Thursday, 20 July 2017

Revisiting Sufi Classics

Reading Attar’s The Conference of the Birds

If one is troubled by the question/crisis of faith, obsessive ritualism, difficulties in understanding the meaning of destiny and evil, guilt and hell, and if one is struggling with religious and secularist fundamentalisms and scores of questions that reason and modernity have raised regarding religion and meaning of life, consider reading Faridudin Attar. Every word of him if one could. Or at least The Conference of the Birds and its superb appropriation by Moore and Corlett in a slim volume Islamic Space that introduces the meaning of Islamic tradition for modern audience in a lucid captivating and arguably irrefutable style. For Attar, as for mystics in general, the question is not of belief/disbelief in some Beyond/God but of exploring the problem of the ego and its resistance to be dissolved by Love. The only doctrine Sufism “teaches” is detachment from/transcendence of all beliefs or positions including the one (ego/I) who seeks belief or disbelief and this brings freedom. Sufism teaches the universal or perennial doctrine of Tawhid or Unity – Non-dualism – which is mistranslated as monotheism by those who know only exoteric theology and as pantheism by those who don’t care to read Sufism properly.
      Attar, through the allegory of birds that end their long arduous search for the King (who are mostly consumed in the process or stop short of the goal) by seeing themselves as Kings (this recalls Mundaka Upanisad’s story of two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating. Two birds are, respectively, soul/self/ego and Witnessing Self/Spirit) talks about the odyssey we are called to undertake. To be a human is to be a seeker, to seek to transcend oneself, to move on, to be open to experience, to death and salvation/felicity (to refuse to seek immortality in the mortal world and thus find immortality) lies in sincerity of this seeking or submitting to the other/non-self or experience. In Sufi terms this requires crossing various valleys on the path to the King/Self/Nothingness and let us note that the woe and weal of experience or everything we encounter is an invitation to or manifestation of one of these valleys. Attar shows how to win our salvation with diligence or be light unto ourselves although, he makes clear, that the initiative or the whole drama is ultimately orchestered by the Beloved and wisdom lies in renouncing human wisdom so that one knows God/the Real/Reality by Himself and not by oneself. God pulls us (as Al-Wadood, The All-Loving and as Al-Qahar, The Irresistible Subduer) and our resistance doesn’t count ultimately although it might cost one every kind of humiliation/heartbreak/suffering we encounter in the odyssey of life and then even a stay in purgatory or hell.
      Attar is one amongst the seven wonders of Islamic spiritual tradition and his work Mantiqu’t-Tair, as he himself predicted, has stayed for centuries and will stay as long as heaven and earth exist. And “perhaps the sleep which fills your life has deprived you of this discourse; but, having met it, your soul will be awakened by the secret which it reveals.” What Attar told himself: “O you who talk so much, instead of so much talking beat your head and search the secrets.” If we don’t search, the universe or Life beats us in turn to despair. Masters are those who dissolve before the True Master (the Self) and let the latter to speak. It is the Muse that dictates and their job is only to faithfully receive. The proof that this is so is perennial appeal of what they bring forth. Humans are all attuned to certain frequencies from the higher intellectual/spiritual world and can testify to the truth of the inspired Masters as they strike the right chords. We exclaim Ah and sing and can’t afford mere lukewarm appreciation. A great mystic, like a great work of art, proclaims itself and if we fail to be moved, the fault is in us or in “our stars” we have really projected on the heavens. The cherished fruit, fig, might not be digestible to weaker stomach, as Rumi notes, or the splendor of the Sun might disturb those who have problems in the eyes. Great mystic poets have almost everything human soul yearns for – God or Truth dressed in beauty and what else is there to know or enjoy (truth and beauty are one and what else does one need to know as Keats said). Philosophy, religion, art and mysticism are all invitations to a feast that is Life symbolized/evoked by such terms as God/Reality/Self/Consciousness and what if we are offered the essence of every path or something from all the choicest dishes? That is Attar who was a mystic or more precisely a sage who lived as a devout Muslim and produced many great works of art and wisdom.
      I will not summarize the story of birds and Simurgh as that should be known by every educated reader. I just choose to note a few statements Attar makes through his characters. Attar invites us to the Being (mystics/traditionalist metaphysicians/philosophers prefer to use the term Being for God as this is more universally and trans-religiously and trans-culturally easily understandable – we all know Being because we are and to be is to participate in the primordial mystery or ground called Being) the recovery of which is the mission of all great poetry and philosophy and religion and mysticism. And he immediately warns against idolatry and rationalism and says that this Being admits of no analogy. “Since neither the prophets nor the heavenly messengers have understood the least particle, they have bowed their foreheads on the dust, saying: ‘We have not known thee as thou must truly be.’” Invitation to gratefully relate to this Mystery of Existence/Life (Yuminoona bil gayyib) is what constitutes the institution of Messengership/Revelation. Attar explains: “To know oneself one must live a hundred lives. But you must know God by Himself and not by you.”  Revelation/Intellection let us know God by Himself. And further underscores the point that religious streak in every great “skeptic” who has resisted shallow rationalization of the mystery that confronts us or that is us as Jaspers would say. “No one really knows the essence of the atom – ask whom you will…one is lost in contemplation of such a mystery – it is veil upon veil.” And then what is the key to embrace this mystery and find fulfillment or meaning? Attar answers: “Love is the remedy of all ills, and it is the remedy of the soul in the two worlds.”
      The question of theism/atheism appears irrelevant or pointless for a sage as Attar explains: “Whoever is grounded  in love renounces faith, religion, and unbelief. Love will open the door of spiritual poverty and poverty will show you the way of unbelief. When there remains neither unbelief nor religion, your body and your soul will disappear; you will then be worthy of mysteries – if you would fathom them, this is the only way." “An old woman offered Bu Ali a piece of gold saying: “Accept this from me.’ He replied: ‘I can accept things only from God.’ The old woman retorted: ‘Where did you learn to see double?..If you weren’t squint-eyed would you see several things at once?” And here is Attar’s comment: “There is neither Ka’aba nor Pagoda. Learn from my mouth the true doctrine – the eternal existence of Being. We must not see anyone other than Him… Whoever isn’t immersed in the Ocean of Unity is not worthy of the race of men. …So long as you are separate, good and evil will arise in you, but when you lose yourself in the sun of the divine essence they will be transcended by love.”
      Meeting Khizr is a dream of every seeker but see how  Attar understands this encounter: “When you enter into the way of understanding, Khizr will bring you the water of life.” Meeting Khizr requires stopping obsession with the mirror or seeing oneself as the centre. Attar says that God one day said to Moses in secret: “Go and get a word of advice from Satan. ..”Always remember,’ said Iblis, ‘ this simple axiom: never say  ‘I’, so that you may never become like me.” “You are as Pharoah to the roots of your hair…Never say the word ‘I’. You, because of your ‘I’s’, are fallen into hundred evils…” Attar, through Hoopoe, asserts, “He who isn’t willing to renounce his life is no man. Life has been given to you so that for an instant you may have a worthy friend.”
      Another story (out of scores of them) Attar tells us is that in the time of Moses, there was a dervish who often played with his beautiful long beard while praying. He asked Moses to ask God why he experienced neither spiritual satisfaction nor ecstasy. God answered Moses “Although this dervish has sought union with me, nevertheless he is constantly thinking about his long beard.” On being told this, the dervish began to weap and tear apart his beard. And Gabriel visited Moses again saying “Even now your Sufi is thinking about his beard.” One wonders how widespread is this obsessive attachment for/against what is not God such as beard and hijab today at the cost of union with God. Attachment is the sin. Obsessive reformist attitude is the sin in need of reformation.
      A Sufi was stoned by children and as it became dark, hailstones greeted him and he started cursing children whom he imagined were throwing pebbles on him in the dark. But at length he discovered that the pebbles were only hailstones and felt sorry stating: “O God, it was because the house was dark that I have sinned with my tongue.” Attar remarks “If you understand the motives of those who are in darkness, you will, no doubt, forgive them.” Who amongst us has not unresolved grudge against someone and still says “Mlliki yawmiddin” that implies that God alone is the judge.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Mansions of Western Wisdom

