In the context of knowledge, the intellectual approach (istadalle) is more eminent than the source (dalile). Indeed, if the source is the beginning for human thought, which gives and makes sense, the process of the mind (or intelligence) is its finality. This criterion of knowledge is the most original and relevant that our classical masters (Al Muhassibi, Al Baqillani, Al Razi, Al Juwayni, etc.) established in their time. Moreover, it is still topical today, and it has even been taken up by contemporary science in a modern context, whereas it has been totally overlooked today in a Muslim context. We see the result today: classical Muslim religious philosophy has become this dead star which illusions about its light.
Religious philosophy, like any learned discipline, is above all a process of the mind, a methodology, which accompanies individuals (seekers of meaning) to grasp a part of reality. Discipline is always confused with its method. This is why it is good to remember that it is not really a question of reforming Islam, as the French Muslim modernists repeatedly repeat, but rather of regenerating the different accesses which allow it to be understand and embody it. It is man and his understanding that must be reformed.
A religious philosophy always ends up infusing the mentalities of societies and systematically gives rise to a vision of the world. All societies, even secularized, have a religious philosophy as their origin and structuring elements. Also, when a society like the Muslim community breaks up, we must try to find the foundations of its religious philosophy to aspire to understand the reasons.
We tend to forget it, but the observation of the fossilization of Muslim thought is old. Already, Ibn Badis in his diary al Shihab (the meteor) noted, sorry, that the Muslim universities rehashed the old commentaries and the endless grammatical analyzes which led him to write: “this is a way of fleeing the Koran even though we claim to serve it”. Let us remember this lucid affirmation so that it will serve us throughout our intellectual/spiritual inquiry.
But what would this method, supposed to give birth to this “new religious philosophy of Islam”, look like? Above all, it must allow a renewal of the gaze and rebuild a “science of seeing” (‘ilm al basira). This “philosophy of seeing” must allow us to look at the world and its realities in such a way as to be able to restore all of its originality after worn-out ideas or systems have made us forget this originality. To get closer to this purified look, you have to go through what some philosophers call “a negative egology”; our Sufi masters call this the asceticism that removes multiple veils or illusions. Western phenomenologists, of which Husserl is the founder, explain that their method goes through “the phenomenological reduction”. A terminology which can impress but which means nothing other than the purification of the perception that one has of things. The mystics of the East, and Muslims in particular, called this the “tazkiyatou al nafs” (the spiritual purification of the ego).
This is what Gaston Berger wrote in the book “PHENOMENOLOGY OF TIME AND PROSPECTIVE”:
“We then see everything that separates phenomenological reflection from spiritual experience. They often use the same language. They have the same mistrust for the world and for sensibility. They both speak of purity and purification. They ask us to convert, they require a painful effort to tear us away from natural attachments and to go beyond the world (…). The intention, however, remains very different. Here it is a question of understanding and there of uniting. Here, lucidity is the goal, there it can only be a means — perhaps even a dangerous means since it is necessary, to make union possible, to consent to the night of intelligence” (p.45 ).
We discover that our Sufis were our only phenomenologists, in the sense we give it today in philosophy, but they were above all scholars who had developed a real epistemology that will support the “science of seeing” that they will develop entirely and arouse a real intellectual and moral requirement. It is in this that we must understand the superiority that Ghazali granted them over the Aristotelian theologian-philosophers. The vision of the world of a Ghazali or an Ibn Arabi was more modern than that of an Averroes who was wrong about (almost) everything in his cosmology, he who was a “radicalized Aristotelian”; nowadays we only remember from Aristotle his “Morals to Nicomache”. We can even say that Sufi thought was ahead of modernity in its organic and dynamic vision of the world.
But let us reread the stages that the school of phenomenology develops in order to be able to recognize in them a similar path taken by the mystics a thousand years before Husserl and his school. Here is in a few words summarized the method of this school by Gaston Berger; he speaks of these 3 stages of reduction/purification in order to reach, at the end of this intellectual asceticism, the knowing subject that the Sufis call the “real me”, but first of all wishes to recall what he means by “reduction”: “The the only acceptable method, he says, will consist in disengaging the immediate from what hides it. The “unveiling” is the positive result of a negative operation that Husserl calls “reduction.” This term should not awaken in us the idea of impoverishment, but that of purification. Phenomenology thus presents itself as a series of successive purifications” (id. p51).
From there, Gaston Berger will recall the first level of “purification” which is the “philosophical reduction”, then the need to access a deeper level which is the “eidetic reduction”, which quite simply means the search for the real meaning of things behind their facticity or the artificial, to finally end with the “transcendental reduction” and which is nothing other than the discovery of the real and knowing self. This is what we can read in “THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF TIME AND PROSPECTIVE”: “Phenomenology proceeds in stages. At each of these a partial unveiling takes place”. Indeed, “one must first practice the philosophical reduction which diverts our attention from theories concerning things in order to concentrate it on the things themselves” then proceed to the “eidetic reduction which applies to disengage essences from the accidental (…)”.
After this double purification, difficult and laborious, “it seems here that all the veils are lifted and that we see what we were looking for. The world, with all its beings, its facts, its forms, its essences, is revealed as a “phenomenon” offered to the gaze of a pure subject (…)”. I understand at this stage, “that I certainly cannot separate actually of my body or my feelings, but I can to know that they are at me instead of believing that they are myself”.
Summarized in this way, the entire phenomenological method, which is one of the most influential philosophical currents in the contemporary world, is unmistakably similar to that of the Sufis who themselves built their “science of seeing” on the triptych consciousness (nafs ) – heart (qalb) – real me (ruh) and calling for a succession of reductions/purifications to reach the knowing subject and understand that my feelings are mine without them being myself.
I take this opportunity here to remind you that it is a Koranic duty not to confuse our authentic Sufi masters with the brotherly nonsense of our time which freezes our eyes on ineffective practices and distances us from the truly spiritual world. If Sufism has always claimed a certain realism, contemporary brotherhood has become pure charlatanism.
This philosophical method thus seeks to achieve a form of lucidity about the meanings or meaning of the world. It sharpens my gaze but does not transform me as a man committed to the human adventure. “It does not apply to making us ‘give up’ such desires, such attachments, such activities; it only wants to make us understand how they offer themselves to consciousness… (id. p46)”. Whereas the mystic or the moralist seeks moral improvement. His moral or spiritual conversion tends to make him “give up one attitude” to make him “take on another.” The method of this science of seeing “reveals to us the conditions of the spectacle” whereas the mystic is an actor for his own moral improvement. This is why the Koran calls us systematically and respectively to lucidity (fa absirou) and to moral action by giving the latter a precedence: “Fast reward for those who do” (fa ni’ma ajrou l’amiline) .
Our Sufi masters have developed a theory of knowledge, “pure theoretics” as contemporary philosophers would say, by bringing the real and knowing self (the transcendental ego for Gaston Berger) to be the root that gives meaning. In other words, and as Western philosophers say, “what positivism calls a fact is precisely what has been ‘made’ by a man”. At the foundation of knowledge there is an “I”, an “intentionality”, which is not a consciousness isolated from the world, but this consciousness which is always “consciousness of something”.
This is why our conscience is always in action and actor in the world, and consequently it must systematically renew its glance by re-examining the ideas and systems of thought by an asceticism, initially intellectual to hope then to lead to a spiritual conversion. We understand better this link between ethics and knowledge so recalled by the Koran – “Be pious and God will teach you” – or even this word of the Prophet (ç): “Whoever applies what he knows, God will teach him a knowledge that ‘he does not know “.
Only Sufi epistemology can help us offer a new religious philosophy that is serious and respectful of its source (of life) numerous in our mosques in “France and Navarre”. Certain Western philosophers have understood that one could approach the real and knowing self by other means than those which they themselves have constructed. Gaston Berger saw this well when he recalled that “the surest guides are perhaps the mystics, who find in the perfection of their love the strength to detach themselves from the world better than a simple philosopher can do, or again these oriental meditatives who twenty centuries before Descartes lived the relationship between subject and object” (id.p36).
Also, by following the epistemological trace of our Sufi masters, it is this choice that we have made to build our method supporting this new religious philosophy, taking great care to reformulate it to make it more accessible to the “Men” of our time. Our sincere spiritual masters are the surest voice/way.
Now, we need to see this new method, the “science of seeing”, in action and this, by taking a concrete example in the person of Mohammed Iqbal. At 20th century, he was the first Muslim phenomenologist/philosopher with this dual culture allowing him to deconstruct certain meanings rooted in Muslim mentalities that blocked the perpetual source that is the Koran. These intellectual obstructions resulted in our minds drying up due to the late classical theological and philosophical systems (from the 15th century in a Sunni context). Iqbal will reconstruct, by a succession of intellectual purifications, the theological conception of God, of Man, of Knowledge, of Reality, etc. to find their originality and authentic vitality.