Thursday, 10 April 2014

Muslim Decadence

How Others Perceive Muslims
Generality of Muslims have failed to realize severity of modern challenges and they are yet to evolve a coherent and realistic response to it. This contributes, to a large part of modern Muslim malaise in all walks of life. Politically, socially, economically, morally they are, generally speaking, on the path of degeneration. Almost everywhere powerless or victims or complicit with alien hegemonizing forces, they have been unable to present in practice, if not in theory as well, answer to modern man’s problems. Caught between nostalgic idealistic constructions of the past and dehumanizing brutal imperialism, they have largely been unable to come to terms with challenges and opportunities that (post)modernity offers. Islam has been understood as a solution to all problems but modern Muslim’s ambivalence regarding it and his uncertainty regarding his own self definition has made it a problem. Conceptual baggage of both received image of Islam and modernity has been creating a divided personality. It is quite crucial to take stock of situation, understand the problem and debate the solutions. Perhaps it is the wrong view of itself that has been instrumental in modern decay of Muslims and we are urgently in need of coming out of the hermeneutical crisis. The problems are complex and they have invited wide range of responses from world thinkers. The tragedy is that we, as Muslims, have yet to exactly spot the problem. Muslims, generally speaking, are all both modernists and anti-modernists and often fail to recognize the contradiction or situate themselves historically. We, imitating Jews, suffer from holier than thou arrogance and chosen nation syndrome as the Prophet (SAW) had warned. It is not the question of breaking with the past of creatively appropriating it. As a community we have neglected or underemphasized key elements of Islamic tradition, made issues out of non-issues and vice versa and nurtured a discourse called Islam or authentic Islam that prevents us from squarely facing the problem. Kalima as a statement of unity of God/Reality and brotherhood of man implying transcendence of all ideological positions, perspectives, creeds or belief systems. We have forgotten all the essentials such as  Islam as submission of the will that speaks of rights rather than duties, love and care and sacrifice, prayer as gratitude for life with all its joys and pains rather than a petition or obligation or debt to overseeing God, zakat/ushr and qurbani as social or community care systems and inspiration for working out non-market alternatives to provision of services and goods, creation of interest free financing institutions, fasting as mystical discipline for achieving persistence in God (baqa) and changing life style from consumerist to God centric other centered simplicity, jehad as war against all kinds of injustice and corruption anywhere from anyone regardless of creed etc.
We need to seriously contend with the likes of Muhammad Arkoun before championing the cause of historical Islam that self perception of community has presupposed. It is simply impossible to refute certain insights of Foucault and other (post)modern theorists  concerning power-knowledge nexus in history and genealogical method. Applied to classical period of Islamic history, we see contest of conflicting interests in appropriating the given of revelation. We find power struggles defining much of ideological content that we usually take as sacrosanct. Rumi’s disconcerting description of the situation that ensued with the death of the Prophet and delay in his burial, Shia narratives of early history, patronage of certain particular ideological trends by State power throughout history, involvement of State power in construction and defense of so-called orthodox doctrine and practice all serve to problematize the received self perception of community of its history. While criticizing certain modern developments or changes fromsharia-centric perspective we need to be aware of contaminations in the constructed images. We also need to understand dangers in any history based interpenetration when history is itself ideologically constructed and not given in unproblematically transparent terms. Traditions are best understood and defended in nonliteral symbolic and metahistorical terms which makes them immune from attacks based on history and empirical observations of science.
It is only due to ignorance of our own cultural and religious heritage and fundamentals of modern episteme that we are still passionately debating, in legalistic paradigm, permissibility of music, philosophy, reading other scriptures, place of hadith, place of reason in religion, one’s right to have different opinion on some suhaba, permissibility of uncovering face or  hair for women etc.
Standing upto challenges requires proper identification of problems. Our difficulty is making issues out of nonissues as Wahidudin Khan often cautions us. How much energy goes into advocating those causes that have little bearing on salvation or on legal issues is simply too huge to be warranted by any means. Let us identify ourselves and our perceptions as part of problem, come out of holier than thou attitude and give more consideration to views of our enemies including those we hastily dismiss as Orientalists to have better diagnosis of our malaise.

