I have come across this letter of D. H. Lawrence that clarifies very well, in very few lines, many of the problems that we have today regarding the ‘sense of spiritual disaster’, regarding being Muslims and our understanding of Religion and regarding the understanding of ourselves as being, first and foremost, beings with an intrinsic truth.
There’s a famous Hadith that will come to mind while reading this, a Hadith that I will mention at the end, because, perhaps, we have understood this Hadith in its most basic and superficial meaning, and we have let this understanding take over our way of life.
This letter was written the 9th of July of 1916, in the midst of the First World War. D. H. Lawrence had been exempted from service after going through the process of conscription, to which he expressed his relief at the beginning of the letter. After that D. H. Lawrence says:
“The sense of spiritual disaster everywhere was quite terrifying. One was not sure whether one survived or not. Things are very bad.
Yet I liked the men. They all seemed so decent. Yet they all seemed as if they had chosen wrong. It was the underlying sense of disaster that overwhelmed me. They are all so brave, to suffer, but none of the brave enough, to reject suffering. They are all so noble, to accept sorrow and hurt, but they can none of them demand happiness. Their manliness all lies in accepting calmly this death, this loss of integrity. They must stand by their fellow man: that is the motto.
This is what Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem has brought us to, a whole Jerusalem offering itself to the Cross. To me, this is infinitely more terrifying than Pharisees and Publicans and Sinners, taking their way to death. This is what the love of our neighbour has brought us to, that, because one man dies, we all die.
This is the most terrible madness. And the worst of it all, is, that is a madness of the righteousness…”
“… Yet they accept it all: they accept it, as one of them said to me, with wonderful purity of spirit – I could howl my eyes out over him – because ‘they believed first of all in their duty to their fellow man’. There is no falsity about it: they believe in their duty to their fellow man. And what duty is this, that make us forfeit everything, because Germany invaded Belgium? Is there nothing beyond my fellow man? If not, then there is nothing beyond myself, beyond my own throat, which may be cut, and my own purse, which may be slit: because I am the fellow-man of all the world, my neighbour is but myself in the mirror. So we toil in a circle of pure egoism.
This is what ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to. It needs only a little convulsion, to break the mirror, to turn over the coin, and there I have myself, my own purse. I, I, I, we, we, we, – like the newspapers to-day: ‘Capture the trade – unite the Empire – á bas les autres.’
There needs something else besides the love of the neighbour. If all my neighbours chose to go down the slope to Hell, that is no reason why I should go with them. I know in my own soul a truth, a right, and no amount of neighbours can weight out of the balance. I know, for me, the war is wrong. I know that if Germans wanted my little house, I would rather give it them than fight for it: because my little house is not important enough to me. If another man must fight for his house, the more’s the pity. But it is his affair. To fight for possessions, goods, is what my soul will not do. Therefore it will not fight for the neighbour who fights for his own goods.
All this war, this talk of nationality, to me is false. I feel no nationality, not fundamentally. I feel no passion for my own land, nor my own house, nor my own furniture, nor my own money. Therefore, I won’t pretend any. Neither will I take part in the scrimmage, to help my neighbour. It is his affair to go in or to stay out, as he wishes.
If they had compelled me to go in, I should have died, I am sure. One is too raw, one fights too hard already, for the real integrity of one’s own being. That last straw of compulsion would have been too much, I think.
Christianity is based on the love of self, the love of property, one degree removed. Why should I care for my neighbour’s property, or my neighbour’s life, if I do not care for my own? If the truth of my spirit is all that matters to me, in the last issue, then on behalf of my neighbour, all I care for is the truth of his spirit. And if his truth is the love of property, I refuse to stand by him, whether he be a poor man robbed of his cottage, his wife and children, or a rich man robbed of his merchandise. I have nothing to do with him, in that wise, and I don’t care whether he keeps or lose his throat, on behalf of his property. Property and power – which is the same – is not the criterion. The criterion is the truth of my own intrinsic desire, clear of ulterior contamination”.*
The Hadith that I referred to, and that you must have probably guessed, is the one that says: “None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”. (Al Bukhari, Muslim)
The question here is that if to truly believe one must love for his brother what he loves for himself, we must ask, what do we love for ourselves and how that can be so important as to constitute true belief?
The only true approach to this question is to answer it from the standpoint of what D. H. Lawrence says, “The truth of my own spirit”, and, of course, there can only be one answer to that question.
*D. H. Lawrence, Selected Letter, Penguin Books, pg. 104