By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
25 May 2017
Understanding neo-orthodoxy and modernity of Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri; a peep into the lectures of Imam Kashmiri
One reason for loving the fact of being a Kashmiri and within Kashmir North Kashmir is it has produced Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri. If one were given only one hour in life to meet the most important Kashmiri in the twentieth century, one would, arguably, choose to meet Shah Saheb. Our misfortune is that there are few, if any, in Kashmir today who are competent enough to comprehend and critically engage with a lot of things that Anwar Shah wrote including his notes on time, eschatology and ontology. He has been Kashmir’s greatest contribution to Islamic intellectualism. He suffered bitterly during his life time at the hands of lesser mortals and today he is suffering from oblivion. His legacy has been partly continued in Pakistan where some of his earlier students went after partition. He respectfully disagreed with almost all the great names of the past on certain issues – from Imam Bukhari to Shah Waliullah.
He criticized Ibn Taymiyyah for invoking rather crude logic, for not duly listening to the other and for extremism. He defended the great Sufi figures dear to modern man. For Hafiz he used the term Aarif and appreciated his credentials as a Quran exegete (referring to his great Hashiya on Kashaf). Rumi and his modern disciple Iqbal fascinated him. He complained he didn’t find even one good audience. Moderns like Iqbal got more benefit from some of his contributions than any Maulvi could as he himself said. He read philosophers thoroughly. Aristotle, he claimed, reached him from three sources as against Ibn Sina to whom only one source was accessible.
To us now Aristotle and other thinkers are more accessible than they were to Shah Saheb himself and may revise some points in Muslim Ulema’s and philosophers’ reading of the Greeks. He had great praise for Ibn Rushd’s legal works and was not unimpressed by his knowledge of Greeks although he sided with Ghazali in the controversy between the two. He was dissatisfied with inadequate attention given to the problem of meaning or we can say hermeneutics in classical Muslim thought. It is here that newer developments in hermeneutics including those in the perennialist camp become important for our consideration.
He didn’t think that last three centuries produced any Faqih that he would count and this evaluation resembles Iqbal’s. He pointed out limitations of Abdul Haq Muhaddis – there is only one new thing in him – and Shah Waliullah. Reminding us of classical giants, he knew music, Raml, Jafr, medicine as well. He thought that this Ummat hasn’t cleared debt to the Quran. It means the Quran remains inadequately read by classical scholarship. Iqbal would have agreed as would have many great modern scholars struggling with sublime heights and depths of the Quran vis-a-vis modern thought. Imam Kashmiri’s standards were so high that he would only occasionally quote any scholar from last few centuries. He often complained of not being understood and his inability to stoop too low to make himself comprehensible. One could say that he recognized the innate dignified station of intelligence and wasn’t ready to oversimplify.
He had no hesitation in saying that Mulla Sadra, a Shiite, was a Muhaqqiq. He made great use of Sufis in his classes and would, like Abu Nasr Zayd, take even Ibn Arabi to task on certain points, especially those that constituted his unique views. Iqbal thought he would be the person along with himself to help reconstruct Fiqh today. He made good use of humour that is especially favoured modern tool in teaching. He was basically a great teacher like Heidegger and Whitehead but caught up in a set up where Harvard or Frieburg style lecturing was not in vogue though he did seek to develop it in his own way as has been pointed out by one of his students. He was critical of deductive logic of certain theologians and didn’t reject logic per se although it isn’t clear if he had given enough attention to the underlying “laws of thought” that one is condemned to use even while criticizing them and appreciate ultimately metaphysical or ontological roots of logic in the First Principle.
He put Hanafi Fiqh on a sound footing that even generations of Ahle-Hadees scholars would find challenging. (For next hundred years Hanafi Fiqh would be safe, he claimed and this has been largely vindicated.) His critique of Imam Bukhari for downplaying Imam Abu Hanifa is a masterly work so nuanced and meticulous that one wonders if there is living any scholar from the rival camp who has the resources and patience for critically engaging with it. He displayed loyalty to Islam’s intelligence centric salvific model of faith in his critique of Imam Bukhari’s overemphasis on will vis-a- vis Iman. His treatment of faith only question vis-à-vis salvation/Falah is seconded in most of modern theological thought.
