BY IBRAHIM BOYI, JULY 04, 2022 | 07:00 PM
‘…technology has gone so far in our lives that even as you circumambulate around the Ka’bah, you hear cellphones ringing’ ~Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr1
‘…on many occasions have I seen some people pressing their smartphones as the Friday sermon was in progress’ ~ Ibrahim U. Boyi2
Technology is as old as Man himself is as it can be said to have started when man used one object to lessen the exertion needed to achieve a certain task on another. From throwing an ordinary stone to hit a target like a bird, a fruit, a fellow human to carving tools out of stones, wood and the extraction of iron for highly advanced technologies of simple and complex machines like spears, arrows, axes and carts and so on and so forth up to supersonic jets and supercomputers, technology progressed to this day without a pause and it hasn’t paused nor does it seem like it wants to. All these are driven by a fundamental instinct in man to use less effort in the art and the occupation of survival by increasing efficiency of doing things in general.
However, there are occasions in which the growth of technology is driven purely by aesthetic desires of no utility whatsoever. Technology started with a concerted effort to carter for the most immediate necessities of human survival from what appeared to him brute forces of Nature that conspired against him as an individual as well as group – fears even within human groups existed. To date the basic necessities for the survival of man have not gone beyond food, shelter and protection except for the fact that man has locked himself up in a labyrinth of unnecessary and artificial set of things that he illusorily thinks make him a better being while they constitute a prison into which he has sentenced himself for life and can completely escape from – the ‘enlightened one is, the more is he a prisoner of his own dexterity.
This is why the first tools fashioned by man were for essential tasks like grinding food items, cutting tools, huts of all kinds to defy rain, war machines like bows and arrows, adoption of beasts of burden and carving out boats to travel on waters that we today see in form high level technology of food processing and preservation such as dairy, factories and even sophisticated biotech laboratories for the same purpose of improving productivity and preservation of food; we see the same phenomena in skyscrapers, bunkers, intercontinental cruise and ballistic missiles, sophisticated jet fighters, passenger aircraft, large vessels, subways, high speed trains and nuclear powered submarines.
Other engagements of man, one of which is communication and our central thesis in this essay also require the improvement of efficiency and it is here that technology most visibly turned around to begin eating up itself from the tail headwards like an ouroboros in terms of its primary purpose – it has gone so far that it defeating its own purpose. In other words, in the fields of literature and information, the advance in technology has turned out to threaten efficiency and coherent communication which it set out to improve in the first place.
The invention of ink and paper technology has unprecedentedly increased the efficiency and effectiveness by which men shared their thoughts with their contemporaries as well as in pass same down to their successive generations. Incredible volumes of literature were produced by individual writers in the medieval period, especially in the Middle World because, as scarcely known to many, that world and time produced manifolds of what its western predecessors, the Greek and Romans did produce in all of their history. The enormity of the works churned out by such men of the medieval period, especially in the Islamic World is such that a modern mind cannot bring itself to believe that they were done by individuals within a very short period of time, we shall give examples in the subsequent paragraphs.
‘…there’s this gentleman who goes by the name Jamali,3 he was a onetime Iraqi minister of state… he told me: “Professor, why are you always talking about the past? The past is dead and buried…”. I told him I didn’t think so, it was the present that is dead but the past is still very much alive! Consider a man like ibn Manzur4, just one man who wrote an Arabic dictionary called Lisan al-Arab.5 The work is about twenty-five large volumes and it is the most authoritative in the field, but just one man produced that and it was in the past, in the fourteenth century. Today, I say you cannot do it (even if you assemble a committee)’. ~ Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas6
Professor al-Attas cited only one example and not the most but only one of the most outstanding ones among the works produced in the period between the eighth and the sixteenth centuries. There were the voluminous works of men like ibn Jarir al-Tabari7 who wrote an exegesis of the Quran that is over thirty volumes each not less than five hundred pages and he is said to have said that thirty camels’ load of books could be written as an interpretation of the opening chapter of the Quran which has ‘only’ seven short verses. This was to imply that the Tafsir (exegesis) of the Quran he did was by no means either exhaustive or adequate. The same Imam Tabari also wrote volumes of other works including history and most of his time was spent in teaching not even in writing. Of course, the Lisan al-Arab must standout but only among outstanding works because writing a dictionary requires very strong mental faculties that are required in doing anything that is intellectually worthwhile. On after his pilgrimage to Hajj,, ibn Arabi8 wrote Futuhat al-Makkiyyah9which is today forty average volumes of five hundred pages each. He was also the author of many other works, another, though of far less magnitude but of similar import and significance for any sincere seeker of knowledge is the Fusus al-Hikam10.
One wonders whether those criticising him today have the moral and intellectual rights to do so because it is difficult to study all his original works in an average lifetime. Only studying and actually understanding his original works would give one the moral ground to criticise and even condemn him the way they enjoy doing so recklessly. One of his most outstanding specialists and biographers, William Chittick, argued that the great Sheikh never, at least, wrote the term Wahdah al-Wujud 11 for which many people ignorantly seek to kill him a million times more after his natural death. The term was coined by a student of his own student; Tilimsani, who invented the term and meant pantheism any sense of the latter term. It was about the unity of the attributes of God – such attributes that seem to be in opposition like mercy and ‘the owner of the most painful torment’, we shall come to this one day. Even the medieval and, in rare instances, the early modern Europe have recorded a few prolific writers of incredible capacities like Rudolph Steiner12, Carl Gustav Jung13 and Meister Ekhardt14 to mention a few.
In communication, it can be said that man moved from the most natural form of communication, oral engagement, to use technology of diverse forms to pass information from one person or group of persons to another. Hitting stones against each other to produce a patterned sound, blowing trumpets, whistles, beating drums and royal bands are all diverse forms of technology used and, in some special cases, still being used to pass special messages to individuals, families, communities or nations such as martial music which signals a special military occasion or even, in the recent past, the success of coup d’état. Each message is passed in a distinct and a well-defined manner known to the public. Other messages may include announcements of the death of a king, birth of a royal child, the arrival of a bride or mobilisation for war. During that time, information was scarce, taken more importantly whereas that information which needed to be chronicled relied on the memories of certain persons adjudged to be of high retention capacities and upright moral dispositions enough to be trusted as the custodians of that particular civilisation because that was how it was to be passed down generations through oral transmission. Thus, history was poor in details and not so reliable in terms of its objectivity.
The maturity of keeping information in written form whether on stone or wooden slates culminating in the use of paper and ink is one of the most epochal cornerstones in the art of collecting and storing information or, simply put, an important climax in the evolution of information technology. The later emergence of the printing press and a simultaneous improvement in transport technology threw the intellectual and literary world into a euphoria if not hysteria which reverberated from Peking to the western shores of England and Scotland.
Although a few individuals have, erroneously, marked the writer as a notoriously extreme critic of modernity and ‘modern technology’, I still resist venturing into apologetics and praise these developments, if they are developments, uncritically; I insist on looking at both sides of the coin – nothing is all good so checking the negative effects of everything can be as virtuous as exposing its significance. I am in no way against the evolution of means which is what technology is; that is the howness of achieving things. Its relation to economics and the industrialisation of technology which forced man to change the way he sees the world and himself is a topic of its own which I shall not delve into even though it is exactly what accelerated as well as corrupted the fundamental instinct of technology inherent in man. I also have to assert that, in a way, the gross abuse of this instinct in man in turning himself him against himself, made him assault Nature of which he is an integral part in a process of a continuous destruction. Put another way, I unpleasantly admit the fact man is by nature the architect of his own apocalyptic destiny and he can now hardly do otherwise.
Man, in a collective sense, is continuously digging his grave deeper by his own actions, not only the suicide he commits through shedding the blood of his only kin and kith but in a far broader and a more subtle way by destroying the environment that houses him and, worse still, by gradually weakening his own vitality by transferring it to the machines he invents with his own hands. It is beyond a fact of analytical science but a truth of primordial validity that whichever, organ, tissue or part of the psyche, that is not put to its proper use – does not perform its assigned duty gradually degenerates and either disappears or remains hanging around as a useless appendage if not a burden, probably some vestigial organs and junk DNA came about in the same manner. Therefore, the invention of ink and paper, emergence of the printing press and the invention of a diverse and novel means of transport must have all together made the memory of man weaker, paralysed his limbs to some extent, disconnected him from fellow beings whose cooperation he now feels he no longer needs and ultimately cut off the umbilical cord by which Nature nourishes his body and soul.
Man has become and is continuously becoming a snivelling weakling afraid of nothing but himself and, as a helpless backup, constructed a delusional father figure in form of a government to whom he pathetically cries day and night to rescue him from the cobweb he had woven around himself making himself a captive of his own desires ensnared by the designs of his own deft hands in the name of technology – the father or the government is constantly called upon to provide such unnecessary artificial things. The enormity of the power that humanity surrenders to governments which are themselves helpless is unprecedented and the resulting tragedy is equally proportional. On their part, lavishly enjoying the father figure status unduly given them in a grand delusion and dual deception, governments elsewhere claim to be quite familiar with the plight of man and throw to him rotten chains of promises in a feigned effort at salvaging him. In reality, governments and philanthropic organisations have not grasped the slightest of the clues about the disturbances of mankind, the government itself is made up of confused and disturbed individuals who do not understand even their own problems.
In an unprecedented acceleration through what seems to be a situation in which a few individuals have patented for themselves a property that belongs to humanity as a whole; a socioeconomic phenomenon shrouded in terms of industrial revolution, we have come to point where the entire world has been (inter)connected whereas every individual has been disconnected from his immediate neighbour. So much information is now available at everybody’s disposal that even husband and wife don’t need to talk to each other because they are busy chatting with their friends from other continents one of whom is probably telling a member of the not communicating family about something funny that happened at a particular bar in Las Vegas the night before as the recipient laughs like a fool in Kankia. In my primary school days, I used to know that it was monkeys that chatted; not anymore! The remarks that the maths teacher made on the assignment their daughter submitted in the morning doesn’t matter because they are laughing at a Chinese man eating a live frog on Tik Tok. This is how much information we got today, so much of it that we don’t even need our own information. What sort of forced amnesia is this?
The collection of information is in form of discrete portions incompatible with one another so that they cannot be combined to form a coherent communication or pass a meaningful, useful message. As Seyyed Hossein Nasr1 once put it: ‘we pass around so many words and communicate nothing at all’. Only a total presence of the person makes for a holistic communication; the physical agency is essential in communication, the psychological function of the body is indispensable; there are many things we say to some people via text messages that we cannot dare tell them one on one and in many occasions we interpret messages into something far different from what they are intended to be; this would not happen if the person sending the message were physically present. One singer also sang: ‘it never matters what is said but how it is said’.
We actually set out to demonstrate how technology, particularly information technology, has turned against good efficiency and effectiveness but we then dedicated a few lines to highlight a few details of how the international spider is busy disconnecting real family webs and replacing them with its own which are virtual and mostly circulating either falsehoods or inanities, creating more delusional and paranoiac individuals. A world of interconnected individuals, mostly fools and delusional ones, has been created whereas family units are disintegrating and the bonds of social cohesion are growing weaker day in day out.
One of the most beautiful qualities of the human mind is its creativity and the most essential attribute of creativity is manifestation. Therefore, either by imagination or intuition, our minds continuously generate concepts that seek to manifest themselves through a variety of vehicles such as poetry, prose, painting, sculpture or essaying if not music. We are also endowed with the tendency to keep records of daily events, observations and other personal experiences. In many cases, posterity benefits immensely from the information stored one way or another. I strongly suppose that before ink and paper, such expressions were orally passed down generations in a variety of forms like music, poetry or folklore. With the advancement of information technology to the level of writing with ink on paper, such expressions began to be stored in books and scrolls and continuously bequeathed to successive generations.
Not in the so distant past, our parents kept diaries in which they recorded things like daily personal experiences, strange observations, outstanding events and, of course, any novel ideas that might have flashed in their minds. Through these simple records, people learn a lot about their progenitors and build upon such ideas to weave out new theories, family heritages or discover new phenomena.
For instance, the astronomer of medieval Europe, Tycho Brahe15 observed the motion of the planet Mars and recorded its daily positions in the sky given times for a period of twenty-five years. Another German astronomer, Johannes Kepler16 carefully studied the records left by Brahe and, therefrom, derived three laws that describe the behaviour of any two massive objects moving about each other commonly known as the Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. However, the application of Kepler’s laws is not restricted to the solar system or planetary motion only, they, especially the third law, became a versatile tool in astronomy for calculating other phenomena such as the mass of a star in a binary system if the mass of its companion is known.
That was possible for Kepler16 because his predecessor, Brahe15, focused his attention consistently on one phenomenon and kept a coherent and, more importantly, accurate information about his observations. In terms of efficiency, if Tycho Brahe15 had a more sophisticated telescope, a means of communication swift enough for him to collaborate in simultaneously recording the information about Mars and sharing the same information on a sort of network immediately, it would have taken him less than twenty-five years to accumulate the information he did and the mass of material used for recording the observations, that is papers, would have shrunk into a chip smaller than an average fingernail. This being true, the inviolable principle of economics which describes human behaviour to the effect that anything that is easily earned is always given a low value is also as true as the rising sun. In other words, cheap commodities do not receive any considerable attention. That Tycho Brahe15 dedicated a quarter of a century recording the observation of only one celestial body might be what attracted the attention of Kepler16 to peruse that record with the hope of deriving some valuable principles from that compendium. If many people worked on it simultaneously, there would have been more confusion, rivalry – like that between Newton and Leibnitz a later over the invention of calculus. There would also have been less reliability and trust and the interested audience.
Today, almost every information we want to have is just a click away from us; at our fingertips as people say. Unfortunately, information is not, in itself, knowledge; it is, rather, a raw material that has to be refined, processed, reprocessed and synthesised into a useful knowledge. The greater danger lies in the fact that just as mineral elements and/or organic chemicals can be used as raw materials to be processed into nutritious food in one way or into a deadly poison in another way so can information be extracted from various sources and synthesised into a useful knowledge in one way or into a toxic doctrine in another way. The proliferation of information has made its selection and synthesis into a useful knowledge a possibility with a very minute likelihood due to the presence of a very large number of choices of combinations and permutations in every case and the principles of making the right combination are vague if not completely unknown to a poorly trained mind, not to talk of one already indoctrinated through one of the excessively numerous media of passing information. In this case of the out-of-hand sources and amount of information, another inviolable law of Nature takes a heavily influential effect. That is the fact that as a system grows larger, access to its usability becomes more difficult; this is another manifestation of the law of entropy which serves as a link between information of the internal structure of a system or the arrangement of its constituent parts and its large-scale physical prosperities.
