Universal Dimensions of Islam Part 15
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42 Translator's Note: Here one can perhaps make out Abdul Hadi's reasoning for having shot the matador.
43 Translator's Note: Compare to Mevlana Rumi in his Divani Shamsi Tabriz: "If thou art Love's lover and seekest Love, take a keen poniard and cut the throat of bashfulness. Know that reputation is a great hinderance in the path." Translated by Reynold Nicholson, Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), p. 3.
44 Translator's Note: Abdul Hadi, whose original Swedish name was John Gustaf Agelii, nearly always wrote articles under pseudonym. This was not only to guard his anonymity, but also to keep his pride in check.
45 Translator's Note: While living in Colombo in 1899, Abdul Hadi found a starving, one-eyed, toothless, and pregnant street-cat which he adopted and named Mabruka ("the blessed one"). Becoming his constant companion, he took her with him on his journeys to South India, where he readily adapted his travel plans to suit her requirements. When leaving Colombo, Abdul Hadi refused to abandon her, and instead took her with him to Paris. At almost every stage of Abdul Hadi's life, be it in Paris or Cairo, he nearly always had a number of streetcats in his care.
46 Islamic tradition states that wild animals did not begin avoiding mankind until after Cain's fratricide. Before this event, they sought man's nearness in order to be comforted and protected by the great peace that emanated from him.
47 Translator's Note: Compare to Mevlana Rumi in his Mathnawi III: 3901: "I died to the inorganic state and became endowed with growth, and (then) I died to (vegetable) growth and attained to the animal. I died from animality and became Adam (man): why, then should I fear? When I have become less by dying? At the next remove I shall die to man, that I may soar and lift up my head amongst the angels. And I must escape even from (the state of) the angel: everything is peris.h.i.+ng except His Face." Translated by Reynold Nicholson, The Mathnawi of Jalauddin Rumi(London: Gibb Memorial Trust, 1990), vol. 3, p. 219.
48 Translator's Note: A term used by Abdul Hadi, not to indicate Jewish Kabbalah in particular, but rather esoterism as a whole.
49 All impersonal and anonymous crimes are, a priori, collective crimes.
50 Translator's Note: Here Abdul Hadi is possibly inspired by one of his favorite poets, Charles Baudelaire. See Poem 51 of Les Fleurs du Mal: "Je suis la plaie et le couteau! Je suis le soufflet et la joue! Je suis les membres et la roue, et la victime et le bourreau!" ("I am the wound and the knife! I am the blow and the cheek! I am the limbs and the wheel, and the victim and the torturer!"). Translation by Carol Clark, Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems (London: Penguin Books, 2004).
The Other in the Light of the One:
The Universality of the Qur'an and Interfaith Dialogue
BY REZA SHAH-KAZEMI.
Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 2006 The purpose of this beautifully inspiring and timely book is, in the author's own terms, to present "an exposition of the universality of the Qur'anic message of tawhid . . . and the implications of this universality for dialogue". In his cogent and rigorously developed argument, Reza Shah-Kazemi sets out to articulate and substantiate a few fundamental theses that may pave the ground for a genuinely renewed religious dialogue in the wake of the post-September 11 era. This book is intended for a general readers.h.i.+p with an interest in religious and Islamic studies, but it clearly addresses two kinds of audience-not necessarily exclusive of one another, the first being more attuned to inter-religious dialogue, the second more involved in intra-religious debates within the Muslim community. In other words, the inclusiveness that the perspective of the book fosters is from the outset defined both with a view to universality and in compliance with a religious commitment to ident.i.ty. Although the richness of the argumentation and the wealth of ill.u.s.trations called to b.u.t.tress it defy an exhaustive treatment of the whole book, what follows is an attempt at summarizing some of the main articulations of the hermeneutic theses that are instrumental in bringing out the fundamental inclusiveness in respect of the confessional differences that the author has set as his goal.
First of all, Shah-Kazemi argues that the healthy state of a religious universe is proportional to the presence of a profound spirituality within its fold. Such a vital presence is moreover inversely proportional to the advent of ideology in religious life and discourse. In the absence of a strong spiritual consciousness within the community the "revealed text becomes an ideological pretext; morally reforming oneself gives way to violently rectifying the Other; spiritual contemplation is scorned in favor of political machination; the subtleties of revelation become submerged by the exigencies of revolution" (p. ix). The spiritual sap of Islam is particularly apt to bring fruits within the domain of Qur'anic exegesis. The methodological thrust of this entire book lies precisely in a reading of the Qur'an from the standpoint of spiritual hermeneutics, as exemplified in the Sufi tradition of such as Ibn 'Arabi, Kashani, Rumi, and Haydar muli. In this hermeneutic tradition "religion . . . is divine dis-closure, not human 'closure', openings to higher truths and deeper realities, not simply exclusive affirmations of simple dogmas combined with perceptions limited to surface phenomena" (p. xvii). Now this very "dis-closure" is a fundamental way to opening oneself to the universal horizon of the revealed text, and such an opening is the main objective of this book. Its four chapters are devoted to laying out the principles and ill.u.s.trations conducive to this objective.
