An Interview with Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr by Naved Kahteran

“Traditional philosophies are so many expressions of the truths contained in perennial philosophy, which, being perennial, has no temporal terminus quo. It deals with the timeless and for that very reason is the most timely of truths.” (Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

Dr. Nasr has been a persevering and staunch promoter of a better understanding and dialogue between the Islamic world and the West. Several years of hard work on my doctoral dissertation, devoted to the research of perennial philosophy and the views of Professor Nasr in particular, along with those of Guḥnon, Schuon and other perennial thinkers, brought me close to nearly five decades of the brilliant career of this truly most significant Muslim ambassador in the West. Professor S. H. Nasr is certainly the most important Muslim thinker of the second half of the 20th century and, God willing, of the first half of the 21st as well. I was happy to learn that this opinion of mine was confirmed by the prestigious Library of Living Philosophers, which included a volume entitled The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (June 2001), the only Muslim thinker among the torch-bearers of Western philosophy. In this way, the universalism of the Islamic model of thinking was incorporated on an equal footing into the world’s philosophical heritage in the most beautiful form and with the fullness of academic expression.

Kahteran: Dear Professor Nasr, I am personally privileged with this amazing possibility to make this interview with you, i.e. with someone who is– not only according to my opinion, but that of many others– one of the most remarkable philosophers of our time. Also, you succeeded in making clearer the philosophical notions of sophia perennis and philosophia perennis to the minds of today’s Muslims, minds increasingly attacked by ideologies borne out of modernism and other “-isms” that came along with it. Actually, it is but one measure of your own personal accomplishments that you have been able to attract and engage the very best philosophical minds of our times in the Foundation for Traditional Studies and the journal Sophia and its publications over the last fifteen years or so. So could you, please, tell us your own definition of traditional philosophy after dealing with its contents in different fields of your investigations and intellectual deliberations?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: To respond to your question I must first say a word about the philosophia perennis. Traditional thinkers like myself believe that there is a perennial and also universal wisdom to be found within the integral traditions that have guided humanity over the ages, traditions such as the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Neo-Confucian, Egyptian, ancient Greek, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, not to speak of the primal and mythological traditions in which this wisdom has not been usually formulated explicitly in conceptual schemes. At the heart of this wisdom lies pure metaphysics to which I have referred as scientia sacra and about which I have written extensively especially in my book Knowledge and the Sacred in the chapter bearing that name as its title.

Now, traditional philosophy may be said to be a philosophy, in the time-honored and traditional sense of the term as understood by the likes of Pythagoras, Parmenides and Plato, that speaks in the language of the particular Tradition in which it has grown and flourished but it contains at its heart the basic universal truths ofscientia sacra or some aspect of it. Moreover, since it can deal with only certain aspects of that truth and be based on a perspective from a particular angle of vision, on the formal level it may on occasion seem to be opposed to another school of traditional philosophy belonging even to the same tradition as one sees in Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism in Greek civilization. These philosophies differ from each other on a certain level but are all based on the reality of the Supreme Principle which none of them deny even if each points to It in a different way, whether it be the Supreme Good, Agathon, the Unmoved Mover or the One. However, those Greek schools of philosophy that are not based on the Supreme Principle, such as Skepticism, Epicureanism and the like are not called traditional philosophy.

Furthermore, it should be evident that we understand by philosophy not what is understood by it in modern European and American philosophy but that which is understood by the traditional philosophers. Otherwise, we would not refer to mashshā’ī and ishrāqī schools of philosophy in Islam, the Saṁkhya and Vedanta in Hinduism, Neo-Confucianism and Taoism in the Far East, or Thomism and Christian Platonism in the West as philosophy. It is to make this distinction clear that Guḥnon attacks “philosophy” as currently understood and speaks instead of metaphysics, cosmology, etc. when referring to traditional philosophy. Coomaraswamy and Schuon have also made this distinction clear in several of their writings.

Finally, it is necessary to recall that for us metaphysics in the sense of scientia sacra is not a branch of philosophy, but that traditional philosophies are so many applications of metaphysical principles to various domains from the cosmos to man, from religion to art, from the reality of the human person to human society. Nor do all traditional philosophies reflect the metaphysical principles directly to the same degree. Rather, there is often a hierarchy in the degree of clarification and crystallization of concepts pertaining to the Supreme Science. A clear example of this hierarchization is to be seen in the six Hindu darshans, usually translated as the six schools of Hindu philosophy, and also in Islamic philosophy when seen from the perspective of Mullā Sadrā’s al-hikmat al-muta‘āliyah, often translated as “the transcendent theosophy” to distinguish it not only from philosophy in its modern connotation but also from Peripatetic philosophy, which, although still traditional philosophy, over-systemized and rationalized metaphysical teachings, laying the foundation for the rationalism that was to appear later especially in the post-medieval period in the West.

Kahteran: In the meantime, I have personally become acquainted with the great achievements of the Foundation, and I have to ask you, Professor Nasr, how this kind of philosophy is applicable to our modern philosophical curricula, or which kind of intellectual and practical benefit we should expect after its introduction into our university programs?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Today in the West and even in many non-Western universities the only philosophy that is taught is the modern and now the post-modern. Traditional philosophies are either ignored or relegated to the realm of intellectual history. For the non-Western part of the world (and even to some extent for the West), introduction of the traditional philosophies associated with the world in question means first of all the recovery of one’s own intellectual tradition and a deeper understanding of the more intellectual dimensions of one’s own traditional culture. The teaching of such philosophies also provides the means of looking critically at the waves of Western thought that inundate those far-away shores of the non-Western worlds, often with the violence of a stormy sea and this in turn prevents the thinkers of those worlds from being simply blind imitators of Western thought, turning at best into second-rate Western thinkers with non-Western names.

For both the Western and non-Western worlds, such philosophies also re-introduce the importance of vision and the search for truth, goodness and beauty into the barren landscape of present-day currents of Western thought. How many Western philosophers from Heidegger to Rorty have spoken of the end of philosophy? What is now ending is not, however, the traditional philosophies, but the anti-traditional philosophies that began to flourish in the West from the Renaissance onward and have now spread to other parts of the world even while having reached an impasse in the West itself. Traditional philosophies are so many expressions of the truths contained in perennial philosophy, which, being perennial, has no temporal terminus quo. It deals with the timeless and for that very reason is the most timely of truths. Its principles can also be applied to new problems that humanity faces today, from the environmental crisis to the present-day economic upheaval caused by the forgetting of those principles.

Kahteran: For me personally, it is really interesting to put to you the question about one of such giants of spirit, the late professor Toshihiko Izutsu, with whom you collaborated closely during his life. I am personally grateful and intellectually indebted to you both for your enormous scholarly output which enabled me to approach the philosophical traditions of the East without reluctance of any kind. Moreover, my contact with other traditions made it possible for the universalist Islamic perspective to come into full swing and reach above the formal frameworks of various philosophical, theological, and cultural patterns. So, to make it quite clear: is it possible to draw comparisons between Japanese philosophical traditions and especially Sufism stricto sensu following in the footsteps of Izutsu?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: It might be of interest to your readers and to yourself for me to say a few words about my relation with Izutsu and the role of this relationship in Izutsu’s intellectual activities in the later phase of his life. In 1962 I was a visiting professor at Harvard University. At that time Izutsu was a professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The head of the Institute at that time was the famous Canadian theologian and historian of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith who was my close friend and who later came to Harvard. Smith invited me to give a lecture at McGill. I accepted the offer and on a very cold winter day went to Montreal. Smith told me that Izutsu was there and giving a lecture in the afternoon. I had already known his fine studies on Quranic semantics and so I went to the lecture whose theme was the relation between language and meaning with a special reference to Jean-Paul Sartre. Izutsu was a remarkable linguist, master of not only classical Chinese and Japanese but also knowledgeable in Greek, Latin and many other European languages as well as Sanskrit. Besides, he was a remarkable scholar of Arabic and could also read Persian. It was, therefore, natural that his interest in the traditional schools of thought should have been focused on semantics. But he was also a metaphysician and philosopher, as his later works would demonstrate amply.

My lecture at McGill, which he attended, was about the philosophy of Mullā Sadrā. When the lecture finished, he came forward and said, “What you have discussed today is so significant that I want to devote the rest of my life to the Islamic hikmat tradition and change the whole direction of my research and writing. Henceforth I shall not be writing on semantics any more.” This is in fact what happened. We immediately became friends. He persuaded Iwanami, the famous Japanese publisher, to bring out my Three Muslim Sages in Japanese. In 1970 when I visited Japan, I visited his home in Kamakura and we went together to visit the great Buddha statue in the middle of a park in that city, both wearing kimonos, I wearing one of his. He kept smiling and when I asked him why, he said because everyone is giving me a strange look asking with their eyes, “Who is this person with you who does not look Japanese but is wearing the completely traditional Japanese dress?” Later I took him to the International Congress of Medieval Philosophy in Madrid, this being the first time that he attended this Congress. It was also his first visit to Spain. During the first dinner that we were having together, I ordered food in my broken Spanish. He said that he did not know any Spanish but if I were to bring him again to dinner four days later, that is, during the last day of the Congress, he would order his own food in Spanish. And that is exactly what he did.

As you know, I have always been critical of shallow comparative studies of philosophy in which some Oriental philosopher is compared to a modern European philosopher without consideration of the radical difference between the bases of traditional philosophies on the one hand and of modern philosophies on the other. Already by the early 70’s I had written sharp criticisms of such comparative studies, and Izutsu had read my works on this subject. As a result of colonialism, non-Western cultures came to have much more contact with the West than with each other. A Japanese scholar of comparative philosophy would compare some Buddhist thinker with Kant, an Arab or Persian scholar Ibn Sīnā with Descartes, etc. The extremely fecund and important fields of comparative traditional philosophies had received little attention especially when it came to let us say Hindu or Neo-Confucian philosophies and the Islamic philosophy and doctrinal Sufism or gnosis. How many serious studies can you name that compare in depth Śankara and Ibn ‘Arabī or the Samkhya and Islamic cosmology? You can count the number of such studies on the fingers of your two hands. As for a relation between Islamic thought and Neo-Confucianism, it is a newly discovered continent now being studied in depth for the first time in a European language especially by Sachiko Murata, William Chittick and Tu Wei-Ming. In this latter effort there is also the indirect presence of Izutsu for when Izutsu was in Tehran I introduced two of my best students, Murata and Chittick, to him and urged them to study with him. They learned much from Izutsu that has helped them in their collaborations with Tu Wei-Ming in recent years.

In any case I found in Izutsu the ideal person to deal with comparative studies of traditional philosophies especially those of Islam and the Far East and I constantly pushed him in this direction. When I established the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy in Tehran in 1973, I invited Izutsu to join us on a full-time basis. He accepted and spent the academic year with us every year until the Islamic Revolution. During those years he wrote seminal works on both Islamic philosophy and comparative philosophy as well as taught both Far Eastern philosophy and Ibn ‘Arabī at the Academy. When archeological excavations unearthed an ancient manuscript of the Tao Te-Ching, a text that I have always loved, Izutsu invited me to work with him on the translation into Persian of this newly discovered version of the sacred text of Taoism. I accepted the invitation and we proceeded on this remarkable task together. He would translate the Chinese text into English and I would render the English into Persian. Finally, I would read the Persian translation and he would compare it with the Chinese and make final suggestions. We finished the text in 1978 and I decided to go over the translation one more time and to add the necessary commentaries before sending it for publication. As a result of the Revolution this task was never completed but although my library was plundered and my writings in manuscript form lost, fortunately this text survived because when in January of 1979 I set out to inaugurate a major exhibition of Persian art in Tokyo without returning to Tehran until today, I put it in my handbag to work on it on the plane. Thirty years have passed since that time but I have not turned to that task. Perhaps God will give me the strength to do so in the future. I have still not lost hope in completing a work which, if published, would perhaps be the last posthumous opus of Izutsu to be published.

What I have said about Izutsu should answer the last part of your question. The works of Izutsu, especially his major opus on Sufism and Taoism, demonstrate, along with more recent works such as those of Murata, Chittick and Tu Wei-Ming, the possibility of the deepest and most fruitful comparative study of Islamic and Far Eastern thought. Although these works concern Chinese rather than Japanese thought, there is no doubt that the same types of comparative study of Islamic and Japanese schools of thought can be carried out. To turn more specifically to Sufism, it needs to be stated that it is the esoterism of the last plenar revelation of the present history of humanity, that is, Islam, and contains, therefore, in synthetic fashion, all the different esoteric possibilities within itself. There are currents in Sufism corresponding to Zen and Shingon, others to Jodo-Shin and yet others to Japanese Neo-Confucianism. One can hope that such studies will be undertaken extensively in the future in the footsteps and following the pioneering work of Izutsu.

Kahteran: Just a few words about the very future of traditional wisdom and that type of thinking in this miserable world of differentiation in so many spheres today? Shall we see in the very near future a broadening of these investigations world-wide, or the falling into new divisions, and where is the place of Islamic philosophical heritage in this matter? Can we push aside at least for now that tunnel-vision and intellectual myopia of the proponents of the so-called U-turned Islam, which, according to my own insights, is only a deviation of that religion and its great cultural heritage? This is an extremely important question for all of us today, because we really have to find that very needed measure of balance in the interpretation of our own traditions while we have this kind of experience of living in a society where multiculturalism is the norm, which is actually our old way of living, especially in Bosnia, the norm that is to be found in our forgotten Bosnian wisdom.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: The interest in perennial philosophy and what you call traditional wisdom continues to grow in the West as well as in a number of Islamic countries such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and your own Bosnia. And all of this is being carried out in the middle of an even more intensified storm with devastating consequence brought about by modernism and post-modernism on the one hand and the so-called fundamentalism on the other. The perennial philosophy is the most potent antidote to these maladies.

As for Islamic philosophy, it is now becoming better known in the West in its integral form, and not only as a chapter of the history of Western philosophy, while its significance as a major expression of the perennial philosophy is also being recognized to a greater degree than before. For those of us who have been given the gift by Heaven to understand tradition and the perennial philosophy and to live by their teachings, what is important is to cling to their truths no matter how trying the times, knowing in our heart that no matter what appearances may signal, ultimately the Truth shall triumph and prevail. As for Bosnia, to live within the worldview of tradition and perennialism is also to defend the traditional Bosnian society within whose bosom different religions and cultures lived in peace and harmony for such a long time.

Kahteran: As we confront more and more the pressing needs for a global dialogue today, is global or world philosophy a realizable project or not?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: To be sure there is need of a global dialogue but not one based on destroying the rich diversity of human cultures in the name of and in conjunction with a quantitative and materialistic economic globalization. If we are to avoid very dangerous pseudo-religions and philosophies that make global claims in the climate of today’s world, we must be able to formulate a global and universal expression of perennial philosophy which is itself the only legitimate world philosophy. I am of course all in favor of that understanding of world philosophy as found in the writings of Guḥnon, Coomaraswamy, Schuon and on another level Elḥmire Zolla, Henry Corbin, Izutsu and several other major scholars. Such an understanding is not based on the rejection of traditional forms of wisdom but on reaching the truth that they hold in common in their inner depths without the discovery of this truth– which is truly global and universal– destroying in any way the precious forms of traditional wisdom existing in particular cultures and societies. I have always been a proponent of world philosophy in this sense while standing completely opposed to those so-called world philosophies that consider traditional wisdom to be but a relic of the past and claim for themselves a future that seems to be related more to the reign of the Anti-Christ than the coming of a celestial savior such as the Mahdi, Christ in his second coming, the Kali avatar, etc.

