Friday, 17 July 2015

Here is My Story

Choosing the short story writer is like choosing architecture of one’s house

Life is a story or has to be lived as a work of art for getting meaning from it. All of us tell stories. The choice – a vital and fateful choice indeed – is what kind of stories we chose to tell ourselves and our children. Great short stories constitute the staple diet  of great education.
We do spend a lot of time daily – six hours on average – day dreaming or what amounts to the same – telling ourselves stories with oneself as a hero. Jataka tales, tales in Rumi’s Masnavi and Saadi’s Gulistan, Panchtantra and fables of Aesop have been so central to education across cultures.
Even scriptures have to make use of tales and the Quran asserts that the greatest tale – an odyssey of soul searching in fact – is that of Joseph (this tale is retold in many volumes by Thomas Mann in modern times- in fact our challenge is to retell great archetypal stories in a language postmodern man can relate to). In the modern world, we have somewhat different kinds of tales we call short stories.
Choosing the short story writer is like choosing architecture of one’s house or ambience in which we choose to live. There are short story writers who don’t merely delight but teach wisdom as well. For instance, Tolstoy.
I immediately recall his three short stories “The Three Questions”, “God sees the truth but waits,” “How much land does a man require” that teach us  the key lessons in ethics. Let us not forget such masters as Russian  Chekov, German Kafka and French Maupassant and Indian Tagore. Urdu language has its great and well known names we all know but must not forget Intizar Hussain as an indispensable source who connects us to the Tradition. The genre of short story, as worthy inheritor of dastaan goi, has to go a long way  if it is of great educational value for generations.
We have many short story writers and thousands of short stories in Kashmiri  and it is only few that qualify on the exacting standards that deep consciousness of the Tradition (what connects man to Heaven, everything to First Principles, eternal verities of Ad-Deen, constitute Tradition and all great writers assimilate it and what appears anti-tarditional but great is really a different flowering of The Tradition. We need to read at least a few anthologies of great short stories of the world and of Kashmir. Thanks to Dr Tasleem Ahmed War’s Vignettes: Short Stories from Kashmir we have English translation of some of the most important short stories and an attempt at representative anthology of more important short story writers.
The only barrier for enjoying Kashmiri stories till now has been language that has been Greek to most Kashmiris (if any proof of our occupation and imposed alienation from language and culture is needed, this is one, and disappearance of Persian is another).  Some remarks on some short stories follow:
The book begins with Samina Ashraf’s “Bear Dance” that satirizes modern job market where souls are auctioned and forced to play roles that are revolting and dehumanizing.
None of the academic degrees matter for the protagonist and he gets the job of entertaining people by performing bear dance with a mask.  Almost all of us wear masks. Our souls, our aspirations and our training are not taken into account while careers or jobs are imposed on us. There are four stories of Akhatar Mohi-ud-din including “Home Fires,” “Fortune,” “The Roasted Fish” and “Trauma.”
The virtue of a writer is that he gives you eyes or removes habitual veils on our sight. Trauma reminds me of devastating lecture (considered to be the most influential in history of YouTube lectures) by Gary Yourofsky. A chick, rescued from predator with great difficulty by the protagonist, has been killed mercilessly and the protagonist can’t tolerate and the one of us who watches trauma in him fails to understand why it should matter.
Nothing matters to us, not the deaths of humans, what to speak of a chicks. 60 billion animals are killed annually in the world and they are grown under brutal conditions and fed food at the expanse of humans and environment and for the select few. “Cock Fight” – perhaps his most memorable story – and “Poundage” from Amin Kamil, another short writer who can’t be ignored by any anthology and who is  also arguably our greatest modern ghazal writer, have also been included.
There are to stories of Gulshan Majeed, one of our most gifted writers who has of late chosen silence. One is “Short Story” that tells story of a lost shoe in such a hilarious manner that one can hardly enjoy it in translation. Gulshan has argued in his well crafted and insightful critical essays regarding the key importance of form or attention to language and he himself uses it so dexterously to create magic. Another story “He” portrays, in his characteristic manner, a character that is specifically Kashmiri and now missing. Majeed is a philosopher of the ordinary and the last thing he would allow is judging character in terms of this or that ideology.
This last named virtue is noted in Shankar Raina’ s stories also including the one “Whose Turn is Next” that figures in the anthology. Sufi Ghulam Muhammad’s story “The Pilferer” documents machinations of modern slave owners called owners of shops. Today in Kashmir salesmen or labourers are treated in a way that ancient slave owners look like angels as they never discounted humanity of their slaves.
Bansi Nirdosh’s story “Till I burnt my own Fingers” shows how faith sustains people and skepticism is killing, at least for those who have chosen to believe with all their soul and mind. It brilliantly illustrates Kashmiri adage “peer ni boud, yaqeen boud” (It is faith rather than faith healer who does wonders). Hari Krishan Koul’s “Macabre Thoughts” is one of the most powerful short stories that explores human frailty or the reign of desire. A mother’s death has ceased to mean anything serious for many today – its most horrible illustration is Camus’ Mersault in The Stranger who is totally unmoved by his mother’s death and very soon forgets her to enjoy revelry with a woman.
The occasion of mother’s death and carrying a coffin is not able to erase for a moment at least, for the protagonist, the interest in following commentary on a match. Other stories that are included are Alter-Ego by Hriday Koul Bharati that explores alienation, “It is Night at the Moment” that explores unconvincing nature of all idealistic mayaistic absolutist thought currents that fail to engage with the concrete or the individual, “Some Poses, some Snaps” by Bashir Akhtar  that also shows need to note the unpredictable action or behavior of humans that defies formulaic ideological frameworks and Shant’s “First Lesson” that along with  Farooq Masudi’s “A Revelatory Moment” resists an easy engagement from the reader. Lastly a few words about Amin Kamil whose two stories “Poundage” and “Cock-fight” find a place in the book.
There is well written and highly useful introduction to the book that introduces the genre and its evolution in Kashmiri and this is followed by brief notes on the writers that figure in the anthology.
Stories that have been included have been only selectively, for reasons unknown, commented upon by the translator.  Only occasionally can one spot minor errors in translation or in typing. Although the author has stated rationale of his selections – innovation in form and theme – he has not individually defended his choices.
Let us not forget extremely exacting standards set by such acknowledged masters of the task of anthology making as Raul Zurita in his Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America  who selected a handful of poems, one only from each poet and then had the confidence to write that only the most important poem has been selected and that but for the selected poem, some important event that happened to language would have been missed. Zurita’s introduction is a classic introduction that may profitably be consulted by all those who attempt such a work.
Thank you and congratulations, Dr Tasleem, for attempting and largely succeeding in preparing a lucid and accessible anthology and translation of some of  most important Kashmiri short stories and providing a sort of passport for Kashmiri writers for international travel. I hope it will be followed by another work of translation that is largely a virgin field.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ramazan: A Time for Waiting on God