In a first chapter, Shah-Kazemi clears the methodological way for his approach to the Qur'an by contrasting the Sufi hermeneutics for which he has opted with modern and postmodern theories of interpretation. He brings to the attention of his readers the fact that Sufism, in its earlier phases, can be viewed as a response to two tendencies of the Islamic society, that is, worldliness and formalism. Although Shah-Kazemi does not explicitly make the point in this historical context he certainly implies that these two negative tendencies are not without relation to the modernist and fundamentalist faces of contemporary Islam. The thrust of his methodological emphasis on Sufi hermeneutics lies precisely in that this type of hermeneutics is the only effective answer to the concerns for universality and integrity that are central respectively in modernist Islam and in fundamentalist Islam. Sufi hermeneutics provides Shah-Kazemi with the tools to formulate a radical critique of these two contemporary movements while satisfying the concerns that they harbor, i.e. respectively the aspiration toward universality and the need for religious ident.i.ty.
A second part of this initial chapter engages the reader in a condensed and cogent critique of postmodern types of hermeneutics by highlighting both the ground that they share with the Sufi perspective, but also and above all the point where they clearly part with the latter. Shah-Kazemi fully acknowledges that the traditional Sufi perspective is not to be equated with a blind imitation of traditional authorities nor "a funeral cortege or a register of conformist opinions" (Henry Corbin) (p. 27); in addition, he underlines that Sufi hermeneutics is given to highlight the relativity of forms as well as the limitations of reason and language. Capitalizing on these dimensions of Sufi hermeneutics, some contemporary commentators have been tempted to draw parallels between mystical perspectives and postmodern approaches. As a response to these attempts, the author stresses the a.s.sumptions and contradictions of the various forms of "hermeneutics of suspicion"-through a discussion of such influential figures as Paul Ricoeur, Mohammed Arkoun, Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Ian Almond-while unveiling the radical chasm that separates the mystical emphasis on "points of view and aspects" (to use Schuon's phrase) and the postmodern "suspension" of belief (Arkoun), concessions to the epistemological criteria of contemporary social sciences and ideologies (Ricoeur's critical hermeneutics), and deconstructionist self-contradiction and anti-metaphysical obsession with language and unending differance (Derrida.) Shah-Kazemi shows that Ibn 'Arabi's "stability in variegation" is to be understood as a kind of spiritual method-aimed at preventing a rational "freezing" of spiritual insights-that does not preclude the position of the Absolute beyond all determinations, aspects, and perspectives; quite to the contrary since it is precisely predicated on an understanding of the infinite Essence as free from conceptual and linguistic determinations.
Chapter II is focused on answering the question that may be raised from a defective comprehension of wahdat al-wujud, i.e. "if nothing but G.o.d is real, and there is no 'otherness', in reality, what is the meaning of dialogue with the Other?" (p. 75). The fundamental answer to this question lies in an understanding of existence as a kind of "dialogue" between archetypical possibilities. The key is to grasp that divine unity and existential multiplicity are not exclusive of one another but that they are in fact the two "faces" of the same Reality. Relying primarily on Kashani's commentary on the Surat al-Ikhlas, Shah-Kazemi highlights the "resolution of the outward multiplicity of phenomena within the single reality of G.o.d by means of the relations.h.i.+ps const.i.tuted by the divine Names" (p. 86). These Names const.i.tute as it were the "multiplicity within unity". Multiplicity, then, is viewed from the standpoint of essential unity, as expressing this unity through particularity-which is a manifestation of unity on the plane of relativity-so that the divine unity of tawhid is understood as perfectly compatible with metaphysical "polytheism"-but not of course with theological polytheism as commonly understood-since metaphysically "plurality is viewed in its principial aspect, as expressing the unique principle, and (is therefore) re-endowed with the reality that was veiled by the appearance of crude, empirical multiplicity, or of ontological plurality" (p. 91). Thus understood the One is both the principle of the manifestation of multiplicity and, in addition, its principle of integration. This perspective is to be applied to the question of religious diversity in order to reach a full grasp of the nature and function of differences and dialogue in that realm. It is a key to the integration of universality-by virtue of the transcendent principiality of the One-and ident.i.ty-by virtue of the integration of diversity within unity. Bringing in Haydar muli's theosophy-and its stress on the constant renewal of reality in each manifestation without any room for mere repet.i.tion (a kind of Sufi commentary on Herac.l.i.tus' panta rhei)-the author a.s.serts the paradox of a "uniqueness which manifests infinite diversity, and a diversity which reproduces uniqueness" (p. 106). The Qur'anic expression of this double relations.h.i.+p appears in a series of verses that highlight the spiritual significance of differences and "otherness" in creation. On the basis of such verses as 30:22, 5:48, 2:62, 4:124, 2:136, and 29:46 Shah-Kazemi shows how the Qur'an invites "the sensitive reader to contemplate divine 'signs' in the other, thus to learn more about the divine reality-and about themselves-through the other. . ." (p. 115).
