Friday, 25 July 2014

Bereft of Rationality?

How do we approach our important issues? Either emotionally or with certain prejudices. We hardly address the problems with calm, rationality, philosophically, scientifically. Why? Part of the reason is, we are not taught to think. Our school curriculum doesn’t include philosophy. Our madrassas are not giving enough attention to logic and its applications though there is a rich tradition of teaching logic in these institutions. How irrational is our approach can be seen by analyzing street or facebook gossip. How many varying opinions we have regarding almost all important issues which call for serious understanding rather just an illogical opinion. We have many conflicting narratives regarding role of Sheikh Abdullah in our history or hartal politics or poll participation or role of Pirs and Shrines or use of loudspeakers in Mosques other than Azaan .  Sectarianism in religion is an offshoot of this problem of failure to think rationally. As a community we are guilty of confusion between opinion and truth. We know Socrates fought against Sophists who could defend or reject any opinion they were interested in thinking there is no objective truth on which there can be a consensus.
We illustrate the mess by noting heated debates over use of loudspeakers. A philosophical attitude would have settled the issue. Let us ask the following questions? Does Islam call for or require using loudspeakers as is the practice today? Does Islam allow disturbing the sick or children or students? Does Islam enjoin or reject show off of piety? Does Islam allow unrestricted or unnecessary use of energy or electricity? If the answer to all these questions   is a firm no, how come we are still debating the issue? In fact does it need anything but common sense to give a sound verdict in these cases?
Leaving aside the question of juristic permission for or against anything, let us consider the point that we are living in a global world and are required to address and deal with other religious communities and be torchbearers of the Truth. It means we must learn to use currently acceptable idiom or language and thus fulfill the Quranic dictum that calls for using Mouizatun Hassana and Hikmah while addressing and dealing with the Other. We can refute other’s positions in cool objective rational manner. Otherwise we will be called intolerant.  Ghazzali used philosophical idiom or arguments to critique Greek philosophy. Ibn Taymiyyah too did the same ( used logical argument and not just fatwa) to refute Aristotelian logic. As Muslims we need to study philosophy because we are rational creatures, because the Quran links our salvation to right use of intelligence, because we have a great legacy of philosophers in our history, because we want to speak to modern educated minds that are influenced by philosophical orientation or questions, because we have to live today in the world that is shaped by philosophy and science, because the Prophet of Islam(SAW) as a teacher of Hikmah called for learning or gaining knowledge and called for love of wisdom, for perfection of virtues, for preparation for death.What else can be termed philosophy in the traditional sense apart from these things.
Today Dawah work needs philosophical approach, at least in certain parts of the world or certain sections of addressees. If one doubts this it means one is living in medieval age and has not heard of Nietzsche or Heidegger or Freud or Derrida.
If philosophy or love of wisdom or preparation for death or perfection of virtues are important for salvation (these are synonymous for traditionalist historians of philosophy and for those who have cared to read ancient philosophers of any tradition with any seriousness), then how come one can deny it as part of Islam? If Islam endorses Hikmah and even if we grant it a moral-spiritual aspect only but not the intellectual one as usually understood in terms of philosophy, one opens the room for philosophy.
In sum, there is no escape from the need to learn philosophical method as a community and as specialists of Dawah, as preachers, as imams. The question is who bothers to make an effort to learn and disseminate rational philosophical attitude today?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ayaz Nazki and his Postmodern Poetry

