Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Seyyed Hossein

Iranian Islamic Scholar and Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Author Quotes

The anti-religious modernism which now threatens Islam and Muslims everywhere can be fully understood only by understanding the religion of the civilization in whose bosom modernism first developed, against which it rebelled, and whose tenets it has been challenging through constant battle since the birth of the modern world in the Renaissance.

Their view is based on the idea that all religions are the same and equal and that what differs among them is unimportant, this sense of equality being based more on sentimentality and less on metaphysical discernment?he was a modernist who thought that, by putting aside the distinct metaphysical, theological, and social teachings of various religions, he could create religious unity and bring the religions together in a healthy, friendly, and brotherly fashion. Now, brotherhood and sisterhood are positive human attitudes; it is good to be brothers. I would be the last person to negate the virtue of such an attitude and in fact in Islam, the devout call each other brothers and sisters. Yet that ?feeling? of brotherhood is certainly not going to solve the problem of the plurality of religions, because it leaves aside the basic question of religious truth, which is related to knowledge rather than sentiment.

The battle was lost as soon as the Hands of God were cut off from nature.

To consider Western science simply as a continuation of Islamic science is, therefore, to misunderstand completely both the epistemological foundations of the two sciences and the relationship that each has to the world of faith and revelation. It is also to misunderstand the metaphysical and philosophical backgrounds of the two sciences.

The common ground of both Capitalism and Socialism is a materialistic view of life and being. Materialism in its war with the Spirit has taken on many forms; some have promoted its goals with great subtlety, whilst others have done so with an alarming lack of subtlety, but all have added, in greater or lesser measure, to the growing misery of Mankind. The forms which have done the most damage in our time may be enumerated as: Freemasonry, Liberalism, Nihilism, Capitalism, Socialism, Marxism, Imperialism, Anarchism, Modernism and the New Age.

Two diametrically opposed points of view concerning religion in the West are to bee seen among Muslims. Some consider all Westerners to be Christians, with the small Jewish minority being of course an exception, and often refer to Westerners as those Christians as if the West were of the Middle Ages when the Crusades were carried out and when Western civilization lived in what has been called the Age of Faith. Another group of Muslims hold the opposite view that all Westerners are materialists or agnostics and skeptics and in fact there is no religion among the Westerners. Now it is essential to insist that both of these views are false.

The compartmentalization of knowledge, which is one of the characteristics of the mental and intellectual scene of the modern world, is not only reflected in modern education but is also caused by it.

We live among ruins in a World in which ?god is dead? as Nietzsche stated. The ideals of today are comfort, expediency, surface knowledge, disregard for one?s ancestral heritage and traditions, catering to the lowest standards of taste and intelligence, apotheosis of the pathetic, hoarding of material objects and possessions, disrespect for all that is inherently higher and better ? in other words

The decadence which did occur in the Islamic world belongs to a much later period of Islamic history than is usually claimed. This fact would be fully substantiated if the integral history of Islamic science and civilization were to be written one day. Unfortunately to this day such a detailed history does not exist and moreover much of the scholarly work that has been done in this field has been carried out by Western scholars who have been naturally primarily interested in those aspects of the Islamic sciences that have influenced the West. It remains the task of Muslims scholars and scientists to look upon the whole of this scientific tradition from the point of view of Islam and the inner dynamics of Islamic history itself.

Without the withering criticism by nominalism, medieval Christian philosophy and theology would not have relinquished their claim to the role of knowledge in discovering the nature of things in light of higher principles; instead, it caused them to leave the field of battle without any defense before the onslaught of secularism, rationalism, and empiricism, which were, as a result, able to gain a remarkably easy victory.

The environmental crisis has deep spiritual, philosophical, and religious roots and causes. It is not merely the result of bad engineering.

The ideal of the 11th/17th century physicists was to be able to explain all physical reality in terms of the movement of atoms. This idea was extended by people like Descartes who saw the human body itself as nothing but a machine. Chemists tried to study chemical reaction in this light and reduce chemistry to a form of physics, and biologists tried to reduce their science to simply chemical reactions and then finally to the movement of physical particles. The idea of reductionsm which is innate to modern science and which was only fortified by the tehory of evolution could be described as the reduction fo the spirit to the psyche, the psyche to biological activity, life to lifeless matter and lifeless matter to purely quantitative particles or bundles of energy whose movements can be measured and quantified.

