Thursday, 23 June 2016

More Modest Proposals

Who can vow that he has seen ten people he knows intimately and none had significant behavioural problems.
Swift’s idea in his satirical masterpiece A Modest Proposal which proposed that the poor Irish may consider easing their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich people was to shock people out of complacency and insensitivity towards issues that they pass by. I think in Kashmir it is impossible to shock people perhaps for the reasons karwan kae dil sae ehsas-i- ziyaan jata raha. Or is it because we have converted life into an object of art? Or we are Nietzschean Zarathustras not vulnerable to pity and sons of the soil of saints who are said to be “beyond good and evil"
Humane Slaughter of New Generation
“Papa, would you please slaughter me?” a five year old child asked.  “Why?” asked the shocked father. “Then I will join God and willn’t have to go the school.”  I heard this dialogue few days back and can assert that something similar can be overheard by most of us from most of students. Therefore I suggest, a slaughter house  that kills humanely, in one go, be built for kids who are subject to such violence in schools that damages them for good and they die mini-deaths almost daily. Or at least these kids be given such a choice to drop out of schools if not from life as well.
Getting Good Students for Religious Schools
Immediately arrest all the parents who send their less gifted children to religious schools for thinking so lowly of God and His religion and criminal neglect of the future of their society. The govt/civil society should ask the madaris management to close their schools immediately on moral grounds as they are thrown the bones while meet is kept for secular education. Isn’t it supremely immoral and against one’s religion and principles of education to admit, in most of cases, the most  unruly and intellectually least gifted or least promising students in madrassahs whose mandate is to provide  teachers or imams – moral-spiritual educators of community besides hukama, theologians and scholars of a host of traditional sciences. Imagine how we would react if we see any public sector or private agency advertising admissions in special schools for the least gifted children and promising to produce the best community leaders/missionaries/legal experts/scholars entrusted with religious-spiritual-moral guidance of new generation. (While it is indeed to be appreciated that some madrassahs do convert straw into gold and there is a small fraction of bright volunteers who choose madrassah education, it is widely perceived that society isn’t, in most cases, ready to send the best students to religious schools and those who admit them seem to be helpless.)
Securing Audit Exemption for Orphanages and Religious Schools
Immediately go for psychiatric examination of those who sow the seeds of distrust and ask for auditing those institutions by professionals and teams from opponent sects which teach trust as a value. They have the temerity to plead that all the educational, social and religious organizations (many private schools are registered as trusts and we know madrassahs are virtually trusts) should be immediately closed or their registration suspended till further orders as most people who give donations have expressed apprehensions regarding their working, especially maintenance of their finances and they might take to streets causing law and order problem. Isn’t it interference in religious affairs  to demand supervision from deviant sects and requiring  publishing of detailed budgetary statements on some public sites/papers or websites with a space for public feedback to seek clarifications or critical appraisal from donors regarding many tiered audit from civil society and trusted accounts professionals. Immediate demand is furnishing of statement.
Treating Cancer of & in Schools
Since people don’t show interest, Babus don’t care, politicians are not willing to experiment with their children in government schools and all kinds of tests have already been discredited and even the Minister, sensing the power of the status quoits lobbies, seems to have second thoughts  on his reform agenda and iconoclastic zeal (the attempt has been to reform the Minister who sought to reform education), it is prudent to close all the govt schools in phased manner (anyway the process has already started from last two years and we have seen schools have been closed at the rate of  more than 5 schools/day) and transfer the money for running schools to local committees who would be operating community schools where public would be directly responsible for educating their children and thus end general mistrust and consequent geebat and protest culture against both private and government schools. Anyway where is education (as distinguished from literacy and mostly irrelevant or useless short term memory based information mugging operations in schools) to justify so much funding and so many teachers? If students don’t seem to learn anything significant about life and its problems and very few if any key skills one needs throughout life why waste their precious years in schools? Why not stop telling lies and plucking a few holes in the boat that has dozens of them and it is only a matter of time that we see it drown? Let it drown with dignity. 
Constructing Mental Hospitals near Schools
Since our school system is the best model in terms of exam and homework stress and the worst space in terms of child abuse (with number of torture devices in place from declining normal sleep to stranding for hours on the way and from schools in buses) we need to declare some of our best private schools as mental asylums or at least prepare a psychiatric ward adjacent to adminstrative block in the schools. This is because most children suffer from certain kind of psychological trouble and because if it is unattended it later expresses in severe pathological forms. Who can vow that he has seen ten people he knows intimately and none had significant behavioural problems – from egoism to sadism to hyper-suspicious and sexist attitudes to tendency to lie (most Kashmiris are expert trithologists(experts in telling lies.), as Prof. Sanullah Parvaz puts it). 
Making Kashmir a Tourist Destination
Ask tourism department to send, annually, 1000 teachers and 5000 students to Finland to experience how without exams (till age 13) and so much of homework, students excel and this model education system has made the country the hub of knowledge tourism and ask them to replicate it here so that educational tourism flourishes here. 
 Refresher Course for Beggars
Conduct beggar training courses to teach them better skills in the course they have discovered to be quite lucrative in terms of employment/job generation. Since the State might hesitate to implement French govt’s policy that eliminated begging overnight by declaring that any person caught begging would be immediately publicly hanged, it is better we make good use of their professional skills. The most likely explanations for tolerating the crime called begging in broad daylight is that they supply hafta to police or social welfare department who know it is a crime but don’t launch FIRs against them or Beggars Organizations contribute to election compaign funding and buy silence of political class. I get suspicious about Hurriyat leadership as it notices smaller crimes compared to begging mafia and has yet to issue a strike call against tarnishing Kashmir’s image through begging. Or seeking azadi isn’t incompatible with tolerating social crime?

Friday, 17 June 2016

Some Modest Proposals

I propose a few measures that appear to me best solutions to some nagging problems we all suffer from.

Treating Professional Hazards

We have many State appointed bakers, operating with tax money of the poor, who spoil over 80% precious cakes after months of toil and throw them to the dogs. Or many State sponsored car manufacturing units that throw into the sea over 80% of its finished products as they either don’t find roads for them or necessary oil to grease them. Professional colleges are, for the majority of students, animal farms where students are not made into productive beings but fattened for slaughter but their meet, unfortunately, is unacceptable to the public and they die like abandoned horses and old cows slow painful deaths thanks to frustration, ostracization and drudgery of applying and preparing for interviews for all kinds of posts. Therefore it is proposed that after completing degree of professional colleges, 80% of graduates should be hanged in a public ceremony. The most conscientious of their teachers, selected by this outgoing batch, should join them in execution. The concerned Minister should supervise the whole proceedings. This would act as a deterrent to new applicants dreaming of professional careers but ending up, after spending five to eight years in these institutions following a stressful year or two spent in preparing for the entrance, in waiting for the jobs and getting only humiliated or consumed in the process through suicide of the mind though few go for actual physical suicide. This should begin with hanging the recent batch of students of BVSc & A.H for whom jobs in private sector are almost nonexistent forcing them to opt for other “jobs” that are nothing short of bondage of spirit besides resulting in wastage of one’s best potential and time in a sector that has been especially squeezed out of existence thanks to phantom modernization of our State. Isn’t it criminal on the part of aspiring candidates who compete in entrance that they don’t take any note of absorbing capacity of the system? Since the State’s planning wing doesn’t  trust competent authority selection it thinks it needs to spend huge resources to train all but then drop 4 out of 5 graduates and 2 out of 4 P.Gs in various professions while selecting them and thus it isn’t feasible to treat admission letters as job orders. How does it matter that now many professional students whoring foreign careers while “legally” betrothed to their professions end up betraying their profession and some fail both in professional excellence and in getting administrative career? There should also be public flogging instituted against over 80% students enrolled for Masters in various programmes in our universities who are not there by choice and wouldn’t excel and can’t cultivate enduring relationship to academics for which the degree is meant. They indulge in temporary or mut'ah marriages with their degrees/academics while keeping an eye on some job or administrative career as their permanent spouse from which they seek children or enduring bond of life.

Treating the Menace of  Heritage Farms
Mughal Gardens should be immediately shifted or declared Protected Zone or National Parks even if it costs hundreds of crores to State economy as there has been a report published in The Kashmir Journal of Nonsense Science and Wild Management Plan (on whose editorial board figure the best scientists of the country who however have no credentials in the study of animal diseases) regarding the possibility of transmission of some unknown diseases from tourists to local population. It doesn’t matter that a committee of scientists established by the government compromising the best local human resource in a host of disciplines has dismissed this report as a species of wild logic that needs to be read as politics instead of science.  It doesn’t matter that the farm has a heritage value and that world fraternity of scientists laughs at our exclusivist logic which asserts that sheep eats Hangul and not left over grass close to the ground. Kashmiri science is new science that we need to export, so argues our wild science.
      Exile a population of over 50,000 humans in the scores of villages along with all their cattle, sheep and poultry  living near or around Dachigam National Park to prevent possibility of transfer of some infective organisms which are shared by animals (including Hangul) and men as Hangul must be saved. It doesn’t matter there is no evidence. It hardly matters if it requires few hundred crores as the State is quite rich to afford it and might lose both people and sheep farm and hangul in the long run. It is a possibility. But don’t talk about security forces and nearby cement plants and half a dozen departments and many human colonies inside the park as that constitutes national interest. Don’t talk either of huge predator population inside the park and no need to investigate any lack of correlation between increase in sheep population and hangul decline ( that started decades before the farm was established).
      There must be separate Pandit  colonies as some biologist has remarked on facebook (not in any scientific journal) that due to forced stay in hot weather outside the State for quite some time they have developed strong receptivity to certain allergens that are found around dense Muslim populations where they originally lived. They might get extinct if they commingle with or come close to Muslim population. A local S.P has corroborated the statement and though the scientist community has been asked to review the claim but their dissenting note has been thrown into the dustbin. Human social, religious, cultural and economic costs accruing from relocation of Pandits don’t matter.

Treating the Problem of Ageing Parents 
The government should issue a form/certificate to be filled and signed by every old person stating three options:
A) Stay with their children on the condition no complaints are made or even hinted against the later to kith and kin or foes and friends of their children.
B) That if apprehensive of some mistreatment he/she calls for guaranteed regular provision of a modest monthly stipend  from children.
C) Opt for old age homes that the State must construct immediately.
      A separate intelligence wing be established that informs a State Parents Commission  (to be established on the pattern of State Women’s Commission) regarding alienation of old parents and accordingly take action. The NGOs or the State open up portals or facebook pages where old parents record their views on their exemplary treatment they get in homes in view of the fact that a sizeable number of them have expressed desire to volunteer for the journey to the other world.

Menace of Sexual Misconduct

If the State can’t facilitate early marriages to cure loose sexual behaviour and generate funds for marrying thousands of its girls and boys by such measures as imposing, on the rich, a marriage tax of 50% on all spending on jewellery exceeding Rs. 50,000 and lavish wazwan in which more than 100 kg meat has been cooked and even one kg has been wasted, it should pass a bill for euthanasia of all males and females who couldn’t marry, before the age of 35, for socio-economic reasons as their life is later a slow death  for not only them but their whole families.

P. S
I have been inspired by Swift’s A Modest Proposal which proposed that the poor Irish may consider easing their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich people. If my proposals appear somewhat wild, excuse me as I have only copied the wild logic of certain practices or discourses in vogue that don’t appear wild to us ordinarily.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Salvation through Art

Today we discuss how taking art seriously means we are taking life seriously.
How do we lesser mortals who are no saints find God in a world where traditional Gurus or Sufi Shaykhs are either hard to come across or there is an instinctive distrust in them? How do those who have fought hard to get back their lost religious faith keep living? How do we, regardless of our religious or philosophical positions, find some convergent point to launch our  boat in turbulent waters? God in his infinite graciousness has made ample arrangements of our return to our homeland, Heaven or Himself. One powerful and universally accessible mechanism is art. Today we discuss how taking art seriously means we are taking life seriously and this helps us in reaching our ultimate destination in the embrace of God. 
      Art is a form of faith that is available to even a secular man and it is through art that religious impulse survives in the deserts of modernity. Artists travel to the other/higher world through Imagination and bring us  from those depths and heights something of love and beauty that help to save us from ourselves, from the death that egoic dreams and passions bring. Camus’s view of salvation through art reminds us of Joyce, Proust and Beckett. Nietzsche is the greatest champion of prophetic view of artist and salvific view of art. Beckett’s hero Moran finds peace in “another’s ludicrous distress.” “Far from the world, its clamours, frenzies, bitterness and dingy light” he passes judgments on all those “who need to delivered.” His artistic vacation seems to be fulfilling his dharma; it is a call from the beyond or transcendence as he is harnessed to a task which transcends himself as well as the object of his endeavor.  He is doing what he does for the sake of a cause, which, while having need of us to be accomplished, “is in essence anonymous, and would subsist, haunting the minds of men, when its miserable artisans should be no more.” Thus the world is saved only through art “that pierces the outer turmoil’s veil,” and discerns our quarry and senses “what course to follow.” Art, the Dionysian art in which like Nietzsche Beckett consumes himself, reveals the supraindividual and thus immortal essence of man. Music and not the Apollonian reason expresses this and Beckett’s aesthetics emphasizes this point. Like Proust’s protagonist and approximating in certain sense mystical purgatorial path, Beckett’s hero in his trilogy discovers his essence in the “inaccessible dungeon of our being to which Habit does not possess the key.”
      Camus expressly states that art sustains him and it is faith in art that makes life endurable for him: “What has helped me bear an adverse fate will perhaps help me accept an overly favourable outcome –- and what has most sustained me was the great vision, the very great vision I have of art.”  It is the “very great vision” of art which sustains Camus in the face of misfortune. Here he appropriates something like the religious vision. For Zen religion is akin to art. It is simply changed perception of reality. Mountains are mountains at the end of the mystical path but one no longer is the same subject. One moves with one foot above the ground. Art is a mode of perception that creates an imaginative space beyond the normal one.
      Camus’ defense of artist against those who live in bondage to history and utopia is that he fights for freedom. And he links this with passion for beauty. He rightly says that “Man can’t do without beauty”(MS: 170).
      Camus finds a reason to celebrate even autumn through artistic view of it. “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” “A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” Camus is resolute to keep in tact in himself “a freshness,a cool well - spring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice,and return to combat having won that light” He sought the element of permanence in the sky and that memory and beauty kept him from despairing after his return from Tipasa.Camus remarks that when one has had the good luck to love intensely, life is spent in trying to recapture that ardour and that illumination.
  • “A day comes when thanks to rigidity, nothing shines wonder anymore, everything is known, and life is spent in beginning over again. These are the days of exile, of desiccated life, of dead souls. To come alive again one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness, or a homeland. Certain mornings,on turning a corner,delightful dew falls on the heart and then evaporates. But its coolness remains and this is what the heart requires always.”
       The world of a saint is not the other world that Camus would reject but this world seen subspecies aeternatatis. Seen by an Aarif, seen within God or the Infinite it is a miracle and it is beautiful beyond all imagination of a person who doesn’t know what it means to see with the eyes of God. As a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever nothing is dense or opaque to a mystic who sees everything by the light of God. Penetrating the veil of phenomena through the cleansed perception he ever sees the freshness, the cool shade, the wonder, the beauty that Camus longs to capture forever. It is love and beauty that save according to Camus and what is God if not the personification of love and beauty.
      Kafka has a great remark to offer  that makes every one of us a believer if belief is understood as gratitude to the Giver of Life. (Interestingly Layla Bakhtiar translates Quranic term kafir as ungrateful instead of disbeliever or infidel).
  • “Should I be grateful or should I curse the fact that despite all misfortune I can still feel love, an unearthly love but still for earthly objects.” 
We all feel powerless against this instinctive love for earthly things. Let us see this love in its true depths as explained by IBn Arabi who said that man really loves inexistent things – God though he thinks he loves this or that thing. (See Chittick’s “Divine Roots of Human Love” for a lucid account.) It is art that helps us to keep loving these earthly objects and transforms them from mere objects to sites of epiphany. Man must surround himself with beauty or he is not a man made in the image of God who loves beauty. We must appreciate those who cultivate this sense of beauty. It is one of the most efficacious means to worship God. Women especially excel in their attention to beauty. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that makes Heaven more easily accessible to them.
      Schuon laments that “all religions Lived in beauty, while they still bloomed freely — /Something they no longer do in this time of sick epigones.” We need to understand why Islamic culture has prized the way of an artist for finding God and that explains why Hafiz has been the “ most widely-copied, widely-circulated, widely-read, widely-memorized, widely-recited, widely-invoked, and widely-proverbialized book of poetry in Islamic history.”  Final word to this “Tongue of the Unseen”:
  • If someone sits with me
    And we talk about the Beloved,
    If I cannot give his heart comfort,
    If I cannot make him feel better
    About himself and this world
    Then, Hafiz,
    Quickly run to the temple and pray-
    For you have just committed

    The only sin I know.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Choosing Between Divergent Schools

