While discussing Wahiduddin we cannot escape his forays into the realm of the war between religion and science. His book ‘Mazhab aur Science’ – first published in 1971 as a special issue of the weekly ‘Al-Jamiaa’ in Delhi – has seen multiple reprints. Dr Farida Khanam translated this book into English which Darul Ishaat published in Karachi.
Religion and science became a recurring theme in Maulana Wahiduddin’s writings, in which he mostly discussed the ideological aspects of the two schools of thought. Since his own ideas were strongly tinged with a faith-based thinking pattern, it reflected in his discourse. He strongly believed that the teachings of religion were not abstract but grounded in the ‘eternal truths of the universe’; and the only way to salvation was through ‘reconciling ourselves with these truths’. “We can never deny these truths, nor can we be impartial. Without this reconciliation, any other attitude will lead us to the only end possible, and that is ‘eternal’ destruction.”
Here he is not much different from some other orthodox or not so orthodox scholars including Maulana Maudoodi, Ghulam Ahmed Parvez, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and others who may have divergent views on so many other points but converge on what they consider as eternal truths. Wahiduddin’s epistemology is essentially as uncompromising as it can be. Like a true believer, he took all phenomena in nature as proofs of prophetic teachings.
Maulana Wahiduddin never wavered in the absolute nature of knowledge that he and other Ulema acquired through their religious education. He did not consider that human knowledge would ever be sufficient to comprehend all the realities of life and the universe. This led him to conclude that modern knowledge ‘in every way consolidates the basis of religion, which has not been weakened at all’. To him, religion was a natural passion which can never be separated from humankind. Wahiduddin was convinced that whoever uses science to refute religion fails immediately and miserably.
He had read psychologists such as T R Miles’ and his famous book ‘Religion and Scientific Outlook’ (1959) but strongly disagreed with him. Miles called religious scholars as writers of dud cheques with no supporting bank balance; of course, this did not appeal to Wahiduddin who himself was a religious scholar. He believed that observable phenomena in nature are limited in number and we are unable to get ‘any significant fact from them, as the world is replete with meaningful realities not known to us’. He questions the changing nature of scientific explanations as opposed to the constancy of religious teachings.
Wahiduddin in many of his writings tried to prove that what scientists call ‘technical truths’ cannot explain the universe, as the ‘expanse of the universe goes much beyond such technical truths’. To him ‘meaningful truths’ begin with the end of ‘technical truths’. For example he says that biological and anatomical studies reveal some ‘technical truths’ but ‘much more meaningful truths are related to the beginning and end of humankind where such studies are useless’. He also quotes from the evolutionary scientist G G Simpson’s book ‘The meaning of evolution’ (1951) but again draws his own conclusions.
His readings of intellectuals and writers such as Haldane, Huxley, Lull, Mander and even Russell failed to dent his convictions in any way. He wrote about Russell as follows: “It has to be accepted that Russell is the most extreme of all the atheists of the modern age, and his writing is so persuasive that one does run the risk of turning atheist after having read him. But by the grace of God, I entered into Russell’s world, then re-emerged with my faith not only intact, but greatly fortified.” This was Maulana Wahiduddin.
Perhaps, the most impressive of his work is in his diaries. His ‘Hind-Pak diary’ (2006) is an overview of the 20th-century political history of the Subcontinent. He is scathing towards some big names of the Muslim struggle – especially against the Khilafat Movement, which shook India but produced no result at all.
Wahiduddin thought that leaders such as Abul Kalam Azad, Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali were exhorting Muslims of India to make sacrifices for a lost cause. It was not a question of protecting a political tradition; rather it was an attempt to restore an outdated history. Wahiduddin thought that most leaders of the freedom struggle wrongly assumed that ‘political slavery’ imposed by the British was the root cause of all evils. For him, it was a supplementary matter and not a fundamental issue.
The fundamental issue to him was to educate and train the ignorant and illiterate. “The people who lived under the shadow of superstitious traditions” needed to be “enlightened with scientific facts.” Here you see the contradiction; he was not ready to accept the logic and reasoning of scientific inquiry but he also wanted the people of India to live a life guided by ‘scientific facts’ rather than by superstitions. He also opposed revival movements of both Hindu and Muslim leaders. These movements had big names but produced negative results.
Wahiduddin saw M A Jinnah as a Muslim revivalist leader who led his movement to success by carving out a separate homeland for Muslims; but this success in the eyes of Wahiduddin did not have much substance. Muslims already lived in the areas where Pakistan came into being; it just got a new name which even Jinnah called a ‘truncated Pakistan’, and that too in 1971 was further divided.
Wahiduddin was a staunch critic of the RSS too which for a hundred years or so has played havoc with religious sentiments in India. As he was opposed to using religion for political purposes, he considered all divisions on the basis of religion as detrimental to all communities. To him this led to politics of destruction. He believed that Islam is a universal religion and should not be used to divide people, as it addresses all humanity. Wahiduddin considered Islam not only as a philosophy but as a religion that invites others to its fold, rather than turning them away. Islam does not confine itself by divisions; rather it unites people by embracing others.
Another recurring theme in his writings was his love for peace and dislike for arms and violence. He opposed atomic weapons in his speeches and writings and considered the atomic race as economic suicide for both countries. How correct he was – especially when we see the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. To conclude, we may say that Maulana Wahiduddin was a knowledgeable scholar of Islam who believed and preached harmony and peace. His intellect was confined to religious learning and teaching and he did not consider scientific logic and reasoning as convincing as he thought religion was. Despite his shortcomings, we need scholars like him who preach harmony and peace.
The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.
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