Philosophers do fight in graves

The book's plot is gripping; one is engaged right from the first sentence and the lapse of attention, because of repetition or loss of the plot’s thread, is never a possibility

Reason, logic and science, the three cornerstones of philosophy of Salman Rushdie’s new book ‘Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’, perhaps find a fitting place in Salman Rushdie’s own struggle to fight forces of religious obscurity and fundamentalism. The fight between reason and unreason, logic and illogic, science and superstition, darkness and light, love and fear, beauty and sin, tolerance and compulsion, diversity and homogeneity, pluralism and totalitarianism, progress and retrogression, moderation and fundamentalism, thinking and blind following, are themes that are relevant as much today to Muslim thinking process as it were in time of Ibn-Rushd and his predecessor from the other side of the divide, Al-Ghazali of Tus. Ibn-Rushd is the proponent of rationality, a culmination in the movement of so-called Mutazalites or rationalists. While Al-Ghazali, is a force for religious conservativism and of shedding away all alien knowledge and returning to the one true word of God.

Salman Rushdie has employed the device of fantasy to tell the tale of the two luminaries. The mythical factor inspired by the Arabian Nights is pervasive in the book. Recently in an interview to New York Times, Rushdie said that the Arabian Nights has singular contribution to his writing style and to the instrument of his imagination. The metaphors and allegories that relate to ordinary events in the book could be enlarged upon to see at the historical and political phenomena. The book has plenty of such witticisms where one has to put down the book and think over the absurdity of certain political stances. And at other times the absurdity exposed is such blatant that an ironical smile appears all by itself. The Alif-Laylvi character of the book is enforced by the segmentation of the tale in components composed of one thousand and one nights or two years, eight months and twenty-eight nights.

The plot is gripping; one is engaged right from the first sentence and the lapse of attention, because of repetition or loss of the plot’s thread, is never a possibility. Princess of jinn is enamored, like her father, by the beauty and flow of human life on earth. The life of jinn consist of nothing else than continuous sex and amassing jewels. Thinking and reason are considered afflictions by that world while caprice and whims are things to take pride in. The princess visits earth and falls in love with the philosopher ibn-Rushd who is living in exile in a small borderland town. She adopts the name Duniya and rejoices in the philosopher’s treasure of knowledge and taps all of the aging man’s capacity for love-making. They procreate promiscuously, but one day the philosopher leaves, living her heartbroken. The progeny of man and jinn is spread across the world and it is after centuries that princess Duniya returns to this world to take care of her children the Duniyazat.

The dark jinns called Grand Ifrits are in service of Al-Ghazali through a past favor of Ghazali to one of the Grand Ifrit, named Zamarrud who is persuaded by Al-Ghazali to take interest in questions of God and humanity. Al-Ghazali’s way is to make humans tremble from fear of one true God and make them submit to his injunctions in totality. So Zamarrud unleashes a wave of horror and terror on the world. Duniya assembles her progeny and take to fight the evil. The fight is epic and in sync with the respective strength of both powers. This is a strong metaphor to the growing resistance to ideas of darkness and gaining of momentum of the forces of rationality and reform within the folds of Islam to fend off the dominant factions of fundamentalism and obscurantism.

Ibn-Rushd’s way was of love. He believed in God of universals and not God of particulars. He reasoned for the existence of God from his benevolence. God is benevolent, loves his creature, and provide the means so he exists.  A theme which resonated in all of the Mutazalite movement was their attempt at reconciling faith and reason. Al-Ghazali scorned at them at their heresy of holding faith to the test of reason. His criticism of all human philosophy, and his insistence on being merely a slave to revelation, was the final blow to the crumbling structure of Muslim philosophy and rationality.

Ibn-Rushd challenged Al-Ghazali’s reasoning from fear a century after him. But by that time the regress to fundamentalism has been so forceful, and the forces of obscurantism on such an ascent, that his consistent, viable and logical deconstruction of Ghazali’s thought largely went unnoticed. He, along with his predecessors in rationalist school of thought, was doomed into relative oblivion.

The book celebrates the human power for reason, love, struggle and most importantly for dreaming. Dreaming is a metaphor that projects an inexistent world onto the humdrum reality of everyday. The everyday that ties us to this world also at times make us ignorant to the possibilities of tomorrow. We now live in a world where forces of darkness, fear, idiocy and irrationality occupy all our narratives and discourses. Dreaming is the device through which we escape the mundane reality of ourselves. It is incumbent upon us for the sake of our future that in the fight for lost ground of reason and rationality we don’t dry up our capacity for dreaming.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at Follow him on Facebook 

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt