Author Archives: mlimba

The Relationship between Pluralism and Liberalism

Investigations and Challenges

In order to explain the relationship between pluralism and liberalism, at the outset, we have to clarify the meaning of these two terms. During the earlier sessions, enough explanation was made regarding the concept of pluralism, but we have to explain here the concept of liberalism.

Lexically, liberalism means “freedom” and technically, it can be said that liberalism is an ideology on the basis of which, man should act the way he likes in life and no external factor, or condition and circumstance should set limit on his action except in a situation when in the end, his action encroaches upon the freedom and endangers the safety of others. Liberalism has been discussed mainly in three important domains, i.e. economics, politics, and religion and culture.

Economic liberalism means that economic activity in the society should be totally free and anyone can produce any commodity he likes and present and sell it in whatever way he likes. In sum, based on economic liberalism, there should be no restriction of any kind in the areas of production, determining the primary goods, advertisement, distribution, investment, and other cases related to the economic domain except that which infringes upon the liberty and jeopardizes others.

In the political sphere, liberalism also means that in choosing the type and form of government, the ruling individuals, the laws governing the society, and other political actions, the people must be totally free and they have the right to act in whatever way they like except in cases where they contradict the liberty and security of others.

The term “liberalism” is also sometimes used in the sphere of culture especially in religion and belief. It is said that the first person who has applied the term “liberalism” in the realm of religion is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who made use of the term “liberal Protestantism” and from then on, this term (liberalism) has been more or less also applied in religion.[1] In any case, what is meant by religious pluralism is that the people are free in choosing any religion they want, or in principle, the acceptance or rejection of the essence of religion and religious laws, and no limitation and restriction should be imposed upon them in this regard.

If we discuss liberalism only in the economic and political realms, we will not find any direct connection to religious pluralism. But if we broaden it and in addition to economic liberalism and political liberalism, we also entertain religious liberalism, then the relationship between liberalism and pluralism will be established in the sense that the requisite of man being free in choosing a religion and acting according to its ordinances or otherwise (religious liberalism) is that we regard as acceptable the diverse religions in terms of their truthfulness and correctness. In this way, in terms of the existing four types of logical relations among concepts (equality, absolute general and particular, non-absolute general and particular, contrast), the relationship between liberalism and religious pluralism shall be that of absolute general and particular. That is, religious pluralism is always a manifestation of liberalism but not every type of liberalism is a manifestation of religious pluralism. For example, political liberalism is a manifestation of liberalism but not a manifestation of religious pluralism.

Of course, if we tackle pluralism even in other areas such as political, economic and epistemological pluralism, as we did in the previous sessions, then the relationship between liberalism and pluralism will change.

At any rate, without taking into account the historical trend and the evolution of these two concepts, the relationship between them is as what we have explained. But historically, liberal thought was apparently prior to pluralism and even secularism.

A review of the motive behind the emergence of religious pluralism

During the earlier sessions, some points were mentioned about the motive behind the emergence of pluralism and we have indicated that one of the important motives behind it was to put an end to war and bloodshed as the result of religious differences and it was first mentioned in Christianity. As it is known to you, after Martin Luther, a German priest, founded the Protestant Church in Christianity and a relatively large number of Christians gradually followed him, bloody wars and conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants ensued and persisted, and it still continues in some places such as Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom. Prior to it, there was also a conflict between the followers of two Christian sects, viz. Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

With the aim of putting an end to the sectarian conflicts, some Christian scholars and theologians propounded the theory of pluralism in Christianity, saying that for eternal deliverance and salvation, it is enough that we are Christians, and there is no difference among the Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants.

Later on, because of the perennial conflicts existing between the Christians and the Jews and in order to put an end to these conflicts, pluralism between Christianity and Judaism was also advanced and efforts were made to eliminate the ground for these conflicts. For instance, one of the Christian rituals, particularly among the Catholics, is the Eucharist which is the so-called Christian’s Prayer and in which certain recitals, supplications and subjects are mentioned. Among the things existing before in the Eucharist was the cursing of the Jews as the killers of the Holy Christ [Ḥaḍrat al-Masīḥ] (‘a). When the Jews, the Zionists in particular, succeeded by executing some programs in Europe in acquiring power, the Vatican was forced to decide to officially and legally eliminate this part of the Christian’s Prayer and the Eucharist, and in a sense, the Christian authorities issued religious edict that from then on, the Jews should not be cursed during the Eucharist. For a long period, the practice of cursing the Jews had been omitted from the Eucharist but the Christians still used to regard the Jewish people as the killers of the Holy Christ (‘a) until such time that in the recent years, as you perhaps are aware of, the Pope ordered the Christians to remove this belief from their minds and hearts, saying that “We want to make peace with the Jews.” In the not-so-distant future, the Holy See is supposed to officially visit the Occupied Palestine and meet the Jewish leaders.

In any case, later on the Christendom observed the same policy in relation to all religions and countries in the world, saying that “We are not at war or in conflict with any religion, sect or country on the grounds of religious beliefs and we accept everybody. Some even went to the extent of acknowledging that Islam is better than Christianity, openly declaring it, but saying that Christianity is a good religion anyway.

The emphasis is then more on peaceful coexistence and avoidance of war and bloodshed on grounds of religious beliefs and sectarian differences, and as indicated earlier, Islam accepts this type of pluralism, i.e. practical pluralism between Islam and other religions of heavenly origin and the People of the Book [ahl al-kitāb]—and sometimes even those who are not People of the Book—and officially recognizing them, and their life, property and chastity like that of the Muslims are honored.

Yet, as also indicted earlier, pluralism is not only practical pluralism and the proponents of this theory usually expand it to include theoretical pluralism, saying that “Not only in practice that we do not fight and wage war against each other but rather theoretically, all religions can be true in principle, and anyone who believes in any of them and faithfully act upon its ordinances will attain salvation and felicity, and his or her belief and deeds shall be accepted. Of course, as to how all the religions might be true and on the truth notwithstanding the contradictions and inconsistencies existing among them, there are various interpretations which we discussed in the previous sessions. From here, I want to proceed to the second part of this session’s discussion and it shall be the answer to a question raised in an earlier session.

——-

Note:

[1] See Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (New York: Harper, 1958). [Trans.]

Investigations and Challenges(An excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, INVESTIGATIONS AND CHALLENGES: DISCOURSES ON CURRENT CULTURAL, SOCIOPOLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS ISSUES, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2012), pp. 95-98.

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The Position of Ḥadīth in the Study of Islam

IntrotoHadith

As the final and more perfect heavenly religion, Islam consists of a set of beliefs, teachings and practical programs for both individual and group as reflected in two fundamental sources, namely the Qur’an and adīth.

When we say that Islam is the final heavenly religion, it means that from its emergence up to the end of the world, which takes place with the Resurrection, it addresses all human needs in the realm of religion. For this reason, alongside its description as the “final” religion, the expression “the most perfect” heavenly religion must also be emphasized because the philosophy behind the emergence of numerous religions with heavenly origin – notwithstanding their uniformity in religious foundations, in terms of the profundity of the teachings and scope of the religious law, they have gradually moved toward perfection – is to conform each of them with man’s intellectual level.[1] The end of acceptance of the emergence of a new heavenly religion and the sealing of the book of revelation mean the acceptance and reaching of the caravan of humanity at the last stages of rational perfection.

In view of the astounding advancements of human knowledge and man’s unbelievable dominance over nature and the emergence of thousands of modern phenomena such as the satellite, computer and others, particularly in the last century, no one has any doubt in accepting that the caravan of humanity has reached its optimum stages. For instance, today’s human being – being inebriated by all these victories – celebrates his seemingly absolute mastery over the world. Now, it is worthy to ask this question: how can a religion that emerged fourteen centuries ago – notwithstanding the simplicity of social relations and the lack of modern life equipments [at that time] – be able to respond to the religious or spiritual needs of today’s man?

A logical answer free from any empty rhetoric can be given to this very important question if and when we actually ask those who ask questions to present to Islam their queries and issues in the realm of religion. Then, if, notwithstanding all their skepticisms, they find out that like a great and inexhaustible treasure, Islam can provide answers to all the questions, then the argument (ujjah) of God is fully presented to them and nothing is also expected from them except submission and acknowledgment of this heavenly and eternal religion.

The fact is that as viewed by friends and even by candid enemies, Islam has time and again passed the test with flying colors, thereby proving its eternalness and universality to the people of the world.[2]

Now, it is appropriate to pose this question: given the temporal, geographical and cultural limitations of the time of its emergence, how can Islam teach today’s man who is inebriated and wandering how to think and live [properly]? Can it only be done by the help of the Qur’an? Without any doubt, the answer is negative, for the Muslims, even during the time of the revelation of the Qur’an, would refer to the Prophet () for their questions regarding religion and the Qur’an.[3] Obviously, this point has been very clear to them. If this fact has been well understood by the Muslims during the time of revelation of the Qur’an notwithstanding the simplicity and superficiality of much of the questions, how can one entertain the idea that after the passage of fourteen centuries and the raising of thousands of new questions, one must seek the help of the Sunnah alongside the Qur’an?

The insistence of some Sunnī scholars (‘ulamā) such as Ghazālī[4] and some Akhbārīs that the Qur’an – alone – can respond to all the questions including those questions that are outside the realm of religion by citing sometimes the existence of esoteric meanings (bawāṭin) of Qur’anic verses[5] and at times by regarding the Imāms (‘a) as having exclusive knowledge of the answers is something illogical. In addition, such a claim is inconsistent with the teachings of the Qur’an as well as the emphasis of the religious leaders on the position of the Sunnah in knowing the religion. No benefit can be gained from establishing the “universality” of the Qur’an – the way they conceive it – because if the acceptance of such a claim is convincing to them, how can one refer to the esoteric meanings of verses which are inaccessible or the infallible Imāms (‘a) who are currently not present among the people in answering the questions of today’s humanity?