Invitation to God or to a Sect?
It is often asked how can we decide about competing claims of authenticity or true Islam presented in mosques, in schools, in media, in books on religion? One strategy is frank dialogue amongst the best representatives of different positions so that lay people or anyone with common sense could get some idea. However this doesn’t happen in practice because sectarian people are more interested in power than truth, in dictating than listening, in debating than discussing, in winning people to their camp than to God. And they don’t know how to sort out or articulate, politely, their disagreements. We, therefore, try another strategy and that is attempt to go to the deepest depths possible in our search and properly formulate issues that divide us. So we keep first things first and talk about the First Principles and approach it in ontological and existential terms that constitute, by consensus amongst all those who care to think and care about experiencing/discovering truth, the measures with which we are, as humans, compelled to measure every truth claim.
      What is orthodoxy or correct doctrine? We all agree that what has been received from the Heavens or God and His Prophet and is preserved in Tradition. Now the agreement ends here and the moment we seek to express this Tradition in terms of later doctrinal or scholastic or ideological developments that emerged within Muslim community, we might be guilty of some exclusion or privileging a particular way of understanding  or missing a nuance or a dissident view of a great authority that has not even been recorded. After granting these qualifying points, we need to understand what is offered as statement of correct belief in its most universal or widest and deepest (ontological) terms. And here is a danger of reducing purely intellectual metaphysical/ontological content to its theological equivalent which necessarily limits or distorts.  However, as humans with emotions and individuality we are bound to create theologies or schools and every great mujtahid is a school of his own though Truth in absolute terms may elude all. Take the key terms God/Unity, Messenger, After life and express all of them in terms that don’t sacrifice interests of truth for the sake of individual exigencies or emotional requirements of believers and we arrive at it the deepest or most correct statement of doctrine. This follows from the very definition of the terms metaphysics, theology and religion and isn’t imported from one’s liking or disliking or any other assumption. The way mathematics expresses the most universal content of say physics because of its very structure or method of abstracting from the contingent elements, metaphysics expresses that of religion or theology. And we do have very precise statement of doctrines but it is hard to state it in terms that those not touched by faith to the very marrow or who have failed to orient their lives for cultivating virtues will understand. Religion doesn’t require mere rational comprehension or assent on our part to abstractions or so-called truth statements but assimilation or penetration of that Truth that transforms us for good. Orthodoxy requires transformation to really mean anything in practice. And it here – in ethical perfection, in spiritual excellence – that we test the contesting claims of being closer to truth. This is the court that has been practically accepted by all communities across cultures. Deep down we all bear witness to the truth lived – in the lives of saints and sages –  instead of verbalized truth sold in books or media houses. The argument that converts or wins our hearts and minds ultimately is encounter with morally and spiritually superior life – the life of the Prophet, of great Aslaaf, of saints and sages. And we know how religions have spread best by examples of lived life and not intellectual arguments for contested belief statements.  When Muslims talk about returning to the pious ancestors or first three generations what is really the point is that the Prophet (SAW) transforms by presence a community and the community lives the truth – here is to be appreciated privileging of the Sunna (established transmitted practice) over individual reports (Akhbar-i- Ahad) for all schools of Islamic thought. Our salvation can’t be dependent on historical exigencies and contested historicity of consensus on issues that don’t touch the core of faith and practice of virtues but ultimately, as Ibn Taymiyyah pointed out, it is linked to a sovereign principle within the soul of a person – thenomous reason, fitarh – that intuitively accesses the true faith. How come the Quran is so categorical that truth and falsehood have been clearly distinguished and what is addressed is our freedom to choose rather than any consent to a verdict arrived through elaborate procedure in the court of history implicated in power relations.
      Why heed lesser minds as bigger the man harder it is to classify in any one school? Higher the pitch of voice against rival school, narrower is the mind. There is simple reason for this. Greater the mind and heart, greater catholicity and reconciliation of opposites in esotericism and place for divergent viewpoints in ultimate nondulaity. Neither is Ibn Taymiyah against many important figures and practices in Sufism denounced by many modern Salafis, nor is Ibn Arabi against Salafi defense of the letter of scripture and respect for law, nor is Ghazzali against philosophers (seeing how dependent he is on Ibn Sina’s epistemology, fatwa of kufr notwithstanding) nor philosophers like Ibn Rushd against jurists as guardians of Sha’ria nor can Shah Waliullah and Iqbal be fully appropriated for either neo-Salafi or Berelvi cause.
      We might ground dialogue between rival fiqh schools and their Ahle Hadees critics in Mercy centric ontology of Islam as emphasized in Ibn Arabi (lest we forget  how recent is Ahle Hadees antagonism to him as he received guarded if not unqualified admiration from major Ahle Hadees scholars of the Indian subcontinent) who argues why it should not be problematic (excepting certain issues in which the State requires uniform intervention and some homogeneity ) to exercise  taflik or freely choose some  properly substantiated opinions from different legal schools and mujtahids. (In fact in some situations it has always been resorted to and the most recent example is Hanafi fatwa on disappeared husband adopted from Malikees). The argument that this constitutes nafs parasti (following desiring self) is contested by Ibn Arabi pointing out that the ease we seek is legitimized or grounded in God’s choosing Mercy over rigour for Himself. Thus as many schools/mujtahids to choose from, the better. More schools mean richness of tradition. We only need to see that we don’t allow lesser minds to be captains who pick fights or some problematic elements rather than the best from others. And remember it is God who has asked us to wait to resolve some key differences  in the otherworld. This might mean in the higher world of Spirit or esotericism. Anyway, let us begin by special feasts for representatives of rival sects. A good lunch and shared jokes laughter will help resolve some differences.
      When we encounter divergent interpretations with immense political consequences how do we choose? Consistent with Mercy centric ontology of Islam there is a golden rule stated in by Augustine  that suggests that we chose that interpretation which leads to greater love as this is required by the first two commandments that state Love God and love thy neighbour.
      Those who become gold needn’t proclaim it; they shine and in their radiance lesser mortals find a way. These are the saints and sages and we know after prophets they continue their inheritance and an aalim in Islam isn’t merely an exoteric authority or jurist but  ideally a sage, an arrif who doesn’t merely know about God but knows God and lives that vision in higher ethical and spiritual life. All we need to contest is absolutization of any one school as the Truth and accordingly its monopoly on salvation. It is not party manifestos or takfeeri ideologies or imperialistic theologies or personality cults or utopian fantasies  but iman, wisdom (hikmah) and tazkiyyah that save.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Immunizing Against Sectarianism

