Friday, 27 November 2015

Implementing Islam in the Secular States

All states today are both religious and secular and none is purely religious or secular. God has not been dethroned.

Today we seek to engage with Shah-i-Hamdan’s socio-political thought considering the fact that if he visited us today he would hardly recognize it, as the world has witnessed several frame shift mutations. He would be compelled to edit not only the sections invoking medieval knowledge of some sciences( that have been corrected thanks to progress of natural sciences) but also, in all probability, partly, some sections treating sociopolitical issues. Today the institution of kings he assumes or addresses is almost gone for good and there have already developed institutions that restrain rulers. He wound find much of his job done thanks to modernity that has made rulers accountable to theoretically independent judiciary. He would find neither slaves nor slave owners, neither feudal lords nor the land in the sense he had seen as primary wealth. He would encounter the monster of technology and other misadventures of instrumental rationality and capital besides newer colonizing ideologies like development discourse( Derrick Jensen defines development as colonialism applied to the natural world). It would be easy to guess if he can afford dismissive engagement with modern political theory. Likes of Carl Schmitt and other major voices in political theology and philosophy would be approached from the insights derived from Islamic resources. We need to identify thinkers in the world, especially the Muslim world, who engage with the similar problems, with similar background principles, that Hamdani engaged with many centuries ago. Some issues one might, at the risk of misconstruing and with due apology to the spirit of Amir- i- Kabir, seek to explain to oneself for readers to consider and better edit.
      I am inclined to think that deeper analysis of feared( by secularists) Shariah oriented political model will reveal far deeper correspondences with aspirations for so- called secular polity wedded to fundamentally sacred things or values like freedom and justice. Even secular political thinkers, in effect, recognize God’s sovereignty in almost all important matters when they seek to preserve values whose embodiment is precisely what divine sovereignty is all about. All states today are both religious and secular and none is purely religious or secular. God has not been dethroned. He is in control today and, as Maulana Azad recognized, some of the best things that religion embodies are realized in so- called secular states that are assumed to have said goodbye to religion. All genuine critical thought in politics is, in a certain sense, realizing the aspiration of implementing God’s Law.
      While calling for strict moral policing, Amir-i-Kabir is basically targeting public display of what is deemed to be illegal or immoral behaviour. You can’t be persecuted by the State if you do such things in secret, in the privacy of your home. There is no scope for jasoosi or institution of informers or secret intelligence agencies that report to moral police. Another point is that before implementing any code, one is entitled to determine legality or otherwise of a given practice. We have examples of practices once considered impermissible by ulama like taking pictures and using loud-speakers( and that could well thus invite State censure) now being taken out of the prohibited list.
      Non-Muslim citizens need not necessarily be seen in light of now contested notion of Dar- ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam that was invented when people and nations knew so little of each other including other’s beliefs and cultures. The notion of Jihad remains eternally relevant because the fight against injustice and oppression that proscribe freedom to live life according to the Divine Measure seems to be eternally warranted as people are not going to relinquish vested ideological/class/gender interests. We need to emphasize the scriptural resources that talk about common elements between certain traditions, the warrant for extending the notion of Ahl-e-Kitab to other than Jewish and Christian religions as we are discovering all traditional communities invoking some equivalent of scripture received by earlier generations( Zorastarians, for instance, have been treated as similar to Ahl-e-Kitab ), such documents as Meesaq-i-Medina that used the coexistence rather than confrontational/othering/marginalizing model, increased recognition of the possibility of demonstrating a unanimous Tradition preserved through oral and other cultural means. However the unique claim of Islamic tradition that its scripture is unsullied by historical forces and thus preserved in original purity coupled with the understandable warrant for preserving its distinctive contours including Ummah centrism of Islamic community that needn’t however be interpreted as implying political domineering or in expansionist terms as an equivalent of Pax Americana, needs to be recognized by all who wish to impose a homogenized secularized global world. Islam does reject the Sacred denying materialist/capitalist worldview and thus it does envisage a different political and social order that comes into conflict with the project of Americanization or corporatization or secularization of the world and as such one shouldn’t expect too smooth a relationship between traditional Islamic and anti-traditional( not only anti-Islamic but anti-traditional) worlds; or to put it differently, between tradition( represented in its clearly formulated and living manner by Islamic tradition as other communities have largely succumbed to forces of secularization and liquidated their identities in the sense that large scale challenge to secular model is not presented by them) and secularizing modernity. There has been going on a violent suppression of all that evokes the Sacred in the wake of modernity and if traditionalists of the world invoke the rights of the Sacred capitalism and other desacralizing ideologies are threatened. Fundamentalism, ironically, gets complicit with capitalism and its allies against tradition. We need to fight Jihad against such ideologies as war against environment ensuing from imposition of industrialism and development. War against idolatry is fought by all those forces which fight against individuation and imposed alienation.
      Rulers, for Syed Ali Hamadani( RA) are created by divine will to save weak from strong, institute justice and embody ‘shafqati riyaya’ which implies welfare state, and do ahsan. He clearly distinguishes satanic kings from deputies of God and denounces the former. All this would imply that there is a warrant for both left and right inspired critiques of status quo and one needn’t fall into the trap of binaries of secular vs. religious nation states or see Hamdani leading us to Muslim nationalism that maintains problematic relationship with Non-Muslim States.
      For Hamdani a ruler must secure basic needs of subjects. Isn’t this what modern secular political thought, especially the modern left, basically demands? Marx fundamentally said this thing – the rest is incidental or could be edited – that ‘there must be equality, fraternity and brotherhood for all instead of certain class or any ruling elite.’ Nothing expresses Islamic and especially Sufi view of social justice, equality and fraternity better.
      The clause that Hamdani adds by stating that anyone who follows any opinion by any mujtahid he trusts, can’t be prevented from following it, practically implies great flexibility when it comes to find room for ordinarily “deviant” behaviour. Thus if one follows some more liberal but authentic scholars on purdah, music etc. or parliament decides to follow alternative interpretations of treatment of Non-Muslims it can circumvent those inflexible models quite easily and Hamdani, to be consistent, can’t have a problem over this. However Hamdani reminds humans of our great dignity that is incompatible with trivializing consumer culture and indecency of any sort that advertises vanity. Anything against modesty is against human dignity, thus resisted by traditions. There is a metaphysic that grounds dress and we can differentiate between traditional people from moderns on the basis of dignified clothing that characterizes the former. There is a common dress “code” of traditional men as Schuon has shown that both religious and secular fundamentalists fail to properly honour.
      Hamdani sensitizes us regarding the rights of the Sacred for ensuring our own perfection as humans and thus joins all the thinkers who seek to implement the will of Heaven on earth as it is implemented in Heaven. All genuine political movements are ultimately rooted in theology if we understand later to be autology or science of the Self.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Muslim Political Classics

