British Muslim Heritage
by Yahya-en-Nasr Parkinson

It is not to be supposed that changes of the weather alone are the only natural phenomena affecting the pulse of a man’s soul. Every movement taking place in the universe has an effect on every other movement and on every particle of matter over the whole realm of nature. A stone thrown into the ocean sends vibrations outwards, gradually undulating in every direction from the centre, and carried onward to the shore on every side. Man, therefore, is affected by movements minute in volume and of which objectively he has no cognizance. He is affected by many movements whose activities and relationship are so commonplace and familiar that they do not appear to him as exerting as influence on either his thoughts or his conduct. Yet it is always some outward movement, an attraction or a repulsion acting on the feelings inherited from his progenitors, that determines the direction of his thoughts and activities and is responsible for his conduct. By such subtle movements is the character moulded and formed, and the soul turned to the pulsation of the universe.

Things are determined by their conditions.

Passing along the coast of Portugal one August evening, when all was quiet, save the beating of the engine – the sea smooth as polished glass, not even a ripple on the surface, save where here and there a porpoise or a dolphin tossed a moment in the fading sunlight and was gone; the air was still and warm; the soul calm, tranquil, contemplative – I wrote as follows:-

What a wonderful world we live in,
        With its stars and its planets and suns;
` We are part of the changeable cosmos,
        Our life through the core of it runs.

As the cumulus piled o’er the skyline,
        The ripples that darken the seas,
Or the nebulous fabric of cloudland
        Adrift on the eastern breeze,

Are transient and fleeting in texture,
        And thro’ forms eternally range;
From point unto point in our lifetime
         We are borne on the bosom of change.

Thro’ growth and decay we are passing,
        As a wave on the ocean appears,
To glitter a moment in sunlight,
        Then vanish in track of the years;

Not wholly to perish for ever,
        Our soul thro’ the aeons shall range
And live on immortal; for never
        The changeless be broken in change.

It was a place and a time for dreaming, for building those airy castles of thought, those gorgeous mansions stored with ideas which too often dissolve into nothingness, and leave ‘not a wrack behind.’ Yet I think it is good to have those dreams, to see those visions; to be borne for a time from the realm of the sordid into the realm of the ideal. Good, even although it prove fantasy and delusion, a crumbling fabric that dissolves away almost as soon as its formed, melts like a mist at the kiss of the morning sun. It points the way to a higher and better region, where the flowers may sometime blossom and the tree of knowledge bring forth fruit. The mystic and the idealist have a place in the history of the world, and the most materialistic among us have Utopian ideals and periods of dreams. As I wrote one day in the waning sunshine and approaching shades of night:-

I have fashioned wondrous sunsets,
        Strewing heaven with rainbow bands;
Pictured shores with crystal streamlets
        Running over golden sands;
Where subtle-fingered fate was
        Interweaving soul and soul,
And I drank life’s sweetest nectar
        Out of Love’s enchanted bowl.
But the gorgeous fabric crumbled
        In an instant, then was not;
Fairy fancies of the morning
        Woven out of transient thought.
Still the question ever rises,
        And the spirits wax and wane,
Will the eyelash wet with anguish,
        And the bosom heave with pain?
Will the hopes of all the future
        See the lasting garlands won?
They, too, pass away for ever,
        As the cycles of the sun.

Ideals are all in all. We are our ideals. They are the sum and substance of our experience woven together into a single fabric called character, and form the goal of all our efforts. They are the purpose and the value of our life. They make life worth living. As they are a continuation in life, so they become a starting-point of the future. On them depends the progress and civilization of mankind. It behoves us to see that our ideals are holy, true, noble, and worthy, for they determine the direction of the flow of the vast ocean of thought.

We are all striving for some goal, with an aim either selfish or humanitarian. Some with a narrow outlook, others, the smaller number, taking a broad survey, labouring for the benefit of all in the field they assume to be the best suited for the purpose. Working for glory to attain a splendid achievement. Splendid cavaliers in the van of the battle of mind.

The fields are many – religious, social, scientific and artistic. Our ideals possess us: we live for their advancement, even though we never hope to see their fulfilment.

That literature which approaches nearest in tone to our own ideals has the most interest for us. The glory of a literature is the ideals it expounds – the truths it maintains for the acceptance of mankind. So it is the value of a book, whether it is a work of fiction, or science, philosophy, art, or religion. A book should be rich in ideas. Ideas are the first essential. Art is valuable, but of secondary consequence. In taking out books from public libraries I notice frequently, more especially in novels, marginal remarks by readers. They are always corrections of lapses in grammar, technical flaws in the formation of a sentence. I have never seen in any marginal note in a library book a criticism of an idea expressed therein. It has left me with the impression that those marginal criticisms are generally made by schoolmen, teachers of grammar whose minds are barren so far as ideas of value are concerned. Leaving out books devoted purely to observations and results, facts on which all ideas are founded, I would class books according to the following system:-

High ideas and high art.
High ideas and weak art.
High art and weak ideas.
Weak art and weak ideas.

In practice there is of course no strict dividing line, the one division overlapping or dovetailing into the other. The judging of place is not an easy one. An individual studying two books about equal from both points will naturally incline in favour of that expounding ideas similar to his own; while a consensus of opinion is never a safe guide to the value of a book, no more than it would be to a work on a special subject. If a man’s literary ability and power of intellect were estimated solely by the amount of sales of his books, the number of his writings, or the standing of the papers in which they were published, there would be different names on the Roll of the Order of Merit. One generation would often rescind the verdict of another. Writers rise in favour, flourish for a time, and then – the public forget them, they ‘are as they never had been.’

Every variation brings with it a fresh experience, new thoughts to enrich our knowledge. The lights and shadows of life are good for us. They are our teachers and keep us ever striving for the roses and the sunshine, fair valleys, laughing brooks, and golden sands. In the realm of the material, atom strives with atom for a place in the sun and organism struggles with organism for survival in the battle of life. So in the realm of mind idea fights with idea for supremacy when they are inconsistent one with the other. The different systems of thought built up by man in his endeavour to attain certainty in knowledge clash with each other – systems social, scientific, philosophical, artistic, and religious. In the clash and the controversy the wheat is sifted from the chaff, error is exposed, and truth gradually emerges. So man climbs upward from the false to the true, from the shadows into the sunshine, and his knowledge widens with the process of the suns. Mind is a whole, thought is continuous.

Although upon its swelling roll
        A myriad chequered units start;
It still remains a single whole,
        Harmonious in every part;
As numerous streamlets mingling run,
        And in a common river end,
Or many rivers one by one
        Their currents in the ocean blend. | British Muslim Heritage