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 book which means that we do what the book says, that is Islam. We believe the world view that the book presents which is imaan and then we intend our actions accordingly to the highest ideals of the religion which is ihsan. So it is described here by Dr Murata and Chittick as becoming flesh and blood. This is what really the five pillars are. It is beginning to live this reality.
The first pillar is called shahada. This is actually one of my favourite words in Islam because the word shahada in Arabic means to testify, to witness. It has the idea of seeing but it also has the idea of the material world. Shahada, the Quran says “He is the knower of the seen and unseen worlds”. This whole world is called shahada which is very beautiful because essentially what the world is saying is “la ilaha illal Allah”. The world is the shahada because the world is telling humanity that there is no God but Allah, that everything you see in creation is testifying to this ultimate truth that behind all of this is a unified reality. It is the intelligence, the power and the will behind the entire universe and so the other interesting thing about this is the Quran says “we will continue to reveal to them our signs in the self and on the horizon until it becomes clears to them that this is true” and then Allah says a really interesting thing “isn’t it enough that your Lord is witnessing everything?”. This is interesting because there are many many philosophers and only recently the physicist like Neil Bores was the first physicist to say this that “Material and substantial reality is only real because it is witnessed” in other words the universe only has reality because of consciousness. Without consciousness there is no world so this idea of Allah being the One who witnesses all things. The fact that God is aware that the world exists and that is His Qaumiyah and the moment that He removes that and that is why to turn away from it “there is no nodding with Allah and no sleep” because to do that there is no world, to turn away from one instant, it disappears. So that is the idea of shahada that the world is being witnessed by Allah and therefore when we partake in that witnessed this is what we are doing. We are giving the world its true reality. We are saying “la ilaha ill Allah” that we are witnessing too and this is what Allah says “Allah witnesses that He is One” so we are sharing in the experience of consciousness and that is something really extraordinary. That is the gift that humans have been given. That is why we are taken to account so ruthlessly. It has to be that way I mean thank God it is not that ruthless, there is a lot of mercy there, that is why we are told “My reckoning is going to be great because what I have given you is so immense. I have given you all the tools, look in your own selves, do you not see what I have given you, sight, hearing, speech, will”. Those are attributes of God. These are what you learn in tawheed. Look at what I have given you. The problem is then people start thinking they are God and that is where man goes crazy. It is because they really believed it, that I can do without God, I don’t need God. It is the promethion in rebellion, the Titans, that is what happened in Greek mythology. Originally there was dahar (time). The original god was time and was time was overthrown by the Titans. It is interesting because it is very similar to the jinn story. The jinn go into rebellion and overthrow the authority of God and then it was given to Adam. It is very interesting that the ancient Greek mythology has a similar idea there that originally there was the real god which was time, space which is dahar. Allah says “do not curse time space because I am time space” which does not mean that this is God but it is very interesting that this hadith exists. Dahar in Arabic means time stretched out. That is the shahada and obviously when you say “there is no God but Allah” the means by which you arrived at that through certainty must be recognised because we are in a world of means and that is why saying “Muhammadur Rasulullah” is gratitude to that means. That is why filial piety is the second greatest way of displaying gratitude to God, is gratitude to your parents. “That you should show gratitude to Me and then your parents”. This is the same as tawheed. First you witness that there is no God but Allah or the One God but then you witness that this man taught me this with certainty and that is why you say “wa ashadu anna Muhammadur Rasulullah” or “Isa Rasulullah” if you were in his time or “Moses Rasulullah” whoever the Prophet was but for us it is the Prophet and we should be gtrateful for that. Our time is the time which the Prophet which includes all of the previous Prophets. When we say “Muhammadar Rasulullah” we are saying Jesus Rasul, Moses Rasulullah, Abraham was a messenger of God, Noah, Yahya, they are all in that statement. So that is the shahada and obviously there is a lot to go but they deal a lot with it in imaan so I will finish there.
The second pillar after the shahada is called prayer or salah and again there are different types of prayer. It is interesting that in the Quran and this is brought out here, the thing that is commanded more than other human activity in the Quran is prayer, salah. Also the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said ”the prayer is the imad of this religion”. It is the central pole or pillar that holds the tent up. The traditional bedoium tents had four pegs on each side and then they had a central peg so the idea here is that the four other pillars, the shahada, zakah, fasting, hajj are these other pillars but the prayer is really what is giving this tent its real reality so prayer is at the essence.
The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “prayer is the bone marrow of worship” and it is really interesting from a physiological point of view to describe it as the bone marrow because the bone marrow is the core and that is what it means. The Arabs say the core of something but the bone marrow is really what gives birth to the blood, it generates blood. It also generates the defense system or the immune system. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in another hadith said “prayer is the weapon of the believer” so the idea that the prayer is like the immune system of the body and that is why the Quran says that God does not punish a people that pray, that are calling on God so one prayer is the salatullah, that He prays on you so Allah and His prayer is mercy. His mercy is called salah. It is the same word that is used but it has a different meaning but it is still considered salah.
Then there is everything that is in the heaven and earth that is praying so there is this prayer of creation. The Quran says “everything is in a state of glorification”. In verse 24:41, “have you not see that everyone in the heavens and earth glorifies God, the birds spreading their wings, each one knows its prayer and its glorification” so each one of the things in creation has a prayer, a salah and it has a tasbih. When we pray, what do we do immediately after the prayer? SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah and that is tasbih. So we have salah and in the prayer you are doing your tasbih as well “Subhanna Rabbi Ala”. So salah and tasbih, the idea of having a means to glorify God and that is what essentially the prayer is. It is the means by which we have been given.
The third type is the prayer that all Prophets have been given. Every Prophet was given a prayer, it might not look the same. That is why different religions have different outward forms of praying because just like different animals have different forms in which they do worship different communities have been given different forms. Allah says” We gave every ummah its own form, its own law and the way it which it goes”. Obviously things are similar which is one of the reasons why in most traditions there is some form of praying with the hands and these type of things, you will see similarities but they do not have to be the same to be a prayer.
Finally there is a specific prayer which is the ritual that the Muslims do and it is the second pillar of Islam. So those are the different types of prayer. That prayer is divided into two. Now that prayer is done five times a day which is interesting also because 5 is an interesting number obviously. We have 5 finger and 5 toes on each side of our hands. You can say why 5 and ultimately those type of things are irrational not that they are crazy but they are not something that our rational minds can arrive at. I am somebody that does not like to go into numerology, it is not because I think numbers do not have a reality but numerology is a kind of path to insanity and that is traditionally the way that Muslim have looked at it. So numbers do have a reality, do not think they are not significant, they are very significant but generally we do not like to go there but I will make a few remarks about 5.
There are five pillars in Islam. There are five prayers in Islam. There are five rulings in every action. Every action falls into one of five categories. Five is a very interesting number. It is the first number that occurs as a sum of an even and an odd. So you have after one which is the divine number and belongs to Allah alone. Allah’s number is One. That is why Wahid is the first number and Ahad is not. One is God’s number but if you look at two and three, it is the even and the odd. “By the even and the odd”, Allah swears by the even and the odd. The even and the odd is also represented in the male and female. So the coming together of these two numbers produces five. It is an interesting number and we do pray five times a day.
The quintessence is the fifth nature which is the spirit, the ruh, because you have the four elements which we are composed of which is earth, water, fire and air. Then you have the quintessence which was the fifth essence, which is the spiritual essence which permeates the world. So we pray five times a day, three of those prayers are in when the sun is not visible and two of them are when the sun is visible. So they are divided by night and day. They are also done according to the movements of the sun which again is harmonising with the world so the idea of watching the sun. If you get up before dawn, Muslim should do that. You should have been up this morning if you pray, you should have been up before the sun went up just to see that every morning is something spectacular, just to go out and look at that phenomenon of the breaking of dawn, and what that means and then watching that sun move across and becoming aware of this movement that is occurring every day because one of the things about modern human beings is that they are so out of sync with reality just with nature I mean people are completely isolated. Food comes in packages. They do not experience the earth anymore. People live in cities that are all just cement and skyscrapers block out the sky. There a lot of people that do not even know that the sun traverses the sky everyday. They are not even aware of that fact. These astronomical centres get called all the time where people are horrified that they saw the moon during the daytime and they want to know why the moon is out in the daytime. I read that in an astronomy book where people just see the moon for the first time in the daytime and “what is it doing up there in the sky? That is only supposed to come out at night”. So this is the type of detachment that people have and I remember being in New Mexico with a group of inner city youth who had never been outside of new York or New Jersey and that night when the stars came out, they were in shock. They were literally in shock. One of the things that Emmerson said was “if the stars only came out every thousand years how would we even know how to adore God”. That is part of what the stars are about. That is why Ibrahim who is the father of the anbiya, what is the first thing that he does? He was kept according to one tradition in a sirdab for 12 years, he never saw the light of the day. When he was 12, he came out and it was his first experience of the world and he saw the stars and he said “this is my Lord” then he saw the moon and said “no this is my Lord”. They kept setting and then he saw the sun “this must be it” and then it set and he said “I do not love things that set”. In other words he knew that God was the One who did not set. So the ulema say it is using the starts to prove the existence of God that the order of the heavens is one of the ways of understanding that God is real. That is something guarantee you that studying the stars will increase your imaan. Just going out looking at them, watching them, just thinking about them.
