If we want to transform the closed societies in Muslim countries into open societies, we need to define Islam philosophically not dogmatically. Let’s liberate religion from the chains of unreason to explore it philosophically
What we term as knowledge is a product of passion of human mind to expand the boundaries of understanding. Therefore, the journey of mankind from invention of fire to spaceships and explanation of phantoms in the mythical age to exploration of unconsciousness in modern time can be seen as an expansion of human understanding to impose an explanatory order on chaos that does not come under the ambit of existing framework of understanding.
Whether it is emergence of great religious narratives in the axial age, worldview of enlightenment or zeitgeist (spirit of time) of modernity, they are an attempt to create new ways of seeing the self, society and the cosmos. Enlightenment is a movement that emerged in Europe as a response to the crumbling worldview of religion and social system that turned the European societies into prisons. Immanuel Kant rightly called enlightenment as "man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity." The passion to ‘dare to know’ has helped human beings to get rid of mental structures, social strictures and emotional crutches of the tradition. Also, it unleashed enormous energies to explore new avenues of human mind and the universe.
Today we inhabit the age of modernity, which is the result of Promethean reason unbounded by the enlightenment. The region of subcontinent came into contact with modernity during the colonial period. It was the time when rationality of enlightenment was in ascendency in tandem with the expansion of military power of the nations that were functioning under the disenchanted mind. Unlike the West, Indian subcontinent remains mired in tradition during colonial and even postcolonial period.
The interface between the traditional mindset and modernity has given birth to a phenomenon wherein new forms of unreason came into being. They purposefully dislodge philosophical ideas from their time, space and intellectual context, and then appropriate and reinterpret to rejuvenate the worldview whose sources of knowledge have been dried up.
This tendency is even more visible in Pakistan where a whole gamut of religious scholars employs western philosophies to make room for their unreason in a society that relish in spicing its ideas with a critique of dominant philosophical positions in the West.
When unreason dominates every sphere of life, it poisons the mind, engulfs the heart in darkness and closes the society. In such a society even the beatific vision loses its capacity and its communicative power. One of the reasons for the inclination of religious scholars in Pakistan towards unreason is the national idiosyncrasy of shirking from engaging with complex issues that cannot be wished or explained away through a theological mode of thinking.
The approach of religious scholars in Pakistan to cherry pick only those facets of Western philosophy that criticise ideas and epistemological postures in the West to buttress their intellectual posture is epistemologically flawed. Hence, the ideas stemming from anachronistic episteme remain incoherent.
There are two reasons for the incoherence of unreasonable mind. First, it views philosophy in bits, not as a whole corpus that enables to view the world differently. Second, the ideas borrowed by the theological mind to critique modern knowledge and philosophy is not internalised by itself. Consequently, this tendency impoverishes religion because instead of expanding the horizon of religious discourse by benefiting from new sources of knowledge, the theological/unreasonable mind employs it to further strengthen the wall of its dogmatic enclosure.
It is common among writers in Pakistan to start a discussion about knowledge and its sources with reference to mind/intellect and heart. The very first argument that is marshalled against reason by theological mind is culled from the tradition critical of dominant modes of thought in Western philosophy. Among the league of philosophers quoted to reject episteme (the domain of certain and true knowledge) and justify doxa (the domain of belief or probable knowledge) of religion are Immanuel Kant, Wilhelm Dilthey, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Henry Bergson, Edmund Husserl, Wittgenstein, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn etc,.
All the aforementioned minds are those who challenged dominant paradigms of knowledge through philosophy. That is why Will Durant includes the philosophers critical of reason among thinkers who wanted to invent a new logic when the prevailing authority of thought fails to rationalise. The reflections of philosophers against dominant reason intend to explore life and the world anew. Overall they form the corpus of philosophy with strong roots within the tradition of western philosophy. On the other hand, the closed/unreasonable mind in our society resists changes in our settled habits of thinking, and employs certain aspects of emancipatory thoughts to further buttress the walls of dogmatic enclosure to imprison our mind.
Among the philosophers, Henri Bergson is the most favourite in the votaries of unreason for the reason that he favours intuition not intellect. His popularity in Pakistan is due to the fact that Dr. Muhammed Iqbal shares certain metaphysical and epistemological ideas with him. When Bergson wrote against discursive thought and favoured intuition, he wanted to show limitation of the former not to prove veracity of orthodox Christianity but to make room for religion. However, the dogmatic mind misinterprets Bergson’s idea of intuition to establish its own rigid regime of truth.
The venture of closed mind to delegitimise philosophy by its skewed emphasis on philosophy is triggered by weakness within. Feeling the poverty and weakness in intellectual domain, the weak mind inverts the intellectual schema by praising ignorance as strength and repudiating those who dare to know.
In an act of bad faith, the unreason of clergy labels philosophical reason enemy of the faith. This mind deems philosophical knowledge inferior to theological knowledge of ghettoised mind. Hence, it forecloses any possibilities of change in epistemological posture towards religion and other dimensions of life. The closing of Muslim mind is diametrically opposite to what Bergson intended.
In his latter work The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson presents history as a struggle between the open and closed society. According to Bergson, open society is one that is characterised by freedom, expansiveness and creativity. Such a society allows free thoughts, innovators, philosophers, reformers and pathfinders to flourish. On the opposite side, the closed society is hidebound and remains prisoner of received knowledge and dogma. Unlike our clergies, Bergson employed intuition for creating an open society that allows aspirations of pathfinders to break the restrictions of the group they live in.
If we study the Muslim mind of Pakistani society, we find all characteristics typical of the closed society. It is this unreasonable mind that has stifled the expansion of religious discourse to explore new horizons, whereas in the open societies religion is explored through philosophy. Even today the best scholarship on religion is produced in the open societies that are deemed infidels. This is evident from the fact that more research journals about Islam are published in the West as compared to Muslim societies.
When a closed mind allows space for a new philosophical idea, it deprives it of emancipatory élan to fit it within its own dogmatic schema. As a result, the most liberating and philosophical ideas are turned into tools of intellectual subjugation. Reduction of the status of God to a hangman is the result of usurpation of Islam by the clergy.
If we want to transform the closed societies in Muslim countries into open societies, we need to define Islam philosophically not dogmatically. Let’s liberate religion from the chains of unreason to explore it philosophically. Only a philosophical religion will survive in the Heraclitan world of flux, not the one that wallows in the stagnant mind that stopped receiving fresh sources of knowledge about religion and the universe.
The writer is a social scientist with a background in philosophy and social science. Email: [email protected]