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Belonging to an Ism
Saadia Malik


Every man on earth seems to be in search of an identity for himself that can last a lifetime. I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, an identity can really set our preferences straight and keep us steadfast on one path. However, the problem arises when we confuse the pursuit of an identity with that of limiting ourselves within the bound of ‘isms’.

A little study of philosophy will reveal to mind the idea behind any ‘ism’. It portrays a thought that must encompass all. In other words, an ‘ism’ does not simply entail appreciation of a school of thought. Rather, it portrays absolute belief in a theory that bounds all reality within itself. In effect, belonging to an ‘ism’ conveys the belief that all incidences, all phenomena and all occurrences can be defined and explained from within a thought. Any prescription or proscription external to it, thus, would be regarded as false and inconsistent.

If one takes notice of the fame that Marx has achieved in the past, one can be astounded. For even though the man condemned religion and regarded it only as a product of the oppressed class, he seems to have created a new religion for his followers - ‘Marxism’. There is no denying the fact that the man was a thinking individual, that he had the capacity of luring men towards himself and therefore, towards his thought. However, in order to be appreciative of one element of his philosophy does not mean that we must enslave ourselves to everything he ever had to say. For no matter how intelligent and noble a man may be, he will remain a man after all. Just as many philosophers argue for ‘rationality’ as being the basis of differentiation between a man and an animal, the difference between God and man may be highlighted as well. Whilst man can commit errors and make mistakes on account of his limited knowledge, God remains All-Knowing and unbounded by any shortcomings. God is ‘infallible’, man is not.

If one is to admire Marx’s explanations regarding the demise of Capitalism, to me, there seems to be no harm. However, the moment we respond to the calls of our excitement and relief by declaring ourselves Marxists, alarm bells begin to ring. For such a declaration implies that we are, in fact, ascribing an attribute of infallibility to all theories resting in the cradle of the Marxian thought. It follows then that belief in Marx’s critique of a political economy does not necessitate belief in his definition of religion as the ‘opium of the people’.

Another ‘ism’ that seems to have clutched our youth is that of Freud’s theories. Having read through the works of Sigmund Freud, many people claim to be thoroughly impressed. Again, as far as I see, there is nothing wrong with being impressed with what is read. However, an affirmation of each and every word within that book and all others by the psychologist, is not a requisite for any admirer. That remains a requisite only for the believer with the divine book in his hands. Yet again, the urge of having an identity for ourselves wins the battle, and we begin to laud ourselves on acquiring faith in Freudianism.

Care and caution is required in appreciating a philosophy because, in many cases, it is the innocent admiration that gradually leads to the extreme – that is, enslavement of the mind. The same rule ought to be applied concerning Islamic thinkers and scholars as well. This concern first sprung to me after attending a lecture on Muslim philosophers. Walking out of the class, a friend began thinking aloud: ‘Should I be a Rationalist? Or should I be a Traditionalist?’. Regardless of what fate she would decide for herself, I thought the question itself was wrong. Of course, when we studied Ash‘arī’s criticism on the Mu‘tazillite approach, the appeal was immense since he wrote with much conviction, all the while, strictly adhering to the traditions of religion. On the other hand, when we analyzed Ibn Rushd’s essay aimed at compelling men to use their sense of reasoning, it appealed greatly to the intellect. However, such appreciation certainly does not mean that one should either become a traditionalist and remain a die-hard loyalist to the Ashariite school of thought, or that one should definitely hail the God-cosmos relationship as purported by the great Averroes. Because to do so would amount to a grave error: assigning an unerring quality to man.

The only quality that we should try to equip ourselves with is that of realizing the infallibility and absoluteness of God - and only God. And the only identity that we ought to be satisfied with is that of being His servant.



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