So during those prayers and obviously we have a rakah. I am going to show you something and this is not mine, it is one of the Eqyptian scholars Imam Sawhi points it out in one of his aqeedah books. Scholars call this milah. One of the things that he said is the word Ahmad is the form of prayer, that you have a standing position and then a bowing position and then a prostrating position, sitting position. He said also it is in Adam’s name which is the standing, bending, sitting and sajdah. So the letters, the human being has been designed to pray.
One of the things you can notice when you do wudu is that you are designed, the wudu works perfectly. I mean if you watch, if you do wudu, you will realise that all of your limbs are made to do this. Each one of these positions of prayer and that is why you do not go down, you stop where it is natural to stop, as you go further down it begins to hurt, if you try to go any further you will feel the pain of that. Then the sajdah, the going down on all seven limbs. This is very interesting as well of putting, everything goes down. Sitting as well, sitting position so each one of these positions, the prayer confirms with the body perfectly and these are natural positions to do. Part of the reason why in Islam you pray is because your body should be sharing in the worship of God so the body itself is participating. You do not just sit and meditate, it is not in your head. Your body is actually worshipping with you and this removes this dualistic mind-body separation. It is very profound and really if you are on a strong path you will spend your life perfecting it and mastering it. You will never reach the ultimate prayer, and that is why the prayer is something that must be done every day five times a day until you die because one of the things about kadas, when you do a kada, the reason why they have to do them everyday is not just to keep on remembering the but to perfect them. Mastery in a martial art is a lifetime experience and every martial art, I don’t care if he has reached, he will admit to you, I am not as good as my teacher, I still have not perfected this. They are always working on that perfection. That is the thing about the prayer. It is a lifetime commitment. So that is why if you are doing it the same way every day. You are missing the point. You have fallen into a perfunctory routine. You have gone to sleep. That the prayer should be a commitment, it is a lifetime commitment to the mastery of the art of communicating with God.
Now obviously you have in Islam you purify your self before you do it and that is preparation for entering into this state like the ihram before Hajj. You are going into a scared space and you want to prepare for that space. The wudu is a way and wudua comes from brightness because the face will be luminous on the day of judgment and the arms and limbs from wudu. Wudua means to be luminous and bright. They said to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) how will you know your followers? He said “they will be like the piebald horse”. You know how these horses have white, they are brown but they have white on their face and then the front and hind are all white, this is how he describes his followers. He said “from the effects of wudu”. Again what you are doing is preparing yourself for something that occurs in the next world which is the luminosity of practice. This is why if you have ever met anybody that has mastered anything, it has affected their being. I do not care if they are a master pianist, a master ballerina, whatever it is, you will see that they will have qualities that you do not find in ordinary human beings. I guarantee you, it does not matter what the mastery is. You will find that a committed practice to something in which a person has done it religiously every day, it has an effect on their character. That is why the highest thing that you can do is to work on perfecting your soul, on your heart, on your experience of the world as a theatre of divine manifestation. So that is what prayer is about and water is a purifying element. It is an outward element but it is the purest thing that we know of in the world. We talk about it in our language in metaphors “it was crystal clear, it was clear as water”.
Then the adhan which is another amazing thing because it is so extraordinary that other religions have these calls. The Jews call with the ram’s horn, the Christians have the bell. How did the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) through a dream, different people saw it, Bilal was one of them, they saw to call with the human voice, people to pray. Not to use anything artificial but to use the voice itself to call people to the prayer. Then saying Allah is Greater, I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God and then hurry to prayer, hasten to prayer, hasten to falah, falah is harvest, that is what falah is. So what you are coming to is a harvest. That is what prayer is. You are reaping the benefit of the day because the day was made for prayer. If you miss the harvest you have missed the point of the day. It is just like somebody who has planted seeds all spring and then when the summer comes, it is time to harvest, they don’t go and they don’t harvest what they planted. So what was the point? The same as being in the world, the point of being in the world is this practice and that is why never belittle the reality of the prayer, the prayer is the most important thing you will do in your life as a constant practice. You should be committed to perfecting your prayer and it is a struggle. It is a struggle to be committed to wakefulness, to be committed to doing your wudu correctly all these things. Some people can see it as tedious but the beauty of practice and every master knows this is that the proof is in the pudding like the English say. The better you get, the more important the prayer becomes.
