Friday, 23 February 2018

Understanding Islam’s Claim of Finality

The best is self authenticating. The Sun shines and we know and need not fight over it.

Many religions claim to be the best or assert their finality or primordiality. How do we understand such claims and appreciate Mulla Sadra’s point, endorsed by Muslim theologians and sages in their own ways, regarding Islam as superior and more complete than any other religion because it incorporates the teachings of all religions?
      If we closely attend to the ground of the claim of finality – access to the Absolute – for which prophets are the means, we can, across religions, identify the ground of superiority and resolve conflicting claims. Today we note Schuon’s (Shaykh Isa Nuruddin’s) clarification of the logic underlying finality. Schuon clarifies the logic with reference to Islam (and this should apply to other religions also):


  • “True terminality – the glory of being the omega – is not realized by any one religion as opposed to another, it is realized by esoterism in relation to all religion; it is in this sense that Sufis interpret the dogmatic terminality of Islam, and this doesn’t go without an amalgam that strictly speaking is abusive, but that can be found, quite obviously and mutatis mutandis, within every religious system.”

      He relates the idea of terminality to the message of equilibrium Islam realizes between “the outward and the inward, the earthly and the heavenly, in conformity with man’s nature and vocation.” He similarly understands the dogmatic assertion that the Prophet is “the best of men” or “of creation” (khayar-i khalq). To quote him:

  • “Firstly, this designation of “the best” refers to the Logos, which is the prototype of the cosmos in the Principle, or of the world in God; and in this case the epithet doesn’t refer to any man. Secondly “the best” is Muhammed in as much as he manifests or personifies the Logos, every other Messenger(Rasul) is equally “the best”. Thirdly, “the best” is Muhammad  (SAW) in as much as he alone – in accordance with the framework of perspective – manifests the whole Logos, the other Messengers manifesting it only in part, which amounts to saying that Muhammad (SAW) is “the best” in as much as he personifies the Islamic perspective, the man who reveals it necessarily the best but as much can be said, of course, of every other Messenger  within the framework of his own Message. Fourthly, Muhammad (SAW) is the best in as much as he represents a quality of Islam by which it surpasses other religions; but every integral religion necessarily possesses such an unequalable quality, lacking which it would not exist.”

      Ibn Arabi has also stated claim of finality in a way that can’t be resisted or questioned by scholars and advocates of other religions. It states, as one contemporary scholar notes, that if all-inclusive point of view that is Islam is situated anywhere it is “at the point of coming into manifestation of everything…It is not a Judeo-Christian or Islamic perspective, but it is this which has informed and given rise to the Abrahamic line and to all spirituality everywhere… this point of view is completely distinguished from all partiality, and all qualifying adjectives, and that it is free from the qualifications of all religions, and is thereby completely muslim to the Truth.”
      Ibn ‘Arabî  also gives the most universal definition of Muhammadan where this involves “perfectly realizing all stations” and bringing “together all standpoints or stations,” an enterprise that every tradition would identify with. As Shaykh Isa notes, the epithets applied to the Prophet (SAW) apply equally to the Totality and the Centre as Muhammad (SAW) is a human expression of them. “As a spiritual principle, the Prophet is not only the Totality of which we are separate parts or fragments, he is also the Origin in relation to which we are so many deviations.”
      Thus seen, we see Ad-Deen or the Religion or Religion of religions, Islam, (as distinguished from din or a religion applied to particular historical religions deemed passé or unacceptable if fail to reflect/embody/affirm Islam. It is common between deens – historical Islam and other religions) as a quest of all integral religions and Muhammad (SAW)  as the ideality of everyman and known or unknown Centre/Pole of existence. Islam is here a metareligion and its metahistorical, metaphysical, symbolic, esoteric content the judge/referral point with respect to which every religion is to be judged. Historical Islam’s most characteristic or distinctive notions such as rejecting absolutization of anything less than the Absolute (thus condemning shirk), dualism of flesh and spirit (wrongly attributed to Christianity), unity/inseparability of earth and heaven – this world and the beyond, profane and the sacred –, affirmation of the world, Middle Path, religion as way of life or living whole life in the shadow of/in reference to the Divine Norm, respecting rights of reason and intuition or intellection find expression in traditionally held authoritative interpretations of canon of other religions. None can, ordinarily, claim to have realized the best religion as it implies claiming all the perfections the best implies which in turn require a life’s work of realization or spiritual ascent and humility to claim nothing or avoid self righteousness or agency for virtue. None has access to total truth called Islam. We are not required to judge the best in terms of rituals or law as they are something less than the Absolute and don’t have fixed unique form and aren’t self contained. Islam itself is not this or that collection of propositions or forms – it is not a finished product but ever unfolding process and it is unwarranted to fix its particular formation and call it the best in every sense. Every religion we know can be expressed, in its most fundamental sense, as submission to Truth/surrender to non-self/Other/Tao/ Reality and this submission in turn is expressed by worship whose one essence and pluralism of form is clearly recognized and in fact unavoidable within every tradition. Messengers don’t call to themselves but to the Way to realize the Origin and the End or Absolute and as such there is not encouraged any comparison between them in the essential function of conveying/embodying saving truth. Historically also we don’t find very sharply definable identity/separation of Islam from other sister faiths till many decades after its inception. And Islam has been self avowedly understood as a revivification/reformation of Abrahamic legacy and thus can’t insist on absolutizing it separate historical identity and make it a judge of other identities it itself recognizes as relative in reference to Ad-Deen. Finality means absoluteness and we know Muslims have claimed this for shahadah but never insisted that a given theology or fiqh is final/absolute. Islam is committed to the absoluteness of the Absolute only; the rest it takes to be non-absolute and thus relative in a sense and that means openness to various formulations that don’t idolize the relative. If all metaphysics is derivable from the statement of unity la Illaha illallah, as has been maintained, and Muhammad Rasulullah (SAW) encompasses all archetypal perfections that are there, we see in Islam’s shahadah quintessential expression for every religion’s ideal. It is another question that a particular believer may betray the ideal or be self exiled from the ideal or mistakes ideal for what is less than ideal formation. 
      The problem in debate over finality claims is choosing between metaphysical/esoteric or haqiqa centric and exoteric theological-legalistic understanding of basic terms Islam and Iman or Tawhid and messengership. Mostly people miss proper hierarchical relationship here not noting that it is the former that can subsume the later and not vice versa. The claim of being the best or final is vacuous if it refers to particular form as that would absolutize that form and that contradict the principle that what is sought by religion transcends forms.
      Muhammad (SAW) considered as a sort of light –Siraj al-Munir (light-giving lamp) – as a principle of guidance, as the light of consciousness/intelligence that constitutes/illuminates everything, as a principle of manifestation unveiling Being that grounds the very notion of truth, as expressing universally adorable/lovable ideals such as wisdom and perfection of ethic that constituted sine qua non of his mission – is, self avowedly, (or required to be) at the centre of every religion and spirituality. One needs to be muslim to Truth/Reality to be saved, an assertion that no religion would dispute. One needs to realize that Heaven’s will has been communicated and is accessible in its essentials (mankind, in general, has no argument of ignorance) and seeking to live that Norm is what is basically required for affirmation of the particular messengers including the Last Messenger. When other traditions propose messengers such as the Christ as the final truth they really mean not a person so and so but Christ reality/ the Logos that we can access as we perfect our submission to truth or love. (“Christ is the Heart of the macrocosm as the Intellect is the Christ of the microcosm.”)
      Many religions have claimed to be the best but no believer in them has been given the license to claim the title for himself/herself. The best includes an idea of quest for yet to be and is a prize to be claimed, an existential project, a possibility and not already realized and accessible set of propositions (which, being linked to language/concepts remain contingent or relative) to be bragged about (bragging betrays ego that the best requires to be transcended) and we find in Islamic tradition, for instance, very clear warning against complacency to claim eligibility of entry to Heaven until the last breath or denying to a particular person one encounters such entry. Tradition received from pious elders (aslaf) constitutes the best against individual opinions/fallible interpretations and given claims of fully assimilating the same in one’s life and understanding in a way that can’t be improved are suspect for possibly concealing arrogance of the claimant.

      Traditions assert that one can’t deny the Absolute and the Envoy of the Absolute and truly live witnessing the best or ideal/be fully loyal to oneself. One has to settle for something that is not the best. Let us keep inviting ourselves and then others to the best we can only dimly witness due to our imperfections. The best is self authenticating. The Sun shines and we know and need not fight over it. Consciousness/Intellect in its full flowering is the project for all of us to undertake and it requires martyrdom for love. The bell tolls for all of us. Are we true to the best – divine image – in us? Repentence and prayer understood as will to attach to the Absolute are called for.
http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/understanding-islam-s-claim-of-finality/276527.html

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Syed Maududi: A Contested Legacy

Reading Eric Voegelin on Sacred Oriented Politics.
We live in a world where Syed Maududi remains a presence to contend with. One is either for him or against him – there is no option of ignoring him. There remains certain ambivalence with regard to his central ideas amongst mainstream Ulema, and some intellectuals. Ambivalence may be underlined by noting sharply divided estimates of him by Hasan Askari, and his student Saleem Ahmed, two great traditionalist critics of Pakistan. Askari was quite critical of Syed Maududi and a fan of Bhutto, while for Saleem Ahmed converse was true. (Muslim religious/intellectual communities similarly remain divided in their views of revivalist theology and politics). It appears that Maududi would be better understood in relation to the thoughts of the best of his contemporaries in political philosophy and religion. One such illustrious contemporary was Eric Voegelin who shared Maududi’s commitment to the Sacred infused life and public sphere, distrust of secularization project and theological diagnosis of great totalitarian projects that devastated the 20th century, and call for what he called new science of politics whose ultimate objective was to reorient man to the Centre or Absolute.
      Syed Maududi’s legacy consists in widespread distrust in secular reason, and polity, in the Muslim world. He has been an indispensable help to reorient many lives towards the Sacred. He has been such a benign influence to new thinking in legal and theological issues to make Islam a living presence and force to reckon with. With faith in both democratic politics and what usually passes for an authoritarian theology, Maududi leads to embarrassing results for both democrats and religious masses. It is little appreciated by both Maududi and his critics that theology, as noted by AKC, is really autology – science of the Self – and God’s rule is the rule of liberated or enlightened self; giving reign to what deserves the rule – Intellect - and this is what has been invoked by philosophers from Plato to Al-Farabi to Aquinas to Voegelin in their own ways. It is also little appreciated that world religions share a principled standpoint concerning politics (there is no such thing as making God irrelevant in public life in any tradition from Hindu to Chinese to Islamic to Judaic/Christian). Maududi, despite some problematic areas in his conceptualization and articulation, has forcefully stated basic premises of this shared doctrine and questioned complicity with reigning secularizing ideology that takes little note of basic objective of politics regarding facilitation for life of spirit – “duty to virtue.” Maududi (and other major figures in revivalist thought), and critics, need to be put in dialogue rather than be allowed to mutually dismiss each other. What is deeply problematic in him is not his basic claim that God has to be given his central place in public life but his insistence that a particular historical period along with the conceptual baggage of later periods have a decisive role in conceptualizing its contours today. Maududi gives little attention to other models of taking note of transcendence in careers of previous prophets, including even prophets in Abrahamic line. Voegelin provides more subtle, more engaging and more careful articulation of the rights of Transcendence and Maududi’s choice to restrict himself to one tradition in a more limiting idiom (theological-legalistic) coupled with less nuanced understanding of complex issues in modernity vis-a-vis transcendence, make for a problematic formulation of extremely urgent or timely thesis that we need to recall in nihilistic times.
      Maududi’s reification of Islam into what is dangerously close to an ideology, and an ideology that requires certain political formations for realization, are demonstrably problematic theses that cost him support of traditionally better grounded Ulama fraternity, and more educated modern intellectuals. And this ultimately contributed to decline/stagnation of Jamat-e-Islami, or made it vulnerable to intellectual stagnation. Maududi’s distance from the most important philosophers of the subcontinent (such as Iqbal and Fazlur Rahman), is his distance from the modern intellectual who takes both philosophy and philosophy inflected Sufism seriously. His ambivalent response in mainstream Ulama implies his problematic engagement with the Tradition he inherited, but his critique of fellow Ulama on certain issues can’t be lightly dismissed. Why providence throws up phenomena like Maududi and his critics needs to be appreciated. How destiny has its own logic to unfold is illustrated by the fact that Maududi, one time translator of parts of monumental Asfar-i Arbaea, remained ever suspicious of both philosophy and gnosis centric Sadrean Islamic universe.
      Voegelin is one of the very few great philosophers who is well grounded in the sacred Centric Semitic Tradition (where theologians, philosophers, mystics, jurists all have been part of the larger Tradition) and in a position to unearth deeper and essential structures that inform or should inform politics for Revelation centric cultures. He showed convergence between prophetic and Greek approaches, a thesis that has had sizeable following amongst intellectual and spiritual elite of Semitic religions.
      Voegelin’s key charges against modernity that it rebelled against God and committed cardinal sin of faith in immanence and earthly heaven have been, independently, made familiar by Maududi and other revivalists like Qutb in the Islamic world. For Voegelin the attempt to cordon off religious beliefs into a purely private sphere when pushed too far by Sacred insensitive secular reason didn’t constitute the West’s unique achievement, but was "symptom of a spiritual crisis unfolding throughout the West."
      Maududi’s critique of Communism echoes the Voegelian critique in The Political Religions of totalitarian ideologies as substitutes for religion. However, Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics criticizes as erroneous the idea that God requires (or has given authority to any) puritan army or Gnostic revolutionary to militarily help to bring about millennium-like or heaven-like conditions on earth, an idea echoed in the call to help God be in power politically. Voegelin noted that “there is no passage in the New Testament from which advice for revolutionary political action could be extracted.” This corresponds to the observation made by many critics of Islamic State that the Quran is completely silent on the question of State or revolution or any particular political model of its choice. Far from bringing univocal verses (muhakamat) in their defense, revivalists had to bring verses that required some interpretations to legitimize their project. And this has made their case in principle contestable.
      Voegelin has warned against political systematizers and argued that “each society must choose the form of order that is both available and best suited to its reality.” There can be no Standard Model to be mechanically imposed. For Voegelin “the distance between perfection and reality served only to underline the impossibility of their convergence” and we should strive for “a realm of incremental measures” while tempered by “the constant reminder of the threat of far worse outcomes.” Maududi doesn’t appreciate how and why “medieval philosophers, both Jews and Muslims, saw Plato’s ideal republic, ruled by a philosopher and geared to nurture future philosophers, as their model.”
      Voegelin was much appreciative of American democracy while Syed Maududi was quite dismissive. It appears that Maududi couldn’t conceive how God had not been dethroned but remained quite relevant in modern institutions despite non-religious (he often took it to be anti-religious) colouring of modern State; for more historical than consciously explicit (anti)religious reasons. He brought theology rather indiscriminately into the realms that theology itself delineated as properly belonging to “non-theological” or purely rational sphere where something like communicative rationality is to be trusted to solve problems.
     
Maududi posited rather too sharp distinctions between philosophy and theology, between reason and revelation, that Voegelin ultimately deemed passé. Maududi doesn’t seem to have noticed the significance of the fact that constitutions of Modern Welfare States and Caliphate overlap in most of important areas. In practice the absence of the clause that sovereignty belongs to God in modern welfare state doesn’t make much difference in many important spheres where commitment to such values as justice, equality, fraternity, freedom remains enshrined in constitutions. Maududi, like many Muslim scholars, had rather a simplistic understanding of Machiavelli and his context that could be analyzed in light of Voegelin’s reading of him. Maududi didn’t also appreciate danger of turning religion into ideology that has totalitarian tendency. Religion is not an ideology and its addressee remains primarily an individual who is commanded to “strive for righteous rather than perfect community” and for that right order in one’s soul and the soul of the ruler is a prerequisite  and in that task philosophers and mystics have a role that Moudidi didn’t fully recognize. The key problem that there is a danger that human interpretation of God’s Word/Law may pose as divinely sanctioned one has been recognized by most modern thinkers.
      And it is here that the principle of shura that partly (yes, only partly, pleas of prodemocracy scholars not withstanding) jells with the spirit of modern democracy will have to be properly understood and executed. And if this shura calls the best professionals of various disciplines along with jurists and Ulama for discussions, we would find, presently, little scope of agreement over key issues supposed to represent distinctive essence of Islamic State. We the inheritors of Syed Maududi are required to more carefully think through the problem of interpretation and what constitutes tradition. It is here that likes of Gadamar, modern Judeo-Christian political philosophers, traditionalist metaphysicians and the best of modern secular minds who don’t allow the religious camp any scope for complacency,  as Sacks notes, are to be engaged with.
      Since the very idea of Islamic State is declared impossible, or unlivable, or unIslamic by many Islamic minds whose commitment to Islam can’t be ignored/doubted. And there is no Church in Islam to legislate against this or that approach. And the standard reproach that they are Westoxicated is unconvincing if we count the evidence of many traditionalist critics of Islamic State idea. The key idea of Syed Maududi regarding urgency to take seriously the call of Transcendence in politics has to be salvaged from ideological colouring. It is in this task that Voegelin would of help and prove ultimately an ally of Syed Maududi.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Understanding Myths as Saving Truths

Reading Joseph Campbell on Costs of Misreading Myths 
Utter failure of our education in the schools and the pulpit is evidenced by equation of myth with trith (lie), asserting that the Quran has no myths and laughing at great myths of world’s religions or wisdom traditions – and also calling other religions myths – and not knowing how theology and art are better served by proper understanding of myths. Fundamentalism  is based on gross misreading of some key myths of one’s own and other religions. Many common myths of major scriptures and certain details of Quranic myths in hadith literature have been such a problem of many modernist scholars and modernist critics of hadith. Much of wisdom literature, such traditional resources as Puranas and in fact every scripture, great art and poetry and such phenomena as  Joyce and Mann abound in mythological themes that can’t be appreciated without deep understanding of myth. Failure to appreciate the point that Imam Hussain has been appropriated as a mythic hero in Islamic tradition has been at the back of so many shallow critiques of rituals and celebrations of Muharram.  A major problem in understanding prophetic traditions on last days or apocalypse (on which also depends ideological or political use of religion, especially in Semitic traditions) is illumined by reading great mythologists. So much polemics on virgin birth, ascension narratives and debate on Dajjal,  Beast of the Earth (Dābbat al-Arḍ)), Mahdi, second coming of Jesus, coming interfaith battles shows how little is understood of deeper realities of myth couched narratives. Religion can’t be understood without understanding mythology it is tied to and world mythologies, like world religions and theologies, illuminate one another.  We find myths all pervasive in religious narratives from the myths of genesis/creation to the story of Fall of Adam and mysteries surrounding birth and career of prophets and  eschatological descriptions and what we daily experience as dreams. Myths conceal deep wisdom that needs to be decoded or realized. If we agree with Joseph Campbell, one of the towering mythologists and valuable contributors to modern interpretation of religions and arts, that  “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature” myths that express this connection are  crucial for such an enterprise. For Campbell cultures live by virtue of myths and our task is to relate to the inherited treasure of myths to make life a rapture. There is a bewildering number of myths in world cultures  whose underlying logic or unity Campbell tried to identify and he found many important insights that the world has ever since treasured. Here is a peep into his  explorations in the world of myth that we need to consider. 
      Campbell  wrote: “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.” “Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth--penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”  This recalls AKC’s  statement in his great little classic Hinduism and Buddhism regarding myths as penultimate truths. This point may be understood in light of Heinrich Zimmer’s saying: "The best things can't be told: the second best are misunderstood." Campbell comments: “The second best are misunderstood because, as metaphors poetically of that which cannot be told, they are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts.” Both fundamentalist advocacy and secularist dismissal of religion is connected to misreading of myths, myths we indeed live by but not as literal truths but as coloured by Imagination. As Campbell notes, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”  And more elaborately: “Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations. Mythologies are not invented; they are found. You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth. Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience.”
      Campbell issues a warning against simplistic reductionist interpretations of myths. “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.”  Campbell explicates four functions of myths and here are the first two: “The first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being. And the second service, then, is cosmological: of representing the universe and whole spectacle of nature, both as known to the mind and as beheld by the eye, as an epiphany of such kind that when lightning flashes, or a setting sun ignites the sky, or a deer is seen standing alerted, the exclamation "Ah!" may be uttered as a recognition of divinity.” Myths are “epiphanies of the rapture of being” and artist “brings the images of a mythology to manifestation.” What is at stake is seeing things in their divine glory, a task that art performs. How can one be an artist – and sage – if not educated in myths?
      History of warfare between science and theology or between religions and sects or between what Voegelin called Gnostic ideologies and their other are partly a result of misreading myths. “In the popular nightmare of history, where local mythic images are interpreted, not as metaphors, but as facts, there have been ferocious wars waged between the parties of such contrary manners of metaphoric representation.” Indeed “Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.” Campbell charges tribal literalism of “misreading metaphors, taking denotation for connotation, the messenger for the message.”
      Campbell notes the problem mystics tried to solve: “the popular, unenlightened practice of prosaic reification of metaphoric imagery has been the fundamental method of the most influential exegetes of the whole Judeo-Christian-lslamic mythic complex.” Campbell reminds us forcefully of traditional wisdom in his declaration “ “Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth Century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the world, are within us.“ His famous statement “Follow your own bliss” should not be understood as call for hedonism but what ancient scriptures asserted and what has always been the task of poets. “Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss.”
      Some points Campbell invites us to consider: “Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end… The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth—that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.” And “The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.”  (What do we expect of our leadership?) “ A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow.” This answers those libertine Gurus and those rationalists who fail to understand why all religions consider ritual important. Mythology explains why sacrifice is so pervasive a theme in religions. 
      Something of some authors/ books should to be read by everyone for helping to know/make ourselves and the world better and add to the quality – real standard – of life. Amongst these must read authors is Joseph Campbell. One sees how is it possible to become or imitate to an extent heroes we have long cherished and moves much closer to seeing the world suffused with radiance. To be myth illiterate is to be uneducated and miseducated and amongst the later must be classified those who want to build heaven on earth and seek to retire Satan prematurely. Extremely important essay by AKC (whom Campbell greatly admired) “Who is Satan and Where is Hell,” and selection of his explorations of myths in various writings should be included as essential reading for every preacher and theologian. These along with a review of Campbell’s work in Oldmeadow’s Journeys East  and Bateman’s brief but valuable “What Did Joseph Campbell Believe” may be read to better appreciate Campbell’s strengths and limitations. But a brief introduction to him on YouTube in short duration videos is greatly helpful.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

We the Criminals

Reading Dostoevsky and Levinas and bringing local testimonies on evidences of our guilt.
Imagine we are suddenly summoned for any crime committed anywhere while we have no idea about even our remote involvement and we have no forum or chance to plead our innocence. According to world religions and, as expressly stated by such writers as Dostoevsky, Beckett, Kafka and such philosophers as Levinas, this is indeed the case and we stand accused and are currently facing the trial and it seems that punishment phase has already begun. The task is to awaken to the full implications of this Kafkaseque nightmare. We are not responsible for sins of others but for injustice suffered by others anywhere. The Quran accuses man for choosing to accept the Divine Trust when the earth and the heavens had refused. This trust requires being true to the divine image in which man is created and that in turn means being responsible for the whole creation. This responsibility is back breaking. Unspeakable crimes are committed routinely against the bulk of human population that includes most parents, countless daughters-in-law, prisoners, beggars, servants, labourers, prostitutes, soldiers, officials, spouses and the poor in general across the world. The prophets and saints are defined by their inability to accept all this. According to world religions all destinies are somehow intertwined and there is need of universal compassion. The Quran equates unjust killing of one person with killing the whole of humankind and  also states “Your creation and resurrection is but like a single soul.” Religions command us to pray for all or help access/ invite all to the Beauty and Joy one has access to. Prophets, saints and artists are those who take upon themselves the burden of the suffering masses. The Prophet (S.A.W) insisted that we must help a brother (Aren’t strangers also our brothers or who is not our brother according to traditions?) whether he is an oppressor or the  oppressed one (by “preventing him from oppressing others.”) The Prophet (S.A.W) keeps night vigils, weeps, prays until feet swell and prostrates for long hours to help suffering people.

      Let us try to understand why we have been justifiably accused of crime by reading Dostoevsky (for Kashmiri readers there is a feel of Kashmiri Dostoevsky in many pages of Shamshad Kralwari’s translated Crime and Punishment) and Levinas. For bearing witness we bring Kashmiri short story writers Rahim Rahber and G. N. Shahid.
      To begin with a quotation from The Brothers Karamazarov that was a mantra for one of the greatest 20th century philosophers Levinas: “Each of us is guilty before everyone for everyone, and I more than the others.” Similar idea is further developed in the same work: “Know that this is the truth and that every one of us is answerable for everyone else and for everything.” Refuting Cain who said in his answer to God that he is not his brother’s keeper, religious traditions have emphasized some deeper connection with all living things and not just our neighbors or strangers. The  Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of bodhisattva who postpones entry into nirvana to help all those who are struggling or the ideal expressed by many saints in Semitic traditions that one agrees to suffer for others and doesn’t go to heaven alone or the ethic that blames on one’s own self when any bad news drops in (panen gunhen haenz shahmeth) or first praying for the other (“derwish”)  as against khawysh (oneself) presuppose something similar.
      But, how many times we have acquitted ourselves while refusing the request for lift or for any help to stranger by stating “Who knows him?” “I am not responsible” or “It was not my job” or “What do I owe him?” Levinas has shown that we owe everything to whosoever we encounter. Some Sufis have tried to live this ethic and they have sought to offer free food and free spiritual sustenance. We have been commanded to be all ears to anyone and never to frown on anyone seeking help (all persons in need are virtually God in disguise as implied in a sacred tradition) and not withhold at least the gift of smile if we have to offer nothing concrete.
      There is a simple test to determine who is in hell here and now and may, in all probability, end up in posthumous hell as well and that is seeing, under normal conditions or when encountering a stranger/neighbor, if one is short of nose as that expresses anger. How we meet our maids or servants/labourers – or the less privileged people – shows who we are really. We read again from Dostoevsky: “Since the world cannot exist without servants, you must see to it that your servant feels freer in spirit than if he were not a servant. And why shouldn’t I be my servant’s servant?” “Suddenly the words of my brother Markel came back to me, the words he had spoken before his death, when he had asked the servants why they were so kind to him and waited on him, and had wondered if he deserved their services. And I asked myself: “Do I deserve to be waited on? Why should another man, made in the image of the Lord, just like me, be my servant?” The Prophet’s slave Zayd reported that the latter never told him why he did or didn’t do this or that. Zayd in fact preferred the Prophet’s house to his own home.
      Inability to experience love or feel loved is at the root of crime and sorrow according to Dostoevsky and Iris Murdoch. For Dostoevsky we are healed by a dose of love, by being with children and can bear anything, even deep sorrow if we can find love. Indeed, we can’t be healed in prison/psychiatric ward space but family space as Laing noted and traditions have ever emphasized. Love and thus healing is in cafes with appreciating friends, in mosques and temples where community is at the centre and not the self, and in poetry recitation sessions. Inability to forget and forgive is hell. If we realize this, most court cases would be withdrawn. But we want to suffer and thus carry grudge against the so-called enemies. The question is why does Dostoevsky appear too idealistic and his hero idiot by our standards? Do we have hearts or we suffer from sclerosis and have turned into stones? Our short story writer Rahim Rahber thinks this is indeed the case. 
      Rahim Rahber guides us to a city without compassion where souls have been almost destroyed with such brutality that people have forgotten life lived under the shadow of the Sacred or orientation towards the Good. In “Tem-i Shahr-i” in his short story collection Yekh Khawb-i Talawuk he presents us a stony world of dead souls where people carry gravestones with inscribed epitaphs with them. There were all stones – even gods and priests were stones – and the rulers were stone deaf to people’s aspirations. People were condemned to take care of their dead bodies. People organized festivals where they would weep to their hearts’ fill and then disperse giving one another good news of their own impending death. There such beautiful things as truth, justice and compassion were all sick words. Faith, modesty and nobility were on death bed. Such words as elderly, honour, mother, sister, daughter were hardly recognizable or in use in dictionaries. This is the nihilistic city that has exiled God as predicted by Nietzsche and that explains why everything is permitted. Dostoevsky’s intervention here would be to have faith in some buried seeds of goodness even in this stony icy world. He would preach the gospel that Father Zossima and saintly Alyosha (who indeed recalls Hazrat Ali in love informed ethics though not in resolve to fight evil squarely where it could be fought) preach.
      Similar impression one gets from G.N. Shahid’s Ailaan Jari Hai. I have space for only two stories here in one of which (“Bazyaft”) we find the hero happy for the first time in last few years after his son had been reported missing. And on inquiring the reason for happiness the answer is that his grave has been found. Yes it is our dead bodies that the living are condemned to take care of as the soul has already taken flight. Another story (“Khawabida Goonghat”) recounts how we are all beggars of love and this flowers best in the homes of the poor and the simple and how treating someone merely as a servant instead of fellow seeker of love is a desecration that costs us meaning in life. 
      No hell is hotter than the fever of uneasy conscience – in fact the heat of the hell is derived from the inescapable guilt that haunts, hounds and burns us. Who can acquit us if we are condemned by the King within? Hell in the next world is there only an exteriorization of the failure to take due note of the demands of the Absolute or, in moral terms, shame and pain in unheeded conscience. Our tragedy consists in not heeding our prophets and those artists/writers who are burning with this prophetic passion for justice. “That’s just the point: an honest and sensitive man opens his heart, and the man of business goes on eating – and then he eats you up.” The truth – human lived truth – artists capture shows us how we fall short of the perfection we adore within (art is a witness to the Truth, Justice and Beauty we are/seek/can access) – and no wonder we find few heroes and most villains around – we are in fact criminals and if we could understand that crimes would be no more.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Know the Superman from Turkey

Reading Bayman’s Tribute to the Grand Master of Sufism.
Saints and sages we have around us and we don’t bother to meet them or at least read them to taste something of their Presence. Saints constitute irrefutable proof of religion and mysticism. They convert by presence. They conquer hearts and sages conquer minds as well. They have beyond words richness of being to share and that is a treasure that benefits everyone including atheist who enters into a dialogue or relationship with them. A Superman is so high above average humanity that Nietzsche despaired of seeing one in his lifetime. He cried that it was so sweet to follow but where is the Master. But there are such Masters, Iqbal retorted. And in our midst today. If you doubt, know the grand Master Kahyan as reported by one of the gifted writers and students of Sufism Bayman in his classic essay paying  tribute to  him  and his classic The Teachings of a Perfect Master: An Islamic Saint for the Third Millennium (to be read along with another classic A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century by Martin Lings to better comprehend certain doctrinal issues and debates surrounding Sufism). A few excerpts:
      "Having met the Master, I don't wonder that his disciples confused Jesus with God or the Son of God. No man can be God, of course, and yet I can well understand their difficulty in groping for a label. What is amazing is that someone like the Master, who should ordinarily belong to the Age of the Prophets, could be found and encountered in the second half of the 20th century.”
      The Master impressed a Canadian journalist so much that he said to the Master: "Let me publicize you. To the Jews, let me go and say: 'If you're looking for Moses, here he is.' To the Christians, let me pronounce: 'I've discovered Jesus.'"  Bayman reports further that “The Master refused, and the journalist respected him enough to comply with his wish to remain unexposed. He could have become world-famous, had he so wished.”
      Indeed, “The highest point of achievement, the Station of Praise which belongs only to the Prophet, is achieving perfection in being a humble servant of God.” The Master advocated following the Prophet as the most universal way of achieving perfection. He observed Salat, performed Hajj and asked everyone to refrain from illicit gain and illicit sex as conditions for spiritual progress. His own pamphlets on world peace “aroused favorable responses from a former French president, from the Pope, and from both the then-president and prime minister of Israel.”
      "Like Rumi, he embraced all sinners." “With him there was no distinction between Moslem, Christian, Jew, or Buddhist. He was far beyond drawing distinctions in the ordinary manner. For him there were only human beings, and to all he counseled the same teaching: God exists, and God is One. Abide by the Divine Law. Work for the establishment of peace on earth, love one another, and devote yourself to serving your fellow-(wo)men. Feel compassion for all creatures, for even a fly.” “He was the most ethical person of the highest morality I have ever known. And that, he disclosed to me, was the difference that made the difference.” “Even an atheist can benefit from this advice, provided he heeds it.”
       Bayman reports that in fifteen years he was with the Master he saw him really angry only once, and “his only response was the softly spoken word, ‘Quiet.’ Those are the ‘worst-case characteristics.’”
      Bayman asks to “bring together all the admirable traits you have ever seen in any human being. Next, multiply the sum by a thousandfold. That, approximately, will give you what people lovingly referred to as ‘Effendi.’”
      Kahyan recalls St. Francis who treated everyone as a king and attended to every little detail of their lives: “Even if you were an ant, he would treat you like a king. Pleasantries would be exchanged over a cup of tea.”The Master said that “everyone calls me a  ‘Master”’but everyone who enters through this door is my Master.”
      “If you continued your visits, you would learn many things you had never known before. And finally, you would come to realize that here was the most lovable, the most adorable, absolutely the most wonderful person on earth.
      The long and short of it is, the Master was squarely at the center of the highest expression of traditional Islamic Sufism, in the line of the Samini Branch of the Naqshbandi Order. Yet at the same time, there was no one more modern or more open-minded than he. (I must again stress that this is not simply my personal opinion. Rather, I am quoting from a follower, this time a modern-minded lady.)”
      He “was beyond all orders, sects, or schools. And though he was a devout Moslem, he embraced people of all religions.”
      “In Effendi, the exoteric and the esoteric were a single whole--Sufism was Islam and Islam was Sufism. In no other person have I seen the two so seamlessly fused.” This illustrates the Greatest Master’s famous saying “sha’ria is haqiqa.” However, it also needs to be noted that “The Master took pure Sufism, like democracy, with a pinch of salt. His preferred term was Muhammdenhood, i.e., living a Muhammadan way.”
      A visitor said to him, 'Dear Effendi, when I come into your presence I feel as if all of my cares and troubles have been lifted from me and left at your door!' He smiled (that indescribably beautiful smile that seemed to light the whole room!) and said affectionately, knowing full well that she had voiced what the majority of the people in that crowded apartment on a busy Saturday morning were experiencing, 'Yes, you are right, my dear, but how much better it would have been if you had left your self at the door.'
      Bayman reports from a devotee “He is our [President]. Our electricity comes from him, from that great power station in Ankara."
      A saint is himself a miracle that will ever perplex rational philosophy and science. And miracles around him were so numerous that we need not mention them except a summarizing remark of Bayman “When an event is sufficiently out of the ordinary that it stands in a class by itself, we call that event "miraculous." What, then, are we going to call that situation where miraculous events keep going on day after day, month after month, year after year? In other words, what are we to call that condition where the nonordinary becomes ordinary?
      "Skeptics will call it impossible. Others will call it highly doubtful. I call it the perfect flowering of Mohammedan sainthood.”
      And a more important caveat “….The focus should be, not on the miraculous, but on the ethical.”
      Bayman reports from what a disciple understood his teaching "Law and justice exist," he said, "because of conscience, and conscience exists because of love. If you love someone, you cannot violate that person's rights. And that's what the Divine Law is all about. It gives you the guidelines of how to behave as you would if you loved that person.”
      “Although he was in the Naqshbandi line of descent, there were no dervish convents (takkas), no ceremonies, no special rituals, and no formalities. The convents had been disbanded in 1928 by the newly-formed Turkish Republic, but with the Master I learned that there was no need of them.” “People found him irresistible, and the more everyone saw of him, the more they wanted to see.”
      “If one spent sufficient time with the Master, one might have come to the conclusion that he possessed a closely-guarded secret…And perhaps none could figure it. It went with him to the grave.”
      “What caused university professors to be the humble students of this unschooled man? He was not rich, so the reason was not economic. He was not a politician, so the reason was not political. Yet he knew things no one else knew, saw things no one else saw.”
      “The existence of a person like Ahmet Kayhan forced those who knew him to reconsider and redefine what it means to be human. Just as a single white elephant is enough to prove that not all elephants are gray, the existence of a human being like Effendi forces us to stop the presses and rewrite the books.”
      To the request that one wanted to meet Khizr, he replied after narrating a story that “Try to love and understand the people you see and admire. A saint, a wali is with Khizr every moment.”
      To those who wonder why we need to pray we may suggest considering what Mansoor said when he was asked why he prayed if he says “I am the Truth.” He replied to the effect that the Self within him is so lofty that one can’t help prostrating to It. Kahyan similarly quotes a saying that there is a secret in man that makes him so valuable that if one knew one would prostrate before it.
      Note this suggestion for all of us lesser mortals: “If we can shake off the hibernation that has us in its grip, we will realize that a more magnificent destiny can be ours than are dreamt of in our philosophies. Perhaps not everyone can achieve it to an equal degree, just as not everyone can win the Olympic medal. But everyone can do something better than where they're at. If we've spent our lives in suspended animation to this day, at least from now on let us try to wake up.”

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Encountering the Saint: Understanding Sainthood as the Meaning of Life

The saint breaks the shell of the cocoon called ego to make the birth of Man possible.
The most compelling proof of  the Divine that impresses even the atheists is the presence of a saint. Albert Camus, the atheist, described Simone Weil, a saintly figure for secular times, “the only great Spirit of our times” and visited her shrine – her room – before going to take Nobel Prize. Eyes that have not seen God or what, in human form, reminds us of God (saint) have not seen anything. The irresistible Ramana, one of the greatest sages in recent history, has said “The true birth is only the birth in the Self.” Saints alone are truly born and the rest are still struggling to be born against the hard cocoons of ego. “There is only one misery . . . not to be saints” as Léon Bloy said. And “What the Church is sent apostolically to do is to make saints, i.e., to make humans completely human.” If “The meaning of life is to become a saint” we must strive to imitate saints. Indeed, for the Secular Age, the key problem is how to become a saint without God as Camus noted in The Plague. In response to Camus, one may note that the saint recalls – or makes one experience – God by his very presence and constitutes the mirror of God. We know there have been/are saints in non-theistic traditions.
      Those who have intimately seen a saint can’t afford disbelief in the higher world. Saints are the windows that offer lesser mortals a peep into the otherworld. To those who fear encountering saints Chesterton remarked that every age has needed the saint that contradicts it most and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need. As T. S. Eliot said of Weil explicitly: "We must expose ourselves to the personality of a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of a saint." Encountering the saint is for recognizing the “celestial dimension, archetypal, angelic, which is the celestial pole without which the terrestrial pole of his human dimension is completely depolarized.” And recall the point “I shall not attempt the impossible here by trying to describe the indescribable, which is what Master Kayhan was. Suffice it to say that if he was human, we are all subhuman; and if we are human, then he was superhuman. Since the overwhelming majority determines the name of the species, we must call him by the latter term.”
      Some of the definitions of the saint are worth recalling. “The person who kept on trying when everybody else gave up.” “A saint is always someone through whose life we learn what God is like - and of what we are called to be. Only God 'makes' saints.” G. K. Chesterton said that the saint is the person who exaggerates those values which the world has forgotten. 
      What makes one a saint? “But cannot we live as though we always loved? It was this that the saints and heroes did; this and nothing more.” A saint works on making himself/herself nothing and learning to suffer the pain of others. From the saint “there radiates an imperturbable silence and peace, and yet a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears.” A saint seeks to be perpetually vigilant and attentive to the other, to the moment. A saint’s prayer can be as demanding as this one by Simone Weil: “Father, since thou art the Good and I am mediocrity, rend this body and soul away from me and make them into things for your use, and let nothing remain of me, forever, except this rending itself, or else nothingness.” The saint recalls the Prophetic preference for faqr. Weil identified with the workers – and thought that one year spent in factory work transformed her – and would eat less and less because others were going hungry and did not heat the room because she could not bear to be comfortable while her Nazi occupied compatriots in France in were suffering.” Feeding the hungry while fasting oneself” ideal, not hurting anyone, courting  anonymity and blame rather than fame, saints are the moral compass of generations. Saints aren’t obsessed with ritualism and proving their path as the best.
      According to an interesting model developed by Spiritual Science Research Foundation, on a scale of hundred, a saint’s score should by 70 or above while an average person today scores only 20. A hard climb indeed for those interested in sainthood. But we need not despair as right effort or purity of intention never goes waste and as Weil noted “when one hungers for bread one does not receive stones.” All we need is a leap as we read in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair “For if this God exists, I thought, and if even you – with your lusts and your adulteries and the timid lies you used to tell – can change like this, we could all be saints by leaping as you leapt, by shutting the eyes and leaping once and for all: if you are a saint, it’s not so difficult to be a saint. It’s something He can demand of any of us, leap.” 
      A saint can’t brag about being a saint as saintliness is not his but in him and its presence makes him disregard the “I.” As Ibn Arabi noted the saints have dropped the possessive adjective (ya) three times, so they do not say 'for me', 'I have' or 'my possessions' (lî, 'indî, matâ'î). One recalls Kreeft’s pithy statement: “Go back to Socrates: "Know thyself." For Socrates, there are only two kinds of people: the wise, who know they are fools; and fools, who think they are wise. Similarly, for Christ and all the prophets, there are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners; and sinners, who think they are saints. Which are you?” Division of people into believers and non-believers is a theological one that saints question by deepening belief into knowledge/gnosis. The real division is between those who know and who don’t know according to the Quran as pointed out by “the seal of saints” Ibn Arabi. About the religious identity of saints one must note that saints are heirs of prophets and “For a saint, to be the heir of one of the prophets is always to be the heir of Muhammad.” One of the best descriptions of the saint reads:
  • “In the saint there is nothing trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected, nothing insincere. He is the culmination of sensitivity and transparency. The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in all who come before him. Avoiding everything that would cause them sadness, he does not avoid what will help them see and overcome their weaknesses. He is able to read the least articulate needs of others and fulfill them promptly, even as he reads their faults, however skillfully hidden; and through the delicate power of his being, he exercises upon them a purifying action.
          There is no one more humble or simple, no one less artificial, less theatrical, or hypocritical, no one more natural in his behavior, no one more fully accepting of all that is truly human. The saint has overcome every duality within himself, as Saint Maximos the Confessor says…. At times, through a humor marked by his gentleness, he shrinks the delusions created by fear or pride or the passions. He smiles but does not laugh sarcastically. He is serious but never frightened. He finds value in the humblest of persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with Him. Through simplicity the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is need for consolation, for encouragement or help. He is the most unassuming of beings, and yet his appearance is so striking that it gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and thus in themselves, what is truly human.”

          "His presence is at once endearing and bracing, drawing—unintentionally—the most attention. He becomes for you the most intimate of all and the most understanding. You never feel more at ease than when you are near him, but at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen, of how far you have sunk in your artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity. For these appear in sharp relief in the comparison you are obliged to make, unwillingly, between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power and gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions and in the advice he gives. His opinion about what you should do, expressed in delicate words or by a discreet look, becomes for you a command, and to fulfill this command you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice.”

      This takes care of the question whether one needs a saint’s company or a Master and certain criticisms often rehearsed by religious and secular critics. For instance, Cioran’s “It is no sign of benediction to have been obsessed with the lives of saints, for it is an obsession intertwined with a taste for maladies and hunger for depravities. One only troubles oneself with saints because one has been disappointed by the paradoxes of earthly life…”
      There is often an anxiety to judge saints by the scriptural letter or particular theology of particular religions. This often confounds distinct – and, as warned by Shah Waliullah, methodologically independent – paths of walâya and nubuwwa, takes certain reading of sha’ria as the reading and misses an important point that norms are ideally for helping fashion saints – “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Even granting the Akbarian distinction between two paths for the walâya – the path of action and the path of witnessing – it may be stated that saints may be misinformed or even naïve about certain political or social issues – Weil’s stand on the Jewish question and political stance of some Sufis has been justifiably criticized. In order to speak to the likes of Cioran, Maughm or others who have inherited the knack of suspicion one requires a new saintliness as Weil remarked: ”Today it is not nearly enough merely to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness, itself also without precedent.... A new type of sanctity ... is almost equivalent to a new revelation of the universe and of human destiny.” It is here that we find difficult problems and contestations from classical times which we need to revisit today, take note of modern Qalandar like figures such as Iqbal and engage with modern and postmodern sages and philosophers in order to recognize and relate to saints of our times.

Post Script:
The so- called modern day Sufis in Kashmir are often superstitious and obsessed by their own list of rituals – going to shrines, celebrating anniversaries of Pirs, conducting music sessions or holding sessions of sermons in so- called conferences – and, unlike great classical figures, are not deeply interested in academic, intellectual and religious pursuits or activism of various sorts. It is indeed hard to encounter a saint but one is sure to see one if there is genuine thirst and preparation for meeting him. One must qualify as a Murid and then demand where is the Master.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Bertrand Russell and his Heroes

Engaging with Russell on Ethics, Religion and Mysticism

“There is a little wisdom in the world: Heraclitus, Spinoza, and a saying here and there—I want to add to it, even if only ever so little.” Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell has been quite popular and influential figure in a host of disciplines and continues to be widely read and admired as a philosopher and mathematician and loved or criticized for certain political, religious and other opinions.There is much insight and beauty in much of what he wrote. One can sift the best of him and appreciate that in turn in light of the best we have from the world of sages. We especially note key to the wisdom of the best minds– Heraclitus and Spinoza – he recommends for us. Let us, first, note certain nuggets where he has largely stated collective wisdom of humankind in his inimitable style.
      For Russell “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” “I have believed in the value of two things: kindness and clear thinking.” “The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe.” It implies dogmatism even of secularist variety with blind faith in progress and truncated view of reason is dangerous. Those who claim to have all the answers, to be guides for others and don’t understand how “God is not an answer, but a Question” are here put on trial. “Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality." "The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.” “Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.” “It is a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won't go.” “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” “No man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever.”  We can identify fundamentalist mindset by its irritation with these views and association with, as Jonathan Sacks notes, imperialistic mindset that attempts “to  impose  a single truth on the  plural world.” Every great poet and mystic has satirized Mulla’s or Pharisee’s  literalism, legalism, moralism, textualism and suspicion of creativity or thinking. The certainty of the intellect and its knowledge of the Absolute that alone explains taking seriously our devotion to truth, our faith in reason, scientific endeavour and certain objective order not of our making and our judgments that doubt merit of particular judgments is not disputable and if disputed, not acceptable. Russell distances himself from cut and dry skepticism elsewhere. He questions claim of certainty in issues that don’t universally compel assent.
      Russell has been widely mistaken in certain views such as: "I think all the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Communism - both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true." To say religions are untrue is to miss the essence of religion that consists in not propositional statements or beliefs true or false but attitudes, directions (as pointed out by we better think of God as a direction rather than an object.), existential ”statement” of faith rather than dogmatic belief statements, pre-reflective awareness/intuitive conviction  rather than speculative opinions. Religions alter our relationship to the world rather than alter the world. To judge them as true or false is to echo old epistemology we have learnt to discard following Heidegger and others. Religion’s objective is, not unlike poetry’s, opening us to the joy and wonder of being and freedom from ignorance and bondage or alienation.Its objective is theosis (becoming God like, as perfect as possible) of man rather than affirming existence of personal God. It has also been forcefully shown that religions don’t disagree in their supraformal essence or esoteric depth but only in formal theologies and thus all revealed/inspired religions are true at the source in the Transcendent. “Religion is based ... mainly upon fear... fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.” This sweeping judgment has been almost decisively discredited by modern studies on religion. Religion is based on awe/reverence and its sole object is to liberate us from the bondage of fear. Fear of wrongdoing/sin is another thing and that is morality that Russell himself endorsed (especially when we understand existential dimension of the notion of sin as explained in Kierkegaard, Bonheoffer, Tillich and others.)
      Despite his differences with what he considered dogmas of world religions, Russell burned with religious passion that never left him – it was only sublimated in his work on mathematics and in his wide ranging activism against moral pathologies of capitalism, war, totalitarianisms and abuse of human rights. “The centre of me is always and eternally in terrible pain... A searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfiguring and infinite.” “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” “Nothing can penetrate the loneliness of the human heart except the highest intensity of the sort of love the religious teachers have preached.” “My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.” In the midst of the destruction in the Second World War, Russell wrote “What is needed is something in the nature of religion, not in any dogmatic sense but as a source of serious and determined effort towards something better than the present.” Earlier he had said that he has so far failed to articulate what he considered essential to him “ the very breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vast and fearful passionless forces of non-human things.” In the end, Russell seems to have adopted tenets “that are well articulated in the New Testament: stories of turning the other cheek, the commandment to love our neighbors, and to follow the example of the Good Samaritan who affirms that our neighbors are of a different race, class, and culture than our own.”
      Indeed Russell’s reputation as an agnostic and offensive critic of religion is not fully warranted as he affirms the core of wisdom in mysticism which constitutes key to world religions and makes possible the affirmation of the Sacred. “The mystic emotion, if it is freed from unwarranted beliefs, and not so overwhelming as to remove a man wholly from the ordinary business of life, may give something of very great value - the same kind of thing, though in a heightened form, that is given by contemplation. Breadth and calm and profundity may all have their source in this emotion, in which, for the moment, all self-centred desire is dead, and the mind becomes a mirror for the vastness of the universe.“..I cannot admit any method of arriving at truth except that of science, but in the realm of the emotions I do not deny the value of the experiences which have given rise to religion. Through association with false beliefs, they have led to much evil as well as good; freed from this association, it may be hoped that the good alone will remain.” 
      Russell sought union of science and mysticism and considered it “the highest eminence... that it is possible to achieve in the world of thought.” Russell rejects scientism and admits the value of non-scientific approaches with certain qualifications. He recognizes that “The philosophy based on mysticism has a great tradition, from Parmenides to Hegel.” And he appreciates scientific spirit of mystical approach of Heraclitus. Russell admired most, amongst the philosophers, Heraclitus who was indeed a sagely figure and Spinoza who comes close to affirming central theses of intellectual mysticism. What Russell affirmed is Spinoza was the mystical “ethic of impersonal self-enlargement.” According to this ideal, “the best life is lived in awareness of the Other.” This is what Islam’s demand for submission to God as the Other or first two commandments of love of God and love of neighbour practically converge with. For Russell “To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things—this is emancipation, and this is the free man’s worship.” This echoes the ideal Hazrat Ali proposed in his famous distinction between the worship of slaves, traders and free men. Russell asks us, as one commentator puts it, “to take the tragedy of life into one’s heart, and respond with renunciation, wisdom, and charity,” and thus through the “contemplation of Fate and tragedy subdue them.” Whitehead is reported to have said that Russell was a Platonic dialogue in himself and this implies he should not be identified with certain of his views but with the dialectical tension between various views or the attempt to appreciate the best which he, not unwarrantedly in most cases, identified with the best defensible view on rational or experiential grounds. The task is to show how religion doesn’t trade fear and violence, doesn’t court the Utopian kingdom of the world, doesn’t reject the world or posit a belief in the other world at the cost of this world, recognizes the rights of intelligence and the spirit of time, embraces the other unconditionally and contributes to what is noble and good and beautiful and Russell would be happy to join it. And this is precisely what has been, almost demonstrably, shown by the great theologians, mystics and philosophers such as Tillich, Maritain, Kreeft, Lonergen, Swinburne, Hick, Schuon, Iqbal, Heschel and Whitehead. Russell’s critique of religion would hardly be relevant if applied to essential spiritual and ethical foundations of world religions and if we take the case of Islam we can say Islam as understood by the best of Sufi sages such as Hafiz and Rumi and Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd.
      I would apply Ibn Arabi’s estimate of atheism to Russell. For Ibn Arabi atheists too have tawhid though somewhat limited understanding of it and he invites them to preserve the question that is Reality i.e., shun dogmatism and move on and be receptive to wonder and mystery of existence. We can assert that “The part Russell misses is the rich spiritual life and the rich life lessons that come out of religious thought.” We need to read Russell’s key writings on religion in light of such classics by his contemporaries as Whitehead’s Religion in the Making, Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, Tillich’s The Courage to Be, Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters? Herschel’s Between God and Man and Schuon’s Logic and Transcendence and one finds what he misses, what he misconstrues and what he affirms despite his apparent denial.
 
Post Script:
Wittgenstein’s humourous suggestion that all of Russell’s books should be bound in two colours, “those dealing with mathematical logic in red –and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue – and no one should be allowed to read them” is perhaps noteworthy regarding Russell’s Marriage and Morals. Russell’s own ethics has not been quite exemplary on many points. And we can see his readers paying the cost who take some of his opinions too seriously. The Sacred dimension of sexuality and marriage and family life has been missing from our secular philosophies. For appreciating much ignored (in practice) view that takes the Sacred seriously, one may see “Celibacy, Marriage or ‘Free Love’... which way to Choose?” by Bishop Alexander (Mileant).