On ‘Intellectual Humility’…

Subhahanallah! All glory and praise be to God for the beauty of the brain. This incredible organ that drives thought, that forms memories, that processes information, that orchestrates a myriad complex of response to a myriad complex of stimuli in nanoseconds.. that does all this simultaneously. Consider a person walking along the street perhaps a newspaper in one hand, a cup of coffee in another… reading, ruminating, sipping his coffee, negotiating his way on a busy side-walk (subconscious aware of possible dangers). All simultaneous processes, all complex, all independent and at the same time inter-dependent. All regulated, controlled, in a way we really don’t understand. We barely understand the reflex-arc…that most basic of neurological processes whereby our muscles respond to an external stimulus. Nevermind more complex synaptic processes such as those that involve actual ‘thinking’.

Yet isn’t it amazing.. that while not yet really knowing how we think.. we presume to think and know so much. Here is a scenario that I find ironic, amusing and at the same time sad – how often in Academia, one comes across professors who have bloated egos based on their discoveries.. but those very discoveries only point to how much more needs to be found out, and how very little is really known. At the very least, it points to how much hard work is needed to decipher the simplest of natural process. But on a more positive angle, I have also seen real intellectuals, who by the very token of their advancement are the most humble of people. A sure indication that real knowledge has come to one perhaps is that one becomes really aware of how little one knows!

So then the irony of the created presuming to fathom the Creator. I find this truly remarkable. But to each his own, and this post is not meant to read against anyone’s beliefs… but merely to record my own thoughts (and fortunately or unfortunately, the reader has decided to embark on listening to them…that is, for as long as you want to! Don’t you just love a blog… you can leave and no one will know! 😉 ).

What I did want to comment on was the very real problem caused by people of half baked knowledge. With special reference to my own faith group. We see very often, actually routinely, Muslims calling out judgements. Often at the drop of a hat (or even without any conceivable reason) Muslims are ready to criticize and judge. I find this reprehensible. Surely one who has surrendered his/her will to the will of the Creator, cannot presume to take on judgement for only God is the real judge. If we hasten to judge, is that not an indication of lack of humility? And is not lack of humility a state of arrogance? And is not the state of arrogance the state of one not a Muslim, i.e., one who has not surrendered himself fully? So even purely on a logical argument…being anything but a humble person cannot be a Muslim!

Having said this, thankfully there are some very wonderful real scholars in our traditions. And I’ve noticed that the scholars of depth, the best in the world, are very shy of making any sort of pronouncement or fatawa. Whereas we sure do have many a scholar of mediocre repute throwing out fatwa faster than one can type them!

So advice first to myself and then to anyone else.. say and mean ‘Allah a’lam’ when you have to talk about matters such as those that are not well defined. All the sheikhs of note in our long scholarly tradition will always end their works with these words, ‘Allah a’lam’ or ‘God knows/All knowledge is with God’. So it is far better to refrain from matters of contention and refer them to one more knowledgable than to comment oneself. It is the same principle on which a family physician will refer a patient with a disease beyond his capacity to treat to a specialist. So like in medicine, as quacks do their share of damange so in religion, these types of shallow intellectuals do a far bit more.

Here is a gem I found recently, from our scholars of old.

It is reported that Ibrâhîm b. Adham (d162H) – Allâh have mercy on him – once passed through the market of Basrah. People gathered around him and asked: O Abû Ishâq, Allâh the Exalted says in his Book. ‘Call on me, I will answer your prayers’, but we have been calling on Him for a long time and He does not answer our prayers. [Ibrâhîm] replied, “O people of Basrah, your hearts have died in respect to ten things:

* First, you know Allâh but you do not give Him His rights;
* Second, you have read Allâh’s Book but you do not act by it;
* Third, you claim to love Allâh’s Messenger – Allâh’s peace and blessings be upon him – yet you abandon his Sunnah;
* Fourth, you claim to be enemies to Shaytân but you conform to [his ways];
* Fifth, you say you love Paradise yet you do not work for it;
* Sixth, you say you fear The Fire yet you put yourselves closer to it [by sinning];
* Seventh, you say death is true but you do not prepare for it;
* Eighth, you busy yourselves with the faults of others and disregard your own;
* Ninth, you consume the favors of your Lord but are not grateful for them; and
* Tenth, you bury your dead but take no lesson from them.”

Abû Nu’aym, Hilyah Al-Awliyâ’ 8: 15, 16.

I can’t vouche for the reliability of it, but the advice certainly makes perfect sense. And I think it is very topical as well. There is much going on in the Muslim world today…I understand its an over simplification to say that this is due to the Muslims leaving Islam.. but there certainly is a lot of truth in saying so as well. God is The Most Just and treats no one unjustly. As those belonging to a great scholarly tradition, well can we lament what we have lost. But then again the above incident took place at the most 150 years after the death of the prophet (peace be upon him). So this is an indication of how easy it is to stray.

Therefore a constant reminder to be humble is an essential. If it is hard to do, just think of how little you know of how you are thinking.. and it will be easy!

May God forgive us and guide us all to His eternal Mercy

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