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, November 19, 2016

Islam and "Perennialism"

One explanation concerning why perennialism might be included among a list of those things that cause one to doubt Islam is the acknowledgement that a common perspective among perennialists is to depreciate exclusive religious identity in favor of identity as a metaphysician following the religion of the heart. The notion that Islam was arbitrary and expedient in principle (even if providential) and that neither Guenon nor Schuon can be considered converts is an important point of explanation among some of their followers. In perennialism (considered as a movement with ideological tendencies) this indicates a shift of primacy from revelation toward intellection wherein gnosis supplants the religion of the Prophet Muhammad - May peace and blessings be upon him. Intra-traditionally, a similar confluence of ideas may be found in the interplay of nubuwwah and wilayah. The difference is that this interplay occurs within an Islamic context wherein the intellect is still viewed as a ray of the nur muhammadiyah rather than a star shining solitarily above a plethora of religious firmaments. I imagine that the initial encounter of such ideas can be somewhat confusing or disconcerting for those who principally or exclusively identify themselves as Muslims, particularly if they have a propensity toward esoterism as taught by these figures.


Especially following the release of the Study Quran, many popular Islamic scholars (in the sense of addressing the populace rather than being in themselves well-known) are portraying the perennial philosophy in its ideological form (i.e. Perennialism) as a threat to the articles of Islamic faith determined by the majority of the community. Anyone who adopts a pluralistic perspective is considered by these scholars to have forfeited the correct view which may be interpreted as a crisis of faith even though it does not involve the introduction of doubt concerning God or Islam. I imagine that many Muslims, presented with a teaching that appeals to their intelligence but which contrasts to the teaching that appeals to their fear of God and desire for salvation will feel themselves deeply conflicted over the matter.


I think that the issue is a little more complicated than Islam reigning among the religions or otherwise abrogating them, and so forth. Islam in fact identifies itself as the religio perennis (din al-fitrah, din al-hanif, and even din unqualified), the haqiqa muhammadiyah as the source of all legislative prophets, and the shahadah as the philosophia perennis or essence of all revealed messages. I wonder how many intellectually inclined Muslims upon being exposed to perennialism think to themselves, why the need for a secular perennial philosophy?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The "Legal Minimum" in the Maryamiyyah

The following are some words written in response to the quote attributed to Guenon:

"... In Lusanne, the ritual observances have been reduced to a strict minimum ... It seems that I was entirely correct when I said that soon enough it will no longer be a tariqa but a vague universalist order ..."

When Frithjof Schuon (Shaykh Isa) brought the Alawiyyah to Guenonian study circles in Europe and assumed a position of leadership and initiatic guidance, first as muqaddam and later as shaykh, he and his disciples were faced with a series of challenges including among other things the formulation and administration of the community in the absence of extensive exposure to, training within and oversight from Mostaghanem, the clarification of a universalist identity within the context of an Islamic practice, and learning how to adapt the traditionally very strict interpretations of shari'ah prevalent in tasawwuf within a modernist (and sometimes hostile) ambiance and western culture. Concerning the last problem, I believe that (in the beginning of his career, at least) he maintained a thoroughly respectful consideration of the rights and necessity of the Shari'ah. He wrote, for example that "man must have the corresponding mentality, in order to be able to use any spiritual means at all ... Islamic law [...] creates and maintains precisely that attitude of soul and spirit without which the benefit of a higher means of grace is impossible." (5/14/44)

Considering his influences retrospectively, he stated, "What I received in Mostaganem, by way of teachings, was the legal minimum of the sharî‘ah." (3/16/88) In fact, the shari'ite instructions that he provided to fuqara throughout his lifetime are substantially identical, if somewhat less descriptive, than those provided in the text of Al-Murshid al-Mu'in used by Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi and Shaykh Mawlay al-Arabi ad-Darqawi, consisting of the fard actions of the five pillars according to Maliki fiqh. As stated by Shaykh Ad-Darqawi, "We think that obligatory things are enough for him when they are accompanied by what we mentioned. That will enrich him greatly. A lot of actions will not be enough for him if he does not have that which we mentioned."

