Home » All My Posts » A Missive to My Grandfather: An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

A Missive to My Grandfather: An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Assalamu Alaykum Nana Abba,

The present engagement must not be taken as criticism or critique of any of your considered viewpoints on religion and society but just an apologetic discourse on my behalf. I found it necessary because during our engagement on social network during last year, I have found you ostensibly critical of my literary indulgences while being self-righteous yourself. I do respect your viewpoints from the core of my heart and its not my stature to teach you something; however, since your criticism divulges your moral stances, it becomes kind of morally incumbent upon me to share mine.

ThinkerTo start with, while having immense respect for your standpoints, its remarkable to see your authoritative soft-averseness and carefully veiled lack of empathy to the religious ‘other’. I fail to understand why must we speak in God’s name and why must we doubt anyone’s intentions, may it be the so-called heathen philosophers or illuminating literati whom you apparently despise? Is it a moral necessity?

It might very well be possible that all of us in Indian Subcontinent might still be Hindus, Sikhs and Jainists, if its not for multitude of intricately entangled historical causes which I cannot even begin to list here in this space. Its only Allah’s blessing that we are Muslims and have the gift of Iman; and we cannot claim to have achieved this blessing of Islam on the strength of our intellect and imagination alone. Hence, while being grateful to this blessing, we have no right to portray authoritatively that we have the sole claim to truth and everyone else is living and dying on falsehood. In my humble view, this is a highly distorted view of humanity and existence.

I wish you understand that the claim to truth and the truth itself are two different things altogether.  Or must we follow Bani Israel in proclaiming that we have the sole claim to paradise and blessings by virtue of being chosen from the God?

literatureQuran, or for that matter, any religious text, is merely ink and paper and its us which have to ultimately make sense of it. The complex dynamics of one man’s faith cannot be effectively and conclusively commented upon by another man. I would plead you to leave the final judgement to Allah who alone enjoys that ultimate prerogative, as He knows the inside of our hearts.

Our critiques, criticism and commentaries must be intelligently nuanced to disseminate self-awareness and affirmation of our own subjective attitudes. Being Muslims and having particular interpretations of religion, life and death, does not theoretically exclude the possibility that we may prove to be ultimately wrong when these mysteries will be resolved and the illusion of this mortal temporality will be no more.

This awareness must not be misconstrued as a weakness of faith, confusion or ambivalence but just the humbleness of enquiry and empathy to other people’s struggles. Ultimately, its the struggle, with intention to find truth, that is more important than the claim of truth itself.

According to a famous Hadith of Prophet, Quran will be the Hujjah for us or against us on the judgement day. Therefore, what matters is whether we have tried to access it with good intention and clarity of purpose to find the original intention of Allah Almighty. In the end, all of us, if we continue to struggle with the text, reach a considered understanding of this Divine intention; some a little early in their life and some when they approach their biological terminus. However, no one can ultimately extend his claim of discovering that truth outside himself. The best we can do is to share our understanding and leave it at that.

That is why its called understanding: its a very personal, deeply intricate and elusive cognitive condition.

For all practical purposes in this life, we essentially have multiple claims understanding God’s intention and therefore, variety of truths. And there is no absolute way of claiming any version as final. Whoever does this emphatically is doing nothing but finding himself in and out of Divine shoes. In essence, this is one way of understanding why this life is a testing ground: we have to deal with variety of truth and use our critical judgement to decipher our own. 

To reiterate from another dimension, each one of us accesses revelation from our particular standpoint and has been granted this rightQuran by none other than Allah Almighty. We approach it (the revelation) with various apriori multidimensional constructs based on knowledge, attitudes and psychologies. The phenomenological manifestation of this complex combination can be called the experience of our self; and our indulgence in Quran and Sunnah, rather the whole tradition, is ultimately dictated by our imaginative self alone. If one is a misogynist, he is liable to read Quran from a patricentric standpoint; on the other hand if one’s interest lies in political dimension, he will find the mention of Caliphate in every other Ayah or Hadith or at least, be more receptive to the textual areas which are magnified due to the locus of imagination.

You being a businessman, having interest in economics and being monetarily preoccupied for last six decades, are liable to find that part of Quranic message most interesting and gripping. On the other hand, I remain occupied in life, society, literature, science and philosophical issues and find myself engaged in that arena. Our indulgences give us essentially different outlooks to life, and therefore, it is normal that I find some of your readings simplistic; on the contrary you may find my indulgences otiose. Bottom line: we are different persons and have our own struggles.

In a nutshell, while you have reached some conclusions, I might find them crass, ineffectual, unimaginative or simply uninteresting. This, however, does not mean that I am employing a binary construct where one of us is either right or wrong. My readings of life and society tells me that our zeal to discover truth and its multiple versions (as explained above), each one of us claims to believe, are situated on a continuum with a lot of grey distributed between black and white. The black and the white is merely there in a theoretical sense to characterize the extremities, or else the spectrum would be rendered meaningless and incomplete. The wider, larger chunk consists of grey and there lies our real struggles.

I know that you wish well for me and I appreciate that being an octogenarian your flew from Karachi to Islamabad to spent a day with me and share your readings and views, however, you have to realize that this is not simply an issue of being right and wrong. Its about our respective views of life, the complexities of our milieu, the problems that bred therefrom and the possible solutions.

QuestionsI am a strong believer in the act of questioning, and my readings subsequently allow me to reflect and improve my questions. For me, its the question that has to be asked meaningfully because the act of questioning take fuller and forceful characterizations as necessary premises. I believe that at this point in our social ontogenesis its the act of questioning that matters foremost, as our intellectual arena is bombarded with responses but there are seldom any meaningful questions. Our best minds must engage in the act of characterization and finally frame the right questions. History do tell us that if we fulfil this necessity, the way would be paved for the answers almost naturally. However, whenever the time will come, these would essentially be the collective responses.

In the end, being the motes of dust, our individual answers do not matter at all in greater scheme of things. These personal claims to truth are in fact answers to non-existent or abstract enquiries, which are not important as far as the reality outside ourselves is concerned. Therefore, I keep my answers (these claims to metaphysical truths) to my innermost self and would like to die that way, In-sha-Allah. The only answers that matter  for our societal being are those effectual in the social realm and these, as I have said, are bulldozed in response to wrong questions.

Take care and May Allah give you longevity, health and blessings of both worlds. Do continue sharing your wisdom as usual and remember me in your prayers as always.

wassalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.

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7 thoughts on “A Missive to My Grandfather: An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

  1. “Being Muslims and having particular interpretations of religion, life and death, does not theoretically exclude the possibility that we may prove to be ultimately wrong when these mysteries will be resolved and the illusion of this mortal temporality will be no more.”
    Still slightly skeptic? I hope you will outgrow your skepticism with the passage of time. InshAllah. I hope you don’t take offence to my comment as I am not disdaining your skepticism rather wishing for your spiritual outgrowth.

  2. Thank you for your comment, and why must I take offence? Did you miss this part, and if you haven’t, how do you read it, if I may ask:

    This awareness must not be misconstrued as a weakness of faith, confusion or ambivalence but just the humbleness of enquiry and empathy to other people’s struggles. Ultimately, its the struggle, with intention to find truth, that is more important than the claim of truth itself.

    I think you missed the perspective that I am trying to build here. Doubt is an essential part of faith.

    (كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٣﴾ ثُمَّ كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٤﴾ كَلَّا لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ عِلْمَ الْيَقِينِ ﴿٥﴾ لَتَرَوُنَّ الْجَحِيمَ ﴿٦

    We just believe and none of us can claim to ‘know’ except the Prophets. Those of us who claim to ‘know’ have no way of extending this claim outside themselves. This claim of ‘knowledge’ has absolutely no exoteric value.

    wassalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

  3. Then what is the difference between such faith and Pascal’s Wager? I am not so learned a person as to cite a Quranic verse to strengthen my standpoint but in my opinion doubt is not an “essential” part of faith, and the verses you have referred are addressed to those who are reluctant to believe.
    ““There is a sect of heretics called Sophists, who believe that nothing can be known and that knowledge itself does not exist. I say to them, ‘You think that nothing can be known; is
    your opinion correct or not?” If they answer ‘it is correct,‘ they thereby affirm the reality of knowledge; and if they reply ‘it is not correct,’ then to argue against an avowedly incorrect assertion is absurd.”
    –Al-Hujwiri, Unveiling the Veiled

  4. “Those of us who claim to ‘know’ have no way of extending this claim outside themselves. This claim of ‘knowledge’ has absolutely no exoteric value.” Too much rationality leads us towards disbelief like it did with Pharaoh who wanted to climb up over the tower to see the God of Moses!

  5. Let me try to respond to your comments one by one.

    Then what is the difference between such faith and Pascal’s Wager?

    Good of you to mention Pascal’s wager. You tell me? If it was not for the wager, humanity might not have invented probability. But having said that, we have moved far ahead of the wager in many ways. In a nutshell, simply speaking, your faith is essentially based on your faculty of reasoning and mine rests on my own. That’s what you can call boiling down the wager to one simplistic sentence. What’s the problem with that in this context striclty?

    I am not so learned a person as to cite a Quranic verse to strengthen my standpoint but in my opinion doubt is not an “essential” part of faith, and the verses you have referred are addressed to those who are reluctant to believe.

    There is no exegetical issue here related to addressees which I am pressing. I just cited the verses to draw a distinction between ‘belief’ (iman), ‘knowledge’ (Ilm) and how ‘certainty’ (yaqeen) is related with both. We believe the whole corpus of religion on the authority of one man whom we have not seen or met. Where is ‘absolute’ certainty here, if I may ask?

    There is a sect of heretics called Sophists…..

    Hujwairi’s statement can be valid for logical positivists too in our times. However, how he ‘unveils’ the veiled in Kashaf al-Ma’ajoob is precisely what I call esoteric value of faith. Can it be called a different kind of sophistry? After all, Hujwairi just has one tool to unveil the ultimate reality and that is language.

    Too much rationality leads us towards disbelief like it did with Pharaoh who wanted to climb up over the tower to see the God of Moses!

    Exactly my point but who decides when the rationality is ‘too much’? Of course, you decide for yourself and I decide for myself. Again refer to Pascal’s wager but just to move forward refer to Kant and Wittgenstein as well. There are now middle philosophical grounds between logical positivism and radical faith. We cannot insist on our faith-based statements like second grade mathematical axioms.

  6. Though none of us can know what is in the hearts of other human beings but there are certainly different levels of faith as Quran tellls us.
    “The bedouins say: “We believe.” Say: “You believe not but you only say, ‘We have surrendered (in Islâm),’ for Faith has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allâh and His Messenger (), He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allâh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Quran:49:14

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