What Makes Muslims Tick 2 – Two Scriptural Motivations

Before delving into the abstraction of Man into the three Selves in the first post, we claimed that there are two major types of scriptural motivation to Muslims that are directed at the Calculating Self and to the Lofty Self accordingly. The Calculating Self plans and strategizes, and so responds to motivations from scripture that better allow it to plan and strategize for the future. On a different level, the Lofty Self seeks meaning and so responds to motivations that opens up new meanings especially with regards to relationship to God. Meanings can be found in a sense of duty and seeking the Divine.
Scala Man - Motivations
All scripture (Qur’an and Sunnah) that promises reward or punishment is directed at the Calculating Self. This allows Man to weigh the gains, risks and the losses they might benefit from (or despair in) before committing an act. Another characteristic of these motivations is that the rewards and punishment are often expressed in vivid imagery or palpable quantity e.g. scripture mentioning the comfortable and rich scene of paradise or mentioning the number of rewards or punishment allotted to an act. In other words, appealing to the senses and the mind. The Calculating Self shows itself in the most common ways: when Man refuses to cheat in commercial transaction given the opportunity and would like to, but then remembers the Qur’an verses that curses the cheat (Al-MuTaffifiin); when Man overcomes laziness in order to get to the Mosque for a congregation prayer because they know the Sunnah that announces 27 times the reward of praying without congregation (Riyad us Salihin 191); when Man recites the Qur’an because every letter uttered is 10 units of reward (in Tirmidhi). These are basic forms of scriptural motivation to the Calculating Self.
Woe to those that deal in fraud,- Those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, But when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account?- On a Mighty Day, A Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds? (Qur’an 83:1-6)
Motivation to the Calculating Self has legal manifestation in the form of Ahkam (legal doctrines or juristic rulings). The most obvious one is Haraam (prohibited). That favorite word of Muslims today. A Haraam ruling would apply to actions which scripture promises punishment. The other ruling is FarD (obligatory); FarD would apply to scripture-ordained acts that incur punishment when not done. So FarD is also about punishment. The ultimate of motivations is therefore Kufr (apostasy) which is closely tied to Shirk (renown the only unforgivable sin in Islam). You can see that the legal manifestations of scriptural motivations to the Calculating Self are weighted on punishment.
Legal Manifestations of Scriptural Motivations to Different Levels of Muslims
The second type of scriptural motivation is directed at the Lofty Self which seeks meaning and lofty aspirations. This stirs up a sense of love for God and creation, a sense of duty towards God and Creation, and what may be called “religious experiences” ranging from communal belonging to servitude towards God to transcendental aspirations. Examples of this motivation in effect is: when Man refuses to cheat a customer because of a sense of responsibility to uphold justice even at one’s disadvantage, and God will be displeased (Qur’an 5:8); when Man goes to congregation prayer because scripture praises the communal presence of men and angels, and it pleases God (Al-Bukhari 555 and Muslim 632); when Man recites the Qur’an because scripture mentions the company of the angels that gather during recitation, and it pleases God (Muslim 1742). This second motivation (to Lofty Self) can rely less on scripture, in comparison to motivation for the Calculating Self, because it is in tune with Man’s Fitrah; Fitrah is the “natural” transcendental disposition of Man towards the Divine and what is good.
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Qura’n 5:8 – Yusuf Ali)
This also has legal manifestations in the form of enjoining the legal rulings of MustaHabb (recommended, superogatory), MubaaH (neutral) and avoiding the legal ruling of Makruuh (disliked). In its loftiest manifestation, it refers to being in the presence and company of God, the Divine. Between the legal manifestations of the two types of scriptural motivations, we have mentioned FarD, Haraam, MustaHabb, MubaaH and Makruuh, but we haven’t mentioned Halaal! Well it is because Halal is neither a legal ruling nor a motivation in itself. In fact, the best definition of Halaal is that which is not Haraam. Remember  in the first post of this series, we mentioned that Halal is the default position of all (non ritual) actions in Islamic Jurisprudence. Notice that the legal manifestations of scriptural motivations to Lofty Self emphasize pleasing God; whereas for the Calculating Self they are emphasis is on punishment.
Emphasis on one of the two motivations has lead to two groups of Muslims. The group that focuses on the Calculating Self is embodied in the popular-Salafi Muslims. An extreme offshoot of this can be seen in that line that is the favorite of Islamophobes which is that the reward for suicide bombing is 72 virgins. In its mild form, we see what I call Hasanat Arithmetic (Hasanat is the unit of heavenly rewards). Hasanat Arithmetic comes with a psychological complex where a person is always calculating how much Hasanat they have amassed, forever fixating on the heavenly scale where salvation depends on one’s rewards outweighing sins. Implicit in this is a subtle arrogance in the form of that sense of entitlement to rewards that one worked for so that on Judgement Day when one is called to account, the Hasanat Arithmeticians can keep account! There’s more to say about Hasanat Arithmetic but it deserves its own post.
Here is a website which has calculated Hasanat worth of many chapters of the Qur’an, just so you know how much you are worth when you recite that chapter. Unbelievable, but true.
“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
And if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
Grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”
– Rabi’ah al Adawaiyya
The second group of Muslims focus on the Lofty Self. This is embodied in popular-Sufi movements. The extreme case was enacted by Sufi saint Rabi’ah al Adawiyya in her controversial supplication (see above). In a sense Rabi’ah al Adawiyya is revolting against motivation of the Calculating Self. No wonder popular-Sufis and popular-Salafis don’t get along. To see this type of motivation to Lofty Self at work, we look to groups that display a sense of duty and compassion to the society in service to pleasure of God, without the rhetoric of Hasanat Arithmetic. Even fringe groups with Sufi-Muslim influence like the Ahmadiyya appear to be very active in charity in the society, I’ve been told.
So, what motivates a Muslim? Scripture and Fitrah among other things. What motivates a Muslim exclusively? (Islam’s) Scripture. Scripture motivates to two levels of Man; the Calculating Self and the Lofty Self. Knowing this, if I were given a mandate to move Muslims into action, what is the ultimate recipe to animate? (*feeling like the archetypal evil scientist*). What formulas can I deduce from “successful” popular Muslim movements? How can I use this knowledge to motivate (or manipulate) Muslims. Stay tuned to the series.
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