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THE MEANING

OF THE

FOUR BOOKS

 

by

 

R.SUNARMAN

 

 

 

 

 

The Meaning of the Four Books is common
to all humanity.

 

What is the Meaning of the Four Books?

 

The Psalms explain David.

The Torah explains Israel.

The Gospel explains Jesus.

The Koran explains them all.

 

The Koran has not denied its predecessors;

it has confirmed them.

 

 

 

Never before have you read a book quite like this.

 

“Perhaps it will not be apparent to many... that what we have here is the Mother Lode of authentic Sufism.”

From the Preface

 

 

With simplicity, clarity and wisdom, this anthology covers the major aspects of Sufism. At the same time, it comprises a fresh and refreshing vision of the Islamic religion. The author opens a window onto the teachings of Master Ahmet Kayhan, who guides us through a copious garden in which everyone will find what he needs—or at least, something akin to it. On each visit to this market-place, you will discover something new and exciting. In addition, it provides a rare glimpse of Islam as it should really be lived. For anyone interested in spiritual growth, religion, or mysticism, this book is a must.

 

 


CONTENTS

 

CONTENTS.......................................................................................... 1

PREFACE.............................................................................................. 2

FOREWORD......................................................................................... 5

INTRODUCTION................................................................................ 8

MAN AND FAITH............................................................................ 10

THE FAITH OF MAN....................................................................... 14

AH, COURTESY................................................................................ 19

O MANKIND..................................................................................... 20

INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF PROPHETS................ 20

MOSES, JESUS AND MOHAMMED.............................................. 25

WHAT DOES “ISLAM” MEAN?..................................................... 38

A FAITH FOR ALL SEASONS......................................................... 39

SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL  VISTAS........................................... 47

ISLAM AND THE WAY OF THE PROPHET................................. 50

HEALING THE BROKEN MIRROR: THE KORAN AND ITS OPENING CHAPTER  52

ADVICE TO KIM.............................................................................. 56

PRAYER:  THE ASCENSION FOR ALL.......................................... 71

THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE............................................... 73

OUR PRAYERS.................................................................................. 75

THE SECRET THAT IS LOVE.......................................................... 75

PUT YOUR TRUST IN GOD............................................................ 78

WOMAN IN ISLAM.......................................................................... 79

ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY............................................................ 87

APPENDIX A: UNIVERSAL LAW, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND GOD’S COMMANDMENTS    99

APPENDIX B: THE ROOTS OF TOTALITARIANISM.............. 101

ADMINISTRATION: THE MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT OF MANKIND    101

WHAT IS SPIRIT?............................................................................ 103

THE NATURE OF SPIRIT.............................................................. 105

THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY  OF THE SUFI................................ 107

HERMETICISM:  THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL  UNIVERSITY OF ITS AGE   119

THE STAGES OF THE SELF.......................................................... 122

SEEK INSIDE YOU.......................................................................... 129

THE 99 NAMES OF GOD............................................................... 130

TREATISE ON DIVINE AID (THE HOLY BESTOWAL)............ 133

THE SECRET OF SECRETS............................................................ 136

THE MYSTERIES OF UNIFICATION.......................................... 138

AFTERWORD.................................................................................. 141

APPENDIX....................................................................................... 142

WARNING: A CALL TO PEACE................................................... 142

 


PREFACE

 

This book started out as a translation of the Turkish book named Body and Spirit, by the renowned Sufi Master Ahmet Kayhan—

—And right here at the very beginning, we encounter our first difficulty, one of many to be addressed in this book. Mr. Ahmet Kayhan defies description or any simple categorization. Part of the problem arises from the definition of the words “Sufism” and “Islam,” and the conceptions these give rise to in people’s minds. “Sufism” has come to be understood in a variety of ways. Properly, it is the esoteric aspect, the highest expression, of Islam. Yet it cannot be divorced and considered in isolation from the exoteric aspect: the former is the content and the latter is the form which contains it.

In the case of the term “Islam,” the problem is compounded to such a degree that it becomes almost impossible to solve. The word has become associated with so many connotations that different people using the same term rarely mean the same thing. One thing is clear: what you understand from the word is almost certainly not what “Islam” really means. This holds no less true for a majority of Moslems than for non-Moslems. Given the sorry state of religious instruction in so-called “Islamic” countries, few Moslems really know what our religion is all about. Even fewer are able to practice it properly, and the failings of the majority in this respect are responsible for most of the misconceptions. If this is the case even with Moslems, think what the situation must be for non-Moslems. This book aims to disabuse readers from such misunderstandings, and it is hoped that by the time you finish it, you will have gained a more accurate impression of what “Sufism” and “Islam” really mean.

Professor Aydin Ungan spent a year or two on the translation of the book, and I would here like to express our gratitude to him for all his efforts.

The translation finally arrived in my hands in a semi finished state. Nevertheless, I started work thinking that only a little polishing would be necessary.

The more I applied myself to the task, however, the less tenable it became to remain content with a rote translation. For one thing, the anthology did not proceed in linear sequential order; it presumed a certain amount of knowledge concerning Islam and Sufism in the reader, and a relatively simple chapter might, for example, be preceded by a difficult one. This knowledge could not be taken for granted in the average Western reader. Hence new, introductory chapters had to be written that incorporated material dispersed throughout the Master’s books and talks.

The result is a book that evolved from Body and Spirit, and is not a direct translation. I, of course, must bear responsibility for all its failures. Yet it is also to be hoped that the reader will find it not entirely lacking in appeal, and in lieu of this I would like to say a few words about my main concerns in preparing it.

1. Universality.

Islam is a universal religion, a religion for all humanity; it always has been. The original book assumed an Islamic cultural background in its readers. From the start, Islam has found roots predominantly in the Middle East, and naturally it has been imbued with the culture of that region. Islamic peoples have been quite content with this situation; they are satisfied with it and have found no reason to contest it. But a Western reader may rightly wonder how Islam can be called universal if no way can be found to relate it to his own cultural background.

Western culture is based on the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and Islam has so much in common with Judaism and Christianity that there should be no reason why Western readers should find themselves unable to relate to it. Hence, I have interspersed the text with quotations from Western sources wherever an affinity suggested itself. These are mostly absent from the original book, but I hope the general readership will find the book more accessible and appealing in its present form. Being a universal religion, Islam has expressed universal truths, and some of these truths have been the property of the Western religious and intellectual tradition as well. Wherever a Western source is referred to, therefore, it should be noted that Islam in most cases already contains that truth quite independently, and the reference is given only in order to ease the reader’s comprehension.

A Sufi teaching-story told by Rumi beautifully illustrates this point. A Greek, an Arab, a Turk and a Persian once came together, and when they were hungry they pooled their money to buy something to eat. At that point a difficulty arose, however, because the Greek wanted to buy stafil, the Arab wanted to buy inab, the Persian wanted angur while the Turk wanted uzum. They finally began to quarrel, and at that moment a wise sage passing by interrupted them. “Tell me what you want,” he said, and taking the money from them, soon came back with some grapes. They were amazed to see that they all had wanted the same thing. So it is with human beings everywhere: although we all fundamentally want the same things, we call them by different names, and in doing so imagine they are different.

Well, then, here are the grapes.

2. Unification.

As will be discussed in this book, Islam is the religion of unification. At the most immediate level, of course, this refers to the fact that God is One. Yet there are other dimensions to it. Ideally, Islam aims to unite science, philosophy, religion and art—no field of human knowledge or perception lies outside its ken. The “grand synthesis” which some have aimed at but failed to achieve because they weren’t looking in the right place can only be achieved within the purvey of Islam.

Mathematics has been called the queen of sciences, and in a similar vein it may be said that Islam is the crown of religions. The true facets of all religions—and they all contain truth, even the most unexpected—are proper subsets of Islam. Hence, in order to help the reader, I have attempted to show parallels with other religions where these exist.

And finally, Islam ideally aims to unite all humanity. I find it unnecessary to labor the importance of this point in the “global village” we inhabit today.

A portion of Professor Ungan’s original preface is included here for its flavor and human interest:

 My involvement with the translation of this book was not as subtle as Master Ahmet Kayhan’s personality, yet the beginning was interesting, and I could not pass without sharing it with you first.

 Since my childhood, I have always been fascinated with the Sufis; their literature, philosophy, knowledge, comprehension, intuitive power, synthesis, tranquillity, poetry and mystical music. Since, in the later years of my life, I started living in the United States, I made the reading of Sufi literature in English a habit in my free time. However, I had very little personal contact with actual Sufis.

 On one of my visits to my native country, Turkey, I had a chance to visit the Master’s house. It was in Ankara, a crowded top-floor flat open to everybody who seeks his wisdom and advice, which are freely dispensed. When we knocked on the door, we were welcomed and asked to come in without any questions. In the living room, the Master was talking to two women, and there were several men sitting on the couches. After finishing his words, the Master showed us our seats, talked with my friends for a while, and gave some advice.

 At one point he looked at me and said: “Oh, we forgot you... Who are you descended from?” I told him my father’s name. The Master turned his head, looked at my friend, Sadettin, and asked: “Do we know him?” Sadettin replied: “Not likely,” and added that I lived in the States. I affirmed that he would not know of my father since he had passed away years ago, and added: “Ten years ago, I came and visited you here.” He replied: “Oh... you came back so soon,” with a playful smile on his face. In order to change the subject, I quickly thought of saying: “I am reading the works of Ibn Arabi.” The Master closed his eyes for a moment, and said: “You should not start building a house from the roof. What happens to a building without a foundation? It collapses.”

 He again closed his eyes for a moment, and continued: “God Almighty has given two things into the hands of human beings. On the one hand we have fire, and on the other, water. You cannot contain fire; cannot put it anywhere, cannot give it to a child... So, be careful with it. However, you can put water into any cup. You can give it to a child. You can give life, comfort, and peace with it. Therefore, use water.” After finishing his words, he waited for a while, and from the next room he called in his son-in-law. He asked him to find the original version of this book and to read the first section in the preface aloud. While he was reading, the Master was reaffirming the sentences and looking at me to make sure that I understood. After it was finished, he asked: “What is your name?” I replied: “Aydin,” which means “enlightened” in Turkish. The Master said: “That’s a nice name. Very well, then, take this book and translate it into English.” After giving me some literature on the Sufism, some in English, some in Turkish, he added: “Enlighten all around.”

 I knew right away then that my contribution to the efforts of this enlightenment process would be less than minimal, since I was myself in search of enlightenment by the Master and other Sufis. Compared with their functions and comprehension of this world, I felt very small.

 However, after returning to the States, I felt a strong urge to comply with the Master’s request. By translating his book, I wanted to take a part, however negligible, in his process of “giving to the world.” Right after the start, I quickly found out how the Master was right about his comment on my reading. This book fortified the foundation I needed for further attempts in comprehending Sufism.

The Master’s speech and his writing style in the original text are lucid and conversational, but there is a difficulty in translating esoteric ontological concepts into English. Therefore, in order to add to the understanding and the translation of the concepts discussed here, efforts were concentrated on the following points:

Translations from the Koran: I have not adhered to any single translation of the Koran, although the best-known translations have been consulted. As elsewhere, I have not hesitated to sacrifice accuracy for clarity where called for.

From Turkish, Arabic, Persian To English: The original of this book is in Turkish, with frequent use of Arabic and Persian words. However, in order to help the reader, I have—except on a few occasions—tried to use Arabic equivalents of the Turkish and Persian words scattered throughout the original text.

Scholarly texts on Sufism are usually peppered with italicized Arabic originals of special terms. This is not without reason, since the original words possess more depth than their English-language equivalents do. In a book such as this one, however, intended as it is for a general readership, it was considered superfluous to include Arabic words when perfectly good counterparts for them could be found in English, by choosing the closest sense in a given context. Hence, this translation contains a minimum amount of Arabic words, and the ones present are generally Sufic technical terms for which the presentation of the Arabic originals is a must. Diacritical marks have been omitted. Technical terms without their originals are indicated by italicizing them or by capitalizing their first letters, especially when they first occur in a text.

In Arabic names, the suffix “-i” indicates “from” or “of,” similar to the von in German. For example, Gilani means “of (the town of) Gilan,” Arabi means “of Arabia,” and Misri means “from Misir” (or Egypt—hence “Egyptian”).

Since they occur frequently, those parts of Arabic names denoting family relationships are summarized here for convenience: ibn or ben: “son of,” bint: “daughter of,” abu or abou: “father of,” umm: “mother of.”

Translation of the words “Allah”, “dhikr” and “salat”: In Islam, “Allah” is the proper name, the personal name of God. In English we use the capitalized form, “God,” to refer to the Deity, who is One. The lower-case form refers to fictitious deities whose existence has been assumed in the previous history of humanity. Even when it indicates one of a kind, however, “God” is still a generic, not a specific, name. There was once only a single specimen of homo sapiens, yet he had a name and it was Adam.

Absolute Reality, being all-encompassing, has both personal and impersonal aspects, but in Islam He is addressed as a person. And “Allah” is the name He has chosen for Himself. He desires, even demands, to be called by this name. This is similar to the way in which the Hebrews address God by the “tetragrammaton,” the unpronounceable YHWH. Although it was forbidden to vocalize this word, we know that they probably pronounced it as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”.

As an interesting and significant aside, it may be mentioned that this word is also of Arabic origin. According to Professor T. James Meek, author of Hebrew Origins, the name was foreign to the Hebrews, and in their attempts to explain it they associated it with hayah, “to be,” from which they derived the meaning usually ascribed to Yahweh, “I am.” Professor Meek himself deems an origin from the Arabic root HWY, “to blow”, more probable. Thanks to the Master, however, we are now able to give the correct form and meaning: Ya Huwa, which may be translated as “O He,” another name by which God likes to be called in Islam. The third person singular form refers to the absolute transcendence of God, and is the ethically proper form of address in certain contexts. The upshot is that even before Moses, the Arabs already possessed a second name for God of great importance which was adopted by the Hebrews.

But to return to the main line of discussion: Another noteworthy aspect of the name “Allah” is that it carries within it the power of the presence of God, so that many Sufis have achieved an experience of God by constantly calling upon His name. Indeed, “Allah” is the most comprehensive and Supreme Name of God. Hence, God is almost always referred to by the name He prefers, Allah, in the original text. In view of the unfamiliarity of this name to non-Moslem readers, however, the word “God” has been used in its place to express clearly what we mean, in almost all occasions except where it is absolutely unavoidable.

Concerning dhikr, this refers to the continuous repetition of a religious formula, such as one of God’s names discussed above. This may be done either vocally (verbally, externally) or silently (mentally, internally). This technical term has overtones of remembrance, incantation, invocation, and the best way to describe it, perhaps, is as the repetition of a keyword, “keyword” in the present case meaning a sacred word or formula assigned by a perfect master that unlocks the doors of inner space. In order to be consistent, I have tried to use “invocation” for dhikr as far as possible throughout the text.

Salat, which is namadh in Persian, poses a problem in translation that could not finally be resolved here. Although generally translated as “Prayer(s)” into English, it is so different from what is ordinarily meant by the term that an alternative is called for; yet in the end, I had to opt for retaining this customary form of translation. Salat is different from any other kind of worship. One is tempted to call it “Islamic Yoga” in order to convey a sense of its nature to the West, but this too falls miserably short of the mark. Ultimately, the only solution may be for the West to become familiar with these terms, dhikr and salat/namadh, and to use them in the same way—freely and without fear of being grossly misunderstood—as Yoga and Mantra are now used.

 Gender problems: Turkish is delightfully free of gender associations in the third person. The singular form, “o”, can mean “he,” “she”—even “it”. Hence, whenever we are speaking about people, it is automatically understood that both sexes are included. It was impossible to carry this over into English, so it should be realized from the outset that wherever we are not talking specifically about women, “he” also means “she”. The form “s/he” has been used occasionally, but it is clumsy, as is “his or her”.

The original of this book is basically an anthology, drawn from various sources which remain anonymous except in cases where the author is—most often—a famous Sufi or poet.

Not all selections in the Turkish original lent themselves to translation with equal ease. Some of those in the original had, therefore, to be omitted entirely. Others had to be, not just translated, but also adapted to the English language and Western culture. In return, however, the Master gave permission to use choice texts from his other publications, which an English-speaking readership would, it was hoped, find to be of the greatest benefit and interest. This applies not merely to entire texts, but to portions of texts that have been interspersed into the book where required. Hence, many texts have been substantially rewritten, and even new texts have been added where necessary. This is why the present book is more a new book than a translation, and also why it is not published under the Master’s name.

Another point is that the original book consisted of a mixed anthology. For instance, you would find a relatively accessible text side by side with a highly complex and profound one. In view of the difficulty this would inevitably present for readers already unfamiliar with the subject-matter, the attempt has been made to order the text linearly, and a step-by-step approach has been aimed at—so that if you start at page one and read through the entire book, the chain of reasoning and information should not, as far as possible, be interrupted. In all this, the main concern has been to remain faithful to the spirit, if not necessarily to the letter, of the original. As the chapters are “stand-alone” texts—i.e., intended to be read individually rather than at one sitting—a certain amount of repetition could not be avoided. A subject dealt with briefly in one place is generally expanded upon in other places, but it was thought that cross-references would needlessly complicate matters. Editorial and translation comments have been added as footnotes, within brackets in the main text, or in italics at the beginning and/or end of a text.

 

Perhaps it will not be apparent to many—and so needs to be stated at the outset—that what we have here is the Mother Lode, the living core, of authentic Sufism. Some of the material here may strike you as familiar, even mundane. Yet tucked away in corners are small nuggets that have been handed down through the ages by the famous Oral Transmission of the Sufis, and have as far as is known never before seen print. The explanation about Ya Huwa above is a case in point. Another is the double Ascension of some prophets described in the Introduction, which, to the best of our knowledge, has never been committed to writing.

The book is organized into roughly three parts. The first part consists mainly of introductory information. The second part, dealing with women, democracy and administration, deals with social subjects and provides sorely-needed answers to some questions. (An earlier chapter, “Social and Ecological Vistas,” would also fall within this group.) The final part deals mainly with Sufism, and thus with matters of a spiritual and mystical nature. A pamphlet by the Master on the subject of world peace is included at the end as an appendix.

Special thanks are due to Tim Thurston and Peter Murphy for their proofreading, suggestions, and invaluable help in bringing the book to its present form, as well as to all others who contributed to it in any way. I am indebted to Mr. Sadettin Zorlutuna for his help in all further details after the completion of the manuscript.

This book introduces many of the concepts of, and forms the background to, the Master’s last major work: The School of Wisdomsoon, it is hoped, to be translated into English.

I find it not inappropriate here to conclude with Professor Ungan’s words:

May the favors of the Reality Most High be with you, the reader, at all times; may He grant the vision to comprehend things as they really are. May the translator be forgiven, if he has made mistakes here, by every party of concern.

 H. Bayman

 January 1, 1997

 

 


FOREWORD

 

“A little science leads one away from God, a great deal of science leads one back to Him.”[1] According to noted historian Paul Johnson, as much as 80 percent of scientists believe in God. Among them have been the greatest scientists the world has ever seen. Scientists who believe in God run through the whole spectrum of scientific disciplines, from physics, which studies the external world, to psychology, which studies the inner world of man.

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century and certainly the most famous, remarked: “The Lord God is subtle, but malicious he is not.” On another occasion, he explained his faith as follows: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science...

“To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms—this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men...

“It is enough for me... to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”

In Einstein’s vision, the Lord God manifests Himself in nature with the highest wisdom, the greatest beauty, and with infinite intelligence, subtly but not maliciously. And true religiosity is the source of all true art and science. It takes a scientist of Einstein’s stature to recognize the deep beauty, profound order, and magnificent intelligence manifested in “blind nature.”

Einstein was firmly of the opinion that “God does not play dice with the universe.” His detractors on this point, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, were the founders of the “Copenhagen school” of quantum mechanics, which favored a probabilistic interpretation of quantum events. Yet in relation to God, Bohr and Heisenberg, too, found it necessary to speak of “the central order of the universe,” for probability, too, has its mathematical laws—so much so, in fact, that the illustrious mathematician John von Neumann—who also helped invent the modern computer—once remarked: “Probability is black magic.” There are laws that govern even chance, and all order, and all laws of mathematics—including laws of probability—and of science, are the design of the Divine Lawgiver.

On the other end of the spectrum, Carl Gustav Jung, the psychologist who delved deepest into the human unconscious in the twentieth century, replied to the question: “Do you now believe in God?” as follows: “I know. I do not need to believe. I know.” In other words, Jung did not simply believe; he knew God exists. In the face of such testimony, the efforts of those who strive to deny God are puny and misinformed. Just how puny is highlighted by Jung’s following remark: “A man can know less about God than an ant can know of the contents of the British Museum.”

The founders of modern science—Kepler, Descartes, Barrow, Leibniz, Gilbert, Boyle, Newton, etc.—were all deeply and genuinely religious thinkers, for whom God was the chief mathematician, beyond rigid scholastic frames and more mystical and Pythagorean in nature. Both Newton—the father of British empiricism—and Descartes—the originator of French rationalism—were profoundly religious thinkers. The same view of God as chief mathematician has been shared by eminent scientists in our century. “From the intrinsic evidence of His creation,” wrote the renowned physicist James Jeans, “the Great Architect begins to appear as a pure mathematician.” Paul Dirac, the Nobel prizewinning quantum physicist and discoverer of antimatter, observed: “God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”

The views of all these scientists—and many others—have encouraged us to write this book. Alfred North Whitehead, the great mathematician and philosopher, expressed his thoughts as follows: “Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.”

On this last point, we would beg to differ with Whitehead. The final good is not beyond all reach, and the quest is not hopeless. For the mystics, as Josiah Royce said, “are the most thorough going empiricists in the history of philosophy”, and Sufism represents the summit of mysticism. And just as there is physical science, there also exists such a thing as “spiritual science.” There exists a religion, moreover, where religion and science—knowledge of the inner world and knowledge of the external world—do not clash, but complement each other.

 

* * *

 

Even though we live at the peak of technological civilization—with air travel, skyscrapers and the Internet—the world we live in constitutes a spiritual desert.

Man’s scientific and technological capabilities have been stretched to the utmost. Yet his emotional life has become progressively stultified, his moral life increasingly barren.

But this is not the true stature of man. A man is a complete organism in which all the parts are equally important. And when it is fine-tuned, this totality is the most wonderful thing in the universe, with a destiny that beggars the imagination.

The brain itself is sold short under these circumstances. We treat it as a machine for reasoning, and nothing more. Yet if the human totality were to be developed harmoniously, that is in a truly holistic manner, then we would discover abilities of the brain that, in our present deplorable condition, cannot even be guessed at. This lopsided development stands in need of correction. We need to achieve a balance that will fulfill more—ideally, all—of our potentials, and if we are able to do so, we will be happy, for happiness lies in the realization of the purposes for which we have been designed.

This does not entail throwing our present achievements to the winds. We need not forsake our knowledge, our technology, or our civilization. Nor need we become hermits and live in a mountain cave. What needs to be done is to bring our neglected aspects up to a par with those which are already highly developed. In terms of the human entity, the focus for this is the heart and the spirit. In social and ecological terms, it is morality, or ethical conduct. The fact that we have seldom realized, however, is that these two are coupled, to an extent that one cannot exist without the other. Moreover, moral conduct is the foundation, the infrastructure, for the elevation of the spirit. No spiritual improvement is possible without salutary conduct.

Traditionally, these fields have fallen within the domain of religion. Many of us have distanced ourselves from religion, and rightly so. But even if we were justified in doing so for a variety of reasons, this still does not justify throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Suppose we had thrown out our reason and knowledge in a similar way—where would we be now? “Science without religion is lame,” Albert Einstein said; “religion without science is blind.” Man needs both.

The truth is that we have become alienated from our spirits. And this estrangement has progressed to such an extent that some of us even deny that we possess spirits at all. But the spirit is nothing but that which animates the body. To say that spirit does not exist in a living being is like saying that a radio or TV set can work without electricity. Suppose a man born blind came to you and said: “Eyesight cannot exist, because I have never experienced its existence.” Would you believe him? Philosopher David Hume claimed that he had conducted lengthy introspection and could not find any trace of man’s soul. But in order to find something, one first has to look in the proper place, and in the right way.

Nasruddin Hodja (also know as Mullah Nasruddin, the humorous sage of the Middle East) was once looking for something in the middle of the street. He was down on all fours, searching. A man who knew him came by, and asked him what he was looking for. “I’ve lost a key,” the Hodja replied. So the man began to help him. After a while, though, unable to find anything, the man asked: “Hodja, where did you say you dropped the key?” “Down in the basement of my house,” the Hodja said.

The man laughed. “Why, Hodja,” he exclaimed, “in that case we’re looking in the wrong place. Why aren’t we looking in your basement instead?” “Ah,” said the Hodja, “it’s too dark in my basement. This is where the light is.”

But if we deny even the existence of the spirit, then we are certainly bound never to find it. Because if we believe a thing does not exist, of course there is no need even to go looking for it, so the possibility of discovering—or recovering—it is reduced to zero. Those who haven’t the slightest inkling of what the spirit is tell us: “Spirit does not exist,” and we believe them. Those who haven’t the slightest notion about God tell us God does not exist, and we believe them too. Clearly, if we choose a crow as our guide, our noses are sure never to be free of mud.

Man is an amphibious creature. He lives in the material world with his body and in the spiritual world with his soul. A person shorn of one aspect cannot soar, any more than a bird with one wing can fly.

We have starved the heart—not the physical heart, but its emotional and spiritual counterpart—of nourishment, until it has entered suspended animation. And we have denied sustenance to the spirit, until it has fallen into a coma. At this point, it is easy for a doctor to come in and, confusing the lack of signs of life with absence of the source itself, to pronounce the patient dead. Yet the heart and the spirit, in spite of their apparent lifelessness, are neither dead nor nonexistent; they await our tender loving care in order to be revivedthey live dormant, waiting for spring.

We have this civilization that we have built up with our own hands. Its material achievements are unmatched in recorded history. And yet it is a civilization where we have failed to complement our material progress with moral—and, by implication, spiritual—progress. We have conquered outer space whilst forgetting and deserting our inner space. And because we have failed to strike this balance, the whole edifice is trembling uncontrollably before our very eyes, as evidenced in even the everyday media. The building, shaken by an earthquake, threatens disintegration.

It is no use to lament when a man goes into a school and butchers a bunch of innocent children, nor does it make sense to brand the act as evil and let it go at that. What we witness today is the plaster falling from the ceiling. In thirty years we have regressed, from people being left lying helpless in the streets, to serial killers whose achievements are reminiscent more of war than of crime, and the spread of violence from the United States to Europe and Japan until there’s no safe place left. What is needed is a solution. We need a methodology that can be practiced by everyone, and if everyone sweeps his doorstep, the whole city will be spic and span.

For the first time in history we have a civilization that is truly global. Furthermore, all the knowledge and, more importantly, all the wisdom distilled drop by golden drop by all the civilizations in history, are at our fingertips, if only we would choose to avail ourselves of them. We need a faith that is truly global to complete our global civilization—a faith that takes into account and coordinates all the religions of the past. In its absence, our metropolises and all our accomplishments will sink into a quicksand of violence, ruthlessness, and destruction.

We think that intelligence, which we value so highly, is centered in the mind. The Sufi sages, however, held (and continue to hold) a different view. Like the ancient Chinese and Egyptians, they considered true intelligence to be based in the heart; according to them all, the seat of the intellect was not the mind, nor indeed the heart alone, but the “heartmind.” We have severed the connection between the mind and the heart, and as long as it is not reestablished, all our attempts to achieve wisdom will be in vain.

Many have lamented a world that has not only differentiated but polarized the mind and the heart, so that the two are mutually exclusive. This schizoid split between reason and emotion has yielded precisely what one would expect: uncontrolled oscillation between the poles of heartlessness and mindlessness. Either we have hard-boiled rationalism and science, which exclude affection and spirit altogether, or mediums, fortune-tellers, spiritualism, and similar fringe beliefs, which require us to throw away our rationality and intellect. Whereas all the while, what we need is a harmonious synthesis of the mind and heart.

The emergence of fringe cults calls to mind the end of another great civilization: that of Rome. That civilization did not go out with a bang but with a whimper, though we may not have even that option left open to us. Historians are still debating the reasons for the fall of Roman civilization, for these are by no means as clear-cut as we would like them to be. The result was the Dark Ages. But today we cannot afford to give up our present civilization, for the cost would be far too great. If this civilization goes, humanity goes with it.

Can we have the best of both worlds? Can we both save this civilization, and carry it to loftier heights? The answer to both questions is: yes.

 In the hectic rush of modern life, few of us have the time or the resources to carry out a prolonged investigation of religions. For this reason, most of us rely on hearsay or superficial impressions in judging a religion. The problem is compounded by two other factors. First, the differences between religions are not matters on which the poorly informed layman can easily pass judgment. And second, what a religion demands of its adherents and what those all-too-human adherents do in real life are two different things. The merits of a religion should be judged on the basis of its precepts, not on the failures or inabilities of its followers. Yet at the same time, a religion should cause a noticeable improvement in the average person who practices it to an average degree. This may be difficult, though not impossible, to assess.

A religion may be broadly termed a system of beliefs. But the acid test of a belief is the actions that derive from it. If a person claims to believe one thing and yet acts otherwise, it is the action and not the belief that is valid. Actions speak louder than words. If a person says one thing and does another, his claims do not count—his true belief is whatever leads to that sort of action. “Deeds are a person’s mirror, mere claims do not heed; the level of one’s intellect is apparent in one’s work.” If actions and beliefs are in synch with each other, then we can truly say that a person lives according to the lights of his faith. As Rumi, the mystic, rightly said: “Either appear as you are, or be as you appear to be.”

In what follows we would like to look at a faith that, if implemented correctly, is a foolproof algorithm for success and happiness. If a person applies it properly, that person will succeed. If a nation applies it correctly, that nation will succeed. Look closely at people and nations that have been successful, and you will discover that they have applied a small subset of the precepts of this faith. Look at those that have failed, and you will find that they have failed to apply those precepts, even, in some cases, in spite of their claim to profess that very faith.

Untruth can only lead to error. Even those tenets which at first glance one would regard as metaphysical are true, for metaphysical principles, if pursued long enough, will lead to concrete outcomes in even the physical world. We are all metaphysicians, without knowing it. The illiterate peasant who takes a simple step is unconsciously assuming the continuity of spacetime—a metaphysical principle that happens to be borne out by events.[2]

 By now many of us have experimented with a variety of religions and philosophies. Some have appealed to us more than others. Yet the big one still eludes us—or rather, we elude it. Many accounts of Sufism have been published in the West, but without making allowance for cultural differences. When we try to understand something, we should avoid the danger of pigeonholeing it—of placing it into our collection of well-known and well-understood categories. This is reductionism, and once you reduce something to another thing, it ceases to be the original. Once you dissect a cat, it becomes a dead cat. The difference between life and death is all the difference in the world.

For a long time, our attention in the West has been focused on the religions and philosophies of the East. This is not an error. Instead, it points to the fact that Western minds have correctly diagnosed the problem, and are looking for a solution in the right place. Then where have we gone wrong? And why haven’t we been successful in finding a solution?

The answer is that we have tried to temper the extreme rationalism, materialism and mechanism of the West by the equally arid spirituality, nontheism, and asceticism of the East. Herein lies the crux of the problem. Aware that sitting at one end of the seesaw has landed us in a fix, we seek salvation by going overboard and trying to sit on the other end (or, if you wish, by jumping from one pan of the scales into the other). But the seesaw will then be as unbalanced as it was originally. From the mind we seek to go over to the heart, yet the heart by itself is as helpless as the mind in isolation. What is needed is a synthesis —in order to balance the seesaw, we need to go over to the middle, not to one or the other extreme. We need a system that equally embraces our materiality and our spirituality; that synthesizes our hearts and our minds—and even then, without the presence of God the two are still empty. What we need is not a compromise, as between water and oil which do not mix, but a synthesis, like that of hydrogen and oxygen, which combine to yield water—the sparkling water of life, a substance entirely different from oxygen or hydrogen taken alone. We need to fuse the good of the West with the good of the East. Today we have the opportunity to build on the best of our civilization—to become truly “civilized.” And geographically as well, the solution between East and West is to be found in the Middle. As the Koran puts it, “a lamp... kindled from a Blessed Tree... an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light” (24:35). And this light, because it belongs to neither, can illuminate both East and West.

We have plodded long and hard on a difficult journey. Our search, we may think, has been in vain. Now, for the last time, someone asks us to consider—or reconsider—something we may or may not have encountered earlier. But do not despair!—where there is life, there is hope, and the most valuable treasures are not discovered without a long and daunting hunt.

INTRODUCTION

Ascension

As everyone knows, each and every one of the prophets have ascended to God. We are not going to explain these Ascents here in detail, but rather will summarize them briefly. There has been no prophet without ritual Prayer, nor without Ascension (miraj). Many of them have ascended twice.

Adam had his first Ascension when his spirit was created by God. His second Ascent occurred at the mountain of Arafat together with our mother Eve.

Idris (Enoch), in accordance with the Koranic verse: “We raised him to a high place,” ascended and did not come back. Noah, at the time of the Flood associated with his name, ascended while on the ship he made by God’s command.

Abraham ascended to heaven twice: First, when he was thrown into the fire, and second, at the moment when he was about to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael. These two are very important points.

Jonah, at the time when he was swallowed by the whale, was inspired by God Almighty with the verse: “There is no god but You. Glory be to You, I have been of the wrongdoers” (21:87). By repeating this verse, he made his Ascension in the belly of the whale.

King Solomon, the son of David, told his father he would accept prophethood on two conditions. He said to him: “If God Almighty grants the prophethood on both physical and spiritual grounds, I will accept it.” God was pleased with these words of Solomon, and his request was granted. This became his Ascension, because he wanted it that way.

As for Moses, he also performed two Ascensions. In his first ascent, right after his birth his mother placed him in a basket of bulrushes and set him adrift on the Nile. His second ascent occurred on Mount Sinai.

Jesus also had two Ascensions. In the first one, the Virgin Mary was asked: “How did you get pregnant?” Jesus answered from his mother’s womb: “My mother’s words are the truth, heed my mother.” His second ascent happened during the Crucifixion (his ascension was spiritual).

The Ascension of the Prophet Mohammed was superior to those of the other prophets. Crossing the Seven Heavens, he performed his Ascension starting from the seventh, conversed with God, and returned with the greatest good news to his community and all mankind.

Esoteric Knowledge

Esoteric Knowledge (ilm ladunni: literally, ‘knowledge from Our side’[3]—hidden or inner knowledge of things conferred by God), with the permission and order of God Almighty, fills the whole earth and the heavens. I, humble person that I am, cannot explain this here. However, we may be content to give a few ciphers.

Do all prophets possess esoteric knowledge, or don’t they?

According to legend, after gathering his entire army, Alexander the Great, with a sign from the Esoteric, started looking for the Elixir of Life in order to achieve immortality. After a considerable amount of exploration, two soldiers set out from the camp one day to continue the search, with the understanding that they would return and report if they happened to find the Elixir.

Around noon they arrived at a river. In order to have lunch, they took out some dried fishes and proceeded to eat. When they threw the remaining skeleton of a fish into the river, an amazing thing happened. The skeleton regained life, took on flesh and appeared to them in the form of a living fish.

The one known as Khidr[4] peeled a fish, ate its meat and, holding the skeleton from its tail, immersed it in the water. The fish immediately reconstituted, regained life and started squirming in his hand. To his friend, Elias, he said: “We have found the Elixir.” They drank from the water, and also watered their horses. Their human attributes disappeared, and sublime, divine attributes came over them.

This is the story. Now for the truth: This water was a flowing water, a river. Whoever drank from this water should have become like Khidr and Elias. However, since their goal was the Elixir, only these two ascended, only they could ascend by this water.

The story goes on: The two friends returned to the army of Alexander the Great, but they did not tell Alexander about their discovery. Instead, they requested permission to leave the army and go back. Alexander did not grant their request, since he did not want his army to break ranks. In spite of their leader’s ban, however, Khidr and Elias left the army and started off. Alexander sent his army after them, and ordered their capture. However, during a close pursuit, both of them were suddenly lost from sight.

Did the earth swallow them up, or were they raised to the sky?

All the attempts of Alexander’s men to find them met with failure. So they went back, and reported to Alexander the Great.

Alexander then said: “I overexerted myself and my army in order to achieve immortality, yet the Elixir fell to their lot. Mine was only a rebellion against the will of God.”

This brings us to Moses and Khidr (see the Koran, 18:60-65).

Moses, with the permission of God Almighty, attained a very high level in his knowledge of the Outward and Inward sciences. In spite of this, God declared:

“Moses, you must learn Esoteric Knowledge.”

Moses asked: “My Lord, is esoteric knowledge beyond the Outward and Inward sciences you have given me?”

God answered: “O Moses, esoteric knowledge is superior to all the other sciences. The time has now come for you to discover this. Go to the place where the two seas meet (to a designated pier on the banks of Red Sea). There, you will see a man of such-and-such a description. Tell him: ‘I have come to learn esoteric knowledge from you.’“

The man described by God was none other than Khidr.

So Moses went and found Khidr, who answered to the description. After greeting him, he told him about the above order. Khidr said: “I was waiting for you here on God’s orders.”

They became companions, and soon boarded a ship. Although he was a great prophet, Moses was now taking orders from Khidr. While the ship was sailing on the high seas, Khidr at one point said: “Let’s go downstairs together.”

They went to the lowest deck of the ship. Khidr said to Moses: “Take this hammer and make a hole through the ship’s hull with this nail.”

Moses objected: “There are many people and animals on this ship.”

Khidr repeated: “Just be patient, make a hole.”

So Moses obeyed. Water started flowing into the ship. A short while later, they were invaded by pirates. But by this time, the water had already flooded the first deck. Upon seeing this, the pirates fled, amongst shouts: “The ship is sinking,” and so saved themselves. On the other hand, the people on board had panicked. The captain of the ship was shouting orders: “What are you waiting for? Abandon ship!” Just as they were about to do so, Moses and Khidr plugged the hole with a wooden peg. Water stopped flowing in, the water in the ship was bailed out, and they all continued their voyage.

When Moses and Khidr got off the ship, they landed in another town. While they were disembarking, youngsters were playing ball just as they do today in a field adjacent to the port.

Khidr came face to face with a young man about eighteen years old. Khidr looked at him with a stern face, whereupon the young man attacked him. The friends of the young man tried to separate them from each other. Khidr struck the jugular vein on the young man’s neck, and he died immediately. Moses and Khidr escaped through the crowd in the ensuing commotion.

During evening hours they called on a town. No matter which door they knocked on, nobody would open.

By then it was midnight. Moses, being human, was hungry and cold. Khidr, since he had drunk of the Elixir with the permission of God, was affected neither by hunger nor by cold.

Presently they came across a ruined wall, on the verge of falling down. Khidr said: “Let’s repair this wall.”

Moses: “What are you talking about? I’m cold and hungry. We’ve been driven from every door in this town. And now you want to repair this ruined wall!”

Khidr said: “Don’t argue with me, just help me do our work.”

Moses had no choice; he began to work. They repaired and restored the wall. But inwardly, Moses was getting very angry with Khidr. He made this apparent by saying: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Khidr sighed, and answered him as follows: “Moses, you have been too impatient. You could not stand three events. Now, I am going to explain them to you.

“We drilled a hole in the hull of the ship. You saw with your own eyes what happened next: pirates invaded the ship. They were going to rob the ship and kill us all. The ship owner’s money was honestly earned. I felt pity and saved them.

“The young man I killed was the son of a prominent man. He was rebellious towards his parents. He also belittled the people of that town. If one day he were to rule there, he would have oppressed the people. We killed one man, and saved a hundred thousand from harm.

“Consider now this wall. The man who built this house was a righteous man. He built this house with money earned honestly. He put the remaining money in a jug, and buried it near the wall we repaired. (Khidr pointed with his hand:) Right here, beneath this foundation.

“The father and mother passed away, the uncle took custody of the children, and the house was ruined. The kids are still young. After they leave their uncle they will build a house on this lot, and this money will then be their share.”

Khidr continued: “I think you now understand the reasons for the things we did. But you were too impatient; our companionship is at an end. We must now depart.”

Khidr gave his hand to Moses, and they shook hands. Moses began to weep and wail: “If you leave me here now, where am I going to go? I don’t know my way back. Please don’t leave me.”

Khidr said: “Don’t worry. If you are wise, we will be together all the time. Give your hand to me and shut your eyes tight. Open them when I say so.”

Moses gave him his hand. Khidr said “close your eyes” and “open them,” in immediate succession. Moses looked around; he was in front of his house.

This, with the permission, grant and favor of God, is referred to as “the folding of space” (tayy al-makan).

* * *

With the permission of God and the approval of His Messenger, a number of saints from the School of Mohammed have become friends with Khidr. Moreover, they still continue to do so. I would like to give you an example.

During the Second World War, I used to live in a village known as Mako (its new name is Aktarlar). On the 20th of June, I wished to visit my Master, Hadji[5] Ahmet Effendi. The distance between us was about five hours. Half the way I needed to walk was uphill; the remaining half was downhill.

By the time I reached the hilltop, I was tired. I wanted to catch my breath, and sank to my knees. Looking downward, I saw two persons, a man and a woman, cutting grass for animals and petting each other from time to time. I could not take my eyes off them. Suddenly, I heard my Master’s voice: “Strangers at play. What is that to you?”

I got up right away, and continued on my way without a backwards glance. However, when I left home my wish had been: “Today, on the hill, let me see Khidr on my way.”

When I passed the peak and started descending, I came across a familiar couple, a husband and wife. We said hello, chatted for a while, and departed.

I said to myself: “These can’t be Khidr. Khidr travels alone and lives alone.” And I did not meet anyone else until I reached the blissful residence of my Master.

I went directly to the guest room. He was sitting alone. I greeted him and kissed his blessed hand. After exchanging a few words, he said: “Hamid Effendi from your town has been waiting here for two days. (I knew this man.) He was very insistent, saying: ‘I will not go anywhere if you don’t show me Khidr.’ He just would not leave. I told him to get out half an hour before you came in, and shut the door on him. And now you’ve come. I felt pity for the poor man. He was coming in, going out, and asking for Khidr, all the while that he was sitting right next to Khidr.”

If you were in my place, what would you make of this conversation?

But I, poor Ahmet Kayhan that I am, understood nothing. It did not even occur to me that I should at least have kissed his hand again.

You, my brothers and sisters, don’t be heedless and careless like I was. Try to love and understand the people you see and admire.

I hope these words of mine will not sound strange to you: He who is a saint, he who is a Friend of God (wali ), is with Khidr every instant.

 Hadji Ahmet Kayhan

 

MAN AND FAITH

 

Most of us have experienced deep feelings—of awe and wonder as we witness the dawn slowly emerging from the night, of thankfulness when a tremendous weight is lifted from our shoulders (perhaps at the recovery of a loved one from an illness), or of hope as we witness two former arch-enemies shaking hands in reconciliation—in short, anytime we feel essentially human: somehow at the limits of what we know, hope or fear. What is it that stirs in our hearts then? Many of us, as we sit in peace and reverence, become conscious of an inner light that is burning in thankfulness and in humility. Some may answer that they sit before nothing—a vast emptiness that reaches from the beginning of time and pans out to its end. Yet many have also come to realise that the bewilderment, affection and gratitude that we experience as light in our hearts is testimony to our faith in God, the creator of the universes.

Humanity is united in many essential ways—sharing the same earth and resources, the same needs and abilities—and ultimately (when superficial differences are cast aside) the same faith in our Creator, the Angels, the Books and Messengers, and in the continuation after death of the spirit that every single human being has been endowed with. Yet whenever a prophet has been sent to man in order to guide and direct a people with the will and law of God, man has demanded extraordinary proof —miracles—from God’s messengers, instead of looking at the core value of the message and accepting it. This not only shows the difficulty of the passages man has to tackle before he can attain faith, it also demonstrates the importance of the struggle he has to engage in against his own self in order to find the True Path. As the following sacred verse indicates: “Does it not suffice them, (O Mohammed), that We have sent you the book which is rehearsed to them? Surely there is a mercy and wisdom in it for those who believe” (the Koran, 29:51). As for the extraordinary events, signs, wonders and miracles given to prophets by God as bona fides, these are actually performed by God Himself. One should remember this fine point, and should not forget that prophets, too, are servants of God. As the Prophet Mohammed has expressed it: “The highest station is the station of being a servant of God.”

As the sacred verse: “The purpose of man’s creation is to know God, and to serve and worship Him” (51:56) indicates, it is necessary for us to heed God’s call through His messengers and to try to fully comprehend them if we want to lay claim to a flawless faith. What exalts man above the rest of creation is his faith in God and his love of God. This is our forte. It is the Prophets of God who have taught man his sacred aspect, showing us the way out of all dead-ends and fashioning us into the most sublime of all creatures.

The Existence and the Unity of the One Creator

Thinkers and scientists from all countries and across the centuries have reflected on the unity and existence of God, on the limitations of their own existence, and have come to realise the Unity of Being and God’s omnipotence, as the following viewpoints testify:

Kant: Every visible creature is a shadow of the invisible Creator. Human beings must see the truth. But we show weakness in our faith in God. Even so does the pigeon, in order to fly, push against the air that keeps it aloft.

Dr. A.H. Cronin: When we think about the universe and its mysteries, its order, its subtleties, its vastness and its brilliance, we have of course also to conceive of a creator, namely, God. Observe the universe, and investigate. Search for the meaning of life. You will come face to face with a shrouded enigma, a deep mystery. This cannot have arisen out of nothingness, for only nothing can emerge from nothing.

Sir James Jeans: It is impossible, he said, for chance to build the order of the stars: “From the intrinsic evidence of His creation, the Great Architect begins to appear as a pure mathematician.”

Abraham Lincoln: I am amazed, said he, at anyone who, after having looked at the sky and beheld the grandeur of the universe, does not believe in God.

Laplace: The power that determines the heavenly objects in the solar system, their densities, diameters and orbits, and that limits the periods of revolution of planets around the sun and of their satellites around the planets, is a power dependent on the will of God: a continuous order which it is impossible to explain by coincidence. The existence of God is certain and beyond dispute.

Prof. Finkelstein: Intelligence, he said, cannot comprehend itself. At the limit, there has to be an intelligence that comprehends comprehension itself. Only a universal intelligence superior to us can solve this mystery, and a power greater than intelligence is none other than God.

Einstein: God cannot be seen or known without knowing an infinity of dimensions. Only He exists, and He has created human beings in the universe with a purpose. “The presence of a superior reasoning power... revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

Dirac: The universe is guided by a superior mathematical order. This order is formed within the supreme intelligence of the Creator.

Edison: No human invention can surpass the blade of grass that parts the soil and emerges from it; for it is God who has created that blade of glass.

Schwartz: God is the soul of a harmony that is hidden in every atom of the universe, and which cannot be ignored.

Heisenberg: What is unknown to us in the nuclear realm resolves all the problems of physics, and this power can only be attributed to God.

Socrates: When you behold the highest point of the universe, do you not see the wisdom inherent in creation? The creator, with His art and order, proclaims Himself in every event. If not for Him, your mouth would have been situated next to your anus. I believe in the unseen, absolute Creator.

Professor F. W. Forster: In his book School and Character, declares that the man with a perfected faith discovers the depth of himself. And in order to reach God, he must pass away from life’s difficulties and not be overcome by these ordeals—the road to God consisting of fully submitting yourself to Him. Faith in God is one of the basic principles of man’s education.

There are thousands more such examples of scientists, thinkers, learned scholars, writers and statesmen from all traditions, all of whom have faith in God’s Unity and Oneness. However, the common perspective is dominated by those who declare the denial of God to be superior, and divisively condemn those who worship—in the name of intellect and reason, somehow equating ‘belief’ with ‘superstition’. But as we can see, intellect and faith are not contraries. They are but counterparts that complement one another.

Humanity Is One

The history of mankind starts with Adam, the first prophet, and since all humanity descends from this prophet, the whole of humanity is necessarily esteemed and exalted—and one family. Differences of color, of language, of physical form or of country in no way undermine this value. According to God, humanity must be viewed as one.

As declared in the Holy Bible: “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

“And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:5).

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you are called in one body, and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

These statements are further supported by the Koran: “We have revealed the Book with the Truth. It confirms the Scriptures which came before, and stands as a guardian over them. To God you shall all return, and He will resolve your differences for you” (5:48).

“There was a time when men followed but one religion. Then they disagreed among themselves: but for a Word from your Lord, decreed long ago, their differences would have been firmly resolved” (10:19).

“Mankind were once one nation. Then God sent forth prophets to give them good news and to warn them, and with these He sent down The Book with the Truth” (6:159).

The Messenger of God declares in one of his sayings: “Humanity are all the individuals of one family, and the whole of humanity is God’s household. The most valuable and auspicious among them are those who do good for humanity.”

When we examine the history of the Prophets and religions, we can see that that they were all commanded to choose Islam as their religion.

As the Koran testifies on behalf of Noah: “I was commanded to be of the Moslems” (10:73), and for Abraham it is said: “We have chosen him of this world. He is of the Righteous in the Afterlife. The Lord told him to submit to Himself, and he replied that he had submitted his whole being to his Lord” (2:130-31).

Joseph says: “You are my helper in this world and in the next. Take my soul while I am in submission (“a Moslem”), and place me amongst the righteous” (12:101).

Moses addresses his people: “My people, if you have faith in God, then you are Moslems who have submitted unto Him. Put your trust in Him” (10:84).

On behalf of Jesus it is said: “When Jesus found unbelief on their part, he said: ‘Who will be my helpers in the work of God?’ The Disciples replied: ‘We are God’s helpers: we believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Moslems’“ (3:52).

The Koran informs us that all the revealed religions have been unified in Islam: “Say, ‘O People of the Book: come to a common word between you and us—that we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we do not establish from amongst ourselves lords and patrons other than God.’ If they turn back, say: ‘Bear witness that we (at least) are Moslems (bowing to God’s will)” (3:64).

‘Islam’ carries the following meanings: to protect oneself and eschew all badness, hidden or overt, thereby keeping distant from all kinds of calamity. It means peace and trust, and it means worship and submission to God. Those who are able to solve and understand the true message of Islam and the Glorious Koran—People of the Heart—are the real possessors of knowledge: they are the truly pious and are united in Islam. These are the people who can be said to truly read the Koran. Thus, they are the ones who accept the Unity of God, who are obedient and submit to Him, purifying their heart of all that is other than Him. Islam has been perfected by God and, by His grace, has been sent to humanity. Thus has Almighty God completed His benevolence to man. The Glorious Koran gives all the religions that were revealed by the prophets the general name ‘Islam’. This is made quite clear: “I have approved Islam as your religion” (5:3). “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost all spiritual good” (3:85).

Thus we can see that Almighty God has sent all the messengers to call humanity to unity. Misunderstandings, however, have been created by those perverting religion according to their worldly desires, thereby damaging both man and faith—whereas these are in essence inseparable, like the two sides of a coin.

“And those to whom knowledge has come see that the Revelation sent down to you from your Lord is the Truth, and that it guides to the Path of the Exalted in Might, worthy of all praise” (34:6).

That which is seen by those who work to gain knowledge for themselves testifies to the truth and reality of what the Koran reveals; they have chosen the true way of Islam.

Recognition of Islam in the West

Alongside people of knowledge in the Islamic world, many scholars from the Christian world have researched and examined the wisdom of the Glorious Koran and its miracles.

One of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century, Edward Gibbon, states in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that the new faith brought by Mohammed was purged of the skepticism of uncertainty, and that the Koran provides a magnificent witness to the unity of God. In such statements he is supporting not only the Prophet but also the Koran, God’s miracle. Another great thinker of that century, Thomas Carlyle, in his chapter on “The Hero as Prophet” in his book Heroes and Hero Worship, says of the Prophet of God that the words of such a person are a voice coming from the heart of nature: human beings should heed it above all else. In comparison, all other words are empty. In other words, compared to what Mohammed has said, all other utterances are senseless, unreal and ridiculous. This great thinker, who revered Mohammed and the Koran, was buried a member of the Church of England, due to the pressure and fear that was brought to bear against him.

The great Christian missionary, Rev. Bosworth Smith, states in his book Mohammed and Mohammedanism that Mohammed was uneducated, that he didn’t know how to read and write properly, and yet he was the bringer of such a book that it is still the common code of all laws, and the one book common to all prayers. It is a guide and beacon to humanity; all these properties have been encoded into this book. Accepted reverently and humbly by a sixth of all human beings living in Bosworth’s day (and a quarter in ours), the Koran is a miracle of simplicity in style and method. It is the miracle of Mohammed. Bosworth Smith states, in short, that it is a true and great miracle given him by God, thus making clear his position as regards Islam.

In his History of Turkey, the famous French author and historian Lamartine expresses his admiration for the Prophet of God in the following way: “Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Mohammed. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may ask, is there any man greater than he?” With these words, Lamartine proclaimed the sublimity of the Prophet to all the world.

The educator and sociologist John Davenport, who emphasized the justice of Islam and was a student of the history of world religions, states in his book Mohammed and the Glorious Koran that Islam never interfered with the principles of any other religion, and never instituted an Inquisition as in Christianity. It never aimed at converting people from other religions by force.[6] Islam has introduced itself to the world, but has never abased human beings by forcible religious conversion, court trials or the torture of the Inquisition. For this reason no less than for the beginnings of science in the modern sense,[7] the West owes much indeed to the Moslems.

The concept: “Human beings are equal” was first introduced to the Western world through the stimulus of Islam. Thanks to the Crusades which served as an eye-opener, the West was able to eradicate the feudal lordships and the oppression of aristocrats, and thus to build freedom over their remnants. Besides which, says Davenport, no one should forget the following point: while ignorance and darkness were reigning in the West, we obtained our knowledge in the most important fields of science—in technology, in mathematics and medicine, and even in astronomy—from Islamic scientists such as Ibn Sina, Averroes, Ibn Baytar, Ali Kushju, Farabi, and many others. These scientists have guided and enlightened the West. Davenport ends by stating that the words of Mohammed, to the effect that “Glory and honor are to be found, not in wealth, but in wisdom”, led Islamic scientists and philosophers in every corner of the world to develop science and push forward the frontiers of knowledge in their search for wisdom.

The famous American psychoanalyst, Jules Masserman, in stating his views on leadership (Time magazine, July 15th, 1974), reached the following conclusion: “The greatest leader of all time is Mohammed” among historical personages. In spite of being Jewish, he assigned Moses to second place, which is quite extraordinary. Again, Michael H. Hart, the American astronomer, historian and mathematician, accorded Mohammed first place and his own savior, Jesus, third place in his 572-page book, The Greatest 100 Men in History.

Sir James Jeans, the famous physicist and author of The Mysterious Universe, whose words have already been quoted above, was a devout churchgoer. Yet when told about the Koranic verse: “Among His servants, only men of knowledge (scientists) fear God” (35:28), he exclaimed: “This is terrific! At the end of fifty years of scientific investigations and observations, I was forced to believe in God, to love Him and fear Him. An uneducated person living 1400 years ago could not have uttered these words. If the truth you mention is in the Koran, it must be the Book of God, and Mohammed must be a prophet. This is what I believe, you may write this.”

Dr. Wayne Mayer, on the occasion of the meeting of the International Union of Biology Teachers held on the 25th of March, 1980, said the following: “In order to be fully human, we need not only science, but also religion. In order to comprehend the problems of the universe, we must first know God and His countless attributes. We need the knowledge and learning contained within the Koran, the word of God. Faith, knowledge and intelligence will lead humanity to God, the Lord of the Universes.”

Edouard Montet, professor at the University of Geneva, says in his introduction to his work A Translation of the Meanings of the Glorious Koran: “If we were to choose only one of the invaluable positive reforms that the Prophet Mohammed introduced to humanity—forbidding the practice of burying female children alive—this would be enough to place his service to humanity at the forefront of the annals of history.”

René Bousset, a French professor, says: “The Koran is the eternal model of literary beauty. As its commentators have all testified, it is such an example that neither the angels nor humanity could achieve the harmony of one single sentence contained in that sacred book.”

In his study, Investigating the Koran, Ernest Renan declares: “In its form, the Koran represented an advance from the very first moment—in religious terms no less than literary. The world of literature had never encountered such a form. This is because it was the word of God.”

Goethe declared: “If Islam is surrender to God, then we all live and die in Islam. The oneness of God, surrender to His will, and the mediation of the Prophets—these are all in line with our conceptions. Faith in the One God always uplifts the spirit, since this belief shows man the oneness and unity of his inner world.”

The Duke of Weimar stated: “Nobody can develop further than the principles outlined by Mohammed. All of our laws that have been formed are found wanting in the face of Islam. Despite all the civilized possibilities we possess as a European nation, what is for us a first step was achieved by Mohammed long ago. No one can outstrip him.”

Pushkin, the great Russian poet and man of letters, who is renowned around the world and who had a tremendous influence in his time, wrote the following poem after examining the Glorious Koran:

The Merciful is He, He is the Compassionate

He revealed the Koran, suffused with light, to Mohammed....

These veils, these veils, lift up these veils

Let the barriers to our eyes be lifted,

With the Koran, let the walls between us

Collapse, brick by brick....

“If a person is faced with a choice between the Orthodox Church and Islam, in place of confused and incomprehensible religious concepts (such as the Holy Trinity, the threat of excommunication, entreaties to the Mother of Christ, the endless worship of saints and their images), he will choose the one God and His Prophet—namely, Islam. The final and greatest religion is Islam.” Even today, authorities in Russia forbid the publication of Pushkin’s poetry on the Koran and on Islam.

Roger Garaudy was the child of a French family. He was the head of the Communist Party, the director of the Institute for Marxist Research, a writer on Marxist philosophy, a member of parliament and a senator, and even a candidate for the French Presidency. Sent to prison in Algeria as a political agitator, he had the chance to study Islam at first hand, an enterprise which took him some 40 years. In 1981, at the age of 68, he announced to the world that he had become a Moslem, saying: “Islam is the choice of the times. All the answers sought by man are in Islam. Islam is ahead of our times. Since the Koran was revealed, it has always been in command of time. Time itself may age, but the Koran will always remain youthful.”

Medical surgeon Dr. Maurice Bucaille, one-time head of the Surgeons’ Department at the Paris Faculty of Medicine, became acquainted with the Koran while treating King Faisal. After years of research and study he wrote The Bible, The Koran and Science, declaring that he had become a Moslem and observing: “The incomparable miracle that is the knowledge within the Koran is beyond doubt and of an astoundingly high sophistication. It is the proof of a true miracle.”

Marcel Boisard, in his book Islam and Humanism (1979), writes on “The Status and Equality of Women”: “The Koran addresses both men and women. Islamic law is generally oriented towards protection. It fully delineates women’s rights. It attaches the greatest importance to the protection of women. According to the Koran and the Prophetic Traditions, men must behave towards their spouses with equity, goodness and understanding. In spiritual terms, marriage elevates humanity to a higher state. A woman’s position is strengthened by the precautions of Law. Women’s rights are sacred before the Law; they have equality, as well as the right to their own property and inheritance.”

Recently, Prince Charles of England had words of high praise for Islam: “Mediaeval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilization which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.”

All of which indicates that the road of reason is one.

The Glorious Koran is the word of God. It is a miracle revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, the final messenger—the Lantern of Faith for People of the Heart. As the culmination of all revealed religions, Islam embraces all that humanity is capable of knowing and experiencing.

In accordance with the verse: “Invite everyone to the Way of your Lord, with wisdom and good counsel” (16:125), it is with the deepest sense of humility and gratitude before our Creator that we invite those who lack faith—or whose faith lacks perfection—to investigate Islam, in the light of reason and the Koran. For as God Almighty declares, this is the Religion of Truth, even though there may be those who detest it (61:9).

In examining Islam, do not pass judgment on the basis of its adherents—to err is human, and a bad driver is no excuse for blaming a good car. Nor should it be judged solely on the basis of its history, for while this is full of shining, outstanding examples, it does not explain much about the religion itself. It is on its own merits that a religion should be judged—what it can do for you, yourself, here and now and in the future. For this it is essential to examine the principles and details of the religion in an unbiased manner: are these positive, uplifting, leading to worldly and afterworldly happiness, or not? It is due to the scarcity of unbiased source material on the subject in the West that this work has been prepared, with a view to compensating at least a small part of this information gap. The antics of petty dictators, prejudices, and the fact that Islam has a bad press in the West should not deter a serious person from discovering the facts.

May God’s mercy and bounty be upon us all. Amen.

 


THE FAITH OF MAN

Prologue

 

Man and the universewhat exactly are they? The two are like twins: two lovers that complete one another. Another way of expressing this is that they are like a tree and its flower, its fruit.

Without Man, what would the universe do? And without the universe, what would Man do? The two of them complement one another.

That Man is the secret of the infinite worlds, Almighty God has declared in all His sacred texts. God loved the universe, and he made Man love it too.

You cannot love God, nor can you find Him, without the attributes of Compassion and Mercy. Look and reflect upon this with wisdom. Try to find the secret of Man. Love the universe if you want to become fully human. Try to love the universe and find God.

God has stated: “I am Man’s secret, and Man is My secret.” If you love God and His Prophet to the extent they deserve, you will have solved the mystery of the universe, the secret of Mohammed and of all His prophets. Be vigilant. Look deeply into Man and the universe and find it.

Is Man a guest to the universe, or is the universe a guest to Man? By relying on Revelation, with reflection and with Divine knowledge, you can find the answer to this question. Man and the universe are one; both are worthy of exaltation.

Man and the universe are like two sides of a leaf—they cannot be separated. But if we look at their current state, we see that they both have cast aside love and are lost in a senseless antipathy—avidly consuming one another. What we have witnessed since the first man (The prophet Adam) is that these two good friends have become enemies. The gold and silver and precious metals, the water and soil that the world yields, humanity tries to consume by eating and drinking and clothing itself. The universe that should be his beloved, Man treats as his enemy. As for the world and the earth, they in their turn consume Man. Like rivals they consume one another; neither of them are satisfied. And no one is even aware of this fact....

* * *

Who are you? Why are you here? Where did you come from? Where are you going? What is your reason for being, and for being on earth?

These are perennial questions that human beings have always asked themselves. Science has been pretty successful in answering the question: Where are you, what kind of world do you live in? Technology has tackled the problem: Since and while you’re here, how do you improve your living standards? Yet, the deeper questions remain.

These questions are not merely matters of abstract importance. The answers we give them also influence our immediate, daily lives. Man is born free—free to act as he chooses. There are many constraints laid by nature and society on our lives, but in many other respects we are free to act as we please.

All actions, however, cannot be ranked as equal. Some actions lead to happiness, while others lead to ruin—ultimately if not immediately. So the further question naturally arises of how to conduct our lives: how can we act so as to avoid eventual despair and achieve well-being? How can we avoid building a house on quicksand?

It may come as a surprise that these questions concerning our direct experience and the fundamental, abstract questions of our existence should be related at all. Yet they are in fact inextricably linked. The answers we give to one set of questions perforce influence and even determine the other.

The existence of God—the one and only Absolute Being not measurable by our categories of relative being and nonbeing, the One without a Second, beyond all infinities and beyond even the beyond—is the most fundamental truth about the universe, and it is this that orders our lives properly.

Even the atheist derives his principles from faith, and the scientist, when breaking new ground, is engaging in an act of faith, as all his theories themselves rest on faith—his faith in the scientific enterprise and the values that unify it.

The reason why God created the universe is that He wished to be known: “I was a hidden treasure, and wished to be known, so I created the world through love.” But the universe would not by itself be sufficient to fulfill this purpose. What is needed is a sentient being: Man. Only man, who possesses the highest consciousness, can realize God’s desire. Hence, God created human beings as the noblest, the most honorable, of all creatures, in order that they should recognize His existence, worship Him, and through such worship, gradually come to know Him. “I created human beings only that they should worship Me,” God has stated. Worship in this context is synonymous with knowledge; it is the practice of techniques that draw us nearer to God.

In order to attain knowledge of God, however, one must first be in a state of ignorance. And this is precisely our situation on earth. We are initially ignorant not just about God, but about the world we live in. It is not easy to overcome this ignorance. Hence, God has endowed us with tools by which we may do so. He has gifted us with consciousness, so that we are aware of ourselves and the universe. He has granted us intelligence, so that we can understand our world, and perceive His signs in the universe. Since God is the most sublime truth about the universe, but because of that also the most difficult to discover, He has provided us with guidance through members of our own species to whom He has revealed some of His secrets—namely, prophets and their successors, the saints. He has revealed the principles conducive to our improvement by means of holy books relayed to us through the prophets. He has thus provided us with firm guidelines that will save us from ruining our destiny. And, finally, He has endowed us with the faculty of faith.

Since God cannot be compared to anything in the universe (or out of it), experiencing His presence is not given to everyone. Nevertheless, it is necessary to believe in Him if we are to live our lives ethically and serve Him in realizing His purpose. And this is where man’s innate capacity for faith comes in.

This human trait is so powerful that man inevitably has faith in something if not in its proper object, i.e. God. Because nature abhors a vacuum, this hollow in human beings can be filled by almost anything—and it will inevitably be filled. It has been filled with many things in the history of mankind. We are at the beginning of wisdom when we realize that it should be devoted to its rightful Owner.

The Meaning of the Four Books

God has revealed His prescriptions for humanity in four major holy books. Of these, the Torah was revealed to Moses, the Psalms to David, the Gospel to Jesus and the Koran, to Mohammed. In addition, Islamic tradition relates that earlier prophets also received revelation, not in the form of complete books, but as sheets or pages. Adam received 10 pages, Seth received 50, Idris (Enoch) received 30 pages and Abraham received 10 pages, which add up to a total of 100 Pages.

Two things are common to these Four Books and 100 Pages. The first of these is the emphasis on One God. The second is the Golden Rule: “Do as you would be done by.”[8] The connection between the two may perhaps be outlined as follows:

1.     All things have been created by the One God.

2.     All things stand in the same relation to God, their Creator.

3.     All things stand under the same ethical law.

4.     You, too, have been created by God.

5.     What is an ethical law for you is an ethical law for all beings.

6.     The treatment that pleases (or displeases) you will please (or displease) all creatures.

7.     Therefore, do unto other beings as you would like them to do unto you.

The Existence and Unity of the One Creator

In the face of nature, it is easy for man to deify what he sees before him, and yet primitive peoples in general have had a supreme deity above all their other deities. In ancient Egypt, the concept of One God was reached centuries after Akhenaton’s abortive attempt at monotheism. In their pantheons of gods, the Greeks and the Romans had a supreme God which they called Zeus and Jupiter, respectively. The mistake in these cases arose from assigning importance to anything other than One God.

Among world religions, only in the East is nontheism to be found. Early Hinayana Buddhism did not deal with the concept of God at all. But this has to be understood in light of the fact that at the time when the Buddha began to preach, there were two million Hindu gods in India; just as there are still eight million kami, or gods, in Japan. Against this backdrop, it is not at all surprising that the Buddha found it ill-advised to express his ideas within a theistic framework. (A short while later, the deity concept was reintroduced with the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism.) A hyperinflation of gods, then, can lead to the rejection of them all as a backlash. The first (negation) part of the formula: “There are no gods, only God exists” is actualized, without realization of the latterthe affirmativepart (“only God exists”).

The history of man is really the history of faith. The founders of thought, of science and of society all drew on their faith in God Almighty. Philosophers and scientists of all nations and across all the centuries have reflected on the unity and existence of God, on the limitations of their own existence, and have come to realize God’s unity and omnipotence, as the following testify:

Socrates: “God alone is wise, and ... he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.”

Plato: “God desired that all things should be good, and nothing bad, as far as possible.”

Aristotle: “God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.”

Leibniz: The universe as a whole must have a sufficient reason, which must be outside the universe. This sufficient reason is God. “There is, therefore, or there can be conceived, a subject of all perfections, or most perfect Being. Whence it follows also that He exists....”

Locke: “The idea of a Supreme Being, infinite in power, goodness and wisdom, whose workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the idea of ourselves, as understanding, rational beings ... would ... place morality among the sciences capable of demonstration....”

Kant: It is unjust that the virtuous should suffer. Since this often happens in this world, there must be another world where they are rewarded after death, and there must be a God to secure justice in the life hereafter.

Charles Darwin: In spite of being a self-confessed agnostic in his later years, he stated: “Another source of conviction in the existence of God ... follows from the ... impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.” “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.”

Sir James Jeans: It is impossible, he said, for chance to build the order of the stars: “From the intrinsic evidence of His creation, the Great Architect begins to appear as a pure mathematician.”

Newton: “This being governs all things... as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantocrator, or Universal Ruler.”

Einstein: “The presence of a superior reasoning power... revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

Werner Von Braun: The father of space science, he wrote: “...the vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”

Abraham Lincoln: Lamenting how we have forgotten God, he said: “We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

 

There are thousands more such examples of scientists and thinkers, of learned scholars, of writers and statesmen from all traditions, all of whom, having faith in God’s Unity, show how intellect and faith are not contraries—they are but counterparts that complement one another.

The Islamic Faith

Speaking on the Islamic legacy to Europe, Prince Charles has said: “We have underestimated the importance of 800 years of Islamic society: a culture in Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries. The contribution of Muslim Spain to the preservation of classical learning during the Dark Ages, and to the first flowering of the Renaissance, has long been recognized. But Islamic Spain was much more than a mere larder where Hellenistic knowledge was kept for later consumption by the emerging modern world. Not only did Muslim Spain gather and preserve the intellectual content of ancient Greek and Roman civilization, it also interpreted and expanded upon that civilization, and made a vital contribution of its own in so many fields of human endeavour—in science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra (itself an Arabic word), law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology, music. Averroes and Avenzoor, like their counterparts Avicenna and Rhazes in the East, contributed to the study and practice of medicine in ways from which Europe benefited for centuries afterwards.

 “Islam nurtured and preserved the quest for learning. In the words of the Prophet’s tradition: ‘The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.’ Cordoba in the 10th century was by far the most civilized city of Europe. We know of lending libraries in Spain at the time of King Alfred... It is said that the 400,000 volumes of its ruler’s library amounted to more books than all the rest of Europe put together. That was made possible because the Muslim world acquired from China the skill of making paper more than four hundred years before the rest of non-Muslim Europe. Many of the traits on which Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Mediaeval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilization which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.” (1996)

The eminent German theologian Hans Küng has, in recent years, posed the question: “was Muhammad really a genuine or a true prophet?” to which he has given the following answer:

Even orthodox Christians (or Jews), provided they confront the facts with an open mind, cannot deny certain parallels:

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad based his work not on any office given him by the community (or its authorities) but on a special, personal relationship with God.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad was a strong-willed character, who saw himself as wholly penetrated by his divine vocation, totally taken up by God’s claim on him, exclusively absorbed by his mission.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad spoke out amid a religious and social crisis. With his passionate piety and his revolutionary preaching, he stood up against the wealthy ruling class and the tradition of which it was the guardian.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad, who usually calls himself a “warner,” wished to be nothing but God’s mouthpiece and to proclaim God’s word, not his own.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad tirelessly glorified the one God, who tolerates no other gods before him and who is, at the same time, the kindly Creator and merciful Judge.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad insisted upon unconditional obedience, devotion, and “submission” (the literal meaning of “Islam”) to this one God. He called for every kind of gratitude toward God and generosity toward human beings.

·      Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad linked his monotheism to a humanism, connecting faith in the one God and his judgment to the demand for social justice: judgment and redemption, threats against the unjust, who go to hell, and promises to the just, who are gathered into God’s Paradise.

Anyone who places the Bible, especially the Old Testament, alongside the Qur’an, and reads both together, inevitably wonders: Don’t the three Semitic religions of revelationJudaism, Christianity, and Islamhave the same basis? And isn’t this particularly true of the Old Testament and the Qur’an?...

 ...he alone led the Muslims to the worship of the one God, who spoke through him: Muhammad, the Prophet.

 The fact is often overlooked that... according to the New Testament there were also authentic prophets who came after Jesus... the New Testament doesn’t bid us reject in advance Muhammad’s claim to be a true prophet after Jesus and in basic agreement with him...

 ...if we acknowledge Muhammad as a post-Christian prophet, then to be consistent we shall also have to admit... that Muhammad didn’t simply get his message from himself, that his message is not simply Muhammad’s word, but God’s word. (Hans Küng et al., Christianity and the World Religions, New York, 1986, pp. 25-31.)

Many other scholars from the Christian world have researched and examined Islam, testifying to the wisdom of the Glorious Koran and the greatness of the Prophet Mohammed.

Fritjof Schuon, the acknowledged expert of Grand Tradition in our time, has written: “if the Prophet had so wishedsupposing Islam were the product of his mindhe could also have declared himself the son of God; he could have declared the Arabs a people elect; he could have founded a dispersed and dispersing cult which would have included his own person, the Archangels, some pagan divinities and, possibly, one or more of his wives, along with God; and he would certainly have done so if he had had the character still all too readily attributed to him in the West. That he did not do so proves in any case two things, namely a character of absolute integrity, and an authentic message from God; both thingsthe human qualification and the divine interventionare necessarily combined, for the Messenger must be in conformity with the Message, he must in some manner anticipate it by his character and by his gifts. ... the absolutely honest, simple, upright, disinterested and generous personality of the Prophetwe speak as a historian and not as a ‘believer’reveals proportions that transcend the commonly human.” (Fritjof Schuon, Christianity/Islam, 1985, p. 174-5, 177-8.)

One of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century, Edward Gibbon, stated in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that the new faith brought by Mohammed was purged of the skepticism of uncertainty, and that the Koran provides a magnificent witness to the unity of God. In such statements he is supporting not only the Prophet but also the Koran, God’s miracle. “It is not the propagation but the permanency of his religion that deserves our wonder; the same pure and perfect impression which he engraved at Mecca and Madina is preserved, after the revolutions of twelve centuries by the Indian, the African and the Turkish proselytes of the Koran... The Mahometans have uniformly withstood the temptation of reducing the object of their faith and devotion to a level with the senses and imagination of man. ‘I believe in One God and Mahomet is the Apostle of God’ is the simple and invariable profession of Islam. The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the honors of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtue; and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion.” (Edward Gibbon and Simon Ocklay, History of the Saracen Empire, London, 1870, p. 54.)

The Christian missionary, Rev. Bosworth Smith, stated: “By a fortune absolutely unique in history, Mohammad is a threefold founderof a nation, of an empire, and of a religion. The Quran is a book which is a poem, a code of laws, a book of common prayer, all in one, and is reverenced by a large section of the human race as a miracle of purity in style, of wisdom, and of truth. It is the one miracle claimed by Mohammadhis ‘Standing Miracle,’ he called it; and a miracle indeed it is.” “He was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar: without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammad, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports.” (Mohammad and Mohammadanism, London, 1874, p. 92.)

In his History of Turkey, the famous French author and historian Lamartine expresses his admiration for the Prophet of God in the following way: “Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Mohammed. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may ask, is there any man greater than he?” (Histoire de la Turquie, Paris, 1854, Vol. 11, p. 277.)

The Englishman John Davenport, who emphasized the justice of Islam and was a student of the history of world religions, stated: “Islam has never interfered with the dogmas of any faithnever persecuted, never established an inquisition. It offered its religion, but never enforced it.”[9] Islam has introduced itself to the world, but has never abased human beings by forcible religious conversion, court trials or the torture of the Inquisition. For this reason no less than for the beginnings of science in the modern sense,[10] says Davenport, the West owes much indeed to the Moslems.

“The acceptance of Islam,” he observes, “conferred equal rights”. Thus the concept: “Human beings are equal” was first introduced to the Western world through the stimulus of Islam. He continues:

“Europe is still further indebted to the Musalmans. For, not to mention that to the struggles during the Crusades we mainly owe the abolition of the onerous parts of the feudal system, and the destruction of those aristocratic despotisms on the ruins of which arose the proudest bulwark of our liberties, Europe is to be reminded that she is indebted to the followers of Muhammad, as the link which connects ancient and modern literature; for the preservation, during a long reign of Western darkness, of the works of many of the Greek philosophers; and for the cultivation of some of the most important branches of science, mathematics, medicine, etc., which are highly indebted to their labours. Spain, Cassino, the Salernum were the nurseries of the literature of the age; and the works of Avicenna, Averroes, Beithar, Abzazel and others gave new vigour and direction to the studies of Western scientists. ... Muhammad himself said that a mind without erudition was like a body without a soul, that ‘glory consists not in wealth but in knowledge;’ and he charged his followers to seek learning even in the remotest parts of the globe.” (John Davenport, Muham­mad and Teachings of the Quran, 1869, pp. 61-2, 70-71.)

The famous American psychoanalyst, Jules Masserman, in stating his views on leadership (Time magazine, July 15, 1974), reached the following conclusion: “The greatest leader of all time is Mohammed” among historical personages. In spite of being Jewish, he assigned Moses to second place, which is quite extraordinary. Again, Michael H. Hart, the American astronomer, historian and mathematician, accorded Mohammed first place in his 572-page book: “Muhammad... was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.” (The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, New York, 1978, p. 33.)

Sir James Jeans, the famous physicist and author of The Mysterious Universe, whose words have already been quoted above, was a devout churchgoer. Yet when told about the Koranic verse: “Among His servants, only men of knowledge (scientists) fear God” (35:28), he exclaimed: “This is terrific! At the end of fifty years of scientific investigations and observations, I was forced to believe in God, to love Him and fear Him. An uneducated person living 1400 years ago could not have uttered these words. If the truth you mention is in the Koran, it must be the Book of God, and Mohammed must be a prophet. This is what I believe, you may write this.”

Edouard Montet, professor at the University of Geneva, says in his introduction to his work A Translation of the Meanings of the Glorious Koran: “If we were to choose only one of the invaluable reforms that the Prophet Mohammed introduced to humanity—forbidding the practice of burying female children alive—this would be enough to place his service to humanity at the forefront of the annals of history.”

Roger Garaudy was the child of a French family. He was the head of the Communist Party, the director of the Institute for Marxist Research, a writer on Marxist philosophy, a member of parliament and a senator, and even a candidate for the French Presidency. Sent to prison in Algeria as a political agitator, he had the chance to study Islam at first hand, an enterprise which took him some 40 years. In 1981, at the age of 68, he announced to the world that he had become a Moslem, saying: “Islam is the choice of the times. All the answers sought by man are in Islam.”

Islam and You

The Koran clearly declares: “There is no compulsion in religion: Truth now stands clear from error. Whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handle that never breaks” (2:256).

Can you truly say that what you already “know” about Islam is based upon an unbiased and informed judgement and not upon misinformation? Is it based on the teachings of the Koran, and on the example set by the Prophet Mohammed?

This is said to you out of genuine love: of Truth and of humanity.

A tradition of the Messenger of God declares: “Mankind are all the individuals of one family. The whole of humanity is God’s household, and the most valuable and auspicious of them are those who do good for humanity.”

May His Mercy and Bounty be upon us all. Amen.

AH, COURTESY

 

(O Mankind: if you wish to love God and journey to God, enter with courtesy and try to exit with wisdom in all your dealings, whether physical or spiritual. The following sayings regarding courtesy, or splendid moral conduct, have been culled from the Traditions of the Prophet and the aphorisms of the great saints.)

 

“My Lord made me courteous, and endowed me with the best courtesy.”

“If a person has no trace of courtesy, he is not human.”

“The difference that sets man apart from the animals is courtesy.”

“A mind unadorned with courtesy is a hero without a weapon.”

“Courtesy is the outer appearance of intelligence.”

“Courtesy is to be in control of one’s hand, one’s tongue, and one’s [sexuality].”

“Who visits with courtesy will return laden with gifts.”

“The beginning of all courtesy is to speak little.”

“Courtesy is the guide and sign of the Friends of God. It is the cause of communion with God.”

“Without courtesy, nobility is naught.”

“Courtesy is a weapon that kills the devil.”

“Courtesy is the greatest art. It is food for the road that leads to God.”

“Courtesy is the beginning of everything. The whole of Sufism is courtesy.”

“Courtesy is the first requirement of perfection.”

“He who abandons courtesy is not a wise man.”

“Fortify courtesy, renounce all else.”

“Those who lack courtesy are driven from God’s doorstep.”

“Who lacks courtesy has no trustworthy knowledge.”

“Command is above courtesy.” [I.e., when there is a contention between a command and the requirements of courtesy, the command takes higher priority.]

“Truth is nothing but courtesy.”

“True courtesy is to renounce the lower self.”

“Cloak your shame with courtesy.”

“True beauty is beauty of knowledge, and courtesy.”

“The adornment of man is his courtesy in its entirety.”

“An orphan is not one whose father has died, but one who lacks knowledge and courtesy.”

“He who fails to teach courtesy to his children will please his enemies.”

“Spiritual elevation is only possible with courtesy.”

“The intelligent person learns courtesy from the discourteous.”

“With the honor of knowledge and courtesy, Adam was raised above the angels.”

“Satan was banished from God’s presence because he abandoned courtesy.”

“Discourteous acts interrupt enlightenment, and drive their owner from the heart of the King.”

“The discussion [of sages] is a body. The spirit of that body is courtesy.”

“In order to attain to Truth, one needs Knowledge of Certainty; for Knowledge of Certainty, one needs sincere deeds; for sincere deeds, one needs to perform the Obligations of God; for this, one needs to follow the Way of the Prophet; and in order to do this, one needs to observe courtesy.”

“Courtesy is to possess the knowledge and principles that protect man from all error.”

“He who has not been trained by the Sufis cannot understand the truth of courtesy.”

“Everything loses value as it increases. But when courtesy increases, it becomes more valuable.”

“Courtesy is: not to overvalue one’s superiors, and not to belittle one’s inferiors.”

“He who does not adopt the courtesy of his Master cannot adopt the courtesy of the Prophet’s Way and Traditions. And he who does not adopt these cannot adopt the courtesy of the Koran and its sacred verses.”

“Those who enter their Master’s presence with courtesy will earn boundless enlightenment from him.”

“Those who serve their Master courteously earn stations as high as the Throne from him.”

“As long as one does not adopt the courtesy of Masters, it is not possible to gain anything from them.”

“Beauty of courtesy frees a person from the need for relatives.”

“Courtesy makes a person sincerely loved.”

“Courtesy is the power that protects a person from shameful things.”

“Courtesy is to act in accordance with the Prophet’s Way.”

“There is no honor higher than courtesy.”

“The least of the rules of courtesy is for a person to stop when he senses his ignorance and to remedy it.”

“He who would learn wisdom should act courteously.”

“He who seeks to possess good deeds should seek to learn knowledge courteously.”

“As long as the People of Love possess goodwill in the matter of love, their courtesy begins to increase.”

“Courtesy is to train the self as necessary and to decorate it with beautiful morals.”

“Courtesy is the absolute source of virtue for a human being.”

“The stations of Paradise are earned by good works and courtesy.”

“The friends of courtesy are: Modesty, Sincerity, Submission, Love, Intention, Obedience, Striving, Discussion and Service.”

I sought admission to the Assembly of Knowledge;

Knowledge was left behind—courtesy, just courtesy.

It covers the shames of humanity;

What beautiful clothing is the garment of courtesy.

I sought admission to the People of the Heart;

Every aptitude has value, but first place goes to courtesy.

Courtesy is a crown made of the light of God;

Wear that crown, and be safe from all calamity.

O MANKIND

 

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

There is no god but God,
and Mohammed is His Messenger.

 

O sons of Adam, sons of Man, we have to obey the commandments of God, who has created us. We must pay very careful attention. Consider the following dialogue:

“O sons of Adam, human beings, do you fear God, your Creator?”

“Yes, we have no refuge except Him.”

“Thank you for recognizing your Lord. God, who has created us, has many commandments for us human beings. How do you stand with respect to His orders?”

“We can’t fulfil them. We’re unable to carry out His orders as we should.”

“Well then, do you love God, our Creator?”

“What else is there to love but God?”

“How are you with His orders?”

“We can’t perform them like we’re supposed to.”

“In that case, you’re lying on both counts. He who fears God and loves God should prostrate himself to God. The faith and creed of a person who does not prostrate to God is weak. Can you comprehend the taste of a fruit without eating it, by imagination alone? To know and understand God on an empty heart and dry words is a vain illusion. To believe and have faith in God, to perform the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Pillars of Faith, is required of all. May God and God’s Prophet, Mohammed, help you. Amen.”

From Adam—the first man and Prophet—to Mohammed, the last Prophet, a Prophet has been sent to every period and every society of mankind. In order to inform human beings He has created of His commandments, God Almighty has addressed them via His Prophets. He has made known the essence of these discourses and commands to His servants with Four Great Books and 100 Pages. Through the Prophets, it has become incumbent on every society to believe in God with a sincere heart and to carry out God’s divine orders physically and spiritually. God’s commandments to humanity have been proclaimed in the Psalms (revealed to David), the Torah (to Moses), the Gospel (to Jesus), and the Glorious Koran (to Mohammed). (Earlier prophets have received various divine pages that add up to a hundred.) God Almighty has not concealed His material-spiritual Essence and Reality from His servants. It is necessary to live humanly, thoughtfully and attentively.

INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF PROPHETS

 

(The following excerpt from a book by a noted Turkish historian takes a sociological approach to religion. While its coverage of certain issues may be found controversial by some Moslems, the clarity of its treatment is exceptional, and it was decided to leave the selection as it appeared in the Turkish original of the present book.)

Foreword

All human beings belonging to the major religions believe in the unity of God, His messengers, and their holy books. The existence of religion can be observed in every society, from primitive tribes through empires down to the democratic nations of our day. Religion still lives on as a significant institution in the structure of society.

There has been no society without religion. Societies that have known how to utilize the essence, rules, and requirements of religion have been fortunate and prosperred. On the other hand, backward societies, deviating from its essence and turning it into an exploited institution, have fallen into misery and darkness.

Although religions are primarily systems for contemplation, they have also introduced a moral philosophy and a social order. In addition, they have influenced the liberal arts via religious ferment.

From the concept of the existence of God, theology, such as Islamic theology, and mystical movements such as Sufism were born. In the area of spirituality, religion built metaphysical edifices. In the social field, it initiated bloody struggles in order to achieve equal civil rights. In the arts, wonders were created as exemplified in religious music, religious literature, in religious paintings, statues, and in architecture in the form of magnificent temples. Religion also covers mythology. The legends attributed to the prophets were known to everyone.

Using the methods of historical investigation, I desired to study the effects of religious institutions on societies since the beginning of mankind.

When I started preparations for this work, I thought I would be studying the mythological legends of prophets, their adventures, and stories related to heaven and hell. And there are indeed various romantic episodes, loves, bloody struggles and mystical events in their lives. Yet almost from the start, my views changed substantially as certain points forced themselves on my attention.

The first and perhaps the most significant of these points is that humanity’s greatest struggle has been for morality. The most exacting struggles of prophets have occurred in the moral field.

The second point is the concept of Right. In every century of history, human beings have been exploited by kings, by feudal lords, priests and the rich. In their struggle against oppression, people have been led either by prophets or by their successors. Utilizing one of the strongest feelings, namely, religion, these have managed to rally thousands of people to their cause. New religions were born, new holy books arrived, new religious injunctions became canonical law. In this way, Divine Law was established. Struggles have accompanied efforts to obtain these rights, and blood has been shed.

The richest source for prophetic history is the Old Testament. The Torah, which constitutes its first five books, is a holy book describing the lives of prophets. Information concerning prophets can also be found in the Koran, and is scattered throughout the religious literature. My task was to collate these into one book.

Prophets not mentioned in heavenly books have also come to mankind and established religions. Notable among such exceptions are Hermes (Thoth), who founded a religion in ancient Egypt; Confucius, who attracted millions in China; Buddha, the founder of Buddhism and perhaps the greatest religious luminary of India; and Zoroaster, the founder of Mazdeism in Persia. I found it instructive to write about the concepts of these great men of religion and their notions concerning God. Perhaps they are not prophets in the ordinary sense of the word, but they are, nevertheless, great personalities who have managed to attract millions of people to their teachings.

Men have felt duty-bound to learn about all the prophets mentioned in heavenly books, about their lives, ideas, and adventures, and have memorized their experiences. Down to this day, men of religion have written the biographies of prophets and have mythologized them. Indeed, their lives have come down to us largely in the form of mythology. Hodjas have recounted their tales in mosques, priests have expounded them from the pulpit. Artists have embodied scenes from their lives in paintings, while novelists have written literary works about them.

The lives of the most famous prophets have become the common heritage of mankind. No Moslem or Christian would fail to know of Abraham, Joseph, Noah’s Ark, Lot, or Ishmael.

The history of prophets is at the same time a history of religious and social struggles. Through the ages, men have fallen into immorality, robbed and killed each other, and worshiped animals and stones. Social orders have been ruined, human beings have chosen ill-advised paths ending only in despair. It is the prophets who have guided people to the right way in God’s name. These great men have suffered all kinds of cruelty, and yet have endured in their struggles with God-given inspiration. After Moses, first Jesus and then Mohammed have succeeded in binding people to the greatness of God within a meaningful framework.

I have respected the beliefs of religious people in this work, and have not violated basic sensibilities. Being a historian, however, I tried to discover truth by taking an historical approach.

I have written a historical work, not a religious one. This is the right way. For the study of the past is such a vast field of knowledge that it encompasses the history of the entire universe. Human history is but a small part of the latter. In short, history is a mirror of the universe, a mirror for humanity. Man discovers his soul in that mirror, he observes his good and evil aspects therein. For this reason, the past is an ocean; the universe and mankind find life within it.

Just as every nation, every science, every art has a history, so too does every religion and prophet. And hence I have written the history of prophets in this work. If, reading it, you conceive some affection for me in your heart, however small, that then shall be my reward.

Religion

In creating man, God endowed him with three gifts: Intelligence, Conscience and an appreciation for Beauty. These three properties are found neither in inanimate things nor in plants. God has withheld them from other creatures and bestowed them on man. Hence, human beings have been called “the most honored of all creatures.” The presence of these gifts has made human beings creative and constructive.

Among living beings, animals possess neither intelligence in the human sense, nor conscience, nor aesthetic sensibility. They maintain their existence by instinct alone, striving to further their lives and propagate their species. They cannot build houses to protect them from the elements, nor produce light to escape the darkness of night. They possess neither the means to warm themselves nor a conscience towards their own kind. The strong prevail over the weak. They have no characteristics such as compassion, morality and charity. Further, they do not enjoy the beauties of nature. Animals do not distinguish colors, they feel. They cannot discern the hues of sunrise and sunset, nor gaze in wonder at them. They cannot appreciate works of art. All these gifts have been given to man alone.

The most important gift in the possession of man is intelligence: the power to reason. The mind gives rise to thoughts. From the first day of his creation, man has observed nature with admiration. He has watched the sunrise and sunset, the night, moon and stars, with keen interest.

What power creates these phenomena? Who controls and guides them? Man conceives that the whole universe is sourced by a divine being; he feels fear and awe towards this tremendous being, and begins to respect Him. He feels gratitude to this being because of the gifts He has bestowed. And so, in trying to understand the phenomena occuring in the universe with his intelligence, the concept of God is born in man. In his soul he bears the greatest respect for Him. From this concept of God, in turn, the institution of religion was born. This feeling began with the first human being, for God has endowed even the most primitive man with intelligence.

The first man was naked; he was covered with hair, yet he was a human being. He was initially created with intelligence, conscience and aesthetic appreciation, but had not yet formed societies. He foraged bird eggs, fruit and caterpillars; he hunted animals and caught fish. It took man thousands of years to advance from this primitive state. The first human societies formed were clans. Together with society, six social institutions appeared: language, morals, law, economy, religion and the arts. Among these, religion has had the deepest effect on society.

Man gradually arrived at the notion of one God. At an early stage, human beings living in fear ascribed divinity to animals that suddenly loomed before them in adverse moments. This period of religion has been called totemism, where the totem is an animal or a tree. Animism marked the period of transition to the worship of ancestral spirits. In earth naturalism, man worshiped the earth, mountains, springs and rivers considered holy. In sky naturalism, the sun, moon and stars were idolized. Shamanism emerged in Central Asia and spread westward. It occupied an important place in human history and the history of religious thought.

These early religions were followed by the period of monotheism, or worship of one God. The Greeks and Romans fostered polytheism—the worship of many gods, also referred to as paganism. Finally, however, religions based on one God triumphed. Unity of divinity is the final form of faith. Belief in one God reached a high point with Abraham.

The intelligence of human beings resulted in the concept of God, which in turn gave birth to religion. Philosophers have defined religion in many ways in accordance with the ages they lived in, and finally it has been defined as: “Religion is the comprehension of, and belief in, a higher power above man of whom he stands in need.” Another definition is: “Religion is man’s desire and love for the absolute Essence, which is unknowable.” Religion sometimes means obedience and limitation, and sometimes punishment. It means that as you punish, so will you be punished. It also means the accounting on Judgment Day.

The following questions have influenced the emergence of religion: “Who am I? Where did I come from, and where am I going? What is this world of objects that surrounds me? How was it formed?” When he was unable to answer these questions, man comprehended a power acting over everything, and thus conceived of God, out of which religion emerged. Man has always had religious feelings. What air is for the body, religion is for the spirit. Man has felt the Lord and comprehended Him, and experienced this as an inner taste of conscience.

The institution of religion began with the first human being. Hence, religion and man have lived as an inseparable pair. Religion is an ingredient present in the constitution of man. It has advanced in time to become a great institution and compendium of ideas. It has been a perennial law to believe in the principles of religion and to act accordingly. Religion has shown mankind the roads to happiness.

Religion informs us how God is to be worshiped. The purpose of this worship is morality, the discrimination between good and ill. It is the path of virtue. Religion has survived within the social structure of societies as a most powerful institution.

Social life has been nurtured by certain values. Ethics deals with goodness, art with beauty, science with truth, economy with utility, and religion with the sacred.

Each religion has a god it worships, a prophet, and a holy book. It also has temples, priests, and ceremonies related to worship. These are all considered sacred. They occupy an exalted place in society. To repudiate them is sacrilege, and those who do so become outcasts from society.

Religion has social sanction. It lends character to societies no less than to individuals; those who gain individual character are also morally superior. As for social character, this is the organization formed by prophets, and is called the “community.” Just as Jesus gave rise to a Christian community, Mohammed gave rise to an Islamic community. A “community” is a religious group of human beings that transcends national barriers. It is the society of those who believe in a prophet and a book.

The organization of the religious community has crystallized differently in different religions. In Catholic Christianity, the Christian community has been constituted as a government. The emperor of this government is the Pope, its ministers are the cardinals, and its governors the bishops. In the case of Moslems, the community has been organized not as a government, but as a religious university. This is why the religious organization has been called the Church (ecclessia) in Christianity, whereas it has been called “school” (madrasah) in Islam. Madrasah is the old name for universities. These do not have a priestly leader; there are only professors (mudarrises) who give instruction.

Islam is a federation of universities. The whole world of Islam is a university. This university has branches in every city and town. The mufti in each town may be considered as the dean of that branch. The “Sheikh of Islam” is the rector of all universities. From this, it can be understood that in Islam, religion is based on an academic, not governmental, jurisdiction.

The professors of Islamdom have culturally elevated the community by giving instruction in shools on such subjects as history, medicine, philosophy, logic and geometry. They have also taught religious sciences such as the Koran, theology, jurisprudence, hermeneutics, and the Prophet’s Traditions (sayings). This is also where the judges or qadis were educated. This shows the extent to which Islam assigned importance to science, and how Islamic civilization flowered.

Religions have also fostered advancement of the arts. Religious architecture, in particular, has produced many magnificent works. The grand mosques and cathedrals are all products of the religious impulse. The religion of Islam has constructed mosques, schools, caravansarais, libraries, mausoleums and fountains unmatched for their art.

Religious hymns have contributed to the field of music. Religions have contributed to science by their works.

For all these reasons, religion is a tremendous institution. It has forged civilizations. Scientists need to investigate religion not merely in terms of faith, but as a social institution. When this is done, it becomes clear that religion is necessary and of immense utility.

God

Prophets are the great teachers of religions and the envoys of God; they have founded religions. In order to comprehend their emergence, it is first necessary to understand what religion is. Most religions have involved belief in the unity of God, His existence and His role as Creator. How, then, was the notion of God born in the human spirit?

Man has been created as a creature living in space and time; the universe encompasses him. He lives under the influence of cosmic phenomena. The sun rises and sets, night arrives, day follows it, years go by, spring comes, flowers bloom; the blue sky darkens, clouds appear bringing rain or snow. This is followed by summer; the weather warms, fruit and vegetables ripen. While this background continues perpetually, man dies and becomes dust.

Why has he come into this world, and why does he become nothing? Where does he come from, and where is he going? Events taking place in the universe influence him. All these occur within space. Man, with his intelligence, considers all this. What is time? What is space? These events continue perennially. Time, space, the endless succession of becoming, and finally death... These are metaphysical thoughts that stagger human intelligence. He thinks of the stupendous power that brings these events into being and organizes them, the Great Architect of these worlds, and calls Him “God.”

We human beings cannot see God; we can only infer His existence using our intelligence. But none of our thoughts are sufficient to describe God. It is impossible for us to comprehend something that is invisible, intangible and formless. An eternal being cannot be measured temporally. Hence, the description of God is impossible. We cannot see His shape. We can only discover His existence by reasoning with our minds. God exists, and He is One. This has been a common conception of humanity.

God exists in the heavens and the earth. He creates, destroys, gives life and makes to die. Before all beings, He was, and after everything passes, He will be. He is present in everything, visible or invisible. He knows what will be born and what will die. He is all-seeing. Nothing can be concealed from Him. To Him is due the light of our eyes, the joy of our hearts. He is the ruler of heaven and earth. All creation is dependent on Him; He is the Lord of the worlds.

He is the Creator of all that is. Every being is an infinitesimal part of Him. By His leave, night darkens and day breaks. From Him comes everything we intuit or know. He is the bestower of everything. This is why mankind has believed in the existence and unity of God. This has been an unchanging belief.

A person who contemplates God feels a sweet reverberation in his conscience, an indescribable pleasure in the depths of his being. Love for his Creator is conceived in his spirit. Billions of human beings who fill the earth today believe in the existence of God.

There are few people who lack faith in God; these are mostly materialists. Most scientists have believed in the power of God. Upon discovering the laws of nature, those who deal with biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc. have been amazed at the manifestations of divine creativity.

The functioning of the human body, consciousness, the atoms and electrons of matter, the countless phenomena in the heavens have delivered even the most confirmed materialists to faith. Even if they call that which forms these conscious beings by the name of “nature,” in most cases they are convinced that this can be nothing other than divine power. They, too, have realized that the mysteries of the universe cannot be unraveled by arid materialism. Such researchers have been compelled to believe in a Creator and have postulated a being that exists beyond themselves and their surroundings.

In order to believe in the existence of God, it is enough to contemplate—with attention and admiration—the totality of the cosmos, the stars in the sky, and how things on earth—beginning with one’s own being—are formed. Once the delicate, perennial order governing the whole universe is perceived, the existence of an eternal Creator organizing it becomes apparent of itself.[11] These are the reasons why the existence and unity of God have been believed in.

Moslems believe in God in the following way: “God exists, He is One, He has no associate or equal, He is independent of space. God is the Creator of all that is in the heavens and the earth, who causes us to grow, watches over and protects us, who knows our pain and avenges us, who sees our essence, who has formed everything out of nothing. He was not born, nor does He bear. He is invested with the Attributes of Perfection, and is beyond any Attributes of Imperfection. He is all-powerful and omnipresent.”

The Moslem faith in God is based on His attributes. Moslems recognize two kind of attributes in God: Negative Attributes[12] and Positive Attributes.[13]

The Negative Attributes are attributes predicated of God’s Essence—i.e., Essential Attributes. They are also called Dissociative (tanzih) Attributes because they belong to God alone. There are six Essential Attributes:

1.     Eternal pre-existence (qidam). Before anything else, God was; nothing antedated Him (qidam literally means “predating”).

2.     Eternal post-existence (baqa). God will have no end in time. After all else has passed away, He alone will be (baqa literally means “survival”).

3.     Existence, or Being (wujud ). God is infinite Being; true being belongs only to Him.

4.     Unity or Oneness (wahdaniyah). God is nondual, nonmultiple, indivisible. This is not a mathematical enumerability, such as the number “1” constitutes among an endless sequence of numbers, but an all-comprehensive unity beside which nothing else exists. God is One without a second.

5.     God is unlike anything else that He has created subsequently (muhalafah lil-hawadith).

6.     God stands by His own Self; He is self-sufficient, without need of anything else (qiyam bi-nafsihi).

 

There are eight Positive Attributes, which are also called Analogical (tashbih) Attributes because of the analogies drawn with creation:

1.     God is Alive, He is the Living God (hayah). This is the most comprehensive Positive Attribute of God.

2.     God is Omniscient, He is the All-knowing and the possessor, as well as originator, of all science and knowledge (ilm). This attribute is second only to “the Living.”

3.     God is All-hearing (thami).

4.     God is All-seeing (basar).

5.     God is All-powerful (qudrah).

6.     God Wills, and whatever He wills unfailingly comes to pass (iradah).

7.     Speech: God can address human beings (qalaam).

8.     Creation or Genesis: God creates everything where before there was simply nothing; He is the Creator of all creation (taqwin).

Not only does the concept of God live on in minds and thoughts; it survives in the structure of societies.

We learn of the existence of God through the prophets and holy books. God has informed humanity of His Unity and His commandments via the prophets, who may be considered as His ambassadors.

The Prophets

Human beings have believed in the existence and unity of God, but they have not been able to see Him. God Almighty, however, has allowed some of His servants He has chosen to glimpse His divine power. But such elect persons cannot convey what they have seen and experienced to other people. Nevertheless, they are given the task of conveying God’s commandments to human beings. These are God’s envoys on earth. They are His messengers and prophets.

After God, people have believed in His prophets. The concept of God is a metaphysical notion. But human beings have also felt the need to have a being who will teach and explain His existence to them; they have sought His messengers. The most distinguished personalities among them have brought news and commandments as prophets from God to human beings. Together with God, people have also had faith in His prophets, who are loyal, trustworthy, innocent and kind-hearted people. They have also displayed superhuman powers. From the very first, the human race has bred great men of religion, who have also brought sacred books.

In ancient history, Hermes (Thoth) appeared in Egypt, Confucius in China, the Buddha in India and Zoroaster in Persia, the religious concepts of whom have been very powerful. They have shown human beings the ways of moral conduct and happiness, and all have established religions. Those who believed in their ideas recognized them as Prophets. Besides these great religious figures, God has sent 124 thousand prophets to mankind, amongst whom the best known are: Adam, Seth, Idris (Enoch), Noah, Hood, Saleh, Abraham, Ishmael, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Shuayb, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Elias, Elijah, David, Solomon, Dhulkifl, Ezra, Loqman, Zulqarnain, Zachariah, John, Jesus, Mohammed.

Religious books speak about these prophets; mankind has believed in them all, some of whom have brought holy books.

Human beings believe in prophets as follows: in order to make His existence known, proclaim His greatness, and guide everyone to the right way, God Almighty has bestowed prophethood on some of his straightest, smartest, most dependable and truthful servants. He has, out of His own power, produced miracles for them that cannot be replicated by anyone else. In addition He has sent books to some of them. These prophets have in turn informed their communities of God’s commandments. Indeed, all prophets are the most honorable_e d_mnteln=selt of men, who have drawn people to themselves by their superior morality and wisdom. Many were heads of state, bringing morals and instituting legal order. They have performed great services for humanity.

It is an article of religious faith to believe in God and His prophets. The prophets are God’s beloved servants, to whom He has revealed divine books by the intermediary of the Archangel Gabriel. He has also given them the capability to display miracles and psychic feats.

Another characteristic of prophets is spiritual Ascension. Mohammed was honored with seeing the pure Light of God at the height of his Ascension.

Prophets have been created differently from ordinary people. They can foresee and foretell many things in advance. Their spiritual lives are very powerful. Through this strength, they have the capacity to separate their spirits from their physical bodies and Ascend in the spiritual world. This capacity manifests itself as veridical dreams and Divine Attraction.

Some Europeans have claimed that prophets are mediums, but they are not. Rather, they are personalities possessing Divine Attraction. They are great and superhuman individuals. At the same time, they are all saints of great intelligence and high morals. The religions they founded still continue, with little of their force spent. Each prophet is a moral philosopher. Mankind has believed in them wholeheartedly and respected them.

The prophets have all lived frugally and renounced worldly pleasures. Their lives have passed in the instruction of human beings. They have suffered greatly as a result, but these august personages have relentlessly striven to guide people to the straight path, the path of God.

All prophets are men of knowledge and virtue. They have been born and have lived and died like the rest of humanity. No prophet is either God or God’s Son; they are only His servants. Their difference, however is that they are God’s beloved servants.

The prophet of Moslems is Mohammed. All Moslems love him sincerely, and have boundless respect for him.

(From E.B. Shapolyo, The History of the Prophets.)

 

MOSES, JESUS AND MOHAMMED

Prologue

“Come on, son,” said the sage, “you don’t expect to get anywhere by yourself, do you? The road is fraught with pitfalls, and no one can make it on his own. Where did you get this notion: ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’? You can’t make the trip without a guide, and the founder of a religion is the guide of all guides.”

“Was the Buddha a prophet too, sir?” the disciple asked. He was well-meaning and polite, but young and a little foolish.

“He’s not mentioned in our Book by name,” said the sage, “so we can’t say for sure. Legend has it that there have been 124 thousand prophets, only a few of whose names are known. The holy texts would have to be some kind of phone book if they were to name them all. In any case, the Buddha is widely recognized as nothing less than a founder of a religious philosophy, and what applies to him certainly applies to the prophets as well.”

“I had this notion that I could go it alone,” said the disciple. “I don’t want to get entangled in all this religious stuff. Besides, I want to attain enlightenment, not the Christian notion of salvation.”

“That’s absurd,” said the sage. “Besides, liberation, salvation, enlightenment all mean the same thing. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

“Probably what is meant when they speak about killing the Buddha,” observed the disciple, “is that one should stop at nothing when on the road.”

“Perhaps. But it’s still extremely bad form to speak of him in that way.”

The Prophets

“Tell me,” the sage asked, “is there anyone you admire at all?”

The student thought for a moment, and gave the name of a popular rock star.

“Not that I have anything against rock stars, or indeed against movie stars or ball players or great statesmen,” said the sage, “but you have to set your sights higher. A good deal higher.”

“You have come to me in search of Truth,” the sage continued. “But I must warn you that your expectations about Truth will prevent you from perceiving it. For Truth exists independently of anyone’s perceptions about it; it is not your truth or my truth, but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as they say.” He smiled.

The student pondered, but only for a few seconds. “Sir,” he said, “having come this far, I think it’s my duty to lay aside my preconceptions and hear you out, at least.”

“Very well,” replied the master. “Truth is One, yet it presents many facets, like a polished diamond. One facet is science, another philosophy. Art, music, literature are all aspects of Truth, and you can probably think of others.

“In all ages,” he continued, “there have been superior human beings who have enriched the heritage of humanity by their attempts to get closer to the Truth. You’ve heard of Newton and Einstein, of Plato and Socrates, of Michelangelo and Mozart and Goethe. These and others, too numerous to do justice here, are veritable mountain tops when compared to the common run of humanity.

“Our voyage, or rather yours, must begin with the realization that there have been people in history who stand in the same relation to these peaks as they, in turn, stand in relation to the rest of humanity. The superior men I’ve named had to strive every inch of the way to reach the pinnacle of a certain facet of Truth. Yet there have been others to whom Truth has revealed itself, not through one of its facets, but directly. Sometimes they, too, have striven greatly to achieve this vision. Sometimes it has come upon them unexpectedly, all of a sudden. In all cases, however, the vision they received has served the improvement and happiness not merely of themselves, but hundreds of millions of human beings. These are the ones I choose to call seed personalities: out of whom great good has grown, who have galvanized countless people with their presence.”

“This is the Age of Technology,” he went on. “Science and technology are both aspects of Truth, and who can deny the boons they have granted us? Yet at the same time, emphasizing them to the exclusion of everything else has blinded us to many other things that our ancestors realized much more clearly than we do today. As a result, everybody is lost—lost, because we can’t find the golden thread to lead us out of the labyrinth. You yourself, for instance, are tossed like a piece of driftwood on the high seas; you feel like a leaf in the wind, being hurled wherever it blows. A person needs to be anchored in something solid to survive the vicissitudes of life without being fazed by them.”

He got up and removed a dusty tome from a shelf. It was Heroes and Hero-Worship, dated 1841, by Carlyle.

“Why don’t you read aloud the passages I indicate to you, and we’ll take it from there,” he suggested. “I know the language is a bit dated, but we’ll be well rewarded, you’ll see.” So the student read:

The thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his religion: or, it may be, his mere scepticism and no-religion: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World: and I say if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is.

 Answering of this question is giving us the soul of the history of the man or nation. The thoughts they had were the parents of the actions they did: their feelings were parents of their thoughts: it was the unseen and spiritual in them that determined the outward and actual:—their religion, as I say, was the great fact about them.

“Skip a few pages and read on,” said the sage. The student continued:

In all epochs of the world’s history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable saviour of his epoch;—the lightning, without which the fuel would never have burnt. The History of the World, I said already, was the Biography of Great Men...

 Innumerable men had passed by, across this Universe, with a dumb vague wonder, such as the very animals may feel; or with a painful, fruitlessly inquiring wonder, such as men only feel;—till the great Thinker came, the original man, the Seer; whose shaped spoken Thought awakes the slumbering capability of all into thought. It is ever the way with the Thinker, the spiritual Hero. What he says, all men were not far from saying, were longing to say.

The disciple looked up. “Please don’t think it rude of me,” he said, “but I’m worried about all the charlatanism, the broken promises, the shattered dreams.”

“Ah,” said the sage, “Carlyle has the answer to that, too. Don’t imagine he was uncritical, taking everything without a pinch of salt. Give me the book.” He turned back a few pages and said, “Read.”

Quackery and dupery do abound: in religions... but quackery was never the originating influence in such things; it was not the health and life of such things, but their disease, the sure precursor of their being about to die!

Quackery gives birth to nothing: gives death to all things.

 

“That’ll be enough,” the sage said, and replaced the book to its shelf.

“Man is always bound by his nature, his society and his culture,” he resumed. “Animals, too, are bound by their natural needs—and their social needs, if they happen to be social animals. But there is something in man that strives to transcend the merely animal level of subsistence—to exist, to be; to be not simply an animal, which is what all animals are doing all the time anyway, but to be a man. Today, living as we do in such luxury as even the emperors of old never dreamed of, even today the greatest part of our efforts are geared to the acquisition of mere creaturely comforts.

“Now in history, there have been singular moments when an individual has broken through to another level of being, or that level has reached out and contacted him. As a result he has acquired a new self, has been transformed into a person. He breaks the bounds of his specific circumstances, natural and social, and becomes—to a greater or lesser extent—a universal man, part of a universal community.

“It is a fact, as astounding as it is singular, that all such persons have testified to a separate reality, a different level of being, even in cases where they did not speak about God as such.

“This person then feels it his obligation, indeed duty, to inform his fellow-men of his discovery. Many recoil in horror and incomprehension; but on a few open minds he makes an impression they will never forget. He is the man they all sat down to supper with for many a night, yet he is not the same man, somehow. For he has been transfigured by his experience, and they have at last seen an example of something they never expected to see: a Man.

“This person has now become an embodiment of ideas, whether totally new, or venerated or long forgotten. And this embodiment is so wonderful, so captivating, so lovable, that people who can sense this difference seek to emulate the principles they see ensconced in every move, every breath of this person, and by at first pretending, to become, in the end, like the person they admire. And so, they are attracted to him like iron filings to a magnet.

“That is the kind of person I call a prophet, or, if he is an accomplished follower of such, a saint.

“The prophet or saint superimposes on the physical body and the social dimension of man an invisible force-field, a subtle envelope, a new, purified self, within which man’s true nature might flower. This envelope is the totality of his teachings. Yet those teachings are none other than the expression in words of the reality that the prophet embodies in real life. The prophet lives the life, in order that his followers may know the doctrine; and in order to understand the doctrine, you too have to live the life. For while the do’s and don’ts may be easy—and they aren’t always so—not all aspects of the doctrine are readily comprehensible.

“And so, this person acts as a seed for mankind, just as we use cloud-seeding in order to precipitate rain, or a ‘seed’ brings on the crystallization of a saturated chemical solution.”

“But sir,” protested the student, “the people you’re telling me about all lived in ancient times. They were all shepherds, and most of them didn’t even know how to read or write. How can such persons be taken as examples in our day?”

“Too much book-learning is what makes you say that,” replied the master drily. “Very well then, consider this: In our digital age, we are fast approaching the point where, in the future, information may be beamed directly and instantly into one’s brain. Now suppose that this were in fact realized, would you consider reading books an inferior or a superior form of information input?”

“Inferior, of course,” came the reply.

“Exactly. Now what I am talking about is very similar to this.” He pointed to his head. “The Guarded Tablet is right here,” he said. “If the Omniscient decided to impart to you a portion of His knowledge, do you think He would necessarily need the medium of a book? He would merely unlock a door of the Akashic Records, and that would be that. The prophets of old may have been unlettered shepherds, but they had one great advantage that we don’t—they had God behind them.”

Moses

“Moses,” he went on, “was one of the greatest prophets. He lived in the 13th century BC, and conversed with God so much that he earned the title: ‘Speaker with God.’ I shall not bore you with the details of his life, since I assume you know them already. His birth, recovery from a basket in the Nile, and growth under the nose of Pharaoh, his arch-foe; God’s appearance to him in the burning bush; his contest with Pharaoh, and the Exodus by which he led his people out of slavery; the parting of the Red Sea; God’s delivery of Manna from heaven; Moses’ meeting with God on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights; the forty years in the desert before they could enter the Promised Land—all these, I’m sure, are too well-known to need repetition.”

“They generally are,” the student confirmed.

“Moses is an all-too-human figure. He is aware of his shortcomings, especially his difficulties of speech, but that’s another story—and a beautiful one, too,” the sage added, “remind me to tell you sometime.”

“Okay.”

“Moses is also the pivotal figure in Jewish history. He was more than a prophet; he was a messenger of God, meaning that he was a lawgiver and not just a renewer of law earlier revealed. Moses hated injustice, and may be considered the father of all earthly utopias. He was a giant aqueduct through which the law and light of God poured into the minds and hearts of his people. His actions were decisive, his resolve unshakable; yet at the same time, he had to appear sterner than he was in order to hold his group together.

“There was nothing Moses loved more than communion with God, for at bottom he was a devoutly spiritual man. Great historians have always recognized that mankind sometimes progresses by a giant step, thanks to the earth-shaking influence of a seed personality. And Moses was such a man. He effected a revolution of the mind and spirit, and brought such a perspective on things that old ideas could never be the same again.

“The duties God charged Moses with were truly gargantuan. He accepted them reluctantly, but tried with all his might to fulfill the task set for him. And in his desperate struggle he succeeded, though he never saw the Promised Land himself. The Torah is quite right to conclude: ‘Never [before or] since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and his servants and his entire land, and [unmatched] for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel’ (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).”

“He was an imposing figure, all right,” the disciple agreed.

“Yet there is another dimension to the Biblical account that has escaped almost everyone,” the sage continued. “The whole chain of events has by and large been read as history, and nothing more. But when you look at it from an esoteric angle, the Exodus is also the sacred history of the individual soul. Pharaoh is the pharaonic, egotistical self that holds the spirit in slavery. The journey to the Promised Land is precisely what the Sufis call ‘the journey to the homeland.’ And the trials in between, the forty years in the desert, are the tribulations that the spirit undergoes along the way.”

“I hadn’t heard of that before,” said the student.

“Let me just tell you this much,” said the sage, “even the fact of Moses’ demise just when his people were about to enter ‘the land of milk and honey’ has deep esoteric significance.”

The student frowned. “What about Jesus?” he asked.

Jesus

The sage smiled. “Jesus certainly needs no introduction from me,” he said. “A noted historian has observed,” he continued, “that Moses was beyond the power of the human mind to invent, and I think the same thing may be said of Jesus. Of course, his story has been embellished, because there is a dark tunnel of about two decades after him that historians, in spite of all their efforts, have been powerless to illuminate. Innumerable rumors flourished as a result, some true and some spurious. Yet there had to be a Jesus, because he complements Moses in so many ways.”

“How so?” asked the disciple.

“Well, Moses is by and large an exoteric figure. Overemphasis on the purely legal aspect of his teachings had, by Jesus’ time, obscured any spiritual element they might have possessed originally. Jesus had to come, in order to restore the spiritual dimension of man. Besides, Moses is still a tribal prophet, and the decrees revealed to him are still specific to a small segment of humanity. Jesus’ teachings, in contrast, were destined to reach a much wider audience.

“Every action, every word of Jesus radiates authority,” he went on. “So much, in fact, that those who have confused him with God may perhaps be excused for doing so. Yet Jesus himself never claimed to be God; in fact, he explicitly denied it: ‘Why do you call me good? Only God is good’ (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19), or: ‘My Father is greater than I’ (John 14:28), if you remember your Bible. Even Paul, who made so much of Jesus’ end—not even Paul claimed that Jesus was God, though he came dangerously close. When Jesus says: ‘I and my Father are one’ (Jn. 10:30), therefore, he means this in a metaphorical and not a literal sense, otherwise he would be contradicting himself.”

“I’m not a theologian,” the student admitted.

“Nor do you have to be, it’s all there in the Bible,” came the reply.

“Moses was the moralist, the judge, the hygienist, whereas Jesus was the psychologist and mystic,” the sage continued after a while. “Jesus was love, humility and sacrifice personified. These qualities shone through all his actions, for he went about doing good. He healed the sick: restored sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, the use of their legs to the crippled. He helped the poor, freed the oppressed, fed the hungry. Being a prophet of God, he did all these miraculously; but one does not have to be a miracle-worker in order to do these things in one’s own small way, with one’s limited human means, or to recognize that they are admirable virtues in themselves.

“When we turn from Jesus’ deeds to his words, the transparent meaning of his actions evaporates. That’s why they’ve been debated for centuries. Some of his sayings are clear enough, and it would take us a long way if we could practice even them alone faithfully. For example: “In all things, do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12). Or: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 22:37-40). Note the reference to the Law (Heb. Torah) and the Prophets (Naviim) in both cases, which together with the Books (Ketuvim) make up the Old Testament. Jesus is here establishing his continuity with the tradition of Moses, and his advice is clear and simple.

“But other sayings of his are quite complex. We then have to discard any notion that he was a simple man preaching a simple doctrine. Part of the problem is that people have tried to interpret his sayings by applying the tools of Greek philosophy to them. When that was done, the pure, clear life-water of his teachings became frozen into the stark stalactites and stalagmites of dogma—whereas the only way to understand them is to take the mystical approach.

“One example should suffice: ‘He who loses his life shall find it’ (Matthew 10:39, Luke 9:23-4, John 12:25). Here, if anywhere, is an esoteric statement belonging to Jesus. Now what do you suppose he meant by this paradoxical remark?”

“What, indeed?” echoed the disciple.

“Well, let’s apply the tools of Islam to it and see what we come up with. This refers to the death-rebirth experience of the soul. A saying attributed to Mohammed puts it more clearly: you have to ‘Die before you die,’ for unless one dies and is reborn, one cannot enter the Kingdom. This Kingdom of God—or Heaven—is the spiritual counterpart of the Promised Land which we were talking about (also the ‘Pure Land’ of Amida Buddhism, if memory serves) and, as everyone knows, ‘is within you’ (Luke 17:21).

“Now how is this to be achieved? The Bible states that Jesus ‘emptied himself’ (Gk. ekenosen), in order to let God’s light shine through (Philippians 2:7). For the thoughts, the desires, the caprices of the ordinary self only obstruct that light. Self-emptying (kenosis) leads to Unity or Union (enosis), in other words. Now this is precisely the perception of Unity or Union (Ar. wahdah) of the Sufis, which is achieved through (spiritual) poverty (faqr). ‘Poverty is my pride,’ said Mohammed, yet at another time he remarked: ‘Poverty is blackness of face (i.e., a disgrace).’ It’s clear that he’s speaking about two different kinds of poverty: spiritual poverty in the first case and material poverty in the second. And what does Jesus say to that? ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). The explanation and the explained fit each other like hand and glove.

“This goes to show that only a mystical, Sufic interpretation will explain some of Jesus’ sayings. But we can’t all be mystics, so that door will remain closed to a great majority of people.”

“I’ve never heard of this connection between kenosis and enosis made before within Christianity,” observed the student.

“Probably,” the sage smiled, “this is because Christian theology focused on the uniqueness of Jesus, rather than the availability of his experience to all adepts.”

“Does this mean that the Sufis took their doctrine from Christianity, as some have claimed?” asked the student.

“It means,” corrected the sage, “that Mohammed took what was Jesus’ and completed it, just as Jesus said he would. If we love Jesus enough, we should take heed of his directions.”

A Question

“Why is it,” said the sage, “that intelligent people lament ‘the spiritual vacuum that exists all over what once was Christendom’? And what is the reason for the unsettling, ominous silence that echoes down church corridors through the centuries?”

“Search me,” said the disciple. A shiver ran up his spine.

“Let me put this another way,” said the sage. “Have you read your Umberto Eco?”

“No, but I’ve seen the movie,” replied the disciple, remembering The Name of the Rose.

“That book ends with the sentence: ‘Once there was a rose. Now, there is only its name,’“ said the sage. “Do you have any idea what this rose is?”

“No.”

“It is Jesus,” the sage continued. “And every prophet is a rose. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed are all roses. The saints in a religion are roses, too, but lesser roses than its prophet.

“The reason that we cannot smell the fragrance of Jesus is that his term is over. His time is up.”

“How do you mean?” asked the disciple.

“Well, look at it this way. Suppose you’re an American, or an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a German. We all know that Eisenhower, Churchill, de Gaulle and Adenauer were great leaders of these nations.

“Now suppose you wanted to write a petition to your president or prime minister. And suppose you began your letter: ‘Dear Mr. Eisenhower,’ or ‘Dear Mr. Churchill,’ or ‘Dear Monsieur de Gaulle,’ or ‘Dear Herr Adenauer,’ and sent it off. What do you think would happen?”

The disciple laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’ld probably end up in the wastebasket.”

“Exactly,” said the sage. “And why? Because none of these people are in office any longer. You would have to address your present prime minister or president in order for your petition to be considered valid.

“Now it’s exactly the same thing with the prophets,” he continued. “If you remember, Jesus said: ‘I am the way and the life. No one comes unto the Lord, except by me.’ And well he might, for this statement is true of all prophets, so long as they are in office. In Abraham’s time, for instance, no one could go to the Lord except by Abraham. In Moses’ time, no one could go except by Moses, and so on. In every age it’s the prophet of that time that’s going to ferry you to the other shore, and once you get there, the customs inspectors say: ‘Who’s your ferryman?’ It’s all right to answer Moses or Abraham if you lived in their term, but not if you haven’t.

“Each prophet is in office until the next one comes along. It doesn’t matter if a prophet is alive or not when his successor arrives. However, since no prophet will come after Mohammed save the fakes and impostors, he will be in office till the end of time. There will be no further Revelation, because God has stated His case to humanity in the final form He desired.”

“Does this mean that only Mohammed’s community is eligible for salvation, that all the earlier religious communities were somehow inferior?”

“Not at all. Each prophet was the spiritual—and sometimes also the worldly—king of his age, and as long as his people obeyed him, they were assured of God’s grace. Every religion is the Islam of its age. Judaism is the Islam of its time, Christianity is the Islam of the Christian Era, and so on. They may differ from the final version—Islam as we know it—in detail, but not in the essential points. Mohammed’s distinction resides in the fact that his message addresses not this or that tribe or community, but humanity at large. Because it was so universal, there is no need for another prophet to come with further revelation. Of course, the final revelation abrogates earlier revelations, just as today’s newspaper supersedes yesterday’s daily, or the current version of a computer program updates its earlier versions. This doesn’t mean the earlier versions are bad or all wrong, they’re just out-of-date.”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the disciple. “It would be better if Jesus had left some indication about his successor.”

“Oh, but he did. He said: ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (John 9:5). ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever’ (Jn. 14:15). “The Paraclete... will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you’ (Jn. 14:26). ‘When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (Jn. 15:26). ‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (Jn. 16:7). ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (Jn. 16:12-14).”

The sage paused. “Jesus,” he said, “could not have given a clearer indication that he would have a successor. I myself couldn’t have said it better if I had wanted to. First of all, note that there are two Paracletes, not one: because Jesus says ‘another Paraclete’ like himself, he is one and Mohammed is the other. Further, the Bible explicitly calls Jesus ‘a Paraclete’ (1 Jn. 2:1), so that there are, presumably, other Paracletes—and ‘Paraclete’ now begins to sound an awful lot like ‘prophet’. Let’s not go into the deeper matter of what ‘Paraclete’ means; let me just say that I would again be vindicated.

“Jesus calls the Paraclete the ‘spirit of truth’; indeed, Mohammed was a spirit of truth, just like Jesus. Jesus makes it plain beyond words that his teaching is incomplete and will be completed by another like him. When he came, Mohammed gave instructions on all the things that Jesus, on his own admission, could not elaborate. He dictated the Koran just as he heard it, without addition or omission. As the Koran itself points out, he did not speak of his own accord (53:3). And because he guided us into all the truth, he will be with us forever, for God’s Revelation is now complete. Moreover, Mohammed both testified on Jesus’ behalf and glorified him, for he called Jesus ‘my brother’, which also dovetails with the notion of two Paracletes. And the Koran glorifies Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) son of Mary (5:72,75).”

The disciple mused. “I don’t know,” he said. “I thought the Paraclete was the Holy Spirit. It says so in the Bible.”

“Don’t forget,” countered the sage, “that the Paraclete is another Paraclete, just like Jesus. There are two Paracletes, not one, and one of them is Jesus. Whatever Jesus was, the other has to share the same characteristics. If Jesus was a human being, the Paraclete has to be a human being, too. If Jesus was a prophet of God, then so is the Paraclete. If you can speak about Jesus as a spirit that is holy, which I can readily grant, one can say the same thing about Mohammed. The point is that each of them is a holy spirit, not the Holy Ghost.

“There’s another thing,” he continued. “When Jesus appeared to the disciples later on, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Jn. 20:22). This shows that the Holy Spirit either is Jesus’ breath, or is contained in his breath. In either case, the Holy Spirit is something intangible. Ever hear of a breath that hears and speaks physically? Only a human being can do those things.

“Further, we can see here that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both present simultaneously. But as Jesus himself explains, the Paraclete can only come in his absence. This proves to us that the Holy Spirit is not the Paraclete.”

The disciple sighed. “All this theology is making me dizzy,” he explained. “Can you tell me a bit more about Mohammed? I don’t know much about him except for his name, and that he founded a religion called Islam.”

Weakly-Coupled Religions

“The problem with Moses’ teachings and those of Jesus,” the master continued, “was: first, that they still were not universal enough, and second, that they were weakly coupled.

The disciple frowned. “I don’t get it, sir,” he said.

“Well, let’s tackle one at a time. Recall that Moses’ precepts addressed a small portion of humanity; they were specific to Jews alone. Jesus’ beautiful teachings, on the other hand, were only for adepts of mysticism, and these too are always in a minority. Yet there had to be a religion for all humankind: one that would embrace everyone, of whatever temperament, inclination, or calling in life. This is why the two were not universal enough.

“We now come to the second point. The Church Fathers were well aware of this difficulty. They knew that Moses’ exoteric teachings left out spirituality, while the esoteric teachings of Jesus omitted the legal aspect which is a must in social life. They tried to remedy this situation by combining the two —which is why you have both the Old Testament and the New in the Bible.

“But in the end, it was a makeshift arrangement. Certain interpretations grafted onto Jesus’ original doctrine proved as incapable of mixing with Moses’ as water with oil. Moreover, even if that had proved possible, the limitations of both which we’ve just discussed precluded a truly universal synthesis.

“There are other contrasts as well. Judaism is a worldly religion, whereas Christianity—as it developed later—reviled the body and concentrated exclusively on the spirit. The Jewish God is a wrathful God, whereas God is love in the Christian conception, and so on. Now each of these conceptions excludes the other; man, for instance, is not just a disembodied spirit (in which case he would be a ghost), nor simply a body (in which case he would be merely a corpse), but a unique, living combination of the two. Religion needs to recognize both sides of the coin, and it ought to address and answer the needs of both aspects. Where would night be without day, or vice versa? What was needed was a religion that radically combined the two, a synthesis—and not merely a mixture—that transcended both. And that is why Mohammed had to come.”

The disciple was silent for a while. “I can’t be hearing all this,” he said at last.

“Oh, but you are,” the sage said gently. “You wanted to hear the Truth, didn’t you? I told you it wouldn’t be easy. We don’t have to go on if you don’t want to. It’s against our rules to force anyone.”

“Please continue,” said the disciple, after a period of thoughtful digestion. “Do you mean that Mohammed concocted a new religion out of Judaism and Christianity?”

“No,” the master explained patiently. “Religion and philosophy are two different things. You and I could perhaps sit down and construct a new philosophy, for instance, because philosophy depends on human reason alone. But this is not the case with religion, for it depends on a direct revelation from God, and comprises both rational and surrational aspects. And a philosophy can generate new ideas, but it cannot generate a Man.

“Surrational?” the student interjected.

“Well, since you ask, it’s time for some definitions. Nonrational is, obviously, that which is not rational, and this can be divided into two subsets: irrational and surrational. By irrational, I mean something that is illogical, that contains a logical contradiction. For example, 1=3 or 3=1 is a mathematical impossibility. Surrational or superrational, on the other hand, is a higher degree of rationality. In other words, we would find a surrational thing to be supremely rational, if only we were in possession of all the facts. The surrational is as far above the rational as the irrational is below it. For example, Moses’ adventures with Khidr related in the Koran are of a surrational nature: Moses found that there were perfectly logical reasons for Khidr’s actions which he was previously unable to make sense of, once the facts were explained to him. The commandments and the ways of the Lord may be mysterious, but they are not illogical once you know the inside story.

“Now I said that revelation contains both rational and surrational elements. Every true religion was originally composed of these two, but irrational elements also crept in with the passage of time. Only Islam is immune to this process, which is why it has remained unpolluted. And the surrational can only be imparted by God, for only He is omniscient. It is mentioned in the Koran that it was ‘sent down by the Holy Spirit from the Lord with Truth’ (16:102). Besides, the Koran explicitly states that if Mohammed had added or modified anything on his own, God would have ripped out his main artery (69:46). True religion is not something you can sit down and invent, and if you try to do this, the result will be at best a pseudo-religion, not a true one.”

Mohammed

“Why don’t we go back to Carlyle,” continued the sage, “and see what he has to say. Could you kindly fetch the book from that shelf again?” The disciple did so and, at the sage’s direction, began to read:

...A greater number of God’s creatures believe in Mahomet’s word at this hour than in any other word whatever. Are we to suppose that it was a miserable piece of spiritual legerdemain, this which so many creatures of the Almighty have lived by and died by? I, for my part, cannot form any such supposition.

 But of a Great Man, especially of him, I will venture to assert that it is incredible that he should have been any other than true... I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic.

 Such a man is what we call an original man; he comes to us at first-hand... Really his utterances, are they not a kind of ‘revelation’;—what we must call such for want of some other name? It is from the heart of the world that he comes, he is a portion of the primal reality of things.

 The man’s words were not false, nor his workings here below... To kindle the world; the world’s maker had ordered it so...

 A silent, great soul; he was one of those who cannot but be in earnest: whom Nature herself has appointed to be sincere. While others walk in formulas and hearsays, contented enough to dwell there, this man could not screen himself in formulas; he was alone with his own soul and the reality of things.

 A Hero, as I repeat, has this first distinction, which, indeed, we may call first and last, the Alpha and Omega of his whole Heroism. That he looks through the shows of things into things.

 Communing with his own heart, in the silence of the mountains; himself silent; open to the ‘small, still voices’; it was a right natural custom!

 ...That we must submit to God. That our whole strength lies in resigned submission to Him, whatsoever He do to us...

 Much has been said of Mahomet’s propagating his Religion by the sword... Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it. The sword indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it: there is one man against all men. That he take a sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your sword!

The student looked up. “Pardon me, sir,” he said, but why Carlyle? I mean, why are we reading Carlyle’s words rather than anyone else’s?”

“Because,” replied the sage, “Carlyle is one of the first Europeans, perhaps the very first, to recognize the Prophet’s true worth.” He made an indication with his hand to read on.

 

...[Nature] requires of a thing only that it be genuine of heart: she will protect it if so; will not if not so. There is a soul of truth in all the things she ever gave harbor to.

 The body of all Truth dies; and yet in all, I say, there is a soul which never dies; which in new and ever-nobler embodiment lives immortal as man himself! It is the way with Nature. The genuine essence of Truth never dies.

 If a book comes from the heart, it will contrive to reach other hearts; all art and authorcraft is of small account to that. One would say the primary character of the Koran is this of its genuineness, of its being a bona fide book...

 To his [Mahomet’s] eyes it is forever clear that this world wholly is miraculous. He sees what, as we said once before, all great thinkers, ...in one way or other, have contrived to see: That this so solid-looking material world is, at bottom, in very deed, Nothing; is a visual and tactual Manifestation of God’s power and presence,—a shadow hung-out by Him on the bosom o’ the void Infinite; nothing more.

 Much has been said and written about the sensuality of Mahomet’s Religion: more than was just. The indulgences, criminal to us, which he permitted, were not of his appointment; he found them practised, unquestioned from immemorial time in Arabia; what he did was to curtail them, restrict them, not on one but on many sides.

 ...Enjoying things which are pleasant: that is not the evil: it is the reducing of our mortal self to slavery by them that is...

 It is a calumny on men to say that they are roused to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure, recompense,—sugar-plums of any kind, in this world or the next! In the meanest mortal there lies something nobler... Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death are the allurements that act on the heart of man. Kindle the inner genial life of him, you have a flame that burns-up all lower considerations... Not by flattering our appetites; no, by awakening the Heroic that slumbers in every heart, can any Religion gain followers.

 They called him Prophet, you say? Why, he stood there face to face with them: bare, not enshrined in any mystery; visibly clouting his own cloak, cobbling his own shoes; fighting, counselling, ordering in the midst of them; they must have seen what kind of man he was, let him be called what you like! No emperor with his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of his own clouting.

 ...I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven: the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and they too would flame.

The student looked up inquiringly and, at the sage’s nod, restored the book to its place. “Tell me more about Mohammed,” he said.

The sage smiled.

“You’re asking me to do the impossible,” he said. “No description of Mohammed is enough to reveal him to you, and in the end that is what you really need.

“A search in libraries and bookstores,” he continued, “will yield many histories of Islam and biographies of Mohammed. You will learn much concerning the historical facts surrounding his life. From these you will come away with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, for none of them are sufficient to explain the Prophet, his religion, or the phenomenal success of the two. In order really to understand, you should have been there; you should have seen the light shining in his eyes, his jet-black wavy hair, his arresting appearance, his ineffable, electrifying presence that would have told you immediately that here was a person who could not lie, even in jest. He was the handsomest human being who ever lived, but more important was his beauty of character and supreme moral conduct. One glance would be sufficient to anyone whose heart isn’t blind that if ever there was a Prophet of God, this was it. His enemies themselves, in fact, never doubted these truths; it was only their innate stubbornness and their vested interests which they felt he challenged that prevented them from openly acknowledging the obvious. And now, today, the facts of his life have become a kind of Rorschach Test for all his biographers—lacking, naturally enough, such a vision, each one tries to account for his unique success with an explanation that he or she likes best. They read their pet theory, their own favorite brainchild, into his life.

His Battles

“Take his battles, for instance. Biographers make much of his campaigns because the most facts are recorded about them and because wars are the stuff which history is made of. Yet these are of secondary importance, because they were necessary for the survival of the newborn religion and for the eradication of evil, but not essential for the original Revelation itself. Just think: the Archangel Gabriel had already come to Mohammed, God had already revealed His religion, and the Prophet and his small flock of followers had endured more than a decade of religious persecution. The Prophet had already experienced his Ascension, the highest spiritual elevation known to man. During all this time the Prophet tried to spread his religion peacefully. It was only when it became obvious that his enemies would not suffer him or Islam to survive that the Prophet emigrated to Medina, drew his sword, and did not sheath it again until Mecca was conquered. It was both self-defense, and an attempt to make the world safe for Islam; an attempt which succeeded against impossible odds, and which was won with a minimum of casualties on both sides. The total of dead did not exceed 500 in all his battles put together, and in one was as low as ten.

“One historian has noted that the life of the Prophet is a tale of two cities, and such is indeed the case. The period of Revelation belonged to Mecca, the period of consolidation to Medina. If the Prophet had not combated evil from his base in Medina, Islam could not have survived. But the essence of Revelation had already been communicated to him in Mecca. The period in Medina added fresh details, without altering this essence in any way. If the idolaters had not been so implacably opposed to Mohammed, so bent on destroying him and his religion, the battles might not have taken place at all. He was not the warlord that some people make him out to be. He was a businessman, you know, and he had the highest praise for knowledge and science—more than any other prophet or religion.”

His Miracles

“What about miracles?” the student asked. “All prophets have shown miracles. Did he do so too?”

“Well, we should first get one thing straight about miracles,” the sage said. “Miracles are primarily the ‘calling cards’ of God, which tell a certain people: ‘Here is a person to whom I have entrusted my instructions. Heed him, and you won’t lose.’ Miracles are performed by God for the people, not by a prophet himself.

“But in the end, we can’t place much store by miracles, for they are specific to prophets alone. They can’t be deemed a basis for widespread emulation, and are not what religion is all about. Religion is moral behavior towards every being in the universe, closeness to God, and attainment of this closeness through worship—or techniques—which God specifies. Hence, not only is it impossible for ordinary people like you and me to perform miracles or extraordinary psychic feats, but these are actually a hindrance to religion and spiritual progress, for they keep the mind focussed on the wrong things.

“Now many miracles are recounted about the Prophet, which I leave you to discover in his biographies. He himself used to say that his only miracle worthy of note was the Koran—meaning its beauty, profoundness and inviolability.

“The Prophet called the Koran his ‘standing miracle’—that he, unschooled to the point of barely being able to write his name, should have authored the Koran, the masterpiece of all time of Arabic, the most evocative language in the world, is so unthinkable that its miraculous nature would be clear to all but the most obstinate. In the Prophet’s case, unlettered meant unfettered—an unfettered mind, a heart unhindered by the pride that comes from too much book-learning. He was thus a conduit ready to convey undistorted the pure, pristine Truth of God.”

  The sage then proceeded to instruct the student about what Mohammed said, what he did, and what he was—who he was, based on eyewitness accounts.

His Asceticism

“The mountain and the desert,” the sage continued, “are key symbols in the careers of the greatest prophets. Just as Moses had his forty days on Mount Sinai with his Lord, and Jesus spent forty days in the desert overcoming the temptations of Satan, Mohammed’s prophethood was preceded by long sojourns on the Mountain of Light (Mt. Hira) in a cave facing a rocky deserted expanse, where Gabriel first announced his mission to him. He heard the rocks and trees call to him: ‘Messenger of God,’ which might have been put down to a mental state, were it not for the fact that Ali, his cousin, heard them too on occasions when he accompanied him. The Prophet was at first deeply frightened by the unexpected turn his ascetic practices had taken, but was reassured by a relative of his first wife, a Christian deeply versed in the Old and New Testaments, who said: ‘The Archangel has come upon him, the greatest nomos (the Law or Torah) has come to him.’“

His Morality

“What about his morality?” the student asked.

“The Prophet of God was the most generous, the most truthful and gentlest of men. He was always immersed in thought. His silence was longer than his speech, and he never spoke in vain. He would mention God’s name at the beginning and end of his words. In talking he chose short words loaded with meaning. His words were true and to the point. He never used more words, or less, than was necessary.

“He never broke anyone’s feelings, nor did he belittle anyone. He did not get angry for worldly things. But when someone’s rights were violated, nothing could stop his anger before the wrong was righted. He never got angry about or avenged a wrong directed at his person or business. When he got angry, he would immediately give up on his anger and would conceal it. He would not laugh out loud; the most he did was smile.

“He always displayed a cheerful countenance and good disposition to those in his presence. He was very kind and forgiving. Hardness of heart, bitterness of tongue, and repulsiveness of nature did not exist in him.

“He did not argue with or shout at anyone. He did not use bad language or scold anybody. He was not a miser. What he disliked, he pretended not to see. He did not disillusion the expectant, and remained silent about what he did not like. He did not quarrel with anyone, speak too much, or busy himself with vain things.

“He left the public alone on three points: he did not criticize or blame anybody, either to his face or behind his back; he did not pry after the shames or shortcomings of anyone; and he never told anyone anything that was not good or edifying for them.

“He listened to the last person with the same attention he accorded to the first speaker. If those present found something amusing, he would comply with their mirth, and if they were amazed at something, he too would join in and express wonder. He tolerated the bluntness and depressiveness of words and questions directed by strangers, so that his Companions might follow his example. He used to say: ‘When you see a needy person requesting his need, help him to meet that need.’

“He did not accept praise that was not truthful. As long as a right was not violated, he would not interrupt a conversation. When it was, he would either forbid it or depart from that company.

“He brought brotherhood, compassion, virtue and lovingkindness, and taught men the meaning and purpose of being human. He would talk gently with his Companions and joke with them. He would love and fondle children and take them in his arms. All human beings, whether slaves or free men, rich or poor, were the same to him. He pleased everybody. He would visit the sick living on the outskirts of the city. He would greet people without waiting for them to greet him first. He said: ‘Exchange greetings, so that you may come to love one another.’ He always smiled at and spoke gently with people. A pleasant smile always hovered on his lips. If someone came to him while he was at Prayer, he would cut it short so as not to keep them waiting and inquire about their situation.

“He was very harmonious in his family life. He would not hurt anyone in his household, and would shower them with tenderness.

“Love and gentleness permeated his whole being. He took pity on those in need. Because he always tried to answer their needs, not much could be found in his household at any time. He would give to whoever asked something. If he didn’t have anything, he would borrow from others and still try to fulfill a need.

“He was very humble. He ate with his servants and conversed with them. He would serve guests himself. He always spoke well of others.

“He was very tenderhearted towards the poor. He always considered it a duty to mend their broken hearts. He loved children. His grandchildren would clamber all over him during Prayer, and he would not say anything. Nor was his love confined to human beings; it extended to animals and indeed, to all beings. He also counseled love for flowers, plants and trees. He promised recompense for anyone who watered a parched tree. As a poet observed: ‘He went to a school where God was the teacher. Accept the summary of words: he was human, but higher than the angels.’“

 His Trustworthiness

“The Prophet was so absolutely dependable in both word and deed,” the sage went on, “that he earned the title ‘the Trustworthy’ among his people long before he received his commission of prophethood. In fact, in his first public appearance as prophet, he stood on a hill and addressed his listeners: ‘If I were to tell you that an army is behind this hill, ready to attack you, would you believe me?’ ‘Yes, we would, for we have never seen you lie,’ they all replied, and among them were the Father of Ignorance and the Father of Flame, who later became archenemies of the Prophet.”

“Yet they still didn’t believe his message?”

“Unfortunately, no. Such is the way with all prophets: Pharaoh and his henchmen didn’t believe in Moses, few of his contemporaries believed in Jesus, and, naturally, not everyone believed in Mohammed.

“Later on, the Prophet was sending letters to the political leaders of his time, inviting them to join the new religion. He sent one such letter to the Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius, who summoned one of the greatest enemies of the Prophet to discuss the matter. This man confirmed that the Prophet had never been known to lie. Heraclius then made a very wise observation: ‘It is unthinkable,’ he remarked, ‘that a man should refrain from lying for so long and yet lie against God.’ In addition, it is nothing short of amazing that the Prophet was so truthful that even his greatest enemies could not lie against him.”

“That certainly is interesting,” remarked the student.

“A saying of the Prophet enjoins truthfulness on his followers:

‘Promise me regarding six points, and I promise you Paradise:

1. When you speak, speak the truth.

2. When you make a promise, fulfill it.

3. When something is entrusted to you, be trustworthy.

4. Guard your private parts.

5. Shut your eyes to what is Forbidden.

6. Keep your hands away from what is Forbidden.’

 

“Once, the Prophet saw a woman call her child: ‘See what I’m going to give you,’ said she. ‘What are you going to give him?’ he asked. ‘A few dates,’ she replied. ‘If you weren’t going to give him anything, you would have been telling a lie,’ he remarked. One had to be truthful, even to a child or an animal.”

The disciple said nothing, but his demeanor showed that he was impressed.

His Tolerance

“Was he a tolerant person?” he asked.

“Well, look at it this way,” said the sage. “Noah placed a curse on his people that resulted in the Flood. Moses did not save Pharaoh when the Red Sea closed upon him, even though Pharaoh repented, accepted faith in God, and called for help in his last moments. Even the gentle Jesus sometimes railed against ‘fools, hypocrites, serpents, generations of vipers.’

“Contrast this now with the conduct of the Prophet, who went to Taif to seek help, and was insulted and driven away with sticks and stones by an angry mob. His adopted son tried to shield him, but he was nevertheless bloodied all over by stones that struck home. At that moment the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him, and said: ‘If you so desire, I will lay waste to this town.’ ‘No,’ came the Prophet’s reply, ‘that’s not what I’ve been sent for.’ And he took refuge in God’s mercy with a prayer.

“A woman on the side of the enemy once tried to poison him, but he forgave her. The only thing he found intolerable was high treason in wartime.

“And at the Battle of Uhud, when the Prophet’s followers suffered a temporary defeat, the Prophet’s life was in danger, and he was hit with a rock that pierced his cheek and knocked out a tooth. Even then, he prayed to his Lord: ‘Forgive my people, for they do not know.’

“Why, that’s just like Jesus!” the student exclaimed.

“Of course,” said the sage, “but there’s more to come.

“The woman Hind and her prosperous husband were sworn enemies of the Prophet. When Hamza, one of the Prophet’s uncles, slew her uncle and delivered the death-blow to her father in the first great battle between the Prophet and his opponents, the fiery Hind swore revenge, promising to eat Hamza’s liver raw.

“Accordingly she enlisted the help of Savage, an Abyssinian slave and expert lancer, promising him his freedom and other rewards. At the next battle, Savage stalked Hamza and, seeing his opportunity, hurled his lance. Hamza fell, dead. When the battle was over, Savage went over to Hamza’s body and, on Hind’s instructions, ripped open his belly, cut out his liver and brought it to Hind. She took it, bit away a piece, chewed it, swallowed a morsel in fulfillment of her vow and spat out the rest. He then led her to the body, where she cut off his nose, ears and other parts of his flesh, telling the women around her to mutilate other bodies.”

The disciple’s revulsion was evident in his face.

“When the Prophet saw the remains of his uncle, he was angry as he had never been before. And if he had wished to avenge himself for any wrong, this barbarous act would have been it. Yet when he entered Mecca in triumph, he asked his enemies, among whom were Hind and Savage: ‘What do you expect of me?’ They replied that they expected mercy of him. He then spoke to them in words of forgiveness, as Joseph had done to his brothers long ago in Egypt: ‘Verily I say as my brother Joseph said: “This day you will not be upbraided or reproached. God forgives you, and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful” (12:92). You may go, you are all free.’ When he saw Savage later on, he asked him to recount the details, and when he was finished, said: ‘Alas, take your face from me, don’t let me look upon you again.’ And with these words he set him free. It was never his way to reward evil with evil.”

“How did he treat people who made gross mistakes?” the student asked.

“Well,” said the sage, “consider the following episode: The first mosque in Medina had no roof. One day there was a great commotion in the mosque. Everybody was in an uproar. When the Prophet emerged from his home to investigate, he discovered that an ignorant and boorish follower had urinated in the mosque. Everyone was furious, and the man was trying to defend himself on the grounds that the hot sun would soon dry away the puddle.

“At this juncture we should remember that excrement of any kind is considered foul in Islam, and that even the tiniest drop of urine must be washed away from one’s clothes. A saying attributed to the Prophet states: ‘Cleanliness derives from faith.’ Urinating in a place reserved for God and worship is thus tantamount to sacrilege.

“Far from berating the man, however, the Prophet explained to the Companions that he didn’t know any better. ‘He doesn’t know,’ he said, ‘and this indicates his need to learn. Teach him, tell him, don’t shout at him. Make things easy, not difficult.’ Then, according to one account, the Prophet had some water brought in. He prevented others who wanted to clean up the mess. ‘This is my task,’ he said. And with his own hands, he washed the mosque clean without a bad word or complaint.”

“With his own hands,” murmured the disciple.

“On another occasion this same man said to the Prophet: ‘May God place just you and me in His Paradise, and exclude everyone else.’ ‘What a pity,’ the Prophet observed, ‘that you’ve confined such limitless mercy to such a small circle.’“

“How did he tolerate his enemies?”

“One of the archenemies of the Prophet was a powerful and wealthy man nicknamed ‘the Father of Ignorance’, whom everyone feared because of his ruthlessness. He thought the Prophet was a dangerous sorcerer. Once, he chanced upon the Prophet when he was alone at the Holy Sanctuary in Mecca, and could not resist the chance to make clear that he, at least, was not overawed. So he proceeded to insult him with all the abuse he could muster, but the Prophet never said a word, and just looked at him. When he had heaped on him all the insults he could think of, he went his way, and the Prophet sadly rose to his feet and went home.”

 

His Compassion

“Now the story is told,” continued the master, “that the Father of Ignorance, in his extreme hatred, once dug a wide manhole in a street where the Prophet often passed, filled it with filth, covered it with branches and proceeded to wait. His idea was that the Prophet would fall into the hole, emerge covered with piss and dung, and thus be humiliated. When he heard shouts that the Prophet was coming, he rushed to witness the spectacle; in his excitement tripped, however, and fell into the very hole he had intended for the Prophet. When the Prophet came upon him, and saw him standing in the filth in a dazed sort of way, he understood immediately what had happened. Without a word he reached out his hand, pulled him out of the slime, cleaned him with his own hands as best he could, and gave him his cloak to cover himself until he got home, saying merely: ‘Don’t do it again.’ ‘Falling into a hole (trap) of his own making,’ an expression famous in the Middle East, derives from this event.

“The Prophet and his Companions had returned to Medina after a battle with many casualties. The next day, after the morning Prayer and the funeral Prayer for their dead, the Prophet asked: ‘Suppose after a battle you are walking through the battlefield, and see a wounded Companion and a wounded enemy soldier not far away. Both are in need of water, and you have some water with you. Whom would you give it to?’

“The Companions all said they would give it to their friend. Omar, however, intervened: ‘God and His Messenger know best,’ he said. ‘What do you suggest?’

“‘I would give half the water to our man and the other half to the enemy soldier,’ the Prophet replied, ‘no matter how much or how little water is available.’ The Companions were all surprised at this answer. ‘How can this be?’ they asked.

“The Prophet explained: ‘The situation is different under those circumstances. The other person is no longer an enemy soldier, but a wounded, thirsty man, a human being in need. It doesn’t matter if he gets up and resumes fighting against us afterwards, it is incumbent on us to share the water between the two.’

“This illustrates the attribute of Compassion, which rules for all beings simply by virtue of the fact that they exist, regardless of anything else. The Prophet used to tell the story of a whore who gained Paradise because she saw a dog dying of thirst one day, fashioned a rope out of her dress, tied her shoe to it, lowered the shoe into a well, and saved the dog with the water she drew out. He also told a complementary story of a woman who went to Hell because she was cruel to her cat and starved it to death.”

The disciple shook his head in amazement. “You’re telling me things I’ve never heard before,” he said. “How come I haven’t heard any of this?”

“Perhaps,” the sage replied gently, “because you haven’t met anyone who could tell you about them.”

His Mercy

“God addresses his Messenger in the Koran: ‘I did not send you except as a mercy to the worlds,’ and indeed the Prophet was the most merciful of men. He himself once remarked: ‘I have been sent as a mercy, not as a bringer of curses.’

“During one of their encampments, a Companion brought in a fledgling he had caught. One of the parent birds came and threw itself into his hands. Men’s faces were full of wonder, and the Prophet said: ‘Do you wonder at this bird? You have taken its young, and it has thrown itself down in merciful tenderness to its young. Yet I swear by God, your Lord is more merciful to you than this bird is to its fledgling.’ And he told the man to put back the young bird where he had found it.

“On another occasion, a snake emerged from the rocks when he was at Mina. The Companions all fell upon it, but the snake managed to escape. The Prophet, who was watching from a distance, remarked: ‘You’re now free of its harm, and it is free of yours.’

“A poet had strenuously rejected the new religion and had written vilifying verses against the Prophet. In return, a warrant was out for his head. But his brother persuaded him to go to the Prophet and ask forgiveness, for he would not kill anyone who came to him in repentance. The poet therefore went to the Prophet and, without revealing who he was, asked him whether he would receive the poet if he were to bring the repenting poet to the Prophet. When the Prophet said he would, he revealed who he was, and the Prophet stopped angry Companions from harming him, saying: ‘He has come in repentance, and is no longer what he used to be.’

“When the Prophet’s little son was dying, he was by his side. As the child breathed his last, the Prophet took him in his arms, and tears flowed from his eyes. Since he had forbidden wailing, people thought that all expression of grief was to be denied, and hence a Companion addressed him: ‘This is what you have forbidden. When Moslems see you weeping, they too will weep.’ The Prophet continued to weep, and when he could find his voice he said: ‘This I don’t forbid. These are the promptings of tenderness and mercy, and he who shows no mercy will receive no mercy... The eye weeps, the heart grieves, nor do we say anything that would offend the Lord.’

“A man, seeing the Prophet frolic with his little grandsons on his lap, remarked: ‘I have ten children, yet I haven’t ever kissed one of them.’ The Prophet, who was an orphan twice over and had lost his closest kin while only a child, retorted: ‘What can I do if God has removed mercy from your heart?’“

 

His Intelligence

“All prophets are gifted with innate genius,” continued the sage, “and the Prophet was the most accomplished of them all. When he was young, the tribes of Mecca were repairing the Holy Kaaba (“Cube”),[14] but could not agree among themselves as to which tribe should have the honor of lifting the Black Stone—the cornerstone—into place. Things were getting out of hand, and they finally decided to appoint the first person entering the Holy Sanctuary as arbiter between them. This happened to be Mohammed. When the situation was explained to him, he told them to place the Black Stone in the center of a large piece of cloth. A representative of each tribe would hold the cloth on one side, and they would lift it collectively. When this was done, the future Prophet took the Black Stone and placed it in its niché himself.”

“Isn’t that clever,” the student thought. Aloud, he said: “was the Prophet a man of reason?”

“Certainly,” said the sage. “Common sense played a great part in the Prophet’s deeds and advice. Once, a Companion came in from outdoors, and the Prophet asked him what he had done with his camel. ‘I entrusted it to God,’ the man said, implying that he had left the camel free to wander. The Prophet disapproved. ‘First tether your camel to a secure post, then trust in God,’ he said. Obviously, this is meant not just for camels, but indicates the need to take precautions so that the desired results may be obtained in any enterprise.”

“What a vast generalization from the simplest of examples,” the student marveled. “Such an economy of words to describe a vast domain of experience.”

His Love of Work

“The Prophet was extremely industrious,” resumed the sage, “and when on a task he worked harder than anyone else. Such was the case, for example, when a ditch was being dug for the defense of Medina. During expeditions the Prophet would gather firewood just like anyone else, in spite of the fact that his Companions tried to prevent him from menial labor.

“Once, the Prophet and an entourage of Companions were going somewhere. On their way they came upon a man who was sitting on the ground, doing nothing. The Prophet passed by him without a greeting. On their way back, they passed by the same man, who by this time had picked up a stick and was idly drawing figures on the ground. This time the Prophet greeted him. The people who were with him inquired why he had not greeted the man the first time around but had done so on the second. ‘The first time he wasn’t doing anything,’ the Prophet replied. ‘The second time around, at least he was doing something.’“

His Attitude to the Poor

“The Prophet always befriended the poor, and tried to help them out as best he could. A part of one of the long collonades in the Medina mosque was reserved for the homeless and destitute, and because of a bench reserved for them they were called ‘the People of the Bench’. The Prophet spent time with the poor whenever he could, listening to their troubles and devising solutions. Whenever there was a food shortage, as there often was, he used to say: ‘The food of one is enough for two, the food of two is enough for four, and the food of four is enough for eight.’“

His Resolve

“At an early stage of his career, the vested interests of Mecca tried to discourage the Prophet and buy him off. They summoned his beloved uncle, under whose protection he was, and told him: ‘If it is riches your nephew is after, we will make him the richest man in Mecca. If it is power he wants, we will give him leadership. If it is women, he can take his pick. Anything, so long as he desists from this newfangled religion of his. Otherwise, we cannot guarantee his safety.’

“When his uncle told him that the rulers of Mecca had sent him a message, the Prophet was at first overjoyed, thinking that this signified their acceptance of God’s religion. Imagine the letdown he suffered when he learned the truth. The worst came, however, when his uncle said: ‘I cannot safeguard you unless you accept their terms.’

“The Prophet took a few moments to adjust to the blow. Then he said: ‘Uncle, hear me well, and relate to them exactly what I say. If they were to put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I still would not turn back from my path.’ Having said this, he stepped out into the clean night air, and broke down. ‘If you do not protect your religion, my Lord, what can I do?’ he implored.

“And at that moment, God’s mercy reached out and touched his uncle’s heart. ‘I cannot leave my nephew to the mercy of these cynics,’ he thought. He stepped out and assured the Prophet that he would stand by him through thick or thin. And the two were reunited in tears.”

His Patience

“Once his protecting uncle was dead,” the sage continued after a pause, “control passed over to another uncle who was inimical and who is referred to by his nickname ‘the Father of Flame’. The protection he gave his nephew was a sham, and the Prophet was subjected to ridicule and humiliation as never before, which he met with uncommon forbearance. On one occasion a passer-by leaned over his gate and tossed a piece of putrefying offal in his cooking-pot. On another, a man threw a sheep’s uterus, filthy with blood and excrement, over his neck when he was praying in the courtyard of his house. In response, the Prophet merely picked up the object on the end of a stick and, standing at his gate, loudly inquired what kind of protection this was.

“At another time, when the Prophet was coming from the Kaaba, a man took a handful of filth and threw it in his face and over his head. When he came home, one of his daughters washed him clean, crying as she did so. ‘Don’t cry, dear,’ he said; ‘God will protect your father.’“

“What they did was terrible,” said the disciple.

“It certainly was,” the master replied. “The Prophet didn’t fight those battles for nothing. Besides, I’m not even telling you about how his followers were persecuted.”

His Temperance

“A wife’s uncle once came to the Prophet, and asked permission to make himself a eunuch and spend the rest of his life as a wandering beggar. Alhough he was married, he had been an ascetic before the revelation of Islam.

“‘Don’t you have a fair example in me?’ asked the Prophet. ‘I associate with women, I eat meat, I fast and I break my fast. Whoever makes himself or other men eunuchs does not belong to my people.’ However, the Prophet had reason to believe that he was not fully understood, so on another occasion he asked him the same question, adding: ‘You fast every day, and keep vigil every night in prayer. Don’t do so. For your eyes have rights over you, and your body has its rights, and your family have their rights. So pray, and sleep, and fast, and break your fast.’

“At another time, three Companions were vying with each other. One claimed that he fasted all the time, the second that he spent the nights without sleep, and the third said that he did not approach women. When the Prophet heard this, he said: ‘This is not my way. I fast on some days and eat on others, I stay awake sometimes but I sleep, too, and I am married.’ And he added the rejoinder: ‘Beware of excess in your religion.’ Moderation was always his motto.”

His Generosity

“One of the Companions had a camel which was old and weak, and he could not afford a better one. The Prophet asked him: ‘Will you sell me this camel of yours?’ He answered: ‘I will give it to you.’ ‘No,’ the Prophet said, ‘sell it to me.’ He understood from the Prophet’s tone that he was expected to bargain, so they bargained until the price was raised to an ounce of gold. When he brought the camel to the Prophet, he was given a bit more than an ounce, and as he turned to go, the Prophet called him back. ‘Take your camel,’ he said. ‘It is yours, and keep the price you were paid for it.’

“A Bedouin came and asked the Prophet to give him something. The Prophet did so. A second request was again met. Since the Prophet had nothing left to give, on the third request he promised he would give the first chance he got. Omar was disturbed by this, and commented: ‘You shouldn’t trouble yourself so much.’ These words, however, displeased the Messenger of God. Sensing this, a Companion rose and said: ‘Give, don’t think that God will make you poor and remove His bounty from you.’ ‘This,’ replied the Prophet, ‘is what I’ve been ordered to do.’ An unbeliever, overwhelmed by the generosity of the Prophet, once similarly remarked: ‘My people, rush to enter Islam. Mohammed gives in such a manner that only a person who doesn’t fear poverty and trusts in God completely can give in this way.’“

His Humility

“The Prophet used to rest on a bare straw mat. Once, a woman brought him a present, a kind of cushion that was a bit—if not much—more comfortable. When he saw it, the Prophet instructed his wife to give it back. ‘If I had wished,’ he said, ‘God would have caused mountains of gold and silver to walk by my side; but I don’t want it.’ And he once addressed a man trembling in awe of him: ‘My brother, do not fear me. Like you, I am a human being, whose mother broke dry bread.’

“Sometimes the Prophet would pray until morning, or stand in Prayer until his feet were all blisters. Once, he was asked: ‘God has forgiven you everything. Why do you exert yourself so much?’ He answered: ‘Then shouldn’t I be a thanksgiving servant?’

“On another occasion, he was warning his followers never to be sure of their fate and always to strive diligently. ‘How about you?’ they asked. ‘For me it’s the same,’ he replied. They were taken aback. ‘How can that be?’ they asked. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I am the Messenger of God, and God has vouchsafed everything to me, yet even I can’t be sure what my end will be.’“

“So humble, too,” the student thought to himself.

“It was not his desire to become a ruler. When circumstances forced him to act as one, he was the epitome of Plato’s ‘philosopher king’, or Nietzsche’s ‘Caesar—with the heart of Christ’.

“Humility and simplicity were the essence of his morality. He used to tell his Companions: ‘Don’t praise me excessively like Christians have done with Jesus. I am a servant of God. Just call me God’s servant and Messenger.’

“Once, leaning on his staff, he came upon his Companions. They all stood up immediately. He didn’t like this, however, and said: ‘Don’t stand up for me like strangers do who wish to show respect for each other.’“

His Companions

“One great advantage Mohammed had over Jesus,” the sage went on to explain, “was the impeccable nature of his Companions. Jesus’ disciples betrayed him or deserted him at the critical moment. Mohammed’s Companions, on the other hand, formed a ‘wall of flesh’, as it were, whenever their Beloved Prophet was threatened. This cannot be attributed to coincidence, and is indicative of Divine protection—it points to the intention of Providence to make sure that the Prophet and his message would survive. One of his enemies once remarked: ‘No father loves his son as much as his Companions love Mohammed.’ And one of their ambassadors remarked when he returned to Mecca: ‘I have been sent as envoy to kings—to Caesar and Chosroes and the Negus—and I have not seen a king whose men honor him as much as the Companions of Mohammed honor Mohammed. If he commands anything, they almost outstrip his word in fulfilling it; when he performs his ablution, they almost fight to take away its water; when he speaks, their voices are hushed in his presence; nor will they look him fully in the face, but lower their eyes in reverence for him.’

“It was his Companions, too, who bore the burden of faithfully recording the Koran and the Prophet’s Way and successfully transmitting them to later generations, not only in word but in deed. It is for this reason that he remarked: ‘My Companions are like the fixed stars in the night sky. Follow any one of them, and you will be rightly guided.’“

Epilogue

The seeker looked despondent. “What you’ve been telling me, sir,” he protested, “is just too good to be true. How can anyone ever hope to emulate such an example successfully?”

The sage laughed. “Cheer up, son,” he said. “The burden is light. The Prophet’s religion is the easiest to perform. There’s nothing in it that an average adolescent can’t learn or practice. And while the Prophet’s example may be unattainable, we’re not all called upon to be him.

“But if you would aspire to approach him, to be like him, then you’re talking about sainthood. And this has been eased so much nowadays that only a little sincere effort is enough to accomplish a lot.

“Ibrahim Adham was a sultan, but he had to forsake all he possessed in order to become a saint. In a later age, Gilani, the great sage, remarked: ‘Had he lived today, we would have made him a saint in any case. He wouldn’t have had to renounce his kingdom.’

“The main point in sainthood is self-control. That’s how the Prophet achieved what he did. His Companions would ask: ‘Don’t you have a self, an ego?’ And he would answer: ‘Of course I do. As a matter of fact, mine is greater and worse than any of yours. But I’ve made it surrender to God’—succeeded, that is, in making it a Moslem.”

The student fidgeted in his seat. “I beg your pardon ever so much, sir,” he said, but can’t we possibly do without the God concept? Because I think that’s what this is all leading up to.”

“I’m afraid we can’t,” was the master’s reply. “The existence of God is the central fact about the universe. That’s why almost all religions have emphasized it so much. Ultimate, or Absolute, Reality had a reason for spawning relative, conditioned reality. God created the universe and man for a purpose, and unless we act in accordance with that purpose, we can never achieve lasting happiness. We will then be tossed to and fro like driftwood on the high seas.

“Furthermore, God is Compassionate and All-forgiving, but there is one thing He won’t forgive: associating partners with Him. If He won’t stand for transgressions against His Unity, think how much worse it must be to reduce that Unity to zero in one’s mind.

“Let me just quote you a passage from The Upanishads: ‘If you think you know the truth about Brahman, know that you know little.’“

“Brahman?”

“‘Truth is One, yet the sages call it by many names.’“

“There’s another thing,” the student said. “I still can’t swallow this bit about the afterlife and Heaven and Hell.”

“My boy,” said the sage, “it doesn’t matter whether you accept a fact or not. A fact is a fact, and will make itself known as such in its own due time. We can only inquire why God created Heaven and Hell. In Sufism we have a saying: ‘The disciple should always be between hope and fear.’ He will be attracted by hope and repelled by fear, and this will aid his spiritual ascent. Just as we can’t have electric current without positive and negative poles, and as we can’t have magnetism without the N and S poles, so we can’t obtain spiritual evolution without the twin poles of hope and fear. There’s an adage in English that summarizes things beautifully: ‘We promise according to our hopes, but perform according to our fears.’ In other words: no fear, no performance. On the other hand, fear without hope leads to paralysis and despair, so hope is needed, too.

It’s all right to dwell on the Blissful Aspect (Beauty) of God, on Love and Compassion and Mercy, but you’ll watch your step only if you bear in mind that He has a Wrathful Aspect (Majesty), too. The combination of the Blissful and the Wrathful makes for maturity or Perfection. Fear of God leads us to obey His laws, and obeying His laws inspires love for God in our hearts. In other words, if God’s commandments are obeyed, they lead to the love of God. The proper destiny of man takes him from earth and leads him to Heaven, but if one isn’t careful one can easily find that one has landed in ‘the other place’. So care and caution are necessary.

“An uneducated man came to the Prophet of God one day, and the Prophet assigned him a teacher who would teach him the Koran. They studied for a long time, until they came to the verses: ‘He who does a particle of good shall see its recompense, and he who does a particle of evil shall see its recompense’ (99:7-8). ‘That’s it!’ the man exclaimed. “That’s all the information I need.’ His teacher was rather taken aback; they had much more studying to do. So they decided to take the matter to the Prophet. The man said: ‘I am an illiterate man, and I don’t have much time for studies. Is it okay if I act by these verses and skip the rest?’ The Prophet confirmed this, and the man went his way.

“That, in a nutshell, is the reason for Heaven and Hell. And the man was a wise one indeed, for it is the quintessential wisdom of all the prophets and sages: ‘Whatever you do, you do to yourself.’ ‘As you sow, so shall you reap,’ and that is why you must ‘do as you would be done by.’ ‘That is all you know on earth, and all you need to know,’ as Keats might have put it. But beyond this first and foremost principle, there are also many other details to be known, and we could never have discovered or fathomed them if God hadn’t revealed them to us through the prophets.”

The student scratched his head. “I don’t get it, sir,” he said. “What’s your angle? I mean, there are so many different versions of Islam today. Which one do you profess to?”

“My son,” said the sage, “before all the interpretations of Islam; long before the twelve major dervish orders, the countless sects, the four schools of law; before Sunnism or Shi’ism or Sufism or anything else; before, indeed, the Prophet’s death or even his Emigration to Medina, there was the pure, crystal-clear teaching of Mohammed. It is that which is important above all else, although you shouldn’t deny yourself the developments of later generations. For they are the fruit of the seed that the Prophet planted; they make explicit what was latent in his teachings. It is Mohammedanism, leading a Mohammedan life, that is all-important. Of course, in saying this I don’t intend or imply a deification of Mohammed. What I have in mind is the emulation of Mohammed’s example in one’s daily life. Mark my words: Mohammed is not only the Prophet of Moslems, but of all humanity; and the Koran is not just the book of Islam, but of all mankind.

“What you and I are doing is,” he continued, “we’re taking a time tunnel back to the age of the Prophet. Or maybe”—and here he smiled enigmatically—”the Prophet is taking a time tunnel to our age.”

The student sighed. “What a pity,” he said, “that we can’t witness Mohammed today. Those who lived in his time were the really lucky ones.”

“My son,” the sage replied, “allow me to let you in on a little secret. Mohammed’s corporeal life has indeed passed away, and there’s nothing we can do about that. But his spirit survives on another plane of existence, where it is still accessible to those who ardently desire to meet him. May God grant that you and I be lucky enough to be graced with a vision of him on that plane.”

And with that remark, he ended his words.

 

WHAT DOES “ISLAM” MEAN?

In order to avoid misunderstandings, it is perhaps worthwhile to look at the meaning of the word “Islam”.

“Islam” means “surrendering to and obeying” God. But the full meaning of the word can only be brought out by looking at the other words deriving from the same root, SLM. For in Arabic, words from the same root possess meanings that complement and complete one another. For this reason, they constitute a constellation centered around that root and are “nearest neighbors” or “relatives”—the offspring of that root, as it were. Hence, in order to fully understand a word, all the words to which it is related via its root should be consulted—it is through them that the word gains dimension and depth. This is one of the reasons why the Koran can never be translated fully into other languages—that language would have to map the constellations of words and concepts exactly, and this is impossible for any language other than Arabic itself.

 Moslem or muslim means a person who has surrendered, who obeys God and His commandments. Taslim means surrendering, and also “giving the trust to the right place, to be safe from disasters and calamities.” Salaama is “safety, security, wholeness, perfection, to be free from fears and anxiety, salvation, liberation, and happy outcome.”

Similarly, salaam is “peace, comfort, auspicious results, freedom from mortality, friendship.” To salaam, i.e. salute, a person is to wish him well, to wish peace, comfort and completeness (shedding faults and attaining perfection) on him. The Koran speaks of Paradise as Dar as-salaam, or “the Abode of Peace.”

Salim bears the meaning of “firm, complete, fearless, secure, trusted, completed, fortified,” as well as “strong, perfect, true.” Aql as-salim is “common sense, wisdom, sound judgment, right and balanced thinking.”

Sullam, again from the same root, is synonymous with miraj (ascension, ladder), and its meaning of “staircase” points to the method that purifies and elevates man, that exalts him and leads him upwards to Truth. Musallam is “that which has no doubt, whose truth and rightness is acknowledged by everyone.”

Musalama is “to be in peace, peacefulness, tranquillity, to be gentle, well-tempered and compassionate.” These attributes summarize the Way of the Prophet, and point to the adoption of Mohammedan morals by Moslems.

Taslim and tawaqqul (trust in God) have been traditionally misunderstood in many cases. It has become a habit to use these as excuses for laziness and a blind fatalism. But these words were never intended to mean sloth, lethargy, or surrender to the caprices of our ego and obedience to the devil. Rather, they signify living in harmony with the laws of the universe which are the commandments of God, and acting in accordance with them. They mean not to force, not to use force, not to violate the unfolding of the universe by opposing its flow. More clearly, they imply that man should not try to force or bend the laws of the universe for his own self-interest, and should revise—or transform—his relationship with the universe and its Creator from being one of egotistical benefit into a relationship of wonder, admiration, and love.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this constellation of words associated with Islam. For they provide us with the key to the most realistic assessment of what Islam is and is not. We can obtain the shortest and closest approach to the truth and living essence of Islam by examining their content.

To summarize the details given above, to be a Moslemthe one who lives ‘Islam’is to achieve tranquillity, peace, security and happiness; to be well-mannered and to possess splendid moral conduct; to attain perfection, liberation and fulfillment by purifying oneself and unification. It also expresses the path—the truth and rightness of which is beyond doubt—that leads to these goals.

 

A FAITH FOR ALL SEASONS

 

“There is only one religion on earth,” said George Bernard Shaw, “but there are a hundred versions of it.” William Blake was of the same opinion: “All religions are one.”

Islam claims to be that archetypal religion. Many of the prophets mentioned in the Koran are referred to as “Moslems,” which means that the prophets of earlier religions submitted to God, the One and the same God, even though the religious precepts revealed to them were different—localized rather than universal. Adam, the first man, was also the first prophet and the first to embrace Islam (“submission to God”).

In time, however, the teachings of the earlier prophets became both obsolete, because the times and circumstances for which they were valid were superseded; and corrupted, because the original teachings were unable to survive untampered. As people mistook the manifold attributes of God for God Himself, they began to call these attributes “gods,” thus slipping from monotheism into polytheism. Entropy is a cosmic law ordained by God, and human affairs are not exempt from it. Thus, a degeneration occurred that necessitated the renewal of true religion from time to time. This reiteration was performed by the prophets.

Finally, God sent the perfect religion that is valid for all mankind as long as it exists: they are coterminous. He chose Mohammed as the vehicle for conveying this religion. As the Prophet remarked: “I was sent to complete admirable conduct.” Islam was not different from all the other true religions, as is evidenced by its acceptance of all earlier prophets, such as Moses and Jesus; it was merely their most mature, most perfected and streamlined form. For example, just as Christianity was a continuation and—in certain respects—a consummation of Judaism, Islam is a continuation and consummation of both Judaism and Christianity. Similarly, it is an extension of and improvement upon Buddhism, and so on. And although the earlier religions were tribal and local, addressing a small part of mankind for a restricted period of time, Islam was intended by God to be truly universal—as valid for an American, say, of the 20th century, or an astronaut of the 25th century, as it was for the little Arabic community to which it was revealed 14 centuries ago. God has made this unmistakably clear by the following verse: “Today I have perfected your religion over you” (5:3).

Although God, having revealed the final and most perfect religion, has abrogated all earlier manifestations of religious devotion—and in this sense other religions will not be accepted by God—Moslems recognize that it is part of the divine purpose to maintain diverse religious communities in coexistence. Because: “We would have created you in one faith if We had so desired,” God states in the Koran (5:48, 10:99, 11:118); “We made you of diverse faiths so that you might get to know each other” (49:13). Ultimately, the decision to enter Islam is a private, individual choice, made on one’s own free will after proper investigation. But Islam recognizes in all religions its earlier forms, its predecessors, its ancestors. And this is why Islam is the “religion for all seasons:” it encompasses and embraces all earlier religions and traditions, because they are its own. Nevertheless, Moslems also reserve the right to point out their errors in cases where they have strayed from the true path, since it is the most developed version of the best aspects of all religions. In our age, when a truly universal community is needed to unite the “global village,” A truly Islamic society is characterized by its tolerance for other faiths and its acceptance of diversity, testified to by the history of Islam which spans fourteen centuries.

Entry to the religion of Islam is extremely easy. One need only repeat the Word of Witnessing (Kalima al-Shahada) or the Word of Unification (or Unity) (Kalima at-Tawhid ).

The Word of Witnessing is: “I bear witness that there is no god but God, and that Mohammed is His servant and Messenger.”

The Word of Unification is: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is His Messenger.”

Anyone repeating these Words (especially the first) wholeheartedly and with a sincere belief will enter Islam.

Let us pause for a moment to ponder what their recitation entails.

1

. The first part of both formulas is the faith of monotheism: there is only One True God, the Lord of all Being.

In ancient times, people used to worship stones, trees and many other deities. They idolized these objects; that is, they attributed to them properties superior to what they intrinsically possessed. They projected upon them godlike attributes, and from this it followed that obeisance was owed these objects. The thesis of monotheism, on the other hand, was that only the supreme power, the Creator of the Universe, deserved the unconditional allegiance and worship of man.

We are very far from such a primitive mentality today. Nobody in this age would worship the sun or the moon or a piece of stone. Our emancipation and sophistication, however, has blinded us to certain facts, and has led us to underestimate the power with which the human psyche tends to deify entitites.

The truth is that even in this day and age, we tend to ascribe overimportance to things, to invest them with a significance which they do not possess. This deification is all the more insidious because it is largely subconscious and so goes unnoticed. We may not worship a piece of wood, but we have our own idols and bogeymen that hold comparable sway over our thought processes.

In order to bring to light what is involved here, it is necessary to make the following definition: Anything which a person loves in excess and/or fears in excess is that person’s god, or idol. (This also includes attribution of power to that thing.)

When considered in terms of this definition, it will easily be seen that even the most confirmed atheist might well be, in real life, a polytheist or idolater.

Love and fear are two basic components of the human psyche. But it is also true that we love certain things more than others, and fear certain things more than others.

Even if you believe in One God, if you love or fear something more than Him, that thing is your god. That is, you are setting up another god, you are associating a partner, with God. If you do not believe in God, your deification is all the more total and indefensible.

Looked at in this light, it at once becomes apparent that we all pay allegiance to various pantheons of idols.

The movie star, the rock star, the football player or the political figure to whom we are overly attached may all be considered our gods, a fact recognized even in common speech where such persons are referred to as “idols.”

A man may be so deeply in love with a woman that he “worships” her. A person who washes and polishes his car excessively is, without realizing it, “deifying” his car. At the very least, he is making a fetish out of it, which is already in the realm of the sacred. Another who has a great fear of his boss, or his debtor, or the local bully, has unconsciously taken these as idols.

In this sense, almost anything can serve as a deity: money, science, a work of art, alcohol, political power, sex, oneself, one’s reason, or even one’s TV set, to name but a few. These are all false gods, however; they usurp our devotion without being worthy of it.

All this goes to show that if you do not worship the sun, the moon or the stars, you are not automatically disqualified from idolatry or polytheism. In fact, there are indications that ancient and primitive peoples understood this broader definition of a god quite well; they were just more prosaic in their choice of idols.

Now the basic tenet of monotheism in the face of all this is that there is only one Being worthy of such adoration and fear, who commands man’s absolute allegiance and respect; and that is the One and only True God, the Creator of the Universe and everything that is in it.

Another danger is that even though we believe in God, we might show excessive reverence to something that we fancy will draw us close to Him. This may be an icon, an object, an angel, or a human being. All of these have their proper place; it is only when we go too far that we run the risk of associationism.

We should, in that case, avoid associating anything with God. We should dissociate Him from and glorify Him above everything else, for He is so far beyond all finite things, no matter how great, that He simply does not bear comparison with any of them.

This, then, is the meaning of “There is no god but God,” and from what has been said it can be seen that it is as valid a claim in our modern age as it was in ancient times, for it is timeless.

 

2

. This claim, however, is equally the profession of a Jew or a Christian, who also believe “there is no god but God.” The second part of the formulas is exclusive to the Moslem: “Mohammed is the Messenger of God.”

Now what do we mean by this?

This means that we accept Mohammed as the true guide, exponent and conveyor of religious knowledge. It means that we willingly accept—and undertake to carry out—all the commandments and prohibitions of God as revealed through His Prophet.

These two formulas (the two Words), then, constitute a pact, a covenant (the final covenant, in fact) between man and God. It means that we accept the Koran, as revealed to Mohammed via the angel Gabriel, and the Prophet’s additional explanations, advice, and example (his Way, or Sunnah) not contained explicitly in the Koran.

The latter, though not included in the Koran, have come from the same blessed mouth that delivered the Koran. If we accept the veracity of the latter, we are duty-bound to do the same for the former, provided it is an established fact that a certain word has issued from him. Such sayings (hadith) of the Prophet are called Traditions.

The Koran itself testifies to the absolute trustworthiness of the Prophet: “He does not utter anything of his own accord” (53:4); “Take what the Prophet gives you, and beware what he prohibits” (59:7); “If you love God, love and obey [His Prophet], and then God will love you” (3:31); “You have a good example in the Messenger of God” (33:21).

Indeed, Islam rests on two legs that are inseparable: the Koran, and the Way of the Prophet. And just as the Koran is the constitution for all humanity, the Messenger of God is the prophet of all human beings—though they may not know it.

It has been remarked that there are two versions of the Koran: the first is “the silent Koran,” which is the written Koran we all know. The second, “the Koran that speaks,” is the Prophet himself. For try as we might to fathom certain parts of the Koran and behave accordingly, we cannot do so without the concrete example of the Prophet, of whom his wife Aisha once remarked that “His conduct is the Koran.”[15]

Furthermore, Islam has to be accepted in its totality: “Do you accept a part of the Koran and deny another part?” (2:85) That would be similar to accepting only certain parts of a whole, living person. The living example of the Prophet, therefore, has found divine sanction in the Koran itself, and it is noteworthy that movements which refuse part or all of his Radiant Way have invariably become harsh and intolerant (a prime cause for lamentation in the West), for they thereby unwittingly reject his legendary gentleness and tolerance.

A Universal Faith

Islam is a universal religion: it is not the religion of one nation or race, but the religion for all humanity. Of course, it had to be revealed somewhere on earth, and this happened to be an Arabic community in the 7th century AD. But God has explicitly indicated that henceforth, Islam is to be a religion for all humanity, not for this or that tribe, race or nation. This means that anyone can practice it, anywhere and at anytime, no matter what nation or culture one belongs to.

Care should be taken at this point not to confuse Islam per se with the cultural and historical milieu in which it has traditionally been embedded. With all respect to its birthplace and the noble people who live there, we should be careful to segregate the religion and its precepts from elements of local custom. We cannot all become Arabs or ride on camels, but then Islam does not require us to. What it does is set down precepts that will lead to the present and future happiness of human beings regardless of local color. It is natural that every locality and culture will find its own self-expression. But beyond a plethora of ramifications, the basic rules are what count. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity does not state that everything is relative. It states that there are things and relationships which remain invariant under transformations, and seeks to understand them. In the same way, Islam is invariant and of perennial use to human beings, and should not be confused with the countless individual actualizations which cannot help but differ.

A Churchless Faith

There is no church in Islam, no monkery, and no monasticism. Between a person and God, there stands nothing. Religious scholars may deal with legal or exoteric matters, and spiritual teachers may give esoteric instruction; but they are human beings like ourselves, and do not mediate between God and man. They do not constitute a clergy. No one has the right to come between man and God or to exercise power in God’s name. This is the most intensely private of relationships, and since God has, with this religion, made known to humanity His requirements concerning the most important things, everyone knows what to do without the intermediary of a church. One can be clean and pure and practice one’s faith without a church, for one is accountable to God, and to God alone, who stands in no need of any other representative.

Closely related to this is that Islam does not sacrifice matter for spirit, or vice versa. Both are of equal importance. Both are part of man’s makeup, and man will be crippled if he neglects one side for the sake of the other, just as a bird with only one wing cannot fly. Spiritual advancement does not entail renunciation of the world, nor do worldly possessions—provided we possess them and they don’t possess us—preclude spiritual/afterworldly progress. The two must go together. Extreme asceticism—like all extremes—is exceptional, and not advocated by Islam, which points to the “Middle Way.”

A Religion of Hope

Islam is a religion of hope. Its stance as regards man and universe is basically optimistic. Original Sin, an ineradicable residue of sin that is genetically passed on down the generations, does not exist in Islam.[16] Furthermore, sin and evil do not have the connotations in Islam that they possess in other religions. Sin is not a source of irremediable guilt; it is rather in the nature of faults, errors or mistakes which may issue from a human being as a matter of course—provided, of course, it is not intentional and deliberate. As for evil, this is considered to be badness, rather than a metaphysical entity so exaggerated that it has the power to overcome good. As a matter of fact, unmitigated “evil” as the term is understood in the West does not exist in Islam—the closest term to it would be “ill” (sharr).[17] Badness is entirely manageable in Islam. Even the Devil, who in some religions is powerful enough to rule this world, only has the power to whisper and suggest treachery to those who heed him; beyond this, Satan cannot actually compel us to do anything.

Two sayings of the Prophet will serve to clarify the optimistic position of Islam. “Every child is born a Moslem; it is only afterwards that his parents and environment make him the follower of another religion.” This means that every child is born already saved —not already damned. It is only actions in later life that may cause the fall of a person, who comes into this world pure and untainted. (“Moslem” here means Islamic morality and beautiful conduct, rather than any conscious acknowledgment of Islamic precepts on the part of the child; i.e., Islam is that pureness.)

“Suppose you want to plant a tree, and you know for certain that the End of the World is near (in other words, that that tree has no chance of growing). Nevertheless, go ahead and plant that tree.” This is optimistic: no matter how bad a situation may appear to be, one is encouraged to act with hope. God has declared: “My mercy is greater than My wrath,” and the Prophet has explained: “I was sent as a mercy to the worlds.” No matter how sinful a person may be and how destitute he may feel as a consequence, the door of sincere repentance and the resolve not to consciously repeat a sin will most certainly lead to divine mercy, absolution, and salvation.

A Natural Religion

Islam is a religion tailored to mankind’s needs. It fits Arthur Koestler’s description of “a religion whose content is perennial but not archaic, which provides ethical guidance, teaches the lost art of contemplation, and restores contact with the [divine] without requiring reason to abdicate”. It does not go against the grain, and dovetails with the natural disposition and requirements of human beings. For this reason, it is referred to as “the religion of natural disposition.” (It should not, however, be confused with the historical Deism of Voltaire and Locke, which, in Pascal’s famous phrase, brings the subject up to “the God of the philosophers,” but cannot take the step to “the God of Abraham”. Philosophy might bring us to God’s doorstep by accepting His existence, but we need a revealed religion to pass beyond the threshold and learn anything further.)

A Faith of Compassion

As human beings, we are the stewards and gardeners of creation. Islam requires us to show compassion for the tiniest being, to partake in the attribute of the Merciful (Rahim), of which the counterpart in India is “the Lord looking down in pity” (Avalokiteshvara). There is in Islam something of the Buddhist ideal of the Boddhisatva, who renounces Enlightenment until the liberation of all beings, with the emendation, however, that in order to be able to save someone, one has first to attain salvation oneself—”The candle cannot burn the moth, unless it is first itself on fire,” to use a Sufic expression. Islam is wholeheartedly in agreement with the Buddhistic concept of compassion (karuna).

Islamic Epistemology

Distinction should first be made between exoteric and esoteric knowledge. Exoteric knowledge deals with the outer aspects of things, and esoteric knowledge with the inward.

In Islam, there are two sources of exoteric knowledge: reason (aql ) and transmission (naql ). Hence, we have the rational sciences on the one hand, and the transmitted (or revelatory) sciences on the other. The first are the positive (posit-ive) sciences, such as mathematics, physics and chemistry, which have little if anything to do with religion directly.

Transmittedor normativesciences are those branches of knowledge that do not lend themselves to easy discovery by reason and have to be accepted as revealed; these are the religious sciences such as Koranic exegesis, Prophetic sayings, and code of law (fiqh). Yet even here, there is room for reason to operate.

Reason, or intellect, is one of the greatest gifts God has given to man. Relying on input in the form of impressions or sense-data from the external world, it allows man to reach correct conclusions regarding that world. It enables man to survive therein, to build sciences and civilizations.

Yet there are things which we inevitably accept on hearsay. Science itself is of this nature, for no single human lifetime could suffice to repeat all the experiments of science, or rediscover from scratch the sum total of human knowledge accumulated over thousands of years.

Now this is as true for the religious, or spiritual, sciences as it is for physical science. The question then arises: to what extent should reason be exercised in religious matters, and at what point should one refrain from doing so further?

This subject was much debated in the early period of Islam. The solution that yields the greatest benefit is this: where there is an explicit injunction of the Koran, and/or a reliable precedent of the Prophet, it is useless to argue any further; that line of action should be followed. For instance, if God has commanded us to perform the five daily Prayers, mere reason cannot explain why He has done so, nor why there are five Prayers rather than, say, six. We must take these as given, or received, and continue from there.

Where a parallel can be drawn to a Koranic or Prophetic injunction even if an identical case cannot be found, it is fruitful to do so. Finally, if there is a unanimous consensus within the Islamic community (meaning, in practice, a consensus of the scholars) regarding a certain matter, that should be followed.

As a matter of fact, what has been outlined here is none other than the four foundations of Islamic law (fiqh, meaning “comprehension”): the Koran, the Way, analogy, and consensus.

This is where the Four Schools of Law come in: Islam has enough flexibility to allow a certain latitude in some matters. The four founders of these schools (Shafi’i, Abu Khanifa, ibn Hanbal, Maliq) were all respectful towards one another’s derivations. Yet in the end the schools differ little, and the variations pertain to matters of secondary detail. The Khanifite school is perhaps the most liberal and tolerant of the four.

One can choose to follow any one of these schools, and its deductions and guidelines can be implemented. For anything further, one is free with impunity to employ one’s reason, provided one is sufficiently well-versed and competent to do so.

The important thing is to maintain a fine, healthy balance between reason and transmission, thereby having the best of both worlds and avoiding destructive interference between the two.

In societies where Islam predominated, it was quite natural for people to adopt Islamic law as the legal code governing them. In individual cases, it is up to the individual to adopt a particular school for one’s personal conduct. What should never be forgotten is that the Koran and the Prophet laid down general rules only; their implementation in specific cases is a matter for individual discretion, with the schools providing religious guidance in matters of detail. The Divine Law (sharia) is an individual matter. In societies where the population is predominantly Islamic, people may choose to be governed by an application of Holy Law to the social sphere, in which case the right of religious minorities to be bound by their own religious laws is respected.

As for esoteric knowledge, this lies mainly in the domain of Sufism. It, too, can be divided into two parts:

§ Direct or non-dual (tawhidi: unitary) knowledge: Immediate or sympathetic perception, in which the object-subject distinction is transcended or nullified in some respect. One then knows something in the same way as one knows oneself or part of oneself. Distinct categories that fall under this heading are the inspirational (ilham), revelatory (wahy), intuitive (kashf ) varieties of knowledge, and knowledge gained through veridical dreams.

§ Information or material related to the attainment, realization and states of the first kind of esoteric knowledge.

 

The Five Pillars of Islam

 

Once one has entered the Islamic religion, there are many religious observances one is required to perform. For convenience, however, these have been summarized under five headings, called the Five Pillars of Religion. But before anything else one must consider morality, which is their foundation. Attempting to practice religious precepts without perfecting one’s moral conduct is like building a house on quicksand—the more you build, the faster it disappears. Any religious or spiritual advancement can be realized only on the basis of exemplary conduct.

With this reservation in mind, the five pillars of Islam are as follows:

1.     Saying the Word of Witnessing. This provides our entry into Islam, and has already been discussed above.

2.     Performing the five daily Prayers. These are the (pre-)Dawn, Noon, Afternoon, (post-)Sunset and Evening Prayers. Although we call them “Prayers,” this does not mean that we open our hands to God and ask Him for this or that. This is in fact done, but only after the main course of the Prayer has been performed. We call this “Prayer” in English only for want of a better word. This involves worshipping God by reciting certain sections from the Koran while standing, genuflecting, straightening up again, prostrating and sitting. This cycle is then repeated, usually in multiples of two. These Prayers are the most important of a person’s activities as a Moslem.

 The five daily Prayers comprise a total of forty cycles, but only half this number is obligatory. Moreover, although there is a definite time for each Prayer, obligatory Prayers can be postponed and performed even when they are Overdue—they can be performed together and done in the evenings, for instance.

 While a single cycle can be extended almost indefinitely if desired, the average time it takes is about a minute. If we add five minutes for the Ablution with water (which is a prerequisite of Prayer), we end up with less than half an hour daily for taking time out from the rat race, to God, being alone with God in worship and devotion, and returning to normal life refreshed and replenished.

 Now for the question of language. Ideally, the recitations within Prayer should be in Arabic. This is because of the necessity to recite chapters from the Koran, which is untranslatable; recitation in any other language would be recitation of a translation, not of the Koran itself. And yet... Since we translate the Koran in order to understand it, if we insist on understanding what we recite in Prayer, there is no obstacle to doing so (though strict literalists would probably disagree). God understands all languages, and the first thing He looks at is the honesty of a person’s intention and the earnestness in one’s heart. He does not judge people according to their race, or language, or nationality. To Him they are all His servants. If you can, recite Prayer in Arabic. If you can’t, recite it in whatever language you are able to. This applies even to the proper name of God. If you can’t bring yourself to say “Allah,” then say “God,” or “Gott,” or “Dieu,” or whatever.

3.     Fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan. This is to abstain for a period of 28 days from food, sex, and profane things until sundown in order to nurture and raise the spirit.

4.     The Alms-tax, or Poor’s Due. The poor have a right to a portion (usually one-fortieth, or 2.5%) of our assets. This is to give the poor their due. Islam combines the spiritual with the material, the individual with the social. Hence, wherever performance of the Prayer is mentioned in the Koran, this is almost invariably accompanied by payment of the Alms-tax, and the latter is of comparable importance with the former.

5.     Pilgrimage (Hajj). Every prosperous Moslem must go to Mecca and circumambulate the Kaaba (lit. “Cube”) once in his lifetime.

 

Needless to say, there are numerous details and spiritual subtleties associated with each of these, but none of these are insuperable or too difficult to learn for the mentally healthy. In fact, mental health is their prerequisite. The mentally ill and children who have not yet reached the age of puberty are under no obligation to perform them.

The Six Pillars of Faith

The Five Pillars of Islam pertain to action. But what are the fundamental tenets of belief? These, too, have been summarized for convenience, and constitute the Moslem’s Creed:

“I believe in God; in His Angels, His Books and His Mesengers; in the Day of Judgment; that whatever destiny befalls us, good and ill, is from God; and in the Resurrection after Death.”

 

Optionally, one can add: “in Heaven and in Hell.” This recitation is capped by repeating the Word of Witnessing.

 

Let us now look briefly at the meaning of this creed.

1.     Belief in God is self-explanatory: there is a One that has created all being, that is beyond all conception and comprehension, even beyond the beyond.

2.     God’s Angels are nonphysical, sexless, conscious entities that carry out his orders, maintain the laws of the universe, praise God constantly, and communicate His messages and commandments to mankind.

3.     God’s Books have been revealed by His Angels to His Prophets and thence, to mankind. They contain knowledge of the divine that is not easily accessible to man’s reasoning or experimentation, but which he nevertheless needs to know and act upon. These comprise a total of One Hundred Pages, revealed to various prophets at different times, and the Four Major Books: the Torah revealed to Moses, the Psalms revealed to David, the Gospel revealed to Jesus and the Koran revealed to Mohammed.

 The earlier books each contained a part of the Koran and its teachings. However, they were not designed to last, and consequently did not survive in their original form. The Koran, which encompasses everything in the earlier books and much more besides, is designed to survive unchanged till the end of time.

 The Koran has effaced some matters that were more clearly expressed in the earlier books, and has made explicit other things which they mentioned only covertly. There are several reasons for this. The first is that the Koran, as mentioned above, abrogates certain aspects of earlier sacred law—for instance, the Islamic Divine Law is easier and more lenient than Jewish Law. Another reason is that some of the statements in earlier books, while true, can be easily misunderstood, and wrong action follows upon such misunderstanding. A third reason is that the Koran lays emphasis on the improvement of right action, and hence gives further details not available in earlier sources.

4.     God’s Messengers are those human beings chosen by God to convey His messages, orders and advice to the rest of mankind. Their honesty, veracity and truthfulness is beyond doubt; otherwise they would not have been entrusted with such a burden or responsibility. The first prophet was also the first man, namely Adam, and the last prophet was Mohammed, to whom True Religion was revealed in its final, its most mature and complete, form.

 Tradition has it that there have been 124 thousand prophets, of whom 28 have been named in the Koran. Since True Religion reached its peak or zenith with Mohammed, there will be no further prophets. The difference between a prophet and a messenger in the present context is that a messenger comes with new dispensation, a new version of Holy Law, whereas a prophet does not; he merely refreshes and reiterates the version of Holy Law revealed by the last messenger preceding Him. Every messenger is also a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger according to this definition. Every prophet bringing a Book is also a messenger—Moses and Jesus, for example.

5.     The Day of Judgment or the Last Day is the day when all human spirits will be resurrected and gathered together after bodily death; will be judged according to their good or evil deeds during their life on earth, and will then be dispatched to their proper destination: Heaven or Hell. Hence, closely related to this are:

Resurrection after death, which will occur for the judgment of souls. “This world,” said the Prophet, “is a field to be sowed for the next;” and as we sow, so shall we reap. No good deed is in vain, and no evil deed is without eventual, inexorable punishment.

Heaven and Hell, which are the final destinations of human beings in the afterlife. Righteous and virtuous persons will go to Heaven, a place of blessings, but evil persons will be sent to Hell, where they will receive punishment. There are Eight Levels of Heaven and Seven Circles of Hell, according to the degree of virtue or sin a person has accumulated.

6.     Good and ill destiny from God: Whatever befalls us is either a response from God to our actions, or a trial from God. God has preordained a good recompense for good deeds and retribution for evil ones. In addition there are certain things which we as humans cannot change, try as we might; but even here it is not an iron law that operates, for we can pray to God, who in His compassion may grant our prayers. Further, a perceived ill may be a blessing in disguise; we only know that God is the source of all.

 Fate and predestination are matters that have frequently been misunderstood, and can easily bog one down in philosophical conundrums. The best course in this regard was pointed out by the Messenger of God to a group of his Companions: don’t waste time thinking or arguing too much about it. Man cannot know what is predestined by God—only God has that knowledge. But man has his orders from God, and it is his duty to carry these out, not to become entangled in paradoxes of the mind. (More about this article of faith below.)

Having summarized the Six Pillars of Faith in this way, it is next necessary to ask: what does it mean to know these? Supposing we knew them by heart, would it be of any use if we failed in right action, action inspired by these principles?

“All that we are,” begins the Buddhist Dhammapada, “is the result of what we have thought.” Our most deeply held beliefs actively shape our lives and influence our destinies.

Sow a thought, reap an act;

Sow an act, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

And therefore:

Sowing a thought reaps a destiny.

So, placing the Six Pillars at the center of our faith should lead to more than mindless re-enactment of the Five Pillars of Religion. Merely “going through the motions” is a bane that deadens the soul and stultifies one’s faith.

The Six Pillars of Faith are a precondition for performing the Five Pillars of Islam. But this is not enough.

Suppose you believe in God, that God exists and is One. So what? Unless you recognize that He sees and hears whatever you do—that He can read your innermost thoughts—and adjust your conduct accordingly, your faith will be of no avail.

So what if angels exist? What matter is it to us? It is not enough to just believe in God’s angels. We should, like those angels, implement God’s orders perfectly and meticulously. Our actions should be in moral conformity with angelic behavior.

It is not enough to believe in God’s books, to love and caress the Koran. We should study it to learn what it contains, and strive to carry out its instructions. Our morality should be, like the Prophet’s, an image of the Koran.

Granted that we have faith in God’s prophets, is this of itself sufficient, or should we not rather try to be exemplary human beings and model servants of God as they were? If we love and cherish Mohammed, are we able to follow in his footsteps, to conform to his Way?

Supposing we believe in the Judgment Day, do we arrange our actions and lives bearing it in mind, preparing for it properly, or do we go on living just the way we used to before we started believing in it?

What is good for this world is not necessarily good for the afterworld. But what is good for the next world is also good for this world. If we arrange our affairs with the other world in mind, we shall find salvation in both this life and the afterlife.

We believe that destiny, whether good or ill, is from God. But do we take the precautions necessary to ensure that we shall receive a good recompense? What percentage of the deeds required for a happy fate do we perform?

We believe in resurrection after death. What preparations have we made for that terrifying day, when there will be no escape and no place to hide? Have we taken, or are we now taking, measures to escape bewilderment and punishment?

The Pillars of Faith leave us face to face with an ethical choice. They require us to adopt, even transcend, the moral conduct of angels. They invite us to invest ourselves with the morality of God’s prophets and chosen ones.

A child can recite the Pillars of Faith. What is much more important—and difficult—is to live them; to complement theory with practice. To be Islamic.

Grading of Actions

Actions, or deeds, are graded according to the merit or sin they entail. Here, the intention behind a deed is as important as the deed itself. The main division is between Allowed (halal) actions, which gain merit (sawab), and illicit or Forbidden (haram) deeds, which are sinful (gunah). These are further subdivided within themselves to yield five gradings:

§ Obligatory or mandatory (fardh)

§ Recommended (wajib)

§ Neutral (mubah)

§ Disgusting (makruh)

§ Forbidden (haram)

Each person will be judged in the afterlife according to the grades s/he has accumulated during his lifetime. One good deed and one bad deed of equal value cancel each other. Of course, God’s Attribute of Justice (adl ) requires that even the finest distinction not be missed in Judgment, so a grading over 100 points would be closer to the truth. These are, however, the main divisions.

This grading system is very similar to that existing in our educational institutions, and suggests that the whole world is a school—a scene for our training, testing, and maturation.

On Destiny

The question of predestination has long occupied the minds of human beings. The philosophical dilemmas one can easily land oneself in have caused many to turn to atheism. Yet there is no need for this; what is necessary is to maintain a proper perspective.

People find it difficult to reconcile the horrors we see in the world with the concept of a loving God. If God is compassionate, the argument continues, how come He foreordains some to Heaven and others to Hell?

Obviously, there cannot be responsibility without freedom of choice. If God had not given man this freedom, He in His justice would not hold man accountable. The very fact that a system of rewards and punishments exists bespeaks man’s freedom to choose between good and evil.

This freedom is a sine qua non for the fulfillment of the purpose of existence. Yet it is also a heavy burden. Most of the evils we observe in the world are a product of man’s wrong choice, not God’s. It is easier to blame one’s Creator for one’s own misdeeds than to shoulder responsibility and solve them. But this is to add insult to injury, and only exacerbates our eventual punishment. To say: “God created me this way. What can I do? I would have acted good if He had created me good,” is the worst form of cop-out. God is not responsible for stopping the evils of this world—we are. For the worst of them are man-made. Furthermore, God has made us the stewards and custodians of this world, and it is our duty to take proper care of our planet.

But if God is omniscient and all-powerful, how can He punish our misdeeds? Aren’t these predetermined by God, too?

The Islamic response is as follows: God has donated a small portion, a fragment, of His will to each individual human being, which a person is entitled to exercise freely. This partial or fragmentary will of man can choose to comply with or oppose the total or universal will of God. If God forced us to make an ethical choice, only in that case would He and not us be responsible for it. And in fact, we shall be held accountable only for our free moral choices and actions, not for the situations we may find ourselves in through no fault of our own. A moral choice made under adverse circumstances, however, is of greater merit than the same choice under conditions of ease.

Note here the existence of a very fine, delicate point: the will exercised by each of us has been loaned to us by God; it is a fragment of God’s own will. This is a very great responsibility: a human being can, under certain conditions, influence the fate of millions of human beings for good or ill. Hence, it is only normal that man should be held accountable for its misuse.

This also means that we cannot always let events follow their course. Under certain conditions, moral conduct requires us to intervene. Suppose you see a person who has fallen into a river and is on the verge of being drowned. You cannot say: “This is what the Universal Will wants,” and allow him to drown. You have to exercise your individual, fragmentary will, and try to save him by whatever means you find at your disposal. God, who has placed you in the presence of that situation, has delegated to you the resonsibility to do something about it.

Freedom of the fragmentary will of the individual is a right granted by God which He does not violate. Rather, He causes the choice to be fulfilled with complete disregard as to whether it is good or bad. People can carry out the worst crimes as well as the best deeds. Man proposes, God creates and delivers the result. It is only in the afterworld that the final reckoning will occur. But occur it will, for man is capable of committing crimes so horrible that it would be impossible for God’s justice to let them go without punishment.

Since God is all-knowing, He knows that a person will, at a certain time, do such-and-such. But He does not interfere. Omniscience does not imply omni-interference. The Universal Will does not infringe the right of the fragmentary will to decide independently.

