ReligionWise

Islam, Humanism, and the Good Life - Khurram Hussain

March 15, 2022 Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding Season 1 Episode 7
ReligionWise
Islam, Humanism, and the Good Life - Khurram Hussain
Show Notes Transcript

This episode of ReligionWise features a conversation with Khurram Hussain, Associate Professor of Religion Studies at Lehigh University.

In this far ranging conversation, we discuss the often overlooked humanistic elements present in Islam, reflect on ill-conceived narratives of intercultural interactions, and consider better ways of facilitating understanding across difference.

Show Notes:


Chip Gruen:

Welcome to ReligionWise. The podcast that features educators, researchers and other professionals discussing their work and the place of religion in the public conversation. I'm your host Chip Gruen, Director of the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding at Muhlenberg College. I'm really excited to share today's conversation with you a conversation I had with Khurram Hussain, who is a professor of religion studies at Lehigh University. I'm also very happy to say that he is an Advisory Board member for the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding. Dr. Hussain has a wide range of academic interests, including Islam in both the Middle East and South Asia, religion and modernity, ethics, comparative religion, and humanism. He's the author of "Islam as Critique - Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Challenge of Modernity" from Bloomsbury in 2019. And "The Muslim Speaks" from Zed books in 2020, you can find links to both of those texts, in the show notes. So when we sat down for this conversation, Khurram and I had a few things on our mind. One was he shared with me the draft of an article that's forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Humanism, entitled "Humanism in the Middle East", where we talked about that concept and the presence of humanism outside of the West, which is something you'll hear us talk a little bit about, the other thing that we had in mind was just generally the idea of narratives. The narratives that we say, both within academics and within public conversation about things like religious diversity. One of these narratives you might be familiar with is the idea of that clash of civilizations, the idea that there are just civilizations that have different values, and when they rub up against one another, there is no other option other than conflict. So we sort of think about the cultural work that that kind of narrative is doing, what are some alternatives to it, and why those narratives are successful both in the contemporary United States and elsewhere around the world. Something else that we talked about, is just the idea of humanism and how recognizing oneself as human and, and other people in the world as human might be a way of transcending some of those differences that can be divisive in our society. The more I talk to Khurram, the more I appreciate and understand his perspective on what it means to be human and sort of this conversation that goes way back about recognizing the humanity of others. So listen for that as well. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy the conversation I had with Dr. Hussain. So it seems to me a lot of your work is interested in the conversations that we have not only the conversations we have with scholars, but the conversations we have in public places or in media or in political discourses. And part of that is how we frame history. And I think in some of the work that you've shared with me, it seems like the argument that you're making is that the modern West tends to neglect the back and forth between Middle East as a region and Muslim cultures within the Middle East. And back to the West, instead of seeing this as a one way flow. But you want to help us see this as more of a back and forth than we normally do in public discourse. Is that a fair assessment?

Khurram Hussain:

I think there's two different, there's two different issues here, right? There's one is sort of a normative issue and one is a issue of description, right? So as purely a matter of description, right, like, you know, how has, how have, has intellectual and other epistemological information, sort of? How has it circulated? Historically, right, geographically, ethnically, culturally, whatever. Right? So one question has to do with the fact that as a description of how information circulates historically, between different human societies, the Western understanding is incorrect, right? It's just factually incorrect, because information circulates in much more complex ways. Right? Historically, it's always been that way. And it's certainly true even today. Right? So it's not so it's factually it's inaccurate to say that the flow, that the relevant flow of information of intellectual information is merely one, unidirection from the West to the East, or the Middle East or whatever. So that's, that's sort of a factual part in which we can still get into. There's also like a normative part or ethical part, right, is that even if it were the case, right, that information was only flowing from the West to the East, or knowledge was only being transmitted from the West to the East, right? That is an ethically suspect situation. Like even if it were true, which I don't think, believe it is, but even imagining that as a model itself has ethical issues, right? Because that's not a conversation, right? That's a monologue directed at somebody else who is unable, or who's incapacitated, or turned mute by sort of this, this overpowering monologue that's coming at them, right? So sometimes in the current environment, you do get that sense, right? That Westerners are just basically literally talking down to Muslims in the Middle East, right, they're saying, Hey, let us teach you how to do this stuff, you know, Let us teach you how to be a human being, Let us teach you how to be free, Let us teach you how to be equal, Let's, let us teach you right, in this kind of very Pink Floyd, like, you know, manner of like, another brick in the wall. And that, that relentless monologue is, is not good for anybody, right? Because in being relentlessly monologic, the West also loses out on learning about aspects of the human condition that have not been paid attention to, for example, maybe as much, you know, in, in the development of the Western civilization, so to say. So that both of those things are important in my work where I both sort of factually or historically problematize the Western accounts of history, but then I also make the case that it's not good for anybody, ethically speaking, if all we had were monologic, kind of, you know, unidirectional conversations.

