Perennialism is the doctrine that all traditional religions manifest a core transcendent truth. As such, all religions have the “potential” to bring one to Paradise, or everlasting bliss in the Afterlife.
Frithjof Schuon, one of the most influential Perennialist authors (the others being René Guénon and Julius Evola) called this the Universalist Approach in his book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.
Of course, believing that all religions are one is disbelief (kufr).
Yet it seems that Imran Khan, the PM of Pakistan, might be open to such a religious approach, as he has appointed Dr. Ejaz Akram (pictured), a Perennialist, as the chairman of the National Rehmatulil Aalmeen Authority (NRA).
The NRA is an organization, directly supervised by PM Khan, devised to holistically “counter” Islamophobic propaganda by TV programs, research articles, seminaries, etc. In its 10-member advisory council we also find Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Iranian-born writer and perhaps the most famous Perennialist in the contemporary West, as well as Hamza Yusuf, also a crypto-Perennialist.
Let’s analyze both these figures – Khan and Akram – and their approach to Perennialism and what it could eventually mean for Islam in Pakistan.
Imran Khan and Perennialism
In a 2002 article, Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion, the future PM says that one of his intellectual influences was Gai Eaton, the late agnostic British diplomat who turned Sufi and wrote the well-known Islam and the Destiny of Man.
Well, Gai Eaton also happened to be a Perennialist, as we can read on a website managed by his family (and which is obvious in his books, anyway):
While it was in Islam that Gai Eaton found his foundation and his home, he wrote his books for people of all faiths, and none, never doubting that all the great revealed religions offered visions of the one true God. He has been called a perennialist, but what does that mean for such a devout Muslim? He once said: “I can only follow one religion; that is the sun while all others are just stars. But stars are suns to other people, and they are all paths to God.”
Imran Khan, in his autobiographical Pakistan: A Personal History, also seems to manifest such Perennialist tendencies:
He [“Master Bashir”, some Sufi] also taught me that any belief system that failed to instill compassion was not real religion or had failed to touch the person internally. So much harm is done in the world by people who treat religions as competing ideologies, yet all religious messages teach humanity, selflessness and justice. People who kill in the name of religion are no different from the materialists who fight in the name of communism, national socialism or capitalism.
Do these sentiments have anything to do with why PM Khan is so adamant in repressing “Islamists” at home while, in parallel, opening or restoring Hindu and Sikh temples?
Dr. Ejaz Akram and Perennialism
Dr. Ejaz Akram is an academic from Pakistan, who has taught in his home country as well as in the West and in China.
He has a profile on the website of World Wisdom, perhaps the major Perennialist publisher in the Anglosophere, and Dr. Akram got a chapter published in one of their books: Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. Dr. Akram’s contribution is titled The Muslim World and Globalization: Modernity and the Roots of Conflict.
Apart from being published in a Perennialist publication, Dr. Akram often refers to Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his writings and in at least one occasion interviewed him.
So, it’s not a surprise that for Dr. Akram, who’s field of specialization is geopolitics, the “reconciliation of the world” goes through a sort of religious universalism.
It’s also in the same context that one should view his discussion with Aleksandr Dugin, often called the most influential Russian philosopher alive and a guide to Putin. Dugin himself is a well-known Perennialist.
In order to be fair, let’s also quote from Dr. Akram from an article he penned last year, The Global Reset: What should Pakistan do?
My appeal to the elites of this nation is not to believe in the frauds of the 19th and 20th century’s white man who colonized you, fooled you, and sought to perpetuate his control over your resources and your soul. Belief in deep secularism, the idea of a republic, nationalism, capitalism, feminism, absolute freedom of speech, are all false consciousness that must be abandoned for things that work for us. These backward ideologies are not even working for the white man, how can they work for you?
Here Dr. Akram rails against liberalism and modernism, as most Perennialists do. While such critiques of modernism are welcome, the promotion of transcendent religious unity must be rejected by every Muslim.
So, Will Perennialism Be Promoted?
Seeing Perennialists promoted to this influential posts in Pakistan, one might conclude that Perennialism will now have a part in the “official” State-sponsored narratives, whether in academia or in mass-media.
We can then only return to the Qur’an (3:19) in anticipation of Perennialist deviance attacking Islam in the “Islamic Republic”:
Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allāh is Islām. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allāh, then indeed, Allāh is swift in [taking] account.