Sunday, June 15, 2008

p03 The Seventeenth Sermon

Fundamentalism and Fanaticism Continued

By John Taylor; 2008 June 15, 11 Nur, 165 BE


Let us return to our series on religious fanaticism and fundamentalism. Just to bring new readers up to speed, I am against; so was Abdu'l-Baha, who defined religion as a force fundamentally opposed to what the world today calls fundamentalism. In 1912 He said in Montreal,


"...religion must be the mainspring and source of love in the world, for religion is the revelation of the will of God, the divine fundamental of which is love. Therefore, if religion should prove to be the cause of enmity and hatred instead of love, its absence is preferable to its existence." (Promulgation, 315)


Love, then, is the true fundamental. In every age humans gradually come to misapprehend what is fundamental to Faith. As things worsen, God in the end sends a Delegate Who brings a people back to that essential Sine Qua Non of God's Faith, love for all. Thus the militant piety that appropriates the term "fundamentalist" is in fact the reverse of fundamental, it is antinomian and corrupt.


Ali, the Son-in-Law of the prophet Muhammad, was among the first to analyze how the religious impulse degrades. He was in an excellent position to do so, having observed it with his own eyes. In spite of the outer political victory of Muhammad during His Own lifetime, a dry rot set in early that obstructed the flow of divine love and unity that otherwise might have taken place. Ali held that religion could do this only if only the center and periphery of society adhered to strict justice,


"If the ruled fulfil the rights of the ruler and the ruler fulfils their rights, then right attains the position of honour among them, the ways of religion become established, signs of justice become fixed and the sunnah gains currency." (Ali b. Abi Taalib, Sermons)


Unfortunately, the Sunnah did not gain currency. It fell behind the times; so laggard were Muslims in applying Koranic law that, for instance, they failed for over a thousand years to eliminate slavery and thus to maintain the most basic human right of all, the right not to be a slave. This and a thousand other failures gained for Islam a reputation for the reverse of justice, epitomized in the expression "Oriental Tyranny."


One result is that even today it is received wisdom, taught in universities throughout the world, that the whole idea of rights is a modern invention. It is ignored that rights were central to the Qu'ran and to Islam in its pure state. Rights, according to the West, were unknown in the Ancient world and Europe before the High Renaissance. This was just the age when, coincidentally, Muslim texts become more widely known and translated in Europe.


At the end of this essay I include the full text of Ali's seventeenth sermon, "About those who sit for dispensation of justice among people but are not fit for it." Briefly, he pinpoints the main cause of the spread of injustice and therefore of the decline of love and religion as the rise of unworthy individuals to prominence in society.


Ali, of course, was not the only one to see this.


Plato's Republic envisions a just society coming about by putting every candidate for leadership through the ringer of at least fifty years of arduous screening and education. Abdu'l-Baha's Secret of Divine Civilization urges a more pragmatic approach. Leaders of thought should prove their mettle by showing forth arduous effort in establishing the mechanisms of world governance.


In this sermon Ali says, "Whatever he does not know he does not regard it worth knowing." That is, at the core of fundamentalism is ignorant fanaticism. In modern psych-speak, the leader of thought realizes his inadequacy and tries to overcompensate by denial. His followers then mirror and amplify this lie until it becomes a witch's brew of hatred and incitement to violence. Ali's insight is similar to George Orwell's observation recently featured here that intellectuals are liable to be more anti-intellectual, and liberals more illiberal than others.


Immanuel Kant I think had the same insight when he defined fanaticism "in its most general sense (as) a deliberate over stepping of the limits of human reason." Similarly, he held that moral fanaticism is intentionally overstepping the bounds of law and duty. Leaders of thought from romantics on one extreme to stoics on the other have "brought in moral fanaticism instead of a sober but wise moral discipline." The fanaticism of the stoics was the "more heroic" but that of the romance novelists "of an insipid, effeminate character..." The most honest way to avoid moral fanaticism is to take the path of resignation and faith.


"We may, without hypocrisy, say of the moral teaching of the Gospel, that it first, by the purity of its moral principle, and at the same time by its suitability to the limitations of finite beings, brought all the good conduct of men under the discipline of a duty plainly set before their eyes, which does not permit them to indulge in dreams of imaginary moral perfections; and that it also set the bounds of humility (that is, self-knowledge) to self-conceit as well as to self-love, both which are ready to mistake their limits." (Kant, A Critical Examination of Practical Reason, 180)


Fanaticism is opinion worship. It is a contagion. When fanatics, moral or otherwise, take the helm, they turn everything into a cult. A cult neither knows nor cares what is going on outside. Unfortunately, in spite of the spread of science and technology, our secular press and educational institutions are increasingly cultish. This is evident in their lack of a resolved response to imminent crises like pollution, global warming and climate destabilization. At the root of it all is lack of integrity, the humility to recognize our real bounds and limits, and to start Ex Nihilo by investigating the truth for ourselves.




Sermon 17; About those who sit for dispensation of justice among people but are not fit for it.


"Among all the people the most detested before Allah are two persons. One is he who is devoted to his self. So he is deviated from the true path and loves speaking about (foul) innovations and inviting towards wrong path. He is therefore a nuisance for those who are enamoured of him, is himself misled from the guidance of those preceding him, misleads those who follow him in his life or after his death, carries the weight of others' sins and is entangled in his own misdeeds.

"The other man is he who has picked up ignorance. He moves among the ignorant, is senseless in the thick of mischief and is blind to the advantages of peace. Those resembling like men have named him scholar but he is not so. He goes out early morning to collect things whose deficiency is better than plenty, till when he has quenched his thirst from polluted water and acquired meaningless things.

"He sits among the people as a judge responsible for solving whatever is confusing to the others. If an ambiguous problem is presented before him he manages shabby argument about it of his own accord and passes judgement on its basis. In this way he is entangled in the confusion of doubts as in the spider's web, not knowing whether he was right or wrong. If he is right he fears lest he erred, while if he is wrong he hopes he is right. He is ignorant, wandering astray in ignorance and riding on carriages aimlessly moving in darkness. He did not try to find reality of knowledge. He scatters the traditions as the wind scatters the dry leaves.

"By Allah, he is not capable of solving the problems that come to him nor is fit for the position assigned to him. Whatever he does not know he does not regard it worth knowing. He does not realise that what is beyond his reach is within the reach of others. If anything is not clear to him he keeps quiet over it because he knows his own ignorance. Lost lives are crying against his unjust verdicts, and properties (that have been wrongly disposed of) are grumbling against him." (Ali b. Abi Taalib, Sermons)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have made a comment about one of the Islamic forms of fundamentalism that is still active today?

"The Egyptian chiefs want to become Wahhabi and promote Wahhabi convictions. Perchance they hope to resist European expansion through wars, violence, confrontations and slaughter. However, they are increasingly powerless and ineffective. They use this as a distraction. 'A drowning man will cling to anything.' But it will bear no result, none whatsoever, since its foundation is infirm and not based on divine teachings. These very designs will cause their own division and demise. They must first understand what brought about the progress of Islam and then follow suit. Their goals will not be achieved through political methods or nationalistic sentiments, especially when they are imitating others. The initiator is of course superior to the imitator. 'And they who were foremost on earth – are the foremost still. These are they who shall be brought nigh to God.'[Qur'an 56:10-11] 'And God will never forget the one who has rendered victorious His cause. There is no demise for him, and the converse holds as well. These people will not become righteous at the end unless they become righteous at the beginning.'" (pp79-80)

The source is Eight Years Near Abdu'l-Baha: The Diary of Dr. Habib Mu'ayyad, but it can also be found at Ahang's Witnesses: Volume 3, part 1