My finance professor in Australia, years ago, in half jest (at my condition) and half seriously asked me to study philosophy over Finance (a discipline which I was not doing too well then but have attained reasonable mastery over now). The professor’s advice stemmed from the reputation I was gaining in the University which, in turn, among other things, stemmed from my immersion into philosophy. In retrospect, I was attracted towards the discipline because of my wounded self, a legacy of growing up in the Kashmir of the nineties. I did study the discipline pretty vigorously but I must confess after all these years that I am a failed philosopher. This assertion, I must add, does not step from humility, in the sense that I, after steeping myself in philosophy could not find the answers I was seeking. It is just that I have failed in philosophy.
Studying philosophy was a balm, an antidote for me and my injured self; it was a quest for healing against the backdrop of intense wandering (international) made possible by the globalization and internationalization of Western universities. My self- emotional, spiritual and intellectual-had rent asunder, and split. (This must not be confused with schizophrenia; the condition would be too facile and narrow to describe the then me. It was more: a profound existential angst that I could not put a finger on then and identify).
Because I found myself in a Western society, determined largely by reason, I sought solace in reason and its corollary, the intellect. The journey was not easy; it was as fraught and difficult as can be but gradually and inexorably I became a man of reason, wherein I sought to integrate reason with my faith, Islam. All in all, it was salubrious experience which I will neither disavow nor disclaim. While it enriched me, and I sought to understand the Real and the Ultimate Divine Reality, through reason, it was inadequate. The world (duniya) stared at me with all its unfathomable mysteries and I felt like a minute speck against it.
My intellectual growth and expansion, however, continued apace.
By way of a digression, I must state that I am neither a polymath nor a genius. I am what I am: I am me. But, I continued delving into philosophy, political theory, international politics and relations, political economy, global security, country studies, economics, finance, public policy and governance studies and so on. What I gained over a period of years was some degree of insight. But, I felt a fundamental lacuna or emptiness. Something was eluding me.
I was reasonably happy in the ordinary sense of the term but this happiness did not appear to translate into contentment. Negative emotion(s)- anger, frustration and so on- would, at times, take hold of me. While reason inspired quiet confidence would constitute a part of myself and its emanation, but yet again, something was eluding till something happened, in both the conscious and subterranean aspects of my existence. (I will not, for reasons of prudence, reveal these experiences).
I followed up by offering the mandatory five times prayers that are obligatory upon Muslims. Then, one of the preceding days, as I was strolling back home after Maghreb prayers, I looked heavenward. The post dusk sky stared at me, with its full grandeur and awe. If this was the grandeur and awe of one small component of the universe, what the whole universe would be like, I thought. Other similar thoughts hit my mind: If for, instance, we cannot stare at the sun’s light without blinking, what would the luminosity (noor) of God be like? I thought about how my Beloved Prophet (SAW) had actually experienced God’s noor in all its luminous grandeur!! This awed and overwhelmed me intensely. Scenarios galore arose in my mind and as I arrived home, I reached for the Quran. As I flipped through its pages, a sudden tranquility defined my whole being, as if time stood still. For want of a better word, the realization that dawned upon me was that I was feeling my faith. This surreal moment was fleeting but the effects linger.
I felt and generally feel at peace with my self, and the world. The cumulative experience accrued from, what I emphasize upon, feeling faith. Hitherto, and till now, I was rationalizing faith, seeking the Ultimate Reality through reason and the intellect which I must admit took me up to a point but it was only after I opened my heart that I could feel my faith.
All this is neither to denigrate reason or the intellect. Both are important for the well rounded growth of the personality and the self. But, now, insofar as my frame of experience is concerned, I feel fuller and rather healed. However I, being a rational man, will not confuse a profoundly spiritual moment with a longue duree phase and plane of existence. I will have to work for that. But, the essential caveat here is that working towards the state in contention would mean I be an engaged Muslim. I will continue the study of domains as diverse as finance, economics and perhaps even international relations and try to convert these into applied knowledge but, as I do this, I will put my faith in Him , strive to do my best and aspire for that profoundly spiritual moment to define my existence. My wandering(s) might have come to an end but the quest has just begun!
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]