Friday, 14 August 2015

Why Read Nietzsche?

Nietzsche can’t be wished away and there is no escaping the task of engaging with him.

Would you believe that there are people who don’t know that there are social sciences,  computers, airplanes and countless technological gadgets around us? Those who believe we can have, or we can use modern technology without engaging with background science or secular reason that brings it are such people. Divided personalities, divided loyalties, clouded vision, cursing imagination and insensitivity to finer culture are what distinguishes them. They constitute the majority in the Third World. They have not heard of Nietzsch. They haven’t read any of his books and haven’t heard even his most (in)famous statement “God is dead.”
Yes, they haven’t heard of the bull in the China house of conventional religion. They still talk of God in terms of substance, in terms of force, in terms of cosmic being or policeman, in terms of ground of ordinary morality. They still talk as if the other world is in absolute terms separable from this world. They think God is vindictive. They haven’t heard of his madman who cried “God is dead and we have murdered him.” They don’t know that we are living in the post-Nietzschean, post modern world where such terms as truth, other world, morality can’t and aren’t understood in the sense previous dualistic mutakalimoon or exoteric theologians or ulama-i- zahir understood them. They don’t seem to notice that fear sermons that once drew large crowds now repel people away from faith. They don’t know that Nietzsche called himself Dajjal (Anti-Christ) though he was not one but was so much infuriated by those who trade religion. Iqbal, the greatest Muslim philosopher and poet in the twentieth century had great respect for him and though critical of some of his theses, read him in almost mystic terms. A. K. Coomaraswamy, one of the greatest art historians and scholars of comparative religion, also read him as a mystic  (“A Cosmopolitan View of Nietzsche”) and appropriated his ideas of superman living beyond good and evil in terms that don’t sound shocking to orthodox viewpoint. Nietzsche can’t be wished away and there is no escaping the task of engaging with him. Iqbal engaged with him and that is why we can’t accuse him – as we can most scholars and preachers – of living in the past. Paradoxically Nietzsche has been hailed as the greatest moral voice of the modern world. Without reading Nietzsche we can’t do dawah to modern educated audience. Without taking note of his critique of modern man’s hypocrisy we can’t criticize hypocrisy we see in the Muslims worshipping money and God and embracing technology and conventional dualistic theology simultaneously.  Without reading Nietzsche we can’t understand modern man’s  atheism or modern educated Muslim’s indifference to religion. Sermons can’t do the trick. It needs close engagement. It needs understanding philosophy of Enlightenment and its discontents to make a proper response to him.  Those who consider themselves God’s advocates have a mighty adversary to contend with. His one of the most deadly critiques of counterpart of Mullaism in the Christian world has to be understood by Muslims. So far we see mostly Ostrich acting on the part of those who consider their duty to call people to God or Islam.
We can’t say Nietzsche misread  modern man’s indifference or hostility to religion and consequent secularization: he simply diagnosed the crisis. He didn’t declare that God is dead but simply diagnosed the state of affairs in the modern secularized world where God has been kept at bay. Moderns are indifferent to God; God is not a question of life and death for them. Nietzsche raged wildly against this complacent view regarding what he described as “holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned” He lost his sanity seeking God he found modern world has no room for. We can’t advise young minds not to read him in an age of internet and books easily accessible. We can’t wish him away as he has impacted on our greatest writers and philosophers. You can’t ignore Nietzsche if you claim to be living in the postmodern world. He is a presence, a haunting presence. Nietzsche is in syllabus in universities in dozens of disciplines from sociology to anthropology to literary criticism to religious studies. You can’t ask your children not to read him. There are only two choices: to read him, engage with him, respond to him or choose to live in the medieval world, a world where secular reason, science and industrialization haven’t caused disenchantment and we are without cars and mobiles. We can’t do hijrat to the medieval world. Let us see how  religious thinkers of the twentieth century from Barth to Tillich to Bultman to Altizer to Corbin to Milbank to Caputo, and in the Islamic world from Iqbal to Shariati to Nasr Abu Zayd to Arkoun, responded to Nietzsche if we are to sound relevant and call our younger  generation to faith.  Our standard reference is of course the Tradition understood in its most comprehensive sense as  what binds earth to heaven or Revelation and Intellection but we can’t turn to our Classical age for interpretation of it as its idiom though not content has to be modern or postmodern. We can’t import from past thinkers, scholars and commentaries  to bulldoze the Nietzschean world. Willy nilly it is the world shaped by Nietzsche. From his perspectivism (there are infinite perspectives none of which can wholly access the Truth or truth is not given to us unmediated as far as it is transmitted in linguistic or conceptual frameworks) to higher fatalism to ideas regarding innocence of becoming, non-finality of any interpretation  and overcoming all narratives that fix meaning in certain absolutistic sense, Nietzsche we can boldly engage with and, with Iqbal’s Sirhindi, see him as co-traveler who is not to be despised. He too sought a Guide but couldn’t find one. (“I need  a Master. How sweet it is to obey.”) Are we capable of providing him with one? Where is the Pir, a modern Sirhindi, who could guide Nietzsche?
The question Muslim world especially faces is  a vast majority of  unwilling disbelievers (who want to believe but can’t and find no convincing answers around them and this group includes some highly educated people trained in traditional religious studies in the Arab world). Another  question is how to  dialogue with those  who are still caught in the medieval world and instead of believing or attempting at understanding those who have travelled to the 21st century, curse them and seek to impose their views on them? it is metaphyicians like Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra as against rationalist philosophers and theologians who help in overcoming nihilism – the crisis of values – that Nietzsche confronted but without being able to fully overcome. Modern Muslim youth is suffering from a kind of nihilism.
They desperately seek help. The ghost and shadow of Nietzsche haunts the world because science and technology are there to stay and ironically it is the Arab world that has been so enthusiastic in embracing new technology and keeping likes of Ibn Arabi out. Where is the vaccine against the deadly pestilence that exposure to Nietzsche constitutes for those who don’t know that there is a depth dimension of faith, a scripture written in the heart of being (anfus and aafaaq),a centre of meaning within disguised under the letter or external ritual of religion? The Quran heals all wounds and diseases if we open up to it. The opening up to the Quran requires what is called spiritual or metaphysical or symbolist approach. It is hearts and minds that are to be transformed and this calls for practice – spiritual ascesis through aamal-i-saliha– rather than linguistic or rhetorical skills.

Teray zameer pay jab tak na ho nazooli kitab
Girah kusha hai na Razi na sahib i Kashaaf

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