Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Why Ghamidi Matters?

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

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

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