they are no more able to express anything. When such a point is reached, society is fragmented because of the lack of common motivation, as was the case in Algeria after the Revolution. Thus, the individual either commits suicide or gives himself up to egoism as in Europe at the present moment. It is then the advent of dead ideas.
After it had experienced the glorious moments of the birth of its civilization, the Archimedean moment of its impressed ideas during the time of the Prophet and the righteous caliphs and that of its expressed ideas during the brilliant periods of Damascus and Baghdad, Muslim society is now facing the morbid age of dead ideas.
As the Muslim pilgrim lands at Jeddah seaport, his attention is agreeably caught as he reads on the poster hanging on a door: "Office of enjoining good"! But as soon as he takes a few steps in the country, he realizes a fact against which the previous poster is but mere irony, for it is only a dead idea.
However, the situation becomes more tragic as a movement is launched to revive a cultural world - filled with dead ideas - by means of deadly ideas borrowed from another civilization. The latter category of ideas, already deadly in their original environment, becomes even deadlier as they are uprooted from that environment. Generally speaking, such ideas leave, together with their roots that cannot be borrowed, the antidote which would moderate their destructive nature in their original environment.
It is under such circumstances that the present Muslim society borrows modern and "progressive" ideas from Western civilization! What is unnatural is that Muslim society seems stuck at this stage. Starting from the same point, other societies such as Japan and China were successful in pulling themselves out of their state of inertia by rigorously subjecting themselves to the conditions of new dynamics and new historical dialectic.
Thus, Muslim society is at present paying the tribute for its betrayal to its archetypes. The betrayed ideas, including the borrowed ones, turn against it and take revenge. This is only a painful situation in which the Muslim lives in a state of dichotomy, being divided into two personalities: the practicing Muslim who performs his prayers in the mosque, which he leaves to become a pragmatic Muslim in a totally different world.