of The Next Stage of Human Evolution)
I’d like to begin by talking a bit about my first meeting with Dr.
Sohail, and how our discussions about religion, philosophy,
sociology, and humanism, led me to the surprising realization that
despite our being on opposite sides of the religious divide, there
existed a significant commonality of thought between us. My views
have, to borrow his use of the term, evolved since that time. When I
first met him, I informed him that I had rejected traditional
understandings of Islam and had developed my own “homegrown”
understanding of my faith. Quickly, he asked me what I meant by
“homegrown” even though all along, he knew the answer. It is found
in his own book, which eloquently describes a religious outlook that
falls somewhat in between religious dogmatism and atheism. The first
is associated with organized religion. The second represents a clean
break from religion. Dr. Sohail had gone through this stage of
spiritual evolution himself, as described in the chapter of his book
entitled From Fundamentalism to Humanism.
As I read along, I could not help but conclude that he exhibits a
keen understanding of comparative religions and successfully relates
his findings to his own conclusions. The book is very readable. The
author discusses novel ideas like “self transcendence “with depth
and clarity in layman’s terminology. In fact, the book introduces
quite a number of new and interesting ideas. For example, it
eaborates on the idea of human spirituality. Traditionally, we have
viewed the notion of spirituality as being associated with the
“supernatural” or metaphysical, but the author tells us that this
need not be the case. Human or earthly spirituality he says, can be
understood as a human experience that lifts human beings out of
their mundane existence to higher levels of consciousness and
self-awareness. Some intense and powerful emotions, like love, can
take human beings to newer heights of ecstasy. In thus discussing
human spirituality, Dr Sohail elucidates the philosophy of the
mystic/psychotherapist Victor Frankal.
When I look at my own philosophical evolution, and that of Dr
Sohail’s as described in his own book, I see many parallels. The
book in fact describes how collective evolution toward a humanistic
identity can take place one individual at a time. This is possible
whether one is a religious humanist or a secular humanist. This
“next stage of human evolution” will result in societies that are
more humane, more egalitarian and more tolerant. The practical steps
to achieve this noble goal will require an acknowledgement of the
primacy of our common humanity, as opposed to the ascendancy of
superficial differences based on culture, ethnicity or religion.
Although the book is a collection of essays written at different
times for different occasions, the theme that human beings must
evolve to achieve a better, more harmonious world is apparent to the
Borrowing the word evolution from the person who used it most
efficiently, Dr Sohail begins the book by discussing Charles
Darwin’s role in shaping a new way of thinking. Indeed, Darwin is
credited with turning the world from a theistic to a more humanistic
world, by formulating a theory of man’s origin rooted in the natural
rather than the spiritual realm. Darwin as presented by Dr. Sohail
favors critical thought as opposed to blind faith.
He writes: Darwin’s theory of evolution has forced millions of
people over the world to review their beliefs about god, scriptures,
creation and the special position of man in the universe. Those who
welcome scientific research have changed their positions. Over the
decades the numbers of scientists, biologists, intellectuals, and
lay people who believe in the theory of evolution is increasing.”
When I read this, I thought about how this was linked to the idea of
the next stage of human evolution described by the author as
humanism. The connection is quite straightforward. We are all forced
to recognize our humble origins, rather than blindly accept fanciful
ideas of having descended from gods, or of being the chosen of God.
Within this context, I noticed Dr Sohail urging humanity to set some
goals for itself. The goal is peace, harmony and cooperation among
all human beings—one that has until now, remained elusive. Toward
achieving this goal, the author discusses Joseph Campbell and uses a
very interesting analogy to describe his philopshical style. I can
detect the poet Sohail in these lines. On page 40 he says: Campbell
was like a mythological old man, sitting on the top of a mountain
watching the caravans of humanity.
He points out that Campbell exemplified a humanistic personality, as
he was a kind man who accepted rather than judged humanity. He
further states that Campbell was a gentle and compassionate man—a
quality, if instilled in human beings universally, would eventually
lead to better, more humane communities. Dr Sohail also notes that
Campbell is a unifier between eastern and western thought, and
alludes to the possibility of reconciling the two traditions. He
also envisions the possibility of the Eastern and Western traditions
enriching each other. I must say here that the author’s commentary
on various philosophers is a faithful and insightful depiction of
their philosophical thought—a quality that can be seen throughout
In the chapter entitled “The Psychology of spiritual Encounters” Dr.
Sohail chronicles his own spiritual transformation. It was in this
chapter that I encountered some of the most lucid expositions of the
philosophies of spiritual figures like Krishanmurti, the difference
between psychotic and mystical experiences, and the physiology
behind these so called mystical experiences.
But I became particularly interested near the middle of the book,
where the author begins to discuss humanism
After discussing the so called mystical experiences as strictly
human experiences, he urges people to acknowledge our common
humanity. Here he characteristically expunges god from the equation,
because humanism indeed is the goal of his book. He urges people to
focus on the humanity that binds us, not the superficialities that
divide us. Equipped with this attitude, human beings he suggests
will inherit a much more peaceful world.
But despite his preference for secular philosophies, the author is
willing to acknowledge the role of religion in society. In fact, on
page 73, he alludes to the relationship between religion and
humanism—one that is clearly uncomfortable at times. The author
draws a distinction between theocentric faiths and those more
focused on humanity. My own experience also tells me that some
religious traditions are more humanistic than others, and more
humanistic than theistic.
As part of the religious philosophies of these theocentric faiths,
it is righteous to take the lives of other human beings if they fail
to subscribe to accepted notions of God. Such an attitude is neither
rational nor compassionate. Humanism on the other hand is equated
with rationalism and Buddha as the founder of a religious tradition
is the perfect rationalist and religious humanist according to the
Further along the book, Dr Sohail speaks of God as a metaphor. I am
often intrigued by this phrase. And I have often struggled to
understand what it means. However, the author’s explanations of the
phrase are as lucid as his analysis of other complex philosophies
and ideas. After reading his explanations, it dawned on me that he
confirmed what I thought the phrase meant. Can the idea of a God be
seen as a human attempt to objectify all that is good?
Allow me to explain my point. The human world is not as black and
white in its experience of good and evil. Good exists in a diluted
form. So does evil, even though pessimists may assert that evil is
far more unbridled than good. Human beings, however, like to see
ideas as absolutes, therefore, good comes to be objectified as God
and evil gets objectified as Satan. God, therefore, becomes a
metaphor for all that is good. When prophets and sages tell us
something is from God, it is immediately accepted as sound and moral
Unfortunately, much that is immoral has been accepted as good over
the centuries, simply because it is seen as having emanated from
God. It is only now, in the last one hundred years or so, that human
beings have been able to de-sanctify religious icons by freeing
themselves from the clutches of blind acceptance. And it is part of
human evolution, as promoted by Dr Sohail, to critically examine
much of what has been handed down to us as good and moral.
After discussing God as a metaphor, Dr Sohail reveals a personal
detail about his own journey—one that resulted in his decision to
disown God. He says:
I realized that all my life I had talked to god and he had never
answered. After a long monologue and saying goodbye to god, I fell
asleep and He left like one old native Indian grandfather who leaves
in the middle of the night when it is time to go, and his family
never sees him again
What therefore is the end purpose of all this? Indeed there is a
conclusion to be drawn from these philosophical and spiritual
meanderings. According to the author, humanism is the answer and it
has seven colours. It is the seventh color of Humanist culture that
needs to be instilled in human beings across the world as described
in Dr Sohail’s own words. He writes:
It is my dream that we will reach the stage in human evolution where
we can see a humanist culture all over the world. I believe that
unresolved conflicts of class, gender , race, sexual orientation,
language, nationality and religion, continue to be the cause of
human suffering and we need to work together to create a just and
Further down he states:
We need a critical mass of humanists who are committed and dedicated
and willing to work to create humanistic traditions.
In his earlier chapters, he proposes that religious humanists must
be included in this struggle. He has in fact established an avenue
for religious people who believe in universal human values, to join
hands with secular humanists in this great quest. In his
characteristic spirit of accommodation, Dr Sohail insists that
religious people can also accommodate differences and work towards a
more equitable world.
Lets see how some organizations and movements across the globe are
working to realize this goal and whether according to the author,
this critical mass of religious and secular humanists has achieved
anything significant towards attaining peace.
1) Belgium, Netherlands and possibly Germany are refusing to
accommodate US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil.
2) Japan is holding on to its article 9 prohibiting it from going to
war despite US pressure. Costa Rica, Panama and possibly Bolivia are
following suit as part of their new constitutions.
3) The UN wants to elevate the right to “peace” as a human right.
Despite pressure from the US to oppose such a move.
4) Global security is being redefined in terms of sustainable,
collective human security.
5) The highest echelons of governments have adopted programs to
instill a culture of peace among citizens.
6) September 21 st is being proposed as an International day of
Peace across the world by the federal government of Canada (Alton,
It seems the individuals who work so diligently for these
organizations have repudiated the notion of the inevitability of
war. Whether it is the doctrine of armed jihad or Thomas Aquinas’
righteous war, or the contemporary doctrine of preemptive strikes,
war must be eradicated. Too much is at stake. I applaud Dr Sohail’s
efforts in doing his share to achieve world peace through his
writings and I extend him my hearty congratulations for his most
recent publication: The next stage of evolution.