Kamran Ahmed

Uncertainty is Islam's 'Sixth Pillar'

“There is something about slowness I really like,” says Kamran Ahmed. “By that I mean that philosophy and the study of great thought systems in many disciplines are an opportunity to expand one’s attention and really deeply ponder the significance of great insights throughout history.” Kamran, a second-year PhD student at the Theory Centre, did his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto in Psychology and Philosophy. He came to Western to do his MA at the Theory Centre and decided to stay on to pursue a PhD. He was also successful in being awarded a SSHRC grant for the duration of his PhD program.
“I see philosophy as a meditative process. It was reading Descartes that taught me this. Descartes emphasized slowness, and when you slow down and ponder, then doubt arises, and for me, doubt is an extremely important aspect of life,” Kamran says. Kamran’s Master’s thesis involved Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and the pedagogical use of doubt.
His doctoral research involves reading Qu’ranic philosophy outside of idealism in order to re-introduce uncertainty into Islamic philosophy. “The problem of dogmatism can be traced to idealism when applied to the text. Yet the real emphasis of Qu’ranic philosophy is to search and to strive and to always assume that there is more to learn. I see uncertainty as an invisible ‘sixth pillar’ within Islam.” (Islam has five recognized pillars: declaring God as one God and his Prophet as Mohammed; ritual prayer; fasting; tithing, and pilgrimage.)
“The kind of doubt I am talking about is the doubt that opens you up, that makes you question. It’s about humility as well. The problem with idealism is that it elevates abstraction over materiality and thus it promotes universality which in turn can lead to dogmatism.”
Kamran sees the Theory Centre as the only environment where a project like his is possible in terms of the freedom to cross academic disciplines. “It is at the borders of the disciplines that creative things start to happen. The Theory Centre allows students and faculty to speak about the disciplines outside of their traditional terms,” he says. His dissertation committee includes Professors Antonio Calcagno and Ginger Hegedus at King’s and Professor Ingrid Mattson at Huron. Kamran has recently been selected by the Theory Centre to attend the 2014 six-week summer session at the School of Theory and Criticism at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he will work with scholars and students from around the world.
ahmedAn avid painter and sculptor and one who loves encountering others in great conversations, Kamran also teaches two courses at King’s—a third year course in existentialism, a second year course in modern and post-modern philosophy, and he is also the teaching assistant for Philosophy from Antiquity to the 20th Century.
Having recently passed his comprehensive exams, Kamran is looking forward to the dissertation phase of his doctoral studies. In thinking about his future, he adopts a stance of hope-filled uncertainty—“Where to after the PhD? I can’t even think about that right now but it’s OK not to know and to live in the hope that it will be something fulfilling and that I’ll end up somewhere that I can contribute.”