Historically it is the impact of poets, mystics and philosophers in Muslim cultures that has provided an antidote to sectarianism.
Given the pandemic of sectarianism, how do we immunize ourselves against the deadly flu? Especially since we refuse the  imposed secularization as vaccination drive that was adopted by the West; that generates serious allergic response and throws away the baby of religion with the bathwater of sectarianism. Historically it is the impact of poets, mystics and philosophers  in Muslim cultures that has provided an antidote to sectarianism sponsored by Mullacracy and sectarian politicians. Let us see how deep rooted sectarian consciousness is in history.
      For various reasons we have had divergent sectarian interpretations that have been fighting one another and thanks to changing political equations, fortunes of certain sects would change.  Earliest civil wars in Islam were fought in the name of sectarianism though we have some reasons to exonerate major actors in them from base motives and can point out, as an explanation, divergence in human perceptions of the truth besides the fateful subjectivity and unresolved contradictions inherited from the past . Shia vs. Sunni vs. Ibadi conflict needs no mentioning. We have rival schools of Ashab-i-Raiy (People of the Opinion) ironically also now classified with conformists or muqallids, and Ahl-e-Hadees now getting increasingly polarized. Initially there was grudging acceptance, at least de facto, of each other. We see fierce battles in history that have only been recently exacerbated between various legalistic and theological schools. Deadly tactics of Qaramitians and counter-tactics from politically dominant Sunnis are also well known. Intolerance expressed in persecution of many scientists, philosophers, theologians and Sufis has also been our legacy that needs to be acknowledged and revisited in the age of pluralism. Even philosophers who are expected to be least likely to endorse any kind of intolerance have not been able to shun State’s or ideology’s compulsions and we find a philosopher like Ghazzali (or more appropriately the theologian in him) despite being the author of a great work on dealing with religious differences issued a fatwa of takfeer for rival philosophers like Ibn Sina. Islam’s greatest sons from Ibn Arabi to Ibn Sina to Ibn Taymiyyah to Iqbal have been subject of takfeeri campaigns. All the legalistic (because conformist or muqallid) and Sufi schools have been thus rejected by some authority from rival school. Whole disciplines of Kalam, Falsafa and some traditional sciences such as astrology have been rejected as kufr by certain ulama. Even poets were not spared. Hafiz was initially refused a burial on Islamic pattern until it was agreed that a fal from his Diwan will decide. Today, we have Berelivees pitched against Deobandis and Salafis and vice versa. Hardly any name from any school one can name – from Sanaullah Amritsari to Qasim Nanatovi to Ahmed Reza Khan Berelvi to Syed Moududi to Ghamidi – who has escaped fatwa of kufr from some respected scholar of rival school. Recently we know how severe differences between religious ideologies/schools ended up in conflicting loyalties in political conflicts in Egypt and Syria. Kashmir problem itself (as a legacy of partition) and its appropriation by its top leadership have something to do with particular interpretation of Islam vs. religious other or of relationship between religion and nationalism. It is no longer possible for getting an Imam for one’s mosque without checking his affiliations with particular school/ideology. For those who want to argue that, today, there is healthy divergence (in theory, at certain point in history, in parts, amongst some groups like five major fiqhi schools one might agree) there is a standing refutation in an extremely important document prepared by Justice Munir Commission in Pakistan after extensive work, review of literature and interview of representatives of various religious groups. (Its pdf can be freely downloaded and check pages 201-235.) Munir Commission asked the heads of all Islamic schools of thought, the definition of a Muslim and no two ulema agreed but all agreed regarding some other sects being non-Muslim.
      However, we needn’t despair. We have, traditionally inherited, a great legacy of consolidation and reconciliation of divergent positions. We have, in the very idea of Sunnism, a principle that has been able to accommodate as diverse positions as those of Al-Khashaf and Al-Razi, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Rushd and Ghazzali, Faizi and Sirhindi, authors of Majma-al-Bahrain and Fatawa-i-Alamgeri– in fact scores of theological, legalistic, philosophical, mystical and other schools. The significance and underlying hermeneutical assumptions underlying Sunni Orthodoxy is missed by such scholars as Rashid Shaz in his otherwise, in many respects, insightful Idraki Zawali Ummat. However Shia position is no less fruitful when it comes to exploring resources for placing different sectarian views in perspective. This is achievable by attention by openness to philosophy and such hermeneutical strategies as tawil  which are universalizing ideas. We have thus Mulla Sadra and S. H. Nasr as great minds from Shia background who engage not only with Sunni thinkers without any hiccups but have developed and applied philosophical ideas and  perspectives that can be used for reconciling not only various positions within Islam including between Shia and Sunni approaches or Sufi and philosophical approaches or  some other seemingly disparate schools. We have, on a more philosophical front, such great scholars as Corbin who have developed resources for marrying faith and philosophy, Persian and Islamic philosophies, Western philosophers like Heidegger and Sufi thinkers and of course Shia and Sunni thinkers. In our tradition there have been many great minds about whom accusations of being Shia or Sunni or crypto-shia and crypto-sunni  have  been made implying that this very division is transcended or is flawed when characterizing bigger minds. Ultimately we need to appreciate that both Shia and Sunni approaches have patronized genius poets and philosophers and mystics who have all the resources we need for tackling sectarianism and resisting the tags Shia or Sunni. A few  examples from the twentieth century we may note. Shariati from the Shia background  paying the best tribute to Iqbal from Sunni background saying he is Ali-like (Ali-guna). Iqbal in turn acknowledged some Shia element  in him (“Hae ouki tabeeyet main tasihiyu bi zara sa.."). We have Ayatullah Khomeni writing a commentary on Fusoos-al-Hikm, the work of the greatest Sunni Shaykh. We have Nasr the perennialist writing one of the best books on Islam (Ideas and Realities of Islam) and editing a Quran commentary (Study Quran) that hardly gives any indication of his Shia background. Higher the pitch of voice against rival school, narrower is the mind. Islam’s greatest minds including  philosophers, Sufis and poets have deconstructed exoteric theological understanding of such a basic category as kufr and Islam (name any great poet from Hafiz to Bedil to Ghalib to Iqbal and see), not to speak of Shia and Sunni or Ahnaf and Ahle Hadees.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Diagnosing Viruses of Sectarianism

 He misreads history, religions, philosophies, cultures and almost everything current.
Often we get an impression that God is like a constituency seat for which different sects keep fighting through all democratic and non-democratic means. It needs numbers and therefore aggressive campaigns to harness the support of voters (potential converts). Pulpit is used as space for election campaign. And unfortunately there are no last dates when campaign ends. The questions that are forced on us through ceaseless campaigns:  To which sect do we offer our vote? And whether NOTA might be  a better choice for one who is really in search of God? Aren’t the masses generally used or betrayed and thus their welfare become a casualty in any election campaign in this part of the world? Isn’t it the case the soul’s welfare or God is casualty in this campaign for God? Before we argue how pervasive is the AIDS of sectarianism that is destroying the immune system of Muslim community and why choose NOTA against sectarian people in future columns, we need to understand clearly who is a sectarian, in the sense that he doesn’t merely have genuine or expected ikhtilaf (divergence) on certain issues but is involved in active intolerant firqa bandi (sectarianism).

