Islamic Heritage of South Asia

A Bridge of Iron Between Faith and Reason

By Dr. Abdullatif Aljibury, PhD

With continuing advances in science and technology, facts start to emerge that show how we are living in a meticulously designed universe, intricately formed, physically balanced and tuned to its finest detail.

As we carefully read the Quran, we continue to discover many statements that throw light on the finely balanced physical world that we are a part of.

It all started, as science tells us, billions of years ago, with a single event that gave rise to the physical world. We can only imagine the enormity of the events that followed, and be guided by ideas that suffuse our minds with owe and wonder.

As we read and contemplate the verses from the Quran regarding natural phenomena, we find that they are in total agreement with the physical reality that modern science has so far proved as being factual. The topic that is dealt with in this article is the element iron which is one of the elements in the periodic table. The majority of the elements are found naturally, but some are not. The element that we examine in our story in this paper is iron.

The Quran: 57:25 states: “Indeed We sent our Apostles with all evidence of truth and through them we bestowed revelation from on high and thus gave you a balance to weigh right and wrong so that man might behave with equity, And We have brought down, from on high, Iron, in which there is awesome power as well as a source of benefits for mankind.”

God has enabled mankind by revealing the truth to discriminate right from wrong,  which is after all the ultimate goal of His revelation to mankind.  The human is commanded to observe and maintain an equitable balance throughout the natural systems.  He is instructed to convert to his use the natural resources, one example of which is iron.

Iron, as God tells us in the above- mentioned verse, is not native to earth, but has been brought down, from on high, which is what modern -day science confirms.

Although most of the Iron on earth is found in the central core of our planet earth,it was actually brought down from outer space where it was formed. Thedynamics of the process reveals the mightiness of the Creator.

Shortly after the Big Event, there was only the element hydrogen and no otherelement, gas, liquid or solid, in existence. As super giant stars were being made there was a tremendous gravitational force, the elements started to form from hydrogen by the process of fusion.

The hydrogen atoms under such extreme conditions combine to form helium atoms with the evolution of tremendous amount of energy just as in the case of the hydrogen bomb. The reaction will continue until all of the hydrogen atoms are converted to helium atoms. Meanwhile the newly formed helium atoms will themselves fuse together and start their own fusion reaction combining among themselves to form a new product. Now, the product of the fusion reaction of two helium atoms is a carbon atom. This fusion process continues such that two atoms of carbon combine to give an atom of oxygen and so on as shown in the diagram above.

The process of fusion continues until all of the hydrogen is converted to Helium nd from helium to Carbon to oxygen to neon to magnesium to silicon and then all of the silicon atoms in the chain process are converted to iron. By then, all of the fuel, so to speak, is exhausted leaving us with only a mass of iron at the center of the star.  The supernova, under tremendous gravitational force, then explodes and the iron fragments are blasted out into space. Some of this iron found its way to earth millions of years ago.

A massive amount of the iron, being very heavy, found its way through to the core and settled in the center of the earth which is the center of gravity. Less heavier pieces of iron settled at various distances from the center of gravity and distributed in the iron mines and around the crust of the earth as we find them today.

What makes the topic of iron so fascinating is that it is mentioned in chapter 57 of the Holy Quran which opens up, as we shall see shortly, many venues to the role that iron plays in our lives and that of our planet earth.

It is interesting to point out that the name of chapter 57 in the Quran is “The Iron.” This is the only chapter in the Quran that is named after a chemical element. The chapter number 57 is the center chapter of the 114 total chapters of the Quran. This must reflect the fact that iron occupies the center core of our planet and plays a central role in the health maintenance of human beings as well as other biological systems, plants and animals occupying our planet earth.

Verse 57:25, states that iron, which was sent from on high, has awesome power and is, as well, a source of benefits to humankind.

With the ingenuity which God has endowed mankind, this awesome power has been further enhanced by modern research and technology. From weapons of war to airplane carriers to submarines to rockets to more advanced and highly sophisticated and powerful forms use the iron that has been sent from on high. For this reason, God earlier on in the same verse warns us that having been endowed with the command of such powerful industrial and strategic an element,  we need to stop and reflect (about its appropriate use).  

Human beings need to use this awesome power wisely and carefully. They should not feel autonomous and lose harmony with nature and upset the equilibrium of an orderly life. Being conscious and humble must be our guide to live in peace and harmony.  We must distinguish right from wrong and maintain the global balance with equity to be of benefit to all humankind.

In the same verse, it is stated that iron, besides being a source of awesome power, has also many benefits for mankind. The benefits are noticeable in our daily lives. This is made possible with man’s creativity and skill in tool making and other innovations. There is hardly any place where one cannot notice an instrument, a tool or a machine that is made of iron. As a matter of fact, the advent of industrial revolution was made possible only through the use of iron which led to the construction of the railways, automobiles, bridges, cargo ships and so on. The list of material advantages of iron is literally endless. One can hardly miss the advance in transportation, which was hinted at in the Quran 16:5-8, which was made possible because of the use of iron.

We cannot miss the direct necessity of iron to the human body.  Every human body carries about 4 grams of iron in the form of hemoglobin which is so essential to the maintenance of life and sustenance of healthy living. Iron is involved in some essential reactions involving enzymes and other compounds in the human body. We can hardly breath, so to speak, without the help of iron. Besides, and to support our continued healthy existence, iron is also essential for the survival and proper functioning of animals and plants and their supporting ecosystems. Animals need iron in their blood  to breath and carry on with their daily lives, just as do humans. Plants need iron in their system to synthesize chlorophyll, which is essential for the functioning and existence of plants and for the production of oxygen so essential for life on earth.

Without iron, every living matter, from human beings to animals to plants, would cease to function and grow. Iron is a bridge between science and faith

It is worship to fulfill God’s command and to seek knowledge that will ultimately lead to the truth. God has prescribed the means that are available to the human to reason, think and reflect in a quest to understand natural phenomenon and use it to the progress of society and the created world.

God Has given Signs or guide posts to the faithful to follow and reach the desired end. In our continuing effort to seek knowledge, and learn more and more about our universe and beyond, what better means are there than science to facilitate the quest for the truth?

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

“You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the ocean in a drop.” 

Quotes from Rumi (A symphony of love in the midst of war)

“You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the ocean in a drop.”

 “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

“Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love.”

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”

“However much we describe and explain love, when we fall in love, we are ashamed of our words.”

“If you find Me not within you, you will never find Me.

“I have been with you, from the beginning of Me.”

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

“A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

“Reason is powerless in the expression of Love.”

“I closed my lips. I was silent. So, I spoke to him in a thousand languages”

“The lover visible and the Beloved invisible, Whoever saw such a love all the world?”

“I looked for Him in temples, churches, and mosques. I found Him within my own heart.”

“You searched the whole world for life, Yet in your own heart you will die. You were born in the blissful arms of union, Yet alone you will die.”

“Appear as you are, Be as you appear.”

“I am a bird of the heavenly garden, I belong not the earthly sphere, They have made for two or three days, A cage for my body.

“The presence of a friend of God is a book and even more. The book of the Sufi is not written with ink and letters. It is only a heart, White like snow.

“What can I do, Muslims? I do not know myself.
I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Magian nor Muslim,
I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire.
I am not from the highest heaven, not from this world,
not from existence, not from being.
I am not from India, not from China, not from Bulgar, not from Saqsin,
not from the realm of the two Iraqs, not from the land of Khurasan.
I am not from the world, not from beyond,
not from heaven and not from hell.
I am not from Adam, not from Eve, not from paradise and not from Ridwan.
My place is placeless, my trace is traceless,
no body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls.
I have chased out duality, lived the two worlds as one.
One I seek, one I know, one I see, one I call.
He is the first, he is the last, he is the outer, he is the inner.
Beyond He and He is I know no other.
I am drunk from the cup of love, the two worlds have escaped me.
I have no concern but carouse and rapture.
If one day in my life I spend a moment without you
from that hour and that time I would repent my life.
If one day I am given a moment in solitude with you
I will trample the two worlds underfoot and dance forever.
O Sun of Tabriz, I am so tipsy here in this world,
I have no tale to tell but tipsiness and rapture.”

The Context of Rumi’s poems

1207 Birth of Jalaluddin Rum

1210 Ibn al Arabi arrives in Konya

1212 The al Mohads defeated at the battle of Las Novas de Talosa in Spain

1217 The Fifth Crusade aimed at the capture of Egypt

1219 Genghiz Khan invades Khorasan

1221 Genghiz Khan destroys Samarqand, Bokhara, Nishapur, Herat, Ghazna and much of Central and West Asia

1236 The Crusaders capture Cordoba, capital of Muslim spain

1248 The Crusaders capture Seville

1258 Hulagu Khan destroys Baghdad

1273 Rumi passes away in Konya, Turkey

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Origin, Nature, Methods and Limits of Knowledge

Professor  Nazeer Ahmed


“Love is the remedy for all ills, and it is the remedy of the soul in the two worlds”,  Fareed ud-din Attar (d 1219 CE), Mantiq at tayr (The Conference of the Birds).

Truth is one and indivisible. There cannot be one truth for nature and another truth for faith and a third one for history. This self-evident reality is overlooked by secular man who compartmentalizes science, history and faith.

Science, history and faith are interrelated in their origin as well as their functionality.  The origin of all knowledge is the Divine Name. Humankind is born with an innate capacity to know the Divine Name, and through the Name, know the names and nature of all things.

The function of knowledge is to know God (meaning, His Name) so that humankind may serve and worship Him. This is the grand schema for the existence of the human species.

All that exists springs from God and returns to God. History began when humankind separated itself from Divine presence.  Ever since then it has been engaged in a perpetual struggle to find Him. In this struggle, the body, mind, heart and the intellect are his cohorts. As humankind approaches Divine presence, the awe inspiring panorama of nature and the grandeur of the historical process pale into insignificance, collapse and become mere Signs. These Signs, in turn, point the way back to Divine presence from where humankind originated in the first place.  Thus science and history become a study of Divine Signs. They lose their profane character and take on a sublime character.

The discipline of each – science, history and faith- is a noble and grand enterprise in its own right.  Each one shows the grandeur and majesty of God’s creation and guides man to his noble destiny. Each one has its own assumptions. A man of wisdom is aware of these assumptions so that when he embarks on his discovery of the Truth, he does not confuse what is apparent with the reality that lies hidden behind the manifest.

In what follows, I present a unified vision of knowledge that integrates science, faith and history. The basis of this integration is the wisdom of the Qur’an.

The interrelationship of science, history and faith through a search for al Haqq (The Truth) is a theme that repeats in this collection of essays.

The Origin of Knowledge

Read! In the Name of your Rabb, Who created,

Created the human from that which clings.

Read! By your Rabb, the most bountiful,    

Who taught by the Pen,

Taught humankind what it knew not.

No! The human does indeed transgress,

When he looks upon himself as autonomous.  (The Qur’an 96:1-5)

Knowledge is a treasure. It is gifted through the Spirit which is the source of life.  Whether one is a saint or a scientist one must concede that with birth come life, knowledge and power. A dead man has no life, no power and no knowledge.  It stands to reason that knowledge is a Divine gift that accompanies the Spirit which is infused into a person between conception and birth. It is the Spirit that is the life source. Without the Spirit, there is no life and no knowledge.

Ilm ul Ibara and Ilm ul Ishara

Broadly speaking, knowing is of two kinds:

  • Knowledge that can be taught
  • Knowledge that cannot be taught but can only be alluded to.

Knowledge that can be taught is called ilm ul ibara. In this category belong science, history, mathematics, geometry, civics  and the languages. Knowledge that cannot be taught but can only be alluded to is termed ilm ul ishara. In this category belong faith, love, honor, valor, courage, beauty, compassion and forgiveness.

There is a third category of knowledge, ilm al Wahi or ilm al ladnuni  that is bestowed only upon the Prophets.

The Qur’an uses parables and similes to convey transcendent ideas that are difficult or impossible to communicate through discursive language. Transcendental ideas such as love, grace, beauty, wisdom and peace are best felt, not expressed.  Accordingly, knowledge can be divided into two categories: ilm ul ishara (knowledge that is allusory and cannot be expressed through language), and ilm ul ibara (knowledge that is descriptive and can be expressed through language). Ilm ul Ibara can be measured and taught in a school. Ilm ul Ishara cannot; it is a Divine gift, a moment of Grace.

Consider, for instance, love which animates creation. Love is the cement that binds the world of man. Human love is but a simile to Divine Love that sustains all creation, like the light of an oil lamp is a simile to the light of the sun. The difference is that while the sun and its light are finite, Divine Love is infinite, boundless, beyond description.  Such is the language of love, the language of the heart, the language of allusion.

The word Ibara has its root in the trilateral Arabic word A-B-R (a-ba-ra) which means to wade, as wading across a river from one shore to the other. In prose, it means a line or a description. Accordingly, any thought or idea that can be described through prose, poetry or mathematical symbols can be classified as ilm-ul-ibara.  Such is the language of the body and the mind.

The Nafs or the Self straddles ilm ul ibara and ilm ul ishara. It receives its inputs from the senses, mind and heart. It is molded and transformed by these inputs. Like the senses, the Nafs measures in space-time. Like the mind it extrapolates. Like the heart it perceives. But it has its own unique characteristics which are not shared with other human attributes. That is its free will.

We illustrate in the diagram below our classification of knowledge.


“Soon shall We show them Our Signs on the horizon and within themselves until it is clear to them that it is the Truth)”- (The Qur’an 41:53)


          • HISTORY
          • SOCIOLOGY
          • THE LANGUAGES
          • RITUALS
      • NUMBERS
      • GEOMETRY
        • NAFS E AMMARA
        • NAFS E MULHAMA
        • NAFS E LAWWAMA
        • NAFS E RADIYA
        • NAFS E MARDIYA


Empirical Knowledge as a Sign

The created world becomes but a simile before the grandeur and majesty of God. This simple truth provides a basis for the integration of the physical and the spiritual. The physical becomes “a Sign” and points the way to Divine presence. So does history. So do the Signs in the heart.

The approach of the Qur’an is inductive.  It builds the awareness of Divine omnipresence through Signs in nature and in history. The quest for the Divine is through the struggle of man on earth; the path lies through science and history. It is a limitless, unceasing effort until man meets God. By contrast, the philosophical approach is deductive. It starts with axioms and theses and deduces inferences from it. If the axiom is flawed, so is the deduction.  In addition, reasoning and the process of deduction itself have inherent limits.

God reveals His majesty and His bounty every moment through nature and through history. Nature is a great teacher. It is an open book with an infinite number of pages. It offers an infinite variety of vistas. Humans try to understand nature and use it for their benefit. The question is: how can the physical and the natural be integrated into a holistic picture which includes not just the inputs from the body and the mind but also the perceptions of the heart?

The Qur’anic perspective integrates the physical, the rational and the emotive by asserting their common origin and their common functionality. Each of these modes of knowing springs from the spirit (the Ruh) and is a Divine gift. Each of these assists humankind in discharging its responsibility to know, serve, praise, adore and worship Him. We will briefly outline here how the senses, the mind and the heart facilitate the perception of Signs of Divine presence and serve to augment faith.

In the secular view there is no interconnectivity between the worldviews of the body, the mind and the heart. The interconnectivity is established when these worldviews are taken as Signs from a Single Source so that man may perceive the presence of the Divine and attain certainty of faith.

Consider the physical. The senses act as windows to the physical in space-time and facilitate the construction of an empirical worldview which forms the basis of science.  This worldview, based on the assumptions of before and after, subject and object, is useful but is deceptive. Here is an example: Consider a rainbow. A physical description of the rainbow would take us in the direction of wavelengths, dispersion, wave propagation, optic nerves, and neurons in the brain. Consider this worldview of wavelengths, dispersion and neurons. Where  in this description is the enchanting beauty of the rainbow as it vaults the sky from horizon to horizon? It is not there. Yet, even the most unlettered human can relate to the beauty of the rainbow and be awed by it. The beauty of the rainbow is not in the physical description because beauty is not in wavelengths, cells and atoms. It is in the Self, the Nafs which is hidden from the physical, but makes its presence felt through interaction with the physical.

The secular man is constantly at war with himself. He cannot circumscribe the heart with his logic. Secular thought would have us believe that there is nothing more to the cosmos than the physical. The materialists go even one step further; they reduce all experience to the physical. In the process they negate the essence of being human which lies in the perceptions of not just the physical but also perceptions of the heart and the Self (Nafs).

This dichotomy between the physical and the Self is removed when the physical is looked upon as a Divine Sign. Such a perspective does not negate the scientific approach which demands its validation in observation and measurement. It merely imparts a transcendent quality to the physical so that the scientist can use the experience of the senses, not as an end in itself but as a Sign to perceive the presence of the Divine and witness the grand panorama of creation from a platform of faith and reason.  Such a view does not negate the processes of science. But it changes the perspective in a profound way.

Every moment Divine grace displays itself in nature, and it does so with majesty. In it there are Signs for the perceptive minds. The study of nature thus becomes mandatory on humans to witness these Signs, use them as occasions to celebrate Divine grace, apply reason, learn from them and use them to create Divine patterns (‘amal us salehat) in the world.

Whatever is in the heavens and the earth ask of Him,

Every moment He (reveals His Signs) with grandeur. (The Qur’an 55:23 )

The physical sciences are a part of ilm ul ibara. They can be described and taught. They are an essential part of the sublime gift of ilm (knowledge) bestowed upon the human.

History as a Sign and a Teacher

History offers a fascinating panorama of human struggle on earth. The rise and fall of civilizations, the making and unmaking of dynasties, the formation and breakup of societies offer endless lessons for the discerning mind. The question is: Is history a part of a grand Divine scheme or is it merely a collection of dates, events, conflicts, triumphs and tragedies?

In the secular paradigm, history has no Grand Purpose. It is like a meandering stream, without a known origin and without a known destiny. It may reveal its secrets to philosophical scrutiny but such scrutiny yields answers that are partial, incomplete and change with the vagaries of time-space.

In the Qur’anic paradigm, history has a beginning and an end. It has a meaning and a purpose. It begins with creation and ends with judgment. Its meaning is to be sought in the perpetual struggle of man to find God:

Verily! O humankind ! You are toiling on toward your Lord! Painfully toiling! And you shall meet Him! (84:6)

The purpose of creation is to know God:

I was a hidden Treasure. I willed that I be known. So I created a creation (that would know Me).  (Hadith e Qudsi)

Man is not separate from nature, or antagonistic to it, as he is in the secular perspective.  The Divine laws that govern the universe govern humankind also:

The Most Compassionate,

Taught the Qur’an,

Created Humankind,

Taught him speech,

The sun and the moon, (rotate in accordance) with mathematics,

And the stars and the trees submit (to His heavenly Laws),

The heavens has He raised high and established dynamic equilibrium therein,

So that you do not violate that equilibrium in your own lives (The Qur’an 55: 1-7)

In the Qur’anic view, history is another Sign, like nature. It is like a mirror that teaches humankind something about itself so that humankind may learn and work towards its ethical journey to find God.

The Noble Station (Maqam) of the Mind

In all of God’s creation, there is nothing as noble as the Mind, except the heart. The Mind is that collection of attributes that sifts through, analyzes, integrates and creates that enormous ocean of knowledge that distinguishes man from the beast. The distinguishing characteristic of the Mind is that it conceives of the possibility of things. It even admits of the possibility of heaven, of the Tablet and the Pen. Logic is its companion, reason its queen. Questioning is its lance. It plays with the concrete and processes what is abstract. When it is set free, it seeks to conquer the heavens and the earth.

Mathematics and Symbols

The Mind is the master of the abstract. Symbols and concepts are its vocabulary. This ability to grasp symbols and concepts, work with them, transform them, integrate them and bring forth new symbols and concepts is a divine gift. It is one of the distinguishing capabilities of the human genre that sets it apart from the beast.  This ability is what has enabled humankind to build the edifice of knowledge. It is a natural ability, inherited at birth by every human.

Mathematics and symbols can be taught just as language, history, sociology, civics, politics and governance can be taught. Hence the study of symbols also falls under ilm ul ibara.

The Mutuality of the Body and Mind

Sublime as it is, the Mind is helpless without the body. It draws upon the inputs from the senses to validate its perceptions. It is for this reason that sometimes one says that the Body and the Mind are one: the Body is an extension of the Mind while the Mind is an extension of the Body. Let us elaborate this subtle idea by an example.

Our knowledge of the cosmos is space-time bound. The senses, i.e., the eyes, the ears, touch, taste and smell, take inputs from this space-time bound world which are then processed by the mind so that we “know” what it is that we have seen, heard, tasted or touched. The mind is like the processor of a computer into which inputs are provided by the senses. For example, a child touches a hot stove. The input from his touch is processed by the mind which tells him that it is hot. Even if we devise an infrared sensor to measure the temperature, the sensor must be read before we know that the stove is hot. Neither the body nor the mind would know anything of the condition of the stove without the help each of the other.

The sublime character of the mind is that it is space-time bound but it can conceive of the possibility of a world that is not bound by space-time and has many more dimensions than space-time. Indeed, it can conceive of the possibility of heaven.

The Position of Philosophy

Philosophy supported by empirical evidence becomes science. Philosophy unsupported by empirical evidence becomes speculation.  Logic and rational thought are its tools. Reason is its companion. Philosophy is deductive science. It starts with a premise and draws conclusions from it.  The limitations of philosophy are in the very assumptions that form its foundation. The errors of the philosophers arise when they forget the assumptions on which their philosophy is based and proceed to apply their methods to issues and concepts that are beyond the domain of philosophy. Let us offer an example.

In the eighth century CE, the Mu’tazalites (Muslim philosophers) adopted Greek philosophy as their own and rose to a position of political dominance. They were enamored of the precision, the logic and apparent cohesiveness of rational thought. In their enthusiasm they proceeded to apply their rational scrutiny to matters of faith forgetting that faith has a transcendental dimension beyond time-space whereas the objects of philosophy are space-time bound.  In the process, they fell flat on their faces. Their positions were rejected following an intellectual revolution led by Imam Hanbali and the Usuli ulema (846 CE) and they were expelled from their position of power and influence.

In summary, ilm ul ibara is knowledge that can be expressed and taught. It includes the knowledge that is acquired through the body and the mind. The disciplines that are a domain of the body include natural science, history, sociology, economics, politics and governance. Knowledge acquired through the body (the senses) depends on observation and measurement and is called inductive knowledge.

The body and the mind work together to form a worldview. They are intertwined with each other to such an extent that oftentimes it is said that the Body and the Mind are one.

Reason is one of the greatest blessings of the Creator upon His creation. It is an attribute of the mind. The mind is a noble faculty. It is the master of logic and reason. It is distinguished by its ability to read symbols and conceive of the possibility of things. Knowledge acquired by the mind can also be taught and hence it is also a part of ilm ul ibara. It includes mathematics, geometry, logic and philosophy.

What is Ilm ul Ishara

Ilm ul Ishara is knowledge that can be alluded to but not expressed through language. It includes the language of the heart and the language of the hidden Self (the soul).  Examples are: love, hate, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity.

The secular worldview recognizes only the empirical and the rational (the Body and the Mind) as sources of knowledge. The secular world is cold, rational, devoid of feelings and emotions. Secular man finds himself alone in this cold world. He does not speak to this world; the world does not speak to him.

What makes us human is not just our Body and our Mind. It is also our heart and our soul.  Feelings and emotions are valid sources of experience. And experience is the basis of knowledge.

How can we deny that we love? Or that we have compassion and mercy? Why does a man want to climb a mountain? Why does a singer sing or a poet compose poetry? Joy and sorrow cannot be measured by instruments nor comprehended by the mind. They are attributes of the heart.  They are attributes of the soul.

The Imperfect Worldview of the Body and the Mind

Secular man who believes only in the material and the rational overlooks the flaws in his worldview. As an illustration, consider the red color of a beautiful rose. Ask a materialist to tell you where the redness in the rose comes from. His description will be something along the following lines: Electromagnetic waves from the sun hit the rose. All waves except those around 0.63 micrometers are absorbed by the rose. When reflected, they travel through space and are received by the eye. They hit the retina, travel along the optic nerve and are recorded in brain cells. Ask yourself: where in this picture is the red color of the rose? It is not there. The red color is neither in the rose nor in the eye. It is somewhere else.  It is in the Self (soul).

The attributes of color, beauty, joy and sorrow that make our world rich and meaningful are absent from a materialist worldview drawn purely on the basis of the empirical and the rational. Such a worldview is flawed and incomplete. It is also deceptive, erroneous and misleading.

The Exalted Station (Maqam) of the Heart

In all of God’s creation, there is nothing as noble, as sublime as the human heart, for it alone is capable of knowing the Name of God. Nothing, not the body, not the mind, measures up to heart in its nobility, its expanse and its heavenly character. Mohammed ibn Ali al Hakim al Tirmidhi, that great Sufi shaikh of the tenth century, in his treatise Bayan al Sadr wa al Qalb wa al Fuad wa al Lubb, compared the heart to the throne of God.  He wrote: “The heart has a nobler position even with respect to the Throne (arsh), for the Throne receives the Grace of God and merely reflects it, whereas the heart receives the Grace of God, reflects it and is aware of it.”  The sublime attribute of the heart is that it is aware; it knows what the angels do not know.

Hadith e Qudsi (divinely inspired saying of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)) says: The heavens and the mountains and the earth were not large enough to contain Me. But the heart of the believer was large enough to contain Me.”

The heart as it is used here should not be confused with the physical heart. It should be understood as a collection of attributes. Based upon the terminology of the Qur’an, Imam Tarmidhi, ascribes four ascending stations to the heart, each with its own distinct characteristics.

The Sadr. This is the outermost station of the heart.  It is open to the goodness that comes from the spirit. It is also open to the distractions of the world. It expands with the light of the spirit and contracts with the darkness of evil whispering. In this sense it is like the aperture of a camera. The more it opens, the more it admits light.

The Qalb. This is the heart proper. The word Qalb in Arabic means that which turns. It is like a gimbal in a spacecraft. One face of the heart turns towards the Light of the spirit. The other face turns towards the distractions of the world. The heart that turns towards the spirit receives the light that comes from Divine presence. A heart that turns towards the deceptive appearance of the material world is sealed off from that light.

The Fu’ad. The word Fu’ad comes from the word Fayida which in Arabic means that which is of benefit. It is the kernel of the heart. It is that attribute which enables the heart not only to be aware of the Divine Names but to see the presence of God around it. Hence it is the eye of the heart.

The Birr. This is the essence of the heart. It is like the oil in the lamp, that which gives off light. It is the station wherein are manifest the beauty and majesty of Divine presence. It is the inner sanctum of the heart that gazes in its rapture at the ruh or the spirit and receives the infinite Grace that comes from God’s presence. The word Birr has two letters, b and r. The “b” stands for Baraka (grace). The “r” stands for ra’a, that is to see. The Birr is a perpetual witness to the blessings that accrue from the tajalliyat (manifestations) of  Divine attributes. This is the highest station of the heart, the one that is attained by the sages, the awliya.

What is ilm al laduni?

This is the knowledge that is given only to the Prophets, the Messengers of God. It is Divine wisdom. It contains guidance for humankind and the criterion to separate right from wrong. It provides the framework and the wisdom (hikmah) within which all other knowledge is sorted out. Included in it are the Qur’an, the Injil, the Torah and all the revealed books given to all the prophets through the ages in all parts of the world.

What is the Nafs

The Nafs is a composite term which includes the body, the mind and the heart. Like the heart, it is a collection of attributes and is not to be confused with a specific part of the body. Depending on the context it is translated as “person”, “soul”, or the Self. It is the “I” that remains hidden and yet makes itself felt through the body, the mind and the heart. In the English language it is sometimes incorrectly translated as “the Ego”. The Ego is only one aspect of the Nafs; it does not capture the full, comprehensive meaning of the Nafs.

The secular perspective denies the existence of the Nafs. In its materialist outlook, it confines itself to the concrete and the rational. “What is material is real and what is real is material” is its perspective. Consequently, secular man cannot come to terms with the emotions and the passions that govern the world of man.  In the secular perspective there is no color, only wavelengths. There is no joy and no sorrow only chemical changes in the body. The secular world is cold, rational, devoid of the higher impulses that make us human.

Attributes of the Nafs

The Nafs is distinguished by its attributes, just as are its individual elements, the heart, the mind and the body. Some of the most important attributes of the Nafs are:

  1. The Nafs is the seat of cognition and knowledge. The sounds that we hear are “heard” not by the ear but by the Nafs. The sights that we see are “seen” not by the eye but by the Nafs. The “heat” and “cold” that we experience are not experienced by the skin but by the Nafs. The Nafs (soul or the Self) is the cognitive element in a human being.
  2. The Nafs is the fountain of speech. The faculty of “bayan” as it is called in Arabic, is not merely the ability to speak a particular language such as English, French, Arabic, Urdu, Swahili or Zulu, but it is that innate human ability to transform sounds and signs into ideas, to dissect, combine and integrate them and build the tree of knowledge that distinguishes the world of man from the world of the beast. Speech is not in the tongue; it is in the Nafs or the soul.

God, Most Gracious,

Taught the Qur’an,

Created the human,

Taught him speech.” (The Qur’an 55:1-4)

3. The Nafs is the owner of intent and free will.

Humankind is distinguished by its free will. “I will, therefore I am”, is the succinct way to state this. Man has the free will to choose and realize his existential potential.  It is this same free will that makes a man climb a mountain, conquer the oceans, ride the waves, and send a rocket to the moon.

4. The Nafs is the knower of beauty, of order and proportion.

And the Nafs

By the sense of order and proportion bestowed upon it. (The Quran 91:7)

The Nafs has a sense of order, proportion and beauty. Every human, man, woman and child is endowed with these attributes. That is how even the most unlettered person can relate to the enchanting beauty of the rainbow or the serene majesty of a mountain.  The Nafs recognizes beauty, order and proportion in the external world and relates to it because the external is a reflection of what is already in the Nafs.   It is like looking in the mirror; the beauty of the image is a reflection of the beauty of that which causes the image.

5. The Nafs is the seat of the Ego.

The Nafs is sometimes mistranslated into English as the Ego. In Arabic, the corresponding term for the Ego would be “Anaya”.  The term “Ego” is a Freudian term used in Western psychology and has its own specific connotations. The Nafs is a broader term than the Ego inasmuch as it includes the hidden attributes of the body, the mind and the heart, and hence connotes the total human being, or simply, the Person.

It is the Ego that incites the human to self-aggrandizement, to rebel against the commandments of God and set himself up as an open adversary to Divine Will and in the process lays the groundwork for his self-destruction:

Nay! But humankind does rebel

In that it considers itself autonomous (self-sufficient);

We will drag him by his forelock,

A lying, sinful forelock! (96: 6-7)

6. The Nafs has a conscience and is the differentiator of good and evil.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the Nafs is its ability to know right from wrong, good from evil (…And its guidance as to what is wrong and what is right… Qur’an 91:8). The propensity towards evil and its ability to say “no” to that tendency is a uniquely human ability. Humankind is born with “deen ul fitra”, in the natural state with closeness to Divine presence, but through its own actions gets away from the Divine presence and has to be reminded again and again to return to the Divine fold.

The Veil of the Nafs

The susceptibility of the Nafs to evil makes the Nafs the biggest barrier between the Light that comes with the Ruh and its perception. Properly trained, this barrier can be removed and the Nafs can become the carrier of that Light. The progression of the Nafs from an obstructer of Light to a carrier of Light is a continuous process. Four stations of the Nafs are identified in the Qur’an:

Nafs e Ammara: This is the dark side of man, prone to whisperings from the evil one. Nafs e Ammara stands steeped in darkness, cut off from the light emanating from the Spirit.

Nafs e Mulhama: This is the aspiring Nafs, the state when a person starts questioning the evil tendencies of his own Self and tries to rectify them.

Nafs e Lawwama: This is the blaming Nafs, the station from where the Self, having overcome the evil inclinations of the Self, reaches out to a higher station, to find the Light that comes from Divine presence.

Nafs e Mutmainna:

At this station, the Nafs has overcome its Ego and has shunned whisperings of the evil one and has turned with complete surrender to Divine presence. It is the station of satisfaction, tranquility and peace.

Nafs e Radiya

At this station, the Nafs is satisfied with itself.

Nafs e Maradiya

This is the highest station. At this station, the Nafs is satisfied with itself and its Creator is satisfied with it.

Tirmidhi tabulates the stations of the Nafs with respect to the stations of the heart: Nafs e Ammara corresponds to Sadr; Nafs e Mulhama corresponds to the Qalb; Nafs e Lawwama corresponds to the Fu’ad, and Nafs e Mutmainna corresponds to Birr.

The Interconnectivity of Knowledge

Truth is one. Its origin is the Light that comes with the ruh (the Spirit). It is the Spirit that suffuses the heart, the mind and the body to acquire knowledge. It follows that the various categories of knowledge are interconnected.  

The primal origin of knowledge from a divine source establishes the interconnectivity between different forms of knowledge. Ilm ul ibara and ilm ul ishara both have Divine origin. What is learned through the senses springs from the same Source as what is learned through the mind and what is perceived by the heart.  And all of them point like arrows (Signs) towards that divine purpose in creation, namely, to serve and worship Him. Unlike the secular framework where the body and mind stand as antagonists to the heart and to each other, in the Qur’anic paradigm, the body, mind and the heart are partners, each contributing its share to the acquisition of knowledge that enables humankind to discharge its divinely established responsibility to serve and worship.

There is interconnectivity in nature. There is interconnectivity between the perceived world and the world beyond perception. This interconnectivity is through the Creator, who creates everything, every moment, with sublime beauty, complete perfection and supreme majesty.

The Purpose of Creation

The various categories of knowledge are also interconnected through their shared functionality.

Does the universe have a purpose? As opposed to the secular view of a purposeless world, the Qur’anic view holds that there is a moral purpose to creation, that is, to serve and worship God:

I created not the Jinns and Humankind except to serve (worship). The Qur’an (51:56)

The word that is used in the Qur’an to describe this purpose is “‘abd” which may mean worship or unqualified servitude.  Thus humankind and jinns (another form of intelligent creation made of formless energy) are enjoined to acquire knowledge so that they may know God and serve and worship Him.

The fossilization of knowledge

Knowledge is fossilized because of the assumptions made by man about the secular nature of the cosmos. By dissociating the material and the rational from the heart and the soul, secular man ends up in a blind alley where the heart and the Nafs (soul) are absent from his worldview. History, science, philosophy, mathematics, good and evil, passion and emotion each are pigeon-holed into separate compartments with no interconnectivity. Secular man sees no grand purpose in creation. He embarks on a search for the truth using atoms, molecules, neutrons, protons, strings and wavelengths as his props. And what he finds in the end are nothing but atoms, molecules, neutrons, protons, strings and wavelengths.

Summary: I have presented in this paper a vision of knowledge that integrates the empirical, the rational, the intuitive and infusive (science, philosophy, perception and revelation).  Knowledge is a Divine gift. It has a grand purpose, and that is to know, adore and serve Him. The laws of nature and of history are Signs in this quest and serve as stations on the ladders of ascent towards Divine presence.  Humankind must strive to study these Signs so that through them it fulfills its heavenly mandate.  The heart is the seat of awareness, a container of Divine Names. Revelation is Divine guidance so that man may find God. Faith is the most precious jewel in the treasure house of the heart. Science, history and faith are not antagonists; they are complementary Divine gifts and it is through them that man finds God. Each is a sacred path that starts from the Truth and points towards the Truth. This is the essence of the Shariah, the Divine Cannon, the Divine Law which pervades the world seen and the world unseen.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

A Milkmaid says No to a Prince

A story from Southern India

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

There lived a milkmaid, Akka, in a remote village tucked away in the hilly tracts of Southern India. She was young, ambitious and pretty, her beautiful face blackened by the hot tropical Indian sun. Akka lived in a thatched adobe hut in a single room. In one corner of the hut was a brick oven plastered over with red clay. A mattress and a straw pillow, a cotton saree and a few pieces of clothes lay neatly piled up in another corner. Tethered outside to a peg was a water buffalo. This was her wealth. Indeed, it was her universe in which her neighbors who lived in clusters of thatched mud huts were the constellations.

Akka was up every morning as soon as the first rooster heralded the imminent onset of another dawn. Soon, the sparrows came, in droves of hundreds, as well as the cuckoo and the myna; the air was filled with a symphony of a hundred bird songs. She carefully washed her hands and face in cold water, chilled overnight in an unbaked clay jug molded in the skillful hands of the village potter.

Her routine was the same every morning: she milked the buffalo, carried the milk in a matki (large clay pot) to the nearby town, sold the milk for one rupee and brought back some rice, ragi, onions and lentils for food.

That morning, as she approached the buffalo, Akka found that its udders were swollen with milk. She squeezed each udder with care and love until the matki was filled to the brim.

Akka curled up a piece of cloth into a rope, made it into a ring (a chambel) and placed the chambel on her head. She stood up, lifted the mutki and carefully positioned it on her head so that the weight of the filled clay pot was distributed around the rim of her chambel.

Akka started to walk towards the town, a distance of three miles, through the mango orchards and past the tall, slender aracanut trees that reached up to the sky and were waving gently in the morning breeze. Soon, the sun rose from the hills, its balmy rays reflecting off the morning dew on the grass in the open fields.

“Today, will be a good day for me”, Akka thought. “My mutki is full of milk. It will easily sell for two rupees”. Now, her mind started to race ahead. “I will save the extra rupee. Tomorrow, I will save another rupee. Soon I will have enough money to buy a second buffalo. My profits will double. In time I will have a large herd of buffalos so that I can supply milk to the entire town. With the money, I will build a mansion with a large garden, mango groves and aracanut trees. I will hire servants and buy troves of sarees of silk and jewelry made of pure gold.

“My fame will spread far and wide”, Akka continued to day-dream even as the pace of her walk picked up until she was practically jogging.  Her slender black frame moved forward in mighty strides as she hurried towards the town. “The news about my wealth will finally reach the prince”, she thought. The prince will inquire: Who is that wealthy young lady that everyone speaks of?”

“Then, the prince will appear before my mansion in a chariot, accompanied by his companions. He will ring the silver bell at my beautiful mahogany door. My maid servants will open door and I will appear before the prince, bedecked with my beautiful jewelry and an embroidered, red silk sari. So dazzled will the prince be with my beauty that he will kneel and ask me: Will you marry me?”

Akka’s mind paused for a moment. “How will I respond to the prince?” she asked herself. Pride took over her inner self and she decided she would reject the prince’s proposal.

“I will firmly say ‘No’ to the prince”. As if to emphasize her rejection, Akka shook her head with a sudden jerk. The mutki tumbled from her head and fell. It broke into pieces and all the milk spilled onto the ground, shattering her dreams and hurling her back into the world of reality.

The story-teller concluded: “The milkmaid reminds you of your Nafs (ego). Dream but be thankful for the pot of milk that God has already given you.”

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

A Parable of Two Frogs

Submitted by Professor Nazeer Ahmed

Once upon a time there lived a little frog in a tiny pond. Years of living in cramped shallow waters had turned its color muddy red. The pond was isolated from other sources of water so the frog had no idea about the mighty rivers that flowed through the land or the vast oceans that covered more than seventy percent of the earth’s surface. The little red frog was happy in its ignorance, content that it was the king of the pond which it believed was the largest body of water in the world.

One day, the region was hit by a powerful hurricane. There was a mighty downpour lasting days, creating a deluge that occurs only once in a century. The rivers overflowed; the land was flooded and became one continuous lake as far as the eye could see.

A blue frog that lived in the ocean was caught up in the floods and was hurled into the small pond that was home to the red frog.

The red frog had never seen a blue frog. It was curious to learn about the companion that had just landed in its domain.

“Where did you come from?”, asked the red frog of the newcomer.

“My home is the ocean. I have lived there for generations. The floods carried me off my turf and have landed me into your pond”, answered the blue frog.

The red frog was curious. “I wonder what kind of a pond this other frog comes from? Are there other ponds out there bigger than my pond?”, it ruminated.

“How large is your pond?”, asked the red frog.

“It is larger than this pond”, came the answer.

Jealousy overtook curiosity. “Surely, this newcomer is lying”, thought the red frog. “After all, I have lived in this pond all my life. I know, for sure, there is no pond larger than mine”.

It was time for a test. The red frog took a long hop, then turned to the blue frog and asked: “Is your pond as large as that hop?”

“It is larger”, replied the blue frog.

The red frog took two long hops. “Surely”, it mused, “his pond cannot be bigger than two of my hops”.

“Is your pond as big as my two hops?”, asked the red frog.

“It is bigger”, was the reply.

Jealousy gave way to suspicion. “Surely, this newcomer is a confirmed liar”, thought the red frog.

This time, the red frog took three long hops. It jumped as far as it could and was certain in its knowledge that this time it had traversed a larger distance than the extent of the pond that the blue frog came from.

“Surely, your pond is not larger than the distance I covered in my three hops”, asserted the red frog.

“It is much, much larger”, said the blue frog. “It is larger than a thousand of your ponds”.

The red frog was frothing at the mouth. Suspicion gave way to anger. “What more evidence do I need to confirm this intruder is a big liar? I have known all my life that my pond is the biggest”.

Seething with anger, the red frog lunged at the blue frog and chased it away.

“Where ignorance is bliss, it is foolish to be wise”. Ignorance is the doorkeeper of the Ego. It is the curtain that keeps the light out from Nafs e Ammara.

How many civilizations have destroyed themselves because they closed their doors and failed to learn from other civilizations?

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Asma Wa Sifaat (The Names and Attributes of Allah)

A Commentary on Awarif wal Muarif of Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrwardy (d 1191 CE)

By Mawlana Syed Moeenuddin Shah Qadri; Hyderabad, Deccan, India

Translated from Urdu and summarized by

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Vocabulary for this article:

Asma’: Plural of Ism; the Names; the Names of Allah

Asma’ ul Husna: The Most Beautiful Names of Allah of which there are 99 in the Qur’an

A’rifeen: Plural of Arif; People of inner knowledge; Awliyah

Ayan e Thabita (Ilm e Ilahi, the knowledge of Allah)

Ayan e Mumkinat (the world of contingencies)

Baqa: Restoration; Recreation (antonym of fana)

Dhat (or Zat): Reality; Self

Fana: Destruction; annihilation (antonym of baqa)

Hayat: Life as opposed to Maut or death

Hasti: Being

Hijab: Curtain; Veil; a Partition; that which hides the Reality of Allah swt from human perception

Ijtemal: the dependency of one Sifet on another

Ishara: A Signal; A Sign; An allusion

Ijtemal: Conditionality; dependency

Ism(pronounced issm): Name; a Noun; a Name of Allah swt such as Al Wadud (the loving), al Rahman (the Compassionate), al Rahim (the Merciful), al Ghafoor (the Forgiving)  and so on.

Jame’: Sum total

Jism e Anseri: Body made up of elements

Kashaf: Lifting of veil (that separate Asma e Husna from the human)

Saba’ Masani: The seven Ayahs of Surah al Fateha

Shamil: Included; contained

Shuhood: Witness; to be present; to see

Sifat: Plural of Sifet; attributes; an adjective

Sifat e Saba’ Dhatiya: The seven foundational Sifaat. These are Hayat (life), Ilm (knowledge), Qudrat (power), Irada (Intent), Sama (hearing), Basar(seeing) and Kalam (speech).

Tajaddud e Amthal: Renovation of appearances; The atomistic cycle of fana (destruction) and baqa (restoration); the unfolding of Allah’s will from moment to moment

Ummahat e Asma (the root or basis of the Names). They are: Hayat (life), Ilm (knowledge), Qudrat (power), Iradah (intent), Sama (hearing), Basar (Seeing) and Kalam (speech).


Asma ul Husna are the most beautiful Names of Allah. The 99 Asma ul Husna in the Qur’an capture the essence of all the names (Asma) in the universe..  

Ism (pronounced i-ss-m) is a word or description used to allude (ishara) towards Allah. The allusion (ishara) is towards His dhat (Reality) without reference to any attribute. Ism defines His Being while Sifaat describe His condition. Asma is the plural of Ism.

The Reality of Ism is the dhatSifaat are attributes that point to the one who has the Sifaat (the Ism). Safaat define an Ism.

The Reality of Sifaat is Ilahiyet (attributes of the One who is worthy of worship). The Reality of Asma is Rububiyet (an attribute of Allah, the Sustainer).

The Dhat (Reality or Essence) of Asma wa Sifat is only Allah. Asma wa Sifat are pointers, signs, ishara. Whenever they are mentioned, they refer to Allah swt.

Asma wa Sifat are endless. They are condensed into 99 Asma ul Husna in the Qur’an. The Jame’ (compendium) of all the Asma wal Husna is the Name “Allah”.

Ummahat e Asma: There are seven Ummhat e Asma, namely, Hayat, Ilm, Irada, Qudrat, Sama, Basar and Kalam.

Ummahat e Sifat: They are called the Saba’ Masani. These are the seven Ayahs of Surah al Fateha. Every Ayah in Surah al Fateha is a deep ocean which has no shores. It is the Reality of the Qur’an. The Sifat are also Saba Sifat.

Ijtemal e Asma: The conditionality of Asma (Names). For instance, when there is Hayat, there is Ilm. When a man has no Hyat (when he is dead), where is the knowledge?

The Sifat of Allah are also given to the human except that our Ujub is not Dhati (our existence is not real). We are dependent on Allah for our existence.

The difference in the attributes of Allah and those of the human is that He is Khaliq, we are Makhluq. We are dependent on our senses for physical perception. We need our eyes to see, ears to hear and tongue to speak. Allah is beyond any need whatsoever.

Asma wa Sifat are hidden. They are the hijab (curtain) that hide the Reality of the Ism. When a human being progresses beyond the Asma wa Sifat, he catches a glimpse of the Light of Reality.


The subject matter for this session is Asma wa Sifaat. The more you know about this subject matter, the greater are the blessings.

Ism (pronounced i-ss-m) is a word or description used to allude (ishara) towards Allah. The allusion (ishara) is towards His dhat (Reality) without reference to any attribute. The dhat (Reality) that is referred to is only that of Allah swt. Ism defines His Being while Sifaat describe His attributes. Asma is the plural of Ism.

In classical Arabic, ism is a noun and it connotes a name, an adjective and an adverb. The Asma ul Husna of Allah swt connote His Names, Attributes and Adverbs. In our presentation today, we will use Ism to mean the Reality (the Names) of Allah and Sifaat to mean His attributes (the attributes of His Names). For instance, al Rahim is a Name (ism) of Allah whose attribute is rahma (an attribute of the Name al Rahim). Allah swt is al Rahim whose Sifet is Rahma (divine Grace).

Another way to state this is to say that we call Allah by His Beautiful Names (Asma ul Husna) but we do not know His Reality. We know Him only by the attributes of His Beautiful Names (His Asma ul Husna).

Question: Can you have a dhat without a Sifet?  Answer: If there is dhat, there is a Sifet. No human being is bereft of Sifaat. Every human being has Sifaat. Dhat and Sifaat are lazim and malzum (necessary and sufficient). The two cannot be separated.  However, we use the two terms to gain a deeper understanding of both.

As applied to Asma ul Husna (the Beautiful Names of Allah) the reality of Sifaat is Ilahiyet. The reality of Asma is Rububiyet. You worship Allah swt because He is Ilah. None but He is worthy of worship. He is so exalted that He is worthy of worship. The Shariah commands us to worship Him. This is the meaning of Ilahiyet.

The meaning of Rububiyet is sustenance. Allah is the Rabb, the Sustainer of all the worlds. The Asma ul Husna are His Names. Allah is al Rahman, al Rahim, al Razzaq, al Ghaffar and so on for His makhluq (His creation).

So, one must understand that the reality of Asma ul Husna is Rububiyet. The source or origin of all Asma ul Husna (the beautiful Names) is Allah.

The Asma (Names of Allah) are jamali and jalali veils to His dhat (His Reality). Jamal and jalal are two hijabs (veils) in which the dhat of Allah swt is hidden. Whoever looks at these hijabs, he is confronted with the Sifat and Signs of Asma ul Husna. And he who looks beyond these veils (if he is granted permission by Allah to do so) transcends the stations of Ilahiyet and Rububiyet and arrives at the station of al Haq (the Truth): Wahdahu La Shareeka Lahu (He is One. No Associate has He).

This concept needs elaboration. Dhat e Ilahi is hidden behind the curtains of Asma wa Sifat. It is impossible to know anything about dhat (Reality) unless the curtains of Asma wa Sifat are lifted. Such lifting (kashaf) can happen only by the authority, permission, and Grace of Allah swt.  Only the most accomplished A’rifeen (people of inner knowledge) can venture any further and aspire to be that close to Allah.

Here is an example. Let us say that Bakr is a person. How do you describe Bakr? With reference to his hands? His feet? His eyes? His ears? The hands, feet, eyes and ears collectively are not Bakr. Why do we say this? Our body of which the hands, feet, eyes and ears are a part, is like a house. It is called “jism e anseri” (the body of elements). The inhabitant of this house is Bakr. If you live in a house, you are its resident and it is your house. One cannot say that you are the house. You are only staying in it. Similarly, if we refer to the body of Bakr, we are saying that it is his house; the one who lives in it is Bakr. The house and its resident cannot be one and the same. If Bakr were to pass away, his body cannot move. His hands and feet are still. It has no pulse and it cannot breathe. So, you will not call this dead body Bakr. You would call it the corps of Bakr and you will say that Bakr has passed away, returned to Allah or moved on to the hereafter. The “house” or the body is still there but it is not listening to you, talking to you or interacting with you.

The body is “jism e anseri”, meaning, it is made up of the elements. This is our home and our Ruh (spirit) is “resident” in it. If the pulse is active, you conclude that Bakr is alive. If he is able to see you, he looks at you through his eyes which are like the “windows” of his house or his body. He exercises his attribute of seeing and experiences your “tajalli” (appearance). You realize that he is looking at you. Then he wishes to speak to you. He uses his attribute of speech to say something to you. Speech is the “tajalli” of the tongue. Then, to listen to your words, he turns to his attribute of hearing. You realize that he hears you. You recognize that he is alive through the exercise of his attributes (seeing, speaking, hearing).

Even though Bakr is interacting with you through his attributes, you do not see the dhat (Reality) of Bakr. You do not see his hayat (life). You witness only his attributes. You see the impact of his Hayat on his pulse and other signs and conclude that Bakr is alive and present. But you have no knowledge of Bakr’s self-perception of his own being (hasti).  When the capabilities that are with Bakr are exercised and their effects become manifest, you observe them and your attention is drawn to the hidden person (Bakr) in whom those capabilities are present.  You do not know anything more. Specifically, you do not know anything about the dhat or Reality of Bakr. Seeing, speaking, hearing, intent, power (sama’, basar, kalam, irada, qudrat) are the attributes (sifaat) of Bakr.  Therefore, we say that the dhat of Bakr is hidden behind the curtains of his attributes. The effect of these attributes is to make the curtains manifest.

One other comment: If Bakr’s hearing and sight are gone and his hands and feet are cut off, even then Bakr remains Bakr and you would call his dhat (his Reality) Bakr. The elements that constituted his body in his childhood are not there in his youth. What he had in his youth is transformed in old age. But there was no change in his dhat (Self).

The dhat (Reality) does not change when the attributes change.  The human body changes as you grow old, from childhood to adulthood to old age. But there is no change in the dhat of the person even though the attributes undergo a transformation. 

An exercise of Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) helps us understand how the dhat of Allah swt is hidden behind the hijab of His Asma wa Sifat. What you know and witness are the attributes or Sifat of Allah. For instance, He is Rahman, Rahim, Ghaffar, Ghafoor, Khaliq and Malik. But you do not have knowledge of dhat e Ilahi. That is not possible. Unlike the human who is imprisoned in his own body, Allah swt is beyond corporeal and space-time constraints. He is Khaliq, we are makhluq. What is the difference between the two? The attributes are similar except the attribute of existence. The human is dependent on his attributes, namely, his eyes, tongue, ears, hands and feet to reveal himself. Allah swt is not dependent on anything. He is al Samad (Self Sufficient).

Allah swt is not dependent on any attribute or instrument to reveal His Qudrat (power). All of His attributes were always in His dhat. They are present now and will always be present in the future. When we say that Rububiyet is dependent on Marbub and Khaliqiyet is dependent on Makhluq, we only mean that when the Makhluq comes into existence, His Khalqiyet expresses itself and when Marbub comes into existence His Rubibiyet becomes manifest.

This is a subtle point. Allah is Khaliq; we are Makhluq. We are dependent on our faculties to show our capabilities. We depend on our tongue to speak, our eyes to see, our hands to do work, our legs to walk. Allah is beyond such needs. He does not need anything to express His power. But there is a subtle point to consider. His Khalikhiyet is manifest through His Makhluk. If He had not created you, then how would you call him Khaliq? He created us and He became a Khaliq. If He had not created us then how would His Khaliqiyet manifest itself? If it was not manifest then how would He be recognized? He is the Sustainer and He fulfills all our needs. So, we call Him Rabb and we become Marbub. If we had no needs then His Rububiyet would not be manifest. He provides rizq (sustenance) to the whole world. So, we call Him al Razzaq. The Rabbil alameen is recognized through the Marbub whom He himself creates.  The Marbub is recognized through his Rabb. This is a subtle idea in Tasawwuf that has been elaborated in Khususul Hikam of Ibn al Arabi. As the Hadith explains: “I was a hidden treasure. I willed that I be known. So, I created.”

Summarily, the attributes of Allah have always existed but they were hidden and not seen. He created us so that we become the mirror for reflecting His attributes.

The Asma wa Sifat of Allah swt are infinite; so are His commands and His works.  However, all the Asma wa Sifat as well as commands originate from a Single Source. He is at once Rahman and Rahim, Khaliq and Bari, Malik and Razzaq, Qahhar and Qabiz. The multiplicity of Asama wa Sifat make no difference to His Wahdat (Unicity). We studied under Wahdat al Wajud that there were innumerable objects in creation, the stars, galaxies, planets, trees, birds, humans, animals and insects.  But this enormous multiplicity does not violate the Wahdat (Unicity) of the Creator. The multiplicity is in Ilm e Ilahi (knowledge of Allah), not in His dhat (Reality). The multiplicity that is apparent in this world and in the hereafter does not affect His Wahdat (Unicity). There are an infinite number of living and non-living things as well as objects and thoughts in His ilm (knowledge). As He deems it fit, He brings them into being (creates them) in space-time. But the Creator is One. He is the qadir e mutlaq (the established power or authority). He creates as He will.

The Asma are infinite. However, they are assembled into the 99 Names revealed in the Qur’an to facilitate human comprehension. 

The root of these 99 Names is set in seven principles. These seven principles are called Ummahat e Asma (the root or basis of the Names). They are: Hayat (life), Ilm (knowledge), Qudrat (power), Iradah (intent), Sama (hearing), Basar (Seeing) and Kalam (speech).  Some of these Ummahat are conditional upon others. For instance, if there is no Hayat (life), there is no Ilm (knowledge). Ilm is conditional upon Hayat. Similarly, Irada (intent) is not useful in the absence of Qudrat (power). Thus, there is no knowledge without life. There is no kalam (speech) without Irada (intent). This dependency of one Sifet on another is called Ijtemal. These explanations are offered for human understanding; Allah is beyond such conditionality.

Allah is Ism e Jame’. The infinity of Asma was condensed into 99 Asma e Husna.  Then, the origin of the Asma e Husna was condensed into seven principles. In reality, all seven principles have a single source and that Source is Allah. Allah is the jame’ (sum total) of all the asma’. He is also shamil, meaning “in” the asma’. So, He is both Jame’ and shamil. Therefore, the name Allah is called Ism e Jame’. He is in the Names, surrounds them and He has complete power over them.

There is taqabul and takassur in the Asma’. It means the Asma may contrast, negate and supersede one another. For instance, ya Munim and ya Muntaqil seem to negate each other. Ya Munim means the one who gives the ne’mat ( bounty). Ya Muntaqil means the one who extracts a revenge. Allah is both the bestower and withholder of bounties. He is both Qabiz (the extractor or contractor) and Basith (restorer or expander), Dhar (one who causes a loss or pain) and Nafe’ (one who provides a benefit).

Tajaddud e Amthal is derived from this tension between the Asma.  Since eternity, life is followed by death which is followed by life. The changes happen every moment so rapidly that the common man does not perceive them. The A’rifeen, people of inner knowledge, witness the rapid cyclic change from life to death to life. The world is destroyed (fana) and recreated (baqa) every moment. This is called tajaddud e amthal (renewal of appearances).

Commanding the transformations between the Asma e Mutaqabila (the contrasted Names) is Dhul Wajhain (The Owner of Causes). He (Allah swt) brings on some difficulty, then relieves it and acts as the bridge in between. The difficulty is of infinite grades; so is the relief. Similarly, every Ism (Name) can have many degrees.

Ayan e Thabita and Ayan e Mumkinat: What is Ayan e Thabita? Allah’s infinite knowledge contains our potential faces and forms. The forms in which Asma e Ilahi manifest themselves in the created world are called Mazaher e Asma. The appearances that are only in the knowledge of Allah are called Ayan e Thabita knowledge of Allah). They are also called Suwwar e ilmiya (faces, forms and shapes that are known only in the knowledge of Allah). The faces, forms and shapes that become manifest externally are called Ayan e Mumkinat. The faces that we see are Ayan e Mumkinat (contingent or possible manifestation). They are also called Wujud e Aynee (existence that can be seen) or A’lam e Shahadat (the world that we can see)

We, as human beings, have two “faces” (existences). One existence was the one we had with Ilm e Ilahi (knowledge of Allah). This is the Suwwar e Ilmiya, the way Allah swt conceived us. All the people who will ever be born till the Judgment Day are in Ilm e Ilahi. The question is: Is our existence in the ilm e Ilahi (Suwwar e Ilmi) the same as what we have in this world? No. The earthly existence is material. The external existence (form, shape, face) that we have is different. The Suwwar e Ilmiya was bereft of materials. It was light and it had no impurity in it. Then He created us in this world from the elements. We went through the stages of Mutga, Alga and some of the attributes of the parents entered into it and our material forms were constructed. That is how we came into being as Ayan e Mumkinat.

The human is Mumkin (contingent). Allah is Wajib (necessary and sufficient). So, the human creation follows the stages of Arada (intent of Allah), Mansha’Allah (will of Allah), Ayan e Thabita (Ilm e Ilahi), Ayan e Mumkinat.

Ahsa e Asma (Encapsulating all the Asma): The Prophet sas said: Allah swt has 99 Names. Whoever encapsulates them (makes them his own) goes to Jannah. Ahsa e Asma means you witness the Asma e Husna through your spirituality and the lifting of the veils. When a person lifts the curtains and looks at the Names of Allah, al Rahman, al Rahim, Al Razzaq and so on, the light of His Names falls upon him and he becomes an Arif in the true sense of the word. A person who merely heard the Asma e Husna and understood their meaning receives the least portion of light. In accordance with what he has earned we cannot say that this knowledge will be the means of his (spiritual) success. Merely hearing the Names confirms his ability to hear. The second stage is to understand the grammatical meaning of the Asma in Arabic. This only confirms that the person knows the Arabic language and he is the equivalent of an ignorant Arab. If the person believes that the Names represent the attributes of Allah, but his belief is not based on investigation and reflection, he is the equivalent of a believing child. One cannot deny that such a person is higher in rank as compared to those in the first two categories. But it is also correct to say that it is insufficient to take this person to the perfection of Meraj (ascension to heaven).

The way to earn the blessing of His Names and to achieve the Irfan (inner knowledge) of the Asma wa Sifat of Allah swt through kashaf (lifting of veils) and shuhood (witness)and “seeing” His Rahma (Grace). It is to see the tajalli (manifestation) of Asma wa Sifat. When a person achieves this position, he moves from the station of Ilm ul Yaqeen (certainty of knowledge) to Ahl ul Yaqeen (a person who has attained certainty) and then advances to the station of Haq ul Haqeen (certainty of Truth). Until you arrive at this station, you cannot say that you are a Mutahaqqaq (one who has investigated and confirmed) of Asma wa Sifat.  Such a station is achieved only by persons of high rank, that too in an Ijmali (macro or gross) manner, not in a Tafseeli (micro or detailed) manner. This is so even if the Asma are reflected in his own behavior and character. This is how we grade the rank of the Awliyah. The more the Wali has witnessed the tajalliyat (manifestations) Allah’s Asma wa Sifat, the higher his/her rank.

The word Arif is used for the person who has lifted the veils and has witnessed the Tajalliyat. A person who is an Arif of the Dhat (the Reality of Asma wa Sifat) is called a Muwahhid.  There is a tremendous difference between a person who has achieved such a station and has witnessed the Tajalliyat and one who has merely learned about them from his parents and teachers. Musa (Moses pbuh) witnessed a Tajalli, which was merely the reflection of a single ray of light from the infinitude of His light. When Musa (as) was at the station of Talween (multiplicity), [NA1] he did not witness the Tajalli because Allah was at the station of Tamkeen (fixity). When the Tajalli did descend, the mountain shattered and Musa (as) swooned. When he woke up, he was taken to a higher station so he could “speak” to Allah.

The summary is that the Asma wa Sifaat that we witness are a Tajalli. As an example, the word Kun can be said by anyone. One may even know its grammatical meaning. But what is its Reality? The word Kun is revealed only as a Sign so that people can understand something. The inner meaning of it, the Tajalli, is known only to Allah. When He says Kun, there is “being”; when He says Fa Yakun, there is “becoming”. Kun is a command to create or destroy; fa yakun is when that creation or destruction has already happened. The words are used so that we can understand something of Asma wa Sifat.

The dhat or reality of the Asma wa Sifat is Noor. It is Light. It transcends space, time, body, shape, form or conception. As the Qur’an says: Allahu Noorus Samawat e Wal Ard (Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth). The Arifeen witness the Noor (Light). The higher their rank, the greater is the Noor (divine Light) they witness.

The created world can be segmented into three ranks. The first rank is that of the Malaeka (the angels). The second rank is the human. The third is Bahaem (animals etc.).

Keeping in mind the correct purpose of life, we examine what each category of beings is capable of doing according to its intelligence and ability to comprehend. We also ask what each category is created for and what it does in the scheme of life. The animals are given to their passions. They do not have the ability to differentiate between good and evil.  They just stuff their bellies and serve as beasts of burden. What they can do is very limited. By contrast, the angels are bereft of animalistic passions. They carry out the commandment of Allah and are constantly seeking proximity to His presence. Their lives are pure and free of sins. They have the highest comprehension and their domain is vast and expansive. They even comprehend what is beyond spatial constraints.

The human is a compendium of animalistic and angelic attributes. At the lowest level, the human is a servant of his ego and pursues the animalistic pleasures that are readily available to him. As he advances from this level, the light of intellect shines in him. Riding on the wings of their intellect, some people acquire the Ikhtiar or capability to transcend spatial constraints without the aid of conveyances. These are the Prophets, their Companions, the Awliyah, who are fountains of spirituality. By contrast, we are subservient to our desires. We walk with our earthly feet, see with our material eyes and remain beholden to our basal desires. But when a person’s Ruh is illuminated by the Grace of Allah, his actions become angelic. Then, his Nafs (Self) abandons base thoughts and feelings and he becomes synchronized with angelic thoughts and actions. As you move closer to divine presence, you distance yourself from animalistic attributes (animalistic Sifaat) and move higher and higher in the angelic domain (acquire more and more angelic Sifaat) until you become a companion of the higher angels and enter into the circle of the beloveds of God. You can comprehend this journey of the soul only through a comprehension of Asma wa Sifat.

Fatehtul Kitab (Surah al Fateha) is a summary of the Qur’an.  It is a compendium and gist of Ayat e Quran. The other name for Fatehatul Kitab is Saba’ Masani.  These are the seven Ayahs that are repeated in every prayer. Similarly, there are seven Sifat in the Martab e Ilm (stations of knowledge) of Allah which are known as E’tebarat e Kulli (sum total of His E’tebar or conception), also called Sifat e Saba’ Dhatiya (The seven foundational Sifat). These are Hayat (life), Ilm (knowledge), Qudrat (power), Irada (Intent), Sama (hearing), Basar(seeing) and Kalam (speech). The totality of Dhat e Haq (the Reality of the Truth) as well as the entire meaning of Asma wa Sifat is dependent on these seven Sifat.  These seven Safat are the foundational stations of ma’rifat. The ma’rifat of these seven Sifat is a deep ocean of hidden and manifest secrets that has no shores.  It contains the limitless knowledge and ma’rifat of His tajalliyat similar to the limitless knowledge and ma’rifat of His Wajh or existence. The depths of this ocean contain pearls for those who dive into it while those who stand on the shores only see clear waters.

What is pointed out here is that Fatehatul Kitab (Surah al Fateha) is the gist or summary of the entire Qur’an. Every word of it is like a deep ocean. Hazrat Ali (r) said: If I were to write a tafseer of this Surah, it will take seventy camels to carry the written documents. It is also pointed out that Ummahatul Sifat, the foundational Sifat are also seven.

Insan (the human) is a summary of creation. If we consider the meaning of words, the similarity of the human to creation is that of the Ruh to the body. One looks in the mirror to examine one’s true self.  God willed that He would create a reflector (a mirror) in which He could see the Shuyun e Ilahi (His own powers).  In other words, He desired to look at Himself in the mirror. He desired to create a being who had the capacity to reflect His partaw (light or shadow). So, He created the cosmos and He made Adam His khalifa (representative) on earth as His mirror so that He would witness Himself in the mirror.  This is Sunnat e Ilahi (the way of Allah). He fashioned the human body in perfection. When the body has the ability to accept it, the Ruh is “blown” into it. Fa Iza Sawwaytuhu wa Nafaqtu Feehi Minhu Roohi (When I fashioned it into perfection, I infused My Ruh into it).  Adam’s Nafs (Nafs includes the body, mind and heart) had to have the capacity to accept and reflect the powers of the Ruh. So, He fashioned it, corrected it, molded it, completed it and decided that the human Self indeed had the capacity to accept the Ruh. Then, he breathed His Ruh into Adam. When the Ruh was infused into Adam, he became Ruh e Alam (The Spirit of the cosmos). The meaning of Nafaqtu Feehi Minhu Rooohi (infused into it My Rooh) is that the reflection (pertaw) of Asma wa Sifat fell on Adam. Adam (the archetype of the human) accepted this burden and became a custodian of Amanet e Ilahi (the Trust from Allah). Nothing in the cosmos had this capability to be a custodian of this Amanat (Trust). Thus, the Asma wa Sifat became manifest in the human who acquired all the high and low stations (of honor and dishonor).

The Sifat of Allah are reflected in the human except for one, namely, Wujub e dhati (Necessary Reality or Essence of Existence). We, as human beings, are not Wajib (necessary). Our existence is conditional. Only He, Allah swt is Wajjib ul Wujud (the Necessary Existence). We are only Mumkin ul Wujud (Possible Existence or Contingent Existence). When He wills, He creates us. He was always there, is there and will always be there. He is the Living, the Hearing and the Seeing. The human also is alive and has the faculties of hearing and seeing but he is dependent on Allah for these faculties. Allah is self-sufficient; He is not dependent on anyone for anything. He is the Khaliq (Creator); we are the Maqhlooq (Created). He created us as a Mithal (simile) not as Mithl (identical; exactly the same). Our capabilities are only a gift from Allah. He can take them back anytime He so desires (along with our lives).

The Books that Allah sent down to humankind are cast in the attributes of the mold that are also present in the Nafs (soul) of the human. Example: You knew Arabic.  Therefore, the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic so that you could understand it. Similar was the case with the earlier revelations; they were revealed in the language of the people to whom they were sent.

The Hayat, Sama and Basar of Allah is different from our Hayat, Sama and Basar. Allah is Wajubul Wujud (essential, necessary existence). Lam Yakun Lahu Kufuan Ahad (There is none like unto Him). He is Qadim (timeless, eternal). By contrast, the human is Haadith (created).

Allah glorified His own Sifat both as Zahir (manifest) and Batin (hidden). We are Zahir (manifest), Ahdiyet (Oneness of Allah) is Batin (hidden). Further, He divided the cosmos into what is manifest (shahada) and what is hidden (gaib). He is Alimul Gaib (Knower of the unseen). For instance, He knew us before we were born and were in Alamul Gaib (hidden world). We live in Alam e shahada (the manifest world.  He placed the world between hope and fear, between acceptance and rejection. He is happy with some things and He is not happy with others. We are sometimes hopeful; at other times we are fearful. He exalted Himself with jalal and jamal (magnificence and beauty). He created us with awe and love in our hearts. Such is the condition of all things (with internal tensions).

The tension between the attributes is referred to as “the two hands”, the right and the left. As explained in the Qur’an, when Allah swt asked Shaitan: “Who forbade you from bowing before Adam whom I made “with my two hands”? What are the two hands? There is a difference of opinion on this issue. Some say it is Jalal wa Jamal.  In addition, the opposed Asma were consolidated within Adam. The “two hands” also refer to this consolidation of opposed Asma which show themselves with the “face” of Haq (spirituality) and the “face” of creation (duniya).  Adam (as had a material face in his external self; in his internal self he had the face of Truth (the face of Haq, a spiritual face). This integration made him worthy of Khilafat (representative of God on earth).

Truth is manifest in every atom of creation. Certainly, the human is material in his external appearance and spiritual in his internal appearance. If this contrast was not there, then there would have been no material existence. Every atom exhibits the attributes of Allah according to its ability but the higher attributes show up only in the human. We are “la A’yn wa la Ghair” (we are not in Him nor outside of Him). We existed in Ilm e Ilahi (knowledge of Allah). So, we are not separate from him. When His Mansha (will) became Mafhoom (cognizant) we became separated. Thus, Adam has a Surat e Haq and a Surat e Khalq (spiritual face and a material face). The same is true of us. We have said earlier that He made us the Khalifa, made the cosmos a mirror and looked at Himself. Now, if I put some ink on the mirror does the face get stained with ink? No. If you stain the mirror, does it stain your face. No. If I break the mirror, does it change my face? No. The meaning is that the mirror is separate from me. The mirror is “ghair” (different, separate). Your reflection in the face is separate from you. If you withdraw from the mirror, there is nothing to be seen in the mirror. We are not “ghair”. When He showed His “face” we became visible. When He withdrew, the reflection disappeared. That is “la Ayn wa la Gair”. We also studied Wahdat al Wujud. Allah swt reveals His attributes in every atom in accordance with the capability of the atom to show the attribute. The Wujud or Existence is One.

The human is the seal of all attributes. Except for the human, no other creation has been endowed with all the attributes. We said that every atom reflects Allah’s attributes. If that reflection is not there, then that creation does not exist. That is Wahdat al Wujud, namely, Allah is the reason for our existence. He is the Living. He is the life-giving attribute of every atom. He said: Allahu Noorus Samawati wal Ard. Then He said: Fa Aynama Tawallaw Fa Samma Wajhulla ( No matter which direction you look you see the “Face” (existence) of Allah). Is there any place where Allah is not present?

Allah made us manifest and He hid Himself. At first, we were hidden. Then, he created us in the world and made us visible and He became hidden. We exist because of Him. Our existence is His “shadow” or “reflection”. There is no “shadow” without Him.

Subhana Rabbika Rabbil I’zzati A’mma Yasifun. Wa Salamun Alal Mursaleen. Wal Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil A’lameen.

The 99 Divine Names Revealed in the Qur’an

The 99 Divine Names Revealed in the Qur’an

(Each Name is a noun, an adjective and an adverb)

1.    Al RahmanThe Compassionate
2.    Al RahimThe Merciful
3.    Al MalikThe Sovereign
4.    Al QuddusThe Holy
5.    Al SalamThe Source of Peace
6.    Al Mu’minThe Giver of Faith
7.    Al MuhayminThe Guardian of Truth
8.    Al ‘AzizThe Mighty
9.    Al JabbarThe Irresistible
10.  Al MutakabbirThe One Who is Great by Himself
11.  Al KhaliqThe Creator
12.  Al Bari’The Originator (Who creates from nothing)
13.  Al MusawwirThe Ultimate Architect and Artist
14.  Al GhaffarThe Forgiving
15.  Al QahharThe Subduer
16.  Al WahhabThe Bestower
17.  Al RazzaqThe Ever Provider
18.  Al FattahThe Opener of hearts
19.  Al AlimThe All Knowing
20.  Al QabidThe Restrainer
21.  Al BasitThe Munificent
22.  Al KhafidThe Abaser
23.  Al Rafi’The Exalter
24.  Al Mu’izzThe Bestower of Honor
25.  Al MudhillThe Giver of Dishonor
26.  Al Sami’The Hearer
27.  Al BasirThe Seer
28.  Al HakamThe Judge
29.  Al-‘AdlThe Just
30.  Al LatifThe Subtle
31.  Al KhabirThe Aware
32.  Al HalimThe Forbearer
33.  Al ‘AzimThe Great, the Magnificent
34.  Al GhafurThe Forgiver
35.  Al ShakurThe Acceptor of Gratitude
36.  Al ‘AliThe Exalted
37.  Al KabirThe Great
38.  Al HafizThe Preserver
39.  Al MuqitThe Nourisher
40.  Al HasibThe Reckoner
41.  Al JalilThe Majestic
42.  Al KarimThe Grantor of Bounties
43.  Al RaqibThe One Who is Close
44.  Al MujibThe Responder
45.  Al Wasi’The Infinite
46.  Al HakimThe Wise
47.  Al WadudThe Loving, the Bestower of Love
48.  Al MajidThe Glorious
49.  Al Ba’ithThe One Who Resurrects the Dead
50.  Al ShahidThe Witness
51.  Al HaqThe Truth, The Just
52.  Al WakilThe Trustee
53.  Al QawiyyThe Strong
54.  Al MatinThe Steadfast
55.  Al WaliThe Protector
56.  Al HamidThe Praiseworthy
57.  Al MuhsiThe Reckoner, The One Who takes Account
58.  Al Mubdi’The Originator
59.  Al Mu’idThe OneWho Brings Back Life
60.  Al MuhyiThe Giver of Life
61.  Al MumitThe Destroyer
62.  Al HayyThe Living
63.  Al QayyumThe Self Subsisting
64.  Al WajidThe One Who brings out Existence
65.  Al MajidThe Owner of all Existence, the Magnificent
66.  Al WahidThe Indivisible
67.  Al AhadThe Unique
68.  Al SamadThe Self Sufficient, The One Beyond Need
69.  Al QadirThe Owner of Power
70.  Al MuqtadirThe Disposer of Power
71.  Al MuqaddimThe Expediter
72.  Al Mu’akhkhirThe Delayer
73.  Al AwwalThe First
74.  Al AkhirThe Last
75.  Al ZahirThe Manifest
76.  Al BatinThe Hidden; the One beyond Perception
77.  Al WaliThe Protector
78.  Al Muta’alThe Self Exalted
79.  Al BarrThe Source of Righteousness
80.  Al TawwabThe One Who forgives again and again
81.  Al MuntaqimThe Avenger
82.  Al ‘AfuwwThe Pardoner
83.  Al Ra’ufThe Compassionate, the All Pitying
84.  Malik al MulkThe Owner of Sovereignty
85.  Dhul Jalali wal IkramThe Owner of Majesty and Bounty
86.  Al MuqsitThe Equitable, the Just
87.  Al Jami’The Gatherer, the Integrator
88.  Al GhaniThe Self Sufficient
89.  Al MughniThe Emancipator
90.  Al Mani’The Defender
91.  Al Nafi’The Benefactor
92.  Al NurThe Light
93.  Al HadiThe Guide
94.  Al BadiThe Incomparable
95.  Al BaqiThe Everlasting
96.  Al WarithThe Inheritor
97.  Al RashidThe Guide
98.  Al SaburThe Timeless
99.  AllahAllah, to Whom belong all the Beautiful Names


Islamic Heritage of South Asia


Wahdat al Wajud (The Unity of Existence)

Shaikh Mohammed Moeenuddin Qadri, Hyderabad, Deccan

Translated and abridged from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. Qul Hu Allahu Ahad. Allahus Samad. Lam Yalid. Wa Lam Yulad. Wa Lam Yakun Lahu Kufuwan Ahad. Sadaq Allah ul A’zeem. Wa Sadaqa Rasoolehil Kareem.


Ayan e Thabita: Ilm e Ilahi, the Knowledge of Allah

E’tebari: notional, imaginary, not real, “khyali”

Ikhtiar: Free will

Majboor: Pre-programmed, helpless

Mahsoos: Perceptible

Ma’doom: non-existent

Masdari: a thing that originates from something else

Wahdat al Wajud: Unity of existence

Wajud: existence

Wajud biz Zat e Haqeeqi: (True Existence in and of itself)


Wahdat al Wajud (The Unity of Existence) means there is only one Wajud (Existence) and that is the Wajud (Existence) of Allah swt. The human Wajud is E’tebari (notional, imagined, conditional).

Allahu Ahad. Allahus Samad. Allah is One. He is Self-sufficient. The cosmos that He creates is in His Ilm (Ilm e Ilahi). It is called Ayan e Thabita. All entities that are to be created till the Judgment Day are in Ayan e Thabita.

Wajud (existence) belongs only to Allah. All else is E’tebari, notional, imagined.

Entities that are in Ayan e Thabita come into existence when they encounter their Taqdir (divine decree). Another way to say it is that entities are granted E’tebari existence when the Light of Allah falls on them.

Multiplicity belongs only in the Ilm (knowledge) of Allah. This multiplicity is reflected in the multiplicity of creation. The Source is One, that is Allah. Wajud is One, that is Allah. Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. When that Light falls on an entity that is in Ayan e Thabita, it acquires contingent existence in accordance with its ilmi Surat (appearance as conceived by Allah).

The human is neither entirely majboor (pre-programmed, helpless) nor is he entirely muqhtar (autonomous). He is majboor in certain aspects and muqhtar in certain other aspects. He is majboor for his birth, death and his own dhat (essence). He is muqhtar in his intent and his actions.

The outcome of all actions is according to the will of Allah. Every human is an individual and is individually responsible in areas where he is muqhtar, for his free will (Niyyah) and his deeds (A’mal). Therefore, he is judged by the intent in his heart and his works (Innamal A’malu Binniyah).

This is a summary of Wahdat al Wujud as developed by Shaikh ul Akbar, Ibn al Arabi (d 1240 CE).

Ma’doom and Mahsoos

The following observation is self-explanatory: Before a thing is born it is Ma’doom (not sensed). When it is born it is Mahsoos (sensed). The meaning of Ma’doom is nonexistent, or hidden. Ma’doom is the antonym of Mahsoos. It is apparent that before a man is born, he is Ma’doom and when he is bornhe immediately becomes Mahsoos. A boy is born and you see that a Wajud is before you. We ask ourselves: What made him sensed? He was in the womb of his mother and now he has become Maujood. What was it that made him Mahsoos, the absence of which had made him Ma’doom?

Reason will bear witness that there is something because of whose existence a thing that is nonexistent becomes existent. That thing (the entity/active agent) will not be E’tebari (notional, unreal, imagined) but will be Mustaqal Biz Zat (established by its own Reality). A little reflection will confirm that in the state of nonexistence, the baby in the above example was Ma’doom.  He became Maujood and Mahsoos (sensed) when there was a conjunction of the external entity and the thing itself.

An explanation:  If you reflect a little, you will realize that there was something that came into contact with the baby. With what did it come into contact with? The answer is: It came into contact with the entity that imparted it existence.

Before we appeared in the cosmos, we were non-existent. When we were born, we acquired our existence. So, there was some entity that interacted with us. When the two were connected (our non-existent entity (“the thing”), and the entity that interacted with us), what was nonexistent became existent and what was hidden became manifest. The essential point here is that “the thing” became sensible and existent (Mahsoos and Maujood) only when the two were connected.

Now, you ask whether the entity that made all other things existent and manifest (the humans, the mountains, the trees, fruits etc.) is Ma’doom (non-existent). That entity was also hidden. Your association with that entity made you existent. So, you conclude that the entity which bestows existence (Wajud) on nonexistent things cannot by itself be E’tebari (imaginary). E’tebari means it is not real. An E’tebari entity cannot bestow existence upon something else. The entity that bestows existence must be Mustaqal biz Zat, in other words, Allah swt. Mustaqal biz Zat means it exists by its own essence. Its Wajud is not from anyone else. It did not originate for anything else. That entity is Mustaqal biz Zat.

It follows that the Wajud which is discussed here is not Masdari (a thing that originates from something else). For instance, we are Masdari. The existence (Wajud) through which we acquire our own existence (Wajud) is the real Wajud. Wajud e Masdari is notional and imaginative. For example, when you look at the sky and the earth, it appears that the sky is “above” and the earth is “below” whereas, in fact, the sky surrounds the earth all around.  The imagination in your mind is called Intezari. So, we say that our Wajud is notional, illusory and imaginative. The entity from which we acquire our own existence is not notional, illusory and Masdari; it is Wajud biz Zat e Haqeeqi (True Existence in and of itself). As soon as we were connected with Wajud biz Zat e Haqeeqi, we were born. It is just us but all things in the cosmos, inanimate beings, elements, animals, humans, all of them came into existence when they were connected with the Real Wajud, Wajud biz Zat, meaning Allah swt. Summarily, when we were “connected with” Allah swt (when the Light of Allah shined upon us) we came into existence.

Next, if we consider an entity to be Ma’doom, it would be impossible for that Ma’doom entity to bestow existence upon some other thing. If anything is from Ma’doom, it must be Ma’doom bil Haith, a thought that has emerged from Ma’doom. It is therefore necessary that the other entity be Mustaqal biz Zat.

That other entity cannot be Masdari. In other words, that other Wajud is not imagined and notional but established and certain so that it can impart existence to a thing that is Ma’doom. The primal Wajud is Mustaqal biz Zat. It is the Wajud of Allah swt. It is not notional, Imagined; it is real.

The explanation is as follows: Wherever there is a mention of Wajud, it means only one Wajud, namely,

Allah swt. The Wajud through which we acquired our own Wajud must be Mustaqal biz Zat (established by and of itself). It will not be Masdari, not extracted from anything else. Remember this terminology.

Ma Behal Maujoodiat means that through which the objects in the cosmos become existent. In other words, it is Allah swt. So, Allah swt is called Ma Behal Maujoodiat (the reason for our existence). He is the reason for the existence of the sun, the moon, the universe and everything in it. It is Allah’s Wajud which is pristine, true and existent of and by itself and it is called Ma Behal Maujoodiat. Although it is hard to understand its reality, we can at least comprehend that at the moment a nonexistent object becomes existent, there is an entity that interacts with it and bestows upon it its existence. Now we understand the meaning of Wajud. Whenever you say Wajud, it is only the Wajud of Allah swt.

We do not have Wajud. Our Wajud is Masdari, Wahmi, Khiyali. We are totally dependent on Allah swt in our existence. When He so willed it, we came into existence. When we had a connection with Him, we appeared. His Wajud cannot be Wahmi, Khayali; it must be the real Wajud.

Whenever a thing comes into existence, it brings with it two items: one, the thing that is acquiring existence, the other the entity that gave it existence. For instance, a child is born whose name is Zaid, he has two things with him. One is an entity Zaid who was hitherto nonexistent but now has becomeexistent. The other entity is that which bestowed existence to Zaid. What is that entity? That entity is the real Wajud, Ma Behal Maujoodiat. It is what gives Wajud to others.

We are beginning to understand the issues regarding existence. Zaid is born and you become aware that he is born. How could he be born? Was he born by himself? No. Allah gave him life. So, you understand that if you take out Allah, that is, if you take out the Real Existence, then everything becomes Ma’doom (non-existent). There would be no Zaid, no mountain, no trees, nothing. It is that Real Wajud that is making you manifest.. Zaid is here only because of the light from the Real Wajud.

Now, there is a question that appears in your mind. There are a limitless number of things in the

Universe, the stars, the moon, the sun. the stars, the galaxies, the birds, the sects, the mountains and the trees. The existence of all of these is notional. They acquire their existence through Ma Behal Maujoodiat which is Allah swt.

We have now understood the condition of the existence of the world, namely, if you take your eyes off of the real Wajud then everything is Ma’doom (nonexistent). Wajud is only through His grace. Here it is necessary to remember that there are an infinite number of things in the universe. We see that in their appearance, they are different and each one is excellent in its own way. Is the reason for their variety Wajud or Ma’doom?

There is multiplicity in the universe. There are billions of entities in th world but the Light that imparts them existence is from a Single Source. One entity is a tree, another is a mountain, one is a river, another is an ocean, one is the moon, the other a star. They are all separate and different, one from the other. Is the Mansha’ (origin) of this great multiplicity Wajud or Ma’doom? It is certainly not Ma’doom because Ma’doom (non-existence) cannot impart existence to an entity. The origin is Behal Maujoodiat. It is from Allah. There is only one Wajud and that is Allah swt. He is One, Indivisible, Self-Sufficient.  The multiplicity in the things of the world only reflects the multiplicity in His Ma’dumat (knowledge), not in His Wajud.

Why is there multiplicity in the world? The multiplicity is there because there is multiplicity in Ilm e Ilahi.

All the entities in the universe and all the entities that will appear till the Day of Judgment are a part of Ma’lumat e Ilahi. Whenever an entity meets up with Ma’lumat e Ilahi, it acquires its existence. Where is the multiplicity? The multiplicity is in Ayan e Thabita.

There is no multiplicity in Real Existence. Multiplicity is in things. When these things, and this is true of all things till the Judgment Day, meet with A’yan e Thabita they acquire their existence. There is no multiplicity in Ma Behal Maujoodiat because its characteristic is that whatever Ma’doom it meets, it makes it Maujood. It follows that multiplicity is in those things that are nonexistent. They were in Ilm e Ilahi which contains all things from the beginning till the Judgment Day together with their specific attributes. When ilm emanates from Ma’lumat e Ilahi, it becomes existent at the time prescribed by Allah swt. So, where is the multiplicity? It is Ilm e Ilahi or Ma’lumat e Ilahi.

Categories of Ashya e Ma’doomat and their distinction in Non-existence

Here is a subtle statement: The nonexistent that became existent was not nonexistent (Gair Ma’doom) in their state of nonexistence (‘Adem).

Let us elaborate. Zaid was just born. He was Ma’doom before he was born. At the predetermined time for him to be born, Qudrat (Allah’s power) turned towards him. So, Zaid was born and became existent. Similarly, all the things from now until the Day of Judgement which are in Ilm e Ilahi, when they meet up with the Qudrat of Allah as predetermined by Allah, will be born and come into this world. Thus, there is multiplicity concerning things in ilm e ilahi.

The essence is one. There is multiplicity in the knowledge of that essence. Because of this multiplicity there is ziyadati (increase in the number of things). All things that are to appear until the Judgment Day will appear when they meet up with Allah’s Qudrat.  The Qudrat will bring them into being and make them Maujood as predetermined at the onset of time.

Ma’doom e Mumtaz and Ma’doom e Mahez

Now we ask: Are things that are Ma’doom non-existent?

To answer this question, the Shaikh offers the example of a house you want to build on a plot of land. You first prepare a drawing which shows the plan and elevation. You build it according to your plan and it becomes Maujood. First it was Ma’doom and after completion it became Maujood. What was in your mind is called Ma’doom e Mumtaz. The house was Ma’doom but it was Mumtaz. If there is a neighboring plot about which you do not have any plans, it is called Ma’doom e Mahez. It is completely Ma’doom. You had no intention of constructing anything on it. The plot that you bought with the intent to construct a house on, prepared a detailed plan, then constructed it, was the house that became Maujood in accordance with the requirements of what you had thought. If there is another plot in which you had no intention of construction, it is called Ma’doom e Mahez in Tasawwuf. It does not exist in ilm e ilahi.

All things that are in ilm e ilahi are Ma’doom but they can be Mumtaz. The word Mumtaz is used becausethey were in ilm e ilahi. We had said in an earlier session when Allah conjured up His cosmos, (Kuntu Kanzan Magfiyan Fa Khalaqtu Khalqa), when He willed that He be known, He prepared a map of the cosmos. All entities in the cosmos along with their requirements came into His knowledge at the blink of an eye. All of these entities were Ma’doom but were Mumtaz and were born. But those entities that are not in His knowledge were not born and will not be born. The entities that are in Ilm e ilahe, meet up with Qudrat at their appointed time and come into existence. Such entities were Ma’doom but Mumtaz. They were not Mutlaq Ma’doomat (confirmed nonexistences).

There are two items that are present in Maujood. One is Wajud, the other is Ayan e Thabita (the Knowledge of Allah). Ayan e Thabita is Ilm e Ilahi, the knowledge of Allah. When Allah swt willed the creation of the cosmos, then all entities that were to be created came into Ayan e Thabita. They were Ma’doom but they were not Ma’doom e Mahez. They were Mumtaz (meaning, preferred by virtue of the fact that they were in Ilm e Ilahi or Ayan e Thabita). They acquire their Wajud (come into existence) when they meet up with Qudrat (when Allah so will it).

Ayan e Thabita includes all of the particular attributes of an entity, such as, whether a person is good or bad, generous or tight fisted. An entity that is in Ayan e Thabita acquires its existence when Allah swt grants it Wajud at an appointed time. The multiplicity of existence is due to the multiplicity of Ayan e Thabita. Otherwise the soul of Wajud is One.

The manifestation of Ayan e Thabita (Ilm e Ilahi) is through Wajud. Examine the vast panorama of the world, the earth, water, air, the sky etc. In this vast collection of entities, there is Wajud but the Ayan e Thabita for each entity is different. Wajud is one and only one. When it connects with the various entities it brings them into existence in accordance wit their Ilmi Surat (conceived appearance).

Some people misunderstood this concept and made fun of it. They said Allah is everywhere – hama oost. Na’woozu billah, they said that it means even those who sell their bodies are also Allah. They interpreted it this way because of their lack of knowledge. The fact is that if you think about it, the matter will be clear to you. The meaning of Ayan e Thabita is different from the twist given to it by its detractors. Ilm e Ilahi (the Knowlede of Allah) contains everything including information about who becomes what. For instance, it may be that Zaid will be a pious man. Does Allah not know who is to appear till the Judgment Day and what he will do on earth? Everything is in His knowledge. Ilm e Ilahi contains everything about everyone till the Judgment Day, including, when he will be born and what he will become.

Ilm e Ilahi is not Jabr (compulsion). Allah swt created you, sent you guidance through books and guides. Even then, if you do wrong, you are responsible for your actions. Allah gave Ikhtiar (free will) to the human in some matters and withheld it in other matters. For instance, He kept the decision for life and death to Himself. He decides when someone is born and when someone dies. However, He gave you Ikhtiyar in certain things. You have the Ikhtiyar in your intentions and your deeds but the outcome of the deed is in Allah’s hands. If you have the intention of doing good then Innamal A’malu Bin Niyah. You will be asked only about that on which you were given Ikhtiyar. If you were Majboor (pre-programmed, helpless), you will not be asked about it.

So, the objections that some people have to the idea of Wahdat al Wajud are without basis. We say that Wajud e Haqeeqi is only Allah. There is a blanket of Light (the Noor of Allah) on all things in the cosmos. The blanket of Light makes them manifest. When that light falls on us, we acquire our contingent existence. He made us manifest and He hid himself behind the veils of His Asma wa Sifaat.

The capabilities and attributes given to you from Allah swt are manifest in Ayan e Thabita. The Ayan e Thabita has the capability of every person. There is no Jabr from Allah in what a person does. Your deeds are in accordance with your will and you will be entitled to reward and punishment. If a person does wrong by his will he will face punishment.

I want to emphasize that you are dependent on Allah for your Wajud (for your existence). With regards to your deeds, some of your deeds are through your own choice, others are beyond your control.  You will not be asked about the Acts of God that are beyond your control. You are Ma Bain Jabr Wa Qadr (In between Jabr and Qadr). You are neither Jabriya nor Qadriya. You are responsible only for what you choose and you earn the reward for following Amr wa Nahau (following what is prescribed and avoiding what is forbidden). What is in Ayan e Thabita is consistent with your capability. Everything that you will do is in Ayan e Thabita (ilm e ilahi). Allah knows what every person will do and will not do in accordance with his capability that is in Ayan e Thabita. Allah imparts Wajud to the cosmos through His Noor just as visible light imparts visibility to an invisible world. Our opponents distort these things.

It is clear that your deeds are in the knowledge of Allah. The deeds of those who will come after you till the Judgment Day are also in the knowledge of Allah. To repeat, this is called Ayan e Thabita, or the Knowledge of Allah, in the terminology of Tasawwuf. Ayan e Thabita contains the deeds of all the people who will be born till the Judgement Day. The Ayan e Thabita for every person is separate and distinct. The manifestations and essential attributes of a person are documented in his Ayan e Thabita. Wajud occurs when Ayan e Thabita meet up with Taqdir.

Allah swt warns you that if you obey him and his commandments you earn His favor, and if you disobey Him and do what is forbidden, you will earn His wrath. And He tells you all of this in accordance with His knowledge. He did not force you (make you majboor).

Q: Does everything that is in Ayan e Thabita become Maujood? Secondly, is everything that is in Ayan e

Thabita written in Luh e Mahfooz (the Preserved Tablet)?

Ans. Whatever is in Ayan e Thabita will be Maujood (become manifest). That is in ilm e ilahi (Knowledge of Allah). When Allah swt willed to create the cosmos, all of creation that is to be created till the Judgment Day came into His knowledge. He is the Creator. The expanse of His creation is unimaginable.

The Qur’an says that all things came within His knowledge in the blink of an eye. Whatever anyone or anyone is to be, only that which is in the Knowledge of Allah will come into being.

Q: A house can have several alternate plans. Can there be alternate plans in Ayan e Thabita and can all of the alternate plans come into being?

Ans: No. The construction of a house was offered only by way of an example. The final approved plan is the only one that is built. Similarly, only that which is Mumtaz comes into being. This is only by way an explanation. Ma’dum e Mahez is like a house that was thought of but was never built. One of the houses you thought of was Ma’dum but it became Mumtaz because you desired to build your house in accordance with it. You may have five or ten plans but only one is Mumtaz; all the others are Ma’dum e Mahez. Similarly, wewere all in Ilm e Ilahi. If we were not in Ilm e Ilahi, we would not be born. The Hadith Kuntu Kansan Makhfiya Fa Khalakhtu Khalqa….I was an unknown treasure and I willed that I be known. So, He willed to create the cosmos. All the people who are to be born till the Day of Judgement and all the things came into His knowledge. When we came into Ilm e Ilahi, we became Mumtaz. Not Maujood yet. There may be people who will come a thousand years after us. We do not know when Youmul Qiyamat will be. All these people are in Ilm e Ilahi. Only those who are in Ilm e Ilahi will be born. Those who are not yet born are Ma’dum but they are Mumtaz. Why? Because they are in Ilm e Ilahi. In Sufi terminology, those who are in Ilm e Ilahi will be born. Those who are not in Ma’lumat e Ilahi will not be born.

Q. The knowledge of Allah swt (Ilm e Ilahi) is much greater than Ayan e Thabita, isn’t it?

Ans. Yes. We are discussing it only with respect to the cosmos. If someone asks you about the cosmos you answer is that this is duniya and this is Akhira. We are in A’lam e Shahadat. After it comes Alam e Akhira. What are our limits? Our limits are this world and the world to come, A’lam e Shahada and A’lam e Akhira. We have no connection to anything else in Ilm e Ilahi. When you study a man’s life, you may observe that he spends his life, does good things, and thinks that his Akhira will be good, he will enter Jannah and partake of its blessings.

The world that we are in is Darul Amal (The world of deeds). It is a place of trial. The requirements for a place of trial have been shown to us. After this world, what is Darul Jaza? How can a person encompass it? That is boundless. I had said to you earlier that Dhat e Ilahi is limitless. But our concern is only with duniya and akhira and that is all we consider and study. We have been created to know our Creator and worship Him. It has been shown to us what our responsibilities are. Our responsibility is to recognize our Creator. How do you recognize Him? You cultivate closeness to Him. The closeness, namely, Ma’rifat e Ilahi, is limitless. The Prophet is the closest to Allah swt in all the worlds. Our responsibility is to get close to Him according to our ability and cultivate knowledge about Him. What kind of closeness can be cultivated, what are deeds that Allah will accept and bring us close to Him? We should discuss only what concerns that limit us. What is Ilm e Ilahi? There is no power on earth that can circumscribe the knowledge of Allah. It is limitless. So, to answer what is the limit of Ilm e Ilahi is beyond he capability of any human.

It has been said that whatever things there are, Allah spreads a blanket of Noor over them. It is His blanket of Noor. When he spread the blanket then those things that were in darkness became manifest.

Al Noor is a Name of Allah swt. Here is an important part of the philosophy of the Sufis. I am seeing you.

How am I seeing you? According to the spiritual description of the Sufis, there is a ray of light emanating from my eyes. This ray of light is falling on your face. In between there is al Haq, namely, Allah swt. He is making you manifest. This is a profound observation. It is to be pondered over. As Ali (r ) said: “I do not see anything unless I see the Truth”.

I will present to you two Ayahs from the Quran in this discussion. One is Allahu Noorus samawatai wal ard. Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. Is there any space where Allah is not present? He is present everywhere. He is the One who makes everything manifest. He circumscribes the entire cosmos. The second second Ayah is:  Wa nahnu aqrabu ilaihi bil hablul Wareed (We are closer to him than his jugular vein). What is the meaning of this? Some people say thatthe a’bd and ma’bud are separate. He is Qadir e Mutlaq (Omnipotent) and we are nothing in Hispresence. Our Wajud is notional. We have His Noor with us through which we are manifest. We were Ma’doom. When Noor e Ilahi appeared, we appeared. After we appeared we showed our works to theworld .This philosophy of hama oost (he is everywhere) is an explanation of the Qur’an and this is whatwe are studying. This is wahdatul Wajud. Wajud is One. We are possible, notional, imaginary. There is acouplet of a Sufi poet (in Urdu):

Pata lagaye koyi kya kahe pate ka pata

Mere pete ka pata hai ke la pata hum maiN

If a man dies, you ask him where he is, he cannot speak, so you ask someone else: Where is he? You say you have Wajud, I am here, I am visible. OK. You are here but for how long? For how many years? A hundred years? Where are you after that? Where is the man who has passed away? Allahu baqi wa min kullu fani. He is everlasting and eternal. The manifestations and essential attributes of every person are all inscribed in Ilm e Ilahi. They are not related to Wajud and if at all there is any connection it is that their appearance is impossible without Wajud.

What is pointed out here that the sinful things you are doing are not connected with the One who gave you Wajud. Allah gave you Wajud and gave you Ikhtiyar (choice, free will) in your intent and your deeds. Your attributes and  manifestations were in Ayan e Thabita. In other words, He is not responsible for whether you do good or bad. He is the Malik. He is Qadir e Mutlaq. He made the cosmos with a system so that He rewards the good and punishes the evil. This is Mash’iat e Ilahi and we cannot interfere with it. You cannot say that that what you are doing is the responsibility of the One who gave you Wajud. He gave you Wajud and He gave you guidance and Ikhtiyar in your intent and deeds. This is a different subject. Our subject is that you were Ma’dum and you are now Maujood. You were in darkness and now you are in Light. Once you are Maujood, you will receive your compensation for good and evil on the Day of Judgment. The Maujudiyet of everything is predicated upon Him. The worldly experience of the Shariah cannot be imputed to dhat e ilahi but the meaning is sometimes displaced.

The followig reasoning is acceptable to the mind. All of cosmos is Ma’doom and if it Maujood it is because it has a connection with Wajud. If that connection is cut, you cannot make it Maujood. The human is a combine of the Ruh and the body. If He pulls out the Ruh we become Ma’doom. Whatever is manifest is only Wajud because the nonexistence cannot make itself manifest by virtue of its nonexistence.

What is pointed out here is Allahu Haq. He alone is Baqi. Our Wajud is dependent on His decision. We are alive as long as He wills. When He takes the Ruh we are gone. You may say you will be resurrected on the Judgment Day with appearances, clothes etc., on the Judgement Day but that is a different subject. If we are discussing this world, we know we will disappear after death and we will not be visible in the world. The dead person is not visible to you.

The essence of this session is that Allah is Wahdatul Wajud. He was always there and will always be there. If anything is manifest, it is only Wajud since a thing that is nonexistent cannot by itself be manifest. If it is manifest it is only because of its connection with Wajud. His Spirit is the connection with

Wajud. Qul ir Ruhui min amr rabbi (Tell them that the Ruh is the business of your Sustainer). As long as you are with the Ruh, you are alive. When the Ruh leaves, you are finished. Then what remains? What

remains is Allah. If a thing has zuhoor (manifest) it is through its association with Wajud. When the Sufiya say Wahdat al Wajud, they mean the Wajud is ever lasting, eternal. It was, it is and it will be. Our

Wajud is our relationship with His Wajud. He created the relationship. As to how many years this relationship lasts is His decision. We are Maujood because of His Wajud. His Wajud is Biz Dhat. Our Wajud is Biz Arz . These are two terms of tasawwuf. Allah is Maujood Bizzat. He is not begotten nor does He beget. He exists by Himself. We are Bil Arz. We were born when someone gave us birth. Our Wajud is Masdari (dependent on someone else). Since our existence is dependent on Wajud, a human can call himself fani and nonexistent. His relationship with Wajud is special and if his vision turns towards Wajud then the panorama of hama oost unfolds. Hama oost means only He is everywhere. It is for this reason that the elders of faith who are the inheritors of both types of knowledge, for instance, Shaikh Afdhal (may Allah be pleased with him), have said: Ma anta huwa bal anta huwa (I am not, there is only He). Wajud is Wahid and the elders of faith have said hama oost and its reality is Ayan e Thabita which is presented here.

If anyone says that we do not need to pray then such a person is a disbeliever before the Sufiya as Allah swt has clearly said ma khlaqtul jinna wal ins illa leyabudoon. There are repeated injunctions to offer prayers. Such a person cannot benefit from Wahdat al Wajud.  If the meaning of Wahdat al Wajud was as they propound, there would bevno punishment in this world. There is only one Wajud in duniya and akhirat. Personal opinions cannot change this. Yes, it is another matter that with excellence of prayer you can reach a station where a person becomes His sama wa basar but this has no relationship to Wahdat al Wajud. That station is a fruit of excellence in prayer.

In other words, the Shaikh is emphasizing that if you say : My Wajud is only of Allah, not mine and therefore  my sins are not punishable, that is wrong. It is through a relationship with Wajud that you are Maujood. If you are dependent for your Wajud on Allah, the injunctions wa Aqeemus Salat wa Atuz Zakat are in no way affected and you will definitely be punished if you sin. If you do good you will benefit. If you say that Wahdatal Wajud was the Wajud of Allah and I had no Wajud, it is wrong. It is true you got your Wajud from Allah but as long as you are in the world you also accepted responsibilities. We see in the world that fire burns, things that are harmful do harm, So, we have to understand that wahdatal Wajud is one Wajud . It has to be taken in the sense that the Wajud that we received was due to the Wajud of Allah swt and we became manifest. Wahdatul Wajud means He is eternal, al Hayy, He is hama oost. We are alive for a limited period and it is incumbent upon us to perform good deeds and make them so excellent that we become worthy of Jannah and escape from the great fire.

This is an  exposition of Wahdat al Wajud. One cannot doubt it because the following two Ayahs of the Quran are Muhkam (established) and not from mutashabihat: Allahu Noorus samawat e wal ard (Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth) and wa nahnu alaihi bil hablil wareed ( I am closer to you than your jugular vein). Allah is with us to the extent of Wajud. Guidance is something else. Action is another matter.

This is the philosophy of Wahdatal Wajud. There are gradations beyond it. It propounds Wahdatas Shuhood. I will say a few words about Wahdatas Shuhood. The proponents of Wahdatas Shuhud say that Allah and His makhlooq are separate. In contrast, the proponents of Wahdatal Wajud say that the human is notional, imaginary. Otherwise, there is none but Allah.

The proponents of Wahdatal Wajud say that the wave that is visible from the shores is of a certainty imaginary but the ocean itself is the Truth. The proponents of Wahdat as Shuhud say that the ocean and the wave are separate. In Wahdatas Shuhud, Wajud is Waqayi (the truth). In Wahdatal Wajud the imagination is one.

The evidence for Wahdatal Wajud is as follows: You make a chessboard of wax. You make different pieces from the wax. These pieces are E’tebari. The reality is the wax. Similarly, you make vessels from clay. You make different pieces. But their reality is clay. These are Tai’yunat. The chess pieces as well as the pottery pieces are Tai’yunat. You have fixed the shape but the reality of each piece is wax or clay. In Tai’yunat you say this piece is a pawn, this one is a knight, this other one is a rook and so on. Similarly, Wahdatal Wajud holds that Allah is present in everything and He is the Truth. He has given us life. We are notional, imaginary. We are the E’tebar of Allah. But in this E’tebari world it is necessary to act. He has given us Ikhtiyar in our intent and our actions. He has written in the heavenly book, the Qur’an that we must establish prayer and give zakat. As long as have the Wajud, we must be aware of what is prescribed and what is forbidden.

Wa akhirut da’wana alhamdu lillahi rabbil alameen. Wa salatu was salamu ala sayyedul mursaleen Wal

hamdu lillahi Rabbil alameen. Al Fateha.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tasawwuf – Basic Terminology

Basic Terminology of Tasawwuf (اصتلاحات)

Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Islamic history is not complete without a journey through the gardens of bliss nourished by tasawwuf. . From Timbuktu and Casablanca to Istanbul, Cairo, Baghdad, Samarqand, Multan, Lahore, Delhi, Sylhet, Kuala Lumpur and Aceh, no part of the world has been left untouched by the baraka (grace) of the Awliyah. Indeed, tasawwuf was the conduit for the introduction of Islam into Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, East Africa, Central Asia and Europe. Tasawwuf had a deep impact on the historical development of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh spirituality and it continues as a beacon of light in the modern world.

We are introducing our distinguished readers to the treasures of spirituality bequeathed to us by the great spiritual masters from the past. This is a deep ocean. One dives into it and discovers treasures of love, contentment, perseverance, generosity, forgiveness, and selfless service in accordance with his/her spiritual station. But as Mevlana Rumi said: “You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the ocean in a drop”. Let us dive into this ocean and partake of the jewels that our hearts can find.

Love is the central theme of tasawwuf. In a world rent asunder by conflict, tasawwuf is a bridge that offers an existential possibility to bring together people of different faiths, nationalities, colors, creeds and origin.

This first article offers a definition of some of the terminology of tasawwuf. We caution that some of the terms may appear too esoteric to the uninitiated. Nonetheless, we offer them here so that the reader may better understand the historical contributions of the great Sufi Shaikhs. We intend to expand and elaborate this terminology as we add more articles in this category.  

Some Introductory Definitions

‘Ilm: Knowledge, especially the inner knowledge of things

A’bd: A servant of Allah; a worshipper; one who adores Allah

A’lim: A person of knowledge; a shaikh; a scientist; an a’rif

A’mal: Action; it is what you do

A’ql: Reason; intellect

Arif: A scholar who has attained Mu’arifah (inner knowledge)

Akhira: The hereafter

Anayah: The ego; the “I” or “Me” in conversation

Awrad: Repetitive remembrance of the Names of Allah (also called Wazifah)

Ayah (Ayat): A Sign; A Sign in nature; A Sign within the Self; A passage of the Qur’an

Baraka: Grace; The Grace of God; the grace from the presence of the Prophet; the grace from a good deed; the grace from the presence of a Shaikh or a pious, loving elderly person;

Dhikr: Remembrance of the Most Beautiful Names of Allah. Dhikr can be silent or vocal in slow rhythmic, melodious tones

Duniya: the world; the ephemeral, enticing, deceiving world

Ehsan: Beauty, excellence, goodness; an attribute of Allah

Faqr: Poverty (as in Fakir); utter want before the presence of All

Fikr: Reflection; contemplation; consideration

Ghafr: Forgiveness; Allah is al Ghafoor (the most forgiving)

Hadara: To be present; to present one’s purified heart before the majesty of Allah

Haqeeqat: Reality; the Essence of things

Hijab: Screen or curtain; the screening of Allah’s essence by His own attributes

Jannah: heaven; to be in the presence of Allah

Jihad (j-h-d): to strive; to struggle; in tasawwuf it is often used to describe the unceasing struggle of the soul to ascend to divine presence

Jism (plural ajsam): The body; the senses

Kamal: Perfection (of the soul)

Kasab: What you earn through your actions

Kashaf: the lifting of a screen or curtain so that the Self receives a higher illumination from divine presence

Khilwah: Withdrawal; disengagement from attachment to the mundane world

Khushu’: Awe and wonder before Allah

Mohsin: A person who has inculcated Ehsan; a person who excels in doing good

Momin: One who has certainty of faith

Mu’arifah (Mu’arifat): Inner knowledge; knowledge of the essence of things

Muhibbah: Love.

Mureed: a student; one who seeks knowledge

Nafs: The soul; the Self; the Person; a comprehensive term that includes the senses, the mind and the heart

Nur: Light; the Light from Allah; knowledge

Nur e Muhammadi: The Light of Muhammad; the pristine light of creation; the first emanation from Allah’s Grace

Qalb: The heart; the seat of love; the container of Divine Names; that which turns either towards Allah or towards the world

Qawl: Word; the Word of Allah

Qawwal: One who recites the Word in a melodious voice

Qawwali: An ecstatic, highly developed musical form in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh dedicated to the praise of God and the Prophet (peace be upon him). Certain forms of Qawwali also exist in Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, Egypt and West Africa

Rab: The Creator, Sustainer and Cherisher; Allah

Rububiyet: the muqam (station) and attributes of the Rab

Ruh: The spirit given to us by God Almighty; the moving force of life

Sakina: Tranquility of the heart that comes from the presence of Allah

Salam: Peace that accompanies the presence of Allah; a Name of Allah

Saleem: Sound and wholesome; a sound heart that is presented before Allah

Salik: the student; the seeker; one who is on the path of suluk

Satr: covering; that which is covered up; to cover up (one’s defects)

Shaikh: a teacher who molds and nurtures the nafs and the qalb of a student

Shariah: The Law of Allah which governs Allah’s creation. There is Shariah as applied to human societies as there is Shariah which governs nature (the heavens and the earth)

Shukr: Thankfulness; gratitude

Sohbet: Companionship (of the pious)

Suluk: the path of tasawwuf; the method of tasawwuf

Tajalli: Manifestation of God’s Light; Epiphany

Tanzil (plural Tanzilat): The descent of divine Grace

Tareeeqa: A method and a process to get close to divine presence; a group dedicated to acquiring inner knowledge under the tutelage of a genuine Shaikh. The tareeqas that are most widely followed include: Qadariya, Chishtiya, Nakhshbandiya, Mevlaviya, Suhrwardiya, Tajaniya, Jazuliya. It is said that there are 40 tareeqas in the world. Tareeqas are not mutually exclusive; they are inclusive. They recognize the validity and sanctity of each approach. A person may belong to several tareeqas at once.

Tauba: Turning away from what is not good towards what is good; repentance

Tazkiya: Purification; purification of the heart. The purpose of tasawwuf is Tazkiya

Tazkiyatunnafs: Purification of the Self from blameworthy attributes

U’ruj: The ascent of the soul to divine presence

Ubudiyet: Servanthood; the state and condition of the human

Wadud: The loving; an attribute of Allah; al Wadud is a Name of Allah

Wa Allahu A’lam wa astaghfirullahu Rabbi

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tasawwuf – Advance Terminology

Advanced Terminology of Tasawwuf (اصتلاحات)

 Shaikh Shah Mohammed Moinuddin Qadri, Hyderabad, Deccan

Haal and Maqaam (حال و مقام)

  • Haal (حال)- It is temporary and is a gift from Allah SWT. There is no role of one’s kasab (كسب) or amal (عمل) in achieving this haal.
  • As the Quran states, Allah SWT chose the  Ambiya. Similarly, he chose Auliya as well. One Hadith states, Allah SWT tells Jibreel, I love so and so so please love that person.
  • Hazrat Isa (AS) spoke as a child as this capability was granted by Allah SWT. Thus, haal (حال) here came before any amal (عمل) .
  • These ahvaal (احوال ) are beyond aql (عقل)
  • Maqaam – Maqaam (مقام) is a permanent state or station and a Salik may transition into a maqam due to the increasing frequency of haal (حال) and his aamaal ( اعمال). Maqam is not perfected until the salik begins to experience the haal of the next level
  • Maqamaat are due to makasib (مكاسب)  and ahval are mawahib ( مواهب). 
  • Wahbi (وهبي) is higher (افضل) than kasabi ( كسبي) as wahbi is the amal of Allah SWT.
  • Maqamaat can be wahbi as well.
  • Saying of Sayyidna Ali (Ra)
  • Ahvaal (احوال ) are ulwi (علوي ) things and maqamaat are paths
  • Ask about the paths to the heavens as I know them better than the paths of duniya.

In summary, haal (حال) is temporary and maqaam (مقام) is permanent.

Maqaams ( مقامات) :

  1. Muhasiba  (مقامِ محاسبه )- Reflect on your zaat and take yourself into account. The Nafs may take over and make you forget your Muhasiba. There is like a yin and yang between Muhasiba and your Nafs. When there is Taufeeq of Allah SWT, the Nafs cannot interfere with your Muhasiba and it becomes your maqam. Haal (حال) is from Allah SWT and your deeds are helpful. Muhasiba is tauba which is the beginning.
  2. Muraqaba (مقامِ مراقبه ) may be defined as doing fikr of Allah SWT by forgetting everything else. After reaching the maqam of Muhasiba, you may get a haal (حال)of Muraqaba. Once the fog of Ghaflat is removed, this haal (حال)turns into maqam of Muraqiba.
  1. Mushahida (مقامِ مشاهده ) – Mushahida is witnessing the tajalliyaat ( تجليات  )of Allah SWT. When you are on the maqam of Muraqaba, you may get a gift of the haal (حال)of Mushahida. As the frequency of this haal (حال)increases, your muraqaba becomes even more strong and you start witnessing the tajalliyaat of Allah SWT and finally transition to the maqam of Mushahida. However, you are still uneasy (bechain) at this maqam. At this level the salik has reached the level of ‘Ayn-ul-Yaqeen’.
  1. Fana (مقامِ فنا) – After the maqam of Mushahida, you may reach the maqam of Fana. You forget yourself and see Him everywhere and everything. It does not nauzubillah mean that you become part of Him but you forget your own existence. Also it doesn’t mean that your body is erased or disappears, it’s just the mental state. You forget (shu’ur, idrak and fahm) consciousness, recognition and understanding of the material world as only see the Tajalli of Haq swt  
  1. Baqa (مقامِ بقا) – As the famous hadith in Bukhari states – I become his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes.

Summary – Become mustahkam or steadfast in your current maqaam (مقام) before thinking about other maqaams (مقامات). Even in zuhd, tawakkal or raza, haal (حال) and maqaams (مقامات) are required.

Zajar (زجر)

Zajar can be defined as a warning in your heart from Allah SWT. Ambiya are masoom and Auliya are mahfooz. Even if a sahgeera sin happens, Auliya are mahfooz as zajar comes to their heart and they immediately do Tauba. In other words, Zajar is the introduction or muqaddamah of Tauba. 

Types of Zajar

  1. Ilm – Knowledge that this was wrong
  2. Aql – Aql says it was wrong
  3. Emaan – One realizes it should not have been done

A salik may experience his nafs overcoming the zajar and if he/she inclines towards the nafs then the feeling of zajar will be lost.

An example, a person may mistreat someone and later realizes that they made a mistake. Nafs might try to justify the treatment by thinking that the other person may have deserved it or they may be inferior to them.

Ta’yun & Aitbaar (تعين واعتبار)

  • Establish  (تَعْيُنْ) – Allah SWT examining or knowing His own Self (ذات). It is of two types
  • Dakhili( داخلي)
  • Ijmali ( اجمالي)
  • Wahdat (وحدت) – Found His own Wujood and said انا
  • Tafseeli ( تفصيلي )
  • Found His own Sifaat (صفات)
  • Khariji (خارجي)
  • Zuhoor ( ظهور )
  • Souls
  • Sifaat
  • Misaal
  • Human life is bain-ul-admain (بين العدمين), between two adams
  • Aalam of Misaal
  • Aalam of Barzakh
  • Some Auliya can know the haal of Barzakh
  • Some non-muslims can get to misaal but cannot access Barzakh
  • Consideration (اعتبار) – Sufia have used this term to define the creation (khalq) as opposite of Haqiqah ( حقيقه ) when it is in the context of ‘Wujud’
  • Anything that is like a shadow (ظِلّي)
  • Anything that is like an illusion (وهم)
  • Anything that is like a metaphor (مجاز)
  • For our understanding, this world can be thought of as a result of the تَخَيٌُلْ of His dhat (zaat).
  • Examples –
  • Consider a chess board and all of it’s pieces made of wax. The pieces and the board are like اعتبار but the reality حقيقه  is wax.
  • Whenever something like a spinning top is spun very fast, one might see circles around it which disappear when the spinning stops. These circles are an example of اعتبار
  • The Quran says (Surah Shura – 31) – وَمَا لَكُم مِّن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ مِن وَلِىٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ
  • In reality only Allah SWT is the Helper and Protector.
  • Water by itself cannot quench thirst without the permission of Allah SWT
  • When you are imagining something, nobody else is involved in that process. You can build our own world – neither fire nor water in this imagined world affects you. The things in this imaginary world do not change or affect you. You did not do Hulool (حُلُولْ) in this world but this world is also connected to you.
  • Your reflection in the mirror does not affect you but is dependent on you.

Works or Acts of Allah SWT (اَفْعَال إِلٰهِ)

Ayah 37:96 – وَاللّٰهُ خَلَقَكُمۡ وَمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ  in the Quran states that it is Allah SWT who created you and what you do.

A person is dependent on Asbab (أسباب) for reaching his/her goals in this world. For example, in order to create a box, a carpenter first creates a mental image of the box and then needs wood, iron and tools to create it. Allah SWT can create without any dependence on Asbab.

Stages or مَرَاتِبْ of Afaal-e-Ilahi

  1. Ibdah (إِبْدأ) – This means originating something. There is no dependence on any Asbab or any previous model to copy. Ayah 2:117 – بَدِيۡعُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالۡاَرۡضِ . Allah SWT is the originator of the heavens and the earth.
  2. Khalq (خَلقْ) – Creating something from other things (Asbab) in stages.
  3. Sana’ (سَنَعْ) –  This means industry or converting one form to another with some changes.
  4. Fael (فِعلْ) – This means act where the one doing the action of his own choosing (خُد مُخْتَار)
  5. Amal (عَمَلْ) – This also means to act but the one doing the action is not doing it by choice or is not khud mukhtar. Aamil, the one who is doing the amal is the مُتِيعْ of Fayal who is the one doing the fael.

Types or  اقْسَام of Afaal-e-Ilahi

  1. Zahiri (ظَاهرِي) – Apparent or something that can be perceived by our senses. Also known as Mahsusaat (محسؤسات)
  2. Batini (بَاطِنِي) – Hidden. It is also known as Maqool (معقول)

Just as words have meaning, the Zahiri Afaal also have a Batin. In the Quran, Allah SWT first reminds us of the  Zahir like sun, moon, plants etc and then invites us towards the Batin like the Oneness of Allah SWT. 

To write words, you need letters. Once you learn letters, you need to learn the rules of putting words together till you can access books. A typical person is more inclined towards the Zahir. Allah’s Nemat or gifts are not complete when zahir does not point to Batin. Imaan cannot be complete only through accessing Zahir.

Allah SWT made humans a ‘khalifa’ or vicegerent on this earth. Acts or works are attributed to human beings in Zahir or Majaz (فَاعِل مَجَازِي) but the actual or haqiqi (فَاعِل حَقِيقِي) doer is Allah SWT.

Anfusi (أنْفُسِي) and Aafaqi (آفاقي)

Allah SWT says in the Quran (41:53) – سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ 

Anfusi – This means pertaining to your own self.

Aafaqi – This means pertaining to the universe.

Sair Anfusi ( سير أنْفُسِي) – This means exploring  your own self.

Sair Aafaqi ( سير آفاقي ) –   This means exploring the universe.

The Divine Decree and Predestination ( القضاء والقدر)

Qaza (القضاء) – This literally means decree or final verdict. This is a hukum (حُكُمْ) of Allah SWT. All the kaifiyaat of created things are written in Lahuh-e-Mahfooz.

It is of two types:

  1. Closed or twined (مَبْرُوْمْ) – This cannot be changed.
  2. Pending or suspended (مُعَلَّقْ) – This can be changed by making dua to Allah SWT.

The above two categories only apply to creation (human beings). We should always be making du’a to Allah SWT as we don’t know which things are ‘mabroom’ or ‘moallaq’ in Qaza.

 Qadar (القدر) – This refers to the appointed time and other asbab (things) that come together for the implementation of Qaza or decree. To quote the words of a famous scholar from Hyderabad, Maulana Abdul Qadeer Siddiqui (RA), Qadr is the timetable of this universe.

Wa Allahu ‘Alam (Allah is the Knower).

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Parable of a Mosquito in Surah-al-Baqra

The Parable of a Mosquito

The Qur’an 2:26

Submitted by Dr. Abdullatif Alaljibury

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَسْتَحْيِي أَنْ يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَيَقُولُونَ مَاذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِهَذَا مَثَلاً يُضِلُّ بِهِ كَثِيرًا وَيَهْدِي بِهِ كَثِيرًا وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِ إِلاَّ الْفَاسِقِينَ- البقرة: 2:26)

“Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a mosquito, and of what is above it, Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is the truth from their Sustainer – whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say, “What could God mean by this parable? In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby to go astray save the iniquitous.” Surah al Baqra, 2:26.

It was not until 1922 that a British entomologist discovered a flying biting midge that clung to the back of the mosquito. The discovery was further authenticated by Chinese scientists who caught a mosquito with a midge clinging tenaciously to its backside. Using an electron microscope, since the midge was so tiny that it could hardly be seen by the naked eye, the midge was filmed sucking blood from the mosquito and leaving its host after getting satisfied. The event was recorded on video. Some midges have been observed attached to the back of the mosquito for up to 56 hours.

Since the beginning of its revelation and until very recently, the significance of “a mosquito and what is above it’ has escaped many reputable commentators of the Qur’an. As a matter of fact, the disbelievers, as God has mentioned, would most certainly have gone astray and brushed off its significance by saying:” What could God mean by this parable?” The disbelievers were bent on ceasing an opportunity to what seemed to them a non- consequential similitude and continue to deny their bond with God, for which they are aptly branded as “iniquitous”. Only the people of faith, by holding on firmly to their contract with God, the All Knowing and dispenser of Grace, accept the truth whether it is apparent or not.

We witness and see every day and everywhere clear Signs from our Creator. The truth is manifested in the wonders of His Creation whether it be in the vast Cosmos or here on earth. It could even be on the tiniest of His Creation or a smaller creature which sits on top of a mosquito, as is mentioned in the verse referenced above.

God has many ways to guide us to see and uphold the truth and be conscious of His presence as we seek refuge in His Grace. He shows us the truth through His Signs that are everywhere we look. Indeed, there are instances when He makes us look deeper to witness the truth. He makes the venture doubly rewarding through sight and insight. That is the case in point with the parable of the mosquito, the Qur’an, Surah al Baqra, 2:26.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Islam, Science & History

Please find the Zoom link for lecture titled “Islam, Science adn History” by Prof Dr Nazeer Ahmed below. As you registered for the first part of the event, you can directly attend the event below link Hope to see you.
Meeting ID: 985 1067 4483
Pacifica Institute Northern California

Pacifica Nor Cal Lecture PART 2 : “Islam, Science and History” by Dr Nazeer Ahmed
Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is a distinguished NASA scientist, inventor, historian, legislator and philanthropist. He was a chief scientist on the NASA Hubble Telescope and a team leader on the Apollo moon landing project. Dr. Ahmed will speak to us briefly on Science, History and Faith in Islam.

Feb 3, 2021 07:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

To Join the Meeting   Please click this URL to join.

Live Stream on Youtube Channel: (also previous speech is available here):
Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tipu Sultan

  1. Tipu Sultan – His connection to the American National Anthem
  2. Tipu Sultan, Development of Army Logistics, Agriculture and Environmental Protection
  3. Two kings from South Asia who inspired America’s founding fathers, revolutionaries and early US Congress
  4. Tipu Sultan’s foreign diplomacy through the letters of Thomas Jefferson
  5. Tipu Sultan’s punishment for sedition misconstrued as religious intolerance
  6. How Tipu Sultan defeated the British at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780
  7. Sringeri temple attack and the genocide of Karnataka’s Hindus by the Maratha Empire (1791)
  8. Videos Sessions

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Aurangzeb’s friendly relations with Mysore Kingdom’s most successful Hindu King Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar

Research and author: Ameen Ahmed

F:\Articles & Research on History_20201025\Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar_2020_12_01\Aurangazeb and Chikkadevaraja copy.jpg

Copyright free illustrations


The Hindu Wodeyar dynasty formed the Mysore kingdom in 1399 (1). It ruled the region until India’s independence, with a couple of breaks in between, from 1760 to 1799 and 1831 to 1881. Established as a subsidiary of the Karnata Empire (popular as Vijayanagar Empire), the Wodeyars began to spread their wings after Vijayanagar was sacked at the battle of Talikoti in 1565 (2). During its long existence it saw the rise and fall of many empires, including the Mughals and Marathas. Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar who ruled from 1673 until his death in 1704, is seen as its most successful king. This essay highlights how this far sighted ruler developed and sustained friendship with Aurangzeb to not only check their common enemy the Marathas, but also to reform his kingdom.

Mysore King Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar built or repaired many Hindu temples in his reign, like this Shvetha Varaha Swamy temple at Mysore.

Pic: Author

Early Marathas and Mysore Kingdom

In early 17th century CE, supported by Maratha warriors like Shahji, father of Shivaji, the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur expanded south. The Muslim rulers of Deccan Sultanates of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur were said to be tolerant towards their Hindus resident and provided them opportunities in civil administration as well as the military (3). Shahji was one such Hindu who excelled as a military leader in both these sultanates. The Bijapur Sultans divided the Carnatic region into Carnatic Hyderabad and Carnatic Bijapur (Vijayapura). Each of these was sub-divided into north (Balaghat) and south (Payeenghat). Sira was part of the Carnatic Bijapur Payeenghat (4). Despite the Adil Shahis sweeping through the region, Mysore Kingdom remained a separate entity. Randaulah Khan, Bijapur’s Governor at Sira, attacked Srirangapatna, the capital of Mysore in 1639, located just about 170 km away. He was supported by his second in command Shahji. But they were both beaten back by Kantirava Narasa Raja Wodeyar (ibid., 3).

Mausoleum of Mallik Rehan, the Abyssinian commander of Bijapur Sultans at Sira, dates to 1650. To the far left of this is an open grave that is said to be that of Gauhar Taj, seven-year old daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Pic: Author 

While Randaulah Khan returned to the Bijpaur court, Shahji was given in jagir Bangalore, Kolar, Hoskota, Dod-Ballapur and Sira. He initially lived at Bangalore. During peacetime he also resided at Kolar and Doddaballapur (ibid., 1). Mallik Rehan, an Abyssinian, commanded the Bijapur armies at Sira from 1638 to 1650. Although he distinguished himself in a few decisive battles, particularly one near Bangalore in 1647, there are no records of him being able to subjugate the Mysore Wodeyars (5). In 1649, due to Shivaji’s adventures against Bijapur, Shahji was imprisoned by the Bijapur Sultan. Meanwhile, the Mysore Wodeyars were holding on firmly to Srirangapatna. Kantirava Narasa Raja Wodeyar defeated Kempe Gowda, the ruler of Magadi, in 1654, and forced him to pay tribute (ibid., 1).

Shahji continued his adventures after being spared death due to intervention of Shah Jahan and led the Bijpaur armies again, when he died in 1664 falling down from a horse at the age of 70, near Basavapatna town in preset day southern Karnataka (ibid., 1). Venkoji or Ekoji, who lived at Tanjavur (anglicized: Tanjore) took over Shahji’s jagir of Bangalore and areas south of it (ibid., 4). Soon Shivaji would venture into Karnataka. A man who wanted to shape his own destiny as well as that of his clan the Marathas, he gained notoriety as a plunderer of non-Maratha kingdoms. He is known to have looted and destroyed the towns of Hubbali (Hubli), Karwar and Ankola in 1670s in present day Karnataka (6). 

Rise of Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar

Meanwhile, in 1672, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar took over the reins of Mysore Kingdom. He took many steps to streamline the administration. He pioneered a regular postal system. He expanded the kingdom northward, incorporating many small territories that were in disarray due to Shivaji’s raids (ibid., 1).

The cat and mice game between the numerically superior Mughals and Shivaji’s men using their guerilla warfare tactics continued. Aurangzeb’s son Sultan Mauzum took the fort of Dharwar in 1673 (7). In 1675, Bijapur Sultan Adil Shah died and Venkoji became independent of Bijapur. But Shivaji, a son from his father’s first marriage, attacked the domains of his half brother Venkoji and forced him to partition half of his domains, in 1677 (ibid., 4). It is said that he attacked Srirangapatna in August 1677 and resorted to looting neighbouring areas after the Wodeyar defeated him (8). By the time of his death in 1680, Maratha soldiers had entrenched themselves in the environs of Ginjee, Vellore and Tanjavur (ibid., 1). 

Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar kept up his pressure against the Marathas, capturing many territories that were the jagir of Venkoji. In 1682, he is said to have defeated a combined army of Basappa Nayaka of Ikkeri, Qutub Shah of Golkonda and Sambhaji, son and successor of Shivaji (ibid., 8). 

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The Jama Masjid, Sira, Karnataka is said to have been constructed in 1686, around a time when this region was taken over the Mughals led by Emperor Aurangazeb, according to a Persian inscription inside it. 

Pic: Author

Aurangazeb’s empire touches Mysore’s boundaries

Aurangazeb reached Bijapur in person in 1685. Among others, he was opposed by the sons of Randaulah Khan, the late Bijapur Governor of Carnatic Bijapur (ibid., 5). Having prevailed in the battle, Aurangzeb marched down to Sira and captured it in 1687. 

The Subah (province) of Sira was formed in 1687 with the town of same name as its capital. It composed of the following seven parganas (districts) – Basvapatna, Budihal, Sira, Penugonda, Dod Ballapur, Hoskote and Kolar. The states of Harpanhalli, Kondarpi, Anegundi, Bednur, Chitaldroog and Mysore were given protection as tributaries.  The commercially important Bengaluru Pete (town) was still held by Venkoji, who was in the process of selling it to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar. But Khasim Khan, Aurangzeb’s first Faujdar Divan (Military Governor) of Sira, captured and sold it to the Wodeyar for three lakh rupees (ibid., 1). According to another source Kasim Khan was the Subhedar of Sira Subah (ibid., 5). Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar established friendly relations with Aurangzeb through Khasim Khan. This gave Mysore enough political stability to expand its territory in all directions, away from the Mughal boundaries. He extended Mysore’s boundaries to the south till Palni and to Midgeshi in the north (ibid., 1). The Mughals also continued capturing independent forts. The fort of Doddaballapur was captured in 1689 by Khasim Khan, according to a Persian stone inscription dated 1691 (9). 

As Aurangzeb turned back north, his favourite son Kam Baksh Khan continued the campaign against the Marathas at Ginjee and started its siege in 1691. Among the Maratha Generals at Ginjee was a confidante of late Shivaji, Santaji Gorepuray. He defeated Khasim Khan, who either died on the battle field or then killed himself. Ginjee finally fell to Kam Baksh Khan in 1697 (10). At that point in time, the Mughal influence in south Asia was its zenith. It controlled directly, or through alliances with friendly kingdoms, an area that stretched from Vellore in present day Tamil Nadu, southern India to Kabul in Afghanistan north and present day Bangladesh in the east.

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A view of the Nijagal hill fort near Tumakuru, India. It was constructed by Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar.

Pic: Author

Aurangzeb’s governance and Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar’s administration 

After his friend Khasim Khan’s death, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar made a fresh resolve to strengthen relations with the Mughal Emperor. He sent an embassy to the emperor’s court at Ahmednagar in 1699. It returned in 1700 with the Emperor’s authority to sit on an ivory throne and an official stamp titled Jaga Deva Raja (anglicised: Jug Deo Raj), literally meaning ‘King of the world’ (ibid., 1). 

A year later, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar introduced administrative reforms in his kingdom inspired by Aurangzeb’s Governance. This included the Athra Kacheri (Eighteen Departments or Chavadis), one of which was the Benne Chavadi or the Animal Husbandry Department which focused on indigenous cattle. The Athra Kacheri particularly the Benne Chavadi outlasted Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar by over a century. The latter was inherited by Haidar Ali followed by Tipu Sultan, who refined it further and renamed it as Amrut Mahal (ibid.,1). Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar also built or resurrected many Hindu temples across Mysore Kingdom among which are the two Narasimha Swamy temples at Devarayanadurga, the Kote Venkataramana temple at Bangalore and Shvetha Varaha Swamy temple in the vicinity of Mysore Palace. Many literary works in Kannada and also Sanskrit were produced during his rule (ibid., 8). He died in 1704. Aurangazeb followed in 1707. The following subedars governed Sira until Aurangzeb’s death. 

Atish Khan – 1694

Kurad Manur Khan – 1697

Dhakta Manur Khan – 1704

Pudad Ulla Khan – 1706

Dawud Khan or Dawud Khan Panni – 1707


During their rule over Sira, the Mughals commissioned many monuments including the big Eidgah, Jumma Masjid and Barqi Masjid, among others (12). According to locals, Aurangazeb was accompanied by his favourite daughter Gauhar Taj during his campaign here. She passed away at the age of 7 and is buried in a small roofless mausoleum in the necropolis surrounding the mausoleum of Mallik Rehan.


While the Maratha invasions of Bengal province (present day Bangladesh, West Bengal state, Orissa and parts of Bihar) are fairly well-known to history lovers of Indian sub-continent, the Maratha invasions of Mysore Kingdom as well as the friendly relations between Aurangzeb and his Hindu counterpart of Mysore Kingdom, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar that protected the Kingdom’s inhabitants for over two decades are not well-known. In early 20th century, another far-sighted Wodeyar king Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar took the princely state of Mysore to great heights but he was not independent from the British. That gives credence to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar being Mysore Kingdom’s most successful independent ruler. The fact that he was deep rooted in Hinduism, and yet established friendly relations with Aurangzeb to protect his kingdom and its Hindu inhabitants, is another proof that south Asia was not a Hindu vs Muslim binary during the rule of Mughals, in particular under Aurangzeb. This unknown facet of India’s history needs to be told and retold in this day and age. 


  1. Rice, B.L., ‘Mysore A Gazetteer compiled for Government’, 1897. 
  2. Jha, Monica., ‘When the south was one’. Interview of historian Vasundhara Filliozat. Downloaded on November 30, 2020 from this link

  1. ‘Imperial Gazetteer’, vol.18, 1908.
  2. Wilks, Mark., ‘Historical Sketches of the South of India’ (1564 – 1799AD), 1817.
  3. Sarkar, J.N., ‘History of Aurangzeb’, in 2 volumes, 1912.
  4. ‘Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency’, vol. XV, Part 2 – Kanara, 1883. 
  5. Moor, Edward., ‘A narrative of the operations of Captain Little’s detachment, and of the Mahratta army, commanded by Purseram Bhow; during the late confederacy in India, against the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur’, J.Johnson, London, 1794.
  6. Rao, C.H., ‘History of Mysore’, In 3 volumes, 1944. 
  7. Rice.B.L., ‘Epigraphia carnatica’, Vol. 9, 1905.  
  8. Bilimoria, J.H., ‘Letters of Aurangzeb – Rukhait e Elamgiris’, 1908.
  9. ‘Mysore State Gazetteer’, Tumkur District, 1969. Quoting Mackenzie’s documents.
  10.  Sibghatullah, M., ‘Sira tareeq ke ainay mein’, Urdu Library Centre, Bangalore, 1986.  

Acknowledgement: I thank the scholars whose works have helped me research and write this document. I am, in particular, grateful to Prof. Rank Nazeer Ahmed, USA, Nidhin Olkara, India and Muneer Ahmed, India.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Imam Ja’afar-as-Sadiq

Submitted by Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq (700-765 CE) was a giant among Islamic sages. He was the Shaykh of great Shaykhs, the teacher of Imam Abu Haneefa, Imam Malik, Abu Yazid al Bastami and Wasim ibn Atta. His scholarship embraced the esoteric as well as the exoteric, ilm ul ishara as well as ilm ul ibara, the sciences of kalam as well as the sciences of hadith, sunnah, the natural sciences and the historical sciences. He was al-hakim, an integrator, a true man of wisdom in the Quranic sense, a complete alim who understood that the Shariah applied not just to the world of man but to the world of nature as well. He applied his incisive knowledge to create Divine patterns in the world of man through Fiqh but he also saw those patterns in nature and in history and he taught them to his students. He was the inheritor of two secrets, one from Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r), the other from Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). He was a far-sighted savant who worked to bridge the gap between the Shia and the Sunni and between Islam and other faiths. No wonder the Shia and the Sunni, the Sufi and the Salafi, the traditionalist and the modernist all claim him to be one of their own.

He lived in exciting times. It was the age of faith. It was the age of reason. It was the age of intellectual consolidation. It was also the age of imperial expansion and political upheavals. It was the age when Islamic civilization came into its own. The seed planted by the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) sprouted, was tended to during this age by men and women of extraordinary vision and certainty of faith. The shape of this tree and the taste of its fruit were largely a legacy of what these great men and women did and did not do.

Just as a tree has many branches, the global Islamic community has many branches, each with its own beauty and its own unique characteristics: Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Modernist, Traditionalist, the esoteric and the exoteric, the Arab, the Persian, the Turk, the African, the Pakistani, the Indian, the European, the Indonesian, and the Chinese. All of these branches grew out of the same trunk. The fact that they are different adds to the majesty and beauty of this tree and its global appeal.

Few scholars through the centuries have bridged the differences between Shia and Sunni, Sufi and Salafi, Modernist and Traditionalist and fewer yet have risen so high in their scholarship that they were claimed, with equal validity by the Shia and the Sunni, the Sufi and the Salafi, the Modernist and the Traditionalist. Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq was one such scholar. The Shias—Ithna Ashari, Ismailis, Alavis and Agha Khanis alike—consider him to be the sixth Imam. The Sunnis consider him to be a teacher of the great mujtahideen, Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik bin Anas. The Sufis of all tareeqas honor him as a major link in the chain of transmission of spiritual knowledge from the Prophet, the Salafis accept the ahadith transmitted through him, the modernists consider him to be the teacher of some of the best known empirical and rational scientists of the age, and the traditionalists follow his guidance in matters of faith and ritual. While the Sunnah of the Prophet is like the trunk of the tree that is the world of Islam, Imam Ja’afar was one of its main branches.

Yet another way to look at Imam Ja’afar is to consider him as the amalgam of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r) and Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r). You recall that upon the death of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) many Companions considered Abu Bakr (r) to represent the consensus of the community while others felt that Ali (r) was the heir to Prophetic wisdom and was the one to be followed. The Islamic community split along these lines. Imam Ja’afar brought these two streams together through family relationships as well as scholarship. In him the esoteric and the exoteric, the consensus of the community and the Prophetic wisdom merged. Very few scholars had that privilege.

Lastly, Imam Ja’afar was a master both of Ilm ul Ibara and Ilm ul Ishara. Classical Islamic scholars divided knowledge into two broad categories, namely, that which was accessible to the mind and that which is accessible only to the heart.  In the former category belong reason, logic, mathematics, science, sociology, hadith and the obligations and rituals of religion. This knowledge can be taught and can be learned from an Alim. It is called Ilm ul Ibara from the Arabic root Alif-Bay-Ray (a-ba-ra) which means to wade, like wading from one shore of a river to the other. This is the knowledge imparted to a pupil in a school or a university. The knowledge of the heart, on the other hand, is not accessible to the mind but only to the heart. In this category belong love, compassion, humility, piety, ethics and a consciousness of Divine presence. This knowledge cannot be taught. But a great Shaykh can help a pupil cleanse his heart and open it to the unlimited possibilities of ilm ul Ishara. Imam Sa’adiq inherited and was imparted Ilm ul Ishara from his father and grandfather, while he learned Ilm ul Ibara from the great ulema of the age.

Ja’afar ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq was born in the year 700 CE. His father Imam Muhammad al-Baqir was the son of Imam Zainul Abedin and the grandson of Imam Hussain ibn Ali. The year was the 83rd year of the Hijrah or 20 years after the tragedy of Karbala. We have specifically highlighted the chronology of Karbala, because it defined, as we shall see, many of the convulsions that took place during the lifetime of Imam Ja’afar. His mother Umm Farwah bint Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was a great great granddaughter of Asma Bint Umais who was married to Abu Bakr Siddiq. Therefore, through familial relationship Imam Ja’afar was related both to Abu Bakr (r) and Ali (r) and through Imam Hussain and Fatima az Zahra (r)  to the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).

Imam Ja’afar received his early education from his father Imam Baqir and his maternal grandfather al-Qasim. The stream of knowledge, both esoteric and exoteric through Imam Baqir leads in an unbroken chain to Imam Zainul Abedin, Imam Hussain, Fatima az Zahra, Ali Ibn Abi Talib(r) and the Prophet. The stream of knowledge from his maternal side leads in an unbroken chain to Abu Bakr (r) and the Prophet. So it is that in Imam Ja’afar the esoteric and exoteric streams emanating from Abu Bakr (r) and Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r) meet. In addition to his training from his father and grandfather, Imam Ja’afar received formal education in the Quran and Hadith from eminent ulema of the age. He was also well versed in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, anatomy, alchemy and the natural sciences.

It was a period of rapid expansion of the Umayyad Empire. Imam Ja’afar was only eleven years old when Tariq ibn Ziyad and Musa ibn Nossayr crossed the Straits of Gibraltar (711-712 CE) and in a campaign extending over seven years, conquered Spain and Portugal. At the eastern extreme of the empire, Muhammad bin Qasim subdued Sind and Multan (711-714) in modern Pakistan.  Imam Ja’afar was seventeen when Omar bin Abdel Aziz became the Caliph in Baghdad. It was during the reign of this pious Caliph and his fair and just administration towards all subjects that conversion in Persia and Egypt gathered momentum. And Imam Ja’afar was thirty-three (733CE) when the Omayyad armies under Abdur Rahman I were stopped at the Battle of Tours in France and retreated to Sorbonne, thus marking the farthest reach of Muslim conquests in Europe.

Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq stayed above the political convulsions of the age, focusing instead on teaching and training the community.  In this respect he presages the great Sufi Shaykhs who were to grace the canvas of Islamic history in later centuries, most of whom, with some notable exceptions like Shaykh Sanusi of Libya (d 1860), Shaykh Shamayl of Daghestan (d 1871), and Shaykh Abdel Qadir of Algeria (d 1883), shunned politics and political involvement, emphasizing instead the spiritual and ethical well being of man. This outlook was of immense benefit to Islamic civilization. Imam Ja’afar avoided the ruthless persecution that characterized Umayyad rule, focusing instead on scholarship and teaching. There was wisdom in this strategy.  History owes a debt of gratitude to Imam Sa’adiq for his dedication to knowledge and teaching which produced great luminaries in the fields of jurisprudence, tasawwuf, science and mathematics.

Imam Ja’afar is known in history as one the greatest of Islamic scholars and teachers. The method of teaching those days was in a halqa or a circle where a shaykh imparted knowledge and wisdom to those who attended his halqas. It was the age when transmission of knowledge was through a discourse between a teacher and his pupil or a Sufi sage and his pupil.  Such halqas were held in the house of a shaykh or in a mosque. Imam Ja’afar initially taught at the halqa started by his father Imam Baqir. As the attendance grew the halqas were held in the mosque of the Prophet in Madina. So great was his radiance that he immediately attracted a large number of students. Many of these students were learned and well known shaykhs themselves, much older than Imam Ja’afar and in some fields as learned as he. Such was the humility of the scholars those days. They did not consider it beneath their dignity to learn from a younger man more knowledgeable than themselves. Among those who frequented his halqas in the early years was Imam Abu Haneefa who said with reference to his association with Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq: “Were it not for the two years I spent in the company of Ja’afar as Sadiq, I would be wandering”. He referred to Imam Ja’afar as “the most learned scholar I have ever seen”. The reference here is to the transmission of spiritual knowledge. Shariah has both an external aspect and an internal aspect. The internal aspect of Shariah is the anchor to which the external aspect is tethered. Imam Abu Haneefa is known as Imam al-Azam (the Great Imam) in the field of jurisprudence. As acknowledged by Imam Abu Haneefa, the spiritual underpinnings of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence owes much to the spiritual knowledge transmitted by Imam Ja’afar as Sa’adiq and through an unbroken chain of transmissions and his lineage to the spirituality of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r), Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r) and (for those who wish to immerse themselves into this deep ocean) to Noor e Muhammadi, the Light of Muhammad (pbuh).

Another great scholar who attended the halqa of Imam Ja’afar was Imam Malik ibn Anas, after whom the Maliki school is named. From a historical perspective, the Maliki Fiqh is based upon the rulings given by Ali ibn Abi Talib (r) during the Caliphat of Omar ibn al Khattab (r).   Imam Malik (711-795CE) of Madina was younger than Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq (700-765 CE) and Imam Abu Haneefa (699-767CE). Imam Malik said of Imam Ja’afar: “I was his regular visitor for a period of time, and I never saw him once without praying, fasting or reciting the Qur’an.” In the next generation after Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik, Imam Shafii (d 820) of Damascus studied the teachings of Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik and developed the Shafii school of Fiqh. The Hanbali Fiqh which grew out of a protest movement against the Mutazalites used the earlier schools of Fiqh as its basis. Thus all the major schools of Fiqh, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali and Ja’afariya owe a debt of gratitude to the knowledge transmitted by Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq.

Shari’ah has both an inner dimension and an outer dimension. It has an outward manifestation as well as an inner taste. If the major schools of Fiqh reflect both the inner and outer dimensions of the Shari’ah, it is due in no small measure to the insights offered by Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq.

Imam Ja’afar was not only a scholar of Kalam, Sunnah and Hadith. He was also a historian and a master of chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and natural sciences. One of his students Jabir ibn Hayyan, went on to distinguish himself as the foremost chemist and mathematicians of his age.

Imam Ja’afar taught the natural and historical sciences as well. His teachings reveal that he knew about the rotation of the earth around the sun, the existence of elements beyond the four (namely, earth, air, water and fire) that were subscribed to by the Greeks. He also held discourses on the nature of light and heat that are consistent with our own modern understanding of these subjects. One of his students was the well-known chemist and mathematician Jabir ibn Hayyan. Wasil ibn Ata (d 748 CE) who is generally credited with the founding of the Mutazilah (rational) school of philosophy also studied at the halqa of Imam Ja’afar.

The character of Imam Ja’afar was exemplary. He was pious, always engaged in remembrance of God. He emphasized the need for ethics, morality and justice in human affairs.

He taught reconciliation and brotherhood across interfaith and sectarian divides. Regarding the Sunnis he said: “Pray with their tribes, take part in their funerals, visit their sick and give them what is due to them”. How different was the approach of the great Imams from the parochial approach of today’s Muslims who are at loggerheads with each other, steeped as they are in the ignorance and prejudice accumulated over centuries of self-serving historical narratives!

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Tipu Sultan’s punishment for sedition misconstrued as religious intolerance

Nidhin Olikara,
Shivamogga, India


Thank you all for joining me on this important discussion about the linkage between the American independence movement and that period of Indian history where Haidar and Tipu were fighting the same English colonizer. I for myself have been studying the history of Mysore, especially about the period Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, for about two decades now.

Both Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan are very well-known for bringing Mysore on to world stage especially with their innovations in technology, tax management, revenue collection, especially with making Mysore a small collection of about 30 odd villages to an empire that stretched right from Dharwar up in the north to the borders of Travancore in the south. A lot of us historians speak of Tipu’s rockets, his exploits but I believe and we know that the favourite topic for a lot of people including those with bouquets for Tipu and brickbats for him, especially in the charged political times that we are in now, is his religious policy. The organizers of this event have thrown upon me the gauntlet of speaking on this rather than another touchy issue. But for me this issue is not touchy at all because I have a set view on this point. And I am confident that today I will be able to convey my views to you. And I do not stand here to convince you of anything but only to share what I have learnt and what I make of this whole period of Mysore’s history.

It is my opinion that when you study a person you should first look at his teachers and parents. And when I look at Tipu I will also look at his father Haidar Ali and the kind of environment he grew up in. Haidar Ali started of his career as a mercenary. He started off as some from the lower ranks who quickly rose to power by his intelligence, his unique capability of taking people from diverse backgrounds along and by his martial strength.

Tipu was born in, there are several accounts of this, but it is believed that this date is correct i.e. Nov. 20, 1750. Tipu was born to Haidar Ali and Faqrunnisa. By that time Haidar was starting to grow in his ranks, but he was not well-known. Towards the 1760s Haidar Ali had of course taken over as the Sarvadhikari of the Dalwai of Mysore. He was acknowledged by the then Wodeyar king and lived and learnt under the tutelage of the brothers Devaraya and Nanjaraya. Haidar was a strict disciplinarian. As far as religious policies are concerned, he was a religious Muslim, a Sunni Muslim but also one who had took Hindus, Shias, Christians, agnostics, and all kinds of people with him. He also had a practice of discussing religion. He would actively take part in the festivities of his subjects, the Hindus. He was extremely devoted to the Ranganathaswamy temple of the Srirangapatna. There are records of the priests there, even after Tipu’s death, during the British time speaking very lovingly of Haidar’s devotion to the Ranganathaswamy temple. So, it is important to realize that Tipu grew in a family where there was already a feeling of communal or religious amity with the larger Hindu subjects.

When Haidar died and Tipu was put onto the Masnad, it was a no small measure due to the efforts of Diwan Purnaiah and other important personalities in Haidar’s close coterie. That could be Anche Shamaiah, Krishna Rao among several others, who were very instrumental. And Tipu never forgot that, especially with regard to Purnaiah, in putting Tipu up there on the throne.

Tipu began his role over Mysore as a Sarvadhikari. He still owed allegiance to the Wodeyars, who still sat there and were brought out on Dushshera day on Vijayadashami day to be shown to the people of Mysore. He began very well. He kept the same set of civil servants. In fact, Haidar had built the Brahmin bureaucracy so well. Tipu instituted a set of land reforms. He also started taking excess land from large temples, from large Agraharam trusts and redistributed excess land to tenant farmers; largely all of them who were Hindus, across castes. The temples were not divested of any of their income. They were given as much as was needed for the upkeep of the religious ceremonies there, the Brahmin priests there. A lot of the literature of that period speaks well about him. He continued the relations that Haidar made. In fact, he increased the amount of donations in terms of numbers of temples. So, you have a large number of temples at Melukote, Nanjangud, Sringeri, of course at Yediyur and several other names and several other grants and sanads have been found. Sringeri of course we know very well, during the 3rd Anglo Mysore War, the Marathas wantonly vandalized and desecrated this temple. Tipu spent a lot of money in renovating and restoring this temple. His donations to Sringeri not only involved money but also crystal lingas and a very interesting sapphire mantapa, which was a very interesting piece of stone, in which there was a Shiv Ling, a seven hooded serpent on it and a Basava in front made of gold. There are several letters of Tipu to the Sringeri Swamyji, the Guruji asking the Sringeri Guruji to pray for Tipu and to pray for Mysore. Tipu’s birth chart was sent to Jyothishas there to make prayers to Shri Sharada, the deity there, in Tipu’s name. Similarly, Tipu made extensive devotions. There is an interesting crytal ling at Nanjangud. Tipu interfered between two warring parties at Vijayamangalam, which is near Erode, and solved disputes among two sections of Hindus there, that is the left-hand caste and the right-hand caste- Yede yang Iyer and the Valey Iyengar. There are numerous such instances. In fact, after Tipu, when Buchanan travelled across Mysore as well as parts of Tamil Nadu, the Carnatic as they say, he met several groups of Brahmins who were angry at the English that they did not employ them in as many numbers as Tipu employed the Brahmins. Where I come from, near Shimoga, there was a rebellion in the 1830s wherein after the rebellion or during the inquiry into the rebellion the landed farmers said that Haidar and Tipu treated them very well compared to the later Wodeyars.

A much talked about event of Tipu harming the Hindus is the so-called massacre- yes, it was a murder of large group of people at Srirangapatnam, which was commonly called the Melukote massacre. So, there was this group of Tirumala Rao the ambassador of the Rani, the Wodeyar Rani Queen Lakshmamani. She and her family were displaced by Haidar and Tipu and kept under the state security and house-arrest with an allowance made to them. They were not harmed in any other way. Remember Tipu or Haidar, especially Tipu could have finished the whole family in one shot. He never did that. So Lakshmamani kept a steady correspondence with the British through her emissary who was placed at Telicherry and his name was Tirumala Rao. Events turned out so bitter that Tirumala Rao kept trying to pull Palegars– local chiefs away from Mysore (who were then with Tipu) and towards the British. He also actively started communicating Tipu’s war plans to the British. All this enraged Tipu who made an example of it by hanging to death several of Tirumala Rao’s cliquey members at Srirangapatnam. These were not women or children, but all grown men. There was a large number amounting to more than what is 100, it is said. This was not the first time that such an execution was carried out. Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar massacred a whole group of Lingayat priests. These were Jangama priests. He demolished several Lingayat mathas. Because the Lingayat peasantry refused to pay taxes and he wanted to make an example of this. So, this kind of execution of large groups of conniving treasoners, at least in Tipu’s eyes these people did treason to Mysore by collaborating with the British. So, these kinds of events happened before Tipu and they happened later too. Right near where I sit, there is a town called Honnali. Therein, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who came after Tipu, in connivance with the British executed peasants at the great temple at Honnali. Near that he strung up several farmers and revolutionaries who revolted against the British and the Wodeyar rule. In fact, you have the seditions laws in India still wherein you do treason and you are punished. Tipu may have carried this to an extreme by murdering all of them but again remember that this was the period of the 1700s. In fact, this happened somewhere around 1784. We can make amazing claims sitting around 2020 but this was a long, long while ago. Overall Tipu maintained Hindus’ every group or every part of his establishment. There were Hindu clerks. There were Hindu Generals of cavalry. In fact, he had two large regiments of infantry which composed entirely of Hindus. His bodyguard contained groups of Brahmins, who would probably have been secretaries, clerks and a large number number of Marathas.

I have during my research stumbled upon several new pieces of evidence. There is something especially important here. A lot of anti-Hindu propaganda was being pumped into the atmosphere here courtesy the British and later historians who especially wanted to substantiate British rule over Mysore. So, a common question would be, and you see it in Iraq, you see it in Libya. You also saw it in Mysore then. In fact, William Dalyrymple wrote a nice piece about it at the onset of Bush war on Iraq, on how Tipu was demonized by the British. So, a lot of the historians are very, very choosey about what they pick. And, several other pieces of history which are still buried in archives and in temple palm leaf manuscripts, temple copper-plate grants, are all still buried there.There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Very interestingly, over the past year, I have been working on some records from Tipu’s library itself which are there in Calcutta. There is an interesting Kannada manuscript, which speaks of the stores there and Tipu’s endowments to the fort at Srirangapatna. And this has never been read before. The paper remains to be published but I will give you snippets of it here right now. So, Tipu speaks of daily sanctioning money for Kaveri pooja, the pooja of the River Kaveri which flowed in front of the fort. He speaks of the worship of the toaps, the large guns on the battlements of the fort. He speaks of a daily allowance which was to be given to the Mari temple, the local deity there, Mariamma deity in Srirangapatna. He makes large endowments which must be done every year for the Dushshera function. So, there is an amount of ghee, there is an amount of rice. There is an amount of sugar. All of which goes to the Prasadam or festivities. So, there are several such small private things. All of us have heard of his donations to Sringeri and Melukote. But you have this king here, who makes small donations to guns, who makes small donations to small Mariamma Gudi. So, this is not even a small temple, but it is well beloved for the people of Srirangapatna, especially to the soldiers there. So, he makes these small donations to her. So, these are all important pieces which tell you of his religious pluralism.

Remember that in 1700s, India was very syncretic. I do not know if this is known to many. This is important, because when Tipu as a small child fell ill. And Haidar, Tipu’s father, was campaigning in Chitradurga. We know that Haidar visited the temple to Tippe Rudraswamy which was at Nayakana Hutii near Chitradurga and he prayed for his son. And it is believed by many that the name Tipu may not have come from Tipu Mastaan Aulia because till that time Tipu’s name, there was no Tipu associated with that name. It came because Tippe Rudraswamy was also called as Tippe or Tippe Swamy and Haidar as an acknowledgment of that, of Tippe Rudraswamy listening to that prayer gave that name and called him Tippe Sultan. And the Tippe later became Tippu. So, this is current among Hindus of Chitradurga even today.

There is a lot of mud slung upon Tipu for his depredations in Malabar, Coorg and his treatment of the Catholics in Mangalore. Let me start with Malabar first. Malabar was first brought into the Mysorean ambit when Tipu’s father Haidar conquered Bednur. Parts of Malabar were already paying allegiance to the great Kings of Keladi and Ikkeri who ruled over Bednur. Haidar went into Malabar, brought a large part of territory under him. And, by the time Tipu ascended the masnad, rebellion had started there and in Coorg. Coorg was a gateway to the Malabar. There was Mysore, Coorg, Wayanad and then Malabar. So, what is to be remember here is that for almost near two millennia or more Kerala was rather immune from the winds of change that were blowing from the rest of India. So, when Tipu went into Malabar he encountered resistance not just of the military nature but also of the social nature. So, Kerala was the place, Malabar was the place, where caste system was so entrenched that even about 150 years after Tipu, Swamy Vivekanada called Kerala or Malabar a Brandashrama which is essentially a mental asylum. There you had certain rules that people of one caste need to walk so many feet away from a Brahmin caste. Or people of even a lower caste need to walk several feet away from a caste which is in the middle. Tipu said, get rid of all these rules. He passed edicts saying punishment would be given to them who used to discriminate between each other. He specifically said that women who uncover their breasts, he did not tolerate all this. It was essential that women of the lower caste in Malabar in Kerala to show, to walk with their upper part of their body bare before members of the higher caste. So, all this led to a great dissatisfaction among the landed gentry there who were largely Nairs and Namboodris. A lot of them fled before the army, a lot of them suffered also. There are records of damages to the temples there. But there is no record of Tipu ordering the temples to be broken into. In fact, it is seen, from again recent reviews of that particular period that a lot of the damage to the temples happened during the fights between the Mappillas of the Malabar and the British post Tipu. And a lot of the temples that were in a very good condition during Tipu’s time passed into ruin and disrepair after Tipu left. In fact, in just two talukas of Calicut contain records of grants that Tipu made to over sixty-five different temples and interestingly three churches as well. Tipu was very clear in this, that if any chief of Malabar pays taxes to Mysore, rules in the name of Mysore, he would not be touched. And this is true. So, it is not that everybody in Malabar fled. But recalcitrant chiefs who did not submit themselves to Mysore were fought at every event. Their lands were plundered in the same way as the Sringeri temples which the Marathas plundered and the whole of Mysore, which is a different story altogether. So, all of this was done. They were harassed at every turn. A lot of literature there poured heap and scorn upon Tipu. And let us not forget the great temples of Thrissur, the great temples in and around Malabar remained. They still flourished. There is no recorded evidence yet of other than oral folklore. In fact, you go to Kerala today and every second or third temple says that it was displaced. But when you go through the records, these temples did not even exist then. There is work that has happened right in the past few years on this also. The Muslim chiefs in Malabar were also taken to task. For example, the Bibi of Cannanore was kept on a short leash. The Mapilla merchants who controlled trade in Malabar, many of them were strung up and hung for resisting Tipu’s edicts on taxes, we have reports of that. In fact, at this very same time, a large community of Mysorean Muslims- the Mehdavis, were also brought to submission. A lot of them were exiled.

It was around this time that Tipu makes a foray into Coorg as well and I will tell you about this. Coorg was a gateway into Malabar, as I said. They were resistant. The Kodavas are still are a group of very energetic and brave warrior clans. And they tolerated no interference in their internal affairs. And they did not from the beginning to the end tolerate that they be ruled by Mysore. They fought Tipu, tooth and nail. Tipu went in, exiled en-masse, the numbers are still not clear. Some say sixty thousand. Some say the population there was not even so much. Yet it is true that Tipu passed several strictures against them. He gave several warnings to them. We have those letters wherein he warns them that if you do not submit to me, you will be made Muslim, very essentially because, if you were made Muslim you would obviously not be taken back as Hindus. You would be ostracized. You would not be let into the homes of other Hindus. You could not eat at their tables, and Tipu used this as a punishment. Where else would you be? It is more like a teacher saying or a mother saying “Hey Tommy, if you don’t eat your porridge. I will give you a spanking.” So, all Tipu’s letters say, “You don’t listen to me, you don’t obey me, you will be ordered with Islam”. This is ample evidence that Islam was used as a punishment for them. And several of them were taken into Islam also. A lot of them returned after Tipu fell but they were not taken back to Hinduism and they were still there as Kodava Mapillas. A large group of them are still around there. So, it is important to realize that Tipu used both in Malabar as well as in Coorg, religion, or conversion into religion as a form of punishment. The large majority of people in the Malabar stayed back. Many people were still around, even after Tipu left and we have ample evidence of this.

As for the Christians and Catholics of Mangalore, they were in connivance with the British. They lent money to the English. They gave away Mysorean secrets to the English and Tipu wanted to make an example of them because he felt if they were there as a large group it would be dangerous for Mysore. And Tipu brought them all to Srirangapatnam. This journey of exile, similarly as what happened to a large part of Coorgis or Kodavas as well was perilous because when you have large groups of people walking- men women and children walking over large distances, a lot of them succumbed and died en-route. But when they were brought to Srirangapatnam the Catholics of Mangalore were allowed freedom of religion. We have actual letters which Tipu sends to the Portuguese. He did not trust the English of course. When he asked the Portuguese to send priests, he specifically said ‘Indian priests. He did not even trust Portuguese priests. In Cochin you had many Syrian Christians, some of whom were Catholic. Under Portuguese pressure a lot of them had turned Catholic. He specially asked for Christians to be sent from there. Several Mangalorean Catholics were also asked to convert to Islam. Many of them willingly, and unwillingly, also became Muslim. We have records of this as well. A lot of them, after Tipu fell, went back to Mangalore and to the plantations and the professions they did. All this yes, I admit. His treatment of the Kodavas, the treatment of the Mangalorean Catholics, his purge of many ranks of the Kerala nobility happened for one reason- they did not accept suzerainty of the Mysoreans. We do not see this happening to the Telugus whose areas he captured. We do not find this happening to the Marathas or the Marathi Hindus. No. In fact we find a large number of Marathis taking service under Tipu both under the Brahmin clerical cadre as well as the military cadre. You have many Marathi Brahmins employed with Tipu.

So, what should come to our mind is, when Tipu did all this, was it done for the first time? Did no one else before Tipu do this? Did no one after Tipu do this? By this, I mean did they not punish recalcitrant subjects en-masse? Did they not exile them? Did they not harass them? That happened, yes. But Tipu is special to his detractors because he is a Muslim. And, in this charged political environment there are people who do not want to accept that what Tipu did 200 years ago, did at a time when there was no real concept of secularism as we know it. When the Muslim was not one group, but Muslim was still Sunni, Shia, Mehdavi and Wahabbi. Yes, the Wahabbis were there. I do not know how many of you know this. When he heard that the Wahabbis threatened the Holy Kaaba, he wrote a letter to the Ottoman Sultan saying he would send a detachment of his people of Mysoreans to purge what is today Saudi Arabia of this Wahabbi cult, who Tipu called ‘heretic’.

So, all of this happens because you look at history that happened there from a different eye- you look at it from today’s eye. And you must realize that as Voltaire said, ‘All great men have great falls’. And Tipu had some falls too. Yes. Yet, you cannot even remotely look at him as a religious bigot. No. Because he kept, he adored his subjects. He took good care of them. He made donations to Hindu temples, to Christian churches. He also requisitioned deities. He donated lingas. He requested temple priests to pray for him as his family. This is quite different. You pay money to a temple which is one thing. But you help to make a temple, you help to install a deity, an idol there, is different. You tell the temple authorities to make a prayer for him, to the Hindu deity, that is a different thing. Tipu indulged in this. This is not spoken about.

Tipu punished his subjects irrespective of religion. I have spoken about his punishment of the Muslim Mapillas, in Malabar. I have spoken of his punishment of the Mehdavis, they were Mysorean Muslims. When he did not discriminate in punishment, you obviously do not discriminate in the donations you do either. So, a lot of this is essentially because a lot of groups in India are angry, do not accept the fact that here you have a Muslim in the 18th century who regarded India and Mysore as his own and which was his own. And, who did not have any truck with the British and who all through the time unlike the Marathas, unlike the Wodeyars earlier, unlike the Nizam, refused throughout his career, throughout his rule, to even keep a resident in his court or to ally with the British in any fight with the other Indian powers. This mud of him being a bigot that is thrown upon him is all to serve one particular purpose. It is important to sift through the mud here and to take the gold that is there. I do not mean to convince you of anything. But I want to present you some of the facets of Tipu to you- many of whom would be Muslims or Hindus or Christians, to ask would such a man be a bigot? Thank you so much.