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Spiritual Meditations ( 30 May 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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We All Must Avoid Errors of (Inferential) Presuppositions

By Sumit Paul, New Age Islam

30 May 2022

Instance number one: Nearly a century ago, an abstract painting was displayed at the Vienna Art Gallery. All great art critics interpreted that painting in a myriad of ways. Great art critic Koehl Muir even wrote a treatise on it. In short, critics found innumerable profound meanings in the painting that were not obvious and ostensible. This euphoria went on for a fortnight, until a child pointed out that the painting was accidentally upside down right from the first day!

Instance number two: American abstract expressionist Paul Jackson Pollock narrated a funny but true story. Once the great painter and father of Cubism, Pablo Picasso, dipped his mule's tail in colours and flipped it indiscriminately on the canvas. 'Connoisseurs' and critics began to theorise it in their abstruse way, finding the shades and hues of Surrealism, Expressionism, Post-Impressionism and whatnot, until the Spanish great told them with a wry face as to how his mule's tail created that picture! Imagine the embarrassment of a battery of critics and cognoscenti. They were mortified.

These two examples, rather analogies, can help you understand as to how armchair 'exegetes' infer beforehand and impose their presuppositions and prejudices on scriptural texts. Interpreting verses in a puerile manner seems to be their hobbyhorse. They're hell-bent upon seeing what never existed there.

In the parlance of logic, this phenomenon is known as Errors of Inferential Presuppositions. Whether it's Genetic Memory or properties of Nutfa (Arabic for semen), these scriptures, particularly of an Abrahamic faith, seem to have all the knowledge and wisdom of the universe. Did you know, why the rampaging Turk Bakhtiyar Khilji incinerated Nalanda in Bihar in 1193 CE and gutted nearly 10 lakh tomes in its library? He thought, like all pious Muslims, that the Quran contained all the knowledge. So, why should other books exist? Muslims destroyed yet another seat of learning in 1203 CE and this time it was Vikramshila University, again in Bihar. The logic was simple: When the Quran had everything, it's better to make a bonfire of all screeds. What a warped and distorted logic! I doff my hat to these morons, ironically, of course. 

Moreover, what has been the contribution of all these armchair exegetes ensconced in the snug comforts of their four walls? Do they show solidarity with the oppressed, depressed and suppressed mankind? Do these people condemn when a young Christian girl is dragged out of her classroom, lynched and burnt in public by macabre Muslims in Nigeria for the alleged blasphemy? This happened very recently. Do these indolent, idlers dare criticize when Talibanis humiliate women and relegate them to animals in neighbouring Afghanistan? Do these self-styled 'scholars' of the Quran say anything against the Muslims of Pakistan who're converting the minorities to Islam and killing anyone for blasphemy? Their silence is deafening and their indifference is pathological, nay petrifying.

Lest the majority of Muslim readers should think that Islam is my favourite punching bag, let me go beyond Islam and Muslims. I belong to NONE and am free of all prejudices, disliking everyone equally as I cannot hate anyone for, hatred is more implacable than dislike. I've categorically condemned the attitude and approach of the religious satraps of Hindus who nonchalantly choose to look askance when poor Muslims are harassed and tormented across the country.

When Hindu zealots were provoking the fellow Hindus to wipe out Muslims at the Dharam Sansad, all Hindu religious heads kept mum and didn't protest. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article in French for Le Figaro, Paris in which I condemned how Adi Shankara, a Savant and man of scriptures, propounding Advait, (non-dualism) encouraged the decimation of poor and helpless Jains and Buddhists as both were becoming potential threats to Hinduism.

In fact, more often than not you come across 'religious' people in all religions, indulging in all sorts of irreligious and despicable activities. On a lighter note, great Vachaspati Mishra, student of Mandan Mishra, who was defeated by Adi Shankara in a discourse, wrote a Bhashya (treatise), named after his commentary on Shankara's Brahma Sutra Bhashya. It's believed that the name of his most famous work Bhamati was inspired by his devout wife whom he simply forgot (yes, forgot) as he was engrossed in writing a Bhashya, which's simply unintelligible even to the great scholars.

The point is: What constructive work did he do? Why on earth did he marry just to forget his poor wife? And when he realized his blunder, he named his 'grand' treatise after his neglected wife, just as a mark of expiation. All charade! That rank irresponsible 'scholar' couldn't even pay heed to his legal wife. He did nothing for the society and never condemned the abominable caste system prevalent among Hindus. His master, Mandan Mishra, a Maithili Brahmin, also did nothing constructive except for fabricating most abstrue philosophical theories that are still cryptic to most of the students and their erudite teachers.

‘Enlightened’ Shankara openly hated Shudras! Ironically, these utterly prejudiced and extremely religious (in a negative sense) people are called the 'saviours' of Hinduism! Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza, once called the most impious man on earth, aptly said, “Denchi Enst Enflate Phena Dim'er “(indifference of 'religious' people is most condemnable). When the world talks of Space, Light Years, Travel to Mars, many Muslims are still stuck in finding 'contemporary' relevance in the dubious, man-made and ridiculous verses in the Quran and Hindu astrologers are also emulating their Muslim counterparts in predicting the end of the world and the arrival of mythical Kalki-Avtar! Needless to say, it's all putrid bilge.

Remember, when it comes to religious stupidity and inanities, all are tarred with the same brush. Hamaam Mein Saare Nange Hain. This reminds me of an opposite couplet: Un Ko Hai Chaand-Sitaron Ka Tajassus/Ek Hum Hain Ke Unki Zulfon Mein Kham Dhoondh Rahe Hain (They've the curiosity to explore moon and stars/ Alas, we're still searching for curls in the beloved's tresses). Az Tu Harkat, Az Khoda Barkat ( Strive and god will bless you; Urdu: Harkat Mein Barkat) is a message from 'Heaven' that must be imbibed by all erudite scholars of Islam, engaged in explaining recondite verses of the desert wisdom of the 7th century and turning a Nelson's eye to the sufferings of their fellow humans. Remember the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, " In the end, we'll remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. " 


An occasional columnist for New Age Islam, Sumit Paul is a researcher in comparative religions, with special reference to Islam. He has contributed articles to world's premier publications in several languages including Persian. 


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