La revue "Almaghrib" - Nos d'août - septembre 1934
The word "knowledge"provokes profound feelings and a special resonance in the ears of those who have solid spiritual ties to Sufi life. In the language of Sufis, knowledge is a concept whose scale and depth is impossible to bound even by the best established scientific criteria. This is especially true in the sense that knowledge for a Sufi touches that which the essence of the human heart experiences as the yearning for the ideal life.
I do not plan to keep going on this evening about knowledge with regards to its spiritually transcendent meaning. This is because I know that the muse would find fault with whatever effort I would call upon to attempt to clarify all that which is evoked by this vocable of symbolic representation. Moreover after several strokes of the pen I would risk in the end of finding myself right back at the start of my deliberations.
Indeed, knowledge for the Sufis demands, before a human being devotes himself to forming a coherent image in his mind based on definitions which determine knowledge's limits, that he has a healthy and a wholesome taste of life and a worldview which is not satisfied by that which surrounds him or her.
Instead knowledge goes beyond any local contingencies. It overcomes barriers that shut access to the realm of knowledge and prevent seeing the light. Only then does man find himself in front of the absolute beauty of knowledge. Only then is he faced with a position which eludes understanding for those who know of Sufism only through purely theoretical studies. I will therefore not attempt to engage myself in this realm where apparently no escape exit exists. Nor would I engage you with me in this circular realm where one can veer from the right and then to the left only to find oneself back again at the starting point. This is a circular realm much like the example of eternal life which has neither beginning or end, or the example of the image of a world awash with light which illuminates the souls while it kills in them any feelings of good or bad.
But if we have some apprehension for choosing knowledge as a subject for our discourse within the realm of Sufism and within the world of the soul, we can however without fear engage the subject of human knowledge from another arena where the criteria for appreciation and the underlying parameters are well known. Moreover this arena permits each individual to examen his aptitudes without risk of failure. We can also envision this query by placing our analysis of knowledge in a world where man can deepen the judgement he bears on life only as a function of what is palpable and visible. By doing so he chooses to venture along a path only after assuring himself that the path is well beaconed and nowhere strewn with traps.
You have undoubtedly figured out that this knowledge concerns the world of science, because nowhere else are the contours of knowledge as fixed and the edges as sharpened as in science -- and the science of contemporary civilization in particular -- which is clear and suffers no allowance for error, even for one instant. Let us try to form a view of human knowledge as understood through scientific research, which is the foundation of modern western civilization. We encounter in this endeavor no difficulty other than the study itself. Consequently we must place in the dossier of science the demarcations of the realm of knowledge and the definition of its characteristics in the same manner as we do with objective analyses which bound and define the vivid subjects we can touch with our fingers.
The scientific approach is a recreation for the spirit at the same time as it is a stimulant for the efforts it provides for discovering the secrets of life biased by past experience and by material demonstration. Contemporary research views knowledge only as the product of past and present stages of human evolution. The scientist grasps this product , turning it every which way, submits it to careful observation before expressing an opinion concerning it. And through the panoply of opinions issued by a number of researchers, the scientific journey leads us to obtaining this vision of knowledge and to consider it as the cream of what man achieves either by feel and sensation, by reasoning and deduction or by material demonstration based on results from experimental research.
Starting from the above premise, knowledge ramifies into three branches and it is possible to include in this ramification ideas attained by man during different stages of his evolution and to insert all that his spirit produced into an entity which we call "human knowledge". Science as we will see, did not succeed in establishing precise boundaries between its constituting elements to any level as to make it impossible to be mistaken about the nature of its elements. At best it succeeded in distinguishing them from each other in a purely theoretical manner
The first element of knowledge is constituted by that creative force which we have agreed to call "art", a power that Allah placed at the disposition of a number of his creatures to provide the human species a glimpse of a superior vision of existence. Thanks to this creative power, these individuals are genuine prophets whose mission is to emphasize beauty and to express this attribute in all their endeavors . Certain among them, fulfill their mission through the medium of poetry, shaping their verses into vivid images which shake and animate through the same energy which shakes and moves human life. Amongst the artists, there are those who carry out their task by painting, so well that, when in front of one of their canvasses, the individual discovers some of the secrets of life. Indeed these are secrets which often reveal themselves to be more difficult to penetrate than to excite the admiration when viewing the esthetic quality of the work they represent. Others use rock or stone to give life to an idea seeded in their spirit and they present us with a sculptural piece of such perfection that we are left with the impression that it would soon begin to speak and to move. It is thus likewise for the rest of the artists who express what they sense deep inside and then deliver masterpieces whose ideas appear at a moment when they were under enthusiastic and creative inspiration.
