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 we should take care of the body. Be good to the body because the body is good to us.
That is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “your body has a right over you”. Non-Muslims look at fasting as this incredibly difficult thing, for Muslims it is the best time of the year because it is the time when they are closest to Allah. That is why, they are in a state of worship despite themselves. Just by sitting there, sleeping, they are worshipping because they are fasting. That is why even the sleep of a faster is worship and that is why you feel good in Ramadhan. You might not feel physically good but you feel spiritually good. So it is this beautiful proof every year. Another thing that he points out is that is beautiful is the justice of God. If you live in the UK, half the year you are going to be fasting really short periods and the other half really long periods but over a 33 year period which is the total cycle it will work out to the same amount of fasting that the people in the middle part of the world so everybody ends up fasting the same amount of time all throughout the world.
Every religion has this idea of pilgrimage and it is the
setting out on that journey and here it is a physical journey with a metaphysical
destination. It is a physical journey but the destiny is the House of God and
God does not have a house in which He dwells. So He put a house there as a
symbol of visiting God and you are a guest of God and that is why you are
called the guest of the Merciful. He put a rock there which He called the right
hand of God that you can go kiss in the same way that if you visit a king you
would kiss the right hand of the king so the rock there is symbolic of paying
homage to the benevolent monarch, benevolent king of whom you are subject.
Obviously it is also a recognition. One of the things about going to
Then also the gift of visiting the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam). That he is there, he is amongst us, you can go visit him. There is no other Prophet in the planet that anybody can go visit with any certainty. The Jews cannot go and visit Moses. No one can go and visit Isa. They can’t visit. This is a great gift that Muslims have been given, that their Prophet is there physically in Madinah. He according to the hadith actually returns greeting so this a real visit with a response and for people who have been there and been in the right state, they know what they tasted there, they know. You can go in with different states. There are people who go in there and do not see anything. There are other people who go in there and they are wading in light. Some people are not wading they are engulfed in it. Other people that is all they can see. There are many different visits to Madinah.
Now he talks about the sixth pillar. This is a Shia concept.
He studied in
One of the most important ways to keep in our bodies is to learn the outward rules of salah very well and to adhere to them in the same way you would when you first learn to drive. When you first learn to drive, it is very troublesome because you are so conscious of the rules especially if you have the teacher next to you but at a certain point it all becomes “it is just what you do”. So initially being obsessed with the rules is problematic because you are so focused on the rules you cannot focus on the spirit of the prayer but that is a necessary stage of the prayer so learning the rules really well until they become second nature and then you begin to work on your spiritual presence of the prayer. Part of that has to do with the amount of dhikr that you do during the day and that is why the more dhikr you do, the better your prayer. Also wudu is very important. Sidi Ahmad Zarruq said “your presence in your wudu determines your presence in your prayer”. One of the things that people do is that they do wudu very hastily and very ritualistically so their wudu is no longer an act of worship.
One of the best things that I was ever exposed to was watching Muratul Hajj do wudu because it really hit home the first time I saw it. It is a deep act of worship and we tend to forget that. Wudu is part of prayer. It is a very deep act of worship. Not doing wudu in a bathroom, no doing it where the toilet is very important. One of the things that Sidi Ahmad Zarruq was saying before you start your prayer recite Surah Naas just to remove the waswasa.
It is one of the proofs of Iblis because like when you do takbir sometimes, it is the weirdest thing, why did that suddenly come into my mind? That is that component that is working. It is very interesting. Literally you do takbir and waswasa comes. Tasawuf is on the words that is used to describe the science of ihsan. It is the inner fiqh. So that is all it is, it is an inner fiqh. Just like you have fuqaha that are wrong in their outward rules you have people of tasawuf that are wrong in their inward. That is part of the problem. People throw the baby out with the bathwater because there are people of tasawuf that went way out there. Then you have extremist fuqaha.
What I was going to say was in the West one of the reasons
that you have so much perversion in sexuality is because people are so removed
form their bodies. Sex becomes a very mental thing. Their experiences of sex is
all mental. It is a disease, they want perverse sex because they cannot just
experience a natural experience of being in the body. Very strange. You do not
have that in traditional cultures where people are very much in their body. You
do not have perverted sex. I guarantee you, in
In the hadith, why are the pillars described before faith?
Obviously the first rukun of Islam is shahada and that comes out of faith. So faith in a sense precedes Islam but you can enter into Islam and your faith is very immature and undeveloped. Faith is something that comes out of practice. It is developed through practice if the practice is done properly. There are some Muslim countries, I do not want to mention names but there are some Muslim countries where hypocrisy is the norm. Where people do these outward ritual which have no impact on their spiritual reality at all. You see the most horrendous examples of hypocrisy in people that pray, fast and do everything so it is no guarantee any of it.
During the Mamluke period, slaves actually became rulers so they saw that as a fulfillment of that prophecy.
Riyaa which is spiritual showing off. It is doing an act of devotion in other words to God hoping that people see it for whatever reason. Riyaa is definitely more significant in a spiritual society. We have showing off, if somebody is a good horseman and they se people, they do a fancy jump, that is not riyaa. That is just showing off. Riyaa is when you do an act that should be done for God that you are doing for other people to say “what a generous person”. That is riyaa. There are two types of riyaa. That which is only for the people which is the worst type. In other words, you do not even care about God, you give charity so people will say “he is a generous man”. The other is when you genuinely want to do something for God but you find this desire. That is something that people have to struggle with. Imam Malik was asked about a man who was on his way to the mosque who when he set out solely for the sake of God but on the way he is hoping somebody might see him. Imam Malik said it is human nature that that element exists.
There is the famous story of a man who used to go to prayer and he was in the first line every single day for 40 years. One day he went and he missed the opening takbir and he did not want people to see him. He realised he had had that riyaa for 40 years. I do not know if that is true or not but the meaning is nice. It is just letting you know that there is a lot of subtle levels there that we are not even aware of. That is part of spiritual development. That is why they say “the good actions of righteous people are wrong actions for the people in divine presence”. That is why each maqam that you move to you start saying astagfirullah for the previous maqam because you realise how many things you were doing wrong, how many things that you thought you were doing were right. You get to a higher level of awareness, you realise “I was doing it for the wrong reason”. It is a journey, that is why it is called a path. It is a journey. May Allah help us to realise the right one.
I wanted to go over some concepts for people to understand about jihad because probably of all the topics related to Islam the two most common misconceptions I would say are probably those concerning jihad and those concerning women. Most of the attacks on Islam generally tend to focus on those two elements so I would like to talk about this first from what he mentions in this book. He mentions the idea of holy war as misleading and it is inaccurate translation. Holy war in Arabic if you did have a word for it, the Arabs actually do not, would be Harb Muqasada. The Arabs do not have a concept of holy war in that way, in fact it is actually a Christian concept and coming out of the just war concept and crusades. So the word in Arabic that is used and has in fact become an English word sometimes with a negative connotation and other times with a positive, it has been used both ways by journalists and other people.