Upon the three basic principles of Nature alluded to in the preceding passages which are, namely; the direct dependence of value on effort, the tendency of creativity of the human mind towards expression and the improbability of the utilisation of large systems, we can see how the rapid advance of information technology hinders intellectual literary efficiency.
Instead of keeping diaries, we tweet our daily observations and the new ideas that flash in our minds and forget that we have posted such tweets after a few days, such information thus gets lost forever. Instead of developing our useful concepts into books or essays, we post them as short ‘status updates’ on social media platforms, engage in verbose and superfluous arguments over them for a short while and then forget them forever. The availability of microblogging avenues on social media has brought about a condition of cheap, easier but haphazard expression of disconnected ideas in a lazy manner instead of developing them into coherent arguments or theses for the benefit of posterity. There is a very much likelihood that we shall not be known by our progeny the way we know our progenitors.
Moreover, in its effort to make easier how things are done, technology or information technology; to be precise, has evolved a means of immediate dissemination of information to the extent that information sharing among people or groups of people has been taken so for granted that it virtually carries no any significant value. In the past, scholars take their intellectual engagements so serious and lay so much premium upon them that they were jealously guarded and passed down generations because the efforts they put in such conferences were not easy.
We can make this obvious by comparing two examples of conferences. One held in Damascus and scholars rode on horseback, camels and others even on their feet from Baghdad, Cairo, Delhi, Timbuktu and other cities to physically avail themselves for the discussion of a crucial matter concerning humanity. The other conference held virtually everywhere and actually nowhere and the participants keyed in through ‘Zoom’ or ‘Skype’ from the comfort of their sitting or ‘study’ rooms from various cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Islamabad, Jeddah, Moscow, New York, Paris and many other cities across the world. It is not a difficult homework to determine the participants of which of the two conferences described above would demonstrate seriousness and concern for the matter discussed, who would take it further in enquiry and who are likely to remember and remind posterity what was discussed and what was agreed at their respective conferences. A range of degrees of values lie between the two extreme examples; from the conferences attended by travelling on horseback through those attended by travelling on coal-powered trains, aeroplanes to those conferences attended on the internet. Virtual court proceedings are being anticipated to become a commonplace thing, I sincerely hope they will be complimented by virtual jails, executions and all forms of punishments.
Furthermore, an unimaginably large databank or information warehouse has been created on the internet to the extent a seemingly infinite amount of information about virtually every subject matter is available at significantly no cost and at the effort of only a few clicks. Information is not only superfluous in quantity but also in forms; textbooks in PDF format, audio books and videos on platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn and many others are the order of the day. Instead of being guided by the availability of information, the enquirer ends up getting more confused than before starting his enquiry.
The volume and diversity present both authoritative and authentic information on one hand and cranky, spurious propaganda on the other has inevitably made discerning the good from the bad continuously becoming a task that is ever growing in difficulty and proportion. In the end, the availability of many choices leaves the enquirer indecisive and doing nothing like the proverbial Buridan’s Ass which is said to have been presented with two forms of haystacks and ended up starving to death due to its inability to decide which haystack to begin eating first. This is one manifestation of chaos as systems grow larger and can be further analysed using either the thermodynamic principle of entropy – the proportionality of the accessibility to useful energy or information to the size of a system; put another way, it can be said to be the fall in efficiency being directly proportional to the growth or evolution of a system or, somehow, in terms of a more general principle known as chaos theory – a mathematical principle which determines how otherwise negligible errors grow out of hand as the system grows larger; in other words, the deterministic growth of uncertainty in the initial conditions of a system as it evolves in time and space. It is technically known as Deterministic Chaos.
The fundamental question is whether man could have helped this seeming descend into the weakening of his own natural faculties, his plunging into an abyss of a morbid environmental degradation, engendering a state of spiritual despair, mental hopelessness, confusion and conflict with the Self: if we look at the case of the history of man in a broader perspective than that of only information creation, dissemination, processing and preservation? I, for one, do not have a decisive and a straightforward answer to this question. It seems to be that the continued existence and survival of man continues to consume up the beauty and simplicity of Nature, which he is both externally part of and internally connected to, making things ever more complex and difficult to comprehend and handle. In religious terms, it can be said to be the continuous Fall of Man into difficulty as it is particularly put in the Quran (li tashqa). From the time man was cast down into this world, he seems to have been in an inevitable descension down the ladder of the virtues of happiness and tranquillity. Whether this descension is absolutely inevitable is still questionable in my understanding of things. I am not pessimistic, nevertheless.
However, I have no streak of doubt that the means of salvation or defying the descension is absolutely individual and the happiness of a group of individuals like families, communities and nations is directly determined by the average attainment of such virtues by all individuals in the group and also by the authority and influence the group willingly cedes to the individuals who are able to attain the highest level in the hierarchy of such virtues. Some of the most disheartening plights of humankind issue from the fact that such virtuous individuals are extremely rare and hardly given any recognition by the rest of the herd elsewhere in the world.
Therefore, we can safely say that the descend of man into the darkness of the earthly prison is, no doubt, inevitable since the Fall of Man categorically means his continuous degeneration in virtues and growth in the pain of separation, disconnection or increasing distance from his own origin which breeds and fosters ever growing difficulty, confusion and despair. This continuous fall or degradation is, on the other hand, checked by the presence of a few righteous and virtuous individuals among mankind and the salvation of Nature in its entirety solely depends such persons no matter how lowly they are being looked down on by the arrogant and vicious majority, no matter how their good counsel is disregarded, neglected and ridiculed as it is often described as ‘meekness and stupidity’ by the arrogant elite whose knowledge is only of how to dig deeper into the muddy hole in which humanity has found itself as they search for the gems of vanity, illusory and deceptive lustrousness of some chunks of the mud that appear so to their visions which have grown blind to the eternal beauty of divine virtues and righteousness.
When man was cast down into this lowly abode, the earth, he was not left alone; he was given a variety of tools among which are those for the optimum utilisation of the environment for survival in the process of pursuing after the meaning and purpose his existence hereon. These very tools are what constitute the universals of all technologies, using such tools to survive is never vicious but the modality of their use and for which purpose determines the virtue or vice in their application. Man is also given the fundamental criterion, the Furqan in the language of the Quran. This is simply the measure of discerning the good from the bad in the use of other abilities he is endowed with including practical action, technology and theory.
It is the capacity to make choices that is the gift which can make or mar a human being. He is given the complete authority to make choices but this authority is not a free gift because every choice made by man is paid for in the currency of responsibility. It is in the authoritative control of his choices that both his salvation and damnation are paradoxically encapsulated like the primeval egg of Taoism in which both yin and yang (exact opposites) are locked up . There is not a setting set; whether secular or religious, sacred or profane, human or divine in which freedom goes without responsibility no matter the level to which western rhetoric of ‘the liberal life’ has misled a people or a person.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that despite its positive impacts on human life as a whole whereby it eases communication between individuals, groups and nations and by making large amounts of data available to those who seek them, it, on the other hand, demands for more efforts; now instead of in obtaining it, the exertion is to be in controlling it, discerning the right from the wrong, the authentic from the spurious and so on and so forth. It also has a negative side which breaks individual bonds, disconnects family units, crumbles social structures and threatens the existence of entire civilisations.
From another perspective, it has fostered laziness in, especially the so-called ICT generation. Many students today pay for readymade projects or theses for all classes of degrees; this happens anywhere in the world; this is one of the greatest threats to education, sanity and the survival of the humankind in general – with false education, nothing, not even technology would work well to save humanity. Furthermore, multimedia dissemination of information such as in form of audio-visual, single-faceted and other graphical forms greatly threatens literacy in its sense of the ability to read and write. Seems what information technology did for man from the most primitive of forms of communication by simple tools of making patterned sounds to books, TV, the radio and the telephone over the years, it is determined to undo in the few years if we don’t use it with due responsibility and appropriate caution.
Technology is, of course, one of the inherent gifts given to man. However, whatever gift man is given man must use with the utmost and the highest sense of responsibility appropriate for the particular gift in question. If man doesn’t use a given gift with its due responsibility in perspective, then man must get ready, or not even get ready because his readiness never matters in this case, to inevitably pay in form of a responsibility that is detrimental to his well-being and also out of proportion as such.
Given time and leisure, we shall, God Willing, write about other aspects of technology and the way man recklessly handles them especially with regards to his own only home – the environment which is the only accessible source of everything to him at the moment.
