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
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:
- Ahad which are narrated by solitary transmitters, 1,2, 3 or 4. Those have less strength.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
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:
- He created us to cultivate the earth
- 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.
- 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.
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 bugbear of Christianity of trying to explain the presence of evil in the world. It has never been a problem for the Muslims. The Muslims are not maniciest, they do not believe in duality. Muslims have never believed in this idea of two forces antagonistically working in this world. Muslims believe that good and evil are creations of Allah. Allah is above good and evil in terms of the scales by which we judge them because we do to have the ability to judge good and evil in reality. That is why we have been given standards, killing is bad. We do not kill. Stealing is bad, we do not steal. But there are other instances where stealing becomes acceptable so there are situational ethics. These are instances where killing is acceptable, is it murder or retribution? What is going on? So the act in itself is not evil. What is evil is the reason and intention which is if it is wrong or oppressive. So it is very interesting, that is part of the creed that Muslims believe in and we are going to get into that in a lot of detail when we get to the section on imaan because it is very important.
The he said again he’d spoken the truth. He says now tell me about doing what is beautiful and ihsan is a very difficult word to translate in Arabic. If you look at the root word ihsanah it means to be beautiful. That is what it means. Ihsan if you look at the word ahsanah it means to make something beautiful. It is called the transitive form of the intransitive world. If you know English grammar, an intransitive very does not take an object. A transitive word takes an object so hasunah takes no object. You say hasanah zaydun. Zaydun is good. If you said ahsahnah zaydun, you need an object. What did Zayd do that was good? Ahsanah zaydun illan amr. Zayd did good to Amr so there the idea then in ihsan is that it is doing virtuous deeds. It is an act of bringing virtue into the world, it is the highest thing in Islam. By doing virtuous deeds you make the world more beautiful.
Now there is also an interesting ethical theory that comes from a man Chisholm who said that ethics is actually a branch of aesthetics which is interesting. In philosophy, that is studying beauty, what makes things beautiful. Like I was driving on the way here this morning and I looked up on the hill and there were all these poppies. It is the state flower. Poppies are very beautiful and the way the golden poppy is mixed in with the green right now is stunning. What is it that in us that recognises and sometimes fails to recognise, but what is in us that sees the world as beautiful and what is in us that sees things as ugly because had there been a bunch of garbage on the side of the hill as opposed to flowers, I would have had a different experience. Something is incongruous. It does not fit in and that is the essence of aesthetics. It is about fitting in. The essence of virtuous actions is that they are actions that fit properly into the world. That is why at the essence of Islamic teaching is the concept of adab. Adab is comportment. It is appropriate behaviour. Appropriate behaviour is behaviour done in proper proportions. That is why adab also means literature because what literature is, is the use of words appropriately. You are putting words into their proper place and that is what an adeeb is.
When an adeeb uses words in a way, you see if you take a poem in Arabic, Persian or English. If you take a poem like death not be proud, thou some have called thee mighty and dreadful for thou art not so. If you begin to look at the movement of those words, the power is in the placing of the words because if I said death be mighty not, it loses all of its meaning and so language becomes meaningful when words are put into their proper places and the more appropriate the words are in those places the more powerful the impact those words have on the human heart. The same is true for the world itself. The more things are in a natural state the more powerful the experience. That is why everybody and Robert Frost has a beautiful poem about people. Looking at the ocean ever thought what is behind them is land is much more varied and interesting. Why do they keep staring out at the ocean and not turn round and look at the land? There is a lot more to look at. It is the mystery and majesty of it, it is the power of creation itself and the ocean is one of the most powerful things in the world. That is why the Arabs when they want to talk about something vast, they say “it is an ocean”. The Arabs say the “Quran is an ocean, there are no shores to that ocean”, a shoreless ocean, you cannot even imagine that.
So doing good in the world is beautifying the world so he asks him what you are doing and that is what it is about so he asks him “doing beautiful means you should worship God as if you see him”. If you think about what that means, what that means is if you can imagine that you are actually seeing God, how would you behave in the world. How would you treat other people? Other creatures of God? How would you treat God’s creation. If you go to somebody’s house you don’t spit on their carpet, you do not urinate in the corner of the room. Why? Because it is not your house and you have to behave with proper comportment in the house. The better behaviour that you have, the more likely that he will invite you back so the idea of being in the world as if you see God is the idea that you are a guest in a dominion that belongs to God and that if you actually behave in the world as if you see Him you will behave appropriately. You will behave with excellent manners, you will behave beautifully and that is the essence of ihsan.
Then he says and even if you do not see Him at least you know that He sees you. So the highest stage of ihsan is really to be as if you see God but if you do not at least you know He sees you so that your behaviour is still appropriate. Then he said “tell me about the hour” and the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “the one being questioned does not know more than the one asking the question”. In other words the moment that the world ends is a secret and so then he says “tell me about it signs, marks”. So this is the signs of the latter days. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “the slavegirl gives birth to her mistress” The ulema have always considered this a very unusual statement. The ulema have gone to three dominant interpretations. One of them is that it is the turning upside down of social order, that right becomes wrong. Wrong becomes right. High people become low. Low people become high. The idea of a mistress giving birth to a slave, if you invert that, it is the servant who gives birth to her master. It is an inversion to reality. You see the slave girl give birth to her mistress.
One of the interpretations also is that children will become completely rebellious against their parents which in Confucian understanding is the worst possible sign in a human society, when filial piety no longer exists because the whole social order is based on the authority of the family. The thing about families is that families are not just. Children are in a despotic situation, parents are tyrants basically but what the ethesis say is that justice is only necessary in the absence of love so the reason that we tolerate family situations is because of that other element that exists which is love in other words we know that the parent is doing what they do out of love for the child. So a parent does not allow a child to eat what is harmful candy of whatever or does not allow the child to watch television. These are apparently arbitrary moves on behalf of the parents to the child so the child experiences a type of tyranny. I always loved the one where the child is crawling and the parent comes and just picks it up and goes another direction. If you just look at that total act of despotism, that is a real act of arbitrary despotic behaviour. But obviously there is a reason and that is why it is not tyrannical. It is on the contrary, it is benevolent.
Then the man went away. After we had waited a time, some say it was three days, it was a period of time at which point the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “do you know who the questioner was Umar?”. It is interesting that he waited a few days. This is also a sign that the sahaba did not ask the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) unneccesary questions because you would think Umar would have said “who was that Ya Rasulullah?” but they were not like that. They were people that asked what was absolutely necessary to ask.
The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “this was Jibril who has come to teach you your religion”. The meaning of that is that this hadith teaches us the religion. That is the whole religion right there. Iman, islaam, ihsan and signs of the last day. I think it is a really interesting way of looking at it, the way Dr Chittick and Dr Murata are looking at it as these are dimensions. You have four dimensional reality which is what we are in, you have the three dimensions with breadth, depth and that is what we experience here if you have binocular vision, one eyed people do not have that depth and perception but we have depth and perception. If you add time which is the fourth dimension that what this hadith deals with is these four dimensions. The dimension that is the horizontal dimension is Islam. That is the most basic, that is the foundation. The vertical dimension is imaan or faith because that is the focus towards the heavens so your behaviour is Islam, the reason you do the behaviour is imaan, and then ihsan gives it depth. It is what gives it depth. It adds that dimension to it and then it plays out in time so we are in time creatures and one of the things we experience about time is signs. The world is signs. Ali said “all of time is two days, a day for you and a day against you. Have thankfulness or gratitude towards Allah for what was for you and be patient about what is against you”. The basic experience of the movement of time is a recognition that there are signs that come into the world that indicate the type of nature of the age we are in. Certainly our age is in many ways a very dark age because people are so distant from scared truths and also have an arrogance that this is the best time ever.
