Reading Meaning in History

On this fateful moment in history when the “clash” of civilizations has been brought up, how do we approach the vital question?
Reading Meaning in History
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Time is terribly real. So is history. The question of time is the vital question of life and death for Muslims, as Iqbal noted. Semitic traditions have been especially concerned with linearity of time and exigencies of history. On this fateful moment in history when the "clash" of civilizations has been brought up, how do we approach the vital question? What is the meaning of history if we find it a "huge slaughterhouse" of people and find the will to power ruling the roost? How is it possible to say goodbye to another fateful year that precipitated the debate on meaning of Muslim understanding of history and allied conceptions of Islamic State and Khilafah that, self avowedly, seek to redirect history with a value based  paradigm. The problem of evil especially presents itself with all its horror today as we recall groans and sighs and tears from violence and alienation that seems to have increased last year as capitalism invests in newer conflicts. How do we engage with the issue? We need a philosophy of history and understanding of time vis-a-vis eternity, of which it is "a moving image."

Before any endeavour to change the world that Marx proposed as the point so far missed by philosophers, the challenge is to understand the world we seek to change as Heidegger retorted. And it is in understanding the world that philosophers  help us. The point of changing it then could better follow. Stalin and Hitler tried to change it and we know the disasters that accompanied their work. The same is true of so many movements that envisioned better worlds without having done enough homework for first understanding the world.

The world isn't divided into warring religions but religions that fundamentally share an orientation towards Transcendence and an attempt to understand history or temporality in the light of the eternal. The world isn't neatly divided into forces of good and forces of evil but complementary and competing visions of the good. Ultimately there is no evil or no enduring evil as it is Haqq or Truth that has the final word and that works its way through and with the evil, apparent or real. God seeks to arrange (with cooperation of humans as "co-creators" ). Believers posit a God of providence that moves all things to perfection, to God to whom is the final return as the Quran asserts. "How rough hewn our ends, there is a providence that shapes our ends." Evil or accident in history is both a means to the good and a tragic consequence of misuse of freedom that itself however is such a supreme virtue that none of us is ready to exchange freedom for all the riches of the world (Who will accept the offer of great salary or pension for life and riches on the condition that one has to be an animal or a machine?!). There is no absolute division between classes, genders, nations – everywhere we see certain softening of exclusivist claims or blunting of the edges of binary opposites. No country is purely capitalist, nor purely socialist, nor purely "Islamic" or  democratic. No tradition can claim a record in which there are no regrettable elements. No political ideology alone has cured all the ills. Great religions have all recognized certain inevitability of limitations or imperfections in any human interpretation of the Word.  Great philosophies are philosophies of transcendence recognizing that full meaning or whole or absolute truth can't be actualized in immanent history. Islamic Vision is not a vision claiming that Islam has been fully realized in all its glory and beauty at particular point in time or will necessarily be realized as Satan hasn't ben suspended ever or will be suspended till the Doomsday. There are better examples in the past but no golden age of which we have perfect record.

Islamic doctrine of Divine Names recognizes that there will be strife and unending battle between people who are under the influence of different, even contradictory ends. Aren't the Names of divine beauty and majesty of opposite import when it comes to battleground of history where they seek to be manifested? One way of saying this is that hell has to be populated. And the most mature wisdom is seeing all this grand battle of ideas and even humanly interpreted ideals with God's Eye and understanding that ultimately God is the real creator or ground of both us and our actions. The world is indeed a stage and we are best advised to be actors letting the Tao or the Other or Universal will direct our ends. "I will not to will"  or carry out God's will, declare prophets, saints and artists with one voice. That is the best action called actionless action ( wu wei wei). 

Nobody, and thus no movement run by people can be purely and exclusively evil because the movement towards the Good (conscious or unconscious or inadequately understood in concrete applications) is instinctual in us as creatures made in divine image. No man is wilfully bad, declared Socrates (and religions agree seeing in ignorance the source of evil).

None of us has been consulted before birth or will be consulted at the time of death, as Kahlil Jibran notes. Momentous decisions in our lives and history still belong to higher powers we don't fully comprehend. We are all frail creatures struggling with forces that we don't fully comprehend. None can claim to have been given the secret (in the sense that could be concretely communicated to us) of unfolding of history in all its detail. We all wrestle with questions of meaning of particular events that have happened to us or around us. All we know is that somehow God is directing everything to the desired end because Omnipotence can't be foiled and Omniscience can't be tricked or fooled. However, it is in metaphysical terms as All-Possibility that we need to understand the verse "God has power over all things." God sees but waits as Tolstoy tried to show in one of his famous short stories. History moves in certain direction with God as the Omega point, as epilogue of War and Peace argues. Or Providence does create a creative minority that, according to Toynbee, pushes history towards more humane and divine ends than dialectical materialism would have us believe.

The record of evil due to the rise of the West is well known but it will take pages to only list the beautiful things that have come in its wake including explosion of knowledge, freedom of expression, shortening of distances, softening of exclusivist narratives and more conscious awareness of the grandeur and misery of man caught up in a world of contradictions grounded in God, who is "coincidentia oppositorum" or unity of opposites (majmaul azdaad) . We need to read such works as God in History, and Hughe's work Transcendence and History: the search for Ultimacy from Ancient Societies to Postmodernity, that show how God is working or the Good is getting manifest, despite horrendous evil . 

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