Philosophical and Mystical Approaches to the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’
In this article, I discuss the importance of man as the most sublime creation whose uniqueness leads to the formation and cultivation of civilizations. One hopes that this discussion will constitute a modest contribution toward the success of the ‘dialogue of civilizations’. The article focuses on man’s ability to speak, or the logos that manifests itself thereof, and of the motif and theme of the Perfect Man that is critical in Islamic mysticism. Speech is a manifestation of wisdom and love. Man is a responsible creature, as a result of his possessing love and wisdom, and for this reason he is a being that deserves to be connected with God, the source of Being. Religion is the most powerful source that draws man to philosophy and mysticism. Philosophy, using the concept of dialectics and dialogue as its result, and drawing upon the concepts of ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘diversity in unity’, makes an attempt to reconcile the contradictions within the life of man so that he may achieve perfection. Mysticism, with the unity of being as its central principle, reconciles the contradictions of man’s life by initiating a friendly dialogue and inspiring man with a movement inspired by love.
History repeatedly points to the painful fact that the two parts of the world, East and West, have always been in contact with and influenced each other as a result of wars and the consequences of wars. Are civilizations to be judged merely in terms of their ability to bring mass destruction upon its rivals? Is war the only way, the ultimate way? Must one act as a mere onlooker as history takes its ‘inevitable’ course? May one not believe that this course may be wondrously altered? Is there no choice but to surrender to the wheels of the chariot of history’s pitiless gods? Must one watch helplessly wars, conflicts and blood shedding and allow man, the supreme and intellectually most powerful creature, to be a spectator in the midst of this tumult?
What helps man to find the courage and daring to believe that he can sculpt history into a different shape is his dynamic nature and creative mind, a mind whose best attributes are its faculties of reason or speech. Speech, a strange and thought-provoking attribute, is often taken for granted. Speech is not the mere use of words, but a language that is inspired by thought and reasoning. We all know that natural scientists, philosophers and mystics believe that, besides man, all beings produce voices of their own. But these voices are different from speech, which in fact is the most sublime form of sound and unique to human beings. The Holy Qur’¡n testifies that ‘Nothing exists unless it hymns His praise,’1 but man is a different account. The value of speech from a religious point of view is worth considering, and references to language and speech in the Bible and the Holy Qur’¡n are testimony to the importance of this matter. Essentially, creativity is a result of God’s utterance of words. ‘Be! And it is!’ ‘God spoke and the universe appeared,’ ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.’ 2 All these point to the importance of speech in human culture and religious thought.
The world in which we live, think and engage in various creative activities is a complex combination of contradictory phenomena and conflicts. It is these conflicting phenomena that form the basis of man’s knowledge of himself and others, and of the mysterious phenomena surrounding him, instilling in him a dynamic and continual urge to know. Man, whose greatest attributes are thoughtfulness, rationality and creative speech, has continually been investigating, learning about, criticising and even taking advantage of these conflicts in order to improve his lot.3 Man has also invented dialectics for this purpose. Dialectics is, according to Hegel, in spite of being a struggle between opposites, not a way of marking time but a means of surpassing and reaching perfection, a surpassing that includes criticism and profound thought. 4 Thus thought and speech are two human activities that are closely intertwined. That is, perhaps, why certain schools of Islamic thought such as the Ash‘arites and Ikhw¡n al-¯af¡’ (the Brethren of Purity) believed in al-kal¡m al-nafs¢, or ‘speech of the self’.5 This is a variant upon the connection between the human mind and speech held by thinkers since Plato and well expressed in the sentence, ‘thinking is a silent way of speaking’. 6 Hegel considered dialectics the reconciliation of conflicts in the existence of objects and also in the human mind, and in the writer’s opinion, in human actions and behaviour, since the mind has considerable influence on human behaviour.
Such a dialogue is the striving for excellence, borne of the perfectionism inherent in human thought, a perfectionism which seeks the best from among the multitude of conflicting differences and variations, one that would answer the call of his nature for the absolute good. This is a transcendental quest that inspires not only man’s mind and speech, but also his subtlest actions. Man owes this to his intellect and creative spirit, and it is this attribute that makes him worthy of aspiring to the source of revelation and godliness, an aspiration splendidly embodied in different ways in religions throughout history. By asking the most fundamental epistemological and truth-seeking questions, religion itself is the first phenomenon that has conjoined the conflicting opposites of terrestrial and celestial existence in the labyrinth of plurality and differences. God has challenged man to the most magnificent dialectic of his existence, a dialectic inspiring life’s most dynamic dialogue to a wondrous leap forward. It is for this reason that prophets begin their message with the word ‘speak,’ a two-sided speaking that involves man’s intellect through logic and reasoning.
By presenting a picture of plurality and conflicts, conflicts that can hardly tolerate one another, religion has invited man to a great intellectual-practical round-table discussion. This is only possible because he possesses these splendid attributes, and he is challenged to use all his talents and abilities to find the right means for a logical reconciliation of these conflicts. Religion urges man to think right, see right and act right in his search for the ultimate unity of existence because dialectics, and its supreme result, logical dialogue, requires critical and meticulous investigation in this search, which teaches man to live life courageously as a challenge. Religion teaches man the ability to engage in a creative and effective dialogue. Man must first know himself in order to improve the life of other creatures and himself, and to look at himself and the world at his service with insight.
Religion is the reality that leads man to wander in the universe and ask the ultimate question of existence through the dialectics arising out of his innate nature. It enables man to achieve a reconciliation of all the conflicting plurality so that he can realise the unity, which is the fundamental essence of being and the truth of existence. The great instrument of this dialogue is man’s intellect and nature. It is for this reason that sociologists and anthropologists believe that the word ‘intellect’ is derived from the same root as that of religion, from religio, meaning connection. 7 In fact, intellect and religion are two very important processes that conjoin man with truth. Even a brief review of the history of religion will reveal that prophets of God chose dialogues and logical argument as the first and foremost method of spreading their message.
By explaining their message, they tried to achieve a wise and at the same time kindly understanding, and such verses as ‘speak softly’– and ‘discuss things with them in the politest manner’ prove this important point. In fact, prophets were among the people who promised peace and amity through godly thought and guidance. Their greatest mission has been to make man face the secrets and mysteries of religion, and to awaken their innate nature through a dialogue. This is a dialogue between the Supreme Being, God, and the most intellectual creature, man, so that he may attain truth by understanding the conflicts of reality. In spite of wars, man ultimately desires peace, amity, love and rational and enlightening dialogue, for this is his innate nature.
But religion’s most prominent aspect is its mystery. Yet at the same time, it compels man, through history, into making dialogue, to be ceaselessly exploring and searching through this mystery. The gratification of discovering a hidden truth through thought and self-knowledge has led man to an awakening and a new interpretation of being. If we accept that the word d¢n, religion, is derived from the Sanskrit word daena, meaning ‘spiritual awareness’ and ‘conscience’, we realise more fully how religion is life’s greatest invitation to a dialogue in search of the truth. It pursues a dialogue that appeals to the taste of most, if not all, who inherently love knowledge and are open to guidance.
Religion, whose function is to help man towards adjustment and self-awareness in this multi-coloured world of plurality, in order to be in harmony with man’s needs for guidance, has been sent to him in different ways and forms through history. W. Cantwell Smith says.
The history of religion reveals that God has spoken in different manners to people of different religious cultures, providing them with guidance and the means of salvation.
In my opinion, the existence of conflicts and plurality ensues from the need for greater understanding, and there is no need for concern or confusion.
By removing all mental contradictions and anxiety, religion becomes the most beautiful way of looking at life and the only right way of discussing the truth. Religion tells man of his mission in life: to distinguish the superior reality from the material world by passing through it and to accomplish this with the power of his creative intellect. In this manner, religion enables man to establish harmony and reconciliation between mind and matter, heaven and earth, reality and truth, and thus improves makes him worthy of being God’s image on earth. Offering such teachings, the great religions have nourished millions of followers and thinkers, establishing great civilizations that bear witness to man’s glory.
In fact, civilizations provide man’s thoughtful responses to the dialectic of religion and its logical dialogue. When exploring a question, which requires analysis and discovery, man cultivates his mind. Civilization is the manifestation of this mental cultivation, which is made possible as a result of criticism and peaceful and constructive methods. All religions condemn the use of any violent method to challenge the opposition.
Man has experienced two valuable approaches to cultivate his mind within his long historical existence: philosophical and mystic. While some consider the two approaches as distinct, they are, surprisingly, not so distinct. Rather, whenever man has used one approach at the cost of the other, he has deprived himself of the pleasure of attaining the truth. In fact, philosophy and mysticism are two different readings of religion, one intellectual, the other artistic, both aspiring to the evolution of mankind through logic and compassion.
We may not speak of philosophical traditions and mystic experience without first considering religious teachings and beliefs. The study of religion is the study of man and the mysteries of his wonderful life. The future global civilization will depend on qualities and the final truth, and this will not be achieved without familiarity with forms and diversities, dialectics and, consequently, logical dialogue and unity of being (wa¦dat al-wuj£d). The colloquy based upon compassion, with the help of philosophy and mysticism, paves the way for attaining this sublime goal. Within the context of philosophy and mysticism, geographical borders, cultural, linguistic and racial differences, different living conditions and social and economic situations, all these educate man, far from destroying his creative mind.
Divine religions, having these sublime characteristics, have never imposed themselves on human beings. Rather, they have constantly asked novel and mysterious questions which have aroused man’s God-seeking nature, inspiring him with a philosophical and at the same time amorous quest. Religion aims at man’s love and intellect and man tries to answer the questions that arise, drawing on his mystic and philosophical faculties. Indeed, religion provides the most logical dialogue throughout man’s history, inviting all thinkers and great civilizations to a mutual dialogue with the purpose of attaining truth and peaceful coexistence. This is a valuable goal, which has long been neglected in this world of values and anti-values, subdued to the desires of certain ignoble individuals. Religion teaches man how he may attain this goal by finding logical answers to questions about existence as well as understanding his position within the world of existence and participating in a global and friendly discourse.
Religion and two other valuable disciplines, philosophy and mysticism which derive from it, provide man with inexhaustible power to attain the pure source of existence and to challenge the lower (carnal) self. The desire to attain the source of existence is compatible with man’s nature, and man has been gifted with such a passion that he fears nothing in his quest. This can be the foundation of a unique universal civilization to which man has been looking forward impatiently, even though man today has forgotten his true position in the world of existence. In spite of all love and logic and reason, in spite of the fact that he is expected to act as the image of God on the earth, man commits all kinds of crime.8 Man, though experiencing great civilizations in history, and in spite of his recognition that he can attain immortality by returning to his very nature, is now surrendered to a world of diversities and contradictions. Lacking sufficient knowledge, he has taken this world as the ultimate destination, and created wars and bloodshed. Man, in other words, has disregarded the unified nature of existence, and all these wars and differences are due to his narrow-mindedness.
The truth is that religion, reason and emotion, which are manifested as religious knowledge, philosophy and mysticism, invite man to reasonable thinking based on understanding and love. They give man the courage to criticise and struggle, both of which are essential to creativity in thought and in practice. Using these valuable gifts of nature, man creates civilizations. Civilizations are not the products of wars; they are the results of thinking, love and tolerance. Man begins to build a civilization when he tries to show others that he has a more creative mind, and ideal-seeking spirit and delicate emotions. Civilizations, in fact, are manifestations of man’s reasonable and compassionate perfectionism.
As an approach toward perfection, mysticism asks questions about the why of existence and man’s ultimate purpose, thus inducing the human mind to seek knowledge and explore truth. Like philosophy, mysticism, by offering the theory of the unity of being and God’s permanent casting of light over creation, establishes a relationship between the creator and the created like that between a source of light and the rays it emits. It inspires the truth seeker to embark amorously on the Way. As the rays of light reflected from a source of light wish to join the source, so does the traveller seek to return to his origin. The unity of being holds that there is only one truth and this is the source of all existence, and the whole of existence is a manifestation of the One Being (al-wuj£d al-w¡¦id al-¦aqq). He is the absolute truth and existence and perfection depends on attaining Him and being with Him. The mystic considers existence as a unity, even though it is so diverse.
These diversities, to the mystic, are artistic manifestations of a unique existence. For this reason, the aspiration to light is the central aim in mysticism. Light symbolises knowledge, as many scholars maintain, but this knowledge is different from all other kinds of knowledge.9
Attaining this knowledge, man can mystically reconcile his outward and inward contradictions. This is the call of his divine nature, the same path that Lao Tzu calls Tao, believing that anyone keeps along the natural track, or the way of nature, as the Qur’¡n states, will attain truth.10 In this context, the amorous dialogue which mysticism holds between man, his nature and God is very important. This dialogue is the story of man’s attaining consciousness and a real and permanent existence by knowing various manifestations of existence and diversities. But under what conditions is it possible to attain this knowledge?
Mysticism invites the traveller to a practical dialectic and a discourse of friendship and agreement, which leads to unity in the world of existence. Participating in this dialogue are two apparently contradictory aspects of man’s existence: love and reason, logic and compassion. In fact, the logic of mysticism is the logic of love, and it is a quest and motion for attaining the best. The evidence for this logic is derived from man’s spirit, kindling in him the fire of joining light, so that man is filled with the passion to know, to seek and to experience true pleasure. For mysticism considers love and motion as the substance of existence.11
Mysticism acknowledges the differences and contradictions as it maintains that it is these very differences and contradictions that make it possible for man to attain knowledge and the pleasure of seeking truth. To attain unity, one has to go beyond diversities. True mysticism respects the supreme position of man as image of God on earth, a principle that must be taken into consideration in the foundation of the world future civilization as well as in social relations. It is a principle that religion and philosophical systems have confirmed, defining man not as self-centred, arrogant, and whimsical but as humble, God-seeking, thoughtful, and reasonable.
Mysticism teaches man that the diversities in the world of existence are abundant, but that they are all rays reflected from the light of truth. Monotheistic belief that ‘there is no god but God’ is not exclusive to Muslims. Followers of all religions also hold this conviction, which, in mysticism, is reflected as a unity. A person believing in this unity seeks one thing only: unity with the never-dying source of existence, or logos, the word that the ancient Christians used. Logos, or the ‘Perfect Man’ in Islamic mysticism, is a man who, based on his unitary belief, considers no credibility for diversities and contradictions.12 These contradictions, to him, are only tools of knowledge, not agents of pride and oppression. He views God as the firm foundation of existence to whom everything returns and to whom everything belongs. Such a man will have the tolerance necessary for accepting truth in all its manifestations. He has observed the diversities; he has lived with them, and has himself turned into an existence of diversity without being surrendered to them. It is extremely difficult to be committed to certain people and to judge them justly at the same time.
It is extremely difficult to be wise and to love. The Perfect Man is a blend of contrasts, and this is his greatest achievement in his quest for unity. 13 The opposite of the perfect man is a narrow-minded dogmatist, one that has always been condemned by religion, mysticism and philosophy. In fact, mysticism aims at producing a thoughtful, logical, tolerant and compassionate person, and this is the most beautiful dialectic in the history of existence, drawing man from his inward and outward contractions to the realm of peace and understanding.
Mysticism considers man as the supreme manifestation of the divine word or logos.14 Mysticism too aims at deifying man, so that man, having divine attributes finds life with all its pains and sorrows tolerable and becomes aware of his responsibility. Man is thus freed from ignorance and negligence and embarks, like a prophet, on a daring struggle whose main aim is to subdue the lower self and be kind to other fellow human beings in spite of the fact that he is aware of their wickedness or unkindness. It is for this reason that God says that tolerance is among the most important attributes of all prophets. Prophets were human beings who, living among negligence and diversity, nonetheless had the courage and knowledge to seek unity and invite others to do so thoughtfully and amorously.
If we look at nature and at wildlife, we realise that all animals move toward perfection. This is made possible by inner guidance. But this perfection depends on the principle of the ‘survival of the fittest’. But can this be a guiding principle in man’s life as well? Is being physically alive the ultimate purpose of man’s life or is there a more sublime purpose? Man’s dignity is so sublime that he should not give up all thinking and love, resorting to struggle as the only means of survival. Although various groups and individuals have expressed different opinions about the means to achieve peace and understanding, this diversity itself should not lead to wars. Diversities of any kind should never be a justification for any struggle. In fact, this diversity of religions, mystics and philosophical schools are an ornament of the world of existence, which otherwise would have been plain and dull.
We now present a philosophical approach to the question of the dialogue of civilizations. In Hegel’s view, dialectics is the result of thought conforming to the evolution of the being. In fact the Absolute Idea moves towards internal perfection; that is, it negates itself to return to the self and by enrichment through this conflict attains its perfect state. Unlike Plato’s dualistic and imperfect dialectics, Hegel’s is ternary and consequently perfect. Every definition refers to its opposite and finally is transformed in another conflict. In an indirect and general sense, dialectics is the progress of the mind from the present to a better point in order to reach an enriched state. In other words, dialectics and its greatest result, dialogue, is argument and thought in search of a better choice and progress towards a better being. Dialectics is a dynamic movement that enables man to recognise and reconcile conflicts and to seek the one truth not through wars but through logical, peaceful and epistemological dialogue. That is why dialectics has been translated into Persian as ‘journeying of the mind’, which is the conscious and critical progress towards the truth. This is how dialectics, born of logos or logic, employs dialogue, which is critical and wise speech, in order to realise among the mass of conflicts, which are sometimes is harmony and sometimes in strife, the value of transcendental spirit.
Philosophical dialectic and the perfect man, both of which emphasise attaining the knowledge of contradictions and diversities by uniting with the real source of existence, teach man that unity is the ultimate purpose of existence. Thus they encourage him to tolerate the difficulties and frustrations, preparing him for a daring struggle against the lower self. They shatter man’s arrogance so that he will find the desire to know. Mull¡ ¯adr¡ Sh¢r¡z¢ (d. 1641) states in his valuable Four Journeys (al-Asf¡r al-Arba‘a):
Contradictory attributes like blackness and whiteness, bitterness and sweetness, pain and pleasure may not combine in a single entity due to its capacity limitations. But man’s nature, while being a unitary entity, is a blend of contradictions and the more man moves away from materialism, the better he is able to combine contradictions.15
Philosophy, too, presenting dialogue which is manifested through the dialectic, provides man with the knowledge which gives him tolerance and thoroughness. The diversities in the world are like colours of the rainbow broken up by a prism. As the Sufi poet J¡m¢ (d. 1492) states:
Creatures are like various pieces of glass
On which fall the rays of the sun of existence.
Every piece of glass, red, yellow, or dark,
Reflected the sun in the same colour it was.
All scholars investigating pluralism are of the opinion that philosophy is the product of the diversity of religions, which are pluralistic as well. A civilization, which is based on such a thought, must manifest itself in various forms, sometimes in the form of the civilizations of Iran and Egypt, sometimes in the form of the civilization of India and China, and sometimes in the form of the civilizations of Greece and Rome. But the truth behind all this is man’s unique power to live better depending on logical dialogues and friendly colloquies. Philosophy teaches man to think. Dialectics, in fact, aim at reconciling colourful and deceptive contrast. It is the story of passing through diversity to reach unity, the story of the ascension of travellers who find the world a collection of the manifestations of a unique truth, one calling Him God, one World Spirit, one Nirvana, one Ahura Mazda, one Dainichi Nyorai. It is not important how you reach this destination. What is important is the very act of reaching. Great civilizations have drunk out of the same fountain. Religions are diverse. There are various mystic and philosophical schools. But all this cannot justify the superiority of one group over another, and should provide no justification for transgression. This is the law of existence, and it must be like that.
The art of an artist lies in his deployment of an array of colours. If he were to use one colour only, he would not be able to claim that he is an artist. Different civilizations were born and thrived in various geographical areas. For various historical reasons and geographical barriers, they could not have developed under the same conditions. According to the Qur’¡n, the difference in colours, languages and thoughts provide a means to knowing better.16 Thus all the diversity in whatever area is the product of the experience of various groups of people under various conditions.
In other words, the differences of opinion and outlook result from various social, geographical and cultural conditions, which have formed experience. It is for this reason that differences and plurality would not only prevent destructive rivalry among human beings but must help man draw a more perfect picture of truth. Just because a Jew calls God Yahweh, a Christian calls God Father, and Muslim Allah, does not mean that one religion is superior to another. Philosophy asks man to be tolerant, so that he can bear contrasts and even unkindness, and can himself turn into a set of contrasts. It is the only way he can attain a truth more profound than what he hears and sees. Philosophy teaches tolerance through logical dialogues. The approach that philosophy presents leads to the unique future civilization, a civilization in which men do not fight for survival, but use all their knowledge, which is the shared heritage of all human beings, to live a life which human beings deserve to live. This is going to be a human existence in the true sense of the word; enjoying a dynamic intellect and a heart which has experienced spirituality and faith so that it can go beyond the confines of plurality and repetition, presenting a unitary existence while reflecting contrasts.
All in all, one may say that since civilizations are the products of man’s creative efforts in the realms of religion, thinking and love, they are proof of his being a human being. By finding common factors which have influenced the reason and emotions of man, regardless of his religion, nationality, language and race, and depending on man’s God-seeking nature in spite of all evident differences and apparent contradictions, enmities will turn to friendships through dialogues. Differences will turn to means for attaining perfection and understanding. Within this context, each civilization, while maintaining its own identity, may derive benefit from the qualities and insights of other civilizations. As they say, truth may be found everywhere, sometimes under a fig tree, sometimes in the mirror of a spring, sometimes on the summit of a mountain, sometimes inside a dark cave. To find the truth, you must have the desire to know it.
The man that religion portrays as perfect is humble, kind and God-seeking, a combination of contrasts. If man acts based on the supreme example that religion, and consequently genuine philosophical and mystical schools present, he will no doubt have a better life than he has now. Modern man has taken advantage of the contradictions and diversities to create brutish wars. What man is meant to achieve is revolutionise within, move away from anthropocentrism toward theocentrism. The man who realises his real status within existence and makes all efforts to attain truth in a mystical and philosophical spirit, he is the real winner. Although knowing is accompanied with suffering, but depending on understanding one may tolerate all suffering and make a bright future. Every civilization, while different from any other, provides a reliable course through which man may realise his ideals. The desire for ideals has sometimes manifested in the west, sometimes in the east, sometimes in Islam, sometimes in Judaism, sometimes in Christianity, sometimes in Buddhism. Platonism, Neo-Platonism, existentialism, hermeneutics, fundamentalism, each has in turn entered the discussion in man's historical and intellectual dialogue. What is important is that all these approaches lead to the same truth: they are all seeking the same truth under whose shadow man will have a better life, a truth man has always found it his mission to seek.
That modern man is not able to create great civilizations is because he has forgotten his true status in creation; he has forgotten what valuable means he has in his power to attain perfection, what his destination is, how to think, how to speak, how to love. His reason and logic and love have been subject to deception and evil, and his life no longer smells of love and faith. God seems to have left the dark world he has made for himself. The man who does not know the way nor the destination, who has no provisions, is so lost that he is not able to create anything, as did his creative predecessors. History seems to have come to its end for him. Turning on the glorious pages of history, he does not find anything of value. All he sees is wars, and the violation of human rights. Contrasts are agents of hostility, not of knowledge and compassion. Knowledge has been replaced with ignorance and prejudice and ‘being a human being’ has found a mythological and unattainable meaning, which is only to be found in children's bedtime stories.
The world, which was meant to be a means for man’s spiritual perfection and advancement, has turned into the burial-place of spirituality. Divine prophets, great civilizations, great mystics and philosophers have kept borrowing from each other; not only have they not been at war with one another, but have brought messages of love and understanding. They have experienced tolerance and reasoning and have always urged man to take one step forward. The most crucial need of the human beings in the 21st century is a civilization based on faith. In a comprehensive dialectic, man has taken a critical attitude toward his life and the world around him, has critically surveyed love and intellect, and has found the courage to participate in the greatest round table in history. He should thus be prepared to provide answers to the vital and basic questions, to start a new era of enlightenment in history by giving an end to the era of ignorance. The modern era is the era of learning and teaching, the era where man is thirsty for faith, a faith that will free him from the sorrows of life and the futility of routines. To start this era, man should know the real status of mankind, that he may not attain knowledge of his true being without faith and honesty. He should return to his very own nature, which is the manifestation of that mysticism and philosophy founded by the dialectic of religion and its grand dialogue. This dialectic language is the language of this very dynamic nature by which man ascends to its supreme status. It is for these reasons that prophets are human beings too.
It is possible to be a human being today and live a prophet-like life. Prophets assign prophecy as a mission to every thinking free individual. It requires an artistic struggle, a revolutionary understanding that urges man to perfection. Is it not the very thing that the modern man is seeking? The feeling of being a prophet and having burdened with a mission will bring about a major change in the modern man’s attitude. We must know that paganism is not a name for a specific period in history. We cannot say that it is over now. Today, we witness modern paganism in a very deceptive and oppressive guise. Today we ought to know it and bravely fight it in all its guises.
Prophets, who are human beings, should, based on faith, love and thinking, make a universal civilization, and realise the promise of religion, which is the ultimate goal of history. This is man’s conscious attempt to attain perfection as portrayed by religion. What is important is that regardless of our views of religion, philosophy, mysticism and the civilizations based on them, they all share an idea, and that is the link between God and man for attaining perfection and the truth of existence. The logical dialogue and intellectual colloquy give the human civilizations the possibility to know the contradictions free from enmity and experience a happy and exalted life. To do this, they will have to rely on their sense of criticism and their compassion for fellow human beings. This is man’s course of action in the future for establishing a universal civilization in the shadow of logic, love and understanding. In spite of all shortcomings, modern man knows well that the caravan of human civilization will lead nowhere if deviated from this course. We must therefore try our best to present happiness and prosperity to the future as a gift. The following story from Jal¡l al-D¢n R£m¢ (d. 1274) represents both philosophical and mystic thoughts in a nice manner:
The Hindus had placed an elephant
In a room as dark as could be.
Many people came to feel it,
For they were full of curiosity.
The hand of one fell on its trunk,
"It’s like a water pipe," said he.
Another’s hand fell on its ear,
"No, it is a fan, most definitely."
The third one cried: "It’s a pillar."
Handling the foot up to the knee.
Said the fourth, patting its back,
"It’s a throne, I must disagree!"
Each described the part he touched
For the whole, no one could see.
If each were to hold a candle,
They surely would come to agree.17
1-Qur’¡n 17: 44.
2-Qur’¡n 16: 40; Genesis 1: 1.
3-Cf. Mull¡ ¯adr¡ Sh¢r¡z¢, al-°ikma al-muta‘¡liya f¢ l-asf¡r al-‘aqliyya al-arba‘a, eds. R. Lu§f¢ et al, Beirut: D¡r i¦y¡’ al-tur¡th al-‘arab¢ 1981, vol. IX, p. 79.
4-Cf. C. Taylor, Hegel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975.
5-s.v. Ash‘arites and Mu‘tazilites in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, gen. ed. E. Craig, London: Routledge 1998.
6-Cf. T. Irwin, Classical thought, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996, pp. 98-101.
7-At least, this is true of the Arabic ‘aql.
8-Since man in the Abrahamic faiths is created in God’s image and is His vicegerent on earth.
9-On light mysticism in Islam, see A. Schimmel, Mystical dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1975, inter alia pp. 259-63.
10-Cf. T. Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism, Berkeley: University of California Press 1986; S. Murata, The Tao of Islam, Albany: State University of New York Press 1992, pp. 6-17.
11-Cf. Schimmel, Mystical dimensions of Islam, pp. 130-41.
12-Cf. Reynold A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic mysticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1928; Schimmel, Mystical dimensions of Islam, pp. 280-2.
13-Cf. Mull¡ ¯adr¡ Sh¢r¡z¢, al-Asf¡r al-arba‘a, vol. VII, pp. 181-3, vol. VIII, p. 140.
14-Cf. Mull¡ ¯adr¡ Sh¢r¡z¢, al-Asf¡r al-arba‘a, vol. VII, p. 20.
15-Mull¡ ¯adr¡ Sh¢r¡z¢, al-Asf¡r al-arba‘a, vol. VII, p. 74; cf. vol. VII, p. 70, vol. IX, pp. 90-105.
16-Qur’¡n 49: 13.
17-This is a famous Buddhist parable recounted by the great Persian Sufi poet in his Mathnaw¢.