Born in 1933, Seyyed Hossein Nasr is an Iranian intellectual living in the United States and serving as a professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University. He obtained a BS in mathematics and physics from the MIT in the US and proceeded to study geology and geophysics at Harvard where he finally got a PhD in the history and philosophy of science in the year 1958. However, moved by the desire to explore the deepest mysteries of reality, he found the physical sciences too poor to provide that tool of exploration he needed. According to him, he realised that after listening to a lecture by delivered by the British philosopher, Bertrand Russel. Therefore, basing on the foundational Islamic knowledge and traditional sciences he got at home before being taken to the US, he built his knowledge on not only traditional Islamic sciences but also the essential teachings of other religious traditions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism and many other religious traditions of the East and the West which are major and contain what he refers to as “the Perennial Wisdom”. Upon return to Iran, he held many academic positions including the dean, faculty of letters, vice chancellor and helped established anew, the Iranian Academy of Philosophy which has now been renamed “Institute of Research in Philosophy”. Between 1980 and 1981, Prof. Nasr became the first Muslim in the world to deliver the Gifford lectures dedicated to religion, modernism and spirituality at the University of Edinburg, Scotland. According the tradition of the said lectures, the proceedings of Nasr’s lectures were published into a book titled: “Knowledge and the Sacred” or “Scientia Sacra”. He authored more than 50 books and over 500 essays none of which in modern science of physics which the the skeleton of his formal training. He is one of the most vocal advocates of traditional Islamic values and social ethos. He is also the first voice in the world to be raised against environmental degradation to which he dedicated a book titled: “the Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Conflicts in Modern Man. Ironically, he is a vocal critic of the way his home country is being governed by a novel (which actually considers to be innovative and insincere) theocratic principles in forgetfulness of the actual and pristine principles of Islam. As earlier pointed out, he lives in the US and barred from entering his beloved Iran. His other numerous contributions include helping to organise the first and most of the subsequent conferences on Islamic Education sponsored by the King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. . The humble author of this article is, by name, Ibrahim Umar Boyi and was born 11 November, 1981 in Kirfi, Kirfi Local Government of Bauchi State, Federal Republic of Nigeria. He studied physics and, later, nuclear physics at the Federal University of Technology Minnna, Nigeria. He lives in Bauchi, Nigeria where he teaches at the School of Science and Technology, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi. The views expressed in this article got nothing to do with any of the institutions he formally associates with. His major interests include traditional Islamic and spiritual values, cosmology, astrophysics, reinvention of the African civilisation based on traditional principles of African origin and theories of nuclear structure, statistical physics and mathematics. All his interests coalesce to support his exploration and appreciation of cosmic mysteries and designs. Also, of interest to him are the intellectual and political histories of the Islamic Golden Age and the political affairs of his country. Mohammed Fadhel Jamali (1903 – 1997) was an Iraqi intellectual, politician and writer. He served as the country’s minister of foreign affairs at a number of times and served as the Prime Minister of the defunct Kingdom of Iraq between 1953 and 1954 under the last monarch, Faisal II, who was slain in the 1958 ‘Revolution’ by the armed forces under the leadership of Brig. Gen. Abdel Kareem Kassem and Col. Abdulrahman Arif. It was an immoral mutiny, pure and simple. Afterwards, Mr. Jamali took a professorial chair in the Philosophy of Education and Islam at the University of Tunis and retired in the mid-1980s. During his academic carrier at the University, Professor Jamali, of the reformist inclination, brought forth to teaching, theory and practice most if not all the ideas he developed during his stay within the political circle in Iraq which included several dialogues for mutual understanding between the Sunni and the Shia Islamic worlds. His dual parentage – Sunni and Shia – parents somehow, rightly made Jamali feel entitled to advance such dialogues. Lisan al-Arab roughly translates into ‘Tongue of the Arab’ or ‘Arabic Language’ is, however, a compendium of Arabic lexicography written in the 14th century and, according to scholars, still remains unrivalled. Muhammad ibn Mukarram ibn Ali ibn Ahmad ibn Manzur al-Ansari (c. 1233 – 1312) was an Arabic lexicographer, jurist, poet and a historian who commented on the histories of several kingdoms and states such as Damascus, Baghdad, etc. He once served as the chief judge of Tripoli in modern day Libya. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is a Malaysian intellectual and literary genius born in 1931. After training at the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he resigned from his commission in the Imperial Army to enrol into the National University of Malaya where he studied Arabic and Malay literature and, as his interest in spiritualism kept growing since his days at Sandhurst, he proceeded to obtain a PhD in philosophy from the McGill University. He has written a large number of books in English, Arabic and the Malay languages. His subjects of interest include Islamic mysticism, Sufism, Malaysian art, history and literature. He is, like Dr. Nasr introduced in note 1, one of the few competent authorities and the most vocal advocates of traditional Islamic values in the world today. A pioneer in the concept of the Islamisation of Knowledge, his epistemology is built upon the training of the mind, body and soul in accord with the pristine principles of Islam as found in the Quran and the Sunnah. His published works include: “Islam and Secularism”, “the Islamisation of Knowledge”, “the Concept of Education in Islam” and “the Prolgomena to the Metaphysics of Islam” among dozens of others. Being an expert in literature, linguistic proficiency is the bedrock or the major vehicle for the conveyance of his message. In his analyses and syntheses, he often deploys the scalpel of wisdom and meanings of key terms along with the stitch of adab which, in the way he uses it, does not simply mean etiquettes only. He is the pioneer director general of the Malaysian government thinktank, the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilisation – ISTAC, which he helped to establish in affiliation to the International Muslim University of Malaysia. Like Dr Nasr, he is a pioneer member of the technical committee that organised the first Conference on Muslim Education sponsored by the King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah. Muhammad ibn Jarir ibn Yazid al-Tabari (c. 839 – 923) also known as Abu Ja’far was a Persian Islamic Scholar who hailed from Tabaristan in present day Iran. He was the first scholar ever to put into writing the systematic one verse after another interpretation of the Holy Quran – exegesis. It is for this reason some people call him “Imam al-Mufassirin”, meaning leader of all interpreters or exegetes. Numerous exegeses of the Holy Book were subsequently made by many scholars such as Imam al-Qurtabi, ibn Kathir, Imam Suyuuti and so on and so forth. However, most of the latter exegetes focused on one method or another like exegesis by hadith, by linguistics and by supporting an explanation of one verse by the use of another verse from the Quran. Others represented particular schools of thought such as the al-Khashshaf of Imam Zamakhshary which focused on a cutting edge understanding the Arabic language and literature both pre – Islamic and post – Islamic but the popularity of his magnificent work and that of al-Jubba’i waned to oblivion when the school of thought they represented, the Mu’tazila, went out of favour from authorities and the majority Muslim Ummah after the rise of Ash’arism, but some scholars from all schools of thoughts still occasionally refer to them when dealing with difficult linguistic terms or expressions. In contrast to such narrow or, rather special approaches, al-Tabari used all methods; linguistic, hadith and history. One scholar described his work as the good, the bad and the ugly in terms like “Tabari’s exegesis contains both the best and the worst interpretations”. It is accused to have incorporated so much Isra’iliyyat, or Judeo-Christian sources which are not condemned as bad by scholars all together. It is said that ibn Jarir told his students that thirty camels’ load could be written as an interpretation of the opening chapter of the Quran alone; a way of saying that even though his work ran into, at least, forty, fair-sized, modern volumes, it was just a very short summary of the Holy Book. From the little I know about it, I wouldn’t take side with his above critic, I can only say that Imam al-Tabari did a great service to humanity in bringing to light the meaning of the Islamic Revelation. That was not all, Imam al-Tabari also wrote an equally large corpus on the “History of Prophets and Kings”. Just one man, to lay an emphasis. Muhy al-Din Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Arabi (1165 – 1240) simply known as ibn al-Arabi is unarguably the greatest spiritualist in Islamic history. It is the reason he is given the honorific title of Sultan al-Arifin (leader of all spiritually learned persons). He was one of the first scholars to expound Sufism in theory and equally teach it in practice. His central and largest work will be spoken about in subsequent notes. Now it suffices to say that he influenced many other Sufi masters both in the Eastern and Western lands of Islam. Notable masters influenced by him included his immediate students like Muhammad Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and al-Tilimsani, others influenced through transmission included the great Persian mystic and mystical poet Jami, Mulla Muhammad Shirazi, commonly known as Mulla Sadra and so on down to Hadi Sabzivari and contemporaries like Seyyed Nasr and Syed al-Attas. Futuhat al-Makkiyyah: I find it quite essential to speak a little about one of the greatest and yet most controversial works of ibn Arabi based on which many who do not even have the patience, capacity and wisdom to study castigate him. The title is often translated as “Makkan Revelations” though the translation is neither wrong nor adequate to unveil the message shrouded in the Arabic terms. However, ibn Arabi is himself is said to have said that he got the inspiration to write this work, his magnum opus, during a pilgrimage in Makkah. As C. G Jung, to be discussed later, said in his “Red Book” that all he had written in his life was a scientific and theoretical expression of an inspiration he received in one intuition during a certain “encounter with my own Soul”. This obviously applies to ibn Arabi because the writing of Futuhat spanned through years of his life. It runs into about forty modern volumes of five hundred pages each and its method is rather said to be eclectic in nature because some sections are in prose, others in poetry, some in deep allegory, idioms and other metaphors of high mystical depths. This is a work that can take an average student a lifetime to study an understand. How do we then trust the pulpit sheikhs who castigate him or even praise him that they actually know him when only one work of his is enough to be a lifetime subject for them? Fusus al-Hikam is a moderate sized work that is just a few hundred pages of modern standards. It is designed in form of twenty-seven chapters each dealing with the characteristic values and virtues of a prophet of God beginning from Adam. It is often translated into the English language as “Bezels of Wisdom” but I prefer the Roses of Wisdoms, it can also be called the Wisdom of Revelation, Wisdoms of the Prophets, etc. It is ibn Arabi’s kind of extraction from a large corpus, the wisdom recommended for those interested in climbing up the stages of the spiritual ladder. I am ignorant of Madarij al-Salikin written by ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah but it seems to me they have similar objectives which are, together, opposites of what the agnostic Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi wrote and titled “Tricks of the Prophets”. The main objective of ibn Arabi’s teachings is to help any sincere seeker of knowledge attain the highest station a human being can ever reach. He called it “Insan al-Kamil” which critics translate as “Perfect Human Being” to imply that the Sheikh claimed perfection which is the attribute of God only. I rather describe it as the Fullest Human Being. This central objective of his seems to have inspired Syed al-Attas’ philosophy of education as it is implied in the description he made of the purpose of Muslim’s education as the “Islamisation of the Body, Mind and Soul”. Wahdah al-Wujud is one of the most controversial issues regarding ibn Arabi and Mansur al-Hallaj whereas the term never existed in the literature of the Islamic world during the lifetimes of both Hallaj and ibn Arabi. That, contrary to popular claims, al-Hallaj was never charged with pantheism even though the charge against