IKIM VIEWS By Dr MOHD ZAIDI ISMAIL
Senior Fellow/Director, IKIM
Self-reflect we must, if we are ever serious about remaining truly human, and to question whether the way our nation is being built truly reflects what we have acknowledged.
TO MANY followers of the world’s major religions, the idea of self-examination is by no means novel. Among those who are philosophically and historically more alert, Socrates is best known for having said: “Life unexamined is not worth living.”
Muslims, by and large, have so often heard the dictum “Examine yourselves before you are examined” (Haasibuu anfusakum qabla an tuhaasabuu) that it has almost become a cliché and, to the ears of some, has unfortunately lost its initial force as a reminder.
Yet, this idea of self-examination alludes to something more basic about human reality, something possessed of a reflexive propensity.
In fact, both the idea and any assertion that expresses it are meaningful only insofar as the aforementioned propensity of man is assumed and conceded beforehand.
And by this fundamental human reality with reflexive leaning, we actually mean man’s ability to be the knower as well as the known.
Man, in other words, can be as much the object of knowledge as he be its subject.
Accepting all this amounts to us admitting that the idea of self-examination has to have its basis in the potency – or better still, the reality – of self-reflection in man.
Man can reflect upon his self, thus rendering himself known to, and by, himself.
Upon further observation and analysis, however, one will soon realise that this power to self-reflect does not refer to any physical part of man.
No bodily organ, including those with perceptive functions, can perform this. Human eyes, for instance, can never see – let alone examine – themselves without the aid of a mirror.
On the contrary, it is man’s other eye that is solely endowed with such a reflective ability – his intangible, inner eye, the one referred to as his intellect.
It is this ability to subject one’s own self to the scrutiny of one’s very self that, among other things, delineates human intellect as being special and, thus, different from the animal-like human sensory organs and faculties.
In fact, it has been well accepted for generations that it is the intellect, one of whose manifestations is human reason and language, that defines man.
The realisation of this stark contrast between the human intellective faculty and human sensory faculties – such as seeing, hearing, touching et cetera – is something that has been well established in the religious, intellectual and scientific tradition of Islam.
To see this, one simply has to peruse the abundant corpus in that tradition which contain serious epistemological discussions, such books as Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali’s Mishkat al-Anwar (The Niche of Lights) and Imam ‘Adu’l-Din Abdu’l-Rahman al-Iji’s al-Mawaqif fi ‘Ilmi’l-Kalam (Stations, or Positions, in Islamic Theology).
Yet, having acknowledged the aforementioned reflexive faculty of man’s intellect, one may well wonder about its actual influence and impact on human society as well as on the other dimensions of human life.
One reliable way for us to address this issue meaningfully is to approach human society – whether viewed simply as an aggregate or regarded as an organic whole – as a necessary extension of the individual human being and, accordingly, the other dimensions of human life as the various manifestations of that faculty on a much larger scale.
In this manner, we may then proceed to question whether the way our nation is being built truly reflects what we have sincerely acknowledged above.
Suppose that we are really convinced that man’s intellect constitutes his essence and that the reflexive faculty constitutes its uniqueness, then it follows that a society which is truly human must accordingly reflect such essence and uniqueness.
Again, suppose that we are equally convinced of education – particularly at the tertiary level – being the most effective medium in order to develop a society and build a nation, then it follows that our educational system must also depict such a conviction.
In other words, the way we approach the various subjects must be self-reflective.
An example of this approach is to incorporate such metadisciplines as the philosophy of science, the history of science, the psychology of science, and the sociology of science in the science curriculum.
But doing that alone is not really sufficient.
The educational system itself must duly recognise and incorporate disciplines that are by nature more reflexive – the most reflexive of all being philosophy.
Self-reflection, as well as anything of its nature, is not always pleasant.
To question and reconsider the very ground we have been comfortably standing on all along is surely not an enjoyable exercise.
To realise our own weaknesses and errors in many instances is equally agonising, if not more.
Painful though it may be, self-reflect we must, if we are ever serious of remaining truly human, individually as well as socially.
As such, should we find ourselves involved at present in practices and undertakings contrary, or even hostile, to what we are supposedly convinced of above, then all this while either we have been ignorant, or totally unaware, of all that is aforementioned; or we have been neglectful of that truth; or we are not truly convinced of it – in fact, we have been believing otherwise for whatever reason; or we have acted rather hypocritically.
This makes one wonder, why?