Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Tag: Philosophy

Seyyed Hossein Nasr – “Sunnism and Shi’ism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”

Here is an awesome lecture delivered by a scholar that I admire a great deal – he is perhaps the most important Islamic philosopher (certainly the most prolific, as far as I know) of the last century.

This talk outlines the theological differences between the two schools of thought, and he goes out of his way – and rightly so – to demonstrate that in terms of jurisprudence and for a great deal, theology, the differences in the schools of thought are quite minimal. He clearly demonstrates how the major theme in Islamic Thought today (especially that which is promulgated by certain state with petrodollars) resembles far less traditional Sunni orthodoxy than we in the West might think.

The fact that more books exist today about the Shi’a than traditional ‘orthodox’ Islam (which comprises the largest majority as a percentage from within any major religion today) tells me, at the very least, that our faith is being highjacked in favour of a more ‘puritanical, rationalistic’ Islam. Moreover, his analysis of the modern state that is now Saudi Arabia is very astute – especially in his reference to the transfer of technology from the US to SA.

If you can take an hour out of your day to watch this lecture (and even take notes), I would certainly attest that it would be well-worth your time. We need more people like Dr Nasr who will try to highlight how similar the competing narratives of Islamic thought actually are, and that how historically we, as Muslims, lived in very congenial circumstances – and to a large degree still do. Predominantly, the great cause of this discord within the community is proliferated by the Islam that al-Qaeda tend to promote – not by those very minimal theological and jurisprudential differences orthodox (Sunni) Islam has hen compared to mainstream Shi’ism.

In fact, the major point of this talk is that we as Muslims can continue to coexist despite these differences, and despite the catastrophes and humanitarian disasters being created in the Middle East today; efforts are still ongoing today to build bridges and continue to acknowledge one-another – but I fear that to a large extent these efforts are being undermined by that new, puritanical form of Islam which underpins a tyrannical regime which is actively creating discord in the Muslim world.

As a Muslim who tends to fall closer to the Shi’i tradition, I still hurt when I read about the highjacking of the faith because no doubt do these people commit a great injustice to the Sunni tradition – I call on the Shi’a (though many already do this) to equally rise up to the challenge of defending the Sunni orthodoxy for all its beauty and contributions, as well as academic integrity and diversity. It is our duty as a community to not let the legacy of or beloved Prophet – the Mercy for all the worlds – to be desecrated in the name of these illegitimate ideologies; we ought not be divided at their hands and their colonial masters. Islam has so much good to contribute to our world – without unity and the acceptance of each other, we will fall short of creating the best possible world. The Shi’a tradition emphasises heavily our duty to the Mahdi – we cannot be fatalists and let our creed, and the dignity of our brothers, be destroyed from within.

Evolving Education….the Insidious Tyranny of Science?

I’m intrigued by this piece reported by the BBC; we’re living in a rapidly moving postmodern world where the likes of ‘scientists’ or ‘naturalists’ (or however else they style themselves) seem to be dominating the discourse in the area of pedagogy, science, natural history, politics…

So when you read that schools might lose their funding from the Government because those at the helm do not necessarily favour Evolution by Natural Selection as the sole model for determining how complex biological life came into being (obviously without invoking a higher power/God), is it just me or is this where science gets dangerous?

For the past couple of centuries the ‘secular’ model of governing a state seems to have been the preferred one, especially after the Enlightenment, as it was deemed then that religion would  and already had become rather tyrannical and be inept at governing various groups of people fairly and without prejudice.

Yet I find myself living in a world now where the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection seems to have become the basic currency with which any discourse might be exchanged; now I have no problem per se with the theory of Evolution as a process for explaining to some degree of coherence the explanation for how life came to ‘be’ in the world – what troubles me is that Creationism is now being deemed as part of myth – i.e. religion.

(I must add here, of course, that it makes no sense to deem Creationism a mere folly – at its most basic level this lens suggests that there is a cause beyond this universe that at the very least, set our universe in motion. It does not necessarily mean that the world is some six-thousand years old as the Young Earth Creationists believe. I am happy to say that I am a Creationist who thinks life emerged, at least on the physical plane, out of a process of Evolution – remember of course, the gene-centered theory is now a minority position – but does that mean that I think that this is a necessary contradiction? I like the term Intelligent Design to sum this position up – what assumptions you make about my beliefs without questioning them, or by consigning them to mere myth  shouldn’t be a fault in me – rather it is the judgemental nature of science that we should take issue with (which ironically prides itself on being objective – something which modern studies in hermeneutics suggests is incredibly fallacious).

Moreover, I firmly believe that what defines ‘us’ as sentient beings has roots in something inexplicable by science – our ability to reflect on our own existence rather than be merely dominated by essentialist biological assumptions to me indicates that exists what Islam has always deemed the ‘fitrah’, that innate sense of the sacred essentially.

Is it just me or is science, of Scientism going to be come the new tyranny? I don’t buy that Science can be necessarily a moral agent for world, nor necessarily the prioritised objective lens through which we view it; historically it was the view of science and scientists that the world was created by a God which drove further explorations into His Mystery (forget the whole Galileo episode for a little while). Religion, or a God-oriented view of nature, as Professor Steve Fuller of Warwick University says, has been an instrumental driver of science – I am convinced that the meaning we ascribe to science was hermeneutically born out of the belief in God (just look at the science that came out of the Islamic world or in Europe); if we forget where science actually came from, and to how much it owes to religion, then science fails to have any significant meaning, nay, purpose, which scientists and apologists for Scientism suggest is a necessary agent for their work.

But science – more specifically the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – shouldn’t have to be the modern meta-narrative of our world – the fact that we one day might be able to explain the physical processes that constitute our existence and the world that we observe around us does nothing to help us actualise in the world. Our purpose to understand or to know, or to create (all things that are certainly valuable things  -and as yet science cannot explain the need for our aesthetic agency) did nothing to stop the catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example; except to tell us that those that are weak (and now I mean this in a sociological sense) are doomed to perish, either at the hands of the strong or out of the actions of the strong.

Proponents of science today that are trying to systematically reject the normative narrative that religions have to offer fail to see that their commitment to pure, objective science that might some day explain the world is becoming a force that can be just as tyrannical. It is because of philosophy and religion that we endeavour to feed and clothe and heal the hungry, the homeless that exist far enough outside of our communities to have no impact on our own worlds and our abilities to thrive in them; according to science, altruism is merely a biological function and not a end-good, moreover Evolution by Natural Selection has its own normative process and agency – that the strong survive and that the weak shall perish. Though we see it happen in the animal kingdom we do not see it as a moral problem – yet when we see injustices and such cruel realities in our own, we find them morally and normatively abhorrent. Why? As Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr says – if indeed we are merely composed of atoms banging against one-another then our attempts at being ‘moral agents’ is pure ‘sentimentality’. So far I cannot think of an adequate argument against this.

Somehow it has come in vogue that invoking a deity seems to be something that is unscientific – as if to say that by invoking God one has just filled an empty space with an explanation, which in itself cannot be explained; yet the trouble is that within the philosophy of science, no-one can seriously claim that all explanations require further explanations for them to become true – in our cause and effect universe within which we find ourselves, that is tantamount to invoking an infinite regress.

Remember, Newton didn’t know what gravity actually was, rather, he was able to explain the effects of gravity were – does that mean that gravity itself doesn’t exist or is an inadequate explanation for what he observed? Of course not.

If indeed we emerged out of a slow process of biological evolution which by some miraculous chance allowed us to exist despite tremendous odds against that chance, does that mean that because we cannot explain the origins of the universe within which we are found, that same universe in which evolution could actually occur, does that mean necessarily that it is an unscientific explanation? Certainly not on this account too.

Now whether you favour a ‘naturalistic’ explanation to the cause of our universe, or whether you think that it is better explained by an uncaused cause – surely you should be allowed to offer both, or other explanations, as part of a scientific education. Moreover, surely educators should be allowed to express which of those theories they actually believe in.

In my experience it was those teachers that expressed their opinions in the classroom that had the most profound impact on my education, those who spoke out, who weren’t afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom (recall, this is constantly being redefined – not a hundred years ago were women considered cattle or the expendable commodities of men, not a few centuries was it certain that the world was flat, not a month ago was it believed that a supermassive black hole could ‘exist’ at the centre of a small galaxy etc). Today, science tells us that biological life for a given individual begins at the point when two gametes meet, yet that same science cannot tell us whether it is actually ethical to terminate that life, even though it increasingly provides us the means to do it.

As a student of history and politics at university, or as someone who has an interest in religion and philosophy – the theory of Evolution has done very little to change my approach to these disciplines; the notion of the survival of the fittest as a model for perpetuating life has very little to do with my studies of the past, or my ability to grasp theological positions. Moreover, having studied both the theories of Evolution and the case for ‘Creationism’ (argh I hate that term), I have come to a conclusion for myself. I do not think that scientists have the right to tell me what to believe  – knowledge has to come from a perspective of reflection. The obsession with purity or an arrogance of superiority is/are what were traditionally ascribed to organised religion; today as religion is increasingly dying in our society we see science filling that space. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, after all. But scientists cannot agree to it because they refuse to recognise their own fallacies.

We have thrived for millennia without understanding Evolution in the way science explains it –  I do not see it as the theory that will be our Saving Grace. For that, we need to look within ourselves, not merely at ourselves.

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Finally – it’s worth watching Steve Fullers short interview on Intelligent Design – it’s about 7 minutes long and worth every second, in my humble opinion.

Freedom?! What Freedom?! Freedom-fanaticism and the fallacy of the State-Religion. Enough of the ‘Politics of Derision.’

A good friend of mine, Siraj Datoo (Editor in Chief of The Student Journals – studentjournals.co.uk) was in September on BBC World Have Your Say, as part of an interesting discussion on the protests across the Muslim world and from the Muslim communities in the West.

It’s a great discussion and I found it very thought-provoking. Yes, I know it’s a little late for me to comment – but in a narcissistic aim to feed my ego, I might as well chime in on the discussion.

If you’d like my rant and comments on this programme (very badly composed as I sort of zoned out and typed furiously over the course of a few minutes), I’ll include my thoughts under the link. Siraj’s blog can be found here.

I very much enjoyed this programme. I liked the French fellow – he seemed to have interesting things to say, but alas, did seem to speak a little from the privileged perspective.

I enjoyed this platform particularly because most of the panelists were articulate, educated, peace-oriented (although that’s the de facto human condition if you strip away all those things the higher powers use to divide us) – thankfully no fringe-fanatics were interviewed, no Anjem Choudarys or fanatical, angry, bearded clerics in sight, thank God!). Though the BBC is now an arm of the British Government in many respects, I think that this programme was pretty balanced and nuanced. Only that they didn’t discuss the problem of modern Western imperialism in the Middle East and the ‘global south’ in general.

The American fellow is moronic, if you’ll excuse me, comparing the President of the US to say the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha etc – absolute madness. Most Westerners don’t feel about their leaders what Muslims in general feel about the Prophet Muhammad – he is seen as the paragon of virtue, of love, of humanity – I imagine the same way Christians feel about Jesus. If you actually read the histories and biographies of his life, his track record is far better than that of say, Sarkozy or Obama.

His talk (that is, our American friend) of freedom of speech in the States being a result of the struggle for liberation from British imperialism is a bit rich; many of the protestors, as was said on the show, live in the third world. They are affected by imperialism to this day. It’s all fair and well that the ‘free’ man can criticise – only he doesn’t realise that in his hand he firmly grasps the whip the beat at the backs of the barbarians he is trying to civilise.

More importantly, they are subject to rampant, unrestrained imperialism on the part of the US, Britain, the ‘free world’.

Do you think their burning of US flags and effigies of Obama are as a result of their hatred of ‘freedom’? As Chomsky said, it’s not that they hate our freedoms, but it’s that we hate their freedoms. The US has for decades continued to prop up the most authoritarian, fanatical regimes across the Arab and Muslims world (and elsewhere) – which undermines daily the dignity and freedoms of the Muslims. We saw it with Gaddhafi, Mubarak, the House of Saud, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, the Bahraini monarchy (now a client state), the Israeli government that for decades has massacred the Palestinians and Lebanese without restraint.. the list goes on…not to mention that they currently occupy two countries now in the Middle East. Don’t even get me started on what they’re doing across Africa, the Far East, the South Pacific.

Mahesh was completely misguided – liberating the Kuwaitis was a benevolent act on the part of the US?!

So long as this mentality of crazy, right-wing (party fanatical Christian Right) jingoism continues in the world, the West will never understand why it is the Muslim world feels under attack when symbols of their identity – especially their religious identity (no doubt the Islamic identity is the most powerful one extant today, the staying power and message of the Prophet hasn’t waned – which says something about the universality of Islam I think) – is denigrated.

Yes, the film was used as an excuse for violence – madness. But the anger, resentment, feeling of threat on the part of the Muslim world is not something they imagined. The US and Western imperial agenda is still alive, these protestors live in so-called ‘postcolonial’ societies (can you sense the irony?!) whose progress toward dignity, individual freedom, is constantly hampered by either US funds or Saudi petrodollars to prop up and perpetuate the most barbaric conditions – degrading the dignity of those Muslims, Christians and Jews who happen to live in those failed states.

As a community – we feel the frustration (as many of us more privileged in the West travel ‘home’ often) of our brethren, just as much as we feel under attack in or actual homes in the West because of this ‘softer’ approach toward marginalising an Islamic way of life in so-called democracies. The Prophet, hijab, halal meat, male circumcision, the Islamic moral code (that’s the whole of the Shari’ah – not just the punitive stuff the Right likes to parade on Fox News) – all of this is being sidelined in favour of something more ‘civilised’. Funny, I don’t see the Kosher food or male circumcision in the state of Israel as being demonised by our press in the West. But they do indeed seem to care a little too much about it in, Germany and France – where Muslims are a significant minority (as well as Jews, incidentally).

It’s ironic, is it not, that their aim to liberate those poor, oppressed, Muslim women in the Islamic world, they have to ban the burqa in France?! That’s just a pretext for something far more pernicious, sinister. Islam is coming under attack from a very influential atheistic lobby and Religious Right; my concern, and perhaps it’s paranoia – but if they continue to inflict this kind of neoimperialism and liberal arrogance on the Arab, Muslim and Third-World, and the Muslims (and perhaps even others) keep protesting both here in the West, and there, feeding the paranoia of the Religious Right and the secularists, the mass deportations might begin sooner than we think.

The proper response to such cartoons varies depending on the context of the people who are protesting – but certainly it should be a peaceful one. Moreover, the privileged Muslims in the West at least should pool their funds together – we need better PR. Thought it’s unfair that we are put in this situation to have to defend ourselves (people are uneducated about the Islamic world, about Muslims) – we need films, books, media of our own to be accessible, highly promoted – to build an understanding of what Islam has to offer to society, and what its potential can be as part of the ‘Liberal’ world.

I do believe in the tenets of freedom of speech – and if someone wants to disrespect a particular religion or institution – I will defend his right to do so. Only, he doesn’t realise that he has shackled himself to the state-religion, which is far more threatening, serpentine, insidious, far more dangerous than religion proper could ever be to his freedoms.

But I fear that by the time he realises it, it will be too late. Ah, the arrogance of the West (when I speak of the West, I don’t of course include countries in the Eastern bloc, or say the more developed countries in Latin America – I have far more respect for them, and to an extent the mediterranean countries, and their governments than I do for say the Israeli, British, German, American, Canadian, French, Autralian total Hegemon).

I quote Noam Chomsky way too much, but when he was asked about the politics of so-called secularist humanists who promote freedom (Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, specifically) and use their platform to promote an “aggressive foreign policy”, Chomsky responded (here):

“I think they are religious fanatics. They happen to believe in the state-religion, which is much more dangerous than other religions, for the most part. So they…both of them, happen to be defenders of the state-religion, namely the religion that says that ‘we have to support the violence and atrocities of our own state, because it’s being done for all sorts of wonderful reasons…which is exactly what everyone says in every state…and that’s just another religion, like the religion that ‘markets know best’..it doesn’t happen to be a religion that you pray to…once a week. But it’s just another religion as is very destructive.”

Finally -the West needs a culture shift; for some reason Muslims are expected to put their Western, nationalist identity before their faith – something that Muslims, I believe, are resisting –  this is something that ardent secularists cannot grasp. The idea of liberalism and living in a free society from the perspective of minority groups is somewhat different to that of the secular, caucasian, affluent Right-wing.

But the fact that this sort of hate speech and rampant disrespect for beliefs that people hold dear – is just as much a damning inditement to the failures of a ‘free’ system that is solely based on the state-institution and of Capital, that ironically claims its virtues to be that it creates a context for universal acceptance, of respect. That it in fact can take place, in the first place, is very, very, telling. And yes, in case you ask, I would just as much defend the rights of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, etc to take offence if their religious figures and symbols came under such attack, and I would, if able, attend their protests also.

I’ve written too much, bedtime!

P.S By the way, I don’t despise atheists/secularists nor do I dislike Right-Wing Christians – but their political agenda is and are, well… just obscene. I think they’re the greatest threat to actual freedom – especially the freedom to choose your own identity, your allegiances, your priorities is this perpetuation of the free, secular myth. It hasn’t been able to take the place of religious beliefs, something it has aspired to do for the last century, fundamentally because it misunderstands the importance in impact of religion and religious beliefs of the lives of adherents. But then that’s another debate. 

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