Dealing with the phenomenon of modernity has been a tricky affair and poses a grave question to all the traditional cultures. In fact current crisis in the Muslim world is primarily attributable to problematic response to this question.
Modernity means many things with divergent constructions of it. However what suffices here to note is that it is rejection of fundamentalist ideologies of all sorts. This is especially true about its new incarnation- the postmodernity. It is synonymous with relentless questioning. The great implication of Enlightenment Project for the Western world has been keeping the critical spirit alive and subjecting everything to rational inquiry.
Modern man asks questions. Nothing can silence him. He can’t relinquish his hard won freedom to question. However certain contradictions in the modernity project led to current age of postmodernity that is characterized by loss of faith in big claims made by previous ideologues of science and exoteric religion or social and political ideologies like Marxism. It preserves right to doubt, to say, with Beckett, perhaps or on the contrary when any opinion is imposed on it. None can claim to represent God or speak with arrogance on questions divine in the postmodern world. Postmodern world is more humble, more open to other marginilized voices. It has no heroes but exposes violence in often advocated moral ideals, especially when they become absolutist or dogmatic. The postmodern world is not rationalist in the way prophets of modernity advocated. Modernity embarked on ruthless critique of tradition but postmodernity is allowing the marginilized traditional voice of faith, of alternative sciences, of tribal worldview, of archaic wisdom, to express itself.
Kashmiri culture is fortunately better positioned to face the question of modernity and appropriate the postmodern mood because it was never fundamentalist. Inheriting Persian mystic sensibility and rich diversity of Buddhist-Saivist-Islamic heritage and more aesthetically than cognitively oriented, ours has been a more nuanced, more open, more tolerant culture. As a Hafiz or a Khayam or an Ibn Arabi would appropriate the cultural or religious other based on more fluid mystic sensibility, a Kashmiri philosopher or mystic who shares the mystic’s language of the Self too would be comfortable with the divergent voices asking to be heard in a world where justice is never done or truth has no copyrighted formulation. Although our Sufi poets provide us with basic armoury for engaging with certain challenges in the postmodern world, we need a more nuanced modern or postmodern appropriations of the mystical as we see in such poets and critics as Rehman Rahi. We have amongst more recent  generation of poets some noteworthy figures who can help us to articulate our predicament and move forward. One such remarkable figure is Prof. Ayaz Nazki.
Many Kashmiri poets have only heard of postmodernity. Few know it inside out. And fewer have responded to it or appropriated it in poetry attempting to marry the tradition they have inherited with new mood and have done this without much formal readings of it. Nazki belongs to the last group. We have few poets who are also well read and equally capable researchers and could write columns, novels, travelogues and cultural history. We have very few poets who write equally well in both Kashmiri and Urdu. Nazki is amongst these few.
Ayaz has been able to carve his own distinctive niche  (“Ayaz qadri khud bishinaas”) that may be called postmodern and traditional at the same time without being fully identifiable with either. His Urdu poetry has been favourably reviewed but I think his Kashmiri poetry is no less interesting. I offer some general comments on his work.
Ayaz is an author of an unpublished novel that deserved to be published long back as it is the first of its kind successfully deploying the technique of magic realism that made Marquis so charming and world famous and that was later appropriated by postmodernists dares to use history as metaphor or recreates a history of Kashmir as none has attempted to recreate in a symbolic space. What makes him stand out is iconic postmodern style.  Shaam sae pahalae is a postmodern image that forms the title of his Urdu collection. His columns are most characteristically sceptical analyses of current discourses. He deploys wit and humour to question what is sold in the marketplace.
Here is a sample of postmodern Kashmiri poetry.
Wuddi chus zalaan chain navaey, mushkin adfar dourer choan
Naer wahraavith praran oas, kemres ander dourer choan
Soantes herdes kun anhaar, preth kaenh menzer dourer choan
Ayaz, as a postmodern poet, has been living and negotiating conflicting identities and spaces. Quite conscious of his own failings, he is convinced that none is a moral-intellectual hero around to deserve the fate of Socrates. Yaeti ti kus oas thakidar pazruk, gov apuz az ti kamyab, mae kya (Who is the guardian of truth here? Truth has been defeated again, what can I do?)  He is quite conscious of the trap of illusions like those of self, intellectuality. Ayaz saebin laash laibikh, paiy cha si kem ek daer moar. (Ayaz’s corpse has been found, who knows which sect killed him?) Longing for the ideals of Sufism and even didactically batting for them he finds this path difficult in practice.
Lucid, delightful, witty, self-reflexive, dexterous about form, Ayaz gives voice to paradoxes and contradiction that living in Kashmir and being a poet of far off things embody. Ayaz gives voice to this age that has practically though not theoretically lost convictions – moral, intellectual and political. Chelha wudwun janawaar, chelha chus ma chelnes waar, baend gov reth tae tham-i-hawa, shah khaarun gae kreeth katha. I wonder, how he manages to be successful in the world where “worldly wisdom” is required.
Ayaz’s idea of Self is both postmodern and mystical: Brem mensaewith, ham phutravith, aabes wouth, naeb nishaani yi naav chae yeeraan, allah hu.( Transcending ego, erasing all signs of identity, the boat of the self is drowning, That alone is true, Allah hu).
He  has some beautiful Sufi poems. He is not known to be a Sufi poet though but does share Sufi sensibility. Asi wuch kem kem sir asrar. (What secrets have been vouchsafed to us). Again, he has a postmodern caveat: he acknowledges it is a dream experience only.
The fact that Ayaz succeeds best as a poet of ghazals perhaps again illustrates both his eastern sensibility and postmodern orientation that assimilate polar extremes of experience, all kinds of little stories, questions and “contradictions.” He has no self to sell any constructed grand story or ideology. For him life is best approached in aesthetic terms, again something that allies him with both mystics and postmodernists.
Seeking in art or creative act an anchor to move or dissolve existential questions, Ayaz has built beautiful castles of art in such wonderful poems as “Marmar Geet.”  In postmodern times it is art that offers for many less problematic language to live by.

The Feast of Mystery

Wonder that lies at the heart of philosophy is understandable as Mystery

It can be safely asserted that more than 99% people are blind – blind to the mystery and grandeur of things, heedless of the signs of God that all things in virgin nature are. We see things but not God’ signs or the Mystery that vivifies soul because they partake of the Mystery called God. 
What is the food of the human soul? There are various answers but what is common to all of them is Mystery. In fact mystery is the reverberation of Infinity in all beauty. Wonder that lies at the heart of philosophy is understandable as Mystery. Fundamentalism is wrong because it seeks to claim possession of this Mystery. So is rationalism that wants to explain everything and demystify the world. Against the both, saints and poets have always stood for profound awe and opening to Mystery all around us. In fact the keynote of Islam as of other religions is respect and acknowledgment for Mystery. 
Let us ask what do we know? The structure of quarks? The depths and breadths of cosmos? The reasons for love and love of beauty? Our passion for arts and poetry? Our subjectivity? The person before us? Mother’s love and sacrifice? Our deepest convictions? Why we were born and why we die? Our destiny or secret of taqdir? Do we know our own spouse or the unique individuality of any person? We don’t know how life with all its manifestations came to be though we have untestable hypotheses of scientists. Do we  know God, the angels, the otherworld in the name of which some exploit us? Zindagi teray ma’soom sae sawaloon sae pareeshan hu mein. Science offers no answers when we penetrate deeper into the how questions or seek to comprehend totalities, and why questions. Science explains in terms of lower order entities which in turn it explains in terms of further lower order entities and a stage comes when the process ends in silence or ignorance and we are told it is as it is. And this is precisely how God is understood in the Bible “I am that I am” as God answers Moses when asked on whose behalf he will go to Pharoah. Nagarjuna has famously shown that no answer given by rational faculty to ontological or existential questions  is free from contradiction. Last station for Sufis like Ibn Arabi is one of wonder. 
Omar Khayyam is one of the greatest poet-philosophers of Islam. Keynote of his Rubbiyyat is that we don’t know answers to deeper questions and those who claim to know can’t e trusted.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door as I went

