History

Writing for Righting Historical Wrong

WRITING FOR RIGHTING HISTORICAL WRONG

“But, where is the book?!” “Is it not time to finally publish it?” “Can I still tell… that this is coming out?” “Perhaps the editing can be fast-tracked?” “I am excited that March is quickly turning into April…!”

(I can see my co-editors/co-compilers smiling as they read these lines.)

These were typical lines we would receive from the main patron of the book, while rightfully demanding for the output.

Naturally, each of these lines was a horrible nightmare for our Team of Seven for the guilt of non-delivery.

Now, as the book was finally launched last night, these lines are sweet mementos worth reminiscing and relishing.

“Congratulations to all of you!” was the sweetest ‘iftar’ I ever savored last night, while always remembering the beloved Marawi besieged by both ‘terror’ and ‘the war on terror’ – and unfortunately paying the heavy price for both.

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Jawi Manuscripts and National Muslim Narrative

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MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Jawi manuscripts and national Muslim narrative

Mansoor L. Limba on October 22, 2016

(A modified transcript of 20-minute presentation of the paper “Jawi Documents in Mindanao: Their Significance in Shaping National Muslim Narrative” at the 2016 Philippine National Historical Society’s National Conference, Almont Resort Hotel, Butuan City, October 20, 2016.)

Salamun ‘alaykum and good afternoon to all of you!

Before laying down my paper’s Statement of the Problem, let me first make some introductory remarks about the Jawi script and its manuscripts as well as its state of affairs through the years. I shall also clarify the operational meaning of “narrative” as it is used in “national Muslim narrative” in the paper. After stating the Statement of the Problem, I shall make some arguments and finally make a conclusion.

Jawi

“Jawi” is an Arabic relative noun which literally means “that which pertains to Java (Indonesia).” It is actually a catch-all term for the entire Malay world. In other words, it means “that which pertains to the entire Malay world; Jawi script means Malay script. Why not “Javi” (from the word “Java”) instead of “Jawi”? The simple reason is that there is no letter “v” in Arabic. (That’s why the Arabs would say “batatas” for “patatas” (potato);, and “babaya” for “papaya”.)

As part of Islamic legacy to the region, Jawi script is an Arabic-based one adapted by Southeast Asian Muslims, including the Muslims in the Philippines. In Mindanao and Sulu, the script had been used predominantly by Muslim ethno-linguistic groups such as the Tausug, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Iranun, Sama’, Yakan, and Sangil, among others, for putting into writing their languages.

Linguistically, Jawi manuscripts are of two types: Batang-a Arab (literally, ‘Arabic letter’) and Kirim. Batang-a Arab is the kind of Jawi that refers to the Arabic script used in any type of document, while Kirim refers to a written text of local dialect literature that uses the Arabic-based script.

The Jawi was used to record both non-religious and religious literary materials. Non-religious literature includes epic, stories, short love poems, love fest, sayings, drama, puzzles and riddles, rhymes, and literature for children. Religious literature includes dekir/dhikr (incantations), khutbah (sermons), Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), explicatory statements about Islam, du‘a (supplications), religious songs, and kisa (Islamic stories), among others.

Jawi through the years

What happened to the Jawi script and manuscripts through the years?

Since the Philippine independence after the Second World War, there had been a decrease in the use of Jawi script due to the upsurge in the nationwide promotion and use of the English language in the formal educational system. This has been exacerbated further since the 1970s due to increase in the influence of strict interpretation of Islam that denounces many local Muslim beliefs and practices, and brought by local Muslim graduates from Middle Eastern universities.

No doubt, the coming of this new set of Muslim scholars has created tension between their tendency to homogenize the interpretation and practice of Islam, and the local Muslim populace’s inclination to cling to the indigenous practices of their religion, as also reflected several times in Thomas McKenna’s Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines (2002).

You may add to this state of affairs the fact that there have been no extensive studies about the Jawi ever made in the country. An exception to this, to my knowledge, is the study series made of Dr. Samuel K. Tan, the most known of which are Surat Sug in two volumes and The Surat Maguindanao, and the journal articles by a Japanese scholar, Prof. Midori Kawashima, about the Jawi in the Ranao region.

Statement of the problem

This paper argues that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative.