If we move to the second aspect of knowledge and if we embark on the question of man's productivity as seen by contemporary research, it is our task, in order to give us direction, to submit to our reflections this force that moves us to compare, to conclude and to analyze at a theoretical level the sum total of observations which are suggested to us daily by numerous events and diverse imagery, all of which probably emanate from the same source. The researcher of philosophical history, the biographer of a major historical figure and the social scholar who confines himself to his expertise in social sciences, we classify all, as is done by modern research, into the category of literary scholars. These scholars, for whom the springs of creative imagination fail indeed, generally place themselves at a distance from the ordinary. And yet, endowed with strong dispositions of spirit and with enhanced remarkable deductive and reflective faculties, they give free reign to assaults on their spirits, in order to inscribe thoughts likely to give substance to the importance of practical living over those of the world of theory and concepts.
As far as the third and final component of knowledge is concerned, access to it is relatively easy and it poses no apparent problems of ambiguity that are likely to mislead us. This component pertains to the science of experimentation which is not based in any manner on postulates, but instead substitutes in place of all theoretical deductions the preeminence of observation and experiment. It submits all experimental elements that are revealed to a total analysis before attempting to find the origins of each constituent element taken separately. We are therefore in the realm of true scientific research which understands each of its elements through its primal state without distortions due to any amalgam of a mix. By succeeding in his experiments, the scientist finds himself amazed by these elements and poses questions to further his understanding. He asks about the origins of the elements, whether they can furnish clues which allow explanations for their existence, and asks how to measure the attractive and repelling forces that move them. However, when the answers are not forthcoming, they often only find one way out, that of assumptions which they employ despite themselves.
Such are the constituent elements of human knowledge in the view of modern research. It remains to be seen what are the ties that bind them one to the other. What feelings does the artist experience with respect to the scientist or to the literary man? What feelings does the scientist or the literary scholar have with respect to the artist?
It is astonishing to be present from time to time at quarrels between advocates of knowledge and to see them squabble like children playing in a courtyard. But this is life; disagreements and self-centeredness are part of its secrets. Otherwise, what barrier could we imagine to lie between the constituent elements of knowledge so as to justify scientist having, in certain cases, a harsh attitude with respect to the artist or the scholar or the latter manifesting hostile temperaments with respect to each other.
It is curious to learn, in our time -- which nevertheless is considered to be an era of knowledge and tolerance -- that we could still imagine that science overcomes and defeats art, that literature is debased by experimental research and that other discourse is of such futility that it holds out the dim prospect that human life has but one facet, a facet from which we can not break loose and which accompanies the scientist in his laboratory, the literary scholar in his study room and the artist in his lofty studio.
As for those who are endowed with a certain freedom of judgement and who have a rounded conception of existential phenomena, they see that each element of knowledge complements the others and that life could not do well without the one nor without the others. On the contrary, they see in the scientist an artist gifted with a powerful and creative imagination. They see in the scholar one who extracts his conclusions from life and experiments just like the scientist, without forcing either to fit in with the other.
Before undertaking his laboratory experiments, the scientist begins by developing his plan and by formulating a vision of the paths and the means he needs in order to implement his plan. He has recourse to various analytical tools, much in the same manner as an artist who uses a brush, a scissor or a musical instrument. While the scientist calls upon reasoning and experiments, the artist seeks his poetic inspiration by evoking the muses. Likewise the scholar converses with his thoughts whilst on literary pilgrimages. Each fulfills his mission in a state mitigated by calm and revolt; calm with respect to their conscience and revolt against the status quo of social society. By revolting they attempt to drive society along a progressive path, proffering a glimpse of an entirely novel view of life, a life accessible via tributaries from the three constituent elements of knowledge.
It is therefore difficult for us to align ourselves with certain intellectuals whose line of argument, superficially at least, consists of stating that there exists a repulsive phenomenon, indeed, a hostility between these three elements. Our agreement is not likely unless we understand them to mean the incompatibility of work such as that of a geologist with that of another profession, e.g. that of the practice of medicine and therefore to base the differences on the different tools used by each. By so doing we can render in total abstraction the goals pursued by each, namely the search for the hidden secrets of life.
It is likewise for the artist and the scholar who search to create a certain harmony between the different facets of these secrets so as to put them in the diapason of human sensibility and to make them conform to the tastes of the soul. For example, the playwright who composes his theatrical play, brings together, enveloping him and his work, artistic fancy, a polished literary style, and scientific themes based on experiments and fundamental research. Even better, when scholars and artists reach their apex of maturity and glory, they are often able to examine the depths of human conscience and thereby uncover some secrets of life, something that science with its traditional methods can achieve only after generations of research.
Our poets and our scholars as well as poets and scholars from other nations provide living examples to illustrate this thesis. The poet is not, as many would make of him, this being who wanders aimlessly in the spheres of the imaginary, as intimated by a certain class of experimental scientists. Instead he is one whose sensibility and feelings meet up with the real world through tendencies which are integral parcels of his emotional state. The poet puts into relief through his poems contradictory inclinations that the human soul harbors. Science by contrast, unable to approach these contradictions in a convincing manner, must content itself by submitting them to superficial analyses. One can say as much for artists who express visually this abstract aspect of our conduct while science has yet to succeed in providing us with a satisfactory explanation of the psychic forces that exert such an impact on our behavior.
Thus this is how the current state of research has compartmentalized human knowledge. But if we must take into consideration each of the elements which comprise it so as to enumerate the different ramifications and to proceed thereafter to classify them, this should be the objective of a series of discussions to follow after this evening's conversation. This is especially so taking into account the ceaseless growth of the body of scholarship and learning. Indeed each time these ramifications provide a glimpse of new horizons for study, they are immediately set up as independent disciplines endowed with specific methods of thinking and with principles which serve as foundations for this new science.
Literature has seen its possible influence spread to spheres of study heretofore relevant to the realm reserved for science, totally eluding the understanding of our grandparents and great grandparents. As for art, whose only basic drivers are imagination and feelings, it has been subjected to few changes and hardly knows any ramifications. This is the case even while talented artists have made great strides towards maturation as they fulfill the mission humanity expects of them and as they express human sensibilities in the best possible manner.
If we envisage setting up a project to cover all of its branches, our enterprise would be in vain even after many years of effort because intellectual life is permanently evolving and it is spreading continously. Philosophers have attempted to bound the scientific disciplines and to put them in a logical order to allow classification of intellectual output of times past. Libraries are abound with works of this type . Today these works represent a historic curiosity for those who are interested in the evolution of man's conceptual notions in relation to his realized output.
I thus arrive at the end of this statement and I wish to conclude with the questions with respect to the understanding of whether these three constituent elements of knowledge express all that a human being feels deep inside, whether they are sufficient to dissipate the fog that envelops him, whether they make him less vulnerable to the hazards of life and whether they stifle the contradictory forces that manifest themselves at the level of his conscience.
Our civilization was built in the course of this contemporary period exclusively on the basis of these components of knowledge. It has certainly made humanity take a big step towards improving his well being, which apparently obviously permits all sorts of optimism. However while we see up close the effects of certain aspects of this civilization on the social fabric, it behooves us to note unfortunately, it has been accompanied by a progressive slackening of morals. To the lack of adherence to moral values, add the loss of faith where faith is taken with respect to its more noble meaning. These failings thus deprive man of the necessary vigor to believe in the eventual finality of his own existence. This belief is a primal element which accompanies the social body as it marches towards the ideal it aspires to. This lack of belief will not fail in creating disarray to most who attempt to interlink the different stages of history to extract lessons that are likely to be apt for present and future periods.
Moroccan civilization has always been sheltered from any materialistically dominated social bearings to the point that a Moroccan seeks only to satisfy his bodily needs, outside of any quest for spiritual bliss. We must nevertheless acknowledge that the constituent elements of knowledge have made big strides towards fostering his personal development and have attained success after success in that development. However western civilization is perceived by a good number of philosophers to be on the verge of collapse in the near future. Even the westerners are distancing themselves from materialism and are orienting themselves more and more towards the spirituality of the soul, hoping to find in there fortifying nourishment to strengthen their life's journey and to allow them to pursue their quest for the absolute.
Is it therefore possible for us to answer the questions we have raised previously without first seeing in the elements of knowledge a means to satisfy the extravagances dictated to us by our tendencies and personal inclinations?
Both the question and answer lie outside the scope of the present conversation. They are intended to stimulate the spirit of research and to incite wonder about the hidden aspects of our being that current research has so far not succeeded in unravelling anymore knowledge than man has already achieved through the gift of judgement, a gift that nature endowed him with as early as his first steps in life. This is explained by the fact that with respect to research, one grants little interest to understanding oneself. Instead there is a tendency to occupy oneself more and more with material contingencies and to analyze them to extract everything that aids in satiating personal ambitions.