My impression from his early instructions and considerations was that the aim was not to create a justification for transgressing the law but rather to provide guidelines for fuqara that would enable them to fulfill their ritual obligations within all situations while additionally taking into consideration limitations arising from the non-Muslim heredity of his European disciples. Some of the explanations from his correspondence include the following:

"In Judaism the sharî’ah is indivisible and absolute; Jewish esoterism makes of this indivisibility and absoluteness a precondition, and it allows for no compromise. Either one submits to the couple of hundred prescriptions, or one is no longer a Jew; as a result, the majority of today’s Jews no longer belong to orthodox Judaism. The Islamic sharî’ah in contrast is characterized by its flexibility: it takes into account a legal minimum—what is indispensable, fardh—and to claim that this is not all of Islam is an erroneous opinion, it is Pharisaism. Of course—and this is something that my opponents consider to be a valid objection—a born Muslim living in Dâr-al-Islam will hardly be satisfied with the legal minimum, for he has little reason for this: he has been raised in Islam and masters its forms with ease, and in fact has learned hardly anything other than those forms; in addition, he is backed by the rhythms of the entire social life." (10/15/53)

"As for ourselves, I will say that it would be quite abnormal ... that men finding themselves objectively and subjectively in our situation be Moslems in exactly the same way as Moslem born people, including esoterists; this is what explains in part that it is normal for the sharî‘ah to be reduced, among us, to a strict minimum, notwithstanding justifications that result, on the one hand from a hostile ambience, and on the other hand from the graces of the Divine Name." (1/28/56)

"... the properly religious side of Islam—or the formal aspect—is something that encompasses the whole individual; now it is impossible to conceal something that encompasses us totally. We must therefore reduce the sharî‘ah to its simplest expression, even in conditions where such a simplification is not called for exoterically. I am basing myself here on the argument of dâr al-harb, not on that of the haqîqah. One must choose: if one does not want to simplify the sharî‘ah, then one must become a missionary. An essence can be concealed, but not a form. Another point to be made in this vein of ideas is that the sharî‘ah is much harder in the conditions of our life than it is in the East; things that are simple in themselves can become complicated. Now the general tendency of the sharî‘ah is to avoid complications." (4/4/56)

What may have aroused the consideration of the more conservative of his Muslim followers with respect to the implementation of the Shari'a was probably not the referenced legal minimum, which is not uncommon, but rather the allowance of further simplifications that went beyond the obligatory proscriptions. As far as I can tell, this primarily concerned concessions permitted in extenuating circumstances including to reduce the number of rakat, to pray them inwardly, and in extreme situations, to recite the Fatihah only. It seems fairly clear from his explanation that he allowed this as an exceptionally necessary concession without making it a general rule pertaining to all circumstances. In his words,

"Difficulty, in a dogmatic doctrine, begins only with the restrictions of moral and social opportunism and the “pharisaism” resulting from it. By “pharisaism” I mean a formalism that, in given circumstances, is opposed to the nature of things and becomes thereby “unreal”; moreover this is what allows one to speak of “formalism”. The accumulation of prayers that have not been performed on time is of the same order, except when it is impossible to replace them, at their respective times, by inner prayer, or even simply by a single Fâtihah, recited mentally and with a perfect concentration; I take responsibility for this alleviation, by virtue of the compensatory power of the invocation envisaged in its universal nature, but also, jointly, by reason of the abnormal circumstances in which we live. In my personal experience, to imagine ritual gestures that one does not perform is something artificial and “unreasonable”, but every one is free to do as they wish, for if I authorize simplifications, I do not however forbid the difficulties that the sharî‘ah or the sunnah may entail, that is obvious. In case a prayer is forgotten, it goes without saying that one must make it up in good and due form, even if one reduces it to two raka‘at. Something which is not allowed – be it said in passing - is to postpone the midday prayer till the evening in order to be able to recite the Shahâdah –or another dhikr—at noon, for the temporal limits of prayers are an essential element of Islam; one may delay a prayer because of dhikr, but not skip a whole time period of prayer." (1/28/56)

While he does not make any particular reference to it, I have always believed that these simplifications, under appropriate conditions, are entirely consistent with the latitude contained within the Quran and Sunnah in such examples as the salat al-safar and the salat al-khawf. According to The Study Quran commenting upon 2:239, "One can be fearful when in battle or under persecution. Commentators mention that in cases of fear, such as during open warfare, one can pray while riding or walking, whether it is in the direction of the qiblah (facing the Kaʿbah) or not. One can, rather than bow and prostrate, nod and lightly move one’s head in a manner corresponding to the motions of the prayer; according to some, one can shorten one’s prayers down to one cycle of prayer, rather than two, three, or four (IK)."

