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What Is Normal And What Normality?

Adapted from a talk by Hasan Le Gai Eaton

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normality | human | model | mercy | the human norm | listen to the audio-files

What do we usually mean by 'normal'?

We [usually] mean that he or she is like everyone else, behaves as most people behave, and stays within current conventions. 'Normal' folk are certainly not religious, or if they are they keep quiet about it. But they do have a problem, because now-a-days the idea of what is normal changes from one decade to another. Fortunately the popular press keeps them up-to-date by surveys and advice columns. [This was about 1989 and before.]

A recent survey in the US is supposed to show that most people commit adultery, so now we know that fidelity and marriage are abnormal and therefore a little shameful.

How does this fit in with 'Living By The Book'? (i.e. the theme of this talk)

There is an Arabic word frequently occurring in the Quran:
'aktharuhum': it means most of them, most people.

{ Quran: And the word of your Lord has been accomplished truly and justly; there is none who can change His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from Allah's way; they follow but conjecture and they only lie.}

Sura The Cattle (6), verses 115/6

We are warned again and again not to follow 'aktharuhum' not to do as most people do, there are certain stories that are common to the Quran and the Bible, such as the stories of Noah and Lot. Noah refused to follow the ways of his people and was loathed for his 'abnormality', he with his family and the animal peers were saved from the flood, the rest perished. The story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom make the same point:

'Beware in an irreligious age of doing as others do.'


Normality in fact has nothing to do with statistics. It refers to a norm, a model of perfection, an example to be followed. It indicates what we should be. Normality is therefore something to strive for, something at which to aim, it is not what most people do. It is what they would do if they lived up to their human potential.

Some catholic poet said that the only real failure in life if the failure to achieve sanctity, a view with which muslims can agree in terms of what we call 'ihsaan', meaning spiritual excellence.

For us this excellence is exemplified in the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ﷺ he is the human norm for every muslim. We fall short of that norm, of course we do, what matters most, is where we fix our eyes and aim our intentions, rather than whether we actually hit the target. And one day maybe - just maybe - He will lift us up. And since the greatest distance means nothing to Him, bring us home in a flash.

God's messengers according to the Quran say to the doubters, the questioners, as they have said from the beginning of time:

Their apostles said to them: We are nothing but mortals like yourselves, but Allah bestows (His) favors on whom He pleases of His servants, and it is not for us that we should bring you an authority except by Allah's permission; and on Allah should the believers rely.

And what reason have we that we should not rely on Allah? And He has indeed guided us in our ways; and certainly we would bear with patience your persecution of us; and on Allah should the reliant rely.
Sura Ibrahim (14), verses 10/11

Normality, defined in relation to a norm, is a model in terms of which we try to shape our characters and our behaviour.

And this involves living up to our human potential.

Human/ Humankind

The word 'human' has different meanings for different people; for secular thought: man is a clever animal, whose potential is to become even more clever, until it is master of all.

For Islam, as for Christianity, humanity can only be defined in relation to God. We are, it is said, made in His image, not in the image of a wolf, a monkey or a rat.
Today when people are urged to be themselves and develop their full potential, no distinction is made between the highest of which we are capable and the lowest, which is very low indeed.

Perhaps it is just as well that this advice is seldom taken literally. In real life most people would still rather be someone else than themselves, whether it is the matter of a boy or girl, modelling themselves on a popstar, or an older person, imitating someone they admire.

One way or another people do need to look beyond themselves for a model.
But what kind of model? It has been said with good reason, that those who do not aim at the highest, are likely to aim at the lowest. And muslims say, that those who refuse to obey God, will inevitable end up by obeying the devil.

Why should we obey either? Because we are human. And the fact is that human beings are not self-sufficient. The Quran tells us:

O men! you are they who stand in need of Allah, and Allah is He Who is the Self-sufficient, the Praised One.
Sura The Originator (35), verse 15

That is to say: you are a creature in constant need, whereas He is Plenitude and Has no needs.

Think of the infant, totally dependant; think of the aged man or woman, no less dependant. There is an interval between the two ends of life, during which we can pretend to be in command of ourselves, but it's only a pretense.

Watch any succesful man or woman when disaster strikes, ...it was all a big act. At heart most people know this, which is why most people deep down are afraid. But only when we acknowledge our dependance, can we expect support from Him, who is alone Independant. God speaks thus in the Quran:

Say: O my servants! who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving the Merciful.

And return to your Lord time after time and submit to Him before there comes to you the punishment, then you shall not be helped.
Sura The Companions (39), verses 53/54

Overflowing Mercy

The Quran frequently substitutes the name ar-Rahman, the All-Merciful for the name of Allah. Overflowing mercy created (all) what is created, and how could mercy leave this creation to its own devices. It did not - hence the books, revelations, the words of guidance. But words are not always enough. We need to be shown how the book's guidance works out in real life and so we have been given a norm. A living reading exempler.

"And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds."
Sura The Prophets, verse 107

God tells Muhammad ﷺ and the Lady Ayesha, questioned about her husband's inner nature, said:

"His nature is that of the Quran."

In short he ﷺ embodied the Quran and demonstrated it, day-in and day-out, what the book means. For the muslim, 'living by the book' means above all else, following the example of the man ﷺ through whom the book was transmitted to mankind and since he is supremely lovable, doing so most willingly, as labourer of love.

Hasan Le Gai Eaton; in a broadcast by the BBC 1989,
'Living By The Book' ... listen to the audio
[Not online, but can be provided upon request free of charge → contact page]



Related texts
link-in Signs Of The Times
link-in Explanation of Human Norm: the fitrah
link-in Society: Islamic View on Peace and Justice in Society
link-in Crisis Of The Modern World; René Guénon / 'Abd al-Wāhid Yahya
link-in Shaykh 'Abd al-Wāhid Yahya, René Guénon


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *