Why do human beings need religion? When did this human disposition towards religious ideas and beliefs begin? Why did the earliest humans have this need for religion? And what function does religion play for human beings in the modern world?
Religion and Human Disposition (fiṭrah)
Dr. Ahmad Abd al-Rahim Al-Sayih was a professor of philosophy and Islam at al-Azhar University in Cairo, and the Umm al-Qura University in Mecca. He argued that there is a natural human disposition and, in fact, need for religion and religious beliefs. And although this need can at times be ignored or even suppressed—for example, in the case of disbelievers or polytheists—it will ultimately reemerge at some point in that individual’s life. It may even be a difficult end-of-life experience that draws that person towards some form of religious belief, as he attempts to beseech a divine figure for assistance and help.
Dr. Al-Sayih understood human nature as comprising of a dual reality, as a mix between the spirit and the body. Human nature, he argues, also requires a level of order, which then allows human beings to attain truth, justice, and peace and safety in their societies. Indeed, he proposes that there is a set of common elements in all divine religious traditions in their establishing of a proper theological creed, and their attempt to resolve and heal many of the ethical and social wounds that exist in the societies from which they emerged.
He extends this principal to even those who may follow other religious traditions. Islam, which literally means “submission and humility”, and religiously, refers to the submission and humility towards God, can really be applied to anyone who truly abides by any of the divine religions, regardless of the particular creed.
The West and Its Disregard for This Human Disposition
Another issue Ahmad Sayih explores is the role religion plays in society. He states that human beings also have an innate need and disposition towards society; their “fiṭrah” calls them to live and gather with other human beings. This is attested to by the Qur’an, which asserts that societal life is effective in both fostering spiritual growth as well as physical and material well-being. Human beings have a natural need for laws and rules that regulate and order society. The laws can either be sourced in the Divine and the Revelation, or entirely man-made. The latter of course will be envisioned and promulgated according to the limitations of the human intellect and senses, although, he states, it would be quite misguided for a society to rely solely on these human sources of legislation. After all, pure reason, just like pure science, just as it has led to human progress and
prosperity, can also lead to the destruction of human life. Reason, like science, only deals with the material and empirical dimension of human life, and can only allow it to grow in these realms. These two epistemic sources have no means by which to cultivate the non-material and non-physical faculties, a means humankind desparately needs and indeed craves. The source and means for cultivating the immaterial and super-sensory are these Divine religions.
According to this worldview, insofar as God is the Creator of all beings, including humankind, he has full knowledge and dominion over the problems humans face, along with their solutions. As such, he is the best means by which humankind can resolve those social and political issues, and ensure both peace and security within human society. And God’s vision and order is fully embodied and manifested within Islam. According to Abdul Rahim al-Sayih, God established Islam as a system that humans can use to order and guide their lives and society, a system that allows them to attain a better life in this world and the next.
He sees the West, with all its advancements in the sciences, as facing a fundamental spiritual and moral crisis. It has, according to Abdul-Rahim al-Sayih, imprisoned Western man by freeing his pursuit of his desires, and, in effect, distorting the very notion of freedom. Hence, we see that the West is in a dire spiritual crisis, and Western people have a profound sense of moral confusion and dismay, tired of all “-isms” and ideologies. Thus he calls Western man towards Islam, citing Surah al-Nisāʾ: 174-5, and reminds the Western individual of his natural disposition and innate need for religion and faith.
Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli and Humankind’s need for Religion
With a close reading of Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli’s work, it is clear that he strongly agrees with Ahmad abdul-Rahim’s claim that all humans having a natural disposition for religion. Ayatullah Jawadi understands religion to be a complete system, with particular beliefs, ethical and virtuous instruction, and canonical laws, a system that calls humans and guides them towards goodness and prosperity. Its rules order society, creating an environment that cultivates those individuals to be true and good. He understands true religion as the system that has the most affinity with the lives of human beings. And insofar as God understands His own creation the best, this true religion must descend from Him. He has established the path of human guidance using those extant natural dispositions within all humans. And insofar as both God and that human fiṭrah are immutable, true religion must also be immutable.
He believes that although God calls human beings to think and contemplate on His creation, the human intellect is far too deficient to independently respond to all their own needs. Humans need revelation; they need to have some path by which they can attain that Divine Well-spring of knowledge and insight. The Qur’an also attests to this basic need of human beings for Divine
revelation, and in effect, divine religion. In fact, he states the intellect was intended by God to be a means by which humankind could better accept the message of the prophets, particularly because that message accords fully with each individual’s natural disposition. After all, both revelation and the fiṭrah are derived from that Divine source.
The Progressive Completion of Divine Religions
There are however some differences between the respective views of Ayatullah Jawadi and Abdul-Rahim al-Sayih. Al-Sayih discusses and believes in the progressive perfection of Divine religions. Ayatullah Jawadi rejects such a notion because, he claims, there really is only a single divine religion, namely Islam. And if this is accepted, then this notion of a “progressive perfection” of these divine religions becomes entirely meaningless. Rather, he explains, the plurality of religions and their corresponding laws is not a divergence in the essence of Islam. These variations simply reflect the natural diversity that already exists within different peoples and civilizations. Hence we see the Prophet attesting to the truth of previous prophets, and the Qur’an confirming the sacred texts of previous religions, just as it also verifies those religions.
The West and Its Disregard for Humankind’s Natural Disposition (fiṭrah)
Both scholars present a spiritual and moral critique of how the West defines it position towards human beings. And yet, Ayatullah Jawadi’s analysis of the crisis and his corresponding critique are much more robust and profound, as he traces the original “sin” of Western society in the Renaissance, with the rise and proliferation of the scientistic and empirical movements, both of which have greatly impacted how human beings conceive of themselves. Ayatullah Jawadi also critiques the supposed accomplishments and discoveries of these worldviews and theories. For example, he argues that the true reason why the West is so keen to disseminate its particular form of democracy is so that it can once again colonize the third world. This is in fact a general trend, wherein these supposed accomplishments, instead of leading to growth and thriving of humans, have led to their destruction.