The situation concerning the status of the Shari'a is complicated by the shift in self-identity arising from a metaphysical perspective (a subject for separate examination), but as concerns the notion that the Maryamiyyah is somehow a vague universalist organization that is still perpetuated today, I believe that this is largely the result of misunderstandings arising from lack of adequate information.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Critically Engaging the Legacy of Frithjof Schuon

While the Admin is free to do as he pleases with regard to the parameters of the group, I think that this message raises some very interesting points for discussion. Regarding Nima's article, while I disagree with his approach (and virtually everything he represents), I believe that his unnamed correspondents are real and that they have raised valid concerns, excesses notwithstanding. I think the wiser course of action would be to discuss the article openly and dispassionately if it pertains to matters of general interest rather than calling for a ban on dissenting views. Exposure to different perspectives is, in my experience, an important element in the advancement of learning and the frequent inspiration of fruitful discourse. There are many examples throughout history of valuable treatises on Sufism being produced in response to critics and detractors.

There are a few other issues raised that I would like to express disagreement with for the sake of discussion. These include the idea that the legitimacy of Schuon's teachings and authority are self-evident or obvious, and that to reject them for any reason amounts to a censorious moral failing. On the contrary, my own association with this legacy over the last ten years has revealed it to be fraught with ambiguities, contradictions, and occasionally duplicity. While it is certainly true that Schuon has produced some remarkable books with valuable doctrinal insights and that furthermore the eloquence of the prose may arise organically from the integrity of the message, I do not believe that this necessarily indicates ipso facto the absolute moral integrity or infallibility of the man. Nor is it to say that the books themselves are free from problems for the discerning reader.

I will provide one example in response to two of the issues raised here, that of the moral failing of the dissenter and the determination of authority.

You wrote, "To doubt the authenticity of his authority as a spiritual master and to criticize the authority of the Tariqah Maryamiyyah reveals a lack of respect for the sacred and an anti-traditional attitude."

In response to a correspondent from a letter in the 40's, Schuon suggested that one should not attribute moral deficiency to others who hold opposing views as follows:

". . . I cannot, quite logically, understand why you would attribute purely psychological motives to those who think differently from you, as if the mere fact of not sharing your ideas excluded a priori any intellectual motive for doing so; yet, to communicate one’s own point of view and to demonstrate the defectiveness of that of others, it would suffice to expose ideas objectively without worrying about individuals...Would it not be far simpler and more normal to admit, as the sufficient reason for the intellectual attitude of people you have in mind, the incompatibility of your ideas with theirs? Your psychological suppositions concerning these people are arbitrarily disrespectful, and humiliating for them; now the fact of humiliating without good reason is always a sign of pride, and nothing could be farther from spirituality than pride. By what right do you attribute to those who do not think like you motives that are more or less despicable, or in other words, by what right do you attribute their intellectual position to a quasi moral deficiency?"

In the same letter, he also stated that because a disciple is by definition a beginner, that he is patently incapable of discerning the level of realization of a given master and that an appeal must be made to the criteria of the tradition within which an individual claims mastery as well as the traditional integrity of the method that he teaches as follows:

"The disciple cannot know more than that the Guru is spiritually superior to him; and this he can know only thanks to the tradition to which he belongs, and from which the Guru is issued. Once the disciple attains to the degree of the Guru, he can then seek another Guru, and so on and so forth; but it is in any case impossible for the disciple to know the “realization” of the Guru, and moreover this would be of no use at all. Only tradition can make up for this impossibility facing the disciple, and it does so on the one hand through the silsilah, which constitutes a first guarantee, and on the other hand by the doctrinal light which allows the disciple to recognize the spiritual superiority of the Master ...

This is not at all “self-evident”, and if there is something that seems evident to me, it is the exact contrary of what you are saying, namely that the disciple could never be brought to the Goal by any means whatsoever; the means, whatever it may be, must on the contrary correspond to the Goal, and it is precisely tradition, with all the degrees it contains, that guarantees, by its very structure, this correspondence. This is why “the line followed” has to be traditional; tradition is nothing other, in its most inward aspect which is also its essential reality, than the prototype of the way. The traditional virtue of the method is everything, for without it there would be no guarantee for the disciple to be rightly guided ..."

In the successive decades since writing these passages, he eventually came to posit the opposite view with regard to himself, asserting that doubts concerning his teaching were caused by either stupidity or satanic influence and that the evidence for his authority was to be derived from the high caliber of his teachings rather than from the criteria of tradition. His legacy, personality, and teachings are at turns profound, mysterious, multifaceted, and even contradictory. I believe that it is important not to limit ourselves to laudation or allow sentimentality to eclipse the capacity for discernment even if this means encountering undesirable opinions or critically engaging dissenting views.