The Problem of evil as understood in World Cultures & Systems

World cultures and world systems how evil is cognized: a summary of Hasan Askari’s view from the book Towards A Spiritual Humanism

Ancient Indian discourseevil is “avidya” or ignorance – lack of knowledge. A lack of being. Duality is the source of all evil

Ancient Chinese systems – distinction between function and contemplation. Human mind immersed in functionalism it becomes evil, unless attended by a contemplative perspective on life, world and relationships. Variety of shades and options of emphases between Confucius and Laotze. 

Buddhist – evil is the phenomenon of desire. Philosophically desire is an expression of want, of lack. This lacking or want creates suffering which is evil. 

Jewish – post Sinai understanding of evil, evil is the rebelliousness, the wantonness and the pride within man to erect false idols which are the projections and embodiment of his fear and desires. Jewish paradigm offers a sharp contract between two moments:(i) Moses in dialogue with God, receiving the Ten Commandments (ii) the other of his people at the foot of the mountain worshipping the Golden Calf. It is this sharp dichotomy within the same moment which sums up the entire tragedy and the entire failing in human history. 

ChristianEvil is seen as generic to human nature. Historically Christian conception of evil is expressed in the human vulnerability to failure, to wantonness and towards evil.

Near Eastern Civilizations – Zoroastrian and later Manichaean understanding of a polarity between good and evil.  

Islamic – Quranic insight, evil is “ghafala” to remain unconscious and heedless. 

Philosophy – Greeks – but Hellenistic culture as a whole- the opposite of reason,  the opposite of the rational man, namely, whatever is irrational, wilful or untamed in human nature is evil. Through education and discipline and purification one obtains a rational self attaining to truth and wisdom.

Theory of Evolution forestalled in drama, poetry & symbol

“There are two extremely crucial moments in our modern transformation which both humanists and Muslims and religious people in general have to come to terms with. The first moment which created the greatest upheaval in our thought came about through Darwin and Spencer, namely, the theory of evolution. Let me now make a comment that is going to take us both into the heart of the matter. I totally accept the evidence and the theory built upon that evidence that there is a temporal unfoldment of the material universe, that there is a temporal unfoldment of the various life forms. There is a progress from simple to the complex; there is a mutation, adaptation and survival of the fittest not only in quantitative terms but also in qualitative and functional terms. All this pertains to what I call the collective forms. I would apply even the concept “collective form” to consciousness, language and culture. Therefore, I would go a long way with Spencer when he reiterates the evolutionary principle on the social level, on the cultural level. I would go to the extent of embracing Auguste Comte in his well-known formulation of the stages of human growth arriving at the rational or the positivistic as their highest summit.

However, there is something missing, and that something has been highlighted by those who disagree with the theory of evolution, and who at the same time commit all sorts of mistakes in exaggerating the lacunas in the theory and attempt to rely upon any evidence that might come forth to contradict it. Such a ritual employment of the scientific method to disprove the theory of evolution is to me nonsense – that is not the issue.

The issue is about another mystery which the traditional scientific theory of evolution does not meet. In the absence of any other language I would tentatively suggest that we don’t have a theory of emergence. By emergence I mean the emergence of individuals. We have a theory – sociologically and biologically – of coming into being and unfoldment in evolution of a species, of cultural species, of linguistic species, but we don’t have a theory to explain or help us understand how individuals emerge in history. I am using the word “individual” as applicable not only to those creative geniuses throughout history, but also to those creative configurations of culture – say, Ancient India, Greece, China and Egypt – which are very enigmatic, and very mysterious in terms of symbol, in terms of constructs, and in terms of philosophy. To me these configurations are also “individuals”. “Individuals” are not comparable. Nevertheless, the theory of evolution with all its limitations was one of the first crucial moments in modern thought.

