Islamic Heritage of South Asia

TANAZZULAT:  THE DESCENT OF DIVINE GRACE

Book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

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

Tanazzulat e Sitta – The Six Descents of Divine Grace  (An explanation for Mehfil e A’shiqan – a gathering of lovers of divine presence)

Introduction

How does God interact with His creation? This question has occupied theologians, philosophers and scientists since times immemorial. For instance, the Nobel Laureate Sherrington wrote in his book Mind and Matter: “Mind, for anything perception can compass, goes therefore in our spatial world more ghostly than a ghost. Invisible, intangible, it is a thing not even of outline; it is not a “thing”. It remains without sensual confirmation and remains without it forever”. (Man and His Nature, Sir Charles Sherrington, Cambridge University Press, 1940, page 357). It is a profound question and it requires a deep understanding to theology, philosophy, physics, history and culture. The Sufis have an answer to this question that is at once aesthetically satisfying and rationally acceptable.

We have presented a summary table that captures the essence of Sufi cosmology. It is translated from Urdu and summarized here from the book Noor ul Haqeeqat (The Light of the Truth) by Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani (May God be pleased with him). Those with a taste of Sufism will savor this piece that connects the human to the Grace of God and explains its descent.

Tasawwuf (Sufism) is the spiritual dimension of Islam. It is a deep ocean, suffused with love. We have included a category of Tasawwuf in our Encyclopedia historyofislam.com because we believe that to understand Islamic history we must understand the spirituality tht pervades it.

KNOW THAT in the beginning there was Divine Existence (Wajud). It was timeless, spaceless, without constraints or definitions. It was the Dhat or Essence of Allah.

The Dhat or Essence of Allah is the innermost hidden treasure of all, known only to Himelf.  Language cannot describe it. Thought cannot comprehend it. Definitions cannot circumscribe it because there is nothing like unto Him (Wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan Ahad).

The stations though which Existence descends from the station of spacelessness (La Makan) to the majestic and beautiful cosmos are called Tanazzulat. It is a descriptive process used by the Sufi Shaikhs to teach and to lead the student towards the love, beauty and majesty of the Creator.

There are six stations of Tanazzulat in Sufi discourse: Wahed, Wahediyet, Arwah, Amthal, Ajsam and Insan. The first four stations are spaceless, timeless. The last two stations are of the physical, created world. (Please note that Ahad is not a station of Tanazzulat. It is the station of Dhat or Essence. It exists, in, of, by itself. There is no comparison with the station of Ahad)

Tanazzul is a specific term used in Tasawwuf (Sufism). In its usage it differs from its grammatical meaning. In a dictionary, Tanazzul means leaving a higher station and coming down to a lower station. For instance, an officer is transferred from one level to another, thereby the first office is made vacant and the second office is filled. But this is not the meaning for the blessed Sufis. They say that Wajud (existence) remains as is. In Arabic we say, Al Aan Kama Kaan (It is as it was ). This sentence connotes something different from what we see and what we imagine. When we say that all the Tanazzulat have descended into what can be witnessed, it means that the Tanazzulat are conceptual, not real.  The Wajud is as it was. It is there, at once, at all stations.

The Tanazzulat are sometimes referred to as Ta’yunat (fixities), Tajalliyat (manifestations), Taqayyudat (descriptive containments) and E’tebarat (trusted notions).

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Ishq wa Husn (Love and Beauty) in Sufi language

Translated and condensed from the book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

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

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

KNOW THAT Ishq is the highest form of love. It has nine stages:

  1. Irada (intent)
  2. Wala’a (intensity of intent, called wal wala in Urdu)
  3. Sababat (Inclination towards the Beloved)
  4. Shagaf (when the thought of the Beloved is established in the heart)
  5. Hawa (when the thought of anyone other than the Beloved leaves the heart)
  6. Ghram (when the signs of longing begin to show in the body)
  7. Hubb (when the signs of illness brought on by the longing for the Beloved disappear)
  8. Wadda (when longing takes over and the lover is drowned in it)
  9. Ishq (when he distinction between the lover and the Beloved disappears)

At the station of Ishq, the lover sees the Beloved but does not recognize the Beloved. He does not become self-conscious when he beholds the Beloved. He becomes deep, bottomless like the ocean. Transience disappears and permanence takes hold.

It is said about Majnun that Laila tried to start a conversation with him as she passed by him. Majnun replied: “Leave me alone. Let me be steeped with the thought of Laila.” Even though it was Laila who was talking to him, he was oblivious of her. This is the highest station of closeness wherein the A’rif (the knower) declines the very object of his desires. There remains no A’rif or Ma’ruf (knower or known), no lover or beloved. What remains is only love which is the summation of Essence. It is no name or tradition, no praise or attribute.

I am neither a name nor a body,

Neither this nor that,

What a hidden secret I am,

What a covering for the secret I am!

(Jigar)

Upon reaching this station, a lover cries out:

Love is that raging fire kindled by Allah,

Which rises and sets In the inner hearts.

(Shaikh Abdul Karim Jaili)

This couplet is a Sufi allusion towards the Ayah in the Qur’an. It is not a tafseer:

Narullahi Mooqadatul Lati Tattaliwoo A’lal Afyida (Quran: 104, 6-7) (The Fire from Allah, furious in its blaze, which rises up to the hearts)

Love is like a magnetic pull that draws one entity to another. To catch a fleeting view of the beauty and virtue of someone and be drawn to it, the turning of the heart towards the beloved, the desire, the longing, the restlessness, living day and night with the beloved’s thoughts, immersing the body, mind and soul in the longing, suffering the pangs of separation, finding solace in companionship, merging one’s thoughts in the beloved’s thoughts, one’s satisfaction in the beloved’s satisfaction, one’s existence with the beloved’s existence, these are all miracles of love.

If I become you, you become me,

If I am body, you become the soul,

Let it not be said later:

I am separate from you, you are separate from me.

(Amir Khusroe)

Sometimes the seclusion of hills and mountains,

Sometimes the longing of companionship and togetherness,

Sometimes the treasures of the niche and the pulpit,

Sometimes the triumph at Khaiber by Maula Ali

That is Ishq.

(Iqbal)

Summarily, Ishq is the name given to this ultimate phase of love. It is incorrect that the term Ishq is used only for Ishq e mijazi (transient or worldly love). The truth is that the term Ishq has been used in every period for Ishq e haqeeqi (divine love) and pure, unblemished love. Especially, for the blessed Sufis, Ishq is the highest ascent of love. That is why they wash their hands off both this world and hereafter and stand before their true Love. Their tradition of Bismillah starts with giving up the duniya (the material world) and the akhira (the hereafter).

Love is dependent on Ma’rifat (inner knowledge) and Ma’rifat is dependent on love. Love has precedence over Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat has precedence over love. On the surface, this seems contradictory. However, in reality, there is no contradiction. Love is the result of Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat is the result of love. In other words, love does not appear without Ma’rifat and without Ma’rifat, love does not advance In stages. Ajmali Ma’rifat (Ma’rifat in its totality) is a requirement for love. After love, the detailed Ma’rifat is granted as a gift which is a requirement for proximity and meeting with Allah.

Since Ishq is the highest form of love, it has been given only to the human which is the highest form of creation so much so that even the angels are bereft of Ishq. Khwaja Fareeduddin Attar writes:

The angels experience Ishq

They do not experience its pangs,

None but the human is worthy of this pain.

The pangs of love refer to the pain and heartache that a lover feels due to the separation from the Beloved and the intense desire to meet the Beloved. This is only a privilege of the human. The angels are mechanical elements of creation. Their love does not have a tension greater than that of the tension of the elements. The only difference is that the elements are not aware of this tension whereas the angels are.  The pain and suffering of love are absent from them. They do not have the longing for closeness nor the desire for meeting. In contrast, the Ishq that was bestowed upon the human has both pain and suffering. The burning is there in the human, so is eagerness. This Ishq is the fire that burns the heart of the Ashiq (lover) all the time.

Without the Ishq, faith is incomplete. Why? It is so, because, without love one cannot attain Ma’rifat (inner knowledge), and without Ma’rifat how can faith and certainty be complete? Prayer is flawed without Ishq, the Imam is not hadhir (he is not present before Allah), the prayers are without delight, the prostrations are flawed and the dua’s become mere formalities. Prayer is useless without Ishq and without prayer Ishq is fruitless. The service that is rendered with love is a thousand times preferable to  the service that is rendered with fear. Without Ishq, prayer is dry piety and there is no greater distress than dehydrated piety.

Ishq frees you from the sorrows of this world and the hereafter. The dependency of suluk (the path of Tasawwuf) is on Ishq. Love is on this side as well as the other. On one side it is Tuhibbun Allah (You love Allah) and on the other Yuhibbunal Allah (They love Allah). The fire is lit equally from both sides. Mevlana Rumi says:

The body of dust reached the heavens with Ishq,

The mountain swayed and stood transfixed.

Ishq is that burning shoal,

That burns down everything except the Beloved.

Not contained in language and banter is Ishq,

Such a bottomless ocean is Ishq.

If I were to write a tafseer on Ishq,

A hundred Judgment Days will pass but incomplete will be the tafseer.

Ishq is born in the wailings of the heart,

No affliction there is like the affliction of the heart.

The community of love is different from all creeds,

The community and creed of the lovers is nothing but the Divine presence.

When Ishq is the highest expression of love and its most perfect condition, then the residence of love should also be high and elevated palace. That cannot be anything other than the Being of Truth (Dhat e Haq or Allah swt). Dhat e Haq (Allah) is the origin, the reality and the essence of whatever there is in the universe and the extensive beauty and goodness that is found in it.

How magnificent is that beauty that all the universe displays that beauty,

What perfection is it that it is both hidden and manifest,

Whatever I see, I see nothing but You,

By Allah! How dare can anything be but You!

When the existence of reality is one and everything in the universe is a reflection of it, then the reality is this:

You displayed your beauty on the faces of the beautiful,

And you witnessed your drama through the sight of the lovers.

When the arrows of self-perception and self-direction are taking off from the same bow, when the witness and the witnessed, the seer and the seen, the seeker and the sought-after have the same reality then the definition of Ishq in Sufi language is this: It is the collective and individual inclination of True Beauty towards its perfection that begins with the love of recognition of the Essence which some Sufis call the essence of non-fixity.

Sadaq Allah ul ‘Azeem wa Sadaqa Rasoolehil Kareem.

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Arrow of Time – Part 2

Reconstruction of a Technological Culture in Islam – Part 2

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

What is Time?

A familiarity with the theories, assumptions and beliefs about the nature of time is a pre-requite to understanding the disputes between the philosophers and the theologians and bringing about a reconciliation between the positions of al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. Accordingly, we survey the insights about time provided in the Qur’an and also examine the modern perspectives on the subject.

Time as revealed in the Qur’an

Time is a mystery within an enigma within a riddle. It is a secret that no one has been able to fathom. Yet, it forms the very basis of knowledge and of changes in the cosmos. Philosophy, logic, science and history are all based on fundamental assumptions about time.

The mystery of time deepens as we study the various contexts in which it is revealed in the Qur’an:

  • Counted time

The days are counted;
Then, whoever among you is ill, or is traveling,
May complete his fasts later, (Quran, 2:184)

  • Relative time

The Angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a moment,
Whose measure is fifty thousand years. (70: 4)

  • Timeless time

Has there transpired upon humankind a time
From (the oceans of timeless) Time (ad Dha’r)
When he was not even a thing mentioned? (76:1)

  • Time as a moment

There is a term decreed for every spiritual community.
When the decreed time arrives,
they cannot hold it back one moment
or move it forward (one moment). (7:34)

  • Time as a sequence of changes

O humankind! If you are in doubt about resurrection,
Then (consider this): We did indeed create you from the earth,
Then from a sperm,
Then from an impregnated egg,
Then from a piece of flesh—
With features and without features—
So that We may convey to you (Our Message);
And We establish a pregnancy for a period fixed, as We will,
Then We bring you forth as a baby,
Then, (sustain you) so that you reach the fullness of youth. (22:5)

  • The passage of time (al Asr)

By (the passage of) time,

Verily, humankind is indeed at a loss,

Except such as those who have certainty of faith,
And perform righteous deeds,
And enjoin upon one another Justice (Truth),
And enjoin upon one another Patience (Constancy and Perseverance). (103:1-3)

  • Perceived time

And We struck their ears (made them asleep) in the cave for many years.

Then We woke them up to see which of the two groups remembered

long they had stayed (in the cave). (18:11-12)

  • Time after death -Eternal time

Hearken! Of a certainty, the transgressors shall be in eternal punishment! 42:45

  • Indeterminate time

Every Nafs shall have a taste of death
And it is not until the Judgment Day
That you shall reap the full recompense (for your deeds). (3:185)

  • Prayer time

Establish prayer at the sun’s decline till the onset of the night (17:78)

  • Fasting time

And eat and drink
Until the white thread of dawn
Becomes distinguishable against the darkness (of night).
Then keep your fasts until nightfall. (2: 187)

  • Time for Haj and Umrah

And whoever desires to combine the Umrah with the Hajj,
And cannot find (a suitable gift),
Let him fast for three days during Hajj
And seven days after he returns (from Hajj).
This makes it ten altogether. (2:196)

  • Ageing time

He it is who created you from clay,
Then from a seminal fluid,
Then from an embryo,
Then He brings you forth as a baby,
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach the fullness (of youth)
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach old age,
And among you some die before it,
And (He sustains you) so that you attain an age determined,
And learn wisdom. (40:67)

  • The Day of the Sovereign

Sovereign of the Day of Judgment (1:4)

  • The Judgment Day

So, Allah will decide between them on the Judgment Day.  (4: 141)

  • The Day of Gathering

Allah is He, there is no god but He.
Then He will indeed gather you all together on the Judgment Day

About it there is no doubt. (4: 87)


There can be no doubt that Allah will gather you all together

On the Judgment Day. (6:12)

  • The Day of Self Evaluation

And make us not be ashamed on the Judgment Day.
Indeed, You do not compromise on Your promise.” (3:194)

  • The uncertainty of time

And what conjecture do they have –
They who ascribe a falsehood to Allah –
About the Day of Judgment? (10:60)

  • Time in Hadith e Qudsi

“O son of Adam! Do not abase Time. I am Time (ad Dhahr)”

Modern Concepts of time

What are the modern concepts of time? Do they help us resolve the disputes between medieval Islamic philosophers and theologians?

  • Clock time

Whereas the ancients measured time by sunrise, sunset and the sundial, modern man uses digital clocks and atomic clocks that are accurate to 10-22 seconds. However, the idea is the same: time is an entity that is measured by the relative movement between two other entities: the earth around the sun; the moon around the earth; the earth around its own axis; electrons around a nucleus, and so on. The old yardsticks were days, months and years. In modern astronomy, the distances between stars and galaxies are measured in light years, namely, the time light takes to travel from one entity to another.

  • Relativistic time

Thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its popularization in fiction and movies such as Star Wars, even a child today is familiar with the idea of relative time. Time compresses as you approach the velocity of light. An astronaut who is travelling at very high speeds would experience time-compression and sense time very differently from someone left behind on earth. Travelling near the speed of time, our astronaut may visit several distant worlds and return to earth in a year (by his reckoning) only to find that all the people he knows had passed away centuries ago.  If you travel at the speed of light, time stands still. If you travel at speeds greater than the speed of light, then it is theoretically possible to travel back in space-time.

  • Absolute time or Newtonian time

According to Newton, “time exists independently of any perceiver, progresses at a consistent pace throughout the universe, is measurable but imperceptible, and can only be truly understood mathematically”. It is also called Newtonian time or “empty-space” time. Although the ideas of relativistic time have shadowed the ideas of absolute time, Newtonian time is a good enough approximation for most physical observations on earth.

  • Biological time

Biological clocks regulate the rhythm of body functions in most mammals. In the human, the brain’s circadian clock regulates the rhythm of sleep. Although such rhythms are not precise and deterministic, the jet lag experienced by long-distance travelers confirms the influence of circadian rhythms.                     

  • Time Perception

Time seems to dilate and spread out when you are bored or when you are uncomfortable such as in a hot room. Similarly, time seems to move fast when you are happy such as when you are in the company of someone you love.

  • Time and the Big Bang

The Big Bang theory is a consequence of the observation that the universe is expanding. Mathematically, an expanding universe collapses to a single point (a singularity) at its origin. It is estimated that our known universe is approximately 14 billion years old. The question is this: Is the Big Bang the origin of time? The answer is bound to be unsatisfactory because it fails to answer the follow-on question: What was there before the Big Bang? This line of enquiry fails to answer the question whether time is “endless” and “eternal” or is finite and has itself an origin “in time”.

A Resolution – Modern views

Having taken a brief survey of the classical as well as modern ideas of time, we are in a position to to revisit the dialectic about cause and effect and the nature of time between two of the greatest minds who graced Islamic history, namely, al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. The controversies had a lasting impact on the development of natural sciences in the Islamic world.   

First, it must be observed that the debate took place in the deductive, “if” “then” paradigm of medieval philosophy. This paradigm has its own built-in assumptions and its own inherent limitations.

Second, the position taken by each of these sages is valid within the assumptions that he makes. The positions break down only when they are examined through the lens of modern empirical and inductive science.

Consequently, a critique of the positions taken by al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd and a reconciliation between them must focus on the assumptions that underlie their positions rather than the positions themselves.

Is Time “eternal”? 

Ibn Rushd, following the logic of Aristotle, held time to be eternal. Al Ghazzali held that time was finite and created. Which position is supported by modern science?

Classical mechanics looks only at marginal, linear changes in time. A pursuit of the origin of time leads us to the Big Bang where space-time become a singularity. Modern science does not answer the question: What was there “before” the Big Bang?

The theory of relativity regards time as flexible and malleable that can be bent and stretched.  The position of quantum mechanics is more subtle. While it regards time as universal and absolute, it postulates that the change in an entity from one state to another is due to the shifting of successive positions of atoms (or subatomic entities).

Both al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd quote from the Qur’an to support their positions. The guidance from the Qur’an is that Allah created the cosmos and He will fold it up on the Day of Judgment.  This suggests that time, as we perceive it, is “finite” and is not “eternal”.

The assumption of the “eternity” of time sets up a trap because such an assumption extends the domain of human reason to all domains that are “not God”. This was the trap that the Mu’tazalies fell into. They were staunch Muwahids with an unflinching faith that God is “Ahad” and there is “none like unto Him”. So, they said that the Qur’an cannot be co-extent with God and placed it in “time”, meaning that it was “created” by Allah. This was repugnant to the ulema. As was pointed out earlier, it proved to be the undoing of the Mu’tazalites. The trap was of their own making. They overextended the reach of human reason to heavenly domains that are beyond space-time (la makan). The lesson from history is that reason, noble and sublime as it is, has its limits and breaks down in heavenly domains.  

Cause and effect in nature

Al Ghazzali held that cause and effect were not a necessary consequence of the one from the other. His accepted the Ash’ari view that time moved in discrete, atomistic steps and at each discrete step the will of God intervened as the cause for an effect.  He held that only God was the efficient cause and He caused all events either through direct intervention or through intermediaries (angels).

Al Ghazzali went one step further and advanced his own theory of heat transfer. He postulated when cotton is brought into contact with fire, the application of fire and the change of cotton from fiber to ashes take place “side by side”. This was a masterful philosophical statement; however, it was unsupported by empirical evidence.

According to our current scientific understanding, the heat transfer from the fire (hot gases) to the cotton (cellulose matter) is the cause of the “burning” (a phase change from cellulose matter to ash). Obviously, the philosophers and the theologians of the day were unaware of the concepts of energy and heat transfer. They were unaware that fire was energy that can be transferred to physical bodies forcing a change in their structure. Note that the modern position does not compromise the omnipotence of God since the fire, as the agent of burning, and the cotton, as the object that is burned, are both created to be so by God. God is Musabbib al Asbab (the cause for all causes, or, the ultimate cause).

The cause-and-effect philosophy, as formulated by al Ghazzali, made it impossible to formulate theories of natural phenomenon based on observation and experiment (“habit” as al Ghazzali termed it). The pursuit of natural science suffered. If one were to accept Al Ghazzali’s theory, airplanes cannot fly, automobiles cannot run, carts cannot move, electricity cannot be generated, transistors stop. In other words, it is impossible to acquire any positivistic knowledge which is built on cause and effect, logic and reason.

In contrast, Ibn Rushd held that cause and effect constituted a basic aspect of the natural law and formed the foundation of human reason. He held that events take place in accordance with cause and effect and that the will of God was axiomatic and built into the laws of cause and effect.

Islamic civilization made an error in misunderstanding the teachings of Al Ghazzali. His denial of (the necessity of) causality and his position that events happen according to their taqdeer was misunderstood by Muslims as pre-destination. This interpretation side-lined the principle of natural causality which forms the foundation of modern technological civilization and empirical science.  It was a fatal error.

There is no empirical evidence to support the thesis (as al Ash’ari proposed circa 900 CE which was adopted by al Ghazzali) that time is digital, discontinuous and can be divided into atomistic parcels. It is merely a philosophical pre-supposition, a concept, an idea, a theory.

In classical mechanics, time appears as a measure of change that occurs as a result of an action by an entity. Quantum mechanics becomes fuzzy on ideas of time, or more precisely, on the arrow of time. It admits that time can be measured in quanta, perhaps as small as 10-22 seconds. When a change occurs, the subatomic particles in an ensemble move from one state to another. As to why they move to a new position in a predictable manner is a mystery; statistically, they could have moved to an entirely different configuration (which could result in an entirely different “future”). The quantum model may serve to accommodate the appearance of miracles as events that are nominally a violation of repetitive and predictable outcomes of events but which are statistically possible.

Classical mechanics, which forms the basis of modern technological civilization, is built on assumptions of natural cause and effect. Empirical evidence, reason, algorithms, logic and extrapolation form the accepted chain-links in the advancement of modern science and technology.

Modern science does not insist on mechanical causality. It only affirms that on a statistical basis, a cause produces an effect with a probability so high that it can be considered a near certainty. 

The question of miracles

Miracles are events that contradict the expected outcomes based on cause ad effect.

Al Ghazzali held that the occurrence of miracles can be accommodated only if the necessity of cause and effect is discarded. This position needs to be modified in the light of our advanced knowledge of physics and statistics. Modern approaches of statistical mechanics may offer a possible way to explain miracles. In this approach, an event is an ensemble of zillions upon zillions of mini-events that are happening in the cosmos. It is conceptually possible to admit that the nett outcome of these seemingly unlimited number of concurrent events could be one that is contrary to its expected value, and that would be a miracle. The occurrence of a miracle can be accommodated in classical mechanics by adding “inshallah” to an expected event. Such a position is in accordance with the guidance from the Qur’an.

Classical mechanics deals only with questions of when and how (space-time) of marginal changes in nature; it does not concern itself with questions of who and why, or the primal origins of time. These questions are important.  Indeed, they form the core of our search as human beings as to who we are and why we are here. However, they are beyond the capabilities of reason and are left to other modes of acquiring knowledge and other disciplines such as Tasawwuf, theosophy and faith. As an example, no amount of rational argumentation can explain what love is, whereas the heart can grasp it with immediacy.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defence, provides a bulwark against disease and hunger through medical research and agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up the possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth. It is a fulfilment of God’s promise to the human: “And We have subjected to you all that is between the heavens and the earth”. Science is not just a nice appendage to a society; it is essential for the very survival of a society.

Is the human the “Architect” of his/her own “fate”?

The aforesaid discussions enable us to answer the question: Is the human the “architect” of his/her own fortune? The Qur’an asserts: “We have fastened the fate of every human around his own neck”. This Ayah would suggests that indeed, the human is responsible for what he becomes. How can this be accommodated in the overarching omnipotence of God?

The reasoning is complex and involves an interplay between theology, faith, science and mathematics. To make our reasoning understandable, we have illustrated it with a diagram.

Illustration: “Allah has fastened the fate of every human around his own neck”, The Qur’an

Life is a construct of events and choices. Let us consider a moment in the life of an individual. In the diagram, the tip of the arrow A represents a moment. At each moment, the individual is faced with making choice. Each of these choices is offered to the individual by divine decree. In the illustration, the individual concerned has choices B,C,D,E,F,G and H. Each of these choices creates a new future and takes the individual in a different direction.

In this illustration, the individual makes choice F. The tip of the arrow F is his “fate” that he has discovered.

In the new situation, represented by point F, the individual is again offered multiple choices. Each of these choices is a divine decree. Of all these choices, he choose alternative J. The tip of the arrow J determines the second point in the “fate” of the individual.

One can see that the human, through his choices offered to him among an infinite number of choices offered by divine decree, “creates” his own future. However, the outcome of each choice is a moment of divine intercession.

One can, therefore, plot the sequence of operations that result in an action and the sequence of actions that result in the flow of life: intent, choice, will, action, outcome of an action. It does indeed resemble the movement of a fish in the ocean.

“Time is like the movement of a fish in the ocean”, Grand Shaikh Abdullah Daghestani (d 1972, Russia). Chain of Transmission: Grand Shaikh Mohammed Nazim al Haqqani al Qibrisi (Turkey and Cypress, d 2012)

The human is responsible for his/her intent, choice, will and action and he faces divine judgement for the intent in his heart, the will in his mind and his “a’mal” (actions). However, the choices that are offered to him as well as the outcome of actions are not under his control; they are in God’s hands. Man proposes; God disposes. You can sow a seed but whether it grows into a mighty tree or withers out and becomes dust is the will of God. There is cause and effect in nature but it is not deterministic and mechanical; it is statistical and probabilistic. That is why the Qur’an emphasizes that when we assert something relating to the future, we end it with the “inshallah”(if It is the will of God).

This explanation satisfies the criteria for man’s freedom to choose and action, his limited free will as well as God’s omnipresence and omnipotent. Yes, man is the architect of his own fortune but that fortune is one among countless number of fortunes that Allah offered him. The individual chose but one of those fortunes and “discovered” his own destiny that was in the “mansha’” of God.. 

Why did the Islamic civilization choose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd?

Several reasons may be advanced as to why the Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd.

  • Al Ghazzali was on the winning side of a long debate between theology and philosophy in Islam. The theologians (usuli ulema) had triumphed over the philosophers (the Mu’tazalites) at the Abbasid courts in Baghdad in 846 CE. Thereafter, philosophy had continued as a peripheral intellectual activity to the central core of theology. Great philosophers did emerge but the Muslim body politic continued to look askance at their work and they did not find the same level of acceptance or veneration as the greats of theology. The triumph did not insulate the theologians from the continued challenge of philosophy and they continued to innovate and defend their positions using the same rational methods that the philosophers used. The contribution of al Ash’ari must be looked at from this perspective. He advanced his theory of atomistic time to explain how God’s will interjected itself at every moment to determine the outcome of an event. Al Ghazzali rode on the shoulders of al Ash’ari and delivered a severe blow to the pursuit of philosophy going so far as to accuse the philosophers of blasphemy and kufr for some of their views.  
  • Al Ghazzali wrote the Tahaffuz al Falasafa under the patronage of the mighty Seljuk sultans. He continued to enjoy their goodwill throughout his life. By contrast, ibn Rushd’s relations with the al Mohad Emirs in Cordoba, Spain had a bumpy ride. He was patronized by the Almohad Emir Abu Yaqub (d 1184) but later fell out of favour with the Cordova court.
  • The teachings of Al Ghazzali were spread far and wide through the string of colleges and madrassas established by the Seljuk grand vizier Nizamul Mulk, who was himself an admirer of al’Ash’ari.  A truncated Nizamiya syllabus is taught in some of madrassas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan even to this day. Ibn Rushd had no such good fortune. Under pressure from the ulema, he was tried in a tribunal for his views, his books were burned and he was banished from the Andalus for a while.
  • The bulk of Spain was lost to the crusaders soon after the death of Ibn Rushd (d 1198). By 1248, Cordoba as well as Seville were under Christian control. By contrast, the vastness of Asia protected much of it from the onslaught of the Crusaders upon Palestine and Syria. Al Ghazzali passed away in 1111 CE. For more than a hundred years, the madrasas in Nishapur, Esfahan, Samarqand, Bukhara, Ghazna and Kabul continued to thrive and spread al Ghazzali’s teachings until the Mongol invasions in 1219.
  • The Islam that emerged after the Mongol devastations (1219-1301) was a Sufi Islam, more inward looking, focused on inner reformation and purification. The teachings of al Ghazzali were more in tune with this esoteric, inward-looking Islam than the exoteric, reason-based teachings of ibn-Rushd. Indeed, al Ghazzali was a master of Tasawwuf and is credited as the scholar who gave a respectable position to Sufism within orthodox Islam.
  • Lastly, it was the sheer power of al-Ghazzali’s dialectic and his scholarship that won the day. He was not only a great scholar, a theologian par excellence, he was also a master of the school of kalam which emerged after the Mu’tazalite period.

In summary, history and geography both favoured al-Ghazzali. When he wrote his Tahaffuz al Falasafa in 1095, the dialectic between theology and philosophy in Islam was already three hundred years old and it had been won by the theologians. Al Ghazzali’s work was the summation of that dialectic and its last chapter.

Why did Europe choose ibn Rushd?

Europe came upon Greek rational philosophy in the thirteenth century through a translation of classical Greek works from Arabic into Latin. There was no convulsive confrontation between theology and philosophy in Europe as there was between the Muta’zalites and the usuli ulema in the Islamic world in the eighth-ninth centuries. The writings of Thomas Aquinas (1274) scuttled the debate by separating church dogma from rational philosophy. The result was that Europe embarked on a secular path. Science, technology, sociology and history were separated from religion. Matters of faith were confined to the walls of the church. This separation continues to this day. As a consequence, modern man, having internalized the assumptions that underlie western civilization, finds himself in a soulless, godless world. God was taken out at the first gambit. Modern man cannot put Him back in the end game.   

Construction of a Technological Culture in the Islamic world

History is like tarnished silver. It needs constant scrubbing to bring out the polish and remind us how beautiful its nascent shine can be.

The construction of a technological culture in the Islamic world must begin with a deconstruction of historical narratives and a fresh start based on the primal source, namely, the Qur’an.

Present day Muslims stand on the shoulders of giants. Great were the personages who graced Islamic history since that sublime moment when the Light of Muhammed (pbuh) illuminated the world. Their legacy continues to guide us.

However, it must be remembered that those who came before us struggled in the context of their times. Their contributions, great in their impact, were nonetheless limited by their knowledge of the physical and the assumptions they made in developing their cosmology. While they created giant footsteps on the sands of time, they also left behind a good deal of dust that needs clearing up. 

Consider the Shia-Sunni split. It has its basis in history. The Suhaba disagreed on how to carry forward the legacy of the prophet after his death. The result was a wide chasm which continues to divide the global Islamic community even to this day. Does the Shia-Sunni schism have its sanction in the Qur’an? No. It ought to be relegated to the pages of history so that the community can reaffirm the brotherhood established by the Prophet.

Similar is the case with kalam and philosophy. In the eighth-ninth centuries Islamic theology had a broadside encounter with Greek philosophy. It was a brutal confrontation. Theology won the contest and philosophy was sidelined. But the tailwinds of the clash continued to haunt the Islamic intellectual landscape. Empirical science appeared as a sequel to philosophy and made its mark on world history. But its practitioners, giants like al Khwarizmi, ibn Sina, al Razi did not gain the kind of acceptance in the Islamic body politic as did theologians like al Ash’ari and al Ghazali.

It is in this context that we have to examine the dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. While their positions were valid within the paradigms they assumed, there are fundamental problems with some of their assumptions.

A Deconstruction

  • The Mu’tazalites assumed that time was eternal. There is no evidence to support this position. Our current knowledge takes us only to the Big Bang and the origin of the known universe, which is about 14 billion years old. The universe has a determined life span; everything in it does.
  • The Ash’arites assumed that time was discrete, digital, discontinuous, atomistic. There is no evidence to support this position. We simply do not know what time is. We can make assumptions about it and each assumption leads to its own world-view.
  • Al Ghazzali postulated that cause and effect take place “side by side”. There is no evidence to support this lofty but vague philosophical assertion. It is contrary to the laws of mechanics and the laws of energy transfer.
  • Al Ghazzali also postulated that fire was a “dead body”. Far from it. Fire is energy and it is energy that propels the universe.

A deconstruction of historical narratives is therefore essential before a construction of an alternate vision of natural science and technology is constructed. The basis for this reconstruction is guidance from the Qur’an. It requires discarding the assumptions of “eternal time”, “atomistic time”, “side by side” as applied to cause and effect, even if such assumptions were held by the giants of Islamic history like al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. History is a teacher. History is not a tyrant. The Islamic psyche must be unshackled from the tyranny of history. 

The Islamic body politic, which is now held in ransom by shackles of history, must be freed to follow the Qur’an and the Seerah of the Prophet. The Qur’an offers a lofty vision of the human who is endowed with a body and a mind to interact with nature, a heart to feel divine presence and a soul to sift through right and wrong.

Reconstruction of a Science and Technology Culture in Muslim Societies

As we undertake a reconstruction of a science and technology culture in Muslim societies, we must be aware of the assumptions we made and enumerate those that we discard.

We discard the following assumptions that were made by the medieval philosophers:

  • Time is eternal
  • Time moves in discrete steps
  • Cause and effect are not necessary. They occur “side by side”
  • The human has no free will and is not responsible for his actions
  • The human has unfettered free will and is autonomous.

Positions we accept, consistent with guidance from the Qur’an:

  • God is the sole Creator. He creates from nothing. He is the First and the Last. His Grace pervades all creation and is not absent from it for a single moment.
  • He has created the vast and majestic cosmos for a purpose and that purpose is to know, serve and worship Him. Serving God connotes serving His creation.
  • The cosmos has a dynamic balance which is reflected in a dynamic balance and justice on earth.
  • Every atom in the universe obeys His laws “willingly”. These are the natural laws.
  • God repeats His creation and establishes patterns therein so that it becomes comprehensible.
  • Every entity in the universe is endowed with attributes (properties) with which it is known and recognized and which determine its behavior.
  • Cause and effect are ubiquitous in nature.
  • The immediate cause and effect we observe in nature do not violate the doctrinal statement that God is musabbib al asbab (the Ultimate Cause of all causes).
  • The cosmos has a beginning and an end.
  • Change is continuous.
  • Time is only a measure of change.

Regarding the human, we accept the following assumptions that are consistent with the guidance from the Qur’an:

  • The human, as the khalifa of God on earth, is endowed with the sublime faculty of reason.
  • Nature opens up its secrets to reason and is subservient to it. 
  • The human is gifted with a heart, a Nafs ( soul) and a Ruh (spirit).
  • The human is a knower and has a propensity to know. He was taught “the names” of all entities at his creation.
  • The human has the freedom (iqtiar) in his intent, choice and action and is responsible for his intent, choice and act.
  • The outcome of an action follows God’s laws and is not necessarily under human control.
  • God has sent divine guidance through His Messengers to guide the human make the right choices.

The following inferences follow from our assumptions:

  • Reason is the key that unlocks the secrets of nature. 
  • The human “discovers” his future through his own choice.
  • His choices mark the limit of his free will.
  • The choices offered to a human at any moment are limitless and are created by God.

Empirical science and technology are based on observation, experimentation and reason.

The laws upon which science and technology are based are the laws of nature which constitute the Sunnah of Allah. Nature obeys divine laws based on God’s wisdom and justice and is amenable to understanding through reason. Divine grace is never absent from these laws. This self-evident truth needs no confirmation by philosophical discourse.

The Qur’an affirms again and again the primacy of reason in the created world, urging the human to witness, reflect and apply reason to understand nature (science), use the knowledge so acquired for human welfare (technology) and discharge his heavenly mandate as khalifa on earth to serve God (theology) and His creation (environment and ecology).

To enable him to discharge this mandate, God has bestowed upon the human faculties in addition to reason, namely, a heart to perceive the unseen world, a soul to sift through right and wrong and a spirit to connect him with Divine presence.  The Qur’an thus offers guidance to the human through the body, the mind, the heart, the soul and the spirit. The knowledge acquired through these means constitute the totality of human knowledge, ilm ul ibara (knowledge that can be taught), ilm ul ishara (knowledge that can be alluded to but cannot be taught) and ilm al ladduni (revealed knowledge that comes down through the Prophets).

Natural science is implicit and explicit in the Qur’an. The human is urged again and again to know God (that is, to know His Names and attributes) through the Signs in His creation.

Let us illustrate how cause and effect unfold in nature and how they form the basis of science.

An Example: The Wonder of Flight

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلاَّ الرَّحْمَنُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ

Do you not observe the birds
With their wings spread above them,
And (birds with wings) folded up?
None can hold them up (in dynamic equilibrium) except the Most Compassionate;
Indeed, He is the Seer of all things.   Surah al-Mulk, (67:19)

The wonder and awe of nature defies description. No matter which direction you turn, there are Signs for the majesty of the Creator. 

An appreciation of the subtleties of this Ayah requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are wondrous Signs in nature, if only we knew how to look and how to ask the right questions.

We present the bar-tailed godwit as an illustration for the tafseer of this Ayah. It is a tiny bird that migrates every year from Alaska, northwest of Canada, to New Zealand, deep in the southern Pacific Ocean. It flies about 7000 miles (11000 kilometers) without stopping anywhere. Sometimes, it flies West to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and then south to New Zealand. At other times it takes an alternate route South to the Pacific Islands and then further South to New Zealand.

How can a small bird fly 7000 miles without stopping anywhere? How does it navigate and find its destination when there are no landmarks? How does it fly at night? Where does it get its in-flight food and sustenance from? How does it keep warm when the outside temperature is close to zero?

We offer three alternative approaches that may be used to develop answers to these questions: (1) by a believing scientist (2) by a secular scientist (3) a fatalist.

A believing scientist would start with Bismillah. He would recognize that an understanding of the flight of a bar-tiled godwit bird requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are four known forces in nature: gravitation, electromagnetic, weak atomic and strong atomic. The first two are relevant in this case. The last two are not. The scientist would study in detail the air currents, temperatures, pressures, moisture, electrical storms and other weather conditions along the flight trajectory. He would also study the physical characteristics of the bird: weight, size, shape, flight feathers and control feathers. He would experiment and know something about the neural networks and sensors in the bird and their electromagnetic characteristics. He would write algorithms and equations, with clearly articulated assumptions, for the dynamics of flight of this tiny bird. He would analyze and obtain some insights to the questions raised. For many of the questions, there may be no answers with our limited current knowledge base. The believing scientist would table such questions for continued research. At each stage of his research, he would marvel at God’s creation with awe and wonder and cry out: Subhan Allah! The experience would reinforce his faith and take him closer to God who created this tiny bird that has so much to teach the human.

A secular scientist would go through the same process and arrive at the same conclusions except that he would not start with Bismillah nor would he end with Subhan Allah. His experience would be like a ladder that dangles in the air, neither firmly grounded on earth nor reaching up to heaven, but suspended in doubt and dissatisfaction.

A fatalist would not ask any of these questions. He would simply say: it is the work of God and go to sleep.

Muslim scientists in the classical era of Islam fell into the first category. They were guided by the light of the Qur’an, witnessed God’s creation in all its splendor and learned from the Signs they saw therein. Modern day Muslims fall into the third category. Having lost their way through the labyrinth of history, they turn their backs on science and circle around in orbits of fatalism.

Moving Forward

“Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves”. The development of a scientific and technological culture in Islam, must come from within. Elements of this transformation include:

  • Discard Historical prejudices. Apply the Qur’an.

Discard notions that are a product of history but have no basis in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet. A cup must be empty before milk is poured into it. Specifically, assumptions about time, cause and effect which have accrued as a result of the clash between philosophy and theology in medieval times must be discarded.

  • Train the clergy

So pervasive is the influence of the clergy in the Islamic world that no reformation can succeed without their support. The Shaikhs, Mullahs and Molvis have a hold on the masses which can only be the envy of even the most successful political leader.

The historical record of Islamic clergy is less than illustrious on questions relating to science and technology. While the sordid story of Galileo and the Latin church is well known, that of the Islamic religious establishment is glossed over.  At critical moments in Islamic history, it was the religious establishment that put the brakes on scientific and technological progress. Here are a few glaring examples:

  • After the Caliph al Mustansir disowned the Mu’tazalites (746 CE), the usuli ulema applied the whip to ensure that any vestiges of Mu’tazalite influence were wiped out. The pursuit of philosophy continued thereafter but only as a peripheral activity to the religious center.
    • Secondly, it was the ulema who opposed the introduction of the printing press into the Islamic world (1460 CE), a decision that was directly responsible for the educational backwardness of the Islamic world. It was not until 1728 that the printing press was introduced into the Ottoman empire. It was introduced into the Mughal empire even later.
    • Lastly, it was the ulema who forced the Ottoman Caliph Murad III to demolish the newly constructed Taqiuddin Astronomical Observatory (1575) in Istanbul because they suspected that the work of the observatory was against Islamic teachings.

A suspicion of science as a secular pursuit that takes the human away from God persists to this day among a significant section of Muslim religious establishment. The shaikhs, mullahs and molvis simply do not understand science or technology. What they do not understand, they suspect and oppose, unless that technology personally benefits them.

The Islamic world would benefit a great deal if training centers are established to teach the shaikhs and mullahs in the basics of science and technology. The goal is to mitigate the suspicion and opposition of the clergy to science and technology by exposing them to the assumptions, processes and benefits that underlie the natural sciences and show that their pursuit i consistent the guidance from the Qur’an.

  • Impart Mass Education

There exists a vast network of schools and madrassas purporting to teach religion (Deeni Ta’leem as it is called). India alone is estimated to have 30,000 madrasas. Pakistan has half as many. Primary instruction in these institutions is through rote learning. Secondary education includes memorization and hadith. At the advanced grades, the curriculum is a hangover of the Nizamiya syllabus from the twelfth century and includes a study of Fiqh, a history of the early Caliphs and rudiments of medieval philosophy.

With a minimal effort, these institutions can be transformed into agents of change towards a scientific and technological culture. In addition to the sciences of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, a basic exposure to science, math and technology would pay rich dividends. A change in syllabus is long overdue.

  • Develop critical thinking as it applies to questions in natural science and technology.

God created the universe and gave its key to the human. That key is reason. Nature yields what you demand from it. A critical, questioning attitude towards nature is required for this process. The Muslim scientists in the classical era excelled in their questioning and unlocked the secrets of the heavens (astronomy), elements (chemistry), plants (agronomy), cures for diseases (medicine) and natural structures (geometry). Such an attitude is a part of Ijtehad ordained by God. It was only in the later centuries that the clergy limited Ijtehad to personal minutia (such as whether a moustache is halal or haram) or totally abandoned it in favor of taqleed.

  • Experiment

Cultivate a passion for experimentation in science and technology, coupled with an acceptance of results that are consistent even if they refute established and entrenched dogma.

As ibn al Arabi said: “Feehi ma feehi”. A thing is what it is. If a baseball that is hit shatters a brittle glass panel, we must have the integrity to say that the efficient (immediate) cause of the shattered glass is the momentum from the baseball. Cracks propagate because of stress. Earthquakes are caused by movement of geological plates. Airplanes fly because of airfoil design and fall because of wind shear.  These statements in no way compromise the omnipotence of God who is musabbib al asbab. It is understood that man’s innovative capabilities are bestowed by God. The scientist’s quest is a search for the Sunnah of Allah in nature. He asks the questions: How? What? He marvels at his discoveries and he uses them for the benefit of man and to serve God and His crreation.  (wa Saqqara lakum ma fis samawati wal ard- And I have subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and the earth).

  • Political will and commitment

Revolutions require political will and commitment. The influential strata of society, the governments, the clergy, the intelligentsia, the industrialists and bankers need to make a commitment for such a positive transformation. A change in mindset is a pre-requisite. The economies of Muslim countries need to shift from resource base (oil, gas, agriculture, minerals, gems) to knowledge base. Technological and scientific education is the key. A single silicon chip is more valuable than a hundred barrels of oil.

Some Concluding Words

What moves the modern world is technology. It influences the way we do our work, how we relate to each other and to nature. It is the modulator of human behavior, art, philosophy, economics, politics and culture.

As we move forward, the world is increasingly segregated into two segments: those who have access to technology and those who do not. The first group will rule the world. The second group will serve the first group.

Technology is not just a nice thing to have. It is not just to have mobile phones, TV, cars and airplanes. It is not just for national defense although technology has a major impact on defense. Technology is necessary for the very survival of a civilization.

Islamic civilization is at a cross roads. One road leads to security and prosperity based on science and technology. This is the road that the Shariah commands the human to take and for which the Qur’an provides guidance. The other road is one of ignorance, poverty, servitude and ultimately, extinction.

Islamic civilization has locked itself in a self-made prison and has shackled itself in chains of misconceptions about the human and the universe that he lives in. These misconceptions arise from a burden of history.

It is time the Islamic civilization unshackled itself. Ash’arite philosophy, assumptions about mysteries of time, rejection of causation are burdens of the past. A scientific and technological culture unshackles these burdens. The keys to unlock these shackles are in God-given Aql (reason). However, unlike secular man who has left God in the church and assumes that his reason is autonomous, the Muslim scientist exercises his reason as a divine gift to which the God’s creation opens its doors. The keys are in the Qur’an, which beckons the mind towards Signs of Allah, shows the broad, open highways to the physical (seeing, hearing, touching, speaking), ennobles the heart with the Light of Divine Names and guides the soul to avoid the pitfalls of disbelief.  How marvelous a world that is! Subhan Allah!

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

The Arrow of Time – Part 1

Reconstruction of a Technological Culture in Islam – Part 1

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Summary

History can be a teacher or a tyrant. In 1095 CE, Imam Al Ghazzali, one of the most influential theologians in Islamic history, wrote in his treatise Tahaffuz al Falasafa (Repudiation of the Philosophers): “The connection (iqtirân) between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary (darûrî), according to us…(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Historians have long contended that this apparent refutation of cause and effect served as an effective force field blocking the advancement of science and technology in the Islamic world. Al Ghazzali’s position was challenged by Ibn Rushd (d 1198) who emphasized that cause and effect were the very basis of reason that held together the edifice of human knowledge.

Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over Ibn Rushd, while Europe chose Ibn Rushd over al Ghazali. As a result, Europe moved ahead in science and technology. The Islamic world, which at one time led the world in the natural sciences, lost its advantage and became subservient to Europe.

In this essay, we examine the historical context of this epic debate and offer a reconciliation of  the two positions.  Our approach is based on guidance from the Qur’an. Such a reconciliation is essential for creating a scientific and technological culture in the Islamic world.

Nothing less than the survival of Islamic civilization in an increasingly technological world hinges on such a reconciliation.

The discussion involves a confluence of philosophy, theology, kalam, empirical science, quantum physics, statistics and history and at times becomes highly cerebral. We have attempted to simplify the concepts and document our observations for those who come after us.  It will also be available on www.historyofislam.com.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from abject and debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defense, provides a bulwark against disease through medical research and mitigates hunger and starvation through agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up a possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth.

Introduction

We live in extraordinary times. These are times when humankind has conquered space and searches for life on other planets. Giant telescopes seek to unlock the very origin of the known universe. Terms such as space travel, the Theory of Relativity and the Big Bang have entered into common discourse. Machine learning and robotics drive the cutting edge of technology and seek to replace human reasoning with artificial intelligence. Nano-technology unlocks the secrets of cellular biology and beckons us to a world of engineered DNA. Indeed, we are now headed into a post-human world in which the very essence of being human is challenged.

While technology drives human civilization, the Islamic world is bogged down with pointless disputes about beards, clothes and coverings. By every yardstick, be it primary education or the number of scientific papers published in respectable journals, the Islamic world lags behind the technologically advanced world. What is more significant is that the gap between Muslim societies and the technologically advanced societies is increasing at an alarming rate. The result is illiteracy, ignorance, abject poverty, cultural bankruptcy, social stagnation, technological marginalization, political and military impotence.

How did this happen? How did a civilization that led the world in science and technology for five hundred years fall so far behind? In my writings, I have highlighted several factors that contributed to this decline: the Mongol deluge (1219-1258), the Crusades (1096-1250), the loss of Spain (1236-1492), the rise of tasawwuf with its emphasis on the esoteric (thirteenth century), the opposition to the printing press (fifteenth century), neglect of naval technology (seventeenth century), loss of international trade (eighteenth century), colonization and dismantling of the traditional education systems (nineteenth century). Underlying these factors was a distancing from rational thought that grew out of the titanic collision between the philosophers and the theologians in the eighth-ninth centuries. The dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd was the cutting edge of that debate. Unless the Islamic civilization shakes off the hangover from that debate, it cannot expect to work its way out of technological backwardness.

This article takes a fresh look at that critical moment in history when philosophy collided with theology. More than eight hundred years have elapsed since that great debate. Empirical science, which was in its infancy in the eighth century is now a full-grown adult and it offers fresh perspectives on the issues that divided the two camps. We apply the modern understanding of classical mechanics and quantum physics and attempt to bridge the gap between philosophy, religion and science so that the Islamic civilization can move forward with confidence on the road to a technological renaissance.

The Historical Context

In the seventh century, the Islamic domains expanded and stretched from the Indus River in Pakistan to the Pyrenees mountains in France. This vast empire connected and welded together Asia, Africa and Europe, facilitating the movement of goods and ideas. The early Muslims, impelled by injunctions from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet were enthusiastic and keen learners. They learned from the east and west, from India and China, Greece and Persia, moulded what they had learned in an Islamic crucible and added their own stamp to the reservoir of human knowledge through new fields of learning. The Abbasid Caliph al Mansur (d 775) invited scholars from around the world to come to the capital city of Baghdad and soon the city became a magnet for men of learning. Al Mansur established an academy called Baitul Hikmah (the House of Wisdom) where scholarly books from around the world were translated into Arabic. From India came the astronomy of Aryabhatta, from Greece came the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates, from China came the technology for manufacturing porcelain and papermaking and from Iran the art of constructing windmills. Baitul Hikmah was a cosmopolitan academy. Among the scholars who worked there were Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. The Muslims learned the sciences of other civilizations and made their own contributions inventing the fields of algebra, chemistry, perfecting the methods of empirical science and adding to the fields of medicine, surgery, astronomy, art, music, history, geography, agriculture, engineering and philosophy.

Of all the sciences that the Muslims came in contact with, it was Greek rational thought that caught their fancy and they fell in love with its rigor and its precision. Aristotle became their hero and reason their guide. The Caliph al Mansur adopted and promoted Greek philosophy (the philosophy of the ancients as it was called) as court dogma. Muslim scholars set out to apply rational methods to physical phenomenon as well as social, cultural and religious issues with excitement and enthusiasm. These scholars were called the Mu’tazalites.

It was the heyday for rational sciences in Islam. It was the age of Harun al Rashid and Mamum, of Shehrezad and the Arabian Nights, of al Khwarizmi and al Kindi. The Mu’tazalites amalgamated the rational methods of the Greeks, the mathematics of the Indians and the technology of the Chinese, laid the foundation for empirical sciences, invented new disciplines and became torch bearers for the advancement of human civilization.

The application of classical Greek rational thought in an Islamic paradigm was not without its challenge. Of particular concern were the assumptions that the Greeks made about the nature of time and the questions surrounding cause and effect. These assumptions when applied to theological issues presented profound and fundamental doctrinal challenges to Muslim scholars.

The Greeks assumed that time was “eternal”. However, from an Islamic perspective, the acceptance of time as “eternal” would make it co-extent with God who is “wahid”, “self-subsisting” and “eternal”. This was unacceptable to the theologians. In addition, if time is eternal, then everything “other than God” was “created” in time. Specifically, was the Qur’an “created” in time? The Mu’tazalites, who were staunch Muwahids fell into a trap on this issue. They wanted to preserve the transcendence of God. Everything, “other than God”, had to be “created” “in time”. When they applied this logic to the Qur’an, they fell flat on their face. They concluded that the Qur’an was “created” by God “in time”. Needless to say, this position was unacceptable to the theologians. Resistance set in.

A second issue was cause and effect in nature. The Mu’tazalites affirmed that cause and effect were ubiquitous in nature. This position also had theological implications. If cause and effect followed one from the other mechanistically, then, how does the will of God operate in nature? Isn’t God the “doer” of all actions? Here again, the theologians took the Mu’tazalites to task and opposed them.

There were other issues of disagreement as well, namely, human free will (ikhtiar) and man’s responsibility for his actions. However, we will limit our discussion in this essay to only those issues that dealt with the phenomenon of nature and man’s interaction with it.

The position that the Qur’an was “created” “in time” caused great commotion in the Muslim body politic. The resistance to this position was led by the usuli ulema, spearheaded by Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. The Mu’tazalites were not tolerant of dissent. Imam Ahmed was publicly flogged for his opposition and was imprisoned. However, with each oppressive measure, the voices of protest grew louder. Faced with mounting public pressure, the later Abbasid Caliphs relented. In 846 CE, the Caliph al Mutawakkil disavowed the Mu’tazalites and banished them from his court. In turn, when the anti-Mu’tazalites won the favor of the Caliphs, they instituted a Mehna (inquisition) against the Mu’tazalites; many were punished for their views and their books were burned.

The triumph of the usuli ulema over the Mu’tazalites in 846 marks a benchmark in Islamic history. Four significant aspects of the epic confrontation between philosophy and theology in Islam stand out. First, a critique of the speculative deductions of the philosophers did not come from within; it came from the usuli ulema. Second, when a critique did emerge from the ulema, the Mu’tazalites showed an inability to stomach the critique; they increasingly turned the whip on the protesters. Third, when the tables turned and the theologians triumphed, they in turn conducted an inquisition against the Mu’tazalite and persecuted them. Fourth, in the aftermath of the confrontation, the orthodox vision of Islam came to occupy the center while philosophy was pushed to the periphery. Henceforth, the philosophers would be compelled to be reticent in their work and look over their shoulders for any broadside from the theologians.

Philosophy had lost its official patronage in the courts of Baghdad but even as it had lost, it forced theology to defend itself. A new discipline emerged, combining theology with discursive philosophy with the dual purpose of safeguarding the theological fortress from the onslaught of philosophy while at the same time making theology palatable and accessible to the masses. This new discipline was called “kalam”. The practitioners of kalam were called the “mutakallimun”.

The triumph of theology over philosophy did not relieve the ulema of the burden of justifying their positions in a rational paradigm. For instance, if cause and effect do not follow one from the other as the philosophers maintained, how do actions and reactions follow one another? Fifty years after the Mu’tazalites were discredited in Baghdad, a noted scholar al Ash’ari rose to the challenge. He advanced the theory that “time” was not continuous, that it consisted of a series of digital, discontinuous, “atomistic” increments. At each increment, the will of God intervened in accordance with His predetermined plan to make things happen. Thus, the omnipotence of God was preserved.   This explanation was easy to understand and it found broad acceptance in the Islamic world. Among those who accepted the Ash’arite cosmology were some of the greatest thinkers in Islamic history, including, the Seljuk Grand Vizier Nizam ul Mulk (d 1092) and Imam al Ghazzali (d 1111).

Al Ghazzali and the Geopolitical context of his works

Al Ghazzali (1056 -1111 CE) appeared on the canvas of history when the Islamic world was at the height of its political power but was riven asunder by internal ideological conflicts. In the latter part of the tenth century, the Fatimids stormed out of North Africa, capturing Egypt in 969 CE and extending their sway over Hijaz and Syria. Circa 1000 CE, their influence extended as far as Multan in Pakistan. The loss of Egypt meant that the Sunni Caliphs in Baghdad were cut off from trade routes that connected India with the trading city states of Venice, Milan and Genoa. The Fatimids in Cairo thrived even as the Abbasids in Baghdad struggled with shrinking revenues.

In the eleventh century (1040-1092), the Seljuk Turks descended from the Steppes of Central Asia, conquered most of West and Central Asia and established a vast and powerful empire stretching from Kashgar (China) to Damascus (Syria). 

                                                   The Seljuk Empire circa 1092

As Sunni Muslims, the Turks became champions and protectors of the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. A test of arms between the Fatimids and the Seljuks was inevitable. They fought over control of Syria and Palestine in which the Seljuks were victorious. The response of the Fatimids was a deadly, clandestine war against their foes. The Assassins, a shadowy, disgruntled extremist group broke off from the Fatimids and waged an asymmetrical cloak and dagger war for over a hundred years against the Seljuks and other Sunni powers of Asia.

The intellectual landscape was equally turbulent. The Fatimid challenge to Sunni Islam was not just political-military, it was also doctrinal. The Fatimids believed that their version of Islam with its emphasis on the Imamate was the true Islam. They set upon converting the Sunni world to their faith, establishing schools and colleges to train the daees (proselytizers). The renowned Al Azhar university in Cairo was established in 969  CE by the Fatimid Caliph al Muiz not just as a higher citadel of learning but also as a propaganda center for Fatimid Islam. The well-trained daees spread out throughout the Islamic world, inviting the believers to shift over to the view that the first seven Imams were the true inheritors of the spiritual legacy of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Their esoteric ideas, often couched in secretive language, were a source of confusion in the Islamic body politic.

The Seljuks were patrons of art, architecture, poetry, education, astronomy and the mathematical sciences and their capital Esfahan became a magnet for theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, poets and architects.  The celebrated mathematician-poet Omar Khayyam, who compiled the precise Jalalian calendar worked at the magnificent court of Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah (d 1092).  The great vizier Nizam ul Mulk (d 1092) was himself a writer and author of Siasat Nama, a masterpiece of political science. He established universities in Esfehan, Baghdad, Nishapur, Merv, Samarqand and Bokhara and built madrasas throughout the empire.

Al Ghazzali, arguably the most influential theologians in Islamic history, was born in Tabaran-Tus (Iran) in 1057. He received his early education in Tus and then proceeded to Nishapur where he studied under the well-known Ash’arite scholar al Juwayni. Upon the death of his teacher, he moved to Baghdad (1089) which was at the time the premier center of learning in the world.  Al Gazzali’s erudition and sharp wit attracted the attention of the grand vizier Nizamul Mulk, who appointed him Professor at the prestigious Nizamiya college in Baghdad.

The Seljuks were under doctrinal pressure from the Fatimids. The Batini Assassins were wreaking havoc on the body-politic. The arguments of the philosophers were causing confusion in the minds of the people. Encouraged by Nizamul Mulk, Al Ghazzali took on the defense of Sunni orthodoxy and turned his powerful dialectic against the esoteric doctrines of the Fatimids as well as the endless argumentations of the philosophers. A theologian by training, he dived deep into the tenets of philosophy and turned its arguments against its practitioners. His Tahaffuz al Falasafa (Repudiation of the Philosophers) was a masterful thrust at the philosophers. While maintaining the importance of reason in the implementation of the Shariah, Al Ghazzali denounced the philosophers for their beliefs in the eternity of time and cause and effect in nature, going so far as to suggest that philosophers like ibn Sina were Takfireen (disbelievers).

Al Ghazzali’s Repudiation of the Philosophers

The string of madrassas and colleges established by Nizamul Mulk in the vast Seljuk empire served as vehicles for dissemination of Al Ghazzali’s ideas. The Nizamiya syllabus that was introduced into these madrassas reflected the Ash’arite positions on philosophy. It was this syllabus, with some modifications, which was used in throughout Islamic world until the nineteenth century. Some madrasas in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh use a stripped-down version of the Nizamiya syllabus even to this day.

Al Ghazzali’s knowledge was encyclopedic covering theology, kalam, philosophy, ethics, Shariah, tasawwuf and his influence was global. He wrote more than 70 books, only one of which, namely, Tahaffuz al Falasafa, is under discussion here. In this book, Al Ghazzali examines twenty of the assumptions and beliefs held by the philosophers of the day. We limit ourselves only to two of the twenty issues Al Ghazzali examines, namely, his views on the nature of time (issue 1 in Tahaffuz al Falasafa) and his position on cause and effect (issue 17 in the book).

Al Ghazzali was an Ash’arite. Like al Ash’ari, Al Ghazzali accepted the atomistic theory of time, namely, that time can be digitized and divided into miniscule, discrete packets. This position led him to claim that there was no cause and effect in nature, only “habits”. It was God who was the efficient, direct, immediate agent for all events; He caused these events either directly or through intermediaries.  Al Ghazali wrote: “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. For any two things, it is not necessary that the existence or the nonexistence of one follows necessarily from the existence or the nonexistence of the other. Their connection is due to the prior decision of God, who creates them side by side, not to its being necessary by itself, incapable of separation” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Citing the example of the burning of cotton by fire, he observed: “….We say that the efficient cause of the combustion through the creation of blackness in the cotton and through causing the separation of its parts and turning it into coal or ashes is God—either through the mediation of the angels or without mediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent?”

Al Ghazzali was concerned that the acceptance of cause and effect would preclude the possibility of miracles. He wrote: “On its negation (of natural causality) depends the possibility of affirming the existence of miracles which interrupt the usual course of nature . . . and those who consider the ordinary course of nature a logical necessity regard all this as impossible.” The philosophers maintained that there was cause and effect in nature. If cause and effect mechanistically and deterministically follow one from the other, where is the need for the intercession of God? This position, argued al Ghazzali, would contradict the omnipotence of God.

Ibn Rushd and his defense of the philosophers

Al Ghazzali’s position did not go unchallenged. The Spanish jurist and philosopher Ibn Rushd (d 1198) rose to the defense of the philosophers.

Ibn Rushd was born into a prominent family of jurists in Cordoba, Spain in 1126. His grandfather was an influential scholar at the Almoravid courts. Ibn Rushd received his early education in Cordoba and Seville and mastered the fields of jurisprudence, philosophy, theology, mathematics and astronomy. The Almohads (1147-1214) seized North Africa and Andalus (southern Spain) from the Almoravids and established their own Caliphate. Ibn Rushd found favor with the Almohad courts and worked for them in various capacities in Marrakesh, Seville and Cordoba. In 1171 he was appointed the chief Kazi of Cordoba, the most prestigious judiciary position in the kingdom. Encouraged by the second Almohad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1163-84), Ibn Rushd wrote his celebrated commentaries on Aristotle, which had a profound impact on the development of philosophy and science in Europe. We would like to point out here that Ibn Rushd was a contemporary of the well-known physician-philosopher Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185) and the Sufi master (honorably referred to as Shaikh al Akbar – the great shaikh),  Ibn al Arabi (1165-1240). Ibn Rushd had a collegial relationship with Ibn Tufayl and worked with him while there are only anecdotal descriptions of his meetings with Ibn al Arabi.

Ibn Rushd wrote more than 100 books covering theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and mathematics. However, it is for his book, Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz, a critique of Al Ghazzali’s Tahaffuz al Falasafa that Ibn Rushd is best known in the Islamic world. His defense of the philosophers was forceful and comprehensive. We will focus here only on two issues from his Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz that are relevant to modern science, namely, his views on the nature of time and cause and effect.

Al Ghazzali questioned the necessity of cause and effect in nature. He held that only God was the efficient cause and that events happened one after the other according to their taqdeer (Divine decree). This was the Ash’arite position based on a discontinuous, atomistic view of time.  This assumption about time was introduced by al Ash’ari to explain the possibility of miracles, namely, phenomenon that do not follow the accepted norms of cause and effect. Al Ghazzali wrote: “On the negation (of natural causality) depends the possibility of affirming the existence of miracles which interrupt the usual course of nature . . . and those who consider the ordinary course of nature a logical necessity regard all this as impossible.”

Ibn Rushd took issues with this position as contrary to reason. He wrote: ““……. Intelligence is nothing but the perception of things with their causes, and in this it distinguishes itself from all the other faculties of apprehension, and he who denies causes must deny the intellect. Logic implies the existence of causes and effects, and knowledge of these effects can only be rendered perfect through knowledge of their causes. Denial of cause implies the denial of knowledge, and denial of knowledge implies that nothing in this world can be really known, and that what is supposed to be known is nothing but opinion, that neither proof nor definition exist, and that the essential attributes which compose definitions are void. The man who denies the necessity of any item of knowledge must admit that even this, his own affirmation, is not necessary knowledge.”

Ibn Rushd was sensitive to the criticism of the theologians and took pains to explain that the philosophers were staunch believers: “The learned among the philosophers do not permit discussion or disputation about the principles of religion, and he who does such a thing, according to them, needs a severe lesson … Of religious principles it must be said that they are divine things which surpass human understanding, but must be acknowledged although their causes are unknown.”. On creation, he wrote: “Creation is an act of God. He created the world providentially, not by chance. The world is well ordered and is in a state of the most perfect regularity, which proves the existence of a wise Creator. Causality is presupposed”

Both Al Ghazzali the theologian, and Ibn Rushd the Jurist-Philosopher, supported their positions with quotes from the Qur’an. To al Ghazzali, the omnipotence of God was paramount. Like al Ash’ari, he postulated a discrete time so that he could conceptually accommodate the intervention of divine will in every action. However, in the process he relegated the truth of observation to “habit” and went on to propose, without evidence, his own theory of cause and effect as events that happened “side by side”.

To Ibn Rushd, time was continuous and eternal. To the theologian’s objection that this would make time co-extent with God, Ibn Rushd would reposit that the infinity of time collapses before the infinity of God, thereby preserving the sanctity of God’s primal creation of nature including time itself. To Ibn Rushd, cause and effect were confirmed by observation. Without a causal relationship, reason itself made no sense and the world would become unintelligible.

Ibn Sina, Necessary Agent and Contingent Agent

Ibn Sina (d 1037), one of the most distinguished scientists in the Islamic golden age, understood the futility of deciphering time and described physical phenomenon in terms of change rather than time. In his cosmology, time becomes a tool for measurement of change, much as it does in the cosmology of modern science. Regarding the issue of cause and effect, Ibn Sina differentiated between a “necessary” agent of change and a “contingent” agent of change. God was the “necessary” agent of change. It was He who is primal origin of all causes. The contingent agents are intermediate or apparent agents. For instance, if a house is destroyed in an earthquake, the earthquake is the “contingent” agent, God is the “necessary” agent. Ibn Sina was thus able to retain the causality in nature while safeguarding the tenet that God is the ultimate cause of all causes.

The Maturidi (d 944) Compromise

Shaikh al Maturidi, in his book Kitab al Tauhid, advanced a position that was a compromise between the Ash’ari and Mu’tazila positions. The Mutazilites had maintained that man had both a free will (Iqtiar) and freedom to choose (iktisab). It was their view that cause and effect were deterministic and necessarily followed one from the other. Shaikh al Ash’ari had taken the opposite view. Postulating that time was discrete, he maintained that only God had the free will and freedom to choose and that events happened at every moment in accordance with His predetermined will, either through angels or through direct intervention.

Shaikh al Maturidi took issues with both the Asharites and the Mu’tazalites. He maintained that a merciful God, in His wisdom and justice, created alternate outcomes for every event. He provided guidance through His revealed books and His messengers as to which of the alternate outcomes were “good” and which were “evil”. The human was endowed with reason (aql) to discern and choose between the alternative courses of action created by God and presented to man. Thus, al Maturdi accepted the free will and choice of the human while maintaining that the creator of those choices and of alternate courses of action was God. In al Maturdi’s cosmology both the free will and choice of the human and the omniscience and omnipotence were preserved.

Similarly, in a natural phenomenon, each event has an infinite number of outcomes, each of which is prescribed by the Will of God. That an event repeats and is predictable is the Sunnah of Allah. As the Qur’an states: “Allah creates and repeats His creation”. This repetition and the predictable patterns they create make it possible to capture natural phenomenon through equations, algorithms, mathematical representations and geometry and build the tree of scientific and technological knowledge.

Al Maturidi’s position is remarkably similar to some of the modern views of space-time. In this view, there is no one single pre-determined future but an infinite number of possible “futures”. The choice of any one course of action in space-time determines “the future” that we experience. The arrow of time is not just “forward” and “backward” as most philosophers argue, but it vectors in infinite number of directions, all of them within the “mansha” or conception of God. This  cosmology opens up the possibility of an infinite number of possible futures depending on a choice that one makes at a given moment. Each further choice, in turn, takes us in a different direction. The creator of all choices is God; The human is the medium that exercises his choice using his limited free will. His omnipotence is thus preserved. The possibilities are illustrated by the growth of mushrooms in a garden.

Al Maturidi’s compromise cosmology was popular in the eastern Islamic world. The Sunni, Hanafi Ottomans and the great Moguls of India adopted it as court dogma. In the recent past, Allama Iqbal (d 1938) used it in his articulation of human free will.

The Maturidi school was overshadowed by the more fatalistic Ash’ari cosmology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the Ottoman and Mughal empires vaned and Europe increasingly dominated the world putting the Muslims on the defensive.

A Sufi perspective on time

In the spiritual Sufi perspectives, supported by the Qur’an, there are layers of reality separating human perception from the Ultimate Reality. In this perspective, the assumed “eternity” of time in philosophy is only figurative in as much as physical time collapses to nothingness before the eternity of God.

I asked a venerated Sufi Shaikh from Turkey to throw some light on this question. He said: “I heard from my Shaikh that time is like a fish in an ocean”.  The Shaikh made a sinewy motion with his right hand to show the movement of a fish.

Time is like the fish that was lost by the companion of Moses at the junction of the two seas. Al Ghazzali, the theologian, stood at the shores of the sea and saw time as an atom. Ibn Rushd, the jurist and philosopher, rode on the back of the fish and saw time as movement in an endless ocean. The perspectives were different.

In the cosmology of Shihabuddin Suhrawardy (d 1191), there are heavenly domains that separate the human from the earthly domains. There are four identified heavenly domians: Ahad, Wahed, Wahdaniyet, Arwah.  These domains are independent of space-time (la-makan in the Urdu language).The created world (alam e khalq) is separated from the heavenly domains and is the domain of apparent space-time. In this world, reason, logic, mathematics, language, cause and effect apply. The interface between the created world and the heavenly realms defines the limit of human reason.

The Core of the Controversies

At the core of the dialectic between the theologians and the philosophers was the nature of time and cause and effect. To the philosophers, time was continuous and eternal. In a structured, ordered universe, cause and effect were confirmed by observation. This position was unacceptable to the theologians. If cause and effect followed one from the other mechanistically, there is no room for the intervention of God. In that case, how do you explain the occurrence of miracles? Therefore, they advanced a theory of discrete time in which the will of God intervened at each discrete moment and ensured that the outcome of an event is according to God’s decree (taqdeer).

A second issue was the origin of time itself. Was time eternal, or, did it have a finite beginning and an end? The philosophers, following the lead of Aristotle, believed that time was eternal. Controversies emerged when this assumption was applied to the Qur’an. The philosophers were strict monotheists (Mowahhids). The assumption of eternal time led them into a trap of their own making. The Qur’an declares: “God is One. He is Self Sufficient. He does not beget nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him”. To preserve the sanctity of Tawhid (“there is none like unto Him), they could not make God’s Word co-extent with His essence. Therefore, they postulated that the Qur’an was “created” (by God) “in time”. This was unacceptable to the theologians and the two positions collided. The debate had a profound impact on developments in Islamic civilization.

Reconstruction of a Technological Culture in Islam – Part 2

Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

What is Time?

A familiarity with the theories, assumptions and beliefs about the nature of time is a pre-requite to understanding the disputes between the philosophers and the theologians and bringing about a reconciliation between the positions of al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. Accordingly, we survey the insights about time provided in the Qur’an and also examine the modern perspectives on the subject.

Time as revealed in the Qur’an

Time is a mystery within an enigma within a riddle. It is a secret that no one has been able to fathom. Yet, it forms the very basis of knowledge and of changes in the cosmos. Philosophy, logic, science and history are all based on fundamental assumptions about time.

The mystery of time deepens as we study the various contexts in which it is revealed in the Qur’an:

The days are counted;
Then, whoever among you is ill, or is traveling,
May complete his fasts later, (Quran, 2:184)

The Angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a moment,
Whose measure is fifty thousand years. (70: 4)

Has there transpired upon humankind a time
From (the oceans of timeless) Time (ad Dha’r)
When he was not even a thing mentioned? (76:1)

There is a term decreed for every spiritual community.
When the decreed time arrives,
they cannot hold it back one moment
or move it forward (one moment). (7:34)

O humankind! If you are in doubt about resurrection,
Then (consider this): We did indeed create you from the earth,
Then from a sperm,
Then from an impregnated egg,
Then from a piece of flesh—
With features and without features—
So that We may convey to you (Our Message);
And We establish a pregnancy for a period fixed, as We will,
Then We bring you forth as a baby,
Then, (sustain you) so that you reach the fullness of youth. (22:5)

By (the passage of) time,

Verily, humankind is indeed at a loss,

Except such as those who have certainty of faith,
And perform righteous deeds,
And enjoin upon one another Justice (Truth),
And enjoin upon one another Patience (Constancy and Perseverance). (103:1-3)

And We struck their ears (made them asleep) in the cave for many years.

Then We woke them up to see which of the two groups remembered

long they had stayed (in the cave). (18:11-12)

Hearken! Of a certainty, the transgressors shall be in eternal punishment! 42:45

Every Nafs shall have a taste of death
And it is not until the Judgment Day
That you shall reap the full recompense (for your deeds). (3:185)

Establish prayer at the sun’s decline till the onset of the night (17:78)

And eat and drink
Until the white thread of dawn
Becomes distinguishable against the darkness (of night).
Then keep your fasts until nightfall. (2: 187)

And whoever desires to combine the Umrah with the Hajj,
And cannot find (a suitable gift),
Let him fast for three days during Hajj
And seven days after he returns (from Hajj).
This makes it ten altogether. (2:196)

He it is who created you from clay,
Then from a seminal fluid,
Then from an embryo,
Then He brings you forth as a baby,
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach the fullness (of youth)
Then (He sustains you) so that you reach old age,
And among you some die before it,
And (He sustains you) so that you attain an age determined,
And learn wisdom. (40:67)

Sovereign of the Day of Judgment (1:4)

So, Allah will decide between them on the Judgment Day.  (4: 141)

Allah is He, there is no god but He.
Then He will indeed gather you all together on the Judgment Day

About it there is no doubt. (4: 87)


There can be no doubt that Allah will gather you all together

On the Judgment Day. (6:12)

And make us not be ashamed on the Judgment Day.
Indeed, You do not compromise on Your promise.” (3:194)

And what conjecture do they have –
They who ascribe a falsehood to Allah –
About the Day of Judgment? (10:60)

“O son of Adam! Do not abase time. I am Time (ad Dhahr)”

Modern Concepts of time

What are the modern concepts of time? Do they help us resolve the disputes between medieval Islamic philosophers and theologians?

Whereas the ancients measured time by sunrise, sunset and the sundial, modern man uses digital clocks and atomic clocks that are accurate to 10-22 seconds. However, the idea is the same: time is an entity that is measured by the relative movement between two other entities: the earth around the sun; the moon around the earth; the earth around its own axis; electrons around a nucleus, and so on. The old yardsticks were days, months and years. In modern astronomy, the distances between stars and galaxies are measured in light years, namely, the time light takes to travel from one entity to another.

Thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its popularization in fiction and movies such as Star Wars, even a child today is familiar with the idea of relative time. Time compresses as you approach the velocity of light. An astronaut who is travelling at very high speeds would experience time-compression and sense time very differently from someone left behind on earth. Travelling near the speed of time, our astronaut may visit several distant worlds and return to earth in a year (by his reckoning) only to find that all the people he knows had passed away centuries ago.  If you travel at the speed of light, time stands still. If you travel at speeds greater than the speed of light, then it is theoretically possible to travel back in space-time.

According to Newton, “time exists independently of any perceiver, progresses at a consistent pace throughout the universe, is measurable but imperceptible, and can only be truly understood mathematically”. It is also called Newtonian time or “empty-space” time. Although the ideas of relativistic time have shadowed the ideas of absolute time, Newtonian time is a good enough approximation for most physical observations on earth.

Biological clocks regulate the rhythm of body functions in most mammals. In the human, the brain’s circadian clock regulates the rhythm of sleep. Although such rhythms are not precise and deterministic, the jet lag experienced by long-distance travelers confirms the influence of circadian rhythms.                     

Time seems to dilate and spread out when you are bored or when you are uncomfortable such as in a hot room. Similarly, time seems to move fast when you are happy such as when you are in the company of someone you love.

The Big Bang theory is a consequence of the observation that the universe is expanding. Mathematically, an expanding universe collapses to a single point (a singularity) at its origin. It is estimated that our known universe is approximately 14 billion years old. The question is this: Is the Big Bang the origin of time? The answer is bound to be unsatisfactory because it fails to answer the follow-on question: What was there before the Big Bang? This line of enquiry fails to answer the question whether time is “endless” and “eternal” or is finite and has itself an origin “in time”.

A Resolution – Modern views

Having taken a brief survey of the classical as well as modern ideas of time, we are in a position to to revisit the dialectic about cause and effect and the nature of time between two of the greatest minds who graced Islamic history, namely, al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. The controversies had a lasting impact on the development of natural sciences in the Islamic world.   

First, it must be observed that the debate took place in the deductive, “if” “then” paradigm of medieval philosophy. This paradigm has its own built-in assumptions and its own inherent limitations.

Second, the position taken by each of these sages is valid within the assumptions that he makes. The positions break down only when they are examined through the lens of modern empirical and inductive science.

Consequently, a critique of the positions taken by al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd and a reconciliation between them must focus on the assumptions that underlie their positions rather than the positions themselves.

Is Time “eternal”? 

Ibn Rushd, following the logic of Aristotle, held time to be eternal. Al Ghazzali held that time was finite and created. Which position is supported by modern science?

Classical mechanics looks only at marginal, linear changes in time. A pursuit of the origin of time leads us to the Big Bang where space-time become a singularity. Modern science does not answer the question: What was there “before” the Big Bang?

The theory of relativity regards time as flexible and malleable that can be bent and stretched.  The position of quantum mechanics is more subtle. While it regards time as universal and absolute, it postulates that the change in an entity from one state to another is due to the shifting of successive positions of atoms (or subatomic entities).

Both al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd quote from the Qur’an to support their positions. The guidance from the Qur’an is that Allah created the cosmos and He will fold it up on the Day of Judgment.  This suggests that time, as we perceive it, is “finite” and is not “eternal”.

The assumption of the “eternity” of time sets up a trap because such an assumption extends the domain of human reason to all domains that are “not God”. This was the trap that the Mu’tazalies fell into. They were staunch Muwahids with an unflinching faith that God is “Ahad” and there is “none like unto Him”. So, they said that the Qur’an cannot be co-extent with God and placed it in “time”, meaning that it was “created” by Allah. This was repugnant to the ulema. As was pointed out earlier, it proved to be the undoing of the Mu’tazalites. The trap was of their own making. They overextended the reach of human reason to heavenly domains that are beyond space-time (la makan). The lesson from history is that reason, noble and sublime as it is, has its limits and breaks down in heavenly domains.   

Cause and effect in nature

Al Ghazzali held that cause and effect were not a necessary consequence of the one from the other. His accepted the Ash’ari view that time moved in discrete, atomistic steps and at each discrete step the will of God intervened as the cause for an effect.  He held that only God was the efficient cause and He caused all events either through direct intervention or through intermediaries (angels).

Al Ghazzali went one step further and advanced his own theory of heat transfer. He postulated when cotton is brought into contact with fire, the application of fire and the change of cotton from fiber to ashes take place “side by side”. This was a masterful philosophical statement; however, it was unsupported by empirical evidence.

According to our current scientific understanding, the heat transfer from the fire (hot gases) to the cotton (cellulose matter) is the cause of the “burning” (a phase change from cellulose matter to ash). Obviously, the philosophers and the theologians of the day were unaware of the concepts of energy and heat transfer. They were unaware that fire was energy that can be transferred to physical bodies forcing a change in their structure. Note that the modern position does not compromise the omnipotence of God since the fire, as the agent of burning, and the cotton, as the object that is burned, are both created to be so by God. God is Musabbib al Asbab (the cause for all causes, or, the ultimate cause).

The cause-and-effect philosophy, as formulated by al Ghazzali, made it impossible to formulate theories of natural phenomenon based on observation and experiment (“habit” as al Ghazzali termed it). The pursuit of natural science suffered. If one were to accept Al Ghazzali’s theory, airplanes cannot fly, automobiles cannot run, carts cannot move, electricity cannot be generated, transistors stop. In other words, it is impossible to acquire any positivistic knowledge which is built on cause and effect, logic and reason.

In contrast, Ibn Rushd held that cause and effect constituted a basic aspect of the natural law and formed the foundation of human reason. He held that events take place in accordance with cause and effect and that the will of God was axiomatic and built into the laws of cause and effect.

Islamic civilization made an error in misunderstanding the teachings of Al Ghazzali. His denial of (the necessity of) causality and his position that events happen according to their taqdeer was misunderstood by Muslims as pre-destination. This interpretation side-lined the principle of natural causality which forms the foundation of modern technological civilization and empirical science.  It was a fatal error.

There is no empirical evidence to support the thesis (as al Ash’ari proposed circa 900 CE which was adopted by al Ghazzali) that time is digital, discontinuous and can be divided into atomistic parcels. It is merely a philosophical pre-supposition, a concept, an idea, a theory.

In classical mechanics, time appears as a measure of change that occurs as a result of an action by an entity. Quantum mechanics becomes fuzzy on ideas of time, or more precisely, on the arrow of time. It admits that time can be measured in quanta, perhaps as small as 10-22 seconds. When a change occurs, the subatomic particles in an ensemble move from one state to another. As to why they move to a new position in a predictable manner is a mystery; statistically, they could have moved to an entirely different configuration (which could result in an entirely different “future”). The quantum model may serve to accommodate the appearance of miracles as events that are nominally a violation of repetitive and predictable outcomes of events but which are statistically possible.

Classical mechanics, which forms the basis of modern technological civilization, is built on assumptions of natural cause and effect. Empirical evidence, reason, algorithms, logic and extrapolation form the accepted chain-links in the advancement of modern science and technology.

Modern science does not insist on mechanical causality. It only affirms that on a statistical basis, a cause produces an effect with a probability so high that it can be considered a near certainty. 

The question of miracles

Miracles are events that contradict the expected outcomes based on cause ad effect.

Al Ghazzali held that the occurrence of miracles can be accommodated only if the necessity of cause and effect is discarded. This position needs to be modified in the light of our advanced knowledge of physics and statistics. Modern approaches of statistical mechanics may offer a possible way to explain miracles. In this approach, an event is an ensemble of zillions upon zillions of mini-events that are happening in the cosmos. It is conceptually possible to admit that the nett outcome of these seemingly unlimited number of concurrent events could be one that is contrary to its expected value, and that would be a miracle. The occurrence of a miracle can be accommodated in classical mechanics by adding “inshallah” to an expected event. Such a position is in accordance with the guidance from the Qur’an.

Classical mechanics deals only with questions of when and how (space-time) of marginal changes in nature; it does not concern itself with questions of who and why, or the primal origins of time. These questions are important.  Indeed, they form the core of our search as human beings as to who we are and why we are here. However, they are beyond the capabilities of reason and are left to other modes of acquiring knowledge and other disciplines such as Tasawwuf, theosophy and faith. As an example, no amount of rational argumentation can explain what love is, whereas the heart can grasp it with immediacy.

The distinctive character of positivistic knowledge is that it opens up avenues for the human to attain his potential through an exercise of reason. It enhances material welfare through innovation, shields the human from debilitating poverty, protects life by enabling effective means of defence, provides a bulwark against disease and hunger through medical research and agricultural advancement. Indeed, it opens up the possibility (just a possibility) of heaven on earth. It is a fulfilment of God’s promise to the human: “And We have subjected to you all that is between the heavens and the earth”. Science is not just a nice appendage to a society; it is essential for the very survival of a society.

Why did the Islamic civilization choose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd?

Several reasons may be advanced as to why the Islamic civilization chose al Ghazzali over ibn Rushd.

In summary, history and geography both favoured al-Ghazzali. When he wrote his Tahaffuz al Falasafa in 1095, the dialectic between theology and philosophy in Islam was already three hundred years old and it had been won by the theologians. Al Ghazzali’s work was the summation of that dialectic and its last chapter.

Why did Europe choose ibn Rushd?

Europe came upon Greek rational philosophy in the thirteenth century through a translation of classical Greek works from Arabic into Latin. There was no convulsive confrontation between theology and philosophy in Europe as there was between the Muta’zalites and the usuli ulema in the Islamic world in the eighth-ninth centuries. The writings of Thomas Aquinas (1274) scuttled the debate by separating church dogma from rational philosophy. The result was that Europe embarked on a secular path. Science, technology, sociology and history were separated from religion. Matters of faith were confined to the walls of the church. This separation continues to this day. As a consequence, modern man, having internalized the assumptions that underlie western civilization, finds himself in a soulless, godless world. God was taken out at the first gambit. Modern man cannot put Him back in the end game.    

Construction of a Technological Culture in the Islamic world

History is like tarnished silver. It needs constant scrubbing to bring out the polish and remind us how beautiful its nascent shine can be.

The construction of a technological culture in the Islamic world must begin with a deconstruction of historical narratives and a fresh start based on the primal source, namely, the Qur’an.

Present day Muslims stand on the shoulders of giants. Great were the personages who graced Islamic history since that sublime moment when the Light of Muhammed (pbuh) illuminated the world. Their legacy continues to guide us.

However, it must be remembered that those who came before us struggled in the context of their times. Their contributions, great in their impact, were nonetheless limited by their knowledge of the physical and the assumptions they made in developing their cosmology. While they created giant footsteps on the sands of time, they also left behind a good deal of dust that needs clearing up. 

Consider the Shia-Sunni split. It has its basis in history. The Suhaba disagreed on how to carry forward the legacy of the prophet after his death. The result was a wide chasm which continues to divide the global Islamic community even to this day. Does the Shia-Sunni schism have its sanction in the Qur’an? No. It ought to be relegated to the pages of history so that the community can reaffirm the brotherhood established by the Prophet.

Similar is the case with kalam and philosophy. In the eighth-ninth centuries Islamic theology had a broadside encounter with Greek philosophy. It was a brutal confrontation. Theology won the contest and philosophy was sidelined. But the tailwinds of the clash continued to haunt the Islamic intellectual landscape. Empirical science appeared as a sequel to philosophy and made its mark on world history. But its practitioners, giants like al Khwarizmi, ibn Sina, al Razi did not gain the kind of acceptance in the Islamic body politic as did theologians like al Ash’ari and al Ghazali.

It is in this context that we have to examine the dialectic between al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. While their positions were valid within the paradigms they assumed, there are fundamental problems with some of their assumptions.

A Deconstruction

A deconstruction of historical narratives is therefore essential before a construction of an alternate vision of natural science and technology is constructed. The basis for this reconstruction is guidance from the Qur’an. It requires discarding the assumptions of “eternal time”, “atomistic time”, “side by side” as applied to cause and effect, even if such assumptions were held by the giants of Islamic history like al Ghazzali and ibn Rushd. History is a teacher. History is not a tyrant. The Islamic psyche must be unshackled from the tyranny of history. 

The Islamic body politic, which is now held in ransom by shackles of history, must be freed to follow the Qur’an and the Seerah of the Prophet. The Qur’an offers a lofty vision of the human who is endowed with a body and a mind to interact with nature, a heart to feel divine presence and a soul to sift through right and wrong.

Reconstruction of a Science and Technology Culture in Muslim Societies

As we undertake a reconstruction of a science and technology culture in Muslim societies, we must be aware of the assumptions we made and enumerate those that we discard.

We discard the following assumptions that were made by the medieval philosophers:

Positions we accept, consistent with guidance from the Qur’an:

Regarding the human, we accept the following assumptions that are consistent with the guidance from the Qur’an:

The following inferences follow from our assumptions:

Empirical science and technology are based on observation, experimentation and reason.

The laws upon which science and technology are based are the laws of nature which constitute the Sunnah of Allah. Nature obeys divine laws based on God’s wisdom and justice and is amenable to understanding through reason. Divine grace is never absent from these laws. This self-evident truth needs no confirmation by philosophical discourse.

The Qur’an affirms again and again the primacy of reason in the created world, urging the human to witness, reflect and apply reason to understand nature (science), use the knowledge so acquired for human welfare (technology) and discharge his heavenly mandate as khalifa on earth to serve God (theology) and His creation (environment and ecology).

To enable him to discharge this mandate, God has bestowed upon the human faculties in addition to reason, namely, a heart to perceive the unseen world, a soul to sift through right and wrong and a spirit to connect him with Divine presence.  The Qur’an thus offers guidance to the human through the body, the mind, the heart, the soul and the spirit. The knowledge acquired through these means constitute the totality of human knowledge, ilm ul ibara (knowledge that can be taught), ilm ul ishara (knowledge that can be alluded to but cannot be taught) and ilm al ladduni (revealed knowledge that comes down through the Prophets).

Natural science is implicit and explicit in the Qur’an. The human is urged again and again to know God (that is, to know His Names and attributes) through the Signs in His creation.

Let us illustrate how cause and effect unfold in nature and how they form the basis of science.

An Example: The Wonder of Flight

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلاَّ الرَّحْمَنُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ

Do you not observe the birds
With their wings spread above them,
And (birds with wings) folded up?
None can hold them up (in dynamic equilibrium) except the Most Compassionate;
Indeed, He is the Seer of all things.   Surah al-Mulk, (67:19)

The wonder and awe of nature defies description. No matter which direction you turn, there are Signs for the majesty of the Creator. 

An appreciation of the subtleties of this Ayah requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are wondrous Signs in nature, if only we knew how to look and how to ask the right questions.

We present the bar-tailed godwit as an illustration for the tafseer of this Ayah. It is a tiny bird that migrates every year from Alaska, northwest of Canada, to New Zealand, deep in the southern Pacific Ocean. It flies about 7000 miles (11000 kilometers) without stopping anywhere. Sometimes, it flies West to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and then south to New Zealand. At other times it takes an alternate route South to the Pacific Islands and then further South to New Zealand.

How can a small bird fly 7000 miles without stopping anywhere? How does it navigate and find its destination when there are no landmarks? How does it fly at night? Where does it get its in-flight food and sustenance from? How does it keep warm when the outside temperature is close to zero?

We offer three alternative approaches that may be used to develop answers to these questions: (1) by a believing scientist (2) by a secular scientist (3) a fatalist.

A believing scientist would start with Bismillah. He would recognize that an understanding of the flight of a bar-tiled godwit bird requires a mastery of several disciplines: aerodynamics; ornithology; structural mechanics; oxygenation; energy transfer; guidance, navigation and control, to name but a few. There are four known forces in nature: gravitation, electromagnetic, weak atomic and strong atomic. The first two are relevant in this case. The last two are not. The scientist would study in detail the air currents, temperatures, pressures, moisture, electrical storms and other weather conditions along the flight trajectory. He would also study the physical characteristics of the bird: weight, size, shape, flight feathers and control feathers. He would experiment and know something about the neural networks and sensors in the bird and their electromagnetic characteristics. He would write algorithms and equations, with clearly articulated assumptions, for the dynamics of flight of this tiny bird. He would analyze and obtain some insights to the questions raised. For many of the questions, there may be no answers with our limited current knowledge base. The believing scientist would table such questions for continued research. At each stage of his research, he would marvel at God’s creation with awe and wonder and cry out: Subhan Allah! The experience would reinforce his faith and take him closer to God who created this tiny bird that has so much to teach the human.

A secular scientist would go through the same process and arrive at the same conclusions except that he would not start with Bismillah nor would he end with Subhan Allah. His experience would be like a ladder that dangles in the air, neither firmly grounded on earth nor reaching up to heaven, but suspended in doubt and dissatisfaction.

A fatalist would not ask any of these questions. He would simply say: it is the work of God and go to sleep.

Muslim scientists in the classical era of Islam fell into the first category. They were guided by the light of the Qur’an, witnessed God’s creation in all its splendor and learned from the Signs they saw therein. Modern day Muslims fall into the third category. Having lost their way through the labyrinth of history, they turn their backs on science and circle around in orbits of fatalism.

Moving Forward

“Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves”. The development of a scientific and technological culture in Islam, must come from within. Elements of this transformation include:

Discard notions that are a product of history but have no basis in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet. A cup must be empty before milk is poured into it. Specifically, assumptions about time, cause and effect which have accrued as a result of the clash between philosophy and theology in medieval times must be discarded.

So pervasive is the influence of the clergy in the Islamic world that no reformation can succeed without their support. The Shaikhs, Mullahs and Molvis have a hold on the masses which can only be the envy of even the most successful political leader.

The historical record of Islamic clergy is less than illustrious on questions relating to science and technology. While the sordid story of Galileo and the Latin church is well known, that of the Islamic religious establishment is glossed over.  At critical moments in Islamic history, it was the religious establishment that put the brakes on scientific and technological progress. Here are a few glaring examples:

A suspicion of science as a secular pursuit that takes the human away from God persists to this day among a significant section of Muslim religious establishment. The shaikhs, mullahs and molvis simply do not understand science or technology. What they do not understand, they suspect and oppose, unless that technology personally benefits them.

The Islamic world would benefit a great deal if training centers are established to teach the shaikhs and mullahs in the basics of science and technology. The goal is to mitigate the suspicion and opposition of the clergy to science and technology by exposing them to the assumptions, processes and benefits that underlie the natural sciences and show that their pursuit i consistent the guidance from the Qur’an.

There exists a vast network of schools and madrassas purporting to teach religion (Deeni Ta’leem as it is called). India alone is estimated to have 30,000 madrasas. Pakistan has half as many. Primary instruction in these institutions is through rote learning. Secondary education includes memorization and hadith. At the advanced grades, the curriculum is a hangover of the Nizamiya syllabus from the twelfth century and includes a study of Fiqh, a history of the early Caliphs and rudiments of medieval philosophy.

With a minimal effort, these institutions can be transformed into agents of change towards a scientific and technological culture. In addition to the sciences of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, a basic exposure to science, math and technology would pay rich dividends. A change in syllabus is long overdue.

God created the universe and gave its key to the human. That key is reason. Nature yields what you demand from it. A critical, questioning attitude towards nature is required for this process. The Muslim scientists in the classical era excelled in their questioning and unlocked the secrets of the heavens (astronomy), elements (chemistry), plants (agronomy), cures for diseases (medicine) and natural structures (geometry). Such an attitude is a part of Ijtehad ordained by God. It was only in the later centuries that the clergy limited Ijtehad to personal minutia (such as whether a moustache is halal or haram) or totally abandoned it in favor of taqleed.

Cultivate a passion for experimentation in science and technology, coupled with an acceptance of results that are consistent even if they refute established and entrenched dogma.

As ibn al Arabi said: “Feehi ma feehi”. A thing is what it is. If a baseball that is hit shatters a brittle glass panel, we must have the integrity to say that the efficient (immediate) cause of the shattered glass is the momentum from the baseball. Cracks propagate because of stress. Earthquakes are caused by movement of geological plates. Airplanes fly because of airfoil design and fall because of wind shear.  These statements in no way compromise the omnipotence of God who is musabbib al asbab. It is understood that man’s innovative capabilities are bestowed by God. The scientist’s quest is a search for the Sunnah of Allah in nature. He asks the questions: How? What? He marvels at his discoveries and he uses them for the benefit of man and to serve God and His crreation.  (wa Saqqara lakum ma fis samawati wal ard- And I have subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and the earth).

Revolutions require political will and commitment. The influential strata of society, the governments, the clergy, the intelligentsia, the industrialists and bankers need to make a commitment for such a positive transformation. A change in mindset is a pre-requisite. The economies of Muslim countries need to shift from resource base (oil, gas, agriculture, minerals, gems) to knowledge base. Technological and scientific education is the key. A single silicon chip is more valuable than a hundred barrels of oil.

Some Concluding Words

What moves the modern world is technology. It influences the way we do our work, how we relate to each other and to nature. It is the modulator of human behavior, art, philosophy, economics, politics and culture.

As we move forward, the world is increasingly segregated into two segments: those who have access to technology and those who do not. The first group will rule the world. The second group will serve the first group.

Technology is not just a nice thing to have. It is not just to have mobile phones, TV, cars and airplanes. It is not just for national defense although technology has a major impact on defense. Technology is necessary for the very survival of a civilization.

Islamic civilization is at a cross roads. One road leads to security and prosperity based on science and technology. This is the road that the Shariah commands the human to take and for which the Qur’an provides guidance. The other road is one of ignorance, poverty, servitude and ultimately, extinction.

Islamic civilization has locked itself in a self-made prison and has shackled itself in chains of misconceptions about the human and the universe that he lives in. These misconceptions arise from a burden of history.

It is time the Islamic civilization unshackled itself. Ash’arite philosophy, assumptions about mysteries of time, rejection of causation are burdens of the past. A scientific and technological culture unshackles these burdens. The keys to unlock these shackles are in God-given Aql (reason). However, unlike secular man who has left God in the church and assumes that his reason is autonomous, the Muslim scientist exercises his reason as a divine gift to which the God’s creation opens its doors. The keys are in the Qur’an, which beckons the mind towards Signs of Allah, shows the broad, open highways to the physical (seeing, hearing, touching, speaking), ennobles the heart with the Light of Divine Names and guides the soul to avoid the pitfalls of disbelief.  How marvelous a world that is! Subhan Allah!

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

Summary

“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.

A CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE QUR’AN

“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)

KNOWLEDGE  (A TREASURE THAT IS A DIVINE GIFT )

  • ILM UL IBARA (KNOWLEDGE THAT IS PERCEIVED AND CAN BE TAUGHT)
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE SENSES (INDUCTIVE SCIENCES)
      •  
        •  
          • NATURAL SCIENCES (PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY, BIOLOGY)
          • HISTORY
          • SOCIOLOGY
          • THE LANGUAGES
          • CIVICS AND GOVERNANCE
          • RITUALS
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE MIND (DEDUCTIVE SCIENCES)
      • PHILOSOPHY
      • NUMBERS
      • MATHEMATICS
      • GEOMETRY
  • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE NAFS (SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG; JUSTICE AND BALANCE; ORDER AND PROPORTION)
    •  
      •  
        • NAFS E AMMARA
        • NAFS E MULHAMA
        • NAFS E LAWWAMA
        • NAFS E MUTMAENNA
        • NAFS E RADIYA
        • NAFS E MARDIYA
  • ILM UL ISHARA (KNOWLEDGE THAT IS BEYOND PERCEPTION AND CANNOT BE TAUGHT)
    • SIGNS THAT ARE PERCEIVED BY THE HEART
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE SADR
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE QALB
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO FUAD
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO BIRR
      • KNOWLEDGE ACCESSIBLE TO THE INTELLECT
  • ILM AL WAHI OR ILM AL LADUNI (KNOWLEDGE BESTOWED ONLY UPON THE PROPHETS)
    • REVELATION
    • GUIDANCE FOR HUMANKIND
    • CRITERION FOR RIGHT AND WRONG

AN ALIM IS ONE WHO IS GIVEN THE GIFT OF BOTH ILM UL ISHARA AND ILM UL IBARA AND IS ALSO BLESSED WITH AN UNDERSTANDING OF ILM AL WAHI.

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).

Summary

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.

Discussion

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)

99-names-of-god
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


 [NA1]

Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Wahdat-al-Wujud-1

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.

Vocabulary

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)

Summary

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
Topic

Pacifica Nor Cal Lecture PART 2 : “Islam, Science and History” by Dr Nazeer Ahmed
Description
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.
Time

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

To Join the Meeting   Please click this URL to join. https://zoom.us/w/95206547039?tk=tkK5ixa096e6YPqUpXi0xdoZ8GliNuILUwQ9GxzWhMw.DQIAAAAWKsCeXxZvN1NwNXBrMVFXYTVSM3dNZ3RaX25BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

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