DAWN - Features; May 4, 2006

Published May 4, 2006

Philosophy in mumbo-jumbo land

By Mushir Anwar

We have more than our share of saints and sages, spiritual guides and gurus, savants of all categories, mullahs, maulvis and maulanas, pirs and aalims — both those on line and those diminishing few who still prefer to work off line with a sustainable clientele of devout manic-depressives — than we can handle, in fact, more per capita than beds in hospitals or girls in schools and they are all doing well, having in their possession the knowledge of incantations that can cure all of our diseases and relieve us of all of our troubles and solve all of our problems except perhaps the one we call the core of all issues and which for dear life we would rather not subject to any kind of divine dispensation lest it worked.

It is not in the fitness of things therefore that we should have in our society any need for matters that subject the cerebral cortex to undue stress. Take for instance, philosophy, in which subject we had but only one popularly known practitioner, the Allama. We were quite content with him and thought he was just about sufficient for all of our philosophical needs. But our friend, Ashfaq Saleem Mirza, who thinks that the state of the nation’s mental health cannot afford even the burden of his thought has very callously and methodically debarred him from this singular distinction that we cherished so much and took such pride in as a national asset.

Nobody asked him to write this book and nobody was interested in knowing what philosophy was since our education system had long ago excluded it from the approved national curricula and few colleges in the country taught the subject as there were no teachers available. Even in my time at Gordon College we had only one, the laconic Prof Theodore Khan, who taught mostly to empty benches in a classroom of five boys and a girl. Things are different now. In the land of believers theology is being taught in science classes and philosophy, naturally, is a pariah.

So when Mirza Sahib came out with his definitive and exclusivist book, Falsafa kya hai, it created quite a stir among a sizable minority of intellectuals who, from their habitat on the social fringe, provide the little credence that the current national jingle of enlightened moderation enjoys. In his lively introduction to the book, Qazi Javed records the role that the formation of Pakistan Philosophy Congress in 1954 played in reviving interest in the study of modern philosophy under the guidance of Professor M.M. Sharif and Khalifa Abdul Hakeem. There was lot of enthusiasm in the earlier period with the Congress holding its annual meets with regularity and publishing the proceedings as well as organizing seminars on philosophical topics and publishing a quarterly journal. But the ‘70s saw the end of this ardour and spirit as the era of ideology began taking shape. Yet as in all dark times there have been men who have kept the standard of pure thought aloft, Ashfaque Salim Mirza has been doing his bit through his writings in serious journals and talks at intellectual forums and even more forcefully and effectively, I think, through his ability to keep thinking men on their toes and getting them involved in uncomfortable questions of our time.

Answering the question his book raises as to what the nature of philosophical thought is, Mirza Sahib at the very outset of his inquiry drops out all suspects connected with transcendental modes of thought, metaphysical enunciations or the large body of theological formulations. He holds that true philosophical thinking began when matter was accorded primacy in human thought. Systems of thought that centred on transcendentalism ultimately ended in theology. Such systems in no case could have any truck with philosophical thought that approaches the social and economic realities as manifestations of the material world rather than of some preconceived high notion that has no rational basis. Thus delineated, this course skirts the transcendental, the mythical and the theological paths which the human intellect has explored over the millennia. On this journey the passenger list does not have any eastern traveller on board while most belonging to the Western tradition are made to disembark one by one as the discussion proceeds from Plato to Hegel, Marx, Engels and Feuerbach. This last thinker, incidentally not so prominent a figure among those he discusses, happens to fit Mirza Sahib’s definition of the true philosopher. Admittedly this is an interesting position but one that no dialectical materialist would disagree with. The book is important for its lucid discussion of the course human thought has taken in the West and its rational assessment from the particular point of view Ashfaque Saleem Mirza expounds.

There is a very scintillating exposition of some of the modern formulations that have become very fashionable indeed among our literary critics like logical positivism, existentialism, post modernism and deconstruction — ideas that are not generally very well understood. What makes this work even more valuable is the fact Mirza Sahib has chosen to write it in his unblemished Urdu. His narration is fluent and the entire technical lexicon adequately embodies the conceptual content.

Ashfaque Saleem Mirza’s book appeared last year. At that time few people knew about a modest professor of literature at the Gordon College who was engaged in a monumental work that probably only a man of his will, determination and love for philosophy could have embarked upon undertaking. He was translating Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy. This great work he completed this year and presented it at a modest though well attended function at the TVO. It is an achievement that awaits public recognition and applause. If sportsmen can be showered with rewards in cash and kind for a day’s lucky score, Prof Mohammad Bashir who laboured for seven years translating this great work and making it available to readers of present and future generations, millions who cannot read it in the original English, and at the same time enriching the national heritage of serious literature, must be rewarded in proportion to his contribution.

These two gentlemen — Ashfaque Saleem Mirza and Prof Bashir — have provided food for thought to those who reject Urdu as a language of courtesans, concubines and harlots, and poets and panwaris, unfit for expression of serious thought of any kind, whether science, technology or whatever.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai

By Syed Shoaib Ahmad Bukhari

KARACHI: Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1690-1752 AD) was one of the greatest sufi scholars and poet-philosophers of 18th century Sindh. He preached against feudalism and religious exploitation, and revolutionised Sindhi society along the sophistic lines of love, tolerance and peaceful co-existence. He was a nationalist with an international outlook. He did not only pray for plenty in Sindh but wished the entire world to be prosperous.

But Shah Latif was much more than a sufi saint. Scholars who have studied his poetry find home-spun knowledge interwoven with spiritual connotations in his superb and scholarly renditions.

His Life: Shah Latif was born to Shah Habib in village Sui- Qandar a few miles to the east of the present town of Bhit Shah (named after him), on Safar 14, 1102 AH ie November 18, 1690 AD. He died at Bhit Shah on Safar 14, 1165 AH, ie January 3, 1752 AD.

His mother was descended from a Sindhi tribe Deera and his father was a descendent of Syed Hyder Hirati, whose son Syed Mir Ali was born in Sindh in 802 AH, ie 1399-1400 AD. The family came to be known as the Syeds of Matiari.

Shah Latif received his early education in the maktab of Akhund Noor Muhammad in basic Persian and Sindhi. He also learned the Holy Quran. His correspondence in Persian with contemporary scholar Makhdoom Moinuddin Thattavi, as contained in the Risala-i-Owaisi, bears witness to his scholastic competence.

Besides, Shah Latif’s poetry contains Quranic verses, Ahadis and Arabic adages. He has described the history, geography, society and economy of Sindh in depth, proving that he was the greatest poet-scholar Sindh has ever had. He was a research scholar. He personally visited the places and met the people that he has described in his poetry.

Shah Latif can rightly be called the pioneer of the modern Sindhi language, culture and society. He is the spiritual fountain-head for the people of Sindh. His message of patience, endeavour, patriotism and universal love has transcended centuries of political upheaval and aggression. And the people of Sindh have faced this exploitation with forbearance, non-violence and adherence to the faith, values and principle taught by him.

His Message: Shah Latif calls for a sustained endeavour for the realisation of the objective of communion with God by remaining perfectly loyal to the ideal of the unity and oneness of Allah and His creatures, humans above all. He exhorts each one of us to toil through thick and thin. He says:

March in the hot and cold
There is no time to sit down
Lest there should be darkness
And you don’t find the
footprints of your beloved

—The writer is minister for planning and development, Sindh



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