Narrative

By “narrative” here we mean some kind of retelling, often in words, of something that happened (a story). It is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story. A story is just a sequence of events while narrative is the recounting of those events, perhaps leaving some occurrences out as they are from some perspective insignificant, and perhaps emphasizing others.  In short, narrative is a point of view on a story. In this paper, it is limited to the Muslims’ narrative of their story or stories of themselves and the narrative of their story or stories of others.

Shaping Muslim narrative

Going back to the Statement of the Problem, it is humbly argued that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies.

(1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles: In Jawi khutbahs, dhikr and other religious documents, there is a clear affirmation of an understanding of Islamic principles (for example, tawhid  or Islamic monotheism) which is integrative of indigenous cultural elements, as embodied in the pandita figure and rituals. (Pandita is etymologically Sanskrit for “learned” and “knowledgeable” and it refers to the Muslim traditional spiritual guide.)

(2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices: Jawi epics and stories would introduce us to indigenous dresses such as malung (female lower-body dress) and tubaw (male headgear) as well as the kanduli (traditional food offering) which have been tolerated and even accommodated as native expression of Muslim code of attire and charity-giving, respectively.

(3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies: Among the most famous Islamic stories (kisa) is Beraparangan Muhammad ‘Ali Hanafiyyah, which is a local rendition of a popular kisa known as Hikayat Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah to Muslims in many parts of Southeast Asia. Found in different versions in the region, it is a narration of martyrdom of Amir Husayn, the second grandson of Prophet Muhammad. As the epic story graphically touches on such themes as the identity of combatants and non-combatants, rules of engagement in war, and giving water not only to the enemies but even to their riding animals, it illustriously depicts an epitome of Muslim chivalry.

Conclusion

As the conclusion, let me give the following observations: First, there has been insufficient study being conducted on the Jawi script and documents in Mindanao, much less any move to preserve and promote the same. Secondly, due to this lack of attention, they run the risk of being relegated to the dustbin of oblivion and extinction. Thirdly, the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies – something which is quite remote from terrorist acts associated with some violent groups in the country.

Thank you!

(Also published in http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2016/10/marginalia-jawi-manuscripts-and-national-muslim-narrative)

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Jawi Manuscripts and Muslim Chivalry

Jawi Manuscipts

MAKATI CITY (5 September) – In the wake of the deadly blast in Davao City, I had attended – though mentally disturbed and almost reluctantly – the UNESCO-Memory of the World (MOW) Documentary Heritage Awareness and Nomination Seminar which was organized by the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO, in partnership with the University of the Philippines Mindanao and the Center for New Cinema (CNC), on September 3, 2016 at the Lorenzo Hall, University of the Philippines Mindanao.

As part of the nationwide awareness campaign as well as in response to UNESCO-MOW’s mandate to “increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of the documentary heritage and assist in its universal access and preservation,” similar seminars were also recently held in Quezon City and Baguio City.

Pertaining to records and documents that help preserve memories of our culture and society, “The documentary heritage,” as Prof. Nick Deocampo would explain us, “includes printed documents, recorded sound and music, motion pictures and photographs, ancient syllabary and cartography, and other forms of physical recordings.”

Reflecting on the significance of preserving documents, particularly those coming from Mindanao, Dr. Bernardita Churchill, President of the Philippine National Historical Society, chaired a panel that gave special focus on “Jawi Documents” in a bid to know their historical, cultural and scholarly significance.

“Jawi” is an Arabic relative noun which literally means “that which pertains to Java (Indonesia).” As part of Islamic legacy to the region, Jawi script is an Arabic-based one adapted by Southeast Asian Muslims, including the Muslims in the Philippines.

In Mindanao and Sulu, the script had been used predominantly by Muslim ethno-linguistic groups such as the Tausug, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Iranun, Sama’, Yakan, and Sangil for putting into writing their languages.

Linguistically, Jawi manuscripts are of two types: Batang-a Arab (literally, ‘Arabic letter’) and Kirim. Batang-a Arab is the kind of Jawi that refers to the Arabic script used in any type of document, while Kirim refers to a written text of local dialect literature that uses the Arabic-based script.

The Jawi was used to record both non-religious and religious literary materials. Non-religious literature includes epic, stories, short love poems, love fest, sayings, drama, puzzles and riddles, rhymes, and literature for children. Religious literature includes dekir/dhikr (incantations), khutbah (sermons), Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), explicatory statements about Islam, du‘a (supplications), religious songs, and kisa (Islamic stories), among others.

