Academic journal article Journal for Islamic Studies

Decolonising Muslim Subjectivities: A Psycho-Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article Journal for Islamic Studies

Decolonising Muslim Subjectivities: A Psycho-Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt

Mythos and Logos

For millennia, humans inhabited two psychological worlds and "languages" in tandem: the world of fact (logos), having to do with the rational and pragmatic, enabling practical functioning at the material level, and the world of meaning (mythos), which has to do with sensemaking, giving meaning to the complex emotional experiences we call "life". Overwhelmed today by logos, the symbolic language of mythos has become almost extinct or reduced to literalism.

The symbolic is not just allegory or a literary term but a psychological reality. Science/logos itself utilises symbolic language, but according to the specific law of non-contradiction, applies Cartesian logic to material facts. By definition, a fact can only have one meaning. Water will always be two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, no two ways about it. But what water means to each of us will depend on our range of experience of it, which will be qualitative, subjective, multiple and cannot be communicated quantitatively. The most significant events of our lives, from love to despair, engage us at a different level than, say, the molecular structure of water. The central question about religious stories was never, "are they factually true?" but rather, "do we need to know this?", and if so, "what do they mean?" In short, the spectrum of meaning in mythos is expansive, multiple and capacious, and in logos tends to be narrow, contracted and restricted.

In spite of technological progress, life, as we live and experience it in relation to security, love and its defeats and triumphs, confusion, death and despair - the "stuff of life" in all its nuances - remains unchanging. The symbolic (mythos) is about this "stuff' giving meaning to situations and experiences which have a strong impact on us and which we all encounter at different points in life. Deeply linked to culture and religion, the symbolic world of mythos is the world of the imagination, providing us emotional containers, enabling us to say what cannot be said in any other way when faced with extremes of horror, suffering, and joy. Helping to cope with the inexpressible by giving it a name, image, ritual, and place, mythos also points to a parallel, "higher" plane of existence or transcendence. Functioning as a sort of cultural DNA, the symbolic offers guidelines and cues through various individual life stages and has a transformative potential. Since its meanings are ambiguous, multiple and subjective, mythos will always contain an element of mystery, which at times we refer to as the sacred.

Affirming "Islams"

Within a hundred years of its inception, Islam had settled across continents and widely divergent cultures. Over 1500 years it gave rise to at least five great civilisations - the Mughal, Ottoman, Persian, Moorish and Spanish empires. As civilisations, highly developed languages and literature, cuisine, apparel, architecture, amongst other things, emerged - each civilisation was different yet all were Islamic. Architecturally, an Ottoman mosque is distinct from a Persian or a Mughal mosque. Yet, all are instantly identifiable as "Islamic".

As part of the Indian subcontinent, Pakistani culture and its Islam is primarily Indo-Persian Islam and subsumes the rich mythos of two ancient civilisations, which includes intimate relationships to the multi-layered world of the Arabic Qur'an as well as the colonial legacy. I was raised in a modern environment in which English literature, the Arabic Qur'än, the Persian poetry of Rumi (13th century) and the Punjabi poetry of Bulleh Shah (16th century) were intermingled in conversations on religion. This intermeshing of culture and religion, in particular, of Persian-Central Asian Islam and Hinduism, is fully visible in the exquisite beauty of Mughal architecture (and its colonial expressions) and in the classical music and performing arts of India even today. In short, Islam's vast cultural diversity is in itself the indication of its inherent cultural fecundity and adaptability. …

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