Jihad comes from a root word which is juhud which has the idea of exerting energy. “He exerted his utmost ability” so the idea behind the word jihad and juhud is known as a verbal noun from jahada wa jahidu. The Quran says “Struggle against them with it, with the Quran a great jihad, a great struggle” which means argue with the polytheists using the Quran as the weapon of argumentation against polytheism because the Quran although it never proves the existence of God it is constantly focusing on the unity of God. So the idea was to use the arguments that the Quran presents for the oneness of God in order to explain to the people who believed in more than one god that there was one God so that is a type of jihad in the Quran. That is a great jihad, that is why the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the Quran says “struggle with them, with your wealth, with yourselves” and also it says to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) “to fight with them with your tongues” in other words argumentation. In fact argumentation not being disputation but rather civil debate, civil discourse because the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) if a conversation became heated he would withdraw. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not engage in disputation but rather in civil debate or discourse where we sit down and try to look at a problem from both sides and so you put your proofs forward, the other person puts his proofs forward and you attempt to convince somebody of a superior way. That is a civil discourse and that is jihad bil lisaan. The Quran says “and dispute with them in an excellent way” which is civil discourse using intelligence and using reason. Now the interesting thing is that war is actually when that breaks down in other words coercive force is what is used when people are not able to speak to each other in any civil way so war is actually a collapse of intelligent discourse. That is why in essence it is a very stupid thing. War is an incredibly stupid thing and that is why the Quran tells us not to be aggressors because the nature of the aggressor is he is somebody who is unable to obtain what he wants so he resorts to other ways, violent means to getting what he wants. Those type of people usually want wrong things, things that are not theirs and that is why the essence of conflict generally has to do with one person or one group of people aggressing on another group of people. So what happens is one side if is aggressed on and the other side is the aggressors. The people who are aggressed upon are the people in the Quran that are permitted to fight and this is why at the essence of physical or martial conflict and that is why when we look at jihad, there are three Quranic concepts.
The first is struggling against the self. The idea that there is an internal conflict going on so actually have to struggle with your self and part of struggling with yourself is struggling with the passions and the passion are your bestial nature. So your struggle with that is your reason and that is why when somebody is attempting not to do something that is wrong and struggle against those impulses, what he is using a higher power and the higher power, is the aql. That is why the essence of intellect in Arabic means that which constrains you or that which prevents you from doing some thing that will lead you astray. Aql yaquli means to stop, to prevent and other Arabic word that they use for intellect is nuha which comes from that which refuses or that which prevents yanha. So the essence of the intellect is that it prevents a human being from going astray. Now those people that do not listen to intellect, Allah says about them “they are like animals” but then He says “they are even more astray”. The reason for that is that animal do not do things that harm them. If an animal knows there is harm in something, it will avoid it. If an animal sees fire, it will flee from the fire. If an animal seems something that threatens it, it will either defend itself if it does not see any other venue or if by its nature the threat that it deems within its power like a lion if it is threatened by a lesser animal, the lion will tend to fight because it knows it can overpower.
So the idea of human beings resorting to the bestial element in itself is a capitulation, it is the idea of surrendering the self to something that is low and that is why if you look at the human body itself the higher organs, the heart and the intellect are an upper body and the lower organs the stomach and the genitals are upon the lower body. So the idea is that this is the way that the human being should be. He should be the ruling force, in the human being should be the heart and intellect and the subjugated force should be the bestial nature. What happens with human beings is that they become overcome by their bestial nature and so hunger and craving which is the essence of desire overwhelms the intellect so they begin to want things that are harmful for them. This is why they are worse than animals because an animal will only take what it needs. Lions do not go out and slaughter, they take what they need and they leave the rest maybe for another day but if they are not hungry they are not going to kill 10 zebras. They will kill what they need to kill and that is the difference between a human, the predations of humans are not needs. So when a predator animals attacks another animal it attacks out of need not out of want or desire. So this is very different. There is only a few animals that appear to be unprovoked. Sharks will attack unprovoked and so will certain snakes as well. There are a few snakes and there is a baboon that will attack unprovoked but it is very rare in the animal kingdom for an animal to attack unprovoked.