Among the most famous Islamic stories is Beraparangan Muhammad ‘Ali Hanafiyyah, which is a local rendition of a popular kisa known as Hikayat Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah to Muslims in many parts of Southeast Asia. Found in different versions in the region, it is a narration of martyrdom of Amir Husayn, the second grandson of Prophet Muhammad, thereby depicting it as an epitome of Muslim chivalry.

Since the Philippine independence after the Second World War, there had been a decrease in the use of Jawi script due to the upsurge in the nationwide promotion and use of the English language in the formal educational system. This has been exacerbated further since the 1970s due to increase in the influence of strict interpretation of Islam that denounces many local Muslim beliefs and practices, and brought by local Muslim graduates from Middle Eastern universities. No doubt, the coming of this new set of Muslim scholars has created tension between their tendency to homogenize the interpretation and practice of Islam, and the local Muslim populace’s inclination to cling to the indigenous practices of Islam.

No doubt, the preservation and promotion of Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies – something which is quite remote from terrorist acts associated with current radical groups in the country.

 

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Critical Thinking in August, and Beyond

critical-thinking-clipart-1

MAKATI CITY (22 August) – Last Wednesday (August 17) I had to fly to Davao City – not primarily to witness and join the week-long celebration of Kadayawan Festival – but to attend two events related to history as an academic field of discipline.

Apart from the fact that this month is Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month) by virtue of Proclamation 1041 signed by Pres. Fidel Ramos in 1997, August is also celebrated as “History Month” by virtue of Proclamation 339 signed by Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III in 2012.

In celebrating this month-long occasion, the Philippine Historical Association (PHA) held its 2016 National Conference with the theme “Philippine Governance: Historical Perspectives” at Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City, on August 18-20, 2016. In the “Bangsamoro Panel” of the said annual conference, I presented a paper on the growing influence of violent religious extremism in the Philippines and its impact upon intra-faith and interfaith dialogues.

Immediately after answering questions regarding my paper presentation during the open forum, I left the conference hall and proceeded to the Waterfront Insular Hotel to attend the Mindanao-leg Series 1 (Topic: “Historical Method”) of 2016 Training Seminar Series (August 20-21, 2016) organized by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

Conducted by no less than the NHCP chair, Dr. Maria Serena I. Diokno, the two-day historical writing training covered a wide range of topics from “Meanings and Uses of History” to “Evaluating Sources in Historical Writing,” and it was interspersed with challenging written exercises too.

Critical Thinking

One of the recurring themes in both the conference and the training seminar is critical thinking – critical thinking in reading, writing and teaching history. It means to be circumspect and judicious before swallowing hook, line and sinker of everything we read, write and teach. It means that to rely on the perceived reliability of the source is not dependable; the merit or value of each datum must be assessed independently.

To paraphrase, “Critical thinking, and not the ability to memorize historical facts, is the hallmark of a historian,” Prof. Diokno would remind us. “Do not worry or be afraid of using any historical material. Anyway, the most important is you – the teacher – who critically read the material before teaching it to the students… Make inferences. Try to infer even from historical silences; they are not passive; they are active; it’s only that they are loaded with a silencer.”

Ibn Khaldun’s Lamentation

In his celebrated Al-Muqaddimah, which is a comprehensive prolegomenon to a planned voluminous book on universal history, Ibn Khaldūn – the famous 14th century Muslim historian and historiographer – lamented some historians for being concerned only with the authenticity of the chain of transmitters (sanad), whereas one must focus instead on the authenticity of the text.

As an example, Ibn Khaldun cited the supposed account that when the people of Prophet Moses crossed the sea while the legion of Pharaoh was pursuing them, they had two hundred fifty thousand soldiers. Accordingly, it must be reckoned that the Israelites were all descendants of Prophet Jacob, a single person, and it had been not more than five or six generations. Assuming that four centuries had passed, to say that they had two hundred fifty thousand soldiers necessitates claiming to the least that they had a population of one million in order to produce such a huge army. This is while Pharaoh had killed their male newborn babies.

Given these male infanticides perpetrated against them, Ibn Khaldun would ask: is it rationally possible for them to have been such a number of Israelite men at that time?

