Ethics and Mysticism

Lessons from the Tunnel’s Tale

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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)

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2015 Now Rouz

2015 New Year Supplication

Sal’e now-ye hameh-ye tun pur-barakat va sarafraz bashad!

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Current Translation Project: “Philosophy of Ethics”

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Murtada Mutahhari, “Philosophy of Ethics,” trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, translation in progress), approx. 240 pp.

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Forthcoming Publication: “Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition”

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Murtada Mutahhari, FITRAH: MAN’S NATURAL DISPOSITION, trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, forthcoming), 192 pp.

Its English translation is finished just today, al-hamdulillah.

It is expected to be published within this year or early next year, insha’ Allah.

About the Book:

“Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition” is a translation of the Persian book “Fitrat” (Tehran: Sadra Publications, 2006) by the great Muslim thinker and reformer, Ayatollah Murtada Muttahari. “Fitrah” is the theme of a 10-session lecture series given the martyred thinker in 1976-77 in the presence of teachers in Nikan School in Tehran, and apparently due to his involvement in the Islamic movement and his increasing social activities, it was not continued. With ample citations from the Qur’an and other traditional Islamic sources, Mutahhari discusses the concept of ‘fitrah’ or man’s natural disposition. The author does not confine himself to Islamic references as he continuously engages with the views of a wide range of philosophers including Plato, William James, Russell, Nietzsche, Marx, Feuerbach, Auguste Comte, Spencer, Will Durant, and Durkheim, among others. Mutahhari’s ontological discussion covers a range of issues, including the literal and technical meaning of ‘fitrah’, sacred inclinations, love and worship, and the evolution of human originality. He also examines materialism and provides a theistic approach to some issues pertaining to the theories on the origin of religion, evolution of human society, intrinsic and acquired guidance, and intuitive and sensory dispositions.

Murtada Mutahhari was a leading theoretician of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. As an accomplished scholar of Islamic sciences, he played a pivotal role in forming the modern Islamic discourse which served as the foundation of the revolution. With close to ninety works to his credit, he is considered one of the leading thinkers of the global Islamic movement in the twentieth century.

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More on Being a Resident Stranger

 Abrahams Journey to Egypt 1024

Early morning yesterday – that is, only a few hours after reposting the other night an old piece entitled “On Being a Resident Stranger” originally written on February 9, 2009 – I was reading an article “Reading the Qur’an as a Resident Alien” by His Reverence Whitney Bodman of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Texas) published in The Muslim World Journal (volume 99, October 2009).

It is interesting to know from this journal article about a concept similar to that of the ethical-mystical ghurbah espoused in “On Being a Resident Stranger”. Rev. Bodman talks about the concept of gēr (‘resident aliens’) in Hebrew which refers to the sojourners of the Old Testament. Accordingly, like Abraham sojourning in Egypt (Genesis 12:10), the gēr is both resident and alien.

For further information, one may refer to the article on ‘Sojourner’ in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) VI, 103-4.

Categories: Ethics and Mysticism, History | 2 Comments

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