By stipulating the status of the Prophet () in elucidating the Qur’an alongside its conveyance,[6] the Holy Qur’an itself has put emphasis on obedience to the commands of the Prophet () as equal to obedience to God,[7] his wholesome and meritorious pattern of example,[8] and the authority and credibility of all teachings of the Noble Messenger ()[9] on the status of the Sunnah in knowing the religion. For instance, the credibility of the Sunnah as the second fountainhead of understanding the religion has been made clear in the sayings and intellectual approach of the religious leaders. Also, in his most enduring sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage (hajj al-widā’), the Noble Messenger () has made mention alongside the Qur’an (as the greater thiql or Weighty Thing) of the “progeny” (‘itrat), that is the transmitters of the Sunnah, as the lesser thiql and his second valuable legacy.[10] The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) have also called to mind time and again this point that “God has reflected in the Qur’an and the Sunnah the answer to the human needs.” For example, Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq (‘a) said:

مَا مِنْ شَيْء، إِلاَّ وَفِيهِ كِتاب أَوْ سُنَّة

“There is nothing except that its explanation is mentioned in the Book or the Sunnah.”[11]

And Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (‘a) said:

.(إِنَّ اللهَ تَعالىٰ لَمْ يَدَعْ شَيْئاً يحْتاَج إِلَيْه الأُمَّة، إِلاَّ أَنْزَلَهُ فِي كِتاَبَه وَبَيِّنَة لِرَسُولِهِ (ص

“Indeed Allah, the Exalted, has not left out anything needed by the community (ummah) except that it is revealed in His Book and conveyed to His Messenger.”[12]

And because of the complementary role of the Sunnah with respect to the Qur’an, Imām al-Ṣādiq (‘a) has considered both the Book and the Sunnah as the criteria for acceptance of every matter:

.كُلُّ شَيْءٍ مَرْدودٌ إِلىٰ الْكِتاَبِ وَالسُّنَّةِ

“Everything can be referred back to the Book and the Sunnah.”[13]

In spite of [their] emphasis on the sublime status of wilāyah (guardianship) and its superiority to the ritual prayer (ṣalāt), fasting and Ḥajj pilgrimage, even the Imāms (‘a), in reply to the question as to why the name of Ḥaḍrat Amīr (Imām ‘Alī) (‘a) is not explicitly mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, has stressed that the Qur’an suffices itself to mention the generalities while the elucidation of the details has been delegated to the Prophet (). In this manner, the wilāyah (guardianship) of Imām ‘Alī (‘a), like the ritual prayer, has been explained in words of the Prophet () alongside the mentioning of generalities in the Qur’an such as the Verse of Conveyance (āyat al-tablīgh), the Verse of Guardianship (āyat al-wilāyah) and others.[14] Interestingly enough, the notion that “the Qur’an is enough [for us]” has existed from the beginning among some of the Companions (ṣaḥābah), and the Prophet () himself warned of its danger. A number of Sunnī traditionists (muḥaddithūn) have reported this narration from the Prophet ():

.لا الفين أحدكم، متّكئاً على أريكته، يأتيه امر ممّا أمرت به، أونهيت عنه فيقول: لا أدري ما وجدنا في كتاب الله اتّبعناه

“May I not see anyone from among you who reclines on his sofa and whenever he encounters a matter from among my commands and prohibitions, he would say, ‘I don’t know. We follow whatever we find in the Book of Allah.’”[15]

What is more interesting is the following famous statement of the Noble Messenger () which has been recognized as the basis of the Sunnah being the complement of the Qur’an:

.ألا إنّي أُوتيت القرآن ومثله معه

“Be it known that I have been endowed with the Qur’an along with its equal.”[16]

It is stated at the beginning of a narration similar to the previous one that the Holy Prophet () thus said in this narration after the previous sentence:

ألا يوشك رجل شبعان على أريكته، يقول: عليكم بهذا القرآن، فما وجدتم فيه من حلال فاحلّوه، وما وجدتم فيه من حرام فحرّموه؛ ألا وإنّ ما حرّم رسول الله كما حرّم الله

“Be it known that a man whose stomach is full and is reclining on his sofa will soon say, ‘May this Qur’an be with you! Take as lawful whatever you find therein lawful and regard as unlawful whatever you find therein as unlawful.’ Be it known that whatever the Messenger of Allah considered unlawful is as if Allah considered the same unlawful.”[17]

From these two narrations, the following points can be deduced:

  1. To advance the notion “The Book of Allah is enough for us” (ḥasbunā kitāb Allāh) and taking the Qur’an as sufficient in knowing the religion during the time of the Prophet () has roots whose emergence has been the subject of his stern warning. For instance, usually the Prophet’s () warnings had roots during his lifetime and perhaps the warning about the Muslims’ dissension[18] is indicated by the phrase “anyone from among you” (aḥadakum).
  2. “Relying on the sofa” which alludes to power and domination signifies that by relying on the power of government and caliphate, such a person used to insist the separation and independence of the Qur’an from the Sunnah. For instance, the expression “whose stomach is full” (shab‘ān) bespeaks of his possession of wealth and assets which naturally goes along with holding of government power. This point may be indicative of the political motives in presenting such an idea.
  3. The main contention of such notion is the sufficiency of the teachings of the Qur’an and its independence from the Prophet’s () Sunnah as shown by the emphasis: “May this Qur’an be with you!” and “We follow whatever we find in the Book of Allah”.[19]
  4. Alongside the prediction of the emergence of the dangerous notion of “the Qur’an’s sufficiency,” the Prophet () has put forth two proofs to refute it:
  1. Along with the Qur’an, God, the Exalted, has granted him something equal and complementary to it, i.e. the Sunnah and the statement “Be it known that I have been endowed with the Qur’an along with its equal” has three implications: First, that the Sunnah is like the Qur’an [in importance] is based upon divine revelation. Second, the Sunnah is like the Qur’an in the sense of having the same credibility and standing in elucidating and explaining the religion. Third, side by side with the Qur’an, the Sunnah speaks about the Divine precedent (sunnat Allāh) in presenting the religious teachings in these two realms as well as the Sunnah as reference after the Qur’an in the study of religion.
  2. Since the Prophet’s () Sunnah is based upon divine revelation – non-Qur’anic revelation, of course – for the same reason that the commandment and prohibition of the Qur’an are obligatory to follow as they emanate from God, acting according to what is deemed lawful (ḥalāl) and unlawful (ḥarām) by the Prophet () is also obligatory and necessary, and to differentiate these two from one another is not anchored in any logical proof, and thus, it is based upon sheer force and political power!

——-

Notes:

[1] For further information, see Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā’ī, Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān, vol. 5, p. 351.

[2] For information about the opinion of Orientalists in this regard, see ‘Alī Āl Isḥāq Khū’īnī, Islām az Dīdgāh-e Dānishmandān-e Jahān (Islam as Viewed by Scholars Around the World).

[3] There are existing exegetic narrations (riwāyāt-e tafsīrī) of the Prophet () which substantiate this point. See Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī, Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān, vol. 4, pp. 245-298.

[4] Al-Ghazālī, Jawāhir al-Qur’ān, pp. 28-34; Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ghazālī, Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, vol. 3, pp. 16-18, 49-50.

[5] Apparently, such a claim can be inferred from Fayḍ Kāshānī in the Seventh Introduction to Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī. See Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī, vol. 1, pp. 56-57.

[6] “We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them.” (Sūrat an-Nahl 16:44)

[7] “O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you. And if you dispute concerning anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle… Whoever obeys the Apostle certainly obeys Allah.” (Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:59, 80) “A faithful man or woman may not, when Allah and His Apostle have decided on a matter, have any option in their matter.” (Sūrat al-Ahzāb 33:36)

[8] “In the Apostle of Allah there is certainly for you a good example.” (Sūrat al-Aḥzāb 33:21)

[9] “Take whatever the Apostle gives you, and relinquish whatever he forbids you and be wary of Allah.” (Sūrat al-Ḥashr 59:7)

[10] Ibn Farrūkh al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī, Baṣā’ir al-Darajāt, p. 433; Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, Al-Amālī, p. 500.

[11] Muḥammad ibn Ya‘qūb al-Kulaynī, Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 59.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 89. In Al-Kāfī, the late Kulaynī has allocated a section (bāb) with the heading “All Things Needed by the Community (Ummah) are [Mentioned] in the Book and the Sunnah”. See Uṣūl al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pp. 59-61. The author has detailed discussion of this subject in the forthcoming book Rābiṭeh-ye Mutaqābil Kitāb wa Sunnat (Mutual Relationship between the Book and the Sunnah) by the Institute of Islamic Culture and Thought.

[14] Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 287, “Bāb Mā Naṣṣ Allāh ‘Azza wa Jall wa Rasūlahu ‘alā ’l-A’immah (‘a) Wāḥidan Fawāḥidan.”

[15] For example, see Muḥammad ibn Yazīd al-Qazwīnī, Sunan Ibn Mājah, vol. 1, p. 6-7; Al-Mustadrak ‘Alā ’ṣ-Ṣaḥīḥayn, vol. 1, p. 108; Sulaymān ibn Ash‘ath al-Sijistānī, Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 4, p. 200.

[16] Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Qurṭubī, Al-Jāmi‘ Li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān al-Karīm, vol. 1, p. 37; Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 2, p. 392.

[17] Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 2, p. 392; Kanz al-‘Ummāl fī Sunan al-Aqwāl wa ’l-Af‘āl, vol. 1, p. 174; Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā Ḥusaynī Jalālī has an extensive and well-argued discussion in his study of arīkah (‘sofa’) narrations. See Tadwīn al-Sunnat al-Sharīfah, pp. 352-364.

[18] For further information about the narrations (riwāyāt) on the Muslims’ division into seventy three sects, see Ja‘far Ṣubḥānī, Buḥūth fī ’l-Milal wa ’n-Nihal, vol. 1, pp. 23-41.

[19] In Kitāb al-Umm, Shāfi‘ī (died 204 AH) has mentioned a group that denies the Sunnah’s credibility. See Kitāb al-Umm, vol. 7, p. 287, and in our time the “Qur’ānīs” or “Ahl al-Qur’ān” sect formally insists that the Sunnah has no credibility and the Qur’an is sufficient. For information about the history and ideas of this sect, see Khādim Ḥusayn Ilāhībakhsh, Dirāsāt fī ’l-Firq al-Qur’āniyyūn wa Shubahātuhum Ḥawl al-Sunnah.

IntrotoHadith

(An excerpt from ‘Ali Nasiri, AN INTRODUCTION TO HADITH: HISTORY AND SOURCES, trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, 2013), pp. 9-15.

Categories: Hadith Sciences, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power in the Context of Tim Jordan’s ‘Cyberpower’

Barnes               TimJordan

It is said that the communications revolution signals “the death of distance[1] as it has allowed activists to gain more influence as new communications and information technologies are beginning to enable advances in e-government, e-democracy and e-participation. On the other hand, they also empower NGOs, social movements and activists, among others.[2]

Michael Ayers and Martha McCaughey document and critique in their edited Cyberactivism the growing importance of activism taking place through the Internet by showing that it can be used for protest as well as in supporting real-life protests.[3] It is shown in a similar volume that given its transnational, many-to-many communication facility, the internet offers revolutionary potential for social movements to speak directly to the citizens of the world. Moreover, electronic mail, mailing lists, websites, electronic forums and other online applications provide powerful tools for coordinating activity.[4]

In dealing with “cyberpower” – defined as the power that structures culture, politics and economics of cyberspace and the Internet – Tim Jordan discusses in length three theories of power as the theoretical toolbox of his book. First, he touches on power as a possession and its three elements that are accordingly ought to be identified. First, according to him, power is intentional as someone wills something to be done and it is done. Second, power understood as a possession needs resistance to manifest itself and unless power manifests itself there is no idea that it exists. Third, if power, says Jordan, concerns the ability to overcome resistance then stable patterns of power can be equated with forms of domination, or simply put, systems of domination occur when there are patterned relations of power. He identifies this theory of power with Max Weber, quoting him to have said: “In general, we understand by ‘power’ the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action.”

Having discussed this “common sense conception of power”, Jordan points out some questions that in his view are remained unanswered: What is it that enforces obedience to the powerful will? What is it that ensures compliance? What overcomes resistance? In attempting to address these questions, Jordan also looks in turn with other understandings of power that begin from just such a criticism of power understood as a possession: power understood as strategies that situate subjects as dominated or dominator and power understood as the result of interactions between knowledgeable individuals.[5]

Jordan associates Michel Foucault with the conception of power as domination whose principles are that power is a force that generates structures of inequality between people; that a form of power both intends to produce certain effects but is not driven by any one’s will, implying that different elements move in a way that fulfills an overall purpose and which is served by a number of tactics common to different micro-parts of the army; that domination implies both dominated and dominator and power as a relation implies both powerful and powerless; that power is manifested in great strategies of inequality; and that attempting to define power in the abstract is not necessary; instead, a methodology for studying power is needed and only then can specific forms of power that exist in particular times and places be analyzed.[6]

While elucidating his theory of power as social order, the British sociologist, Barry Barnes, explicates:

In a stable normative order knowledge that an action is normal and routinely done encourages the performance of the actions, so that the general dissemination of the knowledge suffices to validate it in practice… Any specific distribution of knowledge confers a generalized capacity for action upon those individuals who carry and constitute it, and that capacity for action is their social power, the power of the society they constitute by bearing and sharing the knowledge in question.[7]

In order to make his argument clearer, Barnes cites the classic example of traffic light. Why do cars stop at red light? Why the pedestrians do not cross the street at red light? For both the drivers and the pedestrians, two off-putting things can be pointed out. First, in the case of the drivers, they are afraid that fatal car accident involving them might occur as the drivers of cars in the adjacent street are most likely to go by following the green light which means, “Go!” As for the pedestrians, they are afraid to be hit most likely by the running cars as it is green light for them. Second, the drivers know that even if by chance no car mishap happened as there are no nearby cars in the adjacent street, they might not escape the wrath of the traffic policemen who will definitely penalize them for violation of traffic rules.

Similarly, the pedestrians know that even though the running cars are still far away from the pedestrian lane, their crossing the street at red light is tantamount to being legally charged with jay-walking. In other words, both the drivers and the pedestrians are taking into account two kinds of sanction for their action: physical (accident) and legal (penalty). This established social norm for the drivers and pedestrians will be more embedded within them if they regularly observe more people, i.e. more drivers and pedestrians following the same social norm – drivers stopping at red light and pedestrians not crossing the street at red light. There will be the same effect if they see more people penalized by either or both the physical and legal sanctions – cars bumping on other cars from the adjacent street or drivers whose license are confiscated by the traffic officers for violation, and pedestrians hit by running cars or penalized for jay-walking.[8]

On the contrary, should the people start to witness that more cars are not stopping at red light and are neither having accident nor incurring penalty for doing so, and similarly, more pedestrians are crossing the streets at red light and yet they are not hit by running cars or incurring penalty for jay-walking, they will also tend to gradually remove in their minds the two restraining physical and legal sanctions. The social norm of the red light will die out. The red light’s ‘power’ of stopping cars and preventing the pedestrians from crossing the street will cease to exist as the people believe it so.[9]

In a recent work, Barnes states:

Suppose we think of so many responsible agents, acting and interacting together as members on the basis of their shared knowledge. Now concentrate on that part of their shared knowledge which is knowledge of their own social and institutional order, made of statuses and the associate rights, powers, responsibilities, and so forth. This is knowledge of things that are what they are because they are counted as being what they are, that is, because they are known to be what they are.[10]

In this context, he cites how banks work as social institutions. Banks are external to us, he says, because we all know them to be so and the important knowledge we have is the knowledge of what we all do in relation to banks. That some deposit money in the bank which lends it out to others and making itself formally bankrupt at all times is overcome by the shared knowledge of individual depositor that others are not about to withdraw their money. In short, a bank’s objectivity hinges on the knowledge all its depositors on the likely actions of other depositors. This will be exposed when there is a run on a bank and the shared knowledge of depositors changes into “Most other depositors are going to withdraw their money and I have to do the same”. Accordingly, the outcome of such a shift in collective knowledge is the eventual bankruptcy and collapse of even a competently run bank.[11]

In the above explanation there are two crucial elements that constitute a social order: routine and knowledge. Along this line, Tim Jordan argues that social objects and structures exist on the basis of persisting routines of behavior of individuals and these persisting routines are based on common, collective knowledge of those routines. Societies and communities are nothing more or less than the knowledge that members of those communities hold about their societies, he states.[12] He explains:

In short, while social structures appear external and objective to the individuals who constitute them, such structures are wholly internal to the collective or group. Social structures can change but only through concerted collective action. The structures that constitute a society can now be understood as the result of the knowledge individuals have of those structures and of the consequences actions will probably have. This knowledge is self-referring; it is knowledge about what others do, and it is self-validating – the more knowledge is used the more valid it becomes.[13]

Put in a diagram for clarity sake, we have the following:

knowledge-routine

            Therefore, the proposition here is that the persistent routines of a certain behavior create a common, collective knowledge of those routines. At the same time, the commonly and collectively held knowledge of those routines by the people reinforces their continuous observance of the same routines of behavior. The constant interaction between the routine and knowledge establishes social order. Once the routine-knowledge interaction is not sustained, the resultant social order will consequently fade away.

——-

Notes:

[1] Frances Cairncross, The Death of Distance 2.0: How Communications Revolution Will Change Our Lives (London and New York: Texere, 2001), p. viii.

[2] Jonathan D. Aronson, “Causes and Consequences of the Communications and Internet Revolution,” in The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 3rd edition, ed. John Baylis and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 630-633.

[3] Michael D. Ayers and Martha McCaughery, “Introduction,” in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, ed. Michael D. Ayers and Martha McCaughery (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 5-14.

[4] Wim van de Donk et al., “Introduction: Social Movements and ICTs,” in Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movements, ed. Wim van De Donk et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 1-9.

[5] Tim Jordan, Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 9-10.

[6] Ibid., pp. 15-19.

[7] Barnes, The Nature of Power, pp. 56-57. Quoted in Jordan, p. 14.

[8] Ibid., p. 56.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Barry Barnes, Understanding Agency: Social Theory and Responsible Action (London: Sage, 2000), p. 149.

[11] Tim Jordan, “Social Movement and Social Change,” Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Working Paper Series No. 7, September 2005, p. 7.

[12] Jordan, p. 12.

[13] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

(Images courtesy of phillwebb.net and digitalactivismnow.org)

Cyberpower(Excerpt from Mansoor Limba, THE POWER OF INTERNATIONAL QUDS DAY IN THE CYBERSPACE (Manila: Cultural Section of IRI Embassy, 2012), pp. 39-44.)

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Definitions of Religion Based on Metaphysical Foundation

Aston         Shariati         Geisler

Some of the philosophers of religion regard as religion any school of thought which has the following three principal elements of belief:

  1. There is a world beyond the world of tangibles;
  2. The world of nature has a purpose; and
  3. The world of being has a moral system.

The third element can be analyzed in two ways. One way is that the world of being is such that it perceives what is morally good or evil. The other way is that the world of being is such that it rewards moral goodness or wickedness.[1]

Assessment

Some supplementary and critical points to this definition are worth mentioning:

First, concerning the first belief, this point must be added that man is also a reality that is situated between the natural and supernatural worlds.

دو سر هر دو حلقة هستي   به حقيقت به هم تو پيوستي

Both two heads are of the axis of existence.

Indeed you are also attached to them.

Man’s religious, intellectual and political search in this domain is meant for the improvement of his supernatural asset. Acquisition of more knowledge about the dimensions and realities of the world of nature as well as its laws helps in his advancement in the supernatural realm.

Second, the world of nature’s purposefulness is connected to another principal belief, and that is the world of creation’s dependence on the All-wise and Absolute God who is devoid of any futile and vain act at all.

Third, in this definition the question of God is raised ambiguously. That there is a world beyond the world of nature and tangibles is an extremely general statement, for it is possible to refer to a world in which there is no mention of God, such as the world of myths and fables.

Fourth, in saying that the world of being is such that it gives reward or retribution to what is morally good or evil, does ‘the world of being’ refer to this world or include the otherworldly as well?

If it refers only to this world, then all good deeds of a person are not compensated well in this world. In the same manner, because of this world’s limited capacity [to compensate], the criminals cannot be duly punished for all their crimes in this world. Of course, we have the law of causation, or action and reaction in this world but the capacity of this world is not enough to duly compensate all human actions. Unless the eternal world is accepted, reward and punishment for what is morally good and bad cannot be considered.

Fifth, in some creeds, particularly the ascetic schools, the abovementioned three points can be seen, without them claiming to be forms of religion.

Sixth, not every moral system is religious. The moral system whose foundation is God in the sense that the criterion for good and evil in it is the Divine commands has religious dimension. The basic foundation of what is morally good and evil in religion is revelation which is immune from error and deviation.

If to say that the world of being perceives what is morally good and evil means that the world of being has the ability to perceive the good and evil, then it is acceptable from a religious perspective in view of the fact that all parts of the world of being are in a state of glorying, prostration and remembering God. And if it means that like human beings, the world of being also acquires knowledge of what is morally good and evil and the perception of the world of being is like the human knowledge about the abovementioned matters, then this meaning is not a religious necessity. That the world of being gives recompense to what is morally good or bad can be interpreted in two ways:

One is that the world of being’s giving of reward is like one of the laws which God has prescribed in the world of being. It is the same law of causation whose enactment and implementation are like those of other laws of God.

The other way is that as a warning to His creatures, God, the Glorious, has directly enacted and implemented the said law.

We must know that this causation is only for the awareness of human beings:

 كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ

“Every soul is hostage to what it has earned.”[2]

Otherwise, because of the lack of capacity of the world of matter and materiality to implement absolutely the law of divine justice for good and evil deeds, it can be implemented in the eternal world. It can be said that in this definition, three subjects which are acceptable and of immense importance for religion are mentioned. Yet, paying attention to the religious duties and rights and distinguishing them from moral cases are not yet done. On the other hand, there has been no categorical and decisive statement regarding the Sacred Being of God, His control over the creation, Attributes of Perfection, and the Resurrection.

Aston’s Definition

W.G. Aston, a contemporary philosopher of religion, presents the following as the common features of religions:

  1. Belief in metaphysical beings;
  2. Differentiation between the sacred and the worldly affair;
  3. Rites which are concentrated on certain things;
  4. A set of moral rules whose implementation is guaranteed by God or gods;
  5. Specific religious feelings (such as fear, reverence, sense of guilt, and gratitude) which are expressed before sacred things or in the performance of rites;
  6. Worship and other forms of connection with God or gods;
  7. A general viewpoint about the world as a unit and the station of man in it (worldview);
  8. Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon such viewpoint (ideology); and
  9. A united social group with the support of the abovementioned elements (community or church).

Assessment

  1. It is as if these thinkers have sensitivity to God as they talk about ‘metaphysical beings’. It must not be forgotten that the same sensitivity caused some Western countries to use the term ‘supreme being’ instead of the word ‘God’ in their constitutions!

Essential to religion is the belief in the existence of God, and not merely metaphysical creatures. Of course, belief in metaphysical creatures such as the angels and souls that have reached the lofty station of immateriality, eternity, and the truths pertaining to them is considered part of the religious beliefs.

  1. Differentiation of the sacred matter from the worldly matter is not true to all religions.
  2. Rites which are concentrated on certain things are related to primitive religions. Rites exist in religions with divine origins but not rites which are centered on certain things, but rites which are held as a form of worship, linking the most insignificant to the most significant. Be that as it may, rites of the primitive periods whether they are in the form of totem, taboo, or any other form have nothing to do with the world Abrahamic faith.
  3. In religions with divine origins, the criterion for the moral rules is God, and not that God merely guarantees the implementation of laws.
  4. To have certain religious sentiments is one of the effects of belief in God. The rites which exist in religion make a person experience particular spiritual states. It must also be noted that in some creeds which are known as religions rites with superstitious underpinning exist and they cannot be compared with real rites of religions with divine origins, as discussed above.
  5. Religion fosters unity among individuals. And this point is also one of the essentials and effects of religion and not the religion itself. Of course, the ‘single community’ (ummatan wāḥidah) which is attained through the religious conviction cannot be compared with organizations formed by groups, for the goal of religion is to let the human beings move as a single caravan to be sublime Origin. Unity of a religious community is not similar to a racial, geographical, or political organization formed for a particular purpose such as defense against an enemy. Rather, as stated in Islamic sources, faithful individuals are like a single body; if one part experiences pain, all parts will experience the same. The souls of faithful individuals are like a single soul, and the link of the soul of faithful person to God is stronger than the link between the sun and its rays.[3]
  6. There is no doubt that the affairs of the world of being have connection with sacred truths, and that sacred matters are sometimes distinct from worldly matters. In the religion of Islam, however, it can be said that as they are related to the world of creation—on account that all parts of the world of creation, whether they are inward or outward, are divine signs: “Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Real”[4] and “So whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”[5]—it follows then that in a sense the entire universe has a sacred dimension.
  7. Regarding the phrase “Rites which are concentrated on certain things” it must be explained whether or not it means the presence of a set of rites in every religion. It is correct but the taboo rites must be distinguished from rites which are performed in the form of worship and other rational inclinations to the metaphysical.
  8. The meaning of this statement, “The guarantor of the implementation of moral rules is God or gods” must be clarified. In this regard, there are some possibilities:

First possibility: It means that God helps the human beings so that their actions are consistent with the moral rules. Of course, one can infer from the sources of Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) this meaning with utmost clarity, for the justice and grace of God necessitate that He guides His servants to the path of material and spiritual prosperity.

Second possibility: “The guarantor of the implementation of moral rules” means control and stimulation of the pure conscience and not attributing the actions to deterministic factors.

Third possibility: “Moral rules” refer to religious laws, duties and rights because of their association with God. That is, it is because God enacted them and He is cognizant of the interaction of people with one another. If it means this third possibility, then it is closer to the reality compared to the other two possibilities.

  1. Specific religious feelings (such as fear, reverence, sense of guilt, and gratitude) which are expressed before sacred things or in the performance of rites:

On one hand, such concepts are not exclusive to religion, for when a rational person sees himself in front of a Real Being higher than him and he experiences a sense of cautiousness coupled with hope, there is the sense of awe in such a person. When a rational and wary person with a sound mind learns of the majesty of the world of being and its vastness and orderliness, he will definitely experience a sense of astonishment (and not primitive bewilderment, doubt and skepticism). Definitely, anyone who does something against the law—provided he has a sound mind and personality—will feel ashamed and this feeling is the result of committing a sin, although he may not use the same terms. Similarly, gratitude or thanksgiving in times of joy caused by material and spiritual favors in life which are attributed to mere luck is a common phenomenon. All such phenomena can have religious underpinning when they connect man to God.

  1. With regards to “Worship and other forms of connection with God or gods,” it must be said that in Abrahamic monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), gods are not objects of worship and other religious connections. In the said religions, there are no such things as ‘gods’ at all.[6]
  2. A general viewpoint about the world as a unit and the station of man in it (worldview):

This viewpoint consists of the following:

  1. The world of being is a creation of God;
  2. The world of being is created based upon the governance and will God for a lofty purpose;

The station of man in this world is such that he is a very important being with various talents through which he can have interactive relationship with all levels and dimensions of the world in which he lives, and the magnitude and quality of his perfection depend on such relationship.

Man can have two types of honor:

The first type is intrinsic honor:

 وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلا

“Certainly We have honored the Children of Adam, and carried them over land and sea, and provided them with all the good things, and given them an advantage over many of those We have created with a complete preference.”[7]

All human beings possess this honor, provided that they would not deprive themselves of it by committing treachery (khiyānah).

The second type is acquired honor:

 يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ

“O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-wary among you.”[8]

  1. Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon such viewpoint (ideology):

This is the same relationship of man with the world which is the third of the four relationships upon which all religions with divine origins are organized: (1) man’s relationship with himself; (2) man’s relationship with God; (3) man’s relationship with the world of being; and (4) man’s relationship with his fellow human beings.

Therefore, there will be no objection if we say, “Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon the abovementioned four relationships”.

  1. A united social group with the support of the abovementioned elements (community or church):

In this part of the definition of religion, two ambiguous issues must be examined:

  1. The social organization in itself is not a pillar of the essence of religion, for even if only one person or a few people believe in religion in this world, he or they will still constitute a community (ummah). As such, the Noble Qur’an introduces Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham) (‘a) alone as a community:

 إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً

“Indeed Abraham was a nation.”[9]

Of course, as the number of individuals and communities that follow the religion increases, the social organization of those who believe in the said religion (ummah) also becomes larger.

  1. Ummah refers to the group of people who believe in a particular religion, or if we really broaden its meaning, it refers to the group of people that cling to a given ideology, whether it is religious or not.

Like the mosque and other houses of worship which are built on earth as places of worship, the church means a center for collective worship and devotion, unless the original meaning of it is changed into another one.

Sharī‘atī’s Definition

Dr. ‘Alī Sharī‘atī[10] enumerates the common features of religions as follows:

  1. Religion declares existence as meaningful.
  2. It is correct provided that the meaning of the meaningfulness of the world is its association with God and the sublime wisdom and will of the Sacred Essence. Its purposefulness is also a requisite of its being associated with the wisdom and will of God. The requisite of the observance of this condition is the belief in the world as having an ultimate goal. Similarly, the said condition also necessitates the meaningfulness of man and history. Definitely, if the goal is not limited to the creation of the world, at least this can be regarded as one of its highest goals. Therefore, Sharī‘atī might have possibly stated the first two points as one.
  3. The duality of the human being in all religions:

If this ‘duality’ refers to the physical and spiritual, the dispositional and the behavioral, the outward and the inward, the intrinsic and the extrinsic, then this is correct.

  1. Sanctity in the world:

Sanctity or sacredness in the world can be considered from two perspectives. The first perspective is that the world relies upon the wisdom and will of God, and the notion of the world as a divine sign (āyah) (both within man and in the outside world) refers to this perspective:

 سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ

“Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Real”[11]

According to the second perspective, the facility and potential of this world are meant to prepare man and push him to the sublime goal of perfection. The ardent desire for it exists in the hearts of all people who are immune from selfishness. In the speech of the Commander of the Faithful ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (‘a) in reply to someone who rebuked the world, this perspective is expressed in this manner:

O’ you who abuse the world, O’ you who have been deceived by its deceit and cheated by its wrongs. Do you accuse it or it should accuse you? When did it bewilder you or deceive you? … Certainly, this world is a house of truth for him who appreciates it; a place of safety for him who understands it; a house of riches for him who collects provision from it (for the next world); and a house of instructions for him who draws instruction from it. It is a place of worship for the lovers of Allah; the place of praying for the angels of Allah; the place where the revelation of Allah descends; and the marketing place for those devoted to Allah.”[12]

  1. The division of all things, affairs and realities into tangible and intangible:

This division is not a distinctive feature of religions although this is acceptable in religions on the basis of undeniable fact (the division of all things into tangible and intangible).

  1. Religion as the social spirit:

This point is also not a distinctive feature of religions, for collective life—whether motivated by the need for division of labor among people, kinship through sexual reproduction or racial unity, or the natural demand for their civility—is a salient feature of human life in the sphere of coexistence.

  1. The global nature of the distinctive features of religion:

This issue must also be examined more accurately, for all religions with divine origins can be generally grouped into two:

First group: It consists of national religions which are exclusive to limited groups in the history of religion. The prophets of these religions were not the preeminent ones in determination (ūlū ’l-‘azm) and were limited to their respective time or group.

Second group: It consists of the world religions like the ones associated with Prophet Ibrāhīm (‘a) and whose messengers were the ūlū ’l-‘azm, viz. Nūḥ (Noah), Ibrāhīm, Mūsā (Moses), ‘Īsā (Jesus), and Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh (‘a). If it is not so, then the phrase refers to the common features of all religions such as belief in God, eternity, religious duties and rights, and the like.

8 and 9. “The unity of man and nature” and “the unity of man, nature and the spirit of being”:

These two phrases have a very broad meaning and are not a salient feature of the phenomenon called ‘religion’. There are philosophers who philosophically acknowledge this unity. Sufis and mystics also believe in this unity and something even higher. That is, man, nature, the spirit of the entire universe, and even God are a single being (theory of the unity of being). The stoics and a group of Indian philosophers and mystics believe in this theory. Therefore, items 8 and nine are not exclusive to religion.

  1. Apprehension, struggle and desire for union (ittiṣāl):

This point is also not free from ambiguity. The possible meanings which can be conceived of in this regard are as follows:

  1. Ardent desire, struggle and aspiration of man to be in union with God are like the union of the drops of water to the sea. This possibility is not correct in monotheistic religions, for the Sacred Essence of the Lord is higher than that a creature that He created or originated be part of His Sacred Essence.
  2. Endeavor and desire for the change in humanity that has the potential to be God-like through the possession of divine attributes that exist within the said potential of man. If it means possession of those attributes within the limits of man, this is possible in monotheistic religions.
  3. Union means entry to the attraction to the Lordly Perfection. In this station, the person becomes an embodiment of the Divine Lights, but he will never reach the Sublime Lordly Station. This is the best possible meaning for the above item.

Note: The word ‘apprehension’ which implies agitation along the way to perfection is not correct. Instead, ardent desire, serious endeavor and persistence are which called kadaḥ (كدح) in Arabic are more accurate than the terms ‘apprehension’ and mere ‘desire’.

  1. Belief in dominance, progress, exaltation, and movement:

In this phrase, the word ‘dominance’ requires explanation. If ‘dominance’ means attainment of power for the organization of the four types of relationship (man’s relationship with himself, God, the universe, and fellow human beings), then it is perfectly correct, and it can be said that the attainment of the lofty goal of religion is to acquire such power. Acquisition of power for the organization of relationship with the self means control and mastership over the self. Through this power a person could set himself along the path of God-wariness (taqwā) which means maintenance of self-perfection. And through this taqwā he can proceed to the height of attraction to the Sublime Perfection. It also means acquisition of power for the organization of relationship with God. Through this power one could control himself from sin, selfishness and self-centeredness and undertake his ideal movement. By acquiring power for the organization of intellectual, perceptive and interactive relationship with the world of being, he will succeed in self-building.

  1. Emancipation from what exists means emancipation from captivity:

If it means disconnection from whatever exists and severance of relationship with whatever is, then this point is forbidden in religion, for detachment from the world connection to which is one of the fundamental relationships a person has in his subsistence is actually detachment or disconnection from the self. Obviously, negation of the self is not the same with the pursuance of one’s perfection which emanates from God’s boundless wisdom and favor. The world of being is the passageway for its progress and the Beatific Vision (liqā’ Allāh) in eternity is its ultimate goal and objective. It must be borne in mind that to be in the world which in the words of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) is the great place of worship for the wary people is not the same with negation and disconnection from it which can be considerably seen in Buddhism.

  1. The concept of protection and preservation of man, life and society:

No meaning for this item (13) can be conceived of except protection of man, life and society from pollution, degradation, fall, and backwardness. This point is perfectly correct in religion but the word ‘concept’ must be omitted from the above phrase, for that which is part of the salient features of religion is the protection and preservation and not its concept.

  1. and 15. Acquaintance, curiosity and engagement in curiosity:

Acquaintance, inquiry and research to increase knowledge about the self, God, the world, and fellow human beings, and the use of knowledge and learning along the path of searching for perfection are part of the essentials of religion.

  1. Beauty and art:

The meaning of the desire for tangible and intelligible beauties which, in addition to the resultant purification of the soul and preparation of the self to soar from this very high platform to the Absolute Beauty which is something incomparable, must be shown in the world and shorten for the people the distance of realizing God. Moreover, the meaning of ‘art’ is supposedly to undertake artistic intellectual or psychological activities and setting purely constructive artistic works at the service of spiritual growth and enhancement of the human talents, and not the beauty and art which always exist for all people in various cultures of human society.

  1. Love and worship:

Definitely, ‘ishq refers to the highest degree of love, passion and craving for Sublime Perfection which is the totality of beauty and glory, and it is correct to regard this love as one of the salient features of religion. However, what is called ‘metaphorical love’ or mere love without its attachment to the Sublime Perfection (which is definitely what Sharī‘atī intended to mean) is not only not part of the salient features of religion, but religion is even inimical to it. A person’s expression of ‘virtual love’ will cost and leads to the wastage of all his life’s assets and capitals, for

عشقهايي كز پي رنگي بود                                    عشق نبود عاقبت ننگي بود

Those loves which are for the sake of a color (outward beauty) are not love: in the end they are a disgrace.[13]

هرچه جز عشق خداي احسن است          گر شكر خوارﻱﺳﺖ آن جان كندن است

Except love of the most beauteous God, everything, though (outwardly) it is (pleasant like) eating sugar, is (in truth) agony of spirit.[14]

عاشقان از درد زان ناليدﻩﺍند                      كه نظر تا جايگاه ماليدﻩاند

The cause why lovers have moaned in grief is that they have rubbed their eyes malapropos.[15]

Meanwhile, worship of God, the Glorious, after knowing him, is the purest essential feature, nay pillar, of religion.

  1. The ideal, ideal man and utopian city:

This point can be analyzed under two headings: (1) The ideal means that religion is ideal goal of the human beings, or the ideal goal of the human beings is in religion. (2) It is religion which molds the ideal man. Both propositions are correct. Meanwhile, the ‘utopian city’ (madīneh-ye fāḍileh) which means the use of the individuals and groups of society of all their positive potentials in social life is obviously the purest features of religion in the dimension of people’s social life. This point can also be inferred from item 13.

  1. Awaiting as protest against the status quo and moving toward the ideal:

Taking into account the fundamentals of Sharī‘atī’s school of thought, awaiting (intiẓār) means wishing for the emergence of the best society and struggle for its realization whose most perfect form will be possible with the advent of the Master of the Age (‘atfs).[16] Of course, it must be borne in mind that intiẓār is not identical with protest (i‘tirāḍ) against the status quo. It rather stems from the feeling of disgust and anguish for the undesirable condition which stands in the way of perfection of collective human life.

Meanwhile, protest against the status quo can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Protest against the status quo stems from the lack of the divine pleasure in every condition which is contrary to the ideal human felicity. In view of the high and reformative potentials of the human beings, it is a common phenomenon that exists in all communities and nations with rational cultures. It is even said that the lack of divine satisfaction for the status quo is one of the strongest elements of forward movement in history.
  2. Protest means the lack of divine pleasure for anything that causes degradation and engrossment of mankind in ignorance, poverty and human rights violations. Through the efforts for changing the direction of life’s movement toward its lofty goals and means.
  1. Nature’s self-consciousness:

This item can be inferred from item 9 (“the unity of man, nature and the spirit of being”). Given this, it is possible that this point can be separately inferred from the Qur’anic verses that indicate glorification (tasbīḥ) and prostration (sajdah) of the creatures in the world. Of course, in proving the self-consciousness of nature, some thinkers have cited the law of causation.

 اين جهان كوه است و فعل ما ندا         سوي ما آين نداها را صدا

This world is the mountain, and our action the shout:

The echo of the shouts comes (back) to us.[17]

Sharī‘atī has not mentioned three very important salient features of religion:

  1. The religious laws, rights, duties, and manners as well as worship of the Sublime Origin (God) and belief in the Resurrection (ma‘ād) must be stated more clearly and elaborately to some extent. Most probably, he contented himself with items 1, 4, 10, 13, 16, and 23. However, as demanded by the law on definitions, it would be better to state more clearly and elaborately the above points.
  2. The ultimate reply to the six fundamental questions on life (1. Who am I? 2. From where I have come? 3. With which I have come? 4. With whom am I? 5. To where shall I go? 6. For which I have come?) which only religion can give.
  3. The real felicity, virtue and sacrifices in the way of lofty human values such as faithfulness to promise and covenant, defense of the truth, responsible freedom, justice, and the like, for without religion, the world is a place for play, jumping, beating, and eating in which if a person would use all his facilities and potentials in the way of selfishness and self-interests, he will miserably lose.