Mutahhari’s Criticism

As mentioned in his Training and Education in Islam, Murtada Mutahhari – a prominent Muslim thinker of the past century – read in popular general history books that during the event of Harrah when Medina was ransacked and mass murder was committed [in 62 A.H. by 12,000 strong army under the command of Muslim ibn ‘Uqba], the perpetrators went inside the house of a poor resident of Medina, whose wife had just delivered a child and was still lying in bed while the child was in the cradle. A soldier allegedly entered the house with the intention of looting. No matter how much he roamed around the nooks and crannies of the house, he failed to find anything to loot. As he was empty-handed, he got furious and returned [in order to molest her]. The woman humbly pleaded, saying that she was the wife of so-and-so companion of the Prophet and that both of them pledged their allegiance to the Prophet in the Pledge of Ridwan (6 A.H.).

Mutahhari would interrogate, “Can it be true? Can a 63 years old woman who, along with her husband, paid allegiance to the Prophet in the Pledge of Ridwan, usually get pregnant and deliver a child after 58 years? If we assume that the said woman was ten years old and newlywed during the pledge, she was then a 68 years old woman. Can a 68 years old woman normally get pregnant and deliver a child?”

He then cited a Prophetic tradition (hadith), thus: “For the ignorance of man, it is sufficient that he relays whatever he hears.”

Thereafter he commented: “In most cases, the ignorance (jahl) that is mentioned in traditions (ahadith) is not the opposite of knowledge (‘ilm). [Instead,] it is the opposite of reasoning (‘aql); that is, lack of intelligence and not lack of knowledge. Refusing to think and assess is enough for a person to believe in and relay whatever he hears!”

As I was heading toward the airport, the festive mood of Claveria Avenue seemed to be leaving a life-long lesson for all and sundry: “Celebrate critical thinking not just in August but even beyond!”

 

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Eclectic Understanding of the Story of Habil and Qabil

habilnqabil

Around 30 years ago, one of those Marxist-leaning and eclectic individuals presented in his lecture a symbolic interpretation of the story of Habil and Qabil mentioned in the Qur’an. The story as narrated in the Qur’an is as follows:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

“Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. [One of them] said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’ [The other one] said, ‘Allah accepts only from the God-wary’.”2

As can be deduced from traditions, the sons of Hadhrat Adam (‘a), Qabil (Cain) and Habil (Abel), were supposed to make an offering to God. Habil offered a sheep for sacrifice while Qabil offered some grain. The offering of the former was accepted by God but that of the latter was not accepted. As such, Qabil became jealous and envious of his brother Habil to the extent that he murdered him. But he regretted what he had done. As he did not know what to do with the corpse of his brother, God sent a crow to teach him how to bury the dead body:

فَبَعَثَ اللّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الأَرْضِ لِيُرِيَهُ كَيْفَ يُوَارِي سَوْءةَ أَخِيهِ قَالَ يَا وَيْلَتَا أَعَجَزْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِثْلَ هَـذَا الْغُرَابِ فَأُوَارِيَ سَوْءةَ أَخِي فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ النَّادِمِينَ

“Then Allah sent a crow, exploring in the ground, to show him how to bury the corpse of his brother. He said, ‘Woe to me! Am I unable to be [even] like this crow and bury my brother’s corpse?’ Thus he became regretful.”3

When a crow, sent by God, started digging the ground in search of food in front of Qabil, the eldest son of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) who did not realize till then how he could dig the soil and bury a corpse, learned it from a crow and buried his brother’s corpse.

In his symbolic interpretation of this story, the said writer and speaker said that Habil is the symbol of the hardworking class of workers and peasants, the product of whose unrelenting sweat and toil is insignificant. Since God supports and inclines toward this class, He accepted his humble pasture product offering. Meanwhile, Qabil is the symbol of capitalists and when he offered his produce, God rejected his offering because God is against capitalists.

The speaker concluded that Habil and Qabil and their respective offerings did not exist in reality as they only represent and symbolize the classes of proletariats and capitalists and the struggle between the two classes. (During the time of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) when there was no other person other than him, his wife and two sons, how could the classes of the proletariats and the capitalists have existed and what was the meaning of class-based interpretation at that time? In any case, due to the prevalence of Marxist thought 30 years ago and the multitude of supporters of atheistic schools of thought, these symbolic interpretations earned wide acceptance.)

