How to reach out to the innocent victims of zulm

[These are rough notes from a talk conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db)].

وَّذَكِّرۡ فَاِنَّ الذِّكۡرٰى تَنۡفَعُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers. [51:55]

There is an increasing amount of zulm, injustice and oppression being done in different parts of the Muslim world. Many believers become worried, sad and despondent when they see, or hear, or most often read about the incidents of this oppression.

Our response to this can be broken down into four categories:

1. Lose hope in Allah (swt) and become lazy

The first category is of those people who just feel sad or depressed and do nothing about the injustice. Rather their sadness at the injustices makes them more lazy in their deen. This is the worst response. This could not be part of the solution. In fact, they end up adding up to the problem by themselves becoming more dysfunctional in their relationship with Allah (swt) and as a member of the society.

2. Try to fix things without Allah’s guidance

Second category is of those people who overestimate their power to effect things. They forget that these matters are ultimately decided and governed by Allah (swt) and insist on some massive platform of action. Such people neglect other branches and efforts of deen. They sometimes even undermine their own worship, or seeking of knowledge of deen, or the understanding of Qur’an, and seerat of Nabi (sws).

Some of them even go further to suggest that all of the efforts — the learning and studying of deen, dawah of inviting others to Allah (swt), or guiding them out of sin — are pointless in face of the gross injustices. Therefore, everyone should drop every other aspect, branch, teaching, learning of deen and all effort should be directed towards eliminating the injustices in the world. This is the fallacy and the flaw in overestimating the human agency: they overestimate the role human beings have to play in this world.

3. Do nothing because it is the decree of Allah (swt) 

This group leans towards the other extreme that things are ultimately decided by Allah (swt) therefore humans should do nothing. They should not try, in any way, to remove the injustices in the world, or they should even accept and think that these injustices are due to sins of people, and until people are sinning, injustices will prevail. There is an element of truth to this, but the reality is that many times the injustices are done to the innocent and those who do not sin.

A perfect example of that is the injustice that is done to children. Even if we were to accept this statement that injustice is due to the sins of the adults of society, it’s still our job to try to protect those children from the injustices that are happening due to the sins of those adults. It does not mean that we leave the children, or the innocent, or the unprotected, undefended, at the whims of the tyrants.

4. Repel the bad, enjoin the good

The correct course of action is to realize Allah (swt) has guided us according to which we should try to speak up against injustice and try to repel and refute it. This is one good way to understand what Allah (swt) has mentioned many times in Qur’an:

اَمَرُوۡا بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَنَهَوۡا عَنِ الۡمُنۡكَرِ‌
Bid what is fair and forbid what is unfair [22:41]

To enjoin and try to establish that which is so good and virtuous that it is maroof — it is known and recognizable by any sane human being as being good; to establish that justice which everyone knows and agrees to be just. That is called maroof.

And to do nahi an al-munkar — to repudiate, to repel, to prohibit and save people. And if we cannot save them, then stop them in the most noble and dignified manner and in a way that their own dignity could be preserved. But if they are unrepentant and relentless and the only way to stop them may compromise their dignity, then in order to save the dignity of innocents, we have to expose them. We should do that nahi an al-munkar. But we should also acknowledge that it is only by the wish and will of Allah (swt) that any effort can have any level of success.

All of this is much easier said than done. This is also one of the great benefits of having truthful and pious guides, of which there are hardly a few left on this earth. Because they are the ones who always had the wisdom and acceptance of Allah (swt). When they were leading and spearheading the effort of amar bil maroof and nahi an al-munkar, there was blessing in that effort. There was justice and equilibrium in the effort.

Without that pious, blessed, knowledgeable and wise leadership, many times sincere members of the ummah find themselves at a loss in how to correct the wrong, how to remove the injustice, and how to defend or rescue the innocent.

Many times people make a mistake. Sometimes they over-reach and overreact, while other times they are too complacent and they underreach and underachieve. Meanwhile, Shaytan and a certain minority segment of humanity committed to creating evil and injustice in the world, are operating at a full speed.

Then you hear about horrors of injustice, horrors of betrayal, horrors that take place even within the people of deen. In fact, it is the most horrific precisely when a person who represents or symbolizes deen, is revealed to be a fraud. These things don’t happen overnight. Injustice takes place for a long time before it ultimately rears its ugly head.

Imam al-Haddad (rah) in his Book of Assistance (and not him alone, even other ulama) has written a very interesting thing. When you are doing nahi an al-munkar, if during the effort of repudiating that fitnah there is a higher probability that a greater fitnah will emerge, then you should not refute that fitnah. The jurists have even used this understanding to talk about rebellion against governments in Muslim land, if it leads to a worse situation for the masses.

Again, it is very difficult to figure out what is best for the masses, or what course of action will backfire, or what course of action will have a beneficial effect. It is very difficult to figure out how can I temper my reaction so I only have a positive effect. I have even met some very senior ulama who are unable to do this. Because they can’t figure it out, they choose the path of inaction. Then the injustices remain and the innocence continues to be effected.

Delusion of shaykhs and their false perceptions

Shuyukh were supposed to be guides and protectors of humanity. That’s why you will find that so many religious guides of the past used to spend a lot of time with the poor. They would sit and mingle with them.

Khwaja Muhiyuddin Chishti Hajveri (rah) converted hundreds of thousands of poor Hindu Indians from untouchable caste. He used to sit with them, talk with them, and reached out to them. He won them over by spending time with them.

This is the real meaning of barakah. Barakah is not that my shaykh has given me good advice on my business because of which I make a lot of money, therefore I should throw money at my shaykh. This is also a perversion of a relationship.

Some of the members of our South Asian community yani Indian/Pakistani communities who live in UK and South Africa, have this problem. I have met a few businessmen who had a shaykh who used to guide them in their business, so they used to throw money at their shaykh — not for work of deen, rather for luxury.

May Allah (swt) protect all ulama and shuyukh from students who end up spoiling them. May He instead grant them students who protect them from the pitfalls and traps of shaytan, nafs and the dunya.

Today there are some shuyukh who are so V.I.P that only the rich can get access to them — even though they may themselves come from towns where there are very poor people and they cannot even bat an eye towards that poverty.

There are some shuyukh who love to live in five star hotels and fly in first class, and live in fancy mansions. Then to protect their materialism, they delude their followers by telling them one story of a shaykh who used to be wealthy and who used to tell his students that it’s not about having wealth but about having love for dunya in your heart.

That was a different time. That was a time when the Ummah was ghalib (dominant). It was a time when the Islamic civilization was ghalib. It was a time when people in the Muslim world had luxuries.

In contrast, we live in a time of poverty, injustice, oppression, we live in a time when the Ummah is maghloob (destitute). What happened to the teachings of zuhd; abstinance from the dunya; to obstain from even that which is permissible?

There are very few people who are able to combine tasawwuf and tazkiya — with who? Not with the fake rally and call to justice that is done by western NGOs. The real call to justice that is part of our deen is especially to protect the oppressed and to remove the oppression from those who are oppressed i.e. to remove the mazlumiyyah from the mazlumin.

At the same time, we do see great efforts being done by many organizations. If I mention their names, it does not mean I know all about them or I have run a financial audit on them. But still, we are happy with their work; whether it is Islamic relief for al-Imdad, or Ummah Welfare or many other lesser known organizations. There are individuals trying to help the disaster-stricken, war afflicted poor and needy.

If we are not at all sensitive and not at all able to cure, or at the very least want to cure in our own humble, insignificant way, to make a dent in the wrongs around us, we are not going to be able to get perfect success in fixing the wrongs inside us. Yes, it is a very delicate matter. It requires a lot of wisdom, patience, guidance. But in deen, those are the very attributes that the path of dhikr and ilm is supposed to nurture in a person. The person on the path of ilm and dhikr, not only are they qualified and duty-bound to do dawah of deen, but they are also uniquely qualified because of their ilm and dhikr to help remove oppression and injustices in the world in a manner that is just and balanced, and in a manner that is pleasing to Allah (swt).

We should not think about how many injustices and oppression are out of our reach to fix, which indeed is the majority of them. We should think if there is one injustice that maybe we could have even reduced slightly through some humble and feeble effort of ours, if Allah (swt) has graced that effort with acceptance, surely there must be something like that. There could be one sunnah that could take a person even somewhat out of poverty, there may be some orphan, some rape victim, some molestation victim who we could have smiled upon, or nurtured, or given a place in our home, in our family, or in our heart — by giving them some feeling of love and support to counter the horrific abuse and hurt that was done upon them.

Could it not be that if there is a person who is deluded in committing sin, that we save them from their sin instead of blindly defending them? Could we not have guided them? Could we not have pressurized them to change and mend their ways? When one reflects, there are so many chances Allah (swt) has given us to be a sabab of khayr (source of goodness), to be a positive means of change and reform in others lives. It’s not just the shuyukh who can do islah (reform) of others. Allah (swt) has told all of us:

وَتَوَاصَوۡا بِالۡحَقِّوَتَوَاصَوۡا بِالصَّبۡرِ
And exhorted each other to follow truth, and exhorted each other to observe patience [103:3]

All believers who mutually enjoin one another to haqq — in truth, and to sabr — to patience, fortitude, perseverance, steadfastness on the path of deen. How many opportunities we had when we had to do these two things and how many times have we failed to do that? Had we helped someone out, maybe Allah (swt) would have helped us. This is the promise of Allah (swt) that if you help Allah (swt), He will help you. Ulama of tafsir explain that obviously Allah (swt) is beyond any need for help. It means if you help the deen, or the creation of Allah (swt), He will help you. This is Allah’s (swt) infinite mercy and infinite wisdom to show us the magnitude of importance of our actions.

If a person is trying to walk on the path of dhikr, trying to progress on the path of worship and they find themselves slacking, they cannot always drive in one lane. They should be trying to do something good for the ummah, for the poor, needy, oppressed. Maybe when they do that activity of khidmah, it may not even be dawah through speaking, maybe they don’t even mention deen to that person, maybe they simply try to uplift that person. That itself is deen.

Believe me, if any one of us was successful in doing khidmah and service to a person selflessly, after that act of khidmah, the opportunity of dawah will be immense. How many opportunities of dawah could have been created through acts of khidmah? This was one of the hallmarks of the sufis. Sufi was a person of service and khidmah and it was their service to humanity that had the effect of dawah on billions of human beings in accepting Islam.

It is so strange that people want to leave this aspect of tasawwuf out and they just want to have a very V.I.P elitist sufism. They just want to be bayt with a shaykh to get a sufi identity and personality, to tick that box in their list of deeni roles — so many young and even middle-aged maulanas and muftis feel the need to become a shaykh. They just want to be bayah to a shaykh so they get khilafat or to feel and act like a shaykh. It was not enough for them that Allah (swt) destined for them to become an Imam, or a khatib, or an alim, or a mudarris, or a sahib-i-fatwa mufti — the one who can write fatwa, the one who can do tas’hih and correct the answers of others and verify and certify others answers to be correct.

Sometimes some of us underreach, and sometimes some of us overreach. Those who overreach suffer from all types of jealousies and rivalries. They lose their akhlaq and sincerity. If there is anything a sufi was meant to be, it was to be mukhlis (pure, sincere and humble).

I was once standing in a group. One person mentioned something about not wanting to visit some country or talk to someone. Someone asked why? They said because they think I am a shaykh. Even in this small and personal conversation, he ended up admitting to me and the others that this is all just a perception. So why are we so insistent on maintaining this perception in front of people?

Real shuyukh viewed themselves as slaves of Allah (swt). They were not consciously thinking about creating and feeding this perception of mishikhiyat of their shaykhdom to people. Some of them do have humility, they have an unassuming personality. They are no actively, dynamically, artificially trying to present themselves as something else. These people truly view themselves to be nothing. Because of their humility and sincerity, Allah (swt) accepts them to be guides. This is true tasawwuf.

Even if there are a few mashaikh like that, but then their students forget the humility of their own shaykh and try to recast their shaykh. Recently a work was published in which the students of a shaykh, who had recently passed away, referred to him as a mujaddid. It is not wise to make such claims about the living or those who have so recently passed away.

This is quite a big problem in these circles that they view their shaykh to be the best shaykh in the world, better than other shuyukh, kutub al-irshad, mujaddid, etc. This is against the teaching and mizaj (temperament) of the ulama of Deoband.

Someone once read one of the quotes of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rh) and came up with the term Ashrafiyya – yani a sort of silsila or a tareeqat that is going through Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah). He became quite upset and said that don’t call it that, don’t use my name to create new titles. Today we have people who use this term.

When we lose our humility, our sincerity, we lose out on the real opportunities of service because we are so insistent on these perceived opportunities — its a perception of khdimah and dawah. Meanwhile, the ordinary person who suffers, he had a right on the students, they had a right on the scholars and guides. They should have had sincerity and humility to become people of service — helping them and calling and inviting people to love for Allah (swt).

Any title; talib, talibah, zakir, zakira, murid, muridah, salik, salikah — these are all mere words. The reality is that you should take these learning and teachings and use them to remove the bad in the yourself and the evil around you. That is the real task.

The Ashab-e-kahf moved into the cave because of the terrible things unbelievers were doing in that society. But now we live in a world where the believers are doing terrible things in the society of the believers. There is so much fitnah in the Muslim world, so much murder, so much rape, lying, deception, fraud, corruption, oppression, violence, infidelity, adultery, neglecting of salah, leaving of the sunnah — these things have become so rampant and they are still on the rise in the society and families of the believers. This is the kind of fitnah I think even Ashab-e-Kahf could not have imagined — because for them it was a society of unbelievers that were doing these things.

We need to have our fortresses, caves and retreats. For some that may mean going on a jama’at in tabligh, for some it may mean going for umrah, or sitting in i’tikaf, or studying ilm a few hours a day, or memorizing Qur’an part time, we need that sanctuary to survive in this world. Until we build these sanctuaries in our daily life and schedule, until we have an escape and a retreat, we will get caught up in this fitnah. We will be dragged down with it.

If there is anyone who has been blessed by Allah (swt) that they have not yet been dragged into sin, or are not questioning their iman, they should not view it as their accomplishment. This is the protection of Allah (swt) that He saved us. Otherwise we are living in times when people just like us, and even better than us, have got caught up by this fitnah. Children just like ours, children better than ours, have fallen in this fitnah.

We should fall into sujood and show gratitude to Allah (swt) once we realize how much Allah (swt) has protected us. We should think as individuals we are lapsing in deen. But at the same time you should realize that even a drop of deen that you have, any good deed, any service or dawah that you ever did, any gathering you ever attended, any drop of knowledge you ever gained, all of this was from the mercy of Allah (swt).

Who were we to ever have learnt anything in deen? To have even attended a single gathering of deen? Who were we to have even entered Makkah Mukarramah or Madinah Munawwarah? This is the incredible mercy Allah (swt) that He granted these opportunities to wretched, non-practicing and lax people like us. We should be grateful and try to better ourselves in our deen.

If all of us in the ummah were to fix things on a small scale, Allah (swt) will fix things on the big scale. In the past, ulama and shuyukh have guided people to fix their own self on a small scale, then all of these efforts of deen, having their local small scale effect earned the pleasure of Allah (swt) so He fixed things on the big scale.

It is all the more important that people who fancy themselves to be on the path of tasawwuf should have more truth, honesty, humility and sincerity. How tragic it is that an increasingly large number of sufis have lost these very attributes. They left the path of truth for falsehood, humility for delusions of grandeur.

May Allah (swt) make us His humble slaves and accept us for a life of being of service to others.


Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 4

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

[Notes for Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3]

This letter is also talking about the shat’hat — the ecstatic utterances. Here Imam Rabbani (rah) just coins a new term which is called kufr of tareeqat as opposed to the kufr of Shar’iah. This needs to be explained a little. Kufr of Shar’iah means that a person becomes an unbeliever according to the teachings of Shar’iah in terms of aqeedah. As in he becomes an unbeliever in Allah (swt), or he ascribes partners to Allah (swt). That’s obviously terrible. That’s an apostate that a person loses their imaan.

What does it mean to have kufr of tareeqat? By the kufr of tareeqat or the kufr of tasawwuf, he means how a person can become a kafir as far as tasawwuf is concerned, not actually become a kafir, this is just a term he is using. We could just skip this whole thing altogether. The only reason now I’m stuck explaining this is because I have given it to you in the course packet. This is not something I should have given to you because there is no way I’ll be able to teach this in depth here. This is one of the things you will misunderstand if you read on your own. Let me show you straight up the line what you will misunderstand, and then you will understand why I’m worried.

The kufr of tareeqat is superior to the Islam of shari’ah, although it is inferior and lower than the Islam of the reality of shari’ah. What he is talking about here is actually a very simple thing that to even reach such a stage where, not that you believe in wahdat al-wujud as an aqeedah in the sense that you believe everything is one with Allah (swt), he is talking about the ecstatic utterances; that you are overwhelmed by such a feeling in dhikr that you actually feel for some moments, for some limited period of time, you feel as if all of the world is one with Allah (swt), so he called that kufr of tareeqat.

That’s the wrong thing to say. But a person gets out of it, which is the context in which he is saying this. If they get out of it, then the fact that they even reached such an ecstasy is greater than what he is calling the Islam of shari’ah, but it is lower than what he is calling the Islam of the haqeeqat of the shari’ah. There is a particular way he is using this term Islam of Shari’ah. This is not what we would call deen of Islam, or shari’ah.

He is saying that someone who is outwardly Muslim, but doesn’t have love for Allah (swt) in their heart, doesn’t have the feelings of Qur’an, doesn’t have the feelings of imaan, doesn’t have taqwa, tawakkul, ikhlas, sabr, shukr, khashiya, muhabbat-e-ilahi, muhabbat-e-Rasool Allah (sws), etc. He is just a Muslim in name. You would call it in English a nominal Muslim. Better than that nominal Muslim is that person who has all of these feelings, including taqwa, and was overpowered momentarily in those feelings that they made an ecstatic utterance which suggested that they thought that the world is one with Allah (swt). But then they repent from that. They have to repent from that. And even better than that person is the person who never-ever makes such a statement, and has all of those feelings the mu’mineen are supposed to have which are mentioned in Qur’an. This is what he is trying to say.

He chooses to label the first one Islam of shari’ah. It’s not deen of Islam. There’s actually a very famous hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) where he (sws) talked about imaan, Islam, and ihsan (Hadith-e-Jibrail). There the word Islam is not being used for deen. There the word Islam is being used simply for outward appearance. So he is using the word Islam in the sense it has been used in the hadith. Similarly, in Qur’an there is a very famous ayah; there were some Bedouins, Allah (swt) told them don’t say amanna, don’t say you have imaan, but instead say you have Islam (49:14). You have something lesser because the inner reality of deen has not entered your heart. You just have the outward form.

So by the word Islam here he means the outward form, that’s why he uses the word Islam again for the greatest thing which is the reality of true deen. So he says better than having only outward Islam is having true deen but lapsing into an ecstatic utterance, which you make tawba from, and the best is to have the inward Islam, to have real deen inwardly, without ever having to lapse into that utterance.

Next letter.

He takes five ecstatic utterances by particular people in tasawwuf, and he addresses and analyzes each one in turns and he explains how each one taken on its literal meaning is incorrect, and it would be incorrect to follow these people in the literal meaning of their words thinking that the literal meaning of their words represents true teaching of Islam.

In the view of sober sufis (he gives this distinction between anybody who is sober and intoxicated) however, these words are the outcome of intoxication and the result of non-distinction between the reality of something and its symbolic form between the haqeeqat and the majaz (The translator has mistranslated this, it is majaz, not muzaj). Know that intoxication is a mark of wilayat, and sobriety is a characteristic of nabuwwah, parts of which are available to the most perfect followers of the Prophet (sws) (i.e. siddiqin). They get the same soberness (sobriety means their calm and control, that they don’t make these ecstatic utterances).

This is that explanation as to why Sahaba Karam (ra) would not make such utterances although they had the greatest feelings. So a person may ask the question that look you are saying that when a person is overwhelmed with feelings of love for Allah (swt), they may sometimes make these statements. So in the entire history of tasawwuf, there are no more than 5-10 people who made these statements like Mansur al-Hallaj, Rabia Basria etc. There are 5-10 people in the entire history of Islam rather I would say. Right now there are 1.2 billion Muslims on earth. Fifty years ago there were 1 billion Muslims on earth. Over the course 1400 years there have been hundreds of billions of Muslims, and out of the entire history of the ummah of Islam, only 5-10 people in tasawwuf made these ecstatic statements.

The reason I’m making this clear to you is that it means that statistically 0.0000001% go astray. But many times people engage in what you call fear mongering. They say we understand if you really are careful about tasawwuf, you follow shari’ah, you follow Sunnah, it would be okay. But you really don’t want to try that because don’t you see what happened to Mansur al-Hallaj? Mansur al-Hallaj said annal Haqq — I’m God basically, you really want to take that risk? So the risk is again 5-10 people in the whole history of the ummah who went astray. So you are not really putting yourself in that risk. If you are going to be that statistical about taking risk, you can no longer drive on the road, literally, because the statistics of being in a road accident is far greater than being on a tasawwuf road accident — on going astray on the path of tasawwuf. This is mere fear mongering.

The other difference is that the people who made ecstatic utterances didn’t know that a person can get into these ecstatic state on the path, otherwise they could have safeguarded themselves as well. Imam Rabbani (rah) has now explained it clearly to us. In other words, ever since Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah), nobody has ever made such an ecstatic utterance. He has successfully purged classical oriented tasawwuf from this problem. You may still have quacks who do all types of crazy things. People do crazy things in the name of Islam too. So people can do crazy things when they are on sufi’ism today. But rightly guided people on tasawwuf, in the history of Islam, 5-10 of them made a mistake. Ever since Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, there’s no rightly guided person on tasawwuf who has ever made that mistake.

Next letter.

This is slightly contextual. Some people at the time of Imam Rabbani (rah) denied the need for prophethood and prophecy. They claimed that it is possible to obey Allah (swt) without obeying the Prophet (sws). So he simply says that obedience to Allah (swt) and obedience to the Prophet (sws) are exactly the same thing. This is clear in Qur’an that there is no difference.

مَنۡ يُّطِعِ الرَّسُوۡلَ فَقَدۡ اَطَاعَ اللّٰهَ
Whoever obeys the Messenger obeys Allah [4:80]

That person who obeys the Prophet (sws) it is indeed equivalent to as if he has obeyed Allah (swt). This incident is not about one of the rightly guided shaykhs who went astray. This is one of the rightly guided shaykhs who never went astray at all, but people misinterpreted some events. That also happens. The event was that some people said that mashaikh in the state of intoxication have uttered words that differentiate obedience to Allah (swt) and obedience to Prophet (sws) and speaking of choosing love of one over the love of the other.

For example, it has been reported that once Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi, who was the Muslim ruler of the time, came to Khartan [?] during his rein when he was its ruler, and he put up camp there. He must have come for some reason. He sent his messenger to request his shaykh, Shaykh Abu al-Hassan Kharaqani (rah) to visit him. He instructed him that in case the shaykh was not willing to visit him, because sometimes the ulema and mashaikh didn’t like to visit the kings, then he should recite to him the verse:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اَطِيۡـعُوا اللّٰهَ وَاَطِيۡـعُوا الرَّسُوۡلَ وَاُولِى الۡاَمۡرِ مِنۡكُمۡ‌ۚ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. [4:59]

That you should obey Allah (swt), obey the Prophet (sws) and those who are in authority of you. This is also one of the most commented upon ayat of Qur’an that who are the ulul amr? Are they those who have a political authority over you, or are they those who have a religious authority over you? Religious authority would mean that you have to follow the ijtihad of the mujtahidun. Some people say it means both. Obviously, Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi felt it meant people of political authority. So he meant it in the sense that in Qur’an Allah (swt) is asking you to obey me because I am the one in authority therefore you should come when I’m telling you to come.

