Dota just sent me this piece and asked me if I wanted to run it. It is very nice! Enjoy, this one will really make you put on your thinking cap.
The Suppression of Will in Islam and Hinduism
I’ve often wondered why Islam was able to make spectacular gains in India whereas Christian missionaries have often struggled to attract converts. One possible explanation might be that Islam has maintained a longer presence in India, spanning over a thousand years which saw the rise and fall of various Muslim dynasties. European Christian presence in contrast has been sporadic and short lived. Yet I feel that another explanation must suffice, one that accounts for the contouring of the Islamic faith along the Hindu psyche. This necessarily leads us to the conclusion that both of these religions possess certain attributes in common, as we shall see.
I’ve written about Hindu ethics in detail over the last three years and I maintain that the most salient characteristic of Hinduism is it’s suppression of the human will. Hindu ethics preclude intention and hence ignore the rational agency of an intelligent being. For further reading, please read the article here. As Arthur Danto pointed out in the 70s, the ancient Hindu philosophers never saw the difference between knowledge and its application; a fundamental flaw in Indian epistemology.
Plato believed that morality was predicated on the knowledge of the good. In other words, people behaved morally when they possessed an understanding of moral behavior. Likewise they behaved badly when they were ignorant of morality.
Yet the crucial question which the ancient Hindus failed to ask is this: Why do people behave unethically when they possess sufficient knowledge of moral injunctions?
In response to this question Western philosophy developed what we refer to today as “the will.” To paraphrase Danto, the will is the applicative mechanism that bridges the discrepancy between knowledge of the good and action. What does this mean? Perhaps an illustration is in order. Suppose you are driving through a residential zone with a speed limit of 40 kph. You see the speed limit sign yet roll through the neighborhood at 80 kph. You have seen the sign and are aware of the speed limit (knowledge of the good) yet you willfully choose to ignore it.
You have exercised your rational autonomy to act in a fashion contrary to what you know is good. Liberation in Hindu philosophy is described by the Upanishads as a union with Brahman (the ultimate reality) where the only sensation one experiences is no sensation; a passive bliss. The Upanishads use the analogy of a drop returning to the ocean symbolizing the ultimate surrender of the will and one’s own identity.
Islam’s relationship with free will is rather complicated. Despite Muslim apologists claims to the contrary, the Islamic religion is mired with contradictions (which is normal for any religion) chief among which is the simultaneous endorsement of both free will and predestination.
The Catholic Church in contrast has always adopted the free will position despite agonizing over the philosophical dilemma of Judas’s betrayal: that if Judas was merely doing God’s will by fulfilling the prophecy where Christ would be crucified and mankind redeemed, how then is he blameworthy? Nevertheless the Church’s position was clear: Mankind possessed freewill.
Unlike Hinduism, Islamic theology addresses individuals who possess knowledge of the good yet choose not to act on it. Unlike Hinduism, Islamic ethics account for an individual’s intent that binds the agent to his course of action, regardless of the outcome. This is illustrated in the following Hadith: Two men are engaged in a duel where one slays the other. Which one goes to hell? Muhammad’s companions stated that the victorious man would burn in hell since he had committed murder. Muhammad then corrected them by stating that BOTH men would burn in hell, for the slain man INTENDED to commit murder, he was just unsuccessful in his aim.
During the Abbasid dynasty of the 8th century, a school of Muslim Arab philosophers called the Mutazilites gained the Caliph’s favor. These philosophers were smitten by Greek philosophy and held steadfastly in favor of free will. The school declined after the death of Abdul Jabbar, one of its major proponents, according to Wikipedia. The Asherite movement eventually replaced the Mutazilites and advocated the philosophy of occasionalism; that man would be judged solely on the basis of intention as his actions had no power to alter the world since only God possessed that power.
But the ultimate case for predestination is made by the classical sources of Islam, the Quran and hadith (Muhammad’s sayings) and hence mainstream Islam gravitates towards that position in most cases. Islam has a suppressing effect on the will in other more direct ways. The word Islam literally means “surrender.” But to whom? To the will of God. What is God’s will? That man live life a certain way, and Islamic tradition dictates how a man should and shouldn’t eat, how he must have sex, what he may and may not wear, how he must bathe, how he must walk etc…
Of the three Abrahamic religions Islam is possibly the most intrusive, perhaps even more so than Judaism, but I digress. While Islam may not be as ritualistic as Hinduism, it’s long list of orthopraxic practices that govern even the most mundane motions of daily life serve as an effective substitute for the Hindu convert.
The Indian’s life precludes will. Traditionally, his caste determines his occupation and his choice of spouse. When he hits puberty he receives his twice born status if he belongs to the top three Aryan castes. His parents find him a spouse and he dutifully reproduces. The Indian’s life is planned out for him before he is an embryo. The weight of the community crushes the individual’s agency. I recall my mother would often remark that we were lucky to practice a religion like Islam which kept us away from alcohol and hedonism. What she failed to realize is that one doesn’t need Islam to keep away from vice, but merely sheer human will.