"The weak lose themselves in God; the strong discover Him in themselves." ~ Allama Iqbal

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Making Wholes

The secrets of the sun are yours, but you
Content yourself with motes trapped in its beams.
Turn to what truly lives, reject what seems -
Which matters more, the body or the soul?
Be whole: desire and journey to the Whole.

How may we come to create healthy societies in this world?  In what way may different nations cultivate a genuine unity with one another, despite being identified by different religions?  In what ways may a method of education facilitate societies and nations of achieving a genuine integrity, a vital wholeness, and a real collective self?  What do we, the people of a society, need to learn?

In Political Thought in Islam, Allama Iqbal describes how a genuine unity of a nation is not based on geographic boundaries, language or social tradition, but "in the unity of the religious and political ideal; or, in the psychological fact of like-mindedness..."  It is, as Iqbal describes, a unity based upon "the spiritual force of a common ideal" that can bind a people together.  Iqbal emphasizes that Islam itself teaches that nationality is not the pinnacle of political development.  He emphasizes that "the general principles of the law of Islam rest on human nature, not on the peculiarities of a particular people."

Given these teachings from Iqbal, there is every reason to believe that the people of a single nation can come together around shared, common essentials of their one faith, instead of bickering about whose sect or denomination is the only true way.  Given all this, there is every reason to believe that different nations, identified with different religions, can also come together around shared essentials, common to other (perhaps all) religions.  I personally believe that Iqbal was not only showing a nation, but also the totality of humanity itself, how to evolve into a genuine pluralism wherein all people are part of a new social process.

Very significant is the intriguing book by Mary Parker Follett, The New State, published in 1918.  In this early classic of American political theory, Follett outlines several concepts and theories which Iqbal so articulately expressed in his own writings.  On the topic, for instance, of what Iqbal refers to as "the psychological fact of like-mindedness," Follett writes of a "genuine, integrated togetherness," implying a similar like-mindedness.

In The New State is a consistent distinction between the group and the crowd ("group" and "crowd" are her terms).  Follett refers to the latter in various ways, including "the helter-skelter strivings of an endless number of social atoms" which, she states, "can never give us a fair and ordered world."  It is, instead, the group which she argues is based upon a genuine consensus of all persons and an "integrated togetherness" not unlike Iqbal's "psychological fact of like-mindedness" being the key to a nation's self-identity.

This passage from Follett's book, referring to the "helter-skelter strivings" immediately brings to mind Iqbal's admonition (near the end of Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal) where he argues against the chaos of the crowd, and for the order of the coherent group.  He writes:

"Islam is one and indivisible; it brooks no distinctions in it.  There are no Wahabies, Sh'ias, Mirzais or Sunnies in Islam.  Fight not for the interpretations of the truth, when the truth itself is in danger.  It is foolish to complain of stumbling when you walk in the darkness of night.  Let all come forward and contribute their respective shares in the great toll of the nation.  Let the idols of class distinctions and sectarianism be smashed for ever; let the Mussalmans of the country be once more united into a great vital whole."

Very much resonant of this "great vital whole" is the lack of separation between church and state about which Iqbal writes (in Political Thought in Islam).  There is, he says, no "high-priest of Islam."  Continuing, he writes:

"The Prophet himself is not regarded as absolutely infallible by many Muhamaddan theologians (e.g., Abu Ishaq, Tabari).  In fact, the idea of personal authority is quite contrary to the spirit of Islam.  The Prophet of Arabia succeeded in commanding the absolute submission of an entire people; yet no man has depreciated his own authority more than he."

Iqbal's emphasis is apparent that it is the "will of the whole Muslim community," oriented along the lines of a genuine consensus, that is central to a social organism developing as a collective self.  In the last paragraph, he points to the example, par excellence, of how consensus is modeled.  Throughout The New State, about consensus including all and excluding none, Follett is in agreement with Iqbal. 

Iqbal makes it very clear in other writings (e.g., The Muslim Community - A Sociological Study) that the individuals in a society make up something larger that is a distinct social organism which possesses its own totality and evolving consciousness (far beyond zeitgeist).  He shares that the main object of religion is "to build up a coherent social whole for the gradual elevation of life."  The italicization is my emphasis, as I find this definition of religion to be inspired and achievable, if only people could sit still with Iqbal for some time.

The principle of consensus is a key to this process whereby a social whole evolves into being.  Follett makes a point of stating that it is indeed a "process" (her specific term) whereby a genuine pluralistic society is evolved into being, not unlike how a chemical process transforms substances through their combination into something new.  Consensus, then, is not to be understood as a passive, simplistic, and mechanical adding-together of disparate parts, but rather as an active process whereby something new is born and grown.  Social pluralism may then be, with consensus bringing all opinions together around shared principles, gradually birthed (one might say realized) into existence.

