Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Contemporary Challenges to Islam

I am reminded of my response to a recent inquiry about the best point of departure for contemplating God in our present age. In this instance I will be quick to state that Islam does not need to be made relevant in America, for it already is so. As with other religions, Islam is fully capable of anticipating and fulfilling the fundamental spiritual needs of human nature, needs that the modern world does not provide for and in the absence of which man is left morally bankrupt, spiritually destitute, and a danger to both himself and his environment.

Despite its persisting relevance, however, there are a number of obstacles that prevent Islam from being accepted by non-Muslims and which deter both its practice and appreciation by existing Muslims. Fundamentally, this situation can be attributed to the degenerate Anthropocosmic Vision predicated by the developments of modern, chiefly western thought, which have affected not only the perspective, but also the organization, administration, and lifestyle of western civilization. The primary characteristics of the modern deviation have been adequately diagnosed by the traditionalists, especially by Rene Guenon in his books The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. I believe that everything "essential" concerning this subject has been covered in their books such that any future issues or challenges brought about by changing conditions do not necessarily consist of something entirely new but rather of modifications or intensification of existing trends. As an example, although the increasing sophistication and dependence upon complex technologies has produced rapidly changing life-patterns and social relations and conditions, the fundamental nature of the deviation and hence the proper response to it have remained unchanged.

In my opinion, what is much more important than acquainting yourself with various representative selections of western literature so as to formulate an appropriate response and "reaction" to them a posteriori, is to formulate and solidify your position a priori with regard to their analogue within the Islamic Tradition. To clarify, perhaps the greatest challenge facing Islam in America is not the pressures infringing upon it from without rooted in perspectives that may easily be refuted by recourse to the proper arguments, but rather an obstacle emerging from within the consciousness of the Muslim community at large which is characterized by a persisting sense of intellectual inferiority vis-a-vis the west. To address your second question then, as an intellectual, I believe that the subjects that an 'Alim will need to effectively overcome the challenges and obstacles with which Islam is faced in America include the traditional elements of the educational curriculum that are especially neglected in many of the modern madrasah systems, but which are distinctly Islamic. I would emphasize specifically, the intellectual heritage including for example Islamic Philosophy, Theosophy, Sufism, Theoretical Gnosis, poetry, and visionary literature, and the artistic heritage including such pursuits as calligraphy, architecture, crafts, music, vestment, and decor.

The following are some comments by William Chittick that are relevant to all of the foregoing considerations. He wrote,

"...Islamic thought is indeed far more than an historical curiosity. It is a valuable repository of profound teachings about the human predicament. Not only is it relevant to contemporary concerns, it is far more relevant than any of the sciences, technologies, and ideologies that occupy the minds of most contemporary thinkers, Muslim or otherwise. In fact, traditional Islamic thought is so relevant to Muslim attempts to deal with contemporary issues that, if it is not recovered and rehabilitated, authentic Islamic thinking will cease to exist. In other words, there will be no escape from what dominates most contemporary Islamic thought already, which is warmed over ideology disguised by a veneer of Islamic rhetoric ... If genuine Islamic thought ceases to exist, the religion of Islam will lose touch with its living roots and no longer function as an alternative to modernity ... To think in Islamic terms one needs to reconnect one's thought to the transcendent truths from which Islamic draws sustenance. This needs to be done not only by having recourse to the guidelines set down in the Quran and Hadith, but also by seeking help from the great Muslim intellectuals of the past, those who employed the Quran and Hadith to clarify the proper role of thought in human affairs."

As with the Western Tradition, the Islamic Tradition is too vast to adequately provide a list of essential works on these subjects. Unfortunately, there is not yet an equivalent of the Great Books to provide at least a representative selection. Nevertheless, if I was to choose books that I felt every 'Alim taking up residence in America should read, I would hand them two, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Science of Cosmos, Science of Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World by William Chittick (from which the above quotation was taken). I feel that these books clearly identify and explain the most pertinent issues facing the contemporary Islamic community and contribute to an understanding of how best to deal with them. Other works relevant to the contemporary rehabilitation of the Islamic intellectual tradition include, and may be identified by exploring, other books by these authors.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Occidental Exile by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

I live in exile, exiled from my land of birth,
From her exalted peaks and vast deserts,
From the vivid colors of all that grows from her soil,
From her azure bright skies,
Exiled in the occident of this world.
But is not this domain of transience,
This world of birth and death,
Of shadows cast upon the cascades of light
Itself the occident, whether it be in East or West,
Of that Orient which is light pure,
Unadulterated by the imperfections of earthly life?
It is from that world that we are all exiled,
It is that world from which we all hail
And to that world that we must return,
Return after our earthly journey's end.
That Orient we carry in our hearts
At that center which is the seat of the All-Merciful,
Our very core, yet beyond our daily reach
Until we turn inward the wayward soul
And break the shell of our hearts
Hardened by the march of forgetfulness through time.
Our return from exile is return to that Center,
To our real land of birth.
I live in exile but in joy of being exiled from the world,
For did not the Blessed Prophet utter
'Happy are those who are in exile in this world?'*
Sensing as they do the home to which they belong,
The luminous Orient of all existence is ours,
joyous in the thought of their homecoming.

-Seyyed Hossein Nasr
State Park, Pennsylvania and Bethesda, Maryland
September 1997

*"Islam began in exile and shall become as it began, and happy are those who are in exile." A hadith of the Prophet.