All creatures that have emotion and intellect, humans beings, have a self defence mechanism. It is part of human nature to defend yourself. If you fall your reaction is to put your arm out, you do not fall on your face. Human beings will not do that. In fact one of the first things they teach you in martial arts is to fall properly because you tend to want to put your hand out and break your wrist. So they teach you to learn how to fall in a way that is not actually going to harm you but the impulse is to brace yourself, is to defend yourself. The same if somebody begins to attack the thing to do is to cover your face, to protect your face. If somebody throws a blow at you, if you just stand there and o not defend yourself something is wrong with your nervous system. It is not functioning so self defence is a human, it is actually ingrained in us to defend ourselves and that is why every civil law on the planet recognises the right to self defence. There is no law that does not whether it is a Muslim or non Muslim every law recognises that a human has the right to defend himself from bodily harm, from harm to property all of these things. The first jihad is that struggle against the self and this is what makes a human being human. Bahani says that a human being…there are two words in the Quran used for human, one is bashar and the other is insaan. A bashar, it is that quality that distinguishes us from other animals so for instance birds are distinguishable from their feathers. Birds have feathers. Mammals have fur. If you look at mammals, they have fur. Human beings have skin. That is why we are called bashar. Bashar is from bashara which means skin. So the human is when you say he is a bashar you say he is a man. That is when the Prophets, what do they say about the Prophets, that say “you are just a human like us” but they are not saying insaan, they are saying bashar.
All of us share basharia but we do not all share insaaniyah in truth just as an act of generosity from God that He calls us insaan. What Ragab says if you can imagine a dog standing on its two legs as opposed to four and talking in a language then you can imagine the state that many humans beings are in. That they only share their humanity in the form not in reality and there is a verse in the Quran “We have enobled the children of Adam” and that enoblement is that we have been placed in this incredible noble form, we are not like animals, we do not walk on all fours, we do not have to go down to a plate, we take things up to our mouths. I do not have to go down and lick and lap up my water like a dog that I actually have this ability to feed myself. All these qualities that the human being has been given so acquiring virtuous qualities or noble qualities is actually a difficult thing. It takes time, it is not something that human beings are born with. Compassion is something that needs to be nurtured now some people you will have this naturally. It is something that Imam Ghazali mentions and other great scholars that there are some people who have virtuous qualities by nature. There are other people who do not. You will see in children, some children want to share things, other children refuse completely to share things and will become belligerent if they are made to share things. They have to learn. There are children that beat other children. There are other children that could not do that and would feel terrible about that. Now these qualities tend to be the more aggressive qualities in human beings are much more marked in men than they are in women and there is a reason for that as well. There is a reason why that even in their form they are less bestial than men. Women have certain qualities that are related to their biology and it has to do with the fact that they produce children. So there are certain qualities that are inherent just because they have the hormones. Some it is purely chemical and also it has to do with the fact that there is a womb raham and the essence of the womb is mercy. The word in Arabic raham, rahma are the same root words – the womb and mercy because the essence of mercy is in the womb. That is why Allah has derived the womb, He actually derived the womb from His name the Merciful. So the womb is derived from an attribute of God. That is what women have that men do not have. That is why the humanising factor in societies are women. The mother is the humanising factor and without that if the mother is destroyed then it is a disaster for the rest of society.
So this idea of acquiring virtue to become a human being to achieve one’s insaaniyah to achieve one’s insaaniyah to achieve one’s humanness is very difficult. That is a struggle.
At the root are four virtues. Courage,
temperance, wisdom and then justice. These are the root virtues that human
beings are meant to develop in their lives. All virtues come out of one of
these four virtues. So courage which is the first and most important virtue
because upon it the other ones are based. Generosity is actually the daughter
of the mother virtue which is courage because generosity is courage with one’s
wealth. Patience is also a type of courage because it is a lack of anxiety when
a calamity afflicts you and that is from a type of courage. So being patient is
rooted in courage so courage in English, courage the root word is core which is
heart. The essence of courage is the heart and so somebody who has courage has
a lot of heart and that is why the Arabs when they say in
From that it gives birth to contentment and from contentment, what comes from contentment is trustworthiness because somebody who has chastity and chaste used to mean not just with sexual mores, it has to do with everything now it is pretty much limited to the idea of temperance had to do with moderation in all things and that moderation lead to this chastity or chaste nature – a pure, virtuous nature. Then obviously from wisdom comes understanding. The virtues of the mind and intellect and then finally justice. At the essence of justice is a desire for fairness. The essence of justice is insaaf is fairness and it is very difficult. Very few people are fair in this world. Even people who are oppressors or who are oppressed will always look at the other with total lack of fairness, always. So an oppressor will always look at the one he is aggressing upon with a total lack of fairness. That is why true justice is very difficult to come about in the world because of human nature, it is so difficult for human beings to be fair to be truly fair.