Reading Whitehead on Philosophy and Religion

To be given human state and fail to gratefully acknowledge those who have been its greatest explorers in different domains is both a moral and intellectual failure. There have been towering minds who have left behind a legacy of great insights regarding almost every important thing that concerns us and if we don’t visit their palaces of wisdom, we lose our claim to be lovers of wisdom or hikmah. The opposite of philosopher (etymologically lover of wisdom) is not a prophet or saint or theologian but misosopher (hater of wisdom) and we have no choice to avoid philosophy but are unavoidably either good or bad philosophers. Much of Sunni Muslim world’s tragedy is that it fears philosophers and is guilty of slander (bohtan) and unfounded opinions (zann) about them. It assumes philosophy is threat to religion or philosophers don’t know religion in its proper manner. What a decline from the past practice when it was perceived as an ally and it was a great privilege and honour to do philosophy (philosophy and medicine were especially wedded explaining common term for both philosopher and doctor Hakeem) in the manner of the best of ancients/sages and in our seminaries and public spaces philosophy received much attention and it is the deserved prestige of the term that we today call our best religious scholar and thinkers such as Maulana Thanwi and Iqbal as Hakeem-ul-ummat. It is Whitehead amongst the few modern philosophers who may be considered almost a counterpart of Islamic sage in the Western world as he had deep engagement with religion, art and mysticism in the manner of Muslim sages. Let us try to read Whitehead today with these points in mind.
      The author of a classic work Process and Reality, imposing system builder and originator of process theology, Whitehead’s essential point regarding limitations of both classical theism and pantheism and the need for panentheism has been highly influential and we see a number of most distinguished theologians including modern Sufi theologians invoking this term to describe their view of God. Whitehead’s co-authored work (with Russell) on mathematics and logic (Principia Mathematica) has been of seminal significance. His ideas on education, religion and art have been respectfully engaged with by modern scholarship. He influenced some of the most important modern thinkers of religion and philosophy including Iqbal. In the Muslim world. Muhammad Shahrur, one of the most radical modernists who championed (problematically though on certain points) revision of certain key themes of classical scholarship including inheritance law and definitions of Mu’min and Muslim, also claimed decisive influence from Whitehead.
      La illahi illallah means, for Sufi metaphysicians, that “There is no truth but Truth” and since there remains a transcendent face of the Truth forever  inaccessible to language and reason, it follows that the “right view is no view” or one that unfolds in silence. It implies we have been given only partial truths at best and thus humility that contrasts with intellectual arrogance found in fundamentalists of all hues. Whitehead’s point that “There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays to the devil”  underscores the same point. His great observation “Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains” recalls the best of Muslim philosophers, Sufis and poets’ understanding of the place of wonder in Islamic epistemology. “Apart from God every activity is merely a passing whiff of insignificance” recalls the verse of Arab poet Labid "Behold! Everything besides Allah is vain” that the Prophet (SAW) praised. Those who find everything crystal clear, banish questions, don’t wish to acknowledge clear contradictions in their presentations, claim finality of old theological formulations and in their arrogance don’t find any need to learn from philosophers, he warns about danger of sentimentalism and says “Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions.” He also notes: “It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” For some theologians all questions are too obviously settled (and all they do is to sell answers they think they have to this or that question) to require any deep thinking in which philosophers specialize.
     Whitehead’s formulation “The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity” recalls the secret of heaven/immortality attainable here and now by attention to the present moment, the Moment, that mystics talk about. He also rejects elitism that laughs at common people for their unsophisticated minds as he states: “Some of the finest moral intuitions come to quite humble people. The visiting of lofty ideas doesn't depend on formal schooling.” Thus one might understand how come unschooled Sufi poets of Kashmir could be revered as the wisest people and today the most moral persons we find more amongst lesser educated or uneducated people than in  better educated corridors like Secretariats and higher offices, private and public. Philosophy for the best of Greek and Muslim minds has been allied to ethics and a vision of the heart and has been an essential component of classics of ethics such as those of Sadi’s or Razi’s or Tusi’s.
      Whitehead has argued for seminal place of beauty in life (recalling, in the Islamic tradition such figures as Allama Anwar Shah who notes in his comment on Hadeesi Jibriel that ihsan is “husn paida kerden” and one of his great students explication of it in Maqalati Ihsani). To quote Whitehead “The teleology of the Universe is directed to the production of Beauty...Apart from Beauty, Truth is neither good, nor bad... Truth matters because of beauty.”  And he explains why poets are important – they light up the world for us or show beauty we might otherwise miss (and thus help complementing religion). “After you understand about the sun and the stars and the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset.” He also asserts that religion will be discredited if it can’t face change/contradiction in the manner science does. Most advocates of religion fear change  and fail to note what Shariati emphasized and sharp and witty Hassan Nisar keeps repeating viz. changing things for changing needs and unchanging principles for unchanging needs. Theologian need to update every moment. And it is here that we find most Muslim scholars lag behind in courage and sophistication and keep invoking, rather uncritically and in archaic idiom, now very old formulations of Al-Ashari, Al-Ghazzali and Ibn Taymiyyah in theological issues and in repeating now, mostly, largely discredited misreadings of/misgivings about Greek and Muslim philosophers/sages. Even Shah Waliullah and Imam Kashmiri Anwar Shah were quite uncharitable towards philosophers on a problematic assumption that they advocate cut and dry rationalism and not intellection and equally problematic assumption that revelation is ignored or belittled or circumvented by them in principle. How come it is Ibn Sina the “Mulhid” whose argument for God is taught till date from centuries in Madrassah curriculum and it is a text on fiqh (Bidayat al-Mujtahid) by another “Mulhid” Ibn Rushd that even Imam Kashmiri couldn’t resist praising and changing hisopinion about the philosopher. And it is another philosopher Mulla Sadra whom he considered Muhaqqiq and highly recommended on such questions as afterlife.  And who can ignore his respect for Iqbal, the sage of the East?
      Whitehead prized humour and observed “I have always noticed that deeply and truly religious persons are fond of a joke, and I am suspicious of those who aren't.” And it isn’t a joke that Rumi has said that laughter, unlike anything else, straightway touches/unveils the Divine Essence. Few religious scholars have been like Imam Kashmiri capable of deploying humour in discussing weighty theological issues.
      Refuting such naïve claims as those of Freud and Hawking regarding science ousting philosophy, Whitehead states “Science repudiates philosophy. In other words, it has never cared to justify its truth or explain its meaning.” And to those scientists like Weinberg who complain about pointlessness of universe, he would retort  “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.” Whitehead’s view of object of religion  as unattainable and yet the greatest of present facts is one of the most pithy formulations of dialectic of transcendence (tanzih) and immanence (tashbih) for which theologians should be grateful to him.
      One might read Whitehead’s Adventure of Ideas to begin with and read last few chapters of Process and Reality to get some acquaintance with the great mind and one can’t be the same person after reading him as has been remarked about great works that they permanently change/elevate our plane of consciousness. One should read a dialogue between Whiteheadean philosopher David Ray Griffith and perennialist Huston Smith (Primordial Truth and Postmodern theology) to see certain points in more critical but refreshing perspective. Whitehead said that “mysticism is a direct insight into depths as yet unspoken” and that the purpose of philosophy is not to explain away but to rationalize mysticism and this is, as L. W. Hessel notes, exactly what we see Mulla Sadra doing. Both Whitehead and Mulla Sadra see Reality as process, everything ever changing and evolving and time as real with dynamic God grounding everything. Whitehead sounds familiar to post-Sadra Muslim philosophers.
      I can’t resist stating that for those who could but don’t know great minds such as Plato, Ibn Sina, Ghazzali, Sadra, Heidegger, Whitehead and Schuon is to miss the finest flowering of human consciousness and thus waste away the opportunity to cultivate great beauty of mind and soul that this life provides.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

To Be is to Pray: “Lord, Teach us to Pray”

The booklet we have today with us is a compilation of prayers beginning with Rabbana (O! Lord) taught by God in the Quran.

