Friday, 5 February 2016

Ummah! Revisiting Raji al-Faruqi

The conception of Ummah seems to be a connecting link to the host of ideas he advocated with great force.
Living in a world that appears to be decisively shaped by Enlightenment ideals, how do we theorize the conception of Islamic international community/world order or Ummah, especially in terms that modern political thought would be compelled to take a serious note of? How is it possible to teach to a world wedded to notions of democracy, nation-state, international bodies, like UN, that there is a possible ideal or an alternative to the whole trajectory that has been taken? Today, when political philosophy is exploring afresh once abandoned thinkers or notions to help us manoeuvre the problems and contradictions that have been bequeathed us by Enlightenment thinkers, we discuss a philosopher-martyr, first rate scholar and theorist of Islam and comparative religion and brilliant postcolonial intellectual, Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi who also theorized alternative political approach based on his appropriation of traditional Islamic sources. His institutionalisation of the project of Islamization of knowledge, understood as one of the attempts by postcolonial critics to write back to the Empire, has been an idea that inspired diverse scholars to come up with alternative histories and even epistemologies of history of sciences, and one can see it resonating or echoing in many thought currents that question hegemony of Eurocentrism and Scientism. The conception of Ummah seems to be a connecting link to the host of ideas he advocated with great force. I don’t know of any important Muslim thinker who has deliberated on the idea of Ummah in modern history and has excelled him in comprehensiveness, erudition and mastery of a host of modern disciplines from comparative religion to comparative theology to philosophy of natural and human sciences, that one needs to effectively articulate a much ignored and misunderstood concept.  He has been called a modern Mujtahid and I would like to explore the possibility of dialogue between him, Falzur Rahman (who brought him to Pakistan), Nasr (who was also greatly interested in Islamization or more precisely Traditionalization of Knowledge project) and Ziauddin Sardar (who has insightfully written on Muslim predicament in the postmodern world, but is critical of Nasr and revivalist camp, though  has been active contributor to Islamization of knowledge project). Muslim world needs all of them and many more to add to what Sardar calls a critical mass of public intellectuals who would help articulate an authentic and informed Muslim response to modernity, especially its politics.
      I think methodologically Faruqi is simply brilliant and one might concede his key terms of debate or accept his framing of the issue. Imagine a huge voluntary organization with over a billion members committed to giving witness to truth, reason, tolerance, dialogue and fighting oppression anywhere in the world even at the cost of their lives. It constitutes a community with great resources at its command. This “organization” is funded wholly from internal resources and members are motivated by religious vision they all share. Wouldn’t all well-meaning people push for such a state of affairs and volunteer to serve it or facilitate it? And this is how al-Faruqi has presented the idea of Ummah in modern (though not in postmodern) idiom.
      I briefly mention some basic ideas and principles of the concept of ummah formulated in Faruqi’s work that are relevant to the debate on secularization, Khilafah or Islamic State. To quote him:
  • “The ummah is an order of humans consisting of a tripartite consensus of mind, heart, and arm… In its purview, all men are one, measurable only in terms of piety. There is hence no Tawhid without the Ummah.”
  • “Ummah is necessarily universal, intended to cover humanity. Islam countenances no color, no race, no chosen people complex, no nationalism, no relativism in anything that matters.”
  • “… the Ummah is responsible for mankind. The highest standard is justice. The Muslim is obliged to realize it in his person, his family, his country, the world, or on the other side of the moon. Likewise, he is obliged to redress the balance of justice whenever and wherever it is upset by anyone, be he commoner of king.”
  • “The Ummah is a universal order comprehending even those who are not believers. It is an order of peace, a Pax Islamica, forever open to all those individuals and groups who accept the principle of the freedom to convince and to be convinced of the truth, who seek a world order in which ideas, goods, wealth, or human bodies are free to move. The Pax Islamica is an international order far surpassing the United Nations, that child of yesteryear, aborted and warped by the principles of the nation state and the dominion of the “big powers,”…  and ultimately based on axiological and ethical relativism.”
       Given mystical undercurrent of (post)modern and traditionalist scholarship and sensibility that emphasizes metaphysical-esotericist hermeneutics of Sufis, it might find al-Faruqi’s key ideas regarding the religious other and binary of Islamization vs. Tradiionalization, or his over-stretching of ummatism vs. nation-state binary somewhat problematic, his compelling presentation is needed to be appropriated for better understanding of traditional Muslim theological viewpoint. Al-Faruqi himself is, methodologically, quite open to debate anything under the sun as would appear from his following statements: 
  • “Islamic da’wah is…an invitation to think, to debate and argue. The right to think is innate and belongs to all men. No man may preemptively deny it to any human. … da’wah must be the end product of a critical process of intellection. Da’wah is directed to Muslims as well as non-Muslims.” Da’wah is anamnesis. Da’wah is the call of man to return to himself.”
  • “God, in Islam, is the truth. His unity is the unity of the sources of truth.” “As methodological principle, rationalism is constitutive of the essence of Islamic civilization. It consists of three rules or laws: first, rejection of all that does not correspond with reality; second, denial of ultimate contradictories; third, openness to new and/or contrary evidence. The Muslim is definable as the person who claims nothing but the truth…The third rule, openness to new or contrary evidence, protects the Muslim against literalism, fanaticism, and stagnation causing conservatism. It inclines him to intellectual humility.” 
      Although most of the questions that immediately arise in the modern mind regarding the notion of Ummah are also addressed by him, however, some question that intrigue us receive less attention. For instance, given effective idea of Ummah in force for centuries, would this world have any serious problems still left and would there be need for other people from different organizations without any religious motivation, or motivated by purely secular factors, to be even better known or more zealously involved in similar work than the members of such a community/organization? What would one think if such a huge organization has not been able to even state clearly what it is for and most of its own members are confused regarding its basic mandate and other people fear it and wish this didn’t exist? 
      What is needed is a critical engagement with al-Faruqi, not what he espouses in details but how strictly or consistently he is able to stick to the principles he so insightfully articulates. We need to emphasize open ended nature of rationality, wisdom, intellection, dialogue, tolerance that al-Faruqi emphasizes himself as methodological and hermeneutical principles. It appears to me that there are attempts to foreclose certain possibilities in Faruqi himself and we need to resist. The most surprising is his critique of Sufi understanding of Tawhid. If ever there has been an open, intellectual, objective approach it is Sufi one. Explorations of ideas of justice in Rawls, in Sen and Derrida, for instance, should  not be irrelevant in theorizing the strategies tackled to face challenges humanity – Ummah’s horizon – collectively suffers.  If the fruit of dawah is wisdom, and we can acknowledge that humankind is agreed on pursuit of wisdom, we can, with Al-Faruqi, critique all exclusivist ideological notions that have divided us or have been hegemonic. I wonder if any significant difference would be made if we substitute the word Transcendence centric for Islamic (which Faruqi himself primarily defines in terms that emphasize Transcendence of Divine Principle) but how much would be gained in terms of communicative dialogue with secular and religious fundamentalist. Al-Faruqi’s legacy is relevant in critiquing both ISIS and other ideologies appropriating Islam minus its methodological universalism and secularism ignorant of the First Principles.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Fighting the Plague in Education

Camus’ The Plague can be symbolically read as Kashmir’s story, including the story of its Education sector.
In order to solve countless problems in communication that cause divorces, end friendships and alliances, breed enmity and hostility between those who are otherwise co-workers or share ultimate goal, one needs to remember a few things that are defended by the greatest of thinkers and upheld by world religions and saints:
  • “No man is wilfully bad.” Those who seem to be indeed bad don’t really know how they are injuring the soul by evil actions. If they indeed knew – one’s degrees or post doesn’t help here – they would not do evil.
  • Hate the sin and not the sinner.
  • Judge not. 
  •  Ignorance is the root cause of vice. Knowledge is virtue.
  • We need to listen to the other, then true dialogue could ensue.
  • Our perceived enemies are Heaven sent, embodying God’s jalali attributes. In fact it is our Spirit who projects them for its own growth. They are friends in disguise and, in a sense, invited for completing the action of the drama that requires villains. Anyway life is ultimately a drama whose Director is God and our only mandate is to do our assigned role well. 
  • Ego is an illusion. Almost all fights are at bottom ego trips. It is good that ego – the devil – is hurt as it helps one become enlightened. “I was humiliated and I got enlightened.” 
  • As long as man imagines he can forgive someone it implies the ego that may or may not decide to forgive or sense of agency is still there. What is called for is surrender of will and unconditional forgiving.
The following quotes are from the work The Mantle of Initiation  excepting the last one which is from The Book of Spiritual Advice authored by Islam’s Greatest Master of Irfan or gnosis:
  • Do not urge leadership upon anyone.
  • Take no joy in a reputation flattering to yourself spreading among the general public, even if you deserve it.
  • Care nothing for the ignorance of him who does not know your worth; rather, it is not seemly that there be any sense of your worth even in your own eyes.
  • Have no desire that people should listen to your speech.
  • Be not anxious to give answer to anything displeasing said about you.
  • Be content with [God’s] Decree not necessarily with each thing decreed, but, rather, with its Decree itself. And receive with joy whatever may come from Him.
  • Do favors for both friend and foe, treating all alike with humility, gentleness and long-suffering.
  • Pardon the one who has harmed you, that is, do not even defend yourself [from harm].
  • In general, you should hold a good opinion of everyone, and your heart should be at peace with them.
In the light of these maxims let us approach a “crisis” that arose recently, precipitated by perceived victimisation policy of Director Education, whose significant contribution to development of education as District Development Commissioner, Bandipore, whose rapport with teaching community (most of the well meaning teachers supposedly represented by the  Teachers Forum are not just praising him but pray for his long innings), whose skills as educator and not just as administrator have been noticed by some of our best educators (he had the guts to introduce and direct performance of some of Plato’s dialogues that have bearing on education), whose heart being the heart of a poet, reportedly beats faster for the less privileged, are  all well known. He is also known to act unlike dilly dallying bureaucrats and like Corporate bosses speedily and sternly and thus efficiently. I don’t wish to analyse politics and “educational” philosophy  of abuses thrown at the Director– I may remind him of Sir Syed who, while campaigning for what is now AMU was sarcastically greeted by shoes, and he gratefully accepted it saying he can sell it for raising funds for his project – nor call for public audit of the Forum’s policies or its credentials – moral, intellectual and technical – as a representative body  of teachers who are required, by the very nature of the job assigned to them, of soul-fashioning and character building, to love teaching and ideally not to envy or opt for administrative posts, and use the most refined language nor question supposedly hidden agenda in testing teachers or its arbitrary nature that examines Masters or even PhDs leaving undergrads or some apparently inefficient people untouched. Instead, I draw attention of fellow columnists, civil society members and teaching fraternity and authorities in education to one of the greatest works in twentieth century fiction Albert Camus’ The Plague that can by symbolically read as Kashmir’s story including the story of its Education sector. It calls for noticing the plague that is all around us, stinking and need to fight it collectively and the fact that deep consciousness of suffering unites us all, dissolving egos and making us all compassionate. Camus tells about widespread epidemic that afflicted inhabitants of Oran and its hero who is a doctor named Rieux who, by all appearances, shunning all consideration of reward leaves no stone unturned to help the community heal. It tells, among other things, about what ultimately counts and unites us all – solidarity that common suffering calls forth amongst victims. Isn’t it tragic that we don’t notice plague that has consumed so many and we keep building personal empires? Every year faulty education system that has no philosophy or vision, kills souls and minds by killing spark of creativity or critical thinking and produces moral/intellectual cripples is a sort of plague that causes more damage than 2014 floods and yet we show no solidarity. 
      Almost all well-meaning and informed teachers would agree that the most recent attempt to treat plague by authorities seems to have been the most target specific. The doctor appointed to supervise healing programme thinks that some members of his own team appointed for healing bodies and minds need to be first checked against infection and the kits for healing they possess are in order or they are indeed updated regarding the tools they use – a reasonable hypothesis that can easily be verified. Strangely some of the team members refuse the diagnostic test and take to streets leaving plague stricken community shocked and dying. This community asks why it hasn’t the right to be treated by those only who are indeed capable of treating them. 
      Factors that further intensify plague include privatization where it costs too much to be treated and proper healing is made more difficult. The community and members of teachers fraternity as public servants embodying the true spirit of constitution can’t afford neutrality at the time of moral crisis and must fight champions of feudal and capitalist values that have been unnerved by some success of recent radical measures to tackle plague at multiple levels.  Now since community has suffered terribly at the hands of previous regimes of healers, generally speaking, it is becoming increasingly conscious and can’t be taken for a ride this time.
      Let the Teachers Forum publicly argue its case – teachers are trained or expected to politely argue and not to agitate or dictate in democracies – (it looks disgraceful to chant slogans for the cause of education that persuades or does what Socrates called midwifery – a teacher shouting is sacrilege for likes of Plato) and propose a comprehensive policy for treating existing problems including possibly infected lot in its fraternity to prevent further spread of plague.  Our teachers become protestors as if community could learn no other way from dialogue to sacrifice from nation builders. If the only force against failure of communication and politics of confrontation is education and if educators fail themselves, we can only wait for the doom as the plague consumes all. The maxims  quoted above imply we acknowledge our guilt and pain of near and dear ones and proceed to help the dying community. Rationale of this or that decision we can gracefully post-mortem or challenge in court but we can’t lose sight of the objective that we all share which is fighting the plague and not the healer and seek the glory of God and not of ourselves.

Friday, 22 January 2016

We too can Write

Celebrating Writers’ Spaces in Kashmir
Why is the world today suffering spiritual-moral crisis, reeling under countless conflicts and devastated by huge avoidable suffering at all planes?
      The best answer to this can be sought in great writers. However part of the current tragedy is that the best writers/critics are either not heard or not known or not coming forth to make their intervention. One important reason for scarcity of better writers today in Kashmir is that, collectively, we have ignored nurturing those spaces that fashion writers or sharpen critical sense. Now, to some extent, we have been able open up some spaces. Today let us pay attention to one such space that has been active for quite some time in Kashmir. J & K Fiction Writers Guild is an open space in Summer capital of the State where every Saturday afternoon, an open group of writers, critics and people from all walks of life interested in literature, meet, read and critically appraise short stories besides, briefly, informally interacting on any issue any writer or audience is interested in. It is an open space for all to express, to question and debate issues pertaining to everything a writer is interested in (It is everything in life that does  interest a writer and nothing human is alien to him).
      Let us dismiss the perception that Kashmir hasn’t  a great legacy (and its continuity till date) of excellence to guide and inspire its current writers. During Buddhist and Shaivist periods, we have succeeded, unlike, vast majority of similar smaller kingdoms, in gifting the world with whole new schools of philosophy and aesthetics (It is another question and an outstanding irony of academic politics that no Vice Chancellor of Kashmir based universities is interested in establishing Philosophy department in his university. Neither are authorities in education department granting Philosophy the  priority it deserves  as part of general curriculum for sharpening critical intelligence and helping in encountering crisis in values or nihilism or fundamentalism – of both religious and secularist varieties – sponsored violence.) During the Islamic period we have produced great philosophy for the masses in the form of mystic poetry besides first rate literary figures and scholars of various disciplines. Lalla is a class in itself who can find place in any great anthology of world poetry. Shaikh-al-Alam is an incomparable genius who revitalized the whole Reshi tradition and thus in a way almost all that is spiritually or morally significant in indigenous history of culture. 
      Even though politically not autonomous for centuries, Kashmir hasn’t relinquished its freedom, even a sort of leadership, in the world of art, craft and culture. Kashmiri’s mystic poets have, at least occasionally or in scattered manner, moments or flashes of genius that are comparable to the best of world poetry including masterpieces of Persian and German mystico-romantic poetry. Modern Kashmir has the likes of Rahi who can rub shoulders with the first rate poets of any country. It has Urdu poets and critics who seem to have carved for themselves permanent place in the history of Urdu literature and criticism. It has a world class genius humourist Qazi Ghulam Muhammad whom every Kashmiri should be reading. It has first rate Iqbal scholars like Prof. G R. Malik. There is a poet in almost every village for whom it could be claimed that he/she has been indeed touched by the Muse (modern post-Zargar Sufi poets, only few of whom can be charged of repetition or (un?)conscious plagiarism, are in thousands in Kashmir which is a record that we need to be more conscious about). We have some short stories that constitute the proud heritage of world literature.
      We have novelists and memoir writers and immensely talented journalists whose pen is indeed much mightier than the sword that can be countered by any power. It has world class translations or adaptations of many great classics by poets and translators. (See, for instance, Rashid Nazki’s translation of Qaseedai Burda, G. N. Khayal’s translation of Umar Khayyam and Mumin Saheb’s rendering of Mantiq-ut-Taer).
      A Kashmiri has every reason to feel proud and claim great inheritance and thus have faith in its power to liberate himself and larger humankind which shares in its current fate that is best described by Dostovesky’s phrase “souls on hire.” We have reasons to hope that writers in younger generation rediscover their great past and, and thanks to the great suffering they have witnessed, act as conscience keepers of the world of the “ the wretched of the earth” - silenced or marginalized classes/communities.
      J &K Fiction Writers Guild is contributing its share to providing the necessary moisture to make our soil more fertile (zara num ho to yeh miti badi zarkhaez hae saqi) by inviting most of the well-known writers (including some mentioned here) to preside and contribute. Eager learners and upcoming writers are awaiting their mentors and accomplished writers every week and one can feel that the ice is thawing and we can smell the fragrance of spring flowers. Nothing can stand between the birth of self consciousness of people mediated by great writers and the beautiful dream of azadi that all oppressed people, everywhere are seeking to realize.
      Azadi, like Derrida’s Justice or Sufi’s Beloved God in His full glory, never comes but must be ceaselessly sought or approximated as a limit or ideal state. Leaders dream  dreams, while writers provide the reality check by testing them and interpreting them in the furnace of life with all its contradictions. Let us learn, with fiction writers, that art is a way of transfiguring and healing and celebrating life  despite misdeeds of the “Other” or our crooked hearts that weave illusions or construct idols. Art and Religion are evidences that  our spirit can never be enslaved though our bodies or lanes can be temporarily.
      Life’s great challenge to which great leaders do respond is to model life on art and that is salvation or felicity. Let our politics approximate art or artists guide us so that we could better interpret the symbol and dream of azadi or freedom that all political philosophies and people seek.
      For artists like Faiz and Mantoo India or Pakistan have yet to win freedom (Kashmir ki bari keb aayae gi, one can imagine). However there can be no curfewed nights for dreams and we can, even though haltingly, say Bol ki lab azad hae teray and make winds testify aes kel ti gawaan aes.
      If you have ever felt that there is a creative writer in you or you have been unsure regarding the merit of your work or you have been irresistibly driven to announce that you have the right to write and get your work known and appraised  the local literary elite, it might be worth exploring  certain spaces around you including that of this Guild. It is a truly democratic space, professionally maintained by voluntary work force which organizes, advertises and maintains profiles and introduces authors or their work to the world. This space needs to involve more of first rate writers and critics and discuss more of classics in creative fiction to chisel tastes.
      So far only a handful of highly satisfactory short stories have been presented and much of the critical commentary has been arcane because our standards have been rather poor. I hope the standard of these Saturdays keeps improving and give us, on the pattern of classic Tuesdays with Morrie, great lessons in the Craft of Recreating Meaning of Life through Literature.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Reading Meaning in History

The question of time is the vital question of life and death for Muslims, as Iqbal noted.
Time is terribly real. So is history. The question of time is the vital question of life and death for Muslims, as Iqbal noted. Semitic traditions have been especially concerned with linearity of time and exigencies of history. On this fateful moment in history when the “clash” of civilizations has been brought up, how do we approach the vital question? What is the meaning of history if we find it a “huge slaughterhouse” of people and find the will to power ruling the roost? How is it possible to say goodbye to another fateful year that precipitated the debate on meaning of Muslim understanding of history and allied conceptions of Islamic State and Khilafah that, self avowedly, seek to redirect history with a value based  paradigm. The problem of evil especially presents itself with all its horror today as we recall groans and sighs and tears from violence and alienation that seems to have increased last year as capitalism invests in newer conflicts. How do we engage with the issue? We need a philosophy of history and understanding of time vis-a-vis eternity, of which it is “a moving image.”
      Before any endeavour to change the world that Marx proposed as the point so far missed by philosophers, the challenge is to understand the world we seek to change as Heidegger retorted. And it is in understanding the world that philosophers  help us. The point of changing it then could better follow. Stalin and Hitler tried to change it and we know the disasters that accompanied their work. The same is true of so many movements that envisioned better worlds without having done enough homework for first understanding the world.
      The world isn’t divided into warring religions but religions that fundamentally share an orientation towards Transcendence and an attempt to understand history or temporality in the light of the eternal. The world isn’t neatly divided into forces of good and forces of evil but complementary and competing visions of the good. Ultimately there is no evil or no enduring evil as it is Haqq or Truth that has the final word and that works its way through and with the evil, apparent or real. God seeks to arrange (with cooperation of humans as "co-creators" ). Believers posit a God of providence that moves all things to perfection, to God to whom is the final return as the Quran asserts."How rough hewn our ends, there is a providence that shapes our ends." Evil or accident in history is both a means to the good and a tragic consequence of misuse of freedom that itself however is such a supreme virtue that none of us is ready to exchange freedom for all the riches of the world (Who will accept the offer of great salary or pension for life and riches on the condition that one has to be an animal or a machine?!). There is no absolute division between classes, genders, nations – everywhere we see certain softening of exclusivist claims or blunting of the edges of binary opposites. No country is purely capitalist, nor purely socialist, nor purely “Islamic” or  democratic. No tradition can claim a record in which there are no regrettable elements. No political ideology alone has cured all the ills. Great religions have all recognized certain inevitability of limitations or imperfections in any human interpretation of the Word. Great philosophies are philosophies of transcendence recognizing that full meaning or whole or absolute truth can’t be actualized in immanent history. Islamic Vision is not a vision claiming that Islam has been fully realized in all its glory and beauty at particular point in time or will necessarily be realized as Satan hasn’t been suspended ever or will be suspended till the Doomsday. There are better examples in the past but no golden age of which we have perfect record.

      Islamic doctrine of Divine Names recognizes that there will be strife and unending battle between people who are under the influence of different, even contradictory ends. Aren’t the Names of divine beauty and majesty of opposite import when it comes to battleground of history where they seek to be manifested? One way of saying this is that hell has to be populated. And the most mature wisdom is seeing all this grand battle of ideas and even humanly interpreted ideals with God’s Eye and understanding that ultimately God is the real creator or ground of both us and our actions. The world is indeed a stage and we are best advised to be actors letting the Tao or the Other or Universal will direct our ends. "I will not to will" or carry out God's will, declare prophets, saints and artists with one voice. That is the best action called actionless action ( wu wei wei).
      Nobody, and thus no movement run by people can be purely and exclusively evil because the movement towards the Good (conscious or unconscious or inadequately understood in concrete applications) is instinctual in us as creatures made in divine image. No man is wilfully bad, declared Socrates (and religions agree seeing in ignorance the source of evil).
      None of us has been consulted before birth or will be consulted at the time of death, as Kahlil Jibran notes. Momentous decisions in our lives and history still belong to higher powers we don’t fully comprehend. We are all frail creatures struggling with forces that we don’t fully comprehend. None can claim to have been given the secret (in the sense that could be concretely communicated to us) of unfolding of history in all its detail. We all wrestle with questions of meaning of particular events that have happened to us or around us. All we know is that somehow God is directing everything to the desired end because Omnipotence can't be foiled and Omniscience can’t be tricked or fooled. However, it is in metaphysical terms as All-Possibility that we need to understand the verse “God has power over all things.” God sees but waits as Tolstoy tried to show in one of his famous short stories. History moves in certain direction with God as the Omega point, as epilogue of War and Peace argues. Or Providence does create a creative minority that, according to Toynbee, pushes history towards more humane and divine ends than dialectical materialism would have us believe.
      The record of evil due to the rise of the West is well known but it will take pages to only list the beautiful things that have come in its wake including explosion of knowledge, freedom of expression, shortening of distances, softening of exclusivist narratives and more conscious awareness of the grandeur and misery of man caught up in a world of contradictions grounded in God, who is “coincidentia oppositorum” or unity of opposites (majmaul azdaad) . We need to read such works as God in History, and Hughe's work Transcendence and History: the search for Ultimacy from Ancient Societies to Postmodernity, that show how God is working or the Good is getting manifest, despite horrendous evil .

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Station of no-station

Wisdom of Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him, according to Ibn Arabi

Is it possible to discover a point of view that comprehends the truth in all points of view? Is it possible to state one’s “worldview” or vision that could resist any conceivable criticism or deconstruction? To these questions there is a positive answer. And that is a vision that unconditionally submits to Truth or totality of all truths, a vision of radical innocence that is open to all experience, a humility to qualify all one’s assertions or claims of access regarding anything including such ideals as Beauty, Truth, Justice and Goodness or revelations of Being or pursuit of Perfection and thus not claim absoluteness for any immanent thing or idea. And one who embodies the great Station that is not a particular station or ideological viewpoint and thus embraces the reality or truth of all stations,  is Muhammad (SAW). This is how “the Greatest Master” – as he is called by a vast majority of Ulama and Saints – presents the “supremely successful person” of secular-cum-spiritual history. Let us meditate a passage from Ibn Arabi’s Naqsh al-Fusûs that sums up contents of larger work Fusûs -al-Hikm, in Chittick’s translation:
  • “God does not become determined for him according to …various fields of knowledge, modes of perception, beliefs, visions, traditions or descriptions, because of his awareness of the Majesty of God and of the fact that He is not limited to all or any of these things…. He has shown them that He encompasses them from all of their hidden and manifest directions and that He reveals Himself to them in them, not in any one thing, direction, name or level. So they enter the Trackless Desert in His contemplation, and their bewilderment is from Him, through Him and in Him.”
      For Ibn ‘Arabî , Muhammedan is, as one Ibn Arabi scholar puts it,
  • “not a designation of a particular historical community but the very name of universality and perfection. It is the name of a station, theoretically available to everyone, attainable to the select few who travel on and on, perfectly realizing all stations until he arrives at the station of no station in which one has nothing of one’s own and therefore mirrors the Real most perfectly and is not defined by any particular divine name or attribute but brings together all standpoints or stations.” 
      Can we ever say we have seen enough of beauty, now no more? Can we ever assert we are perfectly good and need no more movement towards the Good? Imagine a person whom nothing can satisfy, whom no belief binds, who is perfectly open to experience, who has nothing to fear, no anxiety to reach to apprehension of losing. Move on and keep deconstructing any signpost or ideology or interpretation or form offered as an absolute and then we can have some idea of the grandeur and comprehensiveness of the Muhammedan Station of no-station.
      Imitating the Prophet (SAW) whom he primarily conceives in metaphysical terms is the way to perfection and “an ideal of inclusion rather than exclusion, an ideal of integral culture, not an attitude of purity in peril, not xenophobia disguised as piety, not totalitarianism, not reaction.”  Itibayi sunnat, in this sense, isn’t known by those who can’t connect jurisprudence to ontology or metaphysics.
      All endeavours are for realizing the station of Muhammad (SAW), all seeking is seeking of Muhammad (SAW), all roads lead to the abode of Muhammad (SAW) as we find, in all cases, ceaseless movement for reaching the unreachable Beyond rather than some resting place. Deep down, we are  never satisfied with any given state or achievement or object though, as frail  creatures, we are often content with our little seeking and adventures and familiar relations. Muhammad (SAW) is the life and fire in every experience as all experience requires the Light of Muhammad (SAW) as an ontological ground. For those who can see, it is Muhammad’s (SAW) flag everywhere. Great na’t such as Iqbal’s na’t (“Nigahe ishq-o masti main wahi awwal, wahi  aakhir” or Zoaq-o-Shoaq etc.) is best understood in light of Ibn Arabi’s understanding of the phenomenon of Muhammad (SAW).
      Muhammedan saints give “each created thing exactly what is due to it on the basis of seeing it as a unique self-disclosure (tajallî) of the absolute Haqq.” For Ibn Arabi a Muhammedan is one who realizes the perfections of all the prophets (these perfections can’t be enumerated as their archetypes number 124000, in keeping with the number of prophets from the time of Adam) – an ideal worthy of emulating for every man and who can assert that he is truly a Muhammedan and who can be more inclusivist than a Muhammedan in this sense? The highest station of no-station demands disengaging oneself from all qualities, bonds, limitations, and constrictions and standing Non-delimited Wujūd i.e., to be absolutely open to the Real with no imposition or will of one’s own. Ibn ‘Arabî thus demands nothing less than Universal Compassion and encountering the other with infinite humility and care – an ideal which Levinas attempts to appropriate.
      It is in light of the Muhammedan Station of no-station that one can critique all Fascistic, Totalitarian or Fundamentalist or Class/Gender/Identity centric exclusivist ideological projects that claim access to absolute truth or privileged position. As beliefs limit or circumscribe the Formless Freedom that constitutes the Heaven/Void we finally seek, a perfect man needs to transcend all beliefs according to Ibn Arabi. This also follows from recognizing the implications of Divine Majesty – ceaselessly move on, go on wondering and questioning. Those who reduce Islam to a creedal system or a religion among other religions (for Ibn Arabi Islam is not an ideology but submission to Truth – The Real  – that has infinite faces denoted by potentially infinite Names and Attributes grounding all possibilities that constitute the world/life) or reduce Muhammad (SAW) to a postman  (for the Master the Quran is the Prophet’s self) or fail to understand the significance of the Prophet’s love of such “worldly” things as women and perfume (along with prayer) according to the tradition he comments upon in this chapter need to read Ibn Arabi in whom we find such profundity that the likes of Heidegger and Derrida and modern sages from various cultures could only stand in deep awe. Ours is indeed turning out to be an the age of Ibn Arabi who is being rediscovered everywhere for articulating the vision of Love and Justice that can’t be deconstructed. This vision would require not resting content with any given form of these ideals. It is perpetual cautioning against absolutization of humanly interpreted or conceived ideas or posing as God’s spokespersons. When you see anyone too anxious to label, judge and exclude in any name, on any pretext, impatient to live in uncertainties and aspiring to impose his view on others, recall the understanding of bewilderment according to Ibn Arabi and seek to question. All men are united in their adoration for beauty, in their thirst for joy and love, in their endeavour to pursue perfection or the Good and respect for truth; they aren’t and can’t be united in any particular formulation of these ideals because the highest station we all seek is no particular station. We can afford to lose ourselves or break free in bewilderment or hairah  (because Being can never cease to intoxicate or we can never finish see it lifting all its veils) and not in any object “…terae samnae aasman aur bi haen.” It is on the Muhammedan axis of wonder that philosophy, science, mysticism and faith meet. Wonder implies eternal youth and freshness of life Milad is all about.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Religion of Beauty

Consciously or unconsciously we keep adoring beauty

It is told that  once Ananda, the beloved disciple of the Buddha, saluted his master and said: “Half of the holy life, O master, is friendship with the beautiful, association with the beautiful, communion with the beautiful”.“Say not so, Ananda, say not so!” the master replied.“It is not half the holy life; it is the whole of the holy life.” (SAMYUTTA NIKAYA)
Why is there a universal “weakness” for the most useless thing called beauty? ( Laotze had spoken of beauty as “the usefulness of the useless,”  and Kant as “Purposiveness without purpose.”) Because beauty is from the otherworld. Plato meant the same when he said “beauty is the splendour of the Truth.” When women saw beautiful Joseph they exclaimed he is an angel. See beautiful girl and one exclaims a houri from heaven. Indeed beauty is from the otherworld and its existence is one of the most powerful proofs for the existence of God. Ghalib’s answer to his own question yeh pari chehra loag koun hae is they are manifestations of the One. We might be tempted to deny God in our sceptical moments or at least grant our failure to comprehend His presence near and around  (as “nearer to us than our jugular vein,” as Al-Muheet) and within us but we can’t deny that we are attracted to beauty in human face, in smiles, in innocent gestures,  in sounds, in rhythms, in colours. In fact in everything one can discover beauty, and if one can’t one is spiritually blind. Ibn Arabi was asked what about human faces and he said he hasn’t seen it. As beings all things including the  lowliest or seemingly ugly or harmful  are beautiful as Ghazzali and Eckhart said.  In God nothing is ugly; whatever ugliness we see is because we see things outside God or through manipulating utilitarian self. Abu Yazid said that he saw nothing without first seeing God. That is precisely what Nagarjuna means when he exclaims samsara is nirvana or this world is Heaven. A saint was asked by an atheist where is God and he pointed to mountains and landscape around and said see it. See it, attend to it, contemplate it and get lost in it and you have seen something from God. For the gnostic all things are tajilliyat – epihphanies. Joyce talks about an epiphany his hero experienced on seeing a wading girl. However, a saint is capable of seeing God in everything, not only in women. A flower is enough as a proof for God for him as Schuon has remarked. The tragedy is we fail to see as lovers and saints see. We have lost the faculty of seeing as Adam saw in Paradise before the Fall. All things are Infinite if we could truly see and then angels would shake hands with us as they did with Blake. This is similar to what Companions were told  by the Prophet when they complained of loss of vision when they leave his Presence.
      Consciously or unconsciously we keep adoring beauty. We all – including the most puritanical – love beauty in harmonious sound. Music if defined as harmonious sound is the feast God offers us from dawn to dusk in the rhythms of nature –birds, insects, rains, streams, winds all are playing a symphony free for all. We can understand God’s Name “The Irresistible” in many ways including the phenomenon of our spontaneous attraction to music – the beauty of sound – and virgin nature teeming with all kinds of beauties. It is God the Wadood who attracts us and we can’t resist. To be human is to be open to Beauty. How can we witness God or His Unity or perpetually remember Him through farz-i-dayim? The easiest way is by being open to countless forms of beauty. A poet see more beauty than non-poets. He also creates it as does any artist. A saint bathes in beauty; he sees only beauty. How beautiful is the world is known only when we are in love or have found some other means of escaping the great blinker that objectifies or degrades everything – ego. One can’t name a  completely ugly thing; all things participate in beauty or some degree. God alone is perfect beauty. Not even paradise can be. And man must ceaselessly seek perfect beauty and that is why nothing in this world or the otherworld satisfies him finally until he is granted the Vision of God. In this world nothing satisfies us finally except remembrance of God or the Void that is the plenitude of Being.
      If the idea of worship implies reverent devotion to the Other that is not the self and not for the fortification of the self but its liberation in love and devotion, all humans can be said to worship God in the aspect of Beauty. We are all moved by the beauty of the soul and that is why all of us bow before the presence of saints. To be man is to love beauty. Atheism  understood as rejection of God the Jameel– the ground of beauty – is inhuman view that no sane person accepts. When the Quran says  “Afillahi Shakkun….” it implies that one can’t entertain a doubt regarding God the Other manifest in the heavens and the earth. Baudelaire, the poet, to whom  modern art owes its renewed awareness of the theological quality and tyrannical spirituality of beauty, writes:

  • ". . . it is this immortal instinct for the beautiful which makes us consider the earth and its various spectacles as a sketch of, as  correspondence with, Heaven. . . . It is at once through poetry and across poetry, through and across music, that the soul glimpses the splendors situated beyond the grave; and when an exquisite poem brings tears to the eyes, these tears are not proof of an excess of joy, they are rather the testimony of an irritated melancholy, a demand of the nerves, of a nature exiled in the imperfect and desiring to take possession immediately, even on this earth, of a revealed paradise." 
      Modern age is the ugliest in history, as is noted by the greatest art historian Coomaraswamy. In previous ages even a spoon or a cup was painted with all one’s soul and thus beautiful. Man surrounded himself with beauty, lived beauty and radiated beauty.  Almost all the wonders that will outlast modern age are from ancient or modern world. We have largely forgotten beauty in our houses, in our  surroundings, in cities, in villages, in souls.  It is museums that are beautiful and they are generally from ages past when man’s  religion was beauty, and not utility. Today our architecture is, generally speaking, designed for utility or vanity. And that has given us largely ugly, homogeneous, and inhospitable world where all cities look alike and you can find suffocating monotony of banks, malls, schools, hospitals  that are designed without regard for vivifying symbolism and for the dead – customers/clients/alienated individuals or hired workers. They are best for the dead.
      Pursuing perfection is pursuing beauty and that is precisely the end of Islam – Ihsan which means doing things perfectly, so perfectly that one can say that God does them. An artist, like a true servant of God, has no sense of autonomous agency or ego. He has perfectly surrendered so that his hand is God’s hand.(“Hath hai Alah ka Bandae  Mumin ka Haath”)
      It is in the name of beauty, a more perfect understanding of beauty that philosophers, Sufis and  poets criticize one another. Or critics including our enemies criticize us in the name of a principle of greater perfection or beauty and thus we should be thankful to them if they truly succeed in bringing to our attention a greater beauty.
      I conclude with a quote from Dostoevsky, the great priest of the Religion of Beauty:
  • “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”
Islamic Shahadah has been rendered as “There is no beauty but Beauty.” All things are lawful or can be enjoyed in God. Man is saved by beauty according to all traditions and no sane person can fail to understand it. However, all religions also warn us against confounding a particular beauty with the Absolute Beauty and temptation to forget God while enjoying His beautiful world outside God.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Reading Peter Kreeft

Muslims and Christians face almost similar challenge of making God’s word intelligible in a world that has been decisively impacted by Marx, Darwin and Freud.

One of the greatest tragedies that have befallen the Muslim world is forgetting its great heritage in human and divine sciences crippling them in the face of modern challenges that require a philosophical idiom to comprehend and respond. Muslims have hardly learnt from Christian and Jewish counterparts. Great names in Judeo-Christian thought in the modern world are mostly philosophers or theologians who take full cognizance of the challenge from secularizing thought currents. It is a Christian philosopher who has written one of the most celebrated texts on secular age titled A Secular Age. It is such brilliant Jewish philosophers as Buber, Heschel and Levinas who have presented some of the most compelling ethico-mystical visions for the modern world. It is Paul Tillich, a Protestant philosopher, who has given us one of the most compelling approaches to God that modern minds finds irresistible. It is a Catholic philosopher Maritain who has given us some of the most  brilliant analyses of the modern malaise of disbelief from a Christian or more traditional viewpoint. A study of his works like Art and Scholasticism and The Range of Reason shows how shallow are the ideologies that veto God from the rational and artistic consciousness on which the modern mind bases its key claims. Christian thinkers have not hesitated to deeply engage with atheistic or pagan or other secularizing thought currents and in the process it has become possible to be a perfectly rational Christian in the face of not only such rather shallow band of new atheists from Dawkins to Harris, but also such seemingly deadly foes of Christianity like Nietzsche and Lyotard.
      Muslims and Christians face almost similar challenge of making God’s word intelligible in a world that has been decisively impacted by Marx, Darwin and Freud. While the post Sir Syedian Muslims world has largely chosen to avoid, with proper philosophical idiom, encounter with the West with such exceptions including the likes of Iqbal, Nasr, Fazlur Rehman, Abu Nasr Zayd, Arkoun, Jabiri and some lesser known scholars from Izzatbegowich to Shabir Akhter to Jamal Khawja, the Christian world has been quite upto the challenge culminating in such figures as Peter Kreeft whom we today study. Kreeft illustrates virtue of being a philosopher and a first rate theologian. He has the courage and wit to write wonderful and insightful dialogues between Socrates and Sartre, or Socrates and Nietzsche. In choosing both the Greek philosophical and Christian theological and mystical heritages to approach the challenge from Modernity while mastering a great style, he emerges as one of the most accessible thinkers on a large variety of questions that are asked by new generation fighting disbelief and nihilism. Muslim scholars have, generally speaking, banked upon Western responses to disbelief and keep referring to it for instilling confidence in the audience which lives and breathes in an atmosphere of scepticism. Popularity of such books as God Arises by Maulana Wahidudin Khan and The Quran, Bible and Science by Maurice Bucaille evidences dependence on Western sources to fight disbelief in God and scripture respectively. The fact is Muslim religious authorities have, generally speaking, avoided squarely facing  the challenge from newer thought currents and thus need to bank upon those Western advocates of religion who have squarely faced “ilmi jaded ka challenge.” Today some points from Peter Kreeft to introduce his overall approach and relevance, especially for a sceptical audience.
      First his remarks about philosophy that one needs to contrast with attitude towards it in Muslim seminaries and in popular Muslim imagination that is deeply suspicious of philosophy as such. “Philosophy is not an esoteric, specialized, scholarly, technical, and dull affair but rather a thing so natural and so universal and so important that it is one of the fundamental purposes we were created for: "the love of wisdom." . Philosophy is important to every person because philosophy is about the meaning of the life of every person, and about the right conduct of the life of every person.”
      About his choice of Socrates as the philosopher and his protagonist (recalling some Muslim thinkers for whom he is indeed inspired and a soul mate): “Socrates got under my hat and has not left, thank God. He is the philosopher I should be, the philosopher we all should be. But no one is. Socrates was the greatest philosopher; that's why he wrote nothing. He didn't need to. He lived his words.”
      It is on prayer that I find, after Frithjof Schuon’s Prayer Fashions Man, the most profound  deliberations in recent times in Kreft’s work. Just one remark here: “No one who ever said to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy—not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now.”  This recalls Ghazzali’s and other Sufi explications of  the station of acceptance (Maqam i Raza).
      We have heard so many, mostly unconvincing, answers to the question regarding sexual morality and houris for women. We have also not been receiving convincing reasons why lust is proscribed with such vehemence in religions. The best treatment regarding this question I have come across in modern times from Kreeft: “God is love, man is fulfilled in love. Lust happens to man as does craving for food. Craving can’t be an end; love is an end in itself….The highest pleasure always comes in self-forgetfulness. Self always spoils its own pleasure. Pleasure is like light; if you grab at it, you miss it; if you try to bottle it, you get only darkness; if you let it pass, you catch the glory. The self has a built-in, God-imaging design of self-fulfilment by self-forgetfulness, pleasure through unselfishness, ecstasy by ekstasis, "standing-outside-the-self". This is not the self-conscious self-sacrifice of the do-gooder but the spontaneous, unconscious generosity of the lover.”  Kreeft recalls in us Islam’s view of sexuality, when enjoyed in proper framework, as sacred and one recalls Ghazzali who said it gives a foretaste of paradise. 
      One may write on paper the questions about religion or rationale of certain do’s and don’ts of religion and compare the answers from popular preachers on TV or books available in the market to the answers philosophers like Kreeft or Nasr give and one can decide why modern world reserves the first place for philosophers and why they shake our hearts and minds and command our reverence. It is illumined philosophers borrowing their light from the “Niche of Prophecy” who have been considered the greatest and most influential scholars of respective traditions. Hujjatul Islams, Philosophers, basically interpret the world though some help change it (we first need to understand the world we wish to change, as has been remarked by a great philosopher.) Poets who are in a sense poet-philosophers are indeed our unknown legislators as Shelley said.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Who speaks for Hamadani today?

The basic problem I attempt to deal with is clarifying some aspects of debate on implementation of Islam in secular states, in light of key insights from Tradition (the Way of Salaf i Saliheen). For Islam the sacred-secular binary is ultimately transcended as is the division between West and East, ancient and modern (“Daleeli kem nazri qisayi qadeem-o-jadeed"). Islam appropriates all that is grand and noble and valuable (“Al-hikmatu zaalat-ul mumin”) in any thought current.
      I argue that we need to engage with modern political thought currents in light of traditional understanding of politics as grounded in metaphysics/Ad-Deen, and if some key motivations and insights from secular thinkers like Marx can be shown to concur with it, we shouldn’t fight shy of it. Since our dialogue is with secular Marxist or liberal democratic or other forms of modern political thought, one has to explore if we can talk in their idiom without distorting traditional understanding, or find common grounds for dialogue. Both totalitarian state capitalism, miscalled socialism, and free market capitalism are unsatisfactory or contradict basic ethos of Islam. Both need to be critically approached and placed in traditionalist perspective. And that is precisely what I have been doing in all my published work. If traditionalist interpretation is not the best or most comprehensive intellectually, spiritually, what else is?
      One need not argue the point that there is a sun shining when one basks in its light. One only needs to open one’s eyes to see and verify. I state some facts – facts and not interpretations (provided one can sustain fact-interpretation binary) that should clarify my position, or what I take to be Hamadani’s position and invite more comprehensive engagement, in academic style, with the problems I raise.
Fact of disagreements amongst Masters on sociopolitical, juristic and theological thought:

Almost all great names in Muslim history disagree with one another on many issues including juristic, scholastic, philosophical and reading of many sciences. Hamadani agrees and disagrees with his predecessor Masters and those following him agree and disagree with him. Great names in Islamic history, from Imam Malik to Shah Waliullah, disagree with him on certain juristic, theological and philosophical issues. All great names in Modern Islam, from Iqbal to Nasr, disagree with some aspect of his thought on socio-political issues. Disagreements imply health of a community, not disrespect. If I express preference for certain views, it is on the basis of giants of history and tradition and not in my personal capacity. And ultimately methodology is to analyze an argument on its own merits. Philosophy understood as love of wisdom, as respect for logic and as a dimension of Hikmah that Prophet (SAW) taught, passes no fatwas; it seeks deeper meanings or intentions or spirit behind linguistic signs. It seeks primarily neither to condemn nor to condone but to understand. If we differ in understanding, we can attempt to reach an agreement based on proper dialogue, say on the terms Habermas suggests.

Fact of refinement in scientific understanding:

Now isn’t it the fact that anatomy and physiology known to our forefathers has been drastically changed and no medieval writer could be read unedited today on these things? Compare modern scientific figures on the number of muscles, bones, nerves with those mentioned by Hamadani and one can see what is what. Hamadani’s endorsing of physiognomy, another “science” cultivated during medieval times, is today generally speaking, considered a pseudoscience or at best half baked science. If that science is implemented, the character of more than half of  our acquaintances will be suspected and many serving people will be thrown out of many sensitive departments. The point is that Masters like Hamadani are masters in spiritual sciences, not natural sciences which keep refining even within days, not to speak of centuries. Great masters from Aristotle to Ibn Sina to Ibn Arabi all have stated certain opinions according to then prevalent sciences. Symbolic value still intact, empirical content can be disputed. It must however be noted that getting some scientific facts wrong makes no difference to moral-spiritual arguments Hamadani makes while invoking them.
Fact of changed political realities in our world:

In medieval times there was no concept of nation states, no passports, no citizenship in current sense of the term, no subject who votes and holds rulers accountable to him/to judiciary/ constitution, no globalization, no large scale mixing of people or close association of people of different faiths in offices, in public places, in travel. Isn’t it the fact that Muslims seek to live in secular states if they are in minority (and vice versa also applies for other communities who think they are safer in secular states)? Isn’t it the fact that even Muslim factions, Shias and Sunnis, are not able to live amicably in major religious states we know? How can a book discussing socio-political issues (to be distinguished from metaphysical/spiritual/divine sciences that are timeless and are not to be edited in any age if we are to stay as believing community) that can be understood or appreciated best in medieval milieu assuming none of these things remain in its original shape without need of extensive footnotes and textual changes today? An author most often makes changes in second edition of book and even scriptures have to use the principle of nasikh and mansokh to take cognizance of changed situations in few years from their first revelation.
      Who says that the notions of Dar-al Islam and Dar-al-Harb aren’t uncontested in modern Muslim thought, not to speak of secular thought? Although we can still appreciate the spirit behind such categories as Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb in light of such notions as divine or virtuous and nonvirtuous cities of which great thinkers from Plato and Augustine to Farabi and today Voegelin speak about, they can’t be  literally read and imported today.
Democracy  as a condition and not a doctrine:
Democracy interpreted as rule for the people and by the consultation among people honouring Divine Measure that embodies in value orientation or comprehensive understanding of welfare is, in principle, acceptable to all believing communities and arguably to secular sensibility as well. Democracy understood more as a condition that is de facto the case today and not a particular doctrine that situates itself against divine sovereignty has to be faced and respectfully, though critically approached. Isn’t it the fact that almost all important names in recent history of Islam have used such terms as democracy (Iqbal, Shariati, Azad) or theodemocracy  (Maududi) or emphasized consultation as key virtue in Islamic politics and even tried to marry the notion of Walayati Faqeeh with democratic ideal (Khomeni)? Since the modern world has largely accepted certain form of democracy for reasons that we needn’t discuss, one must ask what precisely is the problematic element in its theory and practice and seek to appropriate it in light of traditional political thought which would embody the essence of the institution of philosopher king/khalifa.

The challenge before  Muslims who want Islam to be implemented is to argue how to make, for instance, Hamdani talk to the likes of Leo Strauss, Schmitt, Agamben, Voegelin, Zizek  on the one hand and to likes of Mulla Omar, Bagdadi, Zahravi, on the other hand. To the twin problems of desacralization through secularization, and violence or intolerance through fundamentalism, I see in traditionalization of political thought the best antidote, and our task is how we can express the Tradition in contemporary idiom. Seeing Syed Moududi, Iqbal, Khomeni, Shariati, Arkoun, Fazlur Rahman, Amin Ahsan Islahi and many other important contributors to this debate on Islamic political thought, one seeks to make an informed choice in the face of highly confusing and complex times today when we witness regimes being toppled, massive executions of political opponents, violent ideological appropriations of Islam from a lot of religio-political movements and conflicting interests of big powers in inciting violence or sponsoring wars.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Implementing Islam in the Secular States

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

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