God and Modern Science

Reading Einstein, Hawking, and Whitehead on God and Religion
Most of modern scientists don’t believe in God. However the God that is denied by the most sophisticated or philosophical amongst scientists is not necessarily the object of religion but of exotericist theology. Today we consider the views of Einstein, Whitehead (great mathematician-philosopher) and Hawking on God to clarify a few points.
Einstein is often quoted to buttress the thesis that science affirms God. But we know that he didn’t believe in personal God but in the universal intelligence or impersonal principle of beauty and harmony that can be identified more with mystical conception of God. His God is the God of Spinoza which is not very different from the God of Sufis and identified with Reality.  He said that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” For him, acknowledgment of mystery constitutes the crux of religion and in that sense he considered himself religious. Hawking is quoted by atheists in their support. He would, at best, acknowledge only a metaphoric use for God as unity or sum of natural laws. He refutes commonly held understanding of creation out of nothing but leaves the question of Mystery at the heart of things untouched. Whitehead, the most sophisticated as a thinker or philosopher amongst great modern scientist-philosophers, believed in God though not the God of popular theology but that of process philosophy. Whitehead is co-author of one of the greatest books on philosophy of mathematics Principia Mathematica and author of highly popular Science and the Modern World. In the later book he defined religion thus:
"Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of the present facts; something which gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest."
If this is the definition of religion – and one can argue that it is amongst the best currently available – how can one imagine science questioning it?
The thesis that science has made it impossible to believe in the God of exoteric theology, a cosmic policeman,  a being albeit superior one among other beings has been forcefully argued by Tillich and Stace and a host of other thinkers. Stace’s damning article “Man Against Darkness” on impact of science on belief written in 1948 is essentially refuted by his turn to mysticism and he became perhaps the most influential philosopher of mysticism and wrote perhaps the most lucid and compelling work on mysticism titled Time and Eternity (quite short and enjoyable by general readers like another classic by Underhill titled Practical Mysticism). Its first chapter quotes Whitehead’s above quoted definition of religion and then comments:
“Religion seeks the infinite and the infinite by definition is impossible, unattainable. It is by definition that which can never be reached.  Religion seeks the light. But it isn’t a light which can be found at any place or time.  It isn’t somewhere. It is the light which is nowhere. It is “the light which never was on sea or land.”  Never was.  Never will be even in the infinite stretches of future time. This light is non-existent …. Yet it is the great light which lightens the world.  Religion is the desire to break away from being and existence altogether to get beyond existence into that nothingness where the great light is.  It is the desire to be utterly free from the fetters of being.  For every being is a fetter.  Existence is a fetter.  To be is to be tied to what you are.  Religion is the hunger for the non being which yet is …..Religion is that hunger which no existence past, present or future, no actual existence and no possible existence, in this world or in any other world on the earth or above the cloud and stares material or mental or spiritual, can ever satisfy.  For whatever is or could be will have the curse of thisness or thatness.”
Let me ask: Are there any atheists around in the sense that they totally deny the mystery in the heart of existence,  the joy and beauty that abounds everywhere, the need to consider the why instead of just how of things. Who can afford to deny the God understood as What Is, Totality, Unity, Being of beings or pure being or Beyond-being? Man can’t deny life giving mystery that wells up in everything and live. All people worship God including those who think themselves to be atheists as Ibn Arabi demonstrated though one may always find some versions of this worship somewhat limiting. As  Stace wrote. “To ask for a proof of the existence of God is on a par with asking for a proof of the existence of beauty. If God does not lie at the end of any telescope, neither does he lie at the end of any syllogism.” Who can claim to be consistent atheist  by denying the trinity of values of goodness, beauty and truth?
The greatest scientists of modern age have not refuted religious thesis of the Absolute/Pure Consciousness/God as Reality/Mystery of Being (atheistic Dawkins, Weinberg and their ken refute crudely put theism and not the religion as understood by great sages) but do acknowledge Mystery and some kind of Principle of Harmony and Beauty and thus the essence of religious thesis. Understanding God as Mystery or mystery of things or depth dimension of existence is what no scientists can nor has refuted. The Quran too has asked for belief in the mystery of existence (yuminoona bilgayyib). Artists, mystics and the greatest scientists of all times have asked us to celebrate this mystery. Religion is best defined as refusal to demystify existence. No attempt to demystify universe has succeeded or will succeed if we understand the difference between appearance and reality, limits of logic and language in capturing heart of reality, don’t deny the poetic and aesthetic sense in us, the distinction between beings and the Being that grounds them, subjective element in all experience.
God is to be understood and tasted and not proved. A philosopher contemplates Being that masses call God. Mysticism and philosophy invite  us to feast called God (understood as sweetness of all sweet things, the rasa of life) while the fundamentalist or the Mulla disputes about Him as if God is an object or being and in practice dethrones him to some abstract heaven and himself tries to assumes the role of His secretary.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Why Muslims may Study Philosophy?

Who can deny Islam a Philosophy or Intellectual Content?

First a few general points regarding facebook post( ) by Dr Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi in which he responds to one of my articles, to be followed by point by point response to my article. (I think almost all the points raised by him stand conclusively treated in my “Philosophy and Religion: A Case for Happy Marriage” published recently in Greater Kashmir and in my “A Perennialist View of Comparative Philosophy,” a paper presented in First Asian Philosophy Congress.” However for the benefit of those who find something in his arguments I pen down a few points to further clarify.
Let us define terms and we can have a fruitful debate. Please define philosophy, reason, intellect, logic, Islam, Iman, Ihsan to resolve the controversy. And let Dr Rafiabdi enlighten us with his own definitions if he finds traditional understanding or academic definitions problematic. I have stated nothing that in any way contravenes real motive of Dr Rafiabadi viz. Islam’s self reference or “autonomy” or superiority to any merely human or profane rationalistic approach. My whole endeavour is simply Ghazzalian: to refute modern versions of unbelief by showing deeper intellectual or metaphysical content of Islam as equipped with  all the resources for satisfying requirements of intelligence and moving forward and critique secularizing discourses.
Fighting philosophy in the name of religion has been a lost battle. Philosophy can’t be rejected. Rationalism can be. Logic can’t be refuted. Deductive or inductive logic or Aristotelian version of it can be critiqued. 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.
Muslims need to study philosophy because they are rational creatures, because the Quran links salvation to right use of intelligence, because they have a great legacy of philosophers in their history, because they want to speak to modern educated minds that are influenced by philosophical orientation or questions, because they have to live today in the world that is shaped by philosophy and science, because the Prophet of Islam as a teacher of hikmah called for learning or knowledge and called for love of wisdom, for perfection of virtues, for preparation for death and what is philosophy in the traditional sense but these things.