Itikaaf is especially a time for waiting as is the whole idea of seeking shab-i-qadr
We all know that Ramazan has been characterized as “month of patience.” What does it mean? Today we seek to understand how patience, or what we may call waiting, is what essentially characterizes human destiny and how proper waiting constitutes a great wazeefa for proper living. Understanding our destiny as patiently waiting for Darshan or Deedar, for the Friend or more precisely seeing Deedar in waiting, will answer such questions that are commonly asked during this month such as why God doesn’t come and why our rendezevous with Satan doesn’t seem to end. Itikaaf is especially a time for waiting as is the whole idea of seeking shab-i-qadr (We are subtly told to wait for it as its time isn’t strictly specified).
Paul Tillich in one of his sermons,collected under the title The Shaking of the Foundations, has insightfully appropriated the metaphor of waiting in explicating the Semitic religious worldview. Keeping Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in our background that parodies human condition involving waiting we may venture a few remarks on his explication of the issue. He states “Our time is a time of waiting.. All time, both in history and in personal life, is expectation. Time itself is waiting, waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal.” Commenting on a scriptural verse he says: "Both the Old and the New Testament describes our existence in relation to God as one of waiting….Waiting means not having and having at the  sametime. For we have not what we wait for; or, as the apostle says, if we hope for what we do not see, we then wait for it. The condition of man’s relation to God is first of all one of not having, not seeing, not knowing, and not grasping."
Tillich argues that it is not misfortune or a matter of despair to be a waiting creature. If only men knew how to wait they would have no problem with their creaturely vacation. To quote him: “But, although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we all already possess it. Waiting anticipates that which is not yet real. If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. He who waits in an ultimate sense is not far from that for which he waits. He who waits in absolute seriousness is already grasped by that for which he waits …. We are stronger when we wait than when we possess." (Tillich 154).
The Greatest Good can only be contemplated; it is too sublime to be possessed. We need to note that even ordinarily, in our deepest loves and friendships there is always an element of non- possession. The other never ceases to be the other. As Tillich observes: “How can God be possessed? Is God a thing that can be grasped and known among other things? Is Godless than a human person? We always have to wait for a human being. Even in the most intimate communion among human beings, there is an element of not having and not knowing, and of waiting. Therefore, since God is infinitely hidden, free, and incalculable, we must wait for Him in the most absolute and radical way. He is God for us just in so far as we do not possess Him. The psalmist says tha this whole being waits for the Lord, indicating that waiting for God is not merely a part of our relation to God, but rather than the condition of that relation as a whole. We have God through not having Him.”
Whitehead’s famous characterization of religion in his Science and the Modern World captures the importance of waiting as a keynote of religious/mystical viewpoint. To quote him: “Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of the present facts; something which gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.”
God is the Last, the End. He is after all distances because he is not in the net of space and time. He is behind everything and man can’t but deal with things only, even if these be spiritual things. God is within as well, but within is more distant than any without. In a beautiful Upanishadic narrative it has been said that in order to conceal the greatest treasure of God it was resolved to put it in the depths of man’s being, in the in most recess of his heart to which he ordinarily doesn’t turn.Though spirit lives in the present moment but man is predisposed to live either in past or in future.

Every spiritual master has declared that the present moment is the home of the spirit. But for most of us the present moment is very difficult place to reach, despite the obvious fact that we are already there. Chopra thus formulates this insight “Every second is a door to eternity. The door is opened by perception.” But difficult indeed is the art of cleansing the doors of perception. Most men choose to live blind instead of clearing the dust that accumulates on the perceiving lenses of the heart. God is waiting to be realized and in order to be fully realized man has to pass away, to consent to be utterly annihilated. God is a  “remote possibility.” He is beyond all apprehension, all reach. He is and signifies the hopeless quest. Stace in hisTime and Eternity has beautifully appropriated the waiting metaphor of Whitehead as the essence of religious/mystical approach. To quote him: “Religion is the hunger of the soul for the impossible, the unattainable, the inconceivable.... Religion seeks the light. But it isn’t a light which can be found at any place or time. It isn’t somewhere. It is the light which is nowhere. It is “the light which never was on sea or land.”  Never was. Never will be even in the infinite stretches of future time. This light is non-existent….Yet it is the great light which lightens the world. Religion is the desire to break away from being and existence altogether to get beyond existence into that nothingness where the great light is. It is the desire to be utterly free from the fetters of being. For every being is a fetter. Existence is a fetter. To be is to be tied to what you are. Religion is the hunger for the non being which yet is…..So long as there is light in your ife, the light has not yet dawned. You must see that all things all places, all times,all experiences are equally dark.You must see that all stars are black, only out of the total darkness will the light dawn. Religion is that hunger which has no existence past, present or future, no actual existence and no possible existence, in this world or in any other world on the earth or above the cloud and stares material or mental or spiritual, can ever satisfy. For whatever is or could be will have the curse of thisness or thatness.
While all this dissolves key complaint of secular mind regarding God’s absence or his supposed failure to turn up as He is called, say in concentration camps of Hitler or all who suffer for no sins of theirs, it also explains why shab-i-qadr has to be eternally waited on – there is no account clearing by spending a night without sleep and saying for 1000 months on one can take rest. We are not hoping for Godot to come but learning to see how very waiting is our destiny, our glory, our salvation as are not God but humans. Almost reversing attitude of Beckettian tramps we refuse union (lazati wasal haraam) and say to God “Kari jehan daraz hae, ab mera intizaar ker.” As long as we are human, we are “condemned” to pray, to submit, to serve, to be patient . Ramazan only recalls our destiny as waiting, as patience under hardships, as hunger for the “unattainable,” as discipline of senses for cleansing the doors of perception that sees everything as it really is – infinite light and beauty.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Fellowship of God