The very fact of our existence is a prayer and compels us to pray.
I am: therefore I pray; sum ergo oro. 
(Frithjof Schuon in Understanding Islam)

Certain people do something remarkable and deserve the gratitude of whole people. One amongst them, in Kashmir, is Abdur Rahman Kondu who:
  • Compiled Al-Anwar at a time when little was published about Kashmir’s greatest son, Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri – arguably recent history’s greatest Muhaddith, one of the greatest teachers in the Madrasa framework and one of the first rate Sufi metaphysicians.
  • Has built a remarkable library that distinguishes itself from other big personal/institutional libraries in the State in many respects and is worth visiting by every lover of Islamic intellectual tradition.
  • Lives by and off books. He can write or compile best sellers such as Rabbana (so far sold thousands of copies and 23 editions) and also has a network of connections across the Muslim world so that books find their proper users and in a manner that one wonders is it Kashmir where there can flourish  a market outside proper spaces and there are many people avidly reading first rate books on diverse disciplines.
  • With a rare missionary zeal in academic style, he seeks to foreground Tawhid centric Islamic weltanschuung and takes all the pains to read certain important things regarding the same in important works, get them translated, distributed. One might have differences with his theologically oriented (as distinguished from metaphysical-esoteric one) approach to Islamic tradition but one can’t but appreciate zeal and devotion to the mission he feels called to work for.
The booklet we have today with us is a compilation of prayers beginning with Rabbana (O! Lord) taught by God in the Quran and has much useful foreword and explicatory notes at the end. As a contribution to the tradition of compiling transmitted prayers from God, his Prophet and saints, this booklet impresses by its fidelity to authentic scholarly tradition on prayers. A Muslim’s life is marked by participating in what Eliade has famously explicated as sacred time in his great work The Sacred and the Profane. Rituals and prayers like these discussed create meaning that we need to be healed, to fight despair or forces of nihilism. Islamic tradition has made great use of the Quran as healing or Shifa, both in literal medical sense and spiritual sense. (Kondu quotes Hazrat Jafar Sadiq that anyone who says five times Rabbana at the time of any difficulty, will be eased.) There is a great tradition of reciting revealed words for their varied benefits and we know how it was the sacred imaginal form of Yasin whose vision was instrumental in healing Ibn Arabi, the “son of Plato,” both physically and spiritually and making him turn to spirituality and he later reported how he could recognize the revealed words through a corresponding form in aalam al-mithal. How impoverished are our spiritual senses that this seems almost incredible for most Muslims. How repetition of certain revealed words transforms our existential night into an illumined blooming garden is known to those who have been doing this under proper guidance. Muslim time begins with a prayer on awakening and ends with a prayer on going to bed. His/her smiles, mournings, celebrations, beginning or ending any action (even the most trivial looking), movements of all kinds including love making all are punctuated by prayers. A Muslim can’t afford to lose heart or sight of Mercy and lives in a heaven that prayers create. Gestures of blessings, salutations, meeting and parting wishes are all punctuated by irruptions from the Sacred. Who says and really means God is dead in the Muslim world? Anyone who can afford to truly say Asalmu alykum (As-Salam is a divine name) and “our Lord” builds/clears a dwelling for the Living God. A few more points Kondu notes from our scholarship on prayers are:
  • One must pray as long as one lives as a contingent creature. Raza doesn’t cancel its need. Prophets have prayed, even for the most “trivial” things. One recalls here Ibn ‘Arabî ’s commentator who authored Bursevi Fusūs who implies that we must ever consciously seek to manifest Divine Names of Beauty (and thus invoke such names as Hadi, the Guide) against those of Majesty as long as one lives as a human being who needs comfort, peace, guidance, beauty against their opposites.
  • The term Rabb implies rejection of hulooli wujoodiya (incarnation of God in the world, pantheism). The very expression Rabbul Aalameen implies God’s separation from the world as Ibn Taymiyah points out.
  • Quoting Hazrat Ali, “O Allah, deal with me in a manner that suits your glory and not as I deserve” he underscores that one shouldn’t let one’s sense of sinfulness deter one’s praying for even the moon.
  • For the good things of this world are also to be sought, not just the otherworld only as is implied in “Rabbana aatina fidduniya hasanaten….”
  • What should be sought from God, in one sentence? All the good and noble and beautiful things, virtues (covered under hasana in the prayer “Rabbana aatina fiddunya hasana…”). We should seek blessings or bounties in the abstract and leave upto God which of the concrete blessings or bounties He graces us with, and let us not suggest or advise God to do this or that, says Ameen Ahsan Islahi. Islahi, however, fails to note that praying for salvation is included in this prayer.
  • The term Kafireen in the Quranic prayer “O Lord...give us victory over …Kafireen” is understood by Qazi Sanaullah Panipati to include desiring self as well.
  • First ask for forgiveness of sins and then pray as any evil that touches us is earned by us in a way (be consenting to come to the earth and leave Heaven, the state of Equilibrium) and is from the self as the Quran testifies. (Good we receive is from God). But as the Book of Job makes clear, sufferings could be a test and needn’t correspond with specific transgressions. Sinners or sufferers aren’t to be judged.
  • Says the author of Tafseer Kashfur Rahman “While making particular prayers, one doesn’t imply God doesn’t know our needs but one only expresses sense of contingency or creaturehood.”
      Seeking patience from God (as taught in one Quranic prayer) one has sought everything. Sabr leads to Raza. This answers all the objections from certain rationalists who say it is irrational or indecent to ask God to change the world for fulfilling one’s desire or prayer. Distinguishing prayer from petition and degrees of prayer according to one’s spiritual station, Masters such as Schuon (in a stunning book Prayer Fashions Man that dissolves almost all important worries that nonbelievers have regarding desirability or impact of prayer – prayer, as Iqbal noted, is a means for escaping from mechanism to freedom) make it clear that prayer seeks to fashions man rather than change God’s eternal wisdom (manifest in qaza-o-qadr) or His mind. For the Quran, one better seeks patience, virtue of submission to truth and acceptance of what is the case. And granted that everything has been granted. All of us, ever, are blessed and in fact are kings by virtue of being given life and human state as sheer gifts and that explains Eckhart’s point: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” One could perhaps say that one prayer one needs is, in Rahner’s words, “Lord, Teach us to pray.” All of mysticism is learning the art of prayer. Learning prayer, one tastes something of God and then one doesn’t ask if it would be granted. Prayer not granted is better granted according to a tradition.
      Prayer, it has been well said, is longing, not asking, earnestness, not eloquence, gratitude, not mere petition, attention to God and not to the self, a song and not a wish, meeting oneself while talking to God because He has no truck with the ego, invitation to a Guest who is really a host and thus really a dance of the soul with the soul-mate, the beloved.
      Given even a very limited understanding of God’s blessings one, even so-called atheists, should be able to say, Thank you God (for hospitality we ever receive from elements, the Sun, the moon, the air, the water, the beautiful world and the gifts of life and mind), Thank You (to anyone we ever encounter, even for the harm or slangs received).  Thanksgiving is the essence of ibadah and iman. God didn’t make anything, any person including our worst enemies we ever encounter that didn’t deserve thanks from us as they are parts of a theatrical play in which we happen to act.
      To pray is to take leave of oneself and let God play the music of the soul. Although, the booklet stops short of living/contemplating the final consummation of the act of prayer which we find in Sufis and poets (who haven’t been given any space in the booklet), confounds Wujoodiya with hulooli (incarnationist) sect, and is over-anxious to uphold particular theological interpretation of certain verses, the booklet’s appeal nevertheless remains for a general reader interested in dialogue with God.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Proxy War against Philosophy and Mysticism

