Rewriting of human immortality underway
More than two weeks have passed since the first day of Shawwal 1444H which marks Muslims’ ‘Idul Fitri celebration the world over.
Unlike in many parts of the Muslim world, the festivity mood in Malaysia, as before, is expected to last for a month.
Perhaps, to the majority of Muslims, particularly the younger ones among them, the joy such a celebration brings renders the other more gloomy side of the human worldly life somewhat elusive.
Yet, to the attentive among them, despite the frequently pleasant visits to homes of close relatives and friends, it is clear how fragile and temporal this human life of ours is.
They now find more and more familiar faces absent forever or no longer as joyous as before.
Some because of the illnesses they have been suffering from, while some due to the ageing process, yet others, owing to certain lingering problems they are faced with.
It is this mortal aspect of man that apparently certain segments among us who are obsessed with the promising potentials of science and technology have been trying to defy.
All this while, it has been held as certain that ageing as well as death is irreversible.
Yet, attempts which may currently still be sporadic and scanty have been made by some researchers in the science community to render such biological certitude suspect at best.
There have been bold claims by such so-called futurists as Ray Kurzweil with supports from such daring enthusiasts as Jeff Bezos that the rapid scientific and technological advancement in medicine may soon alter our general understanding of human immortality; i.e. that such durability is no longer other-worldly, that it will soon be obtainable here, in utter contrast to what certain religions have been espousing.
Furthermore, nowadays, with the spectacular development in Artificial Intelligence and other related areas, such as robotics, hologram and high-powered cloud computing and storage, we are beginning to read or listen to news regarding chats with the loved, yet “deceased,” ones, as recently reported in China.
Just imagine, what will the future scenarios be when such advancements are synergised with similar progress in genetic, nano and neuro sciences!
Will science then rewrite the functions of religion(s), if not signal their demise?
And how shall adherents of the different religions respond to the aforementioned?
As far as Muslims are concerned, they should always bear in mind that ultimately the above issues will have bearings on their stand on the soul-body problem as well as the question of the reality of the Afterlife.
Yet, they should not also forget that such craving in man for immortality, as the Holy Qur’an has reminded, is somewhat primordial.
In fact, in the Qur’an there are several occasions where one can find some accounts of Adam’s encounter with man’s nemesis, Iblis.
Carefully attending to those accounts with intelligence, sincerity and honesty can surely help Muslims derive useful lessons, insights and reminders not only about human strength and potentials but also human weaknesses and vulnerability.
For instance, in Ta-Ha (20): 115-124, one is told about negative elements in man, about factors that had led to the infamous Fall of Man.
Forgetfulness leading to negligence of one’s covenant with Allah, particularly concerning the duty to avoid matters which are harmful and grievous to one’s real happiness, coupled with one’s having no firm resolve in maintaining it, underlies Adam’s succumbing to the evil temptations and whispers.
As verse 115 of the aforementioned Chapter makes it clear: “We (that is, Allah) had already, beforehand, taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot: and We found on his part no firm resolve.”
Of great significance as well is the highlight in verse 120 that such evil temptations and whispers basically pertain to the longing in man for perpetuity and incessant dominion.
“But Satan whispered evil to him (namely, Adam): he said, ‘O Adam! shall I lead you to the Tree of Immortality and to Power that never wastes away?’”
So, while knowledge is depicted in the Qur’an, for instance, in al-Baqarah (2): 30-39, as a vital and determining factor of man’s superiority, the craving in him for everlastingness and absolute power intertwined is portrayed as being hazardous to his well-being.
To the Muslims in particular, recognising such a contrast is indeed imperative, especially when they have to effectively meet the many challenges posed by a world which has been characterised with a peculiar understanding of “Knowledge being Power.”