Kahteran: Your wide-ranging work is well known to us and obviously will enhance studies in this field. Professor Nasr, you are recognized in the world as the most determined and the loudest advocate and defender of the Holy at a time that is characterized by a philosophy which is anti-metaphysical in spirit and character. So, what do you think about the very idea of finding and recollecting the philosophical res scattered through Eastern intellectual history prior to the arrival of modern Western philosophy, resources which have yet to be recognized as part of a fuller history of philosophy?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: I am certainly favorable towards this project which is, however, too immense to be realized immediately. It would be more feasible to start with a project such as the Western Spirituality Series, published in the United States by the Paulist Press and consisting of sixty books devoted to Christian (40), Jewish (10) and Islamic (10) mystical traditions. For this project one could have an editorial board consisting of specialists on Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Far Eastern, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic philosophical traditions (as well as others). They could then preparet of the most important philosophical texts in consultation with other scholars and then bring out a series of these texts that would include translation, explanation and commentary, historical introduction, etc. Since obviously more work has been done on Wstern thought than on Eastern schools of philosophy in European languages, perhaps, one could begin by including only the Eastern traditions which here must definitely include the Islamic despite the link between Islamic philosophy and Greek philosophy on the onehand and Western philosophy from the medieval period onward, on the other. Parallel with such efforts an attempt should be made to write an extensive history of traditional philosophies in a really inclusive manner without adopting 19th century European historicism and historical relativism that stand completely opposed to traditional philosophies that are based on a very different understanding of the unfolding of time.

Islam & Authors: Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Onstage conversation with Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world’s leading teachers on Sufism and Islamic spirituality. Imam Zaid Shakir, nationally acclaimed Islamic scholar and teacher, and writer Jason van Boom will interview Prof. Nasr onstage about his new autobiographical book “In Search of the Sacred” at Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California on Oct. 1, 2010.


Interview of Maryam Jameelah by Young Muslim Digest

Maryam Jameelah, the American-Jewish convert to Islam and prolific writer on the religion and its community spoke recently with Biju Abdul Qadir of Young Muslim Digest. Covering a wide range of issues from her conversion to Islam, her leaving her American homeland for life in an Asian country, to her interest in the works of other European converts to Islam, the US War on Terror, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, this interview reveals interesting aspects of the thinking of this Muslim intellectual who despite her 71 years still remains active and alive to the developments in the MuslimUmmah.


YMD: We have always known about your conversion through contacts with Mawlana Mawdudi, but nothing about how in the first instance you got interested in Islam. Would you like to throw some light on your initial days of interest in Islam?

MJ: Like Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss), I first became interested in Islam by a fascination with everything Arab. I read all the books about Arabs I could find and loved to listen to recordings by Umm Kalsoum. Then, as now, most of these books were by Orientalists or missionaries and presented a very negative view which I knew was unjustified. Only years later, I acquired knowledge about Qur’an Majeed through Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation which inspired me with the desire to convert to Islam.

YMD: You have settled in Pakistan since 1962. How different has been the experience in this shift of cultures, indeed, of ideologies, as in your case? Of course, your expectations of Muslim culture would have been quite high, and there must have been some disappointments especially in the beginning. Was it a lack of alternatives or, satisfaction with what you found in Pakistan or merely familial bindings that led you to remain in Pakistan, perhaps never traveling out once?

