BY DR.MOHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH
It is rarely that one is able to realize that man’s greatest sin is being – to claim autonomy and idolize self will or attachment to sense of agency. At such rare moments one can appreciate why the first question is not “Why is there being rather than nothingness?” but “Is it just to be?” for Levinas, arguably the greatest Jewish philosopher of the postmodern world. For him the human is an “unreasonable animal” because it “cannot not admire saintliness. . . that is, the person who in his being is more attached to the being of the other than to his own.” Contrary to the laws of being, or first truth of ontology as “the struggle to be” ethics is “against nature because it forbids the murderousness of my natural will to put my own existence first.”
The Hindu Right has been premised on othering Muslims and in turn the most influential Islamist ideologue has construed Islam as an ideology in opposition to the other identified as Hinduism/West. The dialogue between Muslim and Hindu right didn’t ensue for political and not religious reasons. Or it is the case that they are vowed to crush each other? Let us analyze what grounds the premise of mutual hatred/othering and judging. Economic, political and other interests are added later to justify the same. The failure to realize Who am I is at the root of fear of the other and what a disaster when influential ideologies are premised on this fear, this blindness.
A few points to diagnose if we suffer from the syndrome of othering/judging and thus complicity in war making and why we can’t judge those who have betrayed us, who have stung us and why our genuine complaints against colleagues, rival professionals, other gender, other sects, other faiths, other philosophies, other nations don’t warrant judging them but only judging the wrong, vice or sin in them which we in turn are guilty of in a way.
The world isn’t divided into Muslims and Kafirs/non-Muslims but, as Mufti Menk notes, not-yet Muslims or we may better say would-be-Muslims/anonymous Muslims and none can claim to be a Muslim if understood in the sense that one has found straight/final path and needn’t, in every nemaz, pray for being on the straight path. To find/witness truth requires openness to truth/other/not-yet which is a life long task requiring vigil against losing one’s wicket till the last breath. Other than prophets who can scan heavens and pinpoint a person destined for hell, a proper kafir who veils/rejects saving truth despite seeing blinding evidence?
“Have good opinion of everyone” said Ibn Arabi. Buber’s classic Hasidism and Modern Man should be compulsory reading at the time of war for politicians. Here are some timely reminders from it. “God does not look on the evil side,” said one zaddik; “how should I dare to do so?” He who lives in others according to the mystery of humility can condemn no one. “He who passes sentence on a man has passed it on himself.” “He who separates himself from the sinner departs in guilt. But the saint can suffer for the sins of a man as for his own.”
“How can you say of me that I am a leader of the generation,” said a zaddik, “when I still feel in myself a stronger love for those near me and for my seed than for all men?” That this attitude also extends to animals is shown by the accounts of Rabbi Wolf who could never shout at a horse, of Rabbi Moshe Leib, who gave drink to the neglected calves at the market, of Rabbi Susya who could not see a cage, “and the wretchedness of the bird and its anxiety to fly in the air of the world and to be a free wanderer in accordance with its nature,” without opening it. Zaddik Rabbi Rafael said, “If a man sees that his companion hates him, he shall love him the more. For the community of the living is the carriage of God’s majesty, and where there is a rent in the carriage, one must fill it, and where there is so little love that the joining comes apart, one must love more on one’s own side to overcome the lack.”
God has a place for the wicked, sinning people. As Buber notes that the Mishnah says: “There is no man who has not his own hour.” “Even the wicked man has his own hour, when he devotes himself to the Creator,” though he may only speak “one word” to Him “in perfection,” “for not as chaos did He create him.”
Were there no such moment in the life of the most wicked, he would not have been created at all. And it is to this moment, this single holy word, this single holy act, that God looks forward. How could man forget this! He must not be fastidious where God is not so. It is related of the Rabbi of Sassow that at midnight, when he was deep in the study of the Law, a drunken peasant rapped at his window and demanded admittance. At first the Rabbi was annoyed at the interruption, but then he remembered: “If God suffers him in His world, then he must needs be there; therefore I too must suffer him in my world.” He let him in and prepared a bed for him. On another occasion he was reproached with having given some infamous person all the money he possessed. “I also am not good,” he said, “and yet God gives me whatever I need.” God wastes His love even on the most wicked; how then may man manage his own with rigid accounting according to honour and merit! “The perfect Zaddik,” teaches the Baalshem, “in whom there is no evil, sees evil in no one.” Similarly, the story goes of Rabbi Susya, the great ecstatic and “fool of God,” that even when someone committed an evil in his presence he would only see the good side of the man. According to a legend he achieved this stage because, on one occasion, when in the presence of his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, he attacked a habitual sinner asking how he was not ashamed to confront the holy man, the latter blessed him that he might thereafter see only the good in everyone. According to another account his attitude was to perceive the sins of others as being his own and to reproach himself with them.”
For not so perfect, the Baalshem expounds the following complementary teaching: “If someone happens to see something sinful or to hear about it, let him mark well that there is in him a minute quantity of that sin and let him set about putting himself right. . . . Then the sinner too will, if you draw him into the same unity with you, since all are One Human Being.” Buber notes elsewhere “The simple man, whom the hasidic teaching praises, has not a particle of self-consciousness. He would consider himself ridiculed if told that he was chosen.” What about our sworn enemies? Rabbi Yehiel Michal of Zioczov, a short time before his death, ordered his sons to pray for the well-being of their enemies. “And do you think,” he added, “that this is not divine service? It is a service greater than all prayer.” When religion becomes ideology we have deadly wedding of State and religion in nationalist Zionism or ISIS severed from what was moral-spiritual call for love of Zion or establishing Divine Governance.
Islamic tradition, especially the Shi’ite framing of it, extols the virtue of condemning what is to be condemned. Few journalists/writers pass this test but no spokesperson of any party, I fear. On being told isn’t it too much when the adversary kept on cursing and he kept on praying for him, Imam Ali replied that if he doesn’t tire of cursing why would he tire of praying. There is no Sunni historian who takes pride in recounting strife and State sponsored practice of cursing reigning Imam. But bearing witness (saying first kalima or shahadah) requires calling spade a spade and noting how it is, for instance, interests of Capital/Weapons Industry/Class that inform war hysteria as documented in the classic Nineteen Eighty Four, that sheds blood in Syria, Palestine and Kashmir and on all the borders and censures Sufism and many flowerings of Islamic tradition in such Islamic States as Saudi Arabia. We need to condemn will to condemn. We are commanded to hate yielding to propensity to hate or condemn sin in condemning the sinner.
During these times of strife and ill will let us recall there are people like Woodhouse about whom Muggeridge wrote: “He is a man singularly ill-fitted to live in a time of ideological conflict, having no feelings of hatred about anyone, and no very strong views about anything. In the behaviour of his fellow humans, whoever they may be, he detects nothing more pernicious than a kind of sublime idiocy, and in commenting on public affairs rarely goes further than expressing the hope that this or that august personage might be induced to return to is paddled cell. I have never heard him speak bitterly about anyone – not even about old friends who turned against him in distress. Such a temperament doesn’t make for good citizenship in the second of the Twentieth century.” And elsewhere we find described “a man who had an unkind word for no one, to whom everyone warmed on sight, and who briskly set about bestowing more fun, laughter and happiness upon the human race than anyone else this century.”
Given Socratic dictum that no man is willfully bad and people wrong their own souls because of ignorance of their true selves or rights/dignity of divine image in us (although theoretically they know they are willing agents of Satan they havn’t realized what this knowledge entails), let us pray for the self righteous sick minds/souls in anchors/journalists that have vowed to destroy the Idea of India by othering its minorities and its neighbours and betraying own ideals as embodied in Jaina Syadvada (may be ism) and ahimsa, Hindu scriptural nishkam karma (self-less action), samata (equanimity) and truth force (satyagraha) and Buddhist eight fold path and middle path across traditions that all imply “judge not .” Pakistan too needs to be saved from those who are not purified of the dross of impure desire/attachment to idols of land/ideology/sect and judge the whole world of great cultures and philosophies as impure/other. War within (against ego) is to be fought well so that war without becomes a just war that indeed makes for peace.
Dr. Mohammad Maroof Shah is an author and Columnist, interested in the the interface of philosophy, literature, religion and mysticism