The said speaker presented a symbolic interpretation of Habil and Qabil but he did not tell what the raven symbolized. One of his students discovered this secret and in his article, he introduced the black raven as the symbol of akhunds who are preoccupied with rawdhahkhani4 and lamentation, propagators of wickedness and misfortune from pulpits, busy supporting feudal lords and capitalists. By discovering this secret, he allegedly completed the so-called third side of the triad of gold [zar], force [zur] and deceit [tazwir]. Interestingly, in narrating this story, God says: “Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons.” That is, “Relate to the people the truth of this real event.” It is as if God predicts that one day there will be an unrealistic and erroneous interpretation of this event in history, and emphasizes that no distortion be made and the truth related to the people.

Yes, during recent decades, especially nowadays, symbolic, allegorical and fictitious interpretations of the Qur’an have increased and been propagated to such an extent that some of those who have studied Islam and are even wearing clerical garbs are hymning such melodies and claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and it is not true that the Qur’anic verses show us objective and immutable realities.

Accordingly, in interpreting Qur’anic verses, we do not have decisive and convincing bases, fixed frameworks, and scientifically accurate criteria with which we can claim that so-and-so verse can have only one interpretation and explanation and all other interpretations are wrong. Rather, everyone can have a symbolic and allegorical interpretation of Qur’anic verses according to his ideas, presumptions and thoughts even if his interpretation is totally incompatible with other interpretations!

The presentation of an ambiguous image of religion

In order to be familiar with the theory of symbolism of religious narratives including the Qur’anic narratives and to enhance our minds, let me tell you that displayed in modern arts museums are tabloids with ambiguous geometrical forms that do not clearly show images of certain things, and everyone has his own interpretation and perception of them according to his literary talent, and introduces them as symbols of certain things.

Perhaps, the drawers of those tabloids might be unaware of others’ interpretations and perceptions of those drawings. Similarly, in some psychological tests some ink are spread on a sheet of paper and every patient is asked what object he can see on the paper. After a bit of thinking and conceiving the specific shapes on the paper which he thinks is the form of a certain object, each of the patients offers his own interpretation, saying, for example, that a certain portion of the formed shape shows the hair of a woman and another portion shows her hands, and finally, he introduces the ambiguous form and image as a woman’s portrait.

This is in spite of the fact that the one who scattered the small pieces of paper in different shapes on a sheet of paper has not intended to make a specific form or image at all and he did not want to do so consciously and logically. He just spread some ink on a sheet of paper, and as a result, an ambiguous image which is subject to various interpretations is formed.

They claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and its narratives are related so that anyone can understand and comprehend something from it according to his own discernment. One should not treat as absolute his understanding and perception of the Qur’an and say that his interpretation of the Qur’an is definitely correct and that of others is wrong.

Likewise, if a person happens to deal with modern arts and has an interpretation of them, he can not say that his interpretation is definitely correct and that of another is wrong because he has a specific interpretation and understanding of them according to his ideas and specific conditions. Others also have their distinct interpretation and understanding according to their respective ideas and specific social conditions. Some interpretations cannot be regarded as correct and others as wrong. In essence, correctness or incorrectness in such cases is not something real and fixed and it cannot be said that one person’s understanding is correct and another’s wrong!

Is the Qur’an—God forbid—like modern arts which anyone can interpret according to his understanding? Most of those who have such understanding of the heavenly scriptures do not believe in God and divine revelation, and if ever they talk about religion, it is only meant to deceive others. Then, the advocates of the theory of various interpretations and readings of heavenly scriptures say: Assuming that there is God who has sent divine revelation and His Apostle has heard it correctly—which is of course, debatable—yet, the Apostle is human and his understanding is not error free. So, he might not have understood the words of God correctly.

Besides, if we accept that the Apostle has not erred in receiving and understanding the verses of the Qur’an, one cannot present a definite way of interpreting Qur’anic verses on the basis of which an interpretation can be treated as correct and definite and other interpretations as wrong. Instead, anyone can have an interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an and this interpretation and understanding is credible and authentic for him and no one can reject it. In dealing with the Holy Scripture, we are exactly like those who have undergone psychological tests, shown an ambiguous image and asked to state their interpretation of it. Then, everyone can have his own interpretation according to his mental setup!

——-

Notes:

2. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:27. [Trans.]

3. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:31.

4. Rawdhahkhani refers to the systematic commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala’ through the professional narrators of the event in ‘Ashura’ so as to excite weeping and lamentation. [Trans.]

Image courtesy of ytimg.com

IslamicPoliticalTheoryV1An excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, ISLAMIC POLITICAL THEORY (STATECRAFT), Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2011), 233 pages.

