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1.Religious beliefs, as basic convictions about man and the universe and the right way of life, are not rationally ascertained prior to their acceptance, but are straightaway inherited from one’s milieu, even as the child learns a natural language. The basic convictions, metaphysical and ethical, constitute the religious life world, or language of the spirit into which the child is born and evolves into an adult through learning the concrete patterns of human response to the essentially inscrutable mystery of his own being and of the universe.

2.The exposure to alien life worlds or the inner growth of the individual may male him question his inherited religious convictions. He may then be led to justify them, wholly or in part, or he may reject them, secretly or openly, or turn skeptical, in some measure or the other, as the case may be. However neither their justification nor their rejection can deemed to be the fruit of pure reasoning without any antecedent bias, favorable or unfavorable, towards his inherited life world or system of concepts and values. The will to believe, or the will to reject, both of which are rooted in extra-logical situational factors, play a significant role in shaping the final outcome of the individual’s quest for inner certainty, once his ‘conceptual innocence’ or anchorage of faith in his inherited life world has been lost, due to whatever reason.

3.Contemporary man may best regain his inner certainty by seeking, in a spirit of humility, honesty and sympathy, the elements in his own tradition that evoke his authentic commitment. He may then search his heart whether this commitment authentically prompts him to identify himself with his inherited religion, despite the elements of disvalue he finds in the tradition. If so, he may justifiably proceed to prune the avowedly negative elements from the traditional thought and value systems as restructured by him. He could honestly claim his redefined version to be one among the several versions constituting the total spectrum of the religious tradition. Such an approach definitely involves orthogenetic criticism, reinterpretation and persuasive definitions, but it does not involve hypocrisy or disloyalty to the tradition.

4.The reconstruction or redefinition of religious convictions, to make them more acceptable to the mature and rationally oriented believers and to prove or weed away crude mythical elements (unnoticed by uncritical credulous believers) represents the creative growth of a cherished tradition. This growth is different from mere rationalization, which is basically defensive, rather then exploratory. Genuine reconstruction of a tradition is rooted in conceptual clarity and moral courage which jointly lead to an integrated life world in which the believer really lives and acts; defensive rationalization is rooted in conceptual confusions and fear of change which jointly lead to accepting of more or less bad reasons for continuing to cling to the faith of one’s forefathers; a faith which is verbalized with great vigor, but not lived with any inner consistency or rigor.

5.A religious faith, no matter how internally coherent and emotionally satisfying it might become as a result of the systematic reconstruction of its basic concepts and values, will always fall short of objective certainty which characterizes logical, mathematical or scientific truth. Religious beliefs are condemned to be existential convictions—the truths of being rather than the truths of logic or of perception. This, however, does not rule out the possibility of a logic of non-coercive criteria for evaluating existential convictions which should not be confused with pure whims or fancies.

6.The lack of logical or scientific objectivity should not be deemed to lower the cognitive status of existential convictions or their assimilation to mere attitudes, feelings or emotional responses whose validity, or otherwise, is not worth bothering about by the truly cultured, critical and scientific intellect. The status of existential convictions ought to be linked with their crucial role in the complete humanization of man—the activation and flowering of the dimensions of human response, other than the purely logical or scientific, namely, of morality, art, and spirituality.

7.If one’s honest and loving search for elements of permanent value in his own tradition leaves him so profoundly dissatisfied that he despairs of pruning it for enhancing its vitality and relevance to the contemporary human situation he would be quite justified in abandoning it and seeking spiritual anchorage elsewhere as an seeker of truth. The process of spiritual rehabilitation may take considerable time and be preceded by inner anguish and conflict. But a long dark night of the soul is, perhaps, the necessary prelude to the peace that passeth understanding. The true pilgrim on the journey of the spirit should not grudge the pangs of spiritual rebirth.

8.It is an untenable view that mystical experience supplies to the fully awakened soul a direct and infallible vision of reality, free from all refraction, distortion or fragmentation that are inseparable features of ordinary human perception and thought. It is much likely that mystical experience also suffers from limitations due to the contextual and interpretative elements inseparable from all experience, as such. Even if one were to concede, for argument’s sake, that mystical experience is not human experience, in the ordinary contextual sense, but a Divine revelation to uncommonly sensitized souls, the mystic himself and all others need must interpret the mystical experience in order to know what it is all about and to make it relevant to the normal concerns and conduct of individual and social life. The act of relating the mystical experience, (relatively rare and of short duration) with ordinary everyday experience inevitably would be done in the framework of the concepts and categories of the milieu.

9.Mystical experience is only one strand in the total spectrum of man’s awareness and responses: the moral, the aesthetic, the logical and perceptual. A further difficulty arises from the prima facie resemblance between the mystical state and the altered states of consciousness induced by some drugs, electric stimulation of some nerve centers and other practices. Therefore, neither the uncritical attribution or assimilation to pathological states is justifiable, unless we first take into account the concrete impact of mystical experience upon the life history of the person concerned.

10.Granted that there are modes of awareness and sources of truth, other that those normally available to humans, all concrete truth-claims, no matter how derived, must be subjected to a proper and adequate test of validation before being accepted as truth. If and when certain types of mystical experience occur in the human family, and such experience conflict with other normal veridical experiences, it would not be a proper method to denigrate or reject either the mystical or the normal in hasty one-sided manner. The conflict should be resolved by developing an epistemology, which takes into account the entire range of different types of experience. This caution is not intellectual pride, but rather humility and honesty in the face of the complexity and mystery of the universe.

