Confusion Around Creation

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, about whom I had blogged previously, has been engaging with the post-modern mind since quite sometime. He tries his best to make a genuine case for Islam and Qur’an in this day and age. In this post, I have decided to revisit one of his debates with youth of Pakistan about the existence of God.

The debate is quite lengthy and Ghamidi tries to provide many arguments for the existence of Allah. The debate is in Urdu and, unfortunately, no English subtitles are available. Translating the entire debate from Urdu to English is an onerous task that I do not wish to undertake at this point in time. However, I want to discuss one of the arguments provided by Ghamidi that, in my opinion, is incorrect and weakens the systematic effort of Ghamidi to prove the existence of Allah. 

From 23:44 to 23:50 in the video, Ghamidi states that intentionality and will has, so far as per human observation, not been demonstrated to exist in matter. It’s here where I feel he is making a mistake. Intentionality and will does surely exist in us human beings, who are a form of matter itself.

From 24:24 to 24:34, Ghamidi says that if it can be demonstrated that matter creates its own self, then the entire case for religion can be withdrawn. Now that is certainly a bold claim. And I believe Ghamidi is in a very insecure position after making this claim.

The word creation is a bit problematic. What we observe in nature is usually transformation rather than creation ex nihilo. One configuration of matter and/or energy is transformed into another configuration either through natural processes or through artificial ones.

ex-nihilo
Source: toughquestionsanswered.org

While creation ex nihilo is not observed, the term creation as used in common parlance is referred to the aforementioned transformation of matter. In this sense, perhaps, Ghamidi’s argument is weakened because we see matter creating its own self in our very hands. A human being is a specific form of matter that is capable of manipulating the matter around itself including its own self. As Carl Sagan said in the intro of his famous series, Cosmos: “we are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” (3:22-3:30)

We lack complete mechanistic details but the role of the brain in the production of subjective experience is undeniable. Humans are an expression of matter just as a mountain or a tree or a river is. Whereas science may not consider a mountain or a river to be capable of having will and intentionality, humans beings, as a specific configuration of matter, are fairly capable of having intentionality and will.

To sum up, it seems incorrect to assert that matter does not create itself. While it is true that not all configurations of matter are capable of self-replication and manipulation of other forms of matter, there are certain configuration of matter, such as as human beings, that are capable of self-replication and external manipulation of matter and that have intentionality and will.

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Among the believers

Upon Junaid Akram’s recommendation, I ended up watching the documentary, “Among the Believers” on Netflix.

The film had a lot to offer and a lot to reflect upon. It offered an insightful glimpse into the Pakistani mindset and paved way to some interesting thoughts. It’s a story of multiple conflicting narratives that quintessentially define the life in Pakistan. You see the two sides of Pakistan. A fundamentalist side that has its own tragic tale to tell about a state-sponsored massacre. And the apparently progressive side, which is heavily suffering at the hands of fundamentalists. Pakistan is truly a land of contradictions.

maulana-aziz
Screen-shot from the film: Maulana Aziz with a student. Courtesy: http://www.amongthebelieversfilm.com/

One thought that I particularly mulled over long was about the nature of the Madrassah system. Following is a statement made by a Red Mosque Madrassah employee regarding the enrolled students:

Most are from poor and rural areas in Kashmir. We take care of their food, housing, clothes, and medical bills. Free of charge.

Now the aforementioned can only be achieved, if an institution has no shortage of money. And cashflow required to provide such a level of sustenance can only come from faith based donations. That is, donate in the name of Allah. That’s the basic politico-economics of Pakistan.

It is but natural for the Madrassah system to not only survive but flourish. The Madrassah system will undoubtedly stay at Pakistan, come what may. The problem, of course, lies in what is being taught at the Madrassah and the kind of religious intolerance and violence that is being perpetuated.

Introducing a modern, secular curriculum at Madrassah system can partly help but will not be a long lasting solution. The solution, in my opinion, has to be more organic and needs to spring from the fundamentals of Islam itself. 

The fundamental way to combat the fundamentalists of Madrassah is to offer an educational system like them. Open a Khanqah: Donate in the name of Allah but educate your child along mystical lines. Show that there is a fundamental unity of humanity and all religions, in their respective ways, offer some modicum of truth. The Truth, with a capital T, is, however, far greater than what the human mind can comprehend.

