In an earlier column, I had linked ‘certainty’ to extremism. I thought that non-acceptance of someone else’s point of view is often based on a total lack of healthy scepticism about one’s own. I did not mean that one should give up the feeling of certainty of one’s belief; I thought it could be rendered harmless by also allowing someone else to feel certain about his belief without punishing him.
A reader wrote: “Religion demands certainty when it comes to the tenets of imaan. It is absolute certainty about Allah Almighty and the Last Day that becomes the basis of guidance. Guidance cannot lead to extreme behaviour. It leads to patience, tolerance, compassion, kindness, wisdom, knowledge, etc. All these are essential for the development of a civilised society.”
I am asked why I said that ‘uncertainty’ about one’s held belief leads to tolerance of others’ points of view. I was, in fact, referring to the rise of European relativism based on empirical evidence. In other words, starting with Enlightenment, nothing was certain unless proved by science. My reader said tolerance could come from wisdom. My answer is that wisdom embraces the principle of ‘uncertainty’ by adopting the middle course (adl). When you are not in the middle (adl) you are bound to be occupying an extreme.
Alfred Lyall, a revenue officer of the British Raj, who gave his name to Faisalabad when it was Lyallpur, wrote in Asiatic Studies (1904) that “The Mahommedan faith has still, at least, a dignity and a courageous unreasoning certitude, which in western Christianity have been perceptibly melted down by long exposure to the searching light of European rationalism”.
“This has made Muslims distinctly aggressive and spiritually despotic. They are prejudiced against Christians because of the religious rivalry of a thousand years. Conciliation is no use; all the British could do was keep the peace in India and clear the way for the rising tide of intellectual advancement”. (Quoted in MJ Akbar’s book Tinderbox: The past and future of Pakistan, HarperCollins India 2011, p 70.)
‘Wisdom’ (‘hikmat’), in Islam, is based on flexibility of response and becomes dysfunctional when views are strongly held. Wisdom may look to some like a dishonourable compromise. Principles become a force against flexibility. If Muslims were only intolerant of non-Muslims, they would still be an internally serene community; but they are intolerant of different schools of thought within Islam. This takes us into the domain of group psychology.
Uncertainty assails an individual when he acts alone but not when he is part of a group. Similarly, guilt, a by-product of uncertainty, assails man when he is alone. An introspective thief will be hard put to justify what he is doing; as part of a gang, he can be endlessly savage without the pang of guilt. Faith becomes firm with certainty. The group, formed into an orthodoxy, transforms it into dogma. Muslims kill Muslims on the basis of dogma.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) separated human knowing into two elements, will and reason, under the influence of Aristotle, whose wisdom he got from Ibn Rushd (1126-1198). Aquinas thought that will could experience that which reason could not comprehend. In my Lughat al-Quran, it is recommended that ‘imaan’ (faith) and ‘yaqeen’ (‘certitude’) should be one and the same thing for a Muslim.
In the West, faith is something you believe but can’t prove; certitude is that which you can prove and which is provisionally backed by scientific evidence. This dichotomy in the West has allowed it to become non-dogmatic. In our day, certainty is also based on nationalism, the worst form of group feeling.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.
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True believers have their cup full. Reasoning and Pluralism are words that do not exist in their dictionary.
As a fan, I wish you had something to say about Schopenhauer's view of the "will". Always, and always love to read your pieces.
Wow, ET censors really stepping it up. 75% of comments not printed. No vulgarity, no personal attacks, no blasphemy, just points of view. I think your audience can handle a bit more. What are you afraid of?
Unreasoning certitudeabout any notion of religion or nationalism is a frightening state of mind. Curiously, I amuse myself with the iron of it when I think how necessary it is to be
stubbornly ignorantin order to achieve the glorified state of unreasoning certitude - whereas it is often proclaimed in Pakistan by many that unreasoning certitude is the only way to preserve or defend some great truth.
@Feroz, You hit the nail on the block. All we have today is TRADITIONAL values that have crept into our faith. We hold more onto our traditional values than our religion. Their were no sunnies, shias, barevalis, deobandies, salafies etc etc etc. All these SHOOLS OF THOUGHTS are the result of MAN and their INTERPRETATIONS. Whereever you go into this world of ours, there are thousands of MOSQUES. Each MOSQUE has its traditional leanings and its followers. There is little intermingling within these groups. The only time the community comes together is when their are protests for Palestine, Kashmir etc etc.
In theory Religion would help people in their search for spiritual solace. What has happened is that Religion has become dogma and rather than breed spiritualism in humans, has served as a mark of distinctiveness or false superiority. I remember an encounter with a yogi/fakir doing penance in isolation in the Himalayas for decades. I brashly asked him whether he had ever seen God. "Of course he said immediately, he is standing in front of me". Being a lot younger than the message took a long time to sink in - God is within you, around you, even in the air you breathe. No need to search for him in Temples, Mosques and Churches, find him within yourself. God Bless !
It is not the certitude of One God and His creation that causes intolerance.