Hafiz made a similar point in his famous verse that states that none has been able to unlock the mystery at the heart of existence. 
The Quran calls God as Mystery and believers of all traditions are required to affirm the primordial mystery (Yuminoon-a-bil-gayyyib). God has been understood as depth or unfathomable mystery of things. If we could grasp God as we grasp other facts he would not be a God worthy of worship. God is a mystery or He is nothing, says W T Stace, a great mystical philosopher. Here are reproduced a few passages from a perennialist author John Herlihy’s essay “Hidden Sanctuaries: Unveiling the Spirituality of the Natural World” on role of mystery in human life and these make us realize why modern science’s attempt at demystifying the universe has been fraught with great dangers for us. We need mystery to live.
“One question we need to ask during this modern era: How do we understand the word “mystery” and how does it define and shape the way we understand ourselves and the world we live in? Many people today may even be surprised by a question that has little relevance to their daily lives. Today, who is prepared to assert that there are mysteries surrounding us that will never be resolved, mysteries that actually heighten human consciousness, mysteries that promise alternative worlds and a deeper experience of life than we could ever imagine on our own. The question of mystery and its power to resolve the human dilemma no longer inspires the modern psyche. The modernist mentality of today wants answers not questions, facts that neutralize the mystery pertaining to our origins and final end through scientific speculation, when once there was a time when certain questions were not asked lest a person risk destroying the very forces that keep us asking them.
On the surface, the question of mystery is profoundly simple; we ask it because its subtle inscrutability confronts us at every turn and stimulates the desire to discover what lies at the heart of the human condition. On the other hand, the question of mystery is quite simply profound, so deep that although it will never be resolved within this world, it fuels the desire to transcend human limitations. Elements of the mysterious substantiate for humanity an ancient purpose to life’s procession through time; that which is knowable or provable through the evidence of human investigation is superseded by an ancient mystery—amysterium tremendum—that positions us within a framework of time that does not pass us by and that creates an ambiance of wonder and bewilderment that opens onto the grace and beatitude of the supra-natural.

From within the cosmic wilderness there is placed within each person an initial spark—call it a form of energy, a vibration, a sound or a light—that initiates the line of human inquiry into the cosmic mystery. It is a spark that begins as a mystery, that becomes a hidden secret of the Supreme Being, that flowers into a revelation of the essential knowledge of God, that enters into the human soul as an eternal flame, that expresses itself as worship and praise of the Divinity, and that ultimately reflects through human virtue the qualities and attributes of God. Before a person can adopt a religious tradition, before any active participation in the life of the spirit, and before any true understanding of the role of a personal identity within a universal plan, this spark and the mystery it represents must be acknowledged and then confronted.
At the heart of the cosmic universe lies a fundamental mystery that will never be resolved on the human plane of existence. Yet this mystery, like a lingering scent, stirs up desires and emotions that lead us to the edge, not of some forlorn darkness, but of an ineffable light that illuminates a vast universe of aspiration and hope, a mystery that will witness the destiny of humankind as cloud-covered mountain peaks witness the valleys to which they are enjoined.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Missing Dimensions of Peace

According to the nature of things, peace can’t be attained without peace within. Without making peace with Heaven, there can be no peace on earth. Without clearing our debts we owe to God, there can be no real freedom.
We are in the loss, the Quran declares making exception for the select few who take care of their souls. Today we talk about peace in political terms but have forgotten its metaphysical or spiritual ground. Let us clarify why we must shift the focus and not put cart before the horse.
In Islam God is called As-Salaam and Islam is said to be derived from the root “slm” that implies peace achieved by submission. What is to be submitted is human will, individual autonomy, the world of centrifugal desires and passions. Fasting is one of the mechanism for achieving this end. Our deepest desire is to find peace and Heaven is where peace reigns and the greeting of Islam is also call for peace. Now this peace is an aspect of spirit/consciousness that constitutes our deepest reality. Peace is an attribute of purified consciousness and every religious ritual is ultimately directed to achieving this purified consciousness. Unless we have achieved control over unruly passions and self directed effort that ordinarily constitutes our sole activity in the world centric life, we can’t  go for jihad or establish God’s dominion that revivalist movements in Islam have sought.
In Islam prayer, fasting, zakat and even Haj are all subservient to the ideal of achieving proximity to God which effectively means accessing the World of Spirit/Peace. A saint is defined in terms of Ananda nature – how much peace he or she radiates by his or her very presence. A golden test for one’s credentials as spiritual Master or rightly guided Leader is how much harmony or peace has been achieved by the person.
The Quran declares that peace can come only from remembrance of God. Today fasting is one way of remembering God. But how many of us are happy when Ramadan is extended by one day? How many of us are happy with the discipline of senses that fasting seeks to realize? Don’t we wish there were lesser hours of fasting? All this means we fail to achieve peace with ourselves, our desires, our passions. So how can peace be there in the outer world if it is not within us.