The second great upheaval in our modern transformation was registered by the School of Vienna headed by Sigmund Freud. Here something more spectacular happened because the theory of evolution was forestalled in both metaphor and myth in ancient and medieval times. We have, for example, striking evidence of notions pertaining to evolution in Islamic gnostic philosophy. Both the great Persian poet Rumi (d.1273), and Ibn Miskawa, (d.1030) the first philosopher of ethics in Islam, talked about evolution, and they regarded the philosopher-prophet as the culmination of human evolution. Rumi talks about the development of life, from mineral to plant and from animal to man. In response to the question of what lies behind man Rumi gives us through poetry and parable a fascinating account of the human soul. The ecstasy he expressed through dance was itself a form of evolution.

So the theory of evolution as expressed in the 19th century was not a surprise for those already familiar with the idea running through history. It had already been given in drama, in poetry and also in different symbols. Even the myth of creation was a foretelling of that theory in a very succinct and symbolic manner.”

Hasan Askari : extract from Towards A Spiritual Humanism

A Farewell Wish

Whiter than white, The setting sun departs, Bidding goodnight, Pain in my heart

Hope to see you again my friend, Pay tribute to you as you descend, In your wake, The Sky: Still, Clear, And light, A lone bird takes its final flight, Settling for the night

Earlier I recollect, Strength of your heat upon my chest, A feeling strong, Holding me down, For a moment, No escape to be found

Thanks to you I see the mess, Objects that cause my distress, Shelter of shade, Easy to find, But what am I to do? When these objects I still cling to

Take me with you as you set, Free me from which I am beset, Tell me how when clouds hinder the way your Light still shines through? What am I to do?

Dear Friend of mine, you come from which That is impossible to define, So grant me this fare-well wish, As your light here begins to diminish, Promise me you will return, For my heart without Him would surely burn.

By Musa Askari

Plotinus, father of Neo-Platonism

“This is not a journey for the feet; the feet bring us only from land to land; nor need you think of coach or ship to carry you away; all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see; you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birthright of all, which few turn to see.”

by Plotinus

The Enneads, 1.6 “On Beauty”

Plotinus on Soul – History of Philosophy :

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/plotinus-soul

History speaking to our time

Scientifically we take much note of species within the natural world becoming extinct. We make a great commotion at the discovery within archaeology of some forgotten monument, people or treasure. We peer into history through artefacts and old preserved documents trying to piece together a coherent picture of life in a bygone age as instinctively we feel it has something to speak to our time. The Kondh people of Orissa, India for example and other such identities around the planet are right before us. We can learn and value them in the here and now or are we to read about them in some distant future looking back with the question “why did we look the other way?”. And let us not be so arrogant to think the current world order will persist indefinitely. Who is to say that centuries from now, in some new kind of humanity free of collective fear, suspicion and national interest, an archaeologist will not be looking back at us and asking, “what went wrong?.”

By Musa Askari

The Platonic Illusion

“The rise and fall of Marxism is linked with the emergence of the socialist state. It had emerged with the assumption that it would protect the socialist revolution which will ultimately lead to a classless and stateless golden social order. But the directors of the October Revolution suffered from what we call the Platonic Illusion from which all ideologies, whether religious or secular have suffered, namely to create a protective state to guard what they hold as true.

Plato had thought as he watched his dear Socrates being put to death, by the City of Athens, that by creating a Republic he would protect the free quest for truth, a state governed by the wise and the enlightened, under which no other Socrates would be silenced. Plato failed to notice that by the manner Socrates accepted his death he had showed how he regarded himself and his soul as indestructible, that he did not require any other means than of himself and his awareness in order to protect what he stood for.

Marxism in its original vision did not need to externally direct the dialectical movement of history once the transformed state of consciousness of the individual is reached; it is that critical point whereby the individual becomes both the means and the end of revolution.

Marxism reached then its ultimate self-contradiction when the socialist state made its own nuclear weapon. No difference is left between a socialist and capitalistic state. The weapon is indifferent to all ideological differences. For the weapon the individual does not exist. For the weapon only masses of people exist to be wiped out at any time of day and night. The deadly absurd brink has been reached.”

by Professor Hasan Askari (*see also “Towards a Spiritual Humanism : A Muslim – Humanist Dialogue” by Hasan Askari and Jon Avery.

Spiritual Humanism – a call to repel evil with the Good

Spiritual Humanism is convinced that there are resources within the human soul to repel the evil with the good, that truth and virtue have their own power to defend themselves. We should have long given up the very idea of self-defence by physical means. While other animals were growing weapons of self-defence upon their bodies, man was shedding off all such weapons. See how defenceless our physical body looks compared with other animals as though there are powers, yet unknown, deeply concealed in our soul. How weak does man appear though he is armed with nuclear weapons, and how powerful a Buddha or a Jesus looks with his bare hands having made the choice of walking on the path of Peace.

It appears as though we have accustomed our soul to combat violence with violence, destruction with destruction, physical threat with physical deterrent. We seem to have forgotten how powerful the choice of the peaceful deterrent could be. Spiritual Humanism therefore calls for every party to act first without waiting for the other to act when it is convinced of the principle that the evil be repelled by the good. If disarmament is the good, let one disarm without waiting for any other to disarm first.

Responding to violence by suspending human rights is to act with violence to one’s own moral and social fabric. Life is honoured when the individual is honoured. The individual is honoured when the individual rights are honoured. Only by honouring the life and the rights of the other, our life and rights are preserved.”

by Professor Hasan Askari (*see also “Towards a Spiritual Humanism: A Muslim – Humanist Dialogue” by Hasan Askari & Jon Avery)

Spiritual Humanism – an alternative ideology

Spiritual Humanism is an alternative ideology to secular humanism and racial and religious separatism. We require at the present hour of history a spiritually regenerative ideology with a universal perspective.

By the criteria of universality we touch that purity of the human essence which has been at the centre of each religious tradition but has been obscured by its dogmatic and collectivistic expressions. By the criteria of universality and spirituality we touch that nobility of the human essence which has been the aspiration of secular humanism but has been crippled by its stubborn rejection of the metaphysical nature of that essence. We require such a school of thought as can overcome these limitations and pave the way for an ideological stand which has universal reference, and which can inspire universal hope and confidence. Spiritual Humanism is such a school of thought with the potentiality to transform the world.

Spiritual Humanism takes a clear stand against all forms of violence, against the entire cult of militarism and terrorism of states and groups. It can be replaced by the trust in the power of the peaceful means to resolve conflicts, that truth and justice has their own might to defend themselves. Spiritual Humanism will uphold in all circumstances the life and dignity of each individual as more preceious than any ideology or cause.

Spiritual Humanism is a comprehensive ideological option, a philosophy and a policy of liberation from all that enslaves and cripples humanity.”

by Professor Hasan Askari (1932-2008)

*see also “Towards a Spiritual Humanism : A Muslim -Humanist Dialogue” by Hasan Askari & Jon Avery

Dedication: Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008)

SpiritualHuman blog is dedicated to the work and vision of Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008) who figures as one of the eight important Muslim thinkers in Kenneth Cragg’s The Pen and the Faith and is also acknowledged in the West as an uncompromising advocate for inter-religious spirituality. The blog was created and is maintained by Musa Askari. Professor Askari has lectured and taught at several universities in India, Lebanon, Germany, Holland, Britain and the United States. Hasan Askari has been one of the Muslim respondents to the Christian initiative to Dialogue and figures extensively in the study, “Striving Together in the Way of God: Muslim Participation in Christian-Muslim Dialogue”(1987) by Dr Charles A Kimball.

Hasan Askari’s works include The Experience of Religious Diversity – co edited with Professor John Hick, Spiritual Quest – An Inter Religious Dimension and Towards a Spiritual Humanism – A Muslim Humanist Dialogue (with Jon Avery), Alone to Alone : From Awareness to Vision, Seers & Sages (co-edited with David Bowen), Solomons Ring : The Life and Teachings of a Sufi Master, Inter-Religion to name but a few.

In the foreword to Spiritual Quest, Professor Jane I Smith (Harvard Divinity School – Senior Lecturer in Divinity and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs) writes, “This is the deeper dimension of interfaith conversation to which Hasan Askari call(s) persons of religious sensitivity, a dialogue that leads not simply to a new epistemology but to what he would call a new ontology. A long time partner in dialogue sessions sponsored through the World Council of Churches and other agencies, Askari has been a courageous and sometimes lone voice urging that conversation move to levels at which this kind of transformation indeed can take place. Those who have known him through the years find it no surprise that the noted interpreter of Islam, Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg, has acknowledged Hasan Askari as one of the eight prominent Muslim thinkers of this century(20th) in The Pen and the Faith. A philosopher, a mystic, an historian and a social scientist, Askari pleads with religious persons everywhere to transcend the limitations we have placed on ourselves and to move together to new levels of understanding.”

In the aforementioned study Dr. Charles Kimball writes, “Hasan Askari is among the most active and visible Muslims engaged in interreligious dialogue. Since 1970, he has participated in numerous international and local dialogue meetings and lectured widely on various dimensions of what he terms “inter-religion”…His prominence in the field of Christian-Muslim encounter is noted by Kenneth Cragg, a pioneer and acknowledged authority in the area of Christian-Muslim relations:

“Few thinkers in contemporary Islam have so tellingly explored the issues of inter-religion or undertaken them as strong vocation. Hasan Askari holds a unique position in the search for unity of heart within the discrepancies, real or unreal, of religions in society.”

Dr Kimball continues, “Hasan Askari is a provocative and engaging person, a thoughtful scholar and sometimes an enigmatic mystic.”

Professor Askari has taught at several universities including, Osmania, Aligarth, Beirut, Amsterdam, Birmingham (UK) and has been a visiting professor at the universities of Antwerp and Denver. He was also the Louise Iliff Visiting Professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Professor Askari’s international reputation rests on his vast experience as both consultant and participant at several international conferences and seminars on inter-religious dialogue: Ajoultoon 1970, Broummana 1972, Colombo 1974, London 1974, Bellagio 1976, Freiburg 1976, Beirut 1977, Hamburg 1982, Hanover 1984, The Hague 1985, Hartford 1982, Philadelphia 1986, Amsterdam 1990.

Professor Askari has been the first Muslim to address the Conference of European Bishops (Vienna 1985), and the International Council of Jews and Christians (Salamanca 1986). He has also given special lectures at several universities – Tehran, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Nainz, Gottinghem, Rome, Utrecht, Leiden, Aberdeen, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Uppsala and Stockholm.

Committed to co-presence and dialogue between diverse forms of spirituality, Professor Askari emphasises the urgent need to revive the discourse on soul and promoting Spiritual Humanism as an alternative ideology.

Books by Prof Syed Hasan Askari:

Selections from The Orations of Imam Ali ibn Talib, Hyderabad, 1965 (Urdu).

Foundations of Applied Sociology, Allahbad, 1968.

Inter-Religion, Aligarh, 1977.

Society and State in Islam, Delhi, 1977.

Reflections of the Awakened, Cambridge 1984.

The Experience of Religious Diversity (Co-Editor with John Hick), 1984.

Spiritual Quest: An Inter-Religious Dimension, 1991.

Towards a Spiritual Humanism (with Jon Avery), 1991.

Seers and Sages (with David Bowen), 1991.

Alone to Alone : From Awareness to Vision, 1991.

Contemplation of Essence (Plotinus in Urdu), 1992.

Solomon’s Rings – Biography of a Sufi Master, 1997.

The Upanishads (an abridged translation to Urdu), 2007.

Essays by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari available on this blog:

Religion and State, 1991

The Qur’anic Conception of Apostleship, 1991

The Real Presence of Jesus in Islam, 2005

Please browse the “Spiritual Human” blog for more writings by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari

Please note spiritualhuman[dot]wordpress[dot]com is not responsible for content on links to sites external to this blog.

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