The only way to combat the evil in the name of Allah is through the good in the name of Allah. Salafism is to be combated with Sufism. That’s the only panacea. It cannot be combated with scientific rationalism or militant atheism. The human urge is to gravitate towards something more meaningful than the sum of its experiences. The human urge seeks something greater than itself.

This innate urge is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why religion cannot be completely eradicated from Pakistan, much to the chagrin of people like Richard Dawkins. However, attempts can be made at reforming Islam. Such attempts cannot come without the endorsement of and support from the State. Until that happens, Pakistan will continue to be a breeding ground for fundamentalists like Maualana Aziz of Red Mosque and films like “Among the Believers” will continue to resonate with the world.

Writer’s Block

I’m suffering from a writer’s block and don’t know what to blog. To extol the virtues of science and reason or to bash the vices of religion and superstition. To write about the problems of Islam or to lament the status quo in Pakistan. It’s a tough time and a rough patch.

How do I overcome the difficulty of effective communication? In fact, the inability to communicate. How can I once again flow in a creative flow? To experience the Current, which Merrell-Wolff calls the “Soma”, “Nectar”, the “Ambrosia of the Gods”, the “Water of Life”, and the “Baptism of the Spirit”?

writer-block
A representation of writer’s block by Leonid Pasternak (1862 – 1945). Source: Wikipedia

One way out of this state might just be to write. Write whatever that comes to my mind. Whatever words that pop to my mind. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes it’s just emptiness. Sometimes it’s all jumbled up jargon; incoherent thoughts and incomplete sentences. It’s pure nonsense…

I want to experience what I call the “State of Qalandar.” I will write more about it in a future blog post. I see the State of Qalandar as something similar to the Current of Merrell-Wolf. I am yet to complete the reading of Pathways Through to Space. I have been occupied with other things but I hope I get to finish before the end of the year. Let’s see what happens.

I profess Merrell-Wolffism. There is no God save for the Current and Merrell-Wolff is Its Prophet. Amen!

There you go. I’ve let out a heretical thought. A proclamation that can potentially get me brutally murdered like Mashal Khan. What can I say? I am a heretic of highest orders from the standpoint of orthodox Muslims. But I’m also a seeker of the Current. My quest is not unique and many individuals before me have tried to tread this path of agony and isolation. The reward, in my opinion, is greater than any imaginable or unimaginable wealth. Let’s see how far I fare.

I sign off for now. Farewell until the next post!

Muhammad Merrell-Wolff

I recently ordered this book from Amazon called “Pathways Through To Space: An Experiential Journal.” It’s written by Franklin Merrell-Wolff, who was an American mystic and esoteric philosopher. I don’t intend to write a detailed review of the book in this blog-post since I have to read and digest it first. I’ll rather speak about an interesting passage that I came across while reading the book.

Wolff was educated and trained in philosophy and mathematics at Harvard and Stanford. I don’t know what turn of events led him to abandon academia and enter in esotericism. In any case, he ended up dedicating his life to transcendental philosophy and mysticism and sharing his knowledge and experiences with the rest of the world.

pathways-through-to-space

As I started reading his book, I came across a particularly interesting passage that completely resonated with me. Following is the passage:

Today, I find that in a deep sense I understand Walt Whitman, for I, too, have Awakened. But heretofore Whitman was not at all clear to me, and his words have not helped me to the Awakening. In contrast, the writings of Shankara have proved of the highest potency, while among Western writers it is Immanuel Kant who did most to prepare the Way for me. This is clearly a matter related to individual temperament. Whitman’s Recognition is unquestionably genuine, but for me his words did not clarify but served, rather, to obscure the Way. Of Mohammed’s expression this would have been even truer had I tried to make serious use of it. Yet Mohammed did attain some degree of mystical insight. It seems clear that no man can effectively illumine the Way for all men. There is more than one main Road and a great number of sub-roads. On all these, men who can serve as beacons are needed.

It’s very interesting to note his thoughts on Muhammad. In one of my earlier blog posts, I made a similar comment of how I found it difficult to adulate and emulate the life of Prophet Muhammad. He seemed too distant, too alien for me to have some form of affinity. I do, however, believe that Prophet Muhammad experienced something similar to what, perhaps, Shankara, Whitman and even Merrell-Wolff experienced.

I also think that it might not be possible for one human being to define the Sirat-al-Mustaqim for all men, of all times and ages. In this sense, perhaps, Prophet Muhammad was no different than Shankara or Walt Whitman. He was a product of his time and culture. He wanted to correct the wrongs of his society and addressed the ailments through whatever creative insights he got.

Prophet Muhammad was, perhaps, one of the beacons on one of the roads that lead to the “Awakening”. He cannot, however, in my opinion, illumine the Way for all men, as Merrell-Wolff stated. The same can be said about Merrell-Wolff and Shankara. They are all individual beacons serving to the guide the way for seekers on their own individual roads to the Truth, with a capital T.

In the coming days, I hope I can get to write a review of Pathways Through to Space on my blog.

The Murder of Mashal Khan

And so it happened! The brutal murder of a University student in Pakistan, Mashal Khan, over allegations of posting blasphemous content online.

Mashal Khan was student of journalism at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, Pakistan. He was accused of running a Facebook page that posted apparently blasphemous content. On April 13, 2017, Khan was violently murdered by a student mob on the university campus. Reports suggest that there were at least 25 policemen present when he was killed.

mashal-khan
Mashal Khan

Last month, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, showed his support to crackdown on blasphemous content on social media. According to a tweet made by the official Twitter account of Nawaz Sharif’s political party, blasphemy is an “unpardonable offence“.

At this point in time, I literally don’t have anything to say. My mind is completely blank at the senseless violence that is happening in the name of Islam in Pakistan and that is supported by the Pakistani state itself.

I do, in the strongest of terms, condemn in the inhumane murder of Mashal Khan. I don’t know if he posted blasphemous content on social media but even if he did, killing someone so mercilessly is simply unjustifiable.

I have been maintaining this blog for almost two and half years now and a lot of what I write can clearly be considered blasphemous by Pakistani standards. I will continue to write and support Mashal and everyone who is putting up a valiant fight against the cancerous sore of fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan. Mashal, you live forever!

No Escape from Pakistan

No news from Pakistan is surprising when it comes to suppression of freedom of expression. A few days ago, I found that a Pakistani judge at Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ‘called for a ban on social media sites in Pakistan, due to the spread of ‘blasphemous’ images online’.

Not only that, he wants the names of the people, who are responsible for making such blasphemous content, to be put on the Exit Control List (ECL). This will prevent such individuals from leaving Pakistan.

The decision of this judge in Islamabad is a clear reflection of the kind of thinking prevalent in Pakistan. The thinking that people should be tried and executed for freely expressing their opinions. The thinking that all efforts should be made get hold of such individuals.

Sometime back, I blogged about an incident in which the then-premier of Pakistan made a rather inappropriate statement that those who are unhappy in Pakistan should leave Pakistan. However, with judgements such as these, it seems that it’s not even possible to escape Pakistan. Things aren’t getting any better.

Missing Bloggers of Pakistan

Recently, it came to my attention that a number of social media activists and bloggers went missing in Pakistan. The identity and the motives of the abductors are still unknown. However, what’s common between all these activists is their vocal opposition of ‘religious extremism and the Pakistani authorities’ abuse of opposition activists.’

salman-haider
Protest to recover missing blogger, Salman Haider.

Jibran Nasir, a vocal activist, held a conference to discuss about the missing people. In turn, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, televangelist numero uno, launched a smear campaign against the bloggers, Nasir and Jang Media Group in Pakistan. The smear campaign was launched as part of a TV show called ‘Aisay Nahin Chalega’, which is aired on a controversial channel called Bol TV.

What’s unique about this situation is that for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, voices critiquing the status quo of Pakistan on blogs were tried to be silenced. This is an unprecedented event that is very scary. People criticizing extremist Islam on the Internet are abducted.

Although abduction related to e-proclamations is something new, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise given the conditions in Pakistan. Time and again, grave human rights violations are perpetuated in Pakistan. To quote an article published on this incident on Al-Jazeera:

Dissent or critique of state policy is not only not tolerated but snubbed in a way that an example is set for others. It has been happening to outspoken voices against religious conservatism, state’s appeasement of clergy or the military establishment for years.

It’s really a sorry state of affairs in Pakistan. There’s no room for freedom of expression, even on the Internet. The madness of religious extremism is growing stronger day by day and there seems to end in sight…