Thursday, September 28, 2006

Humanism: Understanding the West

An important precursor in understanding different cultures/civilizations is to dig to the root of their ethical philosophies. If people can understand where, why and how civilizations derive their philosophies from, we can take a giant leap in understanding each other.

After the separation of the church in the affairs of the State, the West has increasingly relied on humanist philosophies for their ethics and morals. Wikipedia defines humanism as, “a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, humanism rejects transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural or divinely revealed texts.” For a more detailed explanation, click here.

So why did the West do away with the orthodox system of the marriage of church and state? The answer is complex and it spans over thousands of years! The crux of the matter lies in the fact that the Europeans were – as were the Arabs, believe it or not – always influenced by Greek philosophy. The Greeks were so influential in their philosophy that Christianity itself induced a lot of ideas from the Greeks. The advent of the Printing Press and the consequent Protestant movement had a major role to play in this change as well.

History is proof that the Church did take a good hiding from the new “dangerous doctrine” of humanism. The crisis of Renaissance humanism came with the trial of Galileo, which forced the choice between basing the authority of one's beliefs on one's observations, or upon religious teaching. Clearly, the church was preaching contrary to physical evidence. In almost all instances, the Church was proven wrong repeatedly. This ideological victory set the mood for Europeans to formulate and legislate laws based on the humanist approach. Pragmatism was to be the quintessential component in the development of humanism.

How good this solution is depends on whom you ask this question. It has worked for the Westerners and it is their experience that makes them so passionate about their beliefs. The problem today is that the West is being intolerant towards the East – Islam in particular – and wants them to adopt their system hook, line and sinker. To the Westerner they have “been there, done that”. It is no surprise then that the West fails to understand the Muslims deep attachment with their faith.

However, the West needs to come to a realization: Is their experience relevant to Islam and Muslims? Is the Qur’an preaching something contrary to physical evidence as was the case with the Bible? All idiosyncrasies kept aside, are the Westerners ready to admit that Muslims are not facing the same dilemmas as the West did vis-à-vis their Divine Texts? The variables and dynamics of the Muslim World are very different to 14th century Europe. The sooner the West comes to this realization the better for all of mankind.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Holy Rant

Much has been said about the recent controversy surrounding Pope Benedict’s statements about Islam in general, and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and jihad in particular. However, I feel that most of the reaction by leaders of the Muslim World and even Muslim scholars misses an essential point that the Papal makes. Missing this key point lends credence to the general stereotype that Muslims are an emotional lot who only react violently when confronted with reason.

The Pope’s speech revolves around how reason – logos in Greek – plays an essential part in religious beliefs. The dialogue he is seeking for is to engage religions of other faiths, which in his view are following practices that are not based on reason. He elucidates this point by quoting the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and then further quoting a Muslim scholar (why single out Islam?), Ibn Hazm, to support the claim that much of Islamic creed is based on false pretenses that are diametrically opposed to reason. He singles out the Islamic principle of Jihad – holy war as the West knows it – in support of his thesis. Had the Pope just quoted the Byzantine Emperor, one could have given him the benefit of the doubt. But, right after the quote, the Pope goes on to state Ibn Hazm’s assertion that God can act contrary to reason. He also extols the Emperor as an authority on Islam and Christianity! Had he said this in a pre-google era, this tactic would have served his cause well. Alas, a cursory search on google about the Emperor makes one nauseate at the audacity of the Pope!

Whereas I am not going to delve in the rather sinister quotation from the Emperor – who was not only a sworn enemy of Islam, but also had a very bloody tussle for power in his own family – I am amazed how I haven’t seen anyone challenge the Pope in the classical polemical style that the World of Islam once excelled in! Inter-faith dialogue certainly is the need of the hour, but are we Muslims going to settle for such humiliation? I feel the best way to approach this situation is to engage the holy fathers by pointing out the enormous elephant in the Vatican and their creed. Once we are through with this essential pre-requisite can we then start engaging in constructive inter-faith debates and statements such as those of Ibn Hazm.

Since Pope Benedict quotes the Byzantine Emperor in his thesis of God's inherent nature for non-violence in line with reason then may he, or any holy father worth his holy credentials, explain to us why in his own theology did God Almighty have to violently torture and then, as if that was not enough, crucify His Own “Son” at the hands of the Romans and the Jews? Clearly, in the Christian faith, God Himself set the precedent for attaining objectives (in this case, forgiveness of human sin) by the use of violent means! Contrary to “logos”? Most definitely!

This is not just the only diabolical belief in the Christian orthodoxy. How about the concept of Trinity that defies reasoning and every mathematical principle? As the saying goes, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones".

Monday, September 25, 2006


I have been thinking for quite a while to start my own blogs. However, procrastination kept getting the better of me! It is hard to blog given the paucity of time at my disposal. I had to scrutinize my time on the internet and I came to a realization that blogging would be more productive for myself than things like, for example, orkut.

One of the major reasons for my hesitance to start my own blog was the fact that if I get a remotely decent viewership, I risk being entangled in petty debates having to justify my opinion to potential "hate comments". Why do I say this? Because I feel most of my opinions are not as per the norms of society. Sometimes I do write passionately, which opens the door to even more passionate rebuttals. For the moment, I am concentrating on presenting views and explanations to political/religious happenings as I see them. If I ever see myself wasting my time, I will seriously stop blogging. A sad reality of the e-World is that it cuts away from quality time with one's own family.

Even though the above still bugs me, I eventually sided with the other half of me due to a variety of reasons. There is way too much going on in the world today (especially in the world of Islam) that it just begs commenting on! I feel there are things (sometimes very obvious) that a lot of people miss, which leads to frustration on my side. The recent remarks by the Pope being a case in particular. I feel I have something different to bring to the plate. Mercifully, I have been blessed with some good company who are very learned and insightful on a lot of contemporary as well as historical issues. I hear them and feel that someone needs to put these views out for others benefit. Unfortunately, mainstream media and even most of "independant" media is unaware of these things.

In retrospect, I think I should have taken this step a bit earlier. Sometimes I curse myself for missing so many good opportunities to highlight the Muslim view of current conflicts. Forwarding e-mails of my learned acquaintances and my own thoughts has just not satisfied me completely. I hope this venture will whet my appetite!