Today I read a scholar who is more misread and misunderstood than perhaps any major modern Muslim thinker. He is known mostly for some lectures and debates but his key works are largely ignored. He is arguably the most exciting and interesting scholar who attempts to bridge the gap between the traditionalists and the modernists and has currently been compelled to seek exile. His exile implies how intolerant we are to other interpretations. Is this because alternative readings hit at power of certain ideology that these must be resisted even by denying the key virtue that Islamic civilization embodied the gift of tolerance. Once upon a time hundreds of theological, juristic philosophical and mystical schools flourished in the Islamic world but today we need to beg for tolerance. The West encountered similar problem and instituted secularism. But we need only to appeal to spaces available inside our tradition to let different interpretations as far as no violence to basic traditional framework is done.
Javed Ghamidi is trained in philosophy but has wide disagreements with both methodology and orientation of Muslim philosophers. He has inherited Sufism but can be ranked amongst the deadliest critics of speculative (if not ethical part of it) Sufism. He is a modernist who vows by the Quran and the Sunnah. He is amongst the most rational, most original, most provocative and most gifted modern scholars. Not only Pakistan but the world of Islam should be proud of him. This most prosaic of scholars happens to be a first rate poet, almost Iqbalian in style and at times seems to echo him both in profundity of thought and poetic brilliance. He is always attempting to follow traditional methodology but arrives at often unheard of, seemingly untraditional, conclusions. Though less sophisticated than either Fazlur Rahman or others of his ilk and appropriating primarily theological-juristic instead of philosophical methodology, Ghamdi?s case for Muslim Modernism has been better known by masses. Ghamdi has been the most passionate proponent of such modernist ideas as democracy and human rights including rights of minorities but staunch opponent of modernist philosophy, mysticism and most of modern religious and spiritual movements that are responses to or appropriations of modernist ideas. Another interesting paradoxical aspect of Ghamidi is while sporting a beard, he has attempted to create space for those who don’t sport it. He is amongst the most traditional amongst modernist Muslim scholars but amongst the most modern amongst those who stick closely to traditional framework. Ghamidi, a theologian amongst philosophers, gives an impression of being a philosopher and even free thinker to theologians and jurists.
It is Ghamidi’s rare gift of cool dispassionate analytical ability and serene disposition that endears him for more philosophically inclined reader. It is very difficult to make him angry in a debate.
One of his greatest virtues is clarity, precision and lucidity. As a speaker he is simply brilliant. His speeches cpmprise chiseled prose and can be transcribed as books. With Syed Moududi he shares disgust for rhetoric. He has no figurative devices to drill his point into us but reasoned arguments.
Ghamidi is not dogmatic, at least in his methodology. His few words ( one can listen on you tube) about Tableegi Jamaat in which he appreciates the best in it subtly driving home his disagreements regarding methodology adopted by it illustrate his style. He introduces himself as a students and that is what he generally does. He has no zeal to seek converts to his own point of view. He puts forward his point in as non-provocative a style as possible but succeeds in provoking even the hard core ideologues on either side of the spectrum.
Ghamidi is a significant thinker in Modern Muslim political and economic thought. His brilliant insights on zakat call for reorienting modern understanding and would definitely constitute a major contribution to Islamic economic thought. The State has to run all its machinery from zakat and no other taxes can be imposed. His rereading of the notion of productive enterprizes is very significant. His critical appreciation of Syed Moududi?s concept of Islamic State constitutes one of the most important criticism of it and takes it further without denying its key focus on sovereignty of God.
Far from being a sophisticated critic of Modernity Ghamidi grafts some of the ideas often delinked from secularizing demythologizing humanist framework to Islam and how far he succeeds is for critics to see. I think Ghamidi?s hasty acceptance of modern democracy (that is ultimately wedded to interests of class) lands him in contradiction. He has embraced certain elements of post-Enlightenment modern thought without the necessary sophistication that great critics of Modernity have displayed. He has not clearly articulated the understanding of Tradition (especially its metaphysical basis) and that compels him to rather uncritically graft certain ant-itraditional ideas into his worldview. Ghamidi takes somewhat uncritical view of rationality in dismissing ilham and irfan as epistemological categories enunciated by Sufism. He thus isolates himself from the great Tradition that is wedded to intellectual intuition/Intellect.
Ghamidi?s theological instead of metaphysical approach makes his critique of antireligious ideologies like atheism rather superficial. He doesn?t argue, in philosophical terms, the case for epistemology of religion that is wedded to intellectual intuition, and revelation understood in intellectual and not rationalist terms. It is mysticism that has to be invoked in any defense of religion against modernity but Ghamidi distances himself from it and thus can?t push his own case for religion in convincing terms.
A scholar who is also a missionary of Islam is in exile for some of his theological opinions but his works, let me predict, will gain further popularity with time and he will carve greater and greater space amongst the fellow Muslims of Pakistan but also elsewhere. Ghamidi reads texts with an open unfettered mind and may have misread it on certain points but one can?t accuse him of deliberate misreading. One must engage with his methodology that is essentially traditional and appreciate the potential for diversity of readings he is able to explore. It is not his conclusions but his approach that counts. He thinks and thinks through without caring much how unorthodox it would sound and this makes him a rare find amongst modern Muslim scholars who often talk about doing Ijtihad but do not do it and if anyone does it like Ghamidi criticize him for the same. What a paradox!