By Aziz Ali Dad
If personal whims and dogmatic worldview are given institutional support, the ultimate result will be the expansion of dogmatism in self, state and society. This is precisely the case with the edicts issued by Maulana Mohammed Khan Sherani who heads the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII).
Since taking over as head of the CII, Maulana Sherani continues to surprise us not with insights of intellect, but with a version of Islam that is filtered through his dogmatic worldview. On March 10 (this year) he declared, “Islamic Shariah law does not require permission from a wife before a man enters into another marriage.” The following day the CII ruled that Pakistani laws prohibiting marriage of underage children are un-Islamic.
This is but a snippet of a mindset that shuns progress and change in society. Such statements should not be treated as anomalies. The maulana’s previous statement against using DNA test in rape cases shows a consistent pattern that is typical of a closed mind.
The ensuing debate after Sherani’s statement has activated guardians of the sacred to justify or negate it through hair-splitting arguments and engaging in niceties of theological reason. Some even try to be innovative by couching their discourse in modern terms. However, their interpretations reinforce the very premises that shape the contours of the worldview of dogmatic theology and jurisprudence. Any attempt to modernise the overall discourse leads to apologetic ideas.
Theological reason and jurisprudence should not be equated with the founding moment and formative period of religion, because these were developments at the later stages of religious history. In Islamic historical context theology and jurisprudence emerged as an attempt to tackle new challenges posed by diverse societies and cultures under different political dispensations. Interaction with new ideas, challenges, cultures, knowledge and societies expanded the mental horizons of Islam.
However, Muslim societies lost their intellectual verve by the 15th century because dogmatic theology had succeeded in expelling reason from Muslim lands. Only by banishing alternate epistemological postures from the mind, did theological/juridical reason succeed in freezing Muslim thought at a particular point. As a result, the Muslim mind went into a long slumber. When Muslims woke from this deep slumber they found a modern world. Since the dogmatic mind was bereft of modern knowledge, it resorted to the past to comprehend the present. On the other hand, those who favoured engagement with modern knowledge were shunned.
Today the fight between the theocratic and the rational mind has become even more pronounced. In order to win hearts and minds both the adherents and detractors of rational schools of thought are employing every possible medium. While employment of modern mediums of communication is important, a primary issue is ignored when focusing on the side of propagation of knowledge about domains of the sacred and the profane.
This issue is: challenging the epistemological foundations of the system of theology and jurisprudence laid by humans centuries ago. Anachronistic ideas among the Muslim clergy are a product of this epistemological posture which has built a complete sociology of knowledge to give legitimacy to its form of knowledge.
In theology reason functions as a handyman to justify beliefs. It has been developed into a system of thought where the primordial answers of human progenitors’ cannot be questioned. Once this door for questioning is opened, it will open vistas for religion to flourish in different time and spaces in diverse ways. For the deconstruction of the theological mind and reconstruction of society, it is imperative to shift towards new knowledge paradigms. That is why Abdul Karim Soroush thinks that “the long-slumbering soul of Islam can only be awakened in the battleground of knowledge.”
Unfortunately, the closed mind of the mullah is making inroads into modern state institutions. No combination is as lethal as a dogmatic mind in charge of modern institutions. The synergy of a parochial mind with modern state institutions can potentially turn the life of the ‘Other’ into hell.
We fear all that is new and alien to us because our minds have been kept in oblivion for centuries about the new world created on new epistemic foundations. So underdeveloped are our cognitive faculties that instead of engaging and understanding we tend to reject unfathomable phenomena or idea. Gradually, we have become an anomaly in the long march of modern history and civilisation.
The decisions and views of the CII regarding women has all the hallmarks of closed mind that has no food for thought to offer to Muslim mind except fetters of an anachronistic worldview. Owing to a complex interplay of technology, modern ideas, globalisation, today’s reality has become more complex and mutable. Reality in the contemporary age cannot be captured within a system of thought that has remained impervious to changes and preferred to remain in oblivion about new ideas.
At the dawn of the second millennium Ibn al-Haytham wrote about the relationship between the truth and its seeker with a confidence that is completely lacking among Muslims today. He wrote, “The seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency.”
If judged by Haytham’s yardstick, the Muslim mind of today stands diametrically opposite to rational inquiry. We are intellectually poor because we have put all the energies and faculties of our mind in theological reasoning and shut our horizons under the influence of dogma. Hence, we have developed an incoherent mind that flourished among Muslims for centuries under the influence of ‘The Incoherence of the Philosophers’ (Tah?fut al-Fal?sifa)” of Ghazali.
Since his assumption of charge as the head of the CII, the focus of Maulana Sherani’s broad shots are particularly women. But they are not the only victims –there are many voices and issues that have been consigned to the oblivion of unthought in Islamic thought by the dogmatic authorities of the sacred.
Pakistan’s experimentation with Islam during the last 66 years has begot a grotesque form whose body mass has expanded to gigantic proportions at the expense of the mind.
In simple words, Muslims have an overgrown body and a stunted mind. That is why the body does not obey the mind. Only by expanding the horizons of our mind can we create symmetry between mind and body. Otherwise, we are doomed to spend the third millennium under the influence of enemies of open society and mind.
The writer is a freelance columnist based inIslamabad. Email: email@example.com
Originally posted at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-240712-Incoherent-mind