The next idea here is deen because he said “he came to teach you your deen”. What does deen mean? The Arabic word comes from a root word dana which means to discipline. It has the meaning to consider guilty. Idana is when somebody is guilty of something. It also has the idea of debt, indebtedness. Dain is debt, madeen is somebody who is in debt. Da’in is the one who you owe debt to. It also has the meaning of gentle rain that keeps coming back. The religion, at the essence of religion is an idea that it is a life giving rain to the spirit that keeps coming back. It is something that keeps coming back and is reintroduced to humanity again and again. At the essence of the human experience has been these rains that have come, revelations have come, heavenly rains that nurture hearts, that bring people back to life, that bring their lives to a spiritual fruition. The idea also of debt which is also interesting because there is an idea that if somebody loans you money, you feel indebted to them. The idea here is that God has loaned you your life. It is a loan and the beauty of a loan is that it is not yours but while you have it you can do with it what you want. Now obviously if someone loans you money with a stipulation, if you go to the bank and you tell them “I want 100,000 dollars to buy a house” and then you go and score a kilo of cocaine with the money, obviously you have broken the contract. They would not just give it to you like that. They do not do it like that anymore but generally the idea of taking a loan as a trust. There is a reason why that person has given you a loan, generally people want to know what the loan is for. They ask you “what you do need it for?” The more honourable the reason, the more likely for the loan so the idea of God giving you a loan, a goodly loan, it is the loan of your life and then the beauty of it is on one hand it is a loan, on the other hand, He offers the chance to sell this thing that He is giving you back to Him. That is an honour according to the Quran “Allah bought from the believers” so the idea of God buying from you something is meaning that He is putting you, there is parity in the relationship. It is not that you are an equal to God but in this relationship, He is making you an equal. He is making you someone that has gone into a transaction with Him and the sale is your soul and that is a high thing. So the idea of giving the soul back to God and He pays you for it and that is why when that verse was revealed, everybody was happy except Abu Bakr. He began to weep and the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) looked at him and said “why are you weeping?”. He said “How can we sell back to God what already belongs to God?” So he understood it at a deeper level than everybody else which is why he is Abu Bakr. He understood that, this is an honour from God, that is all it is and so this idea of this debt, that you are morally obliged to pay this debt back and that is what deen is. It is the payback, it is what you do as a way of paying back this immense loan of consciousness, of a heart, that He gave you human consciousness and this is how you pay it back.
Now in the Quran the word “deen” is used a lot. He uses it also when he describes the deen of the King of Egypt in Surah Yusuf “deen of Malik” in the deen of Malik which means the law so it has the idea of law as well. Also when Musa, Firoun says to Musa “let me kill Musa, I am afraid he is going to change your deen” so Firoun says he is worried that Musa is going to attempt to change your deen and then he says “or he will sow corruption on the earth” so this is how “you have your deen, we have our deen” so there is an idea of different deens. That has to do with transaction or how you live your life. Now there is an idea that the deen with God is the same. It has always been the same that is why deen is different to Shariah. Shariah is law, the law changes. So the law of Moses Is not the law of Jesus. The law of Jesus is not the law of Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Each one of the Prophets has a different law but their deen is the same. That is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “Prophets are of one father but their mothers different”. There are two meanings to that:
- That they come from Ibrahim (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Abraham is the father of the Prophets.
- Their deen is one but their laws differ.
So the deen is tawheed. That is really the father of us all. We are united in this idea of the unity of God. Then the Shariah which are the laws differ and Allah says “We never sent a Messenger before thee save we revealed to him saying there is no God but I so worship Me”. So that is the essence of all of these religious traditions and even according to Dr Cleary. He says that the Buddha was also teaching tawheed as well. One of the things that he says is that the Buddha did not give a word for it because what he said was that his society was so inundated with idolatry the only way he could describe reality was without any attributes at all because these people were so immersed. So he described it in a non descript way of speaking about ultimate reality. The source of all things and we find the same in Daoism. We find these teachings even if they do not have the theistic concept that you find in Western traditions. In the Eastern traditions you do find this idea of an ultimate underlying reality that is the course of all things and that is why even in the Dao it says in the beginning “there was one”. There was the external Dao and then there came two which is the aswaj, creation of pairs which Allah said “we created everything in pairs” and then from the pairs came myriad forms. Two becomes three. All of these religions are teaching this unity so he goes then into three dimensions. What he says is if you can look at the three dimensions or domains of selfhood, the most external dimension is connected to what appears so the outward form, the zahir.
People do things in the world and actions can be analysed and discussed without reference to the people so you can look at an action and you can actually talk about an action without any reference to the person. That is the most outward form. So if somebody hates somebody else, we can talk about “I saw a person hit another person” you do not have to talk about why they hit them, we do not have to talk about who they were. We can talk about a physical act that occured in the world between two people first the subject and second the object. So then you move to the next dimension which is knowledge. It has to do with looking at the thing that is happening an understanding something about the thing so what does it mean when somebody hits another person. You begin to look at understanding the action itself and then you move into what is the intention behind the action. What is the reason why somebody is doing something. All of these relate to the dimensions of imaan, Islam and ihsaan. So you have dimension of human experience that has to do with knowledge, understanding of a world view so that is about faith, it is how you view the world and then given that you view the world in a certain way, what are the motives? You can have a person that believes in Allah and they are doing the outward forms of Islam but they still have riyaa which is hidden shirk which is doing something for the sake of somebody else and there are two types of riyaa. One is riyaa al mukhlis which is where you do something only for other people and the other is called riyaa al mushrik. The first one is worse than the second. The second one is when you do it for God but you are also thinking about what other people are thinking. So you can have faith in God but your motives are still problematic and we all know in ourselves and we all know in other people do actions in this world and then you find out there was an ulterior motive behind it. So what you are looking at here then is these three dimensions. You can have an understanding of how we should behave which has to do with imaan and Islam. I should pray five times a day. We should understand why we should do that because God has commanded me to and there comes the element of faith but then the actual movement of my own inner heart to doing that action solely for the sake of God is the realm of ihsan. So these are dimensions he is talking about and she is talking about. It is very interesting because that is part of the eight fold noble path in Buddhism as well, the right understanding, having the correct understanding of the world and then the right action and right reason.
Now he talks about Islamic learning here and one of the things I really like what he and she says is that the Quran says “over everyone who has knowledge there is somebody who ultimately has more knowledge” so he and she mentions the idea of a person in a village in Egypt that goes down to Cairo, memorises the Quran and learns a bit of fiqh and hadith. When he goes back to his village, he is like a big alim. But it is relative, when his Shaykh comes to the village suddenly he is back to being an insignificant student. He might not have even been that good at the madrassah but in the eyes of other people because knowledge has that relative aspect to it that some people have immense amounts of knowledge, some people have less amounts and some people have a little bit. Each degree one is moving up and that is why Allah elevates people in degrees according to their knowledge and according to their right actions. “Allah raises people who believe and were given knowledge in degrees” so that is very important which is why Muslims traditionally have always respected teachers. He mentions that there were no degrees offered. I liked what he and she said about ijaza, the permission to teach. They really felt that degrees and things like that would corrupt the intentions. That is one of the things that Shaykh Muhammad Amin who is one of my teachers in fiqh said “do not give degrees because it corrupts the intention of the students when they come to study”. That is why if you look at universities today, if suddenly all the universities said “O by the way, we are not giving any degrees anymore” how many people would show up to class so learning becomes a means to achieve something else.
In Islam leaning first and foremost is a command from God to learn and learning is based not on earning as livelihood and one of the signs of the end of time, the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said people would study to earn money. It is a sign of the end of time. What happens learning in Islam is to learn how to understand correctly, how to act correctly and how to have the right reasons. So it is about these three dimensions. It is about being an ethical and spiritual human being which does not obviate the necessity of learning trade and things like that, certainly not but at the essence of real knowledge is an understanding that it is for moral and spiritual reasons not for livelihood. So he and she says on page 36 “no degrees were offered so he motivation was learning itself”. One of the things in Al Azhar in 1882 when they first introduced tests, the great Maliki scholar Shaykh Muhammad Aleesh was completely opposed to it, the idea of testing students was anathema to him and I find that really interesting because it creates another reason why people study to pass the test not to know the thing. That is why people cannot ever remember anything after a test.
Now one of the things that is also mentioned is that memorisation, the importance of memorisation, the reason why memorisation is so important is the idea of young people understanding anything was seen as a waste of other quality which children have which is the massive ability to absorb information. So the idea was to put as much knowledge in them in those early years because it is a divine gift that should not be wasted by teaching them trivia and much of what is put in the children’s heads is a complete waste of time. That is why SAT test are ultimately testing vocabulary acquisition, comprehension, analogical reasoning skills and mathematical skills, arithmetic, geometry and basic algebra. They want to see if you learned how to basically think, they are not interested in asking you how high Mount Everest is, what happened in 1066 because you can always look that up in a book and Einstein said “anything I can look up in a book I would not waste my time memorising” which is interesting but you need skills to reason and he certainly had all those formulas in his head.
So now we move to Islam and this is the first chapter. Now Islam in Arabic, aslama is a very interesting word, it comes from a root word selama which means to be whole which is the same meaning of the root word in Hebrew of shalom which is peace. Peace is a wholeness and the idea that peace occurs when things are whole. If you look at sickness in the body, what ultimately sickness is a loss of holism in the body. Some part of the body is no longer working with the other parts of the body so there is a disruption of peace because of a lack of wholeness and so the idea in Islam that wholeness or peace comes through submission to God and it is the exact same thing in Hebrew. The Jews believe the exact same thing that shalom can only come when a human being is in a state of submission to God, that is real peace and if you are not, then you are suffering. Submission is not passive surrender even though the words are related and some of the ulema say Islam means submission. Submission is not a passive event, it is an active event and that is where you get the idea of mujihidah of the struggle to surrender. Surrendering is an active and not a passive state.
Now in the Quran they gave four different types of Islam that are mentioned. One of them. One of them is the idea that all of existence is in a state of submission so Islam in the Quran means, the Quran says “everything in the heavens and earth is in a state of submission to God” willingly or unwillingly. If you look at the world al Qahur which is one of the names of God. Al Qahar is the Overpowering One and Allah says He is Overpowering His servants transcending above them. Now one of those things that you see in the world, if I throw that, there are several things that just happened. One is gravity, I did not throw it, it moved up. Even if I want it to, it is going to come down. So there are laws working in the world that by necessity we submit to. One of them is gravity. One of them is our physical bodies, the way they grew, the way our noses grew, the way our eyes came about, all these types of things and manipulating them which is starting to occur now from an Islamic perspective is attempting to rebel against a type of submission or order which is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was very opposed to manipulation of nature because it is a type of rebellion. So this idea of submitting willingly or unwillingly is very important in the Quran. This is why the very important verse “do they require other than the deen of Allah and everything in reality is submission”. So there is an idea here that Islam is the order of nature and this is very interesting because this is the exact way that ancient Chinese looked at the world, that there was a natural order and that the Sage was the one who aligned him or herself with the natural order, eating when you are hungry. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “we are a people who only eat when we are hungry”. That is natural, it is natural to eat, you do not see animals that overeat. In nature you do not see fat lions, you see them at zoos because they are no longer in a natural state but you do not see animals that are not behaving according to their natural state. Animals drink when they are thirsty. Human beings will keep drinking, drinking and drinking. If animals want to eat, they will just kill. Humans will slaughter. The native Americans when they hunted, they just killed what they needed because they understood. There are people who go trophy hunting, they kill to put heads on their walls and that is out of natural order. This is why a human being who is not in a natural state is in a state of rebellion. It is seen as they are outside of a fitrah state, the inherent aboriginal nature which does not mean that people are meant to remain primitive but there is an understanding that the primitive state is an expression of something.
