Realistic Cosmopolitanism through Islam: Humans given “the Trust”
Whoever obeys Allah and His messenger will achieve a great triumph. Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, yet they refused to undertake it and were afraid of it; mankind undertook it– [but] they have always been unjust and ignorant. (al-Ahzab or The Joint Forces, 33:72)
It is only humans that have moral understanding and hence operate in- between the contrasting spheres of the spiritual and material worlds. However, a person’s or community’s understanding is relative to the degree of spiritual knowledge it retains and can implement according to the Truth in Scripture. However, some people may have the capacity to understand spiritual knowledge, but refuse to seek knowledge and use their reason to gain understanding. This verse refers to those who have the capability for reasoning, but refuse the responsibility of using their intellect and intuition to gain spiritual wisdom. Allah blessed humanity with reasoning capacity via the frontal cortex of the brain as well as the ability to utilize intuition to achieve greater understanding. Subsequently, because of free will, not all people pursue learning, but rely almost entirely upon reasoning based on judgement instead of sensing, therefore allowing the more primitive parts of the brain to maintain more control over thought processes to its own detriment and the detriment of society in general.
What is the “Trust?” All of creation and its care is under the responsibility of humans as it is humans alone which have the capability and intelligence to take care of Allah’s creation on earth. Also, all things on earth are purposed for the fulfillment of Allah’s Will through humans. When humanity abuses this important trust the consequence for their actions will lie entirely upon themselves. The sanctity of all life is to be highly respected including not only care of the planet, assurance that all people are treated with dignity and respect, the pursuit of collaboration and peace, and the implementation of justice maintained globally, communally, and individually, especially within our interactions with the “other.”
“All humanity is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none have superiority over a another] except by piety and good action.” (Prophet Muhammad’s Fairwell Sermon)
And also, in al-Hujurat (The Private Room — 49:13), “Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behavior are evildoers. Believers, avoid making too many assumptions — some assumptions are sinful — and do not spy on one another or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead sibling? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of Allah: Allah is ever relenting, most merciful. People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In Allah’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware.”
This ayat discusses the individual responsibility of kind treatment toward one another which then transitions into understanding of the innate human dignity within every person, race or tribe, which is also characterized by seeing to the needs of all people, and not just profit mongering for the good of a few. Sadia Dehlv writes on Sufism in The Perfect Man is a Servant, that “Trust is betrayed when we arrogate the power of vice-regency to ourselves; using the gift of knowledge and Divine attributes to become servants of low-level passions pertaining to ego. In lust for worldly power, one’s inner balance is distorted and in treating oneself like God, the King’s place is usurped.” (1) It is certain, that when humans seek their own self interests they are not acknowledging the Creator, nor the great responsibility that has been given us to take care of His Creation.
“The human species is the greatest kind of species within the natural order because of its range of capabilities and the catalog of its achievements. The Universal element contributes to the dignity of humanity as such, but it also includes a tragic element — responsibility.” (2)
Humans are given free will which is the “tragic element,” for if we choose not to take on this important responsibility then we may come to learn our “ineptness” will lead to total annihilation or destruction. In the surah, al-Baqara, the angels question Allah why he would allow humans to take on this responsibility when they constantly “cause damage and bloodshed.” (3) Allah responds by reminding the angels that He knows things which they do not, or in other words, it is Allah who has determined the outcome according to His Good and Perfect Will. Then, how is the Trust to be implemented, and what is our responsibility individually and corporately?
Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), American philosopher and political theorist, postulated that human rights are a universal inherent right which should be guaranteed to every citizen as a member of a political community. However, because human rights frequently conflict with national sovereignty which has the power to take away civil rights, it is only human rights which are defensible. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every human being to be active participants by the use of civic engagement and cooperative deliberation in establishing and maintaining justice so human rights are defended. Arendt intensively wrote at the end of World War II of the need for humans to understand that it was time due to globalization for humans to transcend their local communities into a new awareness of our common plurality. Arendt remarked, “whether we like it or not, we have really started to live in One World.” Or, because of the negative impact of WWII, humanity was finally forced to acknowledge that people on the other side of the planet were able to affect the lives and well being of other people regardless of distance. Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, writing on Arendt’s theory, “If equality decides the human, than no human can be human alone, but only with others, and only under conditions that sustain a social plurality in equality.” Therefore, no group of humans has greater rights over other humans, but all of humanity must be afforded human dignity and provided the necessities for survival. Also, according to Arendt, every human has a right to be existent in the world just by the nature of their birth, so every human has “a right to have rights.”
“Human dignity can only be exhibited by individual human beings, but on the other hand, human dignity is a universal quality predicated of all human beings.” (4)
Arendt’s theory of Realistic Cosmopolitanism entails all humans sharing “the burden of global responsibility, conceptualized in a concrete sense as responsibility for the maintenance of the human condition.” (5) Arendt acknowledges the human capacity for evil, but yet our human responsibility to take action to address the “fragmentation, discord, and conflict” (Lu 2000:246) in international politics by taking seriously the recognition ‘that in one form or another, men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men and that all nations [must] share the onus of evil committed by all others.’ (Arendt, 1994:131)” (6) The theory of Cosmopolitanism “maintains that there are moral obligations owed to all human beings based solely on their humanity alone, without reference to race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, political affiliation, state citizenship or other particularities” (Brown and Held, 2010:1). (7) However, Cosmopolitanism focuses on an unattainable utopia which Arendt adapts in her theory of Realistic Cosmopolitanism to address the inherent evil hidden in human nature which endangers all humankind when combined en force. Hence, Arendt coined the term, “worldlessness” to describe the state of egoistic individualism and isolation which “leads to the rejection of everything that is shared in common (Kattago, 2014:58). (8) Pey further describes the effects of worldlessness in the present global climate as a “period of human history characterized by its ‘unity,’ this alienation manifests worldlessness in a way that is unproductive, pernicious, and standing in the way of greater global cohesion and the collective overcoming of shared, transnational problems.” (9)
Arendt’s brilliant understanding of globalization at the end of WWII is almost prophetic relative to the present global political climate of making the pursuit of material goods its primary goal. Her clarity of thinking regarding the events that led up to the horrific actions of the Holocaust is a clear warning for humanity in today’s global environment of ongoing genocides in which the post Holocaust outcry of “never again” has become coldly stated, “not again.” We have become desensitized to violence, and significantly even more isolated due to our obsessive use of technology. Because of social media, the shocking images of violent acts floods our feeds in which we tweet and message our dismay, but like a lion sneaking through a pack of prey, we are strangely unaware of the danger. Patrick Hayden writing on Arendt’s political theory states her concept of cosmopolitanism “is a sensibility conditioned by an uncompromising willingness to face up to the moral and political horrors of modern life, the ‘dark times’ of political evil that shake our sense of reality and threaten our capacity for judgement, responsibility and action” (Hayden, 2010:10) (9) However, “More often, we disabuse ourselves of this common responsibility and escape into tribalism, racism, or nationalism.” (10)
One can’t help but imagine what Hannah Arendt’s response would be regarding the threatening events in the present world. She died in the 1970’s when people collectively demonstrated against racism, the Vietnam war, and promoted women’s rights so must have felt encouraged observing humans taking collective responsibility in caring for the rights of others. However, Arendt’s writings, especially on totalitarianism, are extremely relevant in providing clarity to the dangerous warning signs that most people are apathetically ignoring. There is a significant increase of oppression, poverty, prejudice, discrimination, racism, nationalism, and violence all over the world. However, when minorities are the primary targets, then many of the majority whites are not motivated to combat the dark forces of destruction. White privilege blinds the truth from being self revealed in hearts that refuse to acknowledge their arrogance of superiority.
Humans have been given the Trust by Allah because we were given minds to reason, seek knowledge and to reflect so that you may understand His perfect Will in the care of the earth, compassion and empathy towards our neighbor, and acceptance and kindness of the “other.” We are called to implement justice, and seek recompense for the oppressed; we are taught by our respective Books to feed the hungry, take care of orphans and widows, to not take more than we need out of greed, to give out of what we love, and to submit ourselves wholly to Allah’s Will and Direction. We were not made to continually reside in comfort, but to challenge ourselves in self-sacrifice to help others as servants of the Lord Most High. This responsibility is not to be taken lightly, as the world depends upon us. Believers are the standard bearers for Allah’s kingdom being established on earth. For when believers become fully submitted to Allah’s Will then miracles begin happening. As we rise up to Him, He comes down with His Life Giving Spirit to assist us with spiritual flourishing; to turn our dry wilderness areas into lush gardens of truth and justice. Do not turn your backs upon your neighbors, and display anger and unkindness to your enemies. If Muslims don’t intentionally begin making our presence known in our communities by loving outreach, then the insidiousness of hatred birthed by ignorance will be our undoing. This, and only this, my brothers and sisters, is the straight path — care for others, as Allah cares for us. He is the most Merciful, the entirely Merciful, as we remember every time we do salat — but remember that the Mercy he blesses us with is to be a blessing on those around us. Be mindful in not just thinking of Allah, but constantly with thanksgiving ask for His direction in transforming our communities and the world around us. Do not be self-satisfied with the condition of your hearts, but humbly prostrate before the Lord acknowledging our tremendous need to grow spiritually.
Hannah Arendt was blessed with unusual clarity due to her experience during the Holocaust, and by her detailed understanding of the political conditions that allowed such evil to happen. Hence, many academics are studying her works and analyzing her theory in the context of the present global political climate. So, what is the Trust? Hannah Arendt, writing in secular terms describes it well — the human responsibility to care for other humans, to respect each other’s dignity, the right for all humans to have rights, and our collective responsibility to resist by peaceful means governments that refuse to respect human rights. However, with such extreme divisiveness in our societies around the world, how does collective responsibility unite within such fragmentation? Arendt acknowledged the world’s governments don’t have as their primary concern human rights, so what could be the unifying force that establishes justice globally?
After WWII international organizations were established to assure human rights would never again be at risk for complete annihilation as what occurred during the Holocaust. The United Nations (U.N.) was created during the middle of WWII with the mission of maintaining international peace and security, protection of human rights, to deliver humanitarian aid, promote sustainable development, and to uphold international law. In 1948 at the end of the Holocaust, the U.N adopted the Genocide Convention which requires all governments to “undertake to prevent and punish the crime of genocide,” as well as recognition that human rights are to be protected internationally which led to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the U.N. has mostly failed in its mission due to the number of genocides and human rights abuses occurring around the world. Additionally, the Geneva Convention established important criterion for the fair and just treatment of prisoners during war and specifically during the fourth convention (1949 and ratified in 1977) , protection of civilian life. A protocol was created to deal with “grave breaches” on an international level but is presently not being implemented in countries who are disregarding the Geneva Conventions rules of war and conventions and are being allowed to destroy property, hospitals, places of worship, and schools, and most horrifically the intentional murder of not just civilians but children, as well as illegal imprisonment of children. Also, an International Tribunal was created for the prosecution of officials who committed “crimes against humanity,” and the breaking of international law. However, presently, most of the abuses, especially government officials who have committed “crimes against humanity,” have not been arrested or brought to trial. The acknowledgment of the international protection of children also became a focus after the Holocaust, but presently increasing abuse, rape and murder of children, especially refugees, is occurring in numerous countries.
Arendt’s theory obviously is important in understanding why human rights need to be protected, but what should have been important safeguards implemented after the Holocaust are ineffective entities most likely due to extraneous interference by nations leaders. So, the important question is the “how?” How does humanity come together to protect human rights and life when according to logic there should have been a progressive increase in safeguards and understanding of the importance of collaboration and peacebuilding, but instead appears to have progressed towards increasing violence and human rights abuses?