Trying to Understand Shah-i-Hamdan (RA) in the Liberal Democratic World.
“Political Islam” and Muslim religious nationalism have been with us for quite some time achieving very little in political terms but continuing to be seen as an aspiration of majority of Muslims. Although these are essentially modern phenomena and ideologically complicit with otherwise tabo modernist ideological notions, influential medieval scholars are roped in to buttress the cases. How convincing are the arguments and how effective or relevant today needs to be seen. Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, also called Amir-i-Kabir, is one of the great but neglected Muslim political theologians who needs to be better known and carefully studied to help us develop contemporary Muslim political theology. A perusal of his writings, especially his Zakhiratul Malook and Letters that constitute key sources for exploring his political theology, today in the post-secular (and for many post-theological) world while taking note of newer voices in both political theology and philosophy, constitutes an important unfinished task for Muslim thought. This column series seeks to explore the problem of engaging with medieval Muslim political theology in light of modern Islamist ideologies appropriating it for their own purposes.
      Shahi Hamadan’s theologico-political writings including his Zakhiratul Malook and Letters may be cited as an inspiration for political Islam fighting for implementation of Islamic State. On the surface a very convincing case is formed by taking certain isolated pages and paragraphs or statements from it. One can cite statements calling for treating other religious communities as second class citizens, for moral policing, for exclusive ideological system that is fundamentally intolerant of religious and ideological other. One can find, according to critics, almost ISIS and Taliban ideologue here and there. The question is how do we today relate to our medieval authorities and contest their framing in currently fashionable violent mode of political Islam? Besides it will be argued that no medieval text may be taken unquestionably in the face of changed realities in the world that necessitate reconstruction of Islamic political thought in light of now largely neglected traditionalist political thought. This will also require taking cognizance of secularizing currents of political thought, however. Hamdani has to be read in light of traditional political thought which informs, partly, some of the best minds in modern political thought. The idea of traditionalization of political thought that I call for, partly building on Hamdani, is what neither so-called radical Islam nor reformist Islam nor revivalist Islam stand for in letter and spirit. This rather than embracing secular model of polity that vetoes the Sacred Order is what I call for and see Hamdani calling for.
      To engage with the “problematic” content – to modern sensibility including Sufi sensibility – of his writings, especially Zakhiratul Mulook on which I focus, I first delineate key elements of what is supposed to constitute this problematic content. This problematic content is first of all his what appears to be extreme “obsession” with Shariah implementation in general and then all the debatable inferences that raise eyebrows including such edicts as ban on music, institution of strict moral policing and most importantly his appropriation of Hazrat Omar’s precedent for a strict implementation of what is called by some modern critics, as manifesto for second class citizenship for other religious communities.
      In the beginning we need to emphasize the point that Hamdani is a Sufi through and through and has clearly stated his doctrine of unity of being that excludes any construction of a religious other in the sense that would warrant othering or marginalizing on religious grounds.
      The question of Shariah implementation that has been an object of heated debate between Isalmists and their religious and secular critics may be understood better if separated into two elements viz. invoking God’s sovereignty or final authority for everything in Revelation and pushing for certain legalistic opinions supposed to constitute Shariah. Let us note that all traditional authorities across cultures and religions agree on the first clause in their own way. Traditional political thought is more or less Platonic invoking the care of the self or soul as the chief end of politics and that to be achieved through attention to transcendental moorings and grounding of ethico-spiritual enterprize in supra-rational traditional founts that the notion of the Sacred books/Revelation connotes. There is no purely secular ideal envisaged in traditional political theory and thus there can’t be in Hamadani either. What is to be debated is not dispensability of God’s sovereignty or Sacred Law but what it exactly means to invoke God as Law giver and distinguishing between God’s laws and human interpretations of them. Let us note that the father of Western philosophy has also a book on the type of Zakhiratul Mulook  called Laws and we have highly respected political philosopher Voegelin arguing for it.
      Muslims, generally speaking, can’t, as believing people, have issues with medieval political thought on either the notion of divine sovereignty or primacy of sacred law. Critics of the model of Islamization of State (in whom one can name not only leading modernist scholars but well known authorities from traditional ulama camp – we know  big names who separated from Jam'at-e-Islami disagreeing on Syed Moududi’s interpretation or model of Islamic State) don’t imply thereby any disrespect for the Sacred law or God’s ultimate sovereignty. There are theological and politico-philosophical critiques of essentially modern notion of Islamic State. One can cite philosophers such as Al-Farabi and modern scholars from Ali Abdel Razziq to Dabashi and the whole bunch of what identify themselves as Muslim feminists (to be distinguished from secular feminists) all targeting certain standard model of political Islam but none can be accused of inauthenticity though one might respectfully disagree with their position). One might also point out that If Shah-i-Hamdan is to be properly read he needs to be appreciated in light of modern Platonists and traditionalist political thinkers and such modern thinkers as Agamben and Zizek, all of whom target a certain understanding of democracy or liberal model in the name of something more foundational that is largely the concern of religion.  So far I don’t know if any study has been done in this respect. Let us not forget that almost all great names in political thought till recent times have spoken for a conception of politics that is sharply divergent from the secular liberal democratic model that today seems to be largely unquestionable. How far from unquestionable is this model may be gleaned from the contributors (most of which are highly regarded names, including Agamben, Zizek, Bodieu, Ranciere, Jean-Luc Nancy in their respective fields) of a recent text Democracy in What State? on the theme of democracy.  It means there is scope for questioning the hegemony of secular reason and secular polity and the need to engage with theonomous reason and the traditional/Islamic political thought for developing more humane and Spirit centric politics. However fundamentalist appropriation of traditional political thought needs to be questioned from within, as purely and exclusively secular critiques can’t be accepted by the community of believers in different traditions. Hamdani does help us in evolving such a model.
      The notion of forbidding what is wrong one sees rather narrowly interpreted or problematically theorized from medieval lenses may be interpreted in light of divergent scholarly discussions on the issue. We have great diversity in opinion on what it entails and one might cite those authorities if that is needed who side with least interventionist models. Brilliant summary of the whole debate on what constitutes forbidding munkaraat may be seen in Michael Cook’s Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. The reader is referred to some dissenting opinions from traditional Islamic authorities on the notion of forbidding what is wrong as implying that brand of moral policing that appears reprehensible to modern sensibility wedded to the sacred idea of freedom.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sermons from the Classics

Finding Grace in the Kafkaseque World 

Once sermons used to move a man to tears; some would even die listening to them as has been reported about Gousul Azam (RA). Now hearts seem to have hardened and preachers don’t seem to carry great conviction, although they may be eloquent and can quote chapter and verse from many books. Friday sermons used to be great education (occasionally they are still and we have some Friday imams or speakers in Kashmir whom certain people don’t ordinarily miss to attend); now most people avoid reaching mosques much before scheduled prayer time so that they are not “bombarded” by sermons. Although one can still get greatly moved by some classics of sermons like those of Gousul Azam and Eckhart and some pieces from such contemporaries as Zulfiqar Naqshbandi and Ahmed Javed.
      It is said that once a great Zen Master was going to deliver a sermon in presence of great gathering. The moment he arrived at the podium, a song bird was around singing. He along with his audience became all ears for it. And once the bird finished and moved off he also left the podium without delivering speech. When asked why, he replied that courtesy the bird’s song “the sermon stands delivered.” Thanks to the song. Great sermons call us to these sermons that nature is ceaselessly delivering. Great writers don’t sermonize but nevertheless open us to “sermons in the stones” besides “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks” and smiles and tears around us. Great sermons delivered by Life when its profound depths are given voice by great art are always needed and they are freely available if we care to heed.

      Great literature is the best antidote to fanaticism. Whenever one encounters a fanatic, most probably, he is illiterate in classics. One must read classics from as many cultures as one can to see how humans believe and feel essentially in a similar manner. Tears and smiles, sighs and ecstasies, love and desperation for being loved, are everywhere of almost identical hue. It has been noted by one of the great writers that when we weep, love, express joy, sleep, care and suffer loneliness, we can’t be distinguished in terms of creed or ideology or status. We all share one limbic system. Our story of exile from the homeland of Spirit/Heaven is essentially similar. Kafka tells us, as does Beckett, our sordid tale of exile made almost unbearable in absence of grace/love. Reading them is to suffer in purgatory and live all the horror of the dark night of soul which is necessary preparation for entry into heaven. Thus read modern classics constitute a wazeefa for most of modern educated people too intelligent to digest popular narratives that appeal to other class. Great writers help us to identify the Master to whom one may wholeheartedly surrender.
      Today we read Kafka on the most fundamental thing we all seek – joy – and in light of the statement from one of the our greatest “sermonizers”, the philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft “Read a great book to better meet and know and glorify God.” Kreeft also says: “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.”  One can read seemingly sceptical or God abandoned Kafka to better know about God. Kafka devastates us as he explores our loneliness. He post-mortems, like Beckett, mortal connection of pleasure and happiness while desperately seeking joy that God is, exposes how heartless is the world – bureaucratic managed corporate controlled world – where we no longer are loved but used, dodged, passed over in neglect. He helps us to live and love even in such a world as our hearts that can be uplifted and other humans who need us and God’s creation to which we turn for blessings can’t be snatched by any force. For Kafka “ a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.” He is indeed such an axe and few can afford to be sawed by him. For Kafka the secret of youth is ability to see beauty. One can thereby fight old age. Kafka was not a saint and although he advises us for finding all gestures holy and against despair and says the beginning of wisdom lies in readiness to die, he exhibits saintly concentration in squarely facing horror of life lived without consciousness of terrible reality of guilt and life ‘s ironies.

      Responding to the statement of Charles Juliet that “I believe an artist's work is inconceivable without a strict ethical sense.” Becket, another “artist of failure” said: "What you say is true. But moral values are inaccessible. And they cannot be defined. In order to define them, you would have to pass judgement, which is impossible. … You cannot even speak about truth. That's what's so distressful. Paradoxically, it is through form that the artist may find some kind of a way out. By giving form to formlesssness. It is only in that way, perhaps, that some underlying affirmation may be found.” Becket also seeks, like other great writers misperceived as pessimistic, as Juliet remarks, “an underlying affirmation – why else would he continue? – while all around him hacks and inattentive culture-vultures chatter about "the absurd"; a value judgement to speed their fiercely middlebrow lives beyond anything distressing like the inaccessible.”

Post Script:
       Kafka is, like many other big names in world literature, not a good model to emulate in life. He failed to live up to his own vision and was a “problematic rebel.” He had such an overwhelming sense of guilt that he ordered destruction of his great writings and thanks to a friend that was prevented. Let us note, however, that great writers as great writers and because of the art they serve and most often not because they embody greatness in personal lives. The models worthy of emulation are prophets and saints and not writers who have notorious things to their credit.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Has God Any Advocates?

