Syed Hasan Askari interviewed by Karen Armstrong on Mysticism 1984

Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008), inter faith pioneer, responds to Karen Armstrong’s engaging interview (audio) from 1984 on the Sufi Mystical Experience,  Whirling Dervish dance inspired by the Sufi mystic Rumi, Zikr (Remembrance of God). The need for Religious diversity and much more.

The dialogue begins with the question, “What is the aim of a Sufi Mystic?”

Syed Hasan Askari one of the eight important Muslim thinkers Whirlin Kenneth Cragg’s “The Pen & the Faith” writes, “Few thinkers in contemporary Islam have so tellingly explored the issues of inter-religion or undertaken them as strong vocation. Hasan Askari holds a unique position in the search for unity of heart within the discrepancies, real or unreal, of religions in society.”

Selected quotes of Syed Hasan Askari from the above interview:

Zikr :“Remembering God in His attributes, in His Mercy and Power and Love.”

“We remember that God is the Greatest and thereby we deny everything else as great. And then we say that He is One, there is no other. And then we say the Praise and then we say He is Sublime, He is above all we say about Him.”  

“The ultimate goal of Zikr is to transcend Zikr itself.” 

“Doctrine is a conscious individual statement of one’s own form of belief about the ultimate.”  

“Dogma is an embodiment of a particular theological crisis and how it was resolved at a given time in the history of religious thought. There are creeds in Christianity and creeds in Islam which represent those crises in theological thought. But religious life is far ahead of dogmatic statement. For instance when I [Hasan Askari] stand in prayer I don’t say that here stands a “Muslim” with a particular belief statement on his lips…in ritual prayer we don’t enact the dogmatic what to speak of the mystical where the dogma is left behind.” 

“In very high levels of religious life a word becomes an eye and thereby we obtain a new sense, a new vision. But not with the physical eye, not with the eye of the body…..the rational mind is only analytical. It doesn’t give us a totality. One needs an intuition, a sense of partaking in the wholeness of being. Then perhaps we arrive at the level of true words which are also true visions.”

“Dogma is more a matter of institutional identity, continuity and solidarity in any religious life whatsoever. Whereas the mystic is concerned with the religious person, the individual. If man becomes alone before God then he becomes a truly religious person.”

“On one hand I feel, I know and I notice the unity of religious experience transcending image and symbol and dogma and institution and culture and language. And on the other I notice a variety, a diversity, a differential dynamics both between religions and one particular religion. And therefore I have to affirm the mystical value of diversity.”

“I would say that if we who say that we believe in God who is Sublime and Infinite and Transcendental and Almighty…how could that God be equated with one form of one religious belief?”

“Every man, every woman is potentially a mystic. It is more a matter of moving from a state of sleep to a state of awakening.”

“There is a world religion, namely, the Mystical.”

“I made a simple discovery some twenty years ago [1960s] in India that my religion was one among many. And then my journey began and now I feel at home in a Church or a Synagogue or a Mosque. A man of God should feel at home wherever one is. I should also say that a man of God is never alone. The invisible Companion, the invisible Friend is always there.”

 (apologies for the sound quality however it is hoped you will still find the conversation deeply interesting)

Last post – farewell to my local post office

Upon learning recently of the pending closure of his local post office Musa Askari wrote the following letter of thanks to the couple who had run the post office for many years.

“I am writing to express my sincere thanks to you and your staff over the years for the kind service you have provided to the community in which you have worked all these years. I was sad to learn the post office would be relocated to another site at the end of the month. I was also sad to learn that you both would not be moving to the new site. I am sure this will be a loss to the community. I wish you and your family well for the future and hope that it brings you all that you hope for.