The implementation of human rights protection on a secular level has failed and humanity is in worse shape than it was before the holocaust. However, the call to all believers from Allah is the protection of human life and rights through the responsibility for humanity to carry the Trust. The only way the kingdoms of the world can be successfully combated is spiritually. This is the uniting of believers together with faith in the power of Allah to transform darkness into light. Walter Brueggeman, Theologian, believes this can only occur through the implementation of an alternative reality:
“The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that make it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.” (The Prophetic Imagination)
Believers need to be united to bring about the reality of peace and justice in the world. This is Allah’s people expressing the Word of Truth in action. Feed your communities by planting gardens, for the economic conditions are worsening and the government is not going to feed you, establish housing for the homeless by ridding yourself of excess and abundance including not believing you “need” large homes, for the homeless numbers are going to significantly increase — many cities are at least five years behind in subsidized housing with rent and housing costs quickly astronomically rising. Believing communities, whether Jew, Christian or Muslim, must come together in unity to stop the tsunami of hatred spreading over the globe. Imagine the Christians in Germany who persecuted the Jews during the Holocaust standing before the Almighty with no excuse why they were unable to love and care for the “other.” The Trust is not to be taken lightly, and if we don’t care to carry His burden of responsibility then, as Arendt writes, the other alternative reality is that the kingdoms of the earth will greedily gobble up all life with its insatiable monstrous self-serving appetites.
“The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness…”~Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance
We are at a crucial time in world history, as Arendt states below — we need to understand how to navigate by the use of peace building and cooperation globally so the world may be saved with Allah’s help, or face certain destruction brought about by our inability to grow spiritually:
“No longer separated by space and nature and, consequently, by spiritually insurmountable walls of history and culture, mankind will either find a way to live in and rule together an overcrowded earth or it will perish — an event which will leave the sublime indifference of nature untouched.”
It is up to believing humans who are responsible for taking on the responsibility of Allah’s Trust to imagine and implement the alternative reality, the only alternative to the death march we are presently engaged in like mindless automatons drilling capitalist holes in every place of worship. When corruption and greed seeps in, Allah’s Spirit seeps out. The straight path is not down the smooth, easy paths of over satiation, but is an uphill twisting climb over many obstacles to the top of the mountain. Oftentimes it is painful exertion and frustration, but yet learning and growing. For the Trust can only be taken on by a spiritually mature human being, so when you finally arrive at His altar of grace, and are willing to place your life lovingly in His Hands to ask Him to use you according to His Will — be prepared for anguish and heartbreak because your eyes will be opened to the extreme suffering around you. But also be prepared for the inexplicable joy of miraculous discovery when Allah begins revealing Himself and then you will fully know the Trust was never meant to be carried without His Help.
We are losing the ability to care for one another. And when empathy decreases and compassion is lost, then we also lose the ability to survive — because without social connections bonded by the need to care for the neighbor and the understanding of how to interact with the “other,” we easily justify nationalism and genocides.
“Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.” (11)
Humans have been give the responsibility of the Trust which is a covenant relationship with Allah. The power of Allah’s Spirit can flourish humanity, but humans must be willing to submit to Allah’s Will and then obey. The Shaitan must be resisted by submission to Allah, with self awareness through the Spirit to not allow our ego to manipulate our selfish need to raise ourselves up by making others less, and to humbly move in action as servants of the Lord Most High.
(1) The Perfect Man is a Servant editorial, Sadia Dehlv, (https://www.speakingtree.in/article/The-Perfect-Man-Is-A-Servant)
(2) Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Human Dignity, John Douglas Macready, p. 52, 2018
(3) Ibid, p. 74
(4) The Divergent Cosmopolitanisms of Hannah Arendt, Liz Sutherland, University of Western Ontario, (https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/Sutherland.pdf)
(5) Constructing a Realistic Cosmopolitanism, Chris Peys, 2014, (https://www.e-ir.info/2014/12/18/constructing-a-realistic-cosmopolitanism/)
(10) Hannah Arendt and Theology, John Kiess (2016), p.116