That is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said to Bilal “give our soul repose by calling is to the prayer O Bilal”. He said his repose was in his prayer and he said “the coolness of my eye is in prayer”. The Arabs use the coolness of the eye as cold tears are tears of joy. Hot tears are painful tears. Cool tears are the joyful tears so what he was saying was that the joy of my life is in my prayer. Prayer was not something that was dreadful to him. Adeeb al Hatim said “from the time I became Muslim I never heard the adhan except I was yearning for the time. From the time he became Muslim, he never heard the adhan and thought “O I gotta pray now”. Anybody who does prayer seriously you thank God for that, just that stopping. So the prayer is a gift and people that really practice it, you cannot imagine it. Even though I went for 18 years without doing the Muslim prayer, since I became Muslim I have never missed a prayer. I could not imaging not praying. I could not imagine it. I couldn’t, it is just something I could not imagine being deprived of prayer would be like deprived of breathing. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in his beautiful description points out the prayers effect. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “tell me, if one of you had a river at his door and he washed in it five time a day, would any of his filthiness remain?”. They said ”nothing of his filthiness would remain”. He said ”that is the likeness of the prayer of five times a day, God obliterates wrongs with it”. So that is the part of going back to prayer. So that is the prayer, there is a lot of verses in the Quran to use the prayer as a way of taking succor and help from Allah.
The third pillar is zakat and zakah is purifying the wealth. So just as you need to purify your body with wudu, you purify your soul with prayer, you have property in the world and that property needs to be purified and zakah comes from a root word which means to purify. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “zakah is the faeces of wealth”, that is what he called it. He said that is why Bani Hashim does not take zakat because zakat is the impurities, it is fertiliser. What faeces is, is fertiliser and the animal has to get rid of faeces in order to stay healthy and pure so zakah is a way of keeping your wealth healthily. The miser and the one constipated is the same word in Arabic, mumsik. So a person who is a miser is constipated and they get sick spiritually. Their wealth is actually causing their soul to get sick and in giving out it is letting go and that is why it is not a Freudian insight, this idea that he called anally retentive personality which one of the symptoms of that person was to be a miser and that was Freud. It is not a Freudian insight that is the Arabic language. The word for pure gold and muconian stool is the same. So his insight about gold and facers being the same, the ancient Arabs knew that because it is in their language. That is what it is and the Prophet said in Imam Ahmad’s musnad “Allah has made that which comes out of the Son of Adam a metaphor for the world” and the meaning of that is the reason that you eat is not necessarily because you need to eat, part of it is the enjoyment of eating but everything you eat ends up in the toilet and that is the nature of the world. The world has all these beautiful aspects but at the end of the day it is a world that is in annihilation. It is going to rot and we will leave it just as the people before us left it and ultimately everybody has to leave it. So do not get too caught up in it, see it for what it is.
Now this is a really important point on page 16 which just this idea of zakah that you do not pay zakah unless you are healthy financially and the insight that they derive from that is that it is a typical example of how Islam sets up priorities. In other words you do not give zakat until you are able to do that so in those things that pertain between you and God, everybody has to do that but when it is you and society you only do what you are able to do and the reason for that is you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of the world and there is a beautiful metaphor in that because we have all these social activists that want to save the world and their own personal lives are a mess. So the idea of trying to save the world and your own soul is in jeopardy. It means your priorities are wrong and so the idea of zakah, it means you start taking care of others when you have taken care of yourself. That is when you need to start thinking about other people but if you are still in a mess do not try to help other people. Religious well being demands that they accept some measure of social responsibility so zakah has this idea of social responsibility. One of the reasons that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “a person who marries has completed half of his religion” so then to look to the other half because if the family is healthy the society is healthy. When the society is well, it is as a result of the family being well. The same is true for wealth. If your own house is intact then you can help other houses.
The fourth pillar is fasting. It is fasting the month of Ramadhan. Obviously the lunar calendar has about 355 days, each month lasts 29 or 30 days and you can do it according to the crescent moon sighting. Now I want to just look a moment at the idea of looking for a crescent moon and refer you to what you could call a phenomenological astronomer. Someone who is interested in astronomy for the phenomena and not for the theoretical aspect of it. I would just like to read something. This is a Scottish man who is not a Muslim. He says something very interesting and it just strikes me that so many Muslims do not seem to see this. When I read this, it just articulated exactly how I have always felt about the point of looking at the moon and what significance that has for us.
