Historical consciousness and imagination provide us the opportunity to engage the world more fully and prepare us intellectually and emotionally to act in the world. Both are essential for understanding ourselves in the present and for being influential actors in the world. Historical consciousness affords us the opportunity to intellectually and emotionally disengage from the constraints of the present. Hindsight allows us to understand how past actions formed the present. History, then, is a story guided by agents, free-will and choices.
What we gain from taking a pause from the present is perspective, scope and range. Combined with imagination, we discover the opportunity to visualize alternate possibilities. It is in the future that we find the space to remake ourselves and in the present that we have a chance to break from the chains of the past. Just as reflection upon history alone is not enough to initiate social and personal change, imagination alone is also not enough to make of tomorrow a brighter day. Historical consciousness and imagination must both be allies in the cause of social and personal change.
Allah captures these ideas when He says in the Qur’an (103:1-3),
- By the ages, time (history).*
- Indeed (certainly) humanity, with no exception, is at a loss (deeds are of no avail; wealth, status, lineage, power and position all are of no value).
- But exempt, from this universal rule governing history, are those people who believe in Allah and perform deeds acceptable to Allah. In addition, they call each other to account, fulfill each other’s rights, are a people of learning and teaching and steadfastness in practice and preaching.
Thus, in order to forge a brighter tomorrow, we need to understand yesterday, remember the mistakes therein, and then move to imagining a tomorrow guided by iman (faith), brotherhood, knowledge, justice, and good deeds. It is only then that we can work for tomorrow, starting now.
*Commentary added to translation by author.