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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.

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

More on Being a Resident Stranger

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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

On Being a Resident Stranger

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Written: February 1, 2009

After yet another post-‘Ashura commemoration program held recently at the research institute with which I am currently connected, my daughter handed to me an LBC package. “Yes, Mustafa has sent them as he promised,” I whispered to myself while reading the sender’s address.

A few days earlier, I had received a text message from my Batangeño friend asking for my postal address as he has a gift for me. As I found out, the brotherly present consists of DVD films about Saint Mary, the Holy Messiah and the Companions of the Cave [ashab al-kahf] from an Islamic perspective. In his subsequent text message, I learnt that Mustafa offered similar items to his Christian relatives and friends as Christmas gift.

What I had initially thought to be only 2-minute examination of the DVDs’ quality turned into over 2 hours of watching the “Companions of the Cave” film. Dubbed in English, the Iranian-produced movie is about seven young Unitarian Christians in Asia Minor during the Roman rule sometime in 300 CE. In order to preserve their faith, the seven youth escaped from the tyranny of the pagan Roman ruler and took shelter in a cave. As part of God’s plan and sign of His omnipotence, they were made to sleep inside the cave for generations. When they woke up and went out of the cave, they realized that they stayed there for a long period of three centuries!

As mentioned in Surah 18 of the Qur’an, the Seven Sleepers found out that their town turned into a bustling city no more ruled by polytheists but by those who professed to believe in God and His Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. Yet, unexpected by the people who were anxiously waiting for them at the cave’s opening, the Companions of the Cave preferred to remain inside where they passed away while in a state of prostration in prayer.

A recurring theme in this story is what is called ghurbah in ethics and mysticism. The Arabic word ghurbah denotes ‘remoteness’ and ‘distance’ and its derivative gharib means ‘stranger’, ‘alien’ or anything which is far in relation to something else. This remoteness or farness may not only be physical but also spiritual, intellectual or emotional.

In spite of being Romans of noble ruling class, the seven believing youth were strangers in their hometown where worship of the Roman gods was then prevalent. That’s why they escaped from this state of ‘strangeness’ and sought refuge in a cave where they felt being ‘home’. Yes, when they came out of the cave, Roman paganism was no more yet they were still strangers!

Before, they were alien to the open polytheism practiced in society. The second time around, they were stranger to the hidden polytheism of ‘believers’ in the forms of hypocrisy, worship of deities and materialism. Likewise, the people were also foreign to them. Finally leaving the cave, a sixth generation grandson of the chief of Seven Sleepers told his granddaughter, “Let’s go my daughter; we are strangers to them.”

This state of ghurbah is a recurring theme throughout the annals of history. Thousands welcomed Muslim ibn ‘Aqil on his arrival in Kufah. The following day, they would scatter on seeing him and walk away as if they had never known him!

After the event in Karbala, the enchained womenfolk and children of Imam Husayn’s (‘a) camp were ‘strangers’ to the Muslim masses. So was the message of ‘Ashura to them. Even today, Imam Husayn is such a gharib to the followers of his grandfather Muhammad (s). Every year, local Muslims would welcome Muharram with the beating of drums in weddings and other joyous occasions.

Palestinians of Gaza are worse than strangers as they stand amidst the rubbles of their homes, looking for the remains of their loved ones. Much worse strangers than them are the Arab rulers who are abandoning them at the mercy of their ‘cousins’. Equally alien to ‘decent living’ are the internally displaced people in Maguindanao and other places. Indeed, much alien to humanitarianism are those who have a hand in their ordeals by omission or commission.

And everyone is a gharib in his or her own watan (hometown). Stranger is the husband whose wife does not partake in the love of the Holy Household (‘a). Stranger is the parent whose child adopts a lifestyle repugnant to modesty and decency. Stranger is the wife who wakes up alone for the dawn prayer as the husband is in slumber. Stranger at home is the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) follower whose siblings are Yazid-lovers. Stranger is the learned in the company of ignoramuses. Stranger is the pious in a holier-than-thou assembly.

In closing, let me wrap up this marginalia with a couplet from Hafiz:

I belong to my Beloved’s town, not to the land of strangers.

O Lord, unite me with Your friends!

I belong to my Beloved’s town, not to the land of strangers.

O Lord, unite me with Your friends!

Categories: History, Throwback | Leave a comment

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