Let us come back to the concrete question of achieving peace in Kashmir today. One may first note that the problem of peace is almost global. Worldwide there is a conflict of interests, classes, economies, ideologies and all these conflicts are ultimately traceable to wrong view of self and failure of achieving proper submission as demanded by religion. We fight for some kind of nationalistic ideology. Kashmiri nationalism or Indian/Pakistani nationalism is part of the problem and linked to wrong view of self and other. We fight for certain exclusivist version or our interpretation of  Islam – many Muslim fighters from Syria  and Iraq to Afghanistan and Kashmir invoke guarding Islam against the ideological or religious other. This again is based on a questionable view of Islam or religion in relation to other traditional religions and at root of much of sectarian conflict today.
We seek such goals as development that is based on war against nature or at least certain technological view of nature as something of a resource to be used, as an It rather than a Thou, as something that deserves recognition and respect in its own terms. All slogans of vikaas (prosperity) are rapist in origin – nothing short of raping mother earth is required to fuel so-called growth engine. Our economy is linked to increasing growth and GDP and not maximizing Gross Domestic Happiness or Peace. An economy that seeks maximization of profit, that involves manipulation of currencies, that takes inflation as something given, that has no problem in counting production of war machinery or narcotics or we have the largest faith healing  and black magic industry in the subcontinent. Here neighbours, even relatives, are suspected for disturbing our domestic peace and people throng occultist practitioners. All this supposes a view of other that is exact negation of our professed Sufi ideal of sulhikul, of “ekhtchetibayi bi gezermiba/habbaya chi gumanae/ hukustibikus/tilwan chi kus.
We have increasing population of drug addicts implying people seek short cuts to inner peace and these prove disastrous. We face such problems as  juvenile delinquency, divorce, alienated parents and families  and all these are linked to failure to find peace in normal rhythms of life. It means we have failed to properly orient our lives to the Centre or God. In the end every problem is one of ignorance. We pursue power and thus disturb harmony and peace that lies in the depths of our being because we don’t know that our real nature is Unruffled Consciousness, the still point beyond time. The question is what are we doing to get  the missing dimension that grounds peace? Kashmir problem has these ignored dimensions as well. A free Kashmir without free or virtuous souls – and everything today seems to conspire to destroy these souls – is not really free.

Dare to Think

Reading Islam with Sufis and philosophers
There are some who have no doubts, or think they know perfectly the meaning of scripture, and are content with more or less literalist understanding. They think they have all the answers. This piece is not for them. This piece is dedicated to all those who are unable to ignore doubts regarding Islam preached in market place and have become agnostics or somehow pass on carrying their doubts with them. It is also written for those who find parts of Law difficult and go on with guilty conscience for what appears to them as breaking it. It is for those who don’t forget that above every scholar is a greater one. 
The Prophet’s constant prayer for showing him things as they really are, Hazrat Abu Bakr’s great saying that gnosis consists in knowing that the Absolute can’t be known, traditional practice of adding Wallahu aalam bissawab (God knows better) after we give our opinion,, flourishing of scores of schools or shades of opinion on legal, philosophical, theological issues in the history of Islam – all show there may be only provisional answers to many questions and no uniformity is required by God from us on many issues. 
Why thinking or tafakkur is needed to understand scripture is lucidly answered by Mulla Sadra thus: “The Quranic revelation is the light which enables one to see. It is like the sun which casts light lavishly. Philosophical intelligence is the eye that sees this light and without this light one cannot see anything. If one closes one’s eyes, that is, if one pretends to pass by philosophical intelligence, this light itself will not be seen because there will not be any eyes to see it.”
Now let us try to heed certain questions that help to deepen the understanding of the given issues. 

Notion of Shahadah
How strange that few note Islamic kalima doesn’t exactly constitute a creed. W C Smith has explained the point in his various writings. In shahadah one gives witness of God is one…. How come one can give witness when one has not seen Him? Witness is given of what one knows? So who says shahdah? And the Quran gives a hint when it calls God Shahid.
Cave of Hira 
Mawlana Amin Ahsan says it is cave of thinking or cave of contemplation. The Prophet (SAW) was engaged in very serious business there. 
Notion of Anul Haqq
Rumi explains the anul-haqq of Hallaj by comparing him to a piece of iron in the fire: the red, glowing iron calls out “I am fire” and yet its substance is still iron, not fire. As Schimmel explains in one of her Gifford lectures: “ For no absolute union between man and God is possible as long as the material, bodily aspects of creature persist.”  For Rumi “I am Truth” implies great humility on part of Mansoor.
The Prophet’s Age
Why the Prophet entered history in 6-7 century  AD? According to Ibn Arabi, “he entered history in the sign of Libra, which means that he inaugurated a new age in the sign of justice, that is, he struck the balance between the legalism of Moses and the mildness of Jesus.” Now astrological symbolism including symbolism of palmistry – on our hands 99 names of God are imprinted if we see 81 and 18 in Arabic script engraved on them – has today been largely forgotten by Muslims. 
Prohibition of Painting
Deeper reason for prohibition of painting human images is, in the words of a poet:
The sharia prohibits painting because It is impossible to paint your beauty.

Prohibition of Music ?
Let us read Farabi, Khusro, Mawlana Azad (in the closing paragraph of his Gubair Khatir), Luya al-Faruqi, Nasr, Burckhardt, Muhammad Jafar Shah Phulwari, Ghamdi  and other great scholars on the issue to put the question in proper perspective, and appreciate a different view than currently popular that puts a blanket ban on it. In fact I would suggest reading both Mufti Shafi’s and Phulwari’s texts identically titled Islam aur Moosiqi  for better comparative understanding of divergence in opinion. I quote Hubbi’s apt formulation: saz-o-santoor dahrayey/der shariat noa chuyaey/aashiqan tee bas chuyae
Notion of Satan
Read Rumi, who calls him Khawja-i-Ahli Firaq (The Master of Lovers), and Iqbal on it. One Kashmiri Sufi equation reads Satan as shae taan or six senses (that distract or delude us). 