It is the certitude of the way that God is to approached, that causes problems. That is where religion comes in. If your belief system can cope with the idea of a Benign God who accepts all his creatures, all will be well. But if your faith depicts a God that is into Revenge and Retribution, you have a problem there.
As the great philosopher Groucho Marx said...These are my principes..if you dont like them..I have some others
We have to find solutions to our problems through a closer and unbiased look at the Islamic teachings, Faith (Imaan) is in varying degrees and is more or less literal. Faith is like accepting something for a fact, but certitude (yaqeen) relflects undying belief. Certitude is unfaltering and stands like a rock where reasoning does not count. Certitude in the positive sense is the basis for achieving highest degree of morality and spirtuality. It does not come with reasoning. What we miss in our lives is the certitude that we are answerable to God for all our actions individually.That we should accept the kind of life God has given us. Of course we should strive for our betterment through the rightful means that are available to us and be patient and be tolerant towards our fellow human beings.
As someone said, we don't need tolerance of other faiths but the acceptance of other faiths. In other words, accepting that there can be multiple ways to reach the same destination.
I think Indian philosophers asked and argued what the author is revisiting here and had said all is uncertain (Maya) or illusion and only present is real and this philosophy was followed later by Buddhists school that middle ground is happiness-put together, uncertainty brings realization of Maya and with that understanding we seek middle ground from dogmatic view, which brings tolerance and with it comes harmony and happiness.
Certainty is dogmatic and with dogma there is confrontation to establish certainty. Well argued.
We need Sharia law in Pakistan. TTP guys, where are you sleeping? Awake.
Author, The greater the level of certitude(yaqeen) greater is the level of belief(aiman).certitude comes from knowldge(ma'arfat) One will not eat poison because he is certain that poison will kill him.Nor he will put his hand into a hole when he is certain that inside is a deadly snake which will kill him.All this comes from Knowldge.Simmilarly all morall diseases,intollerance,dishonesty,falshood,greed.backbiting,prejudice,jealousy, theft,impatiance,etc are all poisons which will definetly destroy individuals chractor as well as socities on the whole.A person uncertain or unaware of the the deadly consquences of the moral sins that i have reffered to,is highly vulnerable to commit such sins and eventually destroy his peace as wel as the peace of whole society:Contrary to this a person with a higher level of certitude(Yaqeen) attaind by knowldge(ma'arfat) Is unlikely to indulge in such moral diseases.Such a person; therefore will be more tollerant and humanly for the society.Lack of ma'arfat leads to ignorance,the mother of all evils. Regards
I should like to preach the "will to doubt" rather than "will to believe"; Bertrand Russell used to say. Certainty about the subjective and unknowable is dogma.Readiness to die for such absolute and divine dogma means that you are also willing to kill for it .This is extreme in intolerance.this is extremism.
"I am not prepared to die for my priniciples ;because I know I may be wrong."B. Russell again.
The uncertainty may not need to be in the belief to breed tolerance but in the practice. If you're not too sure whether what you're doing is in accordance with G-d's wishes won't you be more tolerant of other peoples' religious practices if they differ from yours?
I am afraid I disagree with your thesis altogether; in my humble opinion, its the collective fear coupled with feeling of emasculation rather than certainty that brings out the worst in human beings. Being part of the group or alone has only cosmetic effect on the feelings of fear and hope and not as drastic as you suggest. On the contrary, true certainty is a state of mind where one is at peace with himself / herself as well as everything else in the universe. That's why all religions have defined the characteristic of the wise ones as those who experience neither fear nor sadness - a state of absolute peace.
@entropy: I do ot ofte agree wit ou. But i tis case I agree a 100%
Khaled Saheb.....if possible please also write something on guilt culture and shame culture. i think it would be complementary to the ongoing discussion.
Right man in the wrong country. Keep it up, we are loving your articles.
There is no harm in being certain about your faith. In an ideal world, that in itself does not lead to extremism. One of the major, in fact main reason for extremism is those following liberal attitudes and moderate interpretation of the faith are not allowed to explain the succeeding behaviour. It is a taboo subject. So conservatives get angry when fundamentalist beliefs are not adhered to without explaining the reason. Like giving more freedom to women, more rights to minorities and participating in music, singing and mingling with both the gender in public. West has reformed their faith to a great extent. WE see women priests, lax behaviour in relation to other religions. Nobody would think of killing their daughters if they marry another colour or nationality. Yes, we have a right to believe anything, but understanding others with tolerance will help matters further.
Excellent tap dancing to answer the preliminary prospective charge of blasphemy. The march of science will sweep the nooks and crannies here as well. To many of our sufi poets would be hung for blasphemy. It is merely a matter of time before their books and poetry are fed into a bonfire. Enjoy. Pakistan Day Mubarak.
An artile with wisdom.Pakistan is a state where evryone creates Diorder in the land in the name of Allah but not peace.s
It is one of the great delusions of the Pakistani liberals that Western countries are on a higher moral plane than the rest of us. Yes, internally their societies are more admirable than ours. But in foreign relations they are totally amoral when it comes to securing their interests. In the pursuit of natural resources, geostrategic advantages and markets for their goods the Western countries led by America are little better than modern day Halaku Khans.