By Amir Suhail Wani –
Islam, in the sense of the religion, professed and partly practised by Muslims, sprouted like a tulip in the desert, some fifteen centuries ago in the heartthrob of Arabia. Nobody could have anticipated that a socio-spiritual movement that opened its eyes in the ambience of fear and matured amidst oppression and persecution would one day dominate the geographies, not only in East-West but North-South too. The simplicity and rational outlook of Islam played a role of its own in taking it to people’s hearts and minds. There was no Pantheon, no complex rituals, no trinity and above all no multiplicity of divinity (Reality). In its formative phase, like other religions, it struck like what Schoun described as terrible lightning, and the speed with which it spread, as Orientalist XYZ notes is not explainable without invoking the agency of the divine.
A characteristic feature of Islam, to quote Carlyle was its “Yes to life” as against the Christian ideal of renunciation, the Buddhist preference for transcending the material world and the Hinduist attitude of identifying life and Universe with Maya / Lila – a useless divine sport. Islam, without ambiguity, placed human life and the Cosmic rhythm in theological framework, recognising the world within and the world without as “Signs of God”, for those who dare to think, contemplate and seek the lesson from these dual realms of divine craftsmanship.
This outlook on life and the universe awakened Muslims to the cause of understanding self and the universe and finally acquiring their mastery. The mastery of self, the methodologies it entails and the theoretical underpinnings, created a fertile and creative enterprise of Islamic Mysticism and the mastery of nature and universe, under the inspiration of the Quranic spirit, gave birth to the entire spectrum of sciences – religious as well as mundane. It will surely go down as hyperbole to superimpose entirely the Muslim advancements in science corresponding to verbatim Quranic verses. What Quran and the prophetic teachings did was to cultivate a specific temperament, which inspired the Muslims to bring down nature from the pedestal of diety and make it a subject of independent and critical research.
Thus, it is no wonder that the sciences we nowadays identify with Europe and the West were cultivated and nurtured by inquisitive Muslims of the Islamic Golden Era, a fact admitted unanimously by historians of science and philosophy.
But the unmatched glory of Islam in arts and sciences gave way to the unexpected age of decay and disintegration and this stagnation and regression went on to characterise not only the arts and sciences but went on to become a signature of entire Islamic Civilisation in its all formats of overt and covert existence. To account for this decay, in the land of intellectual fertility calls for some deeper reflection and historical investigation before one can trace the roots of this tragic downfall. Lot has been said about this unfortunate unfolding of events and causes of decay have been ascribed to various historical, socio-political and religious factors.
But the subject still awaits a comprehensive and consensual ground digging in order to trace the roots of decay. One can begin with the schism that broke out between Mutazillites and Asharites – a tiff that can equally be classified as the duel between reason and authority. As a result of coming together of various religious and political factors, the Asharites ceased the day and with it started the waning of the spirit of free critical thinking in Islam. The Ghazallian Canonization of creed caused the final nail in the coffin of the Muslim rationalist thought.
Having scribed, though briefly, the historical reasons for the decay of art and thought in Islamic world, I am promptly reminded of infamous Hirsi Ali’s famous book “Heretic”. Like Musharraf’s four point formula in politics and Newton’s three laws in physics, she holds a five point agenda to see what she describes as enlightenment, reformation and progress in Muslim, rather Islamic world. The second point in her pentagonal analysis of Muslim decay states that “It is only by spending on life before death instead of spending on afterlife that can bring reformation in otherwise chaotic Muslim/ Islamic countries”. This point needs some thought, despite the fact it comes from somebody who we might like to pay no attention to.
Verse 35:5 of Quran cautions us against the fact that we ought not be deluded by this world, thereby shifting the paradigm to otherworldliness. But elsewhere in same Quran , same God states that this world wasn’t created in vain.The tragic twist in the history of Islamic progression was that political decadence came to be recompensed by exaggerated piety and uncalled for celibatic attitude to life. This eventually ushered an era where Ahadith over Ahadith were incorporated into the hadith corpus declaring 100 hoors for humming Subhanallah, the stature of martyrdom for reciting Surah fatiha before one goes to sleep and thousands of such other Ahadith. The religion of action was metamorphised into system of syllable recitals and a sort of semi lunatic head swinging. The doctors of theology said if you can’t conquer this world, no worries, conquer the other.
Sufis and a class of mystics leaped a step beyond to declare, if you can’t conquer this world, no issues, even if you can’t conquer the other, still no worries, just “know thyself”. This “Asrar I Khudi” acted like an anxiolytic drug and anaesthised the whole Ummah, never to wake up again. Sufis met a reaction, despite being improperly understood. But those who substituted the next world for afterlife gained accolades and appraisals and nobody bothered to point it to them that Islam as a dynamic faith teaches us to conquer this world, make this conquest a reference for gaining benefits of afterlife and simultaneously keep winning our own secrets and keep exploring the depths of our own soul.
This trillematic division into “Soul, World and aakhirah”, which where otherwise seen as corners of one unified triangle by the Quranic essence into three separate parts led the decline that we as Muslims have been witnessing for the past thousand years. Islam doesn’t divorce mystical from the scientific, nor does it uphold the dichotomy of matter and spirit. It is a very very later day intrusion inspired by Muslim Neoplatonists. Islam sees Mystic, Scientist and philosopher dynamically emerging in a single person. It doesn’t not teach the disintegration of personality, Islam rather envisaged the integration of cognitive, aesthetic and spiritual facets of man. The disintegration that has lately set in has robbed Islam of its true glory and reduced it to celibatic cult on one extreme and scholastic gymnasium on the other.
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