How Serious is Invitation to Debate Serious Matters ?
Much of the Muslim world, especially the Sunni part of it, has been suffering from unwarranted fear of philosophy and now of mysticism as well. It fails to understand that philosophy, mysticism, poetry and religion have all been important parts of any living culture or tradition and unless these are integrated and given due recognition, decay occurs. One can’t give one’s soul to any one aspect and when religion claims to encompass every aspect of life, it should no longer be called religion but Ad-Deen that includes Hikmah (philosophy and mysticism, both of which have been connected with art/poetry as well). The greatest minds of all traditions including the Islamic have, mostly, been integrating in themselves all of them and they are the sages that find universal appeal in human heart. Iqbal is the greatest example in recent history reminding us of great polymaths of the past. He was called Ali-guna (Ali like) by another great man, Ali Shariati. One can’t live fully well  or be true to one’s own self by excluding any of these aspects. It is wisdom that places everything where it should be and we have fear of this wisdom thinking it might endanger Islam. Islam is not in danger but one’s construction of it may be. Unfortunately, in Kashmir, a land of knowledge/gnosis/wisdom or of philosophy and mysticism, of diverse religions and cultures, of Lalla, Shaikh-al-Alam and Shah-i-Hamdan and great Sufi Poets all of whom may best be described as mystics-poets-sages, the fear of religious other and even mysticism besides philosophy and now even poetry and forgetting of their connection to the Sacred, has been staring at us. Now this fear is based on either ignorance or misreading of diverse traditions of art, philosophy, mysticism and religion. How rampant is this misleading, misinformed, naïve and ultimately suicidal attitude for both religion and culture may be illustrated by analyzing a sample of statements in Dr Nazir Ahmed Zargar’s Debating Serious Matters ( ) (GK, 15.06, 2017).
Zargar embodies anything but seriousness as is evident from the following:
  • Not even one question raised or charge leveled has been seriously thought in the whole piece. The first sentence targeting my work is an unsupported generalization. None of the examples cited constitute evidence of unfounded generalization imputed to me.
  • The first serious error is in the first paragraph when it is said that the term mysticism has been coined by secularists who deny it has any connection with organized religion. Anyone with even elementary knowledge of evolution and genealogy of the term and debate on relationship with organized religion would lament inaccuracy and false generalization in it.
  • Another weird and unfounded opinion is “while Sufism is rooted in Revelation, mysticism is not.” This betrays a dozen of confusions that serious scholars of mysticism, Sufism and Islam can’t be imagined to commit including ignorance of the definition of intellection that undergrids Revelation. Suffice to say, Sufism is best classified as Islamic mysticism or esoteric dimension of Islam and esotericism is linked with intellection that also grounds revelation and it is a category mistake to impose exoteric understanding of God and Revelation on what transcends and ground the same. What does Dr Nazir make of a great Sufi’s statement that he takes knowledge from the same fount  from which prophets drink  and of Shah Waliullah who categorically states that the paths of saints (Sufis) and prophets are different and both are valid. Revelation doesn’t contradict intellection but only extends its scope for the people or followers of the prophet.
  • Those who have read Nietzsche and Russell know that both of them have problems with ideological veneer in which religion is usually dressed but their ethic/philosophy has significant relationship with mysticism.
  • I champion metaphysical viewpoint because it corresponds to perennial dimension called Ad-Deen. Exoteric theological viewpoint, as distinguished from metaphysical viewpoint, is bound to contingencies of sentiment and individuality and a conception of God not the Absolute. Metaphysical perspective isn’t an alternative but a depth dimension of religious perspective. Dr Nazir hasn’t cared to check definition of terms metaphysics and theology and builds an artificial opposition between the two. To bring theological authorities legislate against Unitarian metaphysicians is an inexcusable category mistake that permeates the whole piece.
  • The writer doesn’t seem to have read, from primary sources and not even good or reliable secondary sources even a single philosopher he has commented upon and is clearly guilty of  two grave failure castigated by the Quran – slander (bohtan) and unfounded opinion (zann) – against traditional philosophers and mystics. He doesn’t seem to have even read any key text by any perennilaist on metaphysics and esotericism (such as Schuon’s Survey of Metaphysics and Esotericism) or even essays by Guenon explicating metaphysics or any standard works on mysticism and yet he feels he can question them.
  • Yes I find elements of Hikmah in world’s great traditions and there is an element of truth even in secular thought currents (that grounds their appeal for many) that needs to be searched or appreciated in line with the prophetic dictum that Hikmah is a lost treasure of a believer.
  • One can’t be more naïve about Nietzsche’s “Death of God” statement by confounding it with straightforward declaration of ordinary atheism. If one doesn’t appreciate Judaic and mystical connection in Marx’s critique of the idol of capitalism and unholy nexus of religion and ideology/power, one can’t help. Iqbal and Shariati have insightfully noted it.
  • The statement that Plato, Bradley, Levinas etc. have nothing to do with the Divine shows one hasn’t read even single text seriously by them or even on them. One can only request the writer to read any tertiary or secondary work on them if he can’t read primary texts of such philosophers as Levinas.
  • I have been accused of a category mistake and the illustration given shows he doesn’t seem to have understood what is category mistake. Anyway even the illustration he gives shows he fails to note a) historical tension between mysticism and institutional religion and b) Marx’s critique of/challenge to religion isn’t incompatible with his appropriation of mystical ethic in his social and political thought.
  • Blatant lies include my equating Rajnesh with Iqbal or mysticism with postmodernism or all kinds of thinking with reason. Dr Nazir has yet to read my book on Rajnesh or my research work on postmodern literature to be able to make such judgments. Greek philosophy encompasses so many things that only Dr Nazir can use it as a blanket term and then invent its equation with Quranic Hikmah. I simply say that hikmah means wisdom (not Greek philosophy) and philosophy has been for the ancients love for wisdom.
  • I wonder how come Sufistically oriented Dr Nazir who knows Unitarian metaphysics fails to transcend dualistic theistic-atheistic binary and seeks to judge metaphysicians and philosophers from a point of view they transcend as a matter of principle.
  • How come it is new Islam I am inventing if I refer to comparative studies exploring philosophical or metaphysical resources of Islam and their echoes in world traditions and modern thinkers?
  • Ghazzali’s denunciation of Hellenized metaphysics can’t be an argument against demonstrable elements of Hikmah in ancient Greeks. Ghazzali’s debt in epistemology, metaphysics and ethics to the Geeks is well known. His misreading of/misgivings  about Greek thinkers and Muslim philosophers are evident to modern scholars. This needs separate treatment some day.
  • I wish to ask Dr Nazir to point out which of my views is based on secondary sources or Orientalists? I have been consulting the primary sources of Islam and can defend my views by directly referring to them and have achieved necessary familiarity with Arabic language for better accessing significant part of primary sources and I have been trying to improve my linguistic skills ever since 11th class when I read basics of Arabic grammar from a local teacher.
  • I don’t write for those lazy fellows who don’t take trouble to master the hermeneutical keys, terms and necessary sciences that inform writings of great sages. I have resisted impulse to simplify that wisdom for fear of distortion. If uninitiated readers get perplexed what can I do?
  • I wish Dr Nazir read at least only terms used by philosophers and mystics or perennialists (in Glossary of Terms used by Frithjof Schuon) and then write and I would be grateful to learn and correct myself if he unearths something worthwhile. Schuon is an ally of Sufi scholars like him. Opposite of philosophy is not theology but misosophy (hatred of wisdom). May God protect us from being misosophers in the name of theology which itself is philosophy of a sort, especially in Islamic scholastic tradition.
  • What is the need, for otherwise soft spoken, amiable respectable scholar and dayee and brilliant orator of angelic disposition Dr Nazir to hide behind masks, playing someone else’s innings (his piece seems to echo idiom, style and even words and ideas of Dr Rafiabadi expressed in his previous writings/communications to me( ), my response to the same( ), mixing sermonizing with philosophizing, commenting with an aura of authority on philosophers and mystics he has never cared to read?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Fatima Mernissi on Theology and Politics of Hijab

The problem of applying scriptural statements in changing historical situations is not unconnected with deeper hermeneutical issues that Mernissi and other Muslim feminists raise.

For some Muslim feminists (as distinguished from both Islamist feminists and secular feminists who, respectively, seek to ignore modernity and Islam) veiling can’t be associated with Islam that affirms the idea of the individual (including women) as a subject, a free will present in the world, a sovereign consciousness that can’t disappear as long as the person lives. To be veiled is to be crushed and silenced and negated as monstrosity, an untruth.
Muslim feminists are striving hard to “raise the hijab that covers the mediocrity and servility that is presented to us as tradition.” Thus they see hijab as a symbol of servility and mediocrity and imprisoning stratagem that derives its legitimacy neither from God nor his Prophet (SAW).
      Feminist author Fatima Mernissi in her Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry has deplored the fact that the “Medina of women would be forever frozen in its violent posture. From then on, women would have to walk the streets of uncaring, unsafe cities, ever watchful, wrapped in their jilbab. The veil, which was intended to protect them from violence in the street, would accompany them for centuries, whatever the security situation of the city. For them peace would never return. Muslim women were to display their hijab everywhere, the vestige of a civil war that would never come to an end.”
      Merenesi finds a precedent for modern resistance to hijab in classical tradition of Islam. Sukyana resisted hijab and Mernissi portrays her defiant stand in glowing colours. Praising bayhijabi (rejection of hijab) she says that barza (unveiled) women is one who is also a woman who has, “sound judgment and someone known for their a’ql (reasoning), quoting Lisan-al-Arab as an authority. Mernissi, by her reading of Islamic architecture and Islam’s negotiation with space, tries to problematize the usual legitimating for veil and the traditional symbolism of it. She has political implications of hijab in mind in her critique of veil (and this is true of many Muslim feminists). I quote her again:  “In conclusion, we can say that the Prophet’s architecture created a space in which the distance between private life and public life was nullified where physical thresholds didn’t constitute obstacles. It was architecture in which the living quarters opened easily onto the mosque, and which thus played a decisive role in the lives of women and their relationship to politics. This spatial osmosis between living quarters and mosque had two consequences that official modern Islam did not see fit to retain or didn’t envisage. The first is that this equation between public and private facilitated the formulation by women of political demands, especially the challenge of male privileges concerning inheritance and the right to bear arms. The second, which was a consequence of the first, is that the hijab, which is presented to us as emanating from the Prophet’s will, was insisted upon by Umar Ibn al-Khatab, the spokesperson of male resistance to women’s demands. Muhammad only yielded on this point when the community was in the middle of a military disaster and when economic and political crises were tearing Medina apart.”….
      Mernissi also highlights the essentially negative connotation of veil in the civilization of Islam especially in the context of Islamic mysticism. Discussing the different meaning spaces or contexts of term hijab in the Quran and Sufism, she concludes: “So it is strange indeed to observe the modern course of this concept, which from the beginning had such a strongly negative connotations in the Koran. The very sign of the person who is damned, excluded from the privileges and spiritual grace to which the Muslim has access, is claimed in our day as a symbol of Muslim identity, manna for the Muslim women.
      She deplores the perverse evolution/appropriation of the idea of veil in the history of Islam. “The veil that descended from Heaven was going to cover up women, separate them from men, from the Prophet, and so from God.” She argues that the verse of hijab was revealed to demarcate space between men, between the Prophet and the vulgar public. She discusses in detail its asbabi-nuzul and concludes: The hijab-literally “curtain”-“descended”, not to put a barrier between a man and a woman, but between two men …… The verse of the hijab “descended” in the bedroom of the wedded pair to protect their intimacy and excluded third person—in this case, Anas Ibn Malik, one of the Prophet’s companions. Anas was excluded by the hijab as a witness and the symbol of a community that had become too invasive and it was this witness himself who reported the event.”15 She reads much subtler nuances of the hijab: “Protecting women from change by veiling them and shutting them out of the world has echoes of closing the community to protect it from the West. Only by keeping in mind this double perspective-women’s body as symbolic representation of community—can we understand what the hijab signified in year 5 of the Hejira (the year when hijab descended on Medina) what stakes it represented, and what stakes it brings into play in today’s explosive, passionate and sometimes violent debates.”
      The great significance of the concept or institution of hijab is recognized by feminists as well as traditional ulama, although it is being appropriated for very different ends by them. It isn’t just a scrap of cloth but signifies much more than that and permeates almost every aspect of Islamic civilization. Mernissi rightly says:

  • So we see that the concept of the hijab is a key concept in Muslim civilization, just a sin is in the Christian context, or credit is in American capitalist society. Reducing or assimilating this concept to a scrap of cloth that men have imposed on women to veil them when they go into the street is truly to impoverish this term, not to say to drain it of its meaning, especially when one knows that the hijab, according to the Koranic verse and al-Tabari’s explanation, “descended” from Heaven to separate the space between two men.
      Cognizing the enormous significance of hijab Orientalists, feminists and modernist Muslim scholars have tried to give account for its persistence throughout the history of Islam. The secularist account of religious history leads logically to very different perception of its symbolic or functional significance. Modernity too has emptied traditional religious symbols and practices of their traditional significance. Modernity’s desacralized perspective that tries to account for everything in horizontal terms severing reference to the sacred—the vertical reference—has precipitated the demythologization movement in recent times and attempts to strip veil of any sacred or transcendent connection may be understood in this context. The perennialist perspective while not incompatible with Muslim feminist position on hijab in practice, however, sees veil in very different light. The veil reveals very different symbolic significance from their perspective and most objections of feminists could be easily appropriated. Even postmodern difference feminism and recent discussions on the ‘sacred and the feminine’ converge with the perennialist approach to the problem. I just quote Isa Nuruddin (Frithjof Schuon) to state the key point. “Islam makes a sharp separation between the world of man and that of woman, between the community as a whole and the family which is its kernel, between the street and the home, just as it sharply separates society and the individual or exotericism and esotericism. The home, and the woman who is its incarnation, are regarded as having an inviolable and so a sacred character. Woman even in a certain manner incarnates esotericism by reason of certain aspects of her nature and function: ‘esoteric truth’, the haqiqah, is ‘felt’ as a ‘feminine’ reality, and the same true of barakah. Moreover the veil and the seclusion of women are connected with the final cyclic phase in which we live and they present a certain analogy with the forbidding of wine and the veiling of the mysteries.”
      While Mernissi and others have tried to question the first quoted sentence especially, the point about symbolism remains. Her allusion to Zainab has been criticized on the grounds that we cannot find reference to Muslim feminist unveiling before Tabari (d. 310), she was relatively old at the time of reporting and the story is taking place in extremely tragic and difficult circumstances. What makes Mernissi’s (and Amina Wudood’s and most – but not all – Muslim feminists’) case more problematic is their misgivings regarding the whole corpus of hadith for its supposedly misogynous elements. Besides, the traditional understanding of scripture or its normative role can’t be wished away by reductive genealogical explanations such as Hazrat Umar’s insistence on veiling. The fact that the Prophet yielded to his demand is enough legitimation for a Muslim. However, the problem of applying scriptural statements in changing historical situations is not unconnected with deeper hermeneutical issues that Mernissi and other Muslim feminists raise or that Muslim philosophers including Al-Farabi in medieval times and Iqbal, Soroush, Arkoun, Nasr Abu Zayd etc. have raised today. This is however extremely difficult, sensitive and subtle question that I leave for some other occasion to discuss. What is valuable in Mernissi and others is showing what is problematic in the claim that such and such is the Islamic position, exploring nuances and even hitherto little noticed aspects of picture and exposing power games that have been played in the name of the Sacred. It is Muslim novelists and poets who also need to be read to understand better the problem in lived understanding of what is miscalled tradition by fundamentalists.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Beauty is the Signature of God

Finding Beauty is finding the Meaning of Life.
What is the meaning of a game, say cricket? What else if not the play itself? When one plays well, one doesn’t worry about the point of it. What is the meaning of love? For lovers this question can’t be entertained. Love itself is the meaning, sufficient unto itself. Those who have given their hearts to beauty and the game of love have nothing more to ask for. contemplating or wondering about “Ye parī-chehra log kaise haiñ/Ghamza o ishva o adā kyā hai” their heart itch or the pain of existence has been cured or transformed into something that is like the pain of love, beautiful. 
      Life is the meaning of Life. When life is truly – soulfully, aesthetically, intensely, ecstatically – lived, we don’t debate the meaning of life. Life pinches sometimes and we begin to worry about its meaning. But if we are truly creative, truly worshipful, truly open to love, we are celebrating or participating in the higher meaning of life. Most of us fail to find life meaningful on its own terms because we aren’t ready to dissolve into its mystery and beauty. We want it to move on our terms and make ego the king and that is the secret of our perpetual slavery. Life itself is beautiful or blissful beyond imagination – and calls for our gratitude for the gift – according to the divine wisdom vouchsafed to prophets and saints. The demand for iman (faith) is most fundamentally a demand for gratitude for being, for life. (Deep down we all know it and that is why aren’t ready to part with this gift on any terms. We all love life and most of us  can accept death only on the supposition that is unveils new life beyond. Before everything we owe sajdai tashakkur to Whomsoever we owe the gift of life. That is why our foremost obligation is to faith (gratitude). The term disbelief (kufr) in the Quran is, insightfully, translated by Leila Bakhtiar in her The Sublime Quran as ingratitude. No decent person would vote for ingratitude. Ingratitude leads to despair. And that is what hell really stands for. None puts man into hell; he plunges into it. And this drama is happening every moment. Atheism that real faith is incompatible with is what leads to despair because an atheist has nothing to thank for, nothing to love, no object of praise. There are hardly any atheists in real sense. Those who are thus labeled have many things to thank for, love and praise and thus necessarily are parasitic on bounties of faith. An atheist is one who is ever complaining and without meaning it would even curse his/her coming into the world or trivialize the gift of life (to truly mean it he/she should opt for dropping out of this festival called the world). We all become atheists to certain degree when despair, frustration, alienation, sufferings of various sorts overpower us and we lose sight of Mercy. Only first rate saints have no complaints and  are all gratitude and thus have a better idea or realization of this bliss. Artists and children also realize it  to an extent. Lovers do it when love consumes them. The question is how do we come closer to this ideal of realizing bliss. One of the great answers is cultivation of beauty within and without. Attention to beauty is attention to God/Heaven. The tragedy is few see the beauty around and fewer the beauty within.
     Creation narratives across traditions seem to imply aesthetic motives to be fundamental in explaining the why of creation. Beauty is its own justification. No other arguments are needed when one understands something is intrinsically beautiful. God is Beauty and Joy according to different traditions. All explanations have to stop somewhere and they stop at Beauty and that is why we identify God with Beauty and saying God we imply a full stop.
      Mystics agree that all experiences (including negative ones like humiliation, frustration) may convey the taste of the Beyond and thus can be beautiful from a certain perspective – from God’s perspective all is part of harmony and thus justifiable in aesthetic terms. Nietzsche invites us to these dizzy heights from where you despise nothing and with Buddha smile on the tragicomedy of existence. Ibn Arabi is also speaking from six thousand feet above the earth when he says that he has not seen human shit. Artistic perception involves effacing the ego and being receptive to things as they are – as they disclose to us or as God addresses us through them or approaching them contemplatively and aesthetically which is what seeing things in God is like.
      How do we understand this shocking insight (for all Utopian and obsessively reformist minds)  regarding absolute perfection of everything as it is (and this includes drive to perfect, to seek justice, to change the world). (All reform pursued with a spirit of detachment is compatible with this insight.) Barth in concluding pages of his masterpiece The Word of God and The Word of Man also states this and then, with great insight, accommodates all the iconoclast and reformers from socialists to Nietscheans who complain about injustice and rottenness of the state of affairs we find around. To see how everything is perfect demands transcendence of passions and ego. Ghazzali declared that this is the best possible world – in a chilling passage he implied that every tear and every heart burn and every frustration we encounter is part of the perfect picture. There is nothing disgusting, out of place. Nietzsche’s call for joyful acceptance of infinite repetition of every detail of life conveys similar frightening vision. When something of the secret of destiny was vouchsafed to Ibn Arabi, he was utterly shocked and trembled for few days. This is what prophets and saints reported – let us not forget that the prophets’ discomfort at the status quo and their zeal to change the world are part of this larger dialectics of the game of perfection in imperfection. Since absolutes belong to the otherworld, absolute perfection can never be rationally claimed regarding any earthly thing. But seeing this imperfection as somehow an aspect of the dialectic of perfection’s unfolding is to see everything as perfect. Taken as a whole or seen with God’s eyes, there is nothing to be explained, no need to explain anything for the twice born. There is everything to be contemplated, loved and enjoyed. This constitutes the crux of traditional view of things and this view is available to all and sundry. Religions, commandments, mystical disciplines all are ultimately meant to achieve this vision.
      The moment one is capable of loving (not just accepting) fate, of unconditional love, of affirming even eternal recurrence one is delivered and the universe loses its indifference or density and appears a perpetual miracle, an object of endless wonder that delights the soul, a gift for which one needs to be eternally thankful, a festival of lights and a celestial musical recital. There are countless mystics of all ages who bear witness to this and one can’t or needn’t review  mystical literatures of the world here that describe God as Joy and the Other as Beloved and thus the universe as the veiled Garden of Eden. Developing an eye for its heavenly beauty is what mediates felicity or salvation. This is what Spinoza achieved by calling for intellectual love of God and Wittgenstein stated by saying “The work of art is the object seen sub species aeternitatis and the good life is the world seen sub species aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.” For him the problem of meaning of life is the problem of how to live, how to live so that life stops being problematic. “Everything is perfect.” “How things stand is God.” If you feel giddy or have doubts, consider Wittgenstein again “For doubts can only exist where a question exists; a question can only exist where an answer exists, and this can only exist where something can be said.”
      Beauty needs no introduction because God grounds it and how come God would need an introduction or letter of recommendation? He is the attractive power of beauty. We simply bow to Al-Jameel and Al-Wudood. This is fitrah. Who asks us to see mirror, groom, beautify? Attractive power of the Lord. Labaek, we all proclaim.
      A Muslim is one who surrounds himself with beauty and cultivates beauty within and then sees all things transfigured, wrapped up in glory and utters subhanallah (glory to God). For the sage every sight can evoke “Glory to God!” The Prophet (SAW) ordered good grooming. It is women rather than men who follow this order more strictly. Another mode of worshipping God that women are privileged to opt for is use of jewelry. Cosmetics (the word is derived from Cosmos – ordered whole) help “bringing ourselves into line with the Cosmos itself, by maximising our small part in its order and beauty” Enhancing beauty is not vanity or debasing or trivializing but “the natural feminine desire to pursue the Philosophy Cosmetic.”

