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Emerging reason

13 min read

By Aziz Ali Dad
Followers of Islam are certainly perplexed why their lives are being turned into hell for some self-claimed saviors of Islam to go to heaven. The situation should have triggered some soul searching, but despite the gruesome incidents of murder and mayhem of innocent people in Pakistan, no attempt is made to analyze the subject of reason and religion in late modernity beyond the confines of tried and tested theoretical frameworks, ideologies and precedent postures.

In fact, modern day Islam is not a manifestation of essentialist form that drew its inspiration from the mysterious past. Rather, it is a cumulative result of interface of sacred and Muslims with modern time. Because of cohabitation of Islam in modern space and time for more than two centuries, Islam of today is inextricably intertwined with modern processes and institutions. The existence of sacred in the modern life-world of Muslims has given birth to a mindset, institutional practices, ethos and path that do not necessarily follow the linear path of the Western modernity.

Fundamentalist forces attain more power by employing modernity, and progressives lose grounds by denying religion as a social reality

However, it does not mean that modernity has not influenced Islam. On the contrary, contemporary Islam is more influenced by modernity than the golden past. Unlike common perception of mutual exclusiveness of religion and modernity, the religion of Islam has managed to survive onslaught of modernity by unconsciously accommodating some aspects of modernity. As a result, the fundamentalist forces attain more power by overtly employing modernity, and progressives lose grounds by denying religion as a social reality.

Given its understanding and acceptance of modernity, the progressive section of our society is in a better position to engage religion with modernity. Engagement of Islam with the philosophical discourse of modernity can help in emergence of Muslim narrative within the meta-narrative of modernity. Contrary to liberal perception, fundamentalists thrive on the very separation of state and religion because it makes religion their sole property through which they can make inroads into power. Hence, their perpetual monopoly on the discourse of religion and role of thought police in intellectual domain remains intact.

Today Muslims live in a different world than the world at the dawn of modernity. The world of today is dominated by cultural, economic and technological globalization. Modern communication has brought together peoples from different social, religious and cultural background in a single space and time. The shrinking of space and intermingling of diverse cultures has helped creating new consciousness and movements around the globe. That is why Karen Armstrong claims that fundamentalism could have taken root in no time other than our own.

The main challenge for making social, political and economic arrangements for peaceful coexistence in the age of globalization is the absence of a common language for heterogeneous cultures. It is the absence of common language and dialogue in the age of global media that foments violence and substantiates culture of stereotypes. There is something deeply wrong with our civilization of communication as wars are increasing despite the proliferation of talk in every corner of the world.

Violence in our world is a manifestation of shifting of social, economic and cultural tectonic plates that are underlying beneath the apparently solid crust of religion. In order to survive, ideological adherents of religion have to abandon their solid ground and adopt ways of seeing the reality through a new paradigm. So the questions arises here is: how to disturb the status quo that has resulted in intellectual impoverishment of religion on the one hand, and caused bloodshed of its followers and minorities on the other? We can extricate religion from the violence by getting rid of the fear of ‘others’ and change. We fear that any interaction of religion with secularism, other religions, cultures and ideas will obliterate it.

Modern history proves such a fear unfounded as Jewish intelligentsia, despite being minority in the secular Europe, has been actively engaged in intellectual endeavors in secular domain since the dawn of modernity. It is because of the intellectual endeavors of Walter Benjamin, Jewish Cabala (mysticism) has been introduced into Marxism. Ernst Bloch’s ideas are driven to reinstate spirit of utopia in Marxist theory, Emmanuel Levinas engaged with the issue of inter-subjective relations and Martin Buber with interface between ‘I and Thou’. Creative imagining and embracing of ‘Others’ by these contributors helped in reinterpretation of religious symbols and imaginary in secular world. Now Judaism feels at home in the modern secular world.

Pakistan is also inhabited by different minority groups, but we have made life difficult for them by committing atrocities and discriminating in every sphere of life. If we manage to accommodate others in our mental and spiritual space, then any atrocity against ‘others’ by our brethren will generate empathy. According to Martin Buber the essential character of ‘I-Thou’ is the melting of the between, so that an individual stands in direct relationship with another ‘I’. Even if I am incapable of precluding my zealous fraternity from a brutal act, I still hate it because this melting has already occurred within my being that has been altered by another being.

We remain apathetic to the brutalities committed against minorities in Pakistan, because we have been divested of ‘others’ through a narrative and institutional arrangements that deem ‘others’ less human than ‘us’. Therefore, collectively we are divided when it comes to issue of violence committed in the name of religion. After the WW2 German thinkers critically reevaluated every dimension of German culture to ascertain causes of descend of their society into fascism.  It paved the way for emergence of a new society and opening up of ‘objectively new possibilities’ in Germany.

It has become a part of our idiosyncrasy to shy away from thinking through new issues and challenges. For the emergence of a new self and creation of alternate world, intervention of intellectuals at every stage of knowledge production and dissemination, and sites of power in self, state and society is indispensible. Professor Muhammed Arkoun thinks that “intellectual and spiritual subversion” and deconstruction of existing systems of immobile thought among Muslims will pave the way for ‘Emerging Reason’.

In Pakistan we tend to reduce rational voices to silence and seek refuge in personalities who claim to be divine guardians on the earth. Deconstruction of the regimes of truth will enable us to tackle the ever increasing change by learning anew and acquaint over selves with the multiplicity of origins of our ‘Being the world”. To break the regimes of truth we ought to allow the critical reason to create ripples in stagnant religious thought. We should also allow the reason to blossom in its multiple hues in response to particular requirements instead of binding it in the shackles of hegemonic and deterministic reason. It will open space for emergence of ‘multiple modernities’ in diverse cultural contexts in the age of globalization. Modernity can take roots in local context only by diversifying its manifestations. At the same time Muslims have to muster courage to face disenchantment and embrace change by breaking the orthodoxies maintaining regimes of truth to keep its unthinking followers away from truth.


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