Faith and Reason

In a civilised and mature society, the complexities of social and spiritual problems and mysteries of the universe can be understood through philosophy. History shows that in the early stages of civilisation, religion played an important role to unfold secrets of the unknown. Generally, the format of religious teaching was poetry. People achieved spiritual satisfaction by chanting hymns and songs.

In an attempt to construct a system of knowledge based on rationalism, gradually societies moved from poetry to prose and philosophy emerged as a system for analysing and understanding rapidly evolving society in order to build a system of conduct, thought and governance. Societies matured through many philosophical systems, as the creation of new ideas and thoughts prevents stagnation so that society remains dynamic and active to confront new challenges. Philosophical ideas criticise outdated traditions and values, replacing them with new ones and enabling society to positively respond to new challenges.

The roots of western civilisation can be traced to ancient Greece, home to great philosophers and thinkers. In the medieval period religion repressed the creation of new ideas but Renaissance opened the gates of knowledge and produced new philosophies. Philosophical thought weakened religious extremism and led to liberalism and democracy involved the masses in political activities.

In ancient India, several schools of philosophy explored social and moral issues in pursuit of understanding the world and human existence. The ancient sages left behind a rich heritage for future generations by continuously producing philosophers and thinkers.

Influenced by Greek philosophers, Muslim society turned its attention to philosophy for a brief period. Under the patronage
of Mamoon, the Abbasid caliph, a religious movement called Mu’tazila emerged and subsequently became one of the most important theological schools of Islam. Since it raised questions prohibited by religion, the epistles titled Akhwab as safa compiled by this group of Muslim thinkers were published anonymously due to the fear of orthodoxy.

Muslim philosophers, including Razi, Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, were criticised by Ghazali for the illegitimate use of reason and he presented this most important and influential critique in his famous text Tahafatul Filasafa, or The incoherence of the Philosophers. Ulema or religious scholars were wary of philosophical ideas which created doubts and challenged religious belief and dogma. As a result of this opposition, philosophers were excluded from the mainstream of Muslim thought.

Abul Fazl, eminent historian and thinker of the Mughal era, was condemned by his contemporary ulema. For Muslims of India, the teachings of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhandi and Shah Waliullah were more popular as they revived their old glory and true Islamic spirit. Even today, liberal and enlightened philosophers are marginalised and treated as outcastes.

Iqbal, who is known as the philosophical poet, in one of his letters, prohibited Muslims the study of philosophy. When the seminary of Deoband was founded in 1867, the subject of philosophy was excluded from the curriculum.

In nearly every Muslim society, leading intellectuals are either poets or ulema and their ideology is based on emotion. As there are no philosophers, reasoning and debate are mostly absent. Moreover, there is such a domination of orthodoxy that no intellectual would dare to present a challenge. The result is stagnation of intellectual thought.

Sometime, some liberals turn to western philosophy for guidance. Generally for independent thinkers, the environment is hostile and claustrophobic. Society is dominated by passion and we resort to solving all our problems emotionally without logical thinking. The absence of reason blocks our creativity.

This is why not only philosophy but social sciences are also not welcome in our society. Experts of information technology are clueless about understanding or responding to modern challenges. According to a German saying we are producing ‘Foch Idiot’ or subject idiots who are ignorant of their own surroundings. Despite being educated, these men and women are incapable of reforming society.

Presently, Pakistani society is in a grip of emotion which is a fertile ground for extremism and religious narrow-mindedness.The emergence of philosophers and thinkers can rid society of stagnation but to achieve this we have to lay down foundations of new traditions of intellectualism based on reason and rationalism.

By Mubarak Ali :