The world is today suffering not from supposed absence or hiddenness of God, but the noise of warring advocates of God. God seems to resemble a Prime Minister never speaking in the Parliament, while a commotion in his name, for him and against him, has been there throughout recorded history, especially in later times and most prominently during recent history when Godliness seems to have largely disappeared leaving place for God mongers. Advocates of Him are in plenty charging fees in His name. The funniest part of the story is that advocates are fighting amongst themselves for getting recognized as the best advocates. God is not tempted to speak, thus giving us a clue to His real nature. Despite executing a magnificent universe teeming with life, beauty, intelligence and countless examples declaring His glory for those who care to see, He doesn’t seem interested in explicitly showing off Himself or writing His name on any billboard or having a political party or forced conversion to belief or recognition of Him by sinning ungrateful mankind. So many slangs have been thrown against Him, so many times accused of being deaf or impotent or even dead, He is not tempted to clarify, to refute, to silence the accusers. God chooses to live, silently, in the hearts of saints, artists, prayerful hearts or tears and joys of believers, in the passion for truth in scientists, in the love that binds us all, in the beauty that attracts us all, in the joy that all seek, in innocence of children and in whatever is holy, grand, noble, sublime and wonderful. Mute yet eloquent beyond words are His words in flesh. The secret to the “gorakh danda” of which Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sings appears to lie in patiently waiting, in seeing deeply, in witnessing without judging, in radical innocence, in openness to experience. No discourse, no fatwa, no narrative, no commentary on sacred scriptures, no sectarian textbook convinces us fully or ultimately, especially in these postmodern times. The Silence that scripture give voice to and lead into, drives us, like intoxicated lovers in search of the beloved, to the Heart of Reality that is God. The adage that “all advocates are liars” applies surely in the case of self-appointed advocates of God who are today fighting for the hearts and minds of youth.
      Today we are surrounded by politicians, by clergy and by ideologues of various hues invoking God’s authority or name to claim our allegiance. The question is who indeed speaks for the God who chooses to live in the broken hearts? What a joke that God’s sovereignty is said to be in danger and it has been left on the shoulders of  poor fellows (who think deenuk themb chum seenes paeth…) to guard it against the whole erring world.
      For traditional cultures, God has spoken in many languages and what he has spoken is not disputed, thanks to oral transmission and preservation. Written narratives and interpretations might be interminably debated or disputed but not what has passed as a practice of community at large (sunnah) or from the presence of the Teacher. No advocates needed to plead or interpret.
      For the seers God rules with absolute power but with such subtlety that His signatures on orders or events – including on our tears and smiles – are not ordinarily decipherable. The State, the family, the civil society  and countless nongovernmental agencies even if not constituting the mind of God as Hegel attempted to show has been great instruments, by every account, in realizing the project that God has in mind if we believe God is in full control every moment and not a fly’s wing is clipped without providence taking note. Let us note that in God’s world even Satan is ultimately in the service of some deeper design or plan of God. There has, in sense, always been “a state of Islam” or state of submission to the Real or orientation towards the Good of collective humanity though never a fully realized Islamic State or Hindu State or Puritan State. God’s Mercy is said to be writ large on the face of the universe. God is equal to his task and does arrange that all things return to Him as the Quran declares. God is not to be fooled or foiled, even if all the forces of Tagoot unite. “…Innal Batila Kana zahooqa.” The earth indeed belongs to God as does sovereignty belong to Him. This is indeed an existential, an ontological truth. Even a political truth if we can grasp larger divine scheme as embodied in history and how God dealt with erring communities. It needs profound understanding of doctrine of predestination and philosophy of history and a peep into the secret kingdom of angels and other forces that ultimately direct everything to see the point that God’s rule has always been there and what is called establishing his rule on earth by certain political or religious party is neither de facto a possibility nor de jure called for. All things evolve through certain deeper logic of history or destiny in Godward direction if we believe in the project of justifying God’s ways to men – theodicy. Isn’t God the real Agent of action as the Quran asserts and other scriptures concur? What on earth has been God doing if He has only been defeated by forces of Satan? Had God succeeded only briefly for few years in some classical or golden period in establishing his rule as projected or conceived according to one’s belief or He has always been somehow in control directing all things, from behind the screen if not in broad daylight? All religions believe the latter possibility. Ideologues of this or that brand of religious state in the former.
      Is there a way of clarifying the problem of identifying true or God’s “interpretation” of His word so that all those who speak in His name are better identified? Not that we need to identify his real advocates as He has appointed none according to the Quran. God needs no advocates as He has appointed more convincing and powerful signs for all to see or contemplate. And what is blindingly clear by contemplating these signs is something of the following.
      God, according to the Quran, has spoken so unambiguously and indisputably in anfus – in conscience, in our orientation towards the Good – in aafaaq – in breathtaking beauty and sublime majesty of nature. The scripture of the self (manich sipar) is for you and me to read. Few can claim to have read or realized it while so many fight that they have the right to interpret, even impose their reading of this scripture. He has spoken and prophets-seers have heard Him speak and we have some recording of His various recordings thanks to oral culture in almost all traditional cultures.
      God is not tempted to speak now. And previously when He is believed to have spoken, He kept silence on many issues on which we find His advocates breaking heads. He didn’t divide the world into two warring or antagonistic zones – the zone of the Holy and Not so Holy (distant equivalents of narrow politicized understanding of the Abode of Peace (Darul-Islam) and Abode of War (Darul-Harb). He left the choice of political systems largely to the wisdom of people. He appointed no advocates to clarify His position later. He spoke most unambiguously against exploitation or injustice and in matters of niceties of theology and sha’ria, He is tirelessly reminding us not to dispute over its content. We are given the impression that God has a constituency, a political party and seeks power. ISIS and RSS – to name only two of the most political and least religious of them – claim to be God’s people calling us to God’s Kingdom. A religious class who wears piety on the sleeve thinks God is in the image of their leader. They don’t invite us to the depths of our own selves/being or God as the Ground of being or “our ultimate concern” or “our ideality” or the ever expanding horizon of our love for the other but to themselves, to the States where they will rule in the name of God. The scriptures in the name of which we are silenced are all silent regarding any earthly kingdom of God or God’s State; their chief interest lies in inviting us to the Kingdom of God that is within us and which is best contemplated in silence and requires humility or consent to be nothing.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Hussain (AS) and Socrates

The world respects Socrates as the greatest moral teacher in philosophy, and has never stopped mourning his execution at the hands of the rulers of Athens. What was the charge against Socrates? That he corrupted the morals of the young, and defied the gods. What a charge against a man whom all agreed was the most just, one who cared above all for ethics, for improving people’s character.
      A similar charge was made against Hussain (AS): that he defied the authority of earthly gods in the name of justice or God. Socrates gladly accepted his execution, but defended himself during the trial, a defense – Apology – that needs to be read by all, especially those who think that Yazid’s authority shouldn’t have been challenged. Imam Hussain (AS)’s “apology” for refusing to pay allegiance to Yazid is well-known. Its essential spirit is the same as that of great moral thinkers.
      Since some scholars have sought to dilute the importance and sublimity of Hussain’s point of view in the name of political exigency, or pragmatic political wisdom as they conceive it, we need to revisit the moral argument against status quo that Socrates offered to the jury that condemned him to death.
      Socrates was condemned to death because he asked people embarrassing questions on issues such as justice, truth and wisdom. Anyone with any pretension to wisdom, to righteousness was cut to size. He asked people to honour divine matters above everything. He was the gadfly that disturbed the State which, therefore, wanted to remove him.
      Let us read excerpts from Socrates’ Apology to see how Hussain(AS) embodied not only the best in the Abrahamic tradition but also in the Hellenic one:
  • “And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death, and they, too, go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my award - let them abide by theirs.. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my death, punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have restrained: and as they are younger they will be more severe with you, and you will be more offended at them. For if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable. The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. 
  • "....Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth - that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me… For which reason also, I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them. Still I have a favor to ask of them. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, - then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands. The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.”

Friday, 30 October 2015

Martyrdom is the Ideal Life

 By performing the supreme sacrifice of the self one is united with the Eternal, the Infinite.