The recognition of "otherness" that is inscribed in the Qur'anic injunction must moreover be situated within the context of an integral understanding of the shahadah that prevents any form of a.s.sociation or s.h.i.+rk, whether on the individual level (the ego) or in the collective realm (the group, the nation, the religion as a collective psyche). When penetrated in its deeper metaphysical implications, Tawhid is therefore the best protection against idolatry, narrow exclusivism, and fanaticism. To the sensible objection that such heights of metaphysical understanding and spiritual recognition are not likely to be of much help when dealing with a general religious audience which is predetermined by unexamined reflexes and biases, mental laziness and collective pa.s.sions, the author expresses the conviction that the Qur'anic emphasis on human "nothingness" and the ephemerality of all that is not His Face can be an effective theme of meditation for exoteric believers by preventing them from absolutizing the forms of their faith. Whatever one may think concerning the concrete "horizon" of this possibility-which may be deemed by some to underestimate the "gravity" of the fallen state of mankind including its "believing" segments-there is little doubt that a willingness and a capacity to enter the mold of such a meditation could and would const.i.tute a fundamental criterion of religious understanding and sincerity on the part of believers. In fact, a recognition of this kind would amount to reaching the mystical sap of faith through "the relations.h.i.+p between extinction and contemplation: between knowledge of one's nothingness and truly witnessing the divine 'Face' in the other, and in Itself" (p. 117).
In the third chapter of his book, Shah-Kazemi delves into the question of the universalism of the Qur'an in the light of Sufi exegesis. The thrust of his argument lies in a clear recognition that the Qur'anic term muslim must be understood in two different senses that are not contradictory but complementary. In the first sense, which touches upon the universalist chord of the Qur'an, the term muslim refers to those who surrender themselves to G.o.d and to one of His revelations, the latter being only a means toward the former. In a second, more restrictive sense, the terms muslim and islam refer specifically to the community following the Prophet Muhammad. It is clear that for Sufis such as Ibn 'Arabi and Kashani these two meanings of muslim/ islam point to two different ontological and epistemological levels. That distinction is encapsulated by Kashani's a.s.sertion, quoted by Shah-Kazemi, that "the right religion (al-din al-qayyim) is tied to that which is immutable within knowledge and action; while the revealed Law is tied to that which alters in respect of rules and conditions" (p. 148). The "right religion" can in fact be equated with the fitra, or an ontological and epistemological stratum that is deeper than any confessional affiliation. Shah-Kazemi lucidly acknowledges that this point of view should not blind one to the fact that, for Sufis like Kashani and Ibn 'Arabi, Islam as a confession "would be seen as resonating most harmoniously with this inner substance" (p. 157). In one sense, "Islam" is "religion as such", in another sense it is "such or such a religion" (Schuon). Shah-Kazemi's goal is to show that both visions of Islam must be upheld in order to preserve a truly universalist and inclusivist perspective. In fact, the differentiation that is at the source of confessional exclusiveness is not to be interpreted, according to the author, in terms of a deplorable insufficiency, so to speak, but rather as a metaphysical necessity, a reflection of the infinity of the Divine nature. On that point, some readers might be tempted to argue that such a differentiation is still on a certain level the result of an ontological and epistemological fragmentation which, albeit "necessary" on the highest plane, is nonetheless manifested by a defectiveness on the human level, as ill.u.s.trated in a sense by the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden and the episode of the Tower of Babel. In the words of Ramana Mahars.h.i.+: "It is a great wonder that to teach such a simple truth a number of religions should be necessary, and so many disputes should go on between them as to which is the G.o.d-ordained teaching. What a pity!"1 This consideration is not without relation to the discussion of Ibn 'Arabi's "bringing together of opposites" with respect to nondelimitation (the point of view of G.o.d's omnipresence, "wherever ye turn, there is the face of G.o.d") and delimitation (the confessional "orientation", the qiblah): "Nondelimitation is not contradicted by delimitation; if nondelimitation were devoid of delimitation it would be delimited: by the absence of delimitation" (p. 166). On the one hand this echoes on the highest plane the "need" within the Infinite for finite manifestation; on the other hand-and when considered simply on the human level-one may fail to see why nondelimitation would be "delimited" by the absence of delimitation, or at least why it should necessarily be so by absence of confessional "limitations", not to mention the question of the extent, abuse, or legitimacy of such limitations.
A parallel question may be raised with respect to Sufi hermeneutics as a whole: such an hermeneutics is based on the 'ilm min ladunna, i.e. the Intellect as embodied by al-Khidr in the famous pa.s.sage of the Surat al-Kahf in the sense that the very selection and understanding of Qur'anic verses that Sufis bring to the fore to foster their universalist perspective cannot but be informed a priori by an intellective grasp that has precedence over the revealed text in its literality. The status of this immanent "universal consciousness" that is akin to the dimension of sanct.i.ty is undoubtedly higher, as confirmed by Kashani, to that of prophethood, in the sense that the latter pertains to the law-giving, outer dimension of a particular message. However, that Ibn 'Arabi and most Sufis in fact subordinate sanct.i.ty to prophethood on the grounds that the latter "is the source of the sanct.i.ty of the saint" proves that their gnostic perspective is mitigated by a confessional outlook that sees, for all practical purposes, intellection necessarily and universally dependent upon revelation, or that the question of the consequences of the superiority of the wilayat over the nubuwwat remains at least shrouded, in their perspective, in a halo of ambiguities that are the ransom of their more or less unavoidable confessional solidarity. This is confirmed by the principle, enunciated by Ibn 'Arabi, according to which the criterion of truth in religious matters is revelation, this criterion being defined in terms of "felicity", or eschatological opportuneness, and not in terms of truth pure and simple: "The road to felicity is that set down by revealed religion, nothing else." Arguably, the questions that have just been raised may have an incidence on our understanding of esoterism but they are not directly relevant to the main matter at stake and to the specific objectives of Shah-Kazemi's book, that is, the unveiling of the universal dimension of the Qur'an in full respect of the Islamic "right" to exclusiveness. The most important task is, in this respect, to highlight the transcendence of G.o.d over any form that points to Him and the primordiality of immanent knowledge of Him and the fitra. In this respect the main lesson of this chapter lies perhaps in the author's very penetrating remarks concerning the fact that an exclusivist confessional restriction of the Divine is not only a confinement of objective truth but it is also, and perhaps more importantly on the level of the argument of the book, a "diminis.h.i.+ng receptivity to the mercy that encompa.s.seth all things".
The final chapter of this book is an application of the principles of Sufi hermeneutics to the intra-Islamic dialogue concerning the compatibility, or lack thereof, between the call of universality and the demands of religious preaching, or "invitation". In this part of his work, Shah-Kazemi presents the thesis, championed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, of the need for a third way between liberal pluralism and conservatism exclusivism, the latter being insensitive to the universal horizon of Islam, the former being oblivious of the rights of Muslim particularism. In this context, Sufi universalism may paradoxically be conceived as one of the best tools of da'wa or "invitation" to Islam, as it may both satisfy the need for an opening to the Other while preserving the attachment to the "normativity" of Islam. The main thrust of Shah-Kazemi's thesis is expressed in the Sufi paradox of "both a greater degree of 'rootedness' in one's own religion . . . and a greater degree of detachment from it" (p. 257). A quote from Martin Lings illuminates this paradox: "as each mystical path approaches its End, it is nearer to the other mysticisms than it was at the beginning. But there is a complementary and almost paradoxical truth . . . : increase of nearness does not mean decrease of distinctness, for the nearer the center, the greater the concentration, the stronger the 'dose'" (p. 257). The general context of the book, informed by a "distinction between confessional formalism and spiritual essentiality" (p. 180) leads the reader to understand that this "rootedness" and this "dose" are best understood as referring to "archetypal Islam" than to "formal Islam": however, if this higher and deeper concentration is to be grasped as referring to the quintessential archetype of the religion, then the question remains of the relations.h.i.+p between this archetypal Islam and the integration of the complex network of forms that defines Islam as a religious world. Such a question has no absolute answer since the connection between archetype and formal system offers a spectrum of stages and intermediaries that defy absolute separations or distinctions. It is safe to say, however that to the extent that Islam is considered "from the archetype" its distinctiveness will be all the more transparent to universal gnosis. Schuon's distinction between an "essential Sunnah" and a "formal Sunnah" or his differentiation between an "Islamic esoterism" and an "esoteric Islam", not to mention his contradistinction between a "quintessential esoterism of Islam" and a Muslim "exo-esoterism" suggests the subtleties arising when trying to define degrees of "confessional distinctness" and their relations.h.i.+p to the essence. In this connection, Reza Shah-Kazemi's final pages may well suggest a sort of resolution, or at least relativization, of such challenges and ambiguities through an emphasis on the dimensions on Beauty and Presence. William Chittick and Sachiko Murata had also emphasized, in their Vision of Islam, the conspicuous absence of ihsan and a sense of beauty from most of contemporary Islam. Beauty-inner and outer-and Presence-the source of Love-opens onto universality by virtue of the non-conceptual and non-dogmatic character of their language. And not the least of the lessons of Shah-Kazemi's very rich and nuanced book is that in order to be fully understood and realized, Islam and the Qur'an, as any other authentic tradition, need to be lived through a sense of the sacred and a beautiful wisdom, ihsan, that make our presence in the world both a way of witnessing and a mode of blessing. That is no doubt the most precious and most effective form of "dialogue", the spiritual foundation of which consists in cultivating a sense of objectivity, as well as a discipline of attentive silence.
