Monday, February 26, 2007

The Liberally-Trained Mind, Revelation and Extremism

An excellent post at the blog Shar'i Perspectives

When one peruses the works of the likes of Ghazali, Hakim Tirmidhi, Ibn ʿAjiba, and others, it is impossible but to note that, in the western definition, these men were philosophers: lovers of truth, and brilliant expositors and users of the liberal arts.

They were not afraid to analyze, and they were not obstructed by their religious attachment to divinely-decreed morality to search for truth through rigorous and studied use of logic and rhetoric -- in the western tradition, two of the "the liberal arts", and in Muslim lands, some of the "ʿulūm al-āla" (the "propaedeutic" disciplines). In other words, their morality did not prohibit their minds and tongues to work according to established principles – they did not see scholastic pursuits and what they rigorously entail to be un-religious, or contrary to the will of God.

They were not literalists, and they were not fundamentalists. They were not blinded by the literal wording of the text, nor were they so small-minded to perceive that the text was meant to bolster their position. Rather, armed with the proper use of mind and tongue that all humans – regardless of religion or race – are apt to use properly and brilliantly, they read the scripture and looked at the world with both eyes open. Light did not cause them to flinch. Hatred was not allowed to burn. In short, their moralism did not obfuscate their divinely-endowed human methodologies of proper enquiry, nor did their usage of the liberal arts lead them to a haughty tossing of morality. Zandaqa, in their minds, was not the necessary result of intelligence. Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of what so many of today’s prayer-pulpit climbers and public screamers hold to be first principles.

Extremism has no greater enemy than a sound mind and a sound heart. A sound mind is ensured by no more that the liberal arts mentioned above (and if anyone were to question the inclusion of grammar – in its linguistic inclusive meaning – and rhetoric amongst the sciences of the mind, they should remember that the tongue, or language, is merely the interpreter and interlocutor of the minds – that of the speaker and that of his fellow in discussion), and balanced morality and ethics is ensured no better than through divine revelation. For though many a human mind has arrived to the same moral, ethical and at times even metaphysical conclusions of the revelation independently, nothing has ever been able to ensure their wide-spread acceptance and application amongst the particular individuals of humanity – from philosopher to stone cutter, from king to pauper – than organized religion when it truly reflects the will of the Creator. And it should not be forgotten that the instruction and preaching of morality also has bounds, and these bounds are also spelled out in the Word of God; but it should not be forgotten that the sound mind, informed by a mastery of the liberal arts, will ensure that all is kept in balance as well.

De-contextualization is the result of the shutting off of the mind. Treatises, articles and papers are closer to yellow-journalism and propaganda than they are to religious and spiritual commentary and guidance when any text, and particularly scripture, is attacked parochially-minded, intentionally close-minded anti-intellectuals.

The peppering, or more often dumping, of scriptural verses and quotes of the Prophet in written works are often seen as enough justification that the argument of the piece is true, and the lack thereof sufficient proof of its falsehood. Guidance from the texts has been confused with justification through them. It is interesting to note that much of what is touted as “Muslim literature” in today’s milieu is barely readable, though it be filled with such quotations, while anyone familiar with the works of scholars such as Ghazali and the others mentioned will find that, while certain of their works are obviously and necessarily replete with Qur’anic and Prophetic citings, they are not used to obfuscate a feeble mind and a lack of anything to really add to the discourse of humanity at all.

Intellectualism is not to be seen as an end in itself, and its dangers are many, when not bound by a strict and applied ethical and moral system. But without the sound and studied use of the intellect, no man should be given the right or freedom to speak or instruct a fellow man.

Revelation is the safe-keeper of the mind, and the sound mind is the proper interpreter of revelation. And whenever even one of the two has been abandoned, or abused (and both can be and often are often abused), mercy is lost. ((And We have not sent you save as a Mercy to Mankind)).

1 comment:

Andrew said...

This is a great piece. Thanks for sharing.