Heaven and Resurrection
We finds “all-too-human descriptions of Paradise and their endless variations in the works of fanciful preachers” being criticized by both philosophers and mystics as pointed out by Anamerie Schimmel in Deciphering the Signs of God. To quote her: “The philosophers denied bodily resurrection (Avicenna) or taught that a simulacrum would be supplied (Averroes) or stated that only the soul survives; rather the souls of highly-developed thinkers and knowledgeable people will live on, while the simple souls, like grass, are destroyed at death. These ideas in a different key, resurface in Iqbal’s philosophy.”  While views of philosophers have been criticized and one may best turn to more mystically oriented thinkers like Al-Jili and Mulla Sadra for better or deeper meaning of eschatological notions. Samani has written “Why would you want to settle in a place which your father Adam sold for a grain.” Ghalib said: “Paradise which the mullah covets: a withered nosegay in the niche of forgetfulness of us who have lost ourselves.” Iqbal has said: “If our salvation means to be free from quest,/the tomb would be better than such an afterlife.” Heaven is no holiday for him and once the journey to God is finished, the infinite journey in God begins. I invite readers troubled by such questions as taqdir, reason of our coming here,  meaning or rationale of Adam’s Fall, Shab-i-Qadr, religious diversity ( majority of humans never come to know about Islam in the sense that is compelling and would warrant their reversion to it. A great number of people including tribals never come to know even of its name), suffering of innocent children, to such treasures of Islamic intellectual tradition as Al Jili’s Al-Insanil Kamil (The Perfect Man) and Mulla Sadra’s  Asfaar  and for those who may find them difficult to Taileem-I Gousa that presents the essence of teachings of Gous Ali Shah Qalandar. Nothing explains better the question of taqdir than the last mentioned book.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Fighting for Islam or Our Sects?

It has today become a slogan and even a cliché to say ‘think global, act local.’ Perhaps all of us agree that in some sense this is an acceptable ideal and would claim to follow it or try to follow it. But let me question our theory and practice. Let us apply the adage to our view of religion and its exclusivist claims. I ask a few questions to all of you and how far our view is compatible with a global vision that talks of humans as humans transcending all limiting or divisive barriers without disregarding uniqueness of every individual or tradition.
I begin with a story told by William Chittick and narrated to him by an Iranian aalim and his comment on the same.
Two Iranian scholars were discussing religion. One of them asked the other, “who goes to paradise? The other a poet well known for his sense of humour, answered, “Well , it is really very simple.  First all religions other than Islam are obviously false, so we do not have to consider them.  That leaves Islam.  But among Muslims, some are ‘Shi’tes and some Sunnis, and we all know that the Sunnies have strayed from the right path and will be thrown into hell. That leaves the Shi’ites. But among Shi’tes there are the common people and the Ulema.  Every one knows that the common people don’t care about God and religion, so they will burn in the Fire.  That leaves the Ulama.  But the Ulama have become ulema in order to lord it over the common people.  That leaves you and me. And I am not so sure about you.”
Doesn’t this kind of reasoning sound familiar? It is perhaps not wildly inaccurate to say that many of our contemporaries think this way, whether they  be Muslims, Christians, Jews, scholars ,scientists, politicians or whatever.  And this sort of position sounds suspiciously like that of Iblis, whose motto is “I am better than he.”
My own comment on this is: This story could well have been true about many Sunni scholars especially of today who hold their own sects dearer than Islam or as the interpretation of Islam? We know Justice Munir Commission report in Pakistan in which representative scholars of different  persuasions in Pakistan were interviewed and what they agreed in was heterodoxy of other sects and hardly anything united them. We know many mosques had to be closed by administration because of sectarian conflicts. We are aware that there is deadly conflict over what constitutes in theory and practice  shirk? Are khoshand bad aetaqadis ready to marry amongst each other’s families? Don’t some think that others hold a view that is based on forgetting part of Islam? Not to speak of atheists, it is difficult to tolerate Ahl-i-Kitab for many for their different theological views? How many know that Hindus were treated as similar to Ahl-i-kitab by a vast majority of Muslim scholars?  Do we compete over doctrine or over best conduct? Isn’t it true that Companions competed over how much they distribute in the name of God, how best they serve, how humble they are, how virtuous they really are? Isn’t competition in virtues the only criterion that Islam recognizes and when we talk of global citizenship what else can be a meaningful criterion? Virtues define us and take us to the world of Spirit that is our true home. Not theological opinions or debates. It is true that it is said in the Quran that Islam alone is acceptable to God but who can assert that it means a historical religion rather than primordial religion of Adam that has been only transmitted to other prophets? Isn’t this primordial religion an existential commitment, a call for surrender of autonomous will, a call to be truly human, a call to transcend all sectarian affiliations and be clothed in the colourless colour of God (Sibgatullah)? Who can say what is God’s chosen colour? Like the Sun that shines on everyone equally and whose radiance assimilates all colours, God’s colour is supraformal? Isn’t Islam to be taken in its truly universal or metaphysical rather than in historical sense that has been evolving over decades after its inception? When we say the term Islam what do we mean? And what gives us the right to restrict its usage to our own version of Truth that of our sect  or school of law ?

Reading our New Resistance Literature

Karb Raezay by Isar Kashmiri, Kalae Daywoo Ka Saya by Riyaz Tawhidi, Disappeared Dad and other Poems by Shahzada Saleem

