Thursday, September 6, 2012

Conversation on Islam : Philosophia Perennis

Dear  Mazeni,

Young man, you seem to be everywhere !
I was rummaging through Kapar, Klang yesterday [ my afternoon off from the hospital ], looking at some cool sheep called the Mulberry sheep of Barbados. They are sheep but look like goats, with little hairs ! It seemed they are resilient for our climate and I intended to get a stud or two for my 'hobby' farm, to cross with the local Malin breed...I stumbled upon a man, with a taliban-like janggut, a mafia in the local lembu business, forgot his name..he said he know you and you have a significant 'lembu presence' in  Kapar , near his. Mashaallah ! One of the best and safest pair of hands on this side of the southern hemisphere and the numero uno paediatric cardiology brain in the country, dabbling in lembu ! The agric people should have given you the NFC grant rather than to the husband of that MP from Menglembu. You would have been more substantive  and definitely not an embarassment all round to the government of the day !

Today, I was as usual, after Friday prayer, surfing thru the net for more info regarding the triad of  Martin Lings, Rene Guenon and Fridjouf Schuon plus minus  Seyyed Hoessin Nasr and lo and behold  I came across your most wonderfully written passage on Titus Burckchardt,  aka Shaykh Ibrahim, the noted sufi scholar.

OK, let me go straight to the jugular since both of us are busy people:
Years back when I was in 'communication term' with Prof Wan Mohd , I used to asked him about Martin Lings, who probably wrote one of the best , if not the most readable  Sirah on the Prophet. He just died at that time. The good prof said, " insyaalah, may god help him, he is a perinealist !".....the good prof sounded negative to me. Now the good prof does not dare come near me...[.I am an academic pariah probably, or he would suffer drastic pay cut, writing in my column !]

Later,reading about them, on the superficial level, with all that jazz about 'transcendance of religion' , at the superficial sounds  more negative.

I am a fan of Prof  SeyyedHoessin Nasr and spent hours going through his utube  lectures , and reading about him elswhere. I find that if we  do  allow ourselves to get beyond our superficialities , and our inherrent need to isolate and to compartmentalise these rarefied individuals into narrow confines, our view of them will not fall  into the narrow perspective as the madrasah's certainly know what I mean , I cannot put it into words....

Let me rephrase the question :
I want to 'bersangka baik' in the main.
From my limited understanding my take on them is that, what these people are actually saying  was ,secularism and materialism are the cause of man's heedlessness in modern time;
this heedlessness is not bringing us any where  except a path of universal specie self-destruct from the moral as well as material sense....let alone from the spiritual sense.
It is time that humanity go back to the great religions of the past [ traditions] that share many common threads.
That is the gist of their argument or position.

It is hard to belief that at their rarefied level that they are ignorant.
'Political correctness' maybe, given that Schuon, Lings and Rene , all share a Judeo-Christian perspective, before becoming Muslims. As for Nasr, my only guess would only  be 'intellectual arrogance' combined with trying to pander to a Western audience who only want to listen what is sweet music to them. Or otherwise lack of intellectual honesty in calling 'a spade a spade'.

In this perspective, I am sad that Tariq Ramadan seems to be following the same trajectory, though in a different landscape.....I pray not. 
We do not want to lose him, but we would be losing him if he carries on with his hare- brained project of 're-interpretation of the Quran.' ! 
[ ]

......Of course some imaginative dissenting people, ulama'  and scholars included,are saying that these triad et al are saying the great religion of the world are all the same in essense.
there lies our problem  with the periennial philosophers......
then you have the bandwagon of clowns  and pseudo intellectuals from our local  nusantara breed, such as MM,  Kairi et al  etc and etc saying 'ah, all religions are the same, at the highest level' !!
Very suave politically correct position ! Good for election and getting votes...
Indonesia, our neighbour, seem to be a  very fertile breeding ground for this kind of pseudo intellectualism.

I think, and I hope that  we misread or overead these triad's objective. Or I may be wrong.

Nik Howk


Dear Nik,

Salam aidil fitri. I apologize for this late response to your e-mail. I do not access e-mails at home and it happened that yours came during the long hari raya break. When I first read it on coming back to office, I thought I need to digest a bit before responding, ya lah, not the usual kind of e-mail.

1)Like you and many others, I have learned a lot from the perennialist in terms of understanding our religion(and the need for one in general) from the philosophical and intellectual angle. Not that this is a necessity, the simple folks and the unlettered often have stronger iman than us, but why not. I find Schuon’s “understanding Islam” exceptionally brilliant, although I had to read and re-read a few times over, from medical school to MO and even bila dah jadi cardiologist. SH Nasr is also brilliant when he critiques modernity and the loss of spirituality, and is brilliant when he argues in defence of Islam, as well as his writings on Islamic art. I also agree that Martin Lings’ biography of the Prophet(SAW) though written in seemingly simple language, is very eloquent and inspiring. I also like biography on Shaykh Al Alawi, though it was written as an academic dissertation. As for Burckhardt, I think he is brilliant when he writes about Islamic sacred art, architecture and traditional communities. In his 20s as a young man he lived in Fez, morocco and learned Arabic and Islam from the great shaykhs of morocco, and a small book of his that I really loved is his translation of some letters Shaykh darqawi wrote to his pupils(letters of a sufi master, I think). In the 80s followers of shaykh ab qadir as sufi in the UK made a full translation of the rasail, but the language does not match burckhardt’s. So much so that I visited morocco twice esp the city of Fez in the 2 years I was in the UK.