Friday, 26 May 2017

How Great Minds Read Great Minds

Understanding neo-orthodoxy ans modernity of Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri; a peep into the lectures of Imam Kashmiri.
One reason for loving the fact of being a Kashmiri and within Kashmir North Kashmir is it has produced Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri. If one were given only one hour in life to meet the most important Kashmiri in the twentieth century, one would, arguably, choose to meet Shah Saheb. Our misfortune is that there are few, if any, in Kashmir today who are competent enough to comprehend and critically engage with a lot of things that Anwar Shah wrote including his notes on time, eschatology and ontology. He has been Kashmir’s greatest contribution to Islamic intellectualism. He suffered bitterly during his life time at the hands of lesser mortals and today he is suffering from oblivion. His legacy has been partly continued in Pakistan where some of his earlier students went after partition. He respectfully disagreed with almost all the great names of the past on certain issues – from Imam Bukhari to Shah Waliullah. He criticized Ibn Taymiyyah for invoking rather crude logic, for not duly listening to the other and for extremism. He defended the great Sufi figures dear to modern man. For Hafiz he used the term aarif and appreciated his credentials as a Quran exegete (referring to his great hashiya on Kashaf). Rumi and his modern disciple Iqbal fascinated him. He complained he didn’t find even one good audience. Moderns like Iqbal got more benefit from some of his contributions than any Molvi could as he himself said. He read philosophers thoroughly. Aristotle, he claimed, reached him from three sources as against Ibn Sina to whom only one source was accessible. To us now Aristotle and other thinkers are more accessible than they were to Shah Saheb himself and may revise some points in Muslim Ulema’s and philosphers’ reading of the Greeks. He had great praise for Ibn Rushd’s legal works and was not unimpressed by his knowledge of Greeks although he sided with Ghazzali in the controversy between the two. He was dissatisfied with inadequate attention given to the problem of meaning or we can say hermeneutics in classical Muslim thought. It is here that newer developments in hermeneutics including those in the perennialist camp become important for our consideration. He didn’t think that last three centuries produced any faqih that he would count and this evaluation resembles Iqbal’s. He pointed out limitations of Abdul Haq Muhaddis – there is only one new thing in him – and Shah Waliullah. Reminding us of classical giants, he knew music, raml, jafr, medicine as well. He thought that this ummat hasn’t cleared debt to the Quran. It means the Quran  remains inadequately read by classical scholarship. Iqbal would have agreed as would have many great modern scholars struggling with sublime heights and depths of the Quran vis-a-vis modern thought. Imam Kashmiri’s standards were so high that he would only occasionally quote any scholar from last few centuries. He often complained of not being understood and his inability to stoop too low to make himself comprehensible. One could say that he recognized the innate dignified station of intelligence and wasn’t ready to oversimplify.
      He had no hesitation in saying that Mulla Sadra, a Shiite, was a muhaqqiq. He made great use of Sufis in his classes and would, like Abu Nasr Zayd, take even Ibn Arabi to task on certain points, especially those that constituted his unique views. Iqbal thought he would be the person along with himself to help reconstruct fiqh today. He made good use of humour that is especially favoured modern tool in teaching. He was basically a great teacher like Heidegger and Whitehead but caught up in a set up where Harvard or Frieburg style lecturing was not in vogue though he did seek to develop it in his own way as has been pointed out by one of his students. He was critical of deductive logic of certain theologians and didn’t reject logic per se although it isn’t clear if he had given enough attention to the underlying “laws of thought” that one is condemned to use even while criticizing them and appreciate ultimately metaphysical or ontological roots of logic in the First Principle. He put Hanafi fiqh on a sound footing that even generations of Ahle-Hadees scholars  would find challenging. (For next hundred years Hanafi fiqh would be safe, he claimed and  this has been largely vindicated.) His critique of Imam Bukhari for downplaying Imam Abu Hanifa is a masterly work so nuanced and meticulous that one wonders if there is living any scholar from the rival camp who has the resources and patience for critically engaging with it. He displayed loyalty to Islam’s intelligence centric salvific model of faith in his critique of Imam Bukhari’s overemphasis on will vis-a- vis iman.  His treatment of faith only question vis-à-vis salvation/falah is seconded in most of modern theological thought. He picked up Hebrew and English but, unfortunately for Muslim community and its tradition of hikmah, forgot the later. He has given us one of the most convincing accounts of eschatology in which key insight defended is that it is actions themselves that appear in the otherworld in the form of pleasures and pains; no bargaining, no arbitrary will negotiates what to be done and what not. He demonstrates how “man is punished by his sins, not for his sins” and how this world and otherworld are essentially one. And hell and heaven exist today (of course, posthumously as well) and we can peep into them, so to speak. Against rationalists and logicians he found Sufis heart touching. In fact it is Sufi metaphysicians which are echoed in his work and he should be read as a contributor to their project. His metaphysics needs to be explored now. One could build on certain of his insights, especially in certain difficult theological matters including those that have an eschatological dimension and build neo-orthodox theology that could be quite rewarding and influential for modern audience.
      Since he didn’t have access to much of last few centuries of works on world religions and comparative theology and mysticism in Western languages, he upheld rather exclusivist views on certain issues that we can’t sustain now. Not that his analysis is to be faulted but limited access to the data to be analyzed.
      A careful selection of works from such stalwarts as Imamadullah Muhajir Makki, Allama Kashmiri, Maulana Thanvi (who greatly admired Allama Kashmiri) Manazir Ahsan Gilani (author of a classic Ad-Dee-ul-Qayyim and translator of Asfar-i-Arbaea) and one of his disciples and co-translator of his Answer to Modernism, Hasan Askari on theological, spiritual and metaphysical questions would contribute to the task of guiding the perplexed modern Muslim in his admittedly difficult task of engaging with modernity while preserving his commitment to the Tradition of which Islam is the latest historical expression. Regarding the many questions of fiqh, I think Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Abdullahi Naimi, Soroush and others will have to be engaged with before proposing to appropriate Maulana Thanvi and Shah Saheb too uncritically. He was quite open to revisiting certain old rulings from his predecessors that are still taboo for some. For instance, he held that women can travel without Muharam for Hajj if security is ensured as is in modern times quite adequately, generally speaking. He also held that modern philosophy and science are closer to Islam than ancient Greek counterparts. And he pointed out that all prophetic traditions are derived from the Quran. Building on last two points one could resolve much of mistrust of much of modern scholarship on comparative philosophy and hadees studies.
      Where can we find such towering scholars now who could discuss Bukhari, Ibn Rushd, Sadra, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Arabi,Hafiz, Ghazzali, Shah Waliullah with authority, respect and critical distance and who reminded us of our great Masters who were simultaneously poets, sages, scholars of traditions, knew a host of traditional and modern sciences besides displaying exemplary moral and spiritual credentials?
      Allma Anwar Shah (Allama is now a day s applied to street scholars – Ilm being taken from inferior minds is according to a hadees, a symptom of approaching Doomsday)  had second thoughts regarding his life work spent in defending fiqh of a certain kind – his enormous resources could perhaps have been better spent in developing Muslim philosophy, especially Sadrean and Iqbalian streaks, with both of which he shared much. Had he not forgotten English language and had he an opportunity to spend some time in leading Western universities interacting with such contemporary  great modern philosophers as Heidegger and modern theologians like Barth and Tillich and Maritain and great scientist-philosophers like Whitehead, he would, quite probably, have given us something for which the whole world would have been indebted. He somehow didn’t find time or environment to develop his great insights to help reorient fiqh for meeting many contemporary challenges. His most original or best is contained in brief notes or remarks or scattered in certain passages in his great lectures. To get a feel of who is Imam Kashmiri and appreciate one’s woeful ignorance of depths and heights of Islamic intellectual Tradition a general reader may  approach Nawadrati Imam Kashmiri  and some  lectures from his commentary on Bukhari Anwarul Bari and let us hope we build on scattered insights therein to build resources for addressing modern confused and disoriented age.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Why not Consider Inferior Minds?

Whom one reads indicates what one is.

We are born with a love for perfection and it is against human dignity to settle for mediocrity and not to pursue the best – the most beautiful. Ihsan – doing everything in a style – is the universally acknowledged human prerogative. Let us ask today how we apply this  in approaching religion and literature. Thanks to modern education there are now many people who want to understand and create the best to satisfy their intellectual and creative yearnings but few are ready to pass through the ordeal of mastering the required sciences. This doesn’t necessarily mean  formal learning but requires what the Quran calls tafakkur – thinking. And what is called thinking? It is philosophers like Ibn Sina and Heidegger who are needed to explain it. The Quran's charge against most humans is they don’t think. Do we care to know what is called thinking? Who can claim access to required disciplining of attention?
      Whom one reads determines or indicates what one is. In traditional cultures it is divine teachers or prophets and those who continue their Book/Knowledge centric, tazkiyyah centric and hikmah centric legacy – in more popular parlance ulama-i- haqq /sages – that constitute the best guides. In Islamic tradition the best teachers of the Book of Wisdom (Quran-i-Hakeem) are to be sought if one doesn’t want to stoop low and get infection from inferior minds. There are few colossal intellects in every tradition which constitute the nerve centre of respective traditions. Not that they are infallible but they are rooted in Tradition and creatively add to it in meeting newer challenges. These figures are key to the tajdeed  project that has divine approval in Islamic tradition. Major figures in Islamic intellectual tradition are distinguished by their comprehensive review of existing state of art affairs, ability to invoke the First Principles, keen insight on zeitgeist of their age and great moral-spiritual credentials. They are ultimately valued not in themselves but in leading us or connecting us to the Fountainhead of ilm/gnosis. Popular writers/preachers may often suffer from certain ideological prejudices and don’t command requisite qualifications to make accessible the best of the legacy of Elders. It is sin against intelligence to debate and regurgitate what is cheaply or popularly available. Likes of Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Anwar Shah, Heidegger, Whitehead are not/can’t be popular. The challenge of climbing Everest attracts few. It has been remarked that in a century there are one or two geniuses and the rest have only talent. The task is to catch hold these exceptional minds whom God has chosen to safeguard and disseminate the Tradition. The Tradition has been defined as what connects one to Revelation.
      Let us probe psychological and other factors that contribute to our horror of the truly sublime or the best and temptation to mediocrity. Upton Sinclair, himself a writer of considerable prowess, wrote: “It’s hard to make a man understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it.” Victor Hugo, one of the greatest French writers, explains another reason for the rule of mediocrity: “There is a sacred horror about everything grand. It is easy to admire mediocrity and hills; but whatever is too lofty, a genius as well as a mountain, an assembly as well as a masterpiece, seen too near, is appalling.”
      Learning the art of fana fil ilm allows us to receive. The test of how far one is straying from the best is how self effacing one is in presence of the Masters. For Traditional cultures including the Islamic one the Truth has been said and well said and all that is required is to unearth it, recall it and express it in the idiom of the times one lives in or in language people can understand. That is what Mujadids do.
      Great artists are people “who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike,” as Margot Fonteyn has noted. It is life’s task to overcome ego’s trap of pretension and it requires humility to learn and say, with the Masters, that God is the only Guide or they have let the Muse write through them. Our task is to give our best in learning to receive. Lonergen, a great theologian/philosopher has noted: “To learn thoroughly is a vast undertaking that calls for relentless perseverance. To strike out on a new line and become more than a week-end celebrity calls for years in which one's living is more or less constantly absorbed in the effort to understand.
      Another reason that the best or classics are not heeded is perception of difficulty. Whitehead, one of the greatest figures in the twentieth century science and philosophy,  has rightly pointed out “Whenever a text-book is written of real educational worth, you may be quite certain that some reviewer will say that it will be difficult to teach from it. Of course it will be difficult to teach from it. If it were easy, the book ought to be burned.” And “...the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity to be found on the far side of complexity.” Marcel Proust, another giant of world literature, has noted: “To allow only the kind of art that the average man understands is the worst small-mindedness and the murder of mind and spirit. It is my conviction that the intellect can be certain that in doing what most disconcerts the crowd, in pursuing the most daring, unconventional advances and explorations, it will in some highly indirect fashion serve man - and in the long run, all men.” Goethe says in his letters:"When one thinks differently from great minds, it generally is a sign of a small mind...." Voltaire was not able to do any harm to Shakspere: no smaller spirit will vanquish a greater. Of great men no one should speak but one who is as great as they, so as to be able to see all round them. A small man. if he stands too near, sees single portions well, but nothing of the whole, and if he will survey the whole must stand too far off, where his eyes do not reach to details.”
      Today the most important writers of traditional authorities are, generally speaking, not easy reads. Who can claim that the Scriptures are easy reads for all and sundry? Mushkilatul Quran constitutes a great subject where our best minds keep struggling. The Quran has layers and layers of meaning that are inexhaustible and one must say after trying one’s best to approach it, God knows best. Similarly Hadees study demands the best minds and one can see in the pages of Ibn Hajr and Anwar Shah Kashmiri, for instance, how comprehensive must be one’s understanding to authoritatively explicate the sayings of the one whose objective was to teach hikmah.  Logic and its connection to First Principles demand exceptional skills to master. A really sound scholar trained in Madrassah must have an aptitude for hikmah and mantiq and it is rare to find due attention given to them.
      If one has to choose between a Master who has great intellectual and one who has great spiritual prowess select the first, explicitly recommends a sage. Islamic tradition has also greatly emphasized dangers of half knowledgeable and thus of those who aren’t intellectually that much gifted as Satan can trap them easily.
      Islamic tradition has emphasized intelligence so much so that one’s otherworldly prospects are linked to its use. Over every aalim is another aalim, says the Quran implying greater the scholar, lesser the pretension and self bragging. The best don’t seek to be popular though they would try to avoid needless obscurity. Read any great sage/poet/philosopher/commentator and you find an elevated style that isn’t the cup of all and sundry. They don’t compromise with language as they know the adab of God who taught bayan and expressed Himself through a language. Grammatical errors are normally unimaginable in their case.
      For the best minds “A clash of doctrine is not a disaster, it is an opportunity.” They aren’t slaves of rationalistic dialectical framework that can’t transcend apparent contradictions. One can dissolve problems created by this dialectical method of exoteric theologians by asking for need to open eyes, getting better informed about history and about basic terms used by Masters in very specific or technical sense.

A writer’s or critic’s role isn’t to express himself or invite people to his own private realm of truth but, by being open to the Muse or mirror of the Real, to connect the reader to the Teachers/Masters. Ultimately God is the only Teacher. Prophets and saints embody the Logos and our act of understanding is a participation in that Logos. At the deepest level you see the pure light (Noor) that is God and not the divergent colours. Traditions can’t enter into a proper dialogue at rational theological or human plane but at intellectual transcendent divine plane where it is God who sees and not man with his limiting egoity.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

God’s Invitation for Hajj

All the important stations of spiritual path, of which Sufis are said to be specialists, are necessarily to be tasted by a pilgrim.

All distinctions between humans (such as believers and nonbelievers, kings and paupers) dissolve in certain moments such as making love/celebrating relationships, encountering silence and death, being moved to tears and smiles and getting transported by great art, sublime sights and sacred spaces. Similarly, the distinction between Sufis and non-Sufis, khosh-aetiqad and badd-aeiqad, secular and traditional Muslims seems to dissolve when they are hosted by the Friend during Hajj. A pilgrim is a pilgrim – alone with the Alone. Here it is the alchemy of love at work. And one sees a sea of people hurled here and there who have at least temporarily divorced their egos, embraced the desert of abyss – their poverty – and felt something of That which makes one dumb and one knows no language except that of tears. In exchange for water from Zamzam, pilgrims dig a Zamzam of tears and that heals and saves them. As long as these tears will be shed, we must believe faith is still alive. Sinners and saints, so-called secular Muslims or so-called badaetiqaed Muslims, all are in tears.
      All the important stations of spiritual path including Tawba, Wara', Zuhd, Faqr, Ṣabr, Tawakkul, and Riḍā, of which Sufis are said to be specialists, are necessarily to be tasted by a pilgrim – they constitute God’s offer/ choicest dishes to his guests in special five days of Zilhajj. A pilgrim is required to journey within to the sanctum sanctorum (heart) – and a thorough knowledge of symbolism of rites and sites in hajj is important here. Pilgrimage is a marriage that is to be consummated in new birth. Few are born anew – few pilgrimages are accepted by God. For those chosen few the ego’s business is over and they willn’t keep account of kith and kin who did or didn’t come to congratulate them. They can’t look down upon anyone and they will never like to claim they are Hajis. Hajj is an opportunity to face one’s own nothingness and have a glimpse of the vast desert or abyss of Divine Nothingness that is our real being or home. Many are called and few are chosen to be consumed in Hajj. To be a Haji is to have consented to be nothing. It is then one gets Divine robes and those who are draped in them aren’t recognizable as grown up humans. They have unlearnt many games growing up people play (involving dualism of  mine and thine) and become children again. One can’t be hurt as the ego that is hurt by slang, by ingratitude, by disrespect, is gone. One gains one’s childhood which is heaven.
      There is a hajj one never finishes performing or one ever seeks to recreate and keeps recreating in imagination. Some keep visiting the sacred cities in secret ways by adopting astral travel and some by the power of prayer. Mecca and Medina constitute maternal home for all Muslims and no wonder they ever aspire to be there, time and again.
      There is a great scene in a great work of art on Yusuf Payamber (Iranian Television series directed by Salahshoor) when Hazrat Yusuf (AS) meets his father. The father is unable to move, tries and stumbles, falls again and again and almost loses consciousness as Yusuf comes nearer. Every Haji worth the name feels something similar on approaching twin cities in search of Yusuf (Soul) they have long parted with or apparently lost.
      A helpful review of important Hajj travelogues from a more literary than theological viewpoint by Anwar Sadeed may be helpful to choose for oneself which one to read. Two books may at least be read and after returning one needs to bear witness to their content and that is a reliable sign that Hajj has been accepted. First for an idea of what spiritual/mystical heights are accessible, at least partly for lesser mortals like us/how sages perform hajj, read Fuyuz-ul-Harmaen by Shah Waliullah. Then for more accessible existential, sociopolitical and other meanings one might participate in, read Ali Shariati’s Hajj. Until one visits there and to counter apprehensions of hardships some verses from Iqbal’s imaginary journey  to Mecca and Medina may be read. I quote a few:

 At morn I told the camel to take it easy,
For the rider is old and sick;
But it goes on merrily as if,
The sand under its hooves is silk.
Let the traveller's suffering be more delightful,
And his lamentation even more frenzied;
Take a longer route thou camel-driver,
And make the fire of separation burn stronger.

      One recalls Maulana Ali Mian’s impassioned explication of it. “The sand under his feet appears to him to be softer than silk; every particle of it seems to have turned into a heart, beating, throbbing and pulsating. To the camel-driver he tells to be mindful of these tiny hearts and move slowly.” “Iqbal rejoices in the hardships of the journey, and exhaustion and loss of sleep are a source of comfort to him.”
      Blessed are those who have gone for hajj there but perhaps not less blessed are those who are eagerly waiting and their fire of separation is burning bright.
      We have hundreds of Hajj travelogues. Few pass to the next generation. It is difficult to write one that will be enjoyed as literature by diverse readership. Kashmiri writers have largely ignored this subgenre. I recently came across one travelogue Yaeti Noori-sier Arz-o-Sama (Here the Illumined Earth and Heaven) by Abdul Ahad Hajini. The book has a few pages/passages that airlift us high above the mountains. One may be quoted: “Yepaer nazr paewaan t’aepaer noori nor grayi maraan yimo wato pakan mai to mohabbet chaendyi karan qadm qadm pakan ti mynzil baydi naeran. Hen hen ti eng eng talbeeh waeran. Talbeeh hound graze man’i sodres graek khaelith chaeti mar naavan.” What distinguishes this travelogue is combination of theological, juristic and poetic approaches that make a delightful read, at least in parts. A writer or poet does Hajj in a more poetic way. Compared to dry juristic manuals, this one would seep deeper. However one feels many details could have been omitted and at times third person narration should have been adopted. One recalls significance of a sentence from Zinsser’s  On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction: “As a writer you must keep a tight rein on your subjective self—the traveler touched by new sights and sounds and smells—and keep an objective eye on the reader.” Nothing of significance for a Haji seems to have been missed. One misses, however, scholarly and insightful observations about  this or that aspect of land and people, market and politics and other aspects of life that we find in many influential travelogues. It seems that the author has restricted himself to description of a seeker, a zayir and he has succeeded in this. The ending is rather prosaic and it is in the opening pages especially that we find elevated, intensely passionate and poetic language that behooves the lofty subject.  Hajini has a rich Kashmiri vocabulary (almost untranslatable for most modern educated Kashmiris) at his command and that contributes to the usefulness of his essays including neglected but in many respects valuable work on lesser known and waning cultural heritage and his timely contribution to Hasan studies.
      I wish every Haji should attempt writing at least a page about the soul shattering encounter and every year Hajj committee along with Academy of Art, Culture and Language publish a selections from such accounts. A few excerpts from better known travelogues:

  • “You keep your belief, but it is the question of my life. Allow me to cure my heart-burn by kissing it” (On being prevented to kiss the lattice surrounding Roza-i-Rasool  by the guard on duty. (Quoted in Saelani’s travelogue) 
  • “That circumambulation was Abrahmic Sunna and my first dance of freedom.” (Abul Khair Kashfi, Watan sae Watan tek.)
  • “Only two things are now Arab in Jeddah- language and azan. On the rest is an imprint of Europe.”
  • “Every nook and corner of Mecca is historical, but what isn’t preserved is history itself.” (From Shab Jayae ki Men Boodem by Shoorish Kashmiri),
      Approaching the resting place of the Prophet(SAWW) is like an encounter with death that humbles us, strips us bare of all pretensions of holiness and one knows what a mess we have made our life and how unworthy we are to for the audience being granted. One trembles even from a distance. And then one doesn’t move of one’s own accord. One is moved.  A few lines, by way of conclusion, from Ayaz Nazki’s  poem composed after one such experience:
 “Teth rozes paeth
kith ken woatus
kith ken beuthus
qadmen menz
wuni chum basan
zen oas khawb.”