When I was in seventh grade (a very long time ago), I memorized
a delightful poem called The Wise Men and the Elephant written by
John G. Saxe. Recently I found a very appropriate application to
the Quran and specifically to 43:40: Can you make the deaf hear;
can you make the blind see, or those who are far astray?
Here is the first verse of the poem:
It was six men of Hindustan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant,
(Though each of them was blind);
That each by observation
Might satisfy the mind.
So here you have six men who are physically blind but are very
intel-ligent and wise. They appear in-terested in acquiring knowledge.
The next six verses describe what happens as each man approaches
the elephant. The first falls against its side and so declares that
the elephant is like a wall. The second touches the tusk and immediately
concludes that something so sharp is like a spear. The third grabs
the trunk and boldly announces that the elephant is like a snake.
The fourth feels around the knee and knows that the elephant is
like a tree. The fifth touches the ear and recognizes a fan. The
sixth gets hold of the tail and declares it’s like a rope.
Here’s the final verse:
And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion,
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right;
They all were in the wrong!
And that’s the heart of the matter. Each of these supposedly
wise men had taken a piece of the whole picture and drawn their
own conclusions, and then they refused to be shaken from their opinion.
Instead of pooling their information and looking at the whole picture,
each one stuck to his own view and declared that it was the truth.
Now, let’s take this one step further. Each of these “wise”
men goes back to his own village and passes this information on
to his people. If they are people who have seen an elephant, they
might laugh at and disregard him. BUT he’s the “wise”
man; he’s the re-spected and highly regarded “expert”
whose opinion counts for much more than the ordinary man. So in
spite of their own senses telling them this man is wrong, the people
might just change their minds and decide, “Yes, by george,
the elephant is like a rope (or fan or snake).”
And if they’re people who have never seen an elephant, they
will readily accept this expert testimony and probably not investigate
for themselves. And someone who finds a picture of an elephant and
tries to bring this to the attention
of the community will be ridiculed,
persecuted, perhaps even killed.
This is the danger in following someone else’s opinion and
not investigating information for ourselves. This is the danger
in thinking that “wise” men must be right because they
talk well and impressively, or the majority must be right just
by sheer numbers. And this is the danger in looking at only part
of the Quran and not taking the Quran as a whole. Remember: Though
each was partly in the right; they all were in the wrong!
You cannot make the dead, nor the deaf, hear the call, once
they turn away. Nor can you guide the blind out of their straying.
You can only be heard by those who believe in our revelations, and
decide to become submitters. [30:52-3]
You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it
for yourself. I have given you the hearing, the eyesight, and the
brain, and you are responsible for using them. [17:36]
Among the people, one may impress you with his utterances
concerning this life, and may even call upon GOD to witness his
innermost thoughts, while he is a most ardent opponent. [2:204]