To cut it short, I have a great esteem and admiration for the perennialists. I think they are intellectually gifted individuals and have a very important message to the modern man.
About philosophia perennis –I have a bit of misgiving of it. To bersangka baik , I assume that it is tawhid seen from  the western intellectual understanding of the concept although one can sense at times that this is treading on slippery ground. But it is definitely not the crude religious pluralism as preached by some, and worse, for political expediency. Even if we may ,think these gentlemen say that all “authentic spiritual traditions”( a term nasr likes to use) can lead to salvation – and this include  Hinduism and buddhism –but  I am also baffled that they chose the “shariat “of islam, and making themselves known to their readers as muslims.

2) In the early 90s, if I’m not mistaken, I read an article by an ex-follower of Schuon denouncing the deviationist teachings and practices of the sufi order he founded in Minnesota, tariqat maryammiyyah( as of Maryam , the virgin mother of Isa AS).
The practices allegedly include zikr sessions with men and women in the nude, and there is even a photo of schuon from the waist upward unclothed. Also weird drawings by schuon..Seemed like how modern day Sufism commonly end e.g al arqam, the darqawi followers in the UK,becoming pseudo-sufism around a highly charismatic cult figure. I did not investigate this further, but I heard nasr, being a faithful disciple of schuon, is also into this. You might want to check this out with Prof Osman bakar.  
If that is what actually happened to schuon in the twilight of his years, it is really sad. But No one can take away the brilliance of his works written nearly half a century earlier. 50 years is a long time and we change, sometimes for the better, somes the opposite. I do not hear of this about Burckhardt or Lings,and I hope I will not. At least Burckhardt, from some insight that nasr gave us, is a more of a contemplative and discreet gentleman, not someone who draws people towards him.

3)Yes, Kapar is where my kampong is, near puchak alam & saujana utama,and that is where I have my lembu and kambing. Am slowly developing the place so that by the time I retire it becomes a viable business operation that provides a few jobs and preserves part of my kampong from the fast encroaching urbanization. Farming, like many life skills, is something that even kampong kids today do not have. This is one aspect of “the crisis of modern man” that perhaps nasr should write about.

May I know your take on these too Nik?



Dear Mazeni,

I am quite confused because these are not ordinary people.   They are creme de la creme of ultimate scholarship. It can be said that their 'road to Makkah' are highly esteemed, and by Allah , I pray that souls like Martin Lings, may find special place amongst the beloved.  Like you I 'bersangka baik'. But listening to this short Martin Lings interview down here, unsettled me a lot..........
[ it is still possible to miss the last  junction  on our' long road to Makkah 'and end up in  Mina  instead!  That is the fine work of 4 star General al Iblees. No one is immuned to him, at all levels, even at the level of a Tok Guru or Shaykh ! ]

Of course as Muslims we are urged to go back to the sunnah and ultimately the Quran to settle issues and in this respect I did not have to go very far.
Al Baqarah, 2 : 41, make my heart rest in peace . It is part of several ayat addressed to the Bani Israil of Prophet' time :

O Children of Israel! Remember My favour wherewith I favoured you, and fulfil your (part of the) covenant, I shall fulfil My (part of the) covenant, and fear Me. (40) And believe in that which I reveal, confirming that which ye possess already (of the Scripture), and be not first to disbelieve therein, and part not with My revelations for a trifling price, and keep your duty unto Me. (41) Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth. (42) Establish worship, pay the poor-due, and bow your heads with those who bow (in worship). (43) Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? And ye are readers of the Scripture! Have ye then no sense? (44) 

[ al baqarah, 40- 44, pickthal's translation ]

My understanding from the above ayat  , cross referencing with my tok gurus, Hamka, Asad and Ibnu Kathir, is :

"Hey, you guys of Bani Quraizah , Qunanu, Nadhir etc and etc [ those Jews community fringing  Madinah in 600+ CE ], Muhammad is MY new messenger. Listen to him ! His message is universal.  He confirmed your Taurat given to your ancestors in earlier time, if it still remain intact. Trouble is your rabbis and doctors of letter have already sold them, and 'doctored' them for pittance, centuries back !"

Of course this goes without saying that the flocks following Nabi Isa were already lost sheep with their bible by 600+ CE. The Council of Nicea called by Emperor Augustine, sometime in 200+ CE, only recognized  the Concept of Trinity as the foundation of  Christianity. The rest were heretical

Our Muslim position on this should be very simple and unequivocal :
If you guys can go  back to your original biblical source, Bible or Taurat, you guys are safe from HIS perspective.
If you can't and definitely you guys can't, 
then be practical and play safe:  ...Follow the way of Muhammad.

Failing to do so run you the risk of being HIS 'fuel and firewood for Hell'.
This is not my description or imagination. This is HIS promise , peppered everywhere in the Quran...for eternity, my friends....
and please do not say that you are not being forewarned.

Definitely there is no such thing as Philosophia Perennis in my book.
These highly educated and well meaning individuals are unfortunately misguided.
But then again , this is a free world, it is their be misguided or to be enlightened.

Nik Howk


Anonymous said...

"Our Muslim position on this should be very simple and unequivocal :
If you guys can go back to your original biblical source, Bible or Taurat, you guys are safe from HIS perspective.
Of you cant' and definitely you guys cant,
then be practical and play safe: ...Follow the way of Muhammad."
---I agree with this---but I would also add other religions and their books such as Tao te Ching, the Vedas, Dhamma...etc
The Quran says God sent messengers to all mankind....
I would also say that God is most compassionate and merciful and knows what is in our hearts---so those who do not know about Islam and yet try to "submit to God" in their own way from their religious tradition---then it is possible that God will be most merciful, most compassionate and most just----it is not for us humans to decide who is worth of going to heaven---that is Judgement reserved for God alone.

Pearls and Gem said...


This is a free country and a free world. I would say to such a person ,
" Good luck to you, Sir "