11.The ultimate value and validity of mystical experience must be deemed to lie in its actual role in enriching the quality of human life and promoting moral and spiritual values in the individual and society. Mystical experience can not be deemed to give to the mystic any super-authority, as it were, to annul or abrogate, or even modify, the clear and categorical verdicts of man’s authentic conscience, the nexus of deductive logic or mathematical reasoning, or the verifiable truth-claims of science within the realm of human experience.

12.All religions stand for cultivating the attitude of wonder at the contemplation of the universe and of surrender to a mysterious Power, felt as sacred or holy, even though religions may differ in their respective theologies, symbols and rituals. This plurality does not negate the basic oneness of man’s religious consciousness: his basic state of mind and of feeling, termed ‘piety’ or ‘religious devotion’. Genuine spiritual sensitivity to the sense of ‘the Holy Mystery’, immanent in and transcending the world of matter, does not stand in the way of imaginatively enjoying diverse symbols and rites of other traditions, even as one appreciates works of art in different styles or in different media, while keeping one’s own special style or medium of aesthetic expression. Even the denial of a personal God does not necessarily amount to the denial of religious experience (conceptualized in a non-theistic frame of reference) or the denial of moral and spiritual values in their broad non-sectarian sense.

13.Religious plurality does not produce any conflict, individual or social, so long as religion is treated as a means of spiritual growth rather than of political or economic power. Separating religion from politics, however does not amount to permitting the separation of morality from politics. In other words, the concept of secular politics does not logically imply amoral politics.

The religious attitude, by itself is not a panacea for human ills, or atheism the root cause of the strife and violence ever present in man’s history. Strife and violence spring from man’s struggle for survival in a harsh world, and his hunger, almost irrepressible, to reach out for the largest slice of the cake without caring for the other. The solution to the human predicament lies, not in moralizing or spirituality alone, but in our giving effective help towards the establishment of social justice in the human family as a whole.

14.Value oriented action or ethical conduct does not logically presuppose any particular theology or ontology over and above the true commitment to spiritual and moral values. A self-directing and mature person can habitually act ethically and responsibly, without fear of punishment or hope of reward. Nevertheless, most men, at some time or the other, do stand in need of faith in God or some metaphysical reality, as the invincible support and unfailing guarantor of the ultimate triumph of truth and justice in order to retain their moral courage and integrity of being in the face of the trials, temptations and tragedies of life.

15.The simple goodness of heart, spontaneous respect, kindliness and solicitude for all living creatures, as members of a large cosmic family, the habitual will to do the right and the just, for their own sake, the active aspiration to give one’s best to society, at large, seeking fulfillment through personal love and loyalty, and the struggle for social justice, the ceaseless search for truth and beauty, and finally, the joyful acceptance of suffering, decay and death, as the other side of life itself. These are the basic values that ought to be deemed the indispensable categorical imperatives for contemporary man. How or through what means; religious/theological, or extra-religious, extra theological; the individual comes to internalize and to live out the above values should be optional for each individual. Others, be they themselves religious or non-religious, need not worry about the route each individual takes to do so.

16.The contemporary human situation is marked, specially, by the scientific temper and easy inter-cultural communication. The scientific temper has led to the verifiable and quantitative statements of science becoming the paradigm of all knowledge. Easy inter-cultural communication has made the world into a plural cultural society, as it were. Scientism and cultural pluralism have conspired to turn contemporary man into a ‘doubting animal’ who has lost forever his anchorage of faith in his inherited life world. This, however, does not mean an irretrievable breakdown of genuine faith. A mature authentic faith, rooted in man’s response to the mystery of the universe, a faith purified from the crude mix of magic, myth and unexamined assumptions, a faith fully aware of the complexities of the human situation, a faith not, in the least, afraid aid of ceaseless enquiry and creativity of values – such a faith is still an open possibility.

17.The conflict, if any, between human reasoning and Divine revelation disappears when we review them as processes in history. The conflict between Humanism and Theism, or between man-centered religions and God-centered religions dissolves when we view God and man, not as totally alien to each other, but in an inscrutable relationship of the whole and the part, adumbrated in, but never captured, in the various analogies of the ocean and the drop, the sun and its rays, the sap and the plant, the self and the stream of consciousness, or in the distinction, if any, between Brahman and Atman.

18.The cardinal value for contemporary man is the quest for authentic being. Any religion or philosophy that denies or obstructs, directly or indirectly, man’s extremely slow and tortuous progress towards this ideal is misleading and false.

Religious Faith And Values: Eighteen Theses on Religion
BY Jamal Khwaja

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Jamal Khwaja studied Philosophy in India & Europe. He was elected to the Indian Parliament in 1957. He retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of seven major books. 

Khwaja’s work seeks to answer three inter-related questions: Firstly, What does it mean to be an authentic Muslim? Secondly, How should a believer understand and interpret the Holy Quran in the 21st century?  And finally, What is the role of Islam in a pluralistic society? 

Khwaja believes in judiciously creative modernization rooted in the Quran and firmly opposes shallow, unprincipled imitation of the West. His mission is to stimulate serious rethinking and informed dialog between tradition and modernity in Islam. 

Khwaja’s work is the definitive contemporary discussion regarding the collision of Islam and Modernity. Readers of his work will be in turn, informed, inspired, and intellectually liberated.