Hussain’s faith or philosophy states in simple words three points. The greatest adventure or meaning of life lies in death. Time and all its games it plays with us are meaningless except in light of the Eternal. We must die seeking justice and liberation of the Proles ( all the oppressed regardless of colour or creed). All these ideals are Socratic ideals, the greatest philosopher- matyr of history. For Socrates the purpose of philosophy is preparation for death. He refused to take allegiance of the corrupt rule or ask for pardon or even exile to escape death sentence. The spirit of his great Apology recalls the lectures delivered by Imam Hussain(a.s) to his family members and the opponent’s army. The point is that one must respect the call of the conscience. And as Socrates asks, who knows that death is a punishment? He says that he owes a cock to Heaven for the favor of taking away the burden of life. He asks poison maker to hurry up and faces death as if it is the first night with the bride. He makes a great defense of his actions – as does Hussain – and leaves no moral argument to the jury that sentences him. If purpose of life is preparation for death – death in life – so that death loses its sting and one no longer is afraid of death, why not seek martyrdom? Hussain and Socrates both died for truth and justice and freedom of conscience and constitute two great examples for mankind. Those who understand Socrates and elementary lessons of ethics appreciate Hussain’s point in defying Yazid. Yazid’s defense at the hands of certain scholars is never convincing to even any impartial secular historian and if moral and spiritual sublimity is the ground of winning an argument, then history and all great thinkers and poets have given a judgment that Hussain is their hero. I now seek to explain why death/ martyrdom is the ideal life according to both religion and traditional philosophy. We can also then understand why poets have had no difficulty in expressing our collective conscience regarding Hussain(a.s).
      What is the common problem of religion, philosophy and higher art and literature? One could well reply in the words of the Buddha that it is “ suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Why are we born and why do we die? Why have we been hurled into this vale of tears? What is the end of all human endeavors? For the sake of what do we consent to live and suffer? What great object irresistibly drives man on and on and gives direction and meaning to everything? What is that vision that the artist perceives and attempts to communicate? What constitutes man’s deliverance? Where is the final rest or the object of our love and how to seek it? All these questions are reducible to the question of suffering and its cessation. All the countless varieties of suffering and evil, darkness and despair, fret and fever, fears and anxieties and nameless horrors constitute the fact of dukkha from which man is ever attempting to escape. The search for transcendery moment from the fret and fever of life is the raison d’etre of all our endeavours from aesthetic to philosophical. The pull of the Infinite, the manifestation/ actualization or unfolding of the Spirit is what makes the grand history of man. Philosophy is contemplation on death and thus the search for the deathless, the Good, the Unborn and the Unconditioned both in Platonic as well as Indian and even all traditional philosophical traditions.
      What else is the object of religion? And to what end do our poets and artists point out ultimately? We need not answer as we all know it in the depths of our being. It is something that transcends mere life as ordinarily lived on purely animal plane. It is a sort of immortality.
Nothing in the world of becoming ever satisfies him. He is eternally restless. His salvation lies outside the world though he in vain seeks it here in this samsara, in the world of senses and desires and that constitutes his tragedy. God is the unheard melody of which all earthly melodies are a reflection. He is the dance of the spirit, the song of existence, the ideal, the unattainable ideal of all human endeavours.Man has come from God and must return to Him. But he falls too easily to the temptations of Mara and sleeps the sleep of heedlessness. But come to God he must. He must realize nothingness of the self and the Infinity of God. And death of the ego – the essence of martyrdom – is the inescapable path for all of us. We must travel on the road on which Hussain(a.s) travelled. Come what may he has to travel though slowly and painfully on the return path to God as the Quran says. And God does accomplish His ends and He can’t be defeated as the Quran makes clear.
      Even if narrow is the straightway and studded with thorns, even if steep and sharp as razor’s edge is the way of salvation as the Dhammapada says and thinner than the hair’s breadth is the bridge that needs to be crossed over to reach heaven there is no escape from it. This is the vale of soul making even though it happens to be the vale of tears for that purpose. Though created in trouble as the Quran acknowledges man must say yes to the call of the Spirit. Though man’s condition is “inconstancy, weariness, unrest” and finitude his deliverance lies only in transcendence.
      Though born in time and caught up in the whirlpool of samsara he must appropriate the Eternal, the still centre outside the world though it also resides in the depths of our being. Man’s predicament is that he is situated in the realm of Between, between earth and heaven, time and eternity, nothing and everything, beasts and angels, the world of things and the world of spirit, immanence and transcendence, good and evil. He is, as Rumi put it, “midway between, and struggling.” Were reality just the insane ignoble mystery of things as Leopardi fancied and everything reducible to dance of atoms or nothingness, were there no such thing as the good, the sacred, the beautiful and the Infinite, the beatific vision, the bliss of pure consciousness and prayer, our enquiry regarding evil would not proceed beyond a plain or perhaps bitter description of this sorry state of man and life. Men have had experience of the transcendent, the experience of unadulterated bliss. Sages and poets have always sung of the celestial songs celebrating essential goodness of life. All religions are based on the vision of goodness attainable here and now.
      Life is both true and beautiful and in fact blissful and to make this realization possible there have been revelations and messengers. Faith in the goodness and blessedness of life is the only “ dogma” of religion, a conviction born of intuition that is held by all religions. It is goodness and bliss of heaven rather than evil and misery of hell that has the last word in the worldview of all traditional civilizations. All religions are united in the belief of cessation of suffering, of temporality of evil and eternality of goodness and bliss. The absurd declaration that life is a futile passion and existence a surd is only a recent heresy. An incorrigible faith in the sacred mystery of existence and ultimate goodness and blessedness of life ( a proposition that theology expresses by its assertion of God’s goodness) and transience of evil is the universal faith of mankind although this goes along with the emphasis on evil of the desiring self and attachments and all compounded or temporal things. Everything in this world is cursed except the remembrance of God as the Quran says but we must remember that for the gnostic or the Sufi every existent exudes the perfume of the Beloved and it is the Breath of the Compassionate that has created and is sustaining everything. Nothing but God is manifested everywhere. The world becomes indeed the garden of delights, the feast of the Spirit, the primordial Edenic Garden for a unitarian consciousness of a jnani or a Sufi.
      For the consciousness that has transcended the separative and limiting principle of ego and thus time and finitude there is bliss and peace that passeth all understanding. It is the universal experience of seers and prophets ( and to a certain extent of artists) that we can escape finitude, evanescence and mortality though there are tears for misfortune and “ mortal sorrows that touch the heart.” By performing the supreme sacrifice of the self one is united with the Eternal, the Infinite. The cost is great as the self and its desires and the world are so dear to us but the prize is fair and the hope great as Plato said.