Who is a Sectarian?
In the light of God/Truth/Deen centred Tradition a sectarian is one who  subscribes to anyone of the following points:

  • His/her theologico-legal/ideological school/interpretation of Islam is the standard one and the rest are more or less deviations that are disastrous here and hereafter. 
  • Religion is an ideology. 
  • Religion is something given  and not discovered as a process and one has only to take it or implement it disregarding the facts that  contested views of history, selective interpretations or readings of sources and somewhat ad hoc construction of detail or even some principles of canon besides power games all mediate its reception.
  • Islam has been best interpreted by certain community in a unanimous manner in all its important detail and once for all sealing off this interpretative endeavour and leaving the only option for later generations to mechanically copy it. This interpretation is, in practice,  monolithic and involves no plurality of understandings  and can become hegemonic or used to exclude or suppress  alternative views on many significant points from the earliest times. He fights for certain interpretation of Islam rather than Islam and is anxious to add something more to Hazrat Salman Farsi’s statement that he is Salman ibn Islam. 
  • One can preach truth of his ideology or sect or interpretation forgetting that truth as an object of sale or fighting or point scoring isn’t a target as God isn’t a problem but a mystery and belief/faith not a propositional statement but an attitude.  
  • One can disregard the only basis of universality of religion – its metaphysical/esotericist exegesis. One can absolutize certain view of history and push for rigid canonization of certain sources. 
  • Salvation can be, in absolute terms, linked to anything less universal than God/Truth accessed through use of intelligence – aqli saleem – and this may include such things as cultivation of certain ecstatic or ideological states, exclusively literalist reading of scripture, finality of historical theological or legal schools and thus certain standard creedal and legalistic formulations, certain contested  appropriation or  reading of historical personalities etc.
Tests for Diagnosing Sectarian Virus
There are tests for diagnosing the virus of sectarianism which include, among others:
  • He has, generally speaking, little mastery of classics of Islamic tradition. He might know Aqeedah Tahawiyyah or Wastiyyah or medieval fiqh texts but is little informed about a host of sciences that were once part of/or closely linked with Madarassh curriculum. 
  • Even if he knows about his tradition, he knows little about the Tradition that grounds all religious traditions because he employs theological-legalistic lenses and the sky of Truth has to be known through metaphysics.
  • He misreads history, religions, philosophies, cultures and almost everything current or modern because he doesn’t know his times – whose soul is expressed in great literary, artistic and philosophical works – and this disqualifies him from being a dayie who can deliver Friday sermons  free from sectarianism. 
  • He knows no classical language with all the richness of its literary heritage. He has often great difficulties with the language that majority of mankind or international community understands today – English. 
  • He doesn’t argue his case in cool soft voice (“with wisdom and beautiful preaching”) but issues fatwas and might silence you with every means he can command.
  • “His heaven is of a size of a small room in which only a few persons of his liking  can be accommodated” as Dr G. Q . Lone once remarked.
  • He has little sense of humour, hardly any taste for literature.
  • He asserts his religion is the best rather than the religion of submission to Supraformal Truth that is not his but Heaven’s. The implied test of being the best in personal ethic the Prophet (SAW) promulgated he ignores.
  • He despises symbolism and is suspicious of philosophy that alone makes intelligible the claims of religion. He privileges belief over faith. He doesn’t tolerate free inquiry or dialogue with other schools on equal terms. He is, virtually, sure about his place in heaven and other’s place in hell. He is neither informed about histories nor cultures in all their bewildering diversity. (Ask him if he has read any multivolume encyclopaedic histories of the world and how much he knows about Durants, Toynbees and Hobsbawms, not to speak of philosophers of history from Ibn Khaldoon to Vico to Spengler  or literary giants who appropriated philosophy of history such as Joyce.) He has, generally speaking, not cared to read other schools or scriptures in an academic manner (he can’t even name many key books that have the authority of the scripture we find in Sacred Books of the East series) and then arrived at his present dogmatism. He is neither aware of science of interpretation (especially its recent developments in the West) nor enormous cultural richness of  his tradition and is committed to what is called legal supremacist view that writes off poetic, philosophical, mystical or other modes of folk or mythic  narratives that have been central to people across cultures in Islamic lands.
Ask any sectarian preacher or ideologue who thinks he has Truth, the whole truth (that can dissolve all inquiries) on his side any of the following questions and you will come to know how much he knows or cares about the Truth/God he sells by opening special dealership of Paradise Pvt:Ltd:

  • How many religions are in the world and could you please state basic foundation or kalimah of them? 
  • Why so much anxiety about minute details about God’s law (and sectarian clashes on them) if it is God’s grace(fazl) that is required to save us? 
  • Could you state how your school’s metaphysics and epistemology diverges from rivals sects and how do you respond to dozens of critiques of theological narratives underlying divergent sects and religions in modern times? 
  • What is meant by two paradises(jannatan) in the Quran?
  •  If sins punish us and sawabs lead to heaven, what is God doing or how he becomes relevant in final dispensation? 
  • Name any one work that God does without mediate causes and what do you mean by saying God does all things?
  •  Is God arbitrarily choosing to accept certain prayers or it needs goodness in the servant? If later is the case what is the role of God? 
  • What good deeds he had done that he was born a Muslim and his path to paradise became easier for him and what sins another person born of non-Muslim parents? 
  • How come traditional Islamic theology calls God the one who leads astray (Al-Muzill) and who inflicts loss – though both these roles are usually reserved for Satan? 
      Let us see if it is to a Mulla or an exoteric authority to whom one turns regarding the weightiest matter (religion/God) or to a saint/sage who doesn’t preach by words but by presence and wins our hearts, minds and souls and leaves no inquiries on moral, intellectual and spiritual planes unaddressed.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dialogue with Evolutionists