It would be remiss of me not to also offer deep gratitude on behalf of my late father, Prof. Syed Hasan Askari, for the kindness with which you treated him and helped him as he collected his pension and helped him in dispatching books and letters he was sending to people home and abroad. Those that had the opportunity to meet him in everyday life, taxi drivers, shop keepers, his barber and yourselves at the post office have always recalled him with fondness. This has been one of the great sources of comfort for me in helping me deal with his absence over the years. He passed away in early 2008. To see the faces he would have seen recollect him and somehow recall him again is deeply moving if somewhat un-noticeable to any passer-by. To meet him again in the memories of others has always been very special to me and often given me pause for thought and in doing so, for that transitory moment, he feels not to have departed at all as a tearful smile comes to pass. Such is life, behind the everydayness of life we all are living other lives, inner lives perhaps, or inner moments which are to be felt within oneself. Therefore, on a personal note I wanted to thank you in this regard very much.

To serve people in the manner in which I have observed during my visits to your post office I think needs special recognition. To that end I think the qualities of patience, a calm voice, soft speech, a smile, a respect for all people and a sense of treating people fairly shine through for me and go far beyond mere customer service. In my experience one could only display such virtues consistently over the years because such virtues are an inherent part of your nature and goodwill as people. I think in a microcosm such virtues as you have displayed we could all benefit from.

At times I am sure it may have felt like over the years the whole world has somehow walked through those doors and that for me is a wonderful thought. All the various cultures and nationalities of humanity wanting your help to send letters or parcels of kindness to their loved ones. Each coming through those door with their own hopes and dreams. Equally from your post office to the world messages of warmth and love have been sent, from presents to postcards. One can only wonder with what joy they have been received.

However, we know the world is changing and such messages no longer needed to be hand delivered when an instant message from one’s telephone will suffice. Whilst this has tremendous advantages in communicating I cannot help but feel a sense of loss that another kind of communication is fading. Namely, the act of sitting down to write a letter, to take the time to visit a post office and there to encounter another person, to meet humanity in its everydayness.

This to me is part of the secret fabric of life. That a stranger will walk in to a post office, ask for help from a person they have never met before behind the counter to send a much awaited letter to a loved one waiting somewhere in the world watching each day if the post today will deliver the letter they left in your safe hands for dispatch.

It is this act of “handing over in trust”, a much cherished message between strangers, is to me one of the hopes I place my hope in for humanity at this present hour. We never know how our everyday act affects others so beautifully and it is also to that unknown and perhaps unknowable aspect of your work I wish to pay tribute and hope the kindness you have shown others shines as light on your path in your life ahead.

With every good wish.

Yours sincerely,

Musa Askari”

Alone to Alone – The Introduction

alonealoneThe following is the Introduction to a remarkable book by the late Syed  Hasan Askari  entitled “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”, published 1991. It is a journey of self-discovery, inner path, a spiritual quest within & through an inter-religious dimension inspired by a vision to revive the classical discourse on Soul. This blog is dedicated to the universal, spiritual humanist vision of Prof. Syed Hasan Askari & contains various reflections from this book which is presented in seven chapters.  Each chapter is known as a “Mirror”, there are Seven Mirrors.

Introduction narrated by Musa Askari

“You are now entering upon a path. As you continue your journey, you will come face to face with one mirror after another. The path and the mirrors are all inside you.

The images you see in each mirror are at times images of a discourse, at other times of one or another symbol. Sometimes a vision will open up before you. Sometimes a voice will be heard. All of it is an initiation into your own reality.

There are several straight discourses. Then there are stories. Both the discourses and the stories constitute one fabric. They intersect and interpret one another.

At times you may find certain things partly or even completely unintelligible, or vague and abstract. When you will return to them, they will gradually become transparent. You will experience an unbroken sense of inner perception even where you notice that the mirrors are veiled. You are a guest. There is an air of hospitality as you move from vision to vision.

It is now both your and my journey into the realm of the Soul. I request you to be cautious for the territory we now enter is totally different from our ordinary world. We shall be changing the habits of our thought and putting on new garments. You will notice the change in atmosphere as soon as you stand before the first mirror.

The journey begins in the name of Plotinus. We were invited by him a long time ago to make this ascent. The words, Alone to Alone, are his, and they sum up his entire call.