This messenger went and as he invited the shaykh, he saw exactly this that Shaykh Kharaqani didn’t want to go. So he recited the verse. At that moment Shaykh Kharaqani (rah) said that I am still occupied with Allah’s (swt) obedience, I feel ashamed that I have not moved to the obedience of Prophet (sws), and what to say about the obedience to the ruler? It wasn’t his aqeedah statement. He was just saying this to the guard to get out of this issue. He wasn’t saying that I’m obeying Allah (swt) right now and I have not yet obeyed the Prophet (sws).

In fact, it’s mentioned in hadith that the Prophet (sws) has taught us not to associate with people who are corrupt rulers. There is no ayat in the Qur’an that actually says that. So the very act of Shaykh Kharaqani (rah) refusing to go to the king is actually based on him following that prophetic model. This was just a statement he was saying that you think that ulul amr means I have to obey Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi so don’t you see there is an order in Qur’an that first obey Allah (swt) and then obey the Prophet (sws), and I’m still busy on the first. He could have said that I’m still busy with first and second, but then he would have said the next step is three, so to keep them from even giving that answer, he just said that I’m busy on number one. That’s all it was. It did not in any way mean that he was viewing these things as different.

Now he is going to talk about kashf. What should I write about kashf? In this field, the causes for mistakes are many and the possibility of error is great. He is making it clear that kashf and ilham is not an infallible source of religion. It is fallible. It is subject to error. There is a possibility of mistake. The occurrence of these revelations are as good as their non-occurrence. If you don’t get kashf, or if you get kashf, it’s equally good. Them happening or them not happening is equally the same thing.

There is no merit, no fadhilah that is attached to getting kashf. Because merit and fadhilah are attached to the siffat of Qur’an and siffat of sunnah. If you have more tawakkul on Allah (swt), that’s better than if you have less tawakkul on Allah (swt). If you have more kashf that’s not any better than you having less kashf. The kashf does not have value in deen. It occurs, but it doesn’t have value. That is a very important teaching to be made clear in tasawwuf.

The Path of Qurb-e-Nabuwwah vs. Qurb-e-Wilaya

Somebody asked him a question that you observed that one does not attain the nearness to Allah (swt) unless one has experienced fanaa and baqaa. He is also mentioning the state of jazba (rapture) in sulook — that’s another way to describe the stages I previously mentioned to you. The Sahaba Karam (ra) of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) are universally held superior to any wali of the ummah. Even that Sahabi (ra) who met the Blessed Prophet (sws) for a very short period is greater than all of the awliya combined. This is a fact. Even that Sahabi (ra) who met the Prophet (sws) just for a fraction of a second is greater than all the awliya of the history of Islam combined.

The question then is that do they complete all of these stages of fanaa, baqaa, sair, and sulook just in one short contact? Because if you are saying going through that journey is necessary to get to that final goal, which was the ultimate goal of being 100% attached to Allah (swt) and also doing work and khidmah and dawah in this world, then how did the Sahaba (ra) do it since they didn’t go through this whole long path?

Second question, whether the Sahaba (ra) got fanaa and baqaa due to the spiritual attention of the Prophet (sws)? — just through the sohbah in that they got it from the heart of the Prophet (sws) and that’s it — they got it all? That could have been a possibility. Maybe the questioner is himself thinking of possible answers. Maybe for Sahaba (ra) it was an instantaneous journey because they didn’t do it through the process of dhikr or the process of nafl i’tikaf (chilla). They did it through the sohbah of the Prophet (sws). Just being in the company of the Prophet (sws). So he is asking if that’s the reason. Or was it by virtue of their submission to Allah (swt)? Was it because of their perfect taqwa? Is that how they got wilaya?

Lastly, he wanted to know whether they became aware of sulook and jazba by undergoing these experiences or without them? So the, quote unquote, experiences that occur to a person on the path, did the Sahaba (ra) also experience them or did they get to the destination without going through these experience? But if they did not have them, and they didn’t receive the attention of the Prophet (sws), would we call them bid’ah hasana (good innovation)?

Bid’ah hasana is a topic that we have talked about in detail in the bid’ah workshop. This is a concept that was mentioned by Syedna Umar (ra) in a hadith of Bukhari. He was ameer al-mu’mineen — so it’s after the Prophet (sws) has passed away — he enters Masjid-e-Nabwi in Ramadan and he sees Sahaba (ra) praying in multiple groups. When he (ra) walks in, he orders that they should all form one group.

Syedna Ubay ibn Ka’b (ra) protests and asks what are you doing? The Prophet (sws) never did this. You are doing something new. You are saying that all of us should pray tarawih in one jama’ah in the masjid, you are saying there should not be multiple simultaneous jama’ah at the same time offering tarawih. And the word that is used is bid’ah. Syedna Umar (ra) responded — this is a conversation between two of the greatest sahaba in Masjid-e-Nabwi — he says na’imal bida’t al-haza that this is such a wonderful bida’h which I’m doing. Then Syedna Umar (ra) does it, all the Sahaba (ra) agree, Syedna Ubay ibn Ka’b (ra) is quiet so he also agrees, and from that day until today there has always been only one jama’ah of tarawih in Masjid-e-Nabwi.

Who instituted this practice? Syedna Umar (ra). What are the words which he has used which Imam Bukhari (rah) has recorded? He used the word bida’h. He knew how Blessed Prophet (sws) had used the word bida’h in hadith. He knew the hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) said every bida’h is dalalah (i.e. leads a person away from truth) and every dalalah leads to hellfire, etc. But he also knew that when Blessed Prophet (sws) used the word bida’h at that occasion, he (sws) had in mind every bida’h and innovation that was against shari’ah. He understood the meaning of the word and did not confine himself to the wording of the word. The writer of the letter was an ‘alim so he knew about this concept (and he was asking with reference to it).

Imam Shafi (rah), who is from the tabi tabi’in, from the salaf, also completely believes in bida’h hasana. He makes a whole long argument in his books and establishes the case for a whole category of actions that should be called bida’h hasana. This ‘alim is asking Imam Rabbani (rah) if that’s what this is. That all of these experiences you have to go through and those four stages, maybe they are bida’h hasana.

Imam Rabbani (rah) gives two answers. This is one of the difficult letters. You must know that in order to understand these points, you should rather see me and spend some time with me. Because there is only so much you can respond in a letter. We have the same problem — there is only so much you can do over an e-mail. For example, if you asked me the question that what is fanaa and what is baqaa, what is hairat, what is ilham and what is kashf, I can’t write an e-mail in response to something like this. You will have to come see me, we would have to have some interaction. You cannot communicate all knowledge through letters and e-mails. Anybody who is involved in education, is studying, or teaching, will understand this.

It is not easier for you to appreciate truth which no one has so far disclosed. He is going to disclose a bit of it and I will explain that. This is maybe his most amazing understanding of tasawwuf. However, now that you have raised these questions, I have no option except to discuss them. I will, however, do them briefly (because this is a letter). The qurb to Allah (swt) that one attains through this whole process of fanaa, baqaa, suluk and suyur is the qurb of the awliya. It is the qurb which the awliya of the ummah attain. However, the qurb that the Sahaba Karam (ra) got because of their association with the Blessed Prophet (sws) was the qurb of nabuwwah.

Sahaba (ra) got the closeness to Allah (swt) that the Blessed Prophet (sws) had. We are not saying that the Sahaba (ra) became prophets. We are saying that they got the qurb to Allah (swt) that the Prophet (sws) had. To show you this, in Akhirah there is a place called Jannat al-Firdous. It is not just for Anbiya (as). The entire ummah has ijma on this that all the Anbiya (as) will be in Jannat al-Firdous, and non-anbiya will also be in Jannat al-Firdous. There are seven Jannahs. Allah (swt) has not made the system, although that may have been a possibility, and it would have made rational sense to us, that the qurb of the Anbiya (as) in Akhirah would be more than everyone else. So whatever their level of Jannah is, that would be just for Anbiya (as), and maybe Sahaba (ra) would be in level 2.

However, Sahaba (ra) will also be in Jannat al-Firdous. As far as qurb with Allah (swt), He has opened it up to all of the truest followers of the prophets who are called siddiqeen in the Qur’an and the greatest of them is Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra). In other words, he is saying that the Sahaba (ra) are closer to Allah (swt) than the awliya are. They received this qurb through Prophet (sws) by following him (sws), and in that qurb (when you get the qurb that the Prophet (sws) had) there is no fanaa, baqaa or suyurHe is making two points:

1. It is a higher qurb.

2. There is no process for that. Only the Sahaba (ra) could get that and they got that through the sohbah of Blessed Prophet (sws), because the sohbah of Blessed Prophet (sws) is infinitely more powerful and intense than fanaa, baqaa and all of those things that a person could try to do by means of dhikr.

However, it is many times superior to the qurb of the awliya. This is the first order qurb, while other is the second order qurb — he means the real qurb, the highest level of qurb that you can get, because when you can’t have union, what can you have? You can have nearness, and that’s in Qur’an:

فَاِنِّىۡ قَرِيۡبٌؕ
Then (tell them that) I am near. [2:186]

وَنَحۡنُ اَقۡرَبُ اِلَيۡهِ مِنۡ حَبۡلِ الۡوَرِيۡدِ‏
We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein. [50:16]

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

This is a Qur’anic concept — the qurb of humanity with Allah (swt). What’s the maximal level of qurb you can get? We are not talking about unity. The maximal level of qurb is qurb-e-nabuwwah; the closeness that the Prophet (sws) had. The Sahaba (ra) were gifted with that closeness, that is infinitely superior than the qurb-e-awliya. You are surprised by the answer. Many people can come up with this question but they don’t understand the answer. You will not be able to come up with an answer on your own. That’s why you need people who understand things like qurb. The mashaikh of tasawwuf understand these things.

Maybe you can’t appreciate the tone and tenor of this letter in English. He is saying what in the world are you talking about? In Urdu we would say Sahaba (ra) ka qurb kahan aur aap awliya ka qurb kahan, aap tou zameen aur asmaan k farq ki baat kar rahe hein. You are talking about the difference of day and night. You are comparing incomparable things. The qurb of Sahaba (ra) and awliya is radically different. We need to understand the greatness of Sahaba Karam (ra) also, we don’t understand that. Jannat al-Firdous means they have the same level in Akhirah in terms of qurb with Allah (swt). That’s an amazing thing.

People do not generally know this truth. You will find that sometimes a person would think Shaykh Qadir Jillani (rah) is as great as the Sahaba (ra). That’s a crazy thing to think. In this regard, the scholars are no better than the common man. Even some ulema don’t understand the real maqam of Sahaba (ra). Then he quotes a poem had Ibn Sina sung like a sufi, everyone who is called a qalandar would have been a saint. It’s a bit difficult to explain to you, there are many puns going on here. It’s a sarcastic statement. I don’t want to go into who are the qalandars because that will take me out of my objective right now.

However, if one wants to achieve the prophetic qurb — let’s say someone says I also want to be among the siddiqin — that’s also something that Allah (swt) has opened up, in other words Jannat al-Firdous is not closed. It is still open-admissions. Who knows who can make the criteria, but it’s not just for Anbiya (as) and Sahaba (ra). Anyone who can make themselves among the siddiqin can get Jannat al-Firdous.