Follett and Iqbal share another line of understanding.  Very evident is Iqbal's emphasis on the reality of a social wholism toward which religion can be growing people.  This connects with Iqbal's belief that democracy is "the most important aspect of Islam regarded as a political ideal."  It's clear that Iqbal believed that democracy could be born out of mankind's coming-together, in consensus, with the spirit of religous unity at its core.  In the same manner, Follett writes:

"Democracy is an infinitely including spirit.  We have an instinct for democracy because we have an instinct for wholeness; we get wholeness only through reciprocal relations, through infinitely expanding reciprocal relations.  Democracy is really neither extending nor including merely, but creating wholes."

With further allusions to the "process," and resonating with Iqbal's emphasis on consensus, Follett writes:

"To have democracy we must live it day by day.  Democracy is the actual commingling of men in order that each shall have continuous access to the needs and the wants of others.  Democracy is not a form of government; the democratic soul is born within the group and then it develops its own forms."

She writes that democracy is "done through group organization.  We are sometimes told that democracy is an attitude and must grow up in the hearts of men.  But this is not enough.  Democracy is a method, a scientific technique of evolving the will of the people."

Both Iqbal and Follett are pointing in the same direction, through different cultural lenses.  While Follett's emphasis is very much about political theory, Iqbal speaks to me as political theorist, social craftsman, and insightful cultural healer.

So where does all this lead us with regard to a method of eduation which could support and enhance a social consciousness described by Iqbal and Follett?  Iqbal shares some important points with which we may examine this question.  Turning to Iqbal as our guide, let us question our answers in light of how we now typically think of our systems of education.  It is often by asking the right questions that we can cut through the miasma of conditioned responses.
  • What kind of people and society are we to create with our systems of education?  This is strikingly distinct from simply questioning what ought to be taught (i.e., for worldly success).  Central to this is: How is will, not intellect, grown and evolved (see below)?
  • Are we creating education with the understanding that it contributes to an "orderly transmission" (as Iqbal puts it) of a collective, social mind, from generation to generation, with the emphasis upon the whole, collective social organism (instead of just the individual's elevation and success)?
  • How is an educational method to facilitate society's members of reaching the "highest stage of man's ethical progress" which Iqbal describes as when man "becomes absolutely free from fear and grief" (Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal)?
  • How is an educational method configured to build upon man's "essential nature" which Iqbal describes as consisting of "will, not intellect or understanding?"  This is a major piece of Iqbal's teachings.
  • How might an educational method support the inherent nature of man which includes, according to Iqbal, the fact that man is, ethically, "naturally good and peaceful," and metaphysically, a "unit of force, an energy, a will, a germ on infinite power, the gradual unfoldment of which must be the object of all human activity (keeping in mind the inevitable outcomes of adopting an ethically and metaphysically ill-suited method)?
Iqbal states that "Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a maxim of fools."  He makes clear his stance on this by expressing that education is to create a Muslim character, avoiding "the false assumption that the idea of education is the training of human intellect rather than human will." 

It is clear that Iqbal (as well as Follett) is thinking of something quite different than what most of us think today when he outlines how education ought to be configured and toward what aims.  He was deeply concerned about the social organism of which he was a part.  He saw that, without education which supports the creation of a strong and evolvable social entity, things would ultimately fall apart.

In a manner which few others have so successfully done, Iqbal emphasized the core essentials and principles of Islam.  He pointed to how these should be inculcated into each member of the society, being explicit as to how this is what creates and transmits, from generation to generation, the growth of the human will, the development of unique personality, and the unfolding of a Muslim character. 

The growable and evolvable will, of each and every person, excluding none, is the power and binding glue which enable the evolution of a social consciousness in such a manner that man is gradually freed from the chains of fear.  Free from fear, there is no finality to humanity.  

There in the Simorgh's radiant face they saw themselves.

* * * * * * * * * 
 Many thanks are due to the generous and expert tutelage of Mr. Khurram Ali Shafique in the many high quality study opportunities he offers through the Marghdeen Learning Centre, his The Republic of Rumi blog, in association with Iqbal Academy Pakistan, the International Iqbal Society, and others.  With his guidance, the very important vision and philosophy of Allama Iqbal are reaching many people.  Any misunderstandings of Iqbal's vision and philosophy that I may convey are entirely my own.