82- Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before them? They were greater in number than these and superior in strength and in the traces in the land: Yet all that they accomplished was of
no profit to them.
(40- The Believer, 82)
There are verses in the Quran that speak of certain communities in the past who had reached a level of civilization higher than the community in which the Prophet lived. These communities had been the authors of works far superior to those produced by the latter.
Especially at the beginning of the 19th century, the “historical point of view” occupied an important place. Hegel (1770-1831) spoke of reality as a historical process that could be understood by the categories of historical explanation. His giving meaning to history, understanding and evaluating it were remarkable indeed. But Hegel interpreted history as a linear and evolutionary system that involved continuous and unilinear development. His approach was progressionist. His interpretation of history may be acclaimed, but a viewpoint that conceives every historical period superior to the one preceding it is untenable.
The Quran, an infallible book, proves once again that it is always right. It acknowledges that past civilizations sometimes produced superior works and proved to be more powerful, thus refuting the linear concept of history. Linear development may have taken place in a given period of history. As a matter of fact, the advancement of science, whose origins went back to the 16th century, have followed a positive trend up until the 21st century. However, to generalize this progressive advancement to cover all of history and every domain would be a great mistake. While formulating his thesis, Hegel seems to have been bewitched by the advancement of sciences from the 16th century up until his own times.
There are more disastrous effects of this concept of history than the uninitiated may conceive. A glaring example is communism. As a matter of fact, the share of this Hegelian concept of history in Marx’s ideology is great. While Hegel evaluated history through metaphysics, Marx preferred to view history materialistically, calling his school “Historical Materialism.”
HISTORICAL VIEW OF COMMUNISM
Marx had a progressionist-linear-historical view (Marx’s emphases on the means of production and economics had had a great impact). This conception contended that a given community had to pass through stages, namely through feudalism, capitalism and socialism, before reaching communism. According to this conception, each of these stages would mark a higher degree of development than the previous one. Thus, the communist stage would be superior. The communists assumed that communism would be supreme bliss and the ultimate perfection in history. Moreover, this was a “scientifically established” view! Those who were against it were considered unscientific. The eventual collapse of communism discredited the Marxist conception of a scientific interpretation of history. According to them, history’s progressive course could not be forestalled, so that communism was the ultimate stage.
Yet most of the school textbooks of today are under the influence of that concept of history whose fundamental logic is that of linear progress. There are no scientific data to justify the opinions that assert that man’s ancestors were primitive hairy creatures as described in the books on anthropology. Engels himself, founder of modern communism along with Karl Marx, acknowledged this fact. On the assumption that men are fortuitous, he claims that the historical stages must be accepted. Describing the primitives as deprived of language, not even knowing how to kindle a fire, similar to hairy monkeys, would be an illusory account devoid of all scientific justification. There is no corroborative evidence to justify that men were first hunter-gatherers before they came to be acquainted with farming. The idea, which took for granted the fact that history was of a linear and progressionist makeup, led necessarily to the adoption of the new conviction that man’s initial stage had been hunting and gathering, the simplest means of supplying food. Whenever such classifications are made, there come moments when gadgets are unearthed, which, in principle should not be dating from the age to which they are supposed to belong. Yet, writers of textbooks are loath to make any corrections therein.
PYRAMIDS, MARTIANS AND ACUPUNCTURE
According to the progressionist linear history conception, every one of the stages that human history has gone through is superior to the preceding one. This erroneous conception is inculcated into the brains of the majority of mankind. The supporters of this conception of history were astonished in the face of the superior characteristics of pyramids. The question has cropped up, inquiring into the mystery of the designers of pyramids, whether their builders might not have been Martians! The great Cheops pyramid at Giza, has a volume of 2.515.000 m3 and is 147 m high, the base measuring 230 m. This structure required the quarrying of six million stones, their transportation, amassment and laying in a fashion likely to challenge long centuries to come. The power coupled with skill of the Egyptians leaves us astounded. Mentalities shaped according to the erroneous conception of history fail somehow to conclude that architecture in ancient Egypt was at a very advanced stage. For those familiar with the Quranic verses, there is nothing to wonder at in this, since the Quran mentions of works of superior quality that were accomplished long ago.
9- Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength, furrowed the earth and dwelt in it more than they did…
(30-The Romans, 9)
Acupuncture, practiced in China for more than 4,500 years, shows that at a given spot on the earth, people were in possession of anatomic knowledge more precise than we can believe. Acupuncture was the result of a thorough knowledge of the nervous system of the human body and of the distribution of electricity in the body. Someone convinced of history’s linear; evolutionist and developmentalist structure cannot come forth claiming that it appears that the Chinese were more advanced in the anatomy of the human body than the following generations. Otherwise this would lead people to attribute the discovery of such facts to the Martians, like certain writers! To try to understand history and give it meaning is certainly commendable. But to dare interpret all the periods of history in every geographical corner of the earth within a unilinear and progressionist concept of history is a great error frequently committed.