How much of contemporary writing really deserves to be read? I think we will agree that the proper question is how little it deserves to be read. However when the question is of resistance literature of which we don’t have much, the job of a reviewer is easy. One may begin without any apology for being a reviewer of it. 
Let me begin directly from the excerpts of the books. Isar’s dedication to the book reads: “To my late father whose blood is even today nurturing sad lanes of Kashmir” Excerpts from Saleem’s poems reads: “Don’t  give me birth/In the land of/Terror, my lord/Where I will be killed/In my teenage,/And become  burden/On the weak shoulder/Of my father/In the coffin”(Jehlum only knows) “That we have soaked/ Its banks with our blood/To live a life of dignity/But always our wishes/Were crushed and our /Desires were buried/long its own course and banks. (Jehlum is the Witness) “Someone has kept me/Captive saying:/My father has signed/An agreement/Of killing, massacring me;/And my innocent children/That too in my home./I should thus count moments/Of my turn/To be killed, and massacred/He said” (Captive).  Just contemplating Tawhidi’s haunting title Kalae Daywoo Ka Saya  is baptism by fire we have been experiencing in the purgatory of conflict. 
Saleem gives voice to almost every aspect of tragedy that has hit Kashmir: Prisoners, orphans, widows, youth, Pundits, Sikhs, strikes, crackdowns. While there is some brilliant imagery like “wearing the tombs like turbans”(Idgah) there is also incongruous imagery “throat of teens.”  While there is genuine poetry there are prosaic pieces like “Kashmiryat”. Some of his poems are fit subjects and almost translatable into short stories. I see in him a latent short story writer who can excel in the genre. Sleem’s work is unique in the sense that he has illustrated it with images of conflict hit Kashmir from local dailies.
Although Saleem’s language is not poetic enough and much of what he says can be better written in prose, he does succeed in giving us a handful of  noteworthy poems including “Assets Shared” “Disappeared Dad” “Hookar Sar”etc.  He needs to note that poetry primarily evokes rather than states or argues or moralizes.  His book is mostly  a “poetry” of ideas. The poet has a long way to go by way of mastery of form – he has chosen only free verse so far to express himself – and language and use of figurative devices and symbolism if he is to succeed as a poet. Saleem impresses us by power of observation. Though occasionally he can weave magic out of very ordinary things or events,  he is at times too prosaic to produce lasting poetic impact. 
Isar’s strengths are his language and diction that is both lucid and compelling.  He deftly deploys irony to shock. He seems to be an effortless story teller. And he has the trick of constructing a story where one may not suspect any. Almost all the stories are enjoyable both at aesthetic and cognitive planes.
Some stories of Isar especially deserve to be read and he is seasoned enough a story teller to let you down in his other stories though one would not be equally moved by them. Isar’ s short stories “Soda”  “Dil Ki Baat” “ Bay basi” “Ahsaas” show how he is capable of conveying profound thoughts through the medium of short story. Riyaz Tawhidi  has given us a few good short stories including “Klae Daywoon ka Saya” Gula Qasai” “Haijack” “Jenazae” “Naqoos –o- Azaan” “Mentaal Hospital.” His subtle treatment of sectarianism and loss of tradition in his stories is quite impressive.  His work is studded with insights, especially in concluding parts of certain stories. However I think insufficient attention to converting deeper experiences into equally deeper works of art is discernible. Isar Kashmiri’s attention to language and artistic treatment of tragedy  is often missing in Tawhidi. Isar's very short afsana is often a success but occasionally fails to be a proper story. Tawhidi better succeeds in plot construction. 
Tawhidi would be a better story teller if he works more on symbols and replaces heavily adjectivized authorial commentary with description of objective situation. What evokes admiration from Isar and Saleem is their appropriation of Tradition. What is noteworthy about Tawhidi  and Isar is acute sensitivity to sheer horror all around us that we have been engaging with but almost fails to evoke sensitive response now. As if habit has accustomed us to the inhuman. The beauty and power of both Isar and Tawhidi lies in taking full look at the worst, sensitizing us to the loss and tragedy all round. Tawhidi has a knack of summing up his insights in pithy sentences. He is too direct in his story telling art. One can too easily penetrate his symbolic universe. Even Isar too allows us quite easy engagement. There is some predictability in plot construction though that is more in Tawhidi than Isar. The titles are revelatory. Isar succeeds best in choosing it. Tawhidi explores fear and Saleem explores loss. All the works recreate the lost Kashmir in their own ways and seek to articulate contradictions in the ruling ideology. 
To sum up strengths of all three: Isar is subtle and charming and I hope we can expect deeper symbolism in his work in future. Tawhidi is insightful and has a keen eye on our moral, spiritual and intellectual failures, both individually and collectively. He shows the mirror to the dehumanizing fear centric oppressive apparatus of the system. Saleem brings his background readings of sociology and gives us some good poems and some scattered observations and insights interspersed with interesting commentary. All the three focus on the pain of Kashmir – not just its conflict but its passing glory, its decaying tradition, its embracing of vandalizing modernity. 
However what is true about all the three is relatively little attention paid to the works of the Masters in short story or poetry. There are so many great works in the world literature that reading them should be life’s wazeefa for aspiring writers. What characterizes all three is failure to explore deeper meaning of the tragic. They explore pain, oppression but not truly tragic. There moral vision is not informed by Greek, Shakespearen, or Oriental view of the tragic. They lament but not resist a world of meaningless Waste and launch wild complaints to the Department of Injustice. Literature of resistance doesn’t necessarily translate into literature of revolt. It may remain only a poignant lamentation and not work out an ethic of revolt. Perhaps we should wait for their next collections.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Why Isn’t Messy Education System In News?

