The Culture Literacy

Are you able to enjoy Ghalib or Hafiz to the hilt?



Are we cultured? For many it is an indecent question that may hurt if bluntly asked.  But literacy should include culture literacy and if it doesn’t what it is for? Culture is linked with metaphysics of a given society and is assimilated by its people if there are viable institutions that include first of all family as a socializing and educational institution. To be cultured is to be fully human, a true servant or devotee of God. It requires cultivating intellectual, moral and spiritual virtues. It is what binds man to other men and God. It has little to do with so-called cultural shows.
As at the root of every culture is metaphysics we first need to assimilate. Metaphysics is the knowledge of First Principles o Ultimate Reality. Religion as a symbolic expression of this metaphysics is also thus the fundamental component of culture. Literature, arts, crafts, sciences etc. are other elements of a culture. Linking knowledge of everything to the knowledge of First Principles – or in theological language knowing everything in relation to God – is the first task of education in a traditional society. If an educational system is not able to do this it results in large scale disaster or what we call crisis of values or orientation in a particular culture. With privatization of education and co-modification of knowledge culture is a first casualty. In a society where God is not the Alpha and the Omega and Meaning of everything there can be only a generate culture. We need to be culture literates to understand what is God. Very few educated people have an adequate idea of what culture means and how God or Transcendence is the pivot of healthy cultures. Today we are facing  crisis of culture or values  at a global level. And the evils that follow from drug culture to delinquency to crimes to wars to distractions of what Adorno and Horkheimer describe in “Culture Industry” to environmental degradation are all expressions of this crisis of values. Man can’t be human except in relation to what transcends him. God is the ground of our being and is realized/expressed through the flowering of all that is noble, beautiful and grand in man and history. Love, compassion, beauty, goodness and justice are all subsumed in the word God or Good. All great literature and art and all traditional sciences are oriented towards these values in integrated organic traditional cultures. If today we find everything disoriented and a frantic rat race for things that don’t behoove man it is because of collective amnesia of what constitutes culture and roots it or orients it towards the Absolute. 
Are you culture literate then? I mean are you able to enjoy classics of art works or philosophy or literature or other major disciplines? Do you appreciate the great music of history? Are you able to enjoy Ghalib or Hafiz to the hilt? Do you read great books in which are enshrined the experiences of ages and thoughts of the noblest minds? Are you unable to face the solitude and divert yourself on facebook or entertainment channels on TV? Do you have a taste for mathematics, at least the beauty of its form? Have you attempted to read Story of Civilization or at least its first volume on Our Oriental Heritage? Have you read any of Islamic or Chinese classics? How much do you about the greatest saint and Sufi metaphysician of Islam, Ibn Arabi? How much do you know one of the most beautiful aesthetic philosophies of the world produced in Kashmir?  Have you read any commentary on the Quran that contains Sufi exegesis of each Quranic verse? Do you know what is the kalima of any other great religion? Do you know the deeper mystic symbolism of various arkaan of ritual prayer or hajj? Can you analyze ordinary linguistic utterances to decode hidden metaphysics? What is the symbolism of letters? What is the meaning of “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God…” or God taught man knowledge through Pen? You can answer these questions and evaluate yourself or your children and friends regarding their grades in culture literacy.
Culture literacy teaches us to be fully human, to enjoy life in all its hues, to see God everywhere or see through the eyes of God and appreciate wonder, mystery, wisdom, meaning and beauty of all human experiences whose real ground is God. I suggest reading a few books that introduce us to the richness of cultural expressions not in the academic sense of the term but for relish so that we appreciate and enjoy the best in moral, religious, spiritual, philosophical disciplines. These include, among others, A Treasury of Western Thought, Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, Tao Te Ching, Importance of Living, Spiritual Literacy,  The Book of Awakening, A Study of History, Story of Civilization, Living Philosophy, Kimay-e-Saadat (Alchemy of Happiness), What is Civilization? Bugbear of Literacy, Science and Civilization in China, Culture and Value and Crisis of the Modern World.  Reading the first two may suffice as introduction and will guide you to read what interests you. Reading Iqbal and Nasr are good introductions to Islamic spiritual and intellectual culture.
How many marks would you give to the educational institutions in which you or your children have been educated and have resulted in culture illiteracy and failed to instill love of books or other cultural expressions like paintings and poetry and philosophy? Large scale culture illiteracy means we have blind and deaf people insensitive to finer joys and beauties that culture embodies. How impoverished lives are if they are unable to enjoy or have little taste for a great painting, a literary classic, dialogues of Plato, poetry of mystics and wisdom of sages of the world is known to cultural literates.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 14 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 14 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 15 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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