Monday, 20 January 2014

Who Is Not Sectarian Today?

Sectarianism costs us so much of both this world and the next that we need to fight it head on. It is best deconstructed by turning to deeper meanings revealed by metaphysical-mystical understandings of the text. It can be questioned by pointing out the dangers of all claims of finality in interpretation. We can also point out that Islam is not an interpretation of Truth on which we could fight, but an invitation to be open to Truth, and that Truth is multifaceted and can never be known in absolute terms. We can also invite all sectarian scholars to dialogue with the other. Dialogue can accomplish wonders. Habermas, a great theorist of communicative action, has defined democracy in terms of arranging dialogue between contending parties. There is a great film Twelve Angry Men concerning the jury of a homicide trail. It is a must watch for those who think dialogue is not a royal road to resolving sectarian conflicts. In it, there is initially almost a unanimous decision of guilty, but as reasonable doubt is cast by one dissenter, and the dialogue on the merits of the case is objectively allowed to proceed, the opposite conclusion is agreed upon. The great question is: are we ready for dialogue? I don’t think we can be, unless we assume that there is a possibility that we – our interpretation – might be wrong. Let us revive the tradition of respecting even those with whom we have great disagreements, as we know all are moved ultimately by the love of truth, and glorify God in some way - even those who seem to clearly side with evil as they misperceive good in what is obviously evil. Sufis were not idolaters but appreciated that idolaters really aim at God but mislocate transcendence in forms. Sinners of any category are not to be condemned but their sin is to be condemned.  No man is willfully bad, said Socrates, and all religions agree as they assert that it is in the divine image that we are made. Sectarianism must be defeated at all costs with the strategy proposed by Islam – coming to common terms and appreciating the positives. The deeper we study our so-called sects the closer we see agreement in fundamentals. We need to learn the art of disagreeing without dismissing, and critically but respectfully approaching those who could have been brilliant on certain points yet have erred in some others.  Only God/Truth and the Prophet, the Logos, are above reproach. I can imagine Maulana Maududi on a round table conference with Maulana Thanvi, Maulana Amritsari and Maulana Ahmed Raza Berelvi, with Iqbal moderating the discussion on the subtleties of faith and gnosis, and a perennialist like Isa Nuruddin or Hasan Askari putting things in perspective, and wonder what is there to be argued or fought for or against any detractor. We need to understand that much of sectarianism is a sponsored project as are such constructions as political Islam, Sufi Islam and sharia-tariqah binarism. Even different traditional religions and traditional philosophies have no fundamental differences at the deeper level, not to speak of sects and schools of thought within a tradition like Islam. I wonder if anyone can bring a single point of difference between the Ahl-e-Hadees and the Hanfies or Deobandis and Berelvis on the fundamentals, or the ethical and spiritual plane, or even in matters theological, if properly interpreted and translated in terms of metaphysics that grounds everything. If we could teach contending parties metaphysics they would cease to disagree. Even there would be no atheists around, as Nasr has said, not to speak of khush aetiqads or badd aetiqads. The wise act or enjoy rather than dispute or judge or attempt to score points over others. Polemics that is busy in dispatching theological opponents to hell is pathological. God has appointed no advocates or personal secretaries that we see shouting against God’s other servants in the name of this or that belief. We need, however, to keep in mind that it is Islam as an ethico-spiritual ideal that should be fore-grounded rather than any individual, as Islam recognizes no cults.  We should avoid the trap of defining ourselves as either pro or anti  any particular school of interpretation. When an ideal is discussed in the streets and some unscrupulous men use its cards, the founder should not be held responsible. Many ideological thought currents are a product of inadequate knowledge about the Other that has been marginalized. We must turn from the more limiting and exclusivist theological-juristic approach – because it is framed for individuals keeping in view their sentiments and individual limitations - to the metaphysical-mystical approach. What should unite all contending interpretations is focus on orthopraxy or correct practice. They need to attempt to emphasize Islam as a site of resistance and empowerment and realization of social justice. Most champions of different sectarian views, although they position themselves against Orientalist and Imperialist projects, unwittingly play into the hands of the same forces. They need to relook into the class question to inject fresh blood into  Islam as a resistance movement.  Unless Islamic movements produce bold and great thinkers again and focus more on achievable methods for ameliorating injustice and educating people they will be a spent force and their  radical socio-political message counterproductive.  Vague posturing of Hukoomat-iillahi and establishing Islam as a complete system need to be given a realizable content, and that will include denting the hegemony of Capital, strengthening credit societies that operate outside banking systems based on Riba, critiquing  modern cultures, working for the environment and fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised, women, child workers, workers etc.  They must understand their shared destiny and allegiance with numerous movements that are going on in the world for greater democracy, for fighting hunger and abolishing elitism and privileges and making healthcare and education more accessible, and reclaiming the spiritual base of culture.

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