Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Disowning or Rediscovering Sufism?

As we see the world of Islam shaken to its foundations by rising fundamentalism, one wonders if it is forgetting its Sufi tradition that we need to think about as a counter. However, the rise of fundamentalism has been linked to doubts about Sufism, and towering figures who have been coopted by fundamentalists have also seconded some of these doubts. Some suspect Sufism to be a politically complacent ideology that helps dilute resistance to oppression. Some think it is sponsored to serve the interests of a particular nationalist discourse. Some say it is simply business. Some emerging schools, both Salafi and modernist, have been successful in spreading the notion that Sufism is a deviation from pristine Islam. Advocates of Sufism can’t dismiss these criticisms without conceding abuses of Sufism throughout history.
Let us note that critics (though not rejectors of its spirit) of institutional Sufism include in recent history such important names as Iqbal, Shariati, Syed Moududi, Syed Qutb, G A Pervez, Dr Israr, Fazlur Rahman, Javed Ahmed Ghamedhi etc. All of them have a point, and that can be stated in these words: Institutional Sufism today suffers from serious problems. Mizaj-e-Khanqahi has done great damage. Quietism, recourse to abstractions and philosophization  in place of living experience of God, beggary in shrines, loss of faith in oneself, degenerate occultism, faith healing business instead of healing souls by faith, fatalism, political servitude are, among others, elements of a syndrome somehow legitimized from Sufism, that is eating the vitals of the Muslim world.
None of these charges can be ignored and none of them can be shown to be integral to Sufism and all of them can be shown to be abuse of it. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
A few comments to clarify the charge sheet against Sufism:
It is no secret that Sufism has been part of the establishment in certain places in history. It is also no secret that colonialism has been attempting to co-opt Sufism to further its agenda. It is also easily demonstrable that Sufism has mostly been misused or misappropriated especially in later times in its history – so much so that a Sufi went to the extent of saying Sufism existed only in name, without there being any reality or spirit of it. And incidentally, this remark has been made many centuries ago, when Sufism was far more productive for Islamic culture than it is today. Today, when everything traditional is in decadence, how could Sufism escape this effect of time?
Let us not forget that just as we can’t relinquish Islam because it has been, or is being, abused, we can’t relinquish Sufism for the same reasons, as, without it, we can’t understand Islam’s deeper spiritual or metaphysical ground and the glorious heritage of traditional sciences, arts, crafts (try to imagine history of  Islam minus Persian mystical poetry, minus Ghalib and Iqbal, minus the Taj and the Mosque of Cordova)  and in fact the beauty that has been the hallmark of Islam as a civilizational force. Nothing in Islam makes sense except in light of this spiritual dimension. Anti-Sufi rhetoric is modernist heresy. It is good to censure excesses and perversions and misuses of Sufism in Kashmir but to reject the esoteric in the name of literalism and supposed fidelity to scripture is quite unacceptable. Sufism is the metaphysical face, or even the basis, of Islam. The history of Islam is largely the history of its saints and philosophers and mystically oriented ulama. The most illustrious thinkers of Islam have been influenced by Sufism. Islamic art and architecture is incomprehensible without the knowledge of Sufi symbolism.
Sufism is the best antidote to communalism and sectarianism. Communal violence does flare up occasionally. But it is ironic to note that the religious group playing the card of mysticism (Barelvis) is also the most dogmatic in certain issues and highly rejectionist and exclusivist.
Mysticism is a million dollar industry, according to critics. Of course, abuse of mysticism is a huge industry in itself, but we need to note that mysticism contributes significantly to the Muslim world’s, including Kashmir’s, economy. Shrines are amongst the most visited tourist spots. Local tourism is largely concentrated on shrines. Much donation money is with the Awqaf. The Awqaf has other resources as well. It could finance thousands of welfare projects if steps are taken in this direction. Prayer food culture is a huge industry in Kashmir that contributes to cohesion of social bonds as well.
There is a pir class, an occultist class and the class of so-called majzoobs that largely exploit the name of mysticism and contribute to discrediting it in the eyes of many. A large number of social drop-outs and parasites support their living by masquerading as mystics. The Salafi onslaught against the abuses of mysticism is not quite unwarranted. Illiteracy and gullibility of local people contributes to their exploitation at the hands of many dabblers in the spirit business, black magic and the like.
We may conclude that a lot of issues are muddled up in dismissing Sufism (and in dismissing Islam by its critics). We need to distinguish, in Socratic fashion, between opinion and truth to clearly see the issue.

In the Name of Religion

Syed Abul A’la Moududi was once asked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto why he indulged in politics, generally considered to be a dirty game. He answered in his characteristic style:  ’Do you think it should be left to dirty people alone or not be cleaned?’ I think the argument can be invoked to apply in every sphere. Religion is a territory of saints and today it has been appropriated for more murky games such as dividing communities, creating new nations. Philosophers of religion ask some hard questions from those who deem themselves to be the advocates of God. We know that the Quran explicitly says that God has hired no advocate.   The moment man becomes judgmental one might suspect something fishy. “Judge not,” said the Christ(Hazrat Eesa A.S).
What is religion? Why is it too important to let a certain class usurp the role of its sole interpreter? How come religion is monopolized and, even against its tenets, people fight over trivial legal issues? How come in the name of religion we find competition between moizzins or among loudspeakers of neighbouring mosques? Ego games drive out angels from our worship places. Religion has degenerated into ‘sawaab’ calculus. The fact that it is ecstasy, it is God- consciousness, it is ihsaan, it is self- negation, it is contemplation, it is joy of the highest order,  is forgotten. Let us keep the ideal set before us by prophets, saints or mystics and traditional scholars or thinkers and judge what we see around in its name.
Religion is what binds people. It is what binds us to God as the ground of everything. Religion is what we do with our solitude as Whitehead said. And ideally religion would be the greatest business in a classless society. Capitalism smothers human spirit and man will bloom only and god will be born in him (God is the ideal pole of man in Sufism and other mystical traditions), when he is free to pursue his higher needs that Maslow has so well classified. A classless society, it is hoped, will allow man to pursue this dream better. We are all mystics, rather privileged (or condemned) to be mystics. “The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss” as Carlyle said. And the only reason that I think that religion to be respectfully heard by a humanist or secular Marxist is that we miss much if we miss God and that is tragic. Hell is not physical fire but painful realization that we have missed so much. Religion is only an invitation, an open invitation to all of us to Freedom, to Heaven here and now, to Eternity of this Moment. If these things are illusions we must remember that mankind in all climes and ages has entertained these illusions and we owe some of the most beautiful things to these illusions. The greatest thinkers, artists, philosophers, sages and prophets of all civilizations have been cherishing these delusions and have attributed everything grand and noble to them. If delusions, the products of “false” consciousness can be so fruitful for the betterment of man, why opt for reality that produces nausea, despair and horror (which mark modern literature)?   Life resists all attempts at its devaluation and negation by those who deem it to be futile and without any significance or meaning. Did Jesus(Eesa A.S) ask for anything more than choosing life and are religions commandments amounting to anything more than not harming life? Esoteric commentaries of scriptural commandments show that in the last analysis all these boil down to affirming and celebrating life. Man is condemned to choose life. Choosing death is relinquishing human status.  And man is not prepared to be a stone as otherwise he would not proceed to scan God and judge his creation as absurd.
Men will continue as they have been ever doing to find meaning and fulfillment in love. In a world without illusions, without props, without consolations, there is still the still small voice of love in the depths of our being that allows us to say yes to life with all its disappointments and tragedies, not all of which can be attributed to the misdeeds of capitalism. Even the absurdist Camus lives by this faith in love, the love of relationships. The proposition that ‘love is eternal’ will hardly be questioned by people who have experienced it and fortunately most people have experienced though to most only a few glimpses of it have been given.
So taking religion as pyar kae do boal, as mantra for beautifying life, for connecting people (tu barayi wasl kerdem aamdi) let us contest theologies of killing, of despair and exclusion.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Chronicles without Connecting Threads

The question of Kashmir conflict is largely a question of history, memory and desire. And the tragic part of the tale is that we don’t have scholarly texts that we can call comprehensive histories. Contours and interpretations of almost every important event shaping our recent history is disputed. Before turning to recent events we note certain points regarding our ancient and medieval past as these are to be considered while questioning Kashmir identity.
Our collective loss extends to medieval times as local Tantric cults made sophisticated philosophical and aesthetic systems of magisterial thinkers suspect. Ritualism and decadence into occultism and magic took a heavy toll of Kashmiri Saivia tradition. Buddhism had already been marginalized. Economically too Kashmir needed a boost. It is in this scenario where vacuum was created that providence sent Islam that appropriated the best of indigenous traditions and Kashmir moved forward on almost all fronts.
Rishi movement and Kashmiri mystic poetry provided fresh blood into Kashmiri culture. During Islamic period magnificent progress was made in arts and crafts and then on, Kashmir economy got a  more solid plank. Kashmiri scholars contributed not insignificantly to development of Persian literature. The fact that we produced likes of Yaqoob Sarfi and Ghani Kashmiri shows vibrancy of intellectual and spiritual tradition in post-Islamic period. Even Kashmir Saivism lived in different incarnations not only in Kashmiri Sufi poetry but mystic poetry that appropriated more explicitly Saivite influences.
The fact that Kashmir could produce Lakshman Joo shows how Saivitte tradition could survive in certain sense for centuries. All this shows how problematic is the assertion of radical break supposedly introduced by Islam, a myth perpetuated by many scholars who are little aware of as evidence of rich multi-ethnic multi-religious culture. Seeing relative neglect of philosophy in post-Islamic period as evidence of Islam’s hostility to indigenous tradition is simply blindness.
In the Islamic period intellectual heritage was developed in its own way and Sufi poets appropriated the best of local indigenous traditions. Dense works on Islamic intellectual-spiritual sciences were written and if we note that it is the same tradition that under grids the Saivite, Buddhist and Islamic metaphysics and esotericisms, the argument of any violence to local tradition and forced privileging of any other gets deconstructed because it fails to explain so much and excludes so much that we all see around us the tradition that grounds all religions and proposes certain communalist interpretations.
Any exclusivist interpretation that builds on husk or exoteric content of pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions must be corrected or we have a communalist vandalization project to contend with.
We may broadly divide approaches to Kashmir history into traditionalist religious and modernist rationalist. From Kalhana to Didmeri to Hassan Khuyhami, we have traditional religious – Hindu or Islamic – approach in which one can easily identify prejudices and sympathies of these chroniclers. After Hassan Khuyhami to the present day, we have historians which are modernist rationalist in sensibility though this is not so strong as to justify clubbing them with mainstream secular historians of India or the West.
Though the only great name in historians of medieval India belongs to Kashmir, today we have no less confusing or contradictory accounts than are found elsewhere. And it is unfortunate that our history begins and ends with the Kalhana to be revived rather late and never becoming quite professional and still largely immune or not responsive to major thought currents that have affected history writing elsewhere. So far no approach has been consistently or comprehensively used by historians in the specific case of Kashmir. We have primarily Brahmanical account bequeathed from Kalhana. Muslim scholars too have bequeathed us accounts that can’t be called comprehensive intellectual accounts. Narrating few reigns, lives of saints and related material without helping us to explain clearly the historical order, our current condition and failing to connect to pre-Islamic past is what describes these histories.
Various approaches have been used by isolated individuals – we can identify no schools as such – on certain selected issues in Kashmir history. Our indigenous histories are mostly chronicles without any connecting thread of definable perspective or standpoint of their authors though one can broadly identify some elements of underlying worldview of the author. A good number of works have lately been published that attempt to bridge a few of the gaps and what is needed is a megaproject on History of Kashmir that would take cognizance of these individual attempts and provide encyclopaedic account that would help us better define our past and present.
We have yet to write a comprehensive history of Kashmir’s religious, philosophical, aesthetic, literary thought. We suffer from basic absence of comprehensive review of historical material and therefore the problem of divergent interpretations is far from soluble. We have now some studies focusing on the questions of ethnicity, gender and identity. Most of the recent studies have focused on political dimension of its history. We have far too little material on ancient Kashmir or studies on it to warrant any general comment. Medieval period has been approached from mostly communalist perspectives.
Modern Kashmir is a contested category for political historians. Ambitious attempt of capturing the essence of thousands of years of history are being made. Writing our history is not unconnected with the question of sovereignty we today struggle to articulate.

Absurdities of our Academic System

Our examination system is simply an academic terrorism
People complain about disappearance of reading culture;  of disrespect for the Word. I think reasons are not difficult to seek. One important reason is irrational academic system. I asked a friend what book he recently read he said, do exams spare us the time for reading books? Unless we question and reform academic system, there will be no culture for books, for readings, for thinking.  
There are thousand and one absurdities in current academic arrangements in our State and the implication of them is a crippled academic system geared to promotion of mediocrity, wastage of human and other resources, stress on students and overall disaster in terms of development of State. Examination system is simply academic terrorism – a point I wish to target separately in future.  Admission and Recruitment systems are simply at cross purposes and result in such a colossal loss that I wonder why all this is not in news. How our minds and souls are destroyed, how new generation and brilliant students are pushed to depression if not to suicide is an untold story of Kashmiri’s enslavement and a massive academic corruption. Let me recount a few facts and ask why we don’t seek change.
Students are enrolled in such numbers in both professional and other academic courses that most of them must end up sitting idle, cursing their fate or the day they got selected. To illustrate let me cite the case of Veterinary sciences where around 100 students are admitted annually and now more than 800 are sitting idle despite many of them having invested 6-7 years for BVSc and MVSc courses. It was the sweet will of the then CM, Mufti Sahib, that number of seats was almost quadrupled in a single day. More than 30 students can’t be ideally taught in a class. And there is a discrepancy even in this distribution of seats. Jammu veterinary college is relatively less burdened. Kashmir is discriminated against as facilities for teaching so many students are not forthcoming. 
Aspiring students for some professional courses are in thousands while the seats are in dozens only. It means huge energy of thousands of students (from applying to preparing) goes waste. Sometimes a student has to appear for the same exams number of times and ironically the more attempts he makes, slimmer get the chances to qualify, as fresh students have better touch and more recent memory that gives them an edge. Why not replicate the pattern in some other States of India where students are entertained only batch wise or seniority wise. The fact that a student has invested 5 or 7 years in earning particular certificate means he need not be judged again. Were teachers, who have examined them, fools? In professional  courses scores if not hundreds of exams are to be cleared to complete the degree.
What need is there to force students to apply time and again for the same post? Why wouldn't  one-time process of submitting the form do? A nation that has time for filling so many forms is better  suited for digging  pits and filling them again. Why  require SKUAST to conduct special exam for agriculture and BVSc, and force students to apply again? 

There are many ways of looting aspiring candidates. Would the authorities, for God’ s sake, spare the way of collecting form fee? Whose fault is to overproduce eligible candidates, to disconnect education from jobs? Why follow disastrous laissez faire logic in a State governed by article 370? Why can’t one’s SMS be enough that mention’s Marks Percentage, DoB, Residence or any other important information?  No fees, no submission at particular place, no time wasted in downloading and filling long forms, no paper pollution in this digital age. If the State needs money from more than 90% of aspiring candidates who are not going to be selected anyway, let it try such measures as collect some prefixed niyaz from successful candidates to meet expenses for conducting exams etc.  Today PSC, SSRB etc. are realizing revenue through proxy. No need to call too many candidates and waste countless men-days that students spend in revising the content for entrances and interviews. No task is more soul killing than revising what has been revised many times previously. We can devise ways to shortlist (in the first place why can’t we not overproduce candidates so that no need to short-list and then further humiliate and waste resources by dropping majority in interviews. Most interviews are mechanical exercises that can judge nothing worthwhile in few minutes and only check memory of certain useful and useless items of information. More productive suggestion is requiring one day’s manual work for all aspiring candidates as application  fee  - this would be only a fraction of time misspent on preparing for exam/interview. Can one ask to get guarantee of job at the time of getting admission in professional course after its successful completion? If not, why not? How come we afford wasting resources for teaching or training students for years if no certainty of making use of the same for community?  Currently our academic/recruitment system is like a huge poultry farm that produces more than 90% of chicken not for market but for just fattening or feeding for dogs ; wasting feed, labour and other resources. 
We needlessly hype some small scandals in our system. The very system built on the pranks of universal literacy (Coomaraswamy  razes to ground the idea of requiring all to read and not get skilled in particular vacation or craft) examination system that primarily tests memory, curriculum not in mother tongue especially in earlier classes, producing students who are generally alienated from studies and hardly read a book later in life, a system where thousands apply for few posts time and again, where majority are not tailored for academic courses but forced to take up and then end up mostly just wasting precious years of life are elements of a mega-scandal that costs us souls and minds. 
Will authorities, including the Chief Minister, take note of such crass absurdities? Education sector suffered a death blow under Bakshi, and the decline continues. Reforms suggested by our educationists have not been carried out. Why, is not difficult to guess. We need radical reforms in examination system,  proper rationing in number of students that get admitted, correcting discrepancy between Jammu, and the Kashmir (I used to wonder why isn’t  our State called JK instead of J & K and then I see all kinds of discriminations and I understand why!); scrap the need to separately apply for admissions in SKUAST, not require applying for the same course again and again, give seniority its due and devise mechanisms to decrease wastage of human and State resources, seek a report on all round failure of current examination system to bring forth excellence and creativity or critical thinking etc.?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Revisiting Drabu-Bazaz debate

Apropos of Hasseb Drabu-Abir Bazaz debate on sovereignty, a few points need to be made in this regard. I first need to clarify why this debate is so important for all of us as Kashmiris. This is the debate about legitimacy of mainstream politics that takes more or less implicitly or explicitly re-integrationist view that states that our fate is sealed with India, that we must renounce the love for Houri called Freedom, that we own India and that alone will ensure our development.  However, more sophisticated versions would put it this way: given a globalized world and gradual irrelevance of concept of sovereignty in post-nation state discourse such notions as freedom that requires more defined notion of sovereignty need to be given up and we learn the language of merger or some kind of federalism. What is ordinarily presumed by disgruntled youth chanting slogans of azadi is idealistic or utopian notion of freedom or sovereignty that are now passee.
We also need to note that this debate is between an acknowledged professional economists and one of our best minds or intellectuals who is better informed about more philosophical issues at stake in the debate on sovereignty.   As the debate is on a philosophical conceptual issue, I think one needs the language of theory to clarify the issues. If Kashmir issue was expressible or solvable in purely economic terms though I personally grant that it is its subtext and of far more importance than has been recognized till now, Drabu would warrant our attention more than Abir. As Kashmir issue is also one of sentiments – there is a sentiment for Pakistan, a sentiment against India if not for Pakistan, a sentiment for freedom from historical occupation, a sentiment against dozens of betrayals and wrongs committed against Kashmiris from the alleged forging of questionable accession document, suppressing  pro-Pak faction of Kashmiri leadership, arresting Sheikh Abdullah, giving BakhshiGhulam Mohammad free hand for wholesale corruption and in fact using corruption as a strategy to occupy till date etc  –  all this means economism is no panacea to our ills.
And the question of Kashmiri aspirations, of political issue, of sovereignty is vital. Mainstream politics evades the question. Those who ask for freedom may be charged of selling dreams or idealism but those who want to speak on  behalf of Kashmiris, who have all the reasons in the world for feeling let down or betrayed or alienated, must recognize difficult questions need to be faced and answers are not simple.
Let us draw boundaries that seem to be blurred in technical abstractions of theory that Drabu brings forth. Drabu is an apologist for integrationist thesis (that Kashmir needs to be with India with all its soul, body and mind) that is official PDP (and NC) position despite what slogans of self-rule and autonomy would imply. Although original position of Sheikh Abdullah was some restricted sense of sovereignty for Kashmir, even he had to yield to the idea that involved its gradual liquidation.  Now follow a few questions that I think need to be taken into consideration while taking a particular position.
Kashmiris have made a fateful decision not to integrate with India, millennia before in cultural sphere at least.  Kashmiris have produced separate philosophical school whose uniqueness can’t be explained away or appropriated too easily in broader conceptual schemes of either orthodox Vedic or other heterodox systems of Indian philosophy. Kashmiris rewrote for themselves traditional canons as Ramayana and Gita. They have their uniquely stamped mythical genealogy, folk tales, cosmology, ontology, psychology and pneumatology.
Their elaborate rituals and festivals connected mostly with religious observances distinguish them from non-Kashmiri mainstream. They came up with a robust world and desire affirming worldview that challenges exploitative casteistic-Brahaminism and some of  its ritualistic scaffolding. In fact Kashmiris developed unique philosophical schools even in Buddhist period not to speak of Saivist period.
Of the cultural products like philosophical and religious aesthetic, we have been more autonomous than would ordinarily be imagined and have been better exporters than importers of a host of cultural products. Kashmiris have been distinguished in terms of nurturing history writing. For them temporality and thus history has been a vital question.  It would imply historical memory is not an irrelevant datum for them. What an irony that they alone should still be grappling with the questions of history and memory.
We need to consider an argument that has hardly been noted against integration that Sheikh Abdullah put forth through rejection of feudalism and historical and unique land reforms that alarmed both feudal and capitalist elements in India and probably questioned the idea of India that was getting consolidated despite socialistically oriented J L Nehru,which ultimately led to his arrest. Kashmir has given unique demonstration of communal harmony. Even Gandhi recognized this uniqueness.
Anderson’s idea of imagined communities may here be invoked to press the point that as Kashmiris we don’t oppose India as such but the corrupt idea of nation state that forcefully hooks people in service of imaginary boundaries that only facilitate particular class interests. Kashmiris don’t want another nation state. They only want right to self-determine their future. I would vote for a Kashmir that stands as moral-spiritual space, a laboratory of inter religious and cross cultural dialogue, an idea that takes Sacred seriously in a secularized world.
A related argument against integrationist thesis is Kashmiri aesthetics that operates on principles that are perceived as rather dangerous by non-Kashmiri India philosophical  systems. Abhinavgupta and Kashmir Saivism have been marginalized in Indian philosophy departments despite the fact that India has no figure comparable to Abhinavagupta to project as its key aesthetician.
There are many more arguments against integrationist apology, would follow in future columns and suffice to conclude here on the note that one can invent arguments for anything, even the worst tyranny or absurdity but the arguments that convince, that can bring catharsis, that can heal evergreen wounds, that can erase memories of humiliation, pain and death are not there. Truth and Justice  can heal. Can we tell the truth about ourselves? Who can answer the question: Where is Justice for Kashmiris, for the wounded lion, for martyrs, for orphans, for countless other victims of post-1947 games of occupation?

Reading Stories of Dante and Ibn Arabi

All things are to be loved in God, not outside God.
The sweetest four lettered word, the holiest of mysteries, the meaning of life, the cause of creation, the essence of religion and mysticism, the object of poetry - LOVE; it is all that ultimately counts, that all seek, that sanctifies everything, that dissolves all questions and that drives our every movement.  Even acts of cruelty are ultimately reactions to denial of love. We demand nothing except love from our fellow humans. The quests for fame, for power, for money, for status are really roundabout quests for love or parasitic on love quest and are important only for those who don’t allow themselves to be consumed by love. Problems with spouses, hash or nosh or divorce can be mostly traced to failure to read the language of love. Teach love and you don’t need to teach anything else. Islam has been described as “the religion of Love’, for the last Prophet(SAW) appropriated the station of perfect Love beyond any other Prophet, since God took him as His beloved.” One definition of kafir may be thus formulated: one who is not open to love as hiding truth is denying love. Hell is a place where there is no love. How open we are to love shows how much is our proximity to God.

Some books are too important for our choice to read or not to read them. One such book is the Book of Love. This book recommends us; we can’t recommend it. Perhaps all other books are variations of this book. The best story in the Quran – the story of Joseph as read by poets and Sufis – has this theme. The Bible has great songs Psalms that hover around this theme. All Sufi poetry is a stanza in the Book of Love. Today I recount two great love stories of Dante and Ibn Arabi. Dante’s story as told by a Dante scholar is reproduced below.
Dante came to see that all his early poetic activity had been directed towards one end: the mastery of a medium through which he could convey the nature of his love for a young woman, few months younger than himself, whose beauty and transparent goodness seemed nothing less than miraculous… Dante’s feelings grew from love-longing to love-service to love-worship. She was ‘ wonderful, without precedent and without peer” and seemed to have come down from heaven to make the miraculous known. He felt he entered new life. But she died when Dante was just 25. And this death was the fortunate misfortune that inspired Comedy. Shocked, grieved, he made afresh start and found “new serenity founded on a deeper understanding and a deeper love”. Within a year he could speak of her death as an assumption into heaven; and with new insight he would see it as the necessary climax of her life. In heaven her beauty was greater and her beautifying influence increased. He attempted now to make himself worthy of the role of poet of Beatrice in glory and hoped to write in her praise what has never been said of women before.
But his trajectory for this proved very different. In order to overcome his enduring grief he turned to two well known books of consolation” the dialogue On Friendship by Cicero and more importantly Consolations of Philosophy. Looking for silver, as he himself put it, he found gold. Looking for comfort and a “a remedy for his tears” he found philosophy and his intellect. The key theme of both Boethius and Dante is “ mankind would be happy if only men’s minds were governed by the love that governs the heavens” He converted to philosopher – love of wisdom ‘ whose goal is that perfect loving which admits no interruption for shortcoming, in a word, true happiness won through contemplation of truth. Dante asked himself two most pressing questions: ’What shall I do for the best” and “What shall I do to find happiness” and found perfect answers in Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics as expounded by Aquinas. Right choices are not simply a matter of opinion, and happiness not simply a matter of good luck. For him “morality was the beauty of philosophy and placed ethics above metaphysics and second only to the study of God and the revealed word of God.”
Ibn Arabi fell in love with Nizam In Mecca and transformed her into a sort of Beatrice. He says that he had never “seen a woman more beautiful of face, softer of speech, more tender of heart” and thus describes the encounter with her: “a lissome young girl who captivated the gaze of all those who saw her, whose mere presence was the ornament of our gatherings and startled all those who contemplated it to the point of stupefaction. Her name was Nizam (Harmonia) and her surname "Eye of the Sun and of Beauty." Learned and pious, with an experience of spiritual and mystic life, she personified the venerable antiquity of the entire Holy Land and the candid youth of the great city faithful to the Prophet. Her glance, the grace of her conversation were such an enchantment... If not for the paltry souls who are over ready for scandal and predisposed to malice, I should comment here on the beauties of her body as well as her soul, which was a garden of generosity... And I took her as a model for the inspiration of the poems.” These poems constitute famous Tarjumanul Ashwaaq (Interpreter of Desires). Its publication caused a reaction from literalists and he had to respond by a commentary explaining its symbolism. But let us note in both the cases – of Dante of Ibn Arabi – inspiration is earthly. It is women that provide the passport to Heaven.
There is no such thing as mere women of flesh and blood. God made (wo)man is his own image. Women points beyond herself to heavenly archetype. She is a sign of God. To those who ask how does it feel to experience God one may reply “something like when one is in love. “Love and charity” is the essence of whole scripture as Augustine said. Humility, the key virtue that takes us to heaven is “concealed form of love.” But let us not confuse lust and love, falling in love and rising through love. All things are to be loved in God, not outside God. And then everything is indeed fair in love.

Metaphysics in Kalimah Shahadah

There are thousand and one proofs of God though for a sage a single flower is enough to prove God as Schuon has noted. The Quran says that no doubt can be possibly entertained regarding God. The Bible tells us only the fool has said in his heart that there is no God. Now if this is the case how come many great modern scientists and thinkers are said to be atheists? Either they are not atheists or they are not fools. To see how, I think that right understanding of the definitions is enough explain things. Let us understand meaning of beauty and such statements as “God is Beautiful” or God is Beauty or Beauty is God.
Plato says that God catches most people through the net of beauty. We need no sermons to tell us to love beauty. We are irresistibly drawn to it. One of the names of God is the Irresistible. So who is attracting us really? Keats or Rusul Mir or Akhtar Shirani can be read as invitation to God-the Irresistible in beautiful forms. The universal liking and adoration for women’s face – this mode of worship has no disbelievers, there is no kafir of their beauty and thus God the Beautiful – is best understood if we read with Plato or Ibn Arabi the meaning of divine name Jameel. I start by reference to the beautiful book God’s Art by Greg Smith in which he meditates on our aesthetic notions to state the case  for a royal road to God is freely available to anyone who cares to see. I quote from the jacket of the book:
“In the entire universe, there seems to be one constant that most everyone shares: the notion of beauty. This fact is not scientific, it is not logical, and the value of this knowledge is hard to assess. But the certainty is absolute as every one of us looks into a meadow of weaving flowers, gazes at the surf and the sea, or looks deep into the night sky at the stars and beyond… Why is not the universe grey instead of such a rich incredible range of colours? Why is there so much variety in all things from flowers to  sun flakes to galaxies? Why are we blessed with an appreciation for all this wonder if it does not contribute to our survival?”
This beauty that saves, that dissolves all scepticism and claims of indifference and absurdity, is everywhere for the seeing eye, even in the terrible aspects of phenomena. As Smith notes: “Clouds, storms, the brazen sun, all of these are part of a holy canvas – always. Their meaning is taken by every soul who witnesses them, and asks not what or how, but is deeply satisfied with the knowledge of why.”
Let us read Schuon, arguably the greatest of modern metaphysicians and Sufi, on the question who says in To Have a Centre, arguably the best book against so-called atheism:
In fact, when God is removed from the universe, it becomes a desert of rocks or ice; it is deprived of life and warmth, and every man who still has  a  sense  of  the  integrally real refuses  to admit  that  this  should be reality; for if reality were made of rocks, there would be no place in it for flowers or any beauty or sweetness whatsoever.
There is a controversy on relation between ishq-i- haqiqi and ishqi majazi. The Prophet’s (SAW) saying that women and perfume (besides prayer) have been made dear to him provides the clue. The great appeal of Romantic poets for all and sundry implies some universal or eternal or sacred element in it that we need to better appreciate. Reading Plato or his modern advocates like Coomaraswamy and Schuon helps to dissolve the controversy. To quote Schuon:
"A love of beauty does not signify attachment to appearances, but an understanding of appearances with reference to their essence and consequently a communication with their quality of truth and love. Fully to understand beauty, and it is to this that beauty invites us, is to pass beyond the appearance and to follow the internal vibration back to its roots; majaz and real."
The following Schuon passages constitute a definitive statement regarding what we may call aesthetic proof of God.
The perception of beauty, which is a rigorous adequation and not subjective illusion, implies essentially a satisfaction of the intelligence on the one hand, and on the other a feeling at once of security, infinity and love. Of security: because beauty is unitive and excludes, with a kind of musical evidence, the fissures of doubt and anxiety; of infinity: because beauty, through its very musicality, melts hardenings and limitations and thus frees the soul of its narrownesses; of love: because beauty calls forth love, that is to say it invites to union and thus to unitive extinction.
 Let me ask: Is not a modern atheistic scientist or thinker like Hawking moved by beauty? This movement of soul, this wonder, this joy, this serenity, this is the mode of worship of God’s name-the Beautiful? So who is an atheist? Isn’t beauty “the splendour of the True” as Plato said? Can anyone deny the beauty of mathematics or logic at intellectual plane? Can anyone imagine any argument against inward beauty – the beauty of soul – we call goodness or virtue? To be man is to love beauty, perfection, harmony, elegance. And that is, in its deeper sense, to worship God. To rightly see things is to see God. To be truly attentive to things or events is to contemplate God. Praising beauty is what is the deepest meaning of durood  or prayer on prophet. If this is so, who can dare to deny the Messenger who unveiled beauty?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Nation with no Narrative

Do we have local text books written by indigenous experts in local idiom while keeping in view local requirements and demands? Generally speaking, no. The local think tank, not just some teachers or professors, should  sit together and  survey other texts and copy paste or appropriate portion from them and come up with a new but localized text. It needs deep and critical engagement with the whole worldview that informs these texts and an informed response based on our understanding of tradition or heritage that we attempt to safeguard. In order to illustrate, I today focus on history text books.
Firstly, we have imported paradigms of historiography that starts from an evolutionist account that drops out transcendence and relies exclusively on modern scientific narrative. Secondly, we don’t have good local history of Kashmir, especially modern Kashmir. Thirdly, we don’t have tools to appropriate references to hagiography that appear incredible in light of modern rationalist viewpoint. Fourthly, we don’t have critical understanding based on our own assimilation of the tradition centred on Metaphysics to take on modernity on our own terms. Fifthly, we largely ignore alternative approaches that have surfaced up in the wake of post-modernity that are better integrated with our traditional or received understanding. Ask Kashmiri students – graduates and we will be disappointed by knowing their abysmal ignorance regarding ancient, medieval and modern histories of Kashmir. They know next to nothing about Buddhist school that developed here, masterly works of Abhinavgupta, mysticism of Lalla, metaphysics and aesthetics of Kashmir Saivism, subtlety of symbolism of Kashmiri Sufi poets, meaning of Aknandun or even names of scores of folk tales, politics of National Conference nomenclature vis-à-vis Muslim Conference, Mirwaiz-Sheikh Abdullah rift, changes in cultural geography in recent history, questions regarding accession document and almost every important  event in our history. This implies that our quest for freedom and identity gets problematized until we take care. A few more points detailed below further clarify my point.
We often give an impression in our text books as if there is an agreed upon understanding of important events and processes and ask students to remember them rather than encourage to doubt and revisit the given narratives. There are many histories, all conflicting with one another. There could be many approaches to history. Communal, nationalistic, mystical or transcendentalist, Marxist, historicist, new historicist and so on. All the modern approaches that have been used to approach Euro-American orAsian history have been transposed to Indian/Kashmiri history. We have a plethora of viewpoints on significance of almost all important points and we have yet to agree on even such basic issues as who were Aryans, antiquity of Vedas, prevalence of heterodox philosophical systems, historicity of characters in Epics etc. The traditional is no longer the case. The History of India is exploded as a myth replaced by histories. Brahmins, Dalits, Buddhists, Secularists have their own narratives and certain radical historians question all of them. We have largely erased histories of devadasis, sudras, adivasis etc. Orthodox positions have been jolted and now we have fragments. Brahmins had not cared to focus on histories but today books such as Hindus expose some unsightly aspects. Meanings and messages are no longer simplistically read. There are no great men or heroes in the chronicle of class wars for some. Taking post-independence history as our point of reference things is no less obscure. We have fragmentary and contradictory narratives. Who was responsible for partition? Was it a dagger of colonialism? Have we lost much that we identified as most importantly ours for so long? Has globalization erased our distinct history or we have betrayed glorious heritage? The tussles between nationalists and communalists and between many other groups such as subalteran, Marxist, environmentalist, saffronizers and Islamizers are continuing.
Villians and heroes often change clothes. Our historians and text book writers have to consider possibility of dialogue between the account bequeathed by tradition and mostly memorized in folk memory and dissenting perspectives that are continuously multiplying and both illuminating and obscuring our view of our former selves or history. It may well bethat history belongs to those who can write it. On how little can we agree besides dates of birth or death of kings/empires is amazing.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bereft of Rationality?

How do we approach our important issues? Either emotionally or with certain prejudices. We hardly address the problems with calm, rationality, philosophically, scientifically. Why? Part of the reason is, we are not taught to think. Our school curriculum doesn’t include philosophy. Our madrassas are not giving enough attention to logic and its applications though there is a rich tradition of teaching logic in these institutions. How irrational is our approach can be seen by analyzing street or facebook gossip. How many varying opinions we have regarding almost all important issues which call for serious understanding rather just an illogical opinion. We have many conflicting narratives regarding role of Sheikh Abdullah in our history or hartal politics or poll participation or role of Pirs and Shrines or use of loudspeakers in Mosques other than Azaan .  Sectarianism in religion is an offshoot of this problem of failure to think rationally. As a community we are guilty of confusion between opinion and truth. We know Socrates fought against Sophists who could defend or reject any opinion they were interested in thinking there is no objective truth on which there can be a consensus.
We illustrate the mess by noting heated debates over use of loudspeakers. A philosophical attitude would have settled the issue. Let us ask the following questions? Does Islam call for or require using loudspeakers as is the practice today? Does Islam allow disturbing the sick or children or students? Does Islam enjoin or reject show off of piety? Does Islam allow unrestricted or unnecessary use of energy or electricity? If the answer to all these questions   is a firm no, how come we are still debating the issue? In fact does it need anything but common sense to give a sound verdict in these cases?
Leaving aside the question of juristic permission for or against anything, let us consider the point that we are living in a global world and are required to address and deal with other religious communities and be torchbearers of the Truth. It means we must learn to use currently acceptable idiom or language and thus fulfill the Quranic dictum that calls for using Mouizatun Hassana and Hikmah while addressing and dealing with the Other. We can refute other’s positions in cool objective rational manner. Otherwise we will be called intolerant.  Ghazzali used philosophical idiom or arguments to critique Greek philosophy. Ibn Taymiyyah too did the same ( used logical argument and not just fatwa) to refute Aristotelian logic. As Muslims we need to study philosophy because we are rational creatures, because the Quran links our salvation to right use of intelligence, because we have a great legacy of philosophers in our history, because we want to speak to modern educated minds that are influenced by philosophical orientation or questions, because we have to live today in the world that is shaped by philosophy and science, because the Prophet of Islam(SAW) as a teacher of Hikmah called for learning or gaining knowledge and called for love of wisdom, for perfection of virtues, for preparation for death.What else can be termed philosophy in the traditional sense apart from these things.
Today Dawah work needs philosophical approach, at least in certain parts of the world or certain sections of addressees. If one doubts this it means one is living in medieval age and has not heard of Nietzsche or Heidegger or Freud or Derrida.
If philosophy or love of wisdom or preparation for death or perfection of virtues are important for salvation (these are synonymous for traditionalist historians of philosophy and for those who have cared to read ancient philosophers of any tradition with any seriousness), then how come one can deny it as part of Islam? If Islam endorses Hikmah and even if we grant it a moral-spiritual aspect only but not the intellectual one as usually understood in terms of philosophy, one opens the room for philosophy.
In sum, there is no escape from the need to learn philosophical method as a community and as specialists of Dawah, as preachers, as imams. The question is who bothers to make an effort to learn and disseminate rational philosophical attitude today?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ayaz Nazki and his Postmodern Poetry

Dealing with the phenomenon of modernity has been a tricky affair and poses a grave question to all the traditional cultures. In fact current crisis in the Muslim world is primarily attributable to problematic response to this question.
Modernity means many things with divergent constructions of it. However what suffices here to note is that it is rejection of fundamentalist ideologies of all sorts. This is especially true about its new incarnation- the postmodernity. It is synonymous with relentless questioning. The great implication of Enlightenment Project for the Western world has been keeping the critical spirit alive and subjecting everything to rational inquiry.
Modern man asks questions. Nothing can silence him. He can’t relinquish his hard won freedom to question. However certain contradictions in the modernity project led to current age of postmodernity that is characterized by loss of faith in big claims made by previous ideologues of science and exoteric religion or social and political ideologies like Marxism. It preserves right to doubt, to say, with Beckett, perhaps or on the contrary when any opinion is imposed on it. None can claim to represent God or speak with arrogance on questions divine in the postmodern world. Postmodern world is more humble, more open to other marginilized voices. It has no heroes but exposes violence in often advocated moral ideals, especially when they become absolutist or dogmatic. The postmodern world is not rationalist in the way prophets of modernity advocated. Modernity embarked on ruthless critique of tradition but postmodernity is allowing the marginilized traditional voice of faith, of alternative sciences, of tribal worldview, of archaic wisdom, to express itself.
Kashmiri culture is fortunately better positioned to face the question of modernity and appropriate the postmodern mood because it was never fundamentalist. Inheriting Persian mystic sensibility and rich diversity of Buddhist-Saivist-Islamic heritage and more aesthetically than cognitively oriented, ours has been a more nuanced, more open, more tolerant culture. As a Hafiz or a Khayam or an Ibn Arabi would appropriate the cultural or religious other based on more fluid mystic sensibility, a Kashmiri philosopher or mystic who shares the mystic’s language of the Self too would be comfortable with the divergent voices asking to be heard in a world where justice is never done or truth has no copyrighted formulation. Although our Sufi poets provide us with basic armoury for engaging with certain challenges in the postmodern world, we need a more nuanced modern or postmodern appropriations of the mystical as we see in such poets and critics as Rehman Rahi. We have amongst more recent  generation of poets some noteworthy figures who can help us to articulate our predicament and move forward. One such remarkable figure is Prof. Ayaz Nazki.
Many Kashmiri poets have only heard of postmodernity. Few know it inside out. And fewer have responded to it or appropriated it in poetry attempting to marry the tradition they have inherited with new mood and have done this without much formal readings of it. Nazki belongs to the last group. We have few poets who are also well read and equally capable researchers and could write columns, novels, travelogues and cultural history. We have very few poets who write equally well in both Kashmiri and Urdu. Nazki is amongst these few.
Ayaz has been able to carve his own distinctive niche  (“Ayaz qadri khud bishinaas”) that may be called postmodern and traditional at the same time without being fully identifiable with either. His Urdu poetry has been favourably reviewed but I think his Kashmiri poetry is no less interesting. I offer some general comments on his work.
Ayaz is an author of an unpublished novel that deserved to be published long back as it is the first of its kind successfully deploying the technique of magic realism that made Marquis so charming and world famous and that was later appropriated by postmodernists dares to use history as metaphor or recreates a history of Kashmir as none has attempted to recreate in a symbolic space. What makes him stand out is iconic postmodern style.  Shaam sae pahalae is a postmodern image that forms the title of his Urdu collection. His columns are most characteristically sceptical analyses of current discourses. He deploys wit and humour to question what is sold in the marketplace.
Here is a sample of postmodern Kashmiri poetry.
Wuddi chus zalaan chain navaey, mushkin adfar dourer choan
Naer wahraavith praran oas, kemres ander dourer choan
Soantes herdes kun anhaar, preth kaenh menzer dourer choan
Ayaz, as a postmodern poet, has been living and negotiating conflicting identities and spaces. Quite conscious of his own failings, he is convinced that none is a moral-intellectual hero around to deserve the fate of Socrates. Yaeti ti kus oas thakidar pazruk, gov apuz az ti kamyab, mae kya (Who is the guardian of truth here? Truth has been defeated again, what can I do?)  He is quite conscious of the trap of illusions like those of self, intellectuality. Ayaz saebin laash laibikh, paiy cha si kem ek daer moar. (Ayaz’s corpse has been found, who knows which sect killed him?) Longing for the ideals of Sufism and even didactically batting for them he finds this path difficult in practice.
Lucid, delightful, witty, self-reflexive, dexterous about form, Ayaz gives voice to paradoxes and contradiction that living in Kashmir and being a poet of far off things embody. Ayaz gives voice to this age that has practically though not theoretically lost convictions – moral, intellectual and political. Chelha wudwun janawaar, chelha chus ma chelnes waar, baend gov reth tae tham-i-hawa, shah khaarun gae kreeth katha. I wonder, how he manages to be successful in the world where “worldly wisdom” is required.
Ayaz’s idea of Self is both postmodern and mystical: Brem mensaewith, ham phutravith, aabes wouth, naeb nishaani yi naav chae yeeraan, allah hu.( Transcending ego, erasing all signs of identity, the boat of the self is drowning, That alone is true, Allah hu).
He  has some beautiful Sufi poems. He is not known to be a Sufi poet though but does share Sufi sensibility. Asi wuch kem kem sir asrar. (What secrets have been vouchsafed to us). Again, he has a postmodern caveat: he acknowledges it is a dream experience only.
The fact that Ayaz succeeds best as a poet of ghazals perhaps again illustrates both his eastern sensibility and postmodern orientation that assimilate polar extremes of experience, all kinds of little stories, questions and “contradictions.” He has no self to sell any constructed grand story or ideology. For him life is best approached in aesthetic terms, again something that allies him with both mystics and postmodernists.
Seeking in art or creative act an anchor to move or dissolve existential questions, Ayaz has built beautiful castles of art in such wonderful poems as “Marmar Geet.”  In postmodern times it is art that offers for many less problematic language to live by.