This understanding of history has been the source of views that denied the personalities of individuals. These views that idealize the “state” led the right-minded to fascism and leftist persons to communism. The cause of a great many disasters, this viewpoint favored the oppression of the individual by the state, refused to see the state at the service of its nationals as a superstructure created by man, and preferred to consider man as a servant of the state, in which he had an insignificant presence. For those who are not familiar with the philosophy of history, these considerations may seem overstatements. If we look closer at the process initiated by Hegel, we may observe that it played a role, on the one hand, in the emergence of Hitler, and at the same time, of Marx. According to this view, the direction of history cannot be diverted. According to this mentality, whether laudable or execrable, the acts people indulge in have no effect on the retrogressive or progressive courses in history. It is the “state” that plays the historical role, and the course of history cannot change its direction. The human element is absent here as well. The Quran contends that human acts have their consequences in the future development of communities and that many communities have perished because of the evil doings of their members. This view of life is one that saves man from being swept by the storms that have raged in history.
It is true that at certain periods of history mankind has marked significant progress by following a unilinear and progressive course. But it is simply wrong to generalize this movement to cover the entire past. To view a period of two or three millennia from a similar angle would be incorrect. To call a given century before Christ the “Stone Age,” thus generalizing it to cover the entirety of humanity would be improper. Great divergences between communities at a given age, lack of proper communication, and reasons that thwarted the political and cultural development of societies over the world made a simultaneous development of peoples around the earth impossible. Let us assume that one thousand years hence, archaeological excavations conducted with a view to having an insight into our level of civilization will give different results according to whether these excavations are made in New York or in a remote corner of Africa. While the one that generalizes his findings will conclude that there had been a progression in the history of mankind, the other, having recourse to the same method of ratiocination, will conclude that there had been retrogression.
Another error generally committed is the assumption that products of different domains like communications, arts, medicine, engineering, architecture, morals, farming are put hotchpotch in the same basket. The idea of progression in a given field must not be stretched to include other areas as well. Therefore, while history advances in certain fields, it may recede in others.
The correct thing to do would be to adopt an analytical approach and pick up every single product separately and evaluate it accordingly, thus getting rid of the generalizations and facile deductions of the unilinear progressive and evolutionist concepts of history.
POSITIVISM AND RELIGION
Religion has been the field exposed to misconceptions to which the unilinear progressive conception of history led. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was the prominent representative of this movement. Comte divided history into separate phases. He was confident that mankind would go through three phases before ending up in the system of philosophy to which he gave the name of positivism. In his historical study of the progress of the human mind, he discerned three phases: the theological, the metaphysical and the positive. Comte contended that the origins of the theological phase went as far back as fetishism, and that it was followed by polytheism, ending up with monotheism.
In the ultimate phase, qualified “positive,” he stated that science had taken the place of religion. He made use of this argument to condemn all religious orders and philosophical systems prior to his own positive system. While the other systems are “a series of primitive historical phases,” his own system was “the most perfect ultimate phase.” In the whirlwind of his passion, he dared set up a positivistic religion. This pseudo-Christianity would have a large clerical organization with positivistic temples and positivistic clergy.
Comte’s efforts to show the monotheistic religions as but an interim phase in the series of historical periods are devoid of all scientific evidence and findings. Comte’s views, utterly devoid of all tangible and convincing evidence, are taken for granted in many school textbooks. In every stage of history there has existed the idea of one God. Monotheism was opposed by the idolaters of the moon or the sun, or communists or positivists at different periods of history. All other beliefs have become calendar pages of history to be torn off, while the belief in one God abides forever.
Those who fail to make a historical classification of religions having archaeological findings have suggested the following train of thought: “Let us find the most primitive community on earth, for the oldest religion should be theirs, since it must have preserved its traditions.” Some of the supporters of this line of thought, devoid of all scientific foundation, took the tribe that worshipped natural phenomena as the most primitive of the communities on earth, and its religion, the most ancient. On the other hand, those who considered the pygmies of monotheistic outlook contended that the primeval religion was monotheistic (Such a line of thought led naturally to different conclusions).
It is worth to mention Andrew Lang’s and P.W.Schmidt’s researches which are more serious than the superficial speculations of Comte regarding the religions. According to this theory, most of the religions of the world are but corrupted versions of monotheism. According to Schmidt, idolization of powers of nature is irrelevant, since in order that the powers of nature may be made into gods, one should already have the notion of “God.” According to this view, the reason for the corruption of monotheistic religions and the emergence of polytheism is man’s transforming, in time, of metaphors into identifications. The line of thought ran something like this. “God is Creator, He is like my mother.” “God is the source of everything, He is like the earth.” These metaphors have in time replaced the original conceptualization that came to be identified with a concrete images like mother-god, earth-god. Schmidt contended that one of the evidences of the fact that polytheistic religions’ origins lay in monotheism was the fact that the idea of a primeval and all powerful divinity still survived.
The logical reasoning of Schmidt is more convincing. As a matter of fact, there is hardly anything in Comte deducible or defensible on the grounds of consistency to support the theory of a positivistic phase being the ultimate phase of human evolution. Anyway, based merely on written evidence, it is impossible to arrive at an identification of the primeval religion. The history known to men shows that there has always, and without any gaps, been a sustained belief in monotheism. But, despite this, we must also acknowledge that our knowledge related to the history of man and the religious beliefs of human kind is very limited, so evidence for any one position is inconclusive.
47- Each community has a messenger…
(10- Jonah, 47)
Excellent article!! I am a student of Anthropology and I am exposed to the dominant narrative of primitive religion then polytheism then monotheism and ultimately science. I do not buy it off course (because that is not what I see around it). There is a need to bring in our curriculum the researches done by Andrew Lang and P.W.Schmidt which I learnt from this article. Thank You! Praise God. 🙂