By Muhammad Maroof Shah
Dec 14 2016
There is something terribly wrong with religions as ordinarily understood and practiced, and appropriated for political ends. There is a truckload of guilt associated with non-issues; a fear psychosis promoted in the name of God understood as cosmic policeman, exploitation and oppression against women, minorities and religious other in their name.
Many an unfounded superstition and distrust of reason and science has also been associated with religions. Man has been made a slave instead of true worshipper and he has lost self confidence. People have been divided; hated, killed is its name. It is no wonder that modern man who is deeply religious has found it difficult to concede what has been sold in the name of religion. Failing to find deeply fulfilling rational, moral and spiritual theory and practice of religion, he seems to have chosen agnosticism or atheism or some sort of heresy. T
he choice now is between real religions that we find in certain philosophers, Sufis and artists and very few believers and distrust of religion as such. Leaving anti-religious atheists aside who seem to be very few and deny Homo religious or religious self of man or positive significance of God shaped hole in human consciousness or sacred as an inalienable dimension of human consciousness, we focus on essentially religious minds who have strongly criticized popular or exotericist understanding of religion and sought to direct our attention to more fulfilling spiritual, esoteric, intellectual and aesthetically oriented understanding.
Emily Dickinson, a deeply religious and mystical soul, said”faith is doubt.” Max Muller, that great pioneer in the study of sacred texts, said something similar. Graham Greene has said that what is too easily labelled as heresy is “only another word for freedom of thought.” “The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God & commits suicide” said Emerson. Here we find people disturbed by successful weather predictions and sonographic reports about foetal sex.
We have seen many people who suffer from unwilling disbelief and, as Montaigne said, some “make themselves believe that they believe.” When we understand that belief must be transformed into discovery and Ibadah into ma’rifa or ilm-al-yaqeen into Haqq-Al-Yaqeen and “God is not a concept but a precept,” the perceiver who really perceives what we perceive, the Light of the heavens and the earth, looking through the face of the other, throbbing vitality, “I am that I am” or the the One who really says “I” when one says “I” one is delivered of this strange predicament.
Proust, one of the most brilliant and influential writers of the twentieth century who emphasized mystical conception of art or importance of art in seeking transcendence has said that the highest praise of God is to be found in the denial of Him by the atheist, who considers creation to be perfect enough to dispense with a Creator. Shelley, more a mystic than an atheist said in a similar vein about God, “If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?”
Dalai Lama who is a deeply religious mind but not in theistic framework has remarked: “This is my simple religion. .. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple; your philosophy is simple kindness.” Any Sufi could have said this.
Love is the force that moves everything in Sufi understanding. Keats expressed in his own way what Sufis have been saying and Iqbal said in his verse “Yeh Shahdat Gah-I-Ulfat Mein Qadam Rekhna Hae/Loag Aasan Samajtae Haen Musalman Hona “I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have shuddered at it—I shudder no more—I could be martyred for my Religion—Love is my religion— I could die for that.”
Religions have ultimately pointed to heaven here and now and underscored how God is sarereul hisab – swift in taking account – and every moment we are crossing straight bridge (Pul Siraat). “Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.” Virtue is its own reward. Coleridge who was no atheist but a great believer said “Not one man in ten thousand has goodness of heart or strength of mind to be an atheist.” Saying no or la is the first step and those who don’t know negation we ordinarily associate with atheism know little of depths of faith either.
Failing to understand essential holiness of desire and passion that Islam has especially emphasized in its world and body affirming worldview, is behind the discomfort of those who have been forced to approach religion in too ascetic terms. “When I was a young boy,” said Fidel Castro who died just recently, “my father taught me that to be a good Catholic, I had to confess at church if I ever had impure thoughts about a girl. That very evening I had to rush to confess my sin. And the next night, and the next. After a week, I decided religion wasn’t for me.” It was William Blake, the great mystic or perennialists who made a similar point when he said: “As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.”
Art has been essential to integral view of traditions and kindred to religious dimension of self. Nietzsche’s complaint that “Art raises its head where religions decline.” is true about periods when we lose integral view of religion. Art has been a support and even an expression of religious consciousness. Almost all great names in traditional religion have had something to do with art as well.
Today we don’t find centrality of art for religions because we don’t know true religion. Arts are supposedly banned in the name of religion, an attitude that Abul Kalam Azad magisterially dismissed in his last paragraph of Ghubar-i- Khatir. How can we discount Taj Mahal, Mosque of Cordova, Sufi poetry and music, men like Khusro and Al-Farabi when we neglect artistic dimension of Islamic tradition? GBS expressed art’s essential spirituality when he said “I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of colour, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed.”
Those who know Corbin’ s work on creative imagination in Sufism (Alone with the Alone) and Harold Bloom’s foreword to the same would easily appreciate orthodoxy of Keatsian statement “My Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk.” There is a poet in almost all of us. Who can escape God who has determined that we worship Him as The Greatest Master would understand it even if we think we have escaped his gaze or Al-Wadood’s attractive power. Perhaps Vincent van Gogh was asserting holiness of our creative self or imagination when he said “I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, ill as I am, do without something which is greater than I, which is my life—the power to create.”
It is essentially religious view of karma yogi that is expressed in the statement “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” When we find in Shakespeare “Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise” let us note that this is not corrosive despairing doubt but healthy note of scepticism that is an antidote to fundamentalism.
Gandhi expressed in his own way essentially Quranic understanding of God as Al-Haqq or Truth when he said “‘the concepts of truth may dyer. But all admit and respect truth. That truth I call God. For some time I was saying, “God is Truth,” but that did not satisfy me. So now I say, “Truth is God.”