Divine music is broadcast from dawn to dusk in countless rhymes of nature in streams, in birds and insects, in winds and in many other ways if our ears are properly attuned.
Is God to be believed in or tasted? For believers ordinarily it is said that the former is the case. But for some more adventurous souls He is to be tasted here and now. “Her mokh wuchak deedar.” But ordinarily believers believe, and also taste something of Him.
Artists live by tasting Him. Those who are sensitive to the aesthetic richness of the sounds of Quran recitation and na’ts, or know how to offer nimaz-i-shouq, keep tasting it. Listening to great Qari is a rare feast from heaven. Mystics are entirely consumed in this tasting. Prophets preach only after first hand tasting of God. 
Divine music is broadcast from dawn to dusk in countless rhymes of nature in streams, in birds and insects, in winds and in many other ways if our ears are properly attuned. And from dusk to dawn is played  a special music that is vouchsafed to those who know the difference between the day and the night and that nights are reserved for special lovers and identify with the flower that opens at dusk and closes at dawn. For other lovers there is eternally broadcast soz-i mansoor that one can attune to. Thanks to heavens, all of us as lovers, as those who live for others (say our families or spouses), and as poets are given something from the great banquet spread everywhere.
All of us who see and don’t just look at things casually can taste something of God in nature. In every conversation we enjoy, God has been tasted. Every feast we serve or dinner we take gratefully and smilingly, God has been there as the ground of all the sweetness of the experience. Occasionally perhaps all of us have some special moments or experiences which we cherish for sheer intensity and the power to explode our ego. In these epiphanies that may be occasioned by seeing beautiful things or listening to beautiful sounds or may be by no apparent cause, we get peep into the secret garden of mysticism, the full fledged discipline or science of tasting God.
Let us try to understand how we participate as invited guests in the grand celebration.  Moses asked God what should he tell to Pharaoh when asked who sent him.  God said “I am that am.” Who is not absolutely certain that he or she is and who has ever been able to capture this I am ness? God is ‘I am ness’ we know from within and of this no sane man is doubtful. No atheist doubts God in this sense. Atheists are not fools and only the fools have said in their hearts that there is no God as the Bible says. I think in light of these statements the Quranic dictum ‘they didn’t deceive God but deceived only themselves’ is understood.
Love saves the world and not religion as popularly understood but the question is what is love and wherefrom does it come. Christ’s and Sufism's definition of God is that He is love. Love flowers into compassion to become the central tenet of Buddhism.
Religion talks about nothing but charity and love as Augustine said. The thing is to differentiate between love that God is and idolatrous identifications of love with any limited thing such as the self, the nation, the particular ideology or belief system. Faith is not belief. Faith is something that makes us participants in divine life. Ihsan perfects it and we see only God.
For mystics God is in this very moment, the vitality and mystery and beauty of every moment. He is the food also as Indian scriptures assert. Man needs God more than he needs food.  Give a person everything but deprive him of love and see how he kills himself.
To man is not an option given to hide fully from God; he can imagine sometimes that he has hidden himself from the gaze of Reality but willy nilly he is summoned to face It. And if he understands the code of  love that moves all things  he offers to be consumed by it.
Muhammad (SAW), symbolizing or unveiling the Divine or Love, is then alpha and omega and one cries  Diyi na darshun iyi na saalus/ Soz bi istaqbales jaan (O! will he not unveil himself? Will he not accept the invitation? To welcome him I will offer my life).
As Thoreau puts it in his entry in Journals on Feb. 24, 1857: "If my friend says in his mind, I will never see you again, I translate it of necessity into ever. That is its definition in Love's lexicon.” Kierkegaard’s point is also that one's consolation ought to be, "O, consider, then, that love endures!" What this enduring or abiding love means is explained by Kierkegaard. As  Andrew Zawacki explains Kierkegaard’s point: “In abiding love, the past is nullified by reconcieving any break not as a conclusion but as the inauguration of a possibility. The lover is one who refers to love itself before relating himself to another person, since only love is eternal, abiding, and hence capable of sustaining the lover's fortitude and faithfulness through any rupture.”  In truly Christian love (and one can add truly Islamic or truly Buddhist or truly Saivist love), according to Kierkegaard, there is no possibility of real disappointment from any apprehension of break. One can grant the obvious point that lovers are not incapable of disagreement incompatibility but, Kierkegaard asks us to note that two people in love are each individually referred to a third term, which is love itself.
"When one speaks of reaching a breaking-point," Kierkegaard points out, "this is because one is of the opinion that in love there is only a relationship between two rather than a relationship among three." "When two persons relate themselves in love to each other, each one of them all by himself is related to love."
The Upanishads say: "Man becomes true if in this life he can apprehend God; if not, it is the greatest calamity for him."
Whitman says about mossy patch of land as God’s handkerchief. We need to read great nature poetry to learn with poets how to be transported into another world by a mere sight of beautiful object. 
How much joy is available to all of us, the poor or the rich, may be understood by the following quote.
“Any joy is everywhere; it is in the earth's green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share.
Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul.
Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.”
I conclude with a quotation from Leuba whose work is to be approached in a critical spirit but here says something irresistibly beautiful:
“God is not known, he is not understood, he is used- sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asked for no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he?  are so many irrelevant questions. 
Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is  in the last analysis the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious influence.”

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Secret of Destiny

Hardy’s Jude the Obscure shows how fate make the hero fall through sexual misconduct.

Complaints against fate are legion. Not just ordinary people but poets and philosophers have been voicing them. Hardy’s Jude the Obscure shows how fate make the hero fall through sexual misconduct. Cioron, arguably after Schopnhaur the most uncompromising pessimist philosopher, is all rage against the joke that man’s fate seem to be.
Kahlil Gibran asks why we aren’t consulted either at birth or at death.  Man has been sentenced (taking this life as a sentence) for sins he doesn’t know, both Kafka and Beckett seek to show in their literary works. Maugham  also portrays man’ bondage to desire and sin and huge costs of resisting it. For modern man God’s ways are simply beyond comprehension. He is hard put to discern any trace of wisdom in His actions.  Camus’ The Plague and Dostoevsky’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov put his case with apparently unimpeachable logic.  From Sophocles to Maari to Ghalib, the problem of man’s seemingly unjust suffering due to fate has been stated with such force that all attempts that ignore the terrible reality of fate and its seemingly (or really?) incomprehensible logic appear shallow.
Both the Quran and the Prophetic traditions have stated the case for predestination in so clear terms that there is no scope for an easier way out of the hard questions like what is man’s fault in coming to the world, who created Satan and what made him defy God, and Adam disobey Him. We can’t escape questions and skeptics and must resort to metaphysics that dissolves if not solves problems.
We can’t ignore complaints and criticisms. We can respond by noting why it is said that the secret of destiny is known to God alone. Ratiocination in such matters as that of predestination had already been condemned by the Prophet of Islam (SAW). It is Cartesian epistemology (questioned by Heidegger, mystics, perennialists and others) that posits a subject-object dichotomy and faulty theology and metaphysics that posits in the first instance such binaries as freewill and determinism.
Simply look at the logic of Infinite (no finite entity including you and me could fall outside God as Infinite so aren’t we  as spirits party in scripting fate?) or the questionable notion that God encounters the world from an outside (and we can take him to a hypothetical court as in OMG film) or pretension that we can detach ourselves from the very process we are part of and seek to scrutinize. We see why debating destiny the way popularly is done create antinomies.  Isn’t God defined as Mystery so how come we don’t see as fallacious any attempt as that of  logical or conceptual intellect to scan God or question freedom and fate if it itself, unwarrantedly, divides seamless Unity that  Reality/God for its convenience? It is the Self that writes destiny or plays out different role for pure sport or aesthetic reasons. We don’t ask why the rose blooms or the sun rises or we love.
Who asks why? Who knows only “wooden legged reason.”  Life precedes reason and thus needn’t be accountable in utilitarian terms to the later. Intellect or Intelligence intuits answer – it doesn’t need to argue. This explains why the debate on conceptualizing knowledge of the secret of taqdeer is discouraged. However some related questions are legitimate and we can’t escape engaging with them.
The test case for any preacher or advocate of religion is how he is able to convince himself, or a skeptic regarding the meaning of doctrine of fate in a manner that is not revolting either to reason or ethics. How unconvincing our widely read modern theologians can be for a sharp modern mind can be seen by taking a look on Syed Moududi’s pamphlet on taqdeer and Ghamidi’s answers to related questions. However, how well equipped our great scholastic tradition is in handling at least conventional arguments against God arising from such notions as evil or predestination can be seen by reading Maulana Qari Mohammad Tayyib (Falsafi- Naemat-o-museebat) or Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi on the issue of taqdeer. But, against rather sketchy and shorter presentations of them, more elaborate, technically elaborated and more comprehensive and convincing case for divine justice in the face of human misery and transgression is stated in Murtaza Muthari’s book Adl-i-iIlahi(عدلِ الٰہی).
For general readers who want more polemical than scholarly and jargon ridden answers one may refer to relevant portions in Taleem-i-Gousia by Syed Shah Gul Hasan Qalandri. However some modern formulations are not satisfactorily tackled by our scholastically informed scholars are best handled by metaphysicians like Schuon. A  part of the problem is best catered by existentialistically informed response presented in Islamic idiom by Jamal Khwaja in Quest for Islam. The Sufi view on destiny and evil is succinctly stated in Mir Valiuddin’s The Quranic Sufism. Here we first see why confusions arise in understanding evil and predestination and then state briefly few points elaborated in Valiudin’s work.
Confusions and problems arise because we think things including ourselves are created out of nothing, that God is some cosmic being or person whom we can somehow ask questions or who sees things from outside and then manipulates them. Problem in short is because the idea of Tawhid as Unity of Being is not understood, and people take a literalist view of God and scripture. Stace thus shows what is wrong with thorough going literalism.
Taken so, the doctrine implies that God is a person, a mind, a consciousness, and these words, too, must be taken in their literal meanings. Love is some kind of emotion or feeling or attitude or desire or at least a purpose– perhaps the purpose to act in a certain way, for instance, to achieve the happiness and good of created beings. But, can any of this be literally true of God? Only, apparently, if God be thought of as a finite center of consciousness, one mind among other minds. This mind, God, loves that mind, a human soul. But apart from this, to attribute emotions to God conflicts with the very definite religious intuition that God is unchanging. He is “without shadow of turning.”
This critique of a literal interpretation also applies to other psychological terms we use of Him, such as ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘purpose,’ ‘love’.
All traditions and generality of great thinkers largely agree on the question of doctrine of fate. Allazi qaddara fahada (– “And who destined and guided.”) states the key thesis on fate. The essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Judeo-Christian-Islamic perspectives on karma or fate and salvation is similar. From Plato to Nietzsche including Muslim philosophers not excluding Iqbal have upheld “higher fatalism.”
“The decree of predestination applies to essential natures (‘ayan),i.e. the creation of God is in accordance with the aptitudes of Essences. That is why it is asserted that ‘’You are the Destiny’ and ‘It is for you to decree.’
Valiuddin thus states the Aharite doctrine of acquisition that reconciles the binary of free will and determinism.
…actions are being created exactly according to the essential nature of things. In other words, whatever there is in the essence is being manifested through the agency of the creator. When all the incidents are happening according to my aptitude, and nothing is imposed on me against my nature, I am, then free in the true sense of the word. That is why Shaykh al-Akbar says: “Whatever has been definitely determined about us is in conformity with our nature, further we ourselves are determining it according to our aptitude’’.
This tallies verbatim with the commandment of the Holy Qur’an– “And He giveth you of all that ye ask for.” At another place it is stated more explicitly. “Lo! We shall pay them their whole due unabated.” “For God’s is the final argument.” The author of Gulshan-e-Raz makes God say: “The good and evil in thee, /Owe their being from thine own nature (ay’)/ It is my grace that gives a form/To what is implicitly therein.
Things aren’t created out of nothing, because nothing or not-being doesn’t exist at all, and out of nothing will come nothing. Creation is only the external manifestation or actualization of the ideas of God, or the essences.
Lest there be confusion if quietism follows or people take evil lightly and forget ethical responsibility in fighting it, I quote Ibn Arabi:
“Be content with [God’s] Decree not necessarily with each thing decreed, but, rather, with its Decree itself. And receive with joy whatever may come from Him.”
The secret is that the secret of destiny is better kept secret as it's too costly for mortals and too subtle for minds. The Greatest master of secrets of religion, Ibn Arabi, said that he was almost decimated when something from the secret of destiny was unveiled to him.
(Spirit, divine element in us, may see divine things) Lesser mortals can’t bear the burden of this truth. Some stories told in Tazkirai Gousia are dumbfounding. We may better embrace fate, script fate, submit to divine will but try to fathom it with profane tools.

Who Will Teach Us?

For most women living here, Kashmir has always been hell. To live as a daughter is hell, to leave one’s home for the spouse’s home is a bigger hell. To continue to live in alien house (that rarely becomes home) is like serving a life sentence. Most homes are a hell for daughters-in law. Mothers-in law have their own hell to keep burning.
But let us today focus on the hell of our daughters who suddenly get deprived of the status as daughters and become only legal subjects, who are no longer humans.
One daughter-in-law reaches her home by 6pm where everyone including the mother-in-law and husband’s brother, are waiting for her to prepare tea and dinner for them. She is unable to take tea before7.30pm.  Kitchen odour must not spread to irritate anyone in the house and she must be very careful in the kitchen. Another has to buy the milk she boils that curdles for no fault of her own.  Another is caught between two dictators – mother-in-law and husband who make it a point that to not help her in any way in domestic chores as if it is her business only. Another can’t keep her daughters in the house for the day and has to take them to her parent’s home in the morning and then again take them back in evening.  There are countless stories that constitute crimes against women. Crimes against human dignity, crimes against God, crimes against all civilised existence. But there is no court, no commission to complain to. There is no civil society, no NGOs, no government, no pulpit managers who are concerned (may be some exceptions are there).

It is too painful to contemplate countless stories of brazen human rights violations that are, in psycho-spiritual terms, more damaging than often publicised cases of rapes and acid attacks. There are cases that constitute, so to speak, acid on the soul that destroys one’s whole personality. There are tears, tears and tears. One can’t resist tears while listening to conversations amongst women about what happens to them.
Isn’t it the case that most of us consider domestic work to be a daughter-in-law’s business? Isn’t it a fact that less than 5 per cent of women are respectfully treated as persons at their in laws. Isn’t it the case that there are sometimes contradictory authorities of spouse’s father, mother, sister and brother that she has to contend with? Isn’t it the case that a woman has often none to share her heart’s pain with the whole world? Prick any daughter-in-law and a flood of tears open brust forth.
Once it was a practice that bridegroom had to share all the expenses including wardan and wazi harie (chef’s expenses) as is required in Islam.  Once it was a community and not an individual that felt a daughter is to be married. A girl’s father hardly felt the crushing burden that marrying a daughter now has become.
I am not advocating sticking to legal definitions that may not require a daughter-in-law to work in husband’s home, but pleading for considering them as humans first. Give them love and they will, most probably, serve husband’s parents with love. Girls who are married are denied the right to have a separate home, right to enjoy life at the expense of husband’s salary, right to be herself. Love cancels all demands, all duties.
Daily, we chose not to take notice of it. It is our sister’s, our daughter’s turn anytime.  Can we do anything about it? I think if we don’t,  we will become like the Europeans who have dispensed away with the whole baggage of haash and nosh and their eternal conflicts and perverse behaviour. Elementary ethics is lacking in these cases. Who will teach us this?

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Who Denies God?

Dedicated to those who struggle to believe and silently face the trial of doubt and disbelief.
“Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God. It is believing that love without reward is valuable.”(Levinas)
“Conscience is God. He is even the atheism of the atheist.” (Gandhi)
There is a problem of declining faith all over the world that has of late increasingly made itself felt in our State as well. I know many young students struggling to believe but fail to find satisfactory solution to the moral and intellectual questions that popular view of belief in God received from culture seems to raise.  I know anxious parents watching their children slip into disbelief and losing respect for what they have considered holy or sacred.
I know of silent atheism of many bright people who chose not to talk about it. There are a large number of thinking people including apparently very religious ones suffering from certain doubt regarding some or the other vital issue connected with faith that ultimately is linked to faith in God. I know of too many who fail to convince children on such issues as rising early and praying regularly. And children are resisting, sometimes with vehemence.
The Quran doesn’t ask us to believe in God but Unity or Reality. We can say for the Quran existence of God isn’t an issue. It invites us to unity of Reality/Truth, an invitation hard to resist by any rational person. Jung was asked if he believed in God. He replied he needn’t as he has seen him as God is psychological archetypal reality. Tillich defines God as what constitutes our ultimate concern. After his lecture on symbols of faith a professor remarked: “Mr.Tillich, you have denied me God given right to deny God.” God as Absolute has never been in doubt for any world religion or almost all great thinkers though an anthropomorophic personal God has been passed over in silence by some including the Buddha. God as Being, as Being of being, as pure Being, as power to be is undeniable intellectually though as cosmic policeman, as capricious force he is no longer believable to many thinking people (that explains many sermons invoking such imagery no longer impress so many). No great religious thinker takes God to be a proposition one may conceivably reject on logical grounds, a being among other beings (one may question in the scientific worldview), some occult force who is required to fill the gaps in naturalistic explanations. God is the rasa of existence – sweetness of all sweet things.
For Sufis and gnostics He is the Beauty and Majesty we see everywhere. God can be seen in every event, every meeting with our friends or with other (yi chu mulaqaat…as a Kashmiri Sufi poet has put it). “You can meet Him in the streets, in the bazaar, on the hills, in the cottages of the poor, in the palaces of kings, in  hermitages and jungles, in workshops and offices—at all places.”
According to traditions, it is mystics, following prophets, who best understand what God is. Nasr says that if it were possible to teach metaphysics to everyone, there would be no atheists. I think it is possible to see how there is no atheist around and everywhere we see everyone worshipping one or the other of God’s Names. If God is goodness, beauty and truth, who is not driven by these values and thus seeking Him? Ibn Arabi, building on a Quranic verse, maintained that knowingly or unknowingly all are worshipping God.
Let us try to understand the universal language and drive of worship or faith in God so that we understand why the Bible says that it is only a fool who says in his heart that there is no God and why should the first and most important job of education be teaching of God? 
Those who know the grammar of religious terminology can only laugh at those who find errors in scriptures, who find faults with God’s work. For those who defy God only defy themselves. If one knows oneself to its depths and heights one knows God. Personal Lord of which Ibn Arabi talks is differently and uniquely associated with everyone and it is what sustains one. God is available to everyone or made accessible through prayer. Prayer isn’t petition but invitation.
God, let all those who blaspheme, note is “praised on every tongue.” It is the question of both definition and vision. Vision with all its ecstasy may be denied to unworthy but some aspects of the Treasure that God is are given as free lunch to all. Isn’t there an eternal feast of beauty, love, joy, goodness, mystery, wonder all tasted or experienced to the extent of one’s intellectual, artistic and spiritual development? God is Irresistible according to the Quran. No man can resist Him. Who can resist the pull of the Divine Names of Beauty (that ground all lovely things in life we seek on our own such as joy, beauty, peace, love) and push of the Names of Majesty (anger, power)?  
Man’s problem is that only something that transcends man and his finitude (this we call God in the broadest sense) can give him fulfillment. Ala bi-zikr-llahi tatmien-al quloob.  Man is ever trying to look skywards, to fly, to transcend his given state. No animal does it. Tell anyone his deepest wish and he can’t name it. It is what we call God. Man refuses to be happy without God as twentieth century literature amply demonstrates. The problem with man is he doesn’t get happiness with any transient thing. Denying man the right to be happy, to be blissful, to enjoy orgasm with the universe every moment which mysticism provides him is gross violation of human rights. Happiness is an inalienable attribute of Spirit that Sacred denying secularism doesn’t fully recognize though it does, because it is human, recognize its images and reflections and they alone sustain it. Man is “condemned” to worship God – the very passion to seek truth and in its name deny God may well qualify as a form of worship because God is truth or truth partakes of the Divine.
The greatest of philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Derrida and Levinas (such great names as Hegel, Bradley, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Whitehead included), great Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and other religious or traditional philosophers, our greatest artists of all ages and greatest writers from Homer till date, Eastern and Western all fundamentally share something of what Karen Armstrong documents in her masterly texts  The Case for God and A History of God as mystical view of God or transcendence.
Even in the age of modernity that is said to be largely secular there are hardly any lock, stock and barrel atheists who have no use for the Sacred as embodied in art, in culture, in play, in work ethic and counltless other cultural formations and pursuits. Russell who is often cited as amongst the most brilliant agnostic philosophers treasured Heraclites and Spinoza as the greatest philosophers and both were essentially God intoxicated philosophers. Our greatest scientists from Newton to Einstein (post Einstein we don’t find a scientist of his stature) have also been  believers in the Sacred, the Mystery (let us remember the old maxim of ignoring inferior thinkers or men and these will include many Nobel laureates as well). So atheism has always been a shallow doctrine. Theism too has been transcended by the great religious geniuses (from Buddha to Schuon) who are essentially Absolutists or transtheists.
So we find the best minds in every field agreeing till date regarding the reality of Transcendence/Sacred and defining human state as a quest for what transcends man. Love pulls us as does beauty as does joy as does mystery and wonder.

To where? To the Netherlands of Spirit/Sacred. So who is an atheist?  An atheist is one who despairs (as the Quran implies), who is joyless, love forsaken, who has nothing to thank for as he sees nothing as gift, and is beauty and mystery insensitive, and thus lost soul. A theist is one who can unconditionally love God. Take a look and see who is who. Don’t trust labels or masks people wear.
To sum up the purpose of life is to seek happiness, as one Chinese maxim puts it, and God is the ground or principle of all happiness and in Himself is the Supreme Joy.
The eyes that haven’t seen God haven’t seen anything or seen only vaguely, in a fog and thus missed blinding beauty all around and killing joy within us. Ask children and artists and mystics like Rumi how Love summons us all. Ask Hafiz what a feast life is. Atheism seeks to compromise quality of the feast we are invited to take. I am not ready for this compromise.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Living in Postmodern Times

Here systematic explication of postmodernism is not possible so a few points will be made though I risk certain oversimplification. It must be borne in mind that there are divergent interpretations of and approaches to understand postmodernism.
Muslims are required to appreciate the spirit of the times and recognize the signs of the Lord in change, in history, in new unfolding events.  A Mujaddid or reviver of religion is born after every 100 years to help cope up with the new challenges. Today we try to appreciate the challenge from postmodern thought currents are posing and opportunities they are providing for exploitation on our part.
First it is to be noted that ours is, willy-nilly, the postmodern age. Living in a globalised world, a multicultural world we might suffer cultural shock or pathologically reaction to the cultural or religious other. Salafi-Sufi polarisation or Shia Sunni skirmishes that have intensified recently for reasons we know can be better understood by understanding the times we are in and then we can explore possibilities of dialogue.
Postmodernism is said to be the new religion of the West. As a philosophical articulation of contemporary cultural experience it is the spirit of our skeptical age. It is defined by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard as a state of disbelief in all grand theories or narratives that claim to explain everything or have access to Truth or promise salvation. Religions as ideologies explaining or interpreting the world and claiming to impose their views too will fall under this rubric. Its critical tool is deconstruction, which distrusts all centres, all claims of unique or final interpretation of any text. It asserts that all we have is a text that has infinite contexts and words whose meanings can’t be fixed. Power relations are so pervasive that truth is always a casualty. All ideologies, all views are in some sense exclusionary and thus need to be overcome or resisted. We need to give benefit of doubt to the opposite party. Justice is never done but we must strive to do it. We must criticize whoever presents itself as the Truth. To man condemned to deal with texts or language there is no unproblematic or direct access to Truth. We must resist those who say they know and then seek to impose their views. Let thousand flowers bloom and all tell their small stories. Let us respect singularity of every event. All dogmatic thinking could lead to totalitarian or Fascist or antidemocratic approach. Resist binary logic of either, whose notorious example is Bush’s statement: “Either you are with us or against us.”
Postmodern thinkers have presented devastating critiques of dogmatic Marxism. Today Neomarxism engages with postmodernism. American Marxist political theorist Fredric Jameson wrote a foreword to Lyotard’s classic text ‘The Postmodern Condition’. Fundamentalism in any version, religious or secular, is no longer credible in intellectual terms. However, there is a relativist and nihilist interpretation of postmodernism that asserts nothing matters, only power, as all truths are equivalent and we don’t have access to the Truth. But more sophisticated advocates of postmodernism have resisted these interpretations arguing that what we are given is greater freedom to explore alternatives, letting marginalised or oppressed groups speak, letting those stories like Kashmir being heard equally respectfully.
Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, is notoriously difficult thinker. So are other postmodern thinkers including theologians like French Emmanuel Levinas. However, all of them seem to have affinities with spiritual currents like mysticism. Postmodernists have rejected rationalism and claims of the enlightenment project that banned the realm of unreason. So science claiming to explain everything has been questioned. Mystics are not unfashionable. Neither are madmen to be condemned unheard. In fact Foucault wrote a book ‘Birth of a Clinic’ in which he showed how traditionally there was a space for mad people and it is only recently thanks to new narrow view of reason that they had to be dispatched to psychiatric wards. In Kashmir we know, for instance, mad people were mostly perceived as special people and somehow tolerated. Some powers or insights were attributed to them. Of course a few pathological cases were not thereby condoned.
We need to understand postmodernism if we are to be up to date in intellectual matters. Our audience has been exposed to some current postmodern thought. An example of how contradictory things exist side by side is ‘QTV’ showing advertises of commodities or women in such a manner that contradicts the speaker, stating his views or giving sermons before the break. Or we keep changing channels every moment or countless versions of the same story we find circulated in social networking sites.
Let us see both dangers and opportunities of postmodern thinking. Engage with it respectfully but critically. We have things to learn and unlearn.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Education Department; Really!

How many ZEOs or CEOs spend time in schools?
We do have an information processing cum literacy department but not any education department.
I argue that we need to change the name of the department from education to literacy department as long as we don’t prove that it is also educating. Once we had it, at least something approximating it. Now we don’t. I think the following explains my point.
     There have been numerous critiques of current educational system and various proposals to redress the increasingly appreciated problems at moral and spiritual plane inherent in it.
     Suggestions from certain well known commissions constituted for analyzing and development of educational policy; suggestions for bringing in the moral and spiritual element in education that had traditionally been the bedrock of Indian educational system and that constitutes vital element of our cultural heritage have not been implemented, or perhaps could not be implemented due to current fashionable paradigm that makes no reference to transcendence as it is wedded to pragmatist instrumentalist view of rationality and human vacation.
     Immense problems in socialization could also be attributed to faulty education. Such diverse problems as delinquency, drug addiction, suicides, failure and trivialization of relationships, disrespect for teachers and elders and increased susceptibility to corruption are all attributable, partly to background worldview taken for granted in modern educational system. Capitalist co-opting of modern education as seen in increased privatization and dependence on requirements of industry – the phenomenal rise of MBA is only one instance – means decreasing tolerance and space for traditional view of knowledge, ethics and human vacation as self-other relationship has been redefined in terms that sharply contradict with everything for which traditional cultures – with their arts, religions, philosophies and symbols – stand.
     Modern systems of education cater to everything but not the most important dimensions of man – his soul and his spirit. 
     There is hardly any scope for teaching wisdom in a worldview that is bereft of it or finds little use for it for Homo economicus.  Modern civilization has given rise to the fragmentary  man.
     The knowledge that constitutes the raison d’etre of man is absent in its curriculum.  Metaphysics is the science that is most important in this connection.  In fact all traditional civilizations have prioritized metaphysics (Ad-Deen, Tradition or Sophia perennis as the science that needs foremost consideration in educational curricula).  In fact Greek and all great educationists of ancient and medieval eras have defined education in these terms.  Modern concept of education that produces workers or wage laborers and increasingly specialized professionals who know more and more about less and less while missing the one thing needful that is the basic aim of education is something like an aberration or monstrosity from traditional point of view. And our educational policy has not so far taken note of this aberration! We need super-specilizations but we also need to be good humans. Good careers and good humans shouldn’t be incompatible. We rarely find this combination now. Professionals and highly literate sections aren’t less corrupt or mean or alienated or obsessed with big houses, lavish wazwaans, newer cars.
     Seen from our point of view contemporary education is bereft of higher principles that philosophy and ethics catered to. There is little concern with the knowledge per se but with only to what material use it can be put.  An average student here doesn’t know anything of philosophy and thus of the knowledge of general principles of all disciplines, of the knowledge that synthesizes discordant and heterogeneous bits of information in a certain coherent framework. 
     He may get 100% marks but never know what it means to think, to be creative, to be transformed by education.  Students may know much mathematics but not the philosophy of mathematics or why of mathematics and its connection with beauty and our deeper drives.  In fact even the definition of mathematics isn’t known to most of them (ask your students, even PG students).  We know much about individual sciences, physical and biological but are mostly ignorant of methodology and philosophy of science and relation of science to other pursuits. Our knowledge of social sciences presents still more depressing scenario. The fact that humanities or social sciences in our universities and colleges don’t have great reputation is partly because of lack of exposure to philosophy or absence of philosophical orientation. 
     What constitutes civilization and culture? How many students could even define these terms or distinguish between them?  We are appallingly ignorant of history. It is no wonder that we are increasingly alienated from our historical or traditional roots, our cultural and spiritual heritage.  Very few of students know how to approach such vital questions as God, meaning of life and suffering, difference between theology and metaphysics or sacred sciences. And that explains interminable debates and confusion on issues such as shirk, on atheism, on orthodox formulations and currency of sectarian and fundamentalist debates. What is the difference between faith and belief?  Students are abysmally ignorant of their own religion and its philosophy and its history, not to speak of our crass ignorance of other religious and mystical traditions. 
     Students are not being taught all this.  Educational curricula are to be blamed first of all. Why can’t good education in schools clear basic concepts that concern our whole being or psycho-spiritual development? Why can’t we revive the old idea of fusing madrassas and schools giving secular education? Why should our children need to go to darsgah after or before schools? We have had one institution in our history giving both “secular” and “religious” educations. Let heads of madrassas think.
     The same remarks could be made on student’s knowledge of aesthetics.  Of fine arts they have only very vague notions.  Their knowledge of painting, sculpture, architecture and music is next to nothing.  Education supposed to contribute to development of the whole personality including its cognitive (knowing), conative (willing)  and affective (feeling) dimensions, is simply lacking. No wonder we have fragmented ill adjusted people who are literates only. Character that education is supposed to cultivate and perfect is simply not the priority.
     Thus our education department has three fold task: to critically appraise instead of simply import or adopt International and National Curricular Frameworks, link education to our Heritage or Tradition that helps shape identity, and prevent enormous wastage and leakages by fixing the target of skill oriented and vocational education that takes equal care of drop outs as well. There are no cases of failure in good education system. The idea of policed examination, gazette or result or marks sheet is simply revolting and against human dignity.  We have reasons to expect something will be done as we are seeing  that a beginning seems to have been made towards rethink.
     Our education ministry has inherited a directionless, visionless, highly bureaucratized, more administration and contractor centric than academic centric system of education. Will it muster the will to think out of box, push for certain direly needed reforms while plan for long term radical changes and reorientation of the Department?
     I am smelling fresh winds of change. Especially in Bandipore, I see positive change coming up and wonder how much can be done by really concerned and dedicated local administration provided it doesn’t get tired too soon and relax its vigil. I wish every District Development Commissioner or Assistant Development Commissioner spend one day in a week in schools to sensitize and help better monitoring of the situation. How many ZEOs or CEOs spend time in schools? Let there be orders for their mandatory presence and monitoring lesson plans teachers are taught during Bed courses to follow while delivering lectures.
     Our Education Minister has an uphill task. He will find great support in well meaning teaching community (there are great souls, great teachers but the system has so far been against their blooming and not letting hem deliver). Will he succeed in at least initiating serious introspection amongst all stakeholders and give us an education department in place of information processing cum literacy department is to be seen. We have reasons, seeing the current tremors, not to be cynical but need to be watchful and respectfully critical lest the huge industry of mediocrity, chalta hae culture succeeds in maintaining status quo.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Why Ghamidi Matters?

One of our most brilliant and original scholars, who has been more reviled than read and condemned for certain inferences in which he is not unique.

Who remembers authors of 40 fatwas against Iqbal today? Who sends blessings to the person who greeted Sir Syed with shoes? Who respects those who persecuted great thinkers in Islamic history? And isn’t ours an age where argument rather than sermonizing is more convincing?
Today’s persecuted, reviled minds could be tomorrow’s celebrities. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, I have reasons to think, is one of our most brilliant and original scholars who has been more reviled than read and condemned for certain inferences in which he is not unique. We mayn’t or needn’t agree with everything of any great scholar in the history of Islam. We need to identify the basic methodology of the scholar to situate him properly in context. Thus approached Ghamidi is rooted in Tradition, builds upon the universally accepted sources, is not a modernist or rationalist, avoids references to Orientalists or other imported authorities and is careful enough to present his viewpoint as a possible one for open debate and criticism. Let us debate them and give our judgments after proper hearing. What Mawlana Saed Akbar Abadi wrote about Iqbal’s Madras lectures, that there are precedents for his seemingly new or unique views in previous Islamic history, one can assert about Ghamidi as well. He approaches previous scholarship the way Iqbal required  - “respectfully but critically.”
Calm, cool, poetic, eloquent, agile, witty, brilliant, humane, subtle and insightful, often provocative with subtle sense of humour, Ghamidi radiates an aura that both soothes and illuminates. Ghamidi is not merely a preacher. He is not a polemicist. He is not self righteous ideologue who fulminates in loud tone against other schools.
Without necessarily agreeing all the way through, we can, regarding Ghamidi’s most famous (liberal) views on democracy, hudood, Islamic State,  fine arts including music, pictures, beard, headscarf, women’s witness and need of muharram in travel, generally speaking, point out precedents in  well known modern scholars. In practice, if not in theory, most believing Muslims, willingly or unwillingly, are with him on many issues that raise eyebrows. Let us not debate the individual issues but general methodology he invokes. And here it is to be lamented that hardly any serious work has been done by critics. I await serious engagement with his methodology. And who has told us that there is agreement in 1400 years on any major issues he has differently articulated? Islam doesn’t require agreement on legalistic, theological, and a host of other issues but only that one should be able to invoke sources in defending one’s views.
One can’t be allowed to ignore Revelation and Sunnah. And Ghamidi never ignores. He reads them differently. And there has never been veto on new readings in Islamic history as there is no Church in Islam, and the Quran is inexhaustible and every new reading discovers something new and if it doesn’t, it means we haven’t been able to do justice to the Quran, as Ibn Arabi noted. 
If we don’t reject Imam Bukhari for holding certain views (such as regarding interaction with namuharram) that appear quite unprecedented and extremely bold, why we are so uncharitable to Ghamidi? If some views of Zahiri school of fiqh are for 22nd century  sensibility, why single out Ghamidi for seemingly new views that 20th or 21st century sensibility finds in tune. Isn’t choosing a more liberal view.
Well, Ghamidi may be mistaken and we reserve the right to criticize. I personally find him inconsistent in certain places including those that engage with Sufi metaphysics and hermeneutics. I find his hermeneutical principle rather artificially restricting and I wonder how he chooses to ignore great strides in hermeneutics made in the traditional East including Islamic lands and the modern West. Let us seek to show how he fares in light of one’s alternative hermeneutic rather than accuse him of misguidance. Who can claim to be rightly guided on every major and minor issue when we have been given the (open ended) Quran and the Prophet’s authority to interpret it (known in select few cases with  certainty) and the history of countless schools/alternative views in every field of traditional scholarship including Fiqh, Kalam, and Tafseer? Who can say he or she has copyright over a particular interpretation as the prophetic interpretation? Only the most ignorant person can assert homogeneity in traditional understanding our great Aslaaf bequeathed us. God doesn’t want our agreement on details. Ultimately if it is grace rather than actions that save man finally as all Muslims believe, why so much anxiety to impose one’s “right” opinion in peripheral legal matters that concern actions? (Anyway there has never been a disagreement on key virtues and basic ethical commandments, even between religions, not to speak of among legal schools of Islam. Ad-Deen, hikmah, Ghamidi explains, concerns or draws legitimacy from our natural intuitive drives and needs that no sane person denies). Do you think that we will be, and are judged by the length of shalwars or beards in a world where the shalwar we know is unknown in many places and countless people including Eskimos, for biological reasons, can’t grow beards because nature doesn’t choose to adorn them thus? Let us put first things first. It is pride and all its manifestations that burn in hell. And judging others often involves a manifestation of pride and that explains why we have been commanded “Judge not.” Let us leave to God what is God’s – the right to judge.
Ghamidi belongs to future. He is already the most popular scholar for better educated sections of society. His popularity is going to increase. He is there to stay even if he is exiled to the otherworld. This is because he touches a deep chord in all of us. Muslim women have especially more reasons to take note of him as he is able to address their queries in such a humane and rational manner. Compare his views on purdah with Syed Moududi, Dr Israr or Ibn Baz and we can understand how and why he is unique and more convincing for modern Muslim women.
Let those who disagree with Ghamidi copy his polite attitude towards his adversaries. His voice box never grows shrill. He never claims to be the scholar but says he is a student. He is always open to changing or correcting his views if critics can point out. I am afraid if he has been understood by those who dismiss him without reading. We can dismiss some of his readings but not him. There is no Fascism in Islam that proscribes right to tafaqqur and tadabbur. Ghamidi is a phenomenon. Exceptionally bright and brilliant and original mind. Let those who accuse Ghamdi of misguidance explain who has copyright over guidance in matters theological and juristic in a religion that has no room for Church. Let us debate Ghamdi. Let us debate with Ghamdi. Let us learn how to debate like Ghamdi.
Let us not ignore that it is thanks to Ghamidi that many educated Muslims have been able to resist atheism and many women who have been saved from soul killing guilt for failing to observe or not choosing to observe conventional purdah. Ghamdi educates, illuminates and thereby liberates.
I am not a Ghamidian ideologue; neither does Ghamidi encourage marketing his views. He invites us to think. We may take refuge in not thinking and keep avoiding the realm of what Arkoun calls unthought. Those who think Islam is a cut and dry system, has all the ready made answers that we only need to implement, need to engage with Arkoun’s Retrhinking Islam, Abu Nasr Zayd and others. The Quran too invites us to think and rethink. The Companions valued thinking and getting corrected by even most ordinary people in the audience. (A woman corrected Hazrat Umar on the question of dower and he gratefully accepted correction).
After Syed Moududi, he seems to be destined to become the most influential Muslim scholar. He is direly needed in a world ripped apart by fundamentalism, for clarifying Islamic view of State. Iqbal’s son, Javed Iqbal, has remarked that Muslims keep emphasizing the need for Ijtihad and if anyone does it, he or she is targeted. This explains uneasiness with Ghamidi.
Those who have known Ghamdi report about his saintly ethic. Those who have read his works closely can’t resist getting impressed by him. Like a Socratic gadfly he asks hard irritating questions.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Education Policy: Do we have any ?

Life lost in living, knowledge lost in information, and wisdom lost in knowledge.
What for do schools, colleges and universities exist? We all know they are for education, and comprehensive concept of education would include teaching or developing skills for earning a living or vocation. Now our educational institutions fail on all the grounds. They don’t fashion souls or make us better humans. Ethically, in terms of vulnerability to corruption or harbouring a selfish, mean, sadistic personality, educated persons including the best educated PhDs don’t score better than uneducated rustics. They don’t teach the most important thing – the art of thinking (critical thinking, difference between opinion and truth, facts and interpretations, divine and human views, self and Self etc.), scientific and unscientific attitude (recently some sermons against weather prediction legitimacy were heard!). They are not, excluding some professional colleges or institutions, oriented to vocational training (less than 10% only  get jobs or make any significant use of learnt knowledge and skills during graduation or post-graduation, implying 90% drop out rate which is like traveling in a train that takes only 10% of persons to their destination, throwing out the rest ). There can be no serious doubt that current system of colleges necessarily, by design, manufactures graduates that cannot and will not find jobs using their knowledge acquired during studies. The fact that schools have failed is evidenced in their focus on exams instead of a list of skills, theoretical and practical that need to be learnt and evaluated.
There are no schools that teach about life (schools of life) but only schools that teach syllabi that  our mind mostly formats after every new year. Life, its meaning, its perfection, its joys, its challenges are all out of syllabus questions. Where is the life lost in living, knowledge lost in information and wisdom lost in knowledge as Eliot lamented? And how many literates know the difference between them?

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates and this is recognized as the foundational statement in any philosophy of education worth the name. Now we are subject to the suicidal torture of dozens of examinations during schooling but this question of examining life never crops up. In fact we are never taught the art of conversation, of dialogue that is so crucial in learning to approach this examination of life. We live life in the caves of which Bacon spoke and in the cave of which Plato spoke. We don’t develop the faculty of vision. Intellectually and spiritually most of us fail to move forward from toddler or nursery stage. Name any moral weakness from backbiting to lying to vanity educated people don’t have? Unless we introduce something of philosophy at every level in school system, we are not going to teach students anything worthwhile as far as life, spirituality, ethics, art, rationality, love and all the noble things that make us human are concerned. What have you gained if you have gained the whole world but lost your soul or missed one thing needful as the Bible warns? Good careers constitute the worldly gain only (only exceptionally they contribute to otherworldly gain or moral-spiritual development).
Do  schools immunize us against mental and spiritual diseases? No. Do they teach us love for books, for learning? No. Do they help us in giving us jobs? To privileged few (less than 10%) only while making most of the rest disqualified for a job. Do they fashion citizens? Seeing traffic jams, misuse of electricity, and countless illustrations of irresponsible citizenship around us, who can doubt about the quality of citizens produced by our education system.
Even education for 15 or 20 long years fails to inculcate such elementary lessons as “Judge not” “virtue is its own reward” and the dignity of what Hazrat Ali (RA) calls “free man’s worship” (Russell’s influential essay by the same title may be read in light of this quote).
What can be done against the swine flu of mediocrity, and divorce from ethics and spirituality afflicting us? A dose of philosophy first to teachers who will then transmit to students at every level. We kill the philosopher, the scientist, the questioning, the wondering curious being in our children, at in early age as they ask some hard questions, like who created God, or why pray if God is bayniyaz? Neither parents nor teachers are able to satisfy children or students on countless questions because they have not been trained to think or exposed to philosophy. Philosophy understood as love of wisdom is the Queen of Sciences. Small wonder we keep complaining regarding leaders, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, spouses and about almost everyone excepting ourselves that they have little wisdom.
Syllabus for all the classes is out of tune with local requirements (both cultural and economic). When the syllabus for KAS hasn’t been updated from quite some time and is not in line with IAS forcing students to separately prepare for two exams, what to expect regarding lower classes.  KAS syllabus is designed in such a way, especially prelims paper that only those will qualify who are ready to force minds to memorize more useless than useful things.
It seems that autonomy has been lost or sold by J & K State in education sector. We don’t have any defensible policy on education. We have understood that education is the greatest force for change and liberty and thus it is best not to educate or convert education into a commodity and divorce it from culture, from tradition, from classics, from every humanizing element. How education sector has become an industry may be illustrated by bureaucratic approach of  the BOSE  and turning examination into a money minting industry besides wasting time of students for nothing.
Post script:
The Examination, as far as the conducting them is concerned, is an industry. There are complaints that some persons manage through various means, including unfair ones to be appointed as Superintendents for conducting the exams. Haven’t we heard stories that from Rs. 500 to Rs. 10, 000 are asked from candidates for helping them in the exams? I remember some years back some candidates on the pretext of centre-change from district Srinagar have been allotted a centre at Pampore in district Pulwama. Later, in one of the papers, ten Answer Scripts were recovered by an Inspection team outside the examination centre on the day of exams.
My experience shows one can help the blue eyed ones in examination in various ways. There is a perception that some schools, reportedly, get better results and some manage positions. What we need is replacing  the need for exams with more creative alternatives. Until we do this, why not ensure that local staff is not appointed in conducting exams, inspection teams involve people from local administration and may be from civil society and attempting formulating question papers in such a way that copying becomes futile?