him was purportedly a heretic mystical statement against which the respected mystic, Junaid al-Baghdadi, warned him on several occasions. Nevertheless, worse heretics had lived in peace during both the Umayyad and the Abbasid dynasties before and after al-Hallaj. Some of them, like the most impolite of them, Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, were well accommodated and respected by the palaces. The story of how charges were cooked up against al-Hallaj to get him executed for the political suspicion of associating with the Qarmatians is a long one. The term, Wadah al-Wudjud, was first coined by Afif al-Din Tilimsani in an effort to espouse the teachings of ibn Arabi who was a teacher of his own teacher, al-Qunawi, precisely. Moreover, contrary to what critics say the term means, that is absolute pantheism, Tilimsani meant so by the term. He was actually addressing the question of the seemingly opposing attributes of God. This difficult question still arises a lot of controversy in theodicy and the lack of understanding of the issue has turned and is still turning people, especially in the West, against religion and against the Concept of God. It is the difficulty in understanding how the attributes of mercy (tashbih) and the attributes of majesty (tanzih), the latter of which being seen by many people as attributes of wickedness, be united in one Being, namely, God. You often hear an averagely ‘enlightened’ person questioning why an all-good God would create a world in which there is evil and suffering. Here, ibn Arabi insisted that such attributes were not only real in an ontological sense, but that they were also different aspects of one thing that can only be perceived as such by an ordinary mind; the unity of being Tilimsani meant was the unity and reality of the attributes of mercy and majesty. A lot can be written about this too, but we hope that the fundamental misconception sometimes engendered by deliberate twisting has been cleared to some extent. Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925) was an Austrian architect, philosopher and sculptor who taught and copiously wrote from peculiar spiritual perspective rooted or, rather, inspired by the post renaissance German idealism with pinches of pseudoscience. He called his teachings theosophy but it is now more commonly known as Anthroposophy. It is not the quality of teachings that matters to this article but the volume of work he was able to churn out alone with a lifetime. He left four hundred and forty-two authenticated books of his; more than a lifetime study for an average GenExer. Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist who was, along with Sigmund Freud and others, the inventor of the relatively new field of psychoanalysis. The man I consider a tree in the forest that does not belong to it because his teachings, works and thoughts were all completely out of place and time with the Europe in which he lived and the time he lived was a friend and protégé to Sigmund Freud. However, the duo had to ultimately part ways due to Freud’s not only excessive and fanatical materialism but also his vehement intolerance to anything beyond that and, on the other hand, a deeper realm of reality was forcing itself upon Jung’s mind. He was beginning to feel discontented with Freud’s colouration of every human behaviour and the structure of the human psyche with material sexuality. Jung perceived a deeper and kind of a spiritual aspect of the human mind that is far greater than the individual human being and his entire history. He called this oceanic source of mental phenomena the “Collective Unconscious”. As they parted ways with his former friend and master, Jung continued to work based on his conviction in the treatment of his patients, design and delivery of his lectures and all his documented writings. Like ibn Arabi, Jung cannot be understood by reading a few lines. A particular foundation is set up by his heirs for the publication of his writings and lectures as “the Collected Works of C.G Jung” in form of essays that run into volumes larger than some average books; a good example is Volume of this series titled “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology”. The amount of innovative work he churned out about just the collective unconscious is just incredible for a mind of his time and place. Meister Eckhardt (1260 – 1328) was an outstanding Catholic priest, a German. He was a Christian mystic who, like Saint Francis of Asisi, dedicated his energy and entire lifetime to ridding Christianity of heathenish, polytheistic and, the strongest of his time, materialistic tendencies. He understood very well that the encroachment of materialism into any religion is a signal of the death of that religion. People put strong arguments against this fact in terms of Islam but refuse to acknowledge the fact that Islam is very much alive but real Muslims are continually dying out scene. However, his Latin works run into only some dozens because he was a practical person focused on his own people. Therefore, most of the volumes of his work were in form of practical sermons written in vernacular (German) but he did incredibly with respect to any modern ICT age teacher or writer. Special about Tycho Brahe is the persistent patience of putting his eyes on one object for a period of twenty-five years and keep accurate records of such long period of observation. At the time of Brahe, no one had yet turned any optical aid to the sky, so he virtually trolled after the planet Mars with naked eyes and, in analyses, with the help of only archaic measuring and positioning instruments like the sextant and the astrolabe. The kind of patience can hardly be imagined by a member of the 2go generation who demands for everything including, or even most of all, great wealth at a click. Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) was a German astronomer who briefly served as an assistant to Tycho Brahe and after the death of the latter, he perused the twenty-five year long record of Mars’ vicissitudes with great patience and finally formulated three laws of planetary motion which became not only laws of planetary motion but laws governing the motion any two objects revolving around each other. It is now an indispensable tool in astronomy especially in the analyses of binary star systems. Kepler’s laws inspired the famous Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. It can be simply said that the differences between Newton and Kepler are that Kepler bothered himself with only space and time analysis which, of course, had to take speed into cognisance. He did not bother himself to quantify the force keeping the two bodies together, trace its origin or investigate its nature all of which Newton did.
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05 July 2022
28 February 2022