That’s why we need to realize why are we on earth? What are we doing? Really, we don’t understand the choices we have made. If for the sake of career, you lose Jannat al-Firdous, and you just get Jannah, even that is a stupid choice. In the name of balance, you should not want to sacrifice Jannat al-Firdous. I don’t think anyone would want to sacrifice being an abdi sahaba — because in Jannat al-Firdous you will also be in the company of Prophet (sws) for all of eternity. One is Madni Sahabi, one is Jannati sahabi. You will become a sahaba — not sahaba in the earthly sense, but you will be the companion of the Prophet (sws) in Jannat al-Firdous like they were his (sws) companions in Madinah Munawwarah or Makkah Mukarramah. That’s still open.

How can a person get that qurb? He says there are two ways to get that. One is by going through fanaa, baqaa and all of these journeys, and in further trying to get the qurb of the siddiqin and the qurb of the awliya — these are both words in Qur’an. One once achieves the prophetic qurb by the saintly qurb, he cannot avoid fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook (because these are the basic principles of the way of wilaya). But if one does not take qurb in this way, and follows instead the sulook of nabuwwah, (they follow the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah directly and don’t go through this fanaa and baqaa thing. So the Sahaba (ra) followed the way of the prophetic qurb, which has nothing to do with fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook).

In my letters, wherever I have written that my fair’s above sulook and jazba and above illuminations and appearances, I meant this qurb. He also feels he went beyond this stage. I will explain to you what the importance of that is. This is what was revealed to me while I was in the company of my shaykh. I wrote to him that something has been revealed to me with which meditation on the Self stands just as the meditation on the world stands on meditation on the Self. These are all terms we cannot do for you today: sair-e-anfusihi and sair-e-anfaki afaki are also two terms that he uses.

I said, I have not words other than that to express that thing. Many years later, however, when that wonderful thing became perfect, I put it into words. Praise be to Allah (swt) who guides us to the truth and never could we have found guidance had He not guided us. Indeed, it was the truth which the messengers of the Lord brought forth for us. Thus the terms fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook are innovations. But here he is using the word mohda, not bida’h, by this he means these are new things. They were not around at the Sahaba (ra). No Sahabi (ra) thought about fanaa, baqaa, suyur; they did not think like that and they did not go through that. These are the creations of the awliya. Maulana Jamī (rah) writes the first man to talk about fanaa and baqaa was Abu Saeed Kharraz (rah). 

Now I’m going to explain the difference between these two paths which was taken from several letters of Imam Rabbani (rah). He wrote in this letter that he himself went through this path (i.e. qurb-e-wilaya). Afterwards, he went more deep into dhikr, taqwa and sunnah. Then it was unveiled to him the way to get the qurb of the siddiqin, which is called qurb-e-nabuwwah, without going through this whole path. That’s how the Sahaba (ra) got the qurb — through the sohbah of the Prophet (sws). The question then is how can a person who is not a nabi and not a sahabi get into Jannat al-Firdous? How can they get the qurb of Allah (swt) for all of eternity? And do they have to go through this process of fanaa and baqaa etc? Imam Rabbani (rah) outlined the path is of qurb-e-nabuwwah vs. the path of qurb-e-wilaya.

  1. Both paths are there but he chose to teach the former. He ends up within the course of his life and the course of all of his letters in favor of teaching people qurb-e-nabuwwah. Although there are some of his earlier readings where he does talk about the need for fanaa and baqaa, but towards the end of his life, he comes completely onto this path and takes people on this path.
  2. You can reach qurb-e-nabuwwah through qurb-e-wilaya. It’s possible that you can go through those four stages; fanaa, baqaa and get the qurb of the awliya and then keep going to get the qurb of the sahaba, siddiqin and anbiya. That’s also possible.

He feels he has found a way to take people directly on this path, even though this path is longer and more difficult, but at least it doesn’t require a person to go through all that. In a whole series of letters he outlines what is the difference between these two paths. This is what I will compare out for you. These are all features and the reasons thereof why he prefers this path.

1. Qurb-e-wilaya is a path of ecstasy and qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of sobriety.

There are no ecstatic utterances on the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. This is what was later called the mujaddadi silsila and sulook — so the naqshbandi mujaddadi way is a way in which you are not going to have these ecstatic utterances. You will not say any of those things. You will not feel overwhelmed by emotions to say those things, as some people who went through the path of fanaa and baqaa got stuck on that. When they got stuck, sometimes they made an ecstatic utterance.

2. Qurb-e-wilaya can cause elimination of duality and qurb-e-nabuwwah firmly maintains duality.

In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you preserve the duality of Allah (swt) and the world. It means that Allah (swt) is One and the world is something else. They are two — they are not one. In this path, he says, it will never ever occur to you that the world and Allah (swt) are one. Whereas in the path of qurb-e-wilaya there is danger that a person may eliminate that duality i.e. they may no longer view Allah (swt) and the world as two things. They will view both as one.

3. Qurb-e-wilaya initially aims at removing duality and qurb-e-nabuwwah never aims at elimination ever.

There is no attempt to eliminate duality in the first place in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. There is no attempt in trying to forget the difference between the world and Allah (swt). When you forget the world, you remember only Allah (swt) plus one more thing which is the difference between the world and Allah (swt). On the path of qurb-e-wilaya, the people forgot the world, and forgot everything other than Allah (swt) including the difference between the world and Allah (swt).

3. Qurb-e-wilaya aims at eliminating the Self identity and qurb-e-nabuwwah aims at preserving Self identity.

You will not forget your identity, this is what I am saying, you are not trying to eliminate the world altogether in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. You will retain your self identity and your will. Whereas in qurb-e-wilaya, you are also trying to eliminate your very will itself. In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, what you will eliminate is what you can call the evil objects in your will. In other words, you have to eliminate your bad and unlawful desires, will, wishes, without having to eliminate your very emotion itself.

For example, in English the word anger is always used negatively, but there are certain cases where you should be legitimately upset about something. In order to eliminate the unlawful anger, you don’t have to eliminate anger altogether. You just have to eliminate the evil objects and the unlawful parts of the anger. There is something that you will eliminate, but not everything entirely. You can imagine that in the path of qurb-e-wilaya, you burn, incinerate and then remake yourself. On the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you only burn and incinerate those parts that are not according to the shari’ah.

4. Qurb-e-wilaya is the path of enaba and qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of ijtiba. 

He describes qurb-e-nabuwwah as rah-e-ijtiba (rah means path) and qurb-e-wilaya as rah-e-enaba. Qurb-e-nabuwwah is viewed as the path chosen by Allah (swt) for you, and qurb-e-wilaya is the path of enaba where you will try to attain Allah (swt) through your own acts. He has taken this word from Qur’an:

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

Muqarrab in Arabic is ism maf’ool; it doesn’t mean those who draw near to Allah (swt), it means those who are drawn near by Allah (swt) to Him. So in Arabic it would mean qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path where you will get the qurb of the muqarrab, while qurb-e-wilaya is the path where you are trying to get the qurb of the muqarrib. Maqurrib means you yourself are trying to draw close to Allah (swt) as much as you can. While muqarrab means Allah (swt) will Himself draw you close to Him. It is a Qur’anic term.

5. Qurb-e-wilaya views nafl ibadah as a means to qurb and Qurb-e-nabuwwah views it as gratitude for qurb. 

In the path of qurb-e-wilaya, you engage in a lot of nafl ibadah because you view your ibadah as a means of acquiring the qurb you are trying to get. In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you also do a lot of nafl ibadah, but you don’t view it as a means, you do it out of shukr, gratitude and gratefulness for the qurb that Allah (swt) bestowed upon you. In one of his letters, Imam Rabbani (rah) quotes a hadith that someone asked the Blessed Prophet (sws) that why do you (sws) do so much ibadah? The Sahabi (ra) meant that he (sws) is Anbiya al-Mursalin suggesting he (sws) would not need that. The Blessed Prophet (sws) replied that should not a slave be grateful to their Lord? So the notion was that this ibadah was done out of gratitude.

6. Qurb-e-wilaya is the path of kasbi and Qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of fadhli.

In qurb-e-wilaya, because you are trying to attain this on your own, you can call this kasb: you are trying to earn wilaya on your own. While in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, the qurb is bestowed upon you by Allah (swt). It is not something you can acquire on your own so you become, what we call, fadhli.

لِكَ فَضۡلُ اللّٰهِ يُؤۡتِيۡهِ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ‌ ؕ وَاللّٰهُ ذُو الۡفَضۡلِ الۡعَظِيۡمِ
It is Allah’s bounty that He gives to whomsoever He wills, and Allah is the Lord of the great bounty. [6:4]

This is the fadhl of Allah (swt) and He gives it to whomsoever He wants. And Allah (swt) is the possessor and giver of great fadhl. So on this path, whatever qurb you get, you view it as a great fadhl of Allah (swt) on you. You are not going to view it as an achievement of your lengthy fasts and sleepless nights etc. Then, you become a faqir in this sense:

اَنۡتُمُ الۡفُقَرَآءُ اِلَى اللّٰهِۚ
You are the ones who need Allah. [35:15]

You view yourself as needy of that fadhl. If we were to explain this in Urdu, we would say you are a fadhli faqir. You are a faqir; a person who is needy and dependent on the fadhl, on the great generosity of Allah (swt). When a person transforms themselves into that, when they write off all other aspects of their personality and reduce themselves to this aspect of their identity, that’s when they get that qurb with Allah (swt). That’s what’s called being siddiqin and salihin. That goes right back to what he had said earlier that the end of everything is ubudiyyah — to end up in a state of absolute servanthood and slavehood. This method brings a person to that state of ubudiyyah.

7. Qurb-e-wilaya takes out love for Akhirah and Qurb-e-nabuwwah retains love for Akhirah.

In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you only have to give up love of this world. Whereas, there were some people on the path of qurb-e-wilaya who used to give up on the love of this world and the love of the next world. In some of his letters, Imam Rabbani (rah) critiques Rabia Basria (rah) who is very famously known to have been walking with a bucket full of water and a piece of wood which was on fire, and she said that whoever is worshiping Allah (swt) because they yearn for Jannah, I’ll set fire to their Jannah, and whoever is worshiping Allah (swt) because they have fear of Jahannam, I’ll put out the fires of the Jahannam which they are afraid of. What she was trying to suggest was that it was a higher level of worship to worship only out of love for Allah (swt), as opposed to worshiping out of yearning for Jannah or fear for Jahannam. Some people’s aqal may tell them today that that’s correct. Imam Rabbani (rah) said that it is incorrect because Allah (swt) has said in Qur’an:

يَدۡعُوۡنَ رَبَّهُمۡ خَوۡفًا وَّطَمَعًا
They call their Lord with fear and hope. [32:16]

You should make du’a to Allah (swt), worship and call upon Him in both hope and fear. Because this is what Allah (swt) wants, and the highest level of ubudiyyah is to submit yourself according to every ayah of Qur’an, therefore hope of reward and fear of punishment is ubudiyyah, and there is nothing higher than ubudiyyah. Thus, it is not higher to worship Allah (swt) only out of love, and not out of desire for Jannah and fear from Jahannam. You must love Allah (swt) out of love for Him, also have hope and yearning for Jannah, and also have fear of Jahannam.

There are many examples of this. For example, Blessed Prophet (sws) — the greatest of ‘abd — made it clear in the beginning when he taught us the du’a Allahumma inni as’aluka al-Jannah, Allahumma ajirni min an-nar. It is correct that this was an instruction for ummah on how to make du’a, but it was also a reflection of his (sws) heart. He (sws) had that same fear and hope. He (sws) was an ‘abd. Highest is to worship Allah (swt) the way He wants us to worship Him. So, the love of the next world is good in qurb-e-nabuwwah which is the love for Akhirah. Whereas sometimes in qurb-e-wilaya people felt love for Akhirah should also be left, because Akhirah is also ghair. Jannah is also ghairullah, isn’t it? Jannah is not Allah (swt) any more than this world is Allah (swt). They said you should even stop loving that.

In other words, for Imam Rabbani (rah), love for Allah (swt) includes all the loves that Allah (swt) has Himself commanded us and wants us to have. Love for Jannah, or yearning for Jannah, if you will, is part of love for Allah (swt), it is not viewed as that love for ghairullah which you have to take out from your heart. Then Allah (swt) says further — and they are fearful of Us. Kana is from istamrar — they were always fearful of Us. Because Allah (swt) wants that we should always be fearful of Him, so fear of Allah (swt) and fear of Jahannam is part of being close to Him.

8. Qurb-e-wilaya’s end goal is dhikr and Qurb-e-nabuwwah’s end goal is dawah.

For Imam Rabbani (rah), the end aspect was that a person should teach, preach and guide to shari’ah, do dawah, iqamat, ihya, tajdeed of deen, and that he viewed to be greater than the dhikr of the sufis. The people who were on the path of qurb-e-wilaya felt that dhikr was greater than dawah and establishment of deen. He says no, in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, which is the path of tasawwuf he was teaching, doing khidmah, dawah and revival of deen is greater than dhikr.

It doesn’t mean you don’t do dhikr at all. He was a shaykh of tasawwuf, he used to guide people and teach them to do dhikr. It should not be misunderstood. Sometimes people only listen to the part they want to hear. So the people who like dawah are like that’s exactly what we have been saying all this time that all the sufis should leave tasawwuf and join the tabligh. That is not what Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) is saying. You still have to do dhikr. Dhikr is the means that will enable you to do dawah, that is why you cannot dispense at dhikr. It is not an end in of itself. The first function of dhikr is to put love for Allah (swt) in your heart and to bring it to that level of qurb. The second function of dhikr, when you get that love, is that it enables you to do dawah.

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]

Allah (swt) is saying don’t listen to the dawah of that person whose qalb yani spiritual heart is empty of dhikr of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) is commanding in Qur’an.

9. Qurb-e-wilaya focuses on mujahida and Qurb-e-nabuwwah focuses on sunnah.

That’s another feature, in qurb-e-nabuwwah you follow the sunnah. That is your mujahida. If you want to fast, fast on most Mondays and Thursdays and 13th, 14th and 15th of the month — that’s it. No need to fast everyday with just water. It is permissible to do that, but in Imam Rabbani’s concept of tasawwuf, the only mujahida you need to do is to bring yourself in alignment with sunnah. That is enough disciplining of the soul that you need to do. Whereas in the path of qurb-e-wilaya, people used to do lots of mujahida, and that actually started at the time of Sahaba (ra) in that they used to fast perpetually. It was something that the Prophet (sws) did not do, it was still permissible for them to do it.

Next letter.

On the day of Judgement, we should be questioned about shari’ah, not tasawwuf. Entrance into Jannah and salvation from Jahannam depends upon obedience to shari’ah. That’s why the Anbiya (as) (who are the best of creation) preached and taught Shari’ah, and they made salvation from Jahannam conditional upon shari’ah. This is one of the things Imam Rabbani (rah) keeps talking about; shari’ah and sunnah. Hence, the greatest virtue lies in preaching the shari’ah, because the greatest of human beings are the prophets (as), the function of the prophets is to teach, establish and preach shari’ah, therefore the greatest human activity is to teach, preach and establish shari’ah. And reviving its provisions that have been neglected (particular to his time) the sh’a’irullah (the manifestations, the hallmarks of shari’ah) are in ruin. Imagine if he is writing this 480 years ago, how would he describe the situation today?

For in doing it (in reviving the shari’ah) one does the work of the prophets and participates in their mission and legacy. They are the best of creation and the greatest honor is reserved for them, even though others can spend hundreds of millions in Allah’s (swt) way. That’s why his particular way of dawah was not just through one particular angle. It was not just to teach people dhikr. It was to bring people on to shari’ah. That’s a problem with a lot of our dawah groups that they also initially begin it as a means to an end, but they end up making it an end in of itself. Some people in tasawwuf are like that as well. Being a student of tasawwuf is a means, it is not an end in of itself that you think now I’m a student, or I’m naqshbandi, like you have arrived at some destination. It is not a destination. It is a car which should be used to travel.

People today don’t like this type of tasawwuf because this is the type of tasawwuf that is hard on their nafs. We want the type of sufism where we can still lead a life that is not according to sunnah. We want that type of sufism where we don’t have to follow shari’ah. We want that type of sufism where we can listen to music. That’s the type of sufism a lot of people like today. It is not because these are teachings of tasawwuf, it is because of their nafs. That’s the type of tasawwuf nafs likes.

Moreover, when you practice the shari’ah, you conquer the nafs because shari’ah is designed to subdue the nafs. If someone wants to get rid of nafs al-ammara, they should adopt shari’ah themselves and every aspect of sunnah — everything, even this hadith where Blessed Prophet (sws) has said wearing an imama teaches a person hilm; gives them forbearance; gives them strength to withhold; gives them a stronger hold on the lease of their nafs. Every drop of shari’ah and sunnah is what defeats the nafs. The shari’ah was designed by Allah (swt) to subdue the nafs which was also designed by Allah (swt).

In spending money, on the other hand, Self sometimes feels gratified. There may be a lot of people like that today who give a lot of money in charity and they think that’s their deen. That is not sufficient for deen. That is definitely a part of deen in terms of sadaqah. But really, like he said people feel gratified, I have seen people who will spend like a few $1000s on a completely mundane vacation, but if they give $100 to the masjid, they feel so proud. They give themselves such a big pat on the back. If they give $500 to the masjid, they feel like they are the greatest philanthropist alive in the ummah, and they will drop $500 on a completely pathetic thing, like a traffic ticket or something. They want their names written on the masjid. I saw a masjid like that in your country England, but I will not take the name of the city.

Be sure the money which is spent on strengthening rule of shari’ah or preaching deen is a higher order virtue. To spend a penny on that is equal to spending millions in other ways. From the four aspects I showed you of his life, this is the aspect of revival of shari’ah, revival of deen. That is what these people were, that is why they were called mujaddid — they were the renewers and revivers of deen. They were not just trying to teach people dhikr and make them sufi. They had a greater goal in mind.

You cannot say how is it possible to give priority to students who are bonded over sufis who are emancipated. He is talking about the students of the madrassahs, and he is saying that it is better to spend money on students there because they are studying ‘ilm which is going to enable the deen and shari’ah to be revived, instead of funding a person who wants to go for, let’s say, four months to do dhikr — like people get scholarships to study. If you can get a scholarship to study history, you can also get a scholarship to do dhikr. There have been endowments like that in Islamic history that someone would say I want to go for a few months to do dhikr, and someone else would say fine, you go and work on yourself and I will take care of your household expenses. It is a nice thing to do just like it is a nice thing to give someone scholarship to study. But he is saying even greater than that is to spend on the students of ‘ilm in madrassahs because that is the effort which will revive deen and shari’ah.

So the student is not yet liberated and is nevertheless the cause of liberation of others. What he meant by liberation was in the sense of getting liberated from nafs. There were people who would say you should spend money on the sufis because they have liberated themselves from the nafs, why do you want to instead give money to the students of madrassahs who may not yet have liberated themselves from their nafs? He says this is not a problem. They are getting the knowledge which will enable them to liberate masses of people.

He (i.e. student of ‘ilm) preaches shari’ah to benefit others, even if he has not benefited himself. The sufi has emancipated only himself and has nothing to say to others. This is not the type of sufi Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) is creating. It is not going to apply to those who are students of knowledge. But the other type of sufi who is on the path of qurb-e-wilaya and if he is just doing dhikr and ibadah, he is not trying to revive shari’ah, he is not doing dawah, then he is only saving himself. Unfortunately when some of our friends do dawah they make it sound like everyone in tasawwuf is like this. That everyone in tasawwuf is worried about their own self and they say things like woh infradi mehnat hai, ham ijtama’i mehnat karte hein.

It is plain that one who is instrumental in saving many people is better than the one who is occupied with only saving himself. However, if a sufi has completed fanaa, baqaa and sair (through the path of qurb-e-wilaya) and then they come to qurb-e-nabuwwah, they return to the world and they engage in preaching of humanity, they do the work of the prophets (as). I told you there was going to be that path also that you could get qurb-e-nabuwwah through qurb-e-wilaya. So when you get qurb-e-wilaya after going through fanaa, baqaa, sair and you engage in dawah, in establishing deen and shari’ah, you get qurb-e-nabuwwah also. He is the preacher of shari’ah and belongs to the ulema of shari’ah. This is the favor of Allah (swt) which He bestows upon whomsoever He likes. He is the most Beneficent.

If, along with the work which you are doing, you could also enforce the shari’ah, you would be doing the work of the prophets (as) and rehabilitating the desolate house of Islam and restoring its glory. We sufis who just do dhikr on our own, if, on the other hand, work for years and years and even lay down our lives in dhikr, we shall never reach anywhere near the people who established the shari’ah. 

Suppose a person who is engaged in dhikr suddenly finds a blind man standing at the realm of a well and were that blind man to take another step he would fall into the well. What is better for this man — to continue in his dhikr or to save the man from falling into the well? There is no doubt that to save the blind man from falling into the well is better than to continue doing dhikr of Allah (swt). God does not need that person and does not need his dhikr, but the blind man needs his help and he needs someone to save him. Therefore, saving the blind man in this scenario is a form of dhikr in obeying the command of Allah (swt).

When you remember Allah (swt), you only attend to one duty: the duty towards Allah (swt) (haqooq Allah). When you try to save people, you attend to two duties: doing your duty towards Allah (swt) (that if you are able to teach and preach, you are doing that) and your duty towards your fellow human beings that they have a right over you that you should save them, if you have that ability. In fact, to do dhikr at that time could even be a sin — to keep doing dhikr and let that man fall could even be a sin. Doing dhikr is not always good. At times not doing it is better than doing it.

For example, instead of teaching you from 10 AM to 6 PM, I could have stayed at oxford and done dhikr from 8 AM to 8 PM. That’s what I gave up to be with you. My speed is less but considering maximum speed, may be I could have even completed the recitation of the entire Qur’an during that time. Have you ever thought about that? It is not just my example, there are so many people who give talks and teach, –why in the world do they do that? If they have that free time, they could just do their own ibadah. Because it is a responsibility that has been placed on us by our teachers, this is what we have to do. But this does not mean you can get by with zero dhikr. You cannot do that either.

You see, the car needs fuel. If you keep putting fuel in the car and never drive it, that is a problem. If you try to drive the car without fuel, that is also a problem. You will only understand this if you have a teacher — that which stage you are at: are you at the stage where you should be filling up the fuel or should you be driving, then filling up fuel a bit as you go? You would not know. You cannot self-diagnose yourself anymore than you can self-diagnose yourself for a small illness — that whether it is bacterial or it is viral, you cannot even tell that. Your doctors would not even know if it is gram-positive or gram-negative unless they run sophisticated tests.

Remember that dhikr means to avoid forgetting Allah (swt) in any way that is possible. Contrary to what people think, dhikr is not exclusively saying la ilaha illallah, or saying Allah, Allah. In fact, every act that is in compliance to the ahkam/commandments of Allah (swt), is dhikr. Whether you are positively doing the things which you should do or you are staying away from His negative commands and prohibitions. If you go to business, and you run your business model according to shari’ah, your business is dhikr. If you go to the clinic and lower your gaze whole day, that time at the clinic counts as dhikr.

Even the buying and selling in which you observe the regulations of the shari’ah is dhikr. Similarly, marriage and divorce that is carried out according to shari’ah is dhikr. Why are you doing these acts according to shari’ah? Obviously you are conscious of Allah (swt), you have not forgotten Him. Because you remember Him, you want to be shari’ah compliant. That is dhikr. Dhikr which consists the formal dhikr, consists of making remembrance of the names of Allah (swt), the attributes of Allah (swt), is more affective and more helpful in generating the feeling of love for Allah (swt). If you run your business according to shari’ah, you are not going to feel feelings of love for Allah (swt). If you sit down to do tilawah, or pray nafl, make du’a, make dhikr, make tasbih, you will get love for Allah (swt).

Formal dhikr is more beneficial in getting His qurb. But dhikr that consists of submitting to the commandment of Allah (swt) is less effective in getting qurb. However, some people have acquired these qualities as a result of practicing dhikr in the sense of obeying Allah’s (swt) commands and avoiding His prohibitions. Such cases are few, but it is possible. For example, if a person feels that if I do more ibadah type dhikr, let’s say it will soften his heart and give him more fear of Allah (swt). But there may be a person that everyday makes sure to keep their business according to shari’ah, and then that God consciousness, that taqwa that they have, that will also brings them to the same fear of Allah (swt) for which otherwise people had to do lots of tilawah, tahajjud and dhikr and du’a for. It’s possible. That gives you scope, for those of you who want to continue as professionals in your life. But it has to be a very shari’ah compliant life.

On the other hand, the dhikr which is saying the names and attributes of Allah (swt) is the means to the dhikr, which is obeying the rules of the Shari’ah life. That person who makes more dhikr is more likely to follow shari’ah, because dhikr puts inside them the emotional desire to obey that Being they have fallen in love with. Doing this type of formal dhikr increases love for Allah (swt), the more love you have for Allah (swt) the more you would want to obey Allah (swt). Again, he is showing you that dhikr is a means to obeying rules of shari’ah. For it is impossible to observe the rules of the shari’ah in all manners unless one has a strong love for the giver and sender of that shari’ah, and the strong love for Allah (swt) depends on strong dhikr of Allah (swt) by making dhikr of His names and His attributes. Allah swt said in Qur’an:

وَلِلّٰهِ الۡاَسۡمَآءُ الۡحُسۡنٰى فَادۡعُوۡهُ بِهَا‌
For Allah there are the most beautiful names. So, call Him by them. [7:180]

You have to call upon Allah (swt) with them. You have to use them in du’a. It is there in Qur’an. The Blessed Prophet (sws) did not tell us how to do ‘amal on that. There is no hadith that tells you how to use the names of Allah (swt). Now are you going to accuse Blessed Prophet (sws) for not accomplishing his (sws) mission? No, his (sws) mission was his (sws) prophethood. Allah (swt) can give hidayah in other ways. Where will you get the hidayah on how to make du’a and dhikr using asma al-husna, when you will not find it in hadith or Qur’an? Allah (swt) has given that hidayah to the ulema, just like there is so much hidayah in the books of tafsir. Hence, one has to say formal dhikr in order to do this noble dhikr (of following shari’ah).

Next letter.

The reward for fard is infinitely more than the reward for sunnah, and the reward for following sunnah is infinitely more than the reward of any nafl act. But you have to have a proper understanding. It does not mean that you think I will never do any nafl ibadah again, because Allah (swt) Himself has told you to do nafl ibadah. Let’s take the example of nafl ibadah called durud salawat. Everybody knows reward for fard is more than sunnah, reward for sunnah is more than nafl, but that same Allah (swt) commanded you to do nafl. The du’a of asma al-husna commanded by Allah (swt) in Qur’an is nafl. Making durud salawat is also nafl.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
O you who believe, do pray Allah to bless him, and send your Salam (prayer for his being in peace) to him in abundance. [33:56]

You have to be a completely Qur’anic insan. The problem is that you use your aql while trying to understand. It’s part of the whole materialistic thing — your priorities. We have to do everything; we must do fard, we must do sunnah, but we must also do nafl. It is part of deen and we want to follow all the hidayah in the deen. For example, if there is a person who says I have never made du’a using all the asma al-husna, he is missing something in deen. That is a problem because it is in Qur’an.

Next letter.

Baqaa is better than fanaa. Teaching the deen, preaching and reviving the shari’ah is better than remaining stuck in that stage where you are absorbed in Allah (swt) and just doing dhikr. And I tell you, emotionally you would not want to come out of it. Who in the world would want to do that — even if you had the choice, you would rather enjoy doing dhikr from 10 AM to 6 PM than listen to me, if you had that ability. I don’t know how many of you can say I did dhikr for 8 hours straight and just broke for zuhr, lunch, tea etc. We may not have that ability, but even if you do have that ability, sometimes you have to do other things. Deen is not about what you enjoy, deen is about what Allah (swt) wants you to do.

He is addressing those awliya ullah who went through the path of qurb-e-wilaya and he is trying to pull them into qurb-e-nabuwwah. He is trying to tell them I know you have gone through fanaa, and you went through the four suyur, you did not make any ecstatic utterances, and you are feeling a lot of qurb with Allah (swt), but now I want you to take another step. I want you to sacrifice the time you spend in dhikr and I want you to engage in dawah and establish shari’ah.

A lot of his letters are written to his students and ulema counseling them that you must do work of deen. And he was successful by and large. He did not get ahl-e-ilm (people of knowledge) or ahl-e-baseerat (people of deep insight) or ahl-e-tadabbur (those who consider consequences of things) or ahl-e-tafakkur (people of deep contemplation); he did not get the doctors and the PhD doctors to do work of deen, he got the people who were doing dhikr, the ahl-e-dhikr, who were remembering Allah (swt), to do work of deen. That turned back the tide entirely on Akbar’s incredible and devastating attack on deen of Islam. This was one of his brilliance; combining dhikr and dawah. It is so unfortunate that people have tried to separate these two. 

Next letter.

Every Prophet (as) is a preacher and is trying to preach the shari’ah. There are various levels of preaching and preachers of varying grades. The ulema are preoccupied with preaching the outer form of shari’ah, while the sufis are preoccupied with preaching the inner form of shari’ah. However, the one who is both an ‘alim and sufi is excellent for preaching both the inner and outer form. He is the true successor of the Blessed Prophet (sws). He has mentioned this in many writings written to ulema to bring them into dhikr, because they were ulema and they were doing dawah only on the basis of their ‘ilm and didn’t have dhikr in their heart. He wanted to make them better in their dawah. He told them you need to do dhikr because only then will you be ulema worthy of the work of Anbiya (as) and a manifestation and embodiment of this hadith:

Al-ulema warasat al-Anbiya
Scholars are the heirs of the Prophets. 

The scholars who master the outer and inner form of shari’ah, they are the heirs of the Prophets (as). Some people think the scholars of hadith are the best in the Muslim community. However, they consider them best in all of the sections of ummah, that is doubtful. But if they consider them best in all of the scholars of outward form of shari’ah, that is possible. The best in all of the ummah are those preachers who teach the entire shari’ah; tafsir, hadith, fiqh, dhikr, tazkiya — all of it. They teach the complete deen. That includes the hadith, but it is much more than hadith.

Just make sure you don’t misunderstand this: he is saying those who teach hadith only, as opposed to those who teach fiqh only, as opposed to those who teach everything in hadith, fiqh, tafsir, and tazkiya. These are the three groups he is comparing. He was writing to hadith scholars and fiqh scholars, not trying to get them to leave that, but to add to that. He meant in addition to teaching people words of hadith, try yourself to do dhikr so you feel the feelings of hadith and then make yourself the person who does not just teach the wordings but brings people to the feelings of those words of hadith as well. You are getting an insight into how he was doing the work of tajdeed.

Next letter.

This is about karamat. Very briefly, he is saying having kashf and not having kashf are equal. Having kashf is not an issue of having merit or virtue, just like that karamat are also not an issue of merit or virtue. The person who has karamah is not at all better than the person who has one because being better is based on taqwa, sunnah, ibadah, deen etc.

Next letter.

Imam Rabbani (rah) had written several letters regarding ibn Arabi. This is one of the shorter ones towards the end of which he writes that he feels ibn Arabi was mistaken but Allah (swt) is still pleased with him despite his mistake. This is a different take from those people who don’t think ibn Arabi is mistaken at all, or others like Imam ibn Taymiyya (rah) who was quite harsh on ibn Arabi and felt that Allah (swt) is not pleased with him at all. Imam Sirhindi (rah) does husn-e-zan and he feels that he was mistaken, but he was not misintentioned and considers him to be among the people Allah (swt) is pleased with, even though we will denounce, censure and make clear that we disagree with his mistake.


What is the linguistic definition of Shari’ah?

Shari’ah in Arabic language means way or a path. It is also sometimes used to identify a way or a path to a source of water in the desert. The use of the word Shari’ah in Islam means living that way of life that remains within the boundaries of halal and never crosses out and goes into the area of haram. The understanding of what is halal and what is haram, which is derived from Qur’an and Sunnah, is called fiqh.

It appears to me that in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah doing dhikr would not be enough and we have to be involved in some type of khidmah of deen. In this notion, what would be, quote unquote, enough?

These are the six things:

  1. Taqwa
  2. Ibadah
  3. Sunnah
  4. Dhikr
  5. Sohbah
  6. Khidmah

This equals wilaya. All of these can be established from Qur’an, let alone from hadith. When are you ready for what? Different people have different propensities but in our lifetime everybody should do some level of khidmah of deen to get the qurb, because the siddiqin are not just true followers of the Blessed Prophet (sws) in terms of sunnah, but they were true to him (sws) in terms of his (sws) mission and message. They were true in the sense that they had this fikr. That’s why khidmah can be done in many ways. That’s why we are saying that in tabligh and tasawwuf, or ‘ilm and tasawwuf, or jihad and tasawwuf, or in any type of activity in tasawwuf, there is no competition. These are different categories. These are multiple ways of doing khidmah of deen.

This is our basic concept about the khidmah of deen — I will first say it in Urdu and then I will translate it for you in English. Ham khidmat-e-deen k tamam shoboun k qaail hein, kisi eik shobay ki afzaliyat k qaail nahi hein. We believe in merit and virtue of all areas and branches of khidmah of deen. We do not believe, nor will we accept from anyone, a statement of superiority of one particular branch over the others. You will see that even within ‘ilm; did Imam Bukhari (rah) write tafsir? Are you going to accuse him that he is against Qur’an? Can anyone talk like that?

Not doing something does not mean you are against it. For example, I don’t go on tablighi jama’at, but I’m not against it, I love the work of tabligh, I love it. If I don’t do it doesn’t mean I am against it. That’s like me telling Maulana Tariq Jameel (db) you are against tafsir, because he is actually a very good ‘alim and he could write tafsir if he wanted to, but he doesn’t write it. Not doing something doesn’t mean a person is against it.

Also, I will tell you that in khidmah we also want to follow the path of ijtiba which means don’t try to self-select yourself for a particular khidmah. People make this mistake that they think let me sit down and see which khidmah I should do. No, work on the first five and see which khidmah Allah (swt) opens up for you. The door Allah (swt) opens up for you will be easy for you to get through. If you keep knocking on doors then it’s very difficult.

This is a great lost sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws) which was his (sws) human resource management. He (sws) knew which Sahabi (ra) was great for which khidmah. He knew khadim of ‘ilm from a mujahid. Blessed Prophet (sws) allotted Sahaba Karam (ra) to their respective khidmah tasks. For example, he (sws) told Abu Huraira (ra) to be among as’hab-e-suffa and made him a muhadith. He (sws) told Ubay ibn K’ab (ra) to recite Qur’an and made him Imam of the Qurra’.

That’s also a sunnah, not even nafl, to put yourself as a student of a teacher who can know you like the Blessed Prophet (sws) knew Sahaba (ra) and therefore can allot you to a khidmah. Let them open the door for you, allot you a khidmah that is suited for you, you will have qabuliyyah, the same way Blessed Prophet (sws) allotted khidmah to the Sahaba (ra). They didn’t select themselves. Nobody is going to say Syedna Khalid ibn al-Walid (ra) was against hadith because he hardly narrated any. Nobody is going to say Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) was against jihad because he hardly went on any. Khidmah was given by Blessed Prophet (sws), and in this day and age it can be given by a shaykh, or you can just ask Allah (swt) to open up a door for you.


Indeed who are the awliya of Allah (swt) other than the people of taqwa? Taqwa in the beginning means stopping sin one by one. So in the beginning we have to leave sins, we have to start increasing our ibadah (fard, wajib and “sunnah”) both in consistency and quality (there is no question of quantity there because these are fixed). Third is you have to increase in your quality and quantity of sunnah; number of mansoon sunnah du’as you know, number of masnoon sunnah du’as you say and in quality the number of sunnah du’as you feel. After eating when you say Alhamdulillah, do you really feel it from your heart, or do you say it real quick with your tongue?

Next is to have sohbah. Allah (swt) has commanded us in Qur’an:

وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ
And be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

To get this path of wilaya and sidq, you have to keep yourself in the company. That’s a command of Qur’an. When I used to teach this course, I would teach from the text of ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (rah), he said clearly in his text that if you find a person with these qualities you should make that person your shaykh. For him his shaykh was ibn Taymiyya (rah). It may not be the exact same thing. The word bayah, tasawwuf, silsila may not have been there but it doesn’t matter. Sohbah means put yourself in the company of someone.

If one would like to make bayah to a shaykh, how does the communication and the bond play out?

There are different ways in which this relationship has played out in history and contemporary times. According to some biographies, Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) only met his shaykh three times. After meeting his shaykh till when he passed away, there was a lapse of five years (check). For every person, it works out differently just like it did for Sahaba Karam (ra). Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) met Blessed Prophet (sws) just a few years before the Prophet (sws) passed away. Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), on the other hand, knew the Blessed Prophet (sws) even before the manifestation of nabuwwah. There were some sahaba (ra) who lived in as’hab as-suffa, some who lived in Madina Munawwarah, others who lived in surrounding areas like some sahaba in Yemen who came ever so infrequently. There have been different types of relationships and there is no one single model.

That said, a person needs to assess. I can give you my own example, because giving my own example is safe as I am not talking about, hurting or praising anyone else. We met our shaykh in end of May of 1994 and I have spent pretty much seventeen years because now we are in May of 2011. In the first couple of years, he came to America twice a year, then four times a year, then back to twice a year. Later, I myself moved to Pakistan in 1999 and I was there for eleven years. In Pakistan, obviously I met him more than two or four times a year. Sometimes when I go to Lahore, even though I spend more days there as compared to Karachi and Islamabad, but because when I’m at home then I’m obviously busy with family, so those people actually felt that they got less time. In fact, people of Pakistan sometimes say that you people of England get more time. Point being living in the same city does not necessarily mean greater access.

How does the relationship work out on its own? Shaykh is just a means, he is not an end in of himself. If a person cannot benefit from regular but infrequent contact, it is unlikely they will benefit from more contact. Our own practice, when we take students to tutor and guide on this path of dhikr, is generally we have twice a year as the absolute minimum of live sohbah. So if anyone sends me an e-mail from a place where I feel they cannot come from twice a year, they should consider that.

The purpose of shaykh is to teach you dhikr. If you do the dhikr, then you respond and tell the shaykh I am doing this dhikr and then work on improving the quality of dhikr. Then maybe I might give you additional dhikr to do. For that type of tutoring, we should always try take out time to inform, which can be through e-mail, SMS or in person. Second type of tutoring is tutoring taqwa, ibadah, sunnah — for that we give bayan. We have live bayans as well as many recordings online. The words that are spoken don’t always have to be heard live. But twice a year live meeting should also take place.

Everything I’m saying is for men, by the way. It’s quite different for women. Because for them there are Islamic rules and we never want to see women in our life. But I will also say that women are becoming more and more like the men. Historically, women in Islam for most part used to remain in their homes. Now we have women university students, women doctors, women lawyers — so they are as exposed to the radiation of society as men are. We didn’t have this before. Tasawwuf wasn’t prevalent among women before because they didn’t have these problems. They didn’t have the sins that they needed to get taken out of because they were pretty much fine living simple lives in their homes. They could even become bayt to a shaykh and get one letter, get the dhikr and benefit from it their whole life. They would never need to ever contact again. That’s the pure era we used to have.

Second, particularly in our silsila, in my own practice because Alhamdulillah my wife has also been a student of our shaykh for many years, we very much focus on the women. And I think women need to have as much access to the teachings of tasawwuf and tazkiya so that they can do better khidmah, especially those women who have ‘ilm of deen, or women who have those abilities. Imam Rabbani (rah) used to tell the men also who had ‘ilm to do dhikr so they could do better dawah, but we as men cannot reach the women. Only women can reach other women. So it is important to work and try to prepare women who can do khidmah of deen and to bring women to that level of dhikr, because we need women to do that dawah to other women. Therefore, sometimes for women also it’s very important to be more regular in their dhikr.

That’s pretty much how it works and sometimes a person may even be fortunate enough to find a shaykh in their own city who holds weekly gatherings. For example, when we were living in Lahore, every Thursday we would meet these boys there. Really, there are some men who need that. When I look back I can see there were some boys that had they not gotten their weekly dose over the course of several months, they would not have been able to change. At the same time, I have also seen people who have only met me twice a year and they have been able to change. That’s what I’m saying, it’s not the meeting so much, it’s just reinforcing, encouraging, it’s motivating etc. But the person should have a desire of their own.

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


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.


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

[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.

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.


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

Being Part of the Ummah

[These are rough notes of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed on March 12, 2017]

وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُواْ شُهَدَاء عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا 
In the same way, We made you a moderate Ummah (community), so that you should be witnesses over the people, and the Messenger a witness to you… [2:143]

The concept of ummah in our deen is vast; it is not enough just to be a believer. Allah (swt) has mentioned many different attributes and features of this ummah – if we don’t have these features in us, we are not really members of the ‘ummah’. Same is the case with the organisations of the world; merely joining a company doesn’t mean you will have the company’s ethos, spirit etc. Just like that, many of us are believers, we are muminin , but we don’t have the spirit of ummah within us!

What does the word wasata mean? Many think it means moderate, in the sense of being somewhere between Abu Bakr and Abu Jahl. This is wrong. Moderate isn’t that we are mediocre. Jannah is an extreme place; it has extreme happiness, bliss, joy, purity; and so is Jahannam- they will both last forever. What wasata means is that we are an ummah of balance; it means our approach to dunya should be balanced. We should take from this world a reasonable amount of comfort. One female sahabiyah complained to Nabi (sws) about her husband, that he fasts all day and prays all night, and Nabi (sws) said your body has rights over you, your spouse has rights over you – meaning don’t fast all the time, and don’t pray all night long.

In the ayah mentioned at the beginning, Allah (swt) also said ‘you will be a witness’ – why? Because we are the last and final ummah, and we have the last and final book! Nabi (sws) was the last and final Messenger, hence we are witnesses to the previous generations.

This is an ummah for all of humanity – part of being from this ummah means we have a feeling of companionship with fellow believers. Previously we have discussed how to be a true believer in seclusion, in suhbah etc. Tonight, we will discuss how to be a true mu’min as part of the ummah.

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ
You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah [3:110]

You are the very best ummah- you enjoin towards that which is known to be virtuous and pure, and you call away from those things that are rejected by Allah (swt). This is ihtiyat; to stay away from those things Allah dislikes, and to do things which Allah likes.

Whenever I come to England, I’m always amazed at how little capacity we have to do da’wah on the non-Muslims. There is so much capacity in our colleagues, neighbours, friends etc, but so few of them do we bring to deen of Islam. Sahabah (ra) always had fikr. The original meaning of da’wah is to engage with people who don’t have iman, and then to bring them to iman. We don’t even try; we say we are too scared, and embarrassed. We find it awkward. You’ve known someone for 1 year, 5 years etc, and you can never talk to them about Allah (swt)? What if they grabbed you on the Day of Judgment, and said my colleague and friend never ever told to me to prepare for this Day. We should at the least do our duty, we should care. We shouldn’t feel awkward. Even if its awkward for a couple of weeks, at least we can say on the Day of Judgment that we tried.

Allah (swt) puts barakah in da’wah when we are truly sincere – we don’t appreciate and value our own iman. If you valued it, you would want to share it. For most of us, we didn’t actively accept Islam, since we were born in families of deen, and hence we don’t appreciate this iman, and we don’t share it.

The core of iman is tawhid and ubudiyyah. Our whole focus should be this. Once there was a Shaykh who asked his students, ‘What is tawhid?’ The students replied it is to believe Allah (swt) is one. The Shaykh then explained that it is not solely to believe in the oneness of Allah, but also to live your entire life for the sake of that one Allah (swt). This is called ubudiyyah.

Allah (swt) has many names. One particular one is Malik, which goes with our identity of slave. We have one name, we are one thing – we are ‘abd (slave). Allah can be Rahman with us, He can be Wakeel, He can be Malik, but we will always be ‘abd. We only have this one identity. We are ‘abd ur-Rahman, ‘abd ul’Halim, ‘abd ul-Malik etc. We always remain ‘abd!

At the conquest of Makkah, Nabi (sws) said Alhamdulillahil-lazi sadaqa wa’dahu, wa nasar ‘abdahu – Praise is to Allah (swt)  who has fulfilled His promise, granted victory to His slave – he (sws) didn’t enter as  a leader, as a conqueror; he entered as a slave. Even in tashahhud in salah, we attest he (sws) was ‘abd before rasul. Nabi (sws) was Rasulullah, but he acknowledged that he was ‘abd first. We also need to understand this; ‘abd first, engineer second; ‘abd first, doctor second!

True tawhid and ‘ubudiyyah will make us live a life of yaqin (certainty in faith) and tawakkul (reliance on Allah). You cannot invite others to the deen without tawhid and ubudiyyah.  Whatever difficult circumstance might happen, our faith should not decrease if we have true yaqin and tawakkul. In the battle of Ahzab, the disbelievers gathered as a coalition against the believers. This was when they should be fearing the enemy, but how did Allah (swt) mention this in Qur’an:

الَّذِينَ قَالَ لَهُمُ النَّاسُ إِنَّ النَّاسَ قَدْ جَمَعُواْ لَكُمْ فَاخْشَوْهُمْ فَزَادَهُمْ إِيمَاناً وَقَالُواْ حَسْبُنَا اللّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ 
those to whom people said, ‘the people have gathered against you; so, fear them’ – it increased them in faith and they said, ‘Allah is fully sufficient for us, and the best One in whom to trust.’ [3:173]

Whenever we face some opposition, maybe from our own nafs, maybe from some creation, maybe from some enemies – do we have the same yaqin and tawakkul? Most people suffer and fall into laziness, apathy, inaction, anxiety, and depression. They don’t even feel like making du’a. Do we only fear Allah (swt)?

فَلاَ تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِي
…so fear them not, but fear Me [2:150]

‘Ulama go through difficulties, people doing relief work go through difficulties; individuals go through difficulties; people of da’wah go through difficulties. This world is a world of test – Allah (swt) wants to see who is the most virtuous in behaviour. This is the world of test and the world of effort. There is the world with no test – that is called akhirah (afterlife).

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ 
O’ you who believe, seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere [2:153]

You must persevere in your good deeds, and you must patiently bear whatever difficulties Allah (swt) sends your way. Allah is with such people. Many times, we aren’t able to do this? Why?

وَاسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلاَّ عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ 
Seek help through patience and prayer. It is indeed exacting, but not for those who are humble in their hearts. [2.45]

Many people have ujub and value themselves as something, and when a difficulty comes to them, they find it extremely difficult to have sabr (patience). One core attribute is to develop this humility in us. If we are humble, we will be able to survive the tests and trials that come our way, otherwise we’ll just panic. These are things we can’t learn in difficulty.

Another attribute we need is taqwa – if we don’t leave sins, we don’t have this feature of ‘ummah’

إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ
Surely, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves [13:11]

So we need iman, khushu (humility) and taqwa, and this will all enable us to have sabr and salah – and it is then that we will have this balance and equilibrium.