Understanding Imam Hussain (AS) in the Post-Nietzschean World

In engaging with the mystery and tragedy of Karbala, such questions as the following are asked: What was God doing when the Prophet’s (PBUH) family suffered a blood-bath? Where is the compensation for the victims? Is there no justice in this world? How can we affirm the whole tragedy without getting profoundly disturbed on moral, aesthetic and religious planes? Isn’t God fully in control and ultimately directing everything towards the Good? If yes, how? Blood, thirst, trampling human dignity – what crime was not committed in Karbala – and still we are required to see divine wisdom? Why is mourning Hussain (AS) such a catharsis if it is pain and sorrow that is relived? How come the mourning procession accomplishes what could be described as an aesthetic miracle for the participants? In order to approach to resolve these questions, let us examine how Nietzsche, one of the most influential of modern philosophers, approached the question of suffering in life, for, it is only at the heights and in the depths of experience that great philosophers contemplate that we can begin to appreciate Hussain (AS) and Karbala.
      The question, ultimately, is how one can be reconciled to life or existence justified. Seeing the harshness of the universe and the tragic character of human life, what justification is there for life? Nietzsche’s famous answer, supposedly thought out in opposition to the traditional Christian answer, is that only an aesthetic justification is possible. We can’t see any palpable meaning or design but should view at the aesthetic plane the whole picture. His Zarathustra accepts everything (the pains and the pleasures) as natural episodes of the world. He has no grudges against existence. Like an artist, he contemplates the creative activity of the cosmic will with perfect equanimity. What fascinated him in the Aeschylean tragedy was its drive beyond the tragic facts themselves to the cosmic background of the mystery. In his attempt to move beyond and conquer tragic pessimism, he thought that the dark side of our life must appear to us in a new light if we accept the inevitability of suffering. He pleads for seeing the world as it might appear to a cosmic artist who expresses himself freely and creatively, and finds joy in self-expression. Tragic myth’s power lies in bringing us to the presence of the one will expressing itself in the world and lets us share in the joy of super-abundant creation. Tragic myth convinces us that “even the ugly and the discordant are merely an aesthetic game which the will, in its utter exuberance, plays with itself.”
      For Nietzsche (as for the Greeks, according to him), transmutation of the world of suffering through the medium of art allowed him to say “yes” to the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. Through the medium of art, life triumphs over death. He championed the Dionysian attitude that triumphantly affirms and accepts existence in all its darkness and horror. Dionysian art wishes to convince us of the eternal joy of existence despite its terrors and absurdity. Existence is made into an object of beauty by rising above the mere pain-and-pleasure principle and freeing man from the terrors and tensions of existence by an ecstatic identification of the self with the source of life, the Cosmic Will. Nietzsche advocates a change in the eyes of the beholder. He envisions a view of life willing and able to take suffering upon itself. His Zarathustra laughs away all the pain that the will to live may necessitate. There is a curious echo of the Buddha’s smile in Zarathustra’s laugh at the apparent absurdity of the world. Nietzsche is well aware that this aesthetic transfiguration of the painful aspects of existence is not the prerogative of ordinary mortals.
      Nietzsche also states that life is essentially appropriation and injury. Let us face this fact besides the point that “suffering is the swiftest horse that takes one to perfection.” In Islamic doctrine, all that happens, including the most tragic or horrible, are the effects of Divine Names. Nietzsche requires from ideal man not just acceptance of the world of suffering but acceptance of a kind that one is capable of willing it to eternally recur. It implies that he accepts that Karbala and martyrdom are repeated eternally and we don’t blink or shudder. He requires love of Fate not simply to endure, but to wish for, the eternal recurrence of all events exactly as they occurred - all the pain and joy, the embarrassment and glory. This sincere love, this unconditional surrender, this superhuman faculty of attention, this absolute trust, comes by practizing the ascetic discipline that Nietzsche, borrowing from mystics, advocated. Try imagining who illustrates such a love of fate, such raza, such patience. Nietzsche himself failed to reach this limit of endurance. His failure to stand up to his own vision is evident from the following confession, as recorded in his diary:
  • “I don’t wish to live again. How have I borne life? By creating. What has made me endure? The vision of the superman, who affirms life. I have tried to affirm life myself - but ah!”
     It is Hussain (AS) who knows the ecstasy of life, of submission to the Divine Will, and martyrdom. In fact, the very perception of beauty necessitates the sacrifice of the self as it is only the object, and perception of beauty demands a serene contemplating consciousness that becomes one with the object in contemplating a beautiful object. It is not the eye of the subject or the self, but the eye of the heart, that can perceive beauty. Aesthetic justification and transfiguration of the world requires doing away with the ego and subject-object dualism. It is achieved by means of an ascetic denial of the will that defines itself in opposition to the universal will. By appropriating divine attributes (that a Muslim, for instance, is required by the Prophet (PBUH) to do: takhallaqu bi akhlaqallah i.e., cultivate the divine attributes or character, he views the world in a way that converges with the view of the cosmic artist.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Karb-o-Bala as the Meaning of Life

