09 février 2005

Michel Vâlsan, Guénon’s work in Orient (excerpt)

We have been aware for several years that René Guénon’s work became more and more familiar to the intellectuals, and more especially to the university circles, in the Indo-Pakistan world. [1] It is time, we think, to take note, in a chronicle, of several characteristic facts. Mr. Mohammad Hassan Askarî, professor in English literature at the Islamic College (University of Karachi), who, in the past years, published in English an article about Guénon and his life, just wrote in Urdu (official language in Pakistan) two little books :

1. A repertoire of about 200 errors committed by the moderns regarding the traditional doctrines and realities;

2. A short history on the development of modern mentality.

The author presented his work, last year, to Mufti Mohammad Chafî', president of the Dâru-l-Ulûm of Karachi who, finding the content very relevant, added it to the program of studies for the academic year of 1968-1969. During the three months of the last fall semester, Prof. Mohammad Taqî (the president’s son) who became in charge of that development, took the texts as the base of his course, very much attended by the way, which continued in 1969.

The following sentence was taken from these teachings: “the analysis made by Guenon demonstrates that he is firm on the path of the Prophet and of his companions”; this also signifies for us that the spiritual climate in these Asian regions is a lot more opened to the universalistic conceptions of the tradition, than one would have thought. — Moreover, the alteration caused by the modern mind is a lot less deeper than the Westerners believe, even those with a traditional mentality, who let themselves be too easily impressed by the superficial degradations of the social style [2].

Mr. Askarî informs us at the same time of the fact that in India itself, young Muslims are more and more interested in traditional ideas as they are developed by Guénon. To better understand the favorable particularities presented by that specific traditional region (which corresponds to the geographical notion of an “Asian sub-continent”) we will quote a few passages (adjusted only from the verbal point of view) of the past correspondence with Mr. Askarî who, by thinking of translating in Urdu several of our articles, was telling us the following regarding the one called “Islam and the function of René Guénon” (E.T. Jan-Feb 1953): “In this last article you examine the question of introducing Guénon’s work to an Islamic milieu. I have several things to say about this point. I do not know the intellectual atmosphere existing in the other Islamic countries. But for the Muslims of Pakistan and India, the situation is slightly different.

First of all, it is important to realize that we have never insisted on the division between Sharîat and Tarîqat, [3] but rather on their harmony. For us the greatest esoteric masters have always been at the same time masters of exotericism; this is the case, for example, of Cheikh Ahmed Sirhindî, of Shâh Waliyullah ad-Dihlawî, as well as of his three sons Shâh Abdu-1-Azîz, Shâh Abdul Qâdir, Shâh Rafîu'ddîn, and eventually the case of Shâh Ashraf Alî who is the greatest esoteric and exoteric master of the 20th century. Therefore, it is not at all shocking for us when Guénon considers things from an esoteric point of view.

As for the question of introducing Guénon’s work to an Islamic milieu, you say, page 20: «But since these advantages of intelligibility are only worthy to an elite, his doctrinal synthesis should not be immediately brought into a language belonging to a religious-based civilization, where the presence of an official dogmatic teaching and the faith in the peculiar forms of the revelation are the constitutive elements of the tradition.»

And page 21: «A possible introduction to Guénon’s work to a traditional Islamic milieu should therefore be done with a qualified reference to the esoteric and metaphysical doctrines of Islam, taking into account what is inevitably delicate in the exposure of the esoteric doctrines of Islam even in front of a public which cannot be considered as a whole as being able to understand the things of that order.» And more explicitly on page 29 you mention the «purely intellectual conceptions which characterize the doctrinal synthesis of René Guenon and which would deserve an introduction and a more particular justification in a milieu of Islamic civilization.»

I believe that the intellectual and metaphysical attitude of Guénon will not be a problem for our readers. For the past five or six centuries, numerous books have adopted that same attitude and the same point of view. We cannot forget the role played by the Dâru-l-Ulûm in Deobend for the past hundred years. Shâh Ashraf Ali who had an intimate connection with that «House of Sciences (in the traditional sense of the word)» has expressly declared that nowadays the sulûk ichqî [initiatory path based mainly on the virtue of the spiritual desire] had lost a great part of its validity, and even became dangerous: he himself advised his disciples to adopt the sulûk ilmî [initiatory path based mainly on the doctrinal understanding]. [4]

On page 34, you consider the question of the exoteric authorities facing Guénon’s writings. If one had to find a “justification” of that order, I think it can easily come from our masters. For my own benefit, I have often noticed in their works some statements confirming what Guénon said; it is a pity that I did not take notes in this matter.

“On page 35, you talk about the hostility met by Cheikh al-Akbar in the exoteric milieu. This is not the case with us. Of course some objections have been raised — the most remarkable ones coming not from the exoteric side but from the esoteric grand master Cheikh Ahmed Sirhindî. And the defense of Cheikh al-Akbar came not only from the esoteric side, but also from the «exoteric» side: one of the best of these defenses came indeed from Shâh Ashraf Alî who filled incontestably the function of exoteric authority [while still being, of course, also an esoteric master]. He dedicated two little books to that subject. Thus, we never missed respect and reverence towards Cheikh al-Akbar. His Futûhât Mekkiyyah are often quoted as references of authority in the exoteric works published nowadays. This is especially the case for the people belonging to the Dâru-l-Ulûm of Deobend who are known for their exoteric orthodoxy and for their severity in this matter.

Our group is not hostile to the conception of the Wahdatu-l-wujûd [5]. Most people are silent with regard to this question. But this is the central theme of our traditional poetry in Urdu or in dialects like Punjabî, Sindhi and Pushtu. The inhabitants of our villages sing the Wahdatu-l-wujûd every night.

Regarding what you say about the question of the traditional universality, page 38, and about Guénon using Hindu terms and concepts, allow me to make some remarks:

a) In the 17th century, the prince Dârâ Shikûh, son of the emperor Shâh Djahân had already prepared a correspondence between the Hindu esoteric terms and the Islamic terms. This is a little book named Mâj-mau-l-Bahrayn (= The Reunion of the two Seas) [6]; the translation in Urdu is accessible even today for half a franc.

b) Cheikh Ahmed Sirhindî himself recognized the validity of the Vedic doctrines. What he is doubting about are the possibilities of realization offered by the actual Hinduism.

c) Shâh Waliyullah ad-Dihlawi wrote about the Vedic doctrines in his book Lamâhât that I already sent you.

d) The most explicit document on that question is a letter by Hazrat Maz'har Djânî Djânân contemporary and friend of Shâh ad-Dihlawî (18th century) who belonged to the order of the Mujaddidiyah Naqchbandiyah and who was acknowledged by Shâh ad-Dihlawî as a saint greater than himself, and who was also the Cheikh of Qâdi Thanâu-llah (all these masters being of
indisputable orthodoxy). That authority admits the truth in the Vedic doctrines, but has reserves concerning the current validity of the Hindu tradition.

e) Another saint of the 18th century, Shâh Kâzim Qalandar wrote poetries on the theme of the Wahdatu-l-wujûd by using Hindu terms and symbols. He is not the only one who has done such a thing. But I mentioned his name because his poems have been published with a detailed commentary. The same could be said of the poems composed by his son Shâh Turâb Alî
Qalandar in the 19th century.

We will stop here for now the quotes taken from the rich and picturesque intellectual fresco that our correspondence with Prof. Askarî offered us. But we will refer to them again soon enough on the subject of René Guénon.

[1] Let us note also, since the opportunity presents itself, that, regarding the Egyptian intellectual milieu, we also gathered several facts of the same order. Dr. Abdel-Halîm Mahmûd, professor at Ulûm ed-Dîn of Al-Azhar University (Cairo) published, already ten years ago, a small book in Arabic about Guénon (with some fragments translated from the master’s work, in appendix) called: Al-Faylasûfu-l-mustimu René Guénon aw Abdel-Wâhid Yahya. The book (which bases itself, for the part concerning the intellectual biography, on our articles of 1951 and 1953 concerning Guénon) is dedicated to Cheikh Mohammad
al-Mahdi Mahmûd, Professor at Al-Azhar. Dr. Abdel Halîm, author of works in Arabic about Sufism, is known in France for his work about Al-Mohâsibî (Geuthner, 1940). Moreover, with regards to the Egyptian side, we know of a thesis on René Guénon and Islam that a student from Cairo was going to present at Sorbonne.

[2] In North Africa, where however the western presence has been long and direct, and where the traditional degeneration should therefore be the most accentuated, we know, through our own experience — and this not only in the world, naturally restricted, of the contemplative order itself — of a humanity which continues undisturbed its millennial life of spiritual fidelity and, very fortunately, no one seems to bother about it.

[3] We reproduce these terms with their local pronunciation.

[4] The initiatory path based on the virtue of pure desire for Reality requires some qualified human beings who not only have been preserved intact as far as their intimate spiritual substance is concerned, but also whose mental form has not been flawed by modern education, be it quasi traditional. The initiatory path based on the doctrinal understanding comprises a theorical formation, which develops the principial certainties and the intellective understanding.

[5] The doctrine of the “Unicity of Existence.”

[6] The term derives from the Qur’ân 18, 60, where it designates the location of the meeting between Moses and Al-Khadir. In the title of the book by Dârâ Shikûh it is applied to the two traditions: Islam and Hinduism.

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