More dangerous than the absence of religion is the malice of secularisation of religion, the creation of false religion, the corruption of authentic tradition and bankruptcy of symbols. Counterfeit symbols, like inauthentic myths and rootless rituals tend to create the cauldron of confusion making people to oscillate between the poles of utter disbelief and militant piety. In an era of intellectual shallowness, when the collection of facts pertaining to the profane order and constricted to the horizontal aspect of human existence becomes the order of the day, not only are transcendental and unifying principles ignored, but are dethroned too. Seerah in modern times and for that matter the entire corpus of Islamic sciences has exhausted itself in Individuals whose scholarship we seriously doubt and whose errors and deviations are evident in axiomatic fashion. Before we come to the principle error in modern day approaches to Seerah and the contemporary understanding of the subject, it is pertinent to set some background in context of “Post-Colonial Muslim World”. The tormenting experience of colonialism made Muslims to look back at the Prophetic Model – The model they recognised as the archetype of virtue and just behaviour. But this Muslim urgency to read into the life of Prophet (SAW) the problems of their own time. This “reading-in” not only gave a hermeneutic twist to Seerah alien to its structure, but also pushed the real import of the Seerah into background, shrouding it behind the veils of political or mundane exigencies.
So, what is the true import of Seerah that we are referring to and how its fall into oblivion has brought among Muslims an alienation from the life of Prohpet (SAW) and his teachings? This is the metaphysical grounding of Seerah and its comprehension with reference to the transcendental and vertical component that forms the essence and marrow of Prophetic persona. With the profusion of Seerah literature – from both the Muslim scholars and orientalists, the gaze of the reader has been shifted from the spiritual and existential aspects of Seerah to its more mundane and yielding aspects. Attempts have been made to contextualise the life of Prophet outside the framework of Prohpethood and to understand him as a social reformer, ethical teacher, political leader or a strategist of worldly affairs. While these dimensions pertain to Seerah, no doubt, but they are peripheral and revolve in an orbit around the centre of prophetic phenomenon – the phenomenon that doesn’t defy the mundane, but goes beyond it into the realm of principles, metaphysical principles to be precise. Muhammad (SAW), as a founder of the last of the Major world religions, stands at the closure of the window of transcendence – the last to have had access to the realm of Being, transcendence and Godhead. In post-Muhammadan era, the revelation has exhausted itself and the mystical experiences, even if they are granted autonomy of content, have to pass through the Muhammdan gateway and they can’t be a more than of a hundred-thousandth ray of the sunlight which shineth in the bosom of Muhammad (SAW). Religion, if its truth has to have any value has to etch itself in the experiential landscape of man, but for the fact that modernity treats religion as no more than a socio-historic phenomenon, depriving it of its experiential and existential content, the spiritual aspect of prophethood is either lost or is appropriated and compensated by the naive leaps of parapsychology. Unless the transcendental aspect of prophethood is taken into account, the aspect which roots the teachings of Prophet not in any historical contingency, but in a timeless transcendental fountainhead, all attempts to benefit from the stream of prohpethood and to model our lives after it will end up at the secularisation of religion, a reference to which has been made in the beginning of this article.
The lives of Alexander and Napoleon may be understood without any reference to God and religion; the teachings of Plato and Plotinus may well be explicable without any reference to the transcendental cause, but the lives of Jesus and Muhammad, of Buddha and Moses can never be understood without a reference to God whom they called people to or religion which they established. This phenomenon, which I dare to call “secularisation of Seerah” has not only multiplied our misunderstandings of Seerah, but also deprived those aspects of their essence, which we claim to understand. At this junction, the first step is to understand the life of Prophet in the light of the mission which he carried out throughout his life and which formed the framework of the religion of Islam. The divine commandments, which Prophet (saw) identified as binding narrative and which defined the trajectory of his life couldn’t be understood in atomic sense, in their socio-historical context deprived of their religious and metaphysical import. The Quranic dictum “Your fellow man (Prophet) is neither misguided nor astray. Nor does he speak of his own whims”, need to be our defining points in any attempt to understand Seerah with its multifarious implications. Every act of Prophet and therefore every inactivity on his behalf could only be understood when these activities are seen in the backdrop of their divine origin. In this regard, Muslim scholars and recently some Orientalists have come up with profound and precise works on the life and teachings of Prophet. Shibli Nomani and Syed Suleiman Nadvi initiated the regime of serious seerah scholarship in Urdu and thence scholars like Idrees Khandelvi, Khalid Maso’od, Jafar Shah Phulwari, Naeem Siddiqui, Khursheed Lateef Gaba and others have produced works of merit and serious scholarship.
In recent times, English has emerged as the Lingua Franca, not only in worldly matters, but in religious affairs too. The younger generation is fast losing touch with oriental languages like Arabic, Persian and Urdu, which constitute the bulk of Islamic literature. Scholars have risen up to this change and have started to produce works of Seerah in English. In addition to Muslim scholars, Orientalists, whose language of priority is English have also added to the rich treasure of Seerah literature in English. Starting with Syed Ameer Ali and passing through the classical work of Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, the writers like Martin Lings, Adil Salahi, Karen Armstrong, Barnabey Rogerson, Marshall Hodgson and others have richly contributed to the field of Seerah. While the English authors mentioned here have brought in their biases here and there and tried to distort the import of Seerah, but their works on the whole are objective and scholarly. As we face the modern world with all its attendant intellectual challenges, it no longer suffices to treat Seerah as a mere collection of facts or a chronological look at the life and teachings of the Prophet, but a deeper hermeneutic treatment and an appreciation of Seerah rooted in wisdom is called for.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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