Now point by point clarifications:
Asking such a question means one has not read any book by Corbin or considered his impact on Islamic Studies and on such important scholars as Nasr. Persons are not important, not least the so-called Orientalists of course. But arguments are. The merit of arguments put by anyone needs consideration. Also let me ask if we can ask the same question to Ghazzali who used the advice of Aristotle for taking note of logic and to Farabi and Ibn Rushd who didn’t object to foreign origin of Plato or Aristotle in considering their method of reaching reality or interpreting revelation.
We can and must suggest syllabi for seminaries because their objective is teaching Islam in contemporary idiom. If Aristotelian Logic has been part of curriculum why veto new developments in logic? As theology has been under enormous criticism, it is philosophy that to rescue kalam today if Muslim seminaries want to remain irrelevant. There are lessons to be learnt from Iranians who never boycotted philosophy in the name of religion. Assuming Law as the exhaustive expression of Islam is to forget both iman and ihsan as part of Islamic Tradition or Ad-Deen. Exhaustive expression is full development of intellectual, spiritual, artistic and other aspects of Revelation. Revelation speaks to the whole man, not just to will. It speaks to the heart and the mind, to cognitive and aesthetic faculties, not just to volitive and the Law pertains primarily to volitive faculty. No thinker in Islam has so far claimed that Law is an exhaustive expression. If it were there would be neither Junaid nor Mulla Sadra nor Ibn Arabi nor Farabi nor Ghazzali nor Ibn Sina nor Rumi nor Khusru nor Shah Waliullah nor Iqbal like figures in Islamic history. There would be no Taj Mahal or Mosque of Cordova or even calligraphy or Islamic sciences.
Today Dawah work needs philosophical training, at least in certain parts of the world or certain sections of addressees. If one doubts this it means one is living in middle ages 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 ( these are synonymous for traditionalist historians of philosophy and for those who have cared to read ancient philosophers of any tradition with any seriousness) how come you deny it is part of Islam? If Islam endorses hikmah and even if we grant its moral-spiritual aspect only and not the intellectual one as usually understood in terms of philosophy one opens the room for philosophy in the sense I define the term.
If Dr Rafiabadi cares to check definition of logic he can’t imagine refuting it. Ibn Taymiyyah refuted particular version of it and not logic per se. He used logic – of course what would be called Quranic logic – to refute other versions of it. No thinker in history has or can refute logic as such. It is like refuting aql. Only limitations of logic or certain version of it have been under discussion amongst philosophers. Sanity and communication are only possible if logic holds. In facts laws of logic are laws of thought. If one fails to note even this elementary point one better argue with shouts or cries than with communicable language in logical format.
Who denies that Islam appeals more through the channel of heart than the mind. But to ask how many people have converted by getting replies to philosophical questions is to ignore history of all religions including Islam. In the sense I use philosophy in my articles one can cite all Muslim philosophers, Sufi metaphysicians, Sufi poets, great many modern educated people have embraced Islam because it better satisfied certain requirements of intelligence. Abraham too asked what can be called philosophical questions when he concluded that the god who doesn’t change alone deserves to be called God. In Islam one is converted by proper use of intelligence. Proper use of aql leads to tawhid and salvation is linked to right use of intelligence. So every thinking person is converted by using philosophical acumen in the broad sense of the term. Only ulama fear God, the Quran declares. Who are ulama? What is knowledge in Islam? Isn’t inclusive of what goes by the name of intellectual or what I call philosophical disciplines as well? Are not the greatest names in Muslim history largely classifiable as philosophers or philosophical theologians?
One may ask conversely: How many modern educated people haven’t turned away from religion or Islam due to philosophical questions they asked? Isn’t it necessary to speak to them as dawah workers?
Modern  age   is   an   age   characterized   by   change   in   orientation   towards transcendence.  In theological terms it is inclined towards atheism or agnosticism and when it is theistic it is not metaphysically grounded but associated with religion and that too often with its exoteric dimension which  in itself is a limited and relative plane of reality and quite susceptible to error/ deviation when looked from the broader perspective of metaphysics.  We can hardly name any great figure in modern literature that could be called  religious  in  strictly  orthodox  integral  sense  of  the  term. One may note here the problem of unbelief shared by many Muslim writers and thinkers due to perceived unsatisfactory treatment of certain issues such as the problem of evil. Traditional theistic answers to the problem are increasingly felt to be inadequate and unconvincing.  Rational credentials of theistic thesis are thus strongly questioned. Many important names of modern literature, philosophy and science cite this as one of the major reasons for their negative attitude towards theistic thesis e.g., Hume, Mill, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Freud, Jung, Mctaggert, Joad, William James, John Wisdom, Conrad, Faulkner, Hemingway, Kafka, Camus, Samuel Beckett, William Golding, Simon de Beavoire, Will Durant, Steven Weinberg, Stephen. J.Gould, Maugham, Mann, Kazantiskis, Andre Gide, Sartre – to name but a few.  Pessimist and nihilist tendency of much of modern thought which has a negative bearing on religion is attributable to the problem of evil.  Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot on divine aphasia and athambia is a representative viewpoint of these critics of theistic thesis. It has generated what is called unwilling  disbelief amongst many. Western philosophical and Christian scholastical understanding of evil and theodicy has been not quite satisfactory and that justifies the assertion of one of the perennialist authors that “The Western theodicy has failed to vindicate divine providence in view of the existence of evil.” It becomes, in the face of all this, imperative to state, in modern idiom, Islam’s doctrinal content so that people are not alienated from it. And that is why we can’t wish away philosophy. Modern age is post-theological and best understands the the language of philosophy. You have to address problem of atheism of addressees. I know score of people in Kashmir who got alienated from religion for perceived failure of Muslim scholarship to provide satisfactory answers to their philosophically oriented questions.
To claim hikmah as understood by Muslim hukama is ratiocination or not conformable to Divine Book is to state a big lie. Philosophers have not coined this word. Sages have. Sages have always been illumined by Divine Revelation/Intellection. To confuse reason (ratiocination) and intellection is such a monstrous blunder that one better keep silent if one sees someone committing it.
Ibn Salah’s fatwa applies to rationalists and not to those who love wisdom or are true philosophers. Rationalist logic chopping is not philosophy.

The Quran has its own rationality or logic. Yes. Who denies it? We only ask to understand it.  And think the tools discovered by ancients may be helpful. The Quran itself appropriates previous traditions or wisdom in it. It quotes liberally from previous prophets and wisdom traditions. Luqman, Khizr, Zulkhiffil are all testifying to wisdom of sages.
Before writing on the issue of need of philosophy education I have consulted writings of  world recognized experts of traditional philosophy like Abdul Wahid Yaha, Isa Nuruddin, Corbin, Nasr etc. I don’t think any expert of traditional philosophy exists in Kashmir. Islamic studies departments have only a tangential engagement with hard core philosophy. They are respectfully consulted with regard to juristic or certain doctrinal matters and some other issues in Islamic studies but not with philosophy proper. It would be great news if we have experts of Greek or Western philosophy around and one would cherish learning from them. There are not even experts of such seminal Muslim philosophers s such as Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra or such metaphysicians as Ibn Arabi in Kashmir. I wish they come up soon or if there are they let us know so that we could learn regarding subtleties of great Muslim Masters through their help. I wish there were someone to help me negotiate difficult passages in Afsaar or Futuhaat or Tahafatut Tahafa.
Such a serious scholar of Muslim intellectual tradition as Shahzad Qaisar calls Hazrat Ali a metaphysician. Metaphysician means, in perennilaist dictionary, master of intuitive illumined since or scientia sacra, the science of the supraphenomenal. Please note meaning of the term Metaphysics in Guenon or Schuon before calling it a category mistake to call Hazrat Ali a metaphysician. 
Philosophy, logic, reason – the terms of reference I use are neither Greek nor Western but universal terms that every religion, every thinking person or rational creature necessarily employ while arguing, giving messages or stating their point. There is nothing Greek or Western about the terms Perennialists have used. One must not oppose anything in vacuum or against plain facts or points common sense testifies. Are we to abandon our rationality, our thinking power, our language ( that presupposes logic and thought)? I can’t do so. The Quran asks for  using intelligence and doesn’t call it Greek or Western heresy. I have been advocated philosophy not Greek or Western  philosophy, logic, not Aristotelian logic.
How can one claim to have delved deep into Greek or Western philosophy if one is careless regarding such key terms as philosophy, logic, reason, ratiocination as evidenced in the response? When people like Heidegger inform us they  needed to devote so much time and approach with much humility the Greeks and masters like Farabi had to read several times Aristotle and there is still debate on key terms like Being and intellect and Socratic method and such counsels as Simone Weril’s regarding taking years to learn how to read Plato how can one claim to delve deeply into Greek philosophy? Even Heidegger after spending decades on this enterprise didn’t claim it. He asked Gadamer to write a book on Plato to correct his own misreading. How can one claim to have deeply delved into Western philosophy if one has not mastered ( even read from cover to cover) a single book by any of the great masters of modern Western  thought such as Kant or Hegel or Whitehead or Heidegger or Husserl or Morly Ponty or Rorty or Derrida or Focault or Adorno or Barthes?

WAITING: Beyond Hope and Despair

Reading Samuel Beckett on Waiting
Most of us complain that our prayers are not heard, that nobody is ours or we are lonely, that love doesn’t turn up the way we want, that Mahdi/Christ/Messiah isn’t coming. All these complaints are dissolved if we understand how to wait, and why. Learning how to wait one has to read Beckett, move to Tillich, to mystics and of course to Tradition (al-Deen). We will have to note the secret that Sufis have – the secret of patiently waiting and moving beyond hope and despair. Just wait and ask for nothing. That is the station of raza.

 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is considered a classic. But so far it has been interpreted mostly in pessimistic terms or at best as a species of comedy that involves mocking laughter. Its heroes are waiting for certain Godot who never comes but they don’t lose hope. Godot doesn’t come while they play absurd games to pass time. Some critics have identified Godot with God and interpreted its failure to come as our loneliness in a world without God. Modern man thought that God is irrelevant. Even if He is man’s exile or loneliness can’t be helped.
 The best interpretation of the play is the one that states that Beckett laughs at our inability to wait for nothing. He calls for getting mature and to laugh at our predicament. “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” he stated elsewhere. However, I wish to look at the play in light of what may be called theology of waiting. Tillich has insightfully written on it. If the play is about waiting as some critics have pointed out and not coming of Godot why not attempt to look at what does waiting mean? God is not to be blamed or a party here.

Religion is the art and science of waiting. God never comes. One finds nothing at the end of the tunnel. We are required to submit, to wait. Separation and not Union is our destiny. God is “unattainable quest.”
Our most soulful prayers are not answered. They are heard but kept in waiting. Waiting till the doomsday, till we learn that it is best to wait and wait and our prayer should have been: 'O! God teach us to wait, to wait without complaining.'
Love is waiting for an object that never comes, for no object, for absence. Love seeks but doesn’t find. “Our saddest songs, that happen to be the sweetest ones also as Shelley noted, are born of pining.
The best kept secret of mystics is that mysticism is the art of getting lost – lost in wonder, perpetual wonder, perpetual quest, perpetual movement towards Nothing. The highest station is the station of wonder (maqam-i-haiyrat) according to the Greatest Master (Shaikh-i- Akbar).
No big questions are really answered by either religion or philosophy or science. The end of all wisdom is dropping or dissolving of these questions. We are counselled by all of them to wait for answers. Answers dawn on us in a state of waiting and require patience to wait, to wait till eternity. Once we consent to wait, to see the point that we are not God, that reason’s feet are wooden, that there is no such thing as Truth but little truths, that the Absolute defies both human speech and thought (Wa ma uooteetum minal ilm-i-illa qaleela) we become humble and that is our salvation. God can’t be scanned for He is inscrutable. God can’t be seen as long as we see with these eyes and not the Eye of God. We see with the Eye of the Heart only if we know how to wait, how to perfect the art of attention, how to see and not just look or think, how to let God be our Seer. It means we will no longer be agitated impatient creatures seeking answers at our plane or on our conditions.

                   Waiting is human; arrival is superhuman. Waiting is life in time; arrival is beyond time and to be human or creature is to be subject to the bondage of time even if there are intimations of eternity. As long as man breathes and moves in the world of space and time he can’t be immune from the ills flesh is heir to. To be human in relation to the Absolute is to be in waiting – waiting for the End that is yet to come. Even if one is grasped by eternity the body which is of the world of compounded things, the world of time, is condemned to live in waiting and exile. The home of the Spirit is not accessible fully in all its splendour as long as one lives on earth. Parinirvana is not granted to man in this life being attainable only when all fetters of existence have been cut. A man can’t see God in all his splendour and live. Waiting, ceaseless waiting, waiting till eternity has the final word, till eternity consumes him fully, is the destiny of man. It is not a purposeful waiting but neither could it be dubbed as an absurd predicament. For a temporal entity the only life is to participate in eternity while waiting. If life is something more than a struggle not to cease breathing it is by virtue of participation in eternity, by virtue of ceaseless waiting for God through remembrance of Him. There comes no full stop, no arrival point when That is no longer transcendent. To be absolutely united with the One, one has to be literally annihilated. One can’t afford not to wait; we are condemned to wait because of our precarious existential predicament. We are waiting animals and that is why we don’t commit suicide. Man lives because he waits. What does he wait for? For anything or for nothing but wait he does. To refuse waiting is to claim superhuman status for oneself. Men continue to live, to choose life instead of death, to use Biblical expression. With every breath that we consciously take we declare our faith in life, our waiting for life, for that which is yet to come, for that far off event to which everything which is. Men wait and wait. They are waiting for nothing. Yes they have no objective for waiting. To wait for nothing is to wait for God, or wait in God. God is Void, Nothing. One waits for God when one doesn’t wait for any particular thing, for this or that thing. When one surrenders the will to seek, to arrive and accepts finitude, one creaturely status, one is waiting in God. History is unfolding; the story of creation is not yet over. God is ever busy in His work, ceaselessly creating. He has not yet finished his play. As long as history/time is experienced as real and the life of body as inescapable reality with all its pains and sufferings all too real one is waiting.
                         Beckett’s Godot never comes because life can never cease to unfold its creative possibilities. Life can never arrive; it is eternity of travel, of the moment. This moment is eternity, eternally creative, eternally vibrant with fresh possibilities. Arrival is in a way death. There is not a full stop to the life of Ever-Living. The notions of arrival in time, of grasping God at some future time are absurd. Time is not, travel and traveler are not, arrival and straying and failure to arrive are not from a strictly nondualist eternity-centric perspective.  Beckett’s despairing drama presupposes linear view of time, hardly takes any cognizance of the notion of timeless and absolutizes the dualist worldview. Bad theology and bad metaphysics create a despairing situation for Beckett. Meaning in finalistic terms can never be realized; Godot can never come. Life can’t be subject to any single or finalistic notion of meaning and purpose. Any notion of purpose that humans can construct will be a product of thought, of time, of that which is itself theoretically deconstructable or challengeable. Purpose is anthropomorphic, sentimentalist and utilitarian notion. Life moves on and doesn’t require any justification in human terms. “A rose is a rose is a rose.” You can’t ask for its purpose. Similarly we can’t ask why we love, why we love our mother and our child.  Men need to arrive, to meet Godot because they have yet to travel within, yet to meet their own selves. For the gnostic or sage there is nowhere to go, no need to go, no need to seek. Men suffer because they have yet to renounce the self that seeks consolation, that refuses to face the void or nothingness, that seeks its own kingdom in defiance of the truth that there is no self to be sought or strengthened or salvaged from the wrecks of impermanence of all phenomenal things. There is no problem except for those who are problem to themselves, who have yet to know themselves.

Is Kashmir a Land of Saints?

Kashmir is assumed to be a pir-waer and its implies values will count in every sphere. Here belief in God is shared by almost everyone. Here is a legacy of four religions and great literature all centred on values. What happens if we practically delink values from our lives is nothing short of death of soul if not of body as well in the long run. This death is what is imminent today in Kashmir and I think we have no moral right to call ourselves sons of the soil, the soil where shrines are on every nook and corner and saints used to rule the hearts and the minds. We were a pir-waer and are fast losing this identity if we don’t care to take values seriously. I take the example of economy delinked from values to state my case.
Three quotes to give an idea regarding what happens in a value centering culture with regarding to economics. Abu Yazid Bistami was asked what is the fatwa regarding how much money should one possess to be eligible for zakaat and percentage of income to be given as zakaat. He replied for the commoners 2.5% and for the khaas people none because they can’t imagine accumulating so much money for a year as they would find someone more. Gandhi says that there is enough for everyone’s want and not enough for even one man’s greed the first proposition with which every book of economic opens is resources are limited and wants unlimited. Aristotle says that Polis is for providing citizens means or opportunities to achieve perfection and not creation of wealth. ‘We don’t sell land as we don’t own it. It belongs to God,’ a native American told President of America. Incidentally one may remark that the proposition Al-arzu lillah (the earth belongs to God) may connote such a lofty land ethics besides the more often understood meaning that we can only use it for God’s glory or as He would like.
A value conscious economy would resist making education a commodity. It would question ethics of sending our children to private schools or opening educational institutions or say BEd colleges for selling the commodity called education. (The temptation to invest in such ventures is very difficult to resists for almost all of us). Education is not a commodity. Teachers can’t even be hired by the govt, ideally. Previously, as it has been noted, students would present hidyae dil to the teacher for the gift of teaching (community would maintain or pay for teaching services). Today a teacher presents a bill and announces deadline. One of the tuitionists (they should not be called teachers) used to hold a chalk and say the hand doesn’t move. Brain has no glucose to power it… Paise layayey. And students understood the meaning of the phrase “Money makes the mare go.”
A value conscious economy would be serious about community ownership largely replacing individual ownership and the cult of individualism. It would, in a community that calls itself Islamic,  require collecting and spending zakaat collectively. One form of community ownership is institution of zakaat. Zakaat is not charity but public money that can be forcibly taken by the community (or the State. Ideally the State disappears as both traditionalists and Marx envisage. Community replaces it). Javed Ghamdhi’s insightful ideas on zakat call for attention. We can easily make calculations on potential of such “community taxes” to significantly replace recognized interest based financial institutions. Community can own sizeable number of schools, buses, hospitals, vegetable, mutton, dairy farms etc. in a short span.
But it will be argued that, as part of globalized culture, we can’t be a competitive economy if we don’t delink values from profit or an economy wedded to larger national or international economy that has divorced values from economy. In response, I would ask for making a distinction between economy for profit and economy for life. The world is increasingly realizing impossibility or nonsustainability of modern economy divorced from values. Environment, we are fast deteriorating beyond repair. We must look towards Nepal or other poorer countries  also for appropriating certain values such as importance of Gross Happiness Index. Let development not be a key word but life.
  By way of conclusion I suggest one step to bring in the question of values: Because can’t afford the reign of Capitalism and soulless technologism that Marxism embraces. Reading Heidegger on technology should be part of syllabus here in Kashmir economics department at least as it is Heidegger who captures the soul of traditional Kashmiri culture informing every aspect of it.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Desertifying Kashmir

