Tarik Çelenk, Founder of Think Tank Ekopolitik, says, “The epistemological breakthrough, we witnessed in the 9th and 12th centuries, against modernity in Muslim societies has not yet taken place.”
In the sacred world, conscience is referred to as the last and only part within the human self, which will not break away from the truth. First of all,
SEEKING FOR MEANING WITH THE IZMIR ANTHEM
ARE THEY JUST LOSING THEIR FAITH?
My last article “Why are they losing their faith”, received quite a bit of attention because it had a social meaning. The article contained the answer to a truth which would normally not be discussed or covered and instead delayed, just like what would happen in ordinary political affairs.
It wasn’t just their faith in mainstream religion that the youth lost. They were also losing their sense of belonging to their country and to certain values that bind each other socially.
The populist survivability and polarization policies implemented by politicians and the relevant public left the society in a state with no tolerance. First of all, it was not only religious values that were lost. More importantly, the country and the sense of belonging values that determine the bond between people were damaged. In a way, the unique effects of the post truth era had shaken the trust in truth in the society.
THE TRANSITION FROM A SEARCH FOR MEANING TO ABSOLUTE MEANINGLESS
In this phase, the younger generations got caught up in the feeling of their life plans and their ambitions not coming into existence. This, essentially, gave them a sense of meaningless, purposelessness and loss. New generations are no longer able to empathize with anyone – they ignore the people that do not acknowledge them. The sense of meaning lost, in these generations, can only be resolved with absolute meaningless and as a result the sense of belonging becomes eroded.
Muslim societies need to discover their inner conscience to find the truth and moral philosophy, that they had once lost.Recently, an interesting event that did not catch a lot of attention among some, was the singing of the Izmir anthem at graduation ceremonies of some theology faculties. Moreover, the Izmir anthem being enthusiastically read aloud by young people amidst a crowded apocalyptic concert in a conservative city in Turkiye, such as Kayseri, was something that didn’t really stand a chance to not catch one’s eyes. Another obvious issue was that most people who were brought up with conservative and strict values made it a format to sing the Izmir march at the closing of their wedding and engagement ceremonies.
UNIVERSAL MORAL PHILOSOPHY AND THE WORLD OF ISLAM
The alienation towards religion and values that create a sense of belonging is not just a case unique to Muslims living in Turkey – the same alienation makes its presence felt in the rest of the Islamic world. Studies conducted in Tunisia and Algeria give us clues on this subject.
A rather interesting comment made by an academician friend of mine who is a thesis advisor in this field was the following, “Nowadays, the Muslim world cannot defend their stance with respect to political and social affairs (for example the corruption happening today). The judicial conclusions made are not convincing. Personally, I prefer EU law. As a result, these two inevitably trigger the question of why people should stick to it then. The debate on epistemological religion comes after these. If people were convinced on these two topics, they would even start to believe in jinn :)”
As a matter of fact, the controversial discussions about sects and congregations that arose, following the recent death of a well-known Muslim scholar, had these two questions lying underneath it. “Why can’t Muslim societies produce a universal moral philosophy” is a question occupying the minds of objective and conscientious people.
CONSTRUCTION OF EPISTEMOLOGY
According to ancient philosophers, the episteme is the truth itself or regardless of whichever paradigm or perspective you are looking at it from, the architecture of knowledge or belief that can discern truth. On the other hand, postmodern philosophers interpret it as the architecture or methodology of thought.
After, Prophet Muhammed, (PBUH), the Muslim world expanded rapidly both socially and economically. It had to manage the deep cultural and state heritage of Rome and Persia. Problems related to the creation of the state and protocol were not the only ones to emerge. The interpretation and view of Islam regarding the developing commercial law and understanding of existence of ancient beliefs also attracted the curiosity of the peoples of these new lands. For the new leaders of this society to comfortably manage this geography under a new form of religious law, they had to provide satisfying and practical answers to the necessary questions. The new order had to be established in accordance with the flow of life.
The formation of Fiqh, Kelam and Itikadi sects had set the aforementioned affairs in order for the Muslim people. However pagan beliefs among Indians, Central-Asians and Hellenist’s were still pervasive, especially among the elite. Moreover, sciences such as mathematics and geometry that could impact the visible world were parts of these ancient philosophies. Aristotle’s distinction between physics and meta-physics or Plato’s model of relation with the realm of ideas and the real world constituted the definition of ancient epistemology.
The Islamic world needed defining the relationship between its fundamental ideas such as revelation, the unseen realm and dogma with the mind, intelligence, and the real world.
A lot of upcoming new philosophers of the Islamic world were guided by the point of view and related texts of Aristotle, who is accepted, today, as the founder of the science and methodology behind the deterministic cause and effect concept. Firstly, the Umayyad and Abbasid princes who were interested in these fields sponsored the translation of philosophical texts written by the ancient-Greeks into Arabic, by Assyrian translators who had fluency in Greek. So much so that these Arabic sources would later become the references of the Renaissance and the English enlightenment.
Philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Al-Kindi and Averroes, codified and modelled the relationship of a number of issues from the concept of existence in the Islamic belief to the immanence in the world we live in by referencing mainly Aristotle and of course taking advantage of Plato’s ideas This situation not only paved way for the development of Islamic civilization, but also served as a reference for Jewish and Christian epistemology through Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas respectively.
After the death of Prophet Muhammed, Islamic civilization managed to enhance in the field of epistemology between the 9th – 13th centuries, one taking place from Bagdad (Beyt-ul Hikmah) to Central Asia and the other in Andalusia, Spain.
Just like the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the Islamic civilization emerged on the stage of history in the premodern period. The main reason behind this was the fact that there was an active creation of epistemological thought that constantly modelled the relationship between revelation and reason and was able to codify ancient wisdom.
Three key factors were effective on the basis of this output. These were the translation activities being self-reliant, financial support being provided, and self-governance.
First of all, an unbiased approach to knowledge was made. The need for its codification was taken into account and for this purpose, groups of translators consisting of Aramaic’s and Assyrians were formed. The codification processes were initiated primarily in the context of translation and philosophy of language. The caliphs and their immediate princes created autonomous spaces for the philosophers and were able to finance them independently.
A powerful centralized political authority was not, at first, formed in Andalusia. Bagdad and its surroundings were also open to different identities and international trade which pushed Caliphs and Princes to be flexible. In this flexible arena, philosophers were able to gain prestige and receive support alongside politicians. In a way, they were able to maintain their existence through sponsorship from independent merchants who had a say in international trade. Though, like Ibn Khaldun, a lot of philosophers could sometimes take up executive roles in government however from time to time they could enter prison if the politicians they sided with happened to lose power.
KNOWLEDGE ARCITECHTURE FOR THE MODERN WORLD
During the Middle-Ages, the Catholic Church was against sharing political power with overlords and tradesmen which instigated the Renaissance and Enlightenment revolution. The enlightenment period philosophers, just like the early Muslim philosophers, took reference from the ancient Egyptians and Hellenism. They embarked on serious translation works, especially from Arabic. Funding wasn’t much of a concern for artists and philosophers in Europe where city-states and merchant families had notable power. Human-oriented codification processes occurred instead of the Bible. Their focus was the physical realm and the deterministic world. This scientific period, followed by the industrial revolution pioneered the world we live in today.
From the cartesian perspective to the world of Quantum, today’s western epistemological formation, always gives credit and remembers the works of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Foucault, and many other philosophers. In this process, many important instruments were discovered with regards to the methodology of thought such as inheritance of dialectic and synthesis.
The controversial world we live in today, where an undisputed western civilization was supreme and decisive, was made possible by the anthropocentric paradigm and episteme. Although this paradigm constitutes the causes of irreparable environmental problems and income inequality in our world today, it has been able to accommodate a flexibility that can develop a tradition of self-criticism, unlike the Muslim world.
The Islamic world, on the other hand, lost its intellectual flexibility after the Fatih period. With strict centralized policies, Fiqh and Kelam, indexed to closed Islamic interpretation were dictated upon citizens with the status of servants. The legacy this left remains till today. Due to the concerns of sharing power, free trade areas for Turks and Muslims were never opened. Merchants and the bourgeois, albeit in a controlled manner, were formed by non-Muslims.
The Ottoman modernization understanding was constructed based on military defeats. On the other hand, Turkish modernization thought was born entirely on how to restore the state to its former glory. Notions such as the questioning of human consideration were not considered. As a result, they found themselves in a state of working on science from the west and moral philosophy from the east.
No moral philosophy could be developed in which all types of authorities were questioned, including the state itself. Since the state took control of religions and sects, the sense of justice among their adherents was also limited. The understanding of justice could not go beyond the mathematical logic equation of transactions and deeds with the other world. In the light of those discussions, serious contradictions arose when we associated the sense of justice with innate morality. Absolute obedience and fear of authority sometimes rendered meaningless the core issues of Fiqh and Sufism.
Morality in Islamic rhetoric was defined as the nature of faith and creation. Sufism was defined as “true freedom and nothing being able to take ownership of a human being” and Fiqh was defined as “one’s knowledge of what is for and against himself”. Haya and wisdom were labelled as awareness consciousness. However, today, when we look at the Islamic world, especially Turkiye, we do not feel
the equivalence of these. On the contrary, western secular moral understanding based on modern reason has always shown its superiority in individual, social and business life.
The problem seems to be the invalidity of a moral understanding based on Revelation in the Islamic world and in general in Muslim societies while there is validity of the moral epistemology of the West based on reason and justice in life. This situation, whether consciously or unconsciously, happens to be a problem of epistemic hypocrisy. We can see that the intellectuals of the Islamic world, who can feel this problem in their mind and conscience, unquestionably accept the moral understanding produced by western moral epistemology. In a way, this shows that an undirected and uncontrolled secularization process is accelerating in the Islamic world. Hence, the alienation form mainstream Islam is only one of the results of the process.
THE PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS – ULEMA
In general, among the Islamic world today, there is the populism of religious leaders who make anachronistic interpretations of history beyond political populism. It does not seem possible for this group, which has been closed to the understanding of 14th-15th century Fiqh and Theology, to open a reliable future window for Muslim societies. Unfortunately, this group is closed to exchange with the understanding of universal ancient knowledge and necessary codification however they happen to possess power and influence among people and naturally on politicians.
In our age, this ignorant mindset that is closed to syncretism with perennial philosophy, which advocates the reconciliation of all ancient knowledge of humanity, is another handicap of today’s Muslim societies. Certain intellectuals who could work on this subject, from Rene Guenon to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Mohammed Abed al-Jabri could only find a place for themselves in serious intellectual environments in the West.
THE PROBLEM OF CONSCIENCE AND THE CONCLUSION
The epistemological breakthrough that we witnessed in the 9th-12th century against modernity in Muslim societies has not yet taken place. As mentioned earlier, the lack of self-confidence and will to carry out translation activities and codification of post-modern philosophy as well as a lack of autonomous finance plays a big role in this.
When epistemology of belief and knowledge is not produced, it leads to the failure of production of the epistemology of morality that depends on the former. The most decisive factors here are conscience and justice. The discussions of conscience based on revelation and conscience based on reason are symmetrical with our discussions of morality.
The West and the catholic church have significant literature on secular conscience in fact we can see that the modern west frequently emphasizes the freedom of conscience in the texts of the constitution.
Conscience is the last and only sacred piece within the human self that will not break away from the truth. For Muslim societies to find the truth and the moral philosophy they have lost; they must first discover their inner conscience.