Monday, December 10, 2012

"If it is the case

that an implicit tension between body, mind and spirit provided a point d’appui for secularist tendencies which ultimately allowed the collapse of Christian commitment in Europe, [43] then it is necessary to acknowledge that through modern influences the same fissiparous tendency is shaping some of the most significant of contemporary Islamic movements. The contemporary turn away from kalam and spirituality, and of the great synthetic renewals which reintegrated Islam’s various disciplines, has produced a fragmented and impoverished Muslim intellectuality and spiritual style which, one may foretell, will not long resist the same secularising tendencies which have caused the atrophy of European Christianity. Islam, which seems called to be Europe’s spiritual and intellectual deliverance following the postmodern collapse of Enlightenment reason and the rise of the new barbarian principle of hedonistic individualism and predatory capitalism, must overcome this internal degeneration as a matter of urgency. Providentially, with a Sunni revival evident on all sides, the atmosphere currently gives reason to believe that the normative will prevail.
-from pg. 12 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Europe, picking up on a late Hellenic tendency

to combine intellectualism with celibacy and other forms of ‘mortifying the flesh’, proved unstable, and at the Renaissance the latent instability detonated, producing the split between sacred and profane which ultimately led to the almost complete triumph of the latter. [...] The end result of this radical body-mind-spirit disjuncture is a feverish reaction against one or a combination of these three principles (every substantial form of youth culture now exemplifies this imbalance), and the secularity which generates this is in turn reinforced, so that sociologists can now write books with titles like The Death of Christian Britain. [41]
-from pg. 11 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Real rationalism,

that is to say, reverence for the miracle of 'aql, must include a belief in innate knowledge, since the experiences of the senses are inadequate in explaining how we have come to know certain things. There are certain truths, such as the mathematical, which we experience as intuitive and rooted in an innate knowledge. Ethical knowledge also seems to be a priori: [38] it proceeds from 'aql as understood as the wise perception of the human totality (kamil), including the corporeal (what Merleau-Ponty calls the ‘body-subject’). True reason, 'aql, is therefore a knowledge by recollection (dhikr); and again this calls Plato to mind. [39]  What we know, where it matters, is what we have managed to remember, which is why the Prophet is ‘only a reminder’ (88:21), and the Qur’an is ‘a reminder; and whoever wishes, will remember’ (84:54). To achieve this ‘remembering’, and therefore to account for the apparent mystery of our a priori knowledge of axioms and ethics, [40]  we are required to exist in a harmonious balance which incorporates body, intellect and soul into a single human subject, an omnium, al-insan al-kamil. Only such a being is capable of true reason, of 'aql.
-from pgs. 10-11 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Ghazali’s warm polemic

against those who ‘alter the terminology of the sciences’ is moved by a fear of Islamic fragmentation. The jurist who peddles his rulings at the courts of kings; the philosopher or theologian whose sophistry dazzles patrons but is polluted by vainglory; the Sufi who is delighted by miracles and patched robes, but neglects God’s law – all these are symptomatic of an atomised religious consciousness; and the solution, or revival (ihya’), can only take the form of a rediscovery of the original integrative genius of the Prophetic way. Thus should we understand his debate against Avicenna’s pupils: far from rejecting reason as a path to truth, Ghazali is advocating it, but a reason that, as with the 'aql of the first Muslims, is detached, versatile and sober, rather than schematic, proud and indifferent to other indispensable dimensions of the human totality.
-from pg. 10 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"In primal Islam,

the word 'aql thus had a supple, comprehensive meaning. In a hadith, the Holy Prophet provides a principle that later underlay juridical definitions of human accountability (taklif): ‘The Pen does not record the works of three people: one sleeping until he awakes, the one who is mentally unsound until he regains his sanity (hatta ya'qil), and the child before maturity.’ [28] In a similar hadith we read: ‘Four [types shall be excused] on the Day of Resurrection: a deaf man who could hear nothing, a stupid person [ahmaq], a senile man, and someone who died in the period [fatra] between the decline of one religion and the arrival of the next.’ [29] Here the prophetic voice explains that consciousness is what defines our status as human beings. 'Aql is what makes us human, and distinguishes us from other orders of creation for which there will be no judgement.
-from pg. 8-9 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Does this complex

and sometimes apparently polarised picture help us to answer our question about rationality as ‘balance’? Clearly, thinkers such as Ghazali, who are normative in Sunnism, will speak of kalam as a valid discipline within its own, essentially apologetic and even therapeutic space, as a useful tool against formalistic error, notably that of the falsafa practitioners and the Mu'tazilites. As though to refute those who characterise Muslim theology as denying the rationality of God, he insists that the formal rules of logic have an objective validity which must characterise God’s power and acts. [23] As his own career implies, however, he regards experience, or what he calls ‘tasting’ (dhawq) as superior; although it can never challenge the truths known in theology; rather, it supplies a more authentic proof for them.
-from pgs. 7-8 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"The Qur’an, then, seems to be the authentic root

of two disciplines whose mutual relations are controversial: formal systematic theology (kalam), and Sufism (tasawwuf). Sufism is typically absent from the madrasa curriculum, which gives pride of place to kalam. And kalam presents itself as a fiercely rationalistic discipline, according to some more so even than Islamic philosophy (falsafa). [19]  A standard kalam text such as Taftazani's (d.1390) Shar al-'Aqa’id devotes three quarters of its length to systematic metaphysics (ilahiyyat), with the remainder dedicated to issues of prophecy and the afterlife which can only be demonstrated through revelation. Such texts defined orthodoxy; yet they seem to have been less influential upon the minds of most Muslims than the passionate Sufism of the likes of Rumi, whose pessimism about kalam is evident.
 Here we are faced with an evolving tension within classical Islamic intellectual life and society of a kind which required – and occasionally delivered – brilliant reformers. It is striking that only in a few texts do we observe an attempt to provide a grand synthesis of the two approaches, which we might, to borrow European terminology, describe as the logical and the passional. Ghazali (d.1111) is the most obvious, and successful, example. Other claimants would include Ibn 'Arabi (d.1240), Ibn Kemal (d. 1534), Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi (d.1762), and Said Nursi (d. 1960), before we enter the purely modern period, where such synthetic theologies have been challenged by modernists and fundamentalists, both of whom, for different reasons, are uneasy with mysticism and kalam.
This synthetic renewal, which often draws in individuals acclaimed as the ‘renewers’ (mujaddid) of their centuries, [20]  is a key dynamic in Islamic religion and history. Hence tendencies perceived as erroneous, or even heretical, may be helpfully understood as the result of an imbalance towards one type of epistemology at the expense of the other. Sachiko Murata and William Chittick have reflected extensively on this inner Islamic metabolism, identifying kalam with the principle of drawing inferences about God as Transcendence (tanzih); and Sufism with the principle of experiencing God as Immanence (tashbih); the dyadic categorisation of divine names as Names of Rigour and Names of Beauty is one outcome. [21]  Their conclusion is that these two inexorable consequences of the postulate of monotheism run like twin constants through Islamic religious history. Each is allocated its own realm, form of discourse, and even, on occasion, ritual life and structured authority. 
-from pg. 6-7 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Islam has a historic hospitality to Platonism,

regretted by modernist advocates of a supposed Averroist rationalism, but noted in detail by Henry Corbin and others; and this is to be attributed, not only to the Platonic resolution of all diversity to the One Source, so congenial to Islam’s rejection of a triune or other differentiation within the Godhead; but also to the sense that, as in the Timaeus, the One is manifest aesthetically and, particularly, musically, in the ground of creation. Ion, in the early dialogue with Socrates, acknowledges that as a singer of poems he is an instrument played upon by a supernatural power. And the Prophet Muhammmad, like him, is an Aeolian harp: the wind plays him, while his personhood contributes nothing; the Voice is therefore the pure sound of the Unseen. The Qur’an, a web of ‘signs’, is in this rather Platonic sense understood as the voice of the divine substrate of creation; it is the true music of the spheres. The ascent to the One, therefore, is not through the logic chopping powers of our ‘dingy clay’, but through acquiring a true and loving ear that can properly hear this music.
-from pg. 5 of Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Reason as Balance: the evolution of 'aql" (a paper for the Cambridge Muslim College)

"Authentic Islamic thought is dying;

or so argues William Chittick in this profound new book. Whilst many may say that Islamic studies thrives as a subject, Chittick points to the words of one of his former Professors when describing young colleagues: they know everything one can possibly know about a text, except what it says. Indeed, Chittick states that it is impossible to understand ancient Islamic texts without the years of contemplative study that are anathema to the modern education system.

While modern intellectuals with faith often treat their studies and faith in two separate spheres, Chittick argues that it is essential to return to the ways of the ancient Sufis, who saw the quest for knowledge of the soul, the world, and God as an extension of the same thing. Chittick maintains that the study of Islamic texts cannot be treated separately from self-understanding. Fascinating, radical, and a true challenge to modern trends in academic study, this book opens a new debate in Islamic thought.

The Documentary: “In Search of Bengali Harlem” | Bengali Harlem

Naqli & 'Aqli

Much of the book develops implications of a distinction between two ways of knowing that is basic to the great religions under a variety of nomenclature, though it is typically ignored in discussions of contemporary issues. Islamic sources speak about it in a variety of ways. Here I focus on a standard differentiation that is made between "transmitted" (naqli) and "intellectual" ('aqli).
 Transmitted knowledge is characterized by the fact that it needs to be passed from generation to generation. The only possible way to learn it is to receive it from someone else. In contrast, intellectual knowledge cannot be passed on, even though teachers are needed for guidance in the right direction. The way to achieve it is to find it within oneself, by training the mind or, as many of the texts put it, "polishing the heart." Without uncovering such knowledge through self-discovery, one will depend on others in everything one knows.
-William C. Chittick, Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World, viii. 

Quote from Dr. Umar's "Innovation and Creativity in Islam"

It is unrealistic and even undesirable to hope for meaningful restitution of the classical tradition and sophisticated application of concepts like bid‘a and ijtihad without the revision and renewal necessary to make that tradition relevant to present-day needs. Only then can we be able to draw upon the classical legacy in a manner that is constructive and not retrogressive. The tradition must be reviewed with an eye to what it originally meant in its historical and anthropological context. Putting the tradition in proper context is the key to enabling Muslims to use it in the manner that al-Qarafi and Ibn al-Qayyim emphasized. 
Without enlightened educational institutions that attract talented students and in the absence of curricula that impart a mature understanding of modern thought and realities, it is unlikely that a sophisticated understanding of the Islamic religious tradition can ever be fostered. Without careful examination of their original historical context, the thousands upon thousands of dusty manuscripts and old books preserved in Islamic libraries will remain little more than interesting fossils of history. Until classical Islamic learning is made meaningful to contemporary Muslims, it is difficult to fault those who question its relevance.
-Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, "Innovation & Creativity in Islam"