KAZI NAZRUL ISLAM AND HUMANISM
College of Charleston
I begin this paper with reference to the last paper I gave to this group, on Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work. In that paper, I spoke of him as a person concerned with the suffering of other human beings, a person of broad love and caring. A month or so after I had given the paper, I received a hostile e-mail message. The writer of the message considered himself to be an expert on Nazrul, and wrote that my interpretation was wrong. He said that Nazrul was a true Muslim, and that Muslims did not care about other human beings, they only cared about God. Therefore, I was wrong in saying that Nazrul cared about humanity. I believe this writer’s statements misrepresent both the religion of Islam and Kazi Nazrul’s views. But because these views are becoming popular in some areas of the world, I wished to address them. The Qur’an is a book with a great emphasis upon social justice, and the way that society should be run. Allah himself is referred to as the merciful and compassionate one, and people are told to care for widows and orphans, and to help their neighbors and the poor. This is the reason for the zakat tax. Indeed, compassion for those who suffer is one of the most important bases of religious ethics in all religions. The prophet Muhammed is called the perfect model for humanity, and he is known for his humility, kindness, and nobility of character. Many stories from his life teach that one should help others, whether or not they are Muslims. To ignore human suffering and oppression is not following Muhammed’s example. Allah breathed his spirit into humanity (Surah 32:9), and in Islamic thought all human beings thus contain a spark of God. To say that one cares about God in a monotheistic tradition, but can freely ignore what God says and wants, makes no theological sense. And in ignoring human beings, we are ignoring God, whose spirit dwells within mankind. The idea that individuals do not matter, that only God has value, is also found in modern Christian fundamentalism. However, this idea comes from neither the Qur’an nor the Bible. In both of these sacred texts, God has great concern about humanity. The literary source of this callousness towards human suffering is actually the nineteenth century ethical philosophy developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, which is known as Utilitarianism. This is a atheistic philosophy, which intends the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. However, it has the danger of having people treated as commodities, allowing the sacrifice of individuals for the greater good of the society or nation.