روزگار و چرخ و انجم سر بسر بازيستي           گرنه اين روز دراز دهر را فرداستي

The world, fate and stars are all your playthings

Otherwise this long day of fortune is your tomorrow.[18]

Geisler’s Definition

Geisler[19] defines religion in its most general sense, thereby encompassing every supposed religion. He regards religion as having two basic characteristics: (1) awareness of something sublime, and (2) total devotion and utmost attachment. So, in his general definition of religion, any consciousness of something sublime coupled with total devotion and utmost attachment is called ‘religion’. The elements of this definition are mentioned as follows:

  1. Awareness: a person considers himself professing religion when he is aware or acquainted with something other than himself.
  2. Something sublime: a thing is sublime when it transcends and goes beyond direct awareness of a person. Given this, even in unconsciousness, ‘I’ and others apart from ‘me’ are deemed sublime. Moreover, that which is sublime is beyond the experienced ones (mujarrabāt).
  3. It pertains to total devotion. Religion comprises something which is beyond mere manifestation; something not stipulated and ultimate; something to which people want to be devoted with utmost sincerity. In other words, it includes not only awareness to anything sublime. In fact, it includes whatever is treated final and whatever requires utmost devotion. Of course, in the words of Ian Ramsey,[20] this devotion most also be total as well as widespread. So, this devotion must be final and universal

Assessment

Some important points in the definition of Geisler must be examined:

  1. It is true that from the totality of terms used by Geisler, it can be deduced that “that which is sublime” which is the object of awareness, total devotion and ultimate affection and yearning is no other than God, the Perfect and Absolute, that all religions have mentioned whether explicitly or as something essential to the ideological text. However, in view of the crucial importance of the thing being defined (mu‘arraf), its name must be specified. If it is argued that not all religions call it ‘God’, the reply is that an ambiguous reality, even if it is described as ‘something sublime’, cannot be considered the basic foundation of religion because “awareness of the existence of God” and “total devotion and attachment to Him” require that He must be the Creator of all beings and created them according to His sublime wisdom and will.

From this analysis, it is clear that the line “a person considers himself professing religion when he is aware or acquainted with something other than himself” is somewhat inaccurately stated because the concept of God, Exalted is His Station, who is Perfect and Absolute in all aspects, is not clear in the above expression (“something other than himself”). Similarly, the expression “a thing is sublime when it transcends” is not free from ambiguity because it is a common concept, and it must be said instead, “a thing is sublime when it transcends all things”.

  1. “…and goes beyond direct awareness of a person”:

This is an excellent point which is discussed in various expressions in the religion of Islam; for example, Prophet Mūsā (‘a) is reported to have said God, “How can I reach You?” In reply, God said:

قَصْدَكَ لِي وَصْلَكَ إِلَيّ.

“As you have aimed Me, you have reached Me.”

Of course, this understanding is not direct or without mediation. Even in intuitive knowledge (self-consciousness), the “I” perceives his self directly, for the perception of the “I” in intuitive knowledge is not possible without negation of “other than I” even quickly, generally or briefly. This is while the perception of God only needs intention. This is the meaning of what Geisler said, “That which is sublime is beyond the experienced ones (mujarrabāt).” And in the jargon of Western philosophers, it is a priori upon which the philosophy of Kant, in particular, relies.

  1. He said, “Religion comprises something which is beyond mere manifestation; something not stipulated and ultimate; something to which people want to be devoted with utmost sincerity.” This point is also very fine because in religion familiarity, information and acquaintance with God is not sufficient. Instead, as the very knowledge about that Sacred Being is attained, ardent desire for ‘searching’ in order to obtain His Lordly attraction begins.
  2. In the expression of Ian Ramsey, there is a line which must definitely be modified and that is, this devotion most also be total as well as widespread. It is because delight and pleasure from knowing the world is different from devotion to it. That which exists in religion is the former and not the latter. That is, it is delight caused by the fact that the universe has been created according to the lofty wisdom and will of God and witnessing the celestial splendor of the universe impels a person to pay ultimate devotion to God, and not that a person just submits to the universe and surrenders himself to it. A majestic element of the universe or one of the lofty aspects of this universe gives rise to devotion to the Creator. Man is not supposed to surrender to the universe. Instead, with utmost cheer and confidence, he must consider it a springboard for his own spiritual flight.

به جهان خرم از آنم که جهان خرم ازوست

عاشقم بر همه عالم که همه عالم ازوست

I belong to the pleasant world as the pleasant world is from Him.

I am in love with the entire world as the entire world is from Him.[21]

——-

Notes:

[1] Ḥawzeh wa Dāneshgāh Magazine, issue 3, p. 68.

[2] Sūrat al-Muddaththir 74:38. [Trans.]

[3] Al-Uṣūl min al-Kāfī, vol. 2, p. 166.

[4] Sūrat Fuṣṣilat 41:53. [Trans.]

[5] Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:115. [Trans.]

[6] For further information, see Tafsīr wa Naqd wa Taḥlīl az Mathnawī, vol. 10, pp. 63-73.

[7] Sūrat al-Isrā’ (or Banī Isrā’īl) 17:70.

[8] Sūrat al-Ḥujurāt 49:13.

[9] Sūrat al-Naḥl 16:120.

[10] ‘Alī Sharī‘atī (1933-77): an Iranian revolutionary and sociologist who focused on the sociology of religion and considered one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century. [Trans.]

[11] Sūrat Fuṣṣilat 41:53. [Trans.]

[12] Nahj al-Balāghah, Maxim 131.

[13] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 205, p. 27. [Trans.]

[14] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 3686, p. 397. [Trans.]

[15] That is, they have not purged their inward eye of sensual impressions and therefore have taken a false view. The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 4, line 229, p. 31. [Trans.]

[16] Walī al-‘Aṣr, literally, “Master of the Age” is one the titles of the 12th Imām Muḥammad al-Mahdī (‘a), the others being Walī al-Amr (Master of the Affair), Imām al-Zamān (Imām of the Time), etc. The abbreviation, “‘atfs” stands for the Arabic invocative phrase, ‘ajjalallāhu ta‘ālā farajahu ’sh-sharīf (may Allah, the Exalted, expedite his glorious advent), which is invoked after mentioning the name of Imām al-Mahdī (‘atfs). [Trans.]

[17] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 215, p. 27. [Trans.]

[18] Nāṣir Khusrū, Dīwān-e Ash‘ār, Elegy 241.

[19] Norman L. Geisler (born 1932): a Christian apologist and philosopher noted for his philosophical approach to theology. [Trans.]

[20] Ian Ramsey (): [Trans.]

[21] Sa‘dī, Mawā‘iẓ, ghazal 13.

(Images courtesy of wikipedia.com and normgeisler.com)

FalsafehDin(Excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari, PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2014), p. 26-42.)

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The Qur’an and the Word Taḥrīf

quran

The Qur’an has used the word tarīf only in its literal sense, i.e. distortion in the meaning of the word and its interpretation in a wrong way, which is called misinterpretation (sū’ tafsīr) or conjectural interpretation (tafsīr bi ’r-rayy). Tarīf in this sense refers to the contextual distortion.

Earlier, we have dealt with this noble verse:

يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ

“They pervert words from their meanings.”[1]

An mawāḍi‘ihi in this verse refers to the following: after the word is used in its real sense as it appears, or based on the conventional implication of the common meaning, its message is distorted as a treacherous act. For example, in the expression min ba‘di mawāḍi‘ih[2] this meaning has been indicated although taḥrīf means to divert the word from its real meaning.

It is thus stated in Sūrat al-Baqarah:

وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ

Though a part of them would hear the word of Allah and then they would distort it after they had understood it.”[3]

That is, after understanding that the real meaning – which is what God intends – is contrary to their own interests, they would distort it so as for it to become favourable to them.

As such, Ṭabarsī, and prior to him, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī have described this kind of tarīf as misinterpretation (sū’ ta’wīl). In Al-Tibyān, the late Shaykh says, “Tarīf is of two types, viz. misinterpretation, and changing and substitution.”[4] That is, the intonation of the word is changed in such a way that the meaning it conveys is distorted, such as the case mentioned in verse 78 of Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān.

Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Abduh says:

Amongst the meanings of taḥrīf is [conjectural] interpretation of the word in the sense that it is construed in a way different from its contextual meaning. This is the meaning of taḥrīf being raised because their pretext in denying the Prophet () and his prophethood lies in this meaning [of taḥrīf]. As such, they would interpret in a way the glad tidings of his prophethood.”[5]

‘Abduh implies that the plausible meaning of tarīf mentioned in these verses is the distortion of meaning, and what gave them courage to interpret in a way the glad tidings and therefore to deny the prophethood of the Prophet () is contextual distortion.

In his exegesis of the noble verse, “They pervert words from their meanings,”[6] Zamakhsharī says, “They pervert the word from its [supposed] position,”[7] for if a word is not interpreted according to its apparent meaning or implications, it is tantamount to taking it away from its position.

In sum, the distortion of the New and Old Testaments which is indicated in the Qur’an is either through misinterpretation in the sense of manipulating them contrary to the truth – without any basis from the book – or in addition to it, changing the pronunciation of the words when reading the book. As God says,

 وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِيقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُمْ بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

There is indeed a group of them who twist their tongues to mimic the Book, that you may suppose that it is from the Book, though it is not from the Book, and they say, ‘It is from Allah,’ though it is not from Allah, and they attribute lies to Allah, and they know [it].”[8]

This is because if a word is pronounced contrary to the way it is first pronounced, it will be treated as another word and not the earlier word. And in a bid to conceal the truth and not to disclose the glad tidings of the coming of the Holy Prophet (), the People of the Book[9] had engaged in contextual distortion. But tarīf in the sense of addition, deletion or changing of words by another set of words which is the technical meaning of tarīf, as can be observed, has not been used in the Qur’an.

——-

Notes:

[1] Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:46; Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:13.

[2] Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:41.

[3] Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:75.

[4] Al-Tibyān, vol. 3, p. 470.

[5] Al-Manār, vol. 5, p. 140.

[6] Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:46; Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:13.

[7] Al-Kashshāf, vol. 1, p. 633.

[8] Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān 3:78.

[9] People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb): the respectful title given to the Jews and Christians in the Qur’an. [Trans.]

ulumquran2(Excerpt from Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCES OF THE QUR’AN, Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba and Salim Rossier (Tehran: SAMT Publications, 2014))

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The Role of Mountains in the Stability of the Earth

mountains

In nine places of the Qur’an,[1] mountains are mentioned with the expression rawāsiya:

 وَجَعَلْنَا فِي الأرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَنْ تَمِيدَ بِهِمْ وَجَعَلْنَا فِيهَا فِجَاجًا سُبُلا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

We set firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance.”[2]

The mountains are described as rawāsiya because they are the ‘firm ones’ which are based on strong foundations and it is derived from the term rasati ’s-safīnah which means “ship’s anchor”. Because of this anchor, the ship remains stable in the middle of the raging sea. As such, the mountains are like anchors which prevent the earth from shaking on account of its rotation.

The mountains are also described with the term awtād which means “nails” which keeps the earth from scattering together:

 وَالْجِبَالَ أَوْتَادًا

“…And the mountains as pegs?[3]

In this regard, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) said something which satisfactorily clarifies the inimitable expressions of the Qur’an. Imām ‘Alī (‘a) thus says:

وَجَبَلَ جَلاَمِيدَهَا وَنُشُوزَ ضس مُتُونِهَا وَأَطْوَادِهَا فَأَرْسَاهَا في مَرَاسِيهَا وَأَلْزَمَهَا قَرَارَاتِهَا فَمَضَتْ رُؤُسُهَا فِي الْهَوَاءِ، وَرَسَتْ أُصُولُهَا فِي الْمَاءِ، فَأَنْهَدَ جِبَالَهَاعَنْ سُهُولِهَا، وَأَسَاخَ قَوَاعِدَهَا فِي متُونِ أَقْطَارِهَا، وَمَوَاضِعِ أَنْصَابِهَا فَأشْهَقَ قِلاَلَهَا، وَأَطَالَ أَنْشَازَهَا وَجَعَلَهَا لِلْأَرْضِ عِمَاداً، وَأَرَّزَهَا فِيهَا أَوْتَاداً، فَسَكَنَتْ عَلَى حَرَكَتِهَا مِن أَنْ تَمِيدَبِأَهْلِهَا، أَوْ تَسِيخَ بِحِمْلِهَا، أَوْ تَزُولَ عَنْ مَواضِعِهَا. فَسُبْحَانَ مَنْ أَمْسَكَهَا بَعْدَ مَوَجَانِ مِيَاهِهَا.

He also created high hills, rocks of stones and lofty mountains. He put them in their positions and made them remain stationary. Their peaks rose into the air while their roots remained in the water. In this way He raised the mountains above the plains and fixed their foundations in the vast expanse wherever they stood. He made their peaks high and made their bodies lofty. He made them like pillars for the earth and fixed them in it like pegs. Consequently, the earth became stationary; otherwise it might bend with its inhabitants or sink inwards with its burden, or shift from its positions. Therefore, glorified is He who stopped it after the flowing of its waters.[4]

In some parts of this speech, it is said that notwithstanding its movements and motions, the earth is prevented from shaking and scattering together. From this speech, three points can be inferred:

  1. The earth has various movements, yet in spite of these movements, it remains stable and firm;
  2. The earth’s surface is firm and solid such that its inhabitants and contents do not sink therein.
  3. In its rotation, revolution and other movements, the earth is constant and firm, and it does not swerve from the axis determined for it.Now, we can grasp better the fine and subtle points in the statement of Imām ‘Alī (‘a) in the first sermon of Nahj al-Balāghah, in which instead of the word jibāl (mountains), the word ṣukhūr (rocks) has been used: ﴿ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي الأرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَنْ تَمِيدَ بِهِمْ ﴾The Imām (‘a) connects the mountain’s being ṣakhrah to the stability and firmness of the earth.
  4. The rocky mountain ranges – with their different curves and contours – have vital role in the stability of the earth, its surface and contents as they keep the earth intact notwithstanding the frames underground.
  5. We set firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with them.”[5]
  6. This statement is the interpretation of the abovementioned verse:
  7. ووتّد بالصخور مَيَدأن أرضه.
  8. These points have been confirmed by current scientific discoveries and research studies. In view of this vital role of the mountains which make life possible on the vast extent of the earth, the mountain ranges which are scattered on the firm surface of the earth are like chains which are put around the earth.

—–

Notes:

[1] Sūrat al-Ra‘d 13:3; Sūrat al-Naml 27:61; Sūrat al-Ḥijr 15:19; Sūrat Qāf 50:7; Sūrat al-Naḥl 16:15; Sūrat Luqmān 31:10; Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31; Sūrat al-Fuṣṣilat 41:10; Sūrat al-Mursalāt 77:27.

[2] Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31.

[3] Sūrat al-Naba’ 78:7.

[4] Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon 211, p. 328.

[5] Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31.

ulumquran1(Excerpt from Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCES OF THE QUR’AN, Volume 1, trans. Mansoor Limba and Salim Rossier (Tehran: SAMT Publications, 2014))

Categories: Qur'anic Sciences, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Mutahhari’s Reply to the Skepticism of Pyrrho

pyrrho 

Thus, the first question about knowledge is the issue about the possibility of knowledge—is it possible for man to know?[1] Pyrrho said that knowledge or ma‘rifah is impossible (for reasons I enumerated earlier). Of course, others exposed the flaw in Pyrrho’s argument. On our part, we exposed this flaw elsewhere in the footnotes of Uṣūl-e Falsafeh wa Rawish-e Realism (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism).[2] It is thus said to Pyrrho: “You say that senses make mistakes because sometimes your eyes squint; you see a person as if having two heads; you see a piece of wood as broken in a water container; and so on and so forth. You say that you observe that the senses make mistakes. When you observe that senses make mistakes, do you know that senses indeed make mistakes, or do you still doubt that the senses make mistakes? When you say that when you wake up and rub your eyes, you can see double, with a person standing in front of you as if they are two, having four eyes (instead of two), you say that it is not so. Do you really know that it is not so, or you just guess that it is not so?” He says, “No, I know that it is not so; that person does not have two heads or two noses.” Then he would be told: “So, you realized this mistake with certainty by yourself; how can you say then that you have not obtained knowledge? This is itself [a kind of] knowledge. When you say that reason makes a mistake in a particular instance, you say with certainty that it makes a mistake. That is, you know that it makes a mistake; therefore, you have arrived at the truth. Unless a person has arrived at the truth, he cannot perceive that the opposite view is wrong.”

As such, it must [rather] be said: “The human being makes mistakes in some of his sense perceptions, but not others. So, we must classify the issue; we must look for a criterion. With a certain criterion, let us see if we could somehow correct the things in which we make a mistake, or not. Just because of the fact that we make a mistake in some cases, why should we deny the essence of knowledge?! Why [we should treat as identical] the cases in which we make a mistake and the cases we do not doubt that we make a mistake (such as the instance when we realize that we have made a mistake)?” The [above] argument of Pyrrho is like the following couplets of Sa‘dī:[3]

چو از قومي يكي ﺑﻲدانشي كرد     نه كه را منزلت ماند نه مِه را   

ﻧﻤﻲبيني كه گاوي در علفزار                   بيالايد همه گاوان ده را

When one of a tribe has done a foolish thing

No honor is left either to the low or the high.

Can’t you see how one ox of the pasturage

Defiles all oxen of the village?[4]

This is true for social issues. If certain members of a society belonging to a certain class—say, the clerics—behave untowardly and wickedly, the integrity of others would also be tarnished; otherwise, there is no point in hanging ‘Amr for the sin of Zayd:

گنه كرد در بلخ آهنگري              به شُوشتر زدند گردن مسگري

A blacksmith committed a crime in Balkh[5]

They beheaded a coppersmith in Shūshtar.[6],[7]

Some of our sense perceptions make mistakes; some others are definitely correct. Let us look for the solution to erroneous perceptions. Out of this, the science of logic (manṭiq) came into being. Logic is a science which is [the foundation of] the theory of knowledge. That is, in this very theory of the possibility of knowledge and impossibility of knowledge, it makes no difference for the one who said that it is impossible to know while the one who said that it is possible to know is looking for a criterion for distinguishing erroneous knowledge from correct knowledge and [assuming that] there must be such a criterion. Now, as to what extent logic could play a role or function is a question which, if we try to address, would prevent us from dealing with more important issues.[8]

We must see what the Qur’an says in this regard. Does the Qur’an support the view that knowledge is possible? Or, does the Qur’an also say that it is impossible to know? Now, if knowledge is possible (as there is the Qur’an and the religion), then the very knowledge in ideology must have a ruling, and that ruling would answer: Is knowledge lawful or not? Is knowledge permissible or not? There are two questions here. [One is whether knowledge is possible or not, and the other is whether knowledge is permissible or not.] As you are well aware of, the issue is presented in the Torah in a specific way and since according to us, the Torah is one of the books that experienced distortion (taḥrīf)—that is, in assessing a case mentioned in both the Qur’an and the Torah by the criterion of the Qur’an—when we see that the account of the Torah contradicts that of the Qur’an, for us there is no doubt that the account of the Torah has been distorted. In the Qur’an—a religious scripture—the issue is never raised in a philosophical manner—whether knowledge is possible or not. Rather, we must see and analyze whether the Qur’anic inferences of these issues are based upon the possibility of knowledge or its impossibility. Are the Qur’anic injunctions justifiable on the basis of the possibility of knowledge or its impossibility? And the other question is: is knowledge permissible or not?

Notes:

[1] Knowing (shinākhtan) is equivalent to certainty (yaqīn) as doubting (shakk) is the opposite of knowing. “Knowing” means for me to reach a point to think it is such and not to doubt that what I think as such is correct; that I do not doubt its correctness, for if I doubt then there is no knowledge for me but only “Is…?” “Is it so?” “I do not know.” “Perhaps there is.” “Perhaps there is not.” There are many “I-do-not-know’s”. Knowing is “knowing” when there is no doubt. If there is doubt, then it is [the same] “I-do-not-know” [episode].

[2] It refers to ‘Allāmah Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Ṭabaṭabā’ī’s work in collaboration with his student Āyatullah Muṭahharī who provided footnotes and explanations easily comprehensible to the common people. The work was designed to present Islamic philosophy as a superior alternative to Marxism. [Trans.]

[3] Shaykh Muṣlīḥ al-Dīn Sa‘dī (1184-1283) was one of the greatest Persian poets. Born in Shīrāz, he studied Sufi mysticism at the Nizāmiyyah madrasah in Baghdad with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī and with Shahāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī. He made the pilgrimage to Mecca many times and traveled to Central Asia, India, and the Seljuq territories in Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Yemen, Abyssinia, and Morocco. His best known works are the Būstān (Garden) and the Gulistān (Rose-Garden), also known as Sa‘dī-Nāmeh. The former is a collection of poems on ethical subjects while the latter is a collection of moral stories in prose. He also wrote a number of odes and collections of poems known as Pleasantries, Jests and Obscenities. His influence on Persian, Turkish and Indian literature has been very considerable, and his works were translated into European languages from the 17th century onward. [Trans.]

