Ahmed Javed becomes an important scholar capable of the much needed comparative studies in our fragmented, confusing, chaotic world
Ahmed Javed is truly one of the most important Muslim thinkers of our times. Commanding deep insights within the fields of Western Philosophy & Contemporary Sciences on the one hand and the Islamic traditional thought on the other, Ahmed Javed becomes an important scholar capable of the much needed comparative studies in our fragmented, confusing, chaotic world. Here in particular we will be delineating Ahmed Javed’s appraisal of contemporary sciences from the traditional point of view drawing out the stark differences between the two along with alluding to the malnourished nature of contemporary episteme and thus stressing on the need for restoration of the traditional episteme.
The contemporary episteme (way of knowing Reality) considers the sensible empirical world to be the only true Reality where as the traditional episteme considers this world to be only a temporary/temporal reflection of the real, permanent, Sacred world. Ahmed Javed posits that under the traditional episteme everything from the depths of the self to the expanse of cosmos is nothing but a sign of God. This rich traditional symbolism forms a pervasive individual awareness that shapes his whole worldview. Whether it is his food or work or intellection, everything is grounded in God, the fundamental metaphysic. Contemporary sciences which are devoid of this metaphysic construct a seriously defunct and deficient model of universe which is completely alien to traditional sensibility. Contemporary episteme considers human reason, rational faculty and his inductive voyages to be the limits of Human Knowledge where as the traditional episteme opens up the higher/deeper levels of human conscious sensibility and accesses a hierarchy of existence above this sensible empirical world. Modern science based on controlled experimentations is by default restricted to realms below human being, the realms that we can control and manipulate.
We need to bear in mind that by higher realms we do not mean to posit some abstract “beyond” that is to be validated or invalidated on rational turf but rather it only refers to the mystery element of the reality that we find ourselves in. It is the realization that the Reality does not get exhausted by our empirical/sensible/rational lenses. Deep down in essence it is a dark mystery with no bottom. No one has been able to master it in totality. Eventually everyone submits to “gaib”. Higher realms are refined ways of looking at reality that rise above rational categorizations. There is difference between the daily/rational/immanent aspect of Reality and the deeper/hidden/transcendent mysterious element of Reality. There are degrees of awareness/consciousness in between which no human can reject. Every increase in the degree of awareness displays a new world before us.
Contemporary man is too busy in “describing” the empirical Reality that he sees. He is busy with superimposing names, concepts, constructs and descriptions on the patterns of empirical reality that he experiences (what he calls physics, biology and other sciences). But he fails to appreciate the mysterious element of Reality. He escapes from the question of why is there anything at all for him to analyze and describe at the first place. Why does existence exist? Not to talk of countless other dead ends within his own field of description that he keeps facing every now and then. Any arrogant stubborn demand of comprehending Reality in its totality on a rationalistic analytic plane necessarily ends in nihilistic absurdism as we saw in the transition of the thoroughgoing rationalistic modernity into the obnoxiously absurd post modernity. Rationality works by comparing, processing, syllogizing and analyzing different things/aspects. It operates on daily practical plane where reality is broken into fragments. But when it comes to Reality as a whole in essence, there is no “other” to compare to or syllogize and thus rationalism breaks down.
Traditional episteme relies on the perennial tradition of Saints, Sages & Prophets who have encountered & interacted with higher realms resulting in world transforming knowledge, personalities, traditions and civilizations which have introduced the very scent of Sacred into our lives through Sacred Scriptures, Art, Architecture and Symbolism. Under modern episteme intellect is reduced down to mere reason which is only instrumental and discursive. Relying only on reason, man denies the higher realms, the Reality behind all computations. Modern man’s Science does not provide him with any clarity or depth of Knowledge but rather it scatters and disperses him into endless detail. He is doped with the shallow poisonous premises of Evolutionism, Progressivism, Positivism, Psychologism, Rationalism, Individualism and Naturalism which he unquestionably accepts as his basal lenses. Ahmed Javed warns that this poison currently constitutes the source of our present day Muslim intellectual appetite informing our awareness and being in the world. Therefore it is high time for Muslims to restore their Traditional episteme and absorb proper potable intellectual nutrition.
Ahmed Javed considers Modernity and its emergent ideologies to be completely antithetical to Tradition. The modern anti-traditional mind defines everything within a reductionist restricted frame of reference defined by the relation between ‘physical man’ and the ‘empirical world’. On the contrary in Tradition, the relation between man and nature is pathologically partial without the vertical reference to God. Ahmed Javed considers God/Divine Reality as principal perspective. This dimension of verticality, like the sun, lights up everything between man and nature. God is not withdrawn from “physical things” and restricted within the confines of Sacred Scripture but rather God consciousness in traditional man colors everything with the color of Sacred. The current reductionist episteme necessarily informs man’s idea of Knowledge, his art of living and Reality itself and therefore Traditional man cannot play a flippant double role fluctuating between two polarities.
Ahmed Javed rightly stresses that the whole discourse of any science should operate within the overall realization that the objects of Knowledge in all their analysis are signs of God. This crucial aspect should not be filtered out under any project of demythologization or secularization. If God is withdrawn, the objects of Knowledge are denied of their most essential characteristic feature and identity. There can be errors in deriving utility out of things; we can even be mistaken on how they exactly play out and function in the world. But if we appraise a material fact through the traditional episteme we will have captured its essence by virtue of its connection with Divine. On the contrary, this idea is turned on its head under contemporary episteme where utility derived is of primary importance and not its meaning and essence. When it comes to going beyond computations and understanding what things actually mean, the contemporary norm is to “shut up and calculate”!
Ahmed Javed stresses on an integrative holistic nature of knowledge rather than a fragmented vision of Reality. “Knowledge is a pervasive human awareness that enables him to formulate consistent opinions about things ranging from within to without”. Keeping this definition in view, Ahmed Javed points out that there is no current discipline of Science whether social or physical that has not been alienated from Traditional Religious sensibility. Religious mind or religious consciousness cannot find a safe haven in any of these contemporary sciences. There is no space for God and the student is arrested within the sensible. The contemporary mind drawing upon these sciences either rejects religious awareness as illusion or simply considers it irrelevant. Taking modern reductionist physicalistic notions, their methods and paradigms to their logical end conclusions, being true to that worldview, and at the same time upholding one’s religious identity is an unsuccessful synthesis doomed to fail miserably.
In this scenario the idea that Muslims can & should fight current discourse with its own tools, sciences and arguments is ill conceived to say the least because within the current malnourished episteme the only logical end conclusion is nothing but materialistic conception of Reality with no room for ‘spiritual’. These are two different ontic worlds with different foundations, different epistemologies and different super structures. This also highlights the importance of realizing our rightful equal claim to our own epistemic footing. The only way ahead therefore is to display one’s sounder ontology and epistemology. Fighting contemporary discourse on its own ground would be our sure short defeat, says Ahmed Javed. Religious identity or worldview cannot be salvaged from contemporary episteme. Thus the need of the hour is to realize the crises and redefine things afresh, deriving light and guidance from our own traditional awareness.
(Author is Student of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Metaphysics)