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September 23, 2020

The enlightenment of Waris Mir - Part II

Opinion

September 23, 2020

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Waris Mir pointed out in his writings that as long as Muslim societies used rationality and reason, they were paramount, and as soon as they embraced irrational thinking and worked against reason, they declined. When Muslim rulers and sectarian leaders turned against rationality to serve their own interests, they suppressed new ideas and freedom of expression.

That was the time when Europe welcomed new intellectual ventures by Muslims. Waris Mir writes in one of his columns compiled in the book by Jang Publishers titled ‘Tehreek-e-Khirad Afrozi’ as follows:

“Around the 12th century the rationalists in Muslim societies found themselves in a tight corner; they could not live and work freely, prompting them to migrate from the east to the west. They took refuge in Spain where ‘Banu Umayyah’ (The Umayyad) had established their caliphate. But even they could not tolerate rationalism for long. During those depressing times, Ibn Bajjah (Avempace) emerges as a new champion of reason, declaring that matter was not free and independent, rather we could explain and interpret it with reference to reason.” (Page 29)

Waris Mir continues: “After Ibn Bajjah, it was Ibn Tufail whose intellectual inclination was no different… To explain his philosophy Ibn Tufail narrated in one of his books the story of Hayy bin Yaqzan. During that period, education in philosophy and science was being declared forbidden so Ibn Tufail tried to explain concepts and ideas with the help of metaphors and similes. But, we must also mention the extraordinary efforts that Ibn Rushd (Averroes) made to propel the movement for enlightenment.” It is worth stressing that Waris Mir wrote all these articles and essays for daily ‘Jang’ published from 1985 to 1987.

Another of his brilliant articles is titled, ‘Tehreek-e-Tajdeed o Ahya-e-Deen’ (The movement for reconstruction and revival of religion). He begins with Jamaluddin Afghani and also discusses Muhammad Abduh in detail. Waris Mir appears much impressed by the Egyptian scholar Qasim Amin born in 1863. Qasim Amin lived for just 45 years but in his short life he wrote many books including two about the rights of Muslim women. These books were: ‘Tahrirul Mara’ (The Liberation of Women) and ‘Al Marah Jadidah’ (The New Women). In these books Qasim Amin reached the conclusion that a major cause of backwardness in Muslim societies is actually suppression of women.

In most Muslim countries their norms, traditions, and social tendencies closed the doors for women’s development and liberation. He advocated that women had the right to divorce. Waris Mir writes: “In Egypt, some enlightened scholars struggled to reform Islamic laws and jurisprudence. When we learn about the war they waged, we realize that the situation there was not much different from that in Pakistan. When Qasim Amin wrote about Niqab (veil) and about wedding and divorce, there was a storm of agitation and protest against his books. Conservative scholars castigated him and did not allow him to live in peace.” (Page 44)

Waris Mir informs us that it was Allama Mashriqi who was fond of looking for scientific facts in scriptures; then Ghulam Jilani Barq elevated this practice to a sensational level. According to Waris Mir, a prominent scholar of the Middle East, Nasiruddin Albani wrote about the veil and differed with Maulana Maududi’s ideas about it. Albani held the view that it was not necessary for women to cover their faces. Mir has also discussed Abdul Qadir al-Maghribi who wrote historical, religious, and social commentaries, essays and papers to promote rationalist movement among Muslims.

But most of these thinkers had to pay a heavy price. Dr Mansour Fehmi, with a PhD from a university in France, came back to teach in Egypt. When he wrote a paper about the condition of women within traditional beliefs, all hell broke loose and he had to face relentless opposition. Waris Mir wrote another article about Taha Hussein and Shaikh Ali of Egypt. Taha Hussein was one of the most enlightened and great thinkers of Egypt.

Taha Hussein revolted against fossilized principles of criticism for analyzing history and literature; and introduced new Egyptian writers to a scientific perspective. He had obtained a doctorate for his research on the poetry of Abu al-Ala al-Marri, published as ‘Zikri Abu al-Ala’ (The Memory of Abu Al-Ala' al-Maarri – 1915); and another doctorate from Sorbonne University on his research about the philosophy of Ibn Khaldun. As an aside, Abdus Salam Nadvi translated Taha Hussein’s PhD dissertation on Ibn Khaldun into Urdu and Darul Shaoor, Lahore, published it in 2006 without mentioning earlier editions.

Taha Hussein wrote extensively on various aspects of Islamic culture, but his book on pre-Islamic poetry – Al-Shaer ul jahili or the poetry of the ignorant – particularly enraged the conservative lot. He changed the title of his redacted book to ‘Al-Adab ul jahili’ (The literature of the ignorant) but even then his progressive ideas drew persistent flak. Luckily, this book is also now available in Urdu with a translation by M. Raza Ansari first published in 1946 and reprinted by Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu Karachi in 2017. According to Dr Taha Hussein, most of the literature that we call pre-Islamic was actually written after the advent of Islam.

That’s why he did not consider it as the literature of the ignorant but as something which reflected the ideas, life, and tendencies of early Muslims rather than of pagans. Taha Hussein revealed that there were some vested interests in ascribing it to the period of ignorance. When he shared his research in writing, the conservative scholars declared him a heretic. In the book he had chastised traditional methods and condemned the tendency to accept everything from the old school thinkers without threadbare analysis. He maintained that for the development of Arabic literature studies, it had to completely dissociate itself from faith-based learning.

Interestingly, as a rebuttal to Taha Hussein, a chemical expert M Ahmed al-Ghamrawi, wrote a book titled ‘Naqd-e-tehlili’ (Analytical Critique) arguing that every problem cannot be analyzed with skepticism, as some postulates we have to accept without questioning. Similarly, Waris Mir also introduces us to Shaikh Ali Abdel Raziq who was close to Dr Taha Hussein’s ideas. In 1925 his book ‘Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm’ (Islam and the Foundations of Governance) argued against a role for religion in politics or the political prescriptive value of religious texts. He argued against the concept of caliphate maintaining that religion has nothing to do with the state.

Abdel Raziq explained that the early Muslims had no intention to establish a kingdom. He argues that in Islam there is nothing that prevents Muslims from abolishing the old system which has kept them servile for long. Muslims are free to rebuild rules and systems in their countries based on the latest modes of thinking. With human endeavors of intellect, people have discovered the best principles of governance emerging from experiences of many nations. Contrarily, Dr M Hameedullah says that the early Islamic constitution of state and system of governance is the only useful system for the world to follow.

Shaikh Ali Abdel Raziq has a different opinion and separates military, political, and religious matters. If you look at the seven decades of Pakistan, the mixing of the three has led us to the present state of unmanageable affairs. In Waris Mir’s writings we also find a discussion on the Egyptian author and playwright Tawfiq al-Hakeem whose plays had a progressive message such as in ‘Ahl al-Kahf’ (The People of the Cave, 1933), and ‘Shahrazad’ (Scheherazade, 1934). They have been translated into Urdu by Dr Zahoor Ahmed Azhar.

There is so much information and knowledge in Waris Mir’s columns that you wonder how such breed of columnist is becoming extinct in Pakistan. In the next part of this series we will discuss his ideas about women’s role in society.

To be continued

(All translations of excerpts are by this columnist)

Email: [email protected]