He picked up Hebrew and English but, unfortunately for Muslim community and its tradition of Hikmah, forgot the later. He has given us one of the most convincing accounts of eschatology in which key insight defended is that it is actions themselves that appear in the otherworld in the form of pleasures and pains; no bargaining, no arbitrary will negotiates what to be done and what not. He demonstrates how “man is punished by his sins, not for his sins” and how this world and otherworld are essentially one. And hell and heaven exist today (of course, posthumously as well) and we can peep into them, so to speak. Against rationalists and logicians he found Sufis heart touching. In fact it is Sufi metaphysicians which are echoed in his work and he should be read as a contributor to their project. His metaphysics needs to be explored now. One could build on certain of his insights, especially in certain difficult theological matters including those that have an eschatological dimension and build neo-orthodox theology that could be quite rewarding and influential for modern audience.
Since he didn’t have access to much of last few centuries of works on world religions and comparative theology and mysticism in Western languages, he upheld rather exclusivist views on certain issues that we can’t sustain now. Not that his analysis is to be faulted but limited access to the data to be analyzed.
A careful selection of works from such stalwarts as Imamadullah Muhajir Makki, Allama Kashmiri, Maulana Thanvi (who greatly admired Allama Kashmiri) Manazir Ahsan Gilani (author of a classic Ad-Dee-ul-Qayyim and translator of Asfar-i-Arbaea) and one of his disciples and co-translator of his Answer to Modernism, Hasan Askari on theological, spiritual and metaphysical questions would contribute to the task of guiding the perplexed modern Muslim in his admittedly difficult task of engaging with modernity while preserving his commitment to the Tradition of which Islam is the latest historical expression. Regarding the many questions of fiqh, I think Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Abdullahi Naimi, Soroush and others will have to be engaged with before proposing to appropriate Maulana Thanvi and Shah Saheb too uncritically. He was quite open to revisiting certain old rulings from his predecessors that are still taboo for some. For instance, he held that women can travel without Muharram for Hajj if security is ensured as is in modern times quite adequately, generally speaking. He also held that modern philosophy and science are closer to Islam than ancient Greek counterparts. And he pointed out that all prophetic traditions are derived from the Quran. Building on last two points one could resolve much of mistrust of much of modern scholarship on comparative philosophy and Hadees studies.
Where can we find such towering scholars now who could discuss Bukhari, Ibn Rushd, Sadra, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Arabi, Hafiz, Ghazali, Shah Waliullah with authority, respect and critical distance and who reminded us of our great Masters who were simultaneously poets, sages, scholars of traditions, knew a host of traditional and modern sciences besides displaying exemplary moral and spiritual credentials?
Allama Anwar Shah (Allama is now a day s applied to street scholars – Ilm being taken from inferior minds is according to a Hadees, a symptom of approaching Doomsday) had second thoughts regarding his life work spent in defending Fiqh of a certain kind – his enormous resources could perhaps have been better spent in developing Muslim philosophy, especially Sadrean and Iqbalian streaks, with both of which he shared much. Had he not forgotten English language and had he an opportunity to spend some time in leading Western universities interacting with such contemporary great modern philosophers as Heidegger and modern theologians like Barth and Tillich and Maritain and great scientist-philosophers like Whitehead, he would, quite probably, have given us something for which the whole world would have been indebted.
He somehow didn’t find time or environment to develop his great insights to help reorient Fiqh for meeting many contemporary challenges. His most original or best is contained in brief notes or remarks or scattered in certain passages in his great lectures. To get a feel of who is Imam Kashmiri and appreciate one’s woeful ignorance of depths and heights of Islamic intellectual Tradition a general reader may approach Nawadrati Imam Kashmiri and some lectures from his commentary on Bukhari Anwarul Bari and let us hope we build on scattered insights therein to build resources for addressing modern confused and disoriented age.