Reviewed by Patrick Laude
1 The Essential Teachings of Ramana Mahars.h.i.+: A Visual Journey (Inner Directions, 2001), p. 48.
L'islam sera spirituel ou ne sera plus
BY eRIC GEOFFROY.
Paris: editions du Seuil, 2009 The author, eric Geoffroy, is an Islamicist, an expert of Sufism and Islamic sainthood, and a professor in the Department of Arab and Islamic Studies at the Universite Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France. Among his works are Initiation au soufisme (Fayard, 2003), recently published by World Wisdom as Introduction to Sufism: The Inner Path of Islam (2010), Une voie soufie dans le monde: la Shadhiliyya (Maisonneuve & Larose, 2005), and Le Soufisme, voie interieure de l'islam (editions du Seuil, 2009).
The t.i.tle of the book under review, translated from French into English, is Islam will be spiritual or will no longer be. Encompa.s.sing aspects of socio-cultural, juridical, political, ideological, and spiritual dimensions of Islam, the book's scope is quite broad. The author's method is well-balanced, as it consists in both relatively objective presentations of historical facts and relatively personal observations and interpretations, supported by an admirable, indepth knowledge of the Qur'an, commentary and scholars.h.i.+p concerning it, Sufi writings and spiritual practice, as well as an extensive erudition regarding not only Islam, but also Western philosophical, socio-political, and scientific developments throughout history. As the book takes its place within the general context of writings on the theme of Islam and the spiritual crisis of the modern world, it is related to the works of authors such as Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, William Chittick, and others.
Geoffroy's thesis is that fundamental Islamic principles have been inverted, leading to various crises and aberrations, but that these principles may be actualized anew through a spiritual reinvigoration of their meaning; furthermore, postmodern conditions may, seemingly paradoxically, offer certain advantages for undertaking this task, which, if accomplished, may in turn result in a more qualitative world. The book is therefore, in a way, about the "death" of Islam and its hoped-for "renaissance." In this work, the author explores the following topics: the process of the inversion of values in Islam; a possible "revolution of meaning," and a possible, resultant spiritual "reformation" of Islam; postmodernity in the context of its being either an obstacle or a providential condition; and what is at stake for Sufi brotherhoods.
Through an examination of the inversion of princ.i.p.al Islamic values, the author shows the mechanism that led to the present-day condition. Examples of this process include the following reversals: the virtue of modesty, which has turned into an obsession with sin; the principle of freedom and responsibility, having now become a tendency toward fatalism; a retreat into the ethnic dimension as opposed to the opening of Islam to the universal; the current consideration of Islam as a monolithic whole, instead of the sense of the internal pluralism of opinions; the confusion between universality as a principle and conformity as a contradictory, actual condition, i.e., a sense of the integral character of Islamic ethics, neither totalitarian thinking nor the standardization of behaviors; the respect for all forms of life, and Islam's place within universal morality, not a deviant "jihadism"; and the principle of spiritual soberness and simplicity, as over and against the cultural impoverishment of some contemporary Muslim societies. According to Geoffroy's point of view, the reason for the slow degeneration of Islamic culture during the later periods is to be found in the dominant influence of Asharite dogmatism in the Sunni world, which produces the a posteriori illusion of a h.o.m.ogeneous credo throughout history. Despite the fact that pluralism has always characterized Islamic civilization, and is moreover an integral part of its nature, many have launched ideological slogans of unification because they consider that religious and cultural pluralism is a weakness to be eradicated, and since they want to see Muslim life as something monolithic, as insensitive to the variations of mentalities, as well as to the permutations of history. In this way, confusion has been created between unity and uniformity, the former pertaining to things spiritual, the latter to things material; through such a reification of Islam, its vital essence is being depleted.
