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Islam and Science ( 15 May 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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If It Is in God That We Live and Have Our Being, It Is by Virtue of Savouring the Gift of Metaphysics That Our Lives Become Worth Living

By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah 

28 Mar 2020 

Debating Traditionalist Thought in Kashmir

What does one do to squarely face scores of influential books and websites targeting Islam, especially in the wake of modernity and post-modernity? Turn to the greatest Masters of Islamic tradition to examine for oneself how far can one’s moral, intellectual and spiritual legacy sustain this battery of critiques and in turn gives one certitude and meaning amidst torrential currents of doubt and despair that beset us in troubled irreverent times. This is what bright Kashmiri youth like Aamir Suhail Wani have done. 

Brought up in typical Kashmiri mystical ambiance and having unconsciously assimilated the heritage transmitted orally by parents/educators/Sufis in Kashmiri households, Aamir has been able to stay Muslim and modern thanks primarily to great modern sages of traditionalist school who have presented a compelling critique of modernity and defense of Tradition of which historical Islam is a subset. Few know that even Iqbal was saved by poet sage figures. If one reads great traditional Masters/sages like Rumi and Bedil and can access likes of Ibn Arabi and Sirhindi and has no inhibitions against benefitting from modern Masters like Shaykh Abdul Wahid Yahya and Shaykh Isa Nuruddin and one is a poet and avid reader of Kashmiri Sufi poets and good Iqbal scholar, there is ample immunity against desacralizing despairing thought currents we are flooded in. Kashmir has indeed a future as likes of Aamir are there who have bravely accepted the challenge of fire of Danish-I Hazirand the report so far is that the fire doesn’t burn and it only purifies one of the dross of superficial literalist fundamentalist opinionated ideological framing of Tradition. 

      Let us note Aamir’s invitation (in Lights from Sinai: Traditional Response to the Modern World, Kitab Mahal, 2019) to Tradition in an age that has largely forgotten key lessons and discoveries of ancients as lived and preached in lives of prophets and saints. Chesterton wrote: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes – our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.” Aamir invites us to Metaphysics, the science of the supraphenomenal or Real. In Nasr’s words: “It is a science as strict and as exact as mathematics and with the same clarity and certitude, but one which can only be attained through intellectual intuition and not simply through ratiocination.” Given it constitutes the ground and justification for religion, one can’t eschew it from a religious point of view. In fact, to be truly human is to treasure Metaphysics. If it is in God that we live and have our being, it is by virtue of savouring the gift of metaphysics that our lives become worth living. In the words of Schuon, “The requirement for us to recognise the Absolute is itself an absolute one; it concerns man as such and not man under such and such conditions. It is a fundamental aspect of human dignity, and especially of that intelligence which denoted "the state of man hard to obtain", that we accept Truth because it is true and for no other reason.” “The Infinite is what it is; one may understand it or not understand it. Metaphysics cannot be taught to everyone but, if it could be, there would be no atheism.”  Metaphysics provides "infallible standard by which not only religions, but still more 'philosophies' and 'sciences' must be 'corrected'...and interpreted". Metaphysics, it is shown, can be ignored or forgotten but not refuted "precisely because it is immutable and not related to change qua change." It is not that we are all required to be metaphysicians as religion is enough to save all. In its elaborate technical sense, it is the prerogative of intellectual and spiritual elite. 

      Metaphysical principles “are true and valid once and for all and not for this particular age or mentality, and could not, in any sense, ‘evolve.’ They can be validated directly in the plenary and unitive experience of the mystic. Thus, Martin Lings can write of Sufism - and one could say the same of any intrinsically orthodox traditional esotericism - that it...has the right to be inexorable because it is based on certainties and not on opinions. It has the obligation to be inexorable because mysticism is the sole repository of Truth, in the fullest sense, being above all concerned with the Absolute, the Infinite and the Eternal… Without mysticism, Reality would have no voice in the world.” It means it is in light of Metaphysics that religion basks and gets ultimate justification. Prophets derive their authority from mystical encounters with the Ultimate. 

 One can appreciate the problem in judging mysticism itself in theological/religious terms. Rumi has put the claim of the sacred science of Metaphysics thus: “The proof of the sun is the sun: if thou require the proof, do not avert thy face.” Plato’s indictment of those moderns who despise metaphysics or relegate it to secondary place runs thus: "The possession of all the sciences, if unaccompanied by the knowledge of the best, will more often than not injure the possessor.” 

      Aamir invites us to sages like Sankara and Eckhart, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Sina, Eckart’s point "There is something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable...this is the Intellect" if recognized would dissolve so much of theological quibbling over God-man relation in Sufism and all Unitarian esotericism. Old meadow explains another key point about metaphysics and its relation to religion thus: 

The metaphysician does not seek to invent or discover or prove a new system of thought but rather to crystallize direct apprehensions of Reality insofar as this is possible within the limited resources of human language, making use not only of logic but of symbol and analogy. Furthermore, the science of metaphysics must always proceed in the context of a revealed religion, protected by the tradition in question which also supplies the necessary supports for the full realisation or actualisation of metaphysical doctrines… 

      "Religion itself, flowing from the Divine, must contain within itself principal or metaphysical knowledge but this will be veiled by the forms in question” Scripture contains in “an indirect way and under cover of an appropriate symbolism, metaphysics in its entirety.” Schuon has elsewhere remarked that La Illa Illa Llah contains whole of metaphysics.Oldmeadow further notes: “Metaphysics can be expressed visually and ritually as well as verbally. The Chinese and Red Indian traditions furnish pre-eminent examples of these possibilities.” Dogmas are both “keys to unlock the gate of Unitive Truth; but they are also (since a key can close, as well as open a gate) possible obstacles to its profoundest knowledge” as Marco Pallis put it. 

      Aamir explains mostly in lucid and occasionally in convoluted language such things as sketched above. Although he has yet to find time and solitude to access many a key classic of metaphysics or modern philosophy first hand, he has had access to certain major works of modern sages like Guenon and Schuon and more importantly has read great sage-poets of Islamic tradition such as Bedil, Khawja Ghulam Farid, Rumi and Iqbal. He hastily lashes on certain modern philosophers like Nietzsche and Heidegger. He doesn’t take note of Guenon’s critique of Bergson or Corbin’s positive estimate of Heidegger or alternative readings of Nietzsche in traditionalist and other camps that present him as an ally of mysticism. He imagines a world where sophisticated defences of Enlightenment and modernity and postmodern project haven’t been attempted to need to be engaged with. Although he doesn’t take note of either certain differences in emphasis and presentation or nuances within the traditionalist camp especially on the question of modernity and takes liberty to use certain terms and phrases loosely, Aamir nevertheless succeeds in articulating the crux of traditionalist critique of modernity, as distinguished from response to it. 

Some essays don’t add to existing scholarship but summarize it and as such may be skipped by informed readers. What makes Aamir ‘s debut remarkable is that his is arguably the first attempt from Kashmiri youth to engage with a debate on which is staked the fate of our world. He has sought to, often successfully, present his readings or readings of traditionalist scholars in an academic style that, despite limitations, deserves, at least in parts, a hearing from students of modern thought currents for whom the world of Tradition is Greek. He has sought to plunge into the depths of traditional wisdom enshrined in art and philosophy and riches of Islamic intellectual and spiritual resources to argue why and how it is possible to be a Muslim and Mu’min in a world of doubt, despair and violence. He shows us aesthetic, pluralist and poetic face of Islam that would force attention from the best of modern and postmodern philosophers. 

      Aamir scans certain aspects of literary and scholarly corpus of modern Islam, Urdu, Kashmiri and Persian poetry and select modern thought current to suggest how we may move forward the dialogue with the religious and philosophical other. Given his background in applied sciences and deep interest in the interface of science, mysticism, art and religion, he is able to present us nuanced or complex understanding of difficult and debatable issues such as place of music in Islam. He appropriates, rather hastily and uncritically, certain existentialist interpretation of theology and religious critique of Nietzsche. He succeeds in diving deep to unearth certain forgotten elements of Islamic and traditional metaphysical legacy. He doesn’t make a virtue of originality and seeks to faithfully present traditional response to certain modern issues. 

Such essays as “Understanding Modernity” are well argued and time’s worth. To quote Aamir: “The modern mind-set has replaced grace with pace, and permanence with change…The failure to discover the centre of existence is compensated by multiplication of orbits and trajectories.”  This is central statement of the book and constitutes key essay. 

      Modernist influence he otherwise seeks to exorcize ironically lurks in certain assertions of the author.  For instance, Lalla’s poetry is described as mystifying. Her milieu is said to be characterized by unnecessary scholasticism, mysticism is described as an ideology and the term or advocacy of ideology of future, critique and critic are confounded. Some essays have been written hastily and their content and suggested readings woefully inadequate or even misleading and language is rather fuzzy.  For instance, “Of the Sacred and Symbols.” and “Understanding Religion through Spiritual Symbolism.” 

      A few remarks about his reading of philosophers. Aamir builds his case against Nietzsche on the basis of Russell and Will Durant whose judgments in this case have been not just uncharitable but patently wrong if later Nietzsche scholarship is to be given its due consideration. Such accusations as inspiration for Hitler based on posthumously published and badly edited notes have long been discredited by Nietzsche scholars. Traditionalist critique of Bergson’s intuitionism as a species of sub-rationalism is not noted either. Heidegger is dismissed without being heard. 

      Let me conclude with notes of gratitude to the publisher Kitab Mahal for publishing and reprinting works on Sufism and Tradition at more affordable price and to our young poet-scholar who has given us a selection of certain verses of his own marked by felicity of expression further strengthening our perception of Aamir’s variegated gifts. 

Original Headline: Invitation to the Sacred Science in the Postmodern World