Cosmic Rhythms: The Development Of Culture
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
The development of culture, most likely started with cosmic rhythms. The term cosmic refers to the external universe, the external world, which includes our solar system, the heavens and stars beyond our earth, and all that exist in the vastness of what we call "outer space." It is believed that the entire cosmic world is set to some kind of natural rhythm that goes throughout this whole cosmic order we call the external world, which includes the Earth.
To get a better understanding of what we are referring to, let us begin with something we know and are aware of all of the time but seldom reflect on or give deep thought to — the sunrise and sunset. People who give deep thought to this and other happenings all around us in the natural environment are usually called poets, philosophers, etcetera. It is not expected that the common, ordinary person will give deep thought to such things. But for the Muslims, it is different. Muslims must have an interest in the external world.
In the Qur'an Allah says, "All about you in the external world are instructing signs that most of the people are heedless." Most people are unmindful of these things. Allah intended for the Muslim to pay attention to those things that philosophers and poets give their attention to, things that enable them to come up with great ideas. Sometimes they come up with revelations on a cultural level, but not revelations on the plane of a prophet.
Sunrise and sunset represent a rhythm. Our lives are influenced by that rhythm. When the sun rises, it is normal for people to awaken and get up. And upon awakening, they exert themselves in their daily activities. And when the sun begins to set, it signals in people a feeling to rest. Thus, the sun in its rising and setting represents a rhythm that sets our lives to action, then sets our lives to rest. In fact, pleasure (such as that which we seek from cultural activities) is a form of rest, a rest from work.
Everything has a rhythm, including the seasons. When winter comes, it sets our life to a mood. When spring comes, it sets our lives to another mood. Just as summer and fall set our lives to different moods, seasons also have their own rhythm.
Awakening in the morning is automatic for most of us. Under normal conditions it is automatic for us to wake up. That is a rhythm. We are set to a rhythm of awakening and going to sleep, and to many other rhythms. Dancing is an art form, but it is also an expression of a rhythm. We dance to the rhythm. George Bernard Shaw said, "Dancing is a very crude attempt to get into the rhythm of life." Now George Bernard Shaw, a scientist and philosopher sees the rhythms of life as evolving from a crude level to its ultimate expression. When we examine the rhythm of created phenomena, we observe a rhythmic scheme extending from the cosmic universal order to something as simple as the hopping of a rabbit. If you have ever observed a rabbit hopping across a field, you may have noticed that he ran with a rhythm.
The African-American people have been called the people of natural rhythm, and rhythm ignites and holds our attention, Whenever there is a staging for rhythm, black people don't feel out of place. Often we feel awkward and out of place, but just let that music start. Let a rhythm get started, and we will come right up front. We will take over the show. The heart beats with a rhythm. In the forming of the human body, it is one of the first organs to develop. In the fetal development, the heart is there before it even looks like a human being. The doctor says, "I detect a heartbeat." The whole life, the whole nervous system is set to a rhythm by the heartbeat.
Have you ever heard the expression "body language?" It is a somewhat new expression. Even the rhythmic movement of the body brings to our mind an art form, and it has been called "body language." We may call the movement of the body "language," but we know that it is not language proper, because language proper represents a higher level of cultural development.
In fact, everything that comes to our mind is language. If I am to register anything that is happening, such as the movement of the people or the feelings that are stirring in myself, there has to be some medium or method of observing it, and we call this language. But language proper is revelation.
In the first verses of Revelation that came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Allah says, "Read in the name of your Lord who created, created the human being from a clot of congealed blood. Read, and your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught man the use of the pen," Now do you think that we read before somebody wrote? How did you read before somebody wrote unless you were reading signs that you interpreted. You had to read signs. That is a language alright, but that is not language proper.
Language is most important for evolving culture. In today's culture, language is played down, and certain suggestions by sound are played up. That is the dominant influence in the culture; loud music, noise, physical movements of the body, but not language. They turn the music up so loud that the language — the lyrics — are played down. The lyrics are dominated by the noise. If you are being influenced by sound and physical suggestions, rather than by language that clearly expresses an idea of what is going on, then there is a certain mechanism in you that is not being used.
God has created in the human being a mechanism that interprets intelligent expressions directed at his mind. If he is exposed to a culture that bombards and influences him with nothing but touch, sound and physical movement, then that particular mechanism for interpreting intelligent expression is left unused or insufficiently used. Thus man's ability to interpret expressions intelligently begins to decrease. That is exactly the situation you now have in the society. You now have a culture that is not advanced and refined; it is very primitive. It has gone back to the crudest level — that of the heartbeat. Now if that particular rhythm represents the crudest level of rhythm in our life where we are responding to a drum beat, a constant repetition of a certain sound (boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom) then the human being is being regressed. He is being taken back to his most elementary level of development. He is being brought back to the womb of the mother where there is no sound, no communication except, boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom, the beating of the heart.
We should put our emphasis on language. God says, "And isn't there a sign to you, men of learning, that God has given you speech, and made it possible for you to articulate?" There is a sign in that: don't talk with signs and grunts. Speak with your brain. To do that, you will have to give intelligent thought to what you are feeling, to what you are sensing, and then put those thoughts into intelligent language and communicate it.
No matter which forms of cultural expression we engage (dance, song, fashion), it should be done on the highest level of intellectual expression that we are capable of. We should put intelligence in everything that we do, and not allow ourselves to get sloppy, to become wild. We want to be a factor for promoting progressive culture for the African-American people. However, to do that we will have to be intelligent, as well as sensitive and emotional. We don't want to be sensitive and emotional and leave our intelligence behind.
I repeat these words of the Qur'an, "Read in the name of your Lord who created, created the human being from a congealed clot of blood." When blood is not congealed, it is responding to a rhythm. The heart has a constant rhythm, and the blood is responding to it as it is being pumped throughout the body. But in order to create a new life, the blood has to stop responding to that rhythm. It comes out of one rhythm body into another, the body of the mother where it rests.
Allah also says in the Qur'an, 'Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh..." In the environment of the womb, the blood rests very still, and in time the blood clots. It wants to hold. It doesn't want to be free-flowing. We say, "Let it all hang out," but the blood says, "No, I don't want it all to hang out. I want it all to hold right here, because I want development." The blood clings together and holds right there, and in time it becomes what we call a fetus lump. And in time, bones develop in it and it becomes a full person. At a certain point the heart begins to pump, rhythm sets in, and it begins to develop. It is in its very early development that a rhythm sets in- It has become a new life, with its own rhythm. But how did it get its new life and its own rhythm? It got them by slowing down, by not being fluid and giving in to the rhythm.
Doesn't Allah tell us in the Qur'an, "Read the Qur’an with slow, measured, rhythmic tones." If we obey Allah, we would never read the Qur'an by the jazz notes. We won't read by one-sixteenth notes. That is a little too fast for thought. Science tells us that when something is sped up to a certain speed it becomes too fast for thought. So it can only be registered or digested unconsciously.
We don't want culture that bypasses our intelligence. We don't want to have performers or artists show us how much they can confound our senses. We want them to show us how profound they can be before our senses. We want to evolve that mechanism that God has given us for interpreting intelligent expressions.