Reading Camus and Dostovesky in Muharram.
Albert Camus has presented an influential case for what he called metaphysical rebellion, and cited the reign of injustice, innocent suffering, and failure of reason to comprehend the absurdity of experience and slaughter house that history is as validating such a response. Imam Hussain’s encounter with death and finitude, and all the evil that life has to offer, including misery and death of innocents is exactly opposite. However, in terms of concrete action against injustice or evil, both conclude on the same note. Let us read Camus and then try to ask him, and with him the absurd heroes we find everywhere today loitering in the streets and cafes, the question of meaning of the life of martyrdom.
      Camus’ case is lucidly argued in The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel. He finds no meaning in life – not to speak of in death – and finds that this universe that includes death and suffering of innocents is indifferent or hostile to our aspiration for either comprehending it or finding it meaningful. Within the limits of reason we can’t be reconcile to it. And we shouldn’t take the leap of faith.  And we must rebel against the metaphysical order. Refusing both hope and despair, suicide and murder, resignation and raza, he lands in a position of defiance. Camus quotes Dostoevsky's Ivan in his The Rebel: "If the suffering of children serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onwards that truth is not worth such a price." "All the knowledge in the world is not worth child’s tears." As Camus puts Ivan’s position: "He doesn’t say that there is no truth. He says that if truth does exist it can only be unacceptable. Why? Because it is unjust.” “Ivan incarnates refusal to salvation. Faith leads to immortal life, but faith presumes the acceptance of the mystery and of evil and resignation to injustice.” As part of his own Christian-mystic self, Dostoevsky presents Alyosha, a saintly brother of Ivan, whose noble ethic recalls  ethic of Hazrat Ali(a.s) and his sons. (In fact, according to one opinion, he is modeled on Ali).
      Life, for Camus, is thankless Sisyphian task. He finds reason impotent “when it hears this cry from the heart. The world itself, whose single meaning I don't understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: 'all is clear' all would be saved."  The absurd born of the confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world must not be forgotten. Absurd must ever be kept alive. This is what dignity of man requires.
      Camus is neither reconciled to earth nor to heaven. The totality of existence he is not able to accept stoically or heroically. He is simultaneously for life and yet against it if considered in its totality because he is unable to accept death as part of life. He can laugh but he can’t accept to weep. He is sad why our desires, our grand ambitions get frustrated. 
      Religious response, as illustrated in Hussain (AS), is no simple hope that all will be well. It is developing eyes to see that all is well. It is seeing as God sees and accepting our role as slaves of God, as actors in a film directed by God. No desire, no will to dictate or advise God. No complaints. Utter gratitude for all things. Defiance against human constructions, against injustice only.
      A sense of oneness with Proletariat – all the oppressed people (Proles, the root of Proletrait, as Eagleton notes, originally means all the oppressed). Religious man isn’t resigned; he is involved in great endeavour of saying yes to the crushing burden of personality. He is the yes sayer that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is. Life of the spirit is the life of creativity, of love.The religious person accepts fate and the world as divine. He blesses existence in true Nietzschean sense.
      Camus can’t imagine what is so obvious for the mystic -- the world as his own exteriorized self. Camus only knows his self as a centre of suffering, as irreducible and undeniable subjectivity, an empirical self, an ego. Of the Self of which Socrates spoke, and to which mysticism and religions address is hardly glimpsed by him. Where Dostoevsky finds God in love and Buber in relations, Sartre, Camus’ one time friend defines hell as the other. Only in self giving, in martyrdom, in “shahadat gahi ulfat” is God or Heaven, Hussain announces. Needless to say, it is Hussain’s martyrdom that has been celebrated by mankind, by men as diverse as Gandhi and Nehru.
      Camus’ heroes die unreconciled. Hussain and his great family have no complaints. In attitude towards death is the final test of a philosophy. Visiting graveyards to contemplate death is the great wazeefa Heidegger suggests to modern man. Hussain’s mourners are ready to injure themselves and very few are ready to die in life, die to the ego. We are all required to be martyrs if we belong to Islam and its Hussains. And that martyrdom is saying no to ego and unconditional yes to other, to love.
      The important point is that the rebel doesn’t and cannot rebel against life itself. He consents to live despite logic. As Camus quotes Ivan “I live in spite of logic.” Logic demands suicide  but neither Ivan nor Camus would accept this. Ivan will live, then, and will love as well ‘without knowing why’. When the meaning of life has been suppressed, there still remains life.” The point is what does religion demand if not only life, more life, larger life, eternal life. Martyrdom is exchanging life of cowardice and cunning and beggary for life of an adventurer of Spirit. It is to let the exiled Beauty shine forth. 
      The kingdom of God is found when our will is in harmony with cosmic will or God’s will, to use theological language. Religion frees man from angst of choosing as well as from the traps of bad faith by asking him to surrender his will and thus find freedom in God’s will. Not ours but heavenly father’s will be done as Jesus put it.  Properly understood, this is the way to defeat the “absurdity” of life. Religion is innocence of becoming, and choiceless awareness as sages have always interpreted it. Faith is innocence, innocence of becoming,  a song of love, transcendence of ego and other directed ego fortifying, action. It denounces all utopianism and all heroism and all supermanism. It consents to die unheard, unnoticed. It requires no triumph, no trophies, no recognition.
      We have no choice and warrant to take arms against the cosmic or metaphysical order as we are part of that Tao and would imply denying oneself and life thereby. But it is in the name of life we defy or seek explanations. Reason itself that gives its verdict is part of this order. Tears of children are part of this order. Reason doesn’t comprehend it sure but heart, that has “its own reasons which reason doesn’t know” as Pascal said, does. A shower from Heaven erases all memory of pain one previously felt as Dostovesky’s story in The Brothers Karamazarov seeks to show. No complaints when the Beloved finally gives audience.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Unveiling the Veil

Looking at the practice of Hijab in the light of modern alternative interpretations.
Regarding the issue of veil I have been puzzled by a few questions. Here it goes:
  • Why it evokes strong responses for and against, to the extent that Muslim society is polarized on this
  • Shouldn’t a woman ask herself why a man arrogates to himself the right to advocate for veil, speak in the name of God, and use persuasion or coercion to keep a woman in line with his conception of her body?
  • Why there have hardly been any influential women exegetes, or women fuqaha in our tradition? Have women chosen silence or been silenced?
  • Is the right question today whether women should be veiled or not, or it is of identifying and fighting every symbol of gender injustice imposed in the name of religion?
  • Why particular form of dress becomes an issue impacting sometime sacred relationships like marriage or choice of mate?
Today I propose to look at certain influential modernist Muslim interpretations to state the point that there are alternative perceptions (though they need to be scrutinized, as we need to scrutinize so-called traditional view that is assumed to be closer to the scripture) and ask why this is largely unknown in popular discourse but in practice widely adopted. If practice of veil or hijab has waned due to forces of modernity that impact us all, guilt that kills remains there for many. The question is therefore does God care or it is only certain men and fewer women who care, and why? I will not review Marnia Lazreg’s passionate and eloquent text Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women (that needs to be read alongside such works as Syed Moududi’s Purdah to appreciate how polarized the sensibilities are, deconstructing almost all the key arguments of the latter but how both leave ultimately to conscience the final verdict on choosing hijab and face veil respectively) this time but only revisit arguments of some well known modern Muslim scholars.
      Muhammad Asad, noted modern Quran commentator, has argued that woman is not required to observe the veil. Murad Hoffman, another celebrated name, has eloquently put the case for so-called Westernized image of women in Islam in the 21st century. Asghar Ali Engineer quotes Asad’s interpretation “What may be apparent thereof” in detail and is reproduced below, along with his translation of verse 24:31:
  • And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms (in public) beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their head coverings over their bosoms….” 
My interpretation of the word ‘decently’ reflects the interpretation of the phrase illa ma zahara minha by several of the earliest Islamic scholars, and particularly by Al-Qiffal (quoted by Razi) as “that which a human being may openly show in accordance with prevailing customs (al-‘adah al-jariyah)’ Although the traditional exponents of Islamic law have for centuries been inclined to restrict the definition of ‘what may [decently] be apparent thereof’ to a woman’s face, hands and feet—and sometimes even less than that—we may safely assume that the meaning of illa ma zahara minha is much wider and that the deliberate vagueness of this phrase is meant to allow for all the time bound changes that are necessary for a man’s moral and social growth. The pivotal clause in the above injunction is the demand, addressed in identical terms to men as well as to women, to ‘lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity’ and this determines the extent of what, at any given time, may legitimately—in consonance with the Quranic principles of social morality—be considered ‘decent’ or ‘indecent’ in a person’s outward appearance.
      Although Asad’s translation/interpretation has not gone uncensored from other scholars, a large number of influential scholars from Albani to Fazlur Rahman and Ghamdi have forcefully questioned usual practice in favour of face veil (in theory face veil as such is not mandatory according to traditional schools as well but the clause “in the age of fitna face veil is called for” is added by many Ulama) though Ghamidi extends the argument against absolute warrant for veiling hair. Ghamdhi’s point, however, is contested by even “moderates” amongst traditional scholars such as Qardawi who think that the debate is closed on this issue. But for the modernists the question is not closed in theory. But note the irony that, most educated Muslim women have, in practice and often with some load of guilt, adopted it! One wonders what the moving spirit of time does to one’s dearly held convictions. Thus we see some women activists and scholars have even sought to explain away traditional emphasis on head covering of women! This might look unorthodox or shocking but I wonder why the practice of abandoning hijab by otherwise religiously oriented Muslim women doesn’t raise eyebrows as it once used to. Once burqa was uncontested and now even hijab raises questions! Is it the fact that social pressure or modernity’s onslaught is too forceful to let the voice of orthodoxy prevail? The pressure of seeking a job or mate or working in modern institutions might make one deaf to all sermons. But the question of guilt must be dealt with as it is killing. If no guilt is experienced it might be because one is either consciously adopting a modernist interpretation that is not totally unwarranted or one is indifferent to religion and both the possibilities are rare.
      For Asad the Quran is primarily particular about not uncovering the breasts. This conception of veil that allows prevailing custom (and fashion) to determine limits of modesty will hardly be incompatible with highly “Westernized” Muslim women’s outlook. Traditional veil is almost liquidated out. Burqa or scarf or full sleeved dress is what is often in question but here it appears that these questions will not arise.
      Mohammed Ali discussing the issue of veil concludes: “This settles conclusively that Islam never enjoined the veil or covering of face.” Asghar Ali Engineer takes the point to logical conclusion in the following words:

