I know Orwell wrote this with Stalin and Russia in mind but this book has more than the parallel of the time in which it was written. This is a story whose parallels can be drawn up against so many institutional bodies; political and religious and I confess that it was the latter that I was thinking about whilst reading.
Some quotations coming up but I do not think that they “spoil” the narrative for a prospective reader (only in so far as they do give you an internalised pre reading bias, so read on at your own discretion. I personally would not want to read this review prior to reading the book myself):
Remarks like “these two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments” had me thinking about the stifling space for religious debate amongst Muslims (I am a practicing Muslim). Of course it is with deep regret that the leaders in this book are the pigs. It is not that I believe that religious leaders are pigs, not at all. Have patience and mercy with me dear reader; for your own good and not for mine for I am satisfied with my Lord and wish for you to be satisfied, too.
Rather, the parallel being drawn here is against those that follow leaders blindly. Naboowat (Prophethood) ended with the Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salam and yet there are masses of Muslims who surrender to dunyawi (worldly) Muslim guides and outsource their aql (intellect). Herein lies the parallel of Orwell’s Animal Farm to Muslim scholarship and some Muslims sheep-like adherence to four madhabs dating back to the 9th century whilst almost insisting that revelation should not be revisited and reflected upon in the current context in which we live.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I have great respect, admiration and love for Islamic history and our scholarly tradition but I’m opposed to the nature in which aql is being outsourced and stifled. Allah guides whom He wills and there will undoubtedly be pigs at the top middle and the bottom. There is benefit in our older scholars and taking note of their work but this has to be contextualised and distinguished from its time and our time. Revelation is rich; it does not stop being relevant; it reveals more and more and more. There is a form of progress in Islam that need not be feared; indeed it is even endorsed by well known Muslim scholars (if you need that credibility 🙄)…
Other telling parallel quotes from Animal Farm: “the pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.”
And it is these days the case that many religious clerics, just like politicians, are “career politicians” or “career clerics”. These people have never done a days work that relates to the average person that they are “elected” to serve. At least in politics, there some description of an election, but when it comes to religious clerics, there’s this process of “ijaza” (authority) that does not come from the divine but rather comes from an esoteric formula for which the layperson has no understanding. So we’re supposed to rely on and submit to people we don’t really know and these “learned circles” and their sheep-like followers designate the ability to interpret Qur’an to those people.
You do realise that the last prophet was the unlettered prophet? I wonder how many of these Muslims who defer to scholars would surrender to our last prophet given that he was not a lettered man?
There is no recognition of the countless blatantly obvious stories and ayat in Qur’an that tell us that it is Allah who bestows knowledge and wisdom upon those whom He wills and He alone knows best who is rightly guided [16:125] and instructs us all to make tadabbur (reflect on revelation). Let us not forget the beautiful story in Surah Kahf where even Musa alayhi-salam is sent a guide to show him that even he does not comprehend everything (despite being chosen by Allah for so many miracles and revelation). If such highly esteemed prophets are being given the lesson of having humility to knowledge, truth and its ownership, who are we, 14 centuries after the last revelation, to claim ourselves capable of designating who indeed are “the people of knowledge”?
The farmland much like the land of the Qur’an is a simple and clear formula. Sent for all mankind to plough the fields of revelation. It is my tendency to read with an Islamic lens pretty much everything that I read. Unfortunately I read into this Orwellian book some of the disturbing realities that I see and experience in the religious space. There is such a monopoly on spiritual intellect and there is a major problem with managing ikhtilaf (disagreement/differences) with humility, patience and mercy. All contrary to the teachings of Qur’an and sunnah where consultation and lively intellectual debates were frequent. These days we cannot have such discussions without one party entering the conversation with the primary intent of fixing the other’s view to align with their own; entirely lacking the humility to the truth that they claim ownership of. A truth that Allah alone owns.
“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” – Qur’an 5:48
It’s all a test. No one has got the truth pegged except Allah. Do your best and make du’ā that He guides you to truth and to patience .
Allahu alam. God alone knows best.
Not your typical review of Animal Farm and again I repeat that I deeply regret the parallel of pigs to leaders but that is just what Orwell chose to use as a description for Stalin. It is not quite the parallel I’m making but hopefully those who are capable of discerning good will be capable and those capable of discerning evil and malicious interpretation will do so regardless of any other way of putting it.
A short book with a profound message to which many political, religious and academic parallels can be drawn. A good read.
لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله