Federal Shari’ah Court of Pakistan: Land Reforms, Interest (Riba’) & Islamic Banking

[These are rough notes from the second day’s morning session of Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Jan, 2017]


Let’s see what the output of a Jurist ‘alim was because Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) got 22 years of case writing. I should also tell you, so you don’t think it’s too much, there are a very few cases that have gone to the Federal Shari’ah Court, and there are very few of those that appealed in front of the Shari’ah Appellate Bench. If there was a regular Judge, 22 years would mean a whole encyclopedia of cases, but, because we are talking about the Shari’ah Court, they were very few, and even less in the Shari’ah Appellate Bench. He lives in Karachi, teaches here, he would just have to occasionally go to Islamabad because the number of cases in those 20 years that came in front in his record were very few. But still, over 20 years, it makes a few volumes and it’s a very fascinating and interesting read, but at times can be very technical.

Land Reforms

Land Reform is a concept. From a purely Secular and Social Science perspective, Land Reform has been viewed in Political Science, Economics, Public Policy and Development Studies as something that’s good. If you look at the history everywhere in the world, even in Western Europe, for many centuries in the middle ages or in the medieval period, it was an age of what they call Feudalism. In Feudalism, you had very few people who owned massive — I’m not saying acres, but hectares or whatever would be even beyond that — massive lands and estates. In America also these were the slave estates. The whole Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was because you needed slaves. Why did you need so many slaves? Because you have hectares of lands in Louisiana, and you need slaves to work those lands. Whether it’s America, whether it’s Europe, whether it’s Africa, whether it’s India, whether it’s Asia; this is the global history of humanity.

The way this sorted itself out in Europe was through periods of revolutions. What happened, if I tell you a very gross simplification of your history, is that Feudalism led to Mercantilism. The Mercantile Middle Class then led these revolutions to take the political power, and overtime they were able to solve this through very violent revolutions. A lot of bloodshed and deaths took place in these revolutions. This took place much later in the Muslim world. The Muslim world may have done something similar, but before they could do that, there was colonialism. When the colonialists came in, they loved this system because they were the ultimate land owners. They wanted to own the whole country. When the colonial power comes, they basically become the land owners of the entire country that they have occupied. Therefore, they kept this system in place. It was only when colonialism ended, which coincides with World War II, so you can think 1945, then all of a sudden this becomes an issue. 1945 is way late in the game. All the other places, like America and Europe, had sorted this issue out by now.

Now I’m going to look at the Muslim world, and I’m specifically going to look at Pakistan. Here you have, what you call, the jagirdars and nawabs in Sindh. You have to go outside the city to experience this phenomenon. It’s slightly different, it has a different style; in Sindh there are a lot of land owners, same is the case in Punjab, Baluchistan and KPK. But it’s all a bit different where it takes place. Part of your political system is because of that. The reason, and if there are any PPP supporters here I’m not commenting on that, but PPP’s vote-base is feudal serfs and slaves, basically modern type slaves, who work the lands. They will always vote for the candidate the land owner tells them to vote for. That’s why PPP in Sindh is going to go on forever.

Another very interesting thing is that in other countries many times the land reforms were carried out by the military because those militaries were professional militaries which had no landed interests. The Pakistani military is also in the land game and they also have deep landed interests, so that couldn’t happen here. Otherwise, because you need to do land reform so late in the day, you need a very strong man, almost like a dictatorial rule, so General Musharraf could have done this in his time. But of course he didn’t do it because either he himself or his other buddy-generals who propped him up into power were all big land owners. So he is not going to take on this big power group because he needs their support to remain the Chief Executive.

But what did happen in Pakistan in 1959, General Ayub Khan began this process of Land reforms — this is, at least in terms of intentions, probably one of the better things, Allahu Alam. Then in 1972, again under martial law, he promulgated this thing called the Land Reform Regulation and in 1977 that became the Land Reforms Act. It has a precursor to this in the British period in 1887, which is the Punjab Tenancy Act.

What goes on in land reforms? The notion is to take away the land of the land owners. This is where the problem is going to come now. Because you want to do land redistribution. One way is to make the peasant farmers who work the lands, owners themselves. They will have small little farms that would be enough for their own and their family’s needs. There are also other ways in which governments do this.

In 1959, 2.5 million acres were claimed by the government and 0.65 of those were redistributed among farmers. The condition was that the farmers were themselves small land owners, that they themselves only had farms that were less that 12.5 acres. 0.2 million acres went to the government. If you know your statistics, if you know your maths, there’s a big discrepancy here.

  • 2.5 million acres were claimed
  • 0.65 went to the farmers
  • 0.2 government says that’s all we took
  • 1.65 was not accounted for

I tried my best, I even asked this one Economist, because I presented a paper on this once in a conference, we could not figure out where in the world the other 1.65 million acres went. Because they give out these statistics and government just reports it. There are no comments, there’s no explanation, there are no footnotes, and going back to 1959, there’s no one we could interview who would have known. But it’s just the audacity of them to even put this, I mean you are putting up false figures, anybody could read this. Allahu Aalam, but critics say that the 1.65 went to the army.

After that people started resisting land reforms, that if you are taking them from me to give them to the farmers, that’s one thing. But you took 2.5 from all of us, and you only gave 0.65 to the farmers, and the army and government took the rest. As you can imagine, people started resisting it anyway because there is nothing more dear to a Pakistani than his land.

I can tell you an anecdote about this. Once we went to go buy some land for our project in Lahore, Mahad al-Ihsan. I met this person, and literally word-for-word this is what he told me, he said zameen maa ki tarha hai, koi apni maa ko bechta hai? Literally, in English it means that land is like one’s mother, does anybody sell their own mother? What he said to me, I will never forget it, that too about selling for market-rate price. Imagine how a person like that would feel if the government says we will take it from you and give it to the poor. So you can imagine that there was a lot of resistance.

In 1972, another 1.3 million acres were claimed. In 1977, another 1.8 were claimed. Just to show you how long these cases went, and I have tried to put it slightly out of order for you, there was a family by the name of Kazi Bash [?], they claimed in 1952, that means before the Land Reforms Act by General Ayub, there’s also no way to be sure because in Pakistan documents can be forged. The online audience is stunned. I mean, I’m sorry but this is how this country is.

So in 1952, according to what they filed, they claimed that before the Land Reforms Act, we made a waqf or a Trust. So it’s not private property. It’s 1020 acres that we made into an endowment. That was the way they were arguing in their case that it should not have been taken from them because it was an endowment and that was an exception in the Act that they will not take that land that was made an endowment or a waqf or a Trust. In 1977, nonetheless, after the final thing that I told you was the Land Reforms Act, the government took their land.

  • 102 acres (10%) of their land was left with them
  • 918 acres (90%) were taken
  • 250 acres were given to the peasants
  • the rest was taken by the government

These people appealed to the Federal Shari’ah Court in February, 1979. Then the case dragged on. Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) came in 1980 and he was the one on the bench who ruled on this case. This is one of the earliest cases to come to the Federal Shari’ah Court. It was a private citizen going to the court arguing that the Land Reforms Act is against Islam. Why? Because Islam accepts private property. Islam accepts that if there is something that’s someone’s property, you cannot take it away, what’s called ghassab, you cannot usurp someone’s private property no matter how noble the intention might be. This is basically their argument.

Then there were other cases that people filed in High Court. A KPK land owner filed a case in the Peshawar High Court, and the Peshawar High Court declared, although the Peshawar High Court, strictly speaking, constitutionally, doesn’t even have the authority to decide what’s Islamic or un-Islamic. If they want to address that question, they are supposed to refer the matter to the Federal Shari’ah Court. But without referring it, they themselves declared land reforms to be un-Islamic. Then the Kazi Bash guy also made that part of his case, because that’s what we call legal precedence, that the High Court has also said that it’s un-Islamic, therefore I’m taking it to Federal Shari’ah Court, you people should say that it’s un-Islamic and therefore I get my land back. This is just to show you how this case started.

Arguments Presented by the Government

We are basically suing the government. The government made two arguments in defense of the Land Reforms Act. There are just two, I am not presenting just two of them, but they made two and only two arguments. From Islamic Law perspective, you would think the case is now in Federal Shari’ah Court, because now it’s a case of Islamic Law, the government should also bring in many verses of Qur’an, quotes from mufassireen, many ahadith, hadith commentaries, previous Jurists’ opinions and past fatwas. One verse, that’s it. Just one verse of Qur’an al-Kareem, that’s the level of the government’s ability to argue its case in the Federal Shari’ah Court, and I don’t think the government’s ability has gotten much better in the last 20-30 years.

The first reason they gave was this verse:

Indeed the Earth belongs to Allah, He should bequeath it to whom He wills from His creatures. [7:128]

That’s correct. But what does that have to do with Land Reforms Act? Allah (swt) didn’t make the Land Reforms Act, you i.e. government made the Land Reforms Act. You are supposed to defend it. Interestingly, what they were trying to say, although I don’t think they even realized this, this would be what would be called pure, classical, communist Marxism which is that there is no such thing as owning land. That’s what, strictly speaking, Marxism believes. That was the Marxist ideal that you would move to a classless society by moving to a landless society.

When Marx was writing, although it was after the Industrial Revolution, but still class was mostly based on land. His idea and his dream was to make people classless. That itself is a beautiful dream. Classless means there is equity between humanity and that’s a very Islamic concept. But he wanted to make the society, or any society that chose to be Marxist, classless by making them landless. There was no ownership allowed in private property. Don’t look at what the Soviets of the Chinese did. They are not Marxist, they are totally Capitalist, the whole world realizes that now. But just because they didn’t follow Marxism, doesn’t change what Marxism is. Just like if a Muslim doesn’t follow Islam, it doesn’t change what Islam is. Islam is what it is, even if Muslims don’t follow it. Marxism is what it is even if Chinese and Russians don’t follow it.

The reason I’m mentioning this to you is because this was the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and it enters Zia ul Haq’s time. Marxism was very much in vogue and in fashion in Karachi in intellectual circuits. The Marxists joined the government in the defense of the Land Reforms Act. Up till today, and literally there were a couple of professors from LUMS who used to and up till today hate Mufti Taqi Usmani specifically because of this ruling which I am going to show you he is about to give that the Land Reforms Act is indeed against Islam.

The second reason they gave was welfare. They tried to argue in Islamic sense of maslaha; public welfare, the public good, the greater good. So they argued with one ayah, and the concept of maslaha for the sake of public welfare.

Mufti Taqi Usmani’s Reply

First of all, he mentioned another verse:

To Allah belongs all that is in the Heavens and in the Earth. [2:284]

Are you going to do reforms of what lies in the heavens as well? Are you going to re-allot plots in samawat, just like you are claiming to re-allot plots in the ardh? So this is something else. This is referring to the dominion of Allah (swt), His absolute dominion and sovereignty over every single thing. The verse that they quoted cannot be used to negate private ownership any more than this verse can be.

Then he tried to do a reform by suggesting that they should be brought to a system of Mudarabah. It’s very long. For several pages he talks about the abuses of the Feudal class on the peasant farmers. There are so many abuses; they are paid such horrible wages, they are mistreated. All of these things should be stopped. In other words, he said that rather than take the land away from the land owner, you should criminalize their abuse of the peasant farmers and you should criminalize their economic subjugation of those peasant farmers by giving them such small compensation. And rather they should move to a Mudarabah arrangement where somebody owns the land and another person does the work, and the profit shared in ratio between the farmer and the land owner should be something that in our Shari’ah we call ma’roof, you can call it for purposes like this an economically, marketly equitable share of that profit.

But strictly speaking, the catch there, and this is why the Marxists were upset with him, is that that was just his opinion. The judgment is simply on this; is Land Reforms Act Islamic or un-Islamic? The judgement is that it is un-Islamic, and the rest of his opinion nobody followed because, to be fair also, constitutionally, that wasn’t the ambit of his case. His ruling can only carry force simply on this matter; whether Land Reforms Act is Islamic or not. That’s the only affect it has. All the other stuff he wanted would require another act. You could call it Feudal Oppression Zone Reform Act, and that would be then to make sure that the land owner doesn’t do all the mistreatment and abuse. But his own opinion doesn’t carry that enforcing power, although he wrote about it, but none of that stuff ever came into existence.

Then he mentions, because there are many ahadith, irrelevant of how much it may dismay and disappoint the Marxists, that Islam does allow private property. No doubt, that is one basic feature of Capitalism — the ownership of private property. Ownership of private property in of itself is not oppressive, remember I told you yesterday, those things that are at the level of permission may be abused. Islam will not take away the permission for that reason. For example, in the case of divorce, which we did yesterday, Allah (swt) created the permission of divorce. Of course Allah (swt) knows people will abuse and misuse that and divorce improperly, wrongly and unfairly, but that permission needs to be there.

That’s true for any system of law. When any system of law declares something legal, it doesn’t mean they are guaranteeing that the legality won’t be abused. People will abuse it, misuse it, but they will say we have no basis to declare this thing illegal. So there’s no Shar’i basis to declare ownership of private property illegal, and on the contrary, as I mentioned this to you, there’s a whole book actually and then he wrote another book on the topic, separate from his rulings. So you can read about 200-300 pages on this in Urdu, if you want. There are many ahadith that he talks about; maal in the ownership of property, in the ownership of assets; that Islam recognizes and acknowledges ownership of assets.

Then, when the government uses the welfare argument, they had tried to extract or you can even say in a way they tried to do qiyas; they tried to infer from the Islamic concept of zakat that zakat is about welfare for the poor, so we are just following the spirit of zakat when we are trying to do land reforms. His reply was that zakat doesn’t negate the ownership of the wealth. It actually only takes place when you own the wealth, and when you have owned it for one year, then you have to pay zakat. Zakat is definitely a welfare principle, but it doesn’t negate ownership of wealth.

Another thing, which is famous in Arabic, is called Muzara’a which in English is called sharecropping, and this is another very interesting debate from the very earliest debates of Islamic Jurisprudence that is Muzara’a permissible or not? Mufti Taqi Usmani’s position, and this has been the majority’s position throughout history, is that it is permissible and so he gave some of those arguments as well. It means he gave something similar, in Arabic we call this nazir; what’s the closest similar case that we can find from the lifetime of Prophet (sws) or the Khulafa-e-Rashidoon or the Salaf Saliheen? This is the order:

  • Prophet (sws)
  • Khulafa-e-Rashidoon (ra)
  • Sahaba (ra)
  • Tabi’in (rh)
  • Tabi’ Tabi’in (rh)

These are the more authoritatively precedent. So Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) found precedent for this in the time of Prophet (sws) and from Khulafa-e-Rashidoon in the time of Syedna Umar (ra) that they allowed, which is what sharecropping means, that you allow this arrangement that one party owns the land, there’s a different party that works the land and they share in the profit and produce of the product which is called the crop. This is to show you he has given a very long and detailed reply to the one verse and one principle of welfare argument presented by the government. So that was his argument and some features about his ruling. I will explain some things to you.

  1. You cannot impose limits on private ownership of any goods. For example, if a billionaire comes and he wants to buy one million acres, it’s permissible. He can do that. Again, remember permission is not the same as prescription, it’s not the same as preference, it’s not the same as recommendation, it’s not the same as obligation. Because, no doubt, other than the permission part, owning such large amounts of land is not in any way the preference of Islam, or the recommendation of Islam, and obviously not an obligation in Islam. Here, you have this principle of sadaqah, but that’s voluntary, and it has always been, you can never make it compulsory. But there are so many tax on sadaqah, and I don’t know if you know this but there are some reports by American think tanks that Pakistan is one of the philanthropic countries in the world. But that has to be voluntary. You cannot forcibly confiscate or cease a person’s land.
  2. Welfare is the responsibility of the state towards the citizens, not the private individuals. If there’s an issue that there’s a welfare concern for peasant farmers, it’s not the job of the private land owner to see to their welfare, it’s the job of the state to see to their welfare.

Then when he announces these recommendations, he tells the state, which is again outside the ambit of his case of ruling, but he tells them this is what you should be doing. There are other ways to fix this problem. And I already explained to you what were the things. He suggests a whole bunch of other reforms, but the end result and affect of this was that the Land Reforms Act was declared un-Islamic and after that no form of land reforms occurred, and one by one people tried to get their land back.

It didn’t always work out smoothly, because once the poor people have been given land how can they give it back? But the Kazi bash people got a fair amount back. To be fair to them, I mean I have never met them, but I will assume that they were more interested in the land that was unaccounted for. I don’t think people got back the land that was given to the poor, or probably they were not even bothered by that. But the unaccounted land, and probably also the land that went to the government, that must have been what they were most upset about and they got a lot of that back.

Islamic Banking

This was something that took place in 1980-1982. What I did in that paper was that I fast forwarded to 2016, which is 34 years later. Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) has been involved for the past 10-20 years in yet another area which is Islamic Banking and there’s another case that plays out a bit differently. But what I want to show you about the land reforms is that for the sake of Islamic Banking, he has perhaps developed a more refined toolkit now than he had at his own disposal in 1981-82 when he was looking at land reforms.

For the sake of Islamic Banking & Finance, which was to find some halal or interest-free alternative to all of these very complicated, western, capitalist modes and modalities of investment financing, he has done a couple of interesting things. Interestingly, then there was a whole group of new town ulema who wrote a book critiquing him for doing it. And then he wrote a whole book in response to it.

There’s another interesting anecdote, once a LUMS student came to me and he wanted to do a project on Islamic Law. He said I want to look at some recent debate. I told him to read these two books. I said I haven’t read them but these are the things that have just come out. You tell me which one do you think is right. He actually read the book in Urdu that the new town ulema had written critiquing Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) and then he read the book that Mufti Taqi wrote in response to them. Then he came to me in the office and he said it’s clear-cut completely one way, there’s no question about it. This one person has answered anything and everything they have said. He showed all the fallacies and all the flaws in the arguments. There’s nothing much to write about. I said, so just write that. So he wrote his whole senior project on that.

But in his reply what I found, and someday when I get a chance to sit with him, more beneficial things as opposed to other things that I talk to him about these days, I’ll try to raise this with him, in that book he talks about a lot of things that he didn’t do for land reforms.

One of the things he did for Islamic Banking was ifta bil madhabin akhir: You can legitimately use positions of Maliki fiqh, Shafi’i fiqh, Hanbali fiqh for this greater purpose of the war on interest. So he has done that. He has gone beyond Hanafi fiqh, which is one of the critics, not the only, but one of the major ones that the ulema wrote against him. He defended himself against that saying that there are certain cases, and that’s something that I want to show you, when required and when needed to the extent needed, we do say you can go beyond Hanafi fiqh. If you didn’t do that, you wouldn’t have this Islamic Banking & Finance. And there is a whole other area of cutting-edge usul he has used to do this.

What I wonder, and one day if I ever get a chance to catch him totally free and sit down with him, is that if he takes his new toolkit and goes back to the issue of land reforms, he might actually come up with a better, and more interesting Islamic way to figure out what to do because the issue is still there; we still have the Feudal system, we still have the oppression of the peasant farmers, we still have the horrific conditions. Everything now is exactly as bad as it was 34 years ago. The problem is he is out of the system, that I will do later with the slides, he was deliberately removed when he was taken out in 2002. There was a reason for this. This is General Musharraf, he would deliberately remove him from his position due to the interest issue.

To be fair to him (Mufti Taqi [db]), it’s not his fault really, but one of the things we explored in our paper was that part of it is class. When you have capitalist factory owners and rich people come to you as a mufti and tell you that we need you to devise a system for us, we are not saying you are going to take money from them, but there’s a motivation to do it. I know personally several rich factory owners and businessmen who go to muftis and tell them, try to make Islamic bank, try to make Islamic investment. Who has ever even gone to Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) as a spokesman for the poor?

Part of it is that a lot of these things are demand-driven, so to speak, as many things are. A lot of research in the world is demand-driven. If a pharmaceuticals company tells Harvard’s department of biochemistry that we are going to give you a $10 million grant because we need this medicine for some reason, the Harvard biochemistry department will get to work on it. But if they don’t get that grant, and they don’t get that demand, they might not work on it on their own. So the capitalist class of this country, in a good way, highest mutaqi, salih, capitalist’s of country went to different ulema and muftis, repeatedly and persistently, over decades, with this demand that we need you to come up with halal ways of investment and finance, and nobody has done that on the behalf of the feudal poor. Again, Mufti Taqi (db) is not a full-time qadhi. The full-time qadhis will take the suo motu notice and realize what’s going on with the poor anyway. But I have explained this to you, we don’t have that system anymore.

You don’t know, liberals don’t know, how many liberal values and progressive goals would be fixed if we did what I told you about reforms. A perfect case is this. There may be no force other than Islamic Law, I feel the only hope for the feudal poor is Islamic Law. But we need to somehow activate that. And unfortunately, sometimes the reason why legal research is not activated is because we know there’s no enforcement. So if I go to Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) and I tell him to work on this, he is going to do it.  We can spend days and nights, and months, cooking up and designing the perfect way to address the issue of the poor by their feudal land owners, but nobody’s going to do it. Over here, we had private sector people saying that if you designed for us the bank, we will build it, so Meezan guy built it. We had people saying if you designed for us Sukuk, we would buy it. We had people saying if you designed for us the Musharaka contract, we will start using it. We had people saying if you designed for us the Mudarabah, we will change our whole business on it. So it’s not just about the demand, it’s also about the execution.

To be fair to him, if he is thinking what should I work on? Here I can see follow-up and follow-through and project execution taking place so I’m going to work on that. Here there is nothing. I might know better than him that he is right from political science perspective, he would be even more right because nobody cares about the poor in this country. All of the interest groups; whether it’s army, feudal, capitalists, every one would resist this project. And, like I told you, the political parties are dependent on this feudal control. The day feudal system ends in Sindh is the day PPP’s monopoly ends in Sindh. Then they will have to win on their own merit; on the basis of their platform, their policies. They could still win. But they will have to do it the right way. They will not have that guaranteed voter-bank anymore. So they would also obviously resist this. That’s the sad thing.

I have to tell you another controversial topic, but now you will understand it. This is why you need Islamic Law and the State together. This isn’t some radical concept, because without the enforcing capacity of the state, Islamic Law loses its teeth. Yes, here there was some enforcement on the private sector, and as I will show you in case of interest, there was some enforcement in state also, which created space for Islamic Banks to operate.

Here, on the issue of the poor, and in terms of land reforms, again we wouldn’t do land reforms but we could find a way to solve problem that exists. Land reforms is one way to solve it, Islamic Law will find a different way. That usually doesn’t take place because we don’t have the state. There’s no enforcement mechanism, there’s no implementation mechanism. Forget state, there’s no actor in the state, there is no political actor, there is no vested interest, there is no powerbroker at all that cares about the poor in this country. That’s why you need the state.

So now I have shown you why you need Islamic Law, why you need a State, and why the State needs Islamic Law. Otherwise, a lot of the great things in our deen will not be implemented. The solution to this is through our own legal tradition, that’s my position, as opposed to political parties, or making tanzims, or trying to make khilafat. It’s never going to happen. People who had these ideas, had ikhlas, no doubt, but if you look at it honestly, they haven’t even moved one inch closer to establishing khilafat. It’s just not possible. All of their ikhlas couldn’t do it because you need more than ikhlas when it comes to fixing the world.

When it comes to fixing yourself, fixing your akhirah, fixing your relationship with Allah (swt), sometimes ikhlas is the be-all and end-all. But when it comes to the other things that people talk about — the social reality, remember I told you the fourth thing in deen is the social reality — when it comes to fixing the social reality, ikhlas is a necessary, but not a sufficient in of itself condition. You need to do it the way Allah (swt) guided you to do it. That’s called Shari’ah.

So when you hear the word Shari’ah, don’t think some medieval beware code. Shari’ah is the way and the path to attain social and economic justice in any reality, in any culture, in any society, in any time according to wish and will and guidance of Allah (swt) by a person who has ikhlas. If you don’t have Shari’ah, you can’t touch feudalism, you can’t touch corruption. You have so many things you can’t touch. Your hands are tied. You have voluntarily tied your hands from using a system that is revealed by Allah (swt) in His infinite knowledge and His infinite wisdom and His infinite mercy; al-Aleem, al-Hakim, ar-Rahim. That’s His hidayah for us.

The reason I’m stressing this now, so I used all of these words; Islamic Law, State, Shari’ah, is because other people use these three words for these radical extremist concepts. So we should not shy away from them. It’s important that the ulema should explain the proper understanding of these concepts. Otherwise, even many religious people don’t want to hear the word Islamic Law, they don’t want to hear the word Shari’ah, they don’t want to hear the word State. Because they say that’s the radicalist, and I’m, well, a normal person. Why are you giving up? Why are you abandoning all of Islamic Law and Shari’ah and State?

Understand, for 1200 years — that’s longer than Roman Empire, longer than Byzantine Empire, longer than Persian Empire, longer than Chinese Empires, longer than Khan Dynasties, and way longer than United States of America, in fact at that time the world was going through a depression, it really became the superpower shortly before and due to World War II, it’s not even a hundred years yet — we had 1200 years, we did this in the history of this ummah, we did it, we made systems of law which enacted and established Shari’ah and justice through Shari’ah across different cultures and societies, over 1200 years, with, like I told you, definitely very noticeable and serious lapses and gaps as well, across time, and across places, but overall it was still being done. If there was a gap here, it was being done somewhere else.

There’s no time in the first 1200 years where you could say it was not happening anywhere. Our current condition is like that. In our current condition, there’s no place on earth, and this is how you should frame it, not how there’s no place in the earth where thieves get their hands cut, there is Saudi Arabia. But there’s no place on earth where Shari’ah is being used to enact social and economic justice that Allah (swt) wants as a part of the hidayah of humanity. That requires much more than just cutting a thief’s hands off. But in our history, it’s there, and we did it. This is what I call reform through renewal. Not reforming Islam. Reforming society through the renewal of Islamic Law. Not reforming the Islamic Law for the renewal of society. Reforming the ills in society and economy and polity through the renewal and re-enactment of Islamic Law and Shari’ah.

Zakat

Now I’m going to the next case. The first case i.e. of land reforms, I chose to do in detail for you. The second case I did briefly. And the third thing, I just want to give you this idea about zakat. Because zakat is something that I think could be a private sector initiative. Land reforms cannot take place without the state. Although it is being done to an extent in private sector, one of the critics people have about Islamic Banking and Finance is that it has not brought about a change in the welfare, which is also something that truly an Islamic economic system can do. And that is correct. It will not bring about a change in welfare until it’s done at the majority level. That cannot be done without the state. Yes, it can be a minority level of accounts and capitals and banks, that can be done through private sector’s initiative — people who want to do tawba from riba and open up Islamic bank accounts, or businessmen who want to do tawba from interest-based financing and move to Islamic financing.

That itself is a huge, tremendous, enormous success that at least there is a path out, and this is the greatest achievement of Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) that he created a path out of sin. This is itself tajdeedi karnama (act of renewal) that there were people who were stuck in sin with no way out. People would say, I mean I wasn’t here, but I can imagine that people in 60’s and onwards would go to him and say that I’m a businessman and there is no way out of interest. You cannot operate other than interest. So he listened, and he got them a way out. This is tajdeed of deen. This is fard al-kifaya, this is the level of work that he did.

Next thing that people want is that they should transform the society in terms of welfare. That won’t take place unless the vast majority does it. Allah’s (swt) barakah is not going to come if just the minority makes tawba. Allah’s (swt) barakah comes on a society or a country when the vast majority makes tawba and only a minority is left in that sin. As all of you know, no matter how much Islamic banking might be growing, the vast majority of people, businesses and companies are still involved in this sin. So there also you need the state.

The third thing I told you was zakat’s ability to eliminate poverty, but at a micro level, maybe picking one particular basti or area and figuring out a way to apply zakat to them in such a way, not just that they get their medical care, or clothes, but to overtime actually uplift their income level. You take them out of the class that is known as the ultra-poor. That is something that could at least be applied on a micro level by a private sector initiative and then could be replicated, and might even one day attract interest of the state. If the state starts doing it, then it could inshaAllah eliminate poverty in the entire country, and eventually the entire ummah. It could begin at least as a private sector initiative. Much like the Islamic banking and finance has begun like that, and now that’s enough. They have all the research done, practice, experience, documents’ blueprints, that were the state ever to adopt it, it could be used all the way.

Interest

Now just to show you a bit of politics, so to speak, of Islamic law in this country. In 1991, a case came in front of the Federal Shari’ah Court, and following its constitutional mandate, it had to decide whether interest was repugnant to Islamic injunctions i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah. In 1991, the Federal Shari’ah Court passed the decision that interest and any and all laws pertaining to and facilitating interest are repugnant to the Qur’an and Sunnah Islamic injunction. Now what happens is that immediately banks file an appeal. It’s a feature in Pakistani judicial system that things drag on, so the very vested powerbrokers want it to drag on, and it drags on till 1999 i.e. for 8 years. Which means that once it’s appealed, justice is suspended because it is called a pending appeal, otherwise it was immediately supposed to become law, like I told you, under constitution all courts have to follow it. But once you file the appeal, it’s suspended. So from 1991-99, all the banks continue to work freely because that decision was suspended.

Now what’s supposed to happen, according to the constitution in any other country, once the Supreme Court hears an appeal and passes a decision, it’s finished. That’s it. But you are going to watch how this plays out, and I will update you further on some of the latest stuff that has happened. Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) was not alone, he was one ‘alim on that three-person Shari’ah Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court. They heard the appeal, but they upheld the Federal Shari’ah Court’s ruling, therefore according to Pakistan’s own constitution, and any legal understanding in the world, it now should immediately become law.

So in 1999, appeal heard by the Shari’ah Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court upholds the Federal Shari’ah Court’s ruling and bans interest in all its form by whatever name it may be called. This was also his kamal — learning that these people use language and semantics to get out of things, like profit, because there were people operating on the PLS — Profit Loss Sharing account. It was just a marketing ploy, basically a fraud, to make you think that it wasn’t interest. As a consequence of this judgment, certain laws will cease to take effect, it means the laws that were facilitating pertaining to allowing interest, from March 31, 2000, some other laws from July 31, 2000, and all other laws permitting or condoning interest from June 30, 2001.

That’s fair enough and shows a very sophisticated level of understanding of his that if you need to roll out things, and we are making such a huge change, then you have to do it in phases. To give you the contemporary example, when the UK is going to leave the EU, it takes time. These things take time. So they basically have, like this, certain benchmarks, a certain timeline, until the complete withdrawal from EU takes place. Just like that, a complete timeline was set by the Shari’ah Appellate Bench, so if you go from 1999-2001, basically about 2 years’ timeline was given.

At this time, we had General Parvez Musharraf. So when June 30, 2002 came, it wasn’t all finished. And now he was in this awkward position that there is a standing Supreme Court ruling saying that it’s all over now. The timeline is finished. We have reached the last stage, and there is a Justice still sitting there, Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) who passed this ruling, and he is talking about this that the date has expired. So on June 11, 2002 Musharraf removes Mufti Taqi Usmani after 20 years of service from the Shari’ah Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Another interesting thing that happens, if you remember your Pakistani politics, there was the whole judicial crisis that took place at this time. There were the PCO judges, and then people didn’t like the PCO judges, and finally when Musharraf is removed, then your Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, remember that fellow? He comes back and gets rid of all of the PCO judges. Remember the constitutional judges took hold under Pervez Musharraf, he nullifies all of them?

Next thing that he does, on June 24, 2002 — just look at the dates; June 11 and then June 24, 13 days, this is not a conspiracy theory, it’s not possible, nothing moves so fast. Go back to 1991-99 i.e. 8 years to just to hear the appeal. Within 13 days of removal of Hadrat Mufti Taqi Usmani, another bench with new judges was appointed, and within 13 days they decide to suspend the ruling. How did they suspend the ruling? They came up with a unique idea which has no constitutional basis, that we will refer it back to Federal Shari’ah Court. It had already come up to you from the Federal Shari’ah Court, you already had a standing decision on it, they come up with this thing that we will remand the case back to the Shari’ah Court so they may re-examine this, whether it is truly against the injunctions of Islam, within 13 days.

Fast forward, several years after this, first thing the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry should have done was what he did; that he removed the PCO judges. The second thing he should have done, if there was any way that Musharraf had interfered with the proper workings of Justice, he should have turned that back. The very next thing he should have done was this. He should have said that this Supreme Court ruling, which was made by those PCO judges on June 24, 2002 to remand the case back to the FSC, we as the current Supreme Court declare that null and void, and the act is back where it was, according to proper legal norms.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, despite all of his Harvard awards, and all of his global fame, did nothing of this sort. What would that mean? He was also just a puppet of these bankers and these powerbrokers and the major financial players. Because this is what judicial integrity demands. It’s not once or twice, this person spoke repeatedly against Musharraf, and he presents himself at that time, and still does, to the world as the Justice of integrity who rolled back everything that the military dictator did, except this. Why not? Why not this?

From 2002, as of 2015, I will tell you the latest, for these 13 years the case is pending. When it is pending, so this law which was supposed to be enacted from June 30, 2001, according to the Supreme Court ruling, all law had to immediately cease to exist. Null and void. That is still suspended because for 13 years it had been pending. What happened in 2015 and 2016, and I don’t know the latest, but in this time the government, particularly UBL, I want to name them because I have one document, so United Bank Limited, they hired this fellow Salman Akram Raja, I will name him because he has chosen to be the lawyer for this, and it is a matter of public record.

Salman Akram Raja, along with a bunch of other lawyers, are preparing a deep argument, looking at al-Azhar, looking at Mr. Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, looking at other people who basically believe interest is fine, and trying in a very, very elaborate — not like that old one-verse argument, this Salman Akram Raja guy knows his stuff — so a very elaborate document is being prepared. And when they feel that they are ready, Allahu Alam what’s going to happen, but I don’t know if anything has happened in the last 9 months. Last I kept track of this was in 2015. To the best of my knowledge, the case hasn’t happened yet, but they were preparing for the case, and again the case would be in the Federal Shari’ah Court.

What would happen? Let’s say they lose, or lets say they win, either side will appeal. Lets say they win, and the Federal Shari’ah Court decides interest is not against injunctions of Islam. Then obviously, people like us will appeal, or Mufti Taqi (db) will get people who will appeal it. How long will that appeal take? It could take 10-20 years to be held by the Supreme Court. If they lose, they will appeal. Either way, they bought their time. This is also what I was trying to tell you, which is the second part, that the reason Islamic banking and finance is not going further is not because the ulema and mashaikh don’t want it to go further. We want Madni financial system, we want to take it all the way. But you can’t do that without the state. And I have showed you the state’s obstruction in the process. The state is obstructing and preventing the process from going any further. So it is limited to minority level of financing in this country, which is a private sector initiative, but don’t underestimate that still, at least it is a way out of the sin and the evil of riba.

Sometimes when we used to do this in the university that look if I get you out of the bathroom, it’s a big thing, I got you out of nijasat. It doesn’t mean I took you all the way to Madina Munawwara. I just got you out of the bathroom. That was one big journey. Now the next step is, once you are out of the bathroom, you are out of nijasat, to find the purest type of purity, and that would be the Madni financial system. But that requires a complete overhaul. And a complete overhaul can’t be done by the muftis. It has to be done by the state, the government, by the stakeholders. But that can be done. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not that it can’t be done. For some people, they will have to take it as a part of their faith in Islam. But I’m telling you, Allah (swt) is al-Hadi. His sifat of ‘adl and hidayah are there in the Qur’an and Sunnah. It’s not just that it’s His own intrinsic attribute. He had manifested His sifat of guidance and justice through this revealed religion of deen of Islam. Any and every type of justice, fairness, equity can be discovered and adopted through the hidayah that is known as deen of Islam.

It’s not like it can’t be done, it’s not like the ulema and muftis don’t want it to be done, but it’s not going to practically happen without the people to make it happen. So this was to show you there are ulema working in these areas. There is scope for deen of Islam to make an impact on society. And I’m not trying to do a complete denial and refutation of people who try to use political or social movements. But I’m actually showing that knowledge is not entirely just academic. Even knowledge in our deen has the ability to be used and developed and applied to actually impact society.

More on Zakat

Third idea is a project that I have delayed till 2018 due to my own busyness, and due to my lack of success in being able to do this in 2015. So in 2015 I had an idea, and I will share it with you that idea, what I tried to do and how I failed to do it. That was what I have mentioned to you a couple of times about zakat; that zakat must have the ability to absolutely eliminate and eradicate poverty altogether. But obviously it would do that one step at a time. It’s like an eraser. So if I have to erase the whole board, but to check if the eraser works, that I can tell just by erasing a little bit.

Another problem is that, unfortunately, a lot of people misuse zakat, misapply zakat, and some people, without revealing to you all the details, but they use something that is called hila-e-zakat, which is kind of a legal loophole to use zakat technically in a permissible way, but it will not really help eliminate poverty. It will not be used for the spirit of zakat, but it will be used according to the letter. Obviously, every letter has been revealed by Allah (swt) to create a spirit and to create a reality. So these are the reasons why zakat may not be having the affect Allah (swt) wanted it to have.

The idea I had was that I would get a group of people; muftis, economists, social workers/NGOs, public policy, myself and we would form a working group and do some research, both in Islamic law and Islamic history, and in public policy, and economics, social work — because there is a lot of effort through the organizations in the world which are trying to combat poverty — and try to see if we can come up with ideally the best, but it may not be a single best, rather a better or more ideal way to distribute zakat which has more of an impact, which is, again, to take the poor out of their poverty. That’s the asal; to take the poor out of their poverty, not only to give the poor medicines, healthcare, clothing, shelter and elementary schools.

One reason I failed in this was because of my own lack of expertise in this area and lack of time that I could dedicate to this project.

Another reason I failed was that I went to one economist who wasn’t very religious. He was semi-practicing but seemed to be deen-friendly. But during one conversation I realized that he was upset at the limits obviously me and the muftis would place on the project in terms of Shari’ah compliance. For example, there is a place in Bangladesh called Grameen Bank, and this person Muhammad Grameen once won a Noble or a Peace Prize, or some other prize. But that was for interest-based micro-finance. And at that time a lot of people were upset with ulema who were saying interest is haram because they thought don’t you see the great benefit this can have? There have been some interest-free micro-finance initiatives even here in Pakistan, but nothing to the level of Grameen Bank, but it at least shows it can be done. So I realized from him that he would not be happy with us putting certain restrictions, which is very unfortunate because he is actually a wonderful person. But we lost him.

I went to an economist who was outwardly much more religious and practicing in deen. His view was that whatever I say would be correct because I’m an economist and you people don’t know anything about that. So we don’t need this group. I will just sit down and tell you what to do, and you people should to do it. And then he engaged in a huge, long critic of Mufti Taqi (db) and Islamic banking, so I say okay I can’t work with him. Obviously a person has to try with more than two people, I accept that. One of the reason being, like I told you, that I couldn’t devote enough time to the project.

I found it hard. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because this is also a problem; this inability of people from different backgrounds and perspectives to come together, this isn’t there in the dunya. If I was a CEO, I could easily make a committee of people from all types of different backgrounds, and just because I’m the CEO, and just for the sake of increasing the corporate profit, they will sit down and work with each other as peers. They won’t be like I’m the sales guy, or I’m the marketing guy which is better. They will all sit together and they will do it. They will be willing to outsource consulting. They will be willing to hire change-management consultants. And they will say we trust you, whatever you people say we will do it. That level of trust isn’t there.

It’s a problem whether it’s among ulema, or between ulema and other professional experts of knowledge. That problem also wasn’t there in our first 1200 years of history. Like today, in America they call it expert’s testimony. If you look at old qadhi courts, you will see experts testifying; jurists, judges, statesmen, bureaucrats, all working together, again, with large gaps and lapses, but you see it also throughout 1200 years. That’s also something that is lacking now. In fact there are literally very few such places where any such interactions can take place, call it an idea-lab, call it whatever you want. How many times will you see a mufti and an economist or a social worker and a bureaucrat sitting at one table talking about anything to do in society? It’s almost non-existent. So these interactions and engagements don’t take place, that’s why there’s no real dynamism and synergy.

So anyway, in 2018 we plan to resume and we plan to try that again. I don’t know how far it would go. It’s an idea. I will also tell you very frankly, a lot of people have tried to give us zakat for our own on-going project, and we strictly don’t take zakat. Because we don’t personally believe in using the hila-e-zakat. But with the amount of money people were trying to give in zakat, we realized that mashaAllah people have serious amounts of money to give in zakat, and apparently they trust us to use that, so maybe Allah (swt) is opening up another door for me so we could do some khidmet of the poor.

That’s a very big thing, I will be telling you about this in the afternoon. Khidmet of the poor is one big thing that is missing from the best of believers, forget ordinary people. One of the greatest attributes of the Anbiya (as) was the khidmet of the poor, suhbat of the poor, muhabbat with the poor, and mahbubiyat of the poor and rafaqat with the poor. After the Anbiya (as) this used to be the hallmark of awliya Allah. No doubt, awliya and tasawwuf is about dhikr, qurb with Allah (swt), tazkiya, purification from sins, but this was also a very big thing. And that’s one thing, because I’m also a part of the tradition of tasawwuf that we are lacking. We don’t have that.

So this is one thing, along with the other thing we did on land reforms, because I have been to the rural areas of Pakistan also, not even once or twice, I have traveled in this country. The type of poverty you see it’s ajeeb. And the poor have no friend, they have no spokesmen, they have no patron, no benefactor, they are, what you call, lawaris. Barring, you know, there are some NGOs, international and domestic organizations who are trying. But overall the picture that you get, again, it comes back to politics, because there are no real genuine social or civil movements in this country.

Q&A

The problem with sitting together of ulema and people from different professions, is it because of two separate educational systems?

This could be one reason; that we have two separate systems of education, religious learning and secular. But it’s not that simple either. People can still get together. You will have sometimes, in the name of consulting, the engineer who runs to automation technology and the sales and fine they all went to different systems, find they work in a university, but they were basically differently educated and they are willing to sit and work together. So I don’t think it’s enough to explain it. No doubt, that’s a separate topic how you can integrate religious educations with professional education. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how to integrate people who have non-religious education and religious education. In fact, I think that would be the pre-requisite of integrating the systems themselves; if you cannot integrate persons, how are you going to integrate entire systems.

What about convincing a particular party to take the approach of socio-economic equality?

No doubt, that could be an effort. But that itself speaks volumes that a political party that has been around for decades would need me to go to them and give them this idea of social justice and  economic equality. That’s their job. It’s like saying why not go to the doctors and tell them they should actually heal people. If a person doesn’t realize that, and he is in that profession, that’s a big problem in of itself. But it does point out to something, which is important, which in English we call advocacy. We need people who engage in advocacy, who go to political parties, who even, I will go one step further than this, even join political parties with the intention to try to bring good policies in their platforms. It doesn’t mean I would necessarily advice anyone of you in particular to join any specific political party, but I’m saying generally as a society that might be one problem.

I don’t know enough about this in the particular context of Pakistan. But I suspect that some of these parties have a structure that’s so rigid that they may not be so welcoming to somebody who is coming in, not because of the same class, or caste, but coming in purely because they want to introduce new and interesting ideas in social justice to the party-platform. I don’t know if there will be a platform. Things may not be as bad as I might think they are. No doubt, if they are not as bad as I think they are, then there would be scope to do the kind of effort that you are talking about.

When implementing the Islamic law at the state-level, how will differences of opinions between madhahib be addressed for individuals?

I told you, when you are talking about public policy, and this is one of the major things that Mufti Taqi Usmani (db) wrote in-depth in that book, which is a response to the critic of the new town ulema on some of his positions on Islamic banking, when you are talking about public good, greater good, systemic thing, you can cross madhabs and use different tools from different toolkits. That’s not just to fight the war on interest, that would be true for any and every public policy area. As far as person ibadah, and fiqh of ibadah and wudhu, the state has nothing to do with that. So that’s not an issue. That’s not a matter that comes in front of the courts or the bureaucracy or parliament.

How can the qadhi system be implemented in this day and age?

I don’t think it will be implemented in these days. It’s not possible to revive Islamic courts because courts provide a service function to a society that wants that service function. If ever you can recreate such individuals who want such a society, and then have a society that wants that service function, then the courts will be able to come back. Otherwise, there is no other way for them to come back. That’s my answer for 2-3 similar questions: how can you bring about state-level Islamic change, how can you bring about Islamic change in the parties?

Let me open this up. You have to look at the seerah. When you talk about history, the ultimate history is the history of the life of Nabi Kareem (sws), and the history of his (sws) life is also a source of hidayah for us. So when Nabi Kareem (sws) was in the Makkan phase, which lasted 8-10 years before hijrah, in that phase he (sws) did not try to change the society around him (sws), state is still out of the question. He (sws) did not try to change any type of policies, state, structure, or system. He (sws) didn’t initiate jihad. Otherwise, when Syedna Bilal (ra) was being tortured, they could have said we will do jihad on you. When they put him (sws) in the boycott in the valley, he (sws) didn’t do jihad. He (sws) could have said, forget it, they are putting us in boycott, we refuse, we will do jihad, fine, we will die, we will become shaheed, no problem. He (sws) didn’t do that. Why? Because he (sws) was at the level of building individuals and building a community.

After hijrah, when he (sws) went to Madinah Munawwarah, he (sws) did not sit down with Sahaba Karam (ra) and plan fateh Makkah. There was no military aspect to his (sws) coming to Madinah Munawwarah. In fact, he (sws) was fleeing from conflict. The first thing he (sws) did, which Nabi Kareem (sws) had already been doing, and had almost completed even before the arrival, was to completely patch up Aws and Khazraj so that there was domestic peace and harmony within Madinah Munawwarah. Then these new people who came, the muhajiroon i.e. the Makkans, he (sws) made what is called nisbat-e-mwakhat; he (sws) joined every Muhajir (ra) with every Ansar (ra), so there was complete harmony within the ummah.

Immediately thereafter, he (sws) made peace treaties with the neighboring Jewish tribes so that there was complete harmony in the foreign relations. That’s it. He (sws) made no plan of attacking Makkah Mukaramah. He (sws) didn’t send a message to Quraysh that now we are a society, we are coming after you. He (sws) just wanted to live in peace. Then the Makkans sent the army, first in Badr, then in Uhad, and then for those of you who know, it goes on and on and on. Ultimately, finally when Nabi Kareem (sws) realized that these people will never give up, so then he (sws) went back and did fateh Makkah.

If you look at the way the seerah unfolded, where do we find ourselves now, we are in the pre-hijrah Makkan stage. There is no concept of state. We are back at the level of individuals and trying to form communities. We are not even anywhere near society, let alone polity, let alone state. That’s my reading of it. And I will tell you openly, Jama’t-e-Islami has a different reading, Tanzim-e-Islami people have a different reading, other individual ulema may give you a different reading. What can you do? Next question will come that different ulema say different things, how do you know which one to follow? Follow whoever you want on this matter.

My advice for you, that for 99% of you, you really don’t need to figure this issue out, unless you are an activist who themselves is going to bring about change, and you really are planning to dedicate your life, it’s a big commitment and dedication, to bring about a change in society and state, unless you are this person, you don’t even need to discover the question that who is right about how to bring about that change. It’s just armchair journalism that you are doing. If you truly, really are an activist who’s going to dedicate the entire rest of your life in the service and khidmet of society, then yes you meet different ulema and whichever one you feel has the correct understanding of how to bring about that change, you do it. There’s no problem. But in a non-violent way. So that’s one signal for you. You can learn a lot from Gandhi. I know this is like heresy in Pakistan and I always do it in front of you, but Gandhi accomplished more with non-violence than some Muslims accomplished using violence. You to have see.

So there are a lot of questions on this line; everybody wants the state! I don’t know if I should say more to you. Our teacher used to say only say as much as the audience can digest. But at times I cannot estimate your ability and capacity to digest. I will just say that the fikr, the concern is very good. But you have to understand, is it a real thing? Or is it just an emotional thing — how to fix the system, how to get to state, how to get to state? Or are you really going to do something about it? And if you really are going to do something about it, like I told you, start with the best non-violent way that you think. Do it. You don’t need me to answer your question to do it. I don’t have a monopoly on religion.

What I say is that you need to work on individuals and communities, if you want to know what would be my answer to that. A house is made up of walls, and a wall is made up of bricks. Nobody is ever going to build a good house without good bricks. But if somebody says I’m going to build a house without good bricks, that’s fine. Go and try. I’m not going to stop you. I’m trying to make good bricks and trying to be a good brick. If they are clever, they say if you ever become a good brick, can we use you in our wall? Or will you give us your bricks for our walls? I’m just teasing you. But these are the things that are done.

Isn’t there a benefit in academically devising a plan even if it is not being implemented at state level?

Sometimes I think the academic society would have been a big thing. In our deen, we call it itmam-e-hujjat. Otherwise people will say that, you know, if we take interest away, how are you going to run the economy? Now there’s an answer for that, forget whether someone is implementing that or not, but the fact that an answer exists, or at least there is a dawah. The critics say what you are doing is just running 10% of the banking sector, if you ran it 100% it wouldn’t work. Fine, that’s your claim. But we claim that we have a way to run it 100%, because earlier had you given us 100% we wouldn’t even have been able to run it. Now we have a way to run it. You may not like the way we will run it, you might think the way we would run it won’t work. But we have a way in which we would run it. It has been done as far as the banking and financial sector, that’s just one aspect of society. There are many other things that are there.

Just to give you an example, if you read the Pakistan’s constitution, let’s say the ulema were trying to write the constitution, what would it look like? Nobody has done that. Even sometime purely academically, were people to do it, it would be interesting. It could even start some interesting conversations. It would be a platform for discussion. It’s possible some of those groups have done that. It could very well be possible that the Jama’t-e-Islami or Tanzim-e-Islami or others may have drafted what they felt would be the right thing to do. In fact, they should have, given that that’s their field.

South African political parties are pushing for land redistribution. Is it similar to what happened here in Pakistan?

This is a slightly different situation. The questioner is asking about, when you are talking about unlawful acquisition of land in the first place, which took place in South Africa with the Dutch boards coming in and basically they created a colonialism type of state. And this is the situation in almost all of the Sub-Saharan Africa. So 100% I personally believe that, but it’s problematic. Because what you are talking about is someone’s great-great-great-great grandfather misappropriated the land. This would require a lot of ulema to sit down and deliberate over the matter. But this much I can tell you, Islam will also acknowledge facts on the ground to a certain extent. And there will have to be a level of sulah that will have to take place between the white farmers over there and those who have been, even though they are descendant of colonial oppressors, but a lot of them have now become just peace-loving citizens of Zimbabwe, in South Africa.

So one way could be to start a discussion that how could we do some type of sulah. This concept of sulah is not just between brother and brother and families. It is also something used for social justice in society. It might be that we see this white farmer, how big is his family? What is his legitimate need, based on his legitimate standard of living with a reasonable comfort level and maybe let them keep their farm to that extent, and beyond that, the rest of the land can be given to the government. But things are never that easy. Because if you give it to the government, the problem is that the government is corrupt.

That is why you need a just government in place already before you do the societal reforms, but then you would also need a just society to get the just government. It is a very tricky thing. So the people may say how do you know the government will redistribute that land equitably, and unfortunately in the cases of these African countries, the answer is no, in fact we can guarantee you that they will not give it away equitably, whatever the political party is, all their puppets and cronies will be given these pieces of land taken away from the white farmers. The point is that Islamically speaking we will not necessarily recognize the private property ownership of somebody who acquired that land through colonialism. That is not a legitimate basis of ownership.

There is a particular question about Islamic banking, but my topic today was not Islamic banking, it was about the jurisprudence of the Shari’ah courts in Pakistan and how law plays in that. This much I will say that you have two options in life.

One is to be completely free of banks and to keep your money in your drawer and to run a business on whatever existing capital you have, and have no concept of financing. Obviously, that is a safer way.

Second is that you say I need to, for whatever reason, be engaged in banks. If you say that you need to be engaged in banks, then you have only two possibilities.

  1. Those banks that everyone agrees are not Shari’ah compliant and are interest-based.
  2. Those banks that a lot of ulema have certified as Shari’ah compliant but you might not fully understand what’s the difference between them, but at least there is this difference that there are a number of ulema who say it is Shari’ah compliant.

These are the only two choices you have. There is no other choice. So I think it’s only rational that if you must engage in any type of business; personal current account or the investment relation with the bank, then obviously it’s clear that you should choose those banks that have been certified by reputable ulema, even though that certification might be contested by others, even though you might not be able to understand, because the other choice is guaranteed, all the ulema agree on that they are not Shari’ah compliant.


How to Increase Baseerat

[These are rough notes of a talk delivered by Alimah S. Ahmed on April 24, 2016.]


Allah swt is al-Baseer, He is all-Perceiving, He knows about everything no matter how concealed or shrouded. In yesteryear, we used to have paper etc, then we had TV that was 2D, then we had 3D. They have amusement parks where you can smell as well, as an added affect to 3D, so they call it 4D. Now they also have something called 5D. So there are various dimensions. 

There was a book named The Little Prince in our childhood. When a child reads it, they look at it differently. But as you age, you will read that book on a different level than a child, you will read deeper meanings and deeper themes into it. 

The person is the same but their dimensions are changing, their dimensions of perception are increasing. It means that the dimension of our perception is not static; it can be increased. The Allah-walas look at the world through a different dimension; they have a different level of baseerat. So how can we increase our baseerat? 

Know that Allah (swt) is qareeb. Allah (swt) says in Quran that when my servant asks you about Me, indeed I am near. Try to always remember that Allah (swt) is near you. Then you will get a deeper understanding. Allah (swt) says when a person mentions me in a gathering, I mention them in a gathering. When they remember me alone, so I remember them in Myself. 

Understand your true self. When we realize our own faqiri, then we understand the Kibriyai (Grandeur) of Allah (swt). We get a higher level of understanding. When we realize that we are fani (finite) we will realize Allah swt is Baaqi (Self-Subsisting). Your CGPA, exams and everything else is fani. People get so much anxiety when facing a problem; what will parents, people say etc? And they get tensed because it feels like the problem will last forever, however, everything, including your problems, is fani.

No matter how  much we we fuss over our bodies, or run after beauty ideals, it will go in the opposite direction. This is something we keep losing, as we age, our bodies tend to become unattractive, but our souls can be beautified more and more with the passage of time. There are some people who become more attractive as they age, they look more beautiful because of grey hair, they get more noor on their face. This is something beyond physical beauty.

Look for Allah (swt). This is a part of sulook. First step is to know Allah (swt). Allah (swt) created the world because He wished to be known. We have to know Allah (swt), that is the purpose of life. To love this world for the sake of the world is not okay. If you are looking for Allah (swt) then as you go, you will enjoy the world as well. If you love the world, then you will not enjoy it. It will only cause you anxiety and pareshani. 

Those who have the baseerat see Allah (swt) everywhere; in good people, in bad people. Our nafs is enclosed in an iceblock. There are people who can see through the iceblocks. There are some people who can melt your iceblock. To have this longing to see what is behind this? There is a book Secret Garden in which a girl is so curious to find out about a garden that has been locked out for years. 

Remember death. Those who know their time is soon to come, they are not interested in thinking about the world anymore. Those who are not religious or Muslim, they turn to relationships. A man found out that he had cancer. He said okay how should I spend my 1 year? He started to look at his life in a different way. 

There was a man in physics who said that I can prove life after death scientifically. He said that energy once created can never be destroyed. Like water evaporates but doesn’t cease to exist, it changes state. A human being has enough electricity that it can light a bulb of 60 Watts. When a person dies, that energy does not end, it is transformed to another state. That was his argument that that energy must have transferred somewhere. It cannot simply cease to exist.

Have a presence of heart. Qalbi huzoori. It seems difficult, but those who have it, every moment is a moment of reflection for them. If I am at my home and I keep thinking if I were in U.S. then this would happen, or that would happen, then I will end up making mistakes here because here things are done differently. Allah (swt) says about some people that they have hearts but they do not understand, they have eyes but they do not perceive, they have ears but they do not listen. They are like animals, or rather worse than them. If you look at domestic animals, bhains, gaye etc they can only perceive food which is directly placed in front of them. They dont care if there is a bike passing by, or a car, they are focused on their food. We humans have to live in this world but we have to be attentive. Attentiveness is a habit, increase it and work on it. 

Whoever you see, whatever situation you are in, take a lesson from it. Be attentive. All these things create baseerat in us. Allah (swt) is Baaqi and everything else melts away. 


Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 3

[These are rough notes from the third session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in UK, in 2011]

[Notes for Session 1 and Session 2]


The last stage (i.e. baqaa), Imam Rabbani (rah) says, is that you will have a 100% attachment to Allah (swt) in your heart and you remain aware of Him 100% of the time. This is what Allah (swt) has described in Qur’an:

رِجَالٌ ۙ لَّا تُلۡهِيۡهِمۡ تِجَارَةٌ وَّلَا بَيۡعٌ

By the men whom no trade or sale makes neglectful of the remembrance of Allah [24:37]

It is a Qur’anic state. Tasawwuf is just a methodology to reach that Qur’anic state. Just like the Qur’an talks about tartil:

وَرَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِيۡلًا
and recite the Qur’an clearly with tartil (in a distinct and measured tone). [73:4]

Tajweed is just the name of a methodology to recite Qur’an in tartil. The word tajweed is nowhere in Qur’an or Hadith, but the word tartil is. The word tasawwuf is no where in Qur’an and Hadith, but tazkiyah, qurb, marifah of Allah (swt) – all of these words are there.

Allah swt (says) in this ayah that they are such people that nothing in this world, literally, neither trade nor commerce — no trading, buying, selling, no commercial activity — nothing can distract them from the dhikr of Allah (swt). That is the last stage; keeping that awareness and attachment of Allah (swt) is ain-e-Qur’an; that is exactly in Qur’an. The fact that they are doing tijarah and bayah — that is the first 100%. They are engaged in the world, they are occupied in the world, in fact they are doing, what we call, a worldly activity; buying, selling, trading, negotiating, so that is the first 100%, it is not able to distract them from dhikr of Allah (swt) — that is the second 100%.

These are Qur’anic terms; the ayat of Qur’an-e-Kareem is explaining these states of human experience. Tasawwuf is just a method. It is not the necessary method. It is not a method. Just like any tajweed book is not necessary, but it is an attested, proven, established way at successfully getting correct Qur’anic pronunciation, this is attested, established, true way to get those feelings of Qur’an.

That’s why Imam Rabbani (rah), when he talks about these four stages, quotes another ayah from Qur’an:

قُلۡ هٰذِهٖ سَبِيۡلِىۡۤ اَدۡعُوۡۤا اِلَى اللّٰهِ ‌عَلٰى بَصِيۡرَةٍ
Say, “This is my way. I call (people) to Allah with full perception [12:108]

That say that this is my path, that I call to Allah (swt) ‘alaa baseera; with an eye of deep insight. This engagement in the world, and the last stage of baqaa is the work of the prophets, it is dawah. This is the way dawah is done in tasawwuf; a person makes themselves a person of dhikr, they get this connection with Allah (swt), and they bring that connection to the dawah.

This is the way Hadrat Maulana Ilyas [Kandhlawi] (rah) used to make dawah. He was sahib-e-dhikr and sahib-e-nisbat. Today, people are trying to do dawah without dhikr. It’s not possible. Allama Shami or Allama Shafi’i (rah) wrote all of those books on the basis of their ‘ilm. If someone says I want to be like them, but I don’t want the ‘ilm, how can you do khidmet of deen the way they did it, without the ‘ilm that they had which enabled them to do that khidmet? Similarly, how are you going to do this type of khidmet of deen, i.e. dawah, unless you have that baseerah? That’s what the Qur’an is saying. In another ayah Allah (swt) says:

وَ لَا تُطِعۡ مَنۡ اَغۡفَلۡنَا قَلۡبَهٗ عَنۡ ذِكۡرِنَا
And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance [18:28]

You should not follow that person’s heart that is empty of dhikr. You should not listen to the dawah of that person.

Fanaa means passing away from the self and baqaa means abiding in God. These are loose translations. I don’t think it’s the translator’s fault. Arabic word fanaa is a concept that just took me two charts to explain to you, so it’s not easy to find that one English word that would do justice to this Arabic word. Just like when you give $1 and you get Rs. 85, so when you give 1 Arabic word, you should get about 85 English words for that.

So fanaa i.e. passing away from the self, let me explain it to you: losing awareness of everything that is other than Allah (swt), forgetting that knowledge voluntarily, deliberately so that you are un-learning everything; becoming unaware of everything. And baqaa is translated as abiding in God, but that’s not how we are going to talk about this because you are not abiding inside Allah (swt). Baqaa, those of you who know Urdu would know the word baqi, it means to subsist due to the will and command of Allah (swt).

Normally, what human beings engage in is called self-preservation. You are conscious of yourself. You are keeping yourself alive. At that stage of fanaa, you lose the consciousness of your own self. So what is keeping you alive is the wish and will and the hukm of Allah (swt). And then you realize that even when I was conscious of myself, the only thing that was keeping me alive was the wish and will of Allah (swt). I am utterly needy and dependent on Him. My being is dependent on His Being. Only His Being is independent. You do not become one with Allah (swt), so he is making it clear here.

Fanaa and baqaa are experiential, not existential. This is one of the most famous things that Imam Rabbani (rah) is known for. And he has written many letters on this topic. I haven’t given them to you because they are extremely long, detailed and complex. But they have an extensive critique of wahdat al-wujud, that they thought it was wujudi when it was actually shuhudi. Let me explain. The English here is good; these are the proper philosophical terms. Wujudi would be translated as existential and shuhudi would be translated as experiential. But this loose translation does not mean that you understand the concept.

Wujudi i.e. existential, what does it mean? Wujud, existentially means in actual reality. So in actual reality you have not passed away. You’re not fanaa. You exist. You cannot eliminate your existence. Even suicide doesn’t do that. Every human is eternal. It is the wish of Allah (swt), He has created us that way. There is nothing any human being can do that, from Syedna Adam (as) all the way to whoever the last human being would be, no human being has the power and ability to eliminate their existence. In reality, they cannot cease to exist.

If fanaa was wujudi, had it been wujudi, that’s what it would have meant; that you actually would have been able to erase yourself from existence, you could actually become non-existent, and then Allah (swt) would be the only one who was existent because you would have eliminated yourself. So he says that this is not a reality. What is it then? Instead, it is shuhudi. It means experiential, in perception. You go through an experience that makes you perceive as if you don’t exist anymore.

For example, like that Sahabi (ra) [1], it’s not that the arrow stopped to exist; the arrow existed, the blood existed, the wound existed, but, because he was unaware of it (shuhud), his perception and awareness of it did not exist. In his world of perception, he was unaware and not conscious of that arrow, just like that a person in dhikr, in ibadah can become unconscious of their own self.

I will give you the opposite example as well. You are sitting in class  and you are not even aware of the itch on your nose. You just start praying, and then you notice it. You lasted two hours (in class) and it was completely fine. We are the opposite. We are so engrossed in the dunya that we are unaware. When you are deeply involved in something, you become unaware.

Forget even qalb, let me go to a lower faculty which is the human mind; it is lesser than your spiritual heart. Sometimes a person is so lost in their thoughts that they become unaware. You would say to that person snap out of it, because that person is so engrossed in some thought that they become unaware. You being unaware does not mean you stop to exist, you still exist, but your awareness stops to exist. It’s shuhudi. Fana-e-nafsi doesn’t mean that your self stops to exist, rather your awareness, perception, shuhud (from shahadah; testifying, witnessing) that stops to exist. Your self-awareness stops to exist.

He says that when these people came up with the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, they misunderstood. Actually they reached a level where their awareness of their existence didn’t exist anymore, so they thought that nothing exists except for Allah (swt). When they re-opened their awareness of themselves, they perceived themselves to be Allah, and that was the mistake they made. The mistake they made was they thought fanaa and baqaa were wujudi, when actually they are shuhudi.

A human being does not become Allah (swt), and is not united with Him. Because that’s what they thought; you erase your existence, to become one with Allah. He says this doesn’t happen. ‘Abd (slave) is ‘abd forever, and Allah is Allah forever, remember the farq (absolute separation). There is no unity, ever.

There are wicked theorists who think fanaa and baqaa are wujudi, that the man discards his ontological limitations and unites with the primal source. Sometimes people who support wahdat al-wujud give this example that Allah (swt) is an ocean, and He created everyone out of drops from that ocean, and when we experience fanaa, we return to that ocean and become a part of that ocean again. And this is also, by the way, what Agha Khani Ismaili theology teaches, this is what they believe. That’s why they don’t actually believe in an afterlife. They think that they are going to be the drops that will become reunited with the ocean. So, this belief is incorrect.

What does limitation and determination mean? It’s just a philosophical term that means human beings have bodily limitations and spatial limitations. To put it simply, you exist in time-space. Allah (swt) exists outside the realm of time-space. For you to even, hypothetically, unite with Him, you will first have to also become a being who transcends time and space, and you can’t do that. So on the side, he is giving a philosophical refutation as well.

That the drop of water loses itself and mingles in the ocean, it casts away its individuating limitations and becomes one with the absolute. May Allah (swt) save us all from their blasphemous ideas. Real fanaa (so what is fanaa in reality?) is to forget; to be unaware of ghairullah (which is called not-divine in English); to free oneself from the love of the world; to purify the heart from all of the desires and wishes (and what they mean by desires is obviously the unlawful desires) as is required of a servant. 

That’s what an ‘abd is supposed to do. Fanaa is nothing other than ubudiyyah (slave-hood), that’s what he is trying to say. Earlier he had said that wilayat is nothing but ubudiyyah in totality. And now he is taking all parts of wilayat and showing that’s also nothing other than ubudiyyah. So fanaa is nothing but ubidiyyah.

And real baqaa is to fulfill the wishes of the Lord. There’s another way to understand baqaa; when I have erased all of my wishes, so how am I existing? Whose wishes am I fulfilling? What’s keeping me baqi? It’s the wish of Allah (swt). Now I fulfill Allah’s (swt) wishes. That’s why they say in Urdu jo Allah ki marzi, woh meri marzi ban gayi. They say that now I have no will and wish left, whatever is the will and wish of Allah (swt), that is my will and wish. That’s what is left. That’s what is baqi after I erased everything — just the will and wish that Allah (swt) has for me.

When I erased everything and became a pure servant and slave, so what’s left is just my slavehood, just my ubudiyyah. So what does an ‘abd do? Just like in this world, a slave does whatever his master tells him. The slave sleeps when the master tells him to sleep. He gets up whenever the master tells him to get up. If the master tells you to get up at 4 A.M., you will get up at 4 A.M. That’s called baqaa.

There’s another way to understand baqaa; I continue to exist, I have not erased my existence, I still exist, but my continuity in existence is only in the will and wish of Allah (swt). I am just an ‘abd now, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do, it’s not even in me to go against ubudiyyah, that’s what he means.

Real baqaa is to fulfill the wish of the Lord and to make His will one’s own will without losing one’s self-identity. That’s the key thing. This is the beauty of it, this is submission, this is tasleem, this is Islam; you are still who you are. You are still you, but you become a person who only does what Allah (swt) wishes, that’s why you get the sawab — it’s you who wills to only now will what Allah (swt) wills for you. You wish only that what Allah (swt) wishes for you. That’s what Allah (swt) has put us on this earth for; not to lose that self-identity, but to maintain that self-identity, and to erase anything in that identity that goes against the wish of Allah (swt).

When we do that (i.e. fanaa) then we continue to exist until death overcomes us (i.e. baqaa) only and only doing what is the will and wish of Allah (swt) (i.e. retaining our self-identity).

After writing this, he does mention that some of the writings by some of the sufis seem to suggest otherwise. Even some of the writings by the rightly guided mashaikh of tasawwuf sometimes just seem to suggest otherwise, so he is going to talk about that.

In the writings of some sufis, one comes across words like mahw (; to erase, efface) and izmehlal (; dissolution, to dissolve, to fade away). What they mean by these words is experiential effacement, not existential effacement. It doesn’t mean that they literally become erased from the map of the earth, it means their own wish and will becomes erased.

The identity of the person of tasawwuf disappears only from his vision. It is never abolished in reality. Now he is talking about when the person is really deep into that dhikr. For example, when you are in a dream, you forget who you are, but you are still you, aren’t you? In the dream-like state, your experiences in the dream are so overpowering that they can even make you forget who you are in reality. But in actuality, you are still who you really are, you don’t stop being you, it’s still you that’s dreaming.

Similarly in dhikr, sometimes a person has an overpowering experience that they forget who they are. They have an overpowering experience in ibadah. When some people go for tawaf, they forget everything, they are lost. They don’t remember who they are, where they are from; they are from Pakistan, they are from Syria, they are from Indonesia, they are a father, they are a mother, they are a daughter — all of it is gone. All the identities are gone. They don’t remember their national identity, they don’t remember their family identity, they don’t remember their professional identity. It’s completely out of their consciousness if they are a computer programmer, if they are a teacher.

That’s what it means to efface. In reality, he is a father, she is a mother, she can’t erase that reality, but she has entered a state now where she is unaware, she is not conscious of that identity. Normally, a mother can never forget her children, but the woman can be so lost in ibadah, she could actually forget them. It doesn’t mean neglect. Understand what I mean, she can enter a state that is so overpowering that all other aspects of her identity are gone, the only identity that remains is that she is an ‘abd. That’s what he is talking about.

It only disappears from his vision (; perception, awareness). It is never abolished in reality (he doesn’t stop being who he is). In fact to believe in the latter (to actually believe that he actually stops being who he is) that’s theoretical and wicked. A number of amateur sufis have interpreted these misleading words to mean existential dissolution and  have been guilty of blasphemy. They have denied the punishment in the Hereafter. So what did they do? They said that there is no real punishment in Jahannam and there is no real reward in Akhirah, because they said you just go back to becoming one with Allah (swt), so as in their belief they once perceived it from unity to multiplicity. For example, these people misinterpret verses so they say:

اِنَّا لِلّٰهِ وَاِنَّـآ اِلَيۡهِ رٰجِعُوۡنَؕ
“We certainly belong to Allah, and to Him we are bound to return.” [2:156]

They say it’s in Qur’an; we are from Allah (swt) and to Allah (swt) we are going back. This is how they interpret it that we are literally pieces of Allah (swt) and we go back to Him. Imam Rabbani (rah) was making it clear that this is wrong. You are from Allah (swt) means your ruh came into this world from the presence of Allah (swt). Your body was created through your mother and father, your ruh was created by Allah (swt) directly. Allah (swt) mentions this in Qur’an that He gathered all the arwah; all of the human ruh(s) and He asked them:

وَ اِذۡ اَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۡۢ بَنِىۡۤ اٰدَمَ مِنۡ ظُهُوۡرِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمۡ وَ اَشۡهَدَهُمۡ عَلٰٓى اَنۡفُسِهِمۡ‌ ۚ اَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ‌ ؕ قَالُوۡا بَلٰى‌ ۛۚ شَهِدۡنَا 
(Recall) when your Lord brought forth their progeny from the loins of the children of ’Adam, and made them testify about themselves (by asking them,) “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Of course, You are. We testify.” [7:172]

And they all said qalu balaa, yes. This is Qur’an. Then every time a child a conceived in the womb of a woman, Allah (swt) sends their ruh in, that’s after the conception, ruh was there before. So where was the ruh existing before it came into your physical body, in fetus in the womb? The ruh is with Allah (swt), that’s what this verse means, we are all going back to Him. Back to and entering are two separate things.

Then he says, and this is also important to show you what Imam Rabbani’s main method is, some of these misguided people view this dissolution as the great Resurrection, and deny the real Resurrection, Judgement, Bridge, Balance — they deny all of these things. They say there is no pul sirat, there’s no meezan, there is no Yaum al-Qiyamah. It’s just reuniting with Allah (swt).

They have gone astray and they have led a lot of people astray. I saw one of them siting and supporting this view through following couplet of Abd ar-Rahman Jamī (who is an authentic and great scholar and a great shaykh of tasawwuf): our origin as well as our end is unity, and nothing else. We live in mist of multiplicity which is false and unreal. Imam Rabbani explains this, and this is exactly what you will see in the example, that sometimes the mashaikh of tasawwuf make statements that:

  1. can be interpreted in a correct way, and
  2. more importantly, and more dangerously, sometimes they mean it metaphorically/figuratively, but if you take it literally (which most people would normally do — most people take a person’s words at their face value) so then it is actually suggesting an incorrect belief.

How does Imam Rabbani handle this? He says what Imam Jamī really means by return to unity is return in vision and experience only. In other words, in the beginning when we were in alim-e-arwah, in ruh form, before Allah (swt) put us in our body in the womb of our mother, at that moment the only thing our ruh was aware of was You, the only thing our ruh perceived was You. And now that we have been put in this world, now we are perceiving all of these multiple realities. But when we go back into Akhirah again, we will be again given the ru’yat; the perception of You. That’s what he meant.

Jamī never means the existential return (doesn’t mean that you will physically become one with Allah (swt)). These people are just blind. They do not see that no matter how perfect one becomes, one cannot transcend their humanity (if nothing else, your very humanity will prevent you from becoming one with Allah (swt)); human limitations, imperfections, deficiencies etc. Hence the ontological return of multiplicity to unity makes no sense. If they think it will happen after death, they are infidels. They deny the reality of punishment in the Hereafter and they falsify the teachings of the prophets (as).

You may remember earlier that Imam Rabbani (rah) mentions sometimes when a sufi is in a state of ecstasy, he makes an utterance. These are called shat’hat, sometimes they are called shat’hiyat. In English you would call it an utterance; it means something someone says uncontrollably. Not words that are said with deliberation, not words that articulate someone’s aqidah or theology, rather words that erupt out of a person’s mouth when they are in a state of intoxication. I have discussed intoxication before — it’s the statement they say when their perception of reality is skewed, because they were overcome by a particular feeling that happened to them in some type of ibadah, some type of dhikr. It’s not meant to be taken literally. I will give you its example from a Hadith.

Syedna Hanzala (ra) [great Sahabi (ra)] starts running around in a frenzy [2], literally that’s what he says. And what is he saying? Nafaqa Hanzala, nafaqa Hanzala. At that moment when he was saying those words, he was not making an aqidah (creedal) statement that I have become a munafiq (hypocrite). Because, in aqidah, munafiq is that person who has 100% kufr in his heart, but claims a 100% iman with his tongue. The Qur’anic definition of munafiq was a person who genuinely disbelieved, he truly was atheist in his heart, but he pretended to believe on his tongue.

Syedna Hanzala (ra) is not saying that he has become like that, he’s not saying that I have stopped believing. And everybody knows that. No commentator of Hadith has ever suggested that these words should be taken literally. So the question arises what was it that made him say words that shouldn’t be taken literally, but are meant to be taken figuratively? Because he was overpowered by an emotional state. What was that emotional state? So later on the Hadith continues that when he goes to the Blessed Prophet (sws) and he explains his emotional state that he realized that O Rasool Allah (sws) when I am with you I am one way, and when I am separate from you (sws) my spirituality goes down. This loss of spirituality that happens to me when I am away from you (sws) compared to when I am with you (sws), that feeling of loss just overpowered me and that’s why I was saying nafaqa Hanzala, nafaqa Hanzala.

So it’s not an accurate description of that person’s reality. It’s an emotional statement they are saying when they are overpowered by feelings. This even happened to Sahaba Karam (ra) at the time of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). Just like Syedna Hanzala (ra) never even had the slightest drop of nifaq in him, even for a smallest fraction of a second, just like that when some of these people in tasawwuf said something, they were not united with Allah (swt) even in the slightest of drop even for a fraction of second.

The example for this he gives you; Glory be to me. Abu Yazid al-Bastami said this. So normally we say sub’hanAllah. He said sub’han to himself. So the question is, if you look at these words technically, if you take them, again, at the surface value, then it should be an incorrect statement, because that is what we only say for Allah (swt). Now how will this operate? If you are looking at this as a scholar of aqidah and kalam, you would immediately get him off the hook of kufr anyway. Because these are words, even though it may not be appropriate, but you could use them for ghairullah.

For example, we say sub’han Allahi wal hamdulillahi wallahu akbar; praise is to Allah (swt) alone. Sometimes you praise somebody so you say you did a really good job, you tell somebody he was saying such high praises of you. It doesn’t mean a person is going against Sub’hanAllah. We say Allahu Akbar. But a person can say you did a great job, they actually use the word great for somebody, it doesn’t mean you are going against Allahu Akbar. So a theologian would get him off the hook using that method of husn-e-zan I had told you before. That was the fair reading.

But if you take the honest reading, however, then at that moment something was happening to Shaykh Bayazid Bastami (rah) because of which he said this statement. So the honest reading would be let’s try to understand what was happening to him. What was that emotion that made him say this? That’s what Imam Rabbani (rah) tries to do. He takes the honest reading just to understand what was the experience that was going on in tasawwuf.

So Imam Rabbani continues that I however think that Bayazid was informed about his shortcoming towards the end of his life for the time of his passing away he said, “I did not know You except after an unknowing (remember this whole concept of learn and un-learn), and I did not serve You except after the lapse of that period.” So what he’s saying that actually Bayazid Bastami had realized that I went through this phase where I made a mistake in terms of my knowledge of Allah (swt), and I had to unknow, I had to unlearn, I had to make tawbah and istighfar for that, then when I did that, I got the true knowledge of Allah (swt).

Then he explains, this is Imam Rabbani (rah) himself commenting, he does consider his first awareness of God a non-awareness, for it was not the awareness of Allah (swt) but the awareness of one of Allah’s (swt) shadows in appearances. Let me explain what he meant. The uses of the term ‘shadows in appearances’ is not a good translation for this.

  • Allah (swt) and the world are separate (this is the view that Imam Rabbani takes)
  • Wrong position: Allah (swt) and the world are the same.
  • Second wrong position: the world is a shadow of Allah (swt).

So he says the correct position is that Allah (swt) is completely separate and the world is completely separate in terms of being completely distinct and different separate entities. But there is a relationship between the two and this is what is called the relationship of Allah (swt) to the world. This is the hidayah He sends on this world, the books, the prophets (as), the ilham that he sends to individuals, the madad, nusrat — so many words in Qur’an that Allah (swt) has used for this. His fadhl, His fayz, His karam, His rehmah, so many things that He sends.

In Arabic, they try to come up with just one word to encompass all of these things which are the relationship of the things that Allah (swt) sends on this world. For example, one is wardat, tajalliyat, one is shuyunat, ihtibarat, all of it means the way Allah (swt) relates with the world. He is completely different from the world, but He is not an absent Lord. He is completely dynamically focused on and engaged in that world. And those engagements, and that interaction and relationship, that is what Imam Rabbani says is the shadow.

Sometimes a person sees something and it’s not Allah (swt), that maybe the fadhl of Allah (swt), it maybe the Mercy of Allah (swt), it may have been the karam of Allah, or the nur of the hidayah of Allah but it wasn’t the nur of Allah (swt). So, for example, Allah (swt) uses this metaphor, very famous ayah they call it the ayat-e-nur and so many commentators have tried to comment on it. And Allah (swt) gives this whole long simile of the nur, and the lamp, and the lantern and the niche.

On one hand, Allah (swt) didn’t need to say this. There must be some reason Allah (swt) chose to say it. There must be some reason for His likening, using this example of nur, but it doesn’t mean that every time, because Allah (swt) also uses the metaphor of nur in Qur’an, He uses it for Himself, He also uses it for His hidayah. So the nur of the hidayah is a shadow of the nur of Allah (swt). That’s what he means when he talks about shadows. Because Allah (swt) is beyond everything, shadows and appearances mark the beginning of the way, they are only aids and means. 

Next letter.

Praise be to Allah (swt) and peace be upon his chosen people. I received your letter which tells of your commendable attainments. I was very much pleased to read it. (So this is obviously a letter written in response to somebody’s earlier letter). In the path of love, in this path of muhabbah, a lot of strange experiences happen. You must pass over those experiences and changes and try to reach that One Being Allah (swt) who produces those states. By reach, by the way, he doesn’t mean union. Reach means qurb. This is a word in the Qur’an:

أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ ٱلۡمُقَرَّبُونَ

Those are the ones blessed with nearness (to Allah). [56:11]

i.e. you should not want to be close to your own spiritual state, you should want to be close to Allah (swt) who produced such a state in you. Let me show you from Qur’an that these states exist. Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

فَاذۡكُرُوۡنِىۡٓ اَذۡكُرۡكُمۡ
So Remember Me, and I will remember you [2:152]

Now when a person does so much dhikr, that means Allah (swt) is going to be doing so much dhikr of them. You think a person is not going to feel that? That feeling a person experiences when Allah (swt) does azkurkum, as He promises in the Qur’an, when Allah (swt) does dhikr of someone, that someone feels something but are not able to explain properly in words what that feeling is. They can construct a whole set of vocabulary and terminologies, like I told you tajaliyat, anwarat, fuyuzat, wardat, to explain the dhikr that Allah (swt) was doing on them, but they can’t explain it in words properly.

That, however, is an existential reality. That’s a real thing. Allah (swt) really does dhikr of a person because He said it in Qur’an, and a person will really feel it. They may not understand that feeling sometimes, they may not be able to express those feelings in words sometimes, because feelings and words are two separate things. Feelings cannot always be expressed in words.

For example, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) loves to give example of a fruit. If we take a mango, can you really express how mango tastes in words? You can’t. I can say it’s soft, succulent, sweet, juicy, fleshy — but let’s say somebody has never eaten a mango, those words can give them an approximation of that feeling but they can never capture the feeling of taste. If something so mundane as your tongue and something so low as just the feeling of what a fruit tastes like on your tongue, even that cannot be captured in words, then when Allah (swt) does azkurkum or when he says in Qur’an:

وَمَنۡ يُّؤۡمِنۡۢ بِاللّٰهِ يَهۡدِ قَلۡبَهٗ‌ؕ
And whoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart. [64:11]

That He sends hidayah on a person’s qalb (spiritual heart), so you don’t think the qalb has a sense of taste? Just like when a mango comes on your tongue, your tongue can experience it, if the hidayah of Allah (swt) comes on your heart, your heart won’t experience it? Just like this one cannot be perfectly captured in words, the other one can also not be perfectly captured in words. The big problem in this is — and that’s why we don’t normally like to read and teach the text of tasawwuf — that if the person has never felt it, the person is looking at the words and they are trying to understand.

I’m saying this because you are going to see, we are going to talk about a particular feeling in the next letter. And you will never be able to understand it by the words. You will never understand. My only aim today is to make sure you don’t misunderstand; to help and prevent people from misunderstanding the words of tasawwuf. You can never understand the words of tasawwuf through words. You will only understand the words of tasawwuf through feelings.

For example, let’s go back to the mango, and let’s say if I was a brilliant poet, and I wrote you a poem on the mango, you would enjoy every line, you would understand the word succulent, immediately your experience of the mango taste comes to your mind. If I say the word tasty, it comes to your mind. If I say the word sweet, it comes to your mind. The word sweet, because you have experienced sweetness, produces an understanding in your mind, not because of the word, but because you have experienced sweetness.

Just like that, when they are going to say words here, Imam Rabbani (rah) was writing to people who had experienced these realities, so the word is just a marker — and this is all what philosophy of language teaches anyway — word is just a marker and a place-holder for a meaning, and the person who knows the meaning, understands the meaning from the word. You all know the difference in how orange and apple juice taste. You know that because I am pretty sure almost all of you here have drank both. So I would say the word ‘orange juice’ or ‘apple juice’, and you will immediately understand the difference. If I tell you ikhlas and tawakkul, these are also two words, but do you know what the difference is in feeling them? You won’t know unless you experience them.

In this path of love there are a lot of strange experiences, that happens because Allah (swt) is an amazing Being, when He does dhikr of a person, it’s going to be wondrous. Actually, the word here used is strange. If you know Urdu, the word is ajeeb. Ajeeb can hold the meaning of wondrous, amazing, mind-boggling, inexplicable, not capturable in words. That’s going to happen when Allah (swt) does dhikr of a person, guaranteed.

If afterwards you are given true knowledge, you would be really fortunate. Mind one thing, everything that comes to you in vision and understanding (all of your feelings, inspirations, kaifiyat, ahwal, kashf, ilham) negate all of it. This is one of the highest teachings of Imam Rabbani (rah) he says that’s also ghairullah. Everything is ghairullah, your own kashf, your own ilham, your own kaifiyat, your own ahwal, feelings, states, stations, experiences — all of that is also ghair.

Today people don’t understand that. Sometimes some murids are so into these experiences that the shaykh produces in them. I was once visiting someone recently, and within one minute the person just started telling me, this is all he wanted to talk about, that my shaykh did this and that, and he produces this feeling or that feeling in a person’s heart. And he didn’t realize that these are like the lower, the baby-things of tasawwuf. But this person’s understanding was that this was the height of tasawwuf, that when my shaykh did dhikr, so-and-so cried, or so-and-so said that I felt something in my heart like I have never felt before. This is like the elementary stuff of tasawwuf, but they couldn’t get over it.

This causes problems. People don’t understand that the shaykh was the person who was supposed to give you taqwa. They thought shaykh was the person who was supposed to give me spiritual feelings. So now they run around looking for feelings. Then what happens is that suddenly they stop feeling these feelings from one person, then they go to the second one, then he makes them feel the feelings, then they go to the third, then fourth, then the fifth one. They are just like spiritual groupies. They are running around looking for one thing to another.

I see them in the bayans, they are always sitting at the back and I know they are not listening to me, they are not looking at me, rather they are listening to and looking at the crowd. That’s how they decide whether they like the bayan or not. They look at the crowd’s reaction; how many people felt this way or that way. They don’t understand what deen is about. Yes, these feelings happen to a person, they get these feelings. We are emotional creatures and Allah (swt) has structured deen in such a way that it will move and motivate you emotionally. But all of that is for ubudiyyah, for the servant-hood and slave-hood to Allah (swt).

So, he says, negate your vision and understanding; even the vision of union and multiplicity for the real unity does not appear multiplicity. Allah’s (swt) wahdaniyat (oneness) is never going to be contained in the multiplicity of this world, never. Allah’s (swt) wahdaniyat is something completely separate, it has nothing to do with world. What actually appears is a reflection that we are His creation. When you see a unity in creation, you are just looking at the fact that we are all His creation, you are not perceiving the wahdaniyat of Allah (swt) Himself, the Oneness of Allah (swt), the singularity of Allah (swt) Himself, you cannot witness that in this world.

So the best thing for you at this stage is to repeat the words la ilaha illallah. This is the great kalimah of tawheed. There’s nothing that you should heed other than this. This is why Imam Rabbani (rah) used to teach this later instead of starting dhikr at la ilaha illallah. For example, in sufi silsila in other silsilas, the first lesson they give a person is la ilaha illallah. In Naqshbandi silsila, the first lesson that is given is what we call ism-e-zaat, dhikr of Allah, Allah. So the person is getting love for Allah (swt) in their heart, and they are getting detached from the love of the world.

In that process, what happens is that they have the love for Allah (swt), they have these feelings, experiences. So he waits and when the person has taken out all of the love for the world from their heart, and is filled to the brim with love for Allah (swt), you can imagine a person like that will have a lot of emotional experiences, then he would tell him to do la ilaha illallah, to wipe off all of those emotional experiences, so that you shouldn’t feel emotional ecstasies. You should just have the pure, servant-hood love for Allah (swt).

When a person reaches that, and this person has obviously written that he had all of these experiences, so now he is giving him the punch line; now you are having the experiences, you wrote me a letter, I commend you that you lost the love for the world, you have love for Allah (swt), you are following Shari’ah, you are regular in tahajjud, so you felt some it’minan in your dhikr, you felt:

اِذَا ذُكِرَ اللّٰهُ وَجِلَتۡ قُلُوۡبُهُمۡ
those whose hearts are filled with awe when (the name of) Allah is mentioned [8:02]

You are saying you got taharuk, hararat, now what you should do is la ilaha illallah. Take the sword of la ilaha illallaha and run it on all of those experiences. You had a vision, or a dream, and the murids they love — this is not the letter they want — they want a reply that mashaAllah you had such a great dream. You have such a higher ruhani maqam (spiritual stature), you are such an elevated person. That’s what the murid wants. That’s what they love. Imam Rabbani knows so he says do la ilaha illallah, keep doing it. You should go on repeating this kalimah until nothing is left of your ilham. Finish it.

You come to hairat (unknowing) in jahl (ignorance), and you think you’ve got marifah of Allah (swt)? Rather you’ve become a jahil (ignorant), that’s what he’s saying. You think you know Allah (swt)? Keep repeating la ilaha illallah and you will realize you are completely ignorant of Allah (swt).

This is exactly the same thing that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) wrote in his Risala fi bayani Ma’rifatillah, he said that knowing Allah (swt) is to know that He is unknowable. Knowing Allah (swt) is to know that you can never know Him. To ultimately know Allah (swt) is to know that you can ultimately never know Him. This is called ajz (humility), to be ajiz. Real ajz is real marifah, and real marifah is real ajizi.

And then the only experience that you feel is hairat. This is a word we cannot understand, it’s a feeling. The only thing that is left is complete awe, amazement, wonder of Allah (swt), that’s it. That’s what you will be left with. You will just be awe-struck by Allah (swt), that’s Azmat of Allah (swt). It’s His Majesty, His Greatness, His Might and His Power, it leaves a person humble and completely awe-struck.

Unless you reach wonder and unknowing, you will not attain fanaa. Fanaa doesn’t mean that you know Allah (swt) intimately. Fanaa means that you know yourself intimately that you can never really know Allah (swt). His reality is unknowable to you, and you will just be lost in a state of wonder and amazement of Allah (swt). So what you think to be fanaa is actually nothing. It is certainly not fanaa. So first reach unknowing, then you will realize fanaa. This is the first step on the way. And don’t think of arriving in Allah (swt) or meeting Allah (swt). And then he quotes a poet:

How can you reach swat [?]
There are mountains in the way
And high peaks, and deep ditches.

So he says your experiences are right, it’s good what you’ve written. We don’t know what he wrote, but I’m assuming that he wrote that I’m feeling this, and you will have feelings on the path. You will have feelings when you fall in love with Allah (swt). You will have experiences. This is correct. There is nothing against Shari’ah in that. That’s what he’s making clear. That look there wasn’t anything against Shari’ah, but even when you have experiences and ilham that fall within the bounds of Shari’ah, even then you should negate that with the kalimah. That’s how you go to the next level. That’s what he is teaching. So here you are getting a very inside look into a sort of this advance teaching of tasawwuf of Imam Rabbani (rah).

But you must go beyond those experiences. Blessed are those who follow the guidance and walk in the path of the Blessed Prophet (sws). And that is to come out of all of those experiences and do the work of dawah, the work of khidmet, the work of ihya-e-deen (revival), tajdeed-e-deen (reformation), khidmet-e-deen (service).

My second advice to you, (so the first advice was to negate the experiences that were within the bounds of Shari’ah, but you should negate them all anyway) stick firmly to Shari’ah and judge all of your experiences that you have had, and may have in the future, on the principle of Shari’ah. If you feel any slightest disparity in word or deed with Shari’ah, then you should fear that it may be your undoing (you will lose everything). This is the way sufis are rightly established (that they do these two things). And my best wishes to you. 

Next letter.

Ever changing states and experiences are not to be relied upon. Those are momentary. These are called ahwal and kaifiyat in Arabic. You’re not always going to feel like that, you’re not always going to have a particular feeling in dhikr, you’re not going to cry every time you read that verse. So yes it’s good that you cried this time when you read that verse, but don’t get attached to that, don’t celebrate it, don’t inside be so happy that look I’m crying on Qur’an, because it’s not going to happen to you every time you read that verse.

Don’t get attached to experiences and feelings that are just fleeting, are momentary, are occasional. Don’t care for what comes and goes, is said and heard. The goal is altogether different. It transcends whatever you hear or see, because the goal of tasawwuf is not something that can be heard, seen or felt or experienced. Because the goal of tasawwuf is to make yourself the slave of Allah (swt).

These things are just like sweets and cookies to please the children of suluk. That’s what he says, that Allah (swt) does it to keep you going. He gives you tawfiq, it’s His grace, favor and mercy that He made you cry when you read that verse. But that was to make you read more, that wasn’t to make you focus on your crying. And think about it — you are focused on Qur’an and you were able to cry, so you shifted your focus to crying? You left Qur’an for such a small thing? For your own tears?

Sometimes we do this, and it is especially true for people who do do dhikr, and they do get feelings, you will get feelings, you will feel feelings of taqwa, you will feel feelings of sabr, but look at Sahaba Karam (ra) — Syedna Umar’s (ra) life is full of two things: full of his own taqwa and full of how till the end of his life he never felt he had taqwa. They had the feelings, but they were always negating the feelings. This is exactly describing what the Sahaba (ra) were like. They felt all of these feelings. But they didn’t revel in them, they didn’t chase them. They were unaware, they just kept negating them. They kept thinking I’m nothing, Allah (swt) is everything. That was their whole life.

If you look at the great mufassarin, muhadithin, fuqaha, usuleen, mujtahidin, the awliyah kamileen, siddiqeen, saliheen, you will find exactly the same thing. You read about them, especially towards the end of their life, acting as if they never had a moment of taqwa in their life, they are so terrified, talking about themselves as though they are truly nothing, although in our eyes they were amazing. But they weren’t faking that humility. That was the type of a human being they were, that despite all of those feelings, they viewed themselves to be nothing. They felt the feelings of tawakkul, sabr, shukr, ikhlas, they felt all of the sifat-e-mu’mineen mentioned in Qur’an, but they still viewed themselves to be nothing.

And today’s sufi doesn’t feel any of these things, and he gets to pray tahajjud one night, and he’s on cloud 9. One day the shaykh may say something that moves his heart, the next time he meets anyone he tells the whole world that my shaykh can move people’s hearts.

The real thing to seek is different from these petty things. He is calling these ahwal and kefiyat petty. He was doing this to train the person. Don’t get too caught up in these things, because they are unreal, like a dream. If in a dream you see that you are a king, you do not become a king.

Muftis here cannot put up with Punjabi and Siraiki poetry, but there was one wali who used to address himself like this — you wake up in the night, why do you celebrate yourself? Don’t you see that the dogs and the animals themselves are awake also? What’s the big thing in you? So you are up every night, you pray tahajjud, so the rooster is also up every night at tahajjud as well. That’s how they used to think. They didn’t let their a’maal and ibadat let them think highly of themselves. This is real humility. We don’t even have those feelings and we still can’t be humble. And those people were humble despite their accomplishments.

The dream offers hope, it’s a promise. That’s why you do get the feeling, Allah (swt) wants to give you an enticement, He wants to give you hope, He wants to spur you on. In naqshbandi tariqat, visions and experiences are not to be counted on. You will find this couplet in the books that mashaikh of tasawwuf use to explain this: I love the sun, I sing of the sun. I’m not night, nor do I love night, so I never talk of dreams. In other words, dreams, or these feelings, take place in the night. But what a person is in love with is the sun. The sun is symbolic for the nur and the Majesty of Allah (swt). Because you love the sun, you wouldn’t even talk about the things that happened to you at night.

When one state comes, the other goes, there is nothing to be sorry for, there is nothing to be happy over. This is an important teaching that the mashaikh used to teach that some people, when they do dhikr, they feel something. Next day they do dhikr, they don’t feel anything. They get sad. So he is saying that happiness and sadness are not about feeling and not feeling. Happiness should be that today I was according to Shari’ah, sadness should be today I slipped and sinned against the Shari’ah. That’s something to be sad over.

We do find that the practitioners of tasawwuf are less sad over their sins, and they are more sad that they don’t feel. They are less likely to send an sms that they missed fajr, they are more likely to send an sms saying I did dhikr today and I didn’t feel anything, please make du’a for me. They are worried about that. But when they commit a sin, they are not worried about that.

Q&A

We are going to pause here to take some questions. I actually empathize with a lot of you because, except for a handful of you, you absolutely had no idea whatsoever is in Maktubat-e-Rabbani. So you may have not actually signed up for all of this theoretical stuff. But I wanted to show you that sometimes when you see something in its full force, it makes you appreciate it. And maybe sometimes for people to appreciate tasawwuf is to actually see it in full force.

Though we may not be able to experience these things, we may not be at that level yet to experience it at a full force ourselves, but — look, can you even imagine, we would be even lucky to have the experiences this person wrote about, let alone moving to that stage where we negate those feelings with la ilaha illallah. There are very few people alive today who probably even had the experiences he wrote about in the first place.

It just shows you how deep deen is, and how deep these people were. And if you really want to understand or appreciate any person in any field or discipline of learning, sometimes you have to look at the accomplishments of excellence in that field. So one way to look at Physics is to look at first year university stuff, and one way is to look at what Einstein’s Relativity is really about, and then you will be amazed that Physics is actually something quite phenomenal, it’s not something trivial.

The real power of deen of Islam is to make a human being even on earth close to Allah (swt). Today we want to revive the economic power of deen, or its political power. We have underestimated the spiritual power of deen. We don’t know what power Allah (swt) has put in Qur’an and Sunnah; what type of a human being can be created by this deen. So when we get a glimpse into some of these people who are on the right path, and how they were working and training trying to create people who are like that, we get quite amazed.

With regards to dreams, what can be the response to a friend who believes their dreams came true?

We are living in a day and age in this ummah where there is no single aspect of Islam that has not been misunderstood. You will find people who misunderstand every single thing; whether it be about the clear-cut prohibition of interest, people even misunderstand that and some of them think that’s okay. Even in terms of faraidh, and haram, which are complete black and white cases, people have misunderstood those things. So when it comes to stuff like this, a lot of people have misunderstandings.

My own experience has been that sometimes Allah (swt) tests a person who has such a misunderstanding, and sometimes Allah (swt) can also punish such a person who has such a misunderstanding by making that misunderstanding appear to be true. Allah (swt) explains this in Qur’an:

يُضِلُّ بِهٖ ڪَثِيۡرًا وَّيَهۡدِىۡ بِهٖ كَثِيۡرًا
By this He lets many go astray, and by this He makes many find guidance. [2:26]

He has the ability to yahdi, and yudhillu, He guides and He also misguides. What does it mean for Allah (swt) to misguide? A lot of the mufassirin have written in detail, because this is a very important concept, and it is also something that comes up in the whole predestination and free-will debate, as in how much free-will do you have if Allah (swt) misguides you? When I was in college, I wrote a paper on this. I gathered all of the ayat of Qur’an where Allah (swt) uses this concept for when He misguides. When I did that study, I saw that every single time Allah (swt) talks about misguiding, He is talking about misguiding someone further who has chosen already to be misguided and has refused repeated calls to come back to the path. Sometimes, in that case, Allah (swt) can make things happen. It can be tarot cards, it can be palm reading, it can be, quote unquote, reading the future. It’s actually a source of misguidance, it’s not guidance.

My point is that being correct or incorrect is not necessarily the measure of whether someone is rightly guided or incorrectly guided. Obviously, there are people who will try to couch and explain their visions and experiences in the authentic language, and it is difficult to tell. So, as far as we are concerned, you don’t need to know about anyone else’s visions and experiences, they are irrelevant to us because they are not going to help us in our life in following Shari’ah and Sunnah.

Anyone who themselves feel that I saw something in a dream, and it came true a month later, obviously that’s something that would disturb a person and would make that person want to ask. They can ask someone who they believe is authentic and capable of guiding them, they can seek guidance on that on how their response should be to that. Because, as it genuinely happens, every time they get a dream, they are going to get worried if it would come true or not and it could lead to a whole set of psychological and emotional tensions. That person should themselves seek guidance.

As far as the theory goes, those people who do get such a vision, the Islamic understanding of this — and it is an extremely rare thing, extremely rare that Allah (swt) would unveil to someone some piece of knowledge about what is going to happen in the future — the rule that governs this is that a person can never know with certainty; because kashf is not what we call qati’, it is zanni. It is not a certain, authoritative, guaranteed proof in deen. It’s just a possible source. So nobody can think that what I have been shown is going to happen definitively, they can just think that it may possibly happen. If the event actually happens, the course of the event confirms the thing that they saw.

How does this happen? The way it is understood is that Allah (swt) gave a person a piece of knowledge that the person didn’t have themselves, and was not able to acquire themselves. Where did they get it from? They got it from the knowledge of Allah (swt). The knowledge of Allah (swt) exists outside time and space. It’s actually incorrect to say that Allah (swt) knows the future. There is no such thing called future for Allah (swt), because He exists outside of time. Just imagine if there was a line on the board, the first third was your past, the middle third is your present, and the last third is your future. You can see the whole board in one shot. That’s how Allah (swt) sees us. It’s quite an amazing concept. It’s not that Allah (swt) sees your future as clearly as He sees your present, as clearly as He saw your past.

It’s something to think about when we sin also, and also when we pray, that the moment when we sin Allah (swt) is simultaneously — so to speak, that word itself doesn’t properly apply to Allah (swt) because that implies a unity in time and Allah (swt) is beyond time — but He also saw, or, quote unquote, simultaneously, saw us pray. And when we pray, He also sees us sin. This is His hilm, this is His attribute of al-Haleem; He is that being who knows so much about you that He would be very well in His right to punish you, but He doesn’t. He holds back and lets this whole system of linear time play itself out in your life.

So when Allah (swt) gives a person a piece of knowledge, or ilham, it’s not knowledge of the future as far as Allah (swt) is concerned, it’s a part of His knowledge, which encompasses everything from past, present and future. Sometimes a person may see something, but in reality, a person who actually sees something like this, they may see it maybe once or twice in their entire lifetime, and such people maybe 5 or 10 on this earth.

That’s why, with all the statistical probability, your friend is not one of them. But the number of people who think they have such experiences, there’s no shortage of that. The point was to show you today what Imam Rabbani is teaching that even people who maybe from those 1 or 2 of billions, even they should negate it, they shouldn’t be worried about it. So, at least from our perspective, that person who genuinely has an experience or vision, even if he is being told that he should just forget it and ignore it, if Imam Rabbani would tell that to somebody who may have themselves been a wali, you could just say the same thing to your friend. You can just say that we have been taught that even if such visions and experiences are true, we should ignore them, and we should focus more on getting hidayah, on getting deen.

Can you repeat the three positions on wahdat al-wujud?

These are not three positions on wahdat al-wujud; these are three views regarding Allah (swt) and the world.

  1. One view was that Allah and the world are the same. And some people have used the term wahdat al-wujud for that.
  2. The second was the view that Allah and the world are separate, but the world is a shadow of Allah (swt).
  3. Third was that Allah (swt) and the world are separate completely; the world isn’t even a shadow of Allah (swt).

Then Imam Rabbani (rah) explains that the shadow doesn’t mean creation. The term shadow zil in Arabic can only be used for ayat sha’a’irullah that are on earth; the signs of Allah (swt) on earth, because He talks about them in Qur’an and He Himself is sha’a’irullah, meaning He made a nisbat to Himself. So Imam Rabbani says the term like zil, shadows, can only be applied to something like that. Or it could be applied to the way Allah (swt) engages with this world; the way He sends His madad, His nusrat, His barakah.

How can the case of the Throne be explained in terms of wahdat al-wujud?

Allah (swt) cannot be the same as His creation. The throne issue is a whole separate discussion. There are ayat in Qur’an where Allah (swt) speaks about what is called in Arabic istiwa; which means — and it’s very difficult to try to translate this because I personally feel you can only select a word accurately when you really know the meaning, and I don’t think anyone knows the meaning of this, so when they select words in English, they are selecting words inadequately — some of them say Allah (swt) is established on the throne, He is sitting on the throne, His sovereignty emanates from above the throne. So He is a sovereign means He is Malik. His being Malik emanates from above the throne. All of these are just guesses in my opinion.

The position I follow in aqeedah and kalam is istiwa; it’s something that we believe in just like we believe in Alif Lam Meem. We believe in everything in the Qur’an, but we say we don’t know all of it, what we call the bi-la kaifa position, where we have no idea whatsoever that means. Point was that Imam Rabbani (rah) is not saying that Allah (swt) and the world are separate because the world is under the throne and Allah (swt) is above the throne. It’s not a spatial difference. It’s not a location difference.

How do you go from 100% engagement in the world to 0% engagement in the world?

That’s a very good question. There are two ways to do it. One way is accessible to everyone, and the second way is accessible only to a few people. So if you asked this question, for people with worldly engagements, you can do the first one. First one means practicing dhikr along with functioning in the world. When you do dhikr — and this is 99% of how tasawwuf is taught today — using this method, you are still a university student, you keep working as a software programmer, you keep working as an English professor, you keep doing all of that, but now you add something additional to your day that is the dhikr of Allah (swt). And you keep working on the quality of that dhikr. You try to increase in its quantity. You reduce your sins. And you increase your Sunnah, and you keep doing these things.

Each of these things will take down your attachment from what is unlawful in this world, and your awareness of that which is unlawful in this world. For example, as a person does more dhikr, more Sunnah, has more taqwa, they will be able to lower their gaze more. Second, they will start becoming unaware. They can actually say that today I went in the tube and I didn’t even realize. Before I would have been able to say within two minutes who was a pretty woman on the subway car. Now I sat there, I was so absorbed in my dhikr, I have no idea who’s pretty. So they are getting more and more absorbed in Allah (swt). They can even change — they may say there’s a woman who is my boss or my colleague. Before I used to notice that she’s pretty. Now that I have started following Shari’ah and Sunnah and left other sins and made dhikr, I still interact with her, she is still the secretary, let’s say, or the boss, whatever she is, but now I don’t even notice her looks anymore. I’m completely oblivious to her.

So the person will keep increasing the quality of their dhikr, and sometimes a bit more quantity, maybe 1 hour, maybe max 2-3 hours a day, but obviously they are still functioning in the world. But their attachment and love of the world, that’s going from 100% to 0%. So outward engagement is still there, but their inward engagement is going down. Obviously then if the person keeps doing it, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take years using this method. But that’s okay, it took years to get a B.A. You can call it B.A. in dhikr, or B.A. in taqwa. Same thing, the harder a person works, they get a distinction in their taqwa, they may get a second medal in taqwa.

The second way, which is today 1%, but at that time it was more, was that a person would go in what we call khalwah. It means they would actually withdraw themselves from society at large, and due to certain reasons in Qur’an and Hadith, they would prefer 40 days or 4 months, but these are not set in stone. The tablighi jama’at has taken it from tasawwuf; this concept of 40 days and 4 months. So they would go in the period of khalwah in seclusion from this world. The two prophetic incidences of this is Blessed Prophet (sws) going in Mount Hira, and second is the Sunnah of ‘itikaf, which is the 10 days in the month of Ramadan, and there is also nafl ‘itikaf. This is part of deen and you can do it any time you want.

So you can put it this way then, because maybe people are a bit unfamiliar with terms like khalwah and chilla, they used to go into nafl ‘itikaf for 40 days or for 4 months, or for some other period of time. That’s quick because then it doesn’t take years. They wanted to get it done faster. Just like in dunya, you can do things part-time, so a person can say that I’m doing this course part-time. If I do it in half-time, it will take me 6 years. If I do it for full-time, it will take 3 years. So they have to look, and it depends on financial constraints, it depends on what haqooq al-ibaad are over them, but there were some people in that day and age who, while maintaining full haqooq al-ibaad, like a person goes for a 6 months course, they leave everything saying I will be back in 6 months, so they would actually go for that. Some people would get it done in 40 days, for some it took 4 months. For Imam Rabbani (rah) it took 22.5 months [1:11:57]. But that’s because he did it day and night.

So in this method, people go into nafl ‘itikaf. Just like in Sunnah ‘itikaf, nafl ‘itikaf means all you do is ibadah, dhikr, tilawat, salah, ‘ilm, du’a, istighfar, durud salawat, listening to bayan, dars-e-tafsir, dars-e-hadith, etc. That’s all you do day and night. That was a quicker way. This is the clarification I tried to make in the beginning that I couldn’t make in detail. And that was why I have to give you the bidah workshop audio, which is about 3.5 hours long. So that’s our gift to all of you. That answers this question in detail.

Let me make it clear. Following Qur’an, Sunnah and Shari’ah — remember tasawwuf is not something separate — Qur’an and Sunnah is the thing, that is the subject matter of deen. Tasawwuf is a methodology that helps you internalize and follow that. In that methodology, there will be dhikr practices that are not found in hadith. Just like in tajweed methodology, there are exercises given to do on your tongue which you will not find in hadith. Just like that in hadith methodology, there are categories, and labels, and terms, and texts that are not found in hadith. Just like that in tafsir, that’s probably the greatest example I could tell you.

People have this misconception. It’s a very emotional concept that if the Blessed Prophet (sws) did not do it, it’s not deen. This whole workshop actually shows from Bukhari and Muslim, that in the lifetime of the Blessed Prophet (sws) and after the Blessed Prophet (sws) passed away, Sahaba Karam (ra) used to engage in all types of nafl ibadah, and dhikr which the Blessed Prophet (sws) never taught them. I have documented this completely on the workshop with complete references.

Why this is allowed is because it is nafl ibadah. In fard, wajib, and Sunnah ibadah, you cannot add anything other than what Blessed Prophet (sws) himself did. But in nafl ibadah, and there are many types of it, but the two most prevalent are dhikr and du’a, and Sahaba (ra) added in front of the Blessed Prophet (sws) and he (sws) approved it, and after the Blessed Prophet (sws) passed away, Sahaba (ra) added, and nobody censured them right up to Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya no one censured that for them.

Actually when we talk about salaf, the real understanding of salaf saliheen means this; whatever the Sahaba (ra), Tabi’in and Tabi’ Tabi’in allowed for themselves, that is allowed for us. I have documented this on that 3.5 hour workshop that Sahaba (ra), Tabi’in and Tabi’ Tabi’in (rah) allowed for themselves, without anyone in the history of Islam ever censuring, reprimanding any one of them, they allowed for themselves to do new types of dhikr that were not found in hadith, and make new types of du’a that were not found in hadith.

The greatest example is tafsir. You will find tafsir written by Tabi’ Tabi’in and later mufassirin, and they are telling you that the meaning of this verse is abc, and there is no hadith that the meaning of that verse is abc. If you will confine your understanding of tafsir to just the hadith, so let’s take Kitab at-Tafsir from Sahih Bukhari, it’s about maybe 20 pages long, depending on the font size and editions, it’s very small. Those who have studied Bukhari would remember. If you look at any tafsir, even of the great mufassiroon from the earlier times, it’s quite big. It’s like 20 volumes, forget 20 pages. And if I say show me that tafsir from hadith, no way you can do that.

So when tafsir al-Qur’an has been allowed by the entire ummah that you can make tafsir and say things that the Blessed Prophet (sws) never said about Qur’an, why could you not engage in nafl dhikr, and nafl du’a? So the definition of bidah when it comes to nafl ibadah is not that is it found in hadith or not. That is the definition of bidah for fardh, wajib and Sunnah ibadah. For nafl ibadah, definition of bidah is is it against Shari’ah? If it’s something against the teachings of Shari’ah, then it’s haram. As long as it’s nothing against Shari’ah, so that’s what the mashaikh of all the silsila teach, definitely, I would not want to leave any misrepresentation.

Naqshbandi mujaddadi silsila teaches many dhirk adhkar that have been derived from Qur’an and Hadith, and also teaches dhikr adhkar that have been designed by different mashaikh of a time and names of those mashaikh are in something what we call, quote unquote, shajra. Just like in Hadith, we have a sanad. And different muhadithin have commented on Hadith differently over time. For example, there are four major commentaries on the Sahih Bukhari, by Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni, al-Kirmani and al-Qastallani (rah). Quite often, they have disagreed on the meaning of a hadith. So you have hadith commentators giving different meanings of hadith. And we all have sanads and chains that go through them. Just like that, you will have different methods of doing dhikr. The criterion for accepting whether a dhikr is acceptable is:

  1. No one should claim to you that it is sunnah. If they claim it is a sunnah way of doing dhikr, then they have to show you the hadith. If they claim it is fard, or wajib, then they have to do even more. So they must view it to be nafl ibadah, even if they do it very regularly.
  2. There must be nothing in that dhikr that is against the Shari’ah, so like the music, the dance; the things that Imam Rabbani (rah) has pointed out.

 

Every Muslim has a shajra going back to the Prophet (sws). Let’s say you converted at the hands of a Muslim whose father, or grandfather, or great grandfather must have also converted at the hand of some Muslim, everyone then converted at the hands of Sahaba (ra) who all took Islam at the hand of Blessed Prophet (sws). In that sense, everyone has a chain, or a shajra. We may not know it, but everyone has it. We are all converts or descendants of converts. Sahaba (ra) were also all converts.

Now, everyone is part of the chain, everyone is part of the ummah. Being part of the chain is like having teachers and all that. But nothing makes a person beyond error. The only thing that makes a person beyond error is a strong adherence to the Shari’ah. For example, I could give you people who studied hadith under a hadith scholar, who in turn had studied under another hadith scholar. So how can they make a mistake? It’s because they have a nafs. Their nafs, just like everyone else’s nafs, made them sin. The fact that their nafs made them sin is not a stain on their teachers. It doesn’t mean that people should stop studying hadith or that teaching of hadith is flawed. It just means that this person did not successfully purify their bad nafs.

What were Shah Wali ullah’s (rah) views on this debate of wahdat al-wujud in the discussion?

At this point, I don’t want to touch that. There are different people who teach Maktubat in different ways, I’m not teaching it using an intellectual-historical approach. There are people who don’t even do dhikr at all and they teach Maktubat-e-Rabbani. I’m offering something different. Shah Wali Ullah (rah), very briefly, he tried to join the two, but he wasn’t joining the side which Imam Rabbani (rah) was critiquing. He was trying to join those Chisti mashaikh who interpreted ibn al-Arabi’s words in such a way that wahdat al-wujud did not mean union and unity with God. So that’s a different type of wahdat al-wujud. They used the same term, but what they meant by that term was different.

Imam Rabbani (rah) keeps using the word union, it shows that he is attacking that wahdat al-wujud term which was being used to present the view that a human being unites with Allah (swt). Later on there were some people who felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were also being unfairly attacked because they were using this term in a different way, and not to explain the unity with Allah. So Shah Wali Ullah (rah) advocated their side that they were using the term wahdat al-wujud for the same meaning that Shaykh Ahmed Sir Hindi was using for wahdat as-shuhud. What they used to call wujudi was the same thing he called shuhudi. There was no real difference.

If these extra dhikr practices are beneficial, why did the Prophet (sws) did not himself tell the Sahaba (ra) to do it?

I could say the same thing about tajweed. If these tajweed exercises that the qaris have come up with are so beneficial, why did the Prophet (sws) not tell the Sahaba (ra) to do it? Or if all of these tafsirs that the whole ummah reads; every single person who becomes an ‘alim in the world has to go through these classes of tafasir, and all of them have to read the 15-20 volumes, were I to ask you, if those meanings and understandings and explanations of Qur’an were so beneficial that you feel it’s required for becoming an ‘alim, why didn’t the Prophet (sws) teach all of these things to Sahaba (ra)? What would your answer be to that?

So one answer can be that you are right, we have been totally duped. All the mufassiroon are totally bidatis. People take the same answer for dhikr that we have been totally fooled. All of tasawwuf and dhikr is bidah so take it all out. So why don’t you use the same approach with tafsir? In fact I would even say that dhikr is nafl and everyone agrees it is nafl, but tafsir is Qur’an. You are telling me the meaning of KalamUllah and you can’t give me hadith to back up what you are saying? If I use the line that show me the hadith, all tafsir is finished, except for those 20 pages. Then what will we do?

People don’t realize that it’s a very emotional thing. I know it’s very difficult for converts to Islam because they don’t know who to trust, there is a big trust issue. And then definitely it does seem like a safer path, and there is nothing wrong with it, by the way, because dhikr is nafl. So if a person comes to me and says that look, I’m only going to do what’s in the hadith, I say it’s fine. I could even tell you, for you, as an individual, if you only want to follow the words of Qur’an and the words of hadith, I don’t feel you will get access to complete hidayah of deen, but can you get sufficient hidayah of deen to save yourself from Jahannum? Yes, I think you could. But I would respond to the question that there are things of great benefit in that tafsir.

If you look at the hadith commentary, even Ibn Hajr Asqalani (rah) sometimes wrote pages on the meaning of a hadith, so if someone says to me that why didn’t the Prophet (sws) tell us the meaning of these words? How can I accept that Ibn Hajr is going to tell me what the Prophet (sws) meant? Who is he to tell me? Show me the hadith, brother Ibn Hajr. You are saying this is the meaning of this hadith, show me the hadith. So Ibn Hajr will have to go away. You will have to throw out all of the muhadithin. Once you are done throwing out all of the mufassirin and the muhadithin, then you can come to fuqaha on tasawwuf. But the deception is that they make you throw out the fuqaha and the scholars of tasawwuf, and they don’t touch the mufassirin and the muhadithin.

That’s something to think about if you look at what would be the greater sin; to speak about Qur’an and hadith without prophetic backup or the nafl ibadah? So it’s not a sin. Allah (swt) has continued the understanding of Qur’an, but the subject matter is fixed. I’ll tell you something and it will shock you and you may not be able to digest this. But if you think about it calmly, you will realize that it is factually true. There will be, let’s say, whoever you think is the greatest tafsir scholar, we cannot pin-point, but let’s say hypothetically there’s a person of that rank. He may know certain things about certain ayahs not every Sahaba (ra) even knew. It’s possible.

The question is what is that amount of hidayah which we need for salvation, and what is the entire pool of hidayah? The entire pool of hidayah is very vast. I don’t think there’s any mufassir, alive or dead, or even any Sahaba (ra) who could say they knew every single meaning of Qur’an. Let’s take all of the tafsir books that have been written, and let’s take any Sahabi (ra), let’s say Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), because you don’t really need to know every single possible meaning and grammatical and linguistic analysis of every single letter and word to get hidayah. The asal (core) is hidayah. The worlds of ilm and dhikr are very vast. You will need part of that to get hidayah. No one can say they know everything about ilm, and no one can say they know everything about dhikr. Don’t you see that in Qur’an Allah (swt) says to Syedna Musa (as) who was the nabi of his time that even you don’t know everything, you will have to go to Khizr (as), and he will do things that you will not be able to understand. But Musa (as) was a nabi and as a nabi he was superior — so superiority is based on taqwa. Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ
Surely the noblest of you, in Allah‘s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. [49:13]

So the superiority of Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) to every other Muslim is his taqwa. It’s not because he was the greatest muhadith, or the greatest mufassir, or the greatest dhikr person, it’s not like he was the greatest qari or he had the best tajweed ever in the history of Islam. It’s his taqwa. Ilm and dhikr are not end in of themselves, they are a means to taqwa. However much dhikr a person needs to get their taqwa, they should partake of it.

The questioner has specifically asked that if the naqshbandi dhikr of the heart is so beneficial, why didn’t the Prophet (sws) do it, why didn’t he (sws) tell us to do it? That’s why I am saying, there are things that are beneficial, whether it’s in the ilm of tafsir, ilm of hadith, ilm of fiqh or ilm of tasawwuf. Just look at the usul of ijtihad. The Prophet (sws) didn’t teach us Abu Hanifa’s usul, Shafi’i usul, Maliki usul, Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s usul. What are these usul? They are a way of understanding Shari’ah. And the Prophet (sws) didn’t teach us that. Imagine if I tried to trick you up with that. You would be like oh my God how could Nabi-e-Karim (sws) not teach us a way of understanding the Shari’ah?

Allah (swt) inspires the mujtahidin with their ijtihad. Allah (swt) inspires the mufassiroon with their tafsir. Allah (swt) inspires the muhadithin with their hadith commentaries. Just like that, Allah (swt) inspires the mashaikh of tasawwuf with the nafl dhikr practices that they teach. All hidayah is from Allah (swt). The greatest hidayah Allah (swt) gave was through the Book and the sunnah. But Allah (swt) continues to give hidayah, that’s why in Surah Fatiha you say:

 اِهۡدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الۡمُسۡتَقِيۡمَۙ‏
Guide us on the straight path [1:05]

You wouldn’t need to say ihdina, you could just make the du’a that Allah (swt) make me read hadith. You ask for hidayah. Ibn Taymiyyah (rah) received hidayah. There’s majm’ua of khitab of Ibn taymiyyah (rah) and, depending on the print, it’s 32 volumes. Not everything that he said has a hadith to back it up. He also did types of ijtihad. His ijtihad is also a part of hidayah from Allah (swt), it’s part of deen.


[1] Referring to the incident of Syedna Abbad ibn Bishr (ra) at the valley in Najd.

[2] I met Abu Bakr. He said: Who are you? He (Hanzala) said: Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. He (Abu Bakr) said: Hallowed be Allah, what are you saying? Thereupon he said: I say that when we are in the company of Allah’s Messenger (sws) we ponder over Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our very eyes and when we are away from Allah’s Messenger (sws) we attend to our wives, our children, our business; most of these things (pertaining to After-life) slip out of our minds. Abu Bakr said: By Allah, I also experience the same. So I and Abu Bakr went to Allah’s Messenger (sws) and said to him: Allah’s Messenger, Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (sws) said: What has happened to you? I said: Allah’s Messenger, when we are in your company, we are reminded of Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but whenever we go away from you and attend to our wives, children and business, much of these things go out of our minds. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (sws) said: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the Angels will shake hands with you in your beds and in your paths but, Hanzala, time should be devoted (to the worldly affairs) and time (should be devoted to prayer and meditation). He (the Holy Prophet) said this thrice. [Sahih Muslim]

Introduction to Ethics and Theology – II

[These are rough notes from the first session of the workshop on Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Feb 2016]

Cont’d from here.


Multiplicity of Meanings

I’m going to go back and show you what caused these four positions to emerge. There is this notion of multiplicity of meanings, which you will very quickly encounter, very first day in the first session I’m going to show you upfront why there is multiplicity of meanings. This itself disturbs some people. They don’t understand. A nice, well-intentioned, ordinary Muslim says how can there be disagreement on something fundamental like iman?

In order to understand why there is disagreement, you need to go behind the scenes and appreciate how that disagreement came about. Yes, there are some disagreements that come about because of ideology and sectarianism. But the point is to show you that there are some disagreements, meaning multiple, divergent understandings, which come only through this analytical, academic study of Islam.

When you take into account the intellectual, historical and spiritual approaches, you build the whole workshop, and you start turning the knob, you are going to get multiple meanings. Without the workshop, without touching the knob, without using all three approaches, you can end up with just one meaning.  But when you start doing all of those things that I have shown you up till now, you will start getting multiple meanings on very many things. Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

ءَامَنَ ٱلرَّسُولُ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡهِ مِن رَّبِّهِۦ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ‌ۚ كُلٌّ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَتِهِۦ وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَرُسُلِهِۦ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيۡنَ أَحَدٍ۬ مِّن رُّسُلِهِۦ‌ۚ وَقَالُواْ سَمِعۡنَا وَأَطَعۡنَا‌ۖ غُفۡرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيۡكَ ٱلۡمَصِيرُ
The Messenger has believed in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and the believers as well. All have believed in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers. “We make no division between any of His Messengers,” and they have said: “We have listened, and obeyed. Our Lord, (we seek) Your pardon! And to You is the return.” [2:286]

Blessed Prophet (sws) believed in all that was revealed by Allah (swt), and all the believers also believed. So here you can see another concept of iman. Let me give you an example, how many of you have iman that I have a watch in my hand? All of you raising your hand are wrong! Alazina yu’minoona bil ghayb; iman means to believe in the unseen. You could see the watch. That’s called mushahada in Arabic. You have eye-witness testimony.

How many of you have iman that I have a pen in my pocket? The faithful are few and far between. You would have iman based on if you believed I was a true person. Allah (swt) is saying here that ’amana Rasulu; Blessed Prophet (swt) believes, bima; in each and every single thing, munzila elaihim min Rabbihi; that has been revealed to him (sws) from his Rabb, and the believers also believe in that.

Iman also means that we believe in everything that was revealed to the Prophet (sws). We still don’t know everything. Allah (swt) revealed to him (sws) the Qur’an, he recited it to us. Allah (swt) revealed to him (sws) hadith and sunnah to share with people, he recited that to us. But there may be some things that Allah (swt) told the Prophet (sws) that me and you don’t know. There may be some things that he (sws) saw in mi’raj that me and you don’t know, but we believe in all of that also. We believe in every single thing that Allah (swt) revealed to him as he (sws) believed in it. For it is ghayb.

Earlier in Qur’an, right at the start of Surah Baqarah, Allah (swt) says:

 الَّذِيۡنَ يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِالۡغَيۡبِ
Who believe in the Unseen [2:03]

So now you are building up the material. If we took up all the verses of Qur’an about iman, it would take us all five days of the workshop. So I’m just showing you the elements of the workshop. We are building up our definition of iman; iman means to believe in the unseen; to believe in whatever Allah (swt) revealed to the Prophet (sws); to believe in all this with the same certainty as Blessed Prophet (sws) believed in it. When we take iman, what do we say? We have to take shahadah, which is a word from mushahida i.e. eye-witness testimony. It means you have to believe in the unseen as if it was seen. You have to believe in ghayb with so much yaqin and conviction as if it were mushahidah, that’s why it is called mushahida or tashahud. The language itself is teaching us this.

This is the answer to certain secular, atheist concepts of empiricism that we only believe in those things that can empirically be demonstrated. No, we believe in ghayb, we believe in it as much as we believe in all of the empirical, mathematical and scientific realities.

Then, there were some elements of iman here kullun each and everyone of Prophet (sws) and his companions (ra) ’amana billahi – they believed in Allah (swt) and the angels, the scriptures, and the messengers. But what’s missing here, so to speak, what was there in the hadith-e-Jibrael that is not in this ayah? Wal qadri khairihi, wa sharihi, belief that everything good or bad is from Allah (swt). It means that there is no single one text that can give you the definition of iman. I’m showing you why you need the workshop. We can find some elements in this verse, some in another verse, more in another hadith. You have to build the entire workshop.

Another thing is that we believe in all of the messengers equally. Our iman in the nabuwwah/prophethood of Syedna Isa (as) is equal to our iman in the nabuwwah of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). In the spiritual realm, a person may ask that of course I do believe that Syedna Isa (as) was a prophet, but in my heart is that feeling as strong as my belief that Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) is a prophet? Sometimes a person does the spiritual check and realizes that it is less. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t believe that Isa (as) is also a prophet, but in his heart has he done the la nufarriqu that we don’t make any distinction?

Now love is different. We will love the Blessed Prophet (sws) more than all the other prophets. But your iman needs to have that certainty. Then there are some prophets who are also ghayb. There are so many prophets and we don’t even know their names, but we have to believe in them. There are just 25 or 30 whose names have come in Qur’an and Hadith. In one narration, and there are several narrations with different numbers, Blessed Prophet (sws) mentioned that there are 120,000 prophets. It means you believe in a prophet whose name you don’t even know with as much certainty as you believe in Syedna Rasool Allah (sws).

I have shown you the spiritual aspect of the workshop, I have shown you the textual aspect of the workshop, but if historically a person says what does that mean? You can go and read some text by, lets say, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) or some earlier scholar that how do they talk about Syedna Isa (as). When you read that, you will get a feeling that okay that’s what it means. The feeling that they clearly have in their heart when they write like that, that’s the feeling that I’m supposed to have in my heart about Syedna Isa (as).

اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ الَّذِيۡنَ اِذَا ذُكِرَ اللّٰهُ وَجِلَتۡ قُلُوۡبُهُمۡ
Certainly, the believers are those whose hearts are filled with awe when (the name of) Allah is mentioned [8:02]

It means that indeed who are the believers? When Allah’s (swt) name is mentioned in front of them, their heart tremble and quiver. Maybe their hearts flutter out of love, or their hearts tremble out of fear. Both meanings are there. This is again the knob, why are their hearts trembling? It could be fluttering out of love, or trembling out of fear. Multiplicity of meaning is embedded in Qur’an and Hadith text.

Arguments for/against the Tongue Position

Another thing we find here is zadat imana – that their iman becomes ziada; it becomes mazeed; it increases. That’s another thing we will add to the workshop that iman is apparently something that can increase. It’s not static. There’s a notion of increase in iman. That is going to work against the tongue argument, because when you just say it on your tongue, that’s just a single, static utterance. There is no question of increase or decrease in that. You just said that sentence once.

So now you see certain elements of the workshop will support one of those four positions more, and some of those positions won’t know how to handle this part of the workshop. When that happens, if there is an advocate of that position, what is he supposed to do? This is another thing, if you ever want to take the intellectual approach side of it, you must have, what we call, an intellectual honesty. You will have to honestly acknowledge that there are certain elements in the workshop that do not correspond with my position.

Unfortunately people who don’t have that intellectual honesty, rather they have an intellectual dishonesty, they will hide that from their pamphlet. They will give you a presentation on iman including only those parts of the workshop that supports their position that iman is only from the tongue. They will hide all parts of verses and hadith that goes against their position. This is one of the examples; the classical scholarly tradition went against this position that iman is just about the tongue, because there is no concept of ziada, there is no concept of increase then.

Another example, just to show you, this is a very commented-on verse of Qur’an:

قَالَتِ الۡاَعۡرَابُ اٰمَنَّا‌ ؕ قُلْ لَّمۡ تُؤۡمِنُوۡا وَلٰـكِنۡ قُوۡلُوۡۤا اَسۡلَمۡنَا وَلَمَّا يَدۡخُلِ الۡاِيۡمَانُ فِىۡ قُلُوۡبِكُمۡ‌ ۚ وَاِنۡ تُطِيۡعُوا اللّٰهَ وَرَسُوۡلَهٗ لَا يَلِتۡكُمۡ مِّنۡ اَعۡمَالِكُمۡ شَيۡـًٔــا‌ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ‏
The Bedouins say, “We have come to believe.” Say, “You have not come to believe; instead, you (should) say, ‘We have surrendered’ and the belief has not entered your hearts so far. If you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not curtail (the reward of) any of your deeds in the least. Surely Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful.” [49:14]

That al ’arabu – i.e. the desert bedouin nomads started saying amanna – that we have iman. Allah (swt) told the Prophet (sws) that qul lam tu’minu wa lakin qulu aslamna – that say to them don’t say that you have iman, rather say that you have Islam. Up till now most people thought iman and Islam were the same thing! But here Allah (swt) is using the word iman and Islam in contrast with each other.

I remember when I studied this in tafsir, there were eight positions that I can recall right now of ulema that what is the difference between iman and Islam? This is another question they raised that what is Islam and what is iman? I’m showing you what goes on is ilm al-kalam. I’m giving you this introductory tour of theology. What’s the difference between those two? What does it mean that they cannot say amanna, they can only say aslamna? When will they be able to say amanna? Is Islam before and iman later?

To give you an example, one of the positions was that Islam and iman actually mean identical things when used separately. But when Allah (swt) uses them together in a single verse of Qur’an and is contrasting them like this, in that case iman is referring to the inner yaqin and conviction in the heart of a person – it is the inner aspect of deen. And Islam is referring to the outwards compliance and practice of a person, the outward aspect of deen. It means that those people must have started praying salah, paying zakah, they were doing the outward practices. But they had not yet developed that full feeling of yaqin in their heart. That full feeling of yaqin also again suggests that iman is gradated, this sense of ziada that there can be less or more iman.

Then Allah (swt) says wa lamma yad khulil imanu fi qulubkum – that iman has not yet entered your heart. Where has it not entered? In your heart. So again this goes against the tongue position that Allah (swt) is saying that don’t say you have iman because iman has not entered your heart, so it makes it quite clear that iman is in the heart. Now where did this tongue position come from? We don’t have much time but there is a hadith where the Blessed Prophet (sws) said that iman is to profess with your tongue, which is the shahadah. It is to profess la ilaha illallah muhammadun rasul ullah. This is there in the hadith.

On Selective Quotation

You have to be very careful about selective quotation from the workshop. This happens because most people who do it have a limited knowledge of the workshop. They don’t know. And a lot of your popular speakers on TV are guilty of this. It’s just ignorance. Because they don’t know the whole workshop, they come up with a skewed, incorrect and incomplete understanding of deen. And there are some people who are even worse; they know the whole workshop, but then they hide the things that do not support their position. So if somebody says why is iman just from the tongue? If we go back to our example, so the boy goes to some uncle and says uncle I want to marry this girl from America, the uncle says it’s okay son. Because there is this hadith of the Prophet (sws) that to take iman all you have to do is say this sentence.

The boy says oh he quoted a hadith. He looks up the reference in the footnote. But don’t be won-over just by references and footnotes. Everyone will give you a reference and a footnote. So when the uncle says that, the boy will think he is fine. The boy will genuinely think that. The boy is not disingenuine. The uncle is disingenuine. He should have done his duty. He should have said that this is not my game — I can’t play with the workshop because I don’t know the workshop. How can I tell you, O nephew of mine, what iman is? In order to know what iman is, you have to know the whole workshop. I don’t have that knowledge so you will have to go to a scholar.

The desi uncle doesn’t do that — not all of them are like that, but there’s a particular mentality some of them have. I call it the desi-uncle mentality that they think whatever limited knowledge they have that’s sufficient to give rulings. He will say I have shown you the hadith. Now the boy will look at the hadith, he loves the Prophet (sws), he believes in the Prophet (sws), so he goes back so happy that you can just say this sentence and you are good to go. My uncle just showed me a hadith that our beloved Prophet (sws) has said all you have to do is profess it with you tongue. Now you see what goes on?

Arguments for/against Heart + Tongue + Actions Position

Let’s look at some more things from the workshop. This a hadith by Prophet (sws):

The adulterer does not commit adultery when he does so while being a momin, nor does the one who drink wine do so while he is a momin. [Sahih Bukhari, Book of Hadud, Chapter on Prohibition of Wine]

This hadith was used by those people who thought actions must be a part of iman. Because Blessed Prophet (sws) said that the person who commits zina does not do so while they are a believer. Now iman is being linked with actions. Absence of iman here means absence of actions i.e. absence of obedience of Allah (swt) because zina is being told as the absence of iman. If they disobey Allah (swt) they are not doing it in a state of iman.

This poses another problem. If you are going to say that, then who is going to say they have iman? Almost everyone is a sinner. So again there is this notion of turning the knob, if I say it is just about zina, so that’s the literal meaning. But if I turn the knob at 1, it could mean kabair i.e. the major sins. If you turn the knob at 3, it can mean any sin. It depends, if you take it only literally, it is just zina. Turn the knob at 1, it is inclusive of all the sins as big as zina so it would include all of the kabair. Or you turn the knob at 3, and it would mean any sin.

If you take this position and you say that any time a believer commits any sin, they are not a momin while they are doing it, so this is a strange thing that iman can come and go. Does he has to take shahadah again? How does he get the iman again? Is it just that as soon as he stops the sin, he becomes a momin again? What happens? We need to investigate. There needs to be some understanding that has to be taking place.

All of this is there, by the way, there is nothing I am telling you except that pages and pages have been written about it. This is what the Islamic Scholarly Tradition is and this is what the vast majority of educated people have been kept from. You have been dumbed-down in your deen. You have only been taught O’levels Islamiyat, where, again, you are only taught about five pillars and four khulafa-e-rashidoon, and that’s it. You haven’t been exposed to the Islamic Scholarly Tradition at all. Even this small glimpse that I’m giving you, your educational system doesn’t even give you this much of a glimpse. There are questions that need to be answered. So if you take this position that are actions a part of iman, in another hadith Blessed Prophet (sws) has said:

Iman has sixty plus branches and haya is a branch of iman. [Sahih Bukhari, Book of Iman, Chapter on Matters Pertaining to Iman]

Iman has several branches, this hadith says there are sixty plus branches, sixty odd branches, another hadith says 70 odd branches. This suggests that iman is divisible, iman has components. Does that mean that if you have all of them then you have iman? Where do you find these sixty branches? It’s not in this hadith, again you go to the workshop. You start counting up your text that in this verse this is mentioned, in this hadith another is mentioned. Were you to do that, you would cross sixty.

If I put up the workshop in front of you that has everything that has been mentioned as iman, every hadith, every verse, you would cross seventy, you would cross eighty. Now you would be wondering of all those things, which ones are, quote unquote, the branches and which ones aren’t branches? All of this has been talked about and written about. I’m also showing you what is taught in the madrassah. I didn’t learn all this in Chicago or Oxford. I learnt all of this that I’m telling you in the madrassahs of Pakistan.

Now the multiplicity of meaning is done, building the workshop is done, positions on iman;

  1. Heart
  2. Tongue
  3. Heart + tongue
  4. Heart + tongue + actions

Let me show you more. This was one position. Second position was that iman increases, so what does that mean? Does iman increase or decrease quantitatively or qualitatively? This is a huge discussion. I will give you some names so you have an idea. Imam Shafi’i (rah) believes that iman increases quantitatively. And Imam Abu Hanifa (rah) believes that iman increases qualitatively. So all the texts that talk about ziadat an-imana it means qualitatively, it means the strength of your iman, the passion of your iman goes up. Quantitatively, on the other hand, means that your iman’s units go up. So you have 10 units of iman, you have 30 units of iman or you have 50 units of iman.

4. Running the Box

First question here is the tongue. Is the position that iman is only from the tongue alone okay or not? Now you do round 2; after you built the workshop, engaged the workshop, came up the first set of multiple meanings and positions that could be reasonably argued from the workshop, now in round 2, which is the analytical understanding, you have  to play these positions off one another. You have to comparatively assess these positions. To do that there is a third concept which is called the box. It’s a term to explain to you what is done in the Islamic tradition of ulema. What we do is that we run the box on the positions.

Imagine there is a box. The position goes inside the box. Box 1 has a heart in it, box 2 has the word tongue in it, box 3 has the word hear + tongue, and box 3 has heart + tongue + actions in it. First thing you do when you run the box, you look at all of those things that led to the box. So I will draw a whole set of arrows leading to the box; what are the textual evidences, what is the reasoning, what are the arguments that led to this position.

Now we are going to compare these with each other. Which one is stronger? Which one seems to be more reasoned, which one is more well-argued? Which one seems to be more grounded in the text? Which positions came from leaving the knob at zero? Which positions came from turning the knob to 1 or 2 or 3? We are going to tag, understand and dissect all of the arguments, evidences, reasoning, understandings, interpretations that led us to the position in the box.

In the second step, now I will draw arrows coming out of the box. We are going to run the box in a second way. If I accept this position, what are the necessary, logical consequences of accepting that? If I define iman as tongue, what consequence will it have on deen? If I take the position of iman + tongue + actions, what consequences will it have on deen? I have to extrapolate all of the consequences this position will have on deen. When I do that, I will have to compare those consequences that from among those consequences, is there anything that’s against some other text?

This is just for the iman workshop. There are many other workshops. There is another workshop going on what is ehsan? There is another workshop going on what is Islam? So is there any consequence of any of the four positions that is unacceptable in deen? If the consequences are unacceptable, that will make me downgrade that position. I keep running the box. This goes on for multiple rounds.

When you run the box, you may still end up with multiple positions. You may be able to eliminate one or two other positions, but you will still have more than one. On some things, in practical reality, you have to choose a side. I have to tell that boy if he can marry that girl on not. If he comes to me, he says I have heard you are a mufti. I say yes. He says I want a fatwa. I say what? He says I want to marry this girl. She has told me she is an atheist but she is willing to recite the kalima, can I marry her?

Now, if I tell him all this and make him listen to my full lecture, he will go crazy. He will say I just want to know yes or no. Most people, when they ask a fatwa, they want to know yes or no. It’s because you people want that, that’s why the mufti always tells you things in black and white because you can’t handle the coloured picture. We give you a monogram picture because you are not trained enough, you are not skilled enough, you don’t have enough hilm, zarf, tahammul to understand.

Imagine if I told him all of these things, he will walk away confused. And the danger of that confusion is that he might walk away from deen. He will say I thought my deen would guide me, I thought I would be able to do what is truly pleasing to Allah (swt), I went to a mufti because I wanted to please Allah (swt), I didn’t want to disobey Allah (swt), and he couldn’t give me an answer. So when it comes to fatwa, when it comes to court rulings, when it comes to the qadhi, the mufti, you have to decide.

This is true for all of the western law. The professors of law write all types of articles on criminal law and sentences in their legal journals. And they have all types of discussions in the law school classrooms, and debates in the conferences. But when it comes down to it, the judge has to issue one sentence. He has to decide one ruling. When the judge issues the ruling, it doesn’t mean he is negating all legal thought. But he has to necessarily, in the courtroom, issue one single ruling. Otherwise justice will never occur. There will be no concept of the law. That boy has to be given an answer.

So the first thing that happens when you run the box, and you comparatively assess the positions, you might be able to eliminate some. If you eliminate all except for one, then you are good to go.

5. Reconciliation: Tatbeeq and Tarjih

Sometimes, even when you run the box, you still end up with more than one position. Then there is a second phase of the activity that takes place called reconciliation; how do you resolve and reconcile this multiplicity? There are two ways I will show you in which this can be done. One is called tatbeeq and the other is called tarjih. Tatbeeq means that can I come up with some other position which is an over-arching position that somehow encompasses all of the positions that I have? Can I come up with an interpretive understanding, in fancy English they call it hermeneutics; some over-arching interpretive understanding that can take all of these positions along, that’s called tatbeeq.

If I can’t do that, can I do tarjih? Can I elevate and prefer and select one on the basis of some legitimate preference? It can’t be arbitrary, or what is easier. This is another problem that people say we will just take the position that’s easier. You can’t do that in deen. You have to be honest, you have to try your best to figure out what truly Allah (swt) wants. So you may have to pick one, but you have to pick one on the basis of some legitimate criteria of preference. This is not a legitimate criteria of preference to simply pick whatever is easy.

For that boy the easiest thing is for me to tell him to just marry her. Why can’t I do that as a mufti? Because I’m putting my neck out for him on the day of Judgement. On the day of Judgement if Allah (swt) asks him why did you marry her? He is going to present me. He will say I went to this person and he said he was a mufti of your deen. He told me I could marry her that’s why I married her. Other muftis might be willing, but I’m not willing to put my neck out on the day of Judgement for anyone.

Now I’m going to run the box for you on these positions. When we look at first running the box, which was to look at arguments and reasoning that went into the positions, in light of the entire workshop, the tongue position was discarded by the Islamic scholarly tradition. There was a very minor group known as Kalamiyya who selected this position. They were a handful of people who died out in one or two generations.

I already gave you a taste of that; that for example, Allah (swt) says in Qur’an that iman has not yet entered your heart. Remember, defining is about borders, the tongue position is saying that it is tongue only and not heart, you have to flush it out. In language you have to flush it out in order to compare and assess positions. So this position that tongue only and not heart, it wasn’t supported by the workshop and there were so many Qur’anic texts that went against that and so many hadith also where Blessed Prophet (sws) mentioned qalb/heart, so the tongue position was taken out.

Now you are left with three positions and all three of them have heart;

  1. Heart (only)
  2. Heart + tongue
  3. Heart + tongue + actions

We don’t have to look at the workshop any more about this issue of heart because all three of them are agreeing that iman does lie in the heart. So that’s agreement, we are done. We know for sure iman definitely is something that is in the heart. The question is does it also require to be professed with the tongue? Or does it also require actions?

Let me show you the other side of the box; to flush out the logical consequences. Let’s take the position of heart + tongue + actions. The Islamic scholarly tradition ran the box on this and realized it has serious implications. For example, if someone doesn’t pray, it would mean they don’t have iman. I’ll have to say he is a non-believer. There are so many actions, so many a’mal in our deen that were being figured out by the other workshop team who are doing what is Islam? They came up with a huge list of actions. They passed it over to us. And then when they looked at the sins, they took the hadith about the adultery, and they came up with a whole list of sins. That means if I take the third position that heart + tongue + actions = iman then a person needs to be doing all of this, and not doing all of that, and only then will I say that he has iman.

The implications of that are very difficult. That would lead to a very, very narrow definition of iman, and that spirit of such narrowness was not borne out by the text and the workshop, so we also look at the letter and the spirit. But always remember, it’s a mistake to think that the spirit is easy and the letter is difficult. It’s not like that. We will genuinely look at the letter and the spirit. Sometimes the letter is difficult, the spirit is easy. Most of the times the spirit is more difficult, and the letter is easy. How to do nikah? You just have to say a few words. That’s the letter of the law. But to really have the spirit of marriage in Islam is very difficult. Don’t think spirit of Islam is easier than the letter of Islam. The spirit of Islam is much much more difficult.

So the heart + tongue + actions was put to the side but it was not removed entirely because there were many texts in the workshop that did suggest action. So we put of question mark on it. We can’t accept this position, but what are we going to do about those texts that actions are part of iman? We have to figure something out. So we put it to the side.

Then we were left with two things: heart only and heart + tongue. Then the Islamic scholarly tradition said that here we will do the tatbeeq. We will take heart + tongue, because there were some texts in the workshop that talked about the tongue, and the notion is that true iman lies only in the heart. This is the tatbeeq; they are reconciling between these two positions that iman truly lies in the heart, but the deen of Islam, the Shari’ah requires that a person should profess it with their tongue, except in extremely rare circumstances, for example someone says if you accept Islam, I’ll kill you.

There was a time like that with the mushrikeen parents at the time of Blessed Prophet (sws), so that person was allowed to have iman in their heart and keep it a secret and not profess it with their tongue. Other than those extreme circumstances, a person should profess iman, they should self-identify themselves as a faithful believer because the deen of Islam requires that. For example, if she doesn’t self-identify herself as a believer, no one will marry her. He needs to self-identify himself as a believer so he can pay zakah, otherwise he won’t know he should be paying zakah. So iman itself lies in the heart but Islam requires it to be professed with the tongue. Those two positions were reconciled.

We were still left with the issue of the question mark over the actions. So the tatbeeq here, the way these positions were reconciled with the following; that a’mal are not ajza-e-haqeeqi of iman, ’amal are ajza-e-muhsina of iman. It means actions are not actually constituent parts of iman, rather actions are the way you adorn your iman, actions are a way you get that ziada, because there was this concept of iman becoming stronger or weaker. Actions have to do with the strength or weakness of iman.

So what we did was we eliminated the tongue position, because it just wasn’t borne out of the workshop, then we reconciled the other positions as follows; iman truly lies in the heart but Islam requires for a person to profess that iman with their tongue, and the role of actions is not about the absence or existence of iman, the role of actions is that ziada that has been mentioned many times that increase in iman.

The only difference that was left was does the action increase your iman quantitatively or does it increase it qualitatively; that was a difference that was completely tolerable and doesn’t cause problems. So we maintain the multiplicity there. It’s not always a quest for elimination for unicity. We can maintain a certain level of multiplicity and right up till today in the sunni Islamic tradition, there are some scholars who believe that ’amal increase iman qualitatively and some who believe ’amal increase iman qualitatively. Ultimately it doesn’t have any implications or consequences for any aspect of our deen.

This was a behind-the-scenes on this one aspect, there is so much more on this discussion of what is iman? There was so much more in the workshop, so many more positions, so many arguments that led to those positions, so many consequences, so many more ways in which those things were comparatively assessed but, like I told you, I was only trying to give you a feel on what really happens in Islamic theology.

Boundaries of Iman

In boundaries of Iman you will talk about three possible things:

  1. Inclusivism
  2. Exclusivism
  3. Pluralism & Tolerance

Inclusivism means that everyone has iman who self-describes themselves as a Muslim. Then there is a notion of exclusivism. It doesn’t mean to exclude everyone, but there will be certain people who will be excluded from having iman. One important case I will tell you, which is an example of this, is that all of the Sunni and Shi’i ulema have agreed upon, historically and currently, that if any human being in history or present or future, believes in another human being as a prophet, in any sense of the meaning — be it a real nabi, or shadow nabi, or partial nabi — after Blessed Prophet (sws), that person will be excluded from iman.

A person’s voluntary choice to believe in a nabi after Blessed Prophet (sws) puts them outside of iman; whether that other prophet’s name was Musailma al-Kazzab, or Baha’ullah who founded the Baha’i faith, or Mirza Ghulam Qadiyani. It doesn’t matter, it’s nothing personal for us. And there have been many, many others in history, and there are many yet to come in the future. Any person who believes that any one after Blessed Prophet (sws) is a nabi or a prophet, that person is excluded from iman.

When you exclude them from iman, it doesn’t automatically mean you can do violence against them. It’s a non-violent exclusion. We can live with them as fellow citizens. You can be fellow citizen in complete peace with the Christian, the Jew or an Atheist, Buddhist, Agnostic or a Qadiyani. It doesn’t make a difference to us as far as mutual, fellow co-existence as citizens of one country in one state goes. However, when it comes to iman, any person who chooses to believe in another prophet, they will be excluded from iman.

This is not just an Islamic principle. This is a principle that is followed by other religions. If a Christian in America meets me, they will call me a non-Christian. I won’t be offended by that, I won’t say you have offended my human rights. I would say that’s a factual statement. A Jew in America calls the Christians non-Jew. The Christians say why? We share so many things. We both believe in the old testament. They would say but you believe that Isa (as) is a son of God, or even if you believe he was the prophet, and we believe that Moses (as) was the last prophet. Therefore, you are a non-Jew, you are a Christian.

Were I to open up a masjid in the U.S., and call it a catholic church, this will not be called freedom of religion. This will not be called freedom of expression. I will not be allowed to do that. I could say but I believe in Isa (as), I believe that the bible was revealed by Allah (swt), but yes there are some problems with the ones they print in America, but I believe in the religion of bible. They will say you are not Catholic. You are Muslim.

I would say I want to call myself Catholic. They will say you can’t. I say it’s my freedom of expression that I want to call my masjid catholic church. They will say you can’t because you believe in an additional prophet beyond Catholicism. You cannot use the word Catholicism, you cannot call your masjid the catholic church of America. It has nothing to do with freedom of rights, freedom of expression. You can now understand why I am telling you this.

We 100% believe that if there was any non-Muslim, we will live with them absolutely peacefully. Taking the historical approach, we can look at the history of Islam; the Ottoman Empire, Andulus Empire, Mughal Empire, Safavid Empire; we are talking about centuries. United States became the superpower after World War II, that’s not even one century yet. Ottoman Empire was a superpower for 4-5 centuries. Andulus was a superpower for 3-4 centuries. In those massive, centuries long rule, there was a complete peaceful co-existence with non-Muslims. There were a few minor episodes, and those episodes were viewed as wrong. The Jewish historian will tell you that until the modern-day Israel, the best position the Jews ever had was either during Andulus before the Spanish invasion, or for the Jewish citizens of the Ottoman Empire.

Hindus in the Mughal Empire, and there was a bit more violence against Hindus, but it wasn’t massive violence. For the vast majority of the history of Mughal, which was technically a Muslim Empire, Hindus were able to live in peace under the Mughal Muslim rule. Vast majority of history is that, and the vast majority of Hindus lived peacefully. Yes, some of them were victims of unlawful, illegitimate violence, but the fact that the unlawful, illegitimate violence exists again is a social reality that will make us careful about how we talk about this. We don’t want to use inflammatory words, we don’t want to use hateful speech.

By saying that we don’t believe that someone who believes in another prophet is a Muslim, doesn’t mean we are saying that you can burn them, kill them, attack them or discriminate against them. We have to take into account the social reality and make sure we frame the discussion in light of that social reality and make sure that there is no negative repercussion from our theological belief in the social reality, in the social fabric of this country. But at the same time, iman is what it is, and believing in another prophet no longer entitles you to call yourself a Muslim. We can’t compromise on that either.

These are very delicate things I’m talking to you about. These are very delicate and sensitive things. Most people in Pakistan don’t have the ability to handle and navigate these topics with that delicacy, because they don’t do the historical, spiritual and intellectual approach, they don’t have enough understanding, they cannot handle multiplicity of meaning, they don’t know the workshop, they don’t know about the knob, they don’t run the box. They don’t do these things.

There was another thing I wanted to do with you, but I will not be able to due to shortage of time. However, I can direct you to a reading. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) wrote a book, called Faysal at-Tafriqa bayn al-Islam, in English you will have to search on the title Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam. This was translated by a Muslim convert, an African-American, Dr. Sherman A. Jackson. In Muslim circles he goes by the name Abdul Hakim Jackson. He is a professor of Islamic studies in the U.S. and he translated this book from Arabic to English, and interestingly it was printed in Oxford University Press Pakistan, as opposed to anywhere else in the world.

In this book, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) talks about a third thing also, after inclusivism and exclusivism in iman, which is pluralism and tolerance. Pluralism means how do you navigate the multiplicity of social reality? There is more than one sect of aqeedah, there is more than one theological sect out there in the whole Muslim Ummah, in every Muslim country. How do you set boundaries and how do you have tolerance?

I personally feel that Imam al-Ghazali’s approach is correct, but to do justice to that, we don’t have time. Since the book is available in English, you can read it. I will just give you one element and a central, core aspect of his approach and that is to focus on the Blessed Prophet (sws) and his nabuwwah, his (sws) prophethood and prophecy. One of the things he mentions is that anyone who accepts Prophet (sws) as a last, perfect and complete prophet, and doesn’t have any belief which somehow suggests that they don’t believe in the perfection and completion and finality of prophethood, and they believe in Allah (swt) and Qur’an, he says that’s sufficient.

Interestingly, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) was living at a time when, no matter what the English media may make you think, there was much more sectarianism during the middle period of Islam. In fact, when Islam was at that height of knowledge, astronomy, invention and discovery, that was also the height of sectarianism in Islam. He was living in the city Baghdad, which was extremely cosmopolitan with many sects in it; many denominations, many religions, many faiths, many atheist philosophers, everything was there.

Historically, he wrote responding to such a time, and I also accept there is this criticism that he wrote it in a particular historical context. But I feel that if our current context resembles that historical context, there is no harm in being guided and reformed by a past thinker. But I leave that up to you. So you can obtain that book, and it’s readily available at the OUP bookstores, and you can read it. You will find very interesting discussions there on this notion of pluralism and tolerance. And may be perhaps some other time in life, we might give you a short, one-day seminar, just on that text.

The second thing I wanted to do with you was an introduction to Ethics. But that’s an entire lecture in of itself. What I would have done for you was to show you in a similar way, using all of these approaches, how to define ethical and moral behavior, and the interaction between ethics and law. So I’m going to table that for you.

Law and Ethics

  • Authority
  • Legitimacy
  • Validity

If we have any left-over time in another session, I will try to return to this topic and do this brief introduction to ethics in our deen.


Introduction to Ethics and Theology

[These are rough notes from the first session of the workshop on Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Feb 2016]


Disclaimer: This is a purely educational course held to spread the teachings of Islam, with no intention of offending any sect or School of Thought.

Defining the Premises 

This series will cover three approaches to Islam:

  • Historical
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

The mistake some of us make is that we take singly or exclusively an intellectual approach to religion. We try to understand it only on the basis of our mind. We don’t realize that ultimately deen is a matter of the heart. In Qur’an Allah (swt) is addressing our heart. Blessed Prophet (sws) was gifted with a pure, noble and a beautiful heart. His (sws) heart won over the hearts of Sahaba (ra).

Vast majority of people who convert to Islam today, were you to ask them their story, they would tell you a story of the heart. Along the way there will be small triggers and decisions that may have taken place in their minds, but if you try to track their journey, it would come to be a journey of the heart. Therefore, there should also be an understanding of the spiritual aspects of Islam.

If a person takes all of these three aspects into account, then they would get this multi-dimensional, coloured, robust, in-depth picture of the deen of Islam. This is the overall approach that we are going to take to this course.

In the Western universities they have developed three models to study religion.

  • Faith-Based
  • Secular
  • Divinity School Approach

Faith-based: Sometimes it is also called a confessional study of religion. It means those people who confess, who profess their belief in that scripture, they try to go into an academic study of religion, but that academic study of religion obviously has a limit, because in the course of that study, they are not going to question the existence of Allah (swt); they are not going to question whether Blessed Prophet (sws) was really a prophet or not. That has already been decided by their iman. Those are the first principles that they assume and take for granted, and on that platform they want to study their deen.

For example, they still have, even though most people in Pakistan don’t know about it, a lot of madrassahs which are called seminaries. There are some very prominent seminaries, like the Jews Theological Seminary in New York, there is a Catholic Theological Seminary, and Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and different denominations of Protestant seminaries. A few of them even have affiliations with top universities. One seminary in Chicago, the Graduate Theological Union, has affiliation with the University of Chicago – one of the top 5 schools. There is another seminary in Berkeley that has affiliation with University of California, Berkeley – also one of the top 10 schools in the US. Inside a seminary, they conduct a faith-based and confessional study of religion.

Secular: Secular study of religion doesn’t just entail, but it demands, it necessitates that you don’t bring your belief in Allah (swt), belief that Qur’an is kitab ullah, belief that Blessed Prophet (sws) is the prophet and messenger of Allah (swt), you don’t bring that to your study of religion. Your approach to religion should be, in their terms, quote unquote, open minded. It means that your mind should be open to disbelief; open to the possibility that Allah (swt) doesn’t exist; open to the possibility that the Qur’an may or may not truly be the word of God; open to the possibility that Blessed Prophet (sws) was the prophet, or he wasn’t. This is the secular study of religion.

In the US people who study in the departments of religion, most of the faculty and students aren’t believers of any particular religion. There are a number of believers as well, but they make it a point to divorce and separate their belief from the classroom, from the lecture and from their own writings. Literally, it’s a very conscious effort in trying to despiritualize their study of religion. That’s one way of studying it.

Divinity School Approach: In some universities, particularly in Harvard, Yale and Chicago, they have made another school called the Divinity School, they call it Div School for short. In this school of divinity a new approach is taken; trying to combine the faith-based confessional study of religion along with those elements of the secular study of religion that are not critical to or skeptical of the matters of belief. You can say it is a faith-based academic approach that is willing to engage in that level of academics that does not critic or call into doubt one’s very foundations of belief. This is the method which I will be taking with you in these sessions.

This is actually something that is extremely lacking in Pakistan. Here we just have madrassahs, or we have faculty that teaches religion, especially in the elite universities, that are not bound by the faith-based approach. You will find varying levels of iman in different professors of Islamiyat, and obviously that is a matter between them and Allah (swt), but they have chosen to adopt secular methods in terms of their teaching and they often try to divorce their faith from their teaching. I don’t feel there is a need to do that. Or, at the very least, if one were to argue that the secular university should operate on that principle, we still need institutes that combine both. We need, what we have called, the divinity school approach.

Critical v. Analytical

I want to show you the difference between these two terms because there is a lot of buzz here that you should have critical thinking. Critical thinking in of itself is a good thing, but you have to be very careful, because when a secular educational institute uses the word critical thinking, for some of them the underlying message is that you should be willing to critic Allah’s (swt) book Qur’an, you should be willing to critic Blessed Prophet’s (sws) sunnah. So the more proper term which I prefer to use is analytical thinking, analytical thought, which is also a term, you can Google it. In fact, there is a whole area of Philosophy called Analytic Philosophy, some people call it Analytic Theology, and this actually has been used very much in Divinity School approach in America by Christians who want to retain their core principles of faith and belief, while embarking on an academic study which has the historical, intellectual and spiritual approaches to understanding the religion.

Always remember that, if you ever hear any Islamic lecturer or an ’Alim counseling you not to adopt critical thinking, they are not saying that don’t use your mind. They are saying don’t engage in critiquing Allah’s (swt) Qur’an, or critiquing the sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws). Any Islamic scholar is human; he is subject to critic, he is subject to review and refutation, he is subject to partial or full agreement – that’s for insan. But as far as Allah’s (swt) Qur’an and Blessed Prophet’s (sws) sunnah go, the word we are going to use is analytical i.e. we are going to analyze, we want to understand, we want to explore, we want to ponder, we want to reflect.

Introduction to Theology

In Arabic, there are two words used in theology:

  1. Aqidah
  2. Kalam

Aqidah: Strictly speaking, aqidah is normally translated as creed, or a creedal statement. For example, within Sunnis the most agreed upon creedal statement is a text written by Imam Abu Ja’far Tahawi (rh) known as Al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah; which is agreed upon by all the Sunnis, and even in terms of contemporary Pakistani/Indian Sunni division, known as Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-e-Hadith; all three of them agree on this aqidah; the Saudis agree on it, the Pakistanis agree on it, the Indonesians agree on it. And it has been translated in English by a very well-known, respected American convert scholar to Islam, Hamza Yusuf. His translation was published in America.

So aqida; creedal statement — what does this mean? A creedal statement embodies your basic set of beliefs about Allah (swt), prophecy, prophethood of Blessed Prophet (sws), angels, scriptures, life after death, resurrection, etc. They are very short statements. Another well known aqidah has been written by Imam al-Ghazali (rh), and some say he wrote it when he was in Quds sharif i.e. Jerusalem, and it is known as Ar-Risala al-Qudsiya fi Qawa‘id al-‘Aqa’id. It has also been translated in English, in fact both of these books are available on the internet. I’m not going to talk to you about aqidah in this course.

Kalam: Kalam is an analytical approach in trying to understand matters of faith. In English they sometimes translate it as Dialectic Theology. Ilm al-Kalam is all about going deep into different things that Allah (swt) has mentioned to us. For example, what is iman? What does it mean that Allah (swt) has a zaat; has an essence; has siffat – attributes?

You would be amazed at how deep some of the ulema explore some questions e.g. free will and predestination; these are questions that many university educated people ask, like do I have a free will if Allah (swt) knows everything, if Allah (swt) decrees everything? You will find lengthy discussions on this topic. Why did Allah (swt) create evil? Why did Allah (swt) create Shaytan? Why will Allah (swt) punish somebody eternally to hellfire, why not punish them for a finite amount of time? Why does Allah (swt) need to punish people?

I have, in my own personal one life, never yet encountered a single question raised by any philosopher or any Atheist, except that when I went back and researched I found that the ulema of kalam had already discussed and analyzed the same question at length, but using their understanding of Qur’an and Sunnah — and not merely on the basis of their intellect and rationality.

All of these questions have been addressed in ilm al-kalam. We will be talking about some of these questions in the upcoming session Science, Rationality and the New Atheism. I hope to do a couple of them today so you would get an idea how this system works. Every lecture that I’m giving you is just a drop in a very vast ocean. We could do a whole course on Islamic Theology. One could design an entire degree program on this; and there are such degrees in the world.

The point of these few sessions is just to give you a glimpse of, what I sometimes call, a behind-the-scenes tour. What happens when you go on a behind-the-scenes tour of a factory? You will not learn enough to build your own factory, nor will you learn enough to understand every element of the factory, but somebody will grab you by the hand and show you major things in that factory, and at the end they will take you right back to the exit door and send you on your way. If ever you decide that you also want to build a factory, or really understand a factory, for that you will have to embark on a much longer course of study.

Hadith-e-Jibrael & the beginning of Islamic Learning

This is a very famous hadith. It has been narrated both by Imam Bukhari (rh) and Imam Muslim (rh) in their Sahih collections. The reason I’m mentioning this to you today is that the classical study of Islam used to usually begin with this hadith, and this hadith was used to frame a discussion.

From ‘Umar, there is that he said, “While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, one day a man came up to us whose clothes were extremely white, whose hair was extremely black, upon whom traces of travelling could not be seen, and whom none of us knew, [Syedna Umar (ra) must have realized that he was not from Madinah, so he must have come from somewhere else, and if he came from somewhere else and he made a desert journey, then his clothes should have been dusty and his black hair should have been dusty. All of you in Pakistan like to buy white cars, once a boy explained to me that black-coloured cars show dirt more. I said white will show the dirt more, he said no dark will show it more. And he was right as it turns out. So that’s what they mean here, there are both things; that the clothes were white and the hair was black.] 

He sat down close to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, [he cut through all our ranks and he went straight to Blessed Prophet (sws) and he sat by him] so that he rested his knees upon his knees and placed his two hands upon his thighs [which is a very intimate way; physical contact, considering he is a stranger, without a doubt, and he immediately asks a question, no salam, no introduction, no how are you, no who am I?] and said, ‘Muhammad, tell me about Islam.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless with him and grant him peace, said, ‘Islam is that you witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and you establish the prayer, and you give the Zakat, and you fast Ramadan, and you perform the hajj of the House if you are able to take a way to it.’

He said, ‘You have told the truth,’ and we were amazed at him asking him and [then] telling him that he told the truth [normally a person higher in knowledge would tell you if you had spoken truly]. He said, ‘Tell me about iman.’ He said, ‘That you affirm Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you affirm the Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.’ [as I told you, aqidah, creedal statement, begins with this sentence and they just open it up, and they write a commentary of 6-7 points] He said, ‘You have told the truth.’ He said, ‘Tell me about ihsan.’ He said, ‘That you worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him then truly He sees you.’

He said, ‘Tell me about the Hour.’ He said, ‘The one asked about it knows no more than the one asking.’ He said, ‘Then tell me about its tokens.’ He said, ‘That the female slave should give birth to her mistress, and you see poor, naked, barefoot shepherds of sheep and goats competing in making tall buildings.’ He went away, and I remained some time. Then he asked, ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?’ I said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ [look at his (ra) adab; he didn’t try to guess and score some CP points!] He said, ‘He was Jibrael who came to you to teach you your deen’.”

Now I’m going to open this up for you that how this is the beginning of studying deen. It begins with the last line ‘He was Jibrael who came to you to teach you your deen’. This is a very beginning, elementary definition, to what is deen. Deen means:

  • Iman
  • Islam
  • Ihsan
  • Social Reality [knowing that there is something coming i.e. the Hour; end of the world, and knowing the signs that will reveal the coming of that time.]

So all four of these constitute deen. Part of deen is to understand these three things i.e. iman, Islam and ihsan. Another part is this notion that there is an end of times which is a notion of the future. One is the historical past, one is the vision of the future. And secondly, there will be signs that indicate the decline that will lead to the end — that’s the understanding of a society. In modern terms we will call this Sociology. It’s an understanding of a social reality.

It is also implying that for deen, you need to be aware of the social reality, because, why are signs given? Signs are given for you to prepare, but if you don’t have your pulse on society and you don’t have a social reality, you will not be able to perceive those signs, you will not be able to take the heed which Allah (swt) wants you to by telling you of those signs. It means that part of deen is knowing there is a future as an end of the world, and that future is going to be marked by spiritual decline, and for this a person must be tracking the spiritual decline in society. Therefore, you can see why I have mentioned this notion of historical approach.

Disciplines of Islamic Learning

Following disciplines emerged in Islamic learning from the above mentioned constituents of deen:

Ilm al Kalam: First discipline that emerged was the study of iman, that was the subject matter of aqidah and kalam. This was a whole area of learning with a whole spectrum of scholars, again, across time, in historical context, who were also trying to capture the universal meanings of truths; a whole series of scholarship; books, treatises, discussions, debates, disagreements, consensuses taken on this question of iman – this is known as ilm al-kalam, or ilm al-aqai’id.

Ilm al Fiqh: Second, on the notion of Islam, Blessed Prophet (sws) has mentioned some of our obligations: prayer, fasting, zakah, hajj. A whole realm of scholarship developed around the study and understanding of this and that is known as ilm al-fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and we will be covering it a few days later. It means to understand the commands and wishes of Allah (swt) from the sources of deen, from the Qur’an and Sunnah; to derive an understanding from the textual sources of Islam.

For example, here we understand that we have to fast. But what is fasting? How long is the fast? What breaks the fast? That’s not mentioned in this hadith. It’s mentioned that you should pray, but how do you pray? How many raka’at are in a prayer? What will invalidate your prayer? What are those things that, if you forget, you can make up for with two extra sajdahs? That’s not mentioned in this hadith. So a whole world was developed called the ilm al fiqh; which another whole area of study.

Ilm al Tazkiyah: Third was what is ihsan? A whole world was developed on this as well, we were given a target: worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him. First of all, what does that even mean? What does it mean that you worship Allah (swt) as if you are seeing Him? These are the things that are beyond the realm of rationality. Your rational mind will tell you I cannot see Allah (swt), but Blessed Prophet (sws) is saying worship as if you see Allah (swt). Obviously, there has to be something beyond rationality, some way of learning, some understanding.

This is the realm of the spiritual approaches. This is known as ilm al tazkiyah; the knowledge of spiritual purification. Later some people gave it the name tasawwuf, but its original, classical name is ilm al tazkiyah. It’s about how to create those feelings in yourself. If you cannot get the feeling that you are looking at Allah (swt) then know that Allah (swt) is looking at you.

Some people when they narrate this hadith, they use the word ta’budallah; make ibadah, it means all ibadah, not just the salah, not just the daily prayer. If you recite the Qur’an, recite it in a way that you feel as if you are seeing Allah (swt). If you recite durud sharif, salawat, do it in a way as if you are seeing Allah (swt). It can even be taken to mean a broader sense of ibadah; if you are doing any relief work, any humanitarian work, khidmet for society, even if you are spending time with your family (any and every aspect of your life, with the right intention, can be construed as ibadah of Allah swt) so it means do all of that with the feeling in your heart as if you are seeing Allah (swt).

How does a person do that? How does a person spend their whole life such that this feeling is always there? So we need some understanding for that. This needs to be opened up in tafseel; we need to learn it and be trained in it in order to acquire this. Why? Because this is also a part of your deen. This is why it is a great mistake that people make when they say that in Islam you just need to do these five things. Look at this hadith; Islam also means that you need to have this iman, it also means that you worship Allah (swt) with such feelings, and it also means that you have awareness of social reality; of the notion that the humanity is going on decline.

Tools of Analytical Interpretation

1. Intellectual Approach

a. Turning the knob

I’m going to go back to the hadith-e-Jibrael and show you a way the deen is analyzed i.e. its analytical study. I will start with this very last thing which are the signs of the Hour:

“The slave-girl will give birth to her mistress”

Some things in Islam are literal; we can understand them just by the linguistic meanings. For example, make hajj if you are able to. Understood. But what does this mean that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress? When you are going into an analytical study of Islam, the question is that will you always take the text literally, or are you open to the idea that maybe the literal meaning is not only what is intended, maybe the literal meaning is a metaphor.

This is something we call turning the knob. The knob is the interpretive scope that you want to apply on any verse of Qur’an or any text of hadith. If you keep the knob at zero, the meaning is only literal i.e. there is a girl who is a slave who will grow up to have a daughter, and somehow that daughter will become free and she will choose to buy her mother as a slave, thus she will enslave her own mother. There is no metaphor here, no deeper meaning, no general meaning. That’s quite difficult to imagine. It’s almost impossible that someone would become free and enslave her own mother. But, strictly speaking, because now this is a faith-based element, our faith in the Blessed Prophet (sws) demands us to believe that that might very well happen. Allah (swt) knows best, I may not be able to see how it will happen, but there may come a time in the world when this will happen, and when that literally happens, I will understand it as the sign of the Hour.

Second option is to turn the knob a little, so lets say I turn it to 1. Here we will open up the meaning a little bit. Maybe Blessed Prophet (sws) is telling me a deeper meaning so I have to read into that language. The lesson we derive from the literal text is that it would be a terrible thing to do for a daughter to enslave her own mother. So if we take this lesson, it would mean that the daughter would not respect her mother. We may even take the meaning that she will be so disrespectful to her mother, she will view herself as the mother and make herself a female master of her own mother.

If you turn the knob further at 2, you will get a wider meaning. You will still keep the literal meaning, and the second meaning that daughters will disrespect their mothers. Third, it is just generally referring to social disorder and chaos. It is the over-turning, flip-flop, of the natural order of things. So, for example, now in 2016 I could say that in some Western countries they believe in the same-sex marriage which, otherwise, classically, in the vast majority of Western history and even today among many people in the West, has been viewed to be strictly between a man and a woman. If I turn the knob at 3 and take this wider meaning, this is called in Arabic amoom al ma’ana; ta’leel fil ma’ana — to create a broader understanding in the meaning from the lafz (articulated word). Then I would say this is a role reversal. Role is supposed to be that man and a woman get married. Now they are saying that man and man can get married, or woman and woman can get married.

Now what happens is that, depending on where you turn the knob, it would determine whether the sign has occurred or not. If I turn the knob all the way to point 3, you might say that same-sex marriages are happening in the world so this is a sign that the day of judgement is coming near. If a person keeps the knob at zero, so there is no slave-girl yet who has given birth to her mistress, you might say that the sign hasn’t happened yet. So you see it has mass implications. When you open up and explore, you get a wide range of meaning, so the term we are going to use for this is turn the knob. How far will you turn the knob?

That is another question that who is allowed to touch the knob. If anyone could touch the knob, there’s going to be a problem. Even on sound control over here, we always designate people who are going to be doing the sound and presentation. If everyone jumped in then, like they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. This interpretation cannot be completely arbitrary or completely random. There needs to be some guidelines, some limitations. I’m not going to do those guidelines with you in this course. This is just for you to understand that all these things come up when you want to have an analytical understanding of your deen.

“Barefoot, naked, destitute shepherds will compete with one another in constructing tall buildings”

Here if you keep the knob at zero, you can actually see this happening if you ever travel to Saudi Arabia or any of the GCC countries. Part of it is a kinayah (metaphor) to indicate that they are extremely poor and they are being used to construct sky-scrapers, you can see this today even in Makkah Mukarma. If this is the interpretation, and if this is a sign that is there even within hudood-e-haram itself where you will find Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Egyptians and even some Indonesians now, very poor people, this is called migrant labor who are being given very low wages, living about 10 persons to a room to save some money to send back home, and what are they doing? They are constructing tall buildings. Dubai had the highest one, and now Saudis are saying that we are going to make the highest one, so there is this notion of competition. So besides the barefoot and naked part, if you keep the knob at zero, the literal meaning is there.

If you turn the knob a little bit, you can get a more general meaning from that. Lets turn the knob all the way to 3. This could mean materialism, capitalism, this notion of free competition in order to pursue materialistic ends. So basically, it’s about the knob. One interpretive tool is the knob. Another tool is explanation, that’s different from interpretation. For example, worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him. You need an explanation on how to do this. So you open it up, you get explanation. But here, in interpretation, you turn the knob. So this is the first aspect where I give you a glimpse of theology. So I showed you how, like this hadith, is studied, understood and analyzed.

b. Building the workshop

What is iman? You might think that why do I need to ask this question when you just showed me the hadith that Angel Jibrael (as) asked the Blessed Prophet (sws) this question. It’s already been done. And Blessed Prophet (sws) responded that iman is to believe in the angels, the books, prophets, day of judgement, and the decree that everything good and bad comes from Allah (swt). But the reality is that now when you understand anything, for example in the case of iman, you have to do a second thing called a workshop.

In order to get a deep analytical understanding of your deen, you have to go to Qur’an and take every single verse that has iman, mu’min, alazina amanoo, mu’mineen, and bring it all to the table. You have to build a workshop even if you want to answer this one question that what is iman. Then you have to go to the hadith and take everything where Blessed Prophet (sws) has told us about iman, has described iman, and defined iman, and bring all of that to the workshop. It’s not easy! Don’t think the analytical approach means that you just use your mind and try to guess what iman is. In any academic endeavor, there are some sources, there is certain literature, certain fundamental truths that you have to engage. In Islam the fundamental truths are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The answer you will get even to such a central, crucial question as this, would be multiple, multi-layered and it might even sometimes appear to have contradictions.

c. Linguistic Analysis

There is another aspect to the intellectual approach, which is linguistics. I can go deep into Arabic linguistics, I can do what is called the etymological study, I can look at the roots of iman; ا م ن; iman (ایمان) is related to aman (امن). Can the Arabic language itself tell me something about what is iman? Yes, it can. I could say that iman and aman are derived from the same note so iman means aman; all the words that are derived from the same root have an interrelationship (nisbah) what we call in Arabic alaqatu tashbeeh (interrelationship in meaning), that’s also something I will bring to the table.

2. Historical Approach

Now were you to take the historical approach, it would add that how do all of these verses on iman have been understood historically by the tafsir tradition. So now I will add to the workshop every single mufassir’s commentary on every single verse of iman. Obviously, that is not necessarily binding upon me but it’s something I should look at. Similarly, I have to take every hadith scholar’s (muhadith) commentary and understanding and explanations (tashrih) of every hadith that mentions iman. I’m building a huge workshop, then I’m going to dive in and read all of that stuff and try to figure out the basic crux of what is iman.

3. Spiritual Approach

Spiritual means the living embodiment of deen; those individuals in the ummah who have had this iman, because, obviously, deen isn’t just about the theory. Deen must necessarily also have a practical, real, lived, exampled and legacy in a real living tradition. Those people who really are mu’mineen, saliheen mu’mineen, mutaqeen mu’mineen, zakireen mu’mineen, sadiqeen mu’mineen, awliya mu’mineen — all of these words are in Qur’an — what was their spiritual state? What was their condition that described the feeling of iman? What does it feel to have iman in a heart? What are those things that can increase or decrease the strength of iman in one’s heart?

Living tradition will tell me all of this. Sometimes these people expressed their iman in poetry, sometimes in prose, sometimes they wrote letters and treatises explaining what makes a person’s iman strong, or weak. I’ll have to add all of that from the spiritual, lived tradition, the legacy and practical aspects of iman. All of this needs to be done if you want to truly get an understanding of your deen; intellectual, spiritual, historical; the text, the context, the interpreted tradition, the linguistic aspects, the lived aspects, the feelings aspect — all of that just to answer this question that what is iman.

Positions on Iman

After the Islamic tradition built this workshop and they looked at all the things I’ve just mentioned to you, they came up with four answers to this question that what is iman.

  1. Heart: Iman is a feeling that lies in the heart only. Simply feeling the feelings of iman.
  2. Tongue: If someone expresses iman with their tongue i.e. they simply say ash’hadu an la ilaha illallahu wa ash’hadu anna muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluh, they just have to say it with their tongue and it will be enough for iman.
  3. Heart & Tongue: They have to do both. They must truly believe in it in their heart and they must also express it with their tongue.
  4. Heart, Tongue & Actions: Iman means to believe in your heart, to express it with your tongue, and to perform the actions of iman. The way they express it is that al ’amalu dakhil i.e. actions are a part of iman, they are not something separate.

Showing you the whole workshop would take up a lot of time. When I was a full-time student of Sahih Bukhari, its chapter on iman is like a dozen pages, and we had to spend a few hours everyday, 6-days a week, for a couple of months just to do kitab al iman, just to understand that one part of the workshop about those hadith that Imam Bukhari (rh) narrated on iman. There are many other hadith and verses, linguistics and all of that. So the workshop is very in-depth but I’ve fast forwarded it to show you the conclusion. There is no fifth conclusion that came out in the entire history of Islam.

Why is this important? Sometimes you might get a question; I’ll give you a very classic example. It happens many times in this community that there is a Pakistani boy who has gone abroad to study in America or UK and he comes back and he says that I want to marry this girl and it turns out that the girl was born to an Atheist family, and the girl is an Atheist. Now parents come to me that our son wants to get married to an Atheist! But you yourself had sent him abroad, you put him in a university which was an open minded decision you took, where he lived in an open society, in an open environment, with open interaction with the opposite gender, so when you created so much openness these things can happen. Then they say that we have explained to him that the girl must accept Islam and the girl has agreed.

What does it mean to accept Islam? So for some people it’s just about saying the sentence. So what she means is that look I really want to marry you and you want to marry me and all I have to do is say this sentence in front of a few people, so I’ll say the sentence and we will get married. Sometimes the parents are also happy with that. They say that son, as long as she is willing to say the sentence (they will euphemise it in a nice way) only Allah knows what’s in the heart. That’s true too; only Allah (swt) knows what’s in a person’s heart, but many times a person reveals their heart.

If somebody comes and says I’m an Atheist, I can’t say that only Allah (swt) knows if there is iman in his heart or not. Obviously Allah (swt) knows, but I also know now because he has said there is no iman in his heart. It doesn’t mean that the human being cannot know things; we can know things! But to know things we need to receive it from an authentic source. If someone else tells me something about someone, that’s not an authentic source. But if a person himself tells me that I don’t have iman in my heart, that’s an authentic source, it’s a source of knowledge, I’m entitled in my deen to say this person does not have iman because he himself told me that he doesn’t have iman.

What happens is that the girl says that I’m still an Atheist, but I’m willing to recite this sentence, and sometimes the boy’s parents will say that it’s fine as long as you recite the sentence. Now, it depends on what position you take. If you take the second position that iman is just reciting the sentence with the tongue, then you are good to go and you can get them married. But if you take any other position on the board, because all the other three have a heart, she will truly have to believe in her heart, but she’s saying I don’t do that, so this marriage will not be valid. That goes back to what social reality a person has. Your understanding of deen effects the issues of social reality.

There are so many issues like this. For example, who has to pay zakah? A person who just says it with their tongue, or a person who believes it in their heart? There are things like marriage where we do need to identify this question to determine as to who has iman or not. There are certain societal, family, collective, interpersonal aspects of Islam that require this question to be defined.

Defining the Boundaries: Inclusivism & Exclusivism

When you are talking about definitions (e.g. the definition of iman) to define something also means to create its border. The Arabic definition for border is hadd; hudood i.e. borders; to define something. In formal science concerned with definition, which is called taxonomy, you try to define things so precisely that it includes all elements of that set (inclusivism) and excludes all the elements that are not a part of that set (exclusivism).

It would mean to define iman so precisely that everyone who has iman would be included in that definition, and also people who don’t have iman should be excluded from that definition. That’s also a word in Qur’an and it’s called kufr; and there is a word kafir; kuffar — people who don’t have iman. That’s also a concept of Qur’an. Right now people are not learned enough to handle the topic of what is kufr in a sensitive, academic, non-violent, non-extremist manner. So right now I chose to do iman for which I gave you this much of an answer; howsoever you answer the question what is iman, it will also necessarily give you an answer to your question what is not iman. When you decide what is iman, you will, as a necessity, end up also deciding what is not iman.

[Cont’d here]

Channeling Negativity

[These are rough notes of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed db on Saturday, March 25, 2017]


Sometimes Allah (swt) puts a person in a situation where there is no way out for them, except by turning towards Him. There is nothing they can do to change their situation. Many times these situations prompt a certain emotional reaction. If the person reacts in a negative way, then that situation, which could have been a means of developing qurb (proximity) with Allah (swt), while not necessarily making them distant from Allah (swt), can surely leave them stuck. On the path of suluk (spiritual development), there is ‘uruj (going forward), wuquf (getting stuck) and ruju’ (going backwards, in reverse).

A woman who is listening to talks like these is obviously trying to come closer to Allah. There maybe something out of her control in her surroundings, in her environment, maybe in her children or in-laws that might be holding her back. So she may feel as though she is in a tug. So for example, maybe she comes to a gathering, or she reads, or she teaches and she drowns herself in the dhikr for Allah (swt), but when she comes back home, her husband is watching TV, or her kids want to watch a movie, so this complete rupture, culture shock creates an emotional reaction.

The first feeling is sadness and despondency whereby she loses her motivation and inspiration. That spiritual connection and yearning she had felt earlier gets lost. You have to protect these feelings from things outside of your control. You cannot lose it due to something that is happening even in your own home, because that will lead to depression. Your emotional feelings should not affect your spiritual feelings. To some extent you have to employ a certain level of ‘ajnabiyyat (alienation), even if it’s in your own home, or with your own spouse.

For example, let’s say I travel to Blackburn/London on the weekend, and spend that whole weekend sharing and listening to nasihah (counsel); after one to three days, all of our mind and soul would be redirected towards Allah (swt), and then on Monday, we go back to our research, and sometimes encounter different people. Now, because that is not my home, you can all understand and imagine how I compartmentalize that. I don’t let that other environment intrude in my relationship with Allah (swt). You may also have to do this with maybe your own family at home.

It doesn’t mean you become a stranger to your family, or you become a social recluse. It doesn’t mean you don’t function, and don’t fulfill your roles as a mother, daughter etc. It just means that you inwardly maintain the feelings for Allah (swt). In fact, you should reflect even more, and develop more fikr (concern) for others. You need to channel it in a positive way. It doesn’t matter if you think your in laws or husbands will not change. It’s in your control to keep your own mukhlis genuine concern for them.

If they don’t change, and you think they’re stubborn, then your fikr for them should be as stubborn. Your fikr should also be as inflexible and rigid. Your fikr should  refuse to bend and adapt. You should also walk with your armour protecting your own spirituality. All of us can be sad about our family, in-laws etc. but you need to channel that in a positive way. Like we discussed the term miskin yesterday — when you are feeling trapped by challenges with nowhere to move, then we should have yaqin [firm conviction] at that point. Miskin believes that Allah can suffice him, and ONLY Allah (swt) can suffice him. We can try everything, but miskin feels that no-one can help him except Allah (swt).

So there are two things that can happen; one thing that can happen is Allah (swt) will accept your du’as and bring about change. Another possibility is that Allah swt wants you to be in this test forever, so yes, some of you say, it’s been like this for 5-10 years etc. The question is, will you give into depression or will you maintain your yaqin and connection with Allah (swt)?

Lets accept it at this point — maybe it is impossible for those affecting you to change, but do you change? You will be amazed at the types of situations some women go through, for example, for some of them their husbands were totally off deen, but then these women created their own environment. They found a way to preserve and continually increase in their relationship with Allah (swt). We can say it is impossible as far as the present and past goes, but as for the future, only Allah (swt) knows, so you should always have hope that things could change for the better. Allah (swt) may choose to bring khayr. For some divine wisdom, He (swt) may choose not to change that situation; either way, we should be fine.

It is easy to go into depression, despair etc. I know women in such situations who kept going even though for them it was a traumatic experience. They didn’t just survive in deen, but in dunya also. The whole world can tell them they are finished, but anyone who goes through zulm, or a traumatic experience, they won’t be able to carry on unless they turn entirely to Allah (swt).

Allah (swt) will never keep a person in one state permanently. Allah swt has promised in Qur’an:

إِنَّ مَعَ ٱلۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرً۬ا
So, undoubtedly, along with the hardship there is ease. [94:5]

‘Usr is a word denoting extreme difficulty which Allah (swt) will follow up with yusr. You should always have hope in that promise of Allah (swt). For those of you who are studying online, you may have experienced exam anxiety at some point. However, ultimately, on the day of exam you are fine, because you know the exam will end in a couple of hours. Say you have an exam that starts at 9 AM and ends at 12 noon; guaranteed, it will definitely become 12 noon (if we live), and one way or another it will end. This notion of knowing the end will come lessens the difficulty. Allah (swt) wanted us to feel this in this verse too — that ‘usr will definitely end, and Allah (swt) will actually even bring ease. No matter how bad an exam goes, there is still happiness after it ends — you will celebrate its ending. Same goes for any situation Allah (swt) puts you in.

May Allah (swt) accept us, and every relationship for His sake. May He (swt) not allow things outside of our control affect our spirituality. May He make us the living embodiment of the ayah:

وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ
And exhorted each other to follow truth, and exhorted each other to observe patience. [103:3]


وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


Heirs of the Prophet (sws)

The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshiper is like the superiority of the full moon over other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share.

[Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah relate this hadith in their compilations.]

The scholars have learnt the knowledge of deen and spread it throughout the ummah. Yes, sometimes in some ages there have been groups with misguided knowledge. For example, at the time of Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (ra) the Ameer had a batil aqeedah (wrong belief) which Imam Hanbal took a stand against. He was pelted with stones but he did not back down. Similarly, during each time-period true scholars have worked hard to preserve this knowledge. We have a whole jama’a (group) of scholars behind the knowledge that we have today which was preserved by them.

What constitutes The Knowledge?

كَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا فِيڪُمۡ رَسُولاً۬ مِّنڪُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ ءَايَـٰتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيڪُمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُڪُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡحِڪۡمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمۡ تَكُونُواْ تَعۡلَمُونَ
As also We have sent in your midst a messenger from among you, who recites to you Our verses, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and the wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know. [2:151]

Allah (swt) has told us the purpose of prophethood, and the duties thereof which comprise of the following:

  1. Tilawat (recitation)
  2. Tazkiya (purification)
  3. Taleem al Kitab (meanings of Qur’an i.e. tafsir)
  4. Hikmah (through the words and actions of Prophet (sws) i.e. sunnah)

All of these are included in knowledge. They have been transferred from generation to generation. This is complete guidance and guidance will not be lifted from us till the end of times.

Imam Ahmad (ra) relates from Syedna Anas (ra) that the Prophet (sws) said:

“The similitude of the religious scholars on earth is that of the stars in the sky, by which [people] are guided through the darkness of the land and sea.”

The legacy of Prophet (sws)

The legacy of Blessed Prophet (sws) is both in the form of pure revelation i.e. text, and also a pure and noble heart will be able to preserve this knowledge in its true essence. There are two Reasons why we have lost our connection with this tradition:

  1. We have lost our qadr (appreciation) for sacred knowledge
  2. We do not have respect for the people of knowledge anymore

We have turned sacred knowledge into drawing room discussions. The scholars are being discredited and taunted. In Pakistan this inclination to ridicule and make light of teachings of prophethood is getting worse day by day. In this day and age, there is a great need to revive the tradition of valuing and upholding the sacred knowledge.

It is true that certain people who are not true scholars do mislead and misguide people. However, we know that this knowledge is preserved till the end of times so there is always a jama’a that will be on haq (truth) in every age. We need to find these people. We have to learn to trust our scholars once again because they are the only source to get guidance of deen.

Important Terminologies

Shari’ah
Literal meaning: A pathway, a path
Istalahi (figurative) meaning: Certain laws extracted from Qur’an and Hadith.

We get scared of this word thinking it is something too strict and rigid. But in reality shariah is everything that brings a person back to their fitrah (innate nature) and connects them to Allah (swt). Shariah forms the basis of an equitable society, and it is a means of eliminating evil and oppression.

It includes haram and halal as well, but more broadly speaking it is a way which, when followed, will grant us love of Allah (swt). People deride shariah saying this is a straight and narrow path. This is not true at all. It is a broad pathway on which a person can tread easily – it is like a highway, but regardless of how broad the highway is, if you get out of its boundary, then you are a goner.

Fiqh
Literal meaning: To understand/understanding
Istalahi meaning: Set of principles from Qur’an and Sunnah upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.

Tafaqquh
Extremely deep understanding of a subject matter.

Usul al Fiqh
The study of principles and rules upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.

Example: there is a well and I need to take out water from it but I do not know how to do it. I will take a bucket and tie it with a rope to get the water out. Quran and Hadith are a treasure, like a well, but we are standing outside the understanding of Quran and Hadith, then we will make certain rules and principles. On the basis of these rules and principles we will understand Quran and Hadith. Then after understanding we will derive rulings out of them. For example, Quran says:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لَا تَقۡرَبُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَنتُمۡ سُكَـٰرَىٰ
O you who believe! Do not go near Salah when you are intoxicated [4:43]

And also that:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡخَمۡرُ وَٱلۡمَيۡسِرُ وَٱلۡأَنصَابُ وَٱلۡأَزۡلَـٰمُ رِجۡسٌ۬ مِّنۡ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنِ فَٱجۡتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ
O you who believe! Wine, gambling, altars and divining arrows are filth, made up by Satan. Therefore, refrain from it, so that you may be successful. [5:49]

How to act on both of these ayahs? With the ruling of Nasikh and Mansookh we know that the previous ayah was mansookh after the new ruling came.

Ijtihad
Literal meaning: Superlative form; from juhd; to strive

  1. Highest level of physical exertion: jihad
  2. Educational exertion: ijtihad
  3. Spiritual exertion: mujaahida

Mujtahideen 
Those who exert themselves in the knowledge of deen.

Four sources of theoretical knowledge

  1. Wahi – there is no ikhtilaf (difference of opinion)
    1. Quran (wahi-e-matlu [words and meanings are both from Allah (swt)])
    2. Sunnah (wahi-e-ghayr matlu [meanings are from Allah (swt) but words are from Blessed Prophet (sws)])
  2. Ghayr wahi – there is ikhtilaf
    1. Ijma (the evidence for this also comes from Quran and Hadith)
    2. Ijtihad (usually people get stuck here – where is this coming from? Actually ijtihad is also taken from Quran and Hadith)

Example: Sahaba (ra) were going on a ghazva and an ayah was revealed:

وَمَا كَانَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُواْ ڪَآفَّةً۬‌ۚ فَلَوۡلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرۡقَةٍ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ طَآٮِٕفَةٌ۬ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُواْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُواْ قَوۡمَهُمۡ إِذَا رَجَعُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَحۡذَرُونَ
It is not (necessary) for all the believers to go forth [In case there is not a general call for jihad]. So, why should it not be that a group from every section of them goes forth, so that they may acquire perfect understanding of the Faith, and so that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may take due care (of the rules of Shari‘ah). [9:122]

That for Muslims it is not necessary that all of them should leave for the ghazva. Rather they should separate from every division a small group of people. Why? So that they can do tafaqquh (get an extremely deep understanding of religion) and then they can warn the people when they return.

Things to understand from this ayah:

  1. Virtue and merit of fiqh is because it requires excellence, dedication and deeper understanding. Fiqh has a quality to uphold.
  2. There is a constant effort that a person has to make in ilm.
  3. This is a specialized activity that certain special people would do.
  4. If we imagine that someone is at the time of Prophet (sws) in Madinah and he really wants to do this tafaqquh. Though he has the faculty it will have to be seen if he has the capability to do this. A chosen few will do it. Even all Sahaba (ra) did not do it.
  5. IMP: If the few people left behind get this deep understanding and knowledge, then those who return will have to follow those few people of knowledge. They have to do taqleed. They have to follow because they did not have the time to put in that effort or capability to understand deen at such a deep level. It does not mean one group is superior to the other. It means one group will benefit the other just like in a community different people do different tasks to build up a functioning society.

Tafaqquh in Quran

We have a treasure of Quran and Hadith from which we have to take out the rulings.

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority [4:59]

Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) while explaining the ayah, explained ulul amr to mean scholars and leaders both. So leaders in knowledge and political leaders both have to be followed because they have to administer the society. Layman will follow the lead of a specialized group.

Q. This ayah means that if there is disunity on a point between scholars, that disunity is a disunity of ummah? 

This is not the case because the differences of opinion is not on the basis of aqeedah (creed). And in Islam we can see that there is flexibility to some extent in things unrelated to aqaid.

Q. Ulema have hijacked knowledge, so how do we understand this in the context that only certain people can become the scholars?

Its like saying certain doctors have hijacked the health department. Can everyone lead the health department? No, but the capacity to gain knowledge can be developed. If you have the capability, no one is stopping you from gaining knowledge.

Another capacity Allah (swt) has given is to become close to Allah (swt). Everyone  has this capability so no one has hijacked this, and this is the thing that truly matters. Another wrong criticism is that people compare this to the Christian concept of Papacy where their pastors tell them you are doomed to hell, or you are going to heaven – but this does not apply to Islam at all.

Q. Why is there a need for rulings/usul?

It is like saying why don’t I jump in the well to get the water. We will not go to ijtihad unless and until we require a ruling that is not clearly mentioned in Qur’an or Hadith. We cannot use ijma or ijtihad for things that are clear in Qur’an and Hadith for example, no new meaning would be derived for namaz etc.

We only go to it if we have a masla (jurisprudential issue) that has not been discussed in Hadith or Quran. For example, the case of test-tube babies. In Qur’an there is nothing relevant to test tube babies, nor in Hadith because it was not a reality of that time. But our deen is not stagnant, is gives a structure that can answer according to the changing societal needs. If we had a fixed structure, it would not have been able to develop with society. Qur’an and Hadith have both themselves pointed to the direction of ijtihad and ijma. And we are talking about people who have put their entire lives on the path of knowledge.

Scope of Fiqh and ijtihad

On Difference of Opinion

Sahaba (ra) also used to have a difference of opinion. Regarding the prisoners of war from Battle of Badr, the opinion of Nabi (sws) and Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) was to be lenient with them and let them off. While Syedna Umar (ra) was of the opinion that they should be killed so as to inhibit them from spreading mischief over and over again. Later revelation was revealed in favor of the opinion of Syedna Umar (ra).

مَا كَانَ لِنَبِىٍّ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ ۥۤ أَسۡرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ يُثۡخِنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ‌ۚ
It is not befitting a prophet that he has captives with him unless he has subdued the enemy by shedding blood in the land. [9:67]

Hanbli, Shaifi’i, Hanafi, Maliki is not ikhtilaf. These are different Schools of Thought with varying set of rulings. Their usul  are different on the basis of which the mujtahid derives the rulings.

Some parts of Qur’an are so difficult to understand that even biggest of scholars have to exert themselves. When laymen like us read Qur’an we don’t even realize what level of depth the ayah holds. For example, Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

إِنَّمَا جَزَٲٓؤُاْ ٱلَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ وَيَسۡعَوۡنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوٓاْ أَوۡ يُصَلَّبُوٓاْ أَوۡ تُقَطَّعَ أَيۡدِيهِمۡ وَأَرۡجُلُهُم مِّنۡ خِلَـٰفٍ أَوۡ يُنفَوۡاْ مِنَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِ‌ۚ
Those who fight against Allah and His Messenger and run about trying to spread disorder on the earth, their punishment is no other than that they shall be killed, or be crucified, or their hands and legs be cut off from different sides, or they be kept away from the land (they live in) [5:33]

Which punishment is meant here?

Q. Why do you say that in order to understand Qur’an you need to have a deep knowledge, but Qur’an itself says, that We have made it easy to understand?

وَلَقَدۡ يَسَّرۡنَا ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ لِلذِّكۡرِ فَهَلۡ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ۬
Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy for seeking advice. So, is there one to heed to the advice? [54:17]

Qur’anic knowledge is of three types:

  1. Aqeedah
  2. Akhlaq/adaab, desciption of Jannah Jahannum etc
  3. Fiqh and rulings

Certain ayahs are very easy to understand. The person with deeper knowledge can explain these on a higher level, but on a superficial level ordinary people can understand them as well. Now the hiraba ayah mentioned above is extremely difficult to understand even on a superficial level. For certain ayahs we need a very deep understanding of Qur’an. So in that context it means We have made Qur’an easy to get feelings of, to get tawheed from, to get general guidance from.

We can see in certain ayahs there are words that have capacity to hold deeper meanings. If Allah (swt) wanted to use certain other words, Allah (swt) could have made every ayah very clear cut. The fact that Allah (swt) chose these words means that Allah (swt) wants the ayahs to hold this capacity of a broader meaning.

Making case of ’Ijtihad

Nabi   (sws) asked a Sahabi (ra) that if you wanted a ruling, then what will you do? He (ra) said that I will look into Qur’an. Nabi (sws) said if you do not find it in Qur’an then? He replied I will look at your (sws) sunnah. Nabi (sws) asked again if you do not find in sunnah? He (ra) said I will do ijitihad on my opinion. Nabi (sws) was happy with this answer and said that all praise be to Allah who has guided the messenger of the Messenger (sws). This has opened door for ijtihad, so we can see that ijtihad is also sunnah.

Harith ibn Amr reported: Some men among the companions of Mu’adh said the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, sent him to Yemen and the Prophet said: How will you judge? Mu’adh said, “I will judge according to what is in the Book of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the Book of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then with the tradition (sunnah) of the Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the tradition of the Messenger of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then I will strive to form an opinion (ijtihad).” The Prophet said: All praise is due to Allah who has made suitable the messenger of the Messenger of Allah. [Sunan At-Tirmidhi]

Limiting ’Ijtihad

Just because the door of ijtihad has opened does not mean that anyone can do ijtihad. Nabi (sws) also sent that Sahabi (ra) who had a very high and deep level of deen. We cannot depend for guidance on those people who do not even have a complete knowledge of deen. Even in some very general issues we go to specialists e.g. we might say we do not appreciate your opinion on dieting because we would rather go to a professional nutritionist.

If someone says this ruling is not the opinion of Nabi (sws) but of a scholar. Our reply to them is that Nabi (sws) had appreciated and allowed for scholars to do ijtihad in certain cases (only for the rule not found in Qur’an and Hadith, or are not clear).

’Ijtihad at the time of Sahaba (ra)

There was a 149 jama’a of scholars among Sahaba (ra) and from amongst them 15 or 7 had the highest authority and their opinion was given highest regard (i.e. they were mujtahideen).

No Sahabi (ra) ever gave an opinion on something that was already in Qur’an or Hadith. People say things like do you follow Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) or do you follow Qur’an? Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) was doing ijtihad based on the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith.

Qur’an has over 6,000 ayahs and the ones giving hukam are only 350. These ahkam (rulings) are related to the issues ummah at that time had faced. But what about the ummah that will come in future, where things will change with time and certain new issues will prop up?

’Ijma

The Mujtahid Sahaba (ra) if all agreed upon a single ruling then it would become an ijma. Ijma would then become binding based on this Hadith:

Allah will never let my Ummah agree upon misguidance, and the hand of Allah is over the group (Jama’ah), so follow the great mass of believers, and whoever dissents from them departs to hell. [al-Tirmidhi]

Q. If I say all the students in this class agree on something, then will it be an ijma? Or if I say that all the scholars agree but I do not agree on that then is it not ijma?

Our opinion does not matter as we are laymen. We are speaking about the scholars of a very high caliber here. If we spend our lives in the path of ilm and exert ourselves then our opinion will matter as well. The opinion of big scholars will matter.

قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَ‌ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ
Say, “Can those who know and those who do not know become equal?” It is only the people of understanding who are receptive of the advice. [39:9]

Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) would ask Sahaba (ra) that what opinion do you have about this issue? Or do you know of any rule that could be relevant to it – so he would be asking for guidelines. Why was Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) asking when he had so much knowledge himself? He was the oldest companion of Nabi (sws).

There was a group that used to say we will follow all other rulings of Islam but not give zakah. Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) said we will fight them, but Syedna Umar (ra) said that we can fight later because otherwise people will say that Sahaba (ra) are fighting among themselves and this will lead to discord. But Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) did so much takeed (i.e. emphasized) that later Syedna Umar (ra) also sided with his opinion.

Example of Ijtihad

We look at the reason for ruling. For example, liquor is haram and its reasoning is intoxication. This reason can be found in hashish, marijuana etc. So they are ruled as being haram as well. This is the method Sahaba (ra) employed that they would ask do you think there ever was a situation that could be applicable here, from which a more general ruling could be derived?

At the time of Syedna Umar (ra) there were a lot of conquests, and for so many newly converts it became an issue as to who would tell them about Islam? Syedna Umar (ra) would send Qadhi (judges) to different areas so that a system of justice was developed. Sunnah is like a spring, the asal is there but so many other branches burst forth from it. Our root is Qur’an and Sunnah. All other knowledge is derived from them.

One Faqih Sahaba (ra) was sent to Yemen. This shows the entire Yemen had to do taqleed of one Sahaba (ra) [i.e. follow him]. At the time of Syedna Ali (ra) qiyas increased more. The point is that during the time of Sahaba (ra) the institutions of ijma, qiyas and ijtihad had already begun to establish.

Tabi’in & Circles of Learning

Tabi’in were the people who would get the company of Sahaba (ra) to learn about the life of Nabi (sws).  Many many tabi’in would acquire knowledge under one Sahabi (ra). In the time of Tabi’in, halaqas (circles of learning) were developed where religion would be learnt in different regions. Almost 25 such halaqas were developed for ijtihad. But not more than them because not everyone could be a part of these halaqas. These halaqas were making the rules for making the laws. That’s how different Schools of Thought came about with differences in opinion.

One misunderstanding should be clarified that ikhtilaf does not mean larai, it does not mean scholars hold grudges against one another. In case of difference of opinion, which one should be given tarjeeh? There should be a system that would determine this, otherwise people will just end up following their nafs. The solution to this is not that we pick and choose one opinion according to our temperament and say others are false. No, all are correct but we will follow just one.

So in our deen there is room for difference of opinion but there are certain conditions that need to be met. Not everyone is entitled to having an opinion. This method of ijtihad was approved by Blessed Prophet (sws) and was exercised during the time of Sahaba (ra) and then later Tabi’in and Taba Tabi’in and so forth.