Thus Geoffroy claims that Islam is currently in an advanced state of exoteric fossilization, and is therefore devoid of the tolerant pluralism that is one of its fundaments. He furthermore postulates that if it were to remain in this condition, Islam would likely become a globalized, monolithic hegemony, hardly better than American-style worldwide h.o.m.ogenization. The counter-hegemonic thrust of the developing argument places considerable importance on certain aspects of postmodern circ.u.mstances, which could, according to the author, facilitate a hoped-for spiritual reinvigoration of Islam. Suggesting that this religious crisis will be resolved by a spirituality in which transcendence and immanence coincide harmoniously, the author believes that the Sufis are the forerunners of such a resolution, which would see humanity move out of a first phase a.s.sociated with religion, and into an ultimate phase consisting in a spiritual a.s.sumption of the individual. Accordingly, Sufism can play a vital role in this transformation because of its universal quality, its ideal of spiritual "verticality" thanks to which the Sufi transcends terrestrial conditions, and because of Sufism's power to awaken the latent spirituality of the individual.
We are convinced that many will agree with the author's insightful a.n.a.lysis concerning the inversion of Islamic principles, which, in our opinion, provides an accurate and factual summation of the prevailing circ.u.mstances within Islam. Moreover, this summation const.i.tutes a very sound premise for the author's ensuing arguments. These arguments are nonetheless of a more theoretical order, and concern, for instance, ways in which the current condition might be improved. Since these arguments are more speculative, and thus less factual, one may take exception to some of the author's suggestions.
We foresee reservations that are both general and particular in nature. In general, the author's opinion of, and att.i.tude toward, the postmodern world sometimes gives the impression of being overly favorable. More particularly, certain modalities of a "new paradigm," which the author considers to be a necessary basis for a spiritual reinvigoration, impress us as being unlikely. Perhaps one could say that the book paints a hopeful future for Islam if one is convinced that adherents of the religion are likely to accomplish, both individually and socially, the kind of transformation of which the author speaks: a transformation based, in some of the author's reflections, for example, on a convergent a.s.similation of knowledge stemming from certain scientific and technological revolutions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, from esoteric spiritual knowledge and practice; a transformation thereby paving the way for the beginning of the next cosmological cycle by transforming our relations.h.i.+p with the world. In close connection, however, the author also states that the traditional cosmological doctrines of the Four Ages, as expressed in Hinduism, for instance, "are not only obsolete, but also harmful for the safeguard of humanity and of the planet," and that, furthermore, "it is necessary to seek the most serious premises of the new paradigm in the quantum revolution that was experienced in physics in the 1920s" (literal translation from page 89). It may be difficult for some to see how a traditional doctrine, which, according to their understanding, is by definition true, could be obsolete and harmful. Since, in one form or another, all the revealed religious traditions, including Islam, provide cosmological doctrines that specify a general decline in spirituality over the course of the human cycle-and especially inasmuch as this same downward slope is corroborated by the author's own convincing a.n.a.lysis of the current exoteric hardening within Islam-some may tend not to be as optimistic concerning the future possibility of an emerging spirituality that would be sufficiently pervasive as to reverse current conditions. Moreover, some may fail to comprehend how a traditional doctrine could ever be obsolete, since truth is for all time, not just for some moments in time; and some may be of the opinion that these doctrines cannot possibly do harm, for they are providentially intended to enlighten humanity by means of their expression of the truth, precisely, and must therefore be helpful. Needless to say, such a perspective could hardly be accused of fatalism, and both optimism and pessimism are, from this vantage point, equally irrelevant in the final a.n.a.lysis.
The hoped-for spiritual reinvigoration could perhaps be envisaged as an occasional upward surge of limited scope and duration with respect to the predominant downward movement to which we have just referred. In this case, we would agree wholeheartedly with the author in saying that certain modern and postmodern developments could furnish a basis for a small and discrete reversal. Nevertheless, we cannot concur when the author speculates, for instance, that the scientific revolution operated by quantum mechanics, which may have led certain elite scientists to see through phenomena to their metaphysical origin, could produce such an effect on the general public, even if various vulgarized interpretations within a philosophical holism are disseminated widely by unprecedented means, such as the Internet. While it is certainly true that, for some, the pervasive availability of esoteric knowledge regarding the physical and the spiritual can be a limited heavenly compensation for the overall declivity of the human cycle, it is not at all clear that it could be anything more than that. In other words, whereas one can no doubt predict such a possibility in some relatively rare cases, it is difficult to believe that this could have a far-reaching, durable impact. However, one has no trouble understanding that a ruse of Maya could perhaps convince certain individuals or groups that they may const.i.tute a bridge between the end of the current cycle and the beginning of the next cycle. Be that as it may, such considerations must surely lie in the domain of the imponderable.
In conclusion, notwithstanding a few reservations, we heartily recommend this very wellwritten, informative, insightful, thought-provoking, and engaging book to prospective readers who are interested in the history of Islam, Islam in the modern and postmodern eras, Sufism, and, more generally, to anyone who feels that the world in which we live is sorely in need of a spiritual infusion.
Reviewed by Patrick Meadows
What Do the Religions Say About Each Other?
