ʿAqīl المُصْطَفَوِي

ʿAqīl المُصْطَفَوِي



There is an interesting point in this book where René Guénon is critical of a part of history: the Renaissance. In particular, he criticises both humanism and secularism. This is my attempt at explaining it comprehensively and in simple terms. This is a thread, inshāAllāh.

I’m putting aside Guénon’s esoteric doctrines and focusing on a passage that was the most important to me. “A word that rose to honor at the time of the Renaissance, and that summarised in advance the whole program of modern civilisation is ‘humanism’.

Men were indeed concerned to reduce everything to purely human proportions, to eliminate every principle of a higher order, and, one might say, symbolically to turn away from the heavens under pretext of conquering the earth…” (end) It is difficult to give an exact definition

of humanism, since it requires first an exact definition of what it means to be ‘human’, philosophically, religiously, scientifically and sociologically. In simple terms, it is ultimately a movement that seeks to put humans at the locus of the universe—”a primary being”,...

as said by the famous revolutionary Ali Shari’ati in ‘Marxism and other Western Fallacies’:

When Guénon says “to turn away from the heavens”, it could mean two things here. Either it could mean that one places more emphasis on humans without denying the Divine or it could be a total rejection of the Divine.

“...the Greeks, whose example they claimed to follow, had never gone this far in this direction,...”(end) Guenon clarifies the historical roots of the first humanist movement which started with the ancient Greeks in which Shari’ati also expounds upon.

The many Gods of the Greeks were understood to be anti-human forces whose sole aim was to tyrannically rule over humanity. The humanist struggle in ancient Greece was the struggle to achieve liberation from this captivity of the Divine, thus it is the latter meaning of “turning

away from the heavens”. As Shari’ati says, the inherited Greek humanism is incompatible with theism: (picture below) However, this isn’t always the case especially if we’re addressing the humanism movement that emerged from the Renaissance.

They did not view themselves as in conflict with Christianity. An example of this is the text written by the most famous philosopher of the Renaissance, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, called Oration on the Dignity of Man in which God himself placed Adam at the center of the...

world with complete freedom: (picture below) Yet it is from the Renaissance humanist movement that modern humanism—which is vehemently secular—emerged from. It does not take a lot of effort to see why: a doctrine propounded on the premise of freedom of human beings would not be

difficult to be pushed to the extreme (complete freedom) and be hostile towards what is seen as a set of coercive laws—religion. It is exactly this reason why Jean-Paul Sartre, whose existentialism was famous for its advocacy of radical freedom, is a militant atheist.

His attempt at claiming his existentialism is a humanism can be found in his lecture Existentialism is a Humanism (it’s actually not that long and worth a read imo), which is why Shari’ati addresses it. This passage from Sartre summarises it best:

Guénon continues, “Humanism was the first form of what has subsequently become contemporary secularism; and, owing to its desire to reduce everything to the measure of man as an end in himself…” Renaissance humanism gave birth to the Enlightenment Era where more concrete...

philosophical doctrines of putting man at the center can be seen. Take, for example, John Locke’s (The Father of Liberalism) political theory. Its entire premise is (unsurprisingly) based on the perfect freedom of man. Everything else is contingent on this assumption, and thus..

man is “as an end” as Guénon says, since this individual liberty must be maintained at all costs. This is from Locke’s Second Treatise: (picture below) While Locke had another work that was fundamental to secularism, this doctrine of ‘sovereign of the self’ is inherently only..

possible through secularism, since the state cannot enforce religious practices (what modern people nowadays call “moral policing”) in order for man to be in perfect freedom. This notion of ‘sovereign of the self’, however it is branded (“individual liberty”, “personal freedom”,

etc), is something that permeates through modernity today and we can see that clearly. Even in epistemology, the idea that the only meaningful knowledge is from man causes people to be induced to a sort of ‘secular disposition’ as highlighted by @NeuroMaliki below:

Guénon says, “modern civilisation has sunk stage by stage until it has reached the level of the lowest elements in man and aims at little more than satisfying the needs inherent in the material side of his nature, an aim that is in any case quite illusory since it constantly...

constantly creates more artificial needs than it can satisfy.” (end) When the metaphysical realities of man are denied, and this includes our religious laws obligations and spiritual obligations, man is reduced to nothing more than an animal that simply...

seeks to maximise its pleasure. The clearest example of this is the rise of consumption culture—the more the individual purchases and consumes mindless pleasure and entertainment to fulfil material needs, the more needs arise which the market creates and caters to.

This is in direct contrast with what man was made as: وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْملىٰٓكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً “And [mention, O Muḥammad] when your lord said to the angels, “Indeed I will make upon the earth a khalīfah” —Q 2:30 Sayyid Quṭb in Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān...

said that this responsibility given by Allāh indicates that man is held in high regard in Allāh’s Sight and occupies a prominent position in the system of the universe. Yet, we must not lose sight of this lofty position since, as Quṭb says, “now the lasting battlefield has...

been made clear. The battle between the Caliph of evil who is the Iblis and the Caliph of Allāh on Earth (man). This battle persists in the conscience of man, the battle that goodness will win as long as man exercises his will and remains faithful to his covenant with his Lord,

and evil wins as long as man follows his desires and moves further from his Lord”. Another example of a metaphysical reality is, as al-ʿAṭṭās says, that man has sealed a covenant with Allah in acknowledgement of Allah’s Lordship (“Am I not your Lord?”...

They said “Yes, we have testified” —Q 7:172) This is what the sovereign of the self seeks to deny. I remember someone calling it “the most Firʿawnic of ideas” and I have to agree.

It seemingly tries to elevate the position of man (“[Firʿawn] saying: “I am your lord, the most high!” —Q: 79:24) when it reality it characterises humans as its lowest self, nothing more than beings seeking to fulfil...

its needs at any cost. (“Go to Firʿawn, for he surely has transgressed all bounds” —Q: 79:17) Wallāhu aʾlam. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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