One of the most frequently used attributes to rejecters in the Quran is blind and deaf. Perhaps some Islamophobes are taking those verses out of context and claim that Islam advocates discrimination against people with disabilities. But defending Islam is not the interest of this article; the purpose of this article is to explore what it means to be able to see and hear.
Once I saw a blind girl walking alone on the street with her walking stick. With her walking stick, she could determine whether the way in front of her was clear or not, or would there be stairs or slope going up or going down. But if I didn’t see the walking stick, it was as if she was not really blind. This reminds me of that famous verse:
“Have they not roamed the earth and had hearts with which to comprehend and ears with which to hear? No, it is not the sight which is blind, but it is the hearts that are in the chests that are blind.” (22:46, Monotheist Group translation)
Well, I have bad eyesight and I need more powerful glasses. Sometimes when I sit way back in a lecture hall and can’t see the slides clearly, then I would just determine the word I’m not sure about with the context in the slide. But we can still see anyway. Or can anyone really see? We just realized quite recently that perhaps most of the matter is there, but can’t be seen, but we “saw” it by its gravitational lensing and how other galaxies interact with it. And many things do exist but can’t be seen, such as molecular structures; we “saw” them in X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), mass spectrum, infrared (IR) spectroscopy, and etc. We can’t see X-ray, but we “saw” it when the film darkens. We can’t see the inside of a person’s body, but we can infer from computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The same goes for hearing; we can’t hear ultrasound, yet we “heard” it via our equipments… We perceive much of our world via circumferential evidence and sound interpretations; without sound judgment and knowledge, nobody can interpret a NMR spectrum and translate it into a molecular structure.
So disabled people perceive much of the world just like how we determine molecular structures: do we perceive the world much better than they do? If people perceived the world like bats do, then we may have some equipment like a microscope to magnify how sound transmits through the tissues or how sound reflects off the tissues. We often try to visualize ideas with diagrams and graphs, but we get stuck when something is beyond eyesight, such as the hypersphere and curvature of space. That’s how we perceive the world with our mind. And with heart, as emotions can’t be seen, yet do exist. But what if we don’t have our faculty to interpret? Then our eyesight and hearing can’t really avail us, since we can’t know the nature of what we see and hear if we can’t make judgments based on them. For instance, you see the thing in front of you is red, so what? If there’s no “so what,” then what’s the point of seeing it? The “so what” can be, “there’s a fire, let’s run,” or “this is a fire extinguisher.” But often interpretations and judgments are much more complicated, like when you’re trying to understand the artist’s mind using historical and cultural context and the artist’s personal life history during an art exhibition.
This can be a nuance of a meaning of that verse I have mentioned; we need that very subtle faculty called “the heart,” which might be a bad translation from Arabic. Indeed, 22:46 is in a context where people are ignorant of the history of human failure. And often, some natural phenomena that are so natural to us, such as ships, growth of plants, livestock, and day and night are mentioned as signs of God, since most people are ignorant of them and choose not so see them. But if we do reflect more on them, we see how amazing God’s creation is: We, as His creation, have the ability to reflect on and make use of what’s in our universe as God has instructed us. Or in Paul Davies’s words, the universe is self-aware. Furthermore, recapping the idea of this article, if our ancestors did not think about the “so what,” then we wouldn’t even have ships and livestock, and wouldn’t have any means to measure time. And if we deliberately block the faculty called “the heart,” then the Scripture is nothing but scribbling and gibberish; there is no meaning whatsoever. Then this links to another concept:
“The example of those who were given the Torah, but then failed to uphold it, is like the donkey that is carrying a cargo of books. Miserable indeed is the example of the people who denied the revelations of God. And God does not guide the wicked people.” (62:5)
(Again, remember the big picture of the Quran. This does not mean discrimination against Jews, when you recall that people in Chapter 2 and 5 broke covenants with God and fabricate lies about God, and Chapter 3 denies any set stereotypes of People of the Book.)
This will in turn link to the question: what blocks the faculty called “the heart?” Dogmatism does, but it seems that it’s not the only mechanism. Ptolemaic astronomy as a dogma did make people blind to the sky, right? With that dogma, nobody would have seen what we see in the sky today, and many people would pretend not to see what they see if it goes against that dogma. And what’s the point of having eyes if you pretend not to see? I’m short of time now, and God willing, I’ll come back on what blocks the faculty called “the heart,” what it means to “wrong yourselves,” and what’s the point to understand concepts later based on a deeper exegesis.