What is a sign of a person truly being a part of the ‘ummah’

Nabi (sws) has said; A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim: he does not oppress him, nor does he fail him, nor does he lie to him, nor does he hold him in contempt. Taqwa is right here, and he pointed to his chest three times. [Muslim Sharif]

1. Don’t oppress anyone.

Taqwa is something internal. It is in the batin – and if we have this, we will never oppress or belittle anyone.

Don’t ever be a zalim (oppressor) – this means husband shouldn’t oppress the wife, and the wife shouldn’t oppress the husband. Children should not oppress their parents and parents should not oppress their children. There should be no zulm! Don’t be an oppressor, and don’t let anyone be oppressed – do something about it if you see someone else being oppressed. As a believer, we should rescue anyone else who is being oppressed.

2. Don’t view anyone with contempt.

Another thing is to not view anyone with contempt. Why don’t people care about the Rohingyas so much; because they are not some sacred ethnic group like Palestinians? Many haven’t even heard of the Rohingyas. Many didn’t even know there were muslims in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand etc. They are abandoned, they have no rescuers, illa masha-Allah. We viewed them as below our notice/time. Why does this happen? It happens when a person has worldly blessing, or they have some religious blessing maybe  – then we start viewing others as haqir (inferior) and faqir (destitute)!

Notice in this hadith of taqwa, there was no mention of anything about leaving sins. It was all about our relationship with others.

We know Allah (swt) has said 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]

إِنْ أَوْلِيَآؤُهُ إِلاَّ الْمُتَّقُونَ
The friends of Allah are none, but the God-fearing. [8:34]

It becomes a fashion for people, that they want to become a wali of Allah, but many think becoming a wali has nothing to do with taqwa. They might think it has to do with wearing certain clothing, listening to a certain amount of nashid, doing certain dhikr. The friends of Allah are none, but the ones with taqwa!

Our pious predecessors would serve the needy, they would help the poor. Yes, they also did a lot of worship and dhikr, and they stayed away from sin – but this was also one of their attributes. They had feelings for ummah. How did islam spread in the subcontinent? Shaykh Moinuddeen Chishti (rh) sat with the poor people, and there were masses of such people who were known to be downtrodden, subdued, powerless etc in society. They were the lowest in terms of caste. He showed them so much compassion, and they accepted Islam. At least we should have a special feeling to do the same, because many of us owe our iman to such people. Half of the ummah is in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh! 600 million Muslims are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It’s a joke in our communities, that when someone gets some money, they upgrade their neighbourhood. We leave the people. Someone in the family might get a degree, and then they don’t come back to help their neighbourhood, they hang out with the elite university crowd. Being a believer doesn’t mean default, we are a member of the ummah. It involves a lot of features. How many from the 1.2 billion muslims are actually the ‘ummah’.

Abu Dharr reported Rasulullah (sws) as saying that he reported it from his Lord, the Exalted and Glorious:

‘Verily I have made oppression unlawful for Me and for My servants too, so do not commit oppression.’

Allah (swt) also this in Quran;

لَا ظُلْمَ الْيَوْمَ 
No injustice will there be that Day… [40:17]

This is the way Nabi (sws) made society; a zulm-free society! You support the truth, you help the needy, you serve the needy, you help the oppressed, you serve the oppressed.

Once Nabi (sws) was sitting with some of the sahaba and he tested them. He (sws) said, Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. So the sahaba (ra) asked, O Rasulullah (sws), It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor? Rasulullah (sws) said, By preventing him from oppressing others.

Nabi (sws) liked that Sahaba (ra) asked questions. So there are three aspects here. Firstly, don’t yourself oppress others; secondly, help the oppressed; and thirdly, try to roll back the zulm in the zalim! We have to help the oppressor also!

Nabi karim (sws) had a very different way of thinking; we just brush things under the carpet. Nabi (sws) said you must go to them, and help them!

To show the importance of this, there is another hadith:

It was narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr said: I saw the Rasulullah (sws) circumambulating the Ka’bah and saying: How good you are and how good your fragrance; how great you are and how great your sanctity! By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater before Allah than your sanctity, his blood and his wealth, and to think anything but good of him.

One dent in one brick of ka’bah! We would drop everything to save even one brick of ka’bah from one dent. That is our passion, emotion and jazbah! One scratch on one believer should be even more offensive to us than even one dent on one brick of ka’bah. K’abah is baytUllah, but ummah is ‘Abd-Allah! Forget scratch, slaughter, mass murder is happening. Burma is the lowest we can go. Burma is a backwards third world country; they are not even a superpower- even the Burmese army are slaughtering Muslims. This is how low we have become; we are not an ummah anymore.

It comes in another hadith:

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Rasulullah (sws) said, Verily, Allah, the Exalted, and Glorious will say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘O’ son of Adam, I was ill but you did not visit Me.’ He would say: ‘O my Rabb, how could I visit you and You are the Rabb of the worlds?’ Thereupon He would say: ‘Did you not know that such and such a slave of Mine was ill but you did not visit him? Did you not realize that if you had visited him (you would have known that I was aware of your visit to him, for which I would reward you) you would have found Me with him?’

Look at how strongly Allah (swt) expresses. Sickness is a natural thing. Imagine oppression.

‘O’ son of Adam, I asked food from you but you did not feed Me.’ He would submit: ‘My Rabb, how could I feed You and You are the Rabb of the worlds?’ He would say: ‘Did you not know that such and such a slave of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him? Did you not realize that if you had fed him, you would certainly have found (its reward) with Me?’ 

Hunger is still less than oppression…

O’ son of Adam, I asked water from you but you did not give it to Me.’ He would say: ‘My Rabb, how could I give You (water) and You are the Rabb of the worlds?’ Thereupon He would say: ‘Such and such a slave of Mine asked you for water to drink but you did not give it to him. Did you not realize that if you had given him to drink you would have found (its reward) with Me?’

It shows us how much compassion we should have; we fall into israf (extravagance). How much we waste is amazing. Even when we go for umrah, we waste there. Many are blessed to fast Monday and Thursdays, but even there, many roll up so much good food after iftar. There is some extreme poverty in Muslim parts of the world. In another hadith, Nabi (sws) has mentioned;

Whoever relieves a Muslim of a burden from the burdens of the world, Allah will relieve him of a burden from the burdens on the Day of Judgement. And whoever helps ease a difficulty in the world, Allah will grant him ease from a difficulty in the world and in the Hereafter. And whoever covers (the faults of) a Muslim, Allah will cover (his faults) for him in the world and the Hereafter. And Allah (swt) is engaged in helping the worshiper as long as the worshiper is engaged in helping his brother.

This also could mean, as long as he doesn’t help his brother, then he is in danger Allah will stop helping him. Sometimes, we have to look at the simple things. Normally we discuss spiritual topics, but sometimes it is important to remember that it is not only about our own ibadah etc, it is also about our own ummah.

Practical steps

Begin with those who are closest to you – spouse, siblings, children, neighbours, friends. We fail right here. We fail with our spouses. Your wife is also part of ‘ummah’. Children and parents is also ummah. If you aren’t good at home, how can you be good to the global ummah. Begin close, and Allah swt will accept us for far.

May Allah (swt) accept this from us.

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Marriage Workshop – Session II

[These are brief notes from the second session of Marriage Workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed] [Session I]

Importance of love between Husband and Wife

Allah (swt) has put love of women in every man’s heart, it can be either lawful or unlawful. If you want your heart to have pure love for a woman, it should already have love for Allah (swt) and His Prophet (sws). Such a heart will find it very easy to love his wife. The heart lacking in the Allah’s love and Prophet’s (sws) love will find it difficult to have love for that which is pure.

First example of love illa mashaAllah that a child sees is between husband and wife (parents). Children learn about love from the love they see in the family. The family without love is raising a child without love. We are doing injustice to them if we don’t show them love. What kind of people will they become when they grow up? Science tells us what happens to children who come from broken homes; they don’t trust love because they have never seen it.

Once a child was asked what is love? The child said, there was an elderly couple that lived across from my street. When I stopped seeing the old lady around, I asked the old man about her. He began to cry because she had passed away. Child said that maybe this is what they call love. Children can recognize true love. Allah (swt) has given them that ability so they can be raised recognizing that love.

Imam Rabbani (rh) has mentioned a strange thing. He said that a woman is the ultimate manifestation of Al-Dahir (apparent). Al Dahir refers to his creation. And Al Batin (hidden) refers to that which He knows Himself the best. A woman is the manifestation because most beauty in Dahir is in a woman. There’s no beauty like the beauty of a woman. Allah (swt) decreed that the greatest beauty He has created should at times be revealed and at times be concealed, like revealed in front of mahram and concealed in front of na mehram. A woman should understand it this way that I am the manifestation of ism-e-dahir of Allah (swt), how can I show my beauty to just anyone?

So Allah (swt) has placed love for women inside the hearts of the men. Khyr there are so many stories of love, were we to mention, of so much love that the husband and wife can have for one another. We will give you one example.

Story of Umm Sulaim (ra)

There was a Sahabiya her name was Umm Sulaim (ra). Her husband was a tradesman. When she was expecting and was near to delivery, her husband had to leave due to urgent work. When she gave birth, her baby boy passed away a few hours before the return of the father. Umm Sulaim (ra) thought that I don’t want to hurt him just now, instead of being happy about coming back home he will be devastated. So she wrapped the child in a blanket to make it seem like he was sleeping. She adorned her beauty and said Alhamdulillah Allah (swt) blessed us with a baby boy and he is resting. Imagine that woman being intimate with the husband when her dead baby boy is lying a few feet away and she is still being loving and kind to her husband.

This is also a mujahida. It’s not always about your mood and feelings. Mujahida is to go against your nafs. It’s a tremendous tragedy. In the morning the woman asked the husband if Allah (swt) entrusts a person with something, and a time comes to return it, should the person return it with grief or joy? AllahuAkbar these are called Sahabiyaat. What a woman, what a mother, what a person! (Ra).. only Allah (swt) can give her reward for this. The husband (ra) was sad when he got to know, so he went to Sydna Rasool Allah (sws) and told him (sws) everything. He (sws) gave so many duas to Umm Sulaim (ra). She got the greatest of duas, the couple had so much barakah after that, they conceived 9 sons, and each one of them became Aaima.

Spiritual aspect of Marriage

Then Allah (swt) in Quran al Kareem has taught us that this love between husband and wife is not just in this world, but eternal.

Enter into Paradise, you and your wives, with delight. [43:70]

Scholars have written some people will also go to jannah because of the barakah of their pious spouse. Marriage is a very delicate topic. I’m myself a husband in progress. We try to do amal. We don’t just want to listen, we have to come and leave with the intention of amal. We have to live with all the hidaya.

Reflecting on the Khutbah of Nikkah

Why did Prophet (sws) pick out these three verses for the khutbah of nikkah?

You would have noticed that the tilawah that is recited in khutbah of nikkah has the word taqwah: taqwah means to abstain from sin because you fear Allah the way He should be feared, and also out of love for Him. These three ayats for the khutbah means that one of the things we need for a successful marriage is taqwah.

O humanity! You should have fear for Your Rabb who created you from a single cell and from it created its mate (Amma Hawwa) and from them propagated all of the human race. You should fear Allah (swt), that Allah (swt) by whom you ask (your rights) from one another. [4:1]

In nikkah, we invoke Allah (swt) to make man and a woman husband and wife. So we ask in the name of Allah (swt) when we ask our spouse for anything.

You who believe, you should fear Allah. [4:1]

Fear Allah (swt) as He deserves to be feared. Ya Allah! Having taqwah was hard enough. Doing haqq of taqwah, you can imagine, is so difficult. Imagine how delicate and precious this relationship is.

And die not except in the state of Imaