A.K. Brohi's Critique Of 'Humanism'

Allah Buksh Karim Buksh Brohi, commonly known as AK Brohi, was a Pakistani lawyer and legal expert of the twentieth century, gaining prominence during the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq. Brohi also served as Pakistan’s high commissioner to India in the early 60s, briefly served as the attorney general of Pakistan and also served as the minister of law and justice. Apart from his legal work, Brohi was a writer and intellectual belonging to the “traditionalist school of metaphysics”, the same school of thought to which Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon and Martin Lings belong. Brohi’s most famous non-legal work is Islam in the Modern World, a collection of his various lectures in which he discusses the role of Islam in the modern world and the ways by which Muslims can preserve their traditions despite the incessant attacks of modernity. Brohi defends religion and traditional values (like family)  from atheism and humanism in his book.

In the first chapter of the book titled Humanism and Religion: A Critique of the Philosophy of Our times, Brohi talks about humanism and its attacks on religion by citing the work of Dr. Julian Huxley, a renowned evolutionary humanist. Humanism, Brohi writes, opposes all appeal to theistic beliefs and outrightly rejects all attempts to invoke “transcendental sanctions” for controlling, regulating and informing the springs of human actions. “Transcendental sanctions” here mean Godly injunctions (as Allah Almighty is transcendent, unbound by time and space) like the laws laid out by Allah Almighty in the Holy Quran for us humans to achieve greatness in this world and the next. However, humanists, by invoking humanism, believe that the solution to major problems (for example, the prevention of nuclear war, conservation of nature etc) can only be offered by a secular ideological framework, a stance which Brohi disagrees with. According to Brohi, humanistic philosophy is the antithesis of “The Religious Approach” to the problem of the destiny of man.

Brohi defends the perennial values of religion (obviously referred to Islam here), such as religion’s continuous emphasis that the universe is purposive throughout and the temporal or physical order of nature is inferior to the eternal order. Brohi says that man is free to defy or conform to the divine purpose put forward by Allah Almighty, who wants us to conform to His injunctions and will in order to attain success in this world and the next. Brohi believes that man in this world should follow the divine law, which is both transcendental and immanent.

Unfortunately, humanism doesn’t allow for a God, and rejects the all-pervading or enduring purpose espoused by religion. It believes that humans can introduce their own beliefs which can give purpose to humans to live meaningfully. But one cannot deny that the rational faculties of humans have their limitations, in that they cannot be transcendent, meaning thereby that religious injunctions are better suited to bestow man with a purpose to live meaningful lives.

Brohi talks about ‘sin’: the notion of sin is essential to the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Sin, according to Brohi, has something to do with the intentional violation of the divine law that man commits. But the philosophy of humanism denies the concept of ‘sin’ and, in its place, introduces ‘error’. It considers human consciousness and rationality to guide it through the vicissitudes of life and invokes historical narratives to determine what is right and wrong, without any reference to the divine will.

Brohi criticises this approach of humanism, the approach of using history to determine what is right and wrong and making the human being responsible for it (which is the same as what the communists do). On page 4 of his book, Brohi writes:

[B]oth of them (humanism and communism) have at least one thing in common, namely, that they have no trans-historic reference in terms of which to account for the moral ideal which can be commended to Man. For both of them, the ethical imperative is wholly derived from the historical setting in which man’s lot is cast and, apart from it, it has no meaning: it is, for them, ‘history’ and not ‘God’ that sanctions morality.

Brohi writes that Humanism may praise itself for its mirage virtues i.e., accommodation and compromise in ‘give and take’, but it doesn’t believe in, “absolute confrontation of good against evil, of error against falsehood, it cannot even inspire confidence in its own preaching.”

In order to be acceptable to human beings, who as per a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), are born in the state of fitrah, humanism must be based on objective, absolute and inviolable truth, which, by its own logic, should shun erroneous historical bases and should adopt a transcendental basis; but this humanism rejects.

Brohi cites the work of Dr. Julian Huxley, an evolutionary biologist and a humanist. Huxley in his essay “The Humanist Frame” denounces religion and promotes humanist thought. Huxley says that “Any belief in absolutes, whether the absolute validity of moral commandments, of authority of revelation, of inner certitudes, or of divine inspiration, erects a formidable barrier against progress and the responsibility of improvement, moral, rational, and religious.”

Huxley considers religion to be dogma and incompatible with human progress. That is why Huxley believes that a new religion, espousing humanistic thoughts, which puts man in the center of the universe and removes God from the equation, should be framed which is compatible with contemporary knowledge and suitable and conducive for humanity’s future progress. The present-day religion, according to Huxley, is a barrier against human progress.

Brohi critiques Huxley and poses the question, what if it be in the nature of things that life of mankind is controlled by God and that fulfillment of man’s destiny lies in obedience to God’s will, and what if, in spite of the rational faculties of man, there is, after all, a supernatural entity who transcends time and space, and is the protector, preserver and sustainer of the universe? If that is Him (God), then it would sacrilegious to not acknowledge Him and show reverence to Him. Brohi further asserts that no rationalist has been able to conclusively negate and deny the existence of God. The most that rationalists can say is that pure reason cannot determine whether He exists or not. Brohi critiques this approach by saying that it would be highly irrational to assume that rationality and reason is the final thing and an end in itself, considering the fact that there are innumerable testimonies of prophets, preachers, sages and saints who have witnessed and felt the beauty of the divine entity. Brohi writes, “The reality of religious consciousness is incapable of being argued away by appeal to man’s feeble powers of rationalisation.”

Brohi says that Religion has two fundamental aspects:

  • It sustains man in his effort to rise beyond himself, and

  • It gives assurance to man that if he puts an honest effort to submit to the divine will, those efforts will be realised by God.

Humanism, according to Brohi, is unable to give human beings such a kind of assurance and is, therefore, flawed. If all being is physical and all causations and events are purely driven mechanically, the assurance that values are conserved and that humans have the capacity to realise them cannot possibly be extended. Brohi criticises secular philosophies that they can only attack religion, but compared to religion, they fail to offer man the assurance that all his hard work, trials and efforts will be awarded. Only religious consciousness can do that. Brohi cites the German Philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling by saying:

“No wonder Schelling regarded the revealed religion of mankind as furnishing an indispensable means for securing the education of human race.”

In the end, Brohi writes that the religious approach is inherent in the very constitution of human beings, espousing the same idea stated in Prophet Muhammad’s hadith (SAW):

“Narrated Abu Huraira: ‘Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “No child is born except on Al-Fitra (Islam) and then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian, as an animal produces a perfect young animal: do you see any part of its body amputated?” (Sahih Bukhari 4775)

Humanism, according to Brohi, is filled with inescapable contradictions, not only because it rejects theistic beliefs, but also because it considers itself to be the source of granting man “meaning” to his life and giving him assurance for the efforts he puts in and the trials he faces, which as shown above, it is unqualified to do so.