Vision of Islam

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Event Name: Vision of Islam
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:07 PM
Transcript Version: 1

Transcript Text

ion and the Sufi tradition in particular but it is precisely these perspectives within Islam that provide the most self conscious reflection of the nature of the tradition. So they are definitely working from an intellectual tradition and it is a classical tradition. The Sufi tradition is not the Sufi tradition that many people now speak ill of but rather most of the scholars of the past, our greatest scholars, did have a perspective which was rooted in their own spirituality and in an interpretation and explanation of Islam based on that, that was in fact the science of tassawuf. So that is not an innovation, in fact it is part of the tradition and that is what they show.


Now in the introduction basically they say the religion was established by the Quran through the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). A Muslim is one who submitted to God’s will, one who follows the religion of Islam. The Quran is a book that got revealed to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) by means of the angel Jibril and this is the basic story. Now to flesh that out. Over 1400 years ago on a mount outside of Makkah in which a man was meditating and an angel came to him and told him Iqra (read) and this was the beginning of the revelation which is called wahy. From that, everything comes. That is the foundation. So the Quran sets this whole thing in motion and now we are on a planet in which one out of every five people believes in the Quran as a revelation from God. So this began with one man given a revelation from an angel. Now the Quran, they say that the Muslim view unlike the Christian view, the Quran is only in Arabic. A Christian will generally say when they speak about the Bible, they will say “well it says in the bible”. A Muslim would never say that about Yusuf Ali’s commentary if they understand Islam. They will say “well the translation says”. They will never say the Quran says. You should not say that because a translation is ultimately an interpretation and therefore no Muslim accepts any translation of the Quran as definitive. There is no definite translation of the Quran because of the nature of the Arabic language and the nature of language in general. Every language has the possibility of multiple interpretations.


I recently finished translating after two years a poem by Imam al Busiri which is 160 lines. I re-translated it three times, literally I translated it first time and sent it to somebody who edited it for me, it came back with a lot of changes, it forced me to go back to it a second time and I went through it again and then the last time I completely just re-translated it. At a certain point I realised that if anybody read Borehey Horeheads who was a surrealistic Argentinian writer and one of the motifs that he often explores is the eternal recurrence of events and I realised that I could be in a Borehesion story where I would just keep translating this thing for infinity because there was always a new possible meaning. There was always a word that could be something else. If you look in a book of synonyms you will find for the same word several different possibilities. Trying to understand exactly what that poet meant when he said this and then the possible syntactical changes. Quran is Arabic, We have given this in Arabic. It is an Arabic Quran. That is why the Quran is Arabiyyah and you do call a translation Quran. It is not even called Quran. The meaning of Quran is it was uttered, revealed, incapacities anybody from imitating it. It was sent to worship Allah, that is the Quran and it is Arabic.


So that is very important and this is why there are many different interpretations of the Bible. If you look at the new American version and then look at King James, they are completely different, sometimes the meaning is completely different. So what do you follow and who determines what it means. There are obviously multiple interpretations of the Quran but if you have completed the 15 different sciences or the 12 according to Ibn Juzai needed to master the Quran before you can interpret it, once you have completed those sciences and your interpretation is congruous with the Arabic language and does not stop to contradict anything that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, it is an acceptable translation so the Quran is open to multiple interpretations, always has been and always will be. He mentions that the Quran was translated into Persian early on which is true but they were more intralinear in notes, they were actually not done for the masses, they were done for the rules so the original interpretation of the Quran was not given to the mass of people. It was the same idea that the Catholic Church held. They kept the Bible in Latin and did not translate it into vernaculars until Lutherhism and Protestantism began that process because they felt that you should master certain sciences before you read the Bible because you will misinterpret it so the idea was do not put it out there for the common people and traditionally that idea was understood in Islam that you can read the Quran for worship but you should not attempt to interpret it until you have mastered certain sciences and then also that the Quran has, he mentions 7 meanings. He is referring to the hadith that says “Quran was revealed in seven different letters” and there is a lot of debate about what they exactly means but there is a hadith in which the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “every ayah has an inward, outward and an overseer” so the idea is that there are meanings. You become an esoterist when you only accept the outward meaning. Sunni Muslims have always believed that the Quran has both inward and outward meanings and neither should be rejected. It is also mentioned that this Quran which created an incredible civilisation addresses simple people and sophisticated people, philosophers and kings as well peasants and shepherds. That is one of the attractions and the powers of the Quran, it literally speaks to the highest and the lowest and there is a common ground that it finds because it is speaking about the most important things that we deal with and also mentioning the Quran spread within 100 years from China all the way to Spain and all of those various people spoke different languages and yet dispute the fact that the Quran was in Arabic, the Quran was able to speak to all of them because it was speaking to their hearts and minds not just their ears, to their tongue. It was speaking about meanings that human beings share and that is why the Quran is a universal book.


One of the things, if you read some other traditions you will notice that in their scriptures there is a great deal of geographical things that really relate to living in the jungle for instance where Islam, if you look at the Quran, it is speaking to people who travel on the ocean despite the fact that Arabs did not travel on the ocean so it speaks to sailors in the middle of the ocean dealing with massive waves. It also speaks to people traveling in the desert. It speaks to people traveling in the mountains, people who live, agriculturalists, pasturalists. It speaks to merchants, it speaks to people who have trades, people who make things by hand so everybody will find themselves in the Quran and the Quran does speak to everyone.


One of the powerful unifying factors of Islam is the fact that it invites all of us with Arabic so Christians for instance have liturgical services in Korean, Japanese, Polish, Sanskrit all these various languages whereas Muslims, their worship is one language so we all share that. So whatever mosque you went to, you will hear the same Quran recited, you will not hear a different Quran and that is a unifying factor for us as one people. Also the Quran is about the same size as the New Testament in terms of actual link although it differs from the Old Testament and the New Testament by consensus. Both of those books were compiled by several different people where the Quran was given by one person and that is in agreement. Even though there are people like Patrician Crone and other scholars who have attempted to say the Quran was put together by a committee of people after the Prophet’s (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) death and they added what they wanted and took out what they wanted. This was in Atlantic Monthly, it has come up a few times. Those are rejected even by the Orientalist people that work within the Orientalist tradition do not accept those theories and Patricia Crone has backtracked quite a bit. She is not saying things like she was three or four years ago. She is teaching in the East Coast now, she was originally at SOAS. She is no longer saying the same things because she was given so much flak by the Orientalist community. When you read those things, you have to understand that those things are not even accepted by the non Muslim scholars of Islam.


Nicholson who taught Arberry in his book on the history of Arabic literature says that we have to admit that the Quran is definitely the word of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). It is what he taught his people and anybody who knows the prolific memories of the Muslims and the Arabs in particular know that this book has been transmitted orally and I will give you an example. Muhammad Hasan Al Dudu who came here and gave a talk here who has probably close to a photographic memory and has memorised several books of hadith. He memorises al Bukhari by heart and I had a handwritten copy of Bukhari that he took a look at and found two mistakes on the first page he was looking at and he pointed them out. That is why traditionally the Muslims depended on people not books themselves and people do not understand that. People are actually more when they have powerful memories and they devote their memories to preserving knowledge. They are actually more trustworthy than the text itself. Scribes make mistakes, whereas a Hafidh does not. He might make a mistake but he will catch himself if he is a true Hafidh. That is why no true Hafidh who masters the Quran needs anybody to interrupt him. He can work it out, if you leave him alone, he will work it out for himself. All of us have seen that, who have prayed behind a really strong Hafidh in taraweeh prayer. A hafidh is someone who memorises the Quran by heart.


The shortest surah has 10 words and the longest one over 6000. Each of the verses is called ayah which means a sign. They go into quite a bit of detail about that. Now one of the interesting differences between the Quran and the Bible is that the Quran is about God. Now that might surprise somebody to hear that the Quran differs from those traditions but if you read the bible you will find a great deal of the Bible does not really talk about God. It talks about history, tribes, people’s problems, families, a lot of things but you will not actually find God mentioned for several pages in sections of the bible. In the Quran on the other hand, no matter what God is talking about, He will always bring it back to Allah and one of the ways He does that is by using His divine names, He will end the ayah by saying He is the Merciful, Giving, He is over all things Capable, so the Quran  always bring us back to that most important subject which is Allah and that is why if you look at a red lettered Quran you will notice that every single page in the entire Quran is filled with the name of God. If you look at a red lettered Bible you will be quite surprised to find that a good deal of the Bible does not make mention of God. That is not to say anything wrong about the Bible but it is an interesting difference between the two books.


One of the things that he mentions here is that people who are native speakers feel a propriety relationship to the Quran in other words it is mine alone and nobody else’s particularly Arabs. Arabs definitely have that feeling that if you do not understand Arabic, you cannot really understand the Quran. I personally do not believe that is true. I think there are ajamy people who do not know Arabic but are actually more moved by the Quran than many many Arabs and I know some people especially South Asians who have seen their mothers or fathers weep profusely reading the Quran and they don’t even know the meanings of the Quran but they know it is God’s words and that is what is impacting them than the fact that they are reading God’s revelation and that is why there is a famous story of one of the ajam who heard the Quran and began to weep and one of the Arabs said to him you are an ajamy and “how can you weep by hearing the Quran”. He said “my tongue is ajamy but my heart is Arabi”. The heart can understand things that the mind does not necessarily understand. This is important also. A general rule is that a person with no grounding in the Islamic world view, if they pick up a translation of the Quran will have their prejudices confirmed and I think that unfortunately that is very true. If you go to the Quran already with prejudices you will find exactly what you are looking for, I knew it, they do it and it is right there. They are looking for that so they found it and when you are looking for something you are often blinded to the other things so prejudices can be confirmed by the Quran. If you don’t allow the Quran to speak to you that is why the Quran begins “this is guidance for people who already have plenty” and it says “this is a book, there is no doubt in it”. It already declares its position right from the start. If you have doubt about this book, it is not going to benefit you. If you believe automatically that it is not a revelation from God then you are going to read it with that perspective. If however you go to it and I say I want to find out “is this a revelation from God?”. It is not that you have doubt, you don’t know anything about it and you simply want to see for yourself so going sceptically and going objectively are very different and you have very different experiences in taking these routes.


Another thing is that the Quran and the world view of the Quran is definitely connected to the Arabic language. The Arabic language is a Semitic language, it is the language that Moses and Jesus spoke. They spoke Semitic languages. The route structures of Aramaic and Hebrew are very similar in Arabic. Hebrew scholars are forced to use Arabic dictionaries by their own admittance to interpret the Hebrew language. The reason for that is that the Rabbi’s prohibited putting down a great deal the midrash. They have an oral tradition that was not permitted to be put down and they never bothered to do any dictionaries. The Arabs began to write dictionaries immediately and literally in the 8th century the first Arabic dictionary, which is already a sophisticated dictionary unlike the English dictionary, we find our first dictionary is in the 16th century and it is a bad dictionary. It is a lousy dictionary whereas the Arabs were already writing extremely sophisticated dictionaries by 100 years of Islam. Another thing about Arabic is that it was preserved by poetry. Aishah memorised 12,000 lines of poetry from just one poet. That is not an exaggeration because I know people who have memorised far more than 12,000 lines personally so I know that is not an exaggeration.


On page 19, there is one expression there that I thought inappropriate and you can see it for yourself but I crossed it out in mine and I do not want to repeat it. They were using an English idiom and I do not think they intended anything by it but I don’t believe it is appropriate to say in conjunction with the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Let me put it this way. The Quran is a miracle of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). The Quran is his miracle, in other words the Quran is part of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) because he is the first and greatest Muslim.


Now next is the Quran. It has 114 chapters, it is a non linear book and that becomes problematic for Western people that are used to a book like Genesis that begins in the beginning and goes by history. You read the Quran and it does not begin in the beginning. It begins exactly where Allah wants to begin it. It begins Alif Laam Meem and nobody knows what that means which I think is one of the greatest proofs of the Quran because I don’t think that anybody can think of it, to start a book with letters that nobody knows what they mean. To show you that over everybody who knows something there is somebody who knows more. You have to do to the book humbly because it is already telling you that you do not know everything. You know very little so that is important to remember.


The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) on the bottom of page 20, it mentions that is some traditions that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) contemplated suicide. That is not true, he did not contemplate suicide. He was deeply troubled which is another proof of his prophecy because one of the things about false prophets is that they want to convince you that they are sent from God whereas the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) his first response was what is happening to me. When it was confirmed by his wife and by Waraqah, the cousin of his wife, at that point it hit home what was happening but initially he was very troubled and it was a deep shock. He was not reluctant at first to submit, they mention that also reluctance at first, he was not reluctant in the true sense of that word. He was troubled and he was worried about the responsibility. You can see that in the Quran where it says “don’t try to keep up with the revelation” because he used to try, because he was so worried that he would forget something or that he would not get the whole thing so he had a deep sense of debt and burden of bearing this message.


The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was born in the Arabian Peninsula. He was born into an environment of idolatory. He disdained idolatry early on. He did not like the idols, he never swore by the idols, he never prostrated to an idol. He had a natural inclination to tawheed or unity of God. There was a tradition on the Arabian Peninsula called the Hunafah, the hanif in Arabic means one who naturally inclines to God. These people who knew that God was one, they believed they were on the path of Abraham. They did not follow Jews or Christians but they believed in this unity of God. There were several of them but they were really not many. They were several in a sense that you could count them on your fingers but there were not a great deal of them. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) inclined towards that tradition but he had no revelation until he was 40 and then he began to have true dreams. He used to go to his mountain and do a type of emptying out or to remove any traces of idolatry of his people. It does not mean traces, it means avoiding or shunning idolatory. It was this purification work and that is when relevation comes. The Arab tribes considered themselves, we consider and believe that the Arabs are descendents of Ishmael. Ishmael is the son of Ibrahim or Abraham. Ishmael was the first born. He was the son of Hajar and he was according to the Bible, “he would sire a great nation”. That is what the Torah says. One of the things that Martin Lings says is that the Torah is a sacred book not a profane book and God will not put great with anything profane. In other words, he will sire a great nation, that means they would be a great nation in God. Another thing is that the official Jewish doctrine, and a lot of people do not know this, but the official Jewish doctrine of some of the greatest Jewish rabbis including Minmodes, Nihamidies, several of the greatest commentators of the Torah believe that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was a divinely inspired person and that his revelation was from providence. They actually believed it was from God but they believed it was not specifically for them. They believed that it was a fulfillment of Zachariah’s prophecy which is in the book of Zachariah. You can read this in books of Jewish theology that are not influenced by the politics in the Middle East. The Jews believed when Zachariah said the teaching this pure teaching of what was given to the Jews would spread to the East and to the West. The traditional interpretation of that is that it was Christianity that went to the West and Islam that went to the East and the traditional interpretation was also that Christians were half prosletise in other words their understanding was marred because of the trinity whereas Muslims had a full understanding of the unity of God an they were in a better position to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah who would bring tawheed to the entire world.


The Jewish position of some of the greatest Rabbis is that Islam is a vehicle of providence and that it was a way of preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah. Now obviously we believe the messiah was Isa (Jesus) and so do the Christians but it is interesting to note that is a position. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) who is a son of Ishmael when he was given this message at the age of 40 initially he just spread it secretly and then at a certain point Allah commanded him to go out and teach it to the people and he did. The response that the Arabs gave “those who disbelieve say these are fables of old” in other words these are fairy tales which is very interesting because this is a very modern thing to say about revelation so it is interesting that the Quran dealt with that type of response.


One of the things also that they mention which is in Surah Naml “we have already been promised this before us and those who went before us” (27:68) meaning the Jews and Christians, these are just fables. Some of the Arabs did not believe this. The turning point for the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) comes when he makes the hijrah. This is a major turning point for his teaching because after 13 years of oppression he makes the hijrah, goes to Yathrib, this resulted from a delegation that was sent to him. The Aws and Khazraj were two Yemeni tribes who had migrated many generations before to this city called Yathrib. It was an agricultural city largely date palms and they had battles with each other, they were constantly fighting. It was inter-tribal warfare and they were getting really tired of it and they wanted an end to this violence. There was a Jewish community living there and they tended to be traders although some of them had date palms also. They controlled the market place in Madinah and they used to tell the Arabs about the final Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam), how he would show up and he was going to show up in this city and that he would remove all their idols and that he would purify their land and bring the true teaching. Now these Jews believed that it would be a Jewish Prophet so when the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) emerged they said to each other “maybe this is the man that the Jews were talking about” so they wanted to go and see for themselves and when they did they ended up becoming Muslim and submitting to the Prophet’s (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) dream and then the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) migrated to them and these incredible bonds of brotherhood occurred between those who migrated and the people of Madinah. The hijrah marks the first date, it begins year 1 for the Muslims so in a sense this is the beginning of real time for us when Islam becomes successful, established in the earth. That is year 1 for the Muslims.


In terms of tradition, we have three types of traditions:


  • Quran which we believe is wahy, revelation from God spoken through the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) from Jibril
  • Revelation that is spoken through the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). This is called hadith. This means that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is speaking inspired. He is inspired by God. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) does not speak from his own passion, this is revelation coming to him. Even his hadeeth is revelation. We believe that, that is why you will not find any table talk, you will not find any trite conversation. You will not find any vigilantes in the hadith. All of the hadith have meanings and implications for the lives of Muslims. The hadith are divided into three basic essential types:


    1. Ahad which are narrated by solitary transmitters, 1,2, 3 or 4. Those have less strength.
    2. Mutawatir which is multiply narrated transmitters. There are only a few hundred of them. Those have the same status of the Quran in terms of absolute belief that they come from the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and you should not reject them. An example of that is the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) prohibited the killing of children and women in war. That is multiply transmitted. There are so many narrations for that it is impossible for that to be a mistake. That is why that is agreed upon by scholars.
    3. Hadith Qudsi which is revelation from God but the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) transmits it as a hadith. It does not have the same status as the Quran in that we cannot recite it in the prayer but we believe also that it is directly from God. An example of that is God says according to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) “every action is for the son of Adam except fasting. It is Mine alone”. Because Allah is the only One who does not eat or drink in reality. So when you fast you are doing an action, in a sense it is the closest thing we do that has a divine quality because only God does not eat or drink, we all need to eat and drink. That is one interpretation, there are many others.


We also believe that the Quran is eternal and uncreated. That means the meanings of the Quran in other words it is not the literal words in the book but we only say that when we teach. We still say that the Quran is uncreated. We believe that the Quran, what is between these two covers, is the uncreated word of God. We can say that but when we say that we have an understanding that it does not literally mean the letters and the ink. It is the meaning that those words convey.


On page 24 they mentioned about Sayyidina Ali not giving up his claim. They are giving a Shia perspective. That is not a Sunni perspective. We believe that Imam Ali in fact took bayah with Abu Bakr which he says there and the Shia admit that but we believe he took it believing that Abu Bakr was the rightly guided caliph and that Abu Bakr was better than Ali. There is a hadith in Sahih Bukhari in which Ali clearly says that Abu Bakr was better than him and so was Umar.


Another important thing that they mention here is that generally the Muslims lived with many different religions. They did not persecute religions. There are four instances, it does occur, but they are always rejected by the scholars and they were also clearly done by rulers that were manipulating situations for their own political advantage, short sightedness that lead to a lot of problems but Muslims generally treated other religions very well, kept their Churches, Synagogues and Temples intact including Zoroastrians, Hindus and Buddhists. Afghanistan which was a very profound Buddhist country before the Muslims got there. The Afghanis converted from Buddhism and some of the greatest Muslims came out of the Buddhist tradition. In fact Bugh was a centre for Buddha logic and those logicians became Muslim and introduced interestingly enough into Islamic theology some Buddhist logical formations that do not exist in Greek logic. Greek logic does not have a neither a or b type scenario whereas Buddhist logic does. In traditional Islamic theology you have situations where you do have that neither a nor b. I really believe that it does come out of the influence that the Buddhist logicians had on Islam. I actually wrote a paper “how the Buddhists saved Islam” which was about that but somebody said do not submit it as you will get too much flak.


Another thing which is important is that generally Muslim rulers did not want people to become Muslim. The reason they did not want them to become Muslim is because they lost revenue and they also had to deal with the egalitarian nature of Islam so that is a fact. If you do not believe that, if you have some kind of romantic utopian version of Islam, it is a fantasy. All you have to do is read history. The Muslims were very honest in their history. You actually had to join an Arab tribe to become a Muslim and the person who ended that was Umar bin Abdul Aziz during Bani Ummayah. Before that you literally had to join an Arab tribe. You were a maula which was an inferior position. There is a movement in Iraq called the Shuhubia which means the people’s movement or the popular movement and these were all non-Arabs who got fed up and went into the revolt against it. So there were problems early on. There were ethnic problems, tribal problems, this is the human condition. The beauty of Islam is that it was always redressing and the ulema were always redressing these problems. This is what I love about Islam. You have in this country 100 years ago Rabbis and Priests writing treaties that black slavery was Biblically sanctioned. You can find that, I guarantee you, you can look it up in books on slavery in this country. Muslims have never had that, we do not have a history ever of our ulema, justifying oppression textually. It just does not exist. On the contrary, they really wrote vehemently against those things. Jahil wrote a book about the preference of blacks over whites because he was a black man. It was more than if you look historically there were a lot more great black people than white people and he has a whole book to prove it. There is a beautiful book by Ibnul Jawzi called Tanveer al Ghubish “removing any darkness concerning the virtues of black people in Ethopia”. This was an Iraqi imam who wrote an entire book showing all the virtues of black people and one of the things that he says in that book is that anybody that narrates the Israeli view that blacks were the accursed descendents of Ham, there is no textual basis for that and the Quran rejects that. Then he says the reason blacks are dark skinned is because they have been living so long in the Southern hemisphere that they have developed protective skin. He actually says that, he gives a scientific analysis which is generally what people believe now.




We are not supposed to interpret the Quran but we are supposed to reflect on its meanings. Please clarify.


A great deal about the Quran is reflection. Haven’t they looked at the camel, how it was created? Haven’t they looked at the heavens, how they were raised up? Haven’t they looked at the mountains, how they have been placed standing firm? Haven’t they looked at the earth, how We have stretched it out, so remind them. Those are things to think about. You do not need to interpret those verses, they are very clear. Much of the Quran is very clear. However, when the Quran says if you fear disobedience or incalcutrance from your spouse then warn her, abandon the bed and then strike her, you are not allowed to interpret that, it is haram for you to interpret that, nor can you apply that ruling in your house because it is in the Quran. It is haram for you to do that. Muslims have always believed that. You need to ask scholars the interpretation of that verse and then you are surprised to find out that it does not mean what you probably thought it meant. That is what I mean by not interpreting the Quran. Those are the verses that deal with actual behaviour. In those verses, you must go to scholars because you might completely misunderstand it. For instance, gheebah it says “don’t let some of you backbite against others”. You have to understand there is a ruling. There are seven situations in which that law does not apply. Then you have to know the definition of backbiting. You might think it means speaking about things that are not true. On the contrary it means things that are true. So you have to understand and that comes from scholars. It comes from people who understand the Quran so that is what I mean. Verses in the Quran that Allah says “in the creation of the heavens and the earth alternating in the night and day are signs for people who have deep reflection, innermost core” you can reflect on that. The Quran is filled with things. You can read it for that. Do not try and derive rulings from it, that is all.


What is normative?


Normative is what the religion says about itself. It is not telling you how Muslims behave, it is telling you how they are supposed to behave and that is a much fairer way of looking at a religion. It is to look at the idea and not the reality. Saeed Hussain Nasr wrote a book “Islam: Ideas and realities”. America has an ideal, freedom, liberty and justice for all. That is a beautiful ideal, we can all agree with that. Unfortunnately that has not been the reality of America. Intelligent Americans are the first to admit that but there does seem to be an attempt and certainly the civil war is an example of that. The freeing of slaves in this country, the civil rights. It has taken a long time to get to things that Islam aimed at 1400 years ago but there is an effort so ideals and realities are very different. The Geneva convention is beautiful ideas about how to treat prisoners of war. The reality is that prisoners of war are treated like animals and worse than animals all the time. Sensory deprivation is torture. It is called passive torture and it actually drives people insane.


In some Christian texts, it says descendents of Issac were great people and the descendents of Ishmael caused great havoc on the earth.


Not true, there is good in both the sons. There is some bad offspring that came out of there but you cannot blame the parents. You can sometimes blame them for what their children do if they were neglectful but you cannot blame them for what their grandchildren do. That is not their fault.


Could you explain what you meant the “Quran was his miracle”?


In other words to say that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is not central to the Islamic teaching is wrong. To say he was a messenger and gave his message and that is the end of it, that is not true. Ibn Taymiyyah was once asked “can you say hadith not been for the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) the world would not have been created” in his book on Tasawuf. Ibn Taymiyyah said that statement has truth in it. The reason is that every thing that is less virtuous serves the more virtuous. So the example he gives is that you kill animals for the benefit of humans because humans are higher. We are higher, we do not believe like Helen Caldicott, she thinks all animals are equal. A dog has as much right to be here as a human being. A dog does have the right to be here and does have rules in Islam legislated for protecting animals and things like that but if an animal has more right to be here and that is why if a dog threatened the life of a human, you kill the dog. Whereas if a human threatened the life of a dog, you do not kill the human. I mean he is doing something wrong, but you don’t kill him. Even this society accepts that as a principle so the idea that all animals are equal is not true. The same is true about human beings. Not all humans are equal. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is the highest human being and the Prophets, all of them are higher than human beings. For that reason we have less importance than a Prophet.


Now the reason Allah created human beings, there are three reasons given in the Quran:


  1. He created us to cultivate the earth
  2. He created us to inherit the earth and to leave it as a legacy to those who come after us so we inherit it from our fathers and mothers and we leave it as a legacy for our children.
  3. The most important and primary reason is that we were created to know God. No one knows God better than the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and for that reason he is the most important human being ever created because he has fulfilled more perfectly the purpose for which we were created which is to know God. So from that perspective, he is central and the centrality of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) will be shown on the day of judgment when all human beings will recognise the station he was given and Muslims believe that. To say somehow he is secondary I do not accept that. I do not because that is not what I was taught.


Can you give a Quran to a non Muslim in Arabic?


I would not give the Quran to a non Muslim in Arabic. It is not permitted to give the Quran to a child if it has Arabic in it because a child does not have wudu and it is an obligation to have wudu if you touch the Arabic Quran so I would not give the Quran to any non Muslim unless it was something like Thomas Cleary “The Essential Quran” because what Thomas Clealry did in that book, he did not put any of what could be called the hard verses, the verses that really do need interpretation.


You said the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was the first and best Muslim but the Quran describes Musa and others as saying “I am Muslim”.


Yes they were but the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “I was a Prophet and Adam was still uncreated” and that is a sound narration before any of the other Prophets. He has a relationship to Isa which is very interesting. Isa is destined as being like Adam and the Prophet is a Prophet after Adam and yet he was created before Adam and Isa is like Adam and Isa was a Prophet before the Prophet and the Prophet is the last Prophet yet Isa comes before the Prophet. So it is a very interesting relationship with Isa. It says in the Quran the likeness of Isa is like Adam so Isa is like Adam in relationship to the Prophet as well as in relation to the creation because he comes after the Prophet yet he is not a Prophet after the Prophet. He is a Prophet before the Prophet and Adam was a Prophet before the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) yet the Prophet was before Adam. So it is a very interesting relationship. That is something called “daughter of my idea” so I have never seen that written but it is something that occurred to me once.


Last grains of sand: You always have to ask yourself where you are in relation to that because your life is somewhere. If you look at those grains of sand like your breaths. You have a certain amount that are decreed for you and every breath you take is close to the last one and then one day that last breath comes and you never know. A baby is right there if they live a normal life. So it is a nice thought to think about if you watch a sand clock. Sand clocks are so amazing because they are true than these other clocks that give you an illusion of things returning. You can turn them back upside down.


Chapter 2


The hadith of Jibril is really considered probably one of the most important hadith in all of the hadith literature and the reason for that is it is a summation of the entire Islamic teaching. It sums up Islam. It was also a hadith in which the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was told 80 days before he died so it is very close to the last period that he was with us in physical flesh. The hadith is related by Umar ibnul Khattab. Umar is the second caliph, he is also the second closest person to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in terms of companionship, Abu Bakr being the first. He begins by telling us that they were sitting with the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and then he said a man in white clothes, stark black hair, very striking person emerges and he says we could not see any traces of travelling on him.


Now what is interesting about that remark is that this is a desert town, Madinah, there are only really a few thousand people living in this town. It is a village more than a city. It is considered a city by Arabian standards but it is certainly not a place in which people did not know each other. People knew everybody there. Now when this man comes in white robes very clean, very fresh, so signs of travelling, they thought that was strange, this is why he mentions it because where did he come from. He would have had to have showered, changed his clothes. Nobody knew where this man came from and nobody had ever seen him before. He sits down and places his knees against the knees of the Prophet which is very intimate, then he places his hands on the Prophet’s (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) thighs. Now in this hadith which is the one that is the famous it does not mention it, it just says he put his two palms on his thighs. But there is another hadith that says on the Prophet’s (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) thighs. Now there are some reasons for doing that. It would have been a very intimate thing to do as if he would have known the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam), he would not have done that. The way he sat was an eastern way of sitting. Traditionally that was a way a student sat, in madrassah it would have been considered rude not to sit like that. Obviously if you have noticed Persian people that can sit like that for long periods of time. It is very commonplace in some Muslim countries where they still sit on the floor.


So then he says “tell me O Muhammad about Islam”. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) says Islam is shahada. That is the first thing he says. That you testify that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger which is an act. It is not a belief, shahada is not a belief, it is an act. It is an act done with the tongue. People forget that in Islam words are considered actions. Imam Malik said when you realise your words are actions, if you have intelligence your words diminish because you are taken to account for your actions. The more words you have, the more accountability you have. He said it is to say the shahada. That is the first pillar, rukun, a rukun is something that you depend on. It is something that holds other things up. Then he said you pray, that you pray five times a day. Then he said you pay zakat, alms tax, you fast during Ramadhan and then you make the pilgrimmage to the House if you are able to. At that point the man says “you spoke the truth”. Umar said” we were really dumbstruck at that point”. He is asking him and then he is confirming what he is saying. This is very strange because he is asking him a question so now one of the things that we learn is, a question is a teaching device. A teacher will ask a question not because he does not know the answer but because he wants something else to happen so he asks him. This question and they still do not know who this person is. Then he says “now tell me about faith”. So we are moving to another dimension of Islam. The first is Islam then he says now tell me about imaan. So here is a distinction between Islam and imaan which is going to be very important. Then he tells him faith is that you believe in Allah so now he is not telling him what imaan is, he is telling him what the objects of imaan are because imaan in itself is a mystery. You cannot explain in words what imaan is. The next best thing you can tell is you can explain the objects of belief. Belief itself the ulema say is tasdeeq. It is to verify or affirm or have a conviction in one’s heart about something. This is what belief is but he gives the objects of faith. He tells him it is a belief in Allah, His Angels, His books, his Messengers, the last day and that you have faith in this measuring out of the world that everything is determined and proportioned and that you believe in both good and evil which is very interesting because this is a problem in religion. It is called the odyssey which is the problem of evil. For Christians it has probably been the bugbea