  • However, it is also obvious that any scriptural text is read within one’s socio-cultural context. An almost unanimous opinion of all classical commentators indicates that in their socio-cultural context, keeping the face and hands open was considered permissible. The Prophet also advised accordingly. Keeping the hair exposed was perhaps considered sexually inviting and hence prohibited. But the Quranic verse doesn’t expressly state this. It has been deliberately left unspecified.
       All this needs to be read along with Schuon’s eloquent defense of symbolism (not necessarily form in practice) of veil that helps understand traditional position defended by mainstream Ulama better without implying warrant for taking their strong pronouncements on face value. Without passing judgment over the debate for or against veil (Let us recall Jesus saying “Judge not”) I conclude that in our tradition there is a scope for divergent views and none can claim to be the final truth or most authoritative. Let us ask how strict we are in guarding our own gaze rather than seek to impose a particular definition where things are left ambiguous by the Revelation. I conclude with a quote:
  • The politicization of the veil—its forced removal or its legal enforcement (as in Iran and Saudi Arabia)—hampers women’s capacity to make a decision freely, just as it also compels them to abide by an intrusive law at the expense of their own conscience and judgment. More important, it contributes to confounding the veil question by defining it unambiguously as religious, even when the religious texts lack clarity and determinacy in the matter.
      Isn’t it a height of indecency that decency and conscience have become political questions? Isn’t it both ignorance and arrogance that makes one claim finality for one’s interpretations of Law? Let us debate rather than call names to those who differ on issues God has chosen not to unambiguously clarify.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hafiz And Questions

Speak of happiness and wine
And seek not the riddle of the universe,
For no one has, nor will
Unveil this mystery through wisdom

Hafiz, also known as the Lisan-ul-Ghaib, is considered the greatest poet of the Persian language. Once upon a time, Kashmir also produced great poets and scholars of Farsi, and it was our privileged language, but gradually the Persian colour of our culture has faded. The result is that our new generation is not familiar with the giants that constituted a presence on our literary horizon. In the old times, even illiterate people could quote from the Persian classics. Sa'adi was a part of the syllabus. After reading him at school, one could not afford to be mean and degenerate the way we find illustrated everywhere today. We need to revive the taste for the Persian language and its literature. It constitutes a truly treasured education that many great names across the world advocate. Some of the greatest Western poets were all praise for Hafiz. People here would take guidance related to the future (faal) from his Diwan.
      The recent polarization along Salafi-Sufi lines in Kashmir is not unconnected to the exclusion of Persian. Our older generations could quote freely from the Persian masters, and that neutralized exclusivist or intolerant ideologies. Those nurtured in the ambience of the Persian classics had an enriched life to live, and needed no sermons.
Here are a few verses from Hafiz for a glimpse into his work:
 Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside when you can finally live
With Veracity and Love.
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything but Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do is sacred.
How do I
listen to others?
As if everyone were my Master
speaking to me his
cherished last
One needs to read Martin Buber’s I and Thou (counting among a dozen greatest books on religion and ethics written in the 20th century) to understand this point. Just a quote from him here: When a person encounters another person in total immediacy, he or she may also experience a glimpse of God.”
If God
invited you to a party
and said,

in the ballroom tonight
will be my special
How would you then treat them
when you
Indeed, indeed!
And Hafiz knows
there is no one in this world
who is not upon
His jeweled dance
Hafiz tells us the essence of ethics in one verse: don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and then do anything, and that will be lawful in his sharia. He gives love its due and that solves all problems. Reading a ghazal from Hafiz everyday in our homes, the way some other texts are read in certain homes, would make us and our children better humans, help us fight prejudices and the evils that flow from our attachment to the ego and not heeding the call for self-transcendence or love.
      Hafiz is no Epicurean, as a literalist reading would make him appear to be. He is a mystic. From the earliest times till today, religious scholars (including, in the twentieth century, the renowned Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi) have interpreted Hafiz on mystical lines. But mystic or not, the fact remains that Hafiz is the world’s greatest exponent of the ghazal. Such is the quality of his verse that when five individuals associated with the court of Timur were commissioned to select from his Diwan to prepare a shorter collection to be published under state patronage for larger public consumption, they were unable to edit out even a single verse. Compare this to our modern-day poets, especially mushaira poets. It needs hard thinking to select just one verse the state could publish at its own expense for a general readership.
      Hafiz has melody, beauty and sublimity. He is the poet of poets. He has “answers” to all our anxieties. We can all take a faal whenever we are in doubt with regard to our existential issues. This faal isn’t for predicting the future but for helping us live in the present. The access to love that Hafiz facilitates is the elixir and solution to our problems. All problems are ultimately traceable to (our) failure to open up to love in its full sense, Dostoevsky and Iris Murdoch tell us. All events we experience are coded messages from God telling us “I love you,” Simone Weil says.