To oppose or not to oppose Darwin.
Religion that can’t withstand scrutiny of unbiased reason and experience must go and we should welcome Dawkins and other critics of religion from Marx to Freud to Russell  and their modern disciples for sifting the ideological, superstitious and other problematic elements that have been associated with religion by lesser minds and professionals of vested interest – Mullacracy. For those who reduce religion to an insurance deal whose premium is paid here or those who worship words and don’t taste God and those who invoke God to throttle free inquiry – who have deep down anxiety to silence philosophers, scientists, mystics and even children asking awkward questions regarding higher things they imagine at their own level, modernity has made things difficult. Religion has to offer arguments too strong to resist any criticism and must have enough humility to acknowledge that it doesn’t deal with the truth pure and simple but filtered, tailored truths that take into consideration both needs and weaknesses of its heterogeneous addressees and is more interested in living with mystery than imposing any special knowledge claims. It has to be catholic enough to accommodate every sincere seeker in its ambit. It has to be ready for debate and discussion with anyone on any issue. It has nothing to fear from any new development of thought as long as the later is in turn ready to be appraised in terms of the best available evidence. Let us state what religion’s doctrine of creation (not creationism/intelligent design promulgated as scientific hypothesis) is and see if the criticisms of creationism/intelligent design from the influential evolutionists from Dawkins to Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True) to Stephen J Gould and scores of other critics apply. Since it is the best minds – sages – who have the right to speak in the name of religion and explain its subtle symbolism and its background of penetrating metaphysics we will let them only speak and not quote from popular press and preachers who are taken to be authorities by the laity. Amongst those who were best qualified to explicate religion in an idiom that the highest academic seats would better comprehend or appreciate and the acknowledged authorities of different disciplines take seriously, is Ananda Coomaraswamy whose prodigious knowledge of scores of languages and religious, artistic, philosophical traditions across civilizations besides extremely careful and meticulous scholarship has been recognized by the academic elite. The fact that he was also trained as a geologist (and made a name in that field) – like his friend Rene Guenon (Abdul Wahid Yaha) who was a mathematician – makes his knowledge about science and especially scientific method first hand and this means he willn’t build fantastic notions that modern scientist could dismiss away without giving due consideration.
      He has been emphasizing time and again that inferior thinkers shouldn’t be heeded at all. And it isn’t difficult to identify these inferior minds when one reads the best from Plato to Nagarjuna to Sankara to Lao Tzu to Aquinas to Eckhart to  Ibn Arabi to Mulla Sadra to Shah Waliullalah.
      What world religions collectively have to teach us regarding doctrine of creation (not to be too readily contrasted with evolutionary thesis) is what Commaraswamy is able to present thanks to the masterly understanding of hermeneutical tools provided by respective traditions.  According to him, at the level of mediate causes evolutionary theses need not be questioned on religious grounds, special creation and evolution are not irreconcilable alternatives if the doctrine of special creation is metaphysically read. The two concepts of special creation and evolution are incompatible only if mythical account is historically interpreted and theologians defending special creation have usually defended it historically. We need to distinguish between the First Cause and Mediate Causes. As Coomaraswamy explains:

  • The First Cause whether philosophically absolute or ‘mythically personified,’ is the direct cause of being of things but only indirectly of the manner of their being. The manner of their being is determined by the Mediate Causes. The category of Mediate Causes doesn’t exclude any of those forces or tendencies or determining accidents on which the evolutionist relies as explanations of the observed series; if he differs from the philosopher in ignoring the First Cause it is because he is not discussing the origin of life but only its variety.
      Another lengthy passage needs to be quoted:
  • In traditional doctrine of evolution, every one of the forms, every phenomenon, represents one of the ‘possibilities of manifestation’ of an ‘ever productive nature’ which may be called either the God, the Spirit, Natura Naturans or, as in the present context, the ‘Life’ according to which we speak of the forms of life as ‘living.’ This Life is the First Cause of lives, but the forms which these lives take  is actually determined by the ‘Second’ or ‘Mediate Causes.’ That are nowadays often called ‘forces’ or ‘laws’ notably that of heredity. No difficulty is presented here by the variability of the species; the shape that appears at any given time or place in the history of a ‘genus’, ‘species’, or ‘individuals is always changing. All the definitions of these categories are really, like ‘round numbers’ indefinite, because the reference is to ‘things’ that are always becoming and never stop to be, and can only be called ‘things’ that are always becoming and never stop to be, and that can only be called ‘things’ by a generalization that ignores their variation over some longer or shorter, but always relatively short ‘present.’ 
      Another remark that “there are no delimited and monads or egos, but only one unlimited” shows how resistance to the idea of distinct species closed to further change is critiqued by him.
      The following description of the Life of Supreme Ego, to use Iqbalian expression, in relation to the world of manifestation by A.K. Coomaraswamy seems to be echoed in Iqbal’s Asrari Khudi. “‘Life’ being one of the names of God, according to his ‘ever productive nature’ seeks ‘experience.’”
      The following metaphysical claims can’t be contested by evolutionists and thus conflict is avoided. Scientists qua scientists can bypass such metaphysical roots of empirically observable entities in their investigations.
  • Every one of these transient forms of species and individuals reflects an archetypal possibility or pattern (pater, father) subsistent in what is called the ‘intelligible’ as distinguished from our ‘sensible’ world or locus (Skr. Loka) of compossibles…It is only to the extent that we can think and speak of distinct ‘species’ and ‘individuals’ that we must also speak of their separate archetypal ideas; in reality, everything that flows is represented there in all its variety, although not in a temporal succession, but so that all can be seen at once.
  • Coomaraswamy observes that what Gradation states sub species aeterntatis, the Myth relates sub species aeviternitatis, and History sub species temporis.  (For those vocal  people who want to take strong positions for and against evolution or religion’s doctrine of creation need to take a pause and meditate on these terms to understand the nuances and complexity  in traditional position that is shared by all traditional religions and traditional philosopher-sages. The beauty of Coomaraswamy and Guenon and their likes is they don’t advocate personal opinions but  attempt their best to present what has been traditionally received and affirmed by Revelation and traditional authorities of religion). Coomaraswamy approvingly quotes Prof. Keith’s statement that according to The Rig Veda “This creation cannot be regarded as a single definite act: it is regarded as ever proceeding.” And comments: “this doesn’t mean it is unfinished in principio and ex tempore, but that it is apprehended by ourselves as a temporal sequence and as if cause and effect could be separated from one another by sensible periods. The phrase “in the beginning” in the genesis is logical rather than temporal priority.”
      Let us not forget that man, traditionally, is body, soul and spirit. We need not contest evolution of body. And we must state fundamental differences with evolutionist naturalism and materialism on soul and spirit. And we can show how indefensible is the latter’s position on soul and spirit later while acknowledging problems in fundamentalist creationist account of body’s separateness and autonomy from other forms.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Encountering Dawkins on Religion

