This essay tries to explore Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance from a different angle. In most of his writings we find Emerson influenced by the religions of Eastern people. His reading of Islamic history gave him the opportunity to discuss an essential quality – self-reliance. Whenever Self-Reliance is read, a reader can get a feeling of connecting with God, the Superpower. This article is written from the view point of a Muslim reader and shows – how a Muslim can interpret Emerson’s Self-Reliance Islamically, what are the issues discussed here that go with Islamic principles and values. The article says that Self- Reliance can give inspiration to the Muslim readers to increase their confidence level on themselves, to discover the power that Allah has given to human beings which he can exercise and feel empowered and this can help him to increase the level of dependency on Allah (SWT).
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist, an original thinker, and an orator always tried to write from his own convictions. Most of his writings were influenced by oriental religion. ‘What is especially interesting in Emerson’s God-concept is that it is essentially Oriental rather than Christian.’ (Hudson 1920). A Houston university researcher said, “After a long period of misunderstanding of Islam, fresh efforts were made in Emerson’s time to approach and present Islamic culture objectively. Emerson’s own attitude towards Arabic and Persian literature and culture reflects this more liberal interpretation.” (Hellal 1971). Emerson was greatly moved by some verses of the Qur’an, life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and lives of the Califs of Islam and the reflection of this knowledge is found in his writings. “In the writings of Emerson we find him very much akin to the Islamic concepts. His projection of the virtues and serenity of Islam, its holy prophets and caliphs helped remove the misunderstanding looming large for centuries over the hearts of Americans and Europeans hitherto shrouded by ignorance and hatred of the essence and excellence of Islam.” (Ali 2007) Emerson’s Self-Reliance (is not out of it)er baire noy. While reading this essay, a Muslim reader can find the echo of some Islamic concepts like self-reliance, individuality, creativity, equality, total dependency on the Divine power and obeying the Almighty, etc.
The Concept of Self-reliance
Self-reliance is a great source of personal power within us which helps us to find out who we are. It helps us create ourselves, knowing our identity and shaping it as we want. It helps us determine the course of our lives to reach our goals. Self-reliance helps us to take ownership of our actions. It creates freedom of choice and control over our actions. Because of self-reliance, we can find out the true meaning of our lives, fix our responsibilities not only for ourselves but for others, for society.
Now, how to be self-reliant? In Self-Reliance, Emerson offers some suggestions for those who want to be self-reliant. Emerson dictates, “Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet.” Emerson says that people often give importance to valuable material objects and according to the possessions of those objects consider someone powerful or honourable; but this is not the real case. It is the human being who is worthy even if he is an ordinary citizen. Then he asks why people view the acts of well-known individuals as more important than the behavior of ordinary citizens, even though the good or bad behavior of ordinary people can have effects as noble or as dire as the actions of the powerful. He condemns European monarchies and asks why royalty is given overstated respect than the common people who have equal importance to the society.
Emerson says that to achieve self-reliance, one must have trust on the nature and power of our inherent capacity; he named those as ‘spontaneity’ or ‘instinct’ – the ‘essence of genius, of virtue, and of life.” This spontaneity or instinct comes from our intuition or our inner knowledge, not from the second-hand knowledge which we gather from others. Emerson believes that our intuition develops from the relationship between our soul and divine spirit, i. e. God. So, to ‘trust thyself’ means to ‘trust also in God’. So, man should allow the divine to speak directly to his soul, and then act boldly according to the inspiration thus received. Then his action would be original, and he would be self-reliant in the real sense of word.
Self-reliance and God-reliance
Self-reliance is in reality God-reliance, which comes to human soul in the form of intuition and inspiration and makes him see into the heart of things. Self-reliance is obedience to the Divine Power. In Self-Reliance, Emerson felt that man must surrender himself fully to the Divine and act according to the instruction of his soul which come to him from the power that rules on high, and gives laws both to man and nature.
Some people say that Muslims must rely on Allah alone not on themselves. “Whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent. Relying on Allah. At Talaq:3 Having confidence on Allah is called ‘tawakkul’. But self-reliance and tawakkul are not contradictory. Having trust on themselves does not mean that Muslims do not have trust on Allah (SWT). Allah says, ‘‘When you begin any work, have tawakkul in Allah. Trust in Him.” ( Ale-Imran: 159) But keeping faith on Allah if a person sits idle, he is not going to succeed. Muhammd (pbuh) said, “Tether your camel, and then put your tawakkul on Allah (SWT)” So the necessity of both tawakkul and action are essential. When a man is confident enough to do his work and has faith on Allah no one can stop him. Because Allah says, “I will not give you a task which is beyond your capacity”. (Baquara:286)