Friday, 7 August 2015

A Scholar-Intellectual

Ibn Arabi and Iqbal are the two Masters that fashioned Prof. Amin Andrabi
In Kashmir we have today very few intellectuals and scholars who have enviable record on spiritual, intellectual and ethical terms, very few whom we can’t accuse of being vain or pretentious, very few who were loved by almost all their distinguished contemporaries in the State if not many outside the state as well.
But we had at least one in recent past – Prof. M Amin Andrabi whom it would have been a pleasure and treat to meet. A distinguished Iqbal scholar “completely decolonized mind”  widely read in disciplines that interested Iqbal including perennialist school, an activist, “cynosure of desire” and “a great human being” is how he has been described by some contributors to volume of selected writings and tributes pertaining to Prof. Andrabi compiled by Dr Taskina and Mir Zaman. He authored little, edited much and one can’t but admire his scholarly editorial prefaces and comments on various publications.
How seasoned, well informed and scholarly his writings are may be judged by the quality of his writings and the impression he made on distinguished contemporaries. His  doctoral work is one of the best PhDs on Iqbal in the world. He wrote little because he cared for perfection as his wife Prof. Nusrat Andrabi reports. He talked little and heard more and gave audience to all and sundry.  One important reason for his insightful writings is his choice to read the best – the classics – in the filed. He read Schuon, Lings and Nasr, arguably the best writers on Islam and traditional metaphysics for the international audience. He exposed himself to spiritual and intellectual giants like Ibn Arabi.
“Amin Sahab himself doesn’t know how gentle he is.” He has been praised for, among other things, “ability to listen, “not losing cool before stupidity,”  “solid scholarship, unbending courage of conviction, fierce moral integrity”  such virtues as hospitality, patience, self respect,  magnanimity,  -not reacting even to unmerited enmity and ingratitude“ his inability to say “no” to any request  and such humility that  “it had become proverbial, in the circle of his friends, that one should be as humble as Amin is.” Those who knew him were convinced that he is a blessed soul.
We can’t read or comment on Prof. Andrabi’s diverse writings or writings about him here for want of space. We can read one paper – in my opinion, his most important paper that also connects to his important work on Iqbal’s letters – that he originally delivered as an extension lecture few months before his death (that explains its sketchy nature).
Metaphysics of which Ibn Arabi is the greatest exponent in Muslim history can’t be refuted; it can only be misunderstood or misread and it is people of the stature of Ibn Taymiyah and Iqbal who can be in the list of those who misread here. Prof. Andrabi defends – and admirably so  - Ibn Arabi on all the points on which Iqbal (some of them shared by Ibn Taymiyyah) finds him problematic. A few more important points we note today.
Prof. Andrabi, thanks to his exposure to perennialists and such stalwarts of Ibn Arabi scholarship as Chittick and Corbin has been able to convincingly refute all major criticisms lavelled by Iqbal (that are, in turn, partly based on Ibn Taymiyyah’s reading of Ibn Arabi). Modern Salafist critique of Ibn Arabi has been rehearsing many such arguments that are here deconstructed or at least put in perspective. To sum up Iqbal’s charges and their answers given by Prof. Andrabi (based of course on previous ibn Arabi and Iqbal scholarship):

Ibn Arabi upheld pantheism (viz. God is one with the world or God and his servants are one) – Prof. Andrabi, quoting Nasr’s refutation of this claim, says it is doubly false because pantheism is a “philosophic system” and Ibn Arabi never created or followed any system and since pantheism implies substantial continuity between God and the Universe but Ibn Arabi never tires of claiming divine transcendence over every category.  To describe wahdat-al wajud as pantheism is to misread both. It is a category mistake.
Ibn Arabi’s interpretation of the  Quran is similar to Sankara’s interpretation of Gita Prof. Andrabi objects how come Iqbal knew about the former’s commentary of the Quran if it has been lost (reportedly it has been found very recently long back after Iqbal lived and died)and  that he didn’t have access to reliavble translation of the Gita.
Pantheism, appropriated  and transmitted through Sufi poetry, turned Muslims into passive collectivity. Prof. Andrabi ignores this charge although one might note that Nasr’s refutation of this charge is quite forceful.
Ibn Arab’s pantheism posits that human individuality is an illusion and this doctrine implies passivity and inertia.  Our author points out that Ibn Arabi posits that it is God Himself who has given the name wajud to the cosmos so how can he ascribe to a view that posits an illusory status for the cosmos and the human self.  Followers of pantheism are spiritually affiliated with the Batinites. Our author points out how come Ibn Arabi himself “mentions the sects with certain amount of hostility.” One might add that he also said “Sharia is haqiqa”
Sufism itself is of foreign origin or ajmi importation into Islam. Our author notes that Iqbal changed his views later perhaps under Massignon’s influence. He also points out that “There is no evidence to show that Iqbal had the chance to study the original works of Ibn Arabi… A few centuries earlier the situation was no better for Ibn Taymiyah who due to lack of authentic reports and reliable texts, in all sincerity, denounced Ibn Arabi on various points…. And doesn’t seem to be well informed about the works and doctrines of Ibn Arabi. For example, compare Ibn Arabi’s position on question of itihad (unity) and halul (absorption) with the ideas attributed to him by  Ibn Taymiyaah in his Fatawa.” In fairness to Ibn Taymiyyah it might be pointed out that he was quite careful to phrase his denunciation in terms that indicated his reliance on views attributed to Ibn Arabi. Prof. Andrabi also points out that Iqbal’s denunciation of Sufism is“ a blatant contradiction of what Iqbal has said about Sufism at numerous other places” and the fact that he himself is best described as Sufi thinker.
Ibn Arabi’s Fusus contains nothing but heresy and deviation. For our author this statement is simply inexplicable. However he ventures at a probable explanation for this harsh but mistaken view by pointing out Iqbal’s reliance on secondary sources like Ibn Khaldun when it came to appraisal of Sufism.
Some other charges are mentioned but not answered although the case for Akbarian interpretation is clearly and forcefully stated. Let us note that as access to Ibn Arabi corpus has increased and great number of scholarly studies published, it has becomes possible to convincingly defend Ibn Arabi  against his influential critics – Ibn Taymiyyah, Hazrat Sirhindi, Showkani and Iqbal. He emerges as a colossus of Muslim intellectual and spiritual tradition. Ibn Arabi provides a hermeneutic that unearths universally recognized truths in theological and scriptural material that has usually been interpreted more parochially or exclusively. He aligns himself with what he sees as the unified position of all prophets (thus founders of world religions) and saints and traditional philosophers like Plato. He doesn’t base his “position” of no position on any disputable rationalis axiomor proposition.Remaining loyal to the text with exceptional use of philological resources he excavates treasures of meanings that overturn all exclusivist claims.
We need to revisit the legacy of Prof. Andrabi – a perennialist, an Akbarain, a classicist, an Iqbalian and a wonderful human being who brings freshness and fragrance of Tradition without forgetting that we are modern. I wonder why it took so much time to publish Prof. Andrabi’s writings. Congratulations to compilers.

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