Thursday, 14 September 2017

Dialogue between Philosophers and Muslim Jurists

Unless deep thinking is done on the issue we would continue to have much heat and little light in debates on Islamic law.
Instead of saying what does Islam say we should ask what do Muslim jurists say on this or that point say Caliphate/Islamic State, rights of religious/sexual minorities/women, freedom of belief/disbelief, triple talaq, qurbani, permissibility of music, compatibility of modern banking with Islam, dress code and grooming/hair code. To claim that Islam says this or that, is, generally speaking, impossible. We can only strive to know (to make best approximations) what Islam says/God really means/intends on questions usually asked – on other questions that are more foundational we usually don’t need to ask and do largely know  what Islam says as we know what our fitrah demands or what aqli saleem requires or  what conscience allows. And jurists differ in their conclusions on almost all these questions. They don’t differ in matters of worship to significant extent and that explains why none including Muslim modernists/reformists asks for reconstructing them. In transactions (muamalat) they are bound to differ and long back they have agreed to disagree (thus, as has been remarked by a modern scholar, synthesizing two apparently opposite traditionally rehearsed teachings “My community will not agree on error” “Difference of opinion in my ummah is a mercy”). It means shariah in practice becomes open ended and we can’t close the debate that this or that is the Islamic view of it and hence uncontested. Before one can go for it or for any rigid polemics for and against the host of legal opinions that are hotly debated (our sermons and book shops are stuffed with this polemics on issues that God hardly minds and that require/invite divergent legitimate responses – and one wants to laugh at the anxiety to suppress difference), one needs to consider the following qualifiers or filters that force us to recognize essentially tentative nature of our views and give benefit of doubt to other opinions.
      Unless deep thinking is done on the issue we would continue to have much heat and little light in debates on Islamic law. It means philosophers and social scientists should be part of the team of iftah on most issues where deeper understanding of new situations is required and social science provide needed insights. Iftah on more significant issues needs to be a team rather than an individual work and  we might get, in many cases, effective Ijma thanks to modern communication facilities. Currently we find not even remote probability of arriving at a consensus on many issues that shouldn’t have been dividing us so sharply – perhaps Muslim jurists and social scientists need to learn from the theory of communicative rationality and dialogue as developed by theorists such as Habermas. In fact we find the earliest instances dialogue in classical age being close to this ideal – everyone, not just majority, often, agrees on the solution proposed after discussion. Isn’t it sad to note that the issues of democracy, mixing of schools of fiqh, many modern economic and social institutions, travel without muharram relative, women drivers/heads of larger institutions including state, burqa/hijab imposition, views on philosophy and Sufism, supposed innovations in popular piety/devotion, divorce etc. violently divide us to this date? From the day Muhammad Abduhu declared interest in modern banking legal and Egypt government later fixed 7% interest as legal to this day we find debate on riba (and its supposed identification with interest) and arguments for Islamic interest free banking continuing with little clarification for the State to consider what to do/could be done. Without a deeper understanding of what is economics in theory (of most influential economists who are not taught in Madrasah curriculum) and practice (in scores of banking/investment options that range from mostly shariah complaint to few noncompliant forms) we can’t sideline much shoddy thinking that has been our bane. Without deep exploration of philosophy of politics/state (one notices, for instance, in thinkers from Plato and al-Farabi to Arendt and Voegelin), the question of Islam’s view of the Caliphate/Islamic state today would suffer from much shoddy thinking and thus erroneous reactions on the part of both conservatives and liberals. Without good art historians/theorists to guide us, we can’t arrive at a satisfactory understanding of Islam’s position regarding such things as painting/music/housing design. Within the mainstream traditional setting we find, especially lately, some attention to this problem and thus we find likes of Shibli, Abdul Bari Nadvi, Taqi Usmani, Majid Daryabadi, Manazir Ahsan Gilani and number of scholars from Iran who had been more open to modern debates, contributing their bit to illuminating  a host of philosophical, theological and legal issues.
      God has sent Shariah and as such it has never been debated by any Muslim school/sect. What has been debated and continues to be debated is this or that interpretation of Shariah. Fiqh is the attempt to think and concretize Shariah and it differs not just from school to school but even from jurist to jurist. Since God wants to save all souls or make the world livable for everyone who agrees not to destroy it for others, and people differ from region to region, from time to time, from stage to stage of their lives, fiqh adapts accordingly. Fiqh is open ended – all of us including laymen are invited to exert themselves in choosing their decisions so that God’s intention is fulfilled – there are situations where no fiqh manual comes to our help and we stand naked before God/conscience. It is interesting to find all kinds of opinions within the prescribed limits entertained by Muslim jurists and we find upbringing, politics, theology, considerations of public good etc. impacting on them. Regarding the much debated hudood ordinances in Islamic law, it is liberating to note how Islam’s theory of limits, worked insightfully in Muhammad Sharur in contemporary times, makes man free to choose from one end of the spectrum to the other without incurring any sin. Applying mathematical notion of limit (to the Quranic notion of hadd) developed by mathematicians of the West, certain old controversies in hudood/inheritance laws get reframed and almost resolved. He has argued that “Allah set the limits for the law whose upper and lower boundaries encompass the scope of legislation that human societies are allowed to explore freely.” Leaving a critical discussion of Sharur for some other occasion, I conclude with a few references to history for us to meditate upon:

  • “Originally, individuals were free to select and follow the school of ijtihad they preferred. They could even combine it with preferred parts of the jurisprudence of other schools. As the State grew more powerful, such choices were increasingly taken out of the hands of individuals. Ultimately, the State took choice away from Muslim citizens altogether in many areas of the law by selecting the jurisprudence of one of the schools as the law of the land.”
  • There have been not just fuqaha but philosophers and Sufis and poets who have engaged with the problem of law in their own way, especially in debates on principles and objectives. Iqbal dismissed tendency of legalism (that Jesus, Sufis, poets fought against) thus “teri tarz-e-ada faqeehana ho to kya kahyaey.”
  • Thanks more to political than religious reason, effective sidelining of philosophers in the mainstream juristic thinking – we find jurists such as Al-Mawardi and his Ordinances of Government and juristic manuals such as Hedaya rather than philosophers such as Al-Farabi and works such as Virtuous City at the centre of attention and more influential – has been a development that is now difficult to maintain due to severity of new challenges in the secularizing world. And we know new impulses for thinking today we owe primarily to philosophers. It is philosophers like Iqbal and Fazlur Rahman who fundamentally contributed to new thinking on Muslim law. Dozens of contributors to Muslim legal thought now invoke these two and the Muslim world, in practice, has already embraced many new ideas in formulating laws/constitutions.
  •  We have rather a small corpus – around 200 (some stretch it to 500 or 600) Quranic verses and less than 3000 (or arguably around 1500 only) prophetic traditions that have legal import – as basic source to think about (although every verse and tradition is important as background/context). Various notions in the debates on fiqh including qiyas, ijma, custom, custom, public interest, juristic preference, maqasid etc are requirements/fruits of meditations on this corpus.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Quest for Ease and Mercy in Islamic Law

Imagine a conference on fiqh today in which the likes of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Ghazzali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Marghinani , Imam Shatibi and Shah Waliullah are invited. 
The fundamental orientation of Shariah given to the Prophet (SAW) – “Mercy for the Worlds” – is ease and mercy. If we fail to find this there is something wrong either with particular interpretations supposed to encapsulate the view of Islam or our own understanding of what is our real good or our state of health due to slavery of desire. Let us first explore this almost marginalized aspect of Islamic law stated succinctly by Ibn al-Qayyim: “The Islamic law is all about wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this life and the afterlife. It is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Thus, any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to the Islamic law, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation.” However, the present practice is largely oblivious of what Ibn al-Qayyim notes here as is evident by the following statement of Jasser Auda, a contemporary contributor to the philosophy of Islamic law: “Current applications (or rather, misapplications) of Islamic law are reductionist rather than holistic, literal rather than moral, one-dimensional rather than multidimensional, binary rather than multi-valued, deconstructionist rather than  reconstructionist, and causal rather than teleological.” So what do we do? I suggest considering and appreciating the following points that, if remembered, will help us find ease and mercy (that please both God and man better) denied to us in certain popular fiqh formulations/fatwa:
  • Imagine a conference on fiqh today in which the likes of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Ghazzali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Taymiyyah, Burhanuddin Ali bin Abu Bakr al-Marghinani (author of Hedaya),  Imam Shatibi and Shah Waliullah are invited to deliberate certain contemporary issues that are hotly debated. I think they would refuse to participate on the ground that they lack one key qualification – being contemporary or knowing the age (although their spirit would somehow hover around in any debate on fiqh). Given little space for social sciences/new developments in hermeneutics in Madrasah curriculum now, how come we could create many jurists and mujtahids today/for future who have necessary familiarity with the relevant sciences/sensibility of our age or who can truly be said to be living in their age as their predecessors lived in their ages? (It is philosophers and artists who best express this sensibility.)
  • The Prophet (SAW) advised us to choose easier and not difficult legitimate solution.
  • Often we are forced to choose between letter and spirit but literalism obstructs us. It needs courage and understanding to choose spirit over letter though it is ideal to choose the former without violating the letter either as the latter is only a means to preserve the former. Let us see, how Sayyidna Bilal (RA) made his choice:  “I don’t care if I sacrifice only a hen. I prefer to spend the cost of animal for sacrifice (qurbani) on some orphan or destitute  instead of qurbani.” Alqama, Abu Masud and Uqbah bin Amr have clearly stated that the reason they don’t do qurbani is people should not consider it obligatory (wajib). Suhaba, Tabiyeen and excepting Hanafis, other schools of fiqh have declared qurbani recommended/sunnah and not wajib and original practice  has been of qurbani being offered by families and not individuals. In Kashmir and Pakistan number of animals sacrificed increased several fold recently but humans lives sacrificed at the altar of poverty haven’t decreased even one fold. It doesn’t imply that Qurbani itself as a sacred institution may be wished away or supplanted by diverting resources spent for it for social ends (it should and it will survive on family/community level) and  we know that within the Companions there were both views – more strict adherence to letter and more freedom to emphasize the spirit. Hazrat Umar (R.A) especially illustrates the second option.
  • We now condemn as Kharijites those who saw only letter and imagined that the Quran speaks without mediation of you and me and thus doesn’t need interpretation.
  • Revelations basically seek to liberate us from shackles and if they seem to impose difficult commands, it is only to liberate us from the slavery of desire which is the greatest oppressor.
  • A fundamental rule in Islamic law is that “A need that is widespread should be treated as a necessity” and Ghazzali has argued that the higher order necessity should have priority over a lower-order necessity if they generate opposite implications in practical cases.
  • Appreciate differentiation between means and ends and, as Muhammad Ghazzali notes, that ends or principles don’t expire but means may.
  • Appreciate Ayatullah Shamsuddin’s suggestion that Muslims need to “open their minds to the possibility of ‘relative’ legislation for specific circumstances, and not to judge narrations with missing contexts as absolute in the dimensions of time, space, situations, and people.”
  • Appreciate the value of Shatibi’s distinction: ‘Literal compliance is the default methodology in the area of acts of worship (ibadat), while the consideration of purposes is the default methodology in the area of worldly dealings (muamalat).’ And that “it is the very example of the Prophet and his Companions not to imitate them, literally, in the various areas of ‘transactions’ (muamalat) and rather, to go by the principles and ‘maqasid.’”
  • “What is considered good by Muslims is good in the eyes of God as well,” stated distinguished Companion Ibn Masud.
  • Jurists agree that Islamic laws “may be discarded if they are based on a cause ('lilah) which itself has disappeared,” and “must serve the commonweal” ("public maslaha").
  • The general principle is of "ibaha asliya" – all things are originally permitted – "has sweeping negative consequences for the common legalistic conceptions of revelation." This principle though questioned by most Hanafis is accepted by some Hanafis and all Shafees and confirmed by visions of saints. The list of prohibited things inserted by Revelation later is very short and their prohibition is almost universally recognized amongst civilized people. “Say, My Lord has forbidden only shameful deeds, be they open or secret, and sin, and unjustified greed, and the association with God of that for which He has sent down no authority, and the saying against God of what you don’t know” (Quran, 7.33). Note if the word God may be replaced by the word Reality (Al-Haqq, used for God in the Quran) every religion (and even nonreligious humanistic cultures) agrees with this list. Other lists elsewhere in the Quran and prophetic traditions complement this list and there is almost universal consent to the usually understood rationale behind them.
  • After ascertaining that a particular ruling is indeed closest to the intention of Shariah, follow it without awaiting discovery of its rationale. However as one naturally wants to find a reason or reconciliation with one’s deepest convictions or common sense, one may consider Shah Waliullah’s Hujjatullah al-Baligah, relevant parts of Ghazzali’s Ihya and if you are interested in the deepest secrets read experts on secrets of Din such as Ibn Arabi, the “greatest Master of secrets of Shariah.” One may also consult Ibn Rushd’s Bidayat al-Mujtahid for better grasp of the logic of dissenting views. And remember that practising itself may reveal to one something of the divine wisdom informing that ruling.
  • To understand ontological or psycho-spiritual basis of Revealed law just meditate on convergent ideas of Nomos/Norm/Gabriel/Intellect across traditions. 
  • “Often you hear brothers quoting a Hadith that carries an Amr. They then mistakenly understand from it that it is an obligation when it fact is a recommendation or permissibility.”
  • If we are in doubt regarding any ruling or have to choose between two different interpretations we have to decide on the basis of this old principle: That is to be followed which leads to increase of love of God and love of neighbour. And you know best what expands your spirit/joy/love (manifestations of love of God) and satisfies conscience.
  • The five fiqhi schools generally agree that “Islamic laws (1) change with the passage of time and with the change of place or circumstance; (2) must avoid harm.”
  • “Early jurists viewed disagreements among them as a sign of God's mercy,  because these disagreements injected Islamic laws with the degree of flexibility necessary for a religion which proclaimed itself suitable for all times, all people and all societies. Thus, hundreds of schools of Ijtihad developed, each best suited to its own community and that community's culture, with its attendant customs and traditions.”
  • A jurist may anytime review his own view and come up with a new one to change that again at later time. Every day is a new day and may reveal new insights, new meanings or pose new problems for which jurist will have to be perpetually ready.  
  • Different opinions could be simultaneously true. In fact the term truth is best applied not to individual opinions called fatwa but to more universal premises, axioms and formulations that aren’t affected by variety of factors.
  • There is nothing that normal man – and arguably constitutions of modern welfare state – would object if the case of Fiqh as an enquiry or discipline is properly understood/communicated. Fiqh rests on universally laudable faculty of thinking or reflection on Shariah which comprehensively understood embraces both haqiqah and exoteric law and, as Ibn Taymiya noted, couldn’t, by definition, contradict reason. Faith and reason when deepened are both subsumed/sublimated in gnosis and intellect which constitute our ultimate joy or liberation/salvation.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Revisiting the Debate on Qurbani

Choosing between Diverse Options in Fiqh.

Is our fate in the otherworld linked to following particular juristic school in a given case? Is animal sacrifice (qurbani) mandatory for every individual who can afford it (sahibi Istita'at)? Is the popular understanding of qurbani (especially Hanafi one) based on certain reading of prophetic traditions uncontested in Islamic tradition?  No is the answer to all these questions. Let us explore why. And our inquiry would be relevant to other important issues that often divide us, declare us guilty or cause us to take positions that we are not sure, at some level, we should be identifying with.
      It seems that more careful attention to underlying motivations or rationale of what is called Islamic law (more appropriately, human understanding of Revealed Law, Fiqh) would help all Muslims, irrespective of theological or juristic affiliations including reformists/modernists and their traditionalist critics, to approximate consensus on  almost all important issues that currently divide them. Inspired by the idea informing Al-Juwayni’s  Ghiyath al-Umam (The Salvage of Nations) that sought to derive/reconstruct Islamic law in a hypothetical situation in which all the schools of Islamic law and jurists had disappeared  and one is confronted by the problem of evolving consensus on framing laws within Islamic framework, I wish to ask about the possibility of communicative dialogue (arriving at consensus) between theorists of Islamic law.
      The problem, before us, is identifying the deepest or highest principle that informs diverse schools - Shia and Sunni, Taqlidi and Non-Taqlidi, conservative and reformist. I think this principle has not been given due attention in Islamic legal history though marginalized Maqasid based approach comes close to articulating it. This principle is formulating laws as if salvation or our otherworldly destiny mattered. We need to find what is the necessary connection between law and felicity/salvation and agree to uncompromisingly uphold/actualize what is the common minimum part of every legal school that is premised on this link in very clear terms.
      I imagine a dialogue amongst the best minds of Islamic tradition contributing to development of Usool-i-Fiqh and especially Maqasid and see them in principle agreeing/converging on the following, among other points:

  • The ultimate rationale and purpose – even if we don’t necessarily identify or ascertain or grant any rationally discoverable illa in particular cases – should not be lost sight of or compromised. For the Quran God doesn’t create/ordain things in vain. Shariah is not without purpose though  we may or mayn’t be able to identify it in some cases. However, connection with worship or our otherworldly destiny for certain rulings is generally accepted.
  • The ultimate purpose, stated negatively, is salvation from hell/purgatory and stated positively, access to Heaven, especially the Garden of Essence. (Here we discuss minimum qualifications/pass marks required for the former.
  •  It is intention that finally counts in the eyes of God.
  • Our salvation is not necessarily granted by passing sawab-gunah calculus but God’s grace  or what is called fazl has a say  here.
  • It is virtues we have cultivated/internalised rather than mechanical following of rulings that are really conducive to salvation. Salvation of humans is, in Surah al-Asr (about which it has been well observed by Shafee that  “If people were to ponder over just this surah it would suffice them”  and Muhammad Abduhu that “If nothing were revealed in the Qur’an except it it was sufficient for mankind”) linked to four things – Iman, right action, exhorting one another to truth and patience. We might see the last two as corollaries of the first two and formulate the conditions as Iman and right action as stated many times elsewhere in the Quran. Believers of every tradition and even most if not all of secular philosophers would grant the logic and force of these four demands. It is often forgotten by legists who make certain legal opinions  as if a matter of life and death and resent picking and choosing the most convincing opinion  across schools in a given case, that hell only punishes gross violation of moral law and that moral law is essentially shared by Semitic and non-Semitic religions. A review of eschatological corpus of Islam reveals mostly silence on the issues – or God’s non-interest – that are vehemently advocated by legists and one wonders whom to make responsible for unnecessary guilt and hardship. Issues that divide Muslim legal schools or “modernists” and “traditionalists”  mostly make little or no difference to one’s otherworldly prospects and as such should have been less rigidly taken or the other position more empathized with by either camp. Much of the legal corpus sustains varied orthodox readings and there is “dissent between the various schools on almost all questions of law” implying certain neutrality/wide latitude in terms of otherworldly implications. On the issue of qurbani we find significant dissent and thus different options remain open to consider without impacting prospects of salvation.
  • What saves us from hell is surrender of will (as is meaning of islam) that wants to have a kingdom of its own and claims agency and reward or sanctity. (Sin is to have claimed that I haven’t sinned, as Ibn Hazm remarks in his Al-fasl fil al-Milal wal-Nihal).
  • Istihsan, validated by majority of jurists, is for avoiding “any rigidity and unfairness that might result from literal application of law.”  A major jurist Al-Sarakhsi considers Istihsan as “a method of seeking facility and ease in legal injunctions.”
  • The terms Farz, Wajib, Sunnah, Mustahab etc. have been fashioned by jurists and may often be contested, at least in application, and are even quite fluid and there are intra and inter-schools disputations regarding the status of most of particular rulings about which we ordinarily are supposed to chose in absolutist terms.
  • Since it is unambiguously granted that our; a) salvation is not linked to following this or that school of Fiqh (Imam Kashmiri, the great advocate of Hanafi school, has given us a telling confession stating his energies would have been better spent elsewhere as ultimately God didn’t mind our following this or that school) b) there are well attested opinions amongst the Salaf that go against the supposed obligational nature of individual qurbani (one may see examples and more insightful discussion of prophetic traditions supposed to imply obligational character in Amaar Khan Nasir’s “Qurbani: Nawiyet, Wujoob-o-Istihbab” on and  c) we have now arguments from considerations of Maqasid-i-Shariah that lead to revisit the position of individual obligation, let us resist absolutism on this issue. Given wide prevalence of divergence in interpretations from the age of Companions till date and given the possibility that our interpretation may be wrong/not final or may miss something more profound that may be revealed later in time and given the consideration that the words of God or Prophet (SAW) are final but our interpretation of them can’t be final let us consider views of those who think differently without going outside the bounds of Tradition. One can chose from diverse opinions (qurbani is wajib/mandub  individually/for head of family/collectively),that better satisfy our mind and conscience and express better the spirit underlying all legislation which is removal rather than imposing of constraint/hardship. So when you, as an individual, are in doubt concerning any ruling or its true meaning and scope or spirit, search for the diverse opinions held by mujtahids and jurists of all schools and choose the one that furthers love of God and love of neighbour. Since ulama or jurists differ and none of them may be a priorly  or necessarily correct in a given case and it is not demanded by God/Tradition to follow any one scholar or school in all matters till eternity (scholars of different schools have sometimes opted for views from another school in certain issues) and knowing well that mountains wouldn’t fall because of differences in opinion which are bound to arise because it is the domain of will or action which is linked to different contexts and historicity, let us not be trapped in holier than thou attitude and accuse those who sacrifice one animal per family of miserliness/being bad Muslims. I recall Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, among others, who pleaded for more open attitude to talfeeq (picking and choosing opinions from other schools). Maulana Thanvi was bold enough to exercise it in some cases to the relief of millions of Muslims. I hope modern Mujtahids follow his example. Triple Talaq issue wouldn’t have been so alienating for most Muslim women (politics of others apart) if jurists were more open to talfeeq.  The time has come to exercise, for capable jurists, (although many, including God fearing Muslims, have already embraced it in practice!) talfeeq on many issues including the issue of qurbani or any issue that one finds incompatible with larger understanding of Tradition grounded in Metaphysics as Scientia Sacra and embracing every tradition we know about without ignoring insightful new thinking respectfully engaging with our worthy predecessor. Qurbani has been a part of Islamic Shariah but the fiqh of it – its exact form and popularly supposed obligation on every individual who can afford – has been a matter of debate and thus open to interpretation. For an individual (though not for the collectivity/Ummah) to choose or not to choose to do qurbani on particular Eid remains an option for which God will not take him/her to task.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Commandment of Writing

Why do genuine poets or writers write? Because they are commanded to write and all they know is to obey.
“Well, write poetry, for God's sake, it's the only thing that matters.” E. E. Cummings
“Nothing matters but the writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile... a stain upon the silence.” Samuel Beckett

Indeed, to be is to write, to proclaim to the Muse Labbayka (Here, I am). It is, more primordially, to speak and to speak in the original or true sense is to sing poetry. We know ten commandment starting with love of God and love of neighbor. But few know that both of these commandments may be best embodied in the work of poets. (“Poetry is not a discipline of knowledge but perfume or distilled essence of all disciplines of knowledge.”) Why do genuine poets or writers write? Because they are commanded to write and all they know is to obey. No questions. No turning back on the Muse. As Samuel Beckett said: ““There is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”
      Every pillar of Islam, to the exclusion of zakat, involves poetry in some sense. Islam, the Religion of Beauty, has invested in creating beauty of expression which is in fact one way of defining poetry – for Coleridge prose consists in “words in their best order” and poetry consists in “the best words in the best order.” To be a poet is to  be in passionate love with language as Auden noted and love fashions beauty.
      Since the poet doesn’t invent but listens as Jean Cocteau noted and “We never come o thoughts. They come to us” as Heidegger pointed out, the poet’s job is to seek to just be and this attunes one to higher cosmic rhythms. This requires perfecting the discipline of attention after rising high above the chatter or noise of ego/mind/ordinary consciousness by cultivating silence. Salim Ahmed, arguably the most important Urdu critic after Hasan Askari (those who reserve the title for Shamsur Rahman Faruqi need to read New Poetry, Rejected Poetry, especially the chapter “Fikr ka Tawoon”), has invoked analogy with ablution and intention (niyyat) in ritual prayer for explaining the need of craft or intense work for receiving the Muse/Grace. In fact art requires ablution with khooni jigar (“naqsh haein seb na tamam khooni jigger kae bagaer”). Abu Zayd Ansari’s definition of  Adab (literature) includes “training in virtue” and another definition also calls for  intense working on/disciplining of the soul and the best of virtues. In fact  the very word adab  connotes respect, decorum, decency  and care for the Other/Being. For Confucius even government consists in ritual and music. These points, along with Patrick Laude’s Singing the Way: insights in Poetry and Spiritual Transformation or M. A. Lakhani’s review essay “The Metaphysics of Poetic Expression” help explain how poetry is considered part of the prophecy in Islamic cultures. Invitation to read poetry is part of dawah work of different religions. But this has been largely forgotten. And that is why we need to remind. Let us illustrate by accepting the invitation to spend few moments with our poet of the week, Ayaz Nazki who has published Songs of Light, a slim collection of poems and translations of Shams Faqeer.
      The poet comes to experience the truth of the traditional adage that in losing oneself, one really finds it or in surrendering to God, one discovers Freedom. Since a genuine poet is required to escape from personality – or, so to speak, be a muslim – for the sake of art, the company of genuine poetry is ever ennobling, refreshing. (Let us note, with W.C. Smith, that Islam is a verb and not a noun, an act and not an institution and as such has a universal, existential import or claim. Catholic Encyclopaedia also defines religion as a voluntary act of surrender to God and thus to be religious is to be muslim!). Invoking the Sufi view that baqa is the other side of fana, Ayaz says “I am when/ I am not.” The music that is born after one surrenders by becoming a string or flute as the non-self plays it is the fruit of devotion to the true religion and poets are its great priests. To quote Ayaz:
The early morning rays of the sun
play a dance on the bank
and set an opera
on the stage of sand
the trees dotting the edge
watch in silence
and record the moves
on their leaves for posterity.

As we glide our way through the abyss of Being through the discipline of attention, a song is born:

I will sing light
in this dark night
words of ray
will pierce the air
and sentences
will light up the sky.

And this song overcomes the fear of death and despair and seeming density of things.

Let us sing
to the sprout of buds
to the golden wheat
to the lustre of corn
to the milk
to the honey
and to the nectar.
To the bees
and to the birds.
Till midnight
the stroke of twelve

Ayaz has memorably described the difference between tradition and modern spaces and pities those forced to choose “uptown” view of the world.

Uptown Kashmir Glass windows for the blind
high Ceilings for the dwarf
wide roads for dosed minds
huge mansions for small men

Downtown Kashmir They had latticed windows they had vision they had low ceilings they had heart.

they had narrow lanes
they had open minds

 Floods like September 2014 floods may come once in a century but there is another kind of flood (memory of old pain, loss, betrayal, frustration, failure) that may visit anytime anyone anywhere. Poetry is a defense against that flood and, paradoxically, this defense consists in accepting or even embracing our vulnerability. For poets we are not required to solve but dissolve the problem of life and its ten thousand questions or sorrows by consenting to the silence that greets us as we dive deeper. As Ayaz puts it:

Yet again
the Same question
and yet again
the same reply
no reply

As Ayaz progresses through the valleys of nostalgia, protest, doubt and silence and lands in the pure land of Shunya, by invoking Shams Faqeer, we find some intimations of the  Tradition in the idiom better understood by postmodern age. Just a sample of his translation:

In the supplication I saw,
existence and vision disappear
this secret alone remained
and it is not wrapped in drapes.

It is especially important to read local poets as God chooses to speak to us through them as He does through saints after prophets are unavailable. In facts poets don’t invite us to themselves or their company but to the company of poetry that is, if truly recorded, from Gabriel. The  task of a critic is to identify how much of the poet is present in the poetry and thus needs to be filtered to enjoy what is purely baked in Heaven. So poets are delightful companions, at least, for some time. They want to be read, to be acknowledged in  essentially the same way that God wants to communicate and be acknowledged. The very first verse of the Quran’s “The Opening” states: “Praise be to Allah, the Lord the worlds.”
      Poetry is, deep down, human attempt to defeat death – drab, cold, dusty, lifeless, passionless, mechanical mode of existence. Without some sort of faith in immortality – or the lordship of the Spirit – great poetry is impossible as a great modern poet noted. “Man’s knowledge that he has to die is also man’s knowledge that he is above death” Paul Tillich noted perhaps extrapolating from the fact that it is someone within us that somehow stands apart, that observes or witnesses as a spectator and reports that something will die and this witnessing self itself remains “unborn,” immortal. Poets sing the songs of light. For them darkness may be there but it can’t silence or frighten them. After death, as Ayaz says,

what is left only God knows
what is left is unknown.

And this unknown remains on this side of the grave, in Life as well, in the depths of every existent. And poetry is grateful loving reception of this unknown face of phenomena ( that we ordinarily call Beyond/Transcendent World). When we are love, the whole world sings to us and as Plato noted “Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” Ayaz speaks of this love that doesn’t age. Indeed, the beloved doesn’t age and, more paradoxically, the beloved is not ever available for union as is well known in Urdu literary tradition that Ayaz has also inherited and as readers of Ibn Arabi know, we love only unknown, inexistent things. Let us wait for next collection of our poet; we have some good poetry in English from such poets as Majrooh Rashid, Rumuz-i-Bekhudi and others yet to be published in book form and pray for his Masterpiece that he is commanded to write:

Today I must
write a masterpiece
an offering to
divine Saraswati

But a masterpiece I must write
even with no sense
and even with no pen

Tons of verses are written, consumed or thrown into dustbins everyday. 'Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo'  as Don Marquis wrote. This echo may get further weakened in the Age of Noise in marketplace. Since Kashmiris usually don’t read Kashmiri,may be they read in English their own address they have largely lost.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Sacred Task of Poetry

What is the Faith of Poets? Isn’t poetry a species of faith? Poets open up another window to the Divine.

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” Goethe

If one is sad for no reason or has suffered any humiliation or tragedy or one wishes to enjoy travel, nature, friendship or meals better, or one seeks special modes of worshipping or thanking the Divine or anyone we value, read poetry. If one is hankering after a Master, consider taking some help for finding the same from poetry. If one is seeking to heal some strain in relationship with anyone one holds dear, ask poets for help. If one wishes to treasure a great experience or a simple routine work or little tasks that constitute our lot, poets show how and why. If one seeks to taste something from the otherworldly joys here and now, have a lasting truce with the God one imagined during childhood, taste the rare joy of forgiving everyone unconditionally, laugh away every care or sorrow, celebrate love in a lovelier way, consider reading poets. If we want to appreciate  the magical or better miraculous character of the world we better approach it through the lens of poetic language and see how words can do wonders – heal us, lift us high above the horizons, cheer us, reveal ourselves to us. Every human is potentially a poet – as children everyone lives poetry – though not all write poetry or keep the poet in them alive with age.
      When any intense experience, like deep sorrow or ecstasy, touches us, one may spontaneously switch on the poetic mode of being. In Kashmir almost every woman traditionally composed poetry on experiencing death in family that consoled her. We, in Kashmir, have traditionally been in love with the poetry of Alamdar or Lalla or Sufi poets. It is poetry that in one or the other form (poetry and music were one and the same originally) constitutes the language of worship in major religions and all scriptures have used the power of poetry for their own ends which are ultimately not different from – or at least not incompatible with – the end of poetry. To be is to be open to the Muse that is Being that calls forth our response – we are required to sing to express the joy that is the gift of being. To live a fulfilling life requires keeping wondering, transcending, perfecting, creating – or live poetic mode of existence. Poetry begins with the surrender of the self to the Beauty/Love/Other/Muse (corresponding to Islam) and culminates in creating/manifesting more beauty or perfection (corresponding to Ihsan as husn paeda kerden) in any experience/work. Humans have begun with poetry as their original language and it is only in later decadent times that prose was invented. Traditionally people have been using language suffused with poetry – one may note, for instance, traditionally Kashmiri women using great figurative language in not only laeli (mourning songs) and slang but in ordinary conversation as well. People seem to have progressively forgotten  poetry of  language and their poetic dwelling and essential connection between poetry and thinking. Fear or neglect of metaphor is a modern heresy and evidence of impoverishment of our understanding of language and its higher functions. In Kashmir we have a tradition of slang  (that has especially been appropriated and elaborately developed by certain Sufi circles) that makes ingenious use of symbolism – for instance such supposedly abusive expressions as paye traeth and payei taember are really prayers for encounter with/descent of the Divine in addressee’s life. Proverbs and most of folk expressions are poetically inflected.
      All natural/cosmic rhythms and key natural processes have an element of music or lead to silence that draws us to the transpersonal depths of the Self/ Being. Rituals too appropriate this music and that partly explains their efficacy. Elaboration of practices of zikr, sama, awrad, durood etc. involve using the poetic or musical dimension of language. Pervasive presence of na’t in Islamic cultures means sacred use of language is not ignored. Quranic recitation is itself a great substitute for/complement to more familiar modes of poetic recitations that invokes and evokes sacred understanding of poetry. How sacred and poetry are closely intertwined in Islamic cultures may be gleaned by review of the practice of writing poetry/commenting on poetry or sacred poetry from the time of Companions to stalwart Ulama of Deoband and other traditional seminaries. Islamic culture is essentially a poetic culture (even the best of Muslim philosophy seems to have done by poets or poet-philosophers) that gave rise to the great poetic expressions in many traditional Islamic languages including the Persian and Urdu. Sacred connections of the science of urooz are well known to the scholars of literature and mysticism.
      Poetry is mankind’s chief arsenal against life’s weal and woe and a tool for developing consciousness of resistance against injustice. “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” To be a social activist or a true citizen in the Greek sense that Plato explained is not possible for those who are not poets at heart. This is what Mary Karr said “Poetry is for me Eucharistic. You take someone else's suffering into your body, their passion comes into your body, and in doing that you commune, you take communion, you make a community with others.”
      Poetry involves use of Imagination and in that sense isn’t restricted to the particular class of people ordinarily called poets. In  his “A Defence of Poetry” Shelley has used poetry in wider sense that encompasses every sensitive imaginative response to the world. When you leap up on seeing a child smile, a bird sing, sun rise or stars shine, that is poetry. Poetry is “awaiting perpetually and forever a renaissance of wonder.” It has been well said that “The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does.” Poetry seeks, as Formalist school points out, to defamiliarize the world and thereby makes it livable, meaningful. Religion and mysticism also are directed at reclaiming awareness of Reality. In fact sorrow is distance from reality as Simone Weil put it, and poetry gives us access to reality and not an escape from it. “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives” as Audre Lorde noted.
      Edith Sitwell said that poetry is the deification of reality. I think more proper expression is sacralisation of reality and the proper language then is that of myth. Fiction is true in human terms though in non-human scientific terms, it falls short of correspondence to facts. And humans need human truths to keep living and that is why myths are so significant to human culture and it is another function of poetry to make accessible mythic truth.
      Recovering poetic dimension of our lives would put an end to poverty that exists amongst the rich more than the official poor. This is what probably explains Rilke when he said “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.” Hazlitt put the same point thus: “He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else.” So if you find anyone who ignorant of poetry, have pity on him and help him/her to treat cataract of the eye of soul.
      What distinguishes the poet’s way of seeing the world from the non-poetic way? Wallace Stevens answers succinctly: “A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.”  Although religious way of seeing the world ultimately converges with this poetic way – and aesthetic and mystical impulses are united to begin with – many in the modern world would resist religious label and embrace “conversion” to the Way of the poet – it is the poet who shows the track of fugitive gods as Heidegger seeks to emphasize. Thus even Russell  can say: “The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.” Eliot points out why we need poetry: “Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.”
      Poetry saves by helping escape the personality through love that the poet invokes and evokes and this saves us from life’s sting as Neruda would say elsewhere. Poetry sells beauty and wonder of being and in the holy sanctuary of our own being accessible to those who have transformed ego to let the other seep in and universalize consciousness that is a joy and serenity of spirit attaining which is, in a way, the end of ethic. Poetry is an alchemical art – alchemy of happiness – which is the common project of religion, mysticism and philosophy as well. 

Poetry helped save the faith of no less a person than Iqbal. After reading likes of Hafiz and Bedil and Wordsworth and Holderlin and Rilke one can’t afford conventional cut and dry atheism. Something of the Sacred invoked in and evoked  by the Romantic poetry finds believers amongst new atheists such as Dawkins. Art and nature are revelations even for the secularists and understanding them aright leads one to the border of Book centric revealed religions. If one is truly a poet, one is a believer of a sort. Poets show to those who supposedly don’t know God or religion the path to heaven.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

What is Your Philosophy?

Let us ask today what is our philosophy and thus begin real muhasaba of ours, a self-audit.

We begin our day by rising early, offering Tahajjud and Fajr, or rising late and offering prayer rather late or not offering any prayer at all. We dress and groom distinctively (say, don burqa/hijab/unveil hair and sport a long beard/short beard/no beard) probably reflecting our divergent commitments to belief systems or our diverse hermeneutical choices. We keep commenting on others or judging them according to our interpreted value system. One may be vain, exclusivist, misogynist to various degrees (can you name even one who isn’t?). One may dream of Caliphate or universal democracy or an imminent apocalypse. One takes extreme care in avoiding corruption and another prays for opportunity to fleece new victims. One may be a pro-Pakistani, pro-Indian or Kashmiri nationalist. All these are part of one’s philosophy. It rarely happens that we are really conscious of our philosophical choices or care to spell out consistent philosophy of ours. It means we are risking living with delusions, half baked opinions, borrowed unverified propositions and human interpretations of sacred texts assumed to be sacrosanct. Our theology, our fiqh school, our political ideas, our personal and social choices we make daily impact our lives and lives of others and thus it is a moral question that we become more conscious of our choices and implied (unexamined) assumptions. “An unexamined life isn’t worth living,” so runs Socrates’ famous saying. And the science of examining one’s life is called philosophy. If we can’t master resources to examine our lives, we are nevertheless required to follow more trustworthy sources and resources. We have chosen particular religions/no religion, political parties, heroes, sects or schools of thought in various disciplines and how sad to note that, generally speaking, we haven’t made our choices – our parents/immediate environment/teachers dictated our choices and we didn’t care to cross check. Philosophers ask us to cross check and we are all gifted with a level of intelligence – unless we are idiots – that we are capable of seeing/suspecting clear fallacies in certain positions ( we may be quite smart in detecting them in others’ views). Hard, painful discipline to think, to consider pros and cons, to bear witness to truth in every instance, to postmortem our dearly held opinions, to seek to apply the tests of hard common sense, senses and reason is what philosophy (and the Quran!) invite us to. But few care to reflect and most are heedless. Let us ask today what is our philosophy and thus begin real muhasaba of ours.
      Let us imagine we are standing in the court whose proceedings are watched by every person on the planet and God and then carefully begin to articulate what we hold dear giving reasons for the same. Do we have the courage and integrity to keenly examine every dearly held opinion which might be prejudice for others? Are we honest enough to acknowledge our doubts to ourselves at least? Have we ever cared to examine, with all the requisite dispassionate objectivity and scholarly tools other sects/sacred texts/classics of other political positions? What moral right we have, for instance, for dismissing the West without having cared to read even one Western philosopher from Heraclitus to Heidegger seriously?  Which of the world’s major traditions we have cared to read in the way they are read by their upholders traditionally? What right do we have to dismiss, say, perennialist philosophers, without caring to read their key works and without taking pains to develop better approaches or better solutions to the problems they raise in mainstream approaches to comparative religion, mysticism and philosophy? What gives us confidence to assume that God speaks through us, so to speak. How come we continue to repeat ideas, and arguments that have been discredited hundreds of years back as if we are the deaf ridiculed for not having heard that Badshah (particular narrative/hermeneutic/argument) is dead (zir booz beyh wahyr Badshah mood). We are all answerable for using our intelligence correctly and what if we haven’t ever cared to use it in the most important matters or questions. What have we investigated till now and found by personal effort? It is a possibility that our sincere seeking would lead us to unquestioningly embrace the paradigm of Revelation and then our task is to listen and obey but the lamp that shall lead us to the sacred fount of Revelation that then lights up everything for us can’t be anything except reason and mind it one can’t afford holiday of reason even then as Revelation itself requires us to avoid slavish mindless attitude and keep thinking, questioning, investigating. Embracing Revelation is in truth embracing the sacred fount of intellect that grounds reason. Revelation is intuitive intelligence of a sort, not unintelligent irrational principle. Prophets don’t put minds on a holiday and it is characteristic of meditative or “thanking thinking” that it receives, contemplates (sages or mystics seek to develop this mode of intelligence). The Spirit is Intellect and development of spiritual dimension of life is ad development of theonomous intelligence. Gabriel is the Universal Intellect, angels are intelligences.
      All of us have philosophies of our own, good or bad. If we assert we have none, it is itself a philosophical position. If we think that our philosophy is this or that religion, it is a philosophical position the moment we rationalize our choice of that belief and criticize rival beliefs. If we resolutely deny need to rationalize or interpret and affirm faith in literal meaning of the text in absolute terms, our position may be labeled fundamentalism which opposes mainstream and even traditional philosophies. So there is no escaping the demand to philosophize, to think. We think or we imitate. And we better follow an authority after we have verified its trustworthiness and then when conflicting views of the authority’s words arise, we are again called to use our minds. None can do thinking for me in absolute terms. We are fellow seekers, lighting up paths for one another. Sages are those who use ilm and deen as oil (as Sheikh Nuruddin has said) to illuminate the world. Prophets are lights and Ulama (sages) transmit/properly filter this light according to our needs and understanding. We can’t transplant or export our minds and let others think for us. Salvation/felicity is won by diligence, by right thinking.
      So let us begin with such questions as “Who am I?” and what is the difference between/hierarchical relationship believing and seeing, knowledge and gnosis, reason and intellect, soul and spirit, God and Godhead, theology and metaphysics, shariah and Deen, fiqhi akber, fiqhi awsat and fiqhi asger, Quran-i-takweeni (cosmic Quran), and Quran-i-tadweeni (textual Quran), sulooki nubuwwat (prophetic way) and suloooki wilayat, (way of the saints), Islam and other religions at metaphysical and esoteric plane from other Semitic and Non-Semitic religions, religion and philosophy and religion and ideology. Clarifying definition of these terms and difference and relationship between them would help us arrive at an intelligent answer or approach to key questions of philosophy and religion. And one could confidently say I too have a philosophy which is not slavishly borrowed or unverified in certain sense.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Meditations on Abdul Karim Soroush

Reading Muslim Philosophers on Religious Sectarianism and Pluralism

Better philosophers don’t ideally seek to convert but illuminate a problem for us to consider. We can take or not take their take on an issue but we can’t afford to be old selves after reading them. Encountering such philosophers is like encountering spiritual Masters who indelibly mark us. They open up our eyes and one begins to see another world. One learns to appreciate the other, the other point of view or other paths to truth. One learns negative capability (the capacity to be in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without anxiety to foreclose or jump to conclude or exclude other possibilities) that made, as noted by Keats, Shakespeare great.
      Amongst contemporary Muslim philosophers, Abdul Karim Soroush is such an amiable and forceful presence that one can’t avoid falling in love with the man or at least his style. He is amongst the very few important intellectuals who has been formally trained both in tradition and modernity. One can’t accuse him of being ignorant of either classical or modern scholarship. He is brilliant, creative, bold, focused mind who carefully navigates very sensitive issues such as prophecy. What distinguishes him from most modernists is his rejection of early Orientalist  dismissal of Sufism as alien to Islamic spirit and what distinguishes him from more conservative or traditional camp is his critical but respectful attitude towards modern developments in philosophy and other disciplines. He open up a window of dialogue that both Ulama and intellectuals may treasure. He embodies Islam’s characteristic middle path attitude towards all binaries such as ultra-conservativism and modernism, fundamentalist Islamism and fundamentalist secularism. Reading him is such an illuminating encounter with the best of traditional and modern minds that one can’t overemphasize importance of his work, especially his The Expansion of Prophetic Experience: Essays on Historicity, Contingency and Plurality in Religion from which few extracts bearing on pluralism we read today.
      In this book that meditates on the profound issue of meaning of Revelation and how it both transcends and negotiates history or other contingencies. Attention to this issue is pivotal to Muslim response to modernity and it is unfortunately least theorized issue. And one finds even such stalwarts as Maulana Thanwi or Anwar Shah Kashmiri open up little on this issue and content with merely narrating/briefly explicating well known traditional narratives. Even the great Shah Waliullah mostly chooses silence here. Iqbal opened up to an extent, but unfortunately, didn’t expand. It is Fazlur Rahman especially who took the risk of expanding it and engaging with modern developments in hermeneutics and other fields that have a bearing on the issue but his work has yet to penetrate in the Muslim world and was also initially grossly misunderstood. It is Soroush who has taken the onerous task to meditate on the issue in a style and manner that one can’t afford to ignore him or accuse him of ignoring more important traditional self understanding of it. It requires much space to even begin to engage with his key formulations and therefore I chose to focus on some passages that clarify the question of religious pluralism. Here goes Soroush and I hope the  rest of commentary need not be done as he would strike the chord in readers and there would ensue a dialogue between the reader and him.

  • “There are numerous hadiths that tell us that the Qurʾan has seven or seventy layers. There are other hadiths that have it that some verses in the Qurʾan are intended for very insightful people who will come at the end of time. The history of exegesis, whether in the realm of Islam or in other religions, makes it clear that there have been many different interpretations of God’s words.” 
The point that later periods will find new hitherto unnoticed meanings in scripture has been highlighted by diverse Masters of Islamic Tradition including Ibn Arabi whom Soroush respectfully engages with. Trying to find everything in the classical age is simply unIslamic as it would retire moderns from thinking/ijtihad/tafaqqu. Soroush also notes “In the realm of interpretation we have always been pluralists and acted pluralistically; in other words, we have accepted plurality and have never accepted anyone as the final interpreter or the final commentator.”
      Questioning the much rehearsed notion of “pure Islam" (there is a brilliant essay on the notion “Khalis Islam” by Hasan Askari that shows problems with the argument that we have unmediated access to originary content of Islam) or one standard interpretation of Islam or more naïve view of uninterpreted Islam supposedly bequeathed to us by Elders or first generation or in the classical age – even there we find so diverse and even divergent understandings and there is a great tradition of debate and discussion amongst the Companions on many issues – Soroush writes:

  • “Islam means the history of a series of interpretations of Islam and Christianity means the history of a series of interpretations of Christianity, and so on and so forth. These interpretations have always been multitudinous and, whenever someone has not liked one interpretation, they have opted for another interpretation—not seized quintessential religion itself—and religious knowledge is nothing other than these interpretations, faulty and sound. We are immersed in an ocean of interpretations and conceptions, and this follows, on the one hand, from the nature of texts and, on the other, from the nature of ourselves as human beings and the way we understand things. Sunni Islam is one understanding or conception of Islam and Shiʿi Islam is another. Both of them, along with their components and implications, are natural and official. No religion in history has been devoid of this plurality. The history of theology is testimony to this fact. What has been lacking is that this plurality has not been theorised or justified, because no one has taken it seriously (except in rare instances). Every sect has always considered itself as being in the right and everyone else as being in the wrong. It is as if, in assuming that every other sect is wrong, each sect has also assumed that every other sect is doomed to non-existence. No one has considered the possibility that this unavoidable plurality of interpretations, conceptions and sects, to which no religion is immune, might have some other meaning and significance.
    Every sect thinks to themselves that the others are probably not to blame for their misunderstanding of religion and that they are little more than unfortunate victims, but we have been fortunate enough to understand things correctly and thus become God’s chosen people. But the moment one brushes aside this delusion, the moment a person is prepared to accept that they are not chosen or fortunate or different from the rest or God’s special favourite, and see themselves instead as a member of the human race sitting at the same table as everyone else, then they will start taking pluralism seriously. They will reflect anew on the meaning of rightful guidance and salvation and felicity and truth and falsehood and understanding and misunderstanding. Pluralism in the modern world is the product and outcome of this kind of reflection.”

Soroush anticipates an objection and clarifies:
  • “I know that some people will immediately cry out, but what is the point of all this? Are you saying that we should abandon what we consider to be the truth? Or that we should consider people who have gone astray to be on the path of truth? Or that we should equate truth and falsehood? No, this is not the point at all. The point is that we should not ask these questions in the first place and we should look at the plurality of people’s views and beliefs from a different perspective and that we should see and read a different meaning and spirit into them. We should bear in mind that the arena of religious understanding is a playing field in which there are numerous contestants and that there is no such thing as a single-player contest and we should see the game as being contingent on this plurality.”
Here Soroush is not saying something from his own imagination but stating or describing the situation that has been obtained in the classical period and thus largely a self understanding of Islamic tradition – one notes, for instance, scores of theological, philosophical, juristic schools or sub-schools developing, dialoging or sometimes conflicting with one another in a lively fashion without any official delegitimation of anyone as long as there is preserved commitment to Revelation/Tradition. I recall Shatibi’s point that problematizes hasty takfeeri approach that has been our bane lately.  Contesting the other image of Shatibi in some circles, Fazlur Rahman notes that, after analyzing in detail doctrines of heretical sects, Shatibi categorically states that “it is not possible to locate absolutely the capital errors of these sects so that they may be stigmatized as kuffar.”  Shatibi argues that it is impossible to define and identify the saved sect (firqa najiya). Shatibi clarifies that even the hadith speaking about 72 sects apparently counts them within Islam, yet the “hadith means those sects whose innovations don’t exclude them from Islam.” He recognizes the need to expose erroneous beliefs and practices but notes that “it is impossible to locate absolutely the holders of these practices” (One also recalls Rumi who said that all 72 sects are in him and from a metaphysical-mystical viewpoint what is really to be resisted is the psychological root of sectarianism which is ego or one’s absolutist attachment to one’s view. Reading, between the lines, Shahrastani’s Kitab al-Milal wa'l-Nihal, one appreciates his non-polemical approach and his reticence in pronouncing takfeeri verdict on almost all the sects considered deviant in various degrees. Ghazzali’s project of reconciling/tolerating different sects in Faysal al-Tafriqa Bayna al-Islam wa al-Zandaqa combined with Ibn Taymiiyah’s great confession that he doesn’t indulge in takfeer of Ahli Qibla should also be kept in mind while reading Soroush on pluralism.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Who Cares about our Economy?

Our underperforming and ill directed economy may be seen both as a cause and symptom of our political ills.
Kashmir has failed to integrate with India and it has not failed to long for Pakistan or independence. It has ridiculously bad performance in human development and other important indices. Its underperforming or ill directed economy may be seen both as a cause and symptom of its political ills. It has been weakness for rice that has been, both in symbolic and literal senses, at the centre stage of fight for Kashmir’s political future. Now Kashmir is a disaster in terms of management of natural resources (a huge fraction of them were never even considered for tapping and have been locked for reasons not difficult to fathom), unprecedented employment crisis (too many casual jobs implying casual attitude to future, most of important sectors like agriculture and livestock unorganized, mostly alienation in jobs  and we have mostly jobs that drain us further in the long run implying job generation is, in many cases, really job destruction), structural causes of corruption (no government, including the Lion’s, has been – and arguably could be – much successful in curbing it because of them), enormous wastage and leakages at almost every point (from rotting wood, medicine and fodder resources in forests to rotting trees on the roads, failure in manufacturing all weather roads and an infrastructure for education that necessarily alienates/suffocates students and teachers, lack of integration amongst many departments etc.), lack of informed vision and direction or the imperative to modernize, loss of community spaces for nothing, mismatch of education and employment (our universities/colleges mostly teach subjects that have hardly any integral link to the needs of economy), many headless institutions (there are institutions but they suffer for want of thinking – there may be, nominally, sections for planning but real thinking seems to be largely absent as are long term vision documents, comprehensive reviews of scenario and research inputs for better planning). One sees less thinking and more use of jugard everywhere. Pension starts on the date of appointment for a huge fraction of employees. Holidays are always welcome (showing how massive is job alienation) or unofficially celebrated through an industry of laziness. Business here means, mostly, shop keeping where goods manufactured elsewhere are sold to be sold in turn or consumed in turn – it is simply middlemanship. Elsewhere we also see dral becoming indispensable. Kashmir has the largest number of medicine shops because health has been largely destroyed. Education, largely destroyed in public sector institutions, is a misnomer here and all we have is certain professional skill oriented institutions and literacy increasing/system reproducing missions and, one could say that the generality of schools and colleges and universities result ultimately in a generation of disabled people. Madarassa education has been another enormously mismanaged, exploitative sector that neither Madrassa management nor government seem to be interested in addressing (teachers are paid only peanuts, students learning only a few of Islamic sciences  and they fail to find jobs outside highly congested Imam/Madrassa teaching market and any serious engagement with modernity or modern challenges lacking leading to their marginalization). Tourism, thanks to its mismanagement, has hidden costs that are fast accumulating to make it unsustainable and complicit with destroying much that is valuable in traditional spaces. What could have been a world class economy and a centre of excellence in a host of disciplines, specially soft skills, has been reduced to a debt ridden, begging economy with virtually no contribution to world culture and science in recent past. Kashmir economy is failing as evidenced by failure of cooperative sector, failure of most of traditional strongholds – crafts, agriculture etc. – a monstrously huge public sector employment at the cost of state exchequer, pathologies of ill planned modernization, worsening environmental crisis and general apathy of one and all following the perception that nothing can be done due to, fundamentally, political uncertainty. A senior economist who had the opportunity to work at top levels in management of economy and education told me, in a private conversation, that ours is a virtually gone case and one can’t say we have an economy worth its name and our bus is already skidding that can’t normally avert disastrous accident. Let me illustrate the issue by focusing on dying or highly underperforming livestock sector with key culprit as absence of research inputs and thinking.
      Livestock sector being such a vital sector in landlocked mountainous region of Kashmir with a distinctive temperate climate (that distinguishes it from not only Jammu but the rest of India necessitating more specific regional institutions of excellence) has been, along with their Chopans, Bakarwaals and farmers, reduced to a nonentity or taboo that sometimes even ministers are hardly ready for taking the charge. The fact that we have continued to subsume animal sciences under SKUAST-K has been a Himalayan blunder of ex-governments. (One is tempted, with Prof. M. S. Mir, to apply an analogy of Abel-Cain relationship in which Cain working with agriculture kills Abel who works with livestock ). Livestock sector has been, relatively, contributing so much to economy and to agriculture as well that the proposal to subsume it under agricultural sciences in a third world set up could only be a ploy to squeeze its development in the long run and that is precisely what has happened. Let me mention a few lesser known points to show costs of ignoring thinking and research in livestock sector.
  • We have yet to properly even document and characterize, not to speak of develop and harvest vast animal resources. It means we have little idea of what we are losing for want of attention. The tale of Hangul is an example. What little we have developed, we are failing to consolidate. And our cross breeding policy has been at the cost of indigenous livestock wealth a significant part of which we are irrevocably losing. A biodiversity disaster under our very nose. Who cares? And why should anyone care?
  • Universities are tailored to economic needs. The fact if understood would have meant establishment of a university researching animal sciences in local temperate environment decades back. But we are still in the brooding stage. And one wonders if hatching stage would come in proper temperate ambience?
  • We are exporting around 2 million pelts losing 1000x2000000=Rs 2 billion annual loss assuming only 10 fold increase in value after value addition procedures.
  • Total number of jobs lost on account of inefficient individualist management, lost opportunities in animal farming, absence of big investment, degraded or squeezed land/fodder resources, are in scores of thousands.
  • We have no answer to the basic question where are the good farms or professional suppliers of good cows/ewes. Even economics of livestock farming in our conditions is not available. Why waste more than 50% of human resource associated with inefficient modes of livestock rearing? (Around 10% population would have produced equivalent livestock products that currently much bigger percentage is doing sparing the rest for other productive ventures).
  • Currently followed individual farming or semi-cooperative in some seasons mode necessitates great individual effort, both physical and mental, much more labour cost, more risk and uncertainty, difficulties in supervision and many other costs all of which may lead to their abandoning farming enterprise and this is precisely what has happened with greater urbanization and education in our State.
  • Our huge livestock population is not something to be eulogized as much of it is  unproductive or less productive, weak, suffering from malnutrition (we have, presently, managed to be acute shortage of feed/fodder), unorganized, uncompetitive thus drains limited fodder and feed resources and wastes other investment efforts in livestock sector.
  • We could but don’t produce most of our requirement of vaccines, day old chicks, feed/fodder and certain drugs locally.
  • The scope for dairy goat and dairy sheep is far from being even seriously considered for exploration.
  • Although an average vet helps to contribute to/save more than Rs 5 lacs/month when we factor in major figures in terms of A.Is done, diseases prevented/ treated, value of extension work, role in sustaining hundreds of small enterprises constituted by few animals, continued production increase (we have done phenomenal increase – around 80 fold increase in mutton production and 17 fold increase in wool production in last six decades. Compared to local breeds increase of only 5kg milk/cow in a population of say one million cows means 50 crore daily and billions a year) and investment attracted, he/she is struggling to get a job! We are sitting on a goldmine and yet starve ourselves for want of will to employ workers to mine!
  • Almost every sector in livestock development from formulating long term objectives, working on local breeds and strains, reorganizing livestock sector to eliminate leakages, working on local problems afflicting development departments, importing new breeds, processing livestock byproducts, targeting increasing needs due to expansion of population and purchasing  power, taking care of such challenges as global warming and emerging diseases and huge public health issues requires research inputs that a university provides and, no wonder, we have shortfalls in all these areas losing jobs and failing to prevent capital flight.
  • Unlike some developed nations relying significantly on livestock rearing, livestock education doesn’t figure in any meaningful or target oriented way in curriculum at primary and secondary level implying general apathy of our education and human resource management system.
      All these points show how careless, ignorant and impotent we have been post-1947 in one of the sectors that all agree has an important role in economy. Other sectors I leave to subject experts to analyze in depth. The question is: shouldn’t we resist the downward march to perdition or watch the ship sinking and prepare for mourning? What does our CM think about all this? Or she is already worried, taking stock of situation and doing something. I hope the way education has been let go down the drain would be avoided.