He said “of prime importance is the determination of the start of the holy month of Ramadhan a time of fasting and devotion but Muslim communities have a habit of starting their celebrations on different days in any one year due to the varying locations and sky conditions for sighting the crescent moon. Places lying westwards of where the crescent moon can first be seen from the earth have a better chance of seeing it, the movement of the sun and moon is westwards and more time elapses before they arrive at the horizons of these places. For the moon to move out of the sun’s light at the start of its monthly journey, also some latitudes will have the zodiac standing at a deeper more visible angle to the horizon than others. That is the belt in which the moon travels. Then there are delays caused by weather, under good conditions it is possible to sight a first crescent less than 24 hours after a new moon. 15 hours is the least. There is a record of 13 hours but it would be very rare. But it is a common sight to see it 30 hours after. To increase the Islamic observers chances, two independent witnesses are required. The Ottomans decreed that the first sighting can be made with the naked eye or a telescope”. Now listen to this. “there are efforts to standardise the Islamic calendar so that Ramadhan is started on the same day in various communities but the relationship of celestial bodies to the earth is a living thing and every location has its own sky so why shouldn’t religious festivals begin on dates peculiar to particular places? The modern mind wishes to generalise and abstract the situation so the phenomena are by passed. As with the length of the day the average is calculated and becomes the accepted truth to accommodate the limits of circular wheels and clocks yet none of the celestial bodies move in circles”.
So what he is saying is you put all your averages in and you
will get this average and it will all work out, you can make your little
calendar and it all works perfectly but that is not nature. People forget that
a 24 hour day period, that is not real time, that is our standard time. Real
time is 23 hours and 56 minutes that is what a day is. So the idea of going out
and looking at the moon is connecting the earth with nature. I think it is
really interesting that before you pray you use water and if you don’t have
water you use earth. It is like touch the world. Touch these things, feel them.
You know how children, one of the things
they love to touch mud and get in there. They love to do that, why do they like
to do that? Because they are still connected with that. The word is very real
to them. We become so abstracted, so these things are bringing us back to these
basic elements of which we are composed, earth and water, prayer, movement. Get
in your body, people behind a desk all day never stopping. Watch a cat. A cat
could not sit behind a desk all day long. They are not insane. They have to
move, they have to experience, they have to feel that, that is what they have to
do. That is why cats do that. Then they do their wudu. They have to do all
those things. They even do the wiping over the head. Have you ever watched them
do that? That is what they are doing, they are in there. All these animals,
watch them, watch animals. People forget that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had goats in his yard,
we knew that he used to go out and milk them. He drank milk that came out of an
udder. Have you ever had milk directly out an udder? Really I mean that is what
Hakim is always asking people about that stuff. Have you experienced nature?
That is what going out and looking at the moon. Look at the moon. Have you ever
seen a new moon born? It is called wilada. It just comes into existence. It is
an incredible thing to witness and when you see it there is this thing that
happens within you SubhanAllah that is what happens and that is why Allah is
saying go out and look at that because I made that and that is a sign of My
existence. Go out and look at it and say SubhanAllah. Feel that because that is
reality. That is you as a conscious creature with this gift of consciousness
experiencing the Creator’s world that He made for your consciousness. He has
put it all together so that you could experience it because nobody else can. We
are unique. That is the gift He gave us and that is what it is about. That is
what Fasting, Ramadhan is – lunar. Why do we have lunar calendars? Here they
have caesarean sections, they do not want natural birth. It makes it so easy
because I have my golfing appointment and then at 11am and I just go and do the
op but children do not come out at . They come out whenever they want,
they come out when they are ready, they come out when Allah decrees for them to
come out but modern mind wants to fix it all. That is if you look at arial
cities of the Islamic world they look like cells. They literally look like
living cells. Look at
Now one of the things about fasting is that things that are normally permitted are suddenly prohibited. What does that do to things that are prohibited? They become extra prohibited and suddenly you aware of backbiting in a way that you are not aware of it during the rest of the year. Suddenly you are aware of looking at somebody lustfully in a way that you were not aware of it because you think “O my God I am fasting”. In other words, what is normally permissible is now prohibited and it makes the normally prohibited seem very very real and so it is a discipline of your soul. It is teaching you how to have taqwa. It is about purification of the body and soul. The body is here and it is real, do not ignore your body. Bodies are real, they are real. Allah made them it is such a great gift to be in the body and w