To be sure, “the ways of the Lord are mysterious.” Not everything in His creation lends itself to easy explanation by our reason. We may comprehend only to the extent we are able to. Hence, the best thing is to steer clear of unproductive arguments on predestination, and concentrate on carrying out the clear orders God has given us. This, and nothing else, is to our ultimate benefit.

The Mark of a True Servant

One of the pious among the Children of Israel used to spend his time in seclusion and worship. One day, the Lord told Moses: “I have decreed that that servant of mine belongs to the people who go astray (the Folk of Hell). This is so whether he worships Me or not. Go tell him.”

Moses went to this man, and informed him of the divine decree. The man praised the Lord, and said: “My only wish is that my Lord should be pleased with me. If that is what He wants, what can I do? I neither know nor understand such matters. Let Him put me in Hell, as long as He is pleased with me.”

Whereupon the Lord transferred the man from the people of error to the people of right guidance (the Folk of Heaven). He again sent Moses to the man to inform him of the situation. He said in reply: “Well, to tell the truth, I don’t know about this, either. I only ask for His pleasure. As long as He is pleased with me, my Lord knows best. He can place me in Heaven or Hell, as He likes. That is His affair. I don’t know such things.” And he continued his worship, unswervingly and unperturbed.

Now this is the way a true servant of God should be. We should not concern ourselves with matters of rebellion or bliss. A servant need only fulfill the requirements of his station, that is, of his servanthood. As long as he does so, anything is possible. We are assured of only one thing: “Whoever does a particle’s-weight of good will find its recompense (reward), and whoever does a particle’s-weight of evil will find its recompense (retribution)” (99:7-8). This can occur both in this world and in the world to come.

Poison Berries

Suppose we find ourselves on a desert island, and there are various kinds of trees with berries and fruit on this island. Some of these are good to eat, while others are poisonous. Even if they may taste good initially, they will make us sick and kill us in the end.

How are we to distinguish between the nourishing berries and the poisonous ones? On a desert island, the way to do this is to look for signs of bird peckings on the fruit. Those berries that have been eaten by birds are good to eat. Those without peck marks on them, we would do better to stay away from.

Now suppose, as a further step, that all the fruit has been labeled, indicating, as the case may be: “this is good, eat it” or “this is poisonous—danger!” Then we are freed even of the necessity for inspection.

Now if, under these conditions, we were still to pick and eat the fruit that is poisonous, would this be our fault, or would it be (heaven forbid) God’s?

Of course the fault would belong to our selves. Now God, in His divine wisdom, has created both nourishing and poisonous fruit as a condition of existence. But it is our responsibility to choose and eat the nourishing kind.

Good and bad are exactly like this. God has created the possibility for both good and ill; but He wants us to choose the good, out of our own free will. This He desires, not for His sake —for He is in need of nothing—but out of His love for us, for our own sake and our own good.

God has clearly labeled everything, indicating whether it is good or bad, via His prophets in all ages and finally, with the Prophet of God and the Koran. Now if, after all this, we still go and choose ill, who is to be held responsible?

All that comes to us leads us back to God. What matters is our proximity to our Lord, like the perfect servant who is not interested in Heaven or Hell, but in pleasing his Lord, the Creator of all.

God, then, creates both good and bad; but we are responsible for whatever evil befalls us. As for the good, this is a gift to us from the Lord in His infinite compassion. So it is necessary to act mindfully and live responsibly, to give our life the attention and care it deserves. And this can only be done by firmly grasping the “strong cord” or “strong handle” of God’s commandments. “Grasp God’s rope firmly,” advises the Koran (3:103). And this rope, this cord that saves, is nothing but God’s orders and prohibitions as related to us in the Way of the Prophet and the Koran.

SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL
VISTAS

The Saint or the Revolutionary?

In his famous book, The Yogi and the Commissar, Arthur Koestler once highlighted the contrast between these two types. The social spectrum, he said, ranges from the infrared to the ultraviolet. At one extreme, the infrared, stands the Commissar, who casts his lot with materialism. At the other extreme is the Yogi, drifting into the ultraviolet, for whom only spiritual matters count. “The Commissar,” says Koestler,

believes in Change from Without. He believes that all pests of humanity, including constipation and the Oedipus complex, can and will be cured by Revolution, that is, by a radical reorganization of the system of production and the distribution of goods; that this end justifies the use of all means...

 [The Yogi] believes that the End is unpredictable and that the Means alone count. He rejects violence under any circumstances... He believes that nothing can be improved by exterior organization and everything by the individual effort from within...

 Between these two extremes are spread out in a continuous sequence the spectral lines of the more sedate human attitudes. [But] the real issue remains between the Yogi and the Commissar, between the fundamental conceptions of Change from Within and Change from Without.

 It is easy to say that all that is wanted is a synthesis—the synthesis between saint and revolutionary; but so far this has never been achieved. (...)

 Neither the saint nor the revolutionary can save us; only a synthesis of the two.[18]

Furthermore, it is not enough to take half of each in an “arithmetic mean” that stands halfway between the two; a unique combination is required wherein sometimes the characteristics of one and sometimes the other predominate. For instance, all the undesirable traits and many of the assumptions of the Commissar are unacceptable, while the passivity one might tend to associate with the Saint is likewise a hindrance. What is called for is a synthesis in line with the principle of the Golden Mean.

It is understandable that Koestler thought this synthesis had never been achieved. Had he looked more closely into Islam, he might have discovered that its Prophet combined, during his lifetime, not merely the vocations of saint and revolutionary, but those also of prophet, statesman, ruler, military commander, and chief justice. Unique among human beings, the Prophet embodied both spiritual/religious and social/political leadership. As Lamartine rightly observed:

Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may ask, is there any man greater than he? (History of Turkey .)

 Ever since, the individual and the social, as well as the material and the spiritual, have gone hand-in-hand in Islam.[19] The reason why the leading French intellectual and former Marxist, Roger Garaudy, embraced Islam is that Christianity emphasizes the person and spirit while neglecting society and nature, and Marxism overvalues the social and material at the expense of the individual and spiritual, whereas Islam strikes an exquisite balance between them all—precisely the kind of synthesis Koestler had been looking for.

“Attend,” said the Prophet, “to worldly matters as if you were never going to die, and to matters of the otherworld as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Indeed, Islam gives equal emphasis to the material world as to the spiritual world. And its social aspect is highlighted in another Prophetic saying: “Whoever goes to bed sated while his neighbor goes hungry is not a believer.”

In each society, there are laws and institutions that regulate dealings between human beings, and indeed Islam has developed its own legal code and institutions. But before and behind all laws stands moral conduct, without which no law can exist or survive, and society can only sink into chaos. Hence, Islam places the greatest emphasis on moral conduct, which prefigures the peace and well-being of the individual and society.

In mathematics, certain geometrical figures can be used to tile a surface perfectly, without any space left between them. For instance, you can tile a surface in this way with triangles, squares or hexagons, all of which fit neatly together. In the case of circles, however, spaces are left, and since social nature “abhors a vacuum,” some tiles will expand at the expense of others, i.e., some individuals will expand their sphere of action to the detriment of other individuals. Now Islam seeks to tile the social fabric perfectly, with human tiles that are entirely harmonious with each other. The details of moral conduct specify the nature of this meshing, and determine whether it will be perfect or not. If the moral conduct specified for everyone is lacking in one or more respects, or if it fails to be implemented, the social gears and wheels will not mesh perfectly, leading to strains and groans—perhaps even to the breakdown of the machine.

Big trees from little trees do grow: serious social ills are the consequence of the accumulation of countless individual misdeeds. Further, as the Prophet said: “What is harmful in large quantities is also harmful in small quantities,” and vice versa. From this it can be seen that what is harmful on the micro level to the individual is also going to be harmful on the macro level to society—hence, the Islamic ban on the consumption of alcohol and narcotic drugs, as well as similar injunctions, is aimed simultaneously at the improvement of the person and society.

Indeed, most of Islam’s prescriptions have this dual aspect. For instance, Prayer, which at first glance appears to be the most personal and spiritual form of worship, also acts as a salve on interpersonal relationships because of its uncanny power to relieve stress.

Fasting purifies the soul, tempers greed, and rids the body of impediments, all at the same time. But further, it activates the sense of compassion for the poor and hungry, and awakens feelings of charity towards those in need.

The Pilgrimage, in addition to its more religious facets, acts as a giant congress for all the people of the world, where Moslems discover that their brethren from across the globe are not fundamentally different from themselves—and, by implication, neither are human beings of whatever religion, nation, race, or walk of life: they are their equals in creation.

Needless to say, each and every Islamic prescription for conduct has its social aspect. Everyone should practice them all, for leaving out ingredients from a delicious recipe can only detract from its taste.

Islam and Synergy

One is reminded here of anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s distinction between cultures of low synergy and high synergy. It was Benedict’s insight that human personality bears the stamp of its specific culture, and that there is a correlation between social structure and character structure, especially aggressiveness. Aggression, she said, is marked in societies where the interests of the individual and the group are at odds with each other. “The problem is one of social engineering,” according to Benedict; “Nonaggression occurs not because people are unselfish and put social obligations above personal desires but because social arrangements make these two identical.”[20] Using synergy in its meaning of combined action (where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts), she distinguished between cultures of low synergy, in which the social structure provides for acts that are counteractive and counterproductive (borrowing a term from physics, we might call this “destructive interference”), and cultures of high synergy, in which such acts are mutually reinforcing (“constructive interference”). Life in low-synergy societies is a zero-sum game; when one person wins, everybody else loses. In high-synergy cultures, on the other hand, the name of the game is “nonzero sum;” there is no true loser because everybody wins.

Benedict found that in societies where institutions did not exist to redistribute wealth, which has a natural tendency to become concentrated, life was difficult and individuals predominantly anxiety-ridden and aggressive, and vice versa. This had nothing to do with the level of economic or technological development; people might lead a happy and fulfilling life even in the most primitive society, while widespread suffering—with consequent fear, aggression and violence—might exist even in the most advanced one. In short, high synergy means high peacefulness and low aggression, while low synergy means the opposite.

Now what has all this to do with Islam? Everything. For this religion aims to take society at whatever level it finds it and to transform it into a high-synergy society. It provides the social institutions for what Benedict called “the syphon system:” an economy where wealth is constantly channeled away from points of concentration and spread throughout the community. Where everyone is provided for, poverty is not a word to fear, and people can be much more secure, easygoing, and hence peaceable. In an age when senseless violence and sexual depravity is being pumped into our cultural bloodstream by the media (as if there weren’t enough to go around to begin with), we could do worse than take the heed of Islam, with its prescription for nonaggression and peace.

The Ottomans, one of the finest examples of Islamic civilization, provide a case in point. For instance, they had “charity stones,” pillars in the middle of the street slightly taller than a human being, on top of which a rich person might place a donation for the poor. A needy person coming along could then reach up and collect it; in this way, donor and receiver remained anonymous to each other, and the dignity of the poor was preserved from injury. No one was reduced to begging. Since theft was unheard of, there was no danger that the money entrusted to the mute stones would vanish. What they accomplished as a matter of course, we cannot even dream of today. The equivalent in this day and age would be an open bank account; but can you imagine the deposits not being stolen before the poor and needy got to them?

The essence of Ottoman ethics was this: treat every human being as if he or she were a jewel. This means that a person should be delicately handled, not just like glass which might break easily, but as a being of infinite worth. You will not find this stated in history books, which seldom do justice to this aspect of Ottoman life, but such was in fact the ideal, and—more often than not—the practice. And this is the kind of morality we need today; in an overcrowded world we stand even more, not less, in need of such conduct.

Ecology and Islam

Another salutary innovation of the Ottomans was of a resoundingly ecological nature, long before ecology was ever heard of in the West. The quintessence of ecology was, of course, first expressed by the Koran: “Eat, drink, but do not waste” (7:31). The earth’s resources are enough for everyone, as long as they are not squandered mindlessly. The “green” choice is primarily an ethical choice; the science of ecology may tell us that the destruction of the environment will lead to the destruction of man, but it does not tell us why such self-destruction is wrong or bad. A suicidal or nihilistic mentality that regarded life as a disease would be quite justified in trying to eradicate what it regarded as undesirable.

In accordance with the Islamic precept to “show compassion and tolerance towards not merely human beings, but all of God’s creatures,” the Ottomans saw to it that hungry wolves in the wild were fed carrion. This not only protected villages from being raided, but the Ottomans, in full consciousness, prevented this predator from entering the “endangered species” list because, according to their conception, “every living being is precious.” The means for this was the unique institution called the foundation. Thus, for example, the Ottomans had foundations for the preservation of birds, cats, mongrels, wildlife, etc.—a delicate ecological sensibility informed all their actions. Looking at the funds and foundations devoted to the preservation of nature in the West today, one cannot help but remember their ancestors in a less ecology-conscious age.

Indeed, Islam teaches us to save even a fly or a scorpion in distress, so long as it does not intimidate us directly. The reason for this is not the ecological precept that diversity of species leads to stabler ecosystems. It is that these creatures bear life, which is worthy of respect in itself. The purpose of ecology, too, is best served by this approach.

The Alms-tax

We cannot go into all socially and ecologically oriented Islamic observances here, but shall consider, in conclusion, that most social form of worship, the Alms-tax institution.

Among the aims of Islam are social justice and the fair distribution of wealth, and the alms-tax is the primary—though not the only—means to achieve this goal. Everyone who is rich beyond a certain Measure (nisab) is required to give one-fortieth of their holdings—not just income—to the poor. This measure is 96 grams of gold, or the equivalent amount in cash (about 1200—1996 US—dollars) and/or valuables, and one must have been in possession of this amount for at least one year, over and above one’s debts and daily requirements. Of course, this does not preclude other forms of charity, such as the “end-of-fast” (fitr) alms given at the end of the month of Ramadan, or individual handouts or donations.

Let us now take a closer look at what is involved in the alms-tax, and how it is considered in Islam.

The word for alms-tax, zakah, literally means “cleansing” or “purification.” The implication is that money or property, even when honestly earned, is unclean; it contains a residue which makes it “filthy lucre.” It is, if you like, contaminated, almost radioactive, and unless it is decontaminated it will harm its owner. Now this impurity can only be cleaned away by giving it to the poor. This portion of one’s wealth is their rightful property. One’s earnings are then cleansed, and the “uncleanness” drops away from the money given—but only if the recipients are poor. If, for instance, a well-to-do person withholds, accepts or takes the alms-tax, it will jeopardize his entire fortune in the sight of God.

In order to understand more clearly what this means, let us return to Benedict’s syphon system, and compare the body social to the human body. This is a valid comparison, because human beings living in a society are connected to each other by multifarious ties. In our present-day atomistic societies, which sociologist David Riesman once characterized as “the lonely crowd,” there is a tendency to compare society with the molecules in a gas. But that is not a society; that is “a bunch of people living at the same address.”

Just as wealth has a natural tendency to become concentrated in society, blood in the body is always being drawn in by the heart. But just think what would happen if the heart did not pump this out again. Moreover, this blood that is drawn in is spent blood; it is contaminated with waste matter and toxic materials, and has to be circulated through the lungs (and also the kidneys) for aereation or ‘purification’. This enriched blood is then redistributed to all parts of the body through capillaries. Extremities of the body, such as the hands, feet, ears and nose, are the first to get cold in bad weather.

Now picture what would happen if such extremities were to freeze. The heart, being centrally placed, would not be affected directly, yet it, too, would suffer because the entire body would suffer. And if fresh blood could not reach cells that are the end users of oxygen, anoxia and rapid death would set in.

In our analogy, then, the alms-tax serves the dual function of the lungs plus kidneys, and the capillaries; it both purifies the money circulating in the economy, and siphons it to those parts of the social body that receive the least ‘blood’. Thus, not even the lowliest person will starve for want.

(This does not mean that Islam advocates shiftlessness. Islam frowns upon laziness and begging, and encourages everyone to work to the best of their abilities. The alms-tax is not intended to operate like the welfare system in the USA, where freeloaders bask in the sunshine of Social Security. There are many cases, however, where people remain destitute in spite of all their struggles.)

In the Koran, the alms-tax is mentioned in the same breath as Prayer, and is accorded equal importance. The following saying of the Prophet serves to highlight its priority: “If the alms-tax of the rich were not enough for the poor, God would have given them other means of sustenance. If there are any poor who go hungry, this is only because of the cruelty of the rich.”

This means that, if the alms-tax were given with due care, it would put an end to hunger and want. Hard as it may be to imagine, the alms-tax points the way to nothing less than a peaceful revolution. The concept of a “negative income tax” to be given to the poor, entertained some years ago in the United States, shows that modern social thinking on poverty is finally catching up with the alms-tax, instituted 14 centuries ago.

The alms-tax is usually given on a person-to-person basis, although there have been times in history when it was collected and dispensed by the state (increasing, if necessary, the customary 2.5%). This enhances the probability that the donation will reach the truly needy, while the inherent “uncleanness” involved makes corruption unlikely in a country keeping the faith.

A few other sayings of the Prophet will help clarify the status of the alms-tax:

The alms-tax has been made obligatory in order that property be cleansed and beautified. Whoever does not give the alms-tax has defiled his property, and is in Hellfire in the afterlife. A society that does not give the alms-tax will be plagued by droughts and crises. Property for which it is not paid will be ruined on land or at sea. Whoever pays the alms-tax protects himself from the evil of his property. After Prayer, the most virtuous worship is the alms-tax. If a person does not pay it, neither will his Prayer be accepted.

 

It is not simply the dirt of money that is swept away, however. Hardness of heart, the contamination of greed and callousness, is removed from the donor, giving way to feelings of charity and compassion. Like Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge, one undergoes a reform and conversion. It begins to dawn that ever-increasing consumption, consumerism and anthropocentrism are not what being human is all about.

The Day of the Commissar

It is not too much to say that even today, the effects of world poverty can only be eradicated by an imaginative application of the alms-tax within the world community—i.e., on a global scale. The social ills of the world, the polarization between the haves and the have-nots, can only be curbed by a similar donation on the part of rich nations to poor nations. The “peaceable kingdom,” all mankind living together in peace and harmony, would then become possible.

“If a wolf slaughters a lamb in [some far-off land],” said Omar, the second Caliph, “Omar is responsible.” It is only by such a sense of responsibility that we can resolve our global problems. “Our true nationality,” noted H.G. Wells, “is mankind.” No matter what nationality we belong to, we are human beings first and members of that nationality afterwards. We need to bear this constantly in mind, and to take the precautions necessary for preserving our “global village.” The Prophet’s saying: “If a person dies of hunger in a land, the whole country is his murderer,” should now be reconsidered with the whole world in mind. To recall Benedict again: “One’s life experience is different if economic institutions make it impossible to be hungry as long as anyone in one’s world has food at all...”[21] God knows we have the wealth, the technology, and the wherewithal to achieve this, were we but to set our minds to it and to examine our consciences carefully.

Unless this is done, and unless per-capita GNPs are drawn toward a median point amongst the rich and poor nations, crises will be inevitable not merely domestically, within nations, but on an international scale. Beyond a certain threshold, revolutions and wars will spread like wildfire. What was not given freely, with compassion and charity, people will seek to wrest by force. And that can only pave the way for the Day of the Commissar—the day when he, and he alone, will rule.

It does not take great intelligence to see this. But the solution is primarily a matter of the heart, and a heart is what we in the world seem to be most lacking today.

 

ISLAM AND THE WAY OF THE PROPHET

 

God, who created human beings in the best of statures, did not leave them without guidance. In order that they should earn their place in the next world and felicity in this by living a good, straight and honest life, He has sent Books via His messengers. He desires His Books to be understood and lived, and His orders and sanctions to be heeded. To live the straight path explained in the Books in accordance with the limits set by Revelation has been called “the Way” of the Prophet (sunnah). Any believer who wholeheartedly accepts such an exemplary life takes his place among “the People of the Way.”

Prophethood and the Way are part of each other. He who does not understand the Way cannot be expected to understand prophethood.

The Holy Law (shariah) is based on two great foundations: the Koran, and the Way (sunnah) of the Prophet.

The Koran is the essence of Islam. It is the source of the Straight Path. It is the miracle of our Prophet. It is the certification of his prophethood and a sign which is valid until the Last Day. The Way, on the other hand, is the explanation of the Koran and its decrees and the clarification of its principles; it is the complement of Koranic laws. Once its authenticity is known, the Way is a binding law and a source of guidance.

 Part of the Way is clear revelation coming from the Archangel Gabriel, i.e. the Koran. Another part is the reflection of inspiration in the Prophet’s heart. A further section is based on the independent judgment of the Prophet. His judgment depends on knowledge of the Koran, on Islamic law, on revelatory lights that filled his heart, and on Esoteric Knowledge (ilm ladunni). God says: “Read, in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a blood clot. Read: Your Lord is Most Bountiful, who by the pen taught man what he did not know” (96:1-5). The Prophet would state his opinion on every occasion. If Revelation met these opinions with silence, this signified God’s approval. For God says: “By the star that draws near, your friend [the Prophet] is not in error, nor is he deceived. He does not speak out of his own fancy. This is indeed an inspired Revelation” (53:1-4).

The Companions of the Prophet memorized, protected and contemplated the Koran, laid the foundations of Islamic law, and passed it on to the next generation (the Followers) in its original form. In turn, the Followers passed it on to the Followers of the Followers, who came after them. Thus, in every century, a large portion of the Community has passed the heritage on to each succeeding generation. The Lord Almighty declares: “It is We who revealed the Koran, and We Ourself shall preserve it” (15:9). Due to this fact, the Koran has reached us without any change, distortion or addition. Similarly, the Companions, by memorizing, understanding and contemplating the words and meaning of the Way, delivered it to the Followers. The transmission will continue in this manner to the end of time.

The Way, as the second foundation of Islam, is the explanation of the Koran. “We have revealed the Koran so that you may proclaim to men what has been revealed for them, and that they may give thought” (16:44). Further: “Thus We have inspired you with a spirit of Our will when you knew nothing of faith or scripture, and made it a light whereby We guide those of Our servants whom We please. You shall surely guide them to the right path: the path of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. All things in the end return to Him” (42:52-53).

Our Prophet explained the verses of the Koran sometimes verbally, sometimes by his acts, and sometimes in both ways. For example, although Prayer was made obligatory during our Prophet’s Ascension, the number of cycles (rakah), the way it should be performed, the times of Prayer, its optional and mandatory parts, are not mentioned in detail in the Koran. These intricacies of Moslem Prayer, which Moslems are ordered to perform by the Koran, were explained by the Way of our Prophet. Again, the time when the Tithe, or alms-tax, is due is not explained in the Koran. Nor are the proportion, the amount, and what should be included in the alms-tax. All of these were specified by the Way.

As one of the Companions said: “Revelation was coming to the Prophet, and the Archangel Gabriel was also bringing the Way to explain that Revelation.” As a great scholar states: “The Way of the Prophet is the explanation and elucidation of the Koran.” All respected scholars have concurred that the Way should be regarded as a guide in religion. The Koran and the authenticated Way, that is, everything which is proven definitely to come from the Prophet, are our guides.

The Lord tells Mohammed: “Say: ‘If you love God, follow me. Then, God will love you and forgive your sins. God is All-forgiving, All-merciful’“ (3:31). Further, it is stated: “I swear by your Lord, they will not be true believers until they seek your arbitration in disputes, do not doubt the justice of your verdicts, and submit to you entirely” (4:65). These verses cover the judgments of the Prophet based on both the Koran and the Way. Again, according to this verse, it is not sufficient to simply accept what is brought by the Koran and the Way. It is also necessary to obey, believe and keep the faith wholeheartedly.

The following Tradition, or saying, of the Prophet is of outstanding importance: “Know that I was given the Koran, and along with it an equivalent thereof. Be aware that in the near future, some fools made arrogant by prosperity and high status will say: ‘Your duty is to stick to the Koran.’ They will cause you to depart from the Way by saying: ‘Accept as lawful whatever the Koran says is lawful, and consider as prohibited whatever it says is prohibited.’“

To stray from the Way of the Prophet is to ruin half of religion. Departure from his Way means that many of the Koran’s verses will not be understood. Therefore, this damages the first foundation of the religion as well.

In his Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet said: “I have left you two things. As long as you abide by them, you will not deviate from the straight path. These are the Koran and the Way.” As can be understood from this Tradition, consultation of the Way is as great a requirement as that of the Koran in the derivation of guidelines.

The Companions of the Prophet have unanimously agreed that his Way and Traditions (sayings) are guides in religion, and have acted accordingly. On everything left unmentioned in the Koran, the judgment derived from the Way forms the basis for action. The Lord declares: “Whatever the Prophet gives you, accept it; and whatever he forbids you, stay away from it.” This verse makes clear that, on every point which is not mentioned in the Koran, it is required to observe the decision of the Way.

 Everything encompassed by the Way rests on Revelation. Therefore, every Moslem is bound by all rules based on Revelation. Since our Prophet is bound by the decrees in the Koran, those who accept the religion of which he is the prophet are placed under a similar responsibility.

Without a doubt, the Koran is superior to the Way. Since obedience to God and obedience to His Prophet are mentioned together in the Koran, the Way of the Prophet finds sanction in and takes its strength from the Koran. The Way cannot be understood without the Koran, as the Koran cannot be understood without the Way. The two form a complete whole.

The Pilgrimage to Mecca, for example, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. God has stated in the Koran that it is incumbent on all Moslems. Yet it is the Way of the Prophet which explains that the Kaaba is to be circumambulated seven times, and that the distance between the two hills is to be traversed, likewise, seven times. No matter where we look, it is clear that Islam cannot be realized unless the Way is observed properly.

Both the Book and wisdom (hiqmah) have been given to the Prophet by God (4:113). According to the learned scholars of Islam, the “wisdom” stated here is none other than the Way of the Prophet.

It is the Prophet who has perfectly understood, visualized, and recited every subject in the Koran. The Prophet, who explained the Koran explicitly, implicitly, by analogy, hints and references to its context and details, both for his contemporaries and for future generations, is the source and leader in all religious knowledge. He has informed the essence of the Way not only in his utterances, but also in his behavior, custom, lifestyle and contemplation.

The verse: “If you love God, follow me. Then God will love you” has important implications. It points to the fact that every state, action and saying of the Prophet was consistent with the consent of God. The Traditions and the Koran are valid for everybody everywhere, in every time and condition.

 The Koran bears a thousand Korans within itself, and offers several things at once in the form of a nucleus. From this viewpoint, the Traditions are similar. The culture of the Koran and the Way of the Prophet is to transfer, infuse and diffuse Islamic morals and conduct into every part of our lives.

Wherever the Way is absent, neither is Islam present. In the Chapter of Light, it is stated: “... obey the Messenger, so that you may be shown mercy. Do not think that unbelievers will be spared the wrath of God... An evil fate awaits them” (24:57). This underscores the importance of obeying the Prophet and considering him the exemplar in words, deeds, orders and prohibitions.

Anyone who claims to be a believer should remain within the bounds of the Koran and the Way of the Prophet. These should be the mainspring of his life. This can be done by observing and carrying out the rules of Islam, and warming the hearts of human beings to Islam with his Way.

May God grant a complete understanding of Islam to us all. We glorify You. We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. If we forget and make mistakes, forgive us, do not punish us. Treat us with Your compassion. Accept our prayers for the sake of Your Prophets. Amen.

 

HEALING THE BROKEN MIRROR:
THE KORAN AND ITS OPENING CHAPTER

The Fractured Mirror

In our age, we are faced with an “atomization of consciousness:” the world, or rather our mental mirror of it, has exploded into smithereens, and the result is a ruination that belies the magnificence, the infinite interrelatedness, of the universe which is its object. In our effort to understand the world, we have divided and subdivided it ad infinitum into disjoint categories having little or no relationship with each other. As Yeats prophetically declared at the beginning of this century, in lines well-worn precisely because they are so succinct:

 Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

It is a common human failing to confuse our descriptions with that which is described. As Alan Watts used to point out, the map is not the territory; the transparent film of divisions and abstract concepts which we overlay on the “seamless web of the universe” and which constitutes our mental picture of it is not the universe. This is true of analytical thought, and even of language. Our fragmented picture of the world is not the world itself, and if this fragmentation has progressed to the point where our appreciation of reality is seriously impaired, we need to heal it, to make it whole again.

Un-fracturing

This project is called ‘Unification’ (tawhid ) in Islam. At the simplest level, of course, Unification means the recognition that “God is One.” But on a deeper, subtler level, it means that the rigid compartmentalization we impose on the world is a mental construct of our own. The gridwork of latitudes and longitudes, for example, is useful for navigating our globe; but they are invisible when we look at the earth from space, for the simple reason that they don’t exist in reality. The seamless structure of the planet is echoed in the interconnectedness of the universe. Quantum physics has unwittingly taken a step toward rediscovering the “great chain of being” positing countless links, which used to be appreciated in the West; the discovery of “nonlocality” in recent years has lent strength to the view that seemingly unrelated parts of the world are, in fact, connected.

Before the discovery of nonlocality, gravitation was recognized as such a connecting medium in physics, and it still retains the advantage of being effective on the everyday and macrocosmic levels, rather than only on the quantum level. In the field of ecology, Barry Commoner framed one of the basic principles of ecology as: “Everything is connected to everything else.” If a fire breaks out in the Amazon forests, for example, everybody everywhere suffers, even though they might not realize it. In recent years the science of chaos has not only revealed order masquerading as apparent randomness, it has also shown that intuitively negligible quantities or perturbations can have counterintuitive consequences out of all proportion to their own scale. Sensitive dependence on initial conditions can have unforeseen consequences in seemingly unrelated locations. Thus, our sciences have reached a sophistication and sensitivity where previously unnoticed correlations, connections and correspondences are now beginning to be recognized. As Wordsworth summarized beautifully:

All things near and far

Hiddenly

To each other connected are

That thou canst not stir a flower,

Without troubling a star.

Thus, we find that our science has caught up with our art, in an unexpected vindication of Keats: “Truth is beauty, and beauty truth.” This is the deeper meaning of Unification: that the three cardinal principles, truth, beauty, and goodness, are ultimately one, that they are but aspects of the One Ultimate Reality, the Ground of all being. And this is the vision that we have to recapture if we are to escape schizoid grief: that the only atom in the universe—a-tom in the sense of “indivisible”—is the universe itself, that it is a joyous celebration of infinite Unity and existence, rather than a hell of irreconcilable, broken fragments. This world which we presently inhabit is the chaos, the world apparently ruled by chance in which few things make sense. Our task is to transform it into cosmos (an ordered universe) by purifying our consciousness and integrating the world, discovering the infinite interrelatedness of phenomena with God at the helm, in the end realizing that the world is, and in fact was, a cosmos all along.

Unification

Let us recapitulate. The universe is a seamless unity. But we do not ordinarily perceive it that way. From childhood onwards, man begins to inhabit a world of multiplicity. On this multiplicity, which is already a “given,” we next superimpose the artificial abstractions and divisions of analytical thinking. In other words, whereas our objective should be to move towards unity, we move a further step towards fragmentation. This is not to deny the utility of analytical thought. But it should be counterbalanced by a synthesis. We should integrate what we have previously differentiated.

The following analogy may be helpful: ordinarily, we look at the world through a pair of glasses. Even if our vision is 20-20, our spectacles still have smooth glass in place of lenses. Now imagine that the glass or lenses has multiple fractures, but is still held in place (say by a transparent plastic coating). When we look at the world through these glasses, we see borders, separations, reflections, even multiple images of the same object, that do not exist in reality. Analytical thought can be compared to this.

Suppose now that we take off the broken glasses. We will now be able to view the world without an obstacle. Yet we still cannot perceive the Truth, the seamless unity. As the great mystical poet William Blake said: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” The fact that we do not ordinarily perceive the world in this way implies that a sensory/noetic “filtering” is taking place. Aldous Huxley took this cue from Blake to suggest in The Doors of Perception that the sense organs and the mind act as a “reducing valve”. So how can we regain a full, complete view of reality?

Islamic Sufism suggests that this is possible by Unification. We must bear witness to the unity of God, unify the universe, and unify our selves. It further suggests that these three are connected. Picture the universe we live in as a horizontal axis. This is the universe as man perceives it in his ordinary, everyday self. But there are other levels of selfhood that are possible, which can best be pictured as ordered along a vertical axis.

Now to every state or level of the self there corresponds a different state of consciousness, which yields a different state of reality to our perception. Hence, Islamic Sufism suggests that the key to “cleansing the doors of perception” actually lies in self-purification, by which the “ladder of unification” is climbed until one perceives the clear light of Unity, of Truth, at the summit.

The Source of Bliss

Ideally, Unitary thought transcends all dualisms and divisions. The dichotomies of matter and spirit, mind and heart, object and subject, inner and outer are thus left behind, and one passes beyond all artificial distinctions to the seamless Unity of Truth. This is not a matter of ‘either/or’, and beyond even ‘both/and’. To borrow a concept from quantum physics, it is “tunneling” beyond the crack between opposites that originates them, and finding oneself in a pure Unitary state. The Hindus had a name for this state that described it beautifully: sat-chit-ananda, Infinite Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. And the Buddhist name for it, which is equivalent to the fana of the Sufis, described how it can be attained: Nirvana, or “snuffing out” the candle—the extinguishing of all selfish desires in oneself. The result is inexpressible, but Blake made an attempt at it, though all such attempts are doomed to failure:

To see the world in a grain of sand,

And Heaven in a wild flower;

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Ultimate Reality, which is known to us by the more familiar name of “God” (the Divinity), is the source not only of all being, but of all happiness—such that even a small step towards God will lead us out of grief into a great enhancement of happiness. If man, therefore, turns his back on God and starts walking, he doesn’t stand a chance; there is no power in the universe that can deliver him from despair.

Truth, Beauty, Goodness

“God is beautiful,” goes a Tradition, “He loves beauty.” Truth (Haqq), Beauty (Jamal ) and the Good (Birr) are divine names and attributes of God in Islam. Hence knowledge or science, which deals with truth; aesthetics, which concerns itself with beauty; and ethics, or moral philosophy, must complement and complete each other, since they reflect different facets of the same Unity.

The ancient Greeks, despite their polytheism, came very close to this insight. In Greek thought, goodness and beauty were identical. They expressed this by a hybrid term, “good-beautiful” (kalokagathia). And Keats took the above quotation identifying truth and beauty from a Grecian urn. Plato spoke of the unity of goodness and beauty. The concept has proved remarkably persistent in Western philosophy, right down to Wittgenstein, who in his Tractatus speaks of ethics and aesthetics as one. And while Kant wishes to distinguish between knowledge, ethics and aesthetics, a close inspection of his three Critiques reveals that he considered ethics and aesthetics one in principle, which further unite with knowledge at an apex.

Quantum physicist and Nobel Prizewinner Paul A. M. Dirac combined truth with beauty in his epigraph: “A physical law must possess mathematical beauty.” “God is a mathematician of a very high order,” he wrote, “and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.” Dirac was able to predict the existence of antimatter by relying on considerations of symmetry, which is a prime ingredient of beauty (mathematical or otherwise).[22] It was on this basis that he asserted: “A theory with mathematical beauty is more likely to be correct than an ugly one that fits some experimental data.”[23] Here we stand at the interface between scientific truth and artistic sensibility, where the simplicity and elegance of a scientific theory take precedence over cumbersome explanatory devices—just as Kepler’s elliptical orbits disposed of the inelegant theory of epicycles. It is for this reason that the Koran declares: “You do not see any imperfection in the creation of the Compassionate. Return your gaze; do you see any fissure? Look again and again; your gaze comes back to you, dazzled and tired” (67:3-4). In other words, if at first you don’t succeed in discerning this perfection, look again, revise your theories, and finally you will perceive pure magnificence.

The Music of the Koran

Pickthall, one of its interpreters, called the Koran “that inimitable symphony,” and Arberry, another interpreter, recognized “the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.” Because it is untranslatable, even the most successful interpretations fall miserably short of the breath-taking beauty of the original.

The Koran is neither prose nor poetry, but a unique combination of both. Further, the lilting sing-song in which it is recited, although unfamiliar to ears accustomed to Western music, highlights the quasi-musical nature of the Koran. Thus, it combines prose, poetry and musicality.

At this point we may well remember Carlyle:

All inmost things, we may say, are melodious; naturally utter themselves in Song. The meaning of Song goes deep. Who is there that, in logical words, can express the effect music has on us? A kind of inarticulate unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite and lets us for moments gaze into that!

All deep things are Song... See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it.

 

Seen in this light, the recitation of the Koran is music, “a mystic unfathomable song.” If the universe is the “music of the spheres,” then so is the Koran, which deciphers the mysterious universe to human comprehension. It is not, however, any song; the intonations and cadences of the Koran are all its own.

While the Koran is cast in the form of beauty, its contents are goodness and truth. As it declares itself: “There is no doubt in this book” (2:2). “It is an advice to the whole world, to those who wish to go straight” (81:27-28). “This is a book that discriminates between truth and falsehood. It is not a joke” (86:13-14). It takes the various strands of wisdom of all traditions—whether ancient or modern—and, consummately completing them, weaves them together in a rich tapestry that cannot be improved upon.

When we scrutinize the key concepts of the Koran, we find that it identifies goodness with beauty. Words deriving from the root HSN (such as husn, ihsan, hasan) all have this dual meaning “good-beautiful.” A good deed inherently appeals to the sense of beauty in human beings. Conversely, bad is identified with ugly, and is repulsive. Why should this be so? Because human nature is inherently good, although it does have a propensity for badness as well.

Thus, the moral or ethical distinctions of the Koran are simultaneously aesthetic distinctions. The beauty intended here, however, is spiritual beauty more than physical beauty, and points to the fact that courtesy (adab) and sublime moral conduct, which are beauteous in themselves, lead to beauty of spirit in the person who practices them. In Koranic terms, again, “good” is that which is balanced, while “bad” or “ill” is indicative of imbalance. Justice (adl ) is explained directly in terms of balance. Cruelty or oppression (zulm), squandering (israf ), being spoiled by excessive affluence (itraf ), and illicit sex (fahsha) all have the meaning of imbalance and extremism. The Koran, in short, invites us to live by the Golden Mean, and in each case it clearly outlines for us where this mean lies.

A second conclusion following from the inspection of its key concepts is the emphasis laid on “the straight path,” the path that leads straight to God, Paradise, and happiness. This is the path of the righteous, of those who do “good-beautiful” deeds. But there is also a second path: the road that leads to Hell. Hence, the Koranic concept of path may be compared to a two-way highway: one leading toward God and the other, away from Him. There are many words for ‘road’ in Arabic, and the Koran uses almost all of them.

The Chapter of the Opening

The Koran begins with the chapter of “the Opening.” The Arabic root of its name is FTH, from which also derive the words “key” (miftah) and “victory” (fath). From this constellation of words, we may understand that the Prelude of the Koran is a key which opens the doors to victory, to spiritual conquest, to victory over evil and despair. It is said that this chapter summarizes the Koran in a nutshell, and it is so important that it is recited in every Prayer cycle. What could be the reason for this importance?

I take refuge in God from Satan, the accursed.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, the Lord of all being,

The Compassionate, the Merciful,

Master of the Judgment Day.

You alone we worship, and you alone we ask for help.

Guide us along your Straight Path,

The path of those whom you have blessed,

Not of those who incur your wrath, nor of those who go astray.

Amen.

Let us examine these sacred verses one by one, in order to appreciate their meaning more fully. The main text of the Opening Chapter is preceded by “the Naming,” of which the second line is invoked more often: “In the name of God...”. The Naming precedes almost all the chapters of the Koran. The main text of the chapter is ended by saying “Amen” (“so be it”).

Let us first look at the Naming:

I take refuge in God from Satan, the accursed.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

The word interpreted as “accursed” above actually means “stoned” in the Arabic original, from which we understand that Satan was driven from the presence of the Lord. What God is saying here is this: “When you want to read my Divine Word, my Book, take refuge in Me from Satan, who has been banished and driven away from Divine Grace.”

Taking Refuge in God is to seek asylum with Him from everything that presents a barrier to grace, wisdom, and divine light, and thus to seek to witness the Presence of God. This becomes possible by the Knowledge of God. For Satan fears only the heart of the saint. The sun of Mohammedan Truth which is born in the depths of the saint’s heart burns the Devil and drives him away.

When a servant sincerely seeks refuge in his Lord in this way, the Almighty replies: “Fear not. Say: ‘I begin in the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’“ It is suggested to start upon any task by repeating the Naming, for otherwise it may not have an end.

Three divine names are invoked in the Naming: God, Compassionate, and Merciful. There is reference here to three classes of God’s servants, as explained elsewhere in the Koran (35:32):

1. Those who leave their selves in darkness,

2. Those who brake (control) their selves,

3. Those who do good works.

 

God is the Lord of all. Compassion is for those who control their selves, and Mercy, or a higher elevation, belongs to those who actively do good works.

We now arrive at the main text of the Opening Chapter, which is composed of seven verses (the Naming is added sometimes, to give a total of eight). The first three verses are said to be specific to God alone, the fourth verse of supplication is shared between God and man, and the last three verses belong to man—the man of faith. Thus, the Opening begins on God’s side and ends on man’s side, which shows that man by himself can do nothing—divine aid has to start with God.

Praise be to God, the Lord of all being.

All the thanks, or praise, of all beings that may originate in the form of words or deeds belong to the Lord of the universe, “the Lord of all the worlds.” From this we understand that God has created more than one world, and man is a world unto himself. When a human being begins to wonder: “Who am I? Where did I come from, and where am I being led? For surely my coming and going occur outside my own volition,” that person has attained the base level of being human. He is then faced with the proposition: “Seek your origin,” and this search begins by giving thanks.

There are three kinds of thanksgiving: giving thanks in the language of human beings, in the language of the spirit, and in the language of the Lord.

Giving thanks in the language of human beings is the thanks of the ordinary man. This is to thank God for His blessings. A person is to acknowledge a gift of God, and to use that gift in the proper way.

Giving thanks in the language of the spirit is the thanks of the Elect. It is done with the heart. The person’s condition is trained and his conduct is purified.

Thanksgiving in the language of the Lord is the thanks of the Wise. The Folk of Love give thanks, and are enabled to the light of unveiling by it. The Folk of Knowledge give thanks, and are enabled to witness God’s visage.

In short, thanksgiving is to praise the Lord, to exalt Him. This is why both the beginning and the end of life is praise.

No one can know or give the praise that God is worthy of. Hence, all salvation is from God. Thanks and praise are due to God alone, who creates and saves His creatures by His Essence, Attributes, and Actions.

He is the Lord of the Worlds; He trains the hearts of the Faithful with patience and sincerity, with loyalty and perseverance.

He is the Lord of the Worlds; He trains bodies by bringing gifts into existence.

He is the Lord of the Worlds; He trains souls by displaying His generosity.

The beginning of all creation is the Light of Mohammed, which is the Universal Intellect, and the world is its explication and unfolding.

The Compassionate, the Merciful.

The Compassionate (Rahman) creates and preserves the world, the Merciful (Rahim) saves it. “The Compassionate” is the name of the eternal past; “the Merciful” is the name of the eternal future. All things are brought into being and sustained by the Compassionate; God grants His special grace on a subset of existence with the Merciful.

Master of the Judgment Day.

God is the Master of “the Day of Religion,” the Judgment Day. The Judgment Day is the Gathering of souls, the Last Judgment, and their Dispersal to Heaven and Hell. It is the day when the purposes and struggles of people is evaluated.

It is the day when the wise gaze upon the Noble Face of their Lord, when the doers of good works find their reward, and when oppressors meet their retribution.

The small licenses we are allowed in this world are removed on that day. That day only the owner of the Station of Praise—the recipient of the decree: “My Lord will give you of His bounty, and you will be pleased”—namely, the Prophet Mohammed, will have full authority.

Now follows the verse that proclaims the independence and joy of the spirit, and indicates worship and the request for help:

You alone we worship, and you alone we ask for help.

“Dear Lord, we beg you for every help, and we worship you with the strength you give us. Our worship is not of our own. Power and strength belong to you. You have helped us, and we have worshiped you with that help. We look to your grace, and do not trust in our own deeds. We neither trust our works nor ask for reward; we only worship you. We wish you to grant bountifully. We have stripped ourselves of every purpose, interest and relationship. Help us in this condition; we beg for the continuation of this state. We worship you by your command and beg for help by your leave. Everything is temporary, only you are permanent.”

There are four ways to worship God: with desire, with fear, with shame, and with love. The best kind of worship is that done with love. Unification occurs through the operation of this verse, for it unites man to God. Asking for aid can only only occur when one has reconciled oneself with the presence of God’s Prophet (i.e. acknowledged him as such), for no one goes unto the Lord except by him (or, if one has lived during the reign of previous prophets, by their mediation).

Guide us along your Straight Path.

“Dear Lord, guide us to the Right Way with your aid. Give us guidance to whatever is your plan for us. We beg you to present us with the path that leads to the Summit of your Unity.”

The path of those whom you have blessed.

“That path is the road of the Prophet, the Martyrs, the Righteous and the Perfect. It is the station of knowing you, of beautiful courtesy. You have given these of your Grace.”

Not of those who incur your wrath, nor of those who go astray.

“We beg not to be of those who earn your wrath, who persist in error, who remain stuck in rote Imitation and cannot attain Realization, who are driven from the gate of servanthood, who are misguided, progress without deserving it, or show fake psychic feats.”

Amen.

“Please accept our supplication, dear Lord.”

Epilogue

What is it then that we are opened to? The rest of the Koran—the miracle of God, the Book in which nothing is neglected (6:38) and which is a guidance and a healing (41:44). And to a proper conscious understanding of the workings of the cosmos itself: God as the Compassionate and the Most Merciful. To a state whereby we are healed and not separate from that healing, remembering Him who continually remembers us.

He is the healer of all wounds, the mender of all schisms of the spirit. In order to achieve Unification we must apply to Him alone, using the way He has revealed to us through the Prophet. If we do so, there can be no doubt that we will receive salvation, no matter how “lost” we may be, for “well able is He to save.” The broken mirror of our minds and our psyches can be mended—but only if we remember God again.


ADVICE TO KIM

 

Dear Kim,[24]

God created the universe for Man, and Man He created for Himself. Whatever exists in the universe, He placed under man’s charge. Contemplating the endless mysteries of this world, man has always been amazed—completely at a loss to explain them. The ones sensing God’s power and Glory became thankful, and fell in love with their Lord. Those who took no heed of this remained unbelievers, denying all.

Well, Kim, your father is one of those who are thankful. With His hand of power, the Creator brought you from the world of spirits into this world of forms. You now find yourself in this created world, the World of Witnessing—that is to say, the observable universe. This universe is full to the brim with wonders, with its stars, its moons, its suns, its endless vegetation, animals, and people.

When you wander abroad on some pitch-black night, you watch the shining moon and the countless stars that cover the sky. Then you understand how great the Creator is. And in your heart you feel reverence and peace toward your Lord.

The majestic mountains, the vast oceans, fine clouds, the insect world, the greenery that clothes the earth... who knows what feelings of excitement are stirred by these in the depths of that beautiful heart of yours.

Just as I, too, have wandered with wonder and awe among these marvels ever since I arrived in this world. This beauty, such subtleties, awaken in my heart boundless excitement and a love, affection and longing for our Lord. With these sweet feelings I then seek a place of repose. Far from common concerns, absorbed in the celestial, do you know what it is that first comes to mind? Let’s look together at these sublime thoughts and where they lead to.

From that beautiful heart of yours, you inquire: “Dear father, what is this universe? This sun, this moon, these stars? These oceans, these mountains, flowers, insects, this day and this night? What are these endless forms, and what are they for? Who has made them, and who has caused them?”

You and I and this huge universe with all it contains are a limitless boon from Him who created us as a graceful act of kindness. Everything stands as a witness to His existence and His unity.

Everything in the universe is a sign that enables us to discover and love this Unity in multiplicity, this Oneness in diversity. And Man is the noblest and most perfect of them all.

This universe is a testing ground for Man. To the extent that he draws a lesson from what he sees, he learns and becomes a man of knowledge and wisdom. He then discovers the heavenly reason for coming into and leaving this world. Otherwise, he is imprisoned by this universe, in the end leaving it blind, deaf and ignorant of the Almighty’s purpose.

This, Kim, is what your Lord sent you into this universe to learn. He endowed your mind with high intelligence so that you may learn this during your short life. He fashioned you as the noblest and most esteemed of all creation. With His grace He placed the whole world under the control of man, and gave him great capacities to know his Creator.

Again as a boon, He informed man of these truths via the prophets and Books He sent. If not for the grace of the Almighty, how would we be able to discover these secrets and truths on our own, wandering astray amongst these infinities?

Even today, you will find many philosophers who abandon the Book and trust in reason alone, and who are overwhelmed by this multiplicity, failing to comprehend these mysteries and truths, and are left empty-handed as a result.

Finally, God gave us the Koran, informing us of all truths. He has outlined the mysteries and hidden meanings of the processes in these infinite planes, and has made clear to us our duties in this realm of multiplicity. And further, out of His grace and generosity, He has counted us amongst the community of His most beloved servant and messenger, our guide Mohammed.

You and I, therefore, are on the receiving end of infinite gifts. This, however, is not enough. It is necessary to increase our knowledge with science and wisdom as long as we live.

Knowledge is an Elixir of Life that rejuvenates human beings and makes them beloved in the eyes of people and God. One must, therefore, drink of it to the full. Otherwise, man without knowledge is little removed from the beasts.

This is why I am giving you this advice—to teach you this knowledge and these truths. Each constitutes a lesson informing you about the truth of these comings and goings in the universe. By understanding them and acting upon them, you will become truly human, thereby gaining the approval and love of your Lord. Without them, you will remain a slave to your egocentric passions.

So I will try to inform your pure heart of these lofty feelings, taking the Glorious Book as my base. My intention is that you should become a perfect human being, rather than being carried away by the glitter and laughter of this sorrowful world, which is really a school—and that you should know the divine purpose behind your creation, thus becoming accepted and beloved of your Lord.

In the letters that follow, I shall try to outline for you the requirements of being a good Moslem beyond the essentials of worship. It is my hope that you will thus become not merely a pious but also a saintly person.

1. Unification

Dear Kim,

All prophets have invited people to unification. To comprehend what this is, therefore, is the first task of humanity. Do you know what unification is? It is to recognize the Unity of the Creator of these endless worlds, and to worship Him alone. Although all the prophets have called human beings to this path, people have strayed from it and fallen into error with the passage of time. These are all deviations that stem from ignorance of the science of unification. They are the bitter outcome of the failure to carry out to the letter the instructions of their respective prophets.

This invariably happens when man is left to his own devices. He begins to think in accordance with his own personal predilections, delving into the realm of dreams and imaginings. And Satan makes this realm pleasing to him. He becomes lost in the depths of his error, all the while thinking that he is intelligent and right, unable to discern that he has strayed. History bears clear and bitter testimony to this.

There have been times when men have worshiped as Creator the work of their own hands. Sometimes they invented forms in their imagination and did likewise.

There have been times when men made pictures and statues of their loved ones and worshiped these, saying: “they will protect us and intercede for us.”

And then there have been times when men have worshiped the stars, saying: “God created these stars, which rule the universe. As they change, the universe changes. Let us worship them, and let them worship God.”

And many other sects of like nature have flourished. Men have limited themselves to their intellects and imagination, slowly sinking into the mud. They have strayed from the truth, bowed to these constructs and sacrificed to them. They have sworn by their name. And they have convinced themselves of the rectitude of their reasoning as they did so.

This is why God Almighty has pronounced in the Koran: “Some among men have associated others with God by worshiping idols. And they have adored and glorified idols in the same way that they have adored and glorified God. But the love of God of those who believe in God is greater and more constant than the love of the associators. If the associators and those who betray their selves knew that God’s might is invincible on the Day of Judgment when they will receive punishment, and that God’s chastisement is intense, they certainly would not associate others with God” (2:165).

And so they earn intense punishment on the Day of Judgment. Among the pages of history, you will also come across those who have denied God altogether. Such people have opted for eternal misery.

Therefore, my child, as man has strayed, God—out of His compassion and mercy—has appointed prophets from among these communities to guide them to truth. All messengers have invited men to unification. They have proclaimed the oneness of the Creator and the unity of Him who is to be worshiped. Indeed, God has declared: “Their messengers told them: ‘We invite you to Unification. Can there be any doubt as to the Unity of God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth?’“ (14:10)

“Your God who deserves worship is One. There is no other deity worthy of worship than Him. He is the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

Now, Kim, if you know all this, you will have understood the Unification to which all prophets have called. By saying: “There is no deity but God,” one casts aside all gods and deities unworthy of worship. With this Word of Unification, one affirms the One God worthy of worship, without associates and equals, and becomes a sincere Moslem and Unifier. Anyone who does not accept the oneness of the object of worship even though s/he accepts the unity of God, and thus worships many things, will be an associator, not a unifier. Even if he says: “There is no deity but God,” he will only pronounce his unification rather than living it, and thereby will be guilty of polytheism.

Unification is a matter of believing in God and worshiping Him. The matter of faith has been treated in Chapter 112 of the Koran, the Chapter of Sincerity. When the polytheists came to the Messenger of God and said: “Is your deity made of gold or of silver? What is he like, how many is he?”—God sent this Chapter of Sincerity, and declared to His Messenger: “[My Beloved Prophet,] say: ‘God is One. Everything is dependent on Him. He neither bears, nor is He born. Nothing is like unto Him, not one.’”

This chapter informs the deluded of their error in the knowledge of God; it is the essence of the Koran and the basis of the Islamic religion. Since it is also a comprehensive declaration of faith in the unification to which all prophets have invited, it has also been called the Chapter of Unification. It repudiates the many deities of the polytheists and makes clear that God Almighty cannot be compared to any creature. Thus, the Chapter of Sincerity is one that explains the theory of unification. On the other hand, since it speaks of worshiping only one God, it also describes the practical aspect of unification. Thus the Chapter of Sincerity is a theoretical and practical whole, and itself combines both these complementary aspects of unification.

Unification, therefore, is not just a matter of declaring that the Creator is one, that everything depends on Him, that He is neither born nor bears offspring, or that he is unequaled and incomparable. We must also consider its practice, and state and know that He is the only deity who deserves to be worshiped. Following faith in God, unification is the basis of practice. Without worship, in other words, unification is incomplete.

The word “One” in the Chapter of Sincerity expresses many meanings to us. It is one of the attributes specific to God alone. In other words, the Sincerity Chapter gives expression to a unity that is unique to God. This unity is not like the oneness of anything else. In the present case, when we say: “God is One,” we are saying that He is singular in His Essence, His Attributes, and His Actions.

By “God is One in His Essence,” I mean that God is not part of another thing or many things, like creatures are. This oneness is a unity that is specific to itself and not similar to that of created things.

By “God is One in His Attributes,” I mean that He is without equal—indeed, there is nothing to which He may even remotely be compared. That is, He is not similar to any of His creatures, nor does any creature bear comparison to Him.

And by “God is One in His Actions,” I mean that He has no partner(s) in what He does. For partnership belongs to the weak, whereas God is All-powerful. He stands in no need of associates.

And so, when we say “God is One,” we need to remember His unity in His Essence, His Attributes and His Actions, and should know His unity in serving Him. Otherwise, you will fall prey to the same pitfalls as men of previous generations, and be flung into eternal distraction. This is why the Messenger of God has said: “Say: ‘There is no deity but God’ if you want to be saved.” This is why the first requirement of Islam is to witness that: “There is no god except God.” And this is also why this sentence has been called the Word of Unity or the Word of Sincerity, and why it has constituted my first letter to you.

You should therefore read the Book of Unification, our guide in religion, and read it well. For knowledge will help you traverse the Path.

2. Moral Conduct

Dear Kim,

Morality is a goal of humanity. As to those who do not reach this goal, there is no way for them to understand either the nature of being human, or Islam.

A person can experience Islam and full humanity to the extent that s/he is endowed with beautiful manners.

The first task of a person who believes in God and His messengers is to rectify his conduct.

If a person has bad morals, it is no use even if he has all the knowledge in the world and performs countless acts of “worship.” He will always be refused by God and His Messenger. From beginning to end, the Koran speaks to us of ethics and morality. The Messenger of God himself has remarked: “Islam is beautiful moral conduct.” There can be no doubt that a servant of God will attain the greatest stations and highest degrees in Heaven as a consequence of his good moral conduct even if his worship is deficient, whereas bad conduct will land him in the lowest circles of Hell even if he was previously of God’s faithful servants. The Prophet of God states: “Among you, the ones I love most and the ones closest to me on the Day of Judgment are those with the best morals. I was sent to perfect morality.”

Quite obviously, then, lofty moral conduct is the foundation of Islam. Just as there can be no building without a foundation, there is no Islam without superior morals.

S/he who performs the Prayer, who fasts, and yet persists in immoral behavior, cannot be said to have understood Islam.

Islam as a religion is based on the following moral principles:

1

. You should perform your duties only to please God. This principle is one that will raise you ever higher, helping you to achieve perfection.

Your aim in life should never be to attain happiness in this world, high stations in the next, or the wish to escape Hell. Act only with the desire to please God. If you do this, you will have lived by the greatest principle of Islam, and will attain the highest perfection. To obtain the pleasure of God is the penultimate stage of man’s development. This is a bliss that surpasses all else.

If you do something for the sake of obtaining its reward, such as Heaven, you are engaging in a commercial transaction with God: you give and you take. If you do something in order to avoid punishment, such as Hell, you are merely looking out to save your own skin.

Now these are legitimate enough. Indeed, they are what motivates most people to action. But from a truly Islamic point of view, they are not the highest expression of morality.

In Islamic terms, the noblest conduct would be to do something out of pure love for God, untainted by motives of self-aggrandizement, self-promotion or self-protection—only to please Him alone, because such is His command or prohibition, i.e. the way in which He desires us to act or not to act.

The pleasure of God is greater than anything else. This is precisely the “great salvation” or “great liberation” mentioned in the Koran (5:119).

One has, therefore, to achieve this happiness in this world. For this world is a world of training. Those who follow this road will have found the greatest bliss.

You may say: “How can one obtain the pleasure of God, and does he know if his Lord is pleased with him?” A student like you once asked his teacher the same question: “Master,” he said, “can a servant know that God is pleased with him?” His teacher told him that God’s pleasure is hidden, and that a servant cannot know whether God is pleased with him or not. The student, however, claimed that such knowledge is possible. When his teacher asked how, he replied: “When the servant is pleased with his Lord, his Lord is pleased with him,” and recited the Koranic verse: “Return to your Lord, pleased and well-pleasing” (89:28). The teacher confirmed this was indeed the case, and congratulated him.

As you can see, Kim, if the servant is pleased with whatever issues from his Lord, God will in turn be pleased with him.

The Messenger of God has prayed for such people, and said: “God bless those who know their selves, protect their tongues, give thanks to God’s bounties and are pleased with God’s decrees.” Thus, he who submits wholeheartedly to God’s will is exalted above others. That is why when a famous mystic was asked: “Who is pleased with God?” He answered: “One who doesn’t swerve left when he discovers that God has placed Hell on his right.” Similarly, when another famous mystic was questioned: “When is a servant pleased with his Lord?” she replied: “When he is pleased in calamity just as he is pleased in bounty, and without his conduct wavering.”

In this manner, Kim, if His servant is pleased with God, God will be pleased with him.

He who aims at God’s pleasure will also do works that are sincere. Those who act in this way with no other concern are saints, the friends of God. They have found their Lord’s pleasure and attained the “great liberation.”

2

. Kim my child, the second principle you need in order to achieve perfection concerns your intent. If your intentions are noble, you are an elevated person. A man, then, is what he intends. If your intention is God, you belong to the People of God. For this reason, the worship of the People of God is valuable in God’s sight, even if it may be lacking, and its degree is above all others. That is why the Prophet advised one of his Companions: “Make your religion sincere. Even if it is not much, it will be enough for you.”

Note, Kim, how your heart responds to this advice of the Messenger. Try to increase that response. You will see that your deed performed with sincerity is like gold amongst base metals: it is worth many works. Your deed, therefore, is nothing but your intent. This is why the Prophet has explained: “Whatever your intent is, that is what you will receive. If a person’s intent during Pilgrimage is not God and His Prophet but material wealth or finding a wife, this is what his Pilgrimage will amount to.”

So perform your actions sincerely, and don’t forget the Prophetic Tradition: “Human beings, do your deeds sincerely, for God’s sake only. For God does not accept any works except those done with sincerity for His sake.” If your intention is sincere, but you are unable to perform the deed, God will reward you just as if you had been able to. Which is why the Messenger of God said: “The intention of the believer is better than his deed.”

Hence, even if your works are meager, elevate and exalt your intention. This, in turn, will elevate you, and God will reward you in accordance with your intent. The following anecdote illustrates this well: During one of his battles, some of the Prophet’s Companions were not able to accompany him. Of them, the Prophet remarked: “We have left behind a number who could not join us. Yet they have shared in our reward.” “How so?” his Companions asked. He replied: “Fate imprisoned them, yet they joined us with their good intentions.”

I am sure, Kim, that this strikes a chord in your heart. The mature believer reaches with his intentions where he cannot reach with his deeds, and this constitutes the pinnacle of morality. These are the fruits of the intentions of the good Moslem who nurtures them in his heart.

3

. The third principle of superior moral behavior is what has been perennially known as the Golden Rule: Do as you would be done by. In other words, do unto others as you would that others do unto you. Desire for others what you desire for yourself, and do not desire for others what you don’t desire for yourself. Thought and action commensurate with this principle is enough to elevate you to the heights of superior moral conduct.

4

. The fourth principle is known as the Happy Medium or the Golden Mean: Avoid excess, even in the observance of this principle! “The middle of all things,” Islam tells us, “is the best.” Indeed, wise people in all ages and continents have sought the temperate zone of morality: enough of everything, neither too much nor too little. The good is midway between extremes: ratio, a sense of proportion, due measure. Yet, although balance is good in the long run, sometimes it must be weighted down in favor of one side or the other. There are emergency situations that demand not the optimum, but the maximum or the minimum. There are times when even the Doctrine of the Mean may be pursued intemperately, yet with due provision for exceptional circumstances, moderation, my dear Kim, is the best of virtues in the long run.

* * *

Kim, you’ve heard already about the “seven deadly sins”—pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

Let me now give you an alternative list of seven sins: caprice, anger, lust, covetousness, miserliness, disdain, and pride.

As you can see, this list differs slightly. Not that I approve of gorging, envy and indolence—quite the contrary! However, whim, parsimony and scorn are of more importance.

Social life presents us with many trials. We may be invaded by bad thoughts. One’s morality is corrupted as each bad thought enters our hearts. Thus we become banished from God’s presence, living through Hell. There are seven immoralities that debase human beings, and to the extent that they avoid these, they are endowed with high morals:

1. To follow one’s own caprice and mind: To disobey God’s express orders is the first of these iniquities. Satan leads man to his own destruction by making his acts appear pleasing to him. In order to find happiness both in this world and the world to come, a person should leave aside personal whims and caprice, and be guided by an enlightened principle in all his acts.

2. Anger: Man can never rest, so long as he harbors anger. Sooner or later, it explodes like a bomb. This is why it has been said: “He who subdues his anger vanquishes his ego (self).” Similarly, the Messenger of God has remarked: “Real wrestling is not to bring others to the ground, but to rein in and control one’s self in times of anger.” And some saints have observed: “The beginning of anger is insanity, and its end is bitter remorse.”

Nurse anger with calmness and stay relaxed. As long as one remains in this world, one is tested by things that arouse one’s temper. Try to be brave; this is such a test for us all! A moment’s anger can destroy everything. If you can preserve your gentleness and good nature in that instant, you may consider yourself one of the saved.

Gentleness is the custom of the Folk of Heaven and leads one to happiness. It is achieved by putting the brakes on the self when anger begins to manifest itself. Surely does God love such good-natured people!

Anyone who contains his anger and holds his tongue at such a time will be the greatest of men. The friends of God call this “the fast of the tongue”: they have vowed not to say anything bad. And our Prophet has said: “To fast is not to abstain from food and drink. It can only be accomplished by staying away from bad things and bad words. If someone harasses you with a bad word, do not reply in kind. Immediately remind yourself: ‘I’m fasting, I’m fasting.’“

Kim, if you take this advice of your father’s to heart, joy will be yours both here and in the Hereafter. You can see how concerned the Prophet was for his Community, and how much he wished for us to eschew evil. To learn these precepts, to act by them, to receive and give guidance in every way, is the kind of conduct that is pleasing to the Prophet of Islam.

3. Lust: Sex in its rightful place is not banned by Islam, but sexual passion may draw one into evil of every kind: as long as sex is not legitimate, happiness will not be ours.

The pages of history are littered with people who have fallen victim to their passions, which in turn was due to illicit sexual relationships. Anyone who wants to lead a clean life should learn a lesson from this and stick to the legitimate. Otherwise, it is inevitable that eternal misery will overwhelm us. The cure for this is to build a family, and to relate to each other with religious ties.

4. Covetousness: Regarding with envy the property of others, not desiring their happiness, is certainly a state we should distance ourselves from.

As long as avarice survives in man, he is like a predatory animal. In a short time, he loses that which makes him human. To cure this should be one of your foremost tasks.

5. Parsimony. The miser is avid to accumulate property; he does not wish to give to anyone. Being a miser is the essence of bad manners. Such a person earns the contempt of God and people alike. Not without reason has the Prophet said: “The stingy and the envious cannot enter Heaven.”

My advice to you, Kim, is that you should always distance yourself from this, and give your life for a friend if need be. You should be generous as the ocean. Give to the needy; however, do not squander, and help those closest to you first, since we have been instructed to do so in the Koran (16:90).

6. Disdain: Or contempt for others. Closely associated with self-admiration, this is to belittle and despise others, thinking them stupid, weak, or lowly, to scorn them for possessing all-too-human attributes.

7. Pride: The greatest of sins. It is to be arrogant because of what one has or is, which are really only what God has lent us and can reclaim at any time. You should note, dear Kim, that these last two sins are closely related, for feelings of superiority often go hand in hand with belief in the inferiority of others.

Conceit is a sin that alienates us from others. Every vain person is reproved, and belongs with the inmates of Hell. This is why the Messenger of God has remarked: “The person with the slightest pride in his heart cannot enter Heaven.”

Now, my dear Kim, if we can erase these vices from ourselves, they will immediately be replaced by the virtues that are their opposites, and it’s in this way that we gain maturity and perfection.

Caprice may be replaced by obedience to God,

anger, by gentleness,

lust by love and friendship,

covetousness by admiration,

parsimony by generosity,

disdain by self-criticism,

and pride by humility.

Thus do we become truly human, and truly begin to understand Islam. A smile that is the sign of grace lightens one’s face. This smile, which indicates contentment with whatever befalls one, is, after faith, the second divine gift to us. This is precisely what the Prophet has said: “A smiling countenance is God’s gift after faith.”

Because of love for our Creator, we are filled with love and tolerance for His creatures as well. We greet and freely offer to all. In short, we become the source of all approved morals, and as beautiful and admirable as a rose.

Now such beautiful people, such hearts of gold, are very rare indeed. There may be no more than a few in a million. My dear Kim, it is my fondest hope that you too should become one of them.

* * *

The following five virtues, Kim, serve also to complete God’s grace upon you and invest you with perfection.

1. In lovingkindness be like the sun,

2. In bestowing life, be like water,

3. In humbleness, be like the earth,

4. In hiding shame, be like the night.

It is morality of the highest kind to have compassion like the sun for all creatures because of their Creator; to give life like water everywhere one flows, to be humble like earth under all conditions, to cover and hide from sight all shames like the night, to remain calm like the deceased (and not to react) whenever one is angry.

To know these principles and to practice them is the highest stage attainable by man. A person will understand Islam and what it means to be truly human only to the extent that he or she lives up to these principles.

3. On Knowledge and Science

Dear Kim,

We are accustomed to thinking about science and religion as mutually exclusive, as if the two could not coexist, let alone supplement each other. Now this may be true for some religions, but it certainly is not true for Islam. In no religion is science and knowledge more highly valued than in Islam. If you look at the Koran and the Traditions of the Prophet, you will find that the Arabic word ilm (meaning knowledge/science), is invariably used in the most general sense, without any qualifications. This shows us that knowledge of any kind is regarded as valuable. The only distinction is between useful as opposed to useless knowledge—as the Prophet prayed, “I take refuge in You from useless knowledge.” The Koran states the difference between knowledge and ignorance very simply: “He who knows and he who does not know—how can they be the same?” (39:9). The ignorant and the knower are as different as night and day.

If Life is the first and greatest Attribute of God (Hayy: “the Living”) in Islam, Knowledge is no less than the second (Alim: “the Omniscient”). To the extent that we learn and know, therefore, we are participating in a divine attribute, and all divine attributes are wonderful. We should be careful, my dear Kim—if one’s conceit rather than humility increases with knowledge, then we are destined for disaster. One’s awe and wonder should increase with knowledge, not one’s arrogance.

 Many are the Prophet’s sayings in praise of knowledge/science. Since the term “knowledge” is more inclusive and also covers scientific knowledge, I shall drop the cumbersome double usage in what follows, provided you never forget that science is also automatically implied. Here are some examples:

“Learn knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

“Seek knowledge, even if it be in China.”[25]

“Men of knowledge are the heirs of the prophets.”

“The ink of the scholar or scientist is more valuable than the blood of the martyr.”

The list can be expanded to include dozens of examples, Kim, and I’ve only cited the ones that just popped into my mind. Here is another that will lead us on to other things: “Who desires this world, let him learn knowledge. Who desires the other world, let him learn knowledge. Who wants both this world and the next, let him learn knowledge.”

Now combine this with two other Traditions: “This world is the field you plant for the next. What you sow here, you shall reap there.” And: “Do not neglect this world. You will be questioned on the other side as to what you’ve done here.” If you reflect on these, you will realize that you cannot afford to ignore either world, and that you must learn about both. A person possessing knowledge of only the physical (material) world will be blind in one eye, while one who has knowledge of the nonphysical (spiritual) world will be blind in the other. Ideally, one should possess knowledge of both worlds; neither should be allowed to eclipse the other.

Knowledge of the physical world is abundantly available in our day. In what follows, however, I shall concentrate more on the essentials of useful knowledge not so readily at hand.

Knowledge, my dear Kim, is a guiding light that informs us of the truth and makes human beings realize their humanity. Only in this way can man rend the veil of ignorance and attain truth. Otherwise, he leaves this world as blind as he was when he came into it. Knowledge is a light that dissipates this blindness, that teaches the secrets and facts about this entry into and exit from this world. It is due to the paramount importance of this that God Almighty—in the first Koranic verse He revealed to our Messenger, His Beloved—declared:

“Read: read in the name of your Lord” (96:1).

You can see from this, Kim, that reading and learning is the very first injunction Islam enjoins upon us. For this reason, the role of the teacher is also very exalted in Islam. Ali, the Prophet’s nephew and the fourth Caliph, stated: “I am a slave to whoever teaches me a word.” The following remark also belongs to him: “God did not bestow on His servants anything more valuable than Intelligence.”

Know that Islam does not accept ignorance. We must read and learn from the cradle to the grave. Whoever ceases to study falls into error. He is engulfed by all kinds of base passions. That is why it is necessary to read, and always to study.

If the nutrition of the body is food and drink, the nourishment of the mind is knowledge and wisdom. Without knowledge, the intellect is worthless. Know that the ignorant mind entangles one in evil. It creates people who are dangerous to humanity.

Knowledge is a light that sharpens the intellect and distinguishes good from ill. Only with knowledge is all manner of worldly and otherworldly maturity attained. Knowledge is a grace that dwarfs all others. When this boon is removed, everything tends to dissolution. That is why the Prophet has remarked: “Learn knowledge. For whoever obtains it can discriminate between good and evil, between truth and untruth. Knowledge lights the road to Paradise. Knowledge is one’s companion in the deserts, one’s friend in solitude, one’s closest friend when one is left all alone.”

If you ponder these wise words, you will understand the value of knowledge and be enthusiastic to gain it. Hence the Prophetic Tradition: “Dear Lord, make me wealthy with knowledge and decorate me with gentleness. Exalt me with piety, and invest me with health.”

This is a lesson for us. Loqman, the prophet-physician, told his son: “Listen to those who converse with men of knowledge. God animates dead hearts with knowledge, just as He vivifies the earth with rain.” And our Messenger adds: “Listening to one word from the Knowledge of God is better than a year’s worship. To request knowledge is mandatory for every believer. Be either a scientist, a student, or a lover of knowledge. Don’t be a fourth thing, for you will be ruined.”

“God provides the livelihood of those who seek knowledge for His sake from unexpected quarters. Almighty God opens the way of Heaven for any believer who takes the path of knowledge.”

You see, Kim, the Messenger of God has always invited his community to knowledge, and praised science and scholarship. The rank of knowledge is the highest of ranks. Always make this rank your aim, and always invigorate yourself with science. Remember the words of our Prophet: “Those who devote their lives to knowledge never die.”

Read these words many times, think deeply, and never be heedless of science. Take knowledge from whatever quarter you may find it, in accordance with the saying of the Prophet: “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer: s/he takes it wherever s/he finds it.” Take it from non-Moslems, if that is where it is. Endure hardships for the sake of learning, and study and work tirelessly. For this exalted station may demand great efforts, lack of sleep, even your life. Let nothing stand in your way, so long as you learn a word of knowledge. This is what will give you life. This is what will make you a friend of God. But don’t learn knowledge to show it off, and don’t sell it for worldly gains. If you do so, you will invariably be doomed. Our Messenger informs us: “Who learns knowledge in order to be proud, God throws him into Hell.”

My dear Kim, you should learn with the purpose of pleasing God, and act accordingly. If you do so, you will surely belong to God’s elect. Otherwise, your knowledge will complain against you on the Day of Reckoning, and you will be of those shamed in God’s sight.

Respect people of knowledge, and be deferential toward them. For they are very honorable people in the sight of God. Whoever respects and defers to them is respecting and defering to God and His Prophet. Ponder deeply the Prophet’s words: “Whoever respects scholars or scientists has shown respect to me.” Do not forget that those who instill knowledge in you have more rights over you than your parents. Never give them a stern or angry glance. Never talk lightly with them; always be kind and courteous. Praise them in their life and death, and do not forget them in your Prayers or supplications. View them with gentleness and tenderness, remembering that they are the ones who have taught you divine science. Even looking at them kindly is worship in itself. In fact, the Prophet has said in a Tradition: “Viewing a man of knowledge who lives by his knowledge is the equivalent of prayer.”

These words are reserved for those whose actions fit their knowledge. These are the true heirs of the prophets; they are stars that shine on earth. Following their path will lead you to happiness. It is always necessary to exalt them. So says the Prophet of God: “Exalt the people of knowledge in my community, and show them respect. For they are like stars in this world. The virtue of a scientist whose conduct matches his knowledge is as superior to the virtue of a worshiper as my virtue exceeds that of my community.”

Having learned all these, it should be your duty to take stock of yourself and study hard, devoting as much of your free time as possible to the acquisition of knowledge.

If you ask: “What should I study?” my answer is that before anything else, you should avoid Forbidden gain, ensure that every morsel you and your family swallow is purchased with Allowed earnings, and be patient; for these precede learning in priority.

Knowledge is a divine light that does not penetrate breasts imbued with the Forbidden, and does not yield to uncouth and discourteous persons. Consequently, if you desire knowledge you must work hard, and apply what you already know. If you chance to meet a man of knowledge whose mode of life is true to his knowledge, consider him a grace from God. If you lose him, you will be lost. If you find a book of his, impress it upon your heart. The words of such people are a Godsend.

There are two kinds of knowledge in general. One kind belongs to the divine, the other to the mundane. Sciences of the divine infuse you with life. To learn these is obligatory. As the Prophet said: “It is incumbent on every Moslem man and woman to request knowledge.” Knowledge of divine matters includes such things as the afterlife, Prayer, Fasting, the Alms-tax, the Pilgrimage, and commercial dealings. Those who do not want to learn these will regret it, and God will hold them accountable. To learn these and teach them to our children is the duty of every Moslem.

The other kind is our knowledge of the external world. This knowledge is necessary in order to survive as an individual and to regulate social life. It is necessary to learn this as well. Because this kind of knowledge is in continual progress, one must stay abreast of developments. This is why Ali, the fourth Caliph, remarked: “Raise your children not according to the requirements of your times, but of the times they will find themselves in.”

In short, Kim, try to learn something as long as you are in this world. If these two kinds of knowledge complement each other, you will be a perfect man. You will lead a happy life, and won’t be put to shame in this world or the next. Then will this sad face of your father be allowed a smile.

4. On Health and Free Time

Dear Kim,

The secret of success in this world and the next is to protect your health, and to devote your free time to knowledge and wisdom. He who appreciates the value of his health and free time will be awarded accordingly.

These two gifts are such boons of the Almighty that they posess vital importance in every respect, completing all other boons.

The West has succeeded in every field due to its proper use of health and free time, which the Prophet of God pointed out 1400 years ago. He said: “There are two gifts about which many people are confused. These are health and free time.”

Many people are ignorant of God’s gift of free time. They always squander this gift on useless things and delude themselves. They waste their valuable life, falling short in both this world and the next.

Therefore, Kim, it is not only necesary but mandatory to recognize the value of these gifts, and to use them wisely. That’s why the saints have observed: “He who honors his hour wins his day, and he who honors his day wins his life.” All the gains of civilization can be traced to the observance of this fact, and all individual and social calamities to the failure to do so.

The first thing to do is to learn the science of health and of the body. This is why the great scholar Ghazzali said: “There are two kinds of sciences to be learned: the sciences of the body [physical sciences] and the sciences of religion.”

The first of the corporeal sciences is the science of nutrition. Concerning this, the Prophet remarked: “The stomach is the home of illness; diet is the beginning of all cures.”

To fill the stomach is nothing to be proud of. The thing to do is to eat food that is good for health in proportion to one’s appetite. True human beings don’t eat unless overcome by hunger, or drink unless thirsty. They rise from the table before they’re full. They aren’t fazed by the world’s commotion; they leave things to God and are at peace in their hearts.

My dear Kim, you should be prepared to see much sorrow and pain in this world. This is an unavoidable trial for us all. You must, however, trust in God, just as His Prophet did. Don’t mind the gossip of the ordinary. Such things will only confuse you. Always cleave to hope, and be cheerful. Leave the truth to God, stick with the truth, and thus remain in comfort.

Enjoy strolls in fresh air, and wake up at daybreak. Such action will elevate you both physically and spiritually. Enjoying the expanse of blue seas, lofty mountains, and meditating in their presence, constitute the most beautiful hours of a lifetime.

The greatest influence on your corporeal and spiritual life will be your friends. Be very careful about them. Always talk with them in cognizance of the fact that today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy. It will be better for you if you keep your secrets to yourself. But you must help all your friends. Steer clear of hypocrites—they always spell danger for anyone who comes within their sphere.

Someone once asked a master: “How should I speak with people?” He replied: “My son, have you ever walked barefoot in a field of thorns?” “Yes.” “And how did you walk?” “With great care.” “Precisely. So talk with great care when you talk to people.”

Always bear this tale in mind. Safety resides in holding your tongue. Pay attention to the Prophetic dictum: “If you speak, speak well [not ill]. Otherwise, hold your tongue.”

Be temperate in your conversations with others. Don’t reveal your every secret and business. The one you address could conceivably become estranged from you some day, and the friend might be replaced by an enemy. Nor should you be inimical towards someone estranged from you, for the day may come when he will become a friend, and then you will be ashamed every time you look at him. In short, to abide by moderation in everything is the essence of safety and happiness.

Keep these Traditions in mind, so that you won’t stray and surrender yourself to trouble or jeopardize your physical and mental health. These are all factors that will lead you to happiness.

My advice is that you should determine the times when you will work, sleep, eat and rest, not wasting one moment. The Prophet’s life was always well-ordered; he planned his times of worship, work and rest. This is the secret of success, and this is why those in the West have made this their principle and organized their time.

Once you understand these points, what remains is to apply them. They are a key to maturity and perfection. Always keep this key in hand, and tread this path. Nothing but every happiness and success will be yours if you do so.

5. Concerning Family Duties

My Dear Kim,

The family is the smallest unit of society; therefore, family life should bevalued and strengthened. Social life is only as strong as family life is morally clean, informed, and wise. The heads of the family are the teachers and judges of this little community. It is their responsibility to endow their children with knowledge and to resolve their differences.

Every child is entrusted by God to its parents. And anyone who violates this trust will be held responsible by God.

Therefore, Kim, it is a religious obligation on every parent to give a child a good name, to teach it the religion, and to show it the beautiful places of this world.

The Lord proclaims in the Koran: “Enjoin Prayer on your people, and remain steadfast in Prayer” (20:132).

If we consider this verse in depth, it becomes clear that it is incumbent on every Moslem family to enjoin Prayer on its members. That is why, after this verse was revealed, the Prophet would visit Ali, his, son-in-law, at daybreak, and call out: “Prayer is better than sleep,” inviting him to Morning Prayer.

Prayer is a form of worship that combines all other forms, and preserves the one who performs it from all evils. If a person performs Prayer with a mature peacefulness, he will become a saintly person and will exhibit all kinds of superior moral conduct. As for bad-tempered persons who derive no benefit from their Prayers, they are like people who shuffle along rather than walk, since their Prayer is based on rote imitation without any appreciation of its subtler aspects. But if a person starts his Prayer with the love of God in his heart and with the desire to please Him, he will leave behind his bad habits with the first mention of: “God Most Great,” and his bad habits will be purged from him by the end of his Prayer.

Such peaceful Prayer greatly elevates a person. It makes him loveable in the sight of God and His creatures. This is why Prayer is the pillar of the Islamic religion. Indeed, the Prophet has said: “Prayer is the pillar of religion. Whoever performs it has built up his religion, and whoever doesn’t has wrecked his religion.”

Just as everything has a foundation, a main pillar, the basis of this religion is Prayer. The building will be as strong as this pillar is. Within the little community of a family, legal relationships will take place with justice, and happiness will manifest itself. The heads of the family, therefore, are like shepherds responsible for the conduct of their flock. The Prophet has explained: “Each one of you is a shepherd with respect to his duties. A ruler is a shepherd over those he rules. He is responsible for the dissemination of justice in his country. A person is responsible for his people and family, and is a shepherd to them. A woman is a shepherd in her home, and is responsible for everything within it. A servant is responsible for the property of those s/he serves, and for protecting it. Be aware that you are all shepherds, and are responsible for the duties you undertake.”

If you ponder this saying, everyone is responsible for those entrusted to him. A family that accepts the Lord’s commandments is a beautiful family and a felicitous home. This, Kim, has always been my aim as well. I am happy when I see you all on this path, and my heart is filled with light.

It is better to seek one’s livelihood without anxiety. The Lord has declared: “Ask for sustenance, and We will sustain you. The happy ending is for those who take care” (20:132).

The true Sustainer, Kim, is God. We should continue our Prayers and worship with the hope that sustenance will be provided. But the Lord also says: “There is nothing for man but the work of his own hands” (53:39). For sustenance, we should “invoke its causes;” i.e., we should seek out ways to earn it. For this is the Divine Way. If you don’t sow, neither will you reap.

God has created a cause for everything. And it is the duty of breadwinners to open a door of livelihood for their children. In this case, they are the sustainers.

We ask God to fulfil our desires along with everything else. He who forgets God and asks from His creatures will become an associator. God’s servants are simply conduits or means. The one who gives sustenance is God. Work, too, is a means. As the Prophet has said: “The doors of sustenance are locked. Work and effort are their keys.”

Just as this family head invites you to the fullest realization of your religion, Kim, so do I also invite you to work and effort in worldly matters. You will be given the key of some craft to open the doors of sustenance. If I fail in this, I will be held accountable.

And so, to provide guidance that leads to the good things in this life and the next is one of the duties of the heads of the family. Happy results await such people of God who fear Him, fulfill their obligations such as Prayer and fasting, and sacrifice neither this world for the next, nor vice versa. Such people are never separated from the invocation of God, under any conditions and in any transaction. They are the leaders of those who take care, and happiness is their lot.

Concerning them, the Prophet has prayed: “May God have mercy on the father who gives help in a good cause,” and concerning the training of children, has said: “Train your children so that they will have three traits: love for the Prophet of God, for the Prophets, and for the families of the Prophets.”

6. On the Rights of Parents

Dear Kim,

Every human being has duties towards his Lord and His creatures. The duties owed the Lord are called “the rights of God,” and the duties owed to His creatures are called “the rights of His servants.” First and foremost among the latter are the rights of parents.

The rights belonging to God are acknowledgement of His Oneness, i.e. not associating anything with Him, and worship and obedience. And the rights belonging to His servants, beginning with obedience and service to one’s father and mother, are: remembering one’s relatives, visiting and giving to them; treating widows, orphans, the poor, and neighbors with good cheer, doing them favors of all kinds, greeting them, visiting them if they are ill, being present at their funerals, responding to their invitations, advising them if they seek advice, saying “God bless you” if they sneeze, and so on. Such are the rights of one servant of God over another.

For this reason, the Prophet has said: “Whoever believes in God’s Prophet should do good to one’s neighbor, whoever believes in God and the Last Day should be bounteous to one’s visitors, and should either speak well or hold his silence. Whenever Gabriel came to me, he would counsel respect for neighbors’ rights. Gabriel emphasized this so much, I thought that presently neighbors would even be heirs to each other.” Such rights are obligatory on each and every Moslem.

There are three verses in the Koran that cover two decrees which are, in each case, inseparable. One of these is: “Do the Prayer, pay the Alms-tax” (2:43). It is said that whoever performs his Prayer but does not pay the Alms-tax will find that God won’t accept his Prayers.

The second is: “Obey the Prophet of God” (4:59). If a person knows and obeys his Lord but does not obey the Prophet, God will not accept his obedience.

The third is: “Human being, give thanks to Me and to your parents” (31:14). If a person gives thanks to God but not to his father and mother, it is as if he hadn’t given thanks to God.

In this last verse, the Almighty declares: “We have advised man to do good to his parents. For his mother carried him in her belly with weakness upon weakness. She suckled him for two years, and then ended it. For this reason We have counseled service to his parents, and have told him: ‘Human being, give thanks to Me, and to your father and mother. In the afterlife, you will only come to My presence. There is nowhere else to go. I shall then question you concerning whether you gave thanks to Me and to your parents.’“

This verse says it all. You should appreciate how great the rights of your parents are. Because the rights of the mother are superior to those of the father, God says: “she carried him with weakness upon weakness.” When a person was in his mother’s belly, she suffered great difficulty and pain. As the child grew in the womb, her “weakness upon weakness” increased. This weakness and tribulation increased every day until birth. After it was born, the mother continued to nurture and raise her child, frequently sacrificing her sleep. She suckled it for up to two years, and afterwards continued to “lower her wings of mercy” over it, protecting it against all kinds of evil. She trembled every hour for that child up to the time of its adolescence.

After puberty, a child becomes an accountable human being. It is then that God’s decree applies: “We advised you to serve your parents. Human being, give thanks to Me and to your parents.”

Give thanks first to God, who created man and endowed him with all manner of gifts. Next, give thanks to the service of your mother and father, who trembled over you day and night, fed you and raised you, and withstood all kinds of hardships. If you do not recognize this great service, you will be accountable to the Lord when you find yourself in the Divine Presence tomorrow.

Kim, I ask you to ponder this over and over again. Whoever does not recognize his parents and rebels against them has not understood the meaning of Islam and of being human.

A Companion once asked the Prophet: “What is the greatest of good works?” He answered: “Performing an obligatory Prayer in its due time.” “And after that?” “Obedience and doing good to one’s parents.” “And then?” “Struggle in the way of God.”

This Tradition shows us that obedience to one’s father and mother takes precedence over struggle for God’s sake. The Almighty also bound earlier religious communities with a covenant to honor one’s father and mother. This covenant testifies to the greatness of this issue. The Lord says: “We bound the Children of Israel with a covenant to worship none other than God, and to obey and be kind to their parents” (2:83).

Because the labor and service of the mother are greater than those of the father, the mother’s rights are greater than the father’s. Hence, one day a man came to the Prophet of God, and said: “Who is most worthy of my respect and protection?” The Prophet replied: “Your mother.” “And after that?” “Again, your mother.” “And next?” “Once again, your mother.” “And then?” “Your father.”

The threefold repetition of the mother in this Tradition indicates the rights of a mother over her child, and that protection of and service to her should be correspondingly great. But the father’s rights are great, too. And so, in Islam, it is incumbent on us to respect and be kind to: first, the mother, next, the father, and then relatives and neighbors.

If these considerations lead you to the question: “How should I behave towards my parents?” God replies: “Never speak sternly with them, never scold them or break their hearts with unkind words or exclamations” (17:23). Even the slightest negative exclamation is prohibited, let alone shouting at them or turning away from them.

He who pleases his mother and father pleases God. God, my dear Kim, has said: “If they suggest something to you, don’t refuse it because you find it difficult, and speak kindly to them, favor them with sweet words. Lower your wings of lovingkindness and compassion on them and act accordingly, and say: ‘My Lord, have compassion for them’“ (17:24).

Since the rights of your parents are so important, Kim, even the slightest expression of displeasure in carrying out their chores will make you a rebel against God. It is your duty always to smile at them, speak sweetly to them, always to show tenderness and mercy, to pray to God for them, always to recall them with a prayer of mercy if they are dead, to rise when they come in, and to look after them in their old age or weakness.

One day a young man came to the Prophet and complained about his father: “My father makes use of my property as he wishes. Please tell him not to transgress my property.” So the Prophet invited the father to come over. When the man came, he burst into tears: “Once, my son was weak and I was strong, he was poor and I was rich. I never begrudged him any of my food. Now I am old and he is rich, and my child forbids me his property.” And he wept. The Prophet of God and those present wept with him. The Prophet turned to the young man and said: “Both you and your property belong to your father.”

As the Prophet has said: “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.” In other words, those who obey God and His Prophet and please their mothers will go to Heaven. The prayers of parents dissipate veils; God accepts those prayers. With the aid of that prayer, God makes a servant honored and elevates him. My child, I pray to God that you may be sincere. Hearing these words, may you be obedient to God, His Prophet, your mother, and me. If you do this, all manner of happiness will be ours.

These words are but a drop in the ocean, but heed them throughout your life. They are a light that will guide you to safety. Those who follow this path achieve happiness.

7. Three Commandments, Three Prohibitions

Dear Kim,

I want to draw your attention to three things that are the source of beauteous conduct, and another three that give rise to outrageous behavior. To know them and act by them will enrich your life, leading you to maturity and perfection.

The Almighty declares in the Koran: “God calls you to justice, performing good acts, and giving to relatives in need. He forbids fornication, impropriety, and insolence. He advises you with commandments and prohibitions, so that you may take heed” (16:90).

This verse gives valuable advice in a nutshell. For this reason, it is also called “the Pole of the Koran.”

If all the world were to abide by it, all immorality and oppression would cease. This is why the Prophet made it a permanent part of the Friday Sermon, so that Moslems may contemplate it and be conscious. Unfortunately, however, few people realize its importance.

Let us try to fathom the depths of meaning this verse contains.

Three things are enjoined in this verse that are the fount of all praiseworthy morals. By obeying them, a person unites all salutary conduct in himself. And God forbids three other things with this verse that, if societies were to heed them, the door would be opened to all kinds of progress. Hence, the verse is of vital importance to humanity. All moral behavior is summarized in it.

First of all, God commands justice. For justice is the basis of everything, and nothing can survive without it.

Justice is a condition of the spirit, and implies giving rights where they are due. This is a social matter. If everyone acts with justice, society will gain new life. Swerving from justice leads to agony in both the individual and social spheres.

Justice is to be distant from the extremes of too much or too little, and to live in moderation along the right path. According to Ghazzali, justice is served by performing what is necessary.

Good acts are those that are useful to human beings beyond the requirements of necessity. With this verse, God enjoins us to do good to everyone.

Good-doing has a primary place in Islam. God loves those who do good. That is why our ancestors built libraries, schools, fountains, bridges, etc. without regard to material returns. In Islam, doing good is a quality superior to basic justice. Justice is the first step in human morality. Doing good is the virtuous deeds that people perform out of their own volition.

God especially enjoins doing good and giving to relatives who are in need. Of course, blood relations take precedence over others. Indeed, the Prophet has said: “What is given to the poor is charity. The charity given to relatives and kin is double charity. Its merit is twofold.”

As you can see, Kim, there is a style to doing good. In enjoining the good, the Koran starts with the first level of good, and outlines all the levels.

On the other hand, God forbids three forms of evil. The first of these is fornication. This is to satisfy one’s lust by illicit means. Fornication is a deadly indecency in social life. God has prohibited it.

He has also prohibited impropriety. This results from the power of anger in man. Everything that is forbidden by Holy Law falls under impropriety. Due to anger, man transgresses all limits set by God and begins to do what has been prohibited to him. Lying, gossiping and jealousy are examples of improper things.

As for insolence, this arises from the power of misconception in man. It drives one to vanity, conceit, and oppression. The whole of society is influenced by insolence, and it is one of the worst evils.

Just as in the case of virtues, God outlines all the levels of evil and shows them to us from the first to the last. He forbids us to engage with evil at any level: He wants us to practice all kinds of good, and to refrain from all kinds of evil.

8. Control Your Self, Know Yourself

My Dear Kim,

Whoever controls his self will know himself, will understand God’s purpose in bringing us forth into this world, and will be one of those who attain divine knowledge.

The most wonderfully perfect human beings are those who are able to control themselves. The ego is a faculty in man that commands him to do bad things. It manifests itself in different ways in each human being. It does not die, and can only be contained. It lives in man and it dies with him.

Struggling against the ego will make you perfect. The thing to do is to maintain your chastity at the point your ego becomes manifest. Losing your purity and good cheer is a sure sign that you have been overcome by your ego.

Always protect your purity and high spirits. This is the door to happiness—do not close it. Be patient, and victory will be yours.

Moses once complained to God: “My Lord, my people are gossiping about me, ascribing attributes to me that I don’t possess. Please stop them.” The Lord answered: “Moses, they gossip about Me concerning attributes I don’t have even though I am their Creator. But I am patient with them. You, too, should be patient.”

A great Sufi master has said: “We have tried every means, and have not been able to find anything better than patience. Patience and precaution are the remedies for everything.”

Everyone has understood and practiced patience in a different way, but let me explain it to you in a couple of words:

Patience is containment of the ego. That is, it means to lock up egotistic drives in order to reach a certain goal, and to withstand all difficulties in this way.

Barring very few exceptions, we are all prisoners of our egos. The choice is clear: either we imprison the ego, or it imprisons us.

Life is an endless struggle. One must always be cool-headed in this struggle, and must imprison the ego and persevere. Such level-headed warriors are always successful. And maturity, or perfection, develops in a person in proportion to this struggle.

Struggle against the bad drives that lead one to evil is struggle of the highest order. Indeed, on returning from a battle, the Prophet of God commented: “We are now going from the lesser battle to the greatest one.” “And what is that?” he was asked. He replied: “The battle against the self.”

As you can see, Kim, the Prophet considered war against the faithless the lesser and struggle against the self the greater, indeed the greatest, battle. He who is victorious in this battle will definitely be a great man. Paradise will long for him. God has announced in His Book: “Whoever keeps his self from caprice, fearing the station of his Lord, to him belongs the place and station of Paradise.”

This verse tells you everything. If you fear your Lord and do not pursue the desires and predilections of your ego, there will be no fear and sorrow for you. If you want to be a saint, once you conquer your self, your location will be Paradise. The Prophet has also said: “The beginning of all knowledge is knowledge of the self,” and: “He who knows his self knows his Lord.”

Hearing all this, you may well ask: “Just how am I supposed to know my self?”

All men of knowledge and all saints have struggled to know their selves. Although the goal is the same, many are the roads that lead to it. They can, however, be divided into paths of the spirit and paths of the flesh.

The paths of the flesh are fasting often, worshiping day and night, denying the self its desires and even its suggestions, and accustoming it to difficulties.

The ways of the spirit are obedience to God alone, and remaining aloof from His creatures.

As a father who has tried everything in this respect, I suggest that you should find the middle way between these two roads. Read the Prophet’s book of high morals and act accordingly. The life of the Prophet, which was a guide to the worlds, is enough to rejuvenate anyone. Love the great Prophet of God. I, in turn, love you in proportion to your love for him.

Let me tell you a true story that will help you along this road:

There was once a mystic who was in love with God from his very childhood. Inspired by the example of his uncle, who was given to great acts of worship, he too began to stay awake at nights and push himself to his limits, and his health was impaired as a result. One day his uncle told him: “When you’re sleepy, go to bed. Eat, drink, but always say to yourself: ‘God sees me, He knows my situation, whatever I do, I do in His presence,’ and act accordingly.”

Thanks to this advice, the little child in time became a great man. He is known as Tustari among the great saints.

The Folk of God call this state permanent presence or permanent Prayer, where the heart is always with God. This has been referred to in various ways: “their eyes on the steed, their hearts with the Beloved,” or “Their ears with the sound, their Hearts with the Lord,” or “their body among creatures, their heart with the Creator.”

Such people are with God at heart, and have escaped from the realm of creatures. They have banned the gossip of people from their hearts.

“Their hands are at work, their hearts at play;” “their feet are on the road, their hearts upon invocation;” “their bodies on the mattress, their hearts with the Friend.”

They have always preserved their purity of heart, and have achieved infinite bliss. Because this is the Way of the Prophet, whoever practices it will subdue his self, and attain Paradise and the Vision of God. Indeed, the Prophet told one of his beloved friends: “If you know that you have only a day and a night left to live, and yet the love of offspring and the world is not in your heart, continue in this manner, for this is my Way. Whoever abides by my Way abides by me, and is with me in Heaven.”

Always keep this golden advice in mind. For it is a life-saver. If your heart is free from the world and its hatreds and illusions, you will be at peace no matter where you are. Otherwise, delusions and vain imaginings will engulf you, and you will be of the hapless.

There are people—hypochondriacs—who drive themselves sick through baseless thoughts and imaginings. This is a deadly disease of the ego, and kills a person both in body and in spirit. If you don’t keep yourself distant from such feelings, you will always be ill. The cure for this is to trust in God, to learn from past experience, and to try to set one’s business in order. This will invigorate you, make you the master of your ego, and let you know yourself.

Therefore, Kim, if you are unloved, try to rectify yourself. The really great task is to control one’s self and bear every situation patiently. The true masters are those who achieve this. They do not mess with the chaos and strife of this world. This is why one of them has said: “Be an ocean, and you won’t be tainted.” Know that your self is a boundless ocean.

The Lord has declared: “Say ‘God’ [let your enthusiasm and happiness be God], then leave the faithless in their error” (6:92). You too, my child, should reside with Truth, and leave creation to its Creator. Do not be overwhelmed by the stress of hardships that people impose on you. If you do so, your self will be your slave, and you will belong to those who find happiness in this world and the next.

9. On Decisiveness, Work, and Perseverance

Dear Kim,

Three factors that influence success in this world and the next are decisiveness, industry, and perseverance. These three complement and complete each other.

An indecisive and cowardly person is like a ship without a rudder. He cannot progress in any respect. Indecision is born of cowardice, and this is the beginning of failure. Success begins with decisiveness.

The indecisive and cowardly person will fall behind everyone. In your life, before anything else, think, decide, and then work for it. This is the principle that is applied in the world of science. To fear decision is the worst thing; it can even jeopardize one’s life. Thinking for days in order to reach a decision can have the same effect: it can lead to indecision. In order to decide, it is better to think well first, say “yea,” and then start work immediately.

In both religious and worldly matters, you can find people who have fallen into bewilderment, failure and despair because of indecision.

Firm decision will save you. If cowardly and brooding friends then try to detain you, separate from them. Make friends with boldhearted, decisive people in your life. They are the ones who will succeed sooner or later. The Prophet is our best guide in this matter. Once he decided on a course, who was there to detain him from it? True human beings have always been like this.

A weak decision is doomed to dissolution. Decision is the fruit of belief. Your decision will be strong to the extent that you have faith.

After a decision is made, enthusiasm for work will lead you to success. Islam does not accept sloth. God loves His servants who are active, enterprising and hardworking. A person’s earnings are commensurate with his knowledge and his labor. God declares in the Koran: “There is nothing for man other than the work of his own hands” (53:39).

As you sow, so shall you reap; and if you don’t sow, neither shall you reap. Nor can you sow barley and reap wheat in its place. Your crop will be in accordance with your industry, knowledge, and care. As I have told you before, the Prophet has said: “The doors of sustenance are closed. Work and struggle are the keys that will open them.” This tells you all. Just as God has appointed a cause for everything, so has He appointed a cause for receiving sustenance. Trust comes only after work and toil. A person must sow first. Only afterwards can he trust in God for the results. A true Moslem, therefore, will struggle both physically and spiritually. God loves those who work hard. The Prophet has said: “Those who gain are the friends of God,” and here “those who gain” means people who work hard materially and spiritually to gain God’s pleasure. These are very noble people.

Therefore, Kim, it is also my desire to see you hard at work on whatever decision you reach. The Prophet himself loved to work, whether at home or outdoors.

The beginning of everything is study, the middle is work, and the end is virtue. Hence, abide by this till your last breath. This is a great lesson for you.

A person does not live for himself alone. He also lives for other human beings. One must, therefore, toil to leave behind a worthy gift to those who survive. Let me tell you a nice story in this context.

The great Caliph Haroon Rasheed one day came upon a man who was planting saplings. He said : “You’re very old. You’ll never see this tree you’re planting bear fruit. So don’t sweat so much, and save yourself the trouble.”

In reply, the man said: “Your Majesty, those before us planted trees, and we ate their fruit. Now it’s our turn to plant trees, so that those who come after us may eat ours.”

The Caliph was very pleased with this answer, and gave him a bag of gold. Whereupon the man said: “You see, Your Majesty? I’ve reaped the fruits of my efforts already.”

This is the way real human beings work. In the field of knowledge, we have eaten the fruit of those who preceded us. We, in turn, should blaze good trails for our successors. If you carry this over to the fields of commerce and industry, all the achievements you see about you are the result of this notion.

Learning is easy. So is work. But the really important thing is to see it through to its end. And for this, perseverance is required.

This is the most difficult thing. If you are surrounded by a sea of hardships, and even if your life is in danger, you must persevere in the right path. Perseverance leads to success; it is the only way to overcome difficulties.

He who abides by these principles will succeed only to the extent that he does so. That is why great people have said: “Whoever perseveres will achieve victory.” He who perseveres will overcome danger and reap his crop.

Even a seed planted in the soil will not sprout if it isn’t allowed to stay there. If you then try to remove it, you will have failed in your task.

As long as you are decisive, hardworking and perseverant, you will be victorious, with God’s help, in anything you set yourself to. This is what all great men have done, and this is how they succeeded in their tasks.

10. Concerning Advice

My Dear Kim,

Advice is the balm of the heart. Just as rain rejuvenates parched soil, advice enlivens dead hearts. True advice is like the Elixir of Life; he who drinks of it will never die.

Religion itself is advice. He who listens, believes and acts will be cured. Indeed, the Prophet himself said: “Religion is advice, religion is advice, religion is advice.”

The purpose of advice is to enlighten human beings, and to tell them the ways that are good for this world and the next. Advice consists of words that soften the hearts of listeners and guide them rightly. As one listens to such valuable advice, one’s ideas are changed, and one feels a serenity. To find such a person and to heed his life-giving advice—here is your salvation. It is better to find such a person than to find all the treasures of the world. In the presence of such people, all your bad habits, worries and pains will melt away like snow in the sun. Their words enliven hearts just as rain invigorates dry earth.

It is better to listen to the advice of such people for an hour than to read a thousand books and to live a thousand experiences. These people, though, have first of all preached to themselves and rejuvenated themselves. Such rejuvenation is possible only by preaching to the self. This is why the Prophet said: “First preach to your self, then to other people.” In His Book, God has admonished those who don’t practice what they preach with the words: “Why don’t you do as you say?”

As you can see, in order to advise, it is necessary first to know, and then to act in accordance with this. That is why he who knows but does not act upon his knowledge has no value either with God or with people. Men of knowledge worthy of being heeded are only men of action who are the inheritors of the Prophets. These are persons who fear God and who base their words on the sayings of the Prophet. God has declared in His Book concerning them: “Men of knowledge are only those who fear God” (35:28). Man fears God to the extent that he knows his Lord and believes in His Word (the Koran). Hence, those who lack action are those who have no fear of God.

Therefore, Kim, the man of knowledge whose guidance you seek must be Godfearing. Otherwise, more harm will come from him than good. The person you heed must be both a knower and a doer. He must act in accordance with the command of the Prophet, and thus of the Lord. To obey them is the same thing as obeying the descendants of the Prophets. God has declared in His Book: “Obey the Prophet, and obey those in authority” (4:59). These people have the authority to speak, and it is necessary to listen to the knowledge and truth that issues from their mouths. For they are the heirs of the Prophets. As the Tradition states: “Men of knowledge are the inheritors of the Prophets.” And the happiness of the world is dependent on the existence of such people. As the Prophet has stated in another Tradition: “The world stands with the justice of rulers, the knowledge of scientists and scholars, the generosity of the rich, and the prayers of the poor.”

The person who gives advice should be dressed in the morality of the Prophet, and should always think of the good of society, apart from all ills and personal considerations. He is always careful to speak well. He scrupulously avoids boorish speech that will break hearts and induce revulsion. It is necessary always to give advice gently and in a friendly way. A caliph once chided a person who was advising him vehemently: “Give advice gently and softly. When God sent a person better than you (namely, Moses) to a person worse than me (Pharaoh), He told him to address that man with sweetness and gentleness.”

As you can see, Kim, a person who gives advice must do so very gently and softly, using kind and appealing words. When criticizing a community for bad conduct, it is better to say “we are like this” rather than “you are that way.”

This kind of speech will not arouse the ire of people who have become slaves to their egos. Another point to be borne in mind when giving advice is to understand the troubles of people and to administer the proper medicine, to speak according to their comprehension. The Prophet has told us to speak with people in accordance with their capacity to understand. To tell the truth with spirited words, to enlighten with appealing examples, to be humble and cheerful, are qualities required of those who give advice.

No matter how much you may know, do not shun listening to your loved ones and showing an interest in them. To take an interest in the person you are speaking with strengthens the ties of affection. Contrariwise, refusing to listen to them or to be interested in them is the worst form of conduct. These are things that estrange and deaden a man of advice, and are not worthy of him. When the founder of one of the Four Schools of Law was asked: “How did you learn such great knowledge?” he replied: “I listened to everyone, regardless of whether he was great or small.” This should be the byword of the advice-giver.

Words that are loved and heeded are those that soothe people concerning this world and the next. There are times when cheering a broken heart is like bestowing life on it. Even this cheer is a cure reaped from advice.

And speech is a cure. This cure heals sick souls. There are occasions when you are healed if you speak. Taking and giving advice in this way is a remedy for you. This is why the Lord has declared advice to be a great blessing in His Book. He who makes use of this blessing prospers.

If you want to heal and be healed, give and take advice from womb to tomb. This will make you a servant loved by God, who treads the path of happiness.

11. On Thrift and Management

Dear Kim,

Another aspect to leading a good life is knowing the importance of thrift. Thrift is the backbone of economy. It is a principle that plays an important role in both individual and social life. Those people and societies that have abided by it have prospered, and those violating it have faced ruination.

If you pay attention to thrift during your life, you will be exalted in the sight of people and God. Hence the Lord has commanded: “Eat, drink, but do not waste” (7:31).

Many calamities befall people because of waste. And much happiness stems from moderation. This is why the Prophet tells us to remain moderate in all conditions. “Even when you’re beside a great expanse of water,” he says, “use only the amount that is necessary.” He who observes temperance in all his affairs—such as eating, drinking, sleeping, traveling, working, spending, speaking or remaining silent—is a mature and happy person. His leadership is true leadership, and both his family and society benefit from him. Such a person achieves all manner of happiness by economizing with not merely his property, but also his words and his affections. Knowing the science of thrift is a key to happiness in both worlds.

Managing people intelligently, with propriety and affection, and treating them well, is the essence of salutary conduct. This is why it has been said: “The happiness of both worlds resides in just two words: To be bounteous to one’s friends, and to treat enemies nicely.”

Treating enemies nicely is to be courteous to them and to manage them in accordance with their state.

As for managing one’s fortune: this is the backbone of one’s living standards. Whoever spends all his earnings is ruined, and whoever saves a part of it prospers. For as long as one lives, one is faced with unimaginable needs. Then he finds punishment if he was a spendthrift. All of civilization has acted by this principle, and set aside a part of its earnings for a rainy day. This is why it is not enough to earn; one’s expenditures must also be managed. On this basis, the Prophet has stated: “He who economizes will not fall into poverty.”

This is an edifying principle that will serve you all your life. Another saying of the Prophet goes: “Spending is half of economy.” This sums up everything for you.

My dear Kim, human beings are responsible for management in all spheres. All human beings, from the greatest to the least, are in the process of managing one another. Knowing this, one will progress profitably. Those who remain ignorant of this are grumpy and ill-mannered.

If you consider things carefully, management is evident everywhere: everyone—whether captain, commander, mayor, manager, or father, mother, or child—has the responsibility of management. It is therefore necessary to treat friends generously, enemies courteously, and maintain moderation in all circumstances. This will make you perfect, and is the bedrock of happiness and a life lived well.

As far as you can, try to please everyone in life. Speech plays an important role in this. Be truthful in word and heart, don’t make promises you can’t keep, interact positively with people and treat them deservingly. If you do this, you will be loved and will achieve happiness.

12. On Being Generous to Your Enemy

My Dear Kim,

One of the secrets of living an unruffled life is to be generous to enemies, and to stay away from politics. To know your enemy is to be wary of him, but also to win him over by your generosity. Even his ways may be remedied thus, for the reform of a person varies from person to person and from time to time.

Love your enemy, and he will be reformed.

This is why sages have responded to those who mistreat them with presents. When one great saint heard that a man had slandered and insulted him, he sent him a feast. And he told his puzzled friends: “That man, with his ill-placed gossip and slander, has sent me virtue. And I have sent him a meal. If he is reformed by this, the affection between us will increase. I will both have overcome my ego, and gained a friend.”

As this anecdote demonstrates, the friends of God do not break the hearts of their enemies, but try to reform them. They are perfect and wonderful men. One loves them in spite of oneself. They view and love creation because of their love for God. Their only thought is to do good and to reform. This is also why the Prophet of God, when he was asked to curse his enemies, remarked: “I’ve come to repair, not to harm”—to make things better, not to make them worse.

This is the way of true human beings, Kim. They always follow this course, forgive everyone, and try to reform their worst enemies by bounteous acts.

“But,” you may say, “I’ve seen so-and-so among the Faithful, and he always quarrels with his family and other people. He doesn’t treat them like human beings, and says there aren’t any human beings left.”

Knowledge, my child, is the staff of life. He who does not look at life through the spectacles of knowledge and wisdom begins to see it from the standpoint of his own ignorance. He sees the world in deepest darkness, and is oppressed. He picks on everyone and disturbs the peace. He wouldn’t recognize the friends of God if he saw them. He would break their hearts by criticizing them according to his own conceptions.

Such people, my child, are those who have been unable to rectify their selves, and are proud of their knowledge and worship. They don’t know that in truth they have been refused by God.

It is best to keep one’s distance from their sort, and to compliment and treat them well from a distance. For these are proud persons in the way of worship. But God does not love pride in human beings.

A saint busied himself with worship day and night for thirty years. He then received an inspiration: “The coffers of the people are full of worship. If your aim is Communion, lower yourself, do good deeds.”

This is why the friends of God humble their selves. They are never proud toward anyone. They don’t even offend their enemies. A sage has remarked: “The travellers on God’s way haven’t broken the hearts even of their enemies. How can you attain to any station, when you quarrel even with your friends?”

As you can see, the way of the wise is radically different. You must, therefore, think and act comprehensively. When you make friends, love those who love God and His Prophet in proportion to this love. If you have personal enemies, forgive them and treat them generously.

The time may come, however, when confrontation becomes unavoidable. Sometimes sternness yields better results, because occasionally sternness is the very cure required—it does things that cannot be achieved by softness and gentleness. The presence of both kinds of attitude makes a man mature and perfect. Gentleness (the Blissful approach) won’t always work; neither will harshness (the Wrathful approach). Perfection, or maturity, consists in exercising the right approach at the right time, and in the right proportion. My dear Kim, I pray that God will give you the wisdom to act properly.

Postscript: Concerning Those “Outside Islam”

My Dear Kim,

Your question regarding those who fail to believe in God and His divine Messengers has prompted me to add a few more words. I share your sense of pain for them. The Prophet, too, used to worry himself greatly about the refusal of people to believe, until God informed him that his duty was only to proclaim the message, that it was not his concern who would take it or leave it. As in all matters, here, too, the Prophet must stand as your model. Where you’re able to, give advice, help others, show them the Good. Where you can’t, pray for them and try to help them. Never argue; only discuss in the most appealing way.

How can you help those who do not share our faith?

The man who does not use the revealed Scriptures as a guide has an impossible task ahead of him. Instead of picking the fruit from the tree that has been presented to him, he has chosen to “build the tree” from scratch! Where can he start? The only certainty is that he will try to construct his own morality—a system of values to live by.

Here, Kim, is where you might offer some help. If you know there is no possibility of his heart responding to the Divine, you can at least help him in the following two respects. For they will go some way in saving him from misery, and will save others from falling victim to his ignorance.

1. Forbidden Gain. Whatever you gain by illegitimate means—and here I mean illegitimate in God’s sight—will sooner or later be a curse on you for which you must pay through the nose. No good will come of it, no matter how easily or how surreptitiously it is obtained. In the final analysis, illicit profit is never in one’s own best interest. I’m not just talking about outright stealing or embezzlement here. Islam is so strict about this point that it warns you not to drink a cup of tea or coffee if you visit a person whose earnings are suspect in your eyes—that cup will be tainted.

Kim, let me make this crystal clear. Suppose you’re stone-broke, and you decide to go over to your uncle or friend to borrow some money from him. Now on your way, you find that the streets are strewn with thousands of dollars. It’s there, it’s yours for the taking, you didn’t steal it, and it’s all free!

Under these conditions, you must not take the money. Don’t even touch the bills. Just wade through them as if they never existed, and continue on your way to ask your uncle or friend for the measly sum you had in mind.

I know that’s a difficult proposition—it sounds exaggerated and counterintuitive, but you’ll be better off in the end than if you’d done otherwise.

Don’t eat an illicit morsel, nor allow your family (or those under your care) to swallow one. This does not mean that we’re condemned to poverty, and that legitimate wealth is ruled out. You can be as rich as you like, so long as you earn it by honest means.

2. Forbidden Lust. “Do not approach fornication,” says the Koran. What is meant here is not simply that you should not indulge in illicit sex, but that you should refrain from even the slightest movement, the slightest thought, in that direction. (Here’s where Jesus’s figurative expression: “If your eye offends you, pluck it out” takes on meaning.) Except for your lawfully wedded spouse, regard all other human beings as your brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, or children (it goes without saying that this rules out incest).

Sex is probably the strongest impulse in man. If handled unwisely, it is powerful enough to shatter him. In its proper place, it will lead to worldly and marital happiness. It promises the fulfillment and contentment of a warm family life. Experimenting with illegitimate relationships, on the other hand, can only bring on disaster. It can cause the collapse or destruction of an entire civilization. Fornication, adultery, and all forms of sexual perversion and depravity put an end to man’s psychic assets once and for all. It doesn’t make any difference if “two consenting adults” are involved—this is just an excuse to bypass the hurdle. There is a God-given trust, a lease, in each human being that must remain inviolate and which s/he is forbidden to give to another even by his or her own consent, unless in proper wedlock with a member of the opposite sex.

When God created Adam at the dawn of human history, He was engaging in the production of His most marvellous, most complex, creature. This is wellnigh a sacred act. Thenceforth, He entrusted the creation of further human beings, the propagation of the race, to us. In other words, we are participators in God’s creation of each new human being. This is a tremendous responsibility. And, like it or not, this is the purpose of sex. We may think only about how pleasurable it is, but it is there for procreation.

Now consider what it takes to obtain a well-formed human being: a minimum of twenty years of nurture, of tender loving care by both parents. And this is best achieved within a healthy marriage. Sex, therefore, is a social event. A sexual wrong is a social wrong affecting everybody, even future generations.

This is compounded in the case of a married couple. Adultery is the most common cause of marital breakdown. The person found to be attractive is nothing but a menace to one’s spouse, one’s innocent children and, ultimately, to oneself. But this lesson is most often learnt the hard way, because of the refusal to benefit from other people’s experiences. The sanctity of marriage, my child, must be preserved.

Now these last two points—forbidden gains and forbidden lust—are so crucial that they can elevate a person to the heights of sainthood, or plunge him into the depths of misery. Think about it: all the icy baths of the Brahmins, the sleepless nights of the Buddhist and Christian ascetics, the self-inflicted tortures of the Hindu fakirs, the seclusion of Sufi dervishes in mountain caves or dungeon-like cellars—these all served only one end: the control of the Self. And yet, self-control is actually predicated on these two critical points alone: illicit pecuniary interest and passion. This is true not merely for Moslems, but for everyone. Control these two, and you have no need of all the other ascetic practices mentioned above. Fail to do so, and none of them will save you. For the ultimate aim of all asceticism is to tame these two selfish drives, to keep them within permitted, legitimate limits.

Mark my words, dear Kim, the annihilation of mankind will be the direct or indirect outcome of failure to hold these two in check. No matter who you are, by reining them in, you will not merely save your own neck, but will also contribute to the survival of humanity. And thus, dear Kim, it is imperative that those “beyond the fold” of Islam should understand this. Where you can, carefully and intelligently make this known to them.

 

Well, Kim, this marks the end of my letters to you on this subject. Save these letters, and read them again from time to time so you won’t forget. God bless you, and may He give you the wisdom and strength to carry out these precepts. If you are able to, the day will come when you’ll remember these letters with gratitude, and perhaps utter a blessing in your prayers for me, who will be long gone by then.

Bless you,

Your Loving Father.

PRAYER:
THE ASCENSION FOR ALL

 

God Almighty instructed Adam, the first man and first prophet, to perform the Prayer (salat). Before Adam, the angels had been performing it. This goes to show how important Prayer is.

Of the Five Pillars of Islam, Prayer is the one that is repeated most often and requires the greatest perseverance. The Word of Witnessing, which is the point of entry into Islam, need be uttered only once (although it can be, and is, repeated many times later on). The Pilgrimage is incumbent once in a lifetime, and only on those with sufficient means to fulfill it. The Alms-tax is paid once a year, by the rich and well-to-do to the poor. The Fasting is confined to the lunar month of Ramadan. Contrast these now with the Prayer, which is performed five times daily and comprises a total of 40 cycles (raqah), and you will see what a paramount place it has in the religion of Islam. Indeed, it is the very axis around which Islam revolves.

Why is Prayer so central to Islam? And why does it consist, as it does, of a series of repetitious bodily postures and movements in conjunction with recitation of sacred formulas, rather than simple supplication to God like ordinary prayer?

When the Prophet of God was raised to the presence of God in his Ascension (Miraj: “ladder”), he became closer to God than anyone before or since. And God, as a gift to the Prophet’s Community of the Faithful, enjoined the five daily Prayers upon them.

A saying of the Prophet reveals the meaning of Prayer: “Prayer is the Ascension of the faithful.” Another saying makes clear that “He who has no Prayer makes no Ascension.”

This means that a ladder (“Jacob’s Ladder”), an escalator or elevator, has been instituted by God for the faithful to approach His presence, and this is none other than Prayer.

If a believer performs the Prayer properly and with the care and attention it deserves, there can be no doubt that s/he will approach God.

That s/he should fail to be conscious of this is immaterial. Matters of the spirit are by and large hidden from man’s consciousness and senses. If the veils were to fall from the believer’s eyes, s/he would actually be able to witness his or her Ascension in spiritual (as distinct from physical) space. But it is only at very advanced levels of spiritual progress that this may become possible.

Two factors can be singled out in the Prayer process: the first being the bodily postures, and the second the recited formulas.

The reason for the bodily movements is as follows:

Man as a totality possesses two aspects—body and spirit. (We disregard for the time being a third factor, the self). More precisely, he possesses a physical body, which we all know, and a non-physical, spiritual body, of which few people are aware. During life on earth, the spiritual body is connected, engaged, or “coupled” to the physical body.

Hence, the bodily motions in Prayer are intended primarily for the spiritual body, not for the physical body (although they have an ameliorating influence on that as well). By moving the physical body, one actualizes the movement of the spiritual body, which is coupled to it. It is this motion of the spiritual body that escalates or elevates the spirit, not that of the physical body directly.

The second component of Prayer as indicated above is the recitation of certain formulas, mainly verses from the Koran. If the postures and movements are the form of Prayer, the recitations are its content. These both aid in concentration and attach “wings,” as it were, to the spirit. Thus, the humble Prayer rug beneath one’s feet becomes the magic carpet or “cosmic treadmill” by which the believer rises towards God.

We shall not go into the details of these formulas here, but confine ourselves to indicating the repetition of the names of the Lord.

Two of the Almighty’s names are repeated six times in each cycle, which makes a total of twelve. Since there are forty cycles in a day, this gives 480 repetitions.

After the bodily movement part is finished, God’s names are recited three lots of 33, or 99, times in a sitting position during each of the Five Prayers. This means that the names of the Lord are invoked nearly a thousand times a day, even counting only the bare bones of Prayer and leaving out additional recitations. This is none other than the invocation or remembrance (known as dhikr) of God.

These invocations help to concentrate the attention on God and aid the believer’s Ascension in spiritual (not physical!) space.

All the prophets from Adam to Mohammed, the last prophet, have been bestowed with Prayer. Bowing down to the ground (prostration) was common to all, whereas the respective Divine Laws and worship were different. But they all came with the command to Prayer, and explained its details to their respective communities.

The Koran mentions that the following prophets and communities were given the instruction of prostration: David (38:24), the Children of Israel (7:161), the Virgin Mary (18:107), those of previous generations (19:59).

Explicit mention is made of the following prophets in the Koran as having been ordered to perform the Prayer: Moses (10:87, 20:10), Abraham (14:40), Ishmael (19:57), Luqman (31:17), Jesus (19:32), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (21:73).

Since this is the case—and since all prophets have told their faithful to perform the Prayer—how come we don’t come across Prayer or some form of it in the observances of other religions?

The truth is that we do, but we encounter only their remnants. Prayer is the royal road to God, but it is also hard work. At one point or other, the religious communities of the past fell by the wayside and abandoned the performance of their Prayer. This is one of the reasons why Islam had to be revealed, in order to make Prayer “stick” permanently. Yet we can still find traces of ancient versions of Prayer in some observances of the Hindus, in the Asanas of Yoga, and in the practices of far-eastern religious philosophies such as T’ai Chi Ch’uan in China.

Furthermore, close inspection of the Bible reveals that aspects of Prayer can be found there as well, even though it may no longer be practiced regularly. Indications of this are present both in the Old Testament and the New.

Worship, prayer and bowing down to the ground are mentioned in the Torah, revealed to Moses (Genesis 24:52; Exodus 33:10, 34:8), in the Psalms of David (5:7, 95:6, 138:2), and the Old Testament in general (1 Kings 18:42; Nehemiah 8:6, 9:3; Daniel 6:10, 8:18, 10:9; Ezra 9:5; 2 Chronicles 7:3).

Special attention should be drawn here to 1 Kings 18:42. The form of prostration here prescribed for the prophet Elijah, so similar to the Islamic prostration, was continued within the Judaic tradition by the Merkabah (“Throne” or “Chariot”) mystics between the 2nd and 10th centuries A.D. That is why they speak of a descent to the Chariot, the latter term designating the posture of prostration.

For the various references to prostration (bowing down to the ground) in the New Testament, one may cite Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:35, and Luke 22:41 as examples.

Moslems perform the Prayer by facing Mecca (more precisely, the Cube or Kaabah) as the focal point (qiblah). It is interesting to find the same concept in the Old Testament, where people worshiped by facing the Old Temple in Jerusalem (the Temple of Solomon) (Psalms 5:7, 138:2; 1 Kings 8:30,35; Daniel 6:10). As a matter of fact, Moslems initially Prayed facing Jerusalem to underline their fraternity and continuity with the previous two great monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Christianity), until commanded by God to Pray facing the Kaaba, thus emphasizing their distinction from the other two.

We ourselves have tried to find a way around Prayer, a place in the Koran which explicitly or implicitly bypasses it. In this we have been singularly unsuccessful.

In the end, we had no choice but to perform the Prayer. And we have done so to this day.

All the saints, the Friends of God, have found a path to God only in performing the Prayer. They have been able to approach the Throne of the Almighty only in this way. Hence, no one who fails to do the Prayer should lay claim to sainthood, and such a person should deceive and mislead neither himself nor anyone else.

 

THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE

That human beings should repent their sins is a divine commandment. Since the concepts of good and evil and of sin are constellated differently in Islam, however, we must first take a look at these concepts, even though the Islamic conception of repentance is not fundamentally different. What thoughts or actions require repentance; what do we repent for?

In Islam, anything that furthers the material and spiritual well-being of human beings and their fellow men is defined as Good or meritorious, and anything that is the opposite of this is defined as Bad or sinful. In other words, what is called a sin in the Koran is nothing other than what is harmful to man. In some religions, Good and Evil have been considered as having almost equal power over man, and Evil has been assigned a place that can even overwhelm Good. In such conceptions, Evil has an unremitting and even unmitigated status, and Satan, the principal agent of Evil, is the master, “the prince of this world.” This leads to the notion that this world, the world we live in, is essentially corrupt and evil, and that salvation from evil is to be sought only in the Otherworld or Afterworld.

In Islam, on the other hand, this world in itself is not evil at all. Satan himself does not possess any great power; his guile and his hold over human beings are described as “feeble” in the Koran (4:76). Human beings need only disregard his suggestions or “whisperings,” and they will be safe from doing what is bad. God wishes the best of both worlds for human beings, His creatures, and there are no insurmountable obstacles in Islam to the realization thereof.

There is no Original Sin in Islam. Human beings are not genetically tainted with an ineradicable sin that infests even newborn babes and pervades you like some terminal illness. Human beings come into this world pure; their moral responsibility begins at the age of puberty, and, provided they abstain from sins, they can leave this world as pure as the day they came into it.

But to err is human, and the concept of “sin” in Islam is almost synonymous with error or mistake. For these errors, in turn, the doors of divine compassion and mercy are wide open for those who repent. All but one of the chapters of the Koran begin with “God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” and the Lord’s Mercy is emphasized throughout the chapters as well. The sole unforgiveable sin, in God’s view, is that anything should be associated with Him; there is nothing worthy of being adored, loved, feared or worshiped other than He. “Less than that He forgives to whomever He will” (4:116). And if one repents once one sees the error of one’s ways, God will forgive even this sin.

Traditionally, there have been two conceptions in the world regarding sin. One of these results in irresponsibility, and the other is total responsibility.

The first of these is to load one’s sins on a scapegoat—in some cases, on God Himself. If one confesses, one is absolved, and is then scot-free to repeat the same sin until one confesses again, and so on ad infinitum. This naturally fails to prevent the same sins from being repeated over and over again. It does not discourage people from committing the same sins.

The second approach holds that one is responsible for one’s sins. Even if one confesses, one remains under the burden of that sin forever, and only the grace of God can save one—if it arrives. This places a burden of guilt on human beings that crushes them, and may even lead to despair of the divine mercy itself. Neither of these is the case in Islam.

In Islam, one is responsible for one’s sins, and for one’s sins alone. “You are charged only with yourself,” says the Koran (4:84). “Every soul earns only to its own account; no soul bears the load of another” (6:164). This is echoed by St. Paul: “every man shall bear his own burden... whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:5,7). This precludes the scapegoat approach. Sinners are exhorted not to despair. Fear not, says the Koran: “Whoever does evil, or wrongs himself, and then prays God’s forgiveness, he shall find God All-forgiving, All-compassionate” (4:110). If one repents with a sincere regret, there can be no doubt that one’s wish will be granted. “Whoever of you does evil in ignorance, and thereafter repents and makes amends, He is All-forgiving, All-compassionate” (6:54). The only requirement is that one should resolve not to repeat that particular sin, and have a sincere intention not to sin again: as Jesus said to a sinful woman, “Go, and don’t do it again” (John 8:11). To ask forgiveness also implies that one should first be able to forgive oneself, as well as others.[26] Consequently, one is not left with a burden of guilt, and on the other hand is not left open to a repetition of the same sin. To repeat a sin already repented for would be to trifle with God—not at all a good idea.

But why did God create human beings with the capacity to sin in the first place? “If you did not sin,” says God, “I would create a people who sinned in your stead.” This indicates that sin has a place in God’s plan for humanity, and for the universe as a whole. Compassion and Mercy are among God’s foremost Names and Attributes (and there are several more of the same kind). People must sin in order to repent, and they must repent in order to activate divine mercy. In other words, God’s Mercy would not be realized in the world if it were not for the fact that human beings can, and do, sin. Another reason is that spotless Perfection belongs to God alone. All of His creatures, including human beings, are necessarily lacking in perfection in one way or another, and this includes the tendency to err. Thus, repentance is a part of man’s return to his Lord.

In passing, let us note that one should never underestimate small sins. A small sin is as dangerous as a great sin; sometimes more so, because if disregarded it paves the waylittle by little, step by stepto greater sins. Here, the Prophetic precept: “What is harmful in large quantities is also harmful in small quantities” should be applied in order to protect oneself.

The Boomerang Effect

In Islam, God has made a distinction between wrongs against Himselfdisobedience of His lawsand wrongs perpetrated against His servants—i.e., all His creatures, beginning with our fellow men. His forgiveness for sins encompasses wrongs against God. As for wrongs against His servants, we must try to correct these while in this world, making amends for our errors against God’s creatures, setting a wrong aright and asking forgiveness of those we have victimized. A great secret lies buried here—for God has embedded a divine spark within the least of His creatures, and as you do unto the least of His creatures, you do unto Him—through the portal of that creature. Wherever your error impinges on, it must be corrected in the same locus. All creatures, great and small, are God’s big family; we should avoid killing even a snake, a pest, or a scorpion if it isn’t doing us any harm. We should “live and let live.” Divine justice does not allow so much as a sparrow one has injured during childhood to pass by without retribution, often while we are still in this world. This is why the Safeguarders (muttaki: God-fearers, those who safeguard themselves by taking the precautions of religion) take care not even to step on an ant. This is the true meaning of “Do as you would be done by”: any action carried out on the world boomerangs back on youwhat astrophysicists Fred Hoyle and J.V. Narlikar, in another context, called “the response of the universe.” The way out here is to undo a wrong by doing a right of equal importance; this may be called “atonement through action.”

 No matter how far we stray from God’s path, repentance will pull us back onto it like an elastic cord attached to our waists. Repentance is itself a form of worship, and its root meaning in Arabic is “to return”—both in the sense of the believer’s turning back to God’s Straight Path, and in the sense of God’s turning back from punishment and retribution. A sincere regret and the intention to mend one’s ways will result in the activation of God’s Name: the Acceptor of Repentance (Tawwab: “the Oft-Returning in Grace and Mercy,” 110:3). This means that God is always ready to forgive, to relent, and to shower us with His Grace.

All prophets have themselves repented and shown the way of repentance to their followers, beginning with Adam and Eve (2:37, 7:23), and continuing with such great prophets as Noah (11:47), Moses (7:151) and Abraham (14:41). Mohammed, the Seal of the Prophets, himself said: “I repent to God seventy times a day from the things that invade my heart.” If this should be the case even with God’s Beloved Prophet, think how much more necessary repentance must be for us. The Prophet’s following prayer is a good one for us as well: “Dear God, I take refuge from your Wrath in your Forgiveness; from You, I take refuge again in You.” That is to say, we should seek shelter from one of God’s (wrathful) Attributes in another of His (benign) Attributes. We should always seek absolution with God, repeating the plea: “Wipe out our sins, and grant us forgiveness; have mercy on us” (2:286); we should implore Him to “convert our sins into virtues.”

Naturally, we have—we earn—the right to be forgiven to the extent that we ourselves are compassionate and forgiving. It has been related in a Tradition of the Prophet that in the Afterlife, those who have forgiven wrongs done against them will enter Paradise directly, without the hurdle of the Last Judgment. To the extent that we are compassionate and merciful, we participate in God’s own Attributes of Compassion and Mercy, and thus become Godly. If we are unforgiving and hard-hearted, how can we expect to have the right—the “face,” or lack of shame—to ask for God’s Mercy when we are on the spot?

Ideally, every prayer should begin with repentance. It is stated in another Tradition that: “Those who wished to repent, but could not, have come to ruin.” Repentance clears the self of bad attributes and opens the way to good works. Thus, it is also the key to progress from one level of selfhood and from one plane of existence to another. Because one cannot reach Realization until the Purified Self has been attained, and one should repent for remaining at any lesser level. As one Moslem saint remarked: “Your greatest sin is your individuality”—i.e., your existence separate from totality, your failure to realize that you are part of the whole. Once the Purified Self is reached, repentance continues in order to avoid falling back to lower levels. This is similar to swimming in a body of water: one has to kick one’s feet until one reaches the surface from the depths, and once there has to keep on kicking in order to remain afloat. (The same holds true for Prayer and other observances.)

Thus repentance, like Prayer, is necessary at every stage of one’s spiritual development. There is no sin so terrible that it cannot be forgiven by God. God has said: “My Mercy encompasses [i.e., is greater than] my Wrath.” He has also stated that there are times when He descends to the sphere of the earth, asking: “Isn’t there anyone who wishes for mercy, that I may grant it?” The door of absolution is always held open to those who would correct their ways, and this is one of the cardinal assets of the Religion of Mercy. But neither should it encourage us to act cavalierly with respect to God’s prohibitions. It should not be treated as an excuse to indulge in sin, and we should always be careful where we step if we really wish for forgiveness. Safeguarding ourselves is our prerogative; mercy is God’s.

While dealing with repentance, we should not forget thanksgiving, its complement. We live in God’s countrythe universe. We breathe His air, are dressed in His clothes (our physical bodies), we enjoy His gifts. If we can thank even a waiter for services rendered, surely we must show gratitude to God for everything He has granted us. Thanksgiving can take place every day, every moment of the year.

God’s mercy is vast. Not for nothing did Rumi, the Sufi mystic, say: “Come. Even if you have repented and broken your repentance a hundred times, come again. This is not the door of despair.” Which means: come to repentance again.

Our Lord, You are forgiving, You like to forgive; forgive us, too. Amen.

 

OUR PRAYERS

 

(These prayers are the common property of all mankind. They can be recited either after Formal Prayer, or at any other time. Remember us, too, in your prayers.)

 

Dear God, our Creator, thanks and praise be to you.

May God’s blessings and peace be upon Mohammed and his family.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful:

 

Dear God, grant that we may sow peace wherever we go. Let us be reconcilers and unifiers, not sowers of dissent. Allow us to disseminate love where there is hate, forgiveness where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sorrow.

Dear Lord, help us to be not of those who see the failings of others, but of those who hide them; not of those who seek consolation, but those who console; not of those who wish to be understood, but those who understand; not of those who crave to be loved, but those who love.

Grant that we may become like the rain, which bestows life without discrimination wherever it flows; like the sun, which enlightens all beings everywhere without distinction; like the earth which, though everything steps on it, withholds nothing and bestows its fruits on everyone; like the night, which hides all shames from view.

Grant us the destiny to join the ranks of those who give rather than receive, those who are forgiven because they forgive, those who are born in Truth, live in Truth, die in Truth; and those who are born again in eternal life. Amen.

My God, may your peace and blessings on Mohammed, his dynasty and his loved ones be numerous as your creatures, in proportion to your pleasure, weighty as the Highest Heaven and in the amount of the ink spent on words.

My Lord, make me one of those whose hearts belong to you and who place their trust in you. We are poor servants, enrich us; we are weak, fortify us; we are sinners, forgive us. Maintain our constancy on the path of the religion with which you are pleased.

My God, I wish in this world for the opportunity to worship and the wisdom to avoid sins; and in the afterworld for your Paradise, the sight of your countenance and safety from your chastisement.

0 refuge of the derelict, true friend of the forlorn, you are my confidant and beloved in both this world and the next. Reclaim my soul as a Moslem at my death, rectify my self. You are the final arbiter in all worries and complaints. You are the ultimate purpose of all desires. Please have mercy on the tears of this petitioner. To whom shall I turn for help, when you are the sole possessor of all? In whom shall I take refuge, when you are the sole benefactor, vast in generosity and grace?

My Lord, give us the ability to perform deeds with which you are pleased. Grant us life through our worship of you.

My God, do not turn down my prayer. Do not leave me to my own devices. Have mercy on my impotence, take pity on my weakness and wretchedness. Do not mete out to us the treatment we deserve. Protect our hands from reaching out to someone else just as you protect us from prostration to others.

My God, may your blessings and peace be upon Mohammed, his family and his companions: such blessings as will save us from all kinds of fears, afflictions and similar ills; will ensure our security against all troubles, plagues and disasters, worries and misfortunes; will cleanse us from all shames and shortcomings, sins and rebellions; and will result in a pardon for all our sins and an answer to all our prayers. Amen.

My Lord, I take refuge from your chastisement in your forgiveness and pleasure; from you, I take refuge again in you. I cannot exalt you as you have exalted yourself.

My God, keep me as far from sins as you have distanced East from West.

My Lord, give me a faith and certainty that does not end in unbelief; bestow on me a mercy that will earn me your honor in this world and the next.

My God, grant us a fear that will serve as a barrier between us and our sins, an obedience that will win for us your Paradise, and a faith that will ease the burden of worldly ills.

My Lord, make my life an occasion for the increase of all that is good, and my death the means for liberation from all that is evil.

My God, I take refuge in you from the fearless heart, the insatiable ego, the knowledge that is useless and the prayer that remains unanswered.

My Lord, number us among those who are saved and who bring salvation to others.

We take refuge in you from a wasted life, senility, miserliness and poverty.

Help us in worshiping, remembering, and giving thanks to you.

My Lord, you are forgiving, you love to forgive; hence, forgive us too. Amen.

Most Merciful of mercifuls, protect me from the Fire, save me from severe chastisement. Amen.

 

THE SECRET THAT IS LOVE

 

The secret of religion is love.

Religion is a divine law.

The secret of religion is Law (rights). The secret of Law is conscience. And the secret of conscience is love.

Religion comprises these three in the same way that a fruit is composed of rind, of a fleshy part and a core. Although the core is not apparent from the outside, it is the innermost, the active part. The heart of all religion is love. Love gives rise to conscience, to consideration, to compassion and to tolerance.

The Law is the external covering of all this. It prevents the flesh and the core from being spoiled and destroyed. Although it may not, at first glance, appear to have much in common with its contents, in reality it is directly based on them. Just as conscience arises from love, Law in turn arises from conscience. It is merely the codification of rights already granted implicitly at the level of conscience.

The Secret that is Law

Law is a delicate balance between rights and duties, between liberties and limitations. The duty of one person is nothing but the right of another, and the limitation of one is the freedom of another. Absolute freedom cannot exist, and if it could, then law, and hence justice, would not exist. It is as if freedom were in short supply and had to be apportioned equally. For the increase of one’s freedom occurs only at the expense of another’s, and if justice is not distributed equally, that is injustice. Hence we have equality before the law, and equality before man’s law is based on equality before God’s Law, since all men are equal before God.

Because Law is based on conscience and ultimately on love, what is lawful in Islam is that which is informed by love. To put this is a little differently, the only action which is free of blame is that which is based on love, and the Divine Law is a compendium of such action or non-action.

The all-important conclusion from this is that even if you do not feel love for a creature, you will have done it no wrong if you treat it according to the prescription of Divine Law. Thus Islam answers the critical question: “How should I behave toward beings?” in the following concise way: treat them as if you loved them, in the same way as you would act if you loved them. And for our convenience, Islam outlines in its prescriptions of Holy Law what such action is.

In religion, Law means righteousness above all else. For instance, a person must not touch or covet what does not belong to him. When we say law or rights, this doesn’t mean only those rights pertaining to humanity. Law means to recognise the same right for all beings in the universe, whether animate or inanimate, from an atom to the sun. It is the requirement of being human and of being a Moslem to treat them in the same way. For all beings are the beings of God. If one claims to love God, one absolutely must love His beings as well. One who does not love existence cannot be said to love God. In view of this, our own personal choices of what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, useful and harmful, attractive and repulsive, have no place in Law. If these become involved, they precipitate the wrath of God. Here, to like or dislike is one thing, and Law is another.

The inability of human beings to truly progress arises from their failure to understand this point. He who does not abide by the Law is the greatest of sinners and has no inkling of what it means to be human. About this there should be no doubt whatever.

Man is free to act according to his disposition. He may not take an interest in any being he dislikes, which he finds bad, harmful or repulsive. But if for any reason an interest or relationship is established, he must recognise their rights. This is because man is responsible for rights, and for rights alone.

Whether one is a Moslem or a Christian is immaterial at this point. For this is where the door of happiness opens. All beings are the forms, the manifestations, of God’s names. Therefore, the holy books declare God’s order unanimously: “You are to think of the other as you think of yourself.” For all beings, whether animate or inanimate, contain His spirit.

It is due to this fact that where Law is concerned, no one can act according to his whim. God has forbidden this. For His command is not whim, but the very yardstick by which all things are to be measured. The human heart is His holy dwelling-place which He has reserved for Himself. He who breaks a heart will suffer, even if the poor fellow doesn’t understand why.

In reality, man is the representative of God and His viceregent over creation. As such, he is burdened with the utmost legal responsibility and obligation. He is responsible for all things living and nonliving, from the stone he steps on to the bird in the sky. This is why the People of God say: “The requirement of honesty is to consider one another,” and they do not show negligence in serving this rule.

God has graced man above all beings and placed them under man’s care. If a mishap occurs, however, this is due to us. If man becomes corrupt, everything becomes corrupt. If man is polluted, all nature is polluted. Hence the present state of nature can stand as a mirror to our internal state. We should know that this is so and touch everything with “In the name of God” on our lips, replacing it with these same words. We should never forget whilst using something that it possesses spirit. We should treat it in the same way as we treat and care for a part of our own body. Then the Koranic statement: “You are pleased with God and He is pleased with you” (89:28) becomes reality—that is, you will be pleased with Him and He will be pleased with you. This is the answer that heals (makes whole).

The Secret that is Conscience

Law is derived from conscience. Without conscience, there would be no consideration of others and no respect for their rights. In fact, not even the existence of such rights would be recognized. Conscience requires the implicit presupposition that “the other” is, at some basic level, the same as or at least not different from the self. This leads to an unexpected conclusion, that the so-called “positive sciences” are, in fact, covertly normative. Behaviorist psychology, for example, by taking the other and his inner world as an unknown, by treating the other as a “black box” that can be judged only on the basis of exhibited behavior, reduces people to the status of automatons, quietly revoking their claim to rights. This, in turn, is nothing but lawlessness where the “other” is concerned. All rights then belong to the self, and to the other?-None. This is nothing but injustice.

This also indicates the need to be very careful with our sciences and philosophies. It is never very obvious what metaphysics lurk behind our “objective” hypotheses or conclusions—nor where they may lead. If metaphysics is an ineradicable residue underlying all science and philosophy, then it is much better that this be of a life-enhancing, rather than life-denying, nature.

Conscience is the prime mover of Law—it creates and resonates in the heart and mobilizes man. If a person does everything lawfully, in the way prescribed by Law, believing in its utter rightness and content in his heart about its truth—this, then, is conscience. This is the foundation of Law; another name for it is “faith.” It is the “still, small voice” that comes from the depths of one’s heart. It is the product of an indubitable, pure and undefiled feeling. May God grant us all that state, which comes to us on a tide of the ocean of compassion (Amen).

If man has no faith, neither does he possess conscience. Lacking conscience, he also lacks humanity. Blessed are those who recognise Law and have a clear conscience, for God is with them.

The Secret That Is Love

Love is the real source of man’s feelings of compassion and kindness, the sublime synthesis of his finest and most delicate feelings of conscience. Since the sway of conscience has purified the heart, purging it of all things, good and bad alike, God installs His throne of manifestation in that heart. Thus love of God engulfs one’s being, and that person becomes pure love. Then everything loves him and he loves everything.

And so, that person becomes invested with God’s attributes and friendship, harmony and welfare, and joins His Chosen People. Henceforth, his place in both worlds is Paradise and his station, comfort and friendship.

This is a three-stage process: (1) Righteousness, diligent observation of the Law enabling (2) the conscience to flower—and the full maturity of conscience is (3) love.

But what happens once one becomes, as it were, an incarnation of love? Does one shed the Law and conscience as if they were autumn leaves?

On the contrary, the Law and conscience find their fullest, most mature, manifestation in a person who has become pure love. Rote Imitation becomes Realization. He or she no longer acts out of blind obedience to the letter of the Law, but in full knowledge and consciousness of why the Law prescribes or prohibits a certain thing. The clumsy, mechanical, sometimes jarring and disturbing implementation of the Divine Law gives way to a smooth, harmonious flow—the grace of love. Such people are a guiding light to all beings lucky enough to come within their sphere.

Such a person is called a saint, or a “friend of God”, and has become identified with pure love. The motto of the friend of God is “I, if I be lifted up, will lift up all mankind with me.” The saints are the channels or vehicles by which God’s love, compassion and mercy reach the world. Indeed in ages when there are many saints of high realisation, there are fewer wars, plagues and calamities—the world is a “closer” place to Paradise. In ages when they are few and far between, these channels of access to grace are “clogged,” as it were, and the situation is reversed. Look around you and, with this measure in hand, you will be able to judge what kind of times we live in.

Seven Hells, Eight Heavens

Islam is based on eight principles. These are referred to as the eight gates of Heaven:

1. Compassion, kindness and affection.

2. Righteousness.

3. Loyalty.

4. Generosity.

5. Patience.

6. Discretion.

7. Knowing one’s poverty and weakness.

8. Giving thanks to God

Without these, there is no peace, happiness or Paradise in either world.

Anyone who is clothed in these praiseworthy traits and has made them part of his constitution is a proper Moslem and worthy of the Noble Messenger of God, Mohammed. For these praiseworthy manners and characteristics are the beautiful traits and attributes of our Prophet. They have radiated from him to his family, children and Companions, thence becoming the fundamental constituents of Islam. So testifies the Koran.

And this is why Islam is not simply the recitation of the Word of Witnessing or the search for Heaven in a mosque. The firmness of God’s revelatory secrets depends on these qualities; hence, so do the continuance of life, its peace and happiness. Throughout one’s life one must always be based in the good, the true and the beautiful. Only with these verities are immortality and eternity feasible.

It is for this reason that the above principles have always been a guiding light and torch in the hands of mankind and the travelers to Truth. Just as one cannot see in the dark or find one’s way, neither can he reach his Lord. God says: “Be light, come to Me, attain My mystery,” and desires us. Our great Prophet exemplified the meaning of this declaration in his Ascension (the Miraj). Without these lights of truth, in the darkness of our ignorance, how could we find the way to our Lord and be worthy of His Pleasure?

Therefore, these agreeable traits and characteristics are what is valuable, whether at the stage of general Law, or of mystical schools (conscience), or of attaining Reality (love).

Without them, a person cannot be worthy of his Lord, no matter whether he is a prophet or a madman. This is the secret of the Four Books and the Hundred Pages revealed to the various Prophets. These eight principles are the sources of life for humanity and human conscience that bestow happiness, peace and joy.

All the virtues and merits in the world are encompassed by these traits. This is why they have been called the eight gates of Heaven. Those who possess them live in Paradise even while in this world.

As for the seven circles of Hell, the following are the traits that open their gates:

1. Pride.

2. Covetousness.

3. Envy.

4. Discord.

5. Backbiting.

6. Lust.

7. Anger.

All the evil traits and manners in the world are, in turn, contained in these. No matter what or who he is or how true he may appear to be, these are the characteristics that lie close to a person’s heart if he does not acknowledge goodness, beauty and truth. It makes no difference if he never raises his head from prostration. Being human and being a Moslem are both possible only by relying on Truth. Islam cannot be attained by following the lead of one’s caprice, by being carried away by one’s ego, by exhibitionism or by fishing for other people’s praise. One will then have opened the gates of the seven Hells, pride, rebellion and downfall.

Note, however, that there are eight Heavens as opposed to only seven Hells. This is because God Almighty has said: “My Mercy encompasses (is greater than) My Wrath.” Indeed in Islam, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” precedes everything. No matter how great one’s sins, they are swept away in a torrent of Divine Compassion and Mercy, provided one resolves to rectify one’s ways in accordance with the Law. The opportunity for absolution is always there, and never far away.

For the secret of religion is love.

 

PUT YOUR TRUST IN GOD

1.

Bad things to good, God modifies

Think not He does otherwise

Always watched on by the wise—

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

2.

In God you should put your trust

Surrender yourself, find rest at last

With everything He does, be pleased

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

3.

Put in your heart of His strength a dose

Recognize what He doth dispose

Abandon what you propose

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

4.

He is the Compassionate Creator

He is the Benevolent Provider

He is the Wise and Divine Author

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

5.

The Final Judge in any claim:

Direct your prayers toward Him

Let go of your personal whim

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

6.

Don’t crave after a thing or cause

Don’t be stubborn if one occurs

It’s from God, do not refuse

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

7.

Since matters are in God’s hands, vain

Is any confusion or pain

He unfolds Wisdom divine

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

8.

All His deeds are superior

And in tune with each other

Everything He does is proper

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

9.

Keep sorrows distant from your heart

Find comfort instead in your Lord

Just leave everything to God

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

10.

Don’t deem justice to be malice

Surrender, don’t burn in the Blaze

Don’t give up or give in—patience!

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

11.

Do not say: “Why is this so?”

It is good that it is so

Look, see how the end will go

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

12.

Look down on no one, nor slight

Don’t give offense, don’t break a heart

With your ego never side

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

13.

A believer’s deed is never vice

A wise man’s way is never strife

A sage’s speech won’t agonize

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

14.

His patience is a grace on me

His ruling, my security

The Lord God is my deputy

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

15.

His name resounds in every call

His remembrance in every soul

His rescue is for one and all

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

16.

Just when your hopes are down to nil

Suddenly He parts a veil

He grants solace from every ill

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

17.

In each moment to each servant

Whether wrathful or beneficent

He’s at a task each instant

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

18.

Now Complier and now Preventer

Now Harmer and now Benefiter

Now Debaser and now Upraiser

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

19.

Now He makes His servant a sage

Now malignant, now virtuous

0ver every heart He rules

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

20.

Sometimes He makes your heart empty

0r fills your spirit with beauty

0r makes you His loving devotee

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

21.

Simple one time, complex the next

Sometimes He makes your heart perplexed

Happy one moment, sad the next

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

22.

Sparingly eat, sleep, and drink

Give up carnality, it is junk

Settle in the rose garden of the heart

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

23.

Yourself with His creatures do not strain

Nor with your ego remain

You and your heart, keep close the twain

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

24.

With what is past, fall not behind

What is yet to come, don’t mind

Even in the present, don’t reside

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

25.

Unceasingly His name recite

Cunning and shrewdness, cast aside

Admire Truth, Truth articulate

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

26.

Isn’t it time you were amazed

Discover Him, yourself forsake

Cast away sleep, become awake

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

27.

Every word contains advice sound

Every object is much adorned

Every action is a godsend

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

 

28.

A symbol and portent are all things

A sign of good news are all things

A fountain of grace is everything

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

29.

Lend ear to anyone who speaks

Understand Him who makes him speak

And with all your heart accept

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

30.

The languages of things proclaim

“Truth, 0 Truth!” they all exclaim

Creation’s courtesy ascertain

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

31.

Yes, He has done very well

0f course He has done very well

Indeed He has done very well

 What God will ordain, let us see

 Whatever He does, well does He

 

 —Ibrahim Hakki of Erzurum

 

WOMAN IN ISLAM

 

“Men are one-half of an apple; women are the other half.”

—Mohammed, the Messenger of God

 

The Way of God, the mode in which God has chosen to manifest Himself, is revealed to us through the workings of nature. And these workings are often displayed in the form of complementary opposites. Day and night, light and dark, high and low, long and short, positive and negative are just a few examples. In Chinese philosophy the multitude of opposites was summarized in the polarity of yin and yang, the first symbolizing the dark, passive, female aspect and the second, the light, active, male aspect of things. It is even said that the universe comes into being through opposites, for a thing cannot be manifested without its opposite. Light, for example, can only be distinguished against a background of darkness, and so on. This reciprocity extends from the macrocosmos down to the microcosmos, where quantum physicist Niels Bohr has shown that the wave and particle models of nature consummate each other in his famous Principle of Complementarity.

It is noteworthy that polarity in nature does not always imply symmetry in every respect. The proton and the electron—the building blocks of the universe—are complementary in charge, yet the proton is almost 2000 times as massive as the electron. A similar disproportion exists between the female ovum and the male sperm, the latter being minute in comparison with the former. Where sexual reproduction is concerned, nature abounds in examples of asymmetry, as evidenced in the queen bee versus male bees, or a large female black widow spider versus its small male counterpart.

When we come to human beings, we find that man and woman are almost identical with one another except for certain biological differences. It makes no sense to speak about sex in the case of the soul itself; the self is unitary and asexual. Yet the biological differences are there, and they are too deeply rooted and obvious to be dismissed. A male cannot bear a child no matter how hard he tries, and the anatomy of a female constitution could not become masculine without a complete and wholesale revision.

Rather than trying to accomplish the impossible and eradicate biological differences, then, what we should do is to take man and woman as they are and give them their rights. The needs of a woman are different from those of a man. If these needs are not taken into account, we would be violating the rights of one side or the other.

Islam has laid down the rights of both man and woman without disregarding the differences peculiar to each. Care should be taken, however, to avoid entangling what is specifically Islamic with other, extraneous influences. If we wish to learn the truth, we need to research the matter more thoroughly.

The history of Islam is, by and large, the history of the failure of so-called “Islamic” nations to live up to the high ideals of Islam, as much as it is of their success. Islamic societies have, it is true, tried to remain faithful to the injunctions of the Koran and the noble example of the Prophet. But it is also obvious that in this they have not been entirely successful. This is why calls for a “return to the roots” are sounded so frequently, but historical inertias that lie deep seem to preclude any easy change.

What is necessary, then, is to look at what Islam in fact says. Ideals are always difficult to translate into practice, but the shortcoming here lies with all-too-human failings, not with the ideals themselves. The Koran and the example of the Prophet should be read properly, sensibly; and in order to be read properly at all they should first be read.

When we look at Islam’s perceived lore concerning women today, what we see is actually the result of several intertwined factors, especially:

1.     Authentic Islamic doctrine regarding women, which is itself frequently misread. Superimposed on this are:

2.     Various local, social and cultural influences,

3.     Political factors,

4.     Environmental factors.

The Prophet’s Example

Once we attempt to unearth the specifically Islamic element from under these—as it were—geological strata, we find that the only thing to do is to go back to the original example, that of the Prophet himself. We have to supplement the Written Koran with the concrete example of the “Speaking Koran,” who constitutes the only true role model for Moslems.

The Prophet was the archetypal family man, doing household chores, even mending his clothes and shoes when necessary. That is the model, not only for Moslems but for all men, that Islam aspires to. And it is not just a model, but a challenge for us all.

“The best among you,” remarked the Prophet, “are those who treat women well.” One of his wives, in a heated discussion, once struck the Prophet with her hand. Her mother saw this and chided her, saying: “Daughter, what are you doing? Do you realize who this is?” The Messenger of God, however, intervened and said: “No, no, don’t say anything to her. My blessed wives are all like this. Don’t say anything against any of them.”

On another occasion, he and another wife were having a heated discussion. At one point, she began yelling at him. When her father, who had overheard, raised the subject with her, she replied simply that all the Prophet’s wives enjoyed similar liberties with him.

It cannot be emphasized enough that among all his wives, the Prophet never, ever struck any of his wives or children, not even once. He never raised his voice against them, nor said a bad word, even when they quarrelled with him.

“I have been made,” said the Prophet, “to love three things in your world: women, perfume, and Prayer, the light of my eyes.” This Tradition not only highlights the otherworldly nature of the Prophet; it also draws attention to the intrinsic sweetness of the three items, and in associating women with Prayer, draws attention to the sacred nature of women and of marriage, which is the only approved way for relations between the sexes.

The Prophet was born of a woman and was married to women. And if there have been more great men than great women in history, we too often forget that every great man, and every prophet except Adam, was born of a woman, and that—to repeat a well-worn cliché—behind every great man there is a woman: whether as mother, wife, or supporter.

Common Fallacies Regarding the Status of Women

We have already noted that the Koran has frequently been read improperly, and without reference to the Prophet’s example. This is especially true of the verses dealing with the status of women. What has happened is that meanings have been read into them which actually are not there. An attempt will be made here to demonstrate this by discussing a few examples: the most common fallacies.

Fallacy 1: Men are the masters and women are their slaves

The Koran reads: “... men are the overseers of women” (4:34). That is, men are the supporters and protectors of women and children. Barring outright slander, there is no way that one can extrapolate from this to a master/slave relationship. To make things clearer, the Prophet said in his Farewell Sermon: “Treat your women well. You have no right to oppress them.” And at another time: “The best among you are the best to their wives.” And: “The believers of the most perfect faith are those who exhibit the best moral conduct and are kindest to their families.”

Fallacy 2: Men are superior to women

The verse reads: “... men have a degree over women” (2:228). On the average, men have a slight edge over women in terms of physical strength. Needless to say, this excludes a broad range of exceptions, and is true only in a statistical sense. The same verse notes that “some are better than others,” but does not assign gender to this latter expression. Indeed, there are untold numbers of women who are superior to men in knowledge, in work, and in physical strength.

Fallacy 3: Men can beat the daylights out of women

“Admonish [or: reason with] women whom you fear may be rebellious. [If this is not enough] depart from their beds. [If this doesn’t work either] slap them. If they then obey you, don’t search for a way against them” (4:34).

The word translated as “slap” above derives from the Arabic root DRB and is usually translated as “beat.” Now it so happens that words derived from the same DRB root occur 58 times in the Koran, and nowhere else is it used (or translated) in this sense. Of the many other meanings assigned to it, a few are: to set out (on the road), to shroud (in darkness), to strike (an example), to mint (a coin), to publish (a book), to cover (concerning ladies’ dresses), to dispatch, to throw, to raise (something set down), etc.

It can thus be seen that “beat” is by no means the obvious translation of such a word. Assuming, however, that there is a grain of truth in the interpreters’ view, it has been rendered here by “slap,” for as we shall see below, the sayings of the Prophet, as well as his example which we saw above, strongly militate against the use of violence where women are concerned.

Men are told to strike rebellious women lightly only as a last resort. What could be the nature of the rebellion that would justify such a measure? On an occasion in which the Prophet spoke of “disciplining without bruises or injuries,” and also in the Farewell Sermon, this is linked with adultery. For as the verse says, the measure is used not when a woman is actually “rebellious,” but when one merely fears it. And this can be justified only on the grounds of infidelity. Otherwise, anything could be made a pretext for violence, which is surely not what is intended by the verse. To prevent adultery, if one can, before it happens—this seems to be the only justification for the measure. For adultery is the one sure way to wreck a marriage, and if the latter can be saved in this manner, we have a rationale for the action.

Indeed, the Tradition itself speaks of overt fornication: i.e., if a man actually witnesses his wife with another man, he is entitled to “discipline” her; yet even here the recommendation of Islam is to divorce her peacefully rather than to engage in violence. Of course, there can be no question of remaining together after such an event has been witnessed. Of all permitted things under heaven, the most detestable in God’s sight is divorce, yet there are occasions where it is unavoidable.

Over and against this we have to set the following sayings of the Prophet: “Those who beat their wives are not good men.” “I myself will be the claimant on Judgment Day against the man who beats his wife.” “Could any of you beat his wife as he might a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” Reliable collections contain Traditions of the Prophet to the effect that he forbade the beating of any woman, saying: “Never beat God’s handmaidens.” All this goes to show that the Koranic sanction can be invoked, if at all, only under the most exceptional of circumstances.

Fallacy 4: One man equals two women

The Koranic verse reads: “... the male receives two shares of the inheritance, the female one share” (4:11,176). But this is qualified by the decree: “Men support women from their means” (4:34). Thus, the upkeep of the sister(s) are incumbent on the brother(s). The reverse is not true, even if a sister earns her living and a brother does not. Further, this is only one of the injunctions regulating inheritance, and hence one among a host of legal cases.

Fallacy 5: One male witness equals two female witnesses

When taken out of context, the Koranic verse indeed reads: “... two male witnesses, or one male and two female witnesses, so that one of them can remind the other” (2:282). When read in its proper context, however, it becomes clear that this applies only to a certain subset of commercial law—namely, in cases of commercial liability with a maturity period, and Letters of Credit.

Social and Cultural Factors

When a religion emerges into a society, it never finds a blank slate before it. No matter what society we are talking about, it has customs, mores and traditions that antedate the introduction of that religion, and which color its response to the latter.

This basic fact of sociology and anthropology is also observed in the case of Islam. Islam itself is universal. But the response of every culture to Islam will be conditioned by its own peculiar characteristics.

The people of the Middle East where Islam originated belonged to a male-dominant culture. The period before Islam, referred to as “the Age of Ignorance,” was replete with the ill treatment of females. A woman was a vehicle for sexual satisfaction and little else—lacking, in many cases, even the legal protection of a marital arrangement. Little girls were disposed of by burying them alive. Very few women had the means to become prominent and powerful members of society. Women could be gambled on and given away in bets; they could be inherited like a household object.

Against this backdrop, Islam introduced almost every right that women enjoy in the 20th century. The right of women in France to exercise property rights independently of their husbands was granted only at the beginning of the 20th century. In Italy, the right to divorce had to wait until the last third of the 20th century. God’s instruction to the Prophet to accept the allegiance of women (60:12) has been interpreted by Moslems as the right to vote; in the USA, women could not vote until 1920. Today, at the end of the 20th century, universal suffrage still does not exist in Switzerland. In Germany, a woman could not hold a bank account until 1958, in France until 1965. The true emancipation of women in Europe is the matter of a scant fifty years.

Now it may come as something of a surprise that women were granted all these rights, explicitly or implicitly, not today, not yesterday, but one thousand four hundred years ago with the emergence of Islam. Mohammed, the Messenger of God, effected the elevation of womankind, not in an age of emancipation, but at a time when woman did not count for anything at all. He put an end to female infanticide. Above all, Islam introduced the treatment of woman as a person; much later, in the Middle Ages, Europeans would be debating whether a woman has a soul and should be considered human or not. The greatness of this achievement has to be measured not against what humanity has accomplished today after millenia of struggle, but in its own historical context. Moreover, as we shall see below, woman still lacks those very same rights given by Mohammed even in this day.

Certain measures which may at first glance look like restrictions actually worked to the woman’s benefit. It may be difficult for us, living as we do at the pinnacle of civilization, to assess what a giant leap this was in comparison with what preceded it. For example, in transactions dealing with commercial debt having a maturity period, a second female witness might be called in, but this relieved the first from the burden of having to face singly the responsibility of remembering complicated numerical details. A woman might receive less of a share in inheritance, but this was balanced by the fact that the male heir was responsible for supporting her. Thus, in many cases, she lost a pittance but gained lifelong security in return. Giving her an equal share would result in male protest and the removal of this privilege. Moreover, this happens to be only a particular case in Islamic law—there are many other cases where she receives a greater or even an equal share. Further, a woman didn’t have to take care of anyone else and was totally free to dispense with her money as she liked. She didn’t (and doesn’t) have to spend a penny for her livelihood even if she were rich; her husband had (and has) to take care of her. She doesn’t have to breast-feed the baby or do household chores if she doesn’t want to; the husband has to find a foster-mother in one case, and a servant in the other. She cannot be married off by her parents to a man she doesn’t want—as long as you abide by Islam, that is.

We can see that regulations which at first appear to be detrimental to women were actually meant, and worked, for their benefit (“positive discrimination”). In the early days of Islam, furthermore, women were accorded much more freedom than was forthcoming later on—they could accompany their menfolk in war, act as nurses, engage in commerce and trade, etc. Karen Armstrong, the author of an important biography about Mohammed, merely tells the truth when she observes: “Women were not crushed by Islam, as people tend to imagine in the West.”[27]

As time passed, however, old social habits—atavisms from the Age of Ignorance—began to reassert themselves. Also, as Islam spread to other lands and other cultures, it was forced to assimilate the mores and norms of those regions as well. Some of these, the religion could tame; there was too much sociocultural resistance against taming others. What justification can be found within Islam, for example, for the clitoridectomies performed in North Africa? None whatever. The result was that, over the course of the centuries, elements foreign to Islam and its protection of women became blended into the mixture. The interaction of Islam with a different culture would of course lead to altogether different results.

The case of the veil is a peculiar one in itself. The veil existed in the Middle East prior to Islam—the Virgin Mary is depicted wearing a veil in the early churches. Apparently, it first began as a measure to ensure protection from the male tendency to exploit and molest women. Therefore, legislation for covering is not against women, but rather against the lack of self-control of men with respect to women (sexual harassment, to say nothing of rape, is a worldwide problem even in our day).

Covering themselves in a general sense is enjoined on both the Prophet’s wives and women in the Koran (24:30-31) as an aspect of modesty. Originally, only the Prophet’s wives were required to veil themselves; this was their exclusive privilege. In time, the veil became a status symbol and fashionable among women. As Armstrong remarks, “Islamic culture was strongly egalitarian and it seemed incongruous that the Prophet’s wives should be distinguished and honoured in this way. Thus many of the Muslim women who first took the veil saw it as a symbol of power and influence, not as a badge of male oppression.”[28] It was only later on that the veil became a sign of female seclusion in a patriarchal society, and was transformed from an emblem of superiority into its exact opposite.

There is also another dimension to this. The headscarf is worn by Catholic nuns, and in their case it is revered as a sign of holiness. There is no reason why Islamic usage of the headscarf should not be accorded similar respect.

The sayings or “Traditions” of the Prophet have also undergone a process of “socialization” or “acculturation.” It is known that spurious Traditions were invented at various times, and in a culture with a certain attitude towards women these inventions would tend to be correspondingly biased. However, collectors of Traditions have made painstaking efforts to separate spurious Traditions from authentic ones. Since the Prophet himself indicated that false Traditions would be invented in his name, one should be very careful in handling sayings that go against the general tendency of Islam, which can be summarized as respect for women, within an overall spirit of tolerance, compassion, and mercy.

Political Factors

Without doubt, rulers exert an influence over the societies they rule. This influence extends to the laws of a society, and the religious law of Islam—the Holy Law, which is comprised of Koranic rulings, the sayings and example of the Prophet, derivations based on analogy, and the consensus of scholars—has not been exempt from it. Rulers have found it expedient to reinterpret religious law according to their own lights.

Take the case of Saudi Arabia, where the restrictions on women are more severe than in other Islamic countries (they cannot drive a car, for instance). Saudi law requires that anyone bringing narcotics into the country be decapitated, and the Saudis claim that this practice is firmly based on the Holy Law. Yet there are other Islamic lands where this is not the case, for the simple reason that narcotics as such didn’t exist at the time when Islam was revealed. How then could the Holy Law have ruled beheading as punishment for a narcotic offense? It is not the attempt to draw analogies from precedents that is at error here, but rather that rulers have passed laws of their own and called these “the Holy Law.” Besides, every severe Koranic ruling is followed by a verse that absolves the repentant, emphasizes God’s Compassion and Mercy, and exhorts human beings to emulate these qualities. This is a clear case where Islam is used as a front to cover up other intentions, which are mainly aimed at keeping a specific society under political control. And women, too, have received an unequal share in this process.

Environmental Factors

When you throw a stone into a still pond, you are bound to get ripples. At least some of the repercussions in the Middle East appear to be caused by comparatively recent developments.

Without engaging in any value judgments, we wish to draw attention to an objective fact which has too often been overlooked: namely, that the presence of Israel has modified response patterns in the Middle East. This seems to be a part of Middle-Eastern reactions to the more general ascendancy of the West. People’s attitudes appear to be modulated by “the Western challenge,” and the result has been reinforcement and retrenchment within an overall defensive stance. Just as liberties are curtailed under extraordinary circumstances, Middle-Eastern nations, intimidated by continual encroachments against what they regard as their geographical and cultural territory, have overreacted with puritanism, and women have received their share in this.

About Polygamy

Polygamy was a mark of distinction in ancient society; according to the Bible, David had a harem (2 Samuel 5.13), Abraham, Jacob (Genesis 32.22) and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1.2) each had two wives, and Esau had several (Genesis 28.9). Solomon had 700 wives plus 300 concubines (1 Kings 11.3). A man of high standing was expected to take many wives.

Another reason for polygamy is that wars deplete the male portion of the population, and there are fewer husbands to go all around. This is not merely a problem of the past. In early 1996, Buryat women—who live in the vicinity of Lake Baikal—were campaigning for polygamy, saying that their people were on the verge of extinction and that it was better to be the second or third wife of a good man than the only wife of a drunkard.

The Old Testament sanctions unlimited polygamy, the only requirement being that: “If [a man] takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing or marital rights of the first wife [or wives]” (Exodus 21.10).

The Prophet of God was strictly monogamous with his first wife, Khadija. He was 25 and she, 40 when they married; in the prime of his powers, he remained faithful to her for more than a quarter-century. As she grew older, Khadija suggested to the Prophet that he take a second wife, but he always laughed off such suggestions. After her death, with the spread of Islam, he had to take several wives for various political, diplomatic or protective reasons, though among them his true love was only one, Aisha, whom he married when she was still very young (in Medieval Europe, too, it was customary for nine- or ten-year old girls to marry). Professor Laura Veccia Vaglieri remarks: “With the sole exception of Aisha, [Mohammed] married women who were neither virgins, nor young nor beautiful. Was this sensuality?”

The important thing is that the Prophet was legally married to all his wives, even to slave-girls with whom he was presented. In Islam, not multiple marriages but illicit sex—fornication and adultery—is immoral. Islam limited the number of female consorts to four (but recommended one), and this with the proviso that all were brought under the protective umbrella of legal marriage. On the other hand, the right for a woman to divorce a man was granted from the start: when Umaima wished to divorce the Prophet she did so, receiving gifts during the split.

In a society with a tradition of an unlimited number of wives, polygamy could not be eradicated immediately. The Koran, however, curtailed this number and said: “You can take up to four wives, but only if you can treat them all equally” (4:3), adding the rejoinder: “You cannot treat them all equally” (4:129). Thus, the Koran recognizes polygamy but paves the way for monogamy.

As far as sexual satisfaction is concerned, one spouse is enough. Yet there have always been sexually overactive men in all societies who could not control their egotistical drives and who have had carnal relationships with more than one woman. Rather than leave such “Don Juan” types to wallow in the sin of fornication and adultery, and in order to secure legal marital rights for their consorts, the Koran did not ban polygamy entirely. The verses quoted above, however, indicate where its true preference lies.

If the Koran allows a man with several wives (polygyny), why not a woman with several husbands (polyandry)? This is one of the cases where asymmetry in nature asserts itself. If a man has several wives, the parents of any offspring are immediately identified. The father is known, the mother is known, and hence it is immediately obvious who is responsible for a child. If, however, a woman has sexual relations with more than one man, the mother is known but the father is not. Therefore, it is not certain who will take responsibility for the child other than its mother—in the end, no one might. But this is practically the same situation as that found in prostitution, and social rights cannot be properly established for women and children under polyandry.

Views of Western Orientalists

The West has had a long-standing interest in the Islamic religion, and has studied it at great length. Scholars who specialize in this field are known as orientalists. Of course, there have been biased persons among them; but there have been fair ones too, and even in the case of the most biased, professional integrity has at times caused them to acknowledge the truth. Let us now see what Western orientalists and historians have to say concerning the treatment of women in Islam.

Sir Hamilton A.R. Gibb: “That [Mohammed’s] reforms enhanced the status of women in general by contrast with the anarchy of pre-Islamic Arabia is universally admitted. ...critics have tended to overlook the almost unfailing patience which he displayed even under provocation and the gentleness with which he attended to the griefs of all sorts of women and comforted them, even at times to the extent of revising his legislation.”

Alfred Guillaume: “...it is laid down that wives are to be treated with kindness and strict impartiality; if a man cannot treat all alike he should keep to one. The husband pays the woman a dowry at the time of marriage, and the money or property so allotted remains her own.”

Stanley Lane-Poole: No great lawmaker has ever made such significant changes as Mohammed did on the subject of women. Rulings concerning women have been outlined in the Koran in great detail. This is the point at which Mohammed’s greatest reforms have occurred. Although these reforms may appear insignificant to a European, they are actually tremendous. The restriction placed on polygamy, the recommendation of monogamy, the introduction of degrees of prohibition in place of the appalling collectivism and intermixing of Arab marriages, the limitations on divorce, the duty of a husband to take care of his ex-wife for a certain period even after they are divorced, the severe rulings to ensure her livelihood, the introduction of the novelty that women are legal heirs—even if at half the rate of men—so that children may be properly looked after, and the ability of a widow to receive her dead husband’s inheritance—all these constitute a programme of far-reaching reforms.

Will Durant: Mohammed put an end to female infanticide. In court cases and financial matters, he made woman the equal of man. A woman can enter every legal profession; she can keep her earnings for herself; she can inherit money and property, and use her fortune as she desires. Mohammed removed the Arab custom by which women passed from father to son as part of the inheritance.

Laura Veccia Vaglieri: Even though woman has risen to a high social status in Europe, she has not, at least until recently, attained in many countries the independence and liberty enjoyed by a Moslem woman in the face of the law. In reality, the woman in Islam possesses the right to share in inheritance, even if to an extent less than her brothers; the right to marry according to her own choice and not to tolerate the ill treatment of a brutish husband; but further, the rights to receive dowry payment from her husband, to have her needs met by her husband even if she is rich, and to be absolutely independent in the disposal of her inherited property.

Gaudefroy-Demombynes: The rulings of the Koran, which are amazingly in favor of woman, provide her, even if theoretically, with a status better than present [19th century] European laws allow. The Islamic woman has the right to a separate fortune in financial matters. She owns her share, her property received through donation or inheritance, and her labor’s dues to the end of her life. Although it is difficult for her to make practical use of these rights, her sustenance, shelter and other requirements are guaranteed in accordance with her standing.

Clement Huart: It is the duty of the husband to take care of his wife. He does not have the right to force her to work in a job that conflicts with her social standing, or to work at all in return for pay.

These testimonies of well-known historians and orientalists demonstrate that the discoveries of Western research in this field have not yet become common knowledge.

Family Life

“We created you [both man and woman] from a single soul” (4:1), says the Koran. This verse points to the basically unitary and nonpolar nature of the soul, or self; it is asexual, and man and woman are not merely equal, but identical in this respect. As far as the Koran is concerned, the only inequality worthy of note is that based on closeness to God, which has nothing to do with maleness or femaleness, wealth or poverty, race, nationality or prominence: “Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most Godfearing of you” (49:13). Another way to read this verse would be: “The only superiority in God’s sight consists in preserving oneself from evil.”

“There is no monkery in Islam,” said the Prophet. This and the fact that he was married indicate that spirituality and raising a family are not mutually contradictory or exclusive. Spirituality does not require celibacy. An ordinary householder can enjoy sex and raise children without forfeiting true spirituality. In other words, spirituality and family life do not violate each other. Men and women, says the Koran, are garments of one another: “They are a garment for you and you are a garment to them” (2:187). God “has created spouses for you among yourselves so that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has planted love and mercy between you. In that are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).

Men and women are often mentioned in the same breath in the Koran, emphasizing their equality in all but a very few respects. Here, for instance, is a beautiful verse from the Koran (33:35), in Arthur J. Arberry’s superb interpretation:

Men and women who have surrendered [i.e. are Moslems],

believing men and women,

obedient men and women,

truthful men and women,

enduring men and women,

humble men and women,

men and women who give in charity,

men who fast and women who fast,

men and women who guard their private parts,

men and women who remember God oft—

for them God has prepared forgiveness

and a mighty wage.

Islam’s egalitarianism is brought out in another saying of the Prophet: “It is mandatory for every male and female Moslem to learn knowledge (science) and to research.” The Koranic verse: “Men shall receive the fruits of their labor, and women shall receive the fruits of their labor” (4:32) not only guarantees the labor rights of women on an equal parity with men, but also causes Islamic law to recognize personal responsibility for actions, irrespective of sex.

But when the Koranic teachings are plumbed for their deeper meaning, one finds that the Koran is trying to protect a third thing rather than either man or woman alone, and this is the family.

“Paradise,” said the Prophet, “lies under the feet of mothers.” This means not only that they are superior even to Paradise, but that one can earn a place in Heaven only by pleasing one’s mother. Islam has only the highest praise for mothers; the task of raising a family is regarded as almost sacred. Parents and children are signs of God’s mercy and magnificence.

In Islam, not individuals as such but the family is the basic unit of society; if the former are atoms, the family is the molecule that provides continuity and stability. Most of all, man and woman are co-workers with God in the production of new human beings. The creation of a new human is not a task to be taken lightly. It requires a minimum of twenty years of careful nurture in a warm, loving family environment; otherwise the task can easily end in an abomination which can jeopardize not merely the family, but society itself. Therefore, having and raising children is a matter of the utmost gravity. Free sex devalues children, and thus humanity.

When sex, which is nature’s way of reproducing the species, is divorced from its true intent and made to serve man’s pleasure exclusively, that is when things begin to go wrong. Hence, it is illicit sex—adultery, fornication and the like—that Islam is against. Since it has no conception of original sin, sex in itself is not a defiling act, nor is woman held responsible for the fall of man, and hence is not viewed as despicable. Women are considered holy in Islam.

In ecology, nature responds to violations of its balance by trying to eliminate the cause. In the field of forbidden sexual relationships, venereal disease is nature’s way of kicking back. Again, the only way to protect oneself is to engage in a healthy marital relationship—which is all that Islam is advocating.

Islam is not alone in condemning extramarital sex. The sages of every time and clime have recognized the necessity of marriage for a balanced, clean, and healthy life. When Theano, the wife of Pythagoras and also his spiritual successor, was asked how much time is necessary for a woman to become pure after having had relationship with a man, she replied: “If it is with her husband, she is pure immediately; if it is with another, she never is pure.” Of course, this holds true for the man as well.

Women in Islam have an important role in the education of society. They are not simply the instructors of their children, nor teachers in primary school, but guides that train people at every age. The first precedent for this was the Prophet’s wife Aisha, followed by his other wives, who gave instruction to everyone in religious matters.

Love and the Sufis

According to the findings of modern psychiatry, the story of sexual perversion is essentially the story of sex without love. Hence, it goes without saying that love is the most important thing in a relationship between man and woman. As Édouard Schuré pointed out, “it is love which justifies marriage.” And marriage, in turn, sanctifies love.

Romantic love entered Europe in the Middle Ages through the troubadours and minstrels, who in turn were inspired by the Moslem Moors, Saracens, and the Sufis of Andalusia. Idries Shah has convincingly shown in The Sufis (1964) that the latter gave the gift of romantic love to the West. As mystics, the Sufis have always been more liberal-minded than the literalists, and this holds true also in the case of women.

The Sufis regard love between the sexes as a mode of something higher, as a station on the way to divine love. Love of a male or female may lead on to the more refined love of God. For the Sufis, in fact, sexual love is metaphorical; in deeply loving another, we love the very essence of that person, which is none other than the Divine Mystery, from which derives the Sufic claim that true love is man’s love for God. Thus, in the deepest, most fulfilling love, man and woman discover the divine in each other.

Hence, family life at its best will lead to the blossoming of God’s love in the hearts of both man and woman, and their happiness will be incomparably enhanced. Then they will give thanks for themselves and for all creation, and because they are the sentient spokespersons for that creation, they will truly be “God’s viceregents on earth” of which the Koran speaks: they will become vehicles of God’s Compassion and Mercy.

One of the outstanding Sufis who valued women highly was Ibn Arabi, also known as “the Greatest Sheikh.” Ibn Arabi always stuck to the letter of the Koran, so it is unthinkable that he should have strayed beyond the bounds of Koranic doctrine.

Because the creative action (of reproduction) takes place in woman, says Ibn Arabi, she is closer to the Creator than man. “In some respects,” he says, “woman is superior to man, and is his equal in most other cases” (Futuhat). He subscribes to the association between a male heaven and a female earth as a poetic metaphor, which was also prevalent in ancient cultures. He indicates that in all matters concerning women, one female witness is worth two fair male witnesses.

Ibn Arabi is of the opinion that the differences between men and women are few and negligible. These differences give priority sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other, balancing each other out when taken all together. Deficiencies in both men and women with respect to each other are compensated by surpluses in other areas. Thus a balance is struck between the sexes, and the meaning of the Prophetic Tradition: “Men are half of an apple, women the other half” becomes manifest. Ibn Arabi also notes, again correctly in terms of the Arabic, that the Tradition: “You are all shepherds and responsible for your flock” applies to men and women alike.

“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” begins the Koran. Both the attributes of Compassion and Mercy in Arabic derive, as Ibn Arabi points out, from the root RHM. The significance of this derivation is especially brought out in the case of the Merciful (Rahim)—it also means the female womb, which encompasses, protects and nurtures the baby within. The Merciful is etymologically derived from the Compassionate (Rahman), and points to a higher concentration of grace. Indeed, all that exists is brought into being and nourished by the attribute of Compassion, whereas the gift of Paradise­—the attribute of Mercy—is reserved for the faithful as a special dispensation from God. Believers thus benefit from both Divine Names, one universally extensive and the other, intensive. Woman is the honored, if unwitting, bearer of a Divine Name. And it is a cosmic divine mystery that the universe and Paradise are brought into existence and sustained by Compassion and Mercy respectively, which are both feminine attributes.

Ibn Arabi indicates, furthermore, that women are not necessarily ruled out when men are mentioned, for women may possess attributes that we customarily associate with men. Gender references in a language are not always gender-specific. In English, too, bravery—to take an example—is a characteristic normally associated with masculinity. But can we thereby claim that there are no women who are brave, that Joan of Arc, for instance, was not brave? Again, God is referred to as “He” in English, but this does not mean that God is a man—for the Lord transcends both male and female. Such quirks of language should not be allowed to fog the issue. Likewise, the female gender in speech does not necessarily exclude men, for there are men who share attributes we ordinarily link with femininity.

Contemporary Societies

Esmé Wynne-Tyson has put our modern predicament in a nutshell:

It is quite certain that if woman continues to regard unceasing materialistic labour as a proof of progress, she will not only be unable to share [increased] leisure but will have no time to civilize—even when she is capable of it—either her husband or children. Moreover, by such blind acquiescence to the plans of our modern Pharaohs to turn the world into a large State-termitary, she is rapidly losing her soul, or divinity... : her sense of spirituality, her natural response to beauty, her innate womanliness most perfectly expressed in selfless maternal love.[29]

Women have been downtrodden in almost all societies. In some societies they have been regarded as wicked for hundreds of years, and today they are reacting against this. What is right in their cause should be acknowledged, without, however, going to the extreme of—in Hobbes’ words—”the war of all against all.” For in the end, men and women have to live together. Can we separate them, with a nation composed entirely of men on the one hand and a nation of women on the other? We cannot.

In our age, with all its liberties and sexual revolutions, women are still looked upon as sex objects. In fact, the rhetoric of sexual liberation has been used to give women a false sense of freedom, and they have been conned into thinking that family ties and marriage are chains. As a result, men have become free to take their fill of women without any of the responsibilities imposed on men by family life. Woman is reduced to an object, to be cast off after man has satisfied his sexual pleasures. This is nothing but a re-emergence of the Age of Ignorance—to such an extent, in fact, that female infanticide is still practiced today in China. Further, as women have gained their economic independence they have felt more at liberty to terminate a marital relationship, as if economic support were all there is to marriage. The result is the increase of single-parent families. The delicate connective tissue—a home, a father and mother—without which a human being cannot be nurtured properly is being sundered. Karen Armstrong has drawn attention to the fact that our “view of women and the relations between the sexes is confused. We preach equality and liberation, but at the same time exploit and degrade women in advertising, pornography and much popular entertainment...”[30]

From the extreme of belittling and vilifying woman for centuries, we have today fallen into the opposite extreme of unlimited sexual freedom. Beneath all the rhetoric masquerading as rights and liberties, however, there still lurks the same cynical disregard for the well-being of women.

Sweden is a country that has moved earliest and farthest in the direction of sexual freedom. Hans Nestius, National Chairman for Swedish Sex Information, summarizes the results as follows:

The laws that existed against pornography in the past represented hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and the oppression of sexual life. We wanted to open the door a bit and let some air and light come in. We hoped that sex would cease to be something mysterious. We expected that freedom would at first create a wave of pornography, but that in time, the initial interest would be lost and everything would return to normal. But after a decade had passed, it was clear that events had progressed contrary to expectations. Today the pornography market has become much richer than what it used to be. Furthermore, rape and prostitution have increased along with deviant relationships. Another development has been the intensive and extensive rise of alcoholism. It is known that 80 out of 100 Swedes are clinically alcoholic at the present time.[31]

Today as never before, female nakedness is used for the advertisement of products and universally abused by the media. Organized crime has progressively escalated what is known as the “white-slave trade.” In our supposedly emancipated civilization, woman and the display of her body have become a commercial commodity. This has to be recognized for what it is: a crime against humanity. Illicit sex, the prostitution even of little girls, has become a large-scale industry. The hypocrisy of this situation is obvious: the sexual exploitation of the female is depicted as freedom, leading to her acquiescence in a plot that enslaves her to the most degrading existence.

The point is that the degradation of woman is the degradation of humanity—of man and child as well. Woman should be restored to her rightful stature, and supplied with her God-given rights—rights recognized by Islam 14 centuries ago.

Conclusion

Finally, we have to consider whether, or to what extent, woman’s present status is part of a much deeper problem. Is her predicament the disease itself, or only one of its symptoms?

The last few centuries have witnessed the progressive “desacralization” of humanity—the withering away of the Sacred, the disenchantment of the world, its “ungottierung” or “un-Godification” as expressed in German.

Yet if the divine exists within human beings, they are, by this very act, turning their backs on their center, their source. When the connection between the heart and the mind is severed, the heart ceases to inform the actions of the mind. It is replaced by the ego—the egotistical self (nafs), as the Sufis call it—which then commandeers the mind to fulfill its every whim.

Hence, what we observe today are the results of the ego unleashed: global exploitation, the dehumanization of humanity, viewing each other (and hence, women) as objects rather than God’s subjects; the devastation of nature; mass culture and commodity markets exploiting the basest in man, the reduction of human beings to their lowest common denominator as “consumers” and nothing more.

It is precisely here that Islam vouchsafes a fuller meaning for humanity. It reiterates the truth, first expressed by Jesus, that “man does not live by bread alone”, that he was meant for higher things. Having reached the zenith of material affluence, it calls on us to complement this with spiritual wealth, in order that the full meaning of “civilization” may be realized.

The essence of Islamic law is protection. And the Moslem, as defined by the Prophet, is “a person whose hands, sexuality and tongue do not harm others.” The aim of this protection is for people to become fully human—both by being safe from the injury of others, and by not injuring them—and thus to realize God’s purpose in creating human beings on earth.

Our problems can be traced to the lack of the feminine principle of Mercy, the life principle, the ability for Compassion, the protector of life unto death. God’s manifestation of this principle needs to come into the world now, and to be realized in each human heart.

The ideal relationship between the sexes is one in which one woman and one man are committed to each other, and in which that commitment is tested as true by life. Both support and protect each other in such a blessed relationship, and are both the teachers and students of one another.

Islam can help us by reminding us that marriage is the proper environment for this togetherness. Its instructions to both man and woman are simple: “Don’t oppress your spouse, don’t hurt your spouse’s feelings.” Islam’s counsel is always mutual tenderness, gentleness and concern. “Live with them in kindness,” enjoins the Koran; “even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something in which God has placed much good” (4:19).

The family is the basic unit for social and spiritual development, the theater for clean relations and service and spiritual progress. Spirituality is not a separate “discipline” at odds with a spouse and children. Marriage is the proper format for the sacred task of raising a family: one of the clearest signs of God’s mercy and magnificence is revealed in the actual difficulty and selflessness of this act, if endured.

But further, Islam also invites us to rediscover the wellsprings of sacredness within ourselves—to apply brakes on the ego run rampant, to replace the hegemony of egotism over the mind with cooperation between mind and heart; to stop harming others by treating them as puppets of our egos, and to become full human beings.

This also points to the inability of most “Islamic” nations to truly live up to the wealth of their own tradition. Perhaps we all have something to learn from Islam—some of us by examining it anew, some of us by rediscovering its still-untapped resources, and some of us by coming to it for the first time.

 ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY

    Islam is a religion, not a political system or a political ideology. But because it is a holistic religion, neither does it exclude politics altogether. Being the religion of all humanity for the rest of time, Islam could not be tied down to any specific polity, since down through history its adherents would live under a variety of political forms, one of which is democracy. Although it does not advocate this or that specific regime, investigation of the Islamic religion reveals that it is libertarian, egalitarian and that it supports social justice. As such, Islam comes closest to democracy among the political systems of our day.

    But is democracy itself a perfect system? Or is it now practiced in the best possible way? In-depth consideration will reveal that an Islamic morality is necessary for the proper operation of democracy. Western countries famous for their democratic traditions are able to realize democracy to the extent that they possess elements of Mohammedan ethics, however ignorant they may remain of this fact. And the apparent present dead-ends and difficulties of democracy can only be resolved by a higher, Islamic, morality. From this point of view, the Koran is democracy personified—as the following intends to demonstrate.

 

The intention of this article is to investigate the connections and relationships between Islam and democracy. Recent times have seen a profusion of views being aired labeling Islam as “totalitarian” or “totalistic”. The existence of few democracies among the fifty or so Islamic nations in the world is advanced as proof in support of this thesis. It has therefore become a necessity to analyze the extent to which Islam is compatible with democracy.

It should first and foremost be indicated that the lack of democracy in many Islamic countries is due, not to Islam, but to other factors. First of all, the subject has to do with security and anarchy. No government can give in to anarchy or allow it to be victorious. Second, the political regimes in Islamic countries have as little to do with Islam as the military junta in Burma (Myanmar) has to do with Buddhism, or Hitler’s Germany had to do with Christianity. The great majority of Islamic nations today are police states under occupation by their own armies. But the reason for this is not religion, and certainly not Islam. Rather, it is the result of various internal and (more often) external factors of a social, political and economic nature. It would be unjust to put the blame which is their due on Islam. Turkey is, so far, fortunate in being independent enough of these factors to be able to preserve its democracy whilst being an Islamic country.

But our purpose here is not to present an analysis of the conditions that render democracy unfeasible in Islamic nations. Rather, we intend to investigate how favorable and proximate Islam itself is to democracy. And we wish to take this research deeper than has been done hitherto.

Those who claim that Islam lacks a democratic structure might wish to point out that the history of Islam is strewn with sultanates, empires and kingdoms, not with democracies. But this, too, cannot be considered a valid yardstick. In the contemporary world, democracy has a history of only about two hundred years. The democratic nations of Europe were, until recently, kingdoms themselves, and some are still ruled by constitutional monarchies. As for the dictatorships of the recent past, to which the term “totalitarian” is eminently more applicable, some of these converted to democracy in 1945, while others have done so only recently. In history, on the other hand, democracy has been seen in no land and religion with the exception of ancient Greece and, perhaps, Switzerland. This may be attributed to the general progress of humanity with time. What is important is this: Is the religion of Islam a help or a hindrance to the advance of mankind toward democracy? So many vacuous arguments have seen daylight without touching upon what is essential in this matter that the present investigation has become a pressing need.

Islam and Theocracy

The favorite example of those who find Islam and democracy to be mutually exclusive is the regime founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. It must at once be pointed out that a very special interpretation of Islam, not approved by nine-tenths of the world’s Moslems, dominates Iran. The failure of the Iranian regime’s efforts to spread its brand of revolution is clear evidence that the political ideas that lie at its roots have not met with general acceptance in the Islamic world.

Certain Shi’ite writers have explicitly stated that what they want is an “absolute theocracy”. But the saying of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, to the effect that “There is no clergy in religion,” has closed the doors on the hegemony and rule of a priest class right from the very start. An organized Church of the form in Christianity or Buddhism does not exist in Islam—it is a churchless faith. If it had, it should have emerged during the Prophet’s lifetime or the immediately succeeding period of the Four Caliphs at the latest, not in Iran in 1979 A.D.

To read the Koranic verse: “Judgment belongs only to God” (6:57) as: “Sovereignty belongs only to God,” and thus extrapolate to politics, would also produce theocratic tendencies. For what is intended here is the absolute sovereignty of the Lord over the entire universe. We cannot carry this over to the sphere of politics, because in politics the sovereign are rulers, who are men. If we attempt to apply this verse to politics, the situation will arise where certain people claiming to speak in the name of God (i.e. a clerical class) lay claim to rulership. But this is precluded by the Prophetic saying above.

We thus see that neither the history of Islam, nor the present state of Islamic countries, nor indeed the example of Iran, can shed light on the relationship between Islam and democracy.

Council

In the Koran, verses dealing with Shura (council, or counsel) occur in two places. The first of these is: “Counsel among yourselves in your tasks” (3:159), and the second is: “They carry out their tasks by counseling [or: councils] among themselves” (42:38). It should also be pointed out that the second verse is important enough to justify naming the chapter it occurs in as “Council”.

The meaning of shura is “assembly, gathering, consultation.” Mashwarah (consultation, council) and mushawir (consultant) are derived from the same Arabic root. Thus, it has been emphasized that consultation is a good thing in the most general sense. This is illustrated by the Prophet’s life, who always consulted his compatriots before reaching a decision. Applying this to the political sphere, the rule of parliament and public vote and, more generally, democracy, is implicitly approved by Islam. The greatest council and counsel are nationwide elections in which the entire community participates. In the history of Islam, of course, “council” has seldom meant polling the people. The first Caliphs were, for example, chosen by “consultative committees” composed of a few members. In later times, rulers availed themselves of councils formed by specialists. This is an approach that survives today in democratic countries in the form of various commissions, reducing the possibility of error in the decision of a single man reached on the basis of incomplete knowledge.

Holy Law

People have laws in order to regulate social affairs: i.e., relationships between individuals. If human beings were angels, there would be no need for laws, because everybody would act in an ideal fashion anyway. Since this is not the case, however, we have, not simply law, but law enforcement.

There are two considerations in framing laws. The first is punishment, for those who have broken a specific law, since a crime cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed, and the victim has a right to justice by which the crime, if not undone, can at least be redressed.

But equally, and perhaps more importantly, laws exist for prevention and deterrence—in order to discourage people from an undesired act in the first place.

Some of the rulings of the Holy Law which have attracted attention in the West need to be viewed in this light. Certain Koranic injunctions may appear to be unduly severe when judged by modern standards, yet it should be rememebered that they are there for deterrence, not merely punishment. Prevention is intended much more than implementation, as a proper reading in the due context will reveal. The following well-known saying harbors a profound truth that is relevant here: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Many of the accusations that Islam is undemocratic and totalitarian follow from the misperception that it introduces strictures leaving very little scope for free activity in almost all fields of life. The mistake here stems from a misunderstanding of the basic concepts involved.

It is usually ignored that the word shariah, or “Holy Law”, is used in our day in two different senses. The first of these is the religious principles to be observed by a Moslem, such as perfoming the Prayer, abstinence from alcohol, etc. All this rests on individual decision in any case, so no one else can interfere. The second meaning in which the word is used is Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh. Within this scope it is expected to regulate social relationships. (An interesting sidelight is that those who uphold the Holy Law usually mean the first sense, whereas those who deride it usually mean the second, so that although both groups use the same word, the senses in which they intend it almost never coincide.)

Holy Law in the sense of religious jurisprudence is, first of all, a legal system. This means that it concerns itself with whatever activities or fields of life any system of laws would address. In other words, the Holy Law deals with exactly those areas which any legal code has to. On this basis, then, the Holy Law is neither more nor less totalitarian than any Law in any country.

What distinguishes Holy Law from other codes is that it is based, as far as is possible, on the orders of God (the Koran) and the example of the Prophet (the Way). But these can, by themselves, constitute only a foundation for a legal code. It is estimated that the verses in the Koran dealing with legal matters number between 200 and 400 (the estimate varies according to the specialist and the assumptions and definitions he works from.) Even the simplest society cannot be ruled by so few injunctions; in modern, complex societies, thousands of regulations are required. For this reason, the rules of the Holy Law have in every age been framed by Islamic legislators. The Koran and the Way only describe the broad outlines. The details are left to the legists. Not only is there no obstacle to deriving specific principles suitable to a certain time and place from general, universal ones, there is also a necessity. For a choice that is appropriate in one situation may not be so in another.

It is also true, on the other hand, that not everything can be changed. Regulations may change with time, but there are rules that don’t. If we compare religious Law to a tree, the verses of the Koran are its roots, authentic Traditions (of the Prophet) are its trunk, the Four Schools of Law are its main branches, and sundry regulations are its leaves. This tree can always sprout new branches and leaves. But to attack its roots and its trunk are tantamount to slaughtering it. Otherwise, permission has already been given in the Koran for deriving (istinbat) new rules (4:83).

We thus see that the Holy Law does not differ from other codes as far as being made by human intervention is concerned, and that it covers the same ground as they do. As for its unchanging parts: do not all codes possess certain fundamental assumptions, which remain inviolate and invariant as a particular legislation unfolds? (On this, see Appendix A.)

According to Malise Ruthven, who has done in-depth research on the subject, only 600 of the more than 6000 verses in the Koran have to do with legal responsibilities. Most of these, in turn, deal with religious obligations like Ritual Prayer, Fasting and Pilgrimage. The number of verses dealing directly with legal matters is only about 80, and most of these, again, are concerned with women, marriage and inheritance.

Professor Ruthven, having subjected Islamic Law to a thorough-going investigation, states in his book Islam in the World:

Whereas Christianity inherited a body of secular law developed under the pagan Romans, Islam developed a system of religious law more or less independently of the political sphere... Far from being integrated (as many Muslims claim), the political and religious institutions remained distinct.[32]

Ruthven continues:

Society existed more or less independently of the state, a feature which is still evident in the Muslim world of today.[33]

 ... the fiqh is less a system of law, with a developed apparatus of procedure and enforcement, than a process of socialization and acculturation... In time... observance of the divine law becomes a social factor functioning more or less independently of the state...

 ...the caliphs took over and adapted much of the criminal, commercial and constitutional law of their Byzantine and Sassanid predecessors...

 The qadis (Shari’a judges) had no power to enforce legal decisions on the rulers. The rulers, while formally committed to upholding the Shari’a, were rarely prepared to submit to the decisions of the qadis.... if such decisions... went against their interests.[34]

 Thus, while in the realm of personal or family matters the Shari’a could be implemented on the basis of doctrines elaborated by the faqihs [exponents of fiqh ], in [almost all other matters] power of decision remained with the rulers, who governed by decree and settled disputes through their own mazalim (complaints) courts. Thus state institutions grew up parallel to Islamic ones, leading to a de facto separation of the religious and secular spheres...[35]

Ruthven also draws attention to the fact that the “divine right” of kings, prevalent in the West, has no place in Islam. In the face of this right to rule, which can be traced to the Christian Church, it was necessary to develop the concept of the “natural rights” of the individual, and Western politics and law reached its present state from such origins. In Islam, on the other hand, there never was such a problem to begin with.

All this proves that The Holy Law has seen a restricted application in Islamic societies and was buttressed by many external factors. This is the result of situations met with in real life. For this reason, it would be totally incorrect to view the Holy Law as a seamless monolith that governs society down to the tiniest detail and oppresses it with an iron fist. Far from being the state’s instrument of repression, The Holy Law is an institution that has been adopted and developed by civil society independently of, and sometimes even in opposition to, the state.

 As for the enforcement of the Holy Law by some present-day police states in a bitterly cruel way, this stems from their desire to gain some popularity, at least, and to render themselves partially palatable by appearing “Islamic” in the eyes of their subject peoples. Their coercion and cruelty has nothing to do with the Holy Law, which has been applied leniently throughout most of Islam’s fourteen centuries, but is due to their individual constitutions and legal codes. These are not the Holy Law itself, but barbarian interpretations and monstrous caricatures thereof. When one looks at the so-called “Islamic” present-day police states, indiscriminately chopping off hands right and left, one has to remember that hand severance was unheard of in the Ottoman Empire, extending over 20 million square kilometers and millions of people, in all 600 years of its rule. Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, it can be flatly stated that no Islamic state exists in the world today. Since a clear-headed investigation reveals this to be so, we should stop laying the blame at Islam’s doorstep for the antics of every Tom, Dick or Saddam who comes along.

Islam and Terrorism

Even the thought of terrorism is anathema to Islam, the very name of which is derived from the Arabic root for “peace”. “Islamic terrorism” is as plausible—to borrow Leszek Kolakowski’s term—as “fried snowballs”. The very name of Islam has stood for justice for more than fourteen centuries. And nothing can be more unjust than the premeditated slaughter of innocent civilians for grievances caused by other parties, which is what terrorism is all about. Even when the cause is just, a fair trial and due procedure of law is what Islam requires.

There is a widespread attempt in the media to create an image where terrorism is associated with Islam. Against this, one can only protest that this is not what Islam stands for, and that far from condoning terrorist acts, Islam’s most severe punishments are reserved for those who foment discord and strife. Anyone in Islamic countries unfortunate, angry, or misguided enough to resort to terrorist acts had better be aware of this fact.

Islam and Slavery

A slave is a person who has no rights. His master can use him as he desires. In world history, slavery has emerged from the problem of what to do with prisoners of war.

Those who consider Islam to be inherently undemocratic could conceivably wish to mount an argument on the basis of slavery.

It is true that Islam made no direct attempt to abolish slavery. But it did take steps to improve the lot of slaves, and to abolish slavery in time. Freeing a slave was prescribed as an atonement for many sins. Ill treatment of slaves was prohibited. In the Farewell Sermon of the Prophet, delivered during his Farewell Pilgrimage and considered by many to be the first “Declaration of Human Rights,” the subject is handled as follows: “As for slaves: give them the same food that you eat and clothe them as you yourself dress. If they make a mistake you cannot forgive, separate from them. They, too, are God’s servants and do not deserve ill treatment.”

Slaves have become commanders, even rulers, in Islamic countries and have enjoyed more authority than free people. The legalizing precedent has again been given in the Farewell Sermon: “If a crippled black slave becomes your ruler, obey him and follow him so long as he governs you in accordance with the Koran.”

Slavery is a social disease that has proved astonishingly difficult to eradicate. According to Newsweek magazine (May 4, 1992), there are still an estimated 100 million slaves in the world. This is the reason why Islam did not attempt to abolish slavery openly from the start. Slavery is not an institution that was introduced by Islam. Having found slavery already in existence, however, Islam took measures to abolish it within time, since it was impossible to do so immediately by sudden decree.

But if we attempt to oppose Islam or brand it as undemocratic because it failed to abolish slavery, we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position. The city-state of Athens in the past and the United States of America in our age are the arch-examples, even the prototypes, of democracy. Yet, as Tocqueville points out:

In Athens... there were only twenty thousand citizens in a population of over three hundred and fifty thousand. All the rest were slaves...

Athens, then, with her universal suffrage, was no more than an aristocratic republic in which all the nobles had an equal right to government.[36]

In other words Athens, the “cradle of democracy,” was actually a society based on slavery. As for America, it is famous for having enslaved millions of black Africans, and has been able to extricate itself from this situation only in the last century by the device of a very bloody civil war. It cannot be claimed even today that the problem of racism has been adequately resolved in the United States. In our age, when South Africa is only just winning its struggle against apartheid (pronounced “apart-hate”), Islam cannot be called to account for not having abolished slavery 1400 years ago.

In fact, it is only thanks to the development of machines which can perform man’s drudgery for him that slavery has been pushed into the background in modern society. Slavery, and even manual work, has diminished to the extent that slaves and workers have been replaced by machines. It is the machine, rather than significant moral advancement, that has freed man from the drudgery of many kinds of work.

Take away the mechanical infrastructure of industry, and it would not be surprising at all to observe, even today, the re-emergence of slavery. Nor is such a prospect as remote as it sounds. With the depletion of oil and other fossil fuels, on which our civilization depends so much but is in the process of squandering, it is not hard to imagine vast tracts of machinery that would become useless and abandoned in the future. We should thank the fruits of scientific progress and technological civilization for the present-day absence of slavery, and be more concerned about our own future when it may be reinstituted. Global precautions should be taken to prevent the future resurgence of slavery.

Islam and Racism

Islam is certainly not racist. It has done away with racism 14 centuries ago to an extent unmatched even by contemporary Western societies, and thus demolished the notion: “he and I are different,” which serves as one of the basic tenets of slavery. Here, again, it will suffice to quote a sentence from the Farewell Sermon:

“Just as no Arab has any superiority to any non-Arab and vice versa, blacks have no superiority to whites, nor whites to blacks.”

“God,” says the Koran, “commands you to judge with justice when you judge among human beings” (4:58). “Among human beings” here covers both Moslems and non-Moslems. Islam, therefore, desires that all human beings be treated equally regardless of color, religion, language, race, and social, economic or political status. It advocates the equality of all before the law. Violations in practice cannot invalidate this principle.

Is Islam Totalitarian?

Another misunderstanding surrounds the use of the word “totalitarian.” A totalitarian regime is not merely one of bloodstained oppression. Totalitarian rule gives all the rights to the state, and no liberties to the individual:

1.     It attempts to restructure the whole society according to a certain ideology or system of beliefs, and aims to control even the thoughts of individuals.

2.     It liquidates all individuals who do not belong to, are opposed to or are at variance with it.

If we evaluate Islam in the light of these two distinguishing characteristics, we find that it is impossible to identify Islam with totalitarianism, with the exception, perhaps, of Iran, which is geographically and historically marginal.[37]

1. One of the major distinctions between Islam and other religions is its principle: “There can be no compulsion in religion.” This principle is guaranteed by its place in the Koran (2:256) and cannot be violated. Islam can only use the way of gentle persuasion, and appeals to the intellect and comprehension of those it addresses. That force cannot yield desirable results is a well-known fact in Islam.

Renunciation of the use of force is not confined only to non-Moslems. It is up to the individual Moslem to decide how faithfully he will abide by religious rules. If a Moslem insists on not performing the Prayer, for example, he does only himself harm. He may be gently reminded, but he cannot be coerced. It is only when the rights of another are infringed that the Holy Law—like, indeed, all laws—comes into question. What is said here applies, of course, to places and situations where the Holy Law is properly in effect, which is to say almost nowhere in the world today.

2. There have always been people who would not be persuaded by Islam. The true nature of a system or regime emerges in how it deals with the dissidents and minorities under its rule. Islam has passed this test with flying colors in all ages. Every right has been granted and respect shown to people belonging to other religions. A minor proof of this is the gratitude celebrations of the Jews, 500 years after they escaped from the tortures of the Inquisition into the arms of the Ottoman Empire in 1492.

Indeed, there have been periods in history when the Ottoman Empire was the sole superpower in the world. If the Ottomans had pursued a policy of Islamization or extermination in those days, there would have been no religion other than Islam in the world today.

In Islam, everyone is the servant of God. A person who has properly understood Islam knows that to dominate and coerce another is to elevate oneself to the status of a god, and shuns this like the plague. The rules of law and not the commands of individuals are the basis in Islam, and the requirements of Law are carried out. For no society can function without the proper application of law. As evidenced by the Ottoman Code of laws, even the Sultans were bound by the law and subject to it.

Wherever there has been arbitrary rule, this has not occurred because of Islam but in spite of it. On the other hand, Islamic law permits the coexistence of other legal systems alongside it, as is seen, for example, in the last period of the Ottomans.

All of which leads us to another point: Some people are currently in search of a religion, or “meta-religion”, that accepts all religions and tolerates them. But Islam accepts all religions “of the Book” that have gone before it, venerates their prophets, and views them with tolerance. Hence, the meta-religion eagerly sought by some already exists, and goes by the name of “Islam”.

(The dangers of totalitarianism are further discussed in Appendix B.)

The Views of a Specialist

It may be useful, at this point, to refer to the views of an expert. In such a case, it is preferable that this specialist be a Western non-Moslem who has not refrained from criticizing Islam on other counts. Bernard Lewis is such an orientalist and historian of Islam. Professor Lewis has, in his notable study, The Political Language of Islam (1988), brought a wide perspective to the subject.

Professor Lewis makes it unmistakably clear that Islam is neither theocratic nor dictatorial: “Islam is clearly not... a theocracy.”[38] “There is even less foundation for the portrayal of Islamic government as a system in wich the ruler is an all-powerful despot and the subject his helpless slave, entirely at his mercy. This picture is false in both theory and practice.” In Islam, the ruler has no power of legislation, but finds it ready for him in the form of religious law in those matters which fall within its domain. “The ruler’s duty is to defend and uphold, to maintain and enforce, the law, by which he himself is bound no less than the humblest of his subjects.”[39] In this sense, Islam upholds the rule of law.

The respected French periodical, Le Nouvel Observateur, conducted an interview with Professor Lewis on the occasion of the publication of his book. His words there are even more enlightening:

When we in the West attempt to separate good government from bad government and despotism from democracy, we immediately take freedom as a measure. The Moslems, however, take justice. When we say ‘freedom’, we think of the subject, and mean and indicate his rights before the government. Traditional Islam means the same thing when it says ‘justice’. But it places the burden on the ruler’s shoulders. What is for us a right belonging to the subjects is, for it, a duty belonging to the sovereign. In general terms, Islam emerges as a system of duties rather than of rights. Of course, justice is not the same thing as freedom. But it can lead to the same results.

 What I am saying is that Islam does not conflict with democracy; it even shows the way leading to the latter.

In other words, Islam places on the ruler as a legal duty the recognition of rights won by people in the West only after long struggle. We know that historical practice has been at variance with this, but that is not the fault of Islam. Democracy can survive only when it is secured by laws, just as Islam requires.

Separation of Powers

In contemporary democracies, the principle of “separation of powers” has been introduced as a counterbalance against the possibility that power should become concentrated in a few hands, these three estates being the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

A similar separation is also found in Islam. Long before Montesquieu introduced the separation of powers, the caliph Haroun al-Rasheed applied it by separating the judiciary and appointing Abu Yousseff as its head. In Islam, executive power is in the hands of the caliph or sultan. Legislation belongs to the ulama, or learned doctors—over whom presided, in the case of the Ottomans, the “Sheikh of Islam.” As for the judiciary, this is in the hands of the qadis, or judges, represented by a chief judge. The principle of “separation of powers” is not explicitly stated, but the practice conforms or is close to it. For example, a sultan could not easily fire a Sheikh of Islam, yet the latter had the power to depose a sultan.

Women’s Rights

Before leaving this discussion of Holy Law, it will be well to touch very briefly on the subject of women’s rights. This is a subject that has been constantly abused, and most often only one view has been aired. Limitations of space preclude the kind of in-depth treatment that the subject really deserves. Suffice it to say here that contrary to widespread opinion in the West, women have enjoyed more rights in Islamic than in some Western countries up to—and sometimes into—the twentieth century. As the prestigious British journal, The Economist, notes, “The Koran is better about women than is generally realized... the two [man and woman] were born equal, ‘from a single soul’.”[40] Any legal differences between male and female stem not from inequality, but from biological differences, for the two were created biologically complementary to each other. To judge them by the same rules would be to infringe the God-given rights of either the one or the other. Again, historical malpractice can be used to condemn those who have perpetrated it, but certainly not Islam itself. Let the same source have the final word: “...at bottom such things do not happen to Muslim women because of what either the Koran or the Prophet said... They happen because of the pre-existing habits of the people among whom Islam first took root...” (Blaming matters on the scholars of Islam neglects the fact that they too were members of these same societies, thus either sharing the same mindset as their fellow countrymen or else being forced to take that mindset into consideration, and so this explanation reduces to that given in the quotation.)

Religion is a Necessity for Democracy

We now come to the question: is religion, in general, a desirable thing for democracy, or is it an undesirable one?

The two volumes of Democracy in America, written by the famous lawyer and thinker Alexis de Tocqueville and published consecutively in 1835 and 1840, constitute a peak that has yet to be matched concerning democracy and its practice in America.

Here is how Tocqueville evaluates the relationship between democracy and religion: “In the United States it is not only mores that are controlled by religion [Christianity], but its sway extends even over reason.”[41]

 After pointing out that religion introduces certain moral/ethical principles and various restrictions, Tocquville continues: “So the human spirit never sees an unlimited field before itself; however bold it is, from time to time it feels that it must halt before insurmountable barriers... Thus, while the law allows the American people to do everything, there are things which religion prevents them from doing and forbids them to dare.”[42]

Tocqueville criticizes those who attack religion in the name of freedom:

Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot. Religion is much more needed in the republic they advocate than in the monarchy they attack, and in democratic republics most of all. How can society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened?[43]

Saying: “Religion having lost its sway over men’s souls, the clearest line dividing good from ill has been obliterated; everything in the moral world seems uncertain”,[44] Tocqueville points out that the loss of religion will lead to the loss of freedom.[45] (See Appendix B.)

Atheism Means Cruelty and Tyranny

But Tocqueville was not the only genius living in the 19th century to perceive certain truths. Two other men of genius were able to foresee the social catastrophes of the 20th century: the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

But why was Tocqueville right? Because, in the final analysis, God is the source of all ethics. It is God who commands human beings: “Do this, this is right,” or: “Don’t do that, that is wrong.” But that is not all. God is also the sole enforcer of ethics. For God has also said: “If you do this, I will reward you; if you do that, I will punish you.” Where there is no belief in God, fear of God also collapses. Thus, both the definition (or delimitation) of ethics and its sanction are removed. This means that if belief in God ceases to exist, so does the basis of ethics and morality, and humanity is set adrift on a sea of moral relativity. And once morality is out of the way, man loses all his human attributes, becoming an animal and even a monster. With the removal of ethics from society, not only does the crime rate begin to climb, but the nature of crime itself becomes increasingly savage. In short, once man has taken leave of God, his humanity takes leave of man.

One of those to perceive this most clearly was Dostoevsky. Better than any sociologist or political scientist, Dostoevsky points to a polarization that occurs in society once man is shorn of faith, leaving two kinds of creature. One of these is the man-god (or despot), and the other is the herd (or slaves).

In The Devils, Kirilov says: “If there is no God, then I am God.” Man, having lost his faith, can find no being superior to him when he surveys the universe. (This is only to be expected, since God has created man as the highest of all creatures.) As a result, man’s lower, base self—or, in Sufic terminology, his egotistical “Impelling[46] Self”—declares itself god. But this is exactly what Nimrod did when he told Abraham: “I give life and make to die,” or Pharaoh when he told his people: “I am indeed your truest Lord” (79:24). As for the pharaohs of the twentieth century, they have done things from which even a Nimrod or Pharaoh might have recoiled in horror.

Once man has lost his faith in God, the “deified man” or “strong man” takes the place that rightfully belongs to God. (This is called Tagut in the Koran, which means deified man who lays claim to Lordship.) The base self becomes the usurper of God’s office. Might alone any longer makes right. Shorn of all values, having repudiated God and religion, morality and compassion, the man-god loves—is even obsessed with—only two things: power and sex. It is inevitable that all human qualities must disappear from the man-god, who is a creature of his ego and hence, of Satan. Where faith in God does not exist, man, too, ceases to do so.

But Dostoevsky also foresaw Nietzsche, who is the author of such propositions as: “God is dead, we have killed Him.” (Since God is immortal, of course, what had actually died was people’s faith in Him.) Nietzsche, in turn, foresaw the emergence of the “superman”. For the superman, human qualities were things to be ashamed of. Nietzsche said he was “cruel” and “beyond good and evil,” which placed him in the territory of absolute evil, since he had already transcended morality. (It can be seen that Nietzshe’s superman possesses qualities diametrically opposed to those of the Perfect Man in Islamic Sufism. On the other hand, Nietzsche was perhaps the first to prophesy—in Thus Spoke Zarathustra—the coming dangers of the “monster state.”)

Another of Dostoyevsky’s characters expresses this as follows: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” The tyrannies of our century have amply demonstrated, by their blood-curdling cruelties, just what these “permitted” things are. For this reason, it is necessary to study the history of the 20th century with the utmost care.

Dostoyevsky’s greatest discovery, the “Grand Inquisitor,” is another example of Nietzsche’s superman, and highlights another fact: if coercion and torture coexist in a place with religion, there the faith of God has departed from hearts, and remains an empty claim mindlessly mouthed in words devoid of content.

The second of Dostoevsky’s social classes is the herd, composed of slaves. If man does not have an immortal soul, if there is no reward and punishment, if anyone can get away with anything, then it becomes permissible to subject him to every manner of indignity and insult. Unfortunately, our century has done nothing but justify Dostoevsky’s and Nietzsche’s prototypes of herd and superman.

If there is no morality, there can be no justice. As long as morality exists, right makes might. He who is right is powerful, and justice rules. But once morality is gone, might makes right, and justice disappears along with ethics.

The conclusion, then, is that where there is no faith in God, neither can morality exist. Where there is no morality, everything is permitted. Where there is no morality, there is no man—there are only the superhuman few and the subhuman, even the subanimal, herd. In short, where religion and faith in God do not exist, not only do the most horrifying nightmares come true, but they also all befall us, every single one of them.

 

The Tyranny of the Majority and Human Rights

Tocqueville, who inspected democracy under a magnifying glass, claims that it can lead to a “tyranny of the majority”. Although he does not himself give any examples, we know that the Greek democracies of Antiquity operated in this way.

A “theory of human rights” emerged in the 17th century in the West, led by Thomas Hobbes and, especially, John Locke. This notion found expression in the unwritten assumptions of the British Constitution and in the provisions of the American Bill of Rights.

In the conception of democracy which followed, the principle of majority rule is a necessary condition for democracy (the “rule of the people”), but not a sufficient one. The will of the majority enjoys legitimacy only if it is an expression of “freely given consent.” Secondly and more importantly, certain inviolable rights and freedoms are defined that are granted to everyone. Majorities can do everything except deprive minorities of their rights and freedoms, such as speech, press, assembly, etc. Minorities, in turn, must abide by the rules and procedures of democratic organization. (Certain institutions are also necessary, such as an impartial and independent judiciary, a free but responsible press, and a military under civilian control.)

Democratic government is one in which the minority, or its representatives, can peacefully become the majority or its representatives. Again, democracy is, as Karl Popper pointed out, the only practical and peaceful method that has been found by which the people can oust an unwanted government from power.

This does not mean that democracy is paradise. There, too, there are problems and headaches. In Winston Churchill’s words, “Democracy is the worst possible form of government—except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

Actually, forms of government can be reduced to three: Tyranny, where society obeys one man (monarchies and dictatorships); democracy, where government is in the service of the people; and anarchy, which is an absence or void of government and, as Sidney Hook rightly observes, “is the rule of a thousand tyrants.” It is because anarchy can be even worse than despotism that the Koran remarks: “Obey those in authority among you” (4:59).[47]

What do we find when we look at Islam in terms of minority rights and liberties? When the Prophet of God migrated to Medina, he prepared a document with the Medinans that is the first written constitution in the world. In this “Constitution of Medina,” the concept of religious community is defined as a political union that encompasses the whole people. This includes the Jews and even the polytheists and idolaters. Every group, according to the Medina Constitution, is autonomous in the fields of religion and law. All parties signed this social contract of their own free will. The Medina Constitution, as a legal document, leaves all groups free to practice their religion and lead their lives, except for the unavoidable regulations needed in mutual life. Those who do not accept Islam are not bound by its rules.

One of the articles of this document explicitly states: “The Jews... shall possess equal rights with us.” Thus, “equality” and “rights” found expression in Islam a thousand years before they began to be articulated in the modern democracies of the West. The Prophet also signed a similar document with the Christians of Najran.

It can be seen that in spirit, the Medina Constitution is pluralist, libertarian, respectful of the law and of minority rights. The definition of community given therein corresponds to the concept of “people” in democracies. That Moslems should be in the majority, therefore, does not give them the right to force their views upon minorities. This is prevented by the precedent and example of the Prophet of Islam himself. And indeed, Islamic history corroborates this in terms of respect for minorities.

It may be appropriate at this point to dwell upon two major deficiencies of democracy:

1.     Democracies have not always been able to judge correctly where to draw the line on freedoms. For example, American democracy has caused a great increase in the crime rate by allowing its citizens the right to bear arms. And in general, children have become rebellious towards their parents, this undesirable situation being confused with democracy.

2.     One-party (“monist”) democracy of the kind extant in Japan has been looked down upon, and the multi-party (“pluralist”) kind has been preferred. Yet here, too, a drawback presents itself, for different parties have not shrunk from pitting brother against brother and husband against wife for the ulterior cause of coming to power. (Furthermore, the views of different parties have not always been very different.) That the struggle for power should create enmities within society is a problem associated with multi-party democracy, and it is not yet clear how it is to be satisfactorily resolved within the democratic system.

Organization of the Islamic Community

In an article published in August 1994 in Britain’s respected daily The Independent, Keith Ward, Professor of Theology at Oxford University, stated that Islam was the most democratic religion in the world today because it did not possess a priestly hierarchy like Christianity, and because its central doctrinal authority was unstructured.

The organization of the religious community has taken on different shapes in different religions. In Catholicism, for instance, the Christian community is organized in the form of a government—it is a well-known fact that the leaders of the early Church took the Roman Empire’s political institutions as their model. The Emperor of this government is the Pope, its senators are the Cardinals, and its governors are the Bishops.

The formation of the Moslem community, on the other hand, has evolved not in the shape of a government, but in the form of a university. This is why the central religious organization has been called madrasa (school) in Islam, whereas it is called ecclesia (Church) in Christianity. There is no clerical class or spiritual hegemony in Islam; there are only mudarris es (teachers or professors).

Islam is based on the principles of freedom, reason, and the intellect. The teachers do not force truth on anyone without convincing them by rational proofs. There is no compulsion in Islam. It is essential to believe and have faith rationally.

The scholars in the schools have solemnly vowed to guide the whole of society to the truth, and have dedicated themselves to its salvation. The activities of the schools are geared to the entire society. The “spiritual schools” (tariqas), on the other hand, give a more specialized training for those with spiritual aspirations. Because such people are the exception rather than the rule, however, Sunnite Islam is composed of a union of schools, not an association of dervish convents (taqqas).

The whole of Islamdom has lived as one great university. With the Ottomans, the Sheikh of Islam was the director of this university. As for the leaders of the law schools and the sheikhs of the spiritual schools, these are the equivalent of scholars with doctrines. As can be seen from all this, the religion of Islam is based on the authority of science or knowledge, not on an administrative authority.

Why are Human Beings Equal?

Up to this point, we have seen that religion is a necessity, even a sine qua non, for democracy, that atheism leads to sociopolitical disaster, and that Islam as a religion accomodates democracy. Normally, this would be the point to bid the reader farewell. The really significant part, however, still remains to be said. From this point of view, what has been said above is merely a prelude to or infrastructure for what follows.

Democracy is based on the equality of men. Where the equality of human beings and their votes do not hold, there democracy cannot be said to exist.

Many things have been said about equality throughout history. Rather than add to or reiterate these arguments, it is better to state the end result and continue from there. Since we find human beings to be grossly unequal and different in nature rather than equal, right down to their fingerprints, what is meant by “equality” is equality before the law. This is the sense in which the term is used in the Declaration of Human Rights of 1789, which championed the formula: “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” In earlier times, the Greeks expressed equality before the law by a single word, isonomia.

Now this brings us to the basic question that needs to be asked: why are human beings equal at all, whether before the law or not? Why is the basic assertion of oppression, racism and slavery, “I am superior to you,” invalid? From what root do all the social and political ideas lying at the base of democracy derive their strength?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and lies at the basis of such legal documents as the Helsinki Final Accords, is as follows:

“1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The Declaration continues with the generalizations “everyone” and “no one,” which go on to the end:

“3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.”

“4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude,” etc.

 

In fact, it is erroneous even to call these generalizations, for they are universally applicable without exception.

In the Preamble of the Declaration, mention is made of “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, and of “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women”.

But hold on. What has “faith” got to do with it? This is an unexpected term. What is the word “faith” doing in a universal legal declaration? And since faith is obviously involved in some way, could this have anything to do with religion, the traditional repository of faith?

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen:

The United Nations Universal Declaration is based on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. Many of its articles have been taken with little or no change from that source. Here is the first article of the French Declaration:

“1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.”

The preamble of this declaration states: “the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man”.

Everyone knows that people possess certain inalienable, inviolable and untransferable rights. But in what context does the word “sacred” occur?

The Declaration of Independence:

The French Declaration was inspired by the Virginia Bill of Rights. This in turn finds its root in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. The very first sentence of the main text of the Declaration of Independence reads:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now it is not by any means self-evident that all men are created equal. We have grown accustomed to accepting this a priori without questioning it. But if you ask a racist, for example, he will think that the notion: “I am superior to him”[48] is equally, if not more, self-evident. He may even say: “Are you blind? What can be more obvious than the difference in our skin colors?”

To put it in more general terms, how are we to explain to a discriminator that all men are equal, even one, beyond superficial differences such as size, weight, color, etc.? What is to be our foundation?

But mention is also made here of a “Creator”.

The American Declaration of Independence gives expression not merely to “faith” and the “sacred”, but states that there is a Creator, that human beings have been brought into existence by Him, and that their rights have been given to them by their Creator.

 It can be seen that as one probes deeper into the past, things become both clearer and more interesting. The final recourse of human rights in the Declaration of Independence is the Creator. Words have taken a long and winding route, finally ending up in the domain of religion.

Can support be found, then, for equality in terms of basic rights and freedoms in religions?

Robert A. Dahl, one of the leading exponents of democratic theory in our day and Professor Emeritus at Yale University, puts it this way:

Yet democracy might, like Plato’s republic, be little more than a philosophical fantasy were it not for the persistent and widespread influence of the belief that human beings are intrinsically equal in a fundamental way—or at any rate some substantial group of human beings are. Historically, the idea of intrinsic equality gained much of its strength, particularly in Europe and the English-speaking countries, from the common doctrine of Judaism and Christianity (shared also by Islam) that we are equally God’s children [or servants]. Indeed it was exactly on this belief that Locke grounded his assertion of the natural equality of all persons in a state of nature.[49]

Democracy in Polytheistic Societies

Although they developed the first examples of democracy because of their high regard for man, the Greek democracies proved unsuccessful in the end. First of all, these were slave societies, i.e. there was a distinction between free citizens and those deprived of political rights (slaves). Second, election results were viewed almost as a military victory, and the vanquished were reduced to the status of, if not slaves, at least second-class citizens. This resulted in a tripartite class structure within society, which led to bloody rebellions and frequently the emergence of a tyrant. Because minority rights were disregarded, these were not democracies in the modern sense of the word. Such problems had a great bearing on Plato’s criticisms of democracy.

We here bear witness to the coexistence of inequality and polytheism (associationism). It was Tocqueville, again, who first drew attention to this fact. Almost a century and a half before the Shi’ite sociologist Ali Shariati spoke of a “sociology of associationism,” Tocqueville was saying: “... when men are isolated from one another by great differences, they easily discover as many divinities as there are nations, castes, classes, and families, and they find a thousand private roads to go to heaven.” On the other hand: “Men who are alike and on the same level in this world easily conceive the idea of a single God who imposes the same laws on each man and grants him future happiness at the same price. The conception of the unity of mankind ever brings them back to the idea of the unity of the Creator...”[50] Note that this can also work in the opposite direction: polytheism can lead to discrimination and inequality between human beings. The notion: “Your god is different from my god” is a basic pretext for thinking that a person is different from us, and even for not considering him human at all. (Incomprehensibly, this accusation has from time to time been levelled by Christians at Moslems, in spite of the fact that both religions believe in one God.) In such a case, human rights cannot be applied to everyone. One of the important reasons, then, why modern democracies have succeeded where those in Antiquity failed, is that the latter were polytheistic while the former are monotheistic. For Europe and America are firmly based in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Man in the Bible

We can now begin to discuss the implications of Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s 1922 remark: “There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of Man.”

Right at the beginning of the Old Testament, the following statement is repeated three times: “God created Man (Adam) in His own image” (Genesis, 1:26-7).

This is an expression of equality. As historian Paul Johnson has observed,[51] it is not simply Adam or the human race that has been created in the image of God; each individual human being has been created in His image. (Note that we are not here trying to unravel the true meaning of the statement: we are not interested in what “God’s image” means, but are investigating the possible outcomes of this statement.)

In this sense, all men are equal, because they all have been created in the same image, the same form. “All Israelites,” says Johnson, “are equal before God, and therefore equal before his law.”[52]

We find here the first application of equality, which is the basic principle of democracy: “As men are all equally made in God’s image, they have equal rights in any fundamental sense. It is no accident that slavery among the Jews disappeared during the Second Commonwealth...”[53]

Jesus, who came after Moses, tried to have everyone love and respect one another with the principle of love that he brought.

Judaism is the religion of rules. Christianity is the religion of love. Islam, with its unique synthesis of rules and love, is the full bloom and culmination of religion. Again, Judaism deals more with the material world, Christianity with the spiritual world. Islam, which combines materiality with spirituality, stands at the summit of religious thought and experience, offering man the best of both worlds.

On the other hand, Jews believe that they are the “Chosen People of God,” that they are “a nation of priests,” and that God intends to guide humanity through them. They see themselves—if this is the right expression—as the “clergy” or “Church” of mankind, and consider themselves the elite of the human race.

In Christianity, as everyone knows, the Faithful are divided into the the Church or priestly class (clergy) and the ordinary believers (laity). In Christianity the true chosen of humanity is the Church, or the community of priests. The Church has the authority to speak in the name of God and to excommunicate. It thus possesses absolute authority over a person’s afterlife (and, in ages when religious faith was strong, also over his life in this world). According to Christian belief, “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Because of fundamental differences in viewpoint, various denominations have developed in Christianity, each with its own Church.

There is no clerical class and no Church in Islam: we have already had occasion to remark that it is a churchless faith. All human beings are equal before God. As is pointed out in the Farewell Sermon, “Superiority lies only in fearing God and in doing good deeds.”

Matter and Spirit

But this is not all. It is written in the sacred books that man was created from dust, or earth, or clay. The fact that they are created from the same matter in addition to the same image might be seen as a second reason for equality between human beings. But if man is only clay, i.e. matter, he is in effect nothing more than a robot, a machine. And all materialist philosophies have, in fact, treated him as mud because they do not allow any other dimension to his existence. Even if they do not say so in theory, this has always been the case in practice. The century we live in has proved this beyond doubt, if nothing else.

Even if the image of man made of clay is holy, therefore, this is not enough to protect his rights. The formula is incomplete; or rather, it is half. What has been said for matter must also be said for spirit, thus complementing and completing the formula. And this completion has been performed by Islam.

Man in Islam

The principle of the Torah given above recurs in Islam in two Traditions of the Prophet:

1. “God created man in His own image.”

2. “God created man in the image of the Compassionate.”

The Compassionate is one of the attributes of God. Since the Essence of God cannot have a form, it is plausible that man should be created in accordance with one of God’s attributes.

Both Judaism and Christianity accept that man has a spirit. Not much information can be found, however, in their sacred books regarding this spirit.

How God gave life to man is described in the Torah as follows: “The Lord God formed man (Adam) from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis, 2:7).

There is nothing more here than that man was given life. It is stated that man has been given life, just like plants and animals. There is nothing that distinguishes man from them. Similarly, in another book of the Old Testament (of which the Torah comprises only the first five books), it is stated that upon death: “The breath returns to the Lord who gave it” (Ecclessiastes, 12:7), which is synonymous with the Koranic verses to the effect: “We come from God, and we shall return to Him.”

These statements save man from the status of a dead lump of clay and raise him to the level of animals and plants, but do not take him any further. Man is a living being, and God gives him life or takes it back. In Sufic terms, this has brought the discussion to the level of the Animal Spirit, but not the Human Spirit.

Man is Holy in Islam

We are nearing the end of our road. In his words quoted above, Chesterton indicated that the origin of Man was divine, and he could find only this when he sought a basis for democracy. For Chesterton, as a Christian, the meaning of this divine origin is that God created Adam and that all human beings descended from him. If we do not accept that humanity has descended from a common ancestor, we can find no basis for declaring the brotherhood of man. Suppose, for example, that humanity had two ancestors, which did not in turn have a common progenitor. In such a case, humanity would continue forever as two separate races or classes. (This is one of the dangers inherent in Darwinian theories of evolution.) This means that the principle of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which is the motto of the French Revolution and all democracies, can be invested with meaning and validity only on the condition that we accept descent from an ancestor of divine origin, namely Adam.

But even this is not enough. Let us repeat our question:

Why are all human beings equal? Why does man, every human being, possess great worth? (Because for this, even having descended from Adam is not a sufficient condition.) Why do human beings have certain rights? Why is it necessary to respect a human being, and not treat him as mud in spite of the fact that that is his material origin?

The answer given by Islam is as follows.

1. “We breathed into man (Adam) of Our Spirit.”

This verse is repeated in three places in the Koran (15:29, 32:9 and 38:72). The spirit that vitalizes Man is God’s Own Spirit which He has breathed into man. This is why God has ordered the angels to bow to the ground (prostrate themselves) before Adam (2:34). There is a spark, a breath of God’s Spirit, in every man. The Human Spirit derives directly from the Spirit of God, and this is why all human beings are sacred. And because each human being has this spirit, human beings are equal in holiness, not in a nature of mud.

(What is being said here should not be confused. Most emphatically, definitely and certainly, Man is not God. Rather, he bears within himself a spark that is sacred, a trust that is divine.)

It can be seen that equality in form has been transcended here, and equality in spirit has been reached. Not only image but also essence has found its place. In other words, it is not possible to discriminate between people not only in terms of matter and form, but also of spirit and content. This is why the Koran states: “Killing another is like killing the whole of humanity, and saving a human being is like saving all mankind. We have indicated this in their Holy Book to the Children of Israel” (5:32).

Or, as the Jews might put it,

He who saves one man

Saves the world entire.

This precept, which should occur in the Torah, is found in the Talmud: Sanhedrin, Seder: Nezikin (Order: Damages), 4,5.

The way in which you treat a human being, therefore, is like treating all humankind in that way.

2. “God has created you of a single soul.”

This verse, in turn, recurs four times in the Koran (4:1, 6:98, 7:189, 39:6). Interpreted from the Sufic (esoteric) point of view, this means that all human beings are one. If interpreted exoterically, in the sense that all men derive from Adam, it means that all men are brethren. And as a matter of fact, the Prophet implicitly alludes to the brotherhood of man in his Farewell Sermon: “Human beings, you are all descended from one father. You are all the Children of Adam.” It is stated elsewhere in the same sermon that: “A Moslem is the brother of another Moslem, and so all Moslems are brethren, one of another.” The only difference between the brotherhood of man and the brotherhood of Moslems is that the former is articulated covertly and the latter, overtly. And the only reason for this covert expression is that a non-Moslem, because he is not aware of this brotherhood, may tend to act in ways that do not take it into account.

We therefore see that human beings are divine, and in spite of all differences in external appearance, their essence is the same. That is why they are equals of each other, that is why they have equal rights, why liberty is their right and why they are brethren. Here is where the foundation of democracy has been laid. Indeed, another of the Prophet’s Traditions states: “All men are equal, like the teeth of a comb.”

The Judaeo-Christian West, where democracy saw the light of day, realized that such was the state of affairs. But this truth was not expressed with such blinding clarity in its traditions and holy books. The most that could be achieved was to say, with Chesterton, that humankind was descended from Adam. On the other hand, the flight from the negative aspects of Christianity became an escape from religion in general, and precluded in-depth study of the situation. The true source of democracy, equality, freedom and fraternity lies in these explicit verses of the Koran.

Ethics and the Democratic Personality

Since this is the case, then, how should human beings behave towards each other? Precisely in accordance with the morality that God has prescribed for us. This constitutes the final gift of religions—and especially, of Islam—to humanity.

Democracy is not just about the “separation of powers.” It is not simply a multi-party regime, or general elections, or equality of vote. At the same time and much more importantly, it means respect for the rights of one another. In line with Voltaire’s famous dictum, it is to limit one’s own liberties with one’s own will at the point where the rights of others begin. It means the free flowering of each individual within restrictions common to all, and to become as useful as possible to oneself, to society, and to mankind. And this is what religions have all prescribed. This is the ethics of democracy. The abovementioned may be the form of democracy; this is its spirit. Where the core does not exist, purely formal democracy is reduced to an empty shell, and is bound to perish sooner or later. Where this spirit is, on the other hand, life never ceases to be bearable, and democracy can easily be built up even if the formal requirements are not met. Democracy cannot exist without a morality of democracy.

After the Second World War, T.W. Adorno et al. of the Frankfurt School published a study on “the Authoritarian Personality.” In like manner, one can speak of a “democratic personality structure.” And this can be achieved only with the morality of the Koran. Because Islamic ethics, which is based on the Koran, is the very essence of democratic morality. Respect for the rights of others and remaining within the limits of one’s rights (even in the case of a ruler) has never been emphasized in any religion as much as in Islam.

Jewish and Christian ethics, too, have many sublime aspects. For these too are true religions revealed through prophets by God. On the other hand, since they are not the perfect religion, they also contain gaps. They have been unable to prevent the spread of atheism, alcohol, illicit sex, intolerance and the Inquisition within their realms. Even the famous historian Arnold Toynbee, himself a devout Christian, claimed that it was necessary to turn to Islam in order to resolve the problem of alcoholism.

Drugs, rape, sexual perversion, drunkenness, murder and robbery now plague America, the foremost democracy of the world. If left unchecked, they will inevitably lead to its collapse from within. And the only way out—if this can be done—is the adoption of an Islamic morality.

Conclusion

“Dear God, grant that we may sow peace wherever we go. Let us be reconcilers and unifiers, not sowers of dissent. Allow us to disseminate love where there is hate, forgiveness where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sorrow. Grant that we may become in mercy like the sun, in generosity like the rain, in humility like the earth, in hiding the shames of others like the night; and in bestowing favors on everyone without discrimination, like all four.”

This prayer is none other than the prayer of democratic ethics, of the democratic personality. To the extent that these ideals are approximated, both our lives and the lives of those around us are enriched, enlightened, and infused with value and meaning. An oasis appears in the middle of the desert. If everyone adopts this morality, peace, contentment and happiness will belong to everyone. And that is when the true flower of democracy will reach full bloom.

This takes us one step further, for it now becomes possible to view democracy not as an end in itself, but as a means to something greater. Contemporary democracy provides the institutions, the basis, conducive to the best development of the human personality. It is here that Islam can provide a guiding light, for the aim of Islamic Sufism is precisely to cultivate development of the Self to stages where higher forms of thinking, ethics, and behavior are possible.

Lewis Mumford, that astute social critic and one of the most incisive minds of the 20th century, recognized that the transformation of social institutions without the re-education of human beings would not suffice for a happier society. “In rejecting a twofold change, inner and outer,” he said, the proponents of lasting, significant social change “overlooked the organic connection between personality and community, between the individual and the collective form. They sought to transform the institutions of society... and create a high order of social existence without bothering to develop and discipline a higher type of self.[54]

Although not well acquainted with certain aspects of Islam, Mumford nevertheless clearly understood that social and spiritual improvement complement each other. While Islam is quite down-to-earth, nonutopian and immediately practicable, it should be recognized that it opens the door to “self-actualization”—to use psychologist Abraham Maslow’s term in a deeper, Sufic, context—and the consequent betterment of society is quite feasible. Not only that, but Sufism also describes the various levels of Self with great precision, and outlines the process of self-actualization step by step. Thus, Islam doesn’t lead us simply to democracy as a political form, but also to its fulfillment.

But what if democracy does not take its inspiration from Islam—what then?

1.     A multitude of parties will sow enmity between brother and sister, father and son, and will prevent the oneness of mankind for the sake of negligible differences.

2.     The triad of government, businessmen and banks will unite for illegitimate profits.

3.     Politicians, the media (press, radio, TV, computer networks) and the merchants of passion will fan the fires of illicit sex.

4.     Behavior in accordance with the Four Holy Books (the Torah, the Psalms, the Bible and the Koran) will disappear.

For the concept of liberty in democratic societies is not based on the distinction between the “prohibited” and the “permitted” (what is legitimate and illegitimate in terms of divine sanction), and some people think that democracy means freedom without limits. Unlimited freedom, however, is not democracy but anarchy. And, furthermore, the “forbidden/allowed” distinction within religions has been instituted, not because God wants to make life difficult for everyone, but because mankind will be sucked into the maelstrom of its own destruction if it does not abide by these rules.

And this is precisely what will happen, unless democracy takes its further inspiration from Islam.

 

APPENDIX A:
UNIVERSAL LAW, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND GOD’S COMMANDMENTS

 

The 1789 Declaration of Human Rights has been taken from the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament.

So claims Jacob Kaplan.[55] And this, in turn, brings to mind the following question: Could it possibly be the case that the basis for modern law, human rights, and such concepts as freedom and equality, has been derived from religions?

As everyone knows, the Ten Commandments, revealed by the Lord to Moses and his people, occur in the Torah (part of the Old Testament). The “Twelve Commandments” revealed to Moslems, on the other hand, are to be found in the Koran. Let us initiate this analysis with a comparison between the two.

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, given in more detail in Exodus, 20:2-14, are summarized in Deuteronomy, 5:6-21.

 

1.     I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.

2.     You shall not make for yourself an idol (graven image).

3.     You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

4.     Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy.

5.     Honor your father and mother.

6.     You shall not kill.

7.     You shall not commit adultery.

8.     You shall not steal.

9.     You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10.   You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

The Twelve Commandments

As outlined in the Chapter of the Night Journey (17:23-37) in the Koran, the Twelve Commandments of Islam may be summarized as follows:

1.     Do not set up another god with God.

2.     Respect and be good to your father and mother.

3.     Help your relatives, travellers and the poor.

4.     Do not squander, nor be miserly.

5.     Do not kill your children for fear of poverty.

6.     Do not go near fornication or adultery.

7.     Do not kill wrongfully.

8.     Do not approach (pillage) the property of orphans.

9.     Be as good as your word.

10.   Be honest in measures and weights.

11.   Do not pursue what you have no knowledge of.

12.   Do not tread on the earth with vanity and pride.

Comparison

For ease of reference, the Ten Commandments will be referred to as “10C” in this section, and the Twelve Commandments as “12C”.

Upon inspection, it can be seen that they both start with the same injunction. In addition, note that 12C-1 covers 10C-2. 10C-5 is repeated in 12C-2. The order not to kill in 10C-6 occurs a bit differently in 12C-7 because the former makes no allowance for self-defense. 12C-6 covers both 10C-7 and 10C-10. Similarly, 12C-9 is the more general form of 10C-9. 12C-5 is included in 10C-6. 12C-10 is the more finely-tuned version of 10C-8. Indeed, while 10C-8 prohibits theft, 12C-10 forbids even the slightest intentional mismeasure.

As can be seen, eight of the Ten Commandments are covered in some way in the Twelve Commandments. There remain only articles 3 and 4, of which the latter is specific to Jews and Christians.

Half of the Twelve Commandments, on the other hand, do not occur in the Ten Commandments at all. Articles 12C-3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 12 are nowhere to be found in 10C, except, perhaps, for 12C-8, which with a little effort might be included in 10C-8. The other articles are Islam’s free gift and mercy to humanity.

The 1789 Declaration of Human Rights

Let us now take a look at the definition of liberty in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789:

Art. 4. “Liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another.”

As can be seen, a very concise definition of freedom has been given here, but nothing is said about the content of “whatever does not harm another.”

What, then, are the things that harm others?

The Commandments of God given above describe what these are.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man is based on the Judaeo-Christian religious and cultural tradition. The terms it defines may be novel, but these have not developed in a conceptual vacuum; they have a historical background. They did not simply fall out of the sky. It is for this reason that the Ten Commandments constitute an explanation of and commentary on the French Declaration of Human Rights. And the Twelve Commandments of Islam are a more detailed and comprehensive version of the former. Both human rights and the precepts of universal law, therefore, find their origin in the Commandments of God.

It is noteworthy that both sets of Commandments begin with faith in God and not associating any other gods with Him. The reason for this is that the remaining Commandments are all predicated on this one. A person may embrace the other Commandments without believing in God, but he will feel free to interpret them and put them into practice as he pleases. Only if he believes in the existence and unity of God, and that these Commandments come from Him, will he act with greater trepidation and constrain himself to obeying them more carefully.

The second point that calls for attention is this: the points outlined in these Commandments are serious crimes deserving serious sanctions in all sytems of law. Indeed, only when a legal code replaces “You shall not kill” with “You shall kill,” “You shall not steal” with “You shall steal,” “You shall not fornicate” with “You shall fornicate,” and “You shall not lie” with “You shall lie”; only when it substitutes insult and cruelty to parents in exchange for honoring them, will it become independent of—and in fact diametrically opposed to— religion, God and the Koran. And then it will no longer be Law, but the very essence of injustice and oppression. Otherwise, no law can be independent of religion. Because God had already revealed His Commandments to human beings before legal codes ever saw the light of day, and these lie at the foundation of all legal systems worthy of the name.

 

APPENDIX B:
THE ROOTS OF TOTALITARIANISM

Far from being totalitarian itself, Islam—properly understood and applied—is the sole remaining bulwark against totalitarianism in the modern world. For the currents of materialism, mechanism and atheism, so prevalent in our day, are the modern causes of despotism.

“The true destination,” says Lewis Mumford, “of such [despotic] government is automatism, and its real province is in the world of machines. Despotism can succeed, in other words, only to the extent that it can turn men into automatons... man may be treated as... a natural automaton, a self-operating machine. To make men mechanical was merely to reverse the process of making machines human.”[56] This is the exact opposite of what Islam (and its mystical branch, Sufism) calls for, since it aims to make human beings more fully human, to help them realize their potentials.

The Eastern philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, while appealing to our contemporary Western mentality, have been unable to sufficiently resist the spread of atheistic political ideologies—which are also totalitarian—precisely because they themselves are nontheistic. Writing in The Lotus and the Robot (1960), Arthur Koestler observed: “The Chinese nation which had held fast for two and a half millenia to the teachings of Confucius, Lao-Tse and the Buddha, succumbed to the atheistic doctrine formulated by the son of a German lawyer, and has become the most accomplished robot state this side of science fiction.”[57] And the reason for this is that none of these Eastern philosophies were strongly monotheistic. It is only in a Godless, spiritual vacuum that materialistic and atheistic “anti-religions” can flourish, sowing the seeds of totalitarianism. Even Christianity has proved itself powerless to withstand the merciless onslaught of secularism, materialism, and mechanism,[58] and it is only Islam that has been able to resist them and the totalitarian rules to which they lead.

This is what La Mettrie’s Man a Machine (1747) has finally brought us to—a clear example, if ever there was one, of how metaphysical viewpoints can translate into concrete results in the physical world. And in spite of the demise of the Soviet Union, the world cannot be considered, even now, to be “a safe place for democracy.” For the forces which Mumford so ably diagnosed, materialism and automatism, are still at work in the world with little of their energy spent. As machines and computers take on increasingly human traits, human beings become more dependent on high-tech instruments and assume progressively more automatic characteristics. Furthermore, information technology, coupled with global satellite communications, will soon make it possible to track any person via a transponder, ID card or implantable biochip. As Zbigniew Brzezinski—National Security Advisor to five US Presidents—observed: “The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society... Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen.” Once you have the basic component of an anthill state—the automated person, or “cyborg”—the possibility cannot be ruled out that society will metamorphose with a rapidity and ease that would surprise anyone who hasn’t done his homework on George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or the history of the 20th century. For God’s commandments are intended to keep the base self in check; atheism (and its consequence, materialism) removes the restrictions on the base self, and the very essence of totalitarianism is the base self unleashed. Like bubbles in water, the worst will then naturally percolate to the top.

ADMINISTRATION:
THE MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT OF MANKIND

 

(This section contains information on administration materially and spiritually necessary for a nation—from the head of state down to the last family member.)

 

Administration may be defined as the judicious use of means to accomplish an end; it is the pursuit of a course of action in order to achieve a certain task. In the political sphere, administration is known as government, and in the world of business as management; hence, it is a subject of both social and economic import.

A direct correlation may be observed between the level of affluence of a society and the success of its government. The same holds for a business enterprise. Whereas apparently insurmountable difficulties are routinely and successfully resolved in a state governed with skill, thereby improving that state and society, the inability to use the resources available to statesmanship increases the problems of a society and destabilizes it. The states that have been condemned to extinction in history have been led to this fate by the failure to govern them.

Administration is the oldest science. Throughout history, human beings have either ruled or been ruled. Before administration became a science, human beings used to carry on by the use of their common sense. As civilization progressed, theories and rules entered the field of administration as well, thus making it a branch of science related to other, similar fields. Originally, clever and talented persons within society were regarded as leaders, and they were the ones who led society. At a later stage, this task was undertaken by priests.

Although the science of administration is relatively young, it is deeply rooted in experience. Many statesmen have written books on this topic. Rulers and great statesmen in particular have left us works describing their advice on how to handle affairs of state. Books such as Aristotle’s Politics, Plato’s Republic, Caliph Ali’s Advice to Statesmen (his letter to the Governor of Egypt), Nizam-ul Mulk’s Treatise on Politics, Sari Mehmed Pasha’s Counsel to Ministers and Rulers, Ibn Khaldun’s famous Muqaddimah, Farabi’s City of Virtue, Muhammad Hamidullah’s Government in Islam, and Ghazzali’s Advice to Rulers, have all indicated the noteworthy aspects of administration and rulership.

The History of Administration

Although Western sources indicate 1887 as the starting point of the science of administration, it actually began with the birth of mankind. The first written documents on administration date from the Sumers (5000 BC); those on planning, control and organization, from the Egyptians (4000 BC); the use of an attorney and filing an application, from the year 2000 BC; and the institution of a payment fee, from 1800 BC.

No matter which field of endeavor we take up, we are faced with the fact that the human factor is decisive in achieving an end. The success of administrators, particularly those in charge of state government and education, depends on many qualifications. Let us make a comparative summary of these traits from various sources:

Ghazzali: Values expert opinion in government, suggesting that kings and rulers should consult scientists and experts. Among Western authors, Taylor advises the same.

Nizam-ul Mulk: In his Treatise on Politics, advises that the ruler’s door should be kept open to the people, that he should draw lessons and make frequent checks on his staff, that administrators of whatever level should take care to preserve their prestige, and that emphasis should be placed on unhindered flow of information (communications). He also outlined the positive and negative actions observed in rulers.

Farabi: His City of Virtue is directly concerned with administration. In this work, Farabi outlines the importance of administration at various levels and the qualifications of administrators.

Ibn Khaldun: In his opus Muqaddimah, defined the nature of state administration, the role of the administrator in the strengthening or weakening of a state, the principles of administration on every level, the points to which administrators should pay special attention, and the hazards of bribery and commercial involvement. He also dwelt on matters relating to group-leader interaction.

Sari Mehmed Pasha: This famed fiscal administrator, who lived in the eighteenth century, made observations in a recessive state environment in his work, Counsel to Statesmen, comparing successful and unsuccessful administrations. He explained the damages of bribery and cruelty, pointing out that a good administrator is obliged to provide a good example for his subordinates, and is responsible for their training. Further, he considered the points to be borne in mind in the appointment of candidates to administrative cadres, also providing specific examples.

The advice given to rulers and statesmen in these books on government and administration can be summarized under six headings:

1.     Act intelligently: King Solomon, Plato, Confucius, Socrates and Taylor have pointed out that intelligence and intelligent men are of prime importance in administration .

2.     Act virtuously: Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mayo, Ghazzali, Ibn Khaldun all considered that virtue should go hand in hand with intelligence, and found it necessary to base administration on a combination of politics and ethics.

3.     Be daring: In the Mahabharata, which reflects the administrative philosophy of India, and in Machiavelli’s Prince and Taylor’s Statesmen, boldness is considered to be the most important factor in administration. Ibn Khaldun and Ghazzali also mention the importance of courage in government.

4.     Compromise: Aristotle and Nizam-ul Mulk have explained how even the most powerful rulers and administrators have to act positively and come to terms with opposition parties.

5.     Be flexible: Aristotle, Machiavelli, Taylor, de Follet and Ghazzali have suggested the use of all means not jeopardizing the end to be reached.

6.     Consult: Farabi, Ghazzali, Nizam-ul Mulk, Machiavelli, Castiglione and Fayole have indicated that the consultant is indispensable for administrators and their staff. In the opinion of one Indian philosopher, however, the expert is necessary more for the implementation of a decision than for reaching the decision itself. According to Castiglione, the effectiveness of the consultant depends on his freedom to speak the truth without fear of reprisals.

Do’s for Administrators

As we have seen above, virtually all the authors give the same formula for the success of the administrator. In the Fourth Caliph Ali’s message to the administrators of the world, concise expression is given to the concepts and principles of state administration. This letter, which qualifies as “Advice to Statesmen,” was regarded as the Constitution of that day and age. All the articles of that letter begin with “in state administration” or “the statesman.” When we scrutinize this letter, we notice that the counsel given by Western authors in books on administration in the twentieth century are in substantial accord with the advice given in this epistle. The articles in Ali’s letter can be summarized as follows:

1.     Try to solve everything by gentleness, without yielding to temporary passions.

2.     Show love and kindness to those under your rule. Do not be an inaccessible executive. Accept human beings with their faults, and train them accordingly.

3.     Be modest and well-balanced. Do not be sorry for favors and clemency shown. Do not be pleased when you have to mete out punishment! Do not shrink from applying the law, even when the criminal is your own kith and kin.

4.     Treat those you are responsible for justly and equitably.

5.     Make sure that everybody is happy with the rules and principles to be followed in the flow of work.

6.     Execute in conformity with laws pertaining to the situation.

7.     Far from searching for the errors of others, guard these as secrets, correcting those faults which are amenable to correction.

8.     Do not be vindictive. Rather than prying into a subject that is intentionally left unclear, appear not to have understood.

9.     Do not fall under the influence of gossips and informers: try to see the facts.

10.   Do not endow with authority the unqualified, nor persons of a miserly, cowardly, passionate, or jealous nature.

11.   Cooperate with those who oppose wrongdoers and criminals; do not refrain from consulting them.

12.   Take care not to distance yourself from brave people who can speak the truth, even when it is bitter.

13.   Treat human beings fairly and equitably, but do not weigh those with high morals on the same scales as the potentially harmful.

14.   Be a model of goodwill.

15.   Win the trust of those around you.

16.   Do not stray from the mores and customs of society.

17.   Consult those whose knowledge is trustworthy.

18.   Evaluate each service in its proper order of duty and responsibility.

19.   Be honest and patient.

20.   Reserve favors and praise for those who are worthy of them.

21.   Use rewards and punishment in the right time and place.

22.   Do not distinguish between services. Do not change your attitude in the face of the meanliness of a job.

23.   Do not delegate power, even temporarily, to those who are after their own self-interest.

24.   Do not neglect controls and checks on your subordinates. Keep track of a task you have given.

25.   Help those who have problems to surmount them.

26.   Try to discern and eradicate errors as soon as they arise.

27.   Do not make concessions to exploiters and to those who disobey orders.

28.   Display emotions such as tolerance, compassion, and love in the proper time and place.

29.   Do not neglect apparently unimportant duties while fulfilling important ones.

30.   Do not forget that the duty being performed is a service to the state.

31.   Demonstrate mistakes and impart new information to your subordinates by performing tasks yourself.

32.   Make a habit of finishing duties on schedule.

33.   Be a model in obeying rules and regulations.

34.   Keep your word, fulfill your promises. Do not promise anything that cannot be realized.

35.   Be patient, and firm; always be moderate, and seek the Golden Mean.

Don’t’s for Administrators

1.     Vanity and conceit.

2.     Desire to be praised to one’s own face.

3.     Rubbing in a favor done.

4.     Exaggerating matters out of proportion.

5.     Turning back on a promise.

6.     Making unnecessary concessions for one reason or other.

7.     Devoting unnecessary time to specific persons in crowded groups.

8.     Failure to display a firm attitude upon the recurrence of a crime or error.

9.     Failure to implement checks and controls.

10.   Anger.

11.   To act emotionally, to show weakness.

12.   To speak recklessly here and there.

 

Ali’s Advice

We conclude with the following excerpt from Ali’s Advice to Statesmen:

“... Never keep yourself aloof from the people for any length of time, for to do so is to keep oneself ignorant of their affairs. It develops a wrong perspective in the ruler and renders him unable to distinguish between what is important and what is not, between right and wrong, and between truth and falsehood. The ruler is, after all, human; and he cannot form a correct view of anything which is out of his sight. There is no distinctive sign attached to truth which would enable one to distinguish between different varieties of truth and falsehood. The fact is that you must be one of two things: you are either just, or unjust. If you are just then you will not keep yourself away from the people, but will listen to them and meet their requirements. On the other hand, if you are unjust, the people themselves will keep away from you...

“Bear in mind that you should not throw away the offer of peace which your enemy may himself make. Accept it, for this will please God. Peace is a source of comfort to the army; it reduces your worries and promotes order in the State. If you have accepted any obligations under a peace treaty, discharge those obligations scrupulously. It is a trust and must be faithfully upheld; and whenever you make a promise, keep it with all the strength at your command: for whatever differences of opinion might exist on other matters, there is nothing so noble as the fulfilment of a promise.”

WHAT IS SPIRIT?

 

(The section following this one, by the famous scholar Ghazali, is quite abstruse. The present section is much more straightforward, and is intended to ease comprehension of the next.)

 

Seeker after Truth, let me now explain to you a little about Spirit.

What is the “spirit” that constitutes a locus for the manifestations of God?

Can it be measured? Does it have color? Does it occupy space? Is it within the body, or without?

The Lord Almighty instructed His Beloved Prophet to answer those who want to know the truth about Spirit—one of the secrets of Unity within the divine dispensation — as follows: “The Spirit is of the Command of my Lord” (17:85).

The reply contained in this brief verse would fill countless volumes.

Because the truth of the Spirit is a very subtle lesson, it is expressed symbolically in this divine utterance. In order to understand it, we must know something about the World of Command (alam al-amr) and the World of Origination (alam al-khalq).

Men of religion cognizant of these worlds, having been educated in the Faculty of Mohammed and able to speak God-ish, have given various descriptions of Spirit, some of which are reproduced below. To those who ask: “Is Spirit within the body?” they reply: “The Spirit is of the World of Command. Any entity belonging to the World of Command is free of incarnation and union. It is a subtlety from the Lord that diffuses at each instant and manifests itself continuously. It cannot be extinguished, does not die, and is indivisible into lesser parts. This subtle body, the seat of many sublime truths, has been made the locus of a manifestation that causes it to know everything, including itself. We do not have the right to speak about the truth of the Spirit. Only the Prophet—the Pearl of the Universe—can do that. What we can do is to speak about the states of the Spirit.”

Having said this much, they next distinguish between four kinds of Spirit:

1. the Human Spirit,

2. the Animal Spirit,

3. the Vegetable Spirit,

4. the Mineral Spirit.

 

The last three, they leave for investigation by scientists who study the relationship between phenomena in pursuit of the question: “Why?” Then they continue: “The Human Spirit is a Command from the Lord in the sense described above. The renewal, change and transformations of the body cannot harm its reality.”

Fakhruddin Razi, the renowned “Rhazes” of the West, comments on the ‘Spirit’ verse: “The Spirit belongs to the World of Command. It came into existence because the Lord commanded it to ‘appear’. This fine substance, which is not a body belonging to the dense, coarse realm of matter, enlightens corporeal things with its light like the sun, although it does not extend its sphere to material bodies.”

And concerning the Animal Spirit, he remarks: “As for the Animal Spirit, which belongs to the World of Origination, this is a subtle vapor under the charge of the Lordly Command called the Human Spirit. This is what is destroyed and dissipated at death.

“The unfortunates who believe that death is the end of everything are those who cannot conceive of a Human Spirit as distinct from the Animal Spirit. For there are many phenomena which demonstrate that Spirit is not destroyed after separating from the body. Inspiration and precognition, for example, are properties of the Spirit.”

Wasiti, one of those well-versed in the wisdom of Islam, comments regarding the Spirit: “The Lord manifested His Beauty and Perfection by spirits—referred to by the ‘speaking/rational (human) self’—and hid them with His divine name: ‘the Coverer’. He bestowed on the Spirit an infinitesimal part of His Attributes of Knowledge, Sight and Hearing. He gave life to the universe with it. Just as scientists cannot attain to its truth, neither can they have the power to raise the veil of the Spirit. If the beauty of the Spirit had not been veiled, some ignorant or heedless people would have been misled into thinking it was God, prostrated themselves before it, and thus become sinners.”

According to Ibn Sina, the personal truth of Man does not reside in this 150-pound bag of blood and bones.

Although Spirit is not distinguished in any way before it enters the body—there is no term such as “your spirit,” “my spirit,” “the spirit of ordinary people,” “the spirit of the Elect”—it does take on these terms after becoming associated with bodies. “Elevated spirits,” “base spirits” and “subtle spirits” are other names it assumes after entering this relationship.

“Elevated spirits” are the spirits of the Prophets and their inheritors who have attained perfection and reached liberation.

“Base spirits” are the spirits of hypocrites and those who go to the Afterworld as devious and cruel people.

According to Ismail Hakki of Bursa, the spirit in Man consists of the Kingly (Human) and Animal Spirits.

The Kingly Spirit is the overseer and controller of the Animal Spirit in its actions and implementation. The Animal Spirit is the organizer and mover of bodies; i.e., it is the originator of all movement.

When the body of a human being dies and is destroyed by the command of God, the Kingly Spirit and consciousness of that person is not affected at all. As for the Animal Spirit, its center is the heart, and it circulates throghout organs such as the brain, liver, lungs and kidneys. It is present in all organs and all parts of an organ, and pervades every iota of the body via the blood, the bearer of life.

Before the Animal Spirit enters a body composed of the elements, it is present in the esoteric knowledge of the Kingly Spirit as a force. When the Kingly and Animal Spirits enter the “statue” of a body, the action of motion is manifested therein. These motive actions are entirely the product of the Animal Spirit, whereas properties such as order, knowledge, speech, and intelligence inherent in these actions belong to the Kingly Spirit alone. If not for these properties, the manifestations originating from a human being could not exist.

In summary, we may say that the Human Spirit is an eternal mystery. Only men of knowledge—sages in possession of the Prophet’s command: “Die before you die”—can know its true meaning.

Indeed, let us consider for a moment the sacred verse: “When I fashioned him, and breathed into him of My Spirit...” (15:29).

God explains in this verse that He placed the “Spirit” in a location that was capable of formation (being shaped and moulded). Hence, the “clay” of Adam and Eve became the locus of the Spirit, the place that “accepted” the Spirit.

Further, “I breathed into him” does not mean: “I blew into him.” Rather, it means: “I inflamed the light of Spirit that was concealed in his creation.”

The creation of the first human pair, Adam and Eve, is itself shrouded in mystery.

Praise be to God, and His blessings be upon His Beloved Prophet Mohammed, his Family and his Companions.


THE NATURE OF SPIRIT

 

This section is about what God’s intention is in saying: “When I fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit...” (15:29).

Breathing the Spirit into Adam

“Fashioning” consists of an action in the locus associated with the spirit. That locus is clay in the case of Adam, and the seed in the case of his children. Mankind was thereby subjected to character transformation and total arrangement. The body was brought to the purest condition suitable for accepting and receiving the spirit, and thus for the purpose of its creation. This is similar to the wick of an oil lamp, which becomes ready for fire after being soaked in oil.

Breathing (nafh) is the process of igniting and inflaming the spirit in its locus (receptacle). Hence, the breathing is the cause of ignition.

It is impossible to comprehend the breathing of God Almighty. The resultant self (nafs) is explained by breathing (nafh). It is the ignition and inflaming process in the wick of the seed.

In addition, there is the manner and end result of breathing.

The manner, for the purpose of ignition or inflaming, is the transmission of love and desire into the one who receives the breath by the One who does the breathing.

The reason for the ignition of the spirit’s light is an attribute which exists both at the Agent and at the receiving locus (receptivity) which accepts the spirit.

The attribute of the Agent is Generosity, which is the source of all existence. He graces all beings by infusing them with the reality of being. This attribute is called Power, or Might.

This is similar to the case that, when there is no hindrance, the light of the sun illuminates everything that accepts or is capable of receiving illumination.

Receptivity (capacity) is to take on colors and variety. It is not like colorless air.

The attribute of the receptacle is ‘moderation’ and ‘homogeneity’ created by the preparatory process. Indeed, God Almighty has said: “When I prepared him..”

The attribute of receptivity is very similar to the attribute of a mirror. For a mirror, unless it is cleaned and polished, cannot accept and produce an image even if a form is standing in front of it. But when it is polished, the form begins to appear as an image.

Similarly, when receptive homogeneity is obtained in the seed, the spirit is realized in the seed without any change on the side of the Creator. But the spirit is not created at that moment. This has occurred earlier, since the locus has in the meantime been altered by the process of homogenization.

The overflow of Generosity means that Divine Generosity causes the light of being to shine in every nature capable of accepting that Generosity. This is called the overflow of Munificence.

Of course, this should not be regarded in the same way as the pouring of some water from a cup into one’s hand, since this consists of some water reaching the hand after being separated from its source. God Almighty is above and beyond such comparisons.

The Truth of the Spirit is a Secret

As for the explanation of the nature and truth of the spirit: This is a secret. And the Prophet was not given permission to explain this except to those worthy of it. If you are worthy, then you are able to listen.

Know, then, that Spirit is not a thing which enters the body like water entering a cup. Nor is it something that enters the heart like the entry of the property of blackness into something black, or the entry of knowledge into the knower. On the contrary, those who know unanimously agree that it is a substance which does not admit of division. If it were divisible, it would know something with one part, and not know with another, so that it would then both know and not know, which is impossible. This constitutes, therefore, a proof of its indivisibility.

But why wasn’t the Prophet allowed to reveal the secret and truth of the spirit? Because the spirit has certain attributes which cannot be comprehended. In those days, people were subdivided as ordinary people and the informed. The ordinary people did not affirm even what God allowed the Prophet to speak about. How could they have been expected to affirm the properties of the Human Spirit? In fact, some of the ordinary people proceeded to deny God by dissociating Him from corporeal existence and manifestations. For they thought of God’s existence as an indication of His corporeality. Those able to rise above the ordinary man’s way of thinking immediately distanced God from being corporeal, but they in turn ascribed a direction to God, because their mental acumen did not suffice to separate Him from the properties of corporeality. Only a couple of schools were able to dissociate God from both corporeality and direction.

And why should the secrets of the spirit be hidden from the latter?

Because they have deemed attributes impossible for anyone other than God. [I.e. they have gone too far in the direction of Dissociation or Incomparability (tanzih).] When you name an attribute in their presence, they immediately accuse you of blasphemy, saying: “This is a comparison against God. You are ascribing an attribute which is God’s to your own self. This indicates that you are ignorant of the truth about God’s attributes.”

But just as we say that a human being is alive, possesses knowledge, has power and will, hears, sees, speaks, etc., so too can we claim that God Almighty possesses such attributes. Analogy is not intended here, for these are not attributes peculiar to God. Similarly, independence of space and direction is not an attribute peculiar to God alone; on the contrary, it is one of the least essential. An example of a specific attribute would be that God is Self-existent. Others besides God exist, too, but only He exists by and through His own Self, without need of another. Further, although things are both doomed to extinction and their existence is borrowed, God’s existence is of His essence and is not borrowed from elsewhere, whereas the existence of everything other than God is borrowed from God and is not of itself. This kind of self-existence can belong only to God.

What is the meaning of the Spirit’s relationship to God when He declares: “I breathed into him of My Spirit”?

The Spirit is independent of direction and space. It has the ability to know and comprehend all sciences. This similarity and relationship are not possible for other, corporeal things. Because of this, it has been reserved for the Spirit relative to God.

 The World of Command and the World of Origination

You are composed of two things: a body and a spirit. Man is an amphibious being—he is connected to the World of Origination (khalq) with his body, and to the World of Divine Power, or Command (amr), with his spirit. This is made clear by the verse: “Say: ...The Spirit is under the Command (amr) of my Lord” (17:85). Everything that is subject to measure, proportion and quantity belongs to the Realm of Origination. But the spirit and the heart cannot be measured or expressed in quantitative terms.

As for the Worlds of Command and Origination, their meaning is as follows. It is known that everything that happens to the Spirit is a decree, a decision, and this consists of becoming associated with a body and its attributes. This is what the World of Origination means.

This origination is by the foreordination of God. It is not His corporealization and bringing into being. In the present context, the origination of something means to ordain, to establish the state of that thing before it comes into existence in this world. That which does not possess quantity and ordination is called a Divine command. And this, as noted above, is a state of similarity and relationship to God. Human and angelic spirits, which are of this sort, are called the World of Command.

The World of Command consists of things that possess no quantity, but fall within the purview of measure and decree by becoming associated with the World of Origination, such as external entities related to the senses, imagination, direction, spatiality, settling and entry.

If this is the condition of the spirit, is it not, in that case, an eternal being rather than a creature?

Such an error can be the due only of the ignorant and the deceived.

If someone says: “Not being ordained and quantitative means the Spirit is not a creature, it is indivisible and has no extension,” that is correct. But if he says: “The Spirit is not a creature in the sense that it is eternal and not temporally originated,” this is wrong. Some have believed that the Spirit does not have a beginning, that it is eternally pre-existent, but this is erroneous. Others have erred in thinking that the Spirit is body, but it is indivisible and continuous.

The appearance of the Spirit in the body depends on the preparedness of the seed to receive it, just as the image of a form facing a mirror can be seen only after the mirror is polished, even if it was present before the polishing.

The Prophet said: “God created man in His own image (in the image of the Compassionate).” Now what does this mean?

Image, or form, can pertain to a body. It can be composite, and can consist of an overlay of simpler forms. It can also pertain to meanings, which are of an intelligible, not sensory, nature. Meanings may also be ordered, composite and harmonious.

But what about the image mentioned above? This is an intelligible and spiritual form. It points to the similarity and affinity with God mentioned earlier. It also goes back to the Essence, the Attributes, and the Actions of God, and to the reality of the Spirit’s essence.

The Spirit is neither attribute, nor body. It neither occupies space like a substance, nor does it admit of extension and direction. It is neither connected to the body and the world, nor is it separate from them. The body is not the true locus of the Spirit; it is only its instrument. The Spirit is not joined to the body, and yet it is also not distant from it. Instead, the Spirit uses the body in the service of its own purposes. It is neither within the body and the world, nor without.

Now all these are the Attributes of God’s Essence (or, His Essential Attributes). Primary among these Attributes are: Life (the Living), Knowledge (the Knower), Power (the Mighty), Will (the Willful), Hearing (the Hearer), Sight (the Seeing), and Speech (the Speaker). The spirit also partakes of these attributes, and in this sense has an affinity with God.

The Diffusion of the Spirit in the Body

As for the Actions of God: from the point of view of will, these are the beginning of man’s own actions. Their effect first manifests itself in the heart. It spreads from there via the animal (animating) spirit, which is present as a subtle “vapor” in the cavity of the heart. It rises thence to the brain. From there it is distributed to all the organs of the body, including the fingertips. The fingers move by its influence, which move the pen, which in turn moves its tip.

Hence, what is to be written takes shape in the imagination. For if a person does not conceive what he desires to write in his imagination first, it cannot subsequently be set down on paper.

A person who knows how God brings plants and animals into being on earth and how He moves the heavens and the stars by His Actions and angels (powers) will understand that man’s disposal in his own world is similar to God’s disposal over the entire universe, the macrocosmos, and will comprehend the meaning of the saying: “God created man in His own image.”

The Difference Between Creation and Origination

The Prophet said: “God created spirits [long before] He created bodies.” He also said: “In terms of origination, I am the first of the Prophets. In terms of prophethood, I am the last. I was a prophet when Adam was as yet between water and clay.”

Now what do these sayings mean?

The truth is: there is nothing in all this that proves the Spirit is eternal. In the first saying, the spirits meant are the angelic spirits. And the bodies are the body and existence of the worlds, such as the heavens, the stars, water, air and earth.

As for the saying: “I am the first of the Prophets”: Origination here means to be ordained. It does not mean creation or bringing into being. For the Prophet of God was not created before he was born. But purposes and results are first ordained, and then brought into existence subsequently. For God Almighty first forms divine matters and temporally engendered things in the Guarded Tablet.

Now, if you have understood what has been said up to here concerning the two kinds of existence, you will also have understood that the being of the Prophet preceded that of Adam, i.e. it came before not just the first visible being, but also the first ordained being.

This is the last word on the subject of Spirit.

God Almighty knows the truth in this matter.

(From the writings of Ghazzali.)

 

THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
OF THE SUFI

 

(Although there are many spiritual schools or mystical orders in Sufism, the main orders, founded by the principal saints, are twelve in number, the rest being offshoots from these 12 Major Orders. And although the various orders exhibit diverse characteristics and peculiarities, they all operate within the boundaries of the same spiritual science, under the auspices of the Word of Witnessing and the Word of Unification.

The following outline of the Sufic disciple’s spiritual journey is based mainly on the practices of the Naqshibandi Order, which, like all the orders, was named after its founding saint, Master Bahauddin Naqshiband. However, anyone who studies this journey in detail will understand the meaning and content of all the spiritual schools.)

Introduction

The Spiritual Journey is the journey of a disciple or aspirant (murid ) to God, Who is the Truth or Absolute Reality. The person who has embarked on this journey (thuluq) is called the Wayfarer or Seeker (thaliq).

For the person wishing to make this journey, the first and by far the most important prerequisite is a Guide. Hence, the first thing to be done is to find a wise and mature Teacher or Master (murshid: Enlightener). To start off on this journey without a guide is like climbing a strange mountain at night without a light. One cannot see where s/he is going or where to step. There is no telling where a poisonous snake might bite him or where s/he will be attacked by a predatory beast. An unbridgeable chasm will yawn under him at the least expected moment. Without help, it is almost impossible to survive such a journey intact.

The wise teacher, on the other hand, has already performed the journey and survived. Further, he has seen and is thoroughly familiar with all the pitfalls and dangers of the route. He guides his disciple along the path with ease, and sees to it that s/he reaches the Summit of Unity safe and sound.

If you ask: “Where, in this day and age, is such a person to be found?” the fact is that although rare, such people exist in every age. Needless to say, fake gurus abound. “Don’t follow every teacher, he will lead your path astray.” But it cannot be denied that true masters also exist.

The Goal

It may be appropriate at the outset to give some indication of what the goal of the journey is. Put simply, it is nothing less than the total transformation or transfiguration of the human personality. To put this simply, there is another, hidden “you” that inheres in you. This other “you,” the real “you,” is wonderful, beautiful, and adorable, and the objective is to bring it out into the open, to realize it, to transfer it from the potential to the actual. Anyone in whom this inner “you” is born (has emerged) is called “twice-born.” The metamorphosis of a caterpillar—through a chrysalis—into a butterfly is an apt metaphor here. In this process, the master is midwife to the disciple’s rebirth.

“Know thyself,” said Socrates, and this was the motto written over the Temple at Delphi. The Aristotelian injunction, “Realize yourself,” and the Humanist injunction, “Perfect yourself,” were but different expressions of the same thing.

Suppose we ask: what is the highest achievement man is capable of? Obviously, the highest achievement for a scientist is to be like Newton or Einstein—at least, to win the Nobel prize. The highest achievement for an artist is to become as famous as, say, a Picasso or a Michelangelo. For a writer, it is to be mentioned in the same breath as a Goethe or Tolstoy, etc.

We next ask: what is the greatest achievement that man as a man is capable of? What is the full realization, the perfection, of man’s potentials as a human being?

According to the Sufis, it is to become a Perfect Man, a Friend of God, saint, or sage. In English, Universal Man or Unitary Man appear to be equally appropriate terms. Furthermore, this is a stage that lies even beyond genius; if the greatest names of science, art, literature, philosophy, statesmanship, etc. are mountain peaks in comparison with the rest of humanity, the sage is an even higher mountain peak compared to them. (This excludes the prophets, since prophethood ended with Mohammed. Sainthood is the only option now available to man.)

The Socratic “Know thyself” finds its culmination in the Prophetic Saying: “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” Moreover, in the Koranic statement: “I created human beings only so that they should worship Me” (51:56), “worship” has been interpreted by the saints as “knowledge” (Gnosis), since the worship of God leads to knowledge of God. And there is no greater experience or achievement for a human being than to know—not superficially or theoretically, but truly to know—his Lord, to be a “God-realized” person. In such a person, a new, altruistic personality has congealed and crystallized, like a lily or lotus emerging from a muddy pond, or butter out of milk.

Indeed, those who have successfully completed the journey are referred to as “the Transformed” (abdal, pl. budala). The term is derived from the Arabic badal, which affords some further insight into what is involved. The latter, meaning “price,” indicates that these persons have cultivated a nonegotistical personality, and have given everything, even their lives, for the sake of God and His Prophet: they have “paid the price.” What they receive in return for this payment are God and His Prophet themselves, meaning that they have become clothed in the divine attributes of God, have become invested with a Godly morality, and have achieved a Mohammedan (i.e. perfect) purity, morality, spirituality and personality. This is why they are also called “Perfect Man” (insan al-kamil ).

Exoteric, Esoteric

Every true religion has two components: an outward (exoteric, zahiri) and an inward (esoteric, batini) aspect.

The exoteric aspect is more concerned with external behavior and forms of worship, with social and corporeal conduct. The esoteric, on the other hand, deals with the inner world of man, with his spiritual and psychological dimension.

Now it is important to realize that if religion is a coin, then its exoteric and esoteric aspects are two sides of the same coin, comparable to the body and spirit of a human being. One cannot survive without the other. A religion reduced to exotericism is like a corpse—it has become pure, rigid formalism. And a religion that relies on esotericism alone is a mere wraith, a ghost that cannot animate its body. If a religion, on the other hand, combines both the exoteric and the esoteric, then we can say that we are truly in the presence of a living religion, a religion with the power to invigorate, to bestow life and felicity.

In terms of this criterion, one can order religions within a spectrum ranging from exoteric to esoteric. Most will be found to lie somewhere between the two extremes. The two religious philosophies of China, Confucianism and Taoism, are notable for the fact that they lie at the ends of this spectrum: the former is almost entirely formal, while the latter is almost wholly inward. (This, of course, does not diminish the many great truths and values embodied by either.) The two thus complement each other.

Ideally, a religion should strike a balance between the inner and the outer. It should be able to meet both the external requirements and the internal needs of mankind. Moreover, form should match content. The external laws, customs, methods, etc. of a religion should be in conformity with its inner practices. For this, there are two requirements: that the religion should be a revealed religion, and that it should have weathered time in its pristine condition.

Only God, the Creator of man, knows best what is good for man. No scientist or philosopher can know this, for the simple reason that the sum total of the possibilities and potentials of man remain obscure to even the best human minds. This is why a religion should be revealed by God. Moreover, only God can make the proper coupling between internal and external and maintain their perfect balance.

Further, it is also necessary that such a religion as practised in our day should be a faithful copy of its original: its clear stream should not have become polluted, corrupted or shifted from its course.

This brings us back to the requirement that form should be coupled to its proper content. When we peel a banana, we do not expect to find a slice of watermelon inside, nor do we expect to eat an apple when we bite into a peach. Opening a bottle of a certain brand of beverage, we will be surprised and, perhaps, disappointed if it contains water.

All this indicates that God has created every exoteric formalism in association with its proper esoteric essence, and that divorce of the two—for instance, trying to live the inner aspect of a religion without regard for its external prerequisites—or substituting one kind of interior for another while retaining the same exterior, will not lead to results that are desirable.

Religions are organic, not mechanical things. You cannot break them down and recombine them as you like. If you lop off the head of a cat, the wings of a rooster, the body of a lion and the tail of a peacock and attempt to put them together, the result will be a chimera, and a dead one at that. This is why syncretism in religion often spells trouble.

To sum up, the external, exoteric aspect of Islam is known as the Holy Law, and its spiritual, esoteric aspect is called Sufism.

Spiritual Schools

For every kind of knowledge there is a school. Anyone wishing to obtain higher education after primary and secondary school will go on to college or university; to medical school, law school or polytechnic institute in order to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer.

The difficulty, however, is that state-based systems of education everywhere prepare people only for the material world, for worldly success. They inculcate the basic knowledge necessary for surviving in this world, and endow people with a profession. But they do not recognize or answer the inner needs of human beings, nor do they assist their psychic/spiritual/psychological development. Even religious instruction is oriented more towards external conduct, regulations, and principles—all exoteric matters. The inner life of man is neglected.

But we neglect that inner life only at our peril. If nothing else, the self-destruction of Europe in two world wars—and the more recent destruction of its values in Bosnia—should make us pause to think and reflect: we should recognize that negative subconscious contents and accretions can result in explosive discharges that are as totally unexpected as they are universally destructive. The outer world shapes the inner world of man; but conversely, the inner world of the individual also has an influence on the outer and social world. Without appropriate spiritual training, pacifying the soul and satisfying its inner cravings, that influence can only be negative.

In our day, such moral/spiritual instruction has taken on an added urgency. Mankind’s scientific and technological advancement has far outstripped its moral progress. Somehow, man’s spiritual maturity must be brought to the same level as his technical prowess—if nothing else, in order to control the latter and channel it to constructive ends—and the need for this is much more urgent in a scientifically advanced society than in ages and civilizations that led a more pastoral existence. This is not only because of technological man’s incredibly magnified capacities for destruction, but because, having solved its economic problem and rid itself of material want, the way lies wide open for humanity’s unfettered spiritual improvement. The Chinese symbol for crisis is composed of two parts, one signifying danger and the other, opportunity. The dangers inherent in our present civilization are great, yet the opportunities are equally great.

Since, therefore, human beings do not live in the external world alone—since each one possesses an inner world in addition to the outer, which they all share—and since training this inner world is not only possible, but absolutely necessary, there have to be certain esoteric, or spiritual, schools in order to provide this education. And so there are. If they did not exist they would have to be invented, in order to meet this unsatisfied need of human beings.

These are the schools of the “Mohammedan University.” Each one follows a different path, but they are all united in the end result. They are, as it were, the educational units of an “Invisible College.” Whoever attains moral, spiritual and psychological growth advances in these schools.

There is an important reason why these schools are not formal and official, like other schools. In this case, institutionalization yields results at odds with the intended goal. The official university is predominantly a matter of rigid form and structure. What is intended here, however, is exactly the opposite—the purpose is to pass from form to content, from external appearance to inner meaning. Spiritual education and progress is not something to be achieved formally, by bureaucracy and red tape. But the human tendency to organize and to create institutions is so strong that examples can be found in history where even these schools, with their extremely fluid and informal structure, have become ossified and consequently less able to fulfill their purpose.

The Perfect Master

The master-disciple relationship is a time-honored method of teaching: as Michael Polanyi has pointed out,[59] it holds no less true in science than it does in mysticism. Indeed, it is the accepted form of instruction in all branches of science and art.

Although the mature spiritual master has many distinguishing properties that set him apart from other people, the main ones are as follows:

1.     He follows God’s Commandments and the Way of the Prophet meticulously.

2.     Your worries and anxieties are dissipated in his presence, giving way to contentment and affection.

3.     You do not wish to leave his presence. Your enthusiasm and affection increases with every pearl of wisdom he utters.

4.     All persons young and old, of high or lowly standing—even heads of state—feel obliged to offer him their respects and receive his blessings.

(Note that extrasensory powers or acumen are not counted among the above. Such capabilities may or may not be manifest in a master, but these cannot be taken as basis for proper instruction. A student who approaches a teacher with the sole purpose of mastering such powers will be rejected, and rightly so, for these are merely possible and mostly undesirable by-products, not the goal, of the journey.)

Walt Whitman was speaking for the perfect master when he said: “I and mine do not convince by arguments; we convince by our presence.” What the Koran says can be read in the master’s movements and face.

All the actions, behavior and diposition of a person having these characteristics are consistent with the model of the Prophet. It is necessary to submit with a sincere submission to whomever possesses these traits without hypocrisy or exhibitionism. The aspirant should be like a “dead man in the hands of the one washing him” with such a master, obeying his every instruction. In fact, even his admonishments and punishments should be regarded as a blessing.

Actually, the perfect master is the most loving and affectionate of human beings. Especially those who are ardent for God and His love find him to be kinder and more compassionate than their own parents. To the wayfarers who visit him, he first teaches the science of religion. He resolves their difficulties in accordance with the Way (sunnah) of the Prophet. He clears away their doubts, rectifying and fortifying their faith. Then he instructs them in matters of cleanliness and performance of the Prayer (Ar. salat, Pers. namadh). As emphasized earlier in this book, nothing is possible without Prayer. He also explains submission, contentment, trust in God, and the importance of pleasing God.

One of the characteristics of a mature master is to cover up shames. He never reveals the shames, errors and misdeeds of people, and always conceals them from others. He knows how to keep a secret. He is never angry with anyone and never utters a word that will hurt somebody. His anger and severity are reserved only for situations which his devotion to God require.

Such a perfect man always chooses the middle course in his eating and drinking, in sleep, speech and dealing with people. He applies the principle: “The median of everything is the best” in his habits and worship. He avoids the extremes of too much and too little, following a path midway between the two.

This intermediate form of conduct is specific only to saints and perfect men of the highest standing. Indeed, our Prophet has remarked: “Moderate conduct is the most beautiful of acts and the most admired of charming traits.” There can be no doubt that a mature person endowed with this “Golden Mean” in his ways is the worthiest to instruct and advise others, and best suited to this task.

The Gifted Disciple

In the spiritual journey, not only the master but the disciple, too, must possess certain qualities. Receiving is as important as giving; if a student cannot receive instruction, the efforts of even the best teacher will be foiled. In addition, appropriate preparation is as necessary here as in the case of an ordinary journey.

The distinguishing characteristic of a gifted disciple is this: he is constantly at war with his self. He torments and tortures this enemy with hunger, thirst, and speechlessness. He endures various difficulties and resists the inclinations of his self, grasps it with a powerful grip, and succeeds in subduing it. The gifted disciple is a self-surmounter; he is always striving to climb beyond his present level of selfhood.

The sole desire of the talented disciple is to purge his self of all undesirable and condemned characteristics. For he knows that his self is his own greatest enemy and that it is the source of the most dangerous spiritual illnesses. And for this reason, he strives his utmost to free himself from the effects of his ego.

Why is this characteristic required in a disciple? Because if he is content and satisfied with the level of self he happens to be in, there will be no motivation left for further progress to higher stages. Self-satisfaction is the nemesis of self-transcendence, and freezes progress.

Bahauddin Naqshiband, the founder of the school known by his name, says: “I have two legacies for travellers on this path. The first is: no matter what stage the traveller attains, no matter how far he progresses, he cannot achieve salvation and liberation unless he regards his self as a hundred times worse than the self of Pharaoh.[60] And the second is: no matter what stage he reaches, the traveller cannot be saved and will be ruined unless he considers himself a novice, who has as yet taken only the first step on the road.”

If someone hurts him, the talented disciple does not curse or swear in return. Instead, he finds fault with his self, and says: “If my self were not bad, God would not allow these servants of His to pester me like this.” If someone complains of him to his master, he tells his master that not they, but he, is to blame, and that the fault is his.

Such a traveller, then, who can conquer his self, can hold it in his palm, and who blames only his self for all errors, is gifted and worthy to enter this path. If he exhibits certain errors and imperfections from time to time, these may be excused, and do not constitute a permanent obstacle to entering the True Path. For when he observes bad behavior in himself, he criticizes his self. He does not exchange bad words with anyone, nor does he swear at them. He blames his self for every mistake and never sides with it. He does not allow himself feelings of superiority .

But if the traveller is happy with his self; if he fails to struggle against it; if self-love and pride overcome him; if he cannot vanquish it by remaining hungry, thirsty and sleepless when necessary; if he places the blame on those who beat or swear at him; if he takes offense, becomes their enemy, and tries to exact revenge; if he sides with his self, seeking its ease and comfort—this disciple does not have the talent to embark on the journey, and cannot even sniff the aroma of the path of the saints.

The basis of the road of those close to God is to be displeased with one’s self and to be its enemy—to Struggle (mujahada) against the self and thereby join the ranks of those who achieve Observation (mushahada). If the traveller does not build his spiritual career on this foundation, he will be building on quicksand, and sooner or later it will fall down like a house of cards. Because he who does not know his enemy cannot find his friend.

 

We should pause here to clarify the meaning of “Struggle,” “Observation,” and the relationship between the two. Struggle is the struggle—the Great Work, effort, and labor—against the self and its selfishness. As selfishness is defeated, one rises to progressively higher levels of the self. Now the degrees of observation (or perception) available to these different levels are not the same. The five outer (physical) senses are common to all human beings, correspond to the base self, and determine our perception of what is called the “observable universe.” There is, however, an Invisible (ghayb) World in addition to the visible world. Now there are things that are invisible or unobservable to the unaided senses, such as radio waves, even in the visible world. When we say Invisible World, however, we mean primarily the Spiritual World, susceptible to perception by the five inner (spiritual) senses, which are the counterparts of the five external senses (inner sight, inner hearing, etc.). Naturally, since these inner senses ordinarily lie dormant, people are not aware of their existence. As one attains higher levels of the self, these senses are awakened, and what is normally invisible becomes observable. This is what is meant by Observation, which comprises various categories such as Revelation (wahy), Unveiling (kashf ) and Intuition or intuitive perception (emergence into consciousness). The highest stage of Observation is the Vision of God. But this sight is possible only in the most refined states of self-purification.

On this journey, three rules of conduct are essential for the traveller:

1.     No matter what level of maturity the disciple attains by the grace of God or the aid of his master, he must try to increase his humility, his self-effacement, and his nothingness. If he is able to do so, he should consider this, too, to be a grace of God and give thanks to Him. He should never fall into self-assertion. The servant should remain firmly established in poverty, weakness and nothingness, which characterize the station of servanthood. He should not reach out for power, majesty and self-sufficiency, which are the attributes of God, until God strips that person of human attributes and grants him subsistence through His Essence. Deviation from self-denial and self-renunciation on this road is unbecoming in a disciple. Whoever desires to be freed of mortality will abide by this.

2.     When a state, behavior, or anything else that displeases the master manifests itself in the disciple as an ordinary human failing, he should not lose heart and cease to visit or serve his master in the belief that all is lost, and that he is of no use anymore. Utmost attention should be paid to this point.

3.     When the master orders something, it should be carried out happily and with gladness of heart to the best of one’s abilities.

 

These three manners are of the greatest necessity for the disciple.

General Rules

On the road to Truth, there are many things to be learned and many methods to be applied. We shall only dwell on certain general rules here, and shall select the Way of the Naqshibandi (Naqshi for short) as an example.

It has been said that “the end of all roads is the beginning of the Naqshibandi road.” It is the shortest path of closeness to God.

One of the finer points inherent in this saying is that with the Naqshis, the master shows the disciple the goal of the journey at the very outset, so that the disciple can then concentrate his efforts with full consciousness on the achievement of this goal.

The prophet taught the science of wisdom and presence privately to Abu Bakr (the first Caliph), but did not divulge it to the general public, not even to the other caliphs. There are three principles on this path: eating sparingly, sleeping sparingly, and talking sparingly.

Eating little leads to short sleep, short sleep leads to talking little, and talking little is a great aid in invoking God in one’s heart at every instant. Hence, the main thing is to eat sparingly.

Eating little also has a second benefit. Satiety leads to pride, and pride leads to anger. Thus, eating little also holds these two in check.

Actually, it is enough for those entering this path to observe moderation in food, drink, sleep, and speech. There are three conditions for this:

1.     To put away all worldly thoughts, images and memories from the mind.

2.     Never to forget God, always invoking (remembering) Him in one’s heart.

3.     Always to be in Vigil (wakeful watching) of, or Communion with, God (muraqaba), to bear God in mind.

The spiritual prerequisite of this path is the love of God and longing for Him. If this worry, this concern has entered a heart, this should be regarded as the greatest gift, and one should ceaselessly strive to increase it without losing it.

The Invocation (dhikr: literally, remembrance) of God in one’s heart is the shortest road that leads to God, and the key to the inconceivable world of Unity, which also protects one against troubles and calamities. The gain of those entering this path is always to be in God’s Presence. When that Presence takes root in the heart, it is called Observation (mushahada). When Presence becomes Stabilized (tamkin), i.e. when it becomes permanent and free from Variation (talwin), the goal is achieved. God is known at every moment, one is always with Him, and is never heedless of Him at any instant.

The Naqshis have three methods to achieve this.

Method 1

The invocation (dhikr) of: “No deity but God” (la ilaha illAllah). The invoker repeats this “Word of Unity” with a peaceful heart. In the case of the Naqshis, the repetition is performed not aloud, but silently, from the heart. (The Prophet taught the silent invocation to Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, and the vocal invocation to Ali, the fourth Caliph.) In pronouncing the negation: “(There is) no deity”, one considers all things and all beings as nothing, and in pronouncing the affirmation: “but God”, one contemplates the eternal existence of God. During the repetition of this sacred word, the tongue is folded back and its bottom is pressed upon the palate. The wayfarer holds his breath for reasonable periods of time, and repeats the invocation with such intensity that its effect is spread to all parts of the body. In everything the disciple does, he does not fail to repeat it under any circumstances. This repetition is not weakened or relaxed even when speaking, eating, or during sleep. When one notices that this state is waning, one summons one’s attention and again concentrates, and finally the invocation settles and becomes permanent.

Method 2

The invocation of “God” (Allah). The invoker turns to God with his heart and invokes His majestic name. In repeating, he should consider God as being present at every point in the universe. He should repeat the invocation with such vigor that he passes away from himself, and arrives at such a rank that this state is ever present in his heart—it becomes a property of his heart, his heart is filled with that light, and he experiences great pleasure.

Whatever the states of the heart may be, these should remain in the heart. The secrets that are revealed to it should not be divulged to the public, and one should not step beyond the bounds of the Divine Law (the principles of Islam).

If the invoker does not fail to think of God for even an instant, if he invokes God’s name even in his sleep and does not stand aloof from Him, his sleep as well as his wakefulness will be the presence of God; he will quickly achieve spiritual poverty and extinction. Depending on the aptitude of the aspirant and the grace of God, the period in question can be anywhere from an instant to a lifetime.

Method 3

The third method, Connection (rabita), is the way of binding the heart. The wonderful conversations of a perfect master pave the way to divine communion. By the power and virtue (baraka) of those discussions, the light of spirituality and inner meaning flows into the aspirant’s heart. If this meaning is diminished, the disciple must again avail himself of the master’s discussions, until he can hold the master’s image in his imagination even when they are separated, and he drives all other thoughts and memories from his heart, leaving only the form and memories of his master.

There is no closer way than this. If the enlightened face of that master—perhaps the middle of his eyebrows—does not leave his mind for even a second, if he is not heedless of it while sitting, standing, or eating, if he can always bear it in mind—and this is quite difficult to achieve for the disciple—the wayfarer reaches such a rank in the end that the image of the perfect master takes root in his heart, and he can imagine it at every instant without difficulty.

But if courtesy (good manners) is violated, this path of illumination can be interrupted in the disciple. It is then very difficult to re-establish the Tie and communication. To find the conversation of such an exalted and valuable master is a great boon in this day and age.

The Eleven Principles

We cannot, in a treatment such as this, leave the “Eleven Words” of the Naqshibandis unmentioned. The first eight of these were established by Master Abdulhaliq Gujduwani, and the last three were added by Sheikh Naqshiband.

1.     Invocation (Yad Kard or dhikr). Basically, this is to invoke the Word of Unity while holding one’s breath (habs dam) for a suitable period of time. Retaining the breath during a certain number of invocations prevents the attention from wavering and the mind from wandering.

2.     Knots (Baz Gasht). This refers to short prayers that punctuate Invocation (see above). When the number of invocations during breath retention is finished and one is exhaling, one repeats such a formula as: “My Lord, You are my goal and my desire is to please You.” This prevents thoughts from straying, and the invoker is delivered from recollections and baseless thoughts that might flood his heart.

3.     Wakefulness (Nigah Dasht). Cognizance of, and combat against, mental distractions. One must fight off various thoughts and images that assail the mind, and the heart and attention should remain centered on God. This is very difficult and requires great effort. Breath control is the most important aid in achieving it.

4.     Recollection (Yad Dasht). Always to remain attentive of God. Everything except God should be removed from the heart and mind, and concentration should be centered on Him.

5.     Watching one’s breath (Hosh Dar Dam). Every breath of the Seeker should be inhaled and exhaled with wakefulness and awareness. Breathing should be controlled, and one must be fully conscious of one’s inhalations and exhalations. Master Shahabuddin Suhrawardi has clarified the reason: “He who does not control his breath cannot control his self, and he who cannot control his self belongs to the company of the ruined.”

6.     Journey to the homeland (Safar Dar Watan). The spiritual journey back to God, from whence the traveller (and indeed, everything else) came. The voyage from bad and disgusting behavior to salutary conduct.

7.     Watching one’s step (Nazar Bar Qadam). The Seeker should always keep his eyes on his feet. If he looks around indiscriminately, his attention will stray, what he sees will be impressed on his heart, and confusion will result. Also, in a metaphorical sense, he should always be aware of where he is going, and never lose sight of the journey’s goal.

8.     Solitude in company (Halwat Dar Anjuman). To be in the world, but not of the world; to be with people (or God’s creation) externally, but to remain with Truth (God) internally. To concentrate on preserving one’s spiritual state as if one were alone, even in the presence of others.

9.     Pause of time (Wuquf Zamani). The Seeker should pause from time to time for self-examination and self-criticism. One should give thanks for one’s good conduct and repent for what is bad in oneself.

10.  Pause of numbers (Wuquf Adadi). To take care that the required number of invocations have been completed during breath retention. One begins with a single invocation (say, of the Word of Unity) and gradually raises this to 21. For example, one inhales, repeats the formula three times, then exhales. If a certain result has not been obtained even though 21 repetitions have been reached, it may be necessary to repeat the cycle.

11.  Pause of the heart (Wuquf qalbi). To imagine that the true name of God is inscribed in the Seeker’s heart, and to train the mind until this visualization becomes permanent.

It can be seen that these eleven rules are mostly concerned with the concentration of attention, and with breath retention and breath control.

Chart of the Spiritual Journey

On the road to Truth, to Absolute Reality, the traveller is always in a different state at each step of the way. It is useful to tabulate these in order to gain an overall view. The contents of this chart, shown in Table 1, will be briefly described.

The points that we need to bear in mind are:

1.     The chart is not precise, but serves to give a general idea only.

2.     Various sources give this table in different and sometimes conflicting ways. Ibrahim Hakki of Erzurum was a great saint. His classification is followed here, but other sources have also been consulted.

3.     The journey of each traveller diplays individual peculiarities. Perhaps for this reason, masters do not indulge in detailed explanations about the chart of spiritual progress.

It should be remembered that the chart is a convenient device for comprehension, rather than a rigorous exposition of details.

Worlds

In the Sufic conception, the observable universe, the physical world of coarse matter, is only the lowest of existential realms. Beyond it are domains that do not lend themselves to physical measurement for the simple reason that they are nonphysical (or prephysical, “pre-” being here used in an ontological rather than necessarily temporal sense). The number of worlds, including the physical, are basically four. And no one has expressed this fourfoldness with greater poetic beauty than William Blake:[61]

Now I am. May God us keep

From single vision fourfold vision see,

And a fourfold vision is given to me;

‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight

And threefold in soft Beulah’s night

And twofold Always and Newton’s sleep.

“Single vision” is the vision that sees only the world of gross matter, that denies reality to any other level of existence, including God, who is Absolute Reality. Thus, a relative, partial vision of reality negates total, Absolute Reality on the basis of nothing except its own bias and incompleteness, which is the very epitome of irrationality.

Yet the founding fathers of modern science never intended it this way. To exclude every reality other than what is capable of knocking you on the head is a betrayal and travesty of their original conception. To be sure, they confined their investigations to the realm of sensory experience; and behind every law of nature they saw the Divine Lawmaker, without whom all would be chaos, if indeed it could exist at all (which it could not). Newton believed in One God: “This being governs all things... as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantocrator, or Universal Ruler” (Principia). His researches into alchemy point to an interest of the great scientist in the transformation of the soul, for which the transformation of base metal into gold is merely a metaphor.

Kepler combined in himself love of the One God with scientific devotion to the discovery of His harmony as evidenced in nature (specifically, the elliptical motions of the planets)—he was the most salutary example of the fusion of science and religion in a scientist.

Descartes, too, believed in God; as quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg once noted, he trisected totality into God, man, and universe, and the division between man and universe he formulated in the dualism between mind or consciousness (res cogitans) without extension, and matter or extension (res extensa) without consciousness. Copernicus rightly believed that scientific knowledge could only lead to evil in the hands of the spiritually impure.

The metaphysical assumptions of these great men may have finally led to our present conception of a soulless, Godless, mathematical and mechanical universe, but this was never their initial conscious aim.

Hence, what we have to do is to “re-vision” the whole scientific enterprise, to go back to the founding fathers; not necessarily to revise, but to take a fresh look, to examine our knowledge and assumptions in a new light. When we do so, we shall discover that there is nothing in our science to rule out or contradict the existence of other existential domains, since that knowledge was never intended to describe anything other than the physical world in the first place. If I decide to confine my attention to a study of the objects in my room, without even bothering to look out the window, this does not mean that nothing exists beyond my room.

The Sufis, then, believe in the existence of the material world, but allow also for the existence of other planes of reality (alam, pl. awalim). This is not a question of reducing the material world to the spiritual or ideal (note in passing that “spiritual” and “ideal” are not identical) world, or vice versa; not a question of “either/or,” but of “both/and.”

These “other worlds”—or, if you wish, “parallel universes”—have each been referred to by more than one name by the Sufis. As in Blake’s Fourfold Vision, there are four realms in the simpler, basic classification: Human, Angelic, Majestic, and Divine (respectively Nasut, Malakut, Jabarut, and Lahut). These are to be conceived as hierarchical rather than equal in rank.

The Human World is, quite simply, the world of human beings, the world we witness and perceive with our five senses—the physical, material or observable universe. For this reason, it is also called the World of Witnessing (i.e. the world that we witness), the Base (lowly) World, or the World of: Elements (after the classical four elements), Births, Creation and Dissipation, the Visible, Fear, Heavens, Spheres, Stars, and Bodies. It is often called the Kingdom (mulk).

The Angelic World is the world of dominion, where God is the recognized absolute ruler. For this reason, it is also called the World of Command. It is the Unseen (ghayb) world of angels and spirits.

In our chart, the Angelic World occupies two adjacent cells: the Interworld and the World of Spirits.

a)    The Interworld is the “isthmus” or intermediate world, the World of Imagination, accessible in twilight states of consciousness (between sleep and wakefulness). Its basis is the Imaginal World (alam al-mithal ) or World of Symbols (Archetypes), which is superior to it.

b)    The World of Spirits is superior to the Interworld, and is also known as the World of Meanings or the Dreamworld. It is the locus of awe.

The Majestic World is the World of Power. It is also known as the World of Realities. This is also the stage where the Mohammedan Reality manifests itself, and the disciple is filled with Mohammedan Light.

The Divine World is the World of Divinity, and is, like the Angelic and Majestic Worlds, an Unseen, Unobservable or Invisible world—in fact, it is the Unseen of the Unseen of the Unseen, or U3. The divine principles are framed at this level, the World of Loftiness. It is the World of the (Infinite) Cloud (ama), to which the Prophet referred when he was asked: “Where was God before He created the universe?” He answered: “My Lord was in point of a cloud without top or bottom.” (That is, He was present at every point of an infinite—homogeneous and isotropic—cloud of white light.) In Sufism, it refers to the level of Absolute Unity and Eternity. Although it appears in only one cell, it actually encompasses the last three cells of our chart.

Sometimes, the Self or Identity of God is differentiated from this Divine World and assigned a separate status. This is then called Hahut (from huwiya: “He-ness,” Identity, or Divine Ipseity) and the five realms that thus result are called the “Five Presences” (hazrat hamsah). In this case, when one wishes to refer to the fourfold scheme, Lahut and Hahut together are called the World of Glory (Izzah).

The Essence (dhat) of God in relation to Himself is called Absolute Unity (Ahadiyah), and corresponds to Hahut. (This is the unknowable Hidden God, the deus absconditus, and it is forbidden to speculate about the nature of God’s Self or Essence.) In relation to His Creation, it is called Oneness (Wahidiyah), and corresponds to Lahut. The latter is associated with the Most Sacred Body (wujud al-aqdas).

Return to Witnessing. Here, the return begins from the Unseen to the Human (Witnessed) World. This, however, is not a return to an earlier state, but a proceeding, a going forth.

Unity in Diversity, Diversity in Unity. The Divine World is experienced in the states of Extinction (fana) and Subsistence (baqa). Unity in Diversity is the final stage.

Present at the Creation

Creation begins with God. In the beginning—and this is an ontological, not a temporal, beginning, since time does not yet exist and hence it makes no sense to speak in temporal terms—God was a hidden Being who had not yet manifested Himself. This is the stage of Absolute Invisibility, Absolute or Unconditioned (nondelimited) Unity, the World of the Absolute, the Singular Existent, or Mother of the Book (the book of the universe). Since space and time do not yet exist, this is totally nonspatial and nontemporal; it is non-space and non-time. Rather, it may be called “the spacetime of spacetime,” since the entire spacetime continuum takes shape within it. (In terms of unity versus multiplicity, we can compare this stage to a priceless, perfect jewel possessing absolute symmetry, and which is single, whole, and one in every imaginable way.)

When God desired to be known, He manifested His being in the remaining three worlds:

First, in the World of Divine Power—the First Conditioning or Limitation, the First Manifestation, Primordial Substance, Mohammedan Light, or Mohammedan Reality. (At this stage, the jewel is still whole, but the possibility of differentiation and multiplicity has arisen, and micro cracks or fractures in the symmetry have appeared.)

Next, in the Angelic World—the Second Conditioning or Limitation, the Second Manifestation, also known as the Isthmus or “Lote-tree of the Boundary.” (Our jewel is still whole, but fissures now crisscross its surface.)

And finally, in the Kingdom, or world of human beings. This is the Third Conditioning or Limitation. (At this stage, the jewel has exploded, bursting and shattering into smithereens and giving rise to the infinite multiplicity of the observable universe—yet this multiplicity is still One, although this fact is not evident to our senses. For the fragmentation of the jewel is illusory. It is only to our fragmented consciousness that it appears shattered. In reality, even at this instant, it remains in its pristine unity.)

We can now see that the journey of the seeker is back to the Source, and that he traverses the ontological stages of Creation in the reverse order. He travels from multiplicity to unity, and in the end discovers the true meaning of religion, the mystery of God, and the secret of man.

Abdulqader Gilani, the Great Helper and diver into the bottomless Ocean of Unity, explains: “All conduct, states and limits between the Human and Angelic Worlds belong to the Divine Law (shariah). Those between the Angelic and Majestic Worlds belong to the spiritual schools or Orders (tariqah: Paths). And those between the Majestic and Divine Worlds belong to Truth or Reality (haqiqah).”

 The final stage, Knowledge of God (marifah: Gnosis), corresponds to the Divine World, or Absolute, Undifferentiated Unity, where knowledge of everything else (multiplicity) is un-learned (the “Cloud of Unknowing”).

States

The seeker’s state at the beginning of the journey is inclination to lust and pleasure. He follows the lead of his selfish and lustful desires. The master’s instruction and training, however, soon result in the emergence of affection and enthusiasm. This is not sexual affection, but the pure and unsullied attraction to Truth. This affection increases and is finally transformed into love. Nothing is possible without love. Love is what delivers results. It gives rise to attainment and, when perfect faith has crystallized in the heart, to fulfillment.

The seeker then loses himself utterly (fana: Extinction or Annihilation). Only God is left, which is why this state is also called Extinction in God (fana fi-Allah). After this point is reached, certain divine mysteries are revealed to the seeker, who consequently is thrown into a state of wonder. Finally comes the state of Survival, Continuation or Subsistence (baqa), whereby the traveller is given a renewed existence by and through God (baqa bi-Allah).

Locations

In order to understand locations, we first have to learn about Subtleties (lataif, sing. latifah) or psychic centers.

We have already seen that man possesses a spirit. This spirit is coupled to the physical body in the form of a spiritual body. Now this spiritual body possesses a psychic anatomy or structure, just as the material body has a physical anatomy. When Sufis speak of the Heart, for example, what they have in mind is not the physical lump of flesh that pumps blood throughout the body. They refer, rather, to the heart of the spiritual body, which is associated with the spiritual body and animates the physical body as long as a human being is alive.

In the same way, there are other psychic centers within the spiritual body akin to the Heart center, and it is to these that the term ‘Subtleties’ applies.

These psychic centers are variously referred to as the Five Subtleties, the Seven Subtleties, or the Ten Subtleties. All ten Subtleties are shown in Figure 1.

The five basic subtleties are located in the chest (Sadr). These are: the Heart (Qalb), the Spirit (Ruh), the Secret (Sirr), the Hidden (Khafi) and the Most Hidden (Akhfa or Ikhfa).

In order to obtain the seven subtleties, the Self (Nafs) is added to the beginning of this list, and the Human Self (Nafs al-natiqa, or Speaking/reasoning Self) is added to the end. Sometimes the Self (Nafs) is omitted, and the Total (Kull ) is added to give the seven subtleties.

An intermediate stage called the Secret of the Secret (Sirr al-Sirr, or S2), and two further centers beyond the Human Self—the Throne (Kursi), and the Highest Heaven or Empyrean (Arsh)—complete the list of ten subtleties. Occasionally a further center, the Total (Kull ) or the Universal Intellect (Aql al-Kull ), is inserted between the Human Self and the Throne. (This may be considered a subcenter of the Throne.)

Further information concerning these subtleties is outlined below. (All measured distances are approximate. The colors and locations of the centers are sometimes listed differently.)

The Self: This is the center of the animal (animating) self, and corresponds to the Hara, or Life Center, of the Japanese. It is located within the body an inch below the navel or belly button.

The Heart: Also called Fouad, this does not actually coincide with the physical heart (which is more centrally placed), but is located an inch below the left nipple. It is associated with the color red and the prophet Adam, “whom God purified.”

The Spirit: Its location is an inch below the right nipple. Color: yellow. Prophet: Noah, “whom God saved.”

The Secret: Location: an inch above the left nipple. Color: white. Prophet: Moses, “who talked with God.”

S2: Location: center of the chest (between Secret and Hidden). Color: black. Prophet: Jesus, “the Mystery of God.”

The Hidden: Location: an inch above the right nipple. Color: green. Prophet: Mohammed, “the Beloved of God.”

The Most Hidden: Location: top of sternum (just below the neckline). Colorless. In some charts this is called the Axis of the Secret (Mustawa al-Sirr).

The Human Self: Location: between the two eyebrows. According to some Sufis, this is the station of Qaaba Qawsayn, “the distance—or meeting—of two bows/arcs” (eyebrows) (53:9). Color: ochre.

The Total and/or the Throne: Location: center of the forehead. This is where, at a certain stage of development, the famous “third eye” opens. (Please note, however, that the third eye has nothing to do with physical anatomy, such as the pineal gland, as Descartes claimed.)

The Highest Heaven (Empyrean): Located at the crown or topmost point of the head. Corresponds to the Sahasrara Chakra (the “thousand-petaled lotus”) in Yoga. (These correlations with other traditions are mentioned not because the Sufic conception was taken from these as sources, but in order to highlight the fact that the corresponding realities have also been recognized in other traditions, since truth is one.) This is where divine light—called “the most sacred effusion” (fayz al-aqdas) by the Sufis—appears, initially in the form of a star. This location also corresponds to the juncture of the cranial bones, and in some traditions has been considered the entry point of the soul into the body (the bones are not joined in the new-born baby, but close in later on).

Now that we have formed some idea about the subtleties, how does one utilize this “tree of life”? Basically, the procedure is to activate the psychic centers in ascending order. One starts by concentrating on the chest area (Sadr) as a whole. (Note that its color, blue, is also the color of a healthy psychic aura.) One then concentrates on the Heart subtlety, and so on in accordance with the direction of arrows in Figure 1. Each center is awakened by concentrating the invocation appropriate to that stage in that center. For instance, looking at Table 1, Allah is the invocation proper to the Heart center. Once an invocation becomes fixed or permanent in its center, and light of a color specific to that center (as well as certain other signs) becomes manifest, the center is considered to be ‘conquered’ or ‘opened’. One then passes on to concentrating invocation in the next higher center.

Warning: Note once again that one must not try to awaken any center without the permission of a qualified master. This is very dangerous. Do not try to “teach yourself,” and don’t experiment. Without proper guidance, you’re liable to get lost in God knows what sector of inner space.

God has stated in a Sacred Tradition: “Know that there is a [physical] heart in each body. There is a Fouad [spiritual Heart] in each heart. There is a Secret in each spiritual Heart. There is a Hidden in each Secret, and there is a Most Hidden in each Hidden. I am in that Most Hidden.”

This “withinness” should not be compared or confused with physical contiguity. It has no quality and quantity, and is different from whatever may occur to the mind.

Supports

The entire comport of the seeker from the beginning right through to the end should lie within the Divine Law, that is, the prescriptions and restrictions of Islam. At no stage should adherence to the Sacred Law be abandoned, for it is the basis, the foundation, of all.

Upon his works in accordance with the Holy Law, the aspirant next builds the knowledge and practices of the spiritual schools. New restrictions are added upon those of the Divine Law. One passes from License, where some things are allowed by Holy Law, to Restraint, or further limitation (compression) of the self. This is followed by Knowledge, which is the Knowledge of God, i.e. being informed about God. This information and these practices lead the seeker to Truth. After this he can attain Sainthood, or the Friendship of God. His next support is the Essence of Divine Law. He does not remain ignorant of the reasons for the Divine Law, and acts out its requirements in full knowledge and consciousness of their reason for being. Finally, his support becomes the Universal Essence.

 

 



Figure 1. The Ten Subtleties (lataif ).

 

Lights

These are the lights with colors that distinguish one subtlety from another. This color is blue in the beginning. The Heart Center glows with a reddish light when it is activated. The color of the Spirit center is yellow, and so on.

Names

The names define the invocation to be performed by the seeker at a certain stage. A specific name of God is invoked at each stage, and the aspirant passes from one to another as he progresses.

Perceptions

These define the perceptual level of a wayfarer. They are activated only at the last three stages of selfhood. We may distinguish here between perceptions of Unification (tawhid) and those of Fusion (jam).

Unification of deeds/verbs—of attributes/adjectives—of Essence

The universe has often been compared to a great book by the wise. “The book of the universe,” said Galileo, “is written in the language of mathematics.” One of God’s 99 Beautiful Names, the Counter (or Reckoner: Muhsi), bears testimony to the fact that God indeed created in numerical measure and proportion. Wherever we look in the observable universe, we witness the mathematical beauty that the Great Artist (Sani) has built into it.

So Galileo was right—but nevertheless, incomplete. Our modern science, which is quantitative through and through, gives us only a one-dimensional picture of the universe, that projected upon the Real-Number Line. Numbers can tell us a lot, but they can’t tell us everything. It is as if scientists had opened the book of the universe, encountered letters, words and sentences on each page, then proceeded to measure the dimensions of characters, their groupings into words, their frequency and regularity of occurence, etc. This is a very telling metaphor, for in physics and chemistry the “alphabet” of the universe is composed of the 92 naturally- occuring elements, in biology of 22 amino acids, and so forth.

But because of its exclusive preoccupation with quantity, modern science has neglected to actually read the Grand Book of the Universe—to read and to understand it. Our measurements performed on it are unsurpassed, yet our understanding of it is still insufficient. The secrets it harbors remain as locked as ever, and it is these we need to decipher.

Now the Sufis, too, have viewed the universe as a book to be read. In Arabic, fiil refers both to an action and, linguistically, to a verb; sifat refers both to an attribute and to an adjective, ism both to a name and a noun. Taking their cue from this, the Sufis have represented the book of the universe as being composed of verbs, which are God’s actions; adjectives, which are His attributes; and nouns, which are His names. In their conception, the Essence of God gives rise to the Divine Names and Attributes, from each of which derive myriads of Divine Actions, and the universe is scene to the vast and continual interplay between these elements. Hence to return to the Source, one has to unify, first, the actions to reach the level of God’s Names and Attributes, and then to unify these in turn to reach the unity of the Essence. This, in the Sufic view, is how pure, changeless, infinite Being becomes conditioned or transformed into continual yet finite Becoming: through the endless interplay of Names, Attributes and Actions.

We may compare this process to the differentiation of pure white light into a rainbow of colors when it passes through a prism, and in this analogy the prism would be comparable to the “Immutable Entitites” or “Permanent Archetypes” (ayan al-thabita) as the Sufis have termed it. From every Name and Attribute that has thus been differentiated, myriads of actions are spawned. Thus, everything in the universe is an intersection or locus of specific Divine Names, Attributes and Actions. One must reverse this process in order to reach the Source, which is the Essence of God. The unification of Actions leads to their origin in a Divine Name or Attribute, and unification of the latter yields the pure white light of the Essence, which is then seen to stand behind all the countless manifestations occuring in the universe.

Fusion (F0), the Presence of Fusion (F1), Fusion of Fusion (F2), Unity of Fusion (F3)

These are states that are achieved only by the rarest of individuals. They are best understood in terms of Annihilation and Subsistence. A possible interpretation of the relationship between the stages of Unification and those of Fusion is given in Figure 2.

Unfortunately, these terms have little meaning for those who have not experienced these states. As Rumi, the great mystic, said: “Be me, and you will know.”

The Manifestation of Actions, Names/Atributes, and Essence

The manifestation of actions: An action amongst the Actions of God is born and manifested in the heart of a servant. An aspect of the Divine Power flowing through all things becomes manifest in that person. That servant thus perceives that God is the cause of all motion and change. Only the possessor of this station knows and understands this.

The manifestation of names: God causes a name from among His Beautiful Names to be born in the heart of a servant. This person is so overwhelmed by the divine effulgence that engulfs him through the power and lights of this name that if that Divine Name were to be called upon at that instant, he would answer.

The manifestation of attributes: The Lord manifests one of His Attributes in the heart of his servant. All human attributes disappear from him, and God appears in his heart in the guise of that Attribute. For instance, if God appears to him in the Attribute of Hearing, that person hears and understands the voices and sounds of all beings, whether animate or inanimate.

The manifestation of the Essence: This is to be very close to God. By dint of worship, the wayfarer has become adorned with humility, spiritual poverty, and consciousness of his own weakness. He knows God through his self and attributes, and knows his self through the Attributes of God. Because the self of this Perfect Human has found lowliness and nothingness, the mirror of servanthood stands face to face with the Mirror of the Divine, and whatever is visible in one is reflected in the other. On this basis the Lord has declared: “The heavens and the earth cannot contain me, yet the heart of my faithful servant does.”

All these details and techniques, however, will be of no avail if the aspirant does not pay attention to two crucial points: abstention from illicit gain, and from illicit sex. For all the icy baths of the Brahmins, the sleepless nights of the Buddhist and Christian ascetics, the self-inflicted tortures of the Hindu fakirs, the seclusion of Sufi dervishes in mountain caves or dungeon-like cellars—these all served only one end: the control of the Self. And yet, self-control is actually predicated on these two critical points alone: Forbidden passion and pecuniary interest. Protect yourself from these, and the way to sainthood will remain open. Otherwise, not only will all your efforts come to naught, but the gates of fire will welcome you. Here, it is necessary to watch one’s eyes, one’s ears, one’s tongue, and one’s mind. If at any time you observe a tendency in these to Forbidden earnings or passions, then the Work—the Struggle—has not been completed.

Provided the two points above are fulfilled, meditation (tafakkur) and invocation connecting the heart with the mind—more precisely, the Heart Center with the Center of the Human Self—will lead to progress on the path, never neglecting the other requirements, beginning with Prayer.

Above and beyond all these details lies the progress of the seeker through the levels of selfhood. The treatment of these levels is important enough to merit a chapter in its own right.


 

 


 

 

 


Figure 2. State Transition Diagram of the Spiritual Journey.

 

 

 

 


 


 

STATION OF SELF

(nafs)

 

 

IMPELLING

(Carnal or Base Self)

(ammara) (12:53)

CRITICAL

(Self-Reproaching)

(lawwama)

(75:2)

 

INSPIRED

(mulhimma)

(91:8)

 

SERENE

(Tranquil)

(mutmainna)

(89:27)

 

PLEASED

(God-Satisfied)

(radhiya)

(89:28)

 

PLEASING

(God-Satisfying)

(mardhiya)

(89:28)

PERFECTED,

PURIFIED

or SANCTIFIED1

(kamila, zakiya or safiya)

JOURNEY

(thuluq)

To God

(il-Allah)

Toward God

(li-llah)

Upon God

(al-Allah)

With God

(ma-Allah)

In God

(fi-llah)

From God

(ani-llah)

By God

(bi-llah)

WORLD (Realm)

(alam)

Witnessing

(shahada)

HUMAN (NASUT)

Interworld (Isthmus) (barzah)

 ANGELIC

Spirits

(arwah)

 

(MALAKUT)

POWER

 

(JABARUT)

DIVINE

 

(LAHUT)

Return to Wit-

nessing (shahada)

(LAHUT)

Unity in diver-sity, diversity

in unity

(LAHUT)

STATE

(hal)

Tendency to Lust

(shahwah)

Affection

(muhabbah)

Love

(ashq)

Attainment

(wuslah)

Extinction

(fana)

Wonder

(hayrah)

Subsistence

(baqa)

ABODE (Subtlety)

(latifa)

Chest

(sadr)

Heart

(qalb, fouad)

Spirit

(ruh)

Secret

(sirr)

Secret of the Secret

(sirr as-sirr)

Hidden

(khafi)

Most Hidden

(akhfa)

ARRIVAL

(Support)

(warid)

 

Revealed Law

(sharia)

Path (Schools)

(tariqa)

Gnosis (Knowledge)

(marifa)

Truth

(haqiqa)

Sainthood

(wilaya)

Essence of Revealed Law (dhat ash-

sharia)

Universal Essence

(dhat al-kull)

LIGHT(nur)

Blue

Red

Yellow

White

Black

Green

Colorless

NAME (Invocation)

(ism)

No god but God

(la ilaha illAllah)

God

(Allah)

He

(Hu)

the Truth

(Haqq)

the Living

(Hayy)

the Everlasting

(Qayyum)

the Overwhelming

(Qahhar)

LEVEL

(tabaqa)

Aspirant

(talib)

Seeker

(murid)

Wayfarer

(thaliq)

Voyager

(sair)

Flier

(tair)

Attainer

(wasil)

Pole

(qutb)

STATION

(maqam)

Repentance

(tawba)

Avoiding prohi-

bitions (wara)

Asceticism

(zuhd)

Poverty

(faqr)

Patience

(sabr)

Pleasure

(ridha)

Trust in God

(tawaqqul)

1 Sometimes counted separately to give a total of nine.

 

Table 1. Chart of the Spiritual Journey.

 

 


HERMETICISM:
THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL  UNIVERSITY OF ITS AGE

 

(Hermeticism is the introduction to Sufism and asceticism. This is where the seven levels of the Self were first elaborated, and for this reason it is of great spiritual and historical significance.)

 

The religion of Hermeticism has played a very important role in the history of mankind. In no other religion have there been such mysterious ceremonies and such painstaking scientific investigations. Egypt, the land of the pyramids, was once a center for humanity’s contemplative activities, revealing that several religions owe many things to Hermeticism.

The man who was known as “Thoth” (or Tot) in Egyptian and “Hermes” in Greek was first recognized as a prophet and later, revered as a god. He has been identified with Idris. (He is known as Enoch to the Jews.) If he is Idris, he is a Prophet in accordance with the Holy Books. No holy book was revealed to him, but as far as his ideas are concerned, his influence has been very far-reaching.

The ceremonies of Hermeticism are not to be found in any other religion. With Hermes (Thoth), the religious beliefs of the Egyptians turned to Unity. In other words, they started believing in One God. According to their religious beliefs, before the creation of the earth, the spirit of everything was whirling in a sea, a vacuum. The Spirit of God acted upon this vacuum and created everything. He created the earth and the heavens, but was not Himself created.

His body was everlasting and all-inclusive of the universe. The universe was but a small indication of the greatness of God Almighty, who was ever-present and overseeing.

 According to the beliefs of the Egyptians, God was one, but manifested Himself in various personalities. God was called by different names in everything.[62] Their greatest god was Osiris, and his wife was Isis. The ancient Egyptians also used to believe in resurrection after death. Spirits were judged in the presence of Osiris. The actions of human beings on earth would be weighed on the scales of justice, and they would be punished in accordance with their sins. The evil would be tormented by scorpions and snakes, while good souls would lead a happy life at the table of Osiris.

This historical information demonstrates that the comparative investigation of religions is a very instructive and fruitful endeavor. Idris or Hermes (Thoth) the Egyptian is a noteworthy figure in the annals of prophetic history.

The Initiation Ceremonies of Hermeticism

Aspirants wishing to join the Hermetic religion would go to the famous temples at Thebes or Memphis. The high priest, or hierophant, would meet the aspirant in the huge and magnificent temple. The priest would take him to his room and ask who he was, where he came from, and where he had studied. He would size up the aspirant’s intelligence and aptitude. If he had the capacity to comprehend advanced knowledge, he would keep him there. Otherwise, he would be sent away.

The priest then took the youth and conducted him through the inner courts and a corridor carved in stone, open to the sky and bordered with sphinxes. At the end of the passage, there was a small temple which served as an entrance to the underground crypts. The door was disguised by a life-size statue of Isis. The goddess, sitting in a position of meditation and contemplation, held a closed book in her lap. Her face was covered by a veil, and beneath the statue was the inscription: “No mortal has lifted my veil.”

The hierophant said to the youth: “This is the door to the hidden sanctuary. Look at these two columns. The red one symbolizes the ascent of the spirit into the light of Osiris. The black one signifies the imprisonment of the soul in the body. Whoever approaches our science and teaching risks his life. Madness or death await the weak and the wicked. Only the strong and the good find life and immortality. Many reckless ones have entered this door, and have not come out alive. This is such an abyss that only the fearless can emerge from it again. Therefore, consider carefully the dangers you will face. If you do not trust yourself, give up the quest, for once this door is closed behind you, it will not be opened.”

The aspirant, after listening to these words in fear, would summon all his courage, and once he said: “I accept your terms,” the priest would lead him to the outer court and commend him to the temple servants. The aspirant would be kept in the temple for one week; he would be requested to perform the lowliest chores, would listen to hymns and be forbidden to talk about worldly affairs. He would complete his weekly seclusion here.

When the evening of ordeals arrived, two assistants led the candidate to the door of the secret sanctuary. The aspirant was now at the beginning of an ordeal full of mysteries. They entered a dark, dismal corridor without any visible exit, lined on both sides with human-bodied and animal-headed statues, and the statues of lions, bulls, hawks and snakes seen dimly in the torchlight. The requirement was to go through the passage without uttering a single word. At the end of this sinister passage were a mummy and a human skeleton.

The two assistants pointed to a hole in the wall in front of the novice. This was the entrance to a corridor so low that it was impossible to pass through without crawling. One of the assistants said to the youth: “If you want you may turn back from here, because the door is not yet closed. You may return now. But if you continue, you cannot turn back.” Once the youth replied: “I will continue,” he was handed a small torch, and the door of the sanctuary was quickly shut behind him with a loud bang.

Trial by Death

The youth knelt down to crawl into the passage. Hardly had he eased through when he heard a voice coming from the end of the tunnel. This voice would say: “Fools who covet knowledge and power perish here!”

Due to a strange acoustical phenomenon, the sentence was echoed seven times. Nevertheless, he had to move forward. After a while the corridor widened, but now began to incline downward more sharply. Finally, the youth would come across a hole, into which an iron ladder disappeared. He climbed down this ladder. At the lowest rung, his frightened gaze looked downward into a terrifying abyss. Return was impossible, and beneath him a black, bottomless pit yawned. In order to save his life he looked around, and finally noticed a small crevice on his right. There was a staircase here by which he could escape. Right away, he climbed up the spiralling stairs carved into stone, and eventually came across a bronze grating. This led to a hallway supported by huge columns in the shape of draped female figures. Two rows of symbolic frescoes could be seen on the wall. All these symbols had a hidden meaning. There were 11 frescoes on either side of the hallway, and the lights in the hands of the beautiful column-statues illuminated these pictures.

A magus, the guardian of the sacred symbols, opened the bars and welcomed him with a smile. He said: “You have passed the first test successfully. Congratulations,” and then, taking him across the hall, explained the sacred meanings. Under each of these pictures were a letter and a number. There were 22 symbols that represented the first 22 Mysteries. They constituted the alphabet of secret science. These letters were the keys to the secrets of the universe bestowed by God Almighty. Employed by the right will, they became the source of all wisdom and power.

Every letter and number corresponded to a triadic law, having repercussions in the divine world, the intellectual world, and the physical world. For example the letter A, which corresponded to the number 1, represented, in the divine world: Absolute Being from which all beings emanate; in the intellectual world: the unity, origin and synthesis of numbers; and in the physical world: Man, the head of all beings, with his capacity to attain infinity. The arcanum of “A”, which symbolized attainment of the Godhead, was represented by a magus dressed in the attire of Osiris, with a scepter in his hand and wearing a white robe and gold crown. The white robe stood for purity, the scepter for authority, and the gold crown for enlightenment by the light of Heaven.

The guardian of the symbols led the novice along, explaining the arcana one by one. Concerning the crown, he remarked: “Free will, which is joined to God in order to manifest truth and effect justice, participates in divine power even while in this world. This is an everlasting reward to spirits.”

The neophyte listened to these explanations with surprise, and the first glimmers of understanding began to take shape in his mind.

Trial by Fire

The magus now opened another door, leading to a long, narrow corridor, at the end of which a red-hot furnace could be spied. The novice had to pass through it. He trembled with fear, whereupon the priest said: “My son, death frightens only weak minds. I myself once crossed this fire like a bed of roses.” With that, the gate of the hall of secrets closed behind the newcomer. Approaching the fire, he perceived that it was but a visual illusion created by artifices, and quickly passed through a narrow path in the middle.

Trial by Water

His third test was to go through a pool of stagnant black water, lit by the flames of the fire already left behind. The ordeals had by this time left him trembling and exhausted.

Trial by Passion

Next, two assistants led him to a dim grotto where a soft couch could be seen in the flickering light of a bronze lamp. Here he was stripped and bathed, perfumed with exquisite essences, dressed in fine linen and told to rest and wait for the hierophant.

Weak with fatigue, the novice stretched on the bed and fell asleep. Soon, tones of lascivious music reached his ears. The sounds of a harp and a flute enwrapped his soul, arousing passionate feelings in him.

While he was in this semiconscious state, a woman approached.

This woman of breathtaking beauty, wearing a dress of transparent dark-red gauze and a necklace, held a cup crowned with roses in her left hand. The youth trembled at the sight of this woman with shining eyes and lips of fire, staring at this splendid example of female anatomy. Why was she here? There was no one else in the grotto other than the two of them. The woman was reaching out to him, making plain that they should lie on the bed together, and murmuring in a husky voice: “Are you afraid of me, noble stranger? I come to you with the reward of the victorious as a present. I bring you the cup of happiness by which you may forget your troubles. Come, let us make love and spend hours of delight together.” So saying, she sat on his bed and did things to arouse his passion.

If the young man fell for this seductress, if he accepted her embraces, she would make him drink from the cup. After the wild satisfaction of his desire, his head began to swim and his throat to burn. Soon he was in a deep sleep, brought on by the medicated wine he had drunk.

The temptress would vanish. When he awoke, he saw the hierophant standing over him with a stern face. The priest said: “You were successful in your first trials. You overcame death, fire and water, but could not conquer your self. You, who sought the heights of mind and knowledge, could not resist the first temptation of the senses and fell into the abyss of matter. He who is a slave to his passions lives in darkness. You preferred darkness to light, so stay there henceforth. You have saved your life, but lost your freedom. From now on, you will be a slave of this temple. If you try to escape, you will die.”

If, on the other hand, the aspirant turned down the temptress, he would have succeeded in this last trial as well. Then, twelve priests bearing torches took and escorted him into the hall of Isis. Magi standing in a semicircle awaited him. In the splendidly lighted hall, a colossal statue of Isis held a gold rose at her breast and wore a crown of seven rays. Her son Horus was in her arms. (Horus, symbolized by a hawk, was among the first deities of the Egyptians.)

The hierophant, clothed in velvet, swore the newcomer to silence and submission. Then he greeted him as a brother and a future initiate. What the youth had experienced up to this point was the entrance examination and ceremony.

Training

Now began long years of study and apprenticeship. He was assigned a cell to live in, and was instructed by teachers. He could stroll in the halls and courtyards of the temple, as large as a city. He studied hieroglyphics inscribed on the columns, as well as the history of mankind, minerology, botanics, medicine, architecture and sacred music.

The temple was, for all practical purposes, a university. Only the most intelligent students were accepted, and went through sophisticated training. Many of the positive sciences saw daylight here. Physics, chemistry, geometry, and astronomy were quite advanced. The laws of natural phenomena were discovered in this enviroment.

Hermeticism was more a center for meditation than religion. The existence and Unity of God was known via this education.

The young people here were researchers as well as students. They were all meditators and thinkers. To them, the advance of science was grounded in the birth of truth in the human spirit, and thus the latter had to be creative. But this was possible only after long and arduous effort.

Their teachers did not help them in anything. They were amazed at this, but in time discovered the reasons.

Absolute obedience was required, but nothing was revealed beyond certain limits. Their questions were met by the stolid reply, “Work and wait.” Many students fell prey to suspicions; they regretted that they had ever come, and regarded their teachers as impostors or magicians. But with the passage of time, as their spiritual intuition flowered, they began to know the Unseen and the Mysteries. Only then would the disciple begin to fathom the meaning of the temple.

Humanity has achieved its present level of civilization through labors of this sort. These sciences are the common heritage of mankind. No nation can lay exclusive claim to them. Human intelligence has reflected and discovered in every age. And this has started not with the material world, but with religious beliefs, with the search for the mysteries of the spiritual world, and with efforts to attain Unity.

The young disciple tried to decipher the meaning of the hieroglyphs. In time, the invisible and impalpable truth slowly began to dawn in his heart. Sometimes he asked one of the magi: “Will I be able someday to smell the rose of Isis, to see the light of Osiris?” to which the reply was: “That depends not on us, but on you. Truth cannot be given. Either one finds it in oneself, or one does not. We cannot force you; you must become an adept yourself. Do not rush the blossoming of the divine flower. If it is destined to come, it will in its own good time. Your duty is to work and pray.”

And so the disciple returned to his studies. Many years went by. He meditated and tried to discover truth. He surrendered wholly to God and dedicated himself to truth.

The Conquest, or Opening

One day, the disciple found the hierophant standing beside him. The master said: “My son, the time is coming when truth will be revealed to you. For you have already descended to the depths of your heart and there found the life divine. By the purity of your heart, by your love of truth and your self-denial, you have earned that right and proven your worthiness. But no one can see Osiris’ light without dying and being resurrected first. We shall take you to the crypt. Don’t be afraid, for you are one of us already.”

At dusk the priests, bearing torches, took the adept into the underground crypt, and stopped in front of an open sarcophagus made of marble.

“No man escapes death,” said the hierophant, “and every soul, having died, is destined to resurrection. Lie down in this coffin, and wait for the light to dawn upon you.”

The initiate lay down in the sarcophagus, and the priests departed in silence. A funeral chant could be heard, coming from afar. The coldness of the tomb, the darkness, the silence and the sadness of the chant all acted upon him. He felt he was dying.

Eventually he saw a far distant, shining point, coming closer and growing larger until it became a five-pointed star whose rays included all the colors of the rainbow. The star grew into a sun, which disappeared and gave way to a bud that blossomed into a beautiful flower. This was the mystical rose of Isis, the rose of wisdom. Soon it, too, vanished into a formless white cloud. The cloud, after assuming various forms, condensed in the shape of a human being. This was a veiled, smiling woman, a manifestation of Isis holding a scroll of papyrus in her hand. She slowly approached the tomb and said: “I am your invisible sister, your divine soul. This is the book of your life. Its written pages contain your past life. In its blank pages, your future life will be written. Now you know who I am. I shall come whenever you call me.”

Yet this, too, was a veil, an obstacle in the way, to be transcended perhaps now, perhaps in the future. Then, the adept would be raised into the light of Osiris, and be merged into the ineffable Essence of the universe of which it is impossible to speak.

The disciple felt the love of wisdom flood his heart. Falling into a deep sleep, he found the hierophant and magi leaning over him when he awoke. The high priest gave him a glass of sherbet, and said: “You are resurrected. Come celebrate with us, and tell us about your journey in the light of Osiris.”

After dining together, the master took the new initiate to the observatory of the temple, and instructed him in the mysteries of Hermes. He related to him the Vision of Hermes/Idris, never written on any papyrus but always orally transmitted. He told the initiate about the Ascent of Hermes, how he saw the Seven Heavens, and even the Almighty Himself....

All these activities in the name of religion improved human intelligence and provided the foundation of modern science. The development of science and technology owes a great deal to these ecstatic activities of Antiquity.

(It can be seen that the material and spiritual sciences were considered as related in Ancient Egypt. The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, after visiting Egypt, brought back this sacred knowledge to Greece and taught it in the school he founded. Many other Greeks, from Thales to Herodotus to Iamblichus, trod the same path.

After Pythagoras, the material and spiritual sciences became divorced from each other. The correspondences between the two were irretrievably lost, and both were impoverished as a result. Mathematics, physics, astronomy and the other sciences were increasingly studied in a vacuum as far as the human spirit was concerned. On the other hand, Pythagoras’ teaching of wisdom, or philosophy, was inherited by Socrates, who passed it on to Plato and thence, to Aristotle. As everyone knows, Plato is considered the father of all philosophy. But the heart of philosophy, its spiritual aspect, also became obscured down the millenia. Only Islam, which considers Body and Spirit, soma and psyche together, is able to redress this imbalance.)

 (Based on Edouard Schuré, The Great Initiates, Paris, 1889.)

 

THE STAGES OF THE SELF

 

(Note on Terminology. The nature of man has traditionally been held to be tripartite. In addition to his outer being, the body (Gk. soma), his inner existence has been conceived as having an “I”, ego, self, or soul (Skt. atman - Gk. psyche - Heb. nefesh - Ar. nafs) and a spirit (Lat. spiritus - Gk. pneuma - Heb. ruach - Ar. ruh). The spirit is the difference between a living body and a dead one, i.e. that which animates the body, and is considered to survive after bodily death; in other words, the phenomenon of death is nothing but the decoupling or dégagement of the spirit from the body. The self, I or soul, on the other hand, is the seat of (self-)consciousness; in a loose analogy, the spirit is to the soul as a fruit is to its core or kernel—the two are inseparably connected.

Now the soul and the spirit were considered to be different and distinct entities in both early Hebraism and early Christianity. Yet with the passage of time, the two became confused, so that today the soul, the spirit, and the psyche are considered synonymous, and it is not always clear in usage which of the two aspects one is referring to. This situation derives from the fact that both the spirit and the soul survive after death, as well as from the fact that they both mean “breath” in various languages (see the equivalents given above). As we shall see below, however, the distinction between them is a useful one to maintain. In what follows, therefore, the “self” has been consistently used for the “soul” to avoid confusion, and this terminology is adhered to at least throughout this chapter.)

In his famous mystical poem, The Conference of the Birds, the Sufi poet Fariduddin Attar depicts the search of a company of birds for the legendary arch-bird, the Simurgh. This name, meaning “thirty birds,” simultaneously represents the number of birds in the lot, which is also thirty. (Actually, the original name of the poem, Mantiq al-Tayr, can also be translated as “the reasoning of the birds.” Like the Greek Logos, which stands for both “Word” and “Reason,” the Arabic word mantiq signifies both speech and logic.)

Travelling through seven valleys and after many arduous adventures, the birds finally come face to face with the incomparable Simurgh. The climax of the story is also one of the most moving p