Questions that our posterity will ask
Posterity and in fact the current generation will ask us few difficult questions. As parents I don’t think we have any answers. A few questions and issues they will raise I discuss today.
What we have made of Human Resource Management in Kashmir? Once it was not a big problem. Take the case of log winters, handicrafts and extensive local manufacturing of important woolen, matting and other commodities in most houses. Neither women nor the elderly people were jobless. Today even our youth are unemployed. And most of the jobs are in sectors that are not really productive or contributing in real sense to solving local problems. Previously it was almost all green. Just take the example of constructing house. A few decades back it cost almost nothing. Only certain patience. In the first year bricks were prepared. In the next year other requirements were gradually completed. Then labour was mostly either free or community based. Hardly anyone was hired. Hardly anything was paid. Roofing material was not necessarily imported. Very small of flight of capital and hardly any damage to environment from mud houses was noticed. And the houses were, for all practical purposes, strong, comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summers. Traditional houses along with their grace and comfort – and should I say symbolism as well – are fast disappearing. What has come as a replacement is neither beautiful – though it appears so to those who have no idea of beauty of traditional architecture and its symbolism to which our houses previously had somewhat approximated.
Today our houses are built to compensate our imaginary requirements for identity supposed to be defined by size and newest building materials including important roofing material. The functional and beauty and symbolic aspects are not given due consideration. If you ask anyone what defines traditional Islamic architecture and informs a Muslim culture that ours is one will be, most probably greeted with silence. Do we know that traditionally in Muslim cultures we used to have certain space inside a house that was not walled and exposed directly to sky as is still seen in certain mosques? Do we know there were guest rooms that were almost like hotels without payment for guests? Traditionally we are not allowed to even inquire regarding whereabouts and purpose of visit till three days. Till three days anyone can be a God’s guest in our houses. Today our practice is, generally speaking, not to invite guests for nights and ideally let them stay in our parks and don’t let them enter in. Now no wonder that guests don’t come. Guests disappear with the age of individualism. Today guests are seen mostly for few hours on formal occasions. Gone are the days when we used to visit relatives for weeks, not just days or hours.
We can get to the bygone values though not to bygone institutions. We can fight for restoring community spirit. We can contemplate legislating against building new houses. We can go for flat system. We can teach our new generation that we can’t afford new houses and further destruction of land. We can build mosques in mud. We can experiment with all kinds of houses that are compatible with ecology. We can make an attempt to teach, to new generations, virtues and wisdom in traditional patterns of living. Kashmir was traditionally known for hospitality. Is it there today?
Do we ever consider what legacy we are leaving for posterity? Suppose our children ask us what we are leaving them with, what we have added to the legacy of forefathers, what values we have been striving for? We have destroyed much of the best we had received from our ancestors. This includes environment, such values as hospitality and many shared spaces. We have thrown overboard everything that valued in a culture centred on belief in God and taking seriously the other as an image of God. We had very few beggars. Hardly any charlatans in business of faith healing and occult practices but spiritual personalities that commanded and deserved reverence.
If we can’t add anything from our own we can at least attempt to consolidate what we had received and don’t let it to be destroyed further. We have no right to marry and produce children if we are leaving them with a desert–moral, ecological and spiritual desert–that contemporary Kashmir is fast becoming.

Camus:Faith And Literature

He lacerates our ego, decimates self righteous attitude, and rips apart all pretensions
Reading Camus’ The Fall is like consenting to be operated without anaesthesia. Nothing exposes better our moral weaknesses, our complacency, our guilt. Reading his The Plague calls for almost superhuman courage to experience life as plague without shrinking from responsibility to ameliorate it. His The Stranger has a hero who doesn’t feel about anything including the death of his mother thus critiquing modern alienation. Camus lacerates our ego – self righteous attitude and pretensions. Be ready for soul hammering in the works of Camus. One can emerge much more humble and compassionate after baptism in the fire of his works. He sees through the sickness, the cancer of the soul of modern man. There are dangers too, however. We have to be respectful but critical. Great lessons in ethics need to be learnt but corroding skepticism following from failed mystic adventure and dogmatic rationalism and arrogant humanism and misreading of religion has to be resisted.
One of the most influential and beloved writers of the 20th century, Albert Camus’ work is a response to Nietzsche’s  diagnosis of the malaise of modern age – The Death of God. For him the key problem is: can one be a saint without God? He was troubled by seeming injustice including innocent suffering in the world and asserted that he can’t accept any scheme of things which required putting innocent children to torture. He argued that only serious philosophical problem is that of suicide. He argued against suicide seeing it as a cowardly act and instead argued for defying the absurdity of life. He asked for passionate love of the world against what he considered illusory hope in the next world. Let us love the world with all our hearts and minds, he counseled. Camus attempted to create ethics for an atheist existentialist and he has worldwide following though of late he has become less relevant. However he is an inspiration for many Kashmiri students and scholars and is cited as influence for their turn against religion. He is immensely powerful, lucid and beautiful as a writer. His lyricism and charm, his humane concerns, his fight against death punishment and totalitarianism, his advocacy of human dignity and nobility in the face of absurdity all have contributed to his appeal. One can’t but admire many of his virtues both as a man and as a writer.
Camus’ fundamental assertion in his philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus is that “absurdity” is the key description of the universe as man experiences it. The absurd born of the confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world must not be forgotten. The absurd must ever be kept alive. This is the fundamental tenet of absurdist philosophy. Carrying the absurd logic to its conclusion he lists the implications as follows:"…a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair), a continual rejection (which must not be confused with renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction." For Camus it is evil and injustice of the creation that entitles man to revolt against whatever power planned and organized this universe. Camus’ problem is to search for human happiness and a response worthy of man in the face of incomprehensible and alien universe. The eternal injustice revealed in the confrontation of man and his human condition could only be resisted; it can’t be accepted or tolerated or changed. It is bleak tragedy. His revolt is primarily "against the sky rather than against the world." The following dialogue captures the problematique of absurd man that Camus saw as his hero. 
Caesonia : You can’t prevent the sky from being the sky, or a fresh young face from ageing, or a man’s heart from growing cold.
Caligula [with rising excitement]: I want … I want to drown the sky in the sea, to infuse ugliness  with beauty, to wring a laugh form pain.
For Camus salvation in an absurd universe could be possible only in knowledge, in a sort of gnosis which negates the absurd. But that knowledge doesn't come at the rational philosophical plane. But he is adamant like a hardcore rationalist in his demand for solving the riddle and mystery of Existence:
"I want everything to be explained to me or nothing. And the reason is 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."
Camus asks “…Is there something behind the wet skies?”  Though his head refused to entertain any such thing his heart did feel that there is a secret meaning to everything. However the problem with modern way of life is that it refuses to have trucks with this secret. It seeks to avoid encounter with the Light, the knowledge that negates modern man’s cities and his comforts. Modern man has chosen to live without the sacred, to be earthly and true to the dust of earth and Camus though inwardly unhappy over this choice, over tremendous uglification in Europe that has exiled Helen, chooses to be with modern man, with all his illusions and untruth and his blindness to the world above that alone contains answers to all his problems, all his sorrows.
Camus’s narrator Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall notes that what future historians will say of us.  A single sentence will suffice for modern man: "he fornicated and read the papers.” This is Camus’ estimate of our times.  Indeed modern man has no heroism, no dignity, no beauty, no charity, no love to boost off.  He has knowledge and therefore newspapers suffice for him. He doesn’t know what is love, love eternal that Jesus worshipped as God. He knows only ugly lust and a poor image of that love of which Plato speaks and of which mystics speak. What makes Camus and Beckett pessimistic is the wretched state of modern man who distrusts all claims from traditional philosophers and mystics that love is eternal and fails to replace traditional God with his manufactured idols. Camus shows absurdity and its wrecks. He resolutely fights against despairing consequences of nihilism which is a presupposition of modern thought that he largely takes for granted. He, as a philosopher of immanence attempts to show how man faces the world, creates values and chooses to live when deprived of God. Although he stands for the forlorn abandoned man in the face of the “incomprehensible” and apparently indifferent if not hostile world he fails to convince by his logic and rhetoric. We see Camus opening to the sacred or transcendence in his reflections on music, on art, on beauty despite his antitranscendence rhetoric. His youthful passionate lyricism is a move towards transcendence. The note he left beside his sleeping wife hints at this.
Camus sees himself as a stranger in the world and laments that nothing can lift the veil and make it familiar. Indeed scientific and rational knowledge will not make the world familiar. The material world, the realm of manifestation doesn’t contain its principle of existence in itself.
            For Camus heavens don't respond to the cry of an afflicted soul. From the Eastern perspective it is the self’s or subject's or the mind's demand to be spared the encounter with its own nothingness or voidness that really is the problem. If we are frightened by the infinite silence of the stars it is because we fear to see squarely nothingness at the heart of being, the emptiness of all empirical or phenomenal things, the illusion of ego. We fear to have a dialogue with the silence that was before the word and in which alone is our salvation. In fact the vision of God that dispels all darkness and fear for good is the renunciation of all chatter, all sounds, all desire to be heard, to be anything. A faint echo of this experience is heard in Lear who attains the sublime tragic understanding when he escapes in the dark rainy night with nothing to shield him, with all worldly attachments gone, naked before the vast silence of the heavens. Peace is only got by returning home, to our Origin in the dark abyss of Godhead, Serenity of God or heaven is the serenity of nonexistence that was before we came and that will be after we are not.
Camus’ problem lies in Cartesian heritage that divorced reason and intellect, mind and heart, body and soul and ignored symbolism and metaphysics that makes scripture perfectly comprehensible. He failed to note that theology is autology (science of Self) and that art that he championed was parasitic on the sacred he rejected. God can’t be judged because He is Being and Beyond-Being and not a cosmic policeman. The sacred can’t be mocked. Neither can it be ignored. It is our very life. God is the Meaning of life. Man can’t live without meaning. Camus affirmed this meaning despite his mind’s failure to clearly articulate it. He worshipped God’s fragmentary images in the form of women and other beautiful forms and desire. That is why his lyricism, his love, his affirmative spirit and his passion for beauty are no match for that of Rumi.