Chip Gruen:

And then this gets cast also as a conversation about humanism as well, right? That humanism becomes, within this narrative, a Western good to be exported, you know, to other parts of the world. But you're saying that that, again, is a part of this discourse, and doesn't necessarily hold up to scrutiny when we look at the sources?

Khurram Hussain:

Well, there are several different ways you can think about humanism, right? I mean, at the end of the day, there's again, there's a humanism in the sense of like centering the human being, centering human beings or centering the kinds of aspects of humanity that are universal, that have universal dimensions like all of us are human. What does that statement mean, right? It is exploring that statement saying, hey, I am human as somebody from Pakistan, you are human, Chip, as somebody from the U.S. Right? I am ethnically whatever, you are ethnically whatever. But we are both human, right? And exploring that aspect of our humanity is a common thing. That to me is sort of the core of humanism, right? It is recognizing both our differences as human beings and also what makes us both human beings, right? This is a question that has been dealt with since classical antiquity, right? Like what makes a human being? How is a human being different from an animal, say right? And there are many different answers to it. But one answer that keeps repeating over and over again, I think certainly in the classical tradition, is that human beings sort of talk to each other. We communicate. So politics is about, you know, debating the nature of the good life, right, with each other to try and come to some kind of a mechanism for enacting that in our lives, right? So humanism, inasmuch as that is what humanism is, is concerned about, we've had humanists since there have been humans. I mean, we've had people who were talking about these questions, the problems of living together, about the good life, from time immemorial, right? So the idea that the West suddenly discovered it in the Italian renaissance, you know, and then suddenly was like, Hey, we just discovered humanism, and now we can just tell other people how to be humanists. It's, again, like a sort of a very, sort of a fantastical, magical thinking, right? And in particular, I think if you want to talk about the Muslim Middle East, the West's version of humanism itself is a reflection of information that circulated out of the Middle East. The Middle Eastern sort of engagement with the classics, right? The preservation of the Greek philosophy and sciences and logic and all that stuff in Arabic, which was then translated into Latin. So a lot of what we have available to us from classical antiquity was actually translated from Arabic into European languages and then instigated the Italian renaissance. So that, you know, so even at the basic level of like how information was circulating in the Middle Ages, it's inaccurate to say that the West somehow... the West discovered humanism, just like the West discovered the new world, right? Which is to say it didn't discover it, it was just a particular iteration of Western history and self narrativization, you know, that turns it into that.

Chip Gruen:

Within that discourse I think very often you see humanism sometimes in religious communities held up as being the opposite of theism or religious sentiment, et cetera. You know, so that those secular humanists are the problem. But, you know, casting it differently, sort of more broadly than that, I think your argument makes sense. But I'm interested in the way that humanism gets described as the West, in the West, as in opposition, you know, to theism. How do you think that plays out in your read of, of the people that you read from the Muslim community?

