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Towards a Spiritual Humanism: A Muslim-Humanist Dialogue.

By Hasan Askari and Jon Avery. Leeds: Seven Mirrors, 1991, 145 pp.

In a second book by the same publishing house a Muslim mystic (Hasan Askari) engages in dialogue with a humanist, Jon Avery, teacher of philosophy in Denver. It is, says the introduction, a meeting between the philosophia perennis and the respect for freedom of belief, the meeting of a Muslim mystic and an American humanist, who in the end has learned how to philosophize from the heart. Their dialogue unfolds in ten chapters. There is the dialogue covering a shared ground between Islamic and humanistic perspectives, the critique of materialism, the resurrection of the body, the soul, human nature and modern psychology, dogmatism, evil, freedom. Hasan Askari has in Jon Avery a very faithful and almost ideal dialogue-partner, someone who is humble and lets Hasan Askari have his way. It seems more of a conversation between a guru and his follower than between a Muslim and a humanist, each holding on to supposedly opposite views. Here the humanist is always willing to learn, to rethink. The Muslim, however talks to his dialogue-partner and shows no inclination towards any rethinking or change. Humanism comes across as something vague, a bit outmoded, something of anno-da-zu-mal, holding on to a dichotomy between faith and reason, belief and science that in our days seems almost artificial. A "humanist," says Avery, is someone "who does not quote the Bible or the word of God as his or her authority on all subjects . . . someone who affirms the methods of science and democracy in trying to solve practical problems and the problem of understanding the natural universe in which we live" (p. 15). It seems as if humanists must have been in contact with a rather odd crowd of Christians, since they feel the need to define themselves as the very opposites of these Christians. I would contend that Christians too, and not only humanists, in general affirm methods of science and democracy in trying to solve the practical problems of the world in which they live.

It is not without difficulty, says Askari, to conduct a dialogue with humanism, since it "represents how materialists define spirituality, how they project religion, and then the projected entity is being negated, nullified and argued against" (p. 23). There is no space for one of the ground rules of dialogue: that each partner defines him/herself. Humanism was born in opposition to a church wielding power and that memory of the church, reflecting a temporal situation, is made universal and eternal.

It seems to me that humanism is tempted to simplify problems, if it really holds that "philosophical materialism" is "more conducive to happiness than is the belief that there is a spirit and a soul" and that "the belief that only matter exists focuses the minds on this world and on the values of this world such as human happiness, productive work, friendship, love and physical/mental health" (p. 31). How does one measure which is more conducive? Do people really exist as such or are they only matter? Is there not the dream of a better tomorrow, a stroke of luck, a hope against reality that bespeaks that human beings cannot be reduced to anything that is only matter-of-fact?

The dialogue between Askari and Avery covers a lot of ground, where interesting Islamic and western perspectives on humanistic ideas and values surface. There is a friendship between the two, which facilitates the reading. They have discovered that they both are above all human beings and that there is more to being human than can be labelled either Islamic or humanist. Hasan Askari points to something extremely important: there is a "mystery of the human self, (which is) the most immediate challenge for all of us to come to grips with. . . . no answer to any ultimate questions can be stated in verbal, mental terms, and yet they cannot be avoided because the ultimate questions pursue and haunt us from within" (p. 129).
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Publication:International Review of Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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