Acclaimed as one of the leading contemporary thinkers on moral philosophy, Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, spends a considerable amount of his time writing about minorities, including Indian Muslims, in a pluralistic society.
Bilgrami got a first degree in English literature from Bombay University but says he defected to philosophy because he found the former hard. He went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and got another bachelorís in philosophy, politics and economics.
After securing a PhD from the University of Chicago he taught at some of the most prestigious schools in America -- including the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Yale.
||in his words
'I have no problem saying Osama bin Laden is a monster and I do not hesitate to say the jihadists who have used terrorism should not be condoned. But I say it is equally morally moronic not to look at bin Laden's political demands as it is to condemn him as a terrorist.'
|Photo: Paresh Gandhi|
Following his books Belief and Meaning and Self-Knowledge and Resentment published by the Harvard University Press, comes his next book Politics and The Moral Psychology of Identity. In it, he argues that the actions of both Muslim and Western States have allowed extremists to become the voice of Islam, even though they are not representative of the Islamic population.
An admirer of Gandhi, he has surprised many by his thesis that the Mahatma believed the adoption of moral principles generated criticism of others and eventually led to violence. In contrast with Western understanding, he argues Gandhi believed exemplary actions, not principles, were at the root of his philosophy on non-violence.
Speaking about the condemnation of religion, Bilgrami once told India Abroad, 'People like (Oxford scientist) Richard Dawkins are missing something deep about what religion is about now in countries like America. It is not primarily about belief and doctrine. These identities and commitments are ways of seeking community and solidarity in a world that is deeply disenchanted. It is foolish and undemocratic of the liberal Left intelligentsia to condemn an entire electorate of half the country as vile and stupid.'
What Bilgrami does is take on issues that shadow civilization as a whole. Like philosophers before him, he acts as a beacon, lighting our way through the darkness.