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!

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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.

Nitpicking the verses

Qur’an is an interesting book. It makes claims which are difficult to understand for the modern mind yet is considered by Muslims, by and large, to be the final word of God until the end of time.

One of my peculiar habits has been to read the Qur’an and reflect on it with modern sensibility. More than often, I end up going down a rabbit hole of confusion and see no easy way out of it. As a case in point, there’s a particular verse in the Qur’an which goes like this:

And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect. (Pickthall)

The is the 49th verse of Surah Adh-Dhariyat (The winnowing winds), which is the 51st chapter of the Qur’an. Many Muslims use this verse to assert that all living things have been created in pairs. That is, there is a male and female in for all living organisms. Clearly, such is claim is not scientifically accurate. For example, there is no male or female gender in bacteria. Likewise, the New Mexico whiptail is a female-only species of lizard.

The transliteration of the actual phrase used in the Qur’an to refer to all things is ‘kulli shay-in’. Kul means all and shay-in means things. The verse from Surah Adh-Dhariyat could not just mean only living things. If the Qur’an meant all living things, it would have said  ‘kulla shay-in hayyin’ as it did in Surah Al-Anbya, Chapter 21, Verse 30. The word hayyin means living. 

As far as I see, the everything of 51:49 seems to suggest everything that possibly exists or at least everything that is present in this Universe of which we can possibly know about. It, therefore, makes me wonder how on earth are mountains created in pairs, or rivers, trees and planets, for that matter.

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Image credit: Sophie James via Getty Images

This indeed appears to be a problem for someone who thinks. Again, thinking is exhorted in Qur’an as per Verse 29 of Chapter 38, which urges us to reflect on the verses of the Qur’an.

At the same time, Qur’an declares itself to be a clear book, in Arabic, full of wisdom so that people may understand, according to Verse 2-4 of Chapter 43It seems like a quagmire. If the Qur’an is indeed a clear book, then why is there ambiguity about Verse 49 of Chapter 51, which upon reflection seems to suggest that which makes little sense?

This is just one example of the complexity and obfuscation that reflection on the verses of the Qur’an entails. Some would argue that I am unnecessarily nitpicking or that I am quoting the verses out of context. I don’t have much to say to such accusations except that Qur’an is not an easy book to understand and makes little sense in light of modern methods of thinking. As I wrote in one of my earlier posts, the onus of understanding the mind of the Allah is a bit too much for mere mortals like us. In any case, the journey of reflection on Qur’anic verses continues!

Experiencing Life

One of the books that has had a profound influence on me and continues to inspire me to live my life is a novel by Hermann Hesse called Siddhartha. The novel primarily “deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha.”

siddhartha

Even though it’s a work of fiction, I found the ideas discussed in the novel to be directly applicable to one’s life. Before I read Siddhartha, I was living under the influence of existentialism. It may sound rather cocky but I had independently formulated some of the core ideas of existentialism even before knowing what the term meant or being aware of writers such as Sartre and Camus. In particular, my views were somewhat similar to absurdism, that our life and the world is inherently meaningless save for the meaning we chose to give. I felt giving any meaning to the world and life was pointless. I spent sometime thinking of some intellectual argument to counter this belief but was having a hard time. This belief ultimately impacted my behavior and attitude. I was drawn into a strange isolation and had little to no desire to do anything in and of my life.

Siddhartha changed all of that. Reading Siddhartha did not have an immediate impact. As time progressed, my experiences grew. Reflecting on Siddhartha eventually allowed for a serious transformation to come about. I apologize for the spoiler, so please don’t read further if you wish to read Siddhartha.

Towards the end of the book, Siddhartha encounters his childhood friend, Govinda, who too like Siddhartha was seeking enlightenment. After a long discussion, Siddhartha asks Govinda to kiss his forehead. As Govinda does it reluctantly, he is overcome by a powerful vision in which he sees a thousand different things.

The vision experienced by Govinda made me think about life itself. I had this sudden realization that the meaning of life can only be understood as a unity of experiences. I realized a fundamental problem with the version of absurdist position I had in my mind. Basically, any discussion about the meaning of life will be based on a limited set of experiences. Given our experiences are limited but constantly increasing, the definite conclusion that life has no inherent meaning does not sound completely accurate. As our experience grow and as we are able to organically integrate our experiences, our understanding of the meaning of life will, in all probability, evolve. Therefore, the apparent absurdity of the world and our life is only a function of our limited knowledge and experience. It’s still fairly possible that life may have no meaning at all. However, if life has a definite, objective meaning, it can only be uncovered by striving to increase our repertoire of life-affirming experiences and trying to holistically unite them.

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The Myth of Sisyphus

Siddhartha’s life was like that. He experienced different aspects of life. From being a student to being an ascetic; a lover, a father, a businessman who ended up being a hedonist only to become a sage at a later stage. It was only through experiencing life in all its richness was he able to reach his own sense of enlightenment.

I felt that one can potentially choose any path in life, in any order, to achieve enlightenment. The word enlightenment for me, basically, translates as finding the meaning of life. The meaning of life may change from person to person but this Siddharthic approach offered a real possibility to my mind of finding a meaning that might well be universal. That is, seeing life as one and continuous; as an integrated whole that is constantly growing and evolving.

However, more importantly, reflecting on Siddhartha helped me get out of the existentialist rut I was stuck in. It gave my live a whole new perspective and provided impetus to take action.

Now that I am 30 years old, married man with a child, I often reflect back on my University life. Hanging out with female friends on Valentine’s Day, playing cards in our spare time, having alcoholic drinks with my friend on his rooftop or just basking in the mild winter sun in my hometown are all unique experiences of life. In isolation, they may not represent anything significant about human life. But in moments of deep introspection, they coalesce together to form an organic unity of sorts and offer a glimpse of the ineffable we yearn for. It’s like a Govinda-experience.

But it’s also like being hit by a wave of nostalgia; a variation on the Proustian ‘episode of the madeleine’ that not only makes us vividly relive the memory but, in a Deleuzian sense, teaches us to use ‘signs’ to communicate and understand reality.

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Tea dunking that elicited involuntary memories in Marcel Proust

This is the philosophical aspect of trying to experience life in all its possible richness. The spiritual aspect is to achieve some level of sensibility and satisfaction in an otherwise tumultuous and transitory life. 

Of course, fundamentalist Muslims will clamp down on any experience that even slightly deviates from the puritanical interpretation of Islam. I strongly disagree with Islam on that front and have blogged about it in numerous posts such as ‘Be drunk’ and ‘Allergic to Halal’.

Reflecting on my experiences, beliefs and values along with the state of affairs in Pakistan, I think it’s not a safe place for a free-thinking, free-spirit such as myself. Time and again, I hear news of people being killed, who questioned (Sabeen) or challenged (QB) the prevalent norms. Much as I wish for the situation to improve, I don’t see it happening. According to the 2016 Annual Report of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “more people are on a death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan than in any other country in the world.”

Furthermore, USCIRF finds that Pakistan meets the IRFA’s (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998) standard for “countries of particular concern” (CPC).

I pray to myself that the God within all of us sees this madness and tries to put an end to it. Amen!

Joining Ex-Muslims – Part Two

The mysterious character I talked about in my previous post is just a satiated version of our own selves. As the first rays of the dawning sun filter through the window curtains, gently caressing our faces, we wake up to a newer version of ourselves. The newer version is a day older than the previous one. Time makes us old and less intense. The passionate yearning to know transforms into a deep calmness of surrender. We are getting closer to our physical end. Death seems inevitable. Are we any closer to the truth? The Absolute Truth which is the summum bonum?

Absolute-Truth

Perhaps not. And so the struggle continues. Another day of endless possibilities to enrich one’s life experiences lies in front of us. Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be the day when the mystery of being will be unraveled and the transcendent powers that be will manifest themselves in full glory. We long for such ecstatically profound moments. Moments that will transform ourselves forever and provide us with the ultimate vision of all that we know on earth and all we need to know…

My struggle with faith is somewhat similar. Every day I wake up, hoping to learn something new, something profound about religions in general and Islam in particular that might transform myself. Yet I find myself to be disappointed by my own efforts and failures. I wholeheartedly accept that I definitely am not putting in enough time and energy required to systematically study the Qur’an and the Ahadith.

However, the limited time I do allocate to my theological interests, seems to be wasted at times. Maybe Islam is inaccurate and is ‘nothing more than Bronze Age mythology’ as stated on EXMNA’s website.

I don’t know. There is massive confusion and the quest for Absolute Truth with regards to religious claims, as made by Islam, does not seem to be coming to an end. Religion is obvious nonsense for the likes of Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss and I should, perhaps, be doing something more worthwhile with my time.

richarddawkins

During my screening interview with MoTheAtheist, I said that some Muslim scholars argue that it is important to know Arabic in order to truly understand and appreciate the Qur’an. To this, the President of EXMNA said that what about the numerous Arabic-speaking people who have left Islam? Surely, they speak and understand the language and yet choose to leave the religion. According to him, this is a trivial argument.

I was asked about any particular part of the Qur’an that I found unsettling during my search. I mentioned the famous verse related to wife-beating that I had also blogged about.

There was also a discussion about morality wherein I adopted a meta-ethical moral relativist position arguing that there is no objective and absolute yardstick to gauge morality. There is no way to quantify morality, so to speak.

Of course, slavery is bad. It’s immoral and inhumane but only by modern standards. Our moral code, much like our genetic code, is subject to evolution. What was acceptable a century ago is unacceptable today. Similarly, it is fairly possible that what is acceptable today may end up becoming unacceptable a century from now. Moral and ethical values, I believe, are not set in stone.

In my humble opinion, the search for an objective and absolute moral code is futile. Moreover, it is a characteristic of an extremist mind that only wishes to see reality in black and white, ignoring the varying shades of gray.

Anyway, coming back to my interview, I was informed by MoTheAtheist that local chapters of EXMNA often organize events like Islamoween in which people dress up in Islamic themes. In past such events, some people came wearing burqas. One person dressed up as Buraq: the mythical horse-like creature on which Prophet Muhammad allegedly visited the heavens. But the highlight of the event was the one who dressed up as the Ka’aba. Circumambulating around him was a no-brainer.

They also prepared a drink by mixing Zamzam water with Jack Daniel’s and few other types of alcohol that I don’t remember. There was Kulfies (Indian frozen dairy dessert) prepared with Baileys Irish Cream and haleem made with ham, which tasted terrible.

baileys

We talked for almost 2 hours. Towards the end, MoTheAtheist asked me to show him some form of identification. With that out of the way, I was officially welcomed to EXMNA and joined the group. I’ll conclude this post at this juncture. In the coming days, I will talk about some of the discussions I have had on the EXMNA group with other fellow ex-Muslims. Stay tuned.

Updating the Islamic OS

A while ago, I came across an interesting blog by a fellow Muslim agnostic, Hassan Radwan. In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog-post titled ‘Will the “True Islam” Please Stand Up!’ as it seems to say much of what I am saying in this piece. There is no “True Islam”!!

The extremist are also Muslims much as the Muslims who say that extremist Islam is not Islam. And that the best way to fight extremist, literalist interpretation of Islam is through engaging in an open and honest discussion about the religion. It involves criticism, scrutiny, introspection and reinterpretation.

My wife’s uncle, Prof. Tahir Masood, who survived the attack that killed Prof. Shakeel Auj last year, wrote an article on religious tolerance and intolerance. Following is the article in JPG image format:

tahir_masood_article_nayya_ilm_e_kalam_chahiyay

The article is in Urdu and is too lengthy to translate for the time being. However, towards the end of the article, he said that for religion to survive in this day and age that is characterized by material well-being and technological progress, a new Ilm al-Kalam (science of discourse) is needed. The onslaught brought about by secular, atheistic thought is powerful and Islam, in particular, seems quite ill-equipped.

Prof. Tahir Masood, who used to have a beard before the assassination of Prof. Auj, has now shaved it off. I don’t know the exact reason for this move. It’s possible that he may be trying to distance himself from the religious forces operative in the country in general and the University in particular. What’s certain, however, is that his life is in danger and he needs to be extra cautious with his sayings and actions.

Coming back to the topic, I whole-heartedly agree with the ideas of Prof. Tahir Masood and Hassan Radwan. In my humble opinion, Islam is in dire need of an Iqbalian reconstruction of sorts. Any such attempt of reconstructing Islam can possibly lead to the creation of yet another sect. It is, however, precisely in the creation of a myriad sects that the essence of Islam can be truly appreciated. To elaborate a bit more, sects and schools of thought reflect differences. And it is difference, at a philosophical level, that ultimately leads to evolution, creativity and improvement.

If the entire population of earth started to believe and act in exactly the same beliefs and manner, respectively, how can we expect any novelty to arise? How can knowledge possibly advance and fresh avenues of understanding be explored? Misinterpretation and re-interpretation are, therefore, the sine qua non for the progression of human intellectual thought. One must constantly re-examine and re-evaluate ancient ideas and see what newer ideas can be generated from the bosom of the older ones. This would require one to differ from one’s predecessors. Intellectual schisms are inevitable. One must, however, be constantly careful to restraint one’s emotions so as to not turn the intellectual differences into a bloody war. 

Islam is certainly not any different. It is, at the end of the day, a human enterprise insofar as humans believe in it and try to live their lives according to its message. Islam needs remodeling and I hope my generation continues to strive to periodically update Islam. Islam 2.0 is the need of the hour.