The Islamic intellectual tradition has usually not seen a dichotomy between intellect and intuition but has created a hierarchy of knowledge and methods of attaining knowledge according to which degrees of both intellection and intuition become harmonized in an order encompassing all the means available to man to know, from sensual knowledge an reason to intellection and inner version or the knowledge of the heart.

The life of Islamic philosophy did not terminate with Ibn Rushd nearly eight hundred years ago, as thought by Western scholarship for several centuries. Rather, its activities continued strongly during the later centuries, particularly in Persia and other eastern lands of Islam, and it was revived in Egypt during the last century.

The pollution of the environment is kind of an eleventh hour externalization of the pollution within us.

The quest for truth must be carried out by each person individually. It is like breathing, something which no one else can do for us.

The question, therefore, is not whether one should teach philosophy to Muslim students, but rather what kind or kinds of philosophy should be taught and how the subject should be approached.

The significance of the vast Islamic scientific tradition for Muslims and especially for young Muslims today is not only that it gives them a sense of pride in their own civilization because of the prestige that science has in the present day world. It is furthermore a testament to the way Islam was able to cultivate various sciences extensively without becoming alienated from the Islamic world view and without creating a science whose application would destroy the world of nature and the harmony that must exist between man and the natural environment.

The theory of evolution also had a very great effect in alienating science from religion and creating a world in which one could go about studying the wonders of creation without ever having a sense of wonder in the religious sense of that term.

The tradition of Islamic science of course gradually weakened but it did not decay as rapidly as some people have claimed in the West. It continued on into the 10th, 11th and 12th Islamic centuries especially in the fields of medicine and pharmacology. If one is going to talk about the decay of the Islamic sciences, it is only of the last two or three centuries that one should speak if one takes the whole of the Islamic world into consideration. And one should not be ashamed of that fact because no civilization in the history of science has always been avidly interested in the natural sciences throughout its whole history. There have been periods of greater interest and those of lesser interest in every civilization, and there is no reason why one should equate the gradual loss of impetus in the cultivation of the sciences in the Islamic world with an automatic decadence of that civilization. This is a modern, Western view which equates civilization with science as understood in the modern sense.

The traditional doctrine of man and not the measurement of skulls and footprints is the key for the understanding of that anthropos who, despite the rebellion of Promethean man against Heaven from the period of Renaissance and its aftermath, is still the inner man of every man, the reality which no human being can deny wherever and whenever he lives, the imprint of a theomorphic nature which no historical change and transformation can erase completely from the face of that creature called man.

Modern science was born through the Scientific Revolution in the 11th/17th century at a time when, as we saw earlier, European philosophy had itself rebelled against revelation and the religious world view. The background of modern science is a particular philosophical outlook which sees the parameters of the physical world, that is, space, time, matter and energy to be realities that are independent of higher orders of being and cut off from the power of God, at least during the unfolding of the history of the cosmos. It views the physical world as being primarily the subject of mathematicization and quantification and, in a sense, absolutizes the mathematical study of nature relegating the non-quantifiable aspects of physical existence to irrelevance.

Much has been said about the new adventures of man in the twentieth century, the age known for the use of atomic power and flight into space. However, I personally believe that there is in truth only one new experience of real significance which confronts twentieth century man, one which his ancestors did not face. That experience is not one of discovering new continents and even planets, but one of journeying from one religious universe to another ... a new situation whose main features and characteristics cannot be neglected by any intelligent person interested in the phenomena of religion or belonging to the world of faith.

Mu?ammad is a man, but not like other men. Rather, he is a ruby and other men are like stones.

Now rituals, from the point of view of religion, are God-made. I am not using the term ritual as seen from the secular point of view, as if one were putting on one?s gown and going to some commencement exercise or some other humanly created action, often called a ?ritual? in everyday discourse today. I am using it in the religious sense. According to all traditional religions, rituals descend from Heaven?these rites, by virtue of their re-enactment on earth, link the earth with the higher levels of reality. A rite always links us with the vertical axis of existence, and by virtue of that, links us also with the principles of nature. This truth holds not only for the primal religions, where certain acts are carried out in nature itself?let us say the African religions or the Aboriginal religion of Australia, or the religions of the Native American Indians?but also in the Abrahamic world, in the Hindu world, and in the Iranian religions. Whether one is using particular natural forms such as a tree or a rock or a cave or something like that, or man-made objects of sacred and liturgical art related to rites carried out inside a church, synagogue, mosque, or Hindu temple, it does not make any difference. The same truth is to be found in all these cases. From a metaphysical point of view a ritual always re-establishes balance with the cosmic order.

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Seyyed Hossein
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Iranian Islamic Scholar and Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University