MJ: I settled in Pakistan at the invitation of Maulana Maudoodi with whom I had been corresponding for two years. He not only gave me emotional support as a new convert but also a permanent home in Pakistan, and helped me find a good husband. I have been on such good terms with his family. I never wanted to go anywhere else, convinced there was nothing for me in America. My first impression of Pakistan was that it was a very good Muslim country. Disillusions with its numerous shortcomings only came later.

YMD: Have you performed Hajj and what has been your impression. Do you travel for‘Umrah and if you do, do you find changes in Arab adherence to Islam in the two holyHarams?

MJ: I talk with everyone I know who has returned from Hajj and read everything about it that I can. I deeply regret that the expansion of the Haram and the Masjid-an-Nabi could only be accomplished by the massive destruction of nearly all the Ottoman structures of the Holy Cities including numerous historic places associated with the Holy Prophet. Everything has been modernized/ westernized including much inappropriate technology. However, the comforts and physical accommodations have been vastly improved. Despite all this, returnees who have returned to tell me their experiences insist that the Hajj was the greatest spiritual experience of their lives.

YMD: You have known the late Mawlana Mawdudi well in your close association with him. How relevant are his ideas for the future of the Muslim community today? How do you view the policies and practices of the Jamat-e-Islami in Pakistan today? How has its policies changed since the time that it was first launched in 1941?

MJ: At the beginning in 1941 Maulana Maudoodi was concerned with cultural matters in Islam’s relation with the West. Now everything is politics. Placing politics at the centre of the Islamic mission is contrary to the traditions of Islam. However, Jamat-e-Islami deserves all the credit for restraining the worst excesses of secular military dictatorships.

YMD: It has been said that the logic of your discursive approach has recently led you away from current forms of Islamic revivalism and even from the Jamat-e-Islami itself. It has also been said that increasingly aware of revivalism’s own borrowing from the West, you have distanced yourself from the revivalist exegesis and have even criticized your mentor, Mawlana Mawdudi, for his assimilation of modern concepts into Jamat-e-Islami’s ideology. How much do you agree with this?

MJ: I became disillusioned about the Maulana’s disdain for the necessity for beauty in the lives of his followers, of traditional Islamic philosophy and Islamic art and his whole-hearted acceptance of industrialism, technology and evolutionism. But now I am less critical. Maulana Maudoodi, Sheikh Hasan al Banna and Syed Qutb devoted their entire lives to the Islamic cause and sacrificed all their time, energy and resources and even their lives towards that end. They strictly abided by Shariatall their lives and inspired many others to do so.

YMD: You once said that you were totally in disagreement with what Allama Iqbal wrote in his ‘Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.’ Can you please explain the basis of this disagreement?

MJ: In his ‘Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam’ Allama Iqbal attempted a most unconvincing reconciliation with certain 19th century western philosophies. The entire book is based on evolutionism and progressionism. It will remain one of the most well known classics of Islamic modernism.

YMD: You have known the late Muhammad Asad through his writings and perhaps also in his capacities in the foreign ministry of Pakistan. Were his works like ‘The Road to Makkah’ and ‘Islam at the Crossroads’ instrumental in your own conversion to Islam? Did you ever perceive a certain evolution in his thought: an evolution to which you couldn’t reconcile yourself in later years? If so, can you please explain where you differed from his viewpoints? What is your opinion about his Commentary (on the Qur’an)? Would you recommend its inclusion in Islamic studies, either private or institutionalized?

MJ: Muhammad Asad’s ‘The Road to Mecca’ inspired my desire to live in a Muslim country and ‘Islam at the crossroads’ determined my entire literary career. However, his ‘Message of the Qur’an’ is almost entirely based on ‘The Manar’ by Shaikh Muhammad Abduh. It is filled with modernism and naturalism. Muhammad Asad was a great admirer of Shaikh Muhammad Abduh and was much influenced by him.

YMD: Alija Ali Izzetbegovich, the former President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been one of the most unsung Muslim intellectuals in modern European history. What has been your own assessment of his life and works? How would you rate his work, ‘Islam between East and West’?