Prof. Syed Hasan AskariIt was a couple of years ago one night while going through The Enneads that I had the experience of seeing in a flash all the implications of the Discourse on Soul for human thought and civilization for centuries to come. I felt within myself a convergence of the thought of Plotinus and that of my theistic faith nurtured by a consistent inter-religious perspective. The present work grew quite spontaneously out of that intuition over the last two years (1989  – 1991), and after much thought I place it into your hands both in trembling and trust, and in hope that it may ignite in your soul the same longing and in your mind a fresh zeal to rethink your conceptions about humanity, world, and God.” Syed Hasan Askari

For stories & reflections from the book Alone to Alone please click on the following titles available on this blog:  

The Lord of the Humming Bird, I am that Tree, The Limit is the Threshold, The Seven Steps, Self Remembering, God is on Both the side, The Are Only Four Communities, The Feet of our Lady, Four Breaths, If You Find Me, Towards Unity, Rebirth Through My Son, Baba Nizamuddin, The Grand Canyon, The Snow The Cloud & The River, Prayer For My Parents, Seven Mirrors.

 

HUMANITY

Syed Hasan Askari’s thoughts from “Towards A Spiritual Humanism”  (published 1991)

“Let us reflect further on this shared value of humanity because there is so much in it. I feel that both the humanist and religious traditions sound almost simplistic or monolithic when discussing this category, namely, the human.

Syed Hasan Askari
Syed Hasan Askari

Let me share a few perspectives to deepen this value because this holds the key for our progress in dialogue. Firstly, the humanistic view, namely, that we are first of all human, appears to me primarily an extension of one’s identity in space – from one’s own house to the entire planet, or to use the popular expression for the planet in our times – the global village. This is not enough for me, because it is an aspiration only in a spatial-physical mode of a greater aggregate,  whereas it may also be viewed as a metaphor for a sympathy across distances, between people, between all humanity. That sympathy cannot be a material bond, or even a bond which is merely psychological. It should be a spiritual bond.

This makes me bring in another dimension of the aggregate of humanity, namely time. Holding on to the same value of humanity, I should say that across time – across all time both past and unborn time, there should be the unity of the human self. As soon as we invoke time as a dimension of unity, the collapse of the material expression of unity is self-evident.  It is this which is celebrated in the religious, or to be very specific, in the Christian Catholic notion of communion, particularly the communion of saints.

Setting aside the religious connotations, on a purely pragmatic level, the unity of the humans both in space and time, presupposes an internal unity. So, I request my humanist friends to take their value of humanity more deeply and have the courage to draw all the conclusions possible, neither hampered nor tempted by any ideological options. Therefore, our criterion in this discourse is that no ideological criterion should come in the way of our celebration of human unity as a whole.

I have another perspective. I don’t see humanity, even when we take the dimensions of both space and time together, as one monolithic whole. We have many humanities within one humanity, and we have to be extremely careful in differentiating, deep within our own personalities, four humanities!

The first humanity is co-terminus with our physical status as material beings dependent upon water, air and food; the extension of this principle is our dependence upon urban water supplies and refrigeration; upon the technology we have created and all the comforts that principle involves and the culture which it creates. There are vast numbers of people who do not progress beyond this level.

The second humanity is also widespread, and it includes those who have fallen in love with the images they have created in their philosophies, in their religions, and in their doctrines. They are clever and self-conscious people. However, they are in a state of hypnosis. They cannot move from the outward profiles of their doctrines and religions  – yet they too are human.

The third humanity is free from the physical, free from outward profiles and forms; it is inward looking and holds onto its own essential being. It is this humanity which, in my view, holds the key to the sympathy, the resonance of feeling across space and time. It is this which creates philosophy universally, which creates science universally, which creates an intelligible discourse across races and cultures and nationalities, and which is to me the goal of humanity.

The fourth humanity is almost celestial, almost super-human, almost trans-human. It is one with the entire cosmos which is the ultimate principle of unity. It is like a spark of light in each one of us, even in those who are lost in the physical world, even in those who are wrapped up in the traditional profiles of identity, dogma and doctrine.

So, when I hear the word “humanity” I respond to it emotively because I hold that perspective, but at the same time I am disturbed, because we may lose sight of the hierarchy and differentiation, on account of our obsession with uniformity of the physical image of man. I am not subscribing to any elitist notion of an inner or hidden group of mystics. I am saying that both ontologically and psychologically humanity is a highly differentiated principle and it is because of this differentiation that it is human. If it is not differentiated it becomes a technological, mechanistic principle. It is in this sense I consider humanism as pointing to this differentiation, not submerging it. Otherwise, we become unfair or unjust to our own inner hierarchies.

Let us take this opportunity to point out that most so-called religious people also have a very simplistic view of humanity which is in one sense more dangerous that the simplistic view of popular humanism because they equate their humanity with their collectivity. For them, humanity is co-terminus with their particular religious congregation. For example if you are a Christian you will consider yourself human; if you are Muslim you will consider yourself human; but those who do not fall within the collectivity to which you personally belong are not fully human, they are sub-human or only potentially human. So, there is a greater danger in the ideological, doctrinal, religious or secularist understanding of humanity because such an understanding doesn’t allow for the idea of a spiritual differentiation between different levels of consciousness……Therefore, our quest is how to increase the life of humanity, not the vegetative life, not animal life, but the life of reason, the life of the spirit, the life of intuition.

This life has many sources outer and inner, both known and unknown. It is perhaps towards that humanity we are all moving.”

Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008) 

 * See also on this blog:

“There are only Four Communities” , “When the Atheist Met the Mystic”

PRAYER FOR MY PARENTS

By Hasan Askari (Alone to Alone)

The moon and the stars were all there reflected in that still emerald lake that night as our boat slowly and respectfully floated across the lake. We were all silent. I felt for a moment or two a sense of complete union with the lake, its reflections, their originals.

The following morning as we sat under a tree beside the lake, we were amazed that we could hardly recognize that it was the very lake we had crossed last night. We hardly recognized ourselves to be those very persons who saw the moon and the stars reflected in the lake.

IIdentityn the afternoon of that day we had a session with our teacher on Plato’s idea of Eternal Forms. The idea that There in the Ideal world are “forms” of everything we see here is hardly believed, our teacher started to reflect. One of the modes in which doubt is cast upon Plato’s Ideal Forms is rather amusing. Enchanted by the apparent solidity of things here and trusting our sense perception, we reverse the relationship. We regard Forms there as reflections of things here on the model of comparing the images in our mind with the things outside.

The idea of Plato’s Forms cannot be demonstrated as true on the exclusive testimony of senses and of reasoning based on sense-perception. We require another principle. Plato saw the reality of the forms not by his physical eye nor by his reason bound with his body and with the world. He saw them by the soul’s sight.  He could see his own Form before and after embodiment, and when he looked at himself here, then he could recognise which form was real, and which a copy, feeble and ephemeral.

It was during one of the sessions of Zikr we used to hold every Thursday evening that I had a strange and over-whelming experience of having lived the entire cycle of life of diverse races and civilizations, of life-forms here on our planet and in other galaxies, and still reciting the Zikr.

While invoking the Zikr on another occassion for the benefit of the souls of my parent, I was taken aback by a sudden realization of unity between their post-death soul-status and my pre-birth soul status, a state which remained unchanged even now while I was in body.

As I prayed for them and as I recalled them, my eyes were full of tears. My heart was drowned in that sorrow, in my longing and love for them. Many things became clear.

Some say why should one really pray for anybody in particular because all things are interconnected and under the direct and unfailing providence of God. I agree. But while one prays for some loved one, the heart melts; its hardness disappears; its doors open; a gentle wind coming from nowhere envelops the heart bathed and purified by sorrow. Then the universal truths enter and find their true home there; otherwise those truths come, find the door of the heart closed, and they leave.

MUTUAL RECOGNITION & SELF RECOGNITION

By Hasan Askari (Towards A Spiritual Humanism).

By joining both the hands in greeting the other, we greet in all our totality. In our wholeness of being, with our conscious and unconscious minds having become one mind, with our outer and inner realities having risen into one reality. When we greet the universe or a child, we say that our Soul is One Soul, that our God is One. Then we have abolished otherness we have abolished fear, we have all come home in each other. Then we know who we are, who is in us and in whom we are.

 

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