Christian Att.i.tudes towards Islam,
Islamic Att.i.tudes towards Christianity
COMPILED BY WILLIAM STODDART.
San Rafael, CA: Sophia Perennis, 2008 In this slim but precious volume, William Stoddart provides his readers with a treasury of texts written by Muslims about Christians and Christianity, and vice versa. This collection spans centuries, countries, and cultures. It is a delight, and sometimes a surprise, to read statements that exceed mere tolerance to reach spiritual insight and communion. One thinks, for example, of Pope Pius XI telling his apostolic delegate to Libya in 1934: "Do not think you are going among infidels. Muslims attain to salvation. The ways of Providence are infinite" (p. 12).
This anthology is a clear argument against the prejudice that exclusively sees the past as a stage for religious intolerance and fanaticism. In fact one of the lessons that contemporary readers may draw from this inspiring book is that something has gone seriously wrong between the two communities in recent times. The ideologization of religion that has resulted from the loss or neglect of the spiritual Center and the science of inner and outer beauty is clearly responsible for this sad state of affairs. As the Emir 'Abd al-Qadir remarks, "When we think how few men of real religion there are, how small the number of defenders and champions of truth-when one sees ignorant persons imagining that the principles of Islam are hardness, severity, extravagance, and barbarity-it is time to repeat these words: 'Patience is beautiful, and G.o.d is the source of all succor'" (p. 78).
One must be grateful to William Stoddart for having compiled this set of beautiful testimonies to the inner convergence of true faiths. One wonders what effects this volume may have should it become required reading in Christian schools and Muslim madrasat the world over. It is encouraging to hear that the book has already been translated into German, Bosnian, and French, with a Portuguese edition slated for the near future.
Reviewed by Patrick Laude.
Notes on the Contributors.
'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri (1808-1893) was an Algerian metaphysician and mystic, as well as a political and military leader who led the Algerian resistance against the French in the mid-nineteenth century. The Emir was a major commentator and continuator of Ibn 'Arabi. He is considered by the Algerians as a national hero, and his remains were brought back from Damascus to Algeria in 1962.
Ivan Agueli ('Abd al-Hadi Aqhili) (1869-1917) was a Swedish painter and author. He was the initiator of Rene Guenon into Sufism and an early Western expositor of the metaphysics of Ibn 'Arabi. Aside from his reputation as a creative post-Impressionist painter and as a somewhat eccentric traveler in the tradition of the Malamatiyah, he is credited with expounding similarities between Sufi and Swedenborgian metaphysics.
Amadou Hampate Ba (c. 1900-1991) was a well-known Malian diplomat and author of the last half of the twentieth century. His fiction and non-fiction books in French are widely respected as sources of information and insight on West African history, religion, literature, and culture. From the time of his youth, Ba was a student and disciple of an extraordinary Malian Sufi master, Tierno Bokar. He left a testimonial of his teacher, Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bokar: Le sage de Bandiagara, which has been translated into English and published by World Wisdom as A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar.
t.i.tus Burckhardt (1908-1984) was one of the leading Perennialist writers of the twentieth century. His writings showed remarkable scope, covering topics on metaphysics, on tradition and modern science, on sacred art, on history and political science, and on various other aspects of traditional civilizations. Burckhardt was also a translator (from Arabic into French), an editor and publisher, and a respected consultant on restoring traditional cities to their former beautiful states. His main books include Sacred Art in East and West and Introduction to Sufism.
William C. Chittick is one of the most important contemporary translators and interpreters of Islamic mystical texts and poetry. He is a professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Among his publications are The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi, The Psalms of Islam, The Self-Disclosure of G.o.d: Principles of Ibn al-'Arabi's Cosmology, Sufism: A Short Introduction, and The Heart of Islamic Philosophy: The Quest for Self-Knowledge in the Teachings of Afdal al-Din Kashani.
Tayeb Chouiref is a French scholar, translator, and teacher. He is the author of The Spiritual Teachings of the Prophet, an annotated collection of authoritative Prophetic traditions commented upon by masters of Islamic spirituality. He is also the translator of several works of al-Ghazzali.
Michael Oren Fitzgerald is an author, editor, and publisher of books on world religions, sacred art, tradition, culture, and philosophy. He has written and edited many publications on American Indian spirituality, including Yellowtail: Crow Medicine Man and Sun Dance Chief, and was adopted into Yellowtail's tribe and family. Fitzgerald has also taught university cla.s.ses on religious traditions of North American Indians and lectured widely.
eric Geoffroy is an expert on Islam and Professor in Islamic Studies in the Department of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Strasbourg. He also teaches at the Open University of Catalonia, at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), and at the International Inst.i.tute of Islamic Thought (Paris). He is a specialist in the study of Sufism and sanct.i.ty in Islam. Among others, his research also extends to comparative Sufism, mysticism, and to issues of spirituality in the contemporary world (spirituality and globalization; spirituality and ecology, etc.). He is the author of Initiation au Soufisme-translated into English and published by World Wisdom as Introduction to Sufism: The Inner Path of Islam-and L'islam sera spirituel ou ne sera pas.
Rene Guenon (1886-1951) was a French metaphysician, writer, and editor who was largely responsible for laying the metaphysical groundwork for the Perennialist or Traditionalist school of thought in the early twentieth century. Guenon remains influential today for his writings on the intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of the modern world, on symbolism, on spiritual esoterism and initiation, and on the universal truths that manifest themselves in various forms in the world's religious traditions.
M. Ali Lakhani graduated from Cambridge University before moving to Vancouver, where he has practiced as a trial lawyer for 25 years. In 1998, he founded the Traditionalist journal, Sacred Web, with the aim of identifying the first principles of traditional metaphysics and promoting their application to the contingent circ.u.mstances of modernity. The bi-annual journal has included contributions by many leading Traditionalists. In the words of Professor Nasr, "Along with Sophia, Sacred Web is the most important journal in the English language devoted to the study of tradition."
Martin Lings (1909-2005) was a leading member of the Perennialist or Traditionalist school and an acclaimed author, editor, translator, scholar, Arabist, and poet whose work centers on the relations.h.i.+p between G.o.d and man through religious doctrine, scripture, symbolism, literature, and art. He was an accomplished metaphysician and essayist who often turned to the world's great spiritual traditions for examples, though he is probably best known for his writings on Islam and its esoteric tradition, Sufism. World Wisdom is planning to publish an anthology of his work called The Essential Martin Lings.
Patrick Meadows is professor of French at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. After a brief, early career in music, he earned a B.A. in both French Literature and in English Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Princeton University. His publications include Francis Ponge and the Nature of Things: From Ancient Atomism to a Modern Poetics, while he is one of the authors of Litteratures de la peninsule indochinoise.
Sachiko Murata is a professor of religion and Asian studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She received her B.A. from Chiba University in Chiba, j.a.pan, and later attended Iran's Tehran University where she was the first woman ever to study Islamic jurisprudence, and where she received her Ph.D. in Persian literarure. Murata teaches Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. She is the author of several books including The Tao of Islam, Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, The Vision of Islam (which she co-auth.o.r.ed with William Chittick) and Temporary Marriage in Islamic Law.
Shankar Nair is a Ph.D. candidate in the Study of Religion at Harvard University. His academic interests include Hindu and Islamic philosophy, Sufism, and Indian religions. His research focuses on Hindu-Muslim intellectual interaction and the exchange between Arabo-Persian and Sanskrit textual traditions in South Asia.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr is University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Was.h.i.+ngton University. The author of over fifty books and five hundred articles, he is one of the world's most respected writers and speakers on Islam, its arts and sciences, and its traditional mystical path, Sufism.
Farid Nur ad-Din is a Swedish scholar. He is a student of Perennialism and Sufism who is currently working on a biography of Ivan Agueli.
Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) is best known as the foremost spokesman of the Perennialist or Traditionalist school and as a philosopher in the metaphysical current of Shankara and Plato. He wrote more than two dozen books on metaphysical, spiritual, artistic, and ethnic themes and was a regular contributor to journals on comparative religion in both Europe and America. Schuon's writings have been consistently featured and reviewed in a wide range of scholarly and philosophical publications around the world, respected by both scholars and spiritual authorities. Besides his prose writings, Schuon was also a prolific poet and a gifted painter of images that always portrayed the beauty and power of the divine, and the n.o.bility and virtue of primordial humanity.
Reza Shah-Kazemi is a Research a.s.sociate at the Inst.i.tute of Ismaili Studies in London. Dr. Shah-Kazemi writes on a range of topics from metaphysics and doctrine to contemplation and prayer. He is the author of The Other in the Light of the One: The Universality of the Qur'an and Interfaith Dialogue, Paths to Transcendence: According to Shankara, Ibn Arabi, and Meister Eckhart, a look at how three sages-a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian-approached the transcendent Absolute, and Common Ground Between Islam and Buddhism.
Note on the Editor.
Patrick Laude teaches theology at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. His interests lie in contemplative and mystical traditions, particularly in their relations.h.i.+p with poetry, as well as in Western representations and interpretations of Islam and Asian religions. He is the author of ten books, including Pray without Ceasing: The Way of the Invocation in World Religion, Divine Play, Sacred Laughter, and Spiritual Understanding, Singing the Way: Insights in Poetry and Spiritual Transformation, and Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings. His latest book is Pathways to an Inner Islam: Ma.s.signon, Corbin, Guenon, and Schuon.
Universal Dimensions of Islam Part 15
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