Khurram Hussain:

Well I mean, I think that there's a reason why in the West, right, in the Christian West, obviously right, that humanism developed as a secular philosophical tradition. In the sense of being sort of, if not antireligious then separate from religion. You know, the reason for that is the particular anthropology that Christianity has, right? The aspects of the original sin, of fall from grace, like the idea that human beings are not perfectible, that human beings are somehow wretched, or they're somehow, you know, filled with sin and they need grace, like God's grace for salvation. So the human being, because the human being is set up in contradistinction to the divine in this strong sense of the idea of sin, right, when you want to center the human being right, vis a vis humanism, you have to, by definition, kind of take the human being out of this Christian anthropology, right, like pluck the human being out right? It can no longer be embedded within that theological architecture, right? Because within that theological architecture the human being is wretched and the human being is not a viable or relevant entity to center. This is a function, this is the way in which even though secular humanism is secular, it is still embedded in the West and Europe within a Christian sort of, within a larger Christian understanding of the world, of the human being right? In the Muslim Middle East this doesn't obtain. I mean, there's no equivalent in Islam, in any kind of Islam, there's no equivalent of the fall. I mean, it's described that human beings were in Eden and then they came to Earth, but that was always the plan, right? There is no question there's no real understanding of this idea of original sin. Human beings are completely capable within Islamic theology of fashioning their own salvation, right, through good works and through engagement with the world, right? So because of that, in the Muslim Middle East humanism was never something that was, you know considered sort of, the human being didn't need to be taken out or plucked out of the Islamic theological architecture. The human being can still exist within that theological architecture and still be a viable, you know, object for centering ones, you know, aspirations right? So I think potentially one of things that's interesting within from the Islamic tradition is that in Christianity, you couldn't, you couldn't have Jesus be both perfect and be a man right? The reason Jesus is deified is because he could not be perfect being if he's a man. Whereas in Islam, Jesus is obviously accepted as a prophet, and basically in Islamic theology you accept everything about Jesus without making him God right? So immaculate conception, check. Raising people from the dead, check. Second coming, check. So everything is fine. But we're fine, we're like, yeah, he's perfect. He's a perfect human being, right, just like a lot of the prophets Muslim tradition are perfect in that sense right? So because of that, if you look at the historical tradition within Islam and especially the early period of Islam, the first two or three centuries, you see incredible fecund sort of humanistic endeavors in art and architecture, science, philosophy and everything you associate usually with the Italian renaissance right? Logic, mathematics, you know, and just plucking things from like different cultures, I mean the Islamic Middle East being right in the center of the world, basically right? So you're, you know, getting paper from China, mathematics from India, you're getting, you know, like a classical philosophy and science from the Greeks. And so there's just kind of a synthetic sort of cacophony, right, within the Muslim Middle East of sort of humanistic endeavors, which does, you know, which ebbed later on. But the possibility of it is always latent, you know, within sort of the Islamic intellectual tradition, so to say. Which is not to say, by the way, and I'm certainly not romanticizing, but it is not to say that there aren't other streams that are anti intellectual, anti humanist streams within the tradition as well. So it's not that this is the only way you can imagine Islam. But what I'm saying is that it is a completely historically, intellectually, philosophically, theologically viable way, right, of imagining Islam in its humanistic sort of sense, right, that it's not something that is incompatible with Islam, which is what we hear a lot, right, from a lot of Westerners and also a lot of Muslims, who say, hey, Islam is not like that. Islam is theocentric. Islam is not humanistic. We don't focus on the human being, we focus on God. We submit to God, right? I'm trying to problematize that as being sort of the only way you could tell the story of Islam.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, I think at one point you say, in the chapter that you shared with me, that there is no necessary opposition between theocentrism and anthropocentrism, which actually made me think about some of the anti intellectual roots in early Christianity that I study. You know, that I believe it because it's absurd, or what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Khurram Hussain:

Kind of famously, yeah.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, some of those great Tertullian quotes that I think will sometimes, you know, rear their heads in the intellectual tradition of Christianity as well. But that phrase of "no necessary opposition" is interesting to me, because one of the other things, as you're just talking about this, I was thinking about, you know, what you describe as the Christian anthropology, that what sprung to my mind was Quaker theology and inner light theology, which would, you know, I don't know if deny is the right word, but certainly accentuate this idea of the inner light within the individual. So one might also argue that there is no necessary opposition to some of the strands that you're describing in Islam and Christianity, if we can hold up something like that.