What is news today?  What constitutes the  headlines in today’s newspaper? What is the focus of today’s morning or evening show on TV? With what are we bombarded day in and day out by news channels? Let us ask this question to likes of Marx and we will understand why and how news is made and what makes it sellable.
 Let’s minimize the focus on education sector and raise  a question about how much this sector should be in news and how much attention does it get in reality. Let’s question the absence of this beat from the media products. Let’s question our level of responsibility and conscience, if we claim that we care. And finally, let’s suggest means to highlight follies in education system and make this field newsworthy.
Universities students are unhappy over nonexistence of academic culture in their respective institution. Only an insignificant percentage of students is really motivated to learn-rest study by compulsion. Caged they feel most of the times while listening to lectures forcibly as teachers too seem to be teaching under compulsion. Preferably, the teachers would be happy as administrators or professionals in some other discipline, but not in teaching.
Classrooms scare the students and that is why they celebrate news about a picnic or about strikes. On a serious note, there are many factors that have turned the classrooms into ‘confinement cells’. These include censoring the right to ask questions, teachers resorting to regurgitation of copied notes or book content rather than stimulating critical thinking, rote or memorization of notes without understanding  is norm among students while creative means to evaluate students in exams are discouraged.
These are few problems which effectively are leading our education system towards destruction. The utilitarian instrumental understanding of education divorced from its moral, spiritual founts, selling of wisdom to make money in private schools and confining education for the purpose of attaining just a job is what our education system has been restricted to nowadays. Banishing of philosophical orientation in any discipline from our academic institutions and reducing the subjects to ‘lifeless’ commodities   is another aspect that hampers the growth of our education system.
Ironically, students love everything except book reading while as teachers are unwilling to update their knowledge and skill set, thus they failing to handle or entertain the inquisitive students. There are so many problems that force us to argue whether it is education imparted in our institutions or if it is destruction.
Moreover, teaching aids like latest technology is never put to use to help the students. While rest of the world has turned into a global village after using the internet, Why  are our schools shying away from travelling on the information superhighway. If not in villages, why aren’t the City or town schools connected to the internet where the sea of knowledge is just a click away.
Online lectures delivered by experts and studded with Audio-Visual aid are available either free or for a nominal fee. Such facilities aren’t provided to students. If this isn’t possible, a teacher can prepare presentations in a beautiful format that appealing both the senses and intellect and will encourage the classroom culture.
What purpose Bachelors or Masters degree in Education serve if such things aren’t not ensured? What is the need of inspection committees in the Directorates if they don’t facilitate and encourage such teaching aids? Why is the focus of Directorate of Education only on transfers and promotions while ignoring fundamentals of education?
How many seminars have been organized to refresh or orient the teaching competence towards a better change, why aren’t e-classes a reality, why do we see dearth of knowledge oriented infrastructure?  Why do we fail to produce thinkers or intellectuals? There are so many questions but no answers.
In such a chaos, complaining about leadership, employers, employees, bureaucrats, corruption seems immature when we are aware that fault lies with the education system- a system which differentiates a human being from an animal.
I have serious reservations with schemes like  Rehber-e-Taleem. Compromises were made on qualifications of a nation builder just to ensure employment of few.
Having discussed all these issues, I am forced to ask that why isn’t our education system in news. If media considers such issues trivial then doesn’t it act as an instrument of the ideology that is fundamentally exploitative or class linked?

Mathematics Literacy in Kashmir

Have we ever wondered that God chose to imprint knowledge of basic mathematical truths in our heart and we know them without even learning?
There are so few a people in Kashmir whom one could discuss philosophy with, and fewer with whom one could learn on philosophy of science, especially philosophy of mathematics. There are intellectuals who are informed on many things but hardly any who have such an insight into the spirit of the times that requires taking deep cognizance of  assumptions informing the World of Science. There are a lot of political analysts and columnists in Kashmir but only very rarely can we spot one who is gifted with objectivity of a scientist – not just a social scientist – in his brilliant analyses. Kashmir has many good doctors, engineers, other professionals but very few good mathematicians and even fewer mathematicians who can explain to a lay audience art and science of it and introduce its wonder and beauty in such a scintillating fashion.  We don’t have many examples  in our locality whom we can present to elite intellectual international audience to present our case in eloquent terms, to engage in a fruitful dialogue  with say a community of Nobel laureates who may visit us for promoting knowledge economy. We have very few clear and focused minds who can help us maneuver the challenge of knowledge economy today and unleash our he potential for research. Today we discuss  this personality who qualifies as the one on all accounts mentioned above and with whom we should be privileged to learn regarding the world of mathematics and how integral it  is to understanding our own place in the world and larger question of culture. I mean Prof. Muhammad Amin Sofi. I begin with a note on his key passion, Mathematics
Have we ever wondered that God chose to imprint knowledge of basic mathematical truths in our heart and we know them without even learning? One proof of intellects’ priority and universality and divinity is its mathematical intuitions.
How mathematics qualifies as a sacred science and why its knowledge may well be required for proper pursuit of philosophy or wisdom is understood by taking a look at it in the Greek world? Simeone Weil and others have argued it.
If contemplation is our greatest work or joy and God’s only work today as Aristotle argued and mathematics is best understood in terms of this contemplative activity we can appreciate how this science is the gift of God. Some of the most difficult theological and metaphysical conceptions are best approached in mathematical analogies shows a deeper connection between science and other divine sciences.
Isn’t the text or code of our universe written in the language of mathematics? Is not God a kind of mathematician? Doesn’t God ever geometrize as Plato put it? Isn’t mathematics exemplary instance of universal eternal truths to which physics has to conform and biological systems necessarily appropriate? Mathematics as an art form, as a symbolic science, as an expression of harmony of soul and universe is part of the Book of Self that all must read in certain sense. We must be Mathematics Literates or we miss another aspect of beauty of life.
Given all this and many more points that Prof. Sofi has been often highlighting in his columns in this newspaper, I wonder how come we, as a community choose to ignore Mathematics and Mathematicians  and thus the strange and terrible beauty of the adventure of Ideas. What discipline mathematics brings into personality and approach may be illustrated by looking at Prof Muhammad Amin Sofi’s life and career. How nicely crafted are his columns and unimpeachable is the logical thread that connects his arguments. Not only analysis but also vision and power of synthesis we find in him. As evidence one can cite his  pieces on crisis of intellectual culture, question of excellence and on visionary vice chancellor.
Credentials of a researcher can be got from looking at what he or she chooses to be his or her key area of work. So few choose pharmacology, for instance in medicine and so few choose mathematics in humanities. So few are equally gripped by the love of physics and mathematics. Prof. Sofi chose both physics and mathematics during a brief period in his Masters programme but then the charms of Mathematics made him a  lifelong devotee of it. We have so few aashiqan-i- riyazi in Kashmir. No wonder we don’t have good culture for science. We, as a community lack scientific methodology and respect for objectivity. Our alienation from Mathematics is one of the culprits for this.
Mathematics is central to history of human knowledge and in fact the best proof that we have implanted intuition of mathematical truths is the proof that  we are born to engage with mathematics in certain way. It is perhaps the spirit of no nonsense approach to academics that we have not heard Prof. Sofi parrot ghost speeches in seminars he was required to preside in different administrative capacities. I have generally found inaugurals boring but when the likes of Prof. Sofi speak, we are presented with intellectual feast. His recent address on Iqbal day shows how he chooses to think differently and argue his case very well. There must be clarity of vision and consistent methodological commitment that should dictate one’s  every action. I found Prof. Sofi generally illustrating this.
Having had the good fortune to work the best authorities internationally available on his chosen research area thanks to premier institutions in India and Germany, working for some time in what was more prestigious those days – AMU  – and becoming the youngest professor at 36 in the whole region, Prof. Sofi has lived upto to his reputation as a tough guy who maintained certain high standards. How painful it is to note that we are losing Prof. Amin on 31st May as he retires. I hope he chooses to serve Kashmir and go for brief visits only to outside. Today he feels he couldn’t be so productive as he could have been in Germany or elsewhere where he had the opportunity to be but I still think that serving one’s own community may be better choice nevertheless.
He inherited Qazi Ghulam Muhammad’s passion for mathematics and discipline of mind and soul. He devoted himself to mathematics and could not afford the wine and ecstasy of poetry that his illustrious predecessor could.   I have enjoyed rigourous discussion on a range of issues from contemporary politics, malaise of the Muslim world, mediocrity in academic institutions, possibility of excellence for Kashmiri students, clash of fundamentalism, occultists and other mystifying ideologies.
Today it is international exposure that is required to sharpen one’s vision and refine one’ approach in a fast changing world. Prof. Sofi had this in ample measure.
Retirement of some professors really hurts; I will miss him in the intellectual culture of KU.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Malevolence of Family Conflicts

Life in Kashmir is difficult. Every family seems at war within, a war between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, between the daughter-in-law and groom’s sisters and between the husband and his wife, as an aftereffect.There are tragic stories to narrate in almost every house. Only exceptionally, will there be a Hash (Mother in Law) blessing the Nosh (Daughter-in-law) and vice versa.Divorces are increasing. Parents are often the worst victims of this conflict and there is pressure on limited resources for accommodating new houses.Individualism is the ‘cancer’ of the soul that is eating the vitals of our society. There is universal mistrust about groom’s family. Brides don’t feel that new house belongs to them. They think only their husbands or children are really theirs.
Enormous popularity of Soap Opera culture and perception regarding black magic attributed to either party is seemingly becoming a norm.Explanations and counter-explanations from either side are such confusing and ineffective that it makes possible truth and reconciliation impossible. We talk of State level or national level or international level dialogues on various issues but miserably fail in intra-family dialogue. Evil is within us.And everywhere we see reflections of this evil of mistrust. Fundamentally all conflicts, especially intra-family conflict may be traceable to ego tussles. However for contemplating any solution to seemingly irresolvable conflicts between perceptions of house vs home, mine vs others, we need to dig deeper.
Let’s try to get some facts right. Simon de Beouvaire in her famous book Second Sex discusses psychological change in Hash (Mother in Law) immediately after she gets a bride. Mistrust is unconscious if not conscious as well. Even if we don’t consider Freudian argument for jealousy between same sexes we can easily conceive strong psychological and other grounds that lead to certain distrust. There is no question that love does get divided after marriage. Previously parents were the sole object and now there is wife and then children and all kinds of pressures to settle in life. And the deep drive for separate individuality and family in the bride further complicates the problem.
We often curse the Western society for such institutions as old age homes. Fair enough! But what about the huge neglect that overtly or covertly our parents are subject to, generally speaking? The Western solution has been embracing total autonomy. Our dilemma is we are neither able to embrace values of extended family nor autonomy of nuclear family. It seems there is not going to be any easy going solution in given conditions. Perhaps we don’t need simple social engineering or legalistic approach. How tricky and problematic can be mere legalistic view is evidenced by the following anecdote recently narrated by one of the most respected muftis of the Valley:
A woman with her husband came to Mufti sahib and asked where in the Qur’an it is mention that daughter-in-law should serve her mother-in-law. He replied nowhere. Then she said why my husband doesn’t understand this point. The husband had nothing to say. The Mufti requested the husband to have separate audience with his wife for few minutes to discuss a point. He was allowed and he told the woman that his husband is legally entitled for a second wife and he may do it for serving his mother that you are refusing to and it is nowhere in the Quran written that you can stop him. The woman was speechless and told him that she will continue to serve her mother-in-law as my husband requires but he should not marry another woman to serve his mother. And immediately the couple went reconciled.
It speaks both of wisdom of Mufti Sahib and fragility of purely legalistic paradigm and need to invoke principle of ethics, of Ihsan to run the family.
It has all been said that a mother’s love prepares 2.5 billion breakfasts everyday for children. If there is love there is no need to ask for reward, for recompense. There is no blame. There is no strain. One can serve, as saints do, even strangers, not to speak of husband’s mother. The question is how we teach people wisdom? Wisdom is love applied.
Philosophers and saints agree that no man or woman is willfully bad. If one really knows what is good for one’s soul one will never harm it. So if we teach people philosophy and ethics and help them to know their own selves, it demands nothing but love and are sustained only by love we solve the problem of Hash Nosh conflict and other similar conflicts.
The question is how do we propose to teach people what is really good for them as sermons don’t prove to be effective these days? I propose making philosophy essential at every level in education. That is time tested mechanism. Ordinary education is not helpful . Lesser educated rural women are reported to be more loyal and ethically  better in these kinds of issues. Those who read Plato or Lao Tzu or Confucius or Ibn Arabi or Nagarjuna can’t ask for reward for virtue. They know virtue is its own reward.