The beauty of justice comes mercy. In the traditional understanding mercy came out of justice and the reason for that is an emotion that emerges when one sees somebody who is suffering or who is in a situation that he is not and from it arises this sense that this person does not deserve that. In other words, that fact that I am not in that condition, I do not want that condition for that person and that is justice. That is why mercy emerges out of justice. It is an extraordinary concept because we usually tend to see mercy and justice as mutually exclusive. You are either just or you are merciful but true mercy is actually emerging out of real sense of justice. That you do not observe that. That is why when God shows mercy to His creatures, that is coming from His justice. That is why the Quran says “my mercy outstrips my justice”. In other words, justice if the two race mercy always wins and from this idea of mercy emerging then the idea of forebearance.
Forebearance is the ability to despite somebody
aggressing upon you, to actually have this forebearance, this ability not to
desire retribution. From that virtue emerges, the virtue of forgiveness or
pardoning, that is why that is the highest virtue. The amazing thing about
forgiving, there was a really interesting study that was done in Stanford I
think, they worked with these people that were in
This is ancient tradition. Now the second type of mujahidah is the mujahidah of shaytan. Shaytan in the Islamic tradition is a force that exists in the world. There is an obersive element within the soul, a whispering that comes into the soul and also outside of oneself. It has two forms: human shayateen and jinn shayateen. Shayateen al jinn are the demons that work within another realm. Just as we are here and can see each other. There are other creatures that love along side of us that have impact on our life and we have an impact on their life but we cannot see them, they can see us. Every culture in every civilisation has reference to them. There is no culture in that you can find, I don’t care where, whether it is Japanese, if it is Indian, Russian, Irish no culture except that it has reference to this realm. German the poltergeist, mischievous spirits and things like this. Japanese culture is filled with it. They are real and they do have an impact. The way that one struggles against them is by cleanliness, by maintaining vigilance and cleanliness – urine and faeces, wudu, ritual washing, things like this. This is why most culltures have some traditions that they ward of these elements. Some of the native American tribes would burn sage in south western parts of the country to remove these elements. Incense traditionally was one of the things because the idea was they do not like good smells. That is why incense is almost a universal phenomenon. You find incense in the Christian traditions, in the Shinto, Buddhist, the Islamic tradition. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “fumigate your mosques with incense”. That is part of why this is there and also wearing perfume is also a good thing. Not listening to these impulses in the self, everybody has them whether you call them obsessive compulsive thoughts, whatever people want to call them. Psychiatrists have words for them when they get out of hand, people start having auditory hallucinations. This is what they are called, auditory hallucinations. Muslims believe that they are real. You cannot deny their reality because there are people that experience and hear them. To say it is all in your head, well it might all be in your head but it is still there. So these guys walking around, you can see them. You go to some place and they are talking and shouting. They are having these battles going on and that is called majnun, somebody who is majnun.
Now the third type of jihad is the jihad which demands that you defend what is right. That is the jihad of the sword. There are many verses in the Quran that indicate this. It did not come down all at once. It came down for 13 years. The Muslims were not allowed to fight in Makkah. They were given no permission whatsoever. That is why they simply suffered silently. They did not fight, they did not oppose what was happening to them. That was very difficult for these Arab men, people like Abu Bakr, these were men who were raised in a tradition of murooha, shaj’ah, shahama, these virtues of the Arabs of strength bravery and magnimity. So for them to watch people being persecuted in the way that they were watching and not able to do anything about it was incredible difficult. So that in itself was a test, not being able to fig