Khurram Hussain:

Oh, absolutely. I think like not knowing Christianity as well as I do, I'm able to sort of get away with making general statements like that, right? But no, you're absolutely right. There is a way in which the complexity and multiplicity to all of these traditions, especially traditions that have lasted for thousands of years, right, and that have like had multiple sectarian sort of moments right? So the possibilities are like nothing in all of these different traditions, you know, whether it's Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Inasmuch as Christianity can be thought of as a unitary tradition, which it is not, right, we can all accept that it's not, right. Neither is Islam. Inasmuch as we can imagine it as such, its anthropology, inasmuch as we can imagine that as such, has certain features that are distinct from Islam, again, the same way. So inasmuch as we talk about like these sort of basic, you know, basic sort of intellectually theological ideas, like the idea of trinity, or the idea of the original sin, or the idea of salvation. Inasmuch as we can talk about it in a sort of, in a generalizable way, which we shouldn't, inasmuch as we can talk about that I think there is a...But your point is completely well taken. I think one of the things that happens when you're talking about these very large, complex traditions, as if they're unitary, right, as if they are one thing is that then it's easy to get into this whole discussion about clash of civilizations or clash of cultures, which is like, hey, you know, Islam is this way and Christianity is this way. Oh, they're obviously going to clash, right? When actually, there is, you know, Islam and Christianity are just abstractions, right, these abstractions that we're using to simplify what are on the ground, always very complex situations.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, and I wanted to ask you about that, that idea of the clash of civilizations, and you've alluded to this already, but I want to sort of dig at it a little bit more, is that certainly there are people in 21st century United States who would sign up for the clash of civilizations idea. Yes. This is, this is the problem. That this is sort of an inevitable problem that we have to deal with and that there are lots of people within 21st century, you know, Middle Eastern countries of whichever stripe, whether we're talking about Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iraq or Syria or wherever, who would agree. That those two factions, those two sort of opposite groups in two different places would very much agree with that model of the world and the model of these cultures.

Khurram Hussain:

And in fact, I would suggest that that's probably like the majority of people, in both the United States and in the Middle East. That they would, you know, sort of support some version of this idea. I mean, it doesn't always have to be like, the real strong version is that, hey, that civilizations are always going to clash. There's always going to be conflict because they're different. The weaker version is, hey, civilizations are different. The multicultural, you know, the weaker is the multicultural version. Oh, you know, we're all different, but we can still kind of get along. But in either case, the basic point is there's some kind of fundamental, essential difference that obtains between these socalled civilizations, right, and famously, the political scientist Sam Huntington came up with eight, I think, the West, Islam, China, India, Africa, one, I mean, I don't know why Africa is one civilization, then there was the Latin civilization, I guess, then Japan for some reason had its own civilization. But anyways, the point being that these are just like somehow, you know, lockbox kind of cultural entities that have an internal language that is coherent, but when across, you can't communicate coherently. So the only way to communicate is either through antagonism, right, through a will to power, or through a kind of consumption appreciation. Like, you would eat like a foreign food or you would dress up in foreign clothes. So it's not really coherent. It's just a kind of consumption model of culture at best. But in reality, I mean, this is, as we've talked about already, I mean, this is not a particularly relic account of the human condition, it has never been. What it is is a simple explanation. That's what it is. It's a simple explanation for really complex situations, right? It's a simple explanation that appeals to people's own sense of identity at times, right? And it appeals to their anxieties and it appeals to their sense of insecurity or it appeals to their sense of wanting stability in a world that is rapidly changing and moving and globalization and consumption and media like just we're living in a time, I think Hannah Arendt said, where every country is the neighbor of every other country. This was in 1967. So, I mean, we're even more so now. So in that kind of environment where there's so much jostling and hustle and commodities flowing back and forth and people and ideas, right? Sometimes I think human beings want some kind of stability in their sense of themselves as well as in the world around them. And so they latch onto this idea that you belong to this kind of overarching identity that gives you a sense of meaning, and it also then allows you to explain where there is conflict, right, it's much easier to explain the conflict in the Middle East by appealing to this clash of civilizations thesis rather than paying attention to the complex political historical roots, you know, of any particular conflict. And we can very easily say, hey, that Israel, Israeli Jews, are basically Westerners and Palestinians are Muslims. So they're fighting. They can't help but fight. Like what are we going to do? Like, they're just always going to fight. Well, that's not, you know, that's not a very good explanation, right? If you really want to understand, like I think the historian Mahmood Mamdani, who wrote this book called "Good Muslims, Bad Muslims," he said, this is what you get when you don't want to spend the time to do a real political analysis, right, of our times. When we don't want to do a real political analysis, then you grab onto these abstractions like culture and civilizations, because then it's easier, you know. It's easier to explain that way. It's simpler, you know, to just be like, Hey, this is just the way they are. This is just the way Arabs are going to be. This is just the way Americans are, right? So this is also sort of the environment within which you get all of these really incredibly complicated conspiracy theories. So in the Arab world, for example, I mean, you think Americans are bad with conspiracy, when you go there, I mean, every time I go home, I talk to people from my social class, talking about educated people, just spouting the most unbelievably ridiculous conspiracy theories about America and Americans, right? And how they're just trying to get inside our societies and, you know, mess with our youth and stuff, it's the same kind of thing. Like, so, but it's like, I mean, at the end of the day, I think the problem is that it's, well, one, it's not true that the civilizations of the kind that people think about when we think about the West and stuff, you know, that they don't exist in the way people think they do. And even if they did, they couldn't exist for very long. Like I mean, with all the movements of people and people moving up, you know, and all ideas, it just seems like a kind of aspiration that is just, it's a magical aspiration, right, which leads nowhere good anyways.

Chip Gruen:

So the careful listener will have no problem understanding why you've been added to the Advisory Board for the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding, because, you know, this is a lot of what we're interested in, right? The idea of doing the hard work, of understanding. And while we've been talking about it, some in political terms, when we're talking about geopolitical events, and some of that has to do with understanding the complexities and nuances of religious and cultural difference as well.

Khurram Hussain:

Oh, absolutely.

Chip Gruen:

So what do you think...how does this argument then impact the local? That it's easy to see it, you know, impacting policy in the Middle East or geopolitical events or even things like immigration, right like these big policies that we as individuals may not have a whole lot to do with, other than voting. But how does, you know, someone living in the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, how does this larger argument about how we perceive the world, how does this impact our lives?

Khurram Hussain:

At the end of the day, I think I go back to appeal to the classical antiquity and to some understanding of what makes us human, right? I think in some sense what makes us human is precisely the capacity to speak to other people as human beings, right? Which is to say to speak to other human beings in a manner that acknowledges and recognizes their humanity, right? And to recognize our humanity in our recognition of their humanity, right? So this applies not just at the national level or the international level, but it applies at the local level and at the individual level. At the end of the day, being a humanist, and I consider myself a humanist, is really about the basic things like that. Like when you're interacting with another person, you acknowledge their humanity. And the acknowledging of that humanity means that you're willing to listen to them, right, listen to them explain their humanity to you. In fact, according to Hannah Arendt, that is all being human is, it's nothing other than that, right? It's nothing more than that. That's all it is. It's all it is that you confront another human being and you acknowledge their humanity. It seems like a very abstract thing I'm saying. But it's actually not. It's a very basic thing, right? For example, and this will come sort of counterintuitive at times, I am one of those people who really has a very hard time with the dialogue industry. The dialogue industry that has, sort of really blossomed, right, since 9/11, which is like, Hey, we can all get in a room and be like, yeah, you know, it's all good. We're all peaceful. And I hate that kind of way of interacting with people, right? I hate, I think that is not acknowledging people's humanity. When you just say, Hey, you know, we can all get along and we can all just be like, listen to each other and consume each other's, whatever they're saying, as if there is no real conflict. As if there is no real engagement or conversation that needs to be had, right? For Aristotle, the good life is talking about the good life in the Agora. You have to engage with other people in an agonistic way in the Agora, not in a conflictual way, but in an agonistic way, meaning that you have to be able to listen to other people saying things or imagining the good life differently from yourself, right? And that, to me, is like sort of what we need to have in local environments, right, whether it is between Muslims, Christians and Jews, or between secular atheists, or whatever, right? When we're engaging with each other, acknowledging each other's humanity and challenging each other to explain ourselves to you. Like ourselves, explain ourselves to each other, right? Which is very different than just purely kind of, you know, kind of like, the model that I sort of think about in class, I mention it a lot, it's like there are people who say, you know, Islam is a religion of violence, right? And they're wrong. I mean, Islam is complicated. But then there are people who say, Oh, no, true Islam is a religion of peace. And that's a problem, too. No, it's not that either. To call Muslims, say Muslims are all peaceful is to dehumanize them as much as if you call them all violent. To acknowledge somebody's humanity is to acknowledge their complexity, right? And to be willing to listen to that complexity. And even if, you know, even if you don't fully understand it, to at least, what Gadamer said like, the fusion of horizons. Horizons have to fuse, they can only fuse if they encounter each other. So that's what I would say. I mean, I know this is a kind of an overly intellectual way of thinking about things, but that's you know, that's my business. But I do think it applies to folks out there in the real world, right? Who are surrounded by people. Like I have no problems, when I first came to this country, I have no problems asking people about them. You know, they tell me about your background, tell me where you come from, tell me what you think of the good life, right? What is the good life? Like, how should we talk about this stuff, right? Like all of those kinds of questions, I think that sometimes we just don't talk enough about. We don't do it in America, especially, we're like don't talk religion, don't talk politics. Well, what is there to talk about then? I mean like, you know, do you want to just talk sports? Like sure, but that's not, you know, Americans love talking sports and weather, which was very strange.

Chip Gruen:

So, you know one of my issues, and I'll be interested on, this isn't something we've talked about before, but I'm very interested in the conversation that people want to have, that is me talking to you. But in the end, it is not about cultivating empathy or understanding of you, but it somehow is wanting the conversation to impact my identity or who I am or, and I think that sometimes that is a way that that conversation can go wrong as well.

Khurram Hussain:

Yeah, that's like a consumption model, right? Like you're consuming me to better identify yourself, right? And I think you're absolutely right, Chip. That's exactly what happens sometimes. It's about self affirmation. It doesn't, it's not about recognition. It's not about communication, it's not about conversation. It's about affirming yourself in some ways. Affirming yourself either your identity in a positive way or you're just saying affirming yourself and saying, I'm the kind of person who listens to other people. And that happens, that happens everywhere. Like that happens, and like I said, I mean, in my work also, I point to this, like this is not some peculiarly Western malady. You know, this is, this happens everywhere. But in fact, and this is the thing where I think the classical folks, to be classical is very useful, right? Because they're constantly telling you, listen, being human is work. Like it's not, you can go, you can devolve back into your animal state very quickly, right? Like being human, being constantly intentional about your humanity, right, you know, developing good habits like, you know, centering equilibria, like that chaos, you know? I think the interesting thing is it's easy to be a man, it's easy to be a god or a beast. According to Aristotle, It's easy be a god. It's easy to be a beast. A man is hard work. Really, humans are hard. So I think that's to me is like the one that's very, and what you described exactly right, it's much easier for us to consume other people, you know, for our own affirmation. Much harder to engage with them.

Chip Gruen:

Well, and our work, when we're not thinking all abstract thoughts, is teaching, you know, 18 to 22 year olds. And one of the things at least I find very rewarding about that is that when the students come in and sit in my room or I'm interacting with them over video call or what have you, they are not coming in and sitting down as Christians or as Jews or as Muslims or as, but they're coming in and sitting down as humans who want to learn something about people who are not them.

Khurram Hussain:

Exactly. And you know what you just said, Chip, is so simple and so profound. That's exactly what's going on there, right? In fact, most of my classes, in the very first class I tell my students, listen, you're going to forget 99 percent of the facts that I teach you. That's just a reality. Either you won't want to remember them or you just will forget them. That's not what it's about. I mean, what I'm trying to create, I'm trying to create an educated human being. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to create a human being who's educated, right, who will have the capacity maybe five percent more than when they came in to my class to engage in other people and to be better human beings. Let's just put it this way, to be better human beings. So I tell them that, but because precisely what you just said, like you, that's what, to me that's what education is, right? And maybe that's old fashioned, but like education, is you know, I'm all for like carpe diem, you know, that kind of stuff. You know, Dead Poets Society, because I feel like, really, I mean, because otherwise, if we just reduce education to learning the technical stuff or the utility of getting a job, then I feel like we just turn ourselves back into a squirrel or something. Like we're just like, you know, running around, collecting acorn. And I mean, just a more complicated version of that, right? I mean, it's you know, you don't want to like stupid...I think somebody said that if you continue going down this neoliberal route, you know, this augurs the age of super civilized monkeys, right? Not of human beings. We're just going to be having really super civilized monkeys. So what I try to do with my students, is to not, to prevent them from going down that path. I don't want you to be super civilized monkeys, I want you to be, nothing against monkeys, but, you know, but I want you to be a better human being. And it's hard work. That's the thing, it's like it's not easy. This is something that we as humanists obviously understand, right? And there are a lot of people in the other disciplines don't take it the same way, which is that being a human being is not like, it's not just nat...it doesn't just happen, right? In fact, we are, I think I mentioned in the chapter I sent you, we are like a vacillation on top of the evolutionary ladder. We are not behaving, you know, to behave as a human being is not to behave according to these, you know, what we call freedom is nothing other than that, right, this vacillation, right? And to exist in this kind of vacillating state on top of evolutionary kind of paradigm requires work, you know? It's very easy to just sort of settle back into the kind of mediocrity of animality, so to say, right? Being human is hard work. It's very hard work. And 99 percent of the time, people don't even think about that. They just keep going.

Chip Gruen:

Well, in which, you know, you see described now as tribalism or nativism or whatever that is, right, is the desire to shrink back from responsibility of being a citizen within a global and multicultural world.

Khurram Hussain:

That's absolutely right. And in fact, going back to connecting it back to Islam, this is actually precisely the language Muhammad uses to critique the Arabs of his time, right? This is precisely what he said. He says, no, you guys are behaving like animals in your tribal, clannish, and family oriented feuds, right? That is not being a human being. So according to Muhammad, that's precisely what he was sent to pull the pre-Islamic Arabs, called the Jahiliyyah Age, you know, the Age of Ignorance, was precisely the age ignorance, was not the age of ignorance, it was the age of ignorance of being human. It's being ignorant of the real universal dimension of your humanity, right? And like I said, See, what do you call it civilizations or cultures, whether you call it a pack of wolves, right, it's a certain kind of shrinking into ostensive mindless security. Right? And that's a problem? Right? Because that, you know, I mean, I like human being I like being surrounded by them, you know, there are so few round, you know? It's like somebody I think at a conference I was at said, You know, we have 8 billion homo sapiens, but you know, very few human beings around, you know, we just homosapiens are multiplying, you know, at astounding pace but like, humans are getting more and more rare.

Chip Gruen:

On that note, I will thank you very much for spending some time with us, and I look forward to working with you in the future and for the supporters and friends of the Institute to get to know you and your work. Welcome aboard and thank you very much.

Khurram Hussain:

I thank you so much Chip this was wonderful, thank you.

Chip Gruen:

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