KARACHI: If God exists, why do good people suffer? Did Man create God or did God create Man? Can suffering eradicate, or strengthen faith? Questions like these were raised at the book launch session of The Terror of God: Attar, Job and the Metaphysical Revolt by Islamic scholar Navid Kermani, moderated by Samina Qureshi at the second day of the Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday.
Kermani was quick to point out that throughout history people had dealt with why God let people suffer by either justifying or negating His existence, but there were also those who quarrelled with Him. This, he said, was the central motive behind a lot of mystical literature in both Islam and Judaism.
Attar’s The Book of Suffering was the most radical way of questioning God on human suffering. Kermani pointed out that the “prophets and fools” in Attar’s book had expected God to act like a god, so they quarrelled with Him and believed in Him at the same time.
The session was quick to move into interaction with the audience after a brief introduction by the author. Most of the questions focused on the existence and qualities of God and each time Kermani was quick to point out that he was a scholar, and therefore his role was not to give solutions but to raise questions.
One of the attendees questioned Kermani on if it was Man who created God or the other way around. The author said that he was no one to say who created who and it was up to everyone else to find the solution themselves. Kermani said that by writing on human suffering and quarrelling with God, he had put his finger on a forgotten chapter of Islamic literature. He said that these were things that were no longer discussed and were a “forgotten motive.”
Cultures throughout history had been strongest when they were self-critical of themselves and questions were being raised. If you look at Islamic literature, critique, including that of God, can be found everywhere, but none of it can be found today. “I speak about Iran but this can also be translated to Pakistan,” he said.
Kermani said that there was no more questioning of authority today. Questioning made religions strong and if the questioning was internal, it would make it stronger. “The way of thinking today is not the way of Islamic tradition, which is much more open and complicated than it is portrayed today.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.