Reading The God Delusion as Delusions about Being.
Richard Dawkins is the new prophet of atheism and a great missionary of evolutionary science. He is feared by most of popular preachers whom he deconstructs in debates. He combines wit and iconoclastic zeal with brilliant oratory to popularize evolution and atheism. However his popularity owes something to simplistic generalizations about religion that attract popular imagination. In places brilliant critique of abuses of religion and shallow doctrinaire exotericism (Zaahir Parasti) and credulity of a significant faction of believing camp, is combined with ideas and constructions  that are  both misleading and shallow. Since Dawkins is now a presence and his work a new Bible for some critics of religion and atheists, we need to engage with him to understand both modern man’s alienation from religion that he understands little and misreads much if we assume that it is saints and sages and philosophers of religions that present the real face of it. We aren’t going to tame this bull in the china house of faith  but try to understand his rage.  On every page of his book is something to embarrass a Mullah or even a sophisticated religious scholar who isn’t informed about tenor of modern scientific outlook. He rubbishes familiar arguments we see advocates of religion invoking. Science has succeeded in dislodging the religion of the Mullah – we can see that Mullahs made much of  fill-in-the-blanks-argument and tried to defend none knows the sex of child in the womb or none can predict tomorrow’s weather.
      For me the best defense against him is to yield to his scathing critique on many points – let us learn to be humble and learn from him and far more sophisticated atheists than him, and then examine a few key points where he misidentifies the target or throws the baby with the bathwater. Let us note some points that may merit consideration by Dawkins admirers and critics. I focus on clarifying the grammar of religious belief or term God, and I think we can appreciate his position while stating our own and showing that it is not all or none option that we are forced to take. We can agree with Dawkins on the following key points, among others:
  • Evolution in form of different species is considered quite plausible by what closely approximates as ijma (consensus) of scientific community. It has been found to be highly useful idea that helps explain a lot and creationism as popularly taught in contradistinction to evolution in biology is purely speculative and has failed to provide a method for doing science or explaining in any better way much that evolution explains. Evolutionary science is based on certain premises and evidences that are hard to challenge though it suffers from various deficiencies. We live in a world shaped by this science. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” Dobzhansky said long ago. Now we know we are all witness to the phenomenal progress of biology. Evolution, one important definition states, is descent with modification. Evolution in some sense can’t be denied. Methodological naturalism that grounds it too is almost impossible to refute as far as doing science with this in background is the key practice today. Who can deny the animal in himself or herself? Our behavior can’t be explained if we discount any kind of relationship to animals. Darwin’s book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals needs to be read if one has any doubt. And we just need to think how many times we say about someone that he is an animal.
  • That literalist theology is scientifically or rationally indefensible. And only some Mullahs are  consistently literalist.
  • That the existence of evil in the world forces us to abandon simplistic thesis of divine goodness and power anthropomorphically conceived.
  • That we needn’t invoke miracles as constituting breach of laws of nature. We need to read the most well known spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on miracles that are done by knowing laws better rather than breaking them. One might also read Schuon on “naturally supernatural” character of intellect or his definition of Revelation as macrocosmic objectvization of the Universal Intellect to understand how problematic is division between natural and supernatural as popularly posited. 
  • That religious fundamentalism has served neither religion nor truth and we must resist baneful influence of teaching religion in a way that excludes, creates holier than thou attitude, oppresses women and feeds an imperialistic theology.
Some points that put Dawkins in perspective and critique his distortions or misapplications include, among others:
  • Religion criticizes metaphysical claims of modern evolutionism and needn’t deny evolutionary biology as far as empirical evidence implies it. Great religious thinkers contest philosophical uses of evolutionary biology and social Darwinism. Evolutionist metaphysics is riddled with too many problems to warrant serious consideration. Reductionist naturalism applied to consciousness/spirit/intelligence is laughable. 
  • It isn’t the truth but problem solving capacity of evolutionary biology that needs our attention. Science can’t fight symbolic, existential truths and in fact deeper questions it leaves out as it focuses on fallible models predicting certain results. If science deals with truth, it is not the metaphysical truth but truths we construct and keep refining.
  • Dawkins says he is interested in knowing about what is true and religion doesn’t fit the bill. Now religion is interested in saving people from suffering – and hell – and not truth itself.
  • Argument from selfish gene thesis needs to be properly appreciated rather than straightway condemned. It is parasitic on a profound truth that all life is individual and we can appreciate or experience anything only in terms of primordial experience of subjectivity or self – from Plato to Iqbal we have traditional arguments for enlightened self interest  or what Iqbal phrases as Khudi ki zed mei sari khudayi.
  • Dawkins creates a ghost out of the body and spirit of religion and then proves ghost is a figment of imagination. He doesn’t engage with any theologian properly; he quotes his own imagined definition of God or Beyond or supernatural that he pitches against the natural and empirical and then finds it easy to question.
  • Dawkins attacks (personal) God and mystics talk about Godhead, Absolute, Self, Ground of Being, Unity of Existence instead of existence of personal God taken as Absolute.
  • Dawkins attack God of heavens, a supernatural God who is to be believed without evidence. Mystics talk about God within who is to be realized or witnessed rather than believed on authority.
  • Dawkins is uncompromising champion of reason and evidence. So is Buddha, a founder of a mystical religion.
  • Michael Ruse, atheist and philosopher of science, questions Dawkins and thinks it is shameful to be an atheist if God Delusion is the standard. He accuses him of failing to engage with sophisticated religious thinkers and therefore keeps repeating simplistic notions. 
  • There are no absolute proofs for God but there are five and in fact many more ways of finding God that though not formal and indubitable proofs are very strong pointers. How convincing are they may be decided by reading their modern statement by Maritain and Kreeft’s defense in The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. If we refuse to entertain any theistic thesis, howsoever sophisticated, we have likes of Heidegger and Wittgenstein and Derrida and Levinas talking about quasidivine nature of Being (Being can’t be refuted by Dawkinian strategy). The fact that Dawkins doesn’t engage with highly sophisticated religious and secular understanding of the grammar of religious belief or God-talk or language-of-transcendence forces us to say that he knows so little about philosophical theology as Harun Yaha knows about evolution. Both utterly fail to impress us.
  • The only task that if performed would silence Dawkins and his fundamentalist theological critics is showing how theology is autology (science of Self) and translating theological terms into existential language of certain mystics or leading theology back to its source in metaphysics. Then we don’t use word God but Being and thus we can’t have a title like God Delusion.