There are generally three views of history. One of them is that history went from fall and it has been downhill ever since. This tends to be generally the way Muslims look at the world that we have gone from good to worse. There is another which is cyclicial. Ibn Khaldun introduced this. I think it is the danger of all theories that categories are very dangerous because you get locked in categories and you forget that there can be inter penetration. The idea of cyclical things is that history is constantly repeating itself. Ibn Khaldun saw that and that definitely occurs. The third is the idea of progress, we are going from worse to better which is modernity, the fallacy of modernity. Most moderns are pretty much giving that up as an idea. Certainly the 20th century, 19th century particularly enthralled by that idea but the 20th century was so devastating for human beings that a lot of people are giving that up.
From a Muslim perspective it is a little bit of all three. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “I do not know if the first of ummah is better than the last. My ummah is like rain it will not be able to determine whether the first part of it was the best or the last part”. So there is an idea that towards the end of time there is this immense renaissance that occurs of spirituality and that is part of Muslim belief. In some things we get better and in other things we get worse. Certainly in some ideas we are better than in others that existed in the past. In slavery, the fact that most people recognise now to hold people in slavery is just problematic morally. Christianity never abolished slavery it was Gestinian in the 4th century that abolished slavery. Paul talks about treating slaves well and things like that. Christians do not like to talk about that. Then they say Islam says slavery is OK, well so does your book. If you live in glass houses, do not throw stones. Slavery exists in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Quran. But unlike Paul saying treat your slaves well, the Quran says the best way to get to God is to free your slaves so already within the Quranic tradition is that there is an evolution happening here that slavery is not a healthy state because any time a human being is in an indignant state it is bad because there is anger and resentment and all these things. That is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “do not say my slave my slave, all of you are slaves to God” so the idea of slavery was abolished in that hadith and what it becomes is a type of indentured servitude that needs to be worked out.
So that is the first type of Islam and it is the Islam of natural order, the Islam of the laws of the universe. There are laws in the universe and they work and they are understandable and certainly the earth all these things happening on the planet, blossom coming out, this is Islam. Those trees are in a state of submission. Hibernation, the act that animals know when to hibernate. The fact that squirrels know when to start collecting nuts and things for the winter. Who taught them that? That is Islam, he is in a state of submission to his nature. So the idea of human beings, we submit, it is painful, we do not do it willingly. See the squirrel does it willingly. Human beings do it with difficulty. It is a difficult thing and amongst them are those who do it completely out of desire and love. The second type of Islam is the Islam of the Prophetic tradition. The idea that all Prophets have been Muslims. This is Old Testament, they talk about submitting to God. New Testament, submitting to Islam. Ibrahim said that “I am a Muslim, I am the first of those who are Muslim in submission”. Yaqoub said to his sons “what are you going to do after me?”. They said “we are going to worship one God and we will be Muslim. So Jacob and all these Jewish Prophets, they were all Muslims. Isa said “we are Muslim”. So there is that type of Islam and then the third type of Islam is the historical phenomena that we call Islam which emerges in the 7th century. That is Islam. The fourth type are the rules and regulations that were given to us, those things that we are told to do and those things we are told not to do. These are all mentioned in the Quran, these various types of Islam.
Now one of the things that the bedoiun say, they mention in that hadith “amana” we believe and the bedouin were people who looked at the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and they watched him very closely and at a certain point they said “it looks like he is going to succeed in taking over the Arabian peninsula”. At that point they started joining because they wanted to be on the right side. So they came and said “amana”. The Quran said “do not say we believe, rather say we submit because imaan has not yet entered your hearts” so there can be an outward submission without an inward resignation and that is a danger. So now we move to the five pillars. The idea that we have to embody the boo