MJ: Having only read a brief biography and obituaries and not ‘Islam between East and West,’ (I may say that) Alija Ali Izzetbegovich is renowned as the most distinguished Bosnian Muslim statesman.

YMD: Writing in as far back as 1969, you had stated that the Muslim Ulema (with honourable exceptions) ‘had become like the Pharisees against whom Jesus Christ devoted his entire mission. In their extremes of verbal hair splitting, some of our Ulema have outdone the Talmud and put the Rabbis to shame.’ How much has the situation progressed for the better today, some thirty-five years later?

MJ: Although certain Ulema have shortcomings the righteous amongst them uphold the Shariat, combat bid’ah or innovations and can be regarded as the indispensable pillar of traditional Islamic civilization.

YMD: Do you see a marked difference in approach on the part of the Orientalists in view of the spread of Islamic knowledge, and in view of questions of their intellectual integrity raised now and then, especially by Norman Daniel?

MJ: Even the most ‘sympathetic’ Orientalists think Islam should change in conformity to the demands of modern life; some of them even propose that Qur’an and Hadith be subjected to ‘Higher Criticism’ like Biblical studies, (and that) a search (be made) among modernists for one who could play the part of a Muslim Martin Luther and ‘updating’ Islam like Vatican II.

YMD: Some years back when Frithjof Schuon was criticized in the Impact for his Sufi practices, you had reacted strongly. Do you agree with the ideas presented by him, and the practices he tried to promote?

MJ: I was utterly shocked by the article in Impact condemning Frithjof Schuon and considered it (and still do) the worst character assassination. When dissatisfied with revivalist books, I was at first greatly impressed with Schuon’s writings. The writings of his school were alone in emphasizing the necessity of beauty and Islamic art, strongly condemned industrialism and modern science and upheld traditional orthodox Islamic civilization in every aspect of a Muslim’s life. Schuon’s writings remained my favourite books until I met with his divorced third wife. We became best friends and she related all her experiences in her 30-year life with Schuon. So Impact’s article turned out to be true after all. My new found friend disclosed even more shocking facts about Schuon which utterly disqualified him as a spiritual guide. She disclosed that Schuon lived with three women without proper Nikah. He loved nudity and was accused in court of sexual child abuse. He hugged dozens of beautiful, bare-breasted young girls clad in only a transparent loin-cloth. He painted fifty pictures of his youngest wife in the nude. As entertainment, he and his followers danced native Indian dances. Outside Schuon’s house was a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary. Worst of all, he forbade his followers to befriend other Muslims. I still have all Schuon’s books; they still attract me but I cannot look at them without a profound sense of shame.

YMD: What, in general, is your assessment of the neo-apologists and propagators of Sufi ideas such as Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings, or others of this class? Do you think that, in effect, they offer pantheism rather than impress about Islam’s unique ideas and strict tawhid perspectives?

MJ: Like Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings are my favourite writers. More profound criticism of Western philosophy, science and technology is not found among any of the revivalist writers. Martin Lings Seerat is by far the best in English – based entirely on Qur’an and Hadith.

YMD: How do you rate Rene Guenon’s writings? Do you think his obsession with the cyclic explanation, did away with whatever good criticism he made against the Western culture, and contributed nothing, despite his long stay in Egypt, to the projection of Islam as primarily rational?

MJ: No modern writer attacked modern civilization and all it stands for more than Rene Guenon. Next to him the revivalist figures appear childish. His all-out attack on evolutionism and progressionism is decisive and irrefutable. He proved the cyclic and disproved progress. No sensitive, intelligent mind can study Rene Geunon’s ‘Crisis of the Modern World’ and ‘Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times’ without being changed forever.

YMD: How would you explain the exclusion of many powerful Muslim personalities of not only our own times, but even of the first half of the last century from the ‘Encyclopedia of Islam’ produced at Braille, when you find entries on other less influential men of the past?

MJ: The ‘Encyclopaedia of Islam’ is entirely an Orientalist work. The exclusion of these powerful Muslim personalities of the past and present serves their own nefarious purposes of keeping serious scholars ignorant about them.

YMD: In your opinion, how effective is the present educational system in the Muslim world? Will a piecemeal attempt at making conventional western-style education conform to Islamic requirements suffice in effecting a lasting transformation amongst the Muslim youth today? Or will a wholesale shift in paradigm be necessary before a new edifice of education is built on premises that are strictly in keeping with the founding principles of the Islamic worldview?

MJ: The present educational system in Muslim countries results in imitation of Westerners. It destroys faith in Islam and the Islamic way of life. Maulana Maudoodi was most concerned about this when in 1939 he wrote Talimat and Tanqihat. Despite all their defects, I am most opposed to the secularization or closing down of the Deeni Madaris – all that is left of traditional Islamic education for the young today.

YMD: While the Jews have always disowned the ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ever since it was first discovered in the early years of the twentieth century, there is a widespread belief that the ‘Protocols’ form the blueprint for Jewish world domination. What is your own view on the ‘Protocols’ and the Zionist movement in general?

MJ: Nobody knows if the ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ is authentic or not (?). If so, it was probably written by Theodore Herzl at the first Zionist Convention in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. Literary similarities between the ‘Protocols’ and ‘The Jewish State’ (1896) are striking. Racial anti-semitism produced by the ‘Protocols’ which fail to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism is a Western import into the Muslim world previously unknown. Orthodox Judaism and Zionism conflict and are irreconcilable.

YMD: The WTC attacks of September 11, 2001, have had a profound impact on the prospects for Islamic revival in the 21st century. How historic do you think is this development? What has been your assessment of global developments with regard to Islam and the Muslim world in the four years since the event? Do you perceive an attempt at neo-colonization of the energy-rich Muslim lands by the Western Powers led by the US as sufficient justification for those Muslims who have picked up the gauntlet and have responded in kind to the oppression that has become the staple fare of innocent Muslims in several parts of the globe?

MJ: The USA under President Bush is engaged in an all-out war on Islam: the same colonialism and imperialism as the British and French a century ago. But insurgency and suicide bombers are no effective response. Shocking disregard for human life, especially women, children and the elderly – all innocent non-combatants cannot qualify the struggle as Jihad. Jihad must be waged according to Shariat.

YMD: Your views on the future of the Muslim people and the prospects for the Islamic faith in the 21st century? Do you see a vision of hope which bases itself on the inherent strengths – howsoever negligible – of the Muslim Ummah today, as against one which has for its premises the myriad weaknesses of the community?

MJ: As despair and hopelessness are forbidden in Islam, I view the future with great caution. The destruction of most of the outward signs of traditional environment and atmosphere in Islam, particularly architecture and Islamic dress for males as well as females is a catastrophic loss.Taqwa will remain in the next century although it will grow less and less and harder and harder to find. Many signs of the Last Days predicted by Hadith are now present. When asked what to do at the approach of the Last Days, the Holy Prophet replied: ‘Separate yourself from the evil ones, concentrate on your own affairs and cling to the roots of the tree (of Islam) until death overtakes you in that state…’



Al-Ghazali: The Alchemist of Happiness (2004)

Exploring the life and impact of the greatest spiritual and legal philosopher in Islamic history, this film examines Ghazali’s existential crisis of faith that arose from his rejection of religious dogmatism, and reveals profound parallels with our own times.

Ghazali became known as the Proof of Islam and his path of love and spiritual excellence overcame the pitfalls of the organized religion of his day. His path was largely abandoned by early 20th century Muslim reformers for the more strident and less tolerant school of Ibn Taymiyya. Combining drama with documentary, this film argues that Ghazali’s Islam is the antidote for today’s terror.

– Written by Abdul Latif Salazar (Director)