QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/11 October) — With today’s trend of Filipino heroes, their lives and struggles, depicted or made into films, as shown recently in “Heneral Luna;” and few years ago, in “Gregorio del Pilar,” in “Jose Rizal,” and many others, it brings to fore the condition or state of affairs particularly the consciousness of Filipino youth about Philippine history including their perceived decreasing interest on the lives of national heroes, many of whom belong to educated class of Illustrados during the Spanish era.
Malacañang was quick to cajole students exhorting them to deepen their understanding of Philippine history. We don’t know why the rush to tout students’ insufficiency given today’s perceived national malaise or widespread lack of understanding and heedlessness on Filipino heroes’ ideals and values.
Facts and values
In fact, the question of who should become more adept with history should be taken in context. Whereas students could err with facts of history, many Filipino politicians have long erred with values of history – values that are supposedly enshrined in the feat and struggle of those who chiseled Philippine history with their blood and tears particularly those brave souls of the Illustrados who fought valiantly the preservation of Filipino freedom, justice, and independence.
Therefore, it should not simply be students and the rest of Filipino youth that should be told to take to heart Philippine history as it can be remedied quite easily.
But the perceived deconsecrating of values among Filipino politicians away from the ideals of Filipino heroes is difficult to address, as gap continuously widens between ideals of Filipino heroes and today’s conduct of Philippine politics notwithstanding the worsening graft and corruption among government officials amid manifold and accumulating social ills.
The fear of some people is that as the ideals of Filipino heroes are wantonly forgotten, Philippine society would cascade back to suffer like the state in not so distant past described by no less than the founding fathers like Jose Rizal as “social cancer.”
Moreover, the fact that Filipinos began to entertain “People Power Revolutions” like EDSA One, EDSA Dos, and so on, shows that the foundation of past revolutionary ideals laid down by Philippines’ great founding fathers is already inadequate to animate today’s Filipinos especially their leaders and politicians and so on.
In different but critically important angle, while the trend of reifying Filipino heroes through film is going on, as observed, the same appears as increasingly stale and bland among Muslims in the Philippines. Likewise, there is observably widespread disinterest among Muslim youth to know the lives of Luna and Rizal and so on.
To begin with, I think it is not right for Muslims to wholly develop disinterest on Filipino hero issue and other attendant subjects on Philippine history, although we understand where the indifference is coming from.
Apart from they partly owe to those heroes their relative freedom today, Muslims have to know that values and principles those Filipino heroes struggled for reflect universal values and are thus worthy of being learned by anyone including Muslim themselves.
Again, it is understandable why the subject about national heroes is becoming less palatable to the Muslims. Well, for one, how can they be expected to like Philippine history particularly stories of Filipino heroes when the ones who should primarily be informed and consistent with those heroes’ ideals are the ones generally desecrating them?
We’ll try to give ample time on this issue today and in our future khutbah or discourses. As a background, allow me to set the frame of our thesis.
When we say there is a need to learn from struggles of many people and the need to reflect on their thought and ideals with which their leaders fought for, it is to recognize the fact that those thought and ideas come from higher source reflecting what Thomas Carlyle referred to as “spark” in the formation of “universal history,” wherein underneath of which is the history of “great men” known popularly as heroes.
For our sake, this point of Carlyle is not difficult to draw inspiration with that of the Qur’an’s particularly the notion of darajat or ranks among men that is socially differentiated and would usually come to fore in critical phases of history.
In Suratu z-zukhruf, the Qur’an says:
“Is it they who would portion out the Mercy of thy Lord? It is We portion out between them their livelihood in this world: And we raise some of them above others in ranks, so that some may command work from others. But the Mercy of thy Lord is better than the (wealth) which they amass (32).”
This is the universal view of the Qur’an regarding the rise of great men – those people who have been bequeathed with higher darajat or rank in many periods of history. Their rise is usually precipitated with varying social factors and forces that allowed them to inseminate history thus making them in the language of Carlyle the “lightning” that creates fire with fuel.
The hadith of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) regarding the rise of leaders is that they are not only moral imperatives but they emerge almost naturally like shepherd responsible for its flocks.
It reads: “Everyone of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.”
Leaders are usually those groups of shepherds who rally people to struggle and stir them to create a new beginning in their society.
More specifically, Thomas Carlyle writes:
“Universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of man, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Man, and shot into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.”
When we quote quite frequently Thomas Carlyle as we had underlined the same frame when we raised him in our other khutbah like the cases of Nelson Mandela, Lee Kwan Yew, and to some extent, Imam Khomenei as unique “lightning” of their times, it is because the work of Carlyle about Great Men or heroes is a classic. It was delivered as a series of lectures in London in 1840.
Mind you, it was also relatively the time when major upheavals were happening in many parts of the world particularly those in Asia. In the Philippines, it was the time when the so-called Reform Movement organized by Rizal and many others was beginning to see light. Whereas Carlyle was lecturing and writing about heroes in Europe in his time, in far distant lands like the Philippines, there was a ferment paving for the birth of struggle to actualize Carlyle’s “heroes.”
Coming generally from the class of Illustrados, the generally educated elite of Indios – a term they transformed to Filipinos – their lives and their works are indeed exemplar of people who had attained darajat as shown in their masterful philosophical and moral conception of precepts, the brilliance of their discourses, and the courage they showed with their lives and struggles. In other words, it is they who provided the political and moral foundation in the formation of the Philippines as a nation with which succeeding generations of Filipinos should have taken into heart.
But with the passing of time and with the recurrence of general malaise as shown not only in decreasing interest and understanding among youth and students on the lives of those heroes, commitment to the ideals and aspiration that they struggled for seems to be waning day by day.
Keeping to heart, living the flame
Instead of simply prodding students to be serious with their study of Philippine history, it is best (and we are not saying this in jest) that many national leaders and politicians keep to heart and live by themselves the history of lives and works of such personalities like Apolinario Mabini and his “True Decalogue.” It might interest them that in Mabini’s Fifth Decalogue, he writes:
“Thou shall strive for the happiness of thy country before thy own, making of her the kingdom of reason, of justice, and of labor: for if she be happy, thou, together with thy family, shalt likewise be happy.”
How pertinent and powerful this counsel of Mabini’s Decalogue; it speaks current malaise as many national leaders and politicians have long failed to distinguish the higher interest of the country with that of their generally self vested interest with the proliferation of political dynasties in practically all parts of the country.
Why not heed Andres Bonifacio, the “Great Plebeian” with his “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuan Bayan?” Its first line reads:
“Alin pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa? Alin pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga, wala.”
How powerful this thought of the “Supremo” who was mercilessly killed by his compatriots – well, through the order of his rival!
Indeed, reading Philippine history and the stories of Filipino heroes requires broader appreciation of facts and contexts including their pitfalls, weaknesses, imperfections, vanities, arrogance, and excesses. Even as people treated those heroes or have divinized them close to demi-gods, truth is, they are human beings, subject to what the Qur’an refers to as moral pendulum of nafs or ego.
Finally, today’s politicians would certainly benefit with Jose Rizal’s undying “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell).
This is the finale of thought of the man who in his words he has given his life and sacrifice to the fullest for the betterment of generations to come. In fact, in one of Rizal’s works, one could feel the selflessness, the flame of love he gave to what he refers to as his Motherland. He writes:
“If the Philippine would ask me what I have done during my pilgrimage, I would give the same answer I give to a hidden thought of yours that I feel and deplore; I’ll say “in my heart I have suppressed all loves except that of my motherland; and in my mind I have erased all ideas which do not signify her progress and my lips have forgotten the names of the native races in the Philippines in order not to say more than Filipinos.”
In another work when Rizal was describing the promise ahead for the Philippines while praising some of his compatriots in Europe, this is what he says:
“To you is due the beauty of the diamonds that the Philippines wears in her crown. She produced the precious stones; Europe gave them polish. And all of us contemplate proudly your work; we are the flame, the breath, the material furnished.”
The key word in this thought of Rizal is his description of themselves as leaders of Reform Movement as “flame;” in a sense, they were the “lightning” that inseminated that moment of history in their time.
Incidentally, Carlyle refers to “Great Man” as “light-fountain.”
“He is the living light-fountain which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has lightened the darkness of the world; and this is not a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness; – in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them (p 2).”
Carlyle on Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
You may ask: why are we interested in the work of Carlyle about “Great Man?”
For those of you who have not yet read Carlyle’s, it might surprise you that in the survey of Carlyle of “Great Men” in varying epochs of history, he singularly identified Prophet Muhammad (SAW) representing the line of prophets.
We could probably ask Carlyle why of all prophets, he singularly chose Prophet Muhammad (SAW): why not Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus (peace be upon them all)?
Carlyle is obviously not a theologian. Thus, our question is not Carlyle’s question, although he presents partly some answers to it in his lecture. And to answer it is not our concern either this time.
Undoubtedly, Carlyle is an exceptional biographer, literary genius, and one of Scotland’s courageous historians in the 19th century. Therefore, Carlyle’s thought about Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his role in history is exceptionally notable. In his concluding lecture about the Prophet as a Great Man, Carlyle sums it up:
“To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its desserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see, the unnoticed becomes world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Granada on this hand, at Delhi on that; – glancing in valor and splendor and the light of genius, Arabia shines through long ages over a great section of the world. Belief is great, life-giving. The history of a Nation becomes fruitful, soul-elevating, great, so soon as it believes. These Arabs, the man Mahomet, and that one century, – is it not as if a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada! I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame (p. 77).”
Carlyle placed Prophet Muhammad (SAW) with other men and their categories like Odin as “The Hero of Divinity;” Dante and Shakespeare as “The Hero of Poet;” Luther and Knox as “The Hero as Priest;” Johnson, Rousseau, and Burns as “The Hero as Man of Letters;” and finally, Cromwell and Napoleon as “The Hero as King.”
From certain perspective, some Muslims might not take it well with Carlyle placing Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the same standing with that of Shakespeare, Napoleon, and so on, given the exceptionally unique role of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in continuously animating close to 1.3 Billion people until these days. On the contrary, the same can be said with Carlyle’s other “Great Men;” they have their influences too, albeit in varying degrees and impacts.
What must be appreciated with Carlyle is that he must be quite unconventional in his time, as those days were the starting period with what Edward Said characterized as “Orientalism,” the main content of which is the rise of Occidental ideology espousing sheer antipathy against Islam and the East, her philosophy, culture, and so on.
For Carlyle to include the Prophet (SAW) in his survey must be a feat by itself – a reason why he and his work is described by his enemies as: “to glorify every historic vagabond;” “exaltation of every brutal puppet that caught the bloodshot eye of that great sensationalist (vii).”
But we are digressing quite far from our point. What we would like to emphasize about Carlyle’s is that even how checkered people or nation’s history is, by employing objectivity in understanding, one has much to learn as it reflects “universal history” whosoever the “great man” who comes with it.
Moreover, Carlyle views great men or heroes not simply in the way a nation or state creates them. For Carlyle heroes can be product of myth; their exemplar in the field of poetry; in kingdom, in literature, and so on, as we previously mentioned.
The point is Carlyle must have been amazed with the role of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in serving as the lighting of Islam and the Muslim world since then until his time in the 19th century. As shown, the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was the peak of jahiliyyah or ignorance in pre-Islamic Arabia.
In relatively similar vein, the 19th and 20th century in the Philippines were periods of deep historical crisis when, viewed from Khaldunian prism, Spanish colonialism has reached its last phase. It thus triggered the realization by Illustrados to struggle against their mother country.
Yet, as their struggle was about to ripen, it was nipped at the bud with the rise of Pax Americana imposing new colonial order that was quite fresh and would eventually make itself entrenched in the Philippine Islands for another 50 or more years. It crippled thus the early struggle of Filipinos for freedom and independence.
What we are saying is that, it is in those crucial periods where great men, leaders of high darajat rose up. This is, in our view, the same pattern that happens, too, in other communities, in other countries, in other regions of the world. [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A khutbah (first part, with revision) delivered at the UP-Institute of Islamic Studies, on 09 October 2015. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines].