THE ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN (a remix)
Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim
There lived six blind men in a remote village very far from civil society. One day a man from the village said to them, "Sub-hannallah !, there is an elephant in the village today."
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it with our eyes , let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went to where the elephant was. Each one of them was able to use his hands and fingers in order to touch this elephant. There was no time limit and so each person delighted in this new experience.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the qualities and appearance of the elephant and everyone of them insisted that only he was right. They became very agitated almost to the point of physically abusing one another.
A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter, why are you all so angry with each other ?" They said, "We cannot agree as to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.
The wise man gazed for a moment towards the heavens and said, "All praises are due to Allah the Most High, he then returned his attention towards the blind men and explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you has touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you have described, and to those of us that Allah has bestowed the gift of sight, the elephant is something entirely different."
The Moral of this story is : one's subjective experience can be true, but that experience is limited by its inability to account for other truth (how other people 'see' or 'interpret' the same experience).
A better example might be that two people walk into a room and the window is open. One person says he feels cold and the other says he feels hot. Each person is describing his own reality. His reality prevents or limits him from ‘seeing’ the other's reality, however, that doesn’t make the other’s experience or ‘truth’ any less real.
The metaphor of the elephant can be substituted for the relationship we have to Islam. We come to Islam from many directions, from many different perspectives and take away from it many different lessons and we should never harbor any ill towards the preferences of others, unless of course, those preferences* threaten the security and safety of our families and that of our neighbors, Muslim or non-Muslim.
*All attempts to seek after truth, however elusive and difficult that task is, challenges ‘blind obedience’. Orthodox methodology is advocated by those Muslim ‘fundamentalist’ and 'literalist' who teach that there is only one ‘truth’ and only one ‘way of being’. When this happens, when only ‘one truth’ is allowed, all else becomes irrelevant. All scientific and moral questions become unnecessary. All empirical information is deemed ‘heresy’ , and this is the greatest danger facing the American Muslim Community.