“Muslims are beholden to you”, Shibli was overwhelmed

A seeker carries no idols. A seeker carries a cross whereby hang all the biases, and any of them disguised as reverence

Mehmood ur Rashid
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 16 2018 11:58PM | Updated Date: Nov 16 2018 11:58PM
“Muslims are beholden to you”, Shibli was overwhelmedFile Photo

There are three ways of connecting to the greats; greats tell us. One, dangle by their bootlaces, and go as little further as you can. Two, stand on their shoulders, and see farther. Three, use the shoulders as springboard, and jump ahead. Farahi jumped ahead, and didn't stop even at that. He went far ahead.

He was a seeker, unmindful of the excitement around. He voyaged into unknown territories, and fear didn't take him over. This made him extraordinary.

When Iqbal talked about Muslim political power in the Indian sub-continent, Muhammed Pickthal differed. He thought that the Muslim society was too degenerated, and required all our energies to recover. Any fight for political power, with this decayed a society, wasn't a nice idea for Pickthal. Farahi, in the calm of his own person, hewed another path: Knowledge. All else flowed from here. 

It doesn't mean others were not mindful of the importance of the restructuring of knowledge. Sir Syed, Shibli, Iqbal, Abul Kalam, and all other Muslim intellectual leaders understood the importance of reviving the Muslim knowledge. But Farahi stood apart. While others were too engaged in the history of Muslims, and the Muslim sciences, Farahi made Quran as the centre of  Muslim knowledge. He focused on Quran, and made every other thing ancillary. As an emotive statement we all say that Quran is supreme, but we compromise its sovereignty in more than one way.  Tradition, History, Jurisprudence, Mysticism, Philosophy, and the ever haunting image of empire – we dig tunnels in Quran through these routes. Farahi denuded his mind off these encumbrances, and reached Quran through Quran. He cracked its language, and found it coherent. This was the discovery of discoveries. But what does it mean to us.  

Time to break for a story.

Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds, is a masterpiece by Charles Mackay. He makes a point about how we “love the marvellous” and “disbelieve the truth”, by narrating an exchange between a son, who had returned from a voyage into Red Sea, and his mother, who craved to hear about her son's adventures. Here goes the son: “As we were sailing over the Line........ we saw a fish rise out of the sea, and fly over our ship.” “what a liar you are!” the mother was smiling incredulously. A bare fact of the sea life sounded simply untrue to a mother who actually wished to confirm her own mental images of fantabulous. The son pulsed her mother and went on; “we saw still more wonderful things than that.” “let us hear them”, the mother was thrilled, but hastened to add; “..and tell the truth, John, if you can.”

“As we were sailing up the Red Sea, our captain thought he should like some fish for dinner; so he told us to throw our nets, and catch some......We did throw them, and, at the very first haul, we brought up a chariot-wheel, made all of gold, and inlaid with diamonds.” The mother turned curious to know what the captain said on this. “He said it was one of the wheels of Pharaoh’s chariot, that had lain in the Red Sea ever since that wicked King was drowned, with all his host, while pursuing the Israelites.”  This suited the mother, and she couldn't resist saying: “Tell me such stories as that, and I’ll believe you; but never talk to me of such things as flying fish!”

Charles Mackay draws a conclusion. In a contest between the “Wondrously False”, and the “Wondrously True”, the race is not to the true. When Farahi is applied, and his discovery is brought live to the issues, even the sensible take a fright. Because it dislodges the settled images; we take the chariot wheel and deny the flying fish. A spectacular dullness chases away a spectacular brilliance. 

In our times, when Islam and power politics is wildly mixed up, applying Farahi is doubly difficult. A closed, decayed mind only denies the flying fish, but the power intoxicated, frenzied mind kills the flying fish. A general reference to his greatness won't ruffle any feathers, contrarily it will earn you a few cheers. But once questions are raised about some cherished ideas, and ideals, people even forget that there is a thing called decency. Here, Farahi's knowledge may not help you as much as does his character. Those who knew him say that it was difficult to decide which of his was greater: Knowledge or Piety; a saint's heart fused with a philosopher's mind. 

When Farahi discussed the coherence of Quranic text, Shibli was not convinced in the beginning.  Gradually, in a few more exchanges, Shibli came round the idea. Look at Shibli's humility, someone who taught the first lessons to Farahi, behaved like a students. In a letter to Farahi, Shibli wrote: “ From now onwards I'll follow it. I will study Quran mindful of the order in the verses, and get back to you.” It needs a prescient mind to judge the metal. It needs an unbiased heart to acknowledge its worth. Shibli recognised that the flying fish in the Red Sea was real.

Shibli once wrote to Hamid: “ I thoughtfully read your commentary on Surah Abi Lahab ( a small chapter almost at the end of Quran), and also parts of your work Jumahratul Balagah. I congratulate you. All Muslims must be grateful to you for this.” Shibli didn't mind what was yielding ground in the wake of Farahi's discovery. A seeker carries no idols. A seeker carries a cross whereby hang all the biases, and any of them disguised as reverence. 

In search of knowledge if a cherished thing is found leaving its ground, doesn't matter. Nothing matters when it is a search for truth, except truth.  It brings in humility, and whatever you gain on this path is like rain irrigating the dried up channels. It brings up foliage, not fire. 

Those fuming in the name of Islam, on our streets, are regaled by our preachers and demagogues, by the stories of the Pharaoh's chariot in the Red sea. A delusion, massive and murderous. We in Kashmir are part of this grand madness. Farahi has no interest in pandering to our perversions. He will keep telling that there was a flying fish in the Red sea, and no more.



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