Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan (RIP)

Dr Farooq Khan The news is just coming in that Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan, a renowned writer, columnist, religious scholar and Vice Chancellor of Swat Islamic University, has been murdered (along with his assistant) by unknown gunmen as he was coming out of his clinic in Mardan. May Allah bless his departed soul. Here is an obituary from a local TV Channel website:

Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan is a recognized writer, columnist, and intellectual throughout the country. He is also known as a religious scholar and competent TV compare. He was born at a village, in the district of Swabi. He obtained his elementary education at his hometown. Then he joined Cadet College Hasanabdal, and later on the Cadet College Kohat. After having acquired the degree in medicine, he decided to specialize in psychiatry. He established his private practice in Mardan. Some of his works include “Pakistan and the Twenty First Century (Urdu)”, “The Struggle for Islamic Revolution”, and “What is Islam”. God has bestowed upon him the quality of presenting his propositions in simple language and clarity of style.

Dr. Khan was associated with Al-Mawrid, an Islamic research organization lead by Javed Ahmed Ghamidi . He gained media limelight and became a center of controversy for his allegedly unorthodox views on permissibility of music. Most of his works can be downloaded from his website. Clipping from the talk show where he shared his views on music is linked below:

Its one of those days when it feels really impossible to breathe in the land of the pure and sadness overcomes the desire to remain optimistic. When intellect is not tolerated, disagreements are settled through bullets, and mockery of the law becomes a convention, the society seems to be quickly approaching towards self annihilation. Our cities have indeed become worst than wildest of the jungles. Reminds me of this sad, yet beautiful Urdu poem by Zehra Nigah (a transliteration can be found here and please share any English translations if you have):

Ghamidi’s interpretation of Islam: Is it a fad that will fizzle out with time?

I have stopped believing strongly since long that Javed Ahmed Ghamidi’s exposition of Islam, more or less like Mutizilite Islam in medieval times and Progressive Islam in modernity, is a fad that will fizzle out automatically with time; however, I still doubt that sometimes. It is primarily a better understanding of traditional Islam, cornerstone of which is Ilm al-Ikhtilaf, which moved me to drop my prejudiced (most probably) contention. Persevered deliberation made me realise that Ghamidi’s Islam, which I often call Contemporary School and which may going to be widely recognised as Islahi’s School, is a movement that would prove to be good for intellectual rejuvenation of Islamic thought; a kind of renaissance, which according to Javed Ghamidi himself began with Shibli Naumani in Indian Subcontinent.

The most striking feature of Contemporary School, to its proponents and those who agree with it, is its effort to posit a simplified and wholesome interpretation of religion. An interpretation which is commonly accessible because unlike classical interpretive methodologies, it is rooted in a singular divine text which can primarily be deconstructed through its language and historical context rather than tradition; an interpretation which is philosophically dynamic as it advances the ethical argument by way of inherent nature of man rather than any textually ordained source; an interpretation which is jurisprudentially liberating because it delimits the ambit of religious obligation by redefining the second most important source of classical jurisprudence, reducing it to a mere handful of practices; most importantly, an interpretation which is intellectually refreshing as it tends to reposition the categories of classical Islam’s legal archetype.

Yet, despite its entirely remarkable outlook, the school of thought in question poses complex paradoxes that seem unresolvable unless the underlying methodology is repeatedly tuned, tweaked and transformed into a consistent whole. A large part of blame, for this contradictory presentation, should be apportioned to modernity itself which has blurred the demarcating lines between various disciplines of religious knowledge, creating an atmosphere which is difficult for sensible and comprehensible communication. It no more matters whether you are getting a religious opinion from a jurist, philosopher or a traditionist; rather most of the times, it is the persuasiveness and sheer strength of argument with which one challenges the ostensible status quo of traditional scholarship that matters. However, whether traditional or contemporary, intensity of the argument should not be allowed to enshroud the underlying incoherence and inconsistency of the method.

Contemporary School asserts that the language of Quran, which is the single most important source text of Shariah, is not polysemantic in nature (a point about which I have already rambled once) and all differences of opinion due to apparent linguistic ambiguities will be resolved by referring to the context of revelation. The assertion, though attractive, is problematic on a number of accounts. It entails that a particular scholar or group’s insistence on absolute meanings of a verse is completely justified and all other explanations may not be seen as acceptable. It also disintegrates the problem of deconstructing the text by introducing an additional variable of context, differences of opinion regarding which will obviously be left unresolved. The magnitude of these contextual differences can be seen by comparing views of Islahi and Ghamidi on al-Ahzab 33: 59. Contemporary school insists that bringing out coherence (nazm) from the textual structure is the foremost principle and prerequisite of Quranic interpretation, which virtually reduces the possibility of true access of Quran to those individuals who have extraordinary command on language and have an exceptionally gifted mind that can appreciate high poetry in another language.

Indeed, we have enough evidence to substantiate that early generations of Muslims preferably interpreted the text through the simplest of meanings unless there is a specific directive from Prophet; otherwise, it seems hard to believe that some of the companions misinterpreted a seemingly straightforward trope, a caliph refused to comment on the meaning of ab’ba, and an exceptional master of language did not know the exact linguistic flavor of faatiris samaawat.

Coherence is a delight of mind and greatly improves one’s involvement in the divine text but it is not a prerequisite for understanding the message of God (not that Islahi contended so).

The ethical argument of Contemporary School is equally implausible, at least when it is applied to the details of religious interpretation. Philosophical skepticism of past two centuries have showed us decisively that ‘human nature’ is one of the most flimsy ground for establishing the moral argument. Even if one avoids the philosophical gibberish, it seems difficult to show arguably why swines and donkeys were made unlawful and camels were made lawful for human consumption; that too, when Ghamidi argues that Quran has prohibited only those comestibles which could not have been decided by human nature alone and Hadith (or Sunnah) cannot add to the Quran. Now, all of us know that camels and donkeys are not mentioned in Quran (in relation to food) and there are people in the world who have no qualms eating a plate full of sliced bacon.

It also seems strange how human nature alone, with its completely relative criteria of judgment, can be trusted to add into the ambit of religious prohibitions? Isn’t it true that Prophet himself used to ‘naturally’ dislike particular kinds of food and edible meat? If not an absurdity, it at least seems a dire contradiction that human nature can be understood as a primary ‘source’ of religion on one hand and cannot be understood to define what is Shariah on the other. Is it also not ‘natural’ for men to grow hair on their faces? If it is, how it is not understood to be ordained by Shariah; if it is not, why should it be a recommended practice in religion at all.

By redefining what constitutes Sunnah, Contemporary School has actually redefined the established archetype of traditional Islamic law. The observation might seem exaggerated to some, as it has presumably happened partially in the past also; yet, the manifestation of any of the applied legal principles in the past has not been so consequential ever to delimit Prophetic legal authority to something like 27 practices. As already said, deducing Prophetic legal authority from established regional practices is not a unique idea, however limiting this authority solely to the transmitted practices – of majority – is a completely modernist phenomenon; one which is paradoxically simplistic and seemingly oblivious to methods of historical enquiry.

It is funny as it successfully circumvents the need of Prophetic traditions for proving extra-Quranic legal injunctions (of different shades from prohibited to obligatory) but seeks historical record to substantiate consensus of community.

As much as I mull over regarding the past, present and future of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi’s interpretation of religion, I see it quickly disentangling itself from the modernist tradition of Shiblis, Farahis, Azads, Iqbals and Islahis of the Subcontinent. It still remains doubtful whether history will remember it as a valid school of thought that steered Islam’s sojourn into modernity or another media-sect of Subcontinent, which struggled with itself to remain skeptical about all that reached us through tradition.

Basit Bilal Koshul: Lenin in the Presence of God

In a three day event organised at LUMS by the university’s literary and religious societies, Basit Bilal Koshul eloquently interprets Iqbal’s poem, Lenin in the Presence of God (Lenin Khuda key huzoor mein).

The poem is not only unique in its setting but also rich in its content. It sets an imaginary monologue in which Lenin asks God about some of his unresolved queries. Now that he is able to affirm the Ultimate Reality directly through his conscience, he explains why his reasoning led him to commit that intellectual folly; a reason which was not blind and completely devoid of any rationale. Iqbal, through Lenin, presents his intriguing questions to God; questions that are not related to metaphysical beliefs but related to complex problems of this world. I reproduce below the translation of this poem by V. G. Kiernan:

All space and all that breathes bear witness; truth
It is indeed; Thou art, and dost remain.
How could I know that God was or was not,
Where Reason’s reckonings shifted hour by hour?
The peerer at planets, the counter-up of plants,
Heard nothing there of Nature’s infinite music;
To-day I witnessing acknowledge realms
That I once thought the mummery of the Church.
We, manacled in the chains of day and night!
Thou, moulder of all time’s atoms, builder of aeons
Let me have leave to ask this question, one
Not answered by the subtleties of the schools,
That while I lived under the sky-tent’s roof
Like a thorn rankled in my heart, and made
Such chaos in my soul of all its thoughts
I could not keep my tumbling words in bounds.
Oh, of what mortal race art Thou the God?
Those creatures formed of dust beneath these heavens?
Europe’s pale checks are Asia’s pantheon,
And Europe’s pantheon her glittering metals.
A blaze of art and science lights the West
With darkness that no Fountain of Life dispels;
In high-reared grace, in glory and in grandeur,
The towering Bank out-tops the cathedral roof;
What they call commerce is a game of dice
For one, profit, for millions swooping death.
There science, philosophy, scholarship, government,
Preach man’s equality and drink men’s blood;
Naked debauch, and want, and unemployment
Are these mean triumphs of the Frankish arts
Denied celestial grace a nation goes
No further than electricity or steam
Death to the heart, machines stand sovereign,
Engines that crush all sense of human kindness.
-Yet signs are counted here and there that Fate,
The chess-player has check-mated all their cunning.
The Tavern shakes, its warped foundations crack,
The Old Men of Europe sit there numb with fear;
What twilight flush is left those faces now
Is paint and powder, or lent by flask and cup.
Omnipotent, righteous, Thou; but bitter the hours,
Bitter the labourer’s chained hours in Thy world!
When shall this galley of gold’s dominion founder?
Thy world Thy day of wrath, Lord, stands and waits.

Dr. Basit Bilal Koshul is no ordinary sociologist-philosopher. Albeit exceptional, his qualifications cannot depict the true reach of his intellect as well as his interdisciplinary acumen. Like a good teacher and trained philosopher, he deliberately stayed away from making any value judgments and just raised some very important and thoughtful questions in the course of three days.

Marxist ideal, according to Dr. Koshul, is against the scientific study of matter; therefore the claim it makes cannot be justified through the categories of the framework in which it is firmly placed. While questioning the origins of this idea, Koshul argued that it is either a spiritual revelation from heaven or a formative process catalyzed by the secularization of a spiritual ideal; the ideal which is blind in a strictly spiritual sense. First few lines of the poem, in which Lenin accepts his worldly shortcomings as he now acknowledges the Ultimate Reality in front of his eyes, point toward this blindness . Koshul’s claim at this point was that:

All values lead to certain realities in this world. Any discussion of spiritual reality without a reference to material reality is nonsense and will lead to degenerate materialism.

I asked Dr. Koshul, if it is possible to give a universal description of Ultimate Reality (I had the metaphysical metalanguage of Perennialists in my mind with their physical counterpart, i.e. Grand Unification Theory of theoretical physicists). He responded that it is difficult, as we still do not even have a universal language for describing all the realities of this world.

Iqbal then raises the issue of civilizations and and alludes to the so-called clash between East and West. Dr. Koshul said that Iqbal’s claim of West being in utter darkness is a provocative claim. “Where can we find civilization?” is the exact question he phrased; especially in today’s world where groups of intellectuals in the west are claiming that their civilization is under attack by barbarians.

In this part of the discourse, Koshul’s content was extremely rich. He pointed towards the European history, right from the French revolution to the Nazi death camps, referring texts like the Cunning of History by Richard Rubenstein. There were subtle pointers in Dr. Koshul’s presentation towards the prevailing western art and architecture, finer nuances of economic activity like parallels between speculation in stock market and gambling, a culture of entertainment that ‘amuses one’s self to death‘ and claims that it is a human right to caricature and blaspheme God. According to Koshul, the question of civilization is still an open-ended question if one prefers to remain objective.

The final problem that the poem points towards is regarding religion vs secularism; a question that Iqbal has also asked (in a different way) in the last lecture of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam and a search in which Kant precedes him from his own perspective. Koshul was par excellence in this concluding part of the presentation. Trying not to lose objectivity, he did not ask whether religion is in crisis or not; rather, he asserted that if religion is in crisis, secularism is in as much crisis. “Where lies the hope for truth: In religion or secularism?” is the only objective question that can be asked. Koshul contended that science cannot affirm or negate the claims of metaphysics. If we believe that science can give us all the answers concerning our self and the Ultimate Reality, its a noble lie on which we are relying upon.

I asked Dr. Koshul if it is important at all to ponder over the question of Absolute Truth in the universe and Reality that surrounds and contains us (I had the philosophy of Pragmatism in my mind and I remember making a reference to it also, asking him for his comments). He replied that one may live meaningfully without any notion of Absolute Truth, keeping oneself within the ethical and moral bounds dictated by the society; however one cannot die a meaningful death. He added that his affiliations with Pragmatism are more in line with the likes of William James and Josiah Royce and he does not have a very high regard for Richard Rorty’s school.

It was an enlightening and educating experience. In my opinion, LUMS is lucky to have a scholar like Dr. Basit Bilal Koshul and Pakistan is fortunate to have him back.

Prophetic Experience of Revelation: Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman and Malik Bennabi

Can we become aware of God as we are aware of other objects?

As I contemplate more about the answer of this question, it occurs to me that the question is perhaps more important than the answer. Over the years, I have learnt to ask this question in innumerable ways and each time when it happens, this inquisitive process brings me another step closer to the cognition of Divinity.

Religious experience, as some of us take for granted, is a matter related to faith; one that cannot be justified on pure philosophical grounds and entailing arguments that cannot be contended with the tools of expression. The veracity of these arguments can only be judged within the domain of mysticism. There is a strong argument that this domain being irrational and obscure according to contemporary standards of knowledge is based upon categories which, while swaying on the fringes of vagueness, involve countless imponderables. Which effectively means that any narration of a mystic experience cannot be assessed accurately with conviction through conventional means of assessment.

There exists a counter argument to above, initiated primarily in our times by Perennialists and Sufi philosophers, which suggests that most of the knowledge for primitive civilizations came through pseudo-mystic experiences. To be more precise, primitive man acknowledged his experience of reality – which is ‘Natural’ for us – as a mystical experience and one that is unable to be deciphered rationally. The view tries to establish the validity of mystic experience like other experiences and asserts that mystic consciousness is mandatory in order to claim any knowledge of Absolute Reality.

Being totally oblivious to practical mysticism, I cannot claim to be intimate with the ‘Other Self’, yet I have come to believe that the philosophical contention of God being a metaphysical reality does not necessarily mean that God is physically meaningless.

The Absolute Reality, as I have understood, can only be shaped meaningfully after conjoining the physical and metaphysical. This union of both the realms iterates within each one of us as we interact with the revelation. However, our inner self can only become aware of this union if it is completely at ease with the character of revealed knowledge; for we are not the direct recipients of this knowledge and neither being an audience to that historical happening.

Most of us cannot know God as we know other objects. We get knowledge of His self and attributes indirectly through humans who know Him better than us; humans who are the chosen ones and with whom God communicates through an incorporeal messenger, through inspirational dreams or directly from behind a screen.

Analyzing character of revelation vis-à-vis Prophet’s experience of it as a being in time is a comparatively modern phenomenon. To say the least, there are some contemporary slants to the problem which were not there previously. In addition, this experience of revelation is not merely an object of philosophical enquiry anymore but equally an object of scientific and psychological analysis; especially when the complete experience, which is extended on more than 23 years and has thousands of witnesses, has been downplayed by some of the modern critics, equating it with epileptic seizures and hallucinations.

Jalaluddin Suyuti mentions five different physical states of Prophet Muhammad during Wahy (mode of revelation) in his magnum opus about Quran and related sciences. It used to be an unidentifiable sound at times, trying to make the Prophet attentive for the revelation which usually followed. Most of the times, it was the Archangel Gabriel who either comes in the guise of a close companion reciting verses to be revealed or the message was directly inspired into Prophet’s heart. Revelation also used to come through dreams and Prophet used to remember everything afterwards like a real vision or experience. Suyyuti also mentions another way in which God may have communicated directly with the Prophet, as in the journey of Isra’a or as related in many Qudsi ahadith.

The narratives describing different states of the Prophet are not an object of present scrutiny; what concerns me now is how the modern discourse making sense of these narratives. Three modernist scholars, namely Muhammad Iqbal, Malik Bennabi and Fazlur Rahman, have discussed this matter in great detail. Here is a brief summary of their views:

Muhammad Iqbal: Highest State of Mystic Consciousness Transforms the Heart to Invite Revelation

Iqbal’s project is primarily philosophical. Throughout the first two chapters of Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal tries to reconcile the objectives of revealed religion and philosophy. According to him, the distinctions between both are in terms of greater details but both are one, as far as the original objective is concerned, i.e. acquiring knowledge. For Iqbal, mystic consciousness enables the self to interpret at a higher plane and is as valid as others methods of interpretation. He delineates the characteristics of the mystic experience and contends that there are intellectual and pragmatic tests to verify the knowledge gained through that experience. The example of Prophet Muhammad’s observation of a Jewish boy’s psychic abilities is a case study in carrying out such a test. Regarding claims of psychologists that Prophet was subjected to convulsive seizures, Iqbal takes stand that modern psychology has not yet devised the methods to differentiate between fruitless visions and divinely inspired messages.

Iqbal’s explanation of Prophetic experience of revelation is problematic on two related accounts. Foremost being that establishing the veracity of mystic experience in psychic domain does not automatically proves that Absolute Reality can be envisioned in a similar manner. Secondly, how can a mystic who is capable of acquiring knowledge of ultimate Reality through such an experience can need Prophetic Revelation for guidance?

Fazlur Rahman: Externality of Revelation is a Misunderstanding of Orthodoxy

Feeling-Idea-Word complex is the cornerstone of Fazlur Rahman’s discussion of the problem in his remarkable work on Islam. While insisting that revelation is not something external to Prophet, he asserts that the very idea of its external character is a gross misunderstanding of orthodoxy. Fazlur Rahman does not explicitly negate the being of an angel; neither does he deny the verbal character of revelation, as commonly believed during the days of turmoil. According to him, there was some ‘channel’ for the movement of Moral Law from its Source to Prophet’s heart but he does not speculate about this channel and rejects all the views of it that are quasi-mechanical; quite similarly as he rejects the ‘locomotive’ nature of Prophet’s ascension to heavens.

According to Rahman’s explanation, Prophet’s self in his ‘Quranic Moments’ was extended so much that it is virtually incomprehensible to identify his self as something distinguishable from the Divine Moral Law. In this state of ‘self ascension’ the Prophet’s expression of this Moral Law is Quran.

The single most important problem in Rahman’s construct is the impossibility of explaining tradition in its light. He obviously notes that himself and rejects a large magnitude of tradition (most of which is authentic according to conventional means of judging traditions) and considers it not more than a piece of historical fiction. There are other problems of course, for instance the dependency of textual characteristics of revelation on Prophet’s personal being in a particular historical setting. Rahman explores solutions to these problems by visibly formulating and tweaking his methodology.

Malik Bennabi: Revelation is External to the Prophet

As far as I am concerned, Bennabi’s exposition of the problem is the one that is most plausible among the three and deserves wider recognition. In Quranic Phenomenon, he neatly disentangles the problem into three parts, i.e. mode of revelation, Prophet’s personal conviction and the position of his self in the phenomenon of Wahy.

Bennabi strictly differentiates between intuition/inspiration and the phenomenon called Wahy which, according to his definition, should be taken to mean a spontaneous and absolute knowledge of a non-conceived or even inconceivable object. It is appropriate to quote him directly on this point:

…from the intellectual point of view, intuition does not induce any observable certainty on the part of the subject. It rather creates a semi certainty which corresponds to what one would call a postulate. It is a knowledge whose proof is a posteriori. It is this degree of uncertainty which psychologically distinguishes intuition from wahy. Now, Muhammad’s conviction was absolute, with the assurance in his eyes that the knowledge revealed to him was impersonal, incidental and external to his self. These characteristics were so evident to him that there could never remain any shadow of doubt in his mind as to the objectivity of the ‘revealing source’. This is a primary and absolutely necessary condition for the personal conviction of the subject. […] Is it by intuition that Muhammad himself could interpret the gestures of the mother of Moses, who abandoned her child to the currents of Nile? Is it also by intuition that he would have distinguished two kinds of intuitions in his verbal acts? One kind would include the verses of the Quran – since as sonorous syllables, it is part of those verbal acts – which he ordered immediately for transcription and the other, the ahadith, which he simply confided to the memory of his companions? If it were not for this clear awareness of this duality, so separated on the part of the subject, a similar comparison would simply be absurd.

Bennabi emphasizes the need to realize that Prophet Muhammad’s conviction stands as a direct evidence of the Quranic phenomenon and its supernatural character. According to Bennabi, Prophet Muhammad must have established two criteria to support his own conviction, i.e Phenomenological Criterion and the Rational Criterion. Explaining the first instance when Muhammad was dazzled by the light on the distant horizon as a ‘double sensation’, Bennabi asks:

Did he really hear and see this form? Or was this audio-visual sensation a mere subjective image [as Fazlur Rahman alludes to], surging through him as a result of a painful emotion that had driven him to the edge of the chasm? Was he the victim of over-excited senses?

Bennabi argues, while discussing the Phenomenological Criterion that these question must have occurred to a discursive mind like Muhammad’s, well before the critics of his time as well as ours. Being an engineer, he also asserts that the anomaly of Prophet’s visions is not physically unexplainable. His pointers towards the scientific arguments of luminous vibrations and a particular gamut of imperceptible frequencies below the visible band are the most interesting.

It is arguable and just a matter of personal opinion as to whose explanation among these three great thinkers is more accurate. There are finer nuances that need to be understood in order to compare their thoughts more objectively. The present effort is just an attempt to highlight an important discourse in modernist literature.

Is Javed Ghamidi a True Scholar?

Respectfully to a seeker who stumbled upon my blog through the search string: “Is Javed Ahmed Ghamdi a true Islamic scholar”.

It has been narrated that Awzai (the Syrian jurist), who was a contemporary of Abu Hanifa, once asked Abdullah Ibn Mubarak, “Have you heard about the innovator from Kufa whose kunyah is Abu Hanifa”.

Ibn Mubarak ignored his question and started narrating complicated jurisprudential issues, the juridic opinions regarding those and the fine deductive reasoning leading to those opinions.

“Whose fatawa are these?,” Awzai asked, after hearing him with interest .

“I met him in Iraq” Ibn Mubarak replied.

“He is surely a great scholar. I would some day meet him and learn from him,” Awzai said.

“He is Abu Hanifa,” Ibn Mubarak told him.

We have come a long way since those pre-modern times and like everything else, grapevine has been evolved considerably and transformed into a pseudo-conventional medium of attaining knowledge. It has now become customary in the cyber world to do cursory homework on scholars and jump upon the task of writing and discussing. But even though surfing can give you a lot to chew over, it cannot be an alternative for traditional methods of judging veracity and credibility of scholars.

As I suggested in the past, it is better to spend time in reading the scholars themselves, rather than gathering all the meat from those who have criticized them; sometimes derisively and in harshest of the ways. And I am not overreacting, as one of the search parameters in question, besides pointing to my rambles, retrieves links where Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is called a liar, cheat, fitna and even shaitan (the devil).

There is nothing more heartrending than ignorance.

I do not intend presently to do an extended entry on Ghamidi’s works or methodology and feel it enough to assert that his life and work represents a deeply rooted quest of knowledge. Even if one disagrees completely with whatever he has produced, his truthfulness and purity of intent is extremely hard to miss and these traits are very well embedded in the tradition of thought that he cherishes, carries and channels forward. The wikipedia entry, though helpful in directing towards many important resources, cannot obviously point towards this valuable tradition. Ghamidi himself calls it Dabistaan-e-Shibli (the school of Shibli) in one of his essays. I just aim to limn this tradition for those who don’t know.

Two distinct and usually rival currents of Islamic thought, i.e. traditionalist and modernist, can be identified in the Muslim Subcontinent since its exposure to western civilisation in the 19th Century.

Those who identified themselves with the traditionalist stream primarily contended that religion cannot be re-interpreted and reformed beyond the canons of their respective traditions and any enquiry into religious sources, i.e. Quran and Sunnah, must not remain independent of tradition. A logical byproduct was an attitude that willfully disregarded all the western methods of education, the categories of education itself and ultimately shaped a weltanschauung that was completely ignorant of modern socio-political philosophies. Great scholars like Qasim Nanotwi, Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, Mahmood ul Hasan Deobandi, Anwar Shah Kashmiri and Ashraf Ali Thanwi were torchbearers of this school of thought. A religious seminary in Deoband was established to uphold this tradition and disseminate its contents to next generations.

The Modernist School, as opposed to the traditionalist one, virtually set aside most of the tradition – at least in theory – and went about reforming Islam from scratch. Syed Ahmad Khan, who is arguably the pioneer of Modernist Movement in Subcontinent, established a school in Aligarh in order to introduce modern fields of study and impart education on a relatively progressive curriculum, never adopted previously in Muslim India. Aligarh movement was successful to a great extent and produced few notable scholars, for instance Syed Ameer Ali.

Shibli Nomani (1857 – 1914) brought forth a third current of religious thought in contrast to the above two. This third dimension, though progressive and revivalistic, claimed to carry the burden of tradition as well. Those who associated themselves with it, felt the need to go back to original sources and interact directly with Quran, as it was revealed in history, while trying not to be anachronic. Shibli was undoubtedly the first voice in Subcontinent asserting the need for modernisation of speculative theology (Jadeed ilm al-kalam). It can arguably be contended that Sulayman Nadwi, Abul Kalam Azad, Mawdudi, Muhammad Iqbal and Abdul Majid Daryabadi remained associated with this school of thought in one way or the other.

However, Hameedudin Farahi (a comparatively less known scholar from Azamgarh) can be called the ideal manifestation of this doctrine and the only one dedicating his life in establishing and articulating the canons of this new methodology which was supposed to be rooted firmly in the language of Quran. His student Ameen Ahsan Islahi carried forward the project of his mentor and climaxed it in the form of Tadabbur-i-Quran. Javed Ahmad Ghamdi remained under the tutelage of Islahi for a large part of his life and worked with him on various intellectual projects.

Islahi is no more, but Dabistan-e-Shibli still continue to live in the form of Javed Ahmad Ghamdi and others who have been learning directly and indirectly from him. It is only after drinking from the fountain of this tradition that you can judge about the veracity or mendacity of those who belong to it. No amount of googling can do it for you.

Revisiting Fazlur Rahman’s Ordeal

An anonymous commentator has inquired about the ‘backstory’ of banning of Fazlur Rahman’sIslam‘ and forced me to terminate my prolonged hiatus from blogging.

Dr Fazlur Rahman Anyone examining the newspapers of second half of 68′ would know with ease that the whole episode was one of the earliest and most unfortunate sagas of political hijacking of Islam. It is immaterial whether Fazlur Rahman was labeled a kaafir, an apostate or a religious hypocrite and how the political environment at that time overshadowed an otherwise academic issue; what is important however, that Fazlur Rahman proved to be a victim of misdirected traditionalist emotionalism and paid the heavy price of abandoning his cherished goal of transforming intellectual heritage of Muslims and deploying a modern religious education policy in Pakistan.

Tragically, he suffered a lot due to peculiarity of his dual associations; wherein he was an active proponent of reforming traditional understanding of primary religious sources while being an academic chairing a prestigious national institution (Central Institute of Islamic Research) at the same time. The tradionalist circles, in their blinded zeal to safeguard Islamic tradition, targeted him in person by unjustly questioning his intentions rather than postulating a fair and academic rebuttal to his thought and works. Additionally, he was misquoted by way of limiting his statements (made in his book) to specific meanings. Whereas these were deep philosophical assertions directed only to academics and students who were presumed to be technically familiar with that kind of discourse. It is also important to understand that Rahman was primarily trained in philosophy and two specific angles from which he analysed and re-evaluated the historical development of Islam are philosophy and education. He dealt with both these aspects throughout his writings and proved himself as one of the most important contemporary proponents of Islamic modernity.

Purposefully searching his works to find controversial parts is an intellectually trying experience and most of the times it is obvious that scholars who vociferously spoke against him did not take enough pain to read and understand him at all. For instance the objectionable parts in ‘Islam’ where Fazlur Rahman allegedly denied the physical existence of angels or doctrine of locomotive mir’aj are basically pointers towards the intellectual immaturity (according to Rahman) of orthodoxy and possiblities of better philosophical expositions of nature of Prophetic religious experiences. Moreover, all these arguments are rooted in the language of Quran and doubting his intentions is nothing but religious bigotry. Rahman’s assertions against the externality of revelation vis-à-vis the person of Prophet instigated most of the clamoring in traditional circles. Albeit, no direct denial of objectivity and verbal character of revelation came from him and he explicitly explained his views afterwards, controversialists argued incessantly that he has questioned the divine nature of revelation. Even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that Rahman actually believed in divine revelation of meanings and Prophetic transmission of words, he would not have been the first one to contend so. Years before him Jalaluddin Suyuti recorded a similar opinion (one of three opinions) regarding nature of revelation in his magnum opus on Quranic studies. If language is understood to support such a belief 500 years ago, there is no academic justification whatsoever to blatantly disregard any of the textual interpretation in modern times.

On a different note, it is also true that parts of Rahman’s overall methodology can be disagreed with strongly. He was an intellectually honest scholar and kept no secrets while admiring the work of Joseph Schacht and other orientalists in general. It is interesting however that while positing a strong criticism against some of Schacht’s assertions he also ended up drawing heavily from one of his major works as well. I always remember a valuable comment by one of my teachers who wrote (while helping me to evaluate some of Rahman’s contentions):

Max Weber’s ‘methodology of history’ demonstrates that Rahman’s position on the method of historical research was seriously flawed. Harlad Motzki’s research on the reliability of hadith reports demonstrates that Rahman’s position on hadith was flawed. Rahman was part of that generation of scholars (both in the West and the Muslim world) who treated traditional sources of knowledge with great deal of skepticism. More recently developments, variously called the post-critical school or the Yale School, assert that while there are some problems in the traditional sources those problems are not egregious enough to discount the entire tradition. This is a position that has emerged within modern western secular academia. Those Muslims still taking Schacht and Goldziher seriously are way behind the times.

Its tricky to unbrace all the knots, articulate every disagreement and encompass each complication of this great scholar’s thought. I ramble on and eventually meander whenever I sit to do so. But while I drift and sway, I revisit some enlightened bits of Fazlur Rahman’s legacy and live over the bitterness of his times.

Pope should not waste time reading all the people who wrote about Ibn Hazm; he should instead read Ibn Hazm.

If Pope’s evidence (the famous 14th century dialogue) to beef up his argument against Islam being a violent religion was fragile, flimsier was this allusion that Islamic teachings defy all the inherent reason in the universe. In fact, his remarks were pathetically blatant lacking sufficient concern for historical reality and an in-depth knowledge of Muslim philosophy. After reading the text of Ratzinger’s speech quite a few times, I am still perplexed regarding the line of his reasoning; namely that faith in an absolutely transcendent God whose acts and will cannot be grasped completely by human reason can possibly lead one to conceive His images which are capricious and may be against all truth and goodness. The argument becomes further ironic as Pope strangely chooses to abduce views of a multifarious Muslim writer who can equally be classified as a quasi-liberal writer/poet, a literal jurist, a controversial philosopher, an innovative grammarian or above all a compassionate ethicist.

Even scanty readings of Ibn Hazm would fail to portray him primarily as an absolute fatalist which Joseph Ratzinger was able to do inadvertently for his Christian audience with such an ease. The intuitive reason which Ratzinger calls creative and self communicating when combined with sound human perception and understanding of language is the first and foremost source of all human knowledge according to Ibn Hazm. It was one of his earliest projects to advocate a sound system of logic so that the revealed word of God can be defended without taking refuge in circular arguments. Times right before his were famous for determining value of logic as a means for attaining absolute truth. There were debates, for instance between Christian logician Abu Bishr Matta bin Yunus and the Muslim philologist Abu Said al Sirafi in early tenth century, resolving controversies whether logic is a form of universal expression or not. Ibn Hazm wrote extensively against the holders of extreme view of man tamantaqa tazandaqa (whoever practices logic practices heresy). In reposnse to his opponents, who objected with the counter-argument that early generations of Muslims did not resort to demonstrative argumentation and proofs rooted firmly in logic, he replied that they witnessed the revelation directly and were not exposed to contrastive beliefs.

An alternate undertaking in parallel was to refute the philosophers and theologians who elevated logic to a station where it can be used independantly as a means for attaining truth thereby superceding and replacing revelation. Many consider him as a pioneer in methodological rejection of hellenistic metaphysics of that time which was voiced by many Muslim philosophers with slight shifts in semantics. Here, the Pope is partially right as Ibn Hazm advocates an unbridgeable gap between the Creator and creation. However the underlying aim in Ibn Hazm’s discourse is not to establish that human beings are not responsible for their own actions by being submitted to Divine Will but to define a supreme station for God where there is no room left for speculations. Ibn Hazm achieves this with ease as he has the revealed word of God to fall back to, and which he uses as a touchstone to establish veracity of any claim regarding His ultimate nature.

Ratzinger however speculates erroneously when he hypothesize that Ibn Hazm’s God could have done everything against the truth and virtue. Ibn Hazm does not push his God away in order to grant him more divinity (as the Pope contends) but asserts that we cannot comprehend fully the particulars of God’s wisdom and will instead remain in need of His favours always. He pits these arguments against some of the Mutizilites who were presumably in favor of basing ethics on human reasoning, even at the cost of statements in the Quran. His often misunderstood contention that God can reward evil and punish good is completely subjective as he never claimed that God in fact does so. His contentions are rooted in a constantly recurring theme that humanity always needs objectively sustainable communication from the Creator as we cannot achieve salvation through reason alone. He and his God calls it the divine mercy and love, on which depends the destiny of all creation; and that is the only real analogy as far as Ibn Hazm is concerned.

Ibn Hazm can easily be misunderstood if his different positions are not disentangled carefully. Moreover his various intellectual stances can be put forth as an evidence for contradictory assertions. He tried all his life to bridge gaps between reason and revelation and describe the human condition and thought in relation to revealed word of God. His literature is depictive of human beauty and love of God. According to Ibn Hazm, we constantly need God to reveal us who He is, why He created us and what should we do and what we should not in order to attain His pleasure. It is one of His favors that He gave us the power to reason and contemplate both within our selves and with others. However all human contemplation, cogitation and criticism should take revelation as the starting point.


On a different note, I completely agree with what thabet has said and do share his feelings. Pope’s speech may have been full of inaccurate assertions and misreadings of Muslim theology (kalam) yet he has asked some challenging question which should be responded satisfactorily by contemporary Muslim scholarship. His major contention is that Islamic weltanschauung incorporates violence as a valid methodology and this world view is theologically rooted in the understanding of God’s nature and character. Why should these questions invoke anger, hate and murder instead of inciting positive and objective confrontation on intellectual fronts.

Among 20+ people that I have asked in the past week, none cared to read what Pope has actually said though they were aware that he has said something very wrong. A Christian member of Pakistan’s parliament who proposed the house to ask clarification from Vatican before passing a unanimous resolution of condemnation was forced to sit in protest. No major or minor newspaper (of Pakistan) took pains to translate and publish the entire speech or even its controversial parts. However none of them failed to make a great news story out of it. Its sad that Muslims of the world seems to be a big rabble lead by the pirates of intellect. Even sadder is the realization that there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.