[4] Gulistān, chapter 2 “The Morals of Dervishes,” story 5. Edward Rehatsek (trans.), Gulistan or Rose Garden of Sa‘di (Tehran: Peyk-e Farhang, 1998), p. 38. [Trans.]

[5] Known as Bactra to the Greeks and Baktri or Bagdhi to the Persians, Balkh was an ancient city and center of Zoroastrianism in Khurāsān in today’s Northern Afghanistan. [Trans.]

[6] Shūshtar: an ancient fortress city in the Khūzistān province in southwestern Iran and approximately 92 km away from Ahwāz, the center of the province. [Trans.]

[7] Among the Fārsī-speaking people, this couplet is known as Dīwān-e Balkh, literally “the Court of Balkh,” which alludes to any office or authority whose judgment is not based on logic and reason as well as what is right and just. [Trans.]

[8] This is because we want to have ample time to deal with this subject: on which criteria is the issue of knowledge based in this divine school—this divine worldview of ours upon which our ideology is based? This is our main concern. Other issues are preliminary or introductory in nature for us. That is, we shall touch upon them only to the extent necessary; otherwise, if we want to tackle logic, then we have syllogistic logic; we have symbolic logic; the Organon (manṭiq-e arasṭū) claims to be syllogistic logic. Has the Organon duly performed its alleged function or not? To address them requires many sessions, which are not necessary for our discussion, for these questions are presently not raised among materialists and non-materialists.

The Theory of Knowledge(Murtada Mutahhari, THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE: AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: IHCS and ABU, 2011), pp. 9-11.

Categories: Philosophy, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Politics of Hermeneutics or the Hermeneutics of Politics?

hermenuetics1 

When I was translating into English a book on the untold story of freedom a decade ago, I encountered for the first time a hermeneutically enigmatic couplet of the great Persian poet-mystic Jalaluddin al-Rumi whose 800th birth anniversary was commemorated by UNESCO on September 2007 and whose magnun opus, Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi (Spiritual Couplets) was first translated into English in full by Reynold A. Nicholson in 1925-40.

Rumi sings, thus:

That one is ‘shir’ [milk, or lion] in the ‘badiyeh’ [cup, or jungle]. And the other one is ‘shir’ in the ‘badiyeh’. That one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human eats). And the other one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human drinks). 

The word “shir” means “milk,” as well as “lion”. “Badiyeh” also denotes two meanings: the first one is “desert” and the other is “cup” or “vessel”. In this couplet, it is not exactly clear which one is “lion” and which one is “milk”. Badiyeh is equally not clear which one means “desert” and which one means “vessel” or “cup”.

This Rumian style is inherited by Maguindanaons, though in a simpler but somehow blunt fashion.

When a curious child would ask about the identity of something an adult Maguindanaon is holding, it is not uncommon for the latter to say, “Ut_n na midsa.”  Usually, the former would demand clarification, “What is midsa?” but receive only one-word reply, “midsa.” So, he would suppose that midsa is a kind of animal, but years later, he will realize that midsa means ‘one who asks’ and therefore referring to himself!

In interfaith circles, ‘dialogue’ could mean different things. In mid-1980s Durban-based Ahmed Deedat took issue with the Holy See for evincing his willingness to have ‘dialogue’ with Muslims when, accordingly, he meant something else, and therefore, challenged him to a ‘dialogue’ in St. Peter’s Basilica without realizing perhaps his own use of the same word (dialogue) that also means something else, i.e. ‘debate’—and possibly an acrimonious one. In 2000 two medical doctors, Dr. William Campbell and Dr. Zakir Naik, engaged in a religious ‘dialogue’ which every neophyte member of a university debating team can easily identify as actually a debate.

During the Cold War era, the ‘subversive’ or even ‘activist’ (read ‘communist’) was the favorite villain in the ‘free world’. Shortly after the dismemberment of the strongest bastion of communism in the world, the ‘subversive’ or ‘activist’ was soon replaced by the ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ or ‘extremist’.

After the 9/11, it is the time for hunting down ‘terrorists’. It is interesting to note that Jason Burke dedicated his informative book on Al-Qa‘ida—his first written book—on the victims of both ‘terror’ and the ‘war on terror’.

Since the occupation of the war-rampaged Iraq in 2003, this politics of hermeneutics or hermeneutics of politics—depending on one’s reading—has its own version: the hermeneutics of rafidah with the aim of throwing two birds with a single stone.

Literally means ‘one who rejects’, rafidah (plural rawafid) is translated as ‘heretic’ and its derivative modifier rafidi as ‘sectarian’. For centuries and especially more recently, it is increasingly used as a pejorative designation for a Muslim sectarian group demographically the majority in Iraq since its British-midwifed birth in 1920. Until the fall of the Ba‘ath regime in 2003, however, this majority had been persecuted and politically disenfranchised.

How to convey a sectarian message totally comprehensible to adherents and at the same time capable of fending off outsiders’ accusation of the message’s advocacy of sectarian-based civil war and division of the ummah?

The solution lies in playing with the ambiguity of the word rafidah.

Vitriolic verdicts on the urgency of killing rawafid channeled through audiotapes distributed within the flock of votaries and downloadable at insurgent websites are coupled with everyday carnage of civilians in public places such as markets and houses of worship.

Condemnation of these mass murders is immediately deflected by claiming that the targets are only the “collaborators working with the Crusaders”. Granting that police stations, military outposts and political figures are legitimate targets, why market-goers and worshippers are daily victims?

If ever pounded with this question, rafidah-manipulators argue that voters are responsible for the actions of leaders they elected: “[T]hey are not ordinary people… for they have become the soldiers of the infidel occupier… Did not al-Ja‘fari, al-Hakim and others come to power through their votes?”

Given this line of argument, one may wonder how and at which voting precinct the dome and two minarets in Samarra cast their votes for which they were condemned to destruction for two counts.

Hence, the use of such word is truly a powerful bomb that must be detonated. In postmodernist parlance, this textual interplay at work requires either deconstruction or double reading, or both.

For Derrida and Foucault wannabes, this is a golden opportunity to test the validity of these twin tools. I just hope they would not discover and thereafter conclude that ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ themselves also require deconstruction and double reading.

Categories: Current Events, International Relations, Jargons and Terminologies, Middle East, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Tunnel’s Tale

tunnel2

Exactly two days after posting “Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel,” an FB friend sent me this private message: “Thanks for this post. It’s actually a wakeup call for me. J I’m still stuck up with my research proposal. With all these office works, I doubt if I could finish my master’s. Any piece of advice?”

Late night of the same day, I received another message from a Caribbean friend informing me, thus: “Salam. I’m now in my first semester of PhD. Any tips about writing dissertation?” And then just yesterday, an ‘online’ buddy and an ‘offline’ student at the same time told me as we bumped on each other in a nearby 7-Eleven convenient store: “Sir, we will appreciate if you could share some personal reflections on pursuing graduate studies.”

Let me share to you here three P’s as lessons from my tale of a long tunnel – Procrastination, PR and Perpetual Learning.

(1) Procrastination

Procrastination is better known to us as “mañana” habit or “I-will-do-it tomorrow” attitude. Rumi, the great Persian poet, elegantly castigates this ubiquitous bad habit in his magnum opus “Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi” (“Spiritual Couplets”). There was a person who planted a bramble along a public way. The thorny shrub took root, grew and became a nuisance to the wayfarers, so much so that they complained to the ruler. The ruler summoned him and asked him to uproot the bramble. The person promised to do so but kept on procrastinating. In this manner, as the days passed by, the plant became stronger while the person became weaker and older:

“The thornbrush (is) in (process of gaining) strength and (in) ascent;

Its digger (is) in (process of) aging and decline.

The thornbrush every day and every moment is green and fresh;

Its digger is every day more sickly and withered.

It is growing younger, you older:

Be quick and do not waste your time!”

Pursuing graduate studies should start from the end. What does it mean by ‘starting from the end’? That is, as soon as you are admitted to the graduate or post-graduate program, you are supposed to have already the blueprint of your thesis or dissertation. Be like our local traditional carpenter-cum-architect who has already the sketch of the house in his mind before starting his carpentry works. Be like a painter who has already finished his painting – mentally – before actually beginning his painting.

In short, you have to start gathering your data or reading materials for thesis as soon as you are enrolled. Thinking or deciding for your topic at the time of writing your research design or proposal is already too late.

(2) PR (Public Relations)

Chapter 6 (Forming Your Dissertation Committee) of Rita S. Brause’s “Writing Your Doctoral Dissertation: Invisible Rules for Success” has this heading quotation: “I realized that getting along with people was even more important than being academically talented.”

Simply put, thesis writing is indisputably an academic venture, yet a significant percentage of it is relational. It’s pubic relationship (PR). You have to deal with your adviser, and more importantly, your panelists. You have to know the internal dynamics within the department. You have to know the professional rivalries between and among the department faculty members, some of whom will definitely become your adviser and members of your thesis defense panel. Above all, you have to know the nuts and bolts of striking a balance in dealing with these varied, and often competing, players.

(3) Perpetual Learning

After successfully defending your thesis, make no mistake in thinking that graduation is the end of learning. It is supposed to be a continuous process that should commence in the cradle and come to end only in the grave. Learning is a confession. It is a confession of utter ignorance. It is a confession of knowing too little. Learning is an acknowledgment. It is an acknowledgment of insatiability of sipping the nectars of knowledge and wisdom. It is an acknowledgment that there is still a long and winding road ahead.

Most important of all, the two-, three- or four-letter titles (MA, PhD, Dr., Atty., etc.) appended before or after our names should not be allowed to metamorphose into even specks of atom of pride (kibr) in our hearts. One good safety bolt in this regard is this line of supplication in “Du‘a’ Makarim al-Akhlaq” (Supplication on Noble Moral Traits):

“Raise me not a single degree before the people without lowering me its like in myself, and bring about no outward exaltation for me without an inward abasement in myself to the same measure!”

(Picture courtesy of http://www.mnantais.ca)

Categories: Education, Ethics and Mysticism, International Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel

Tunnel

This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.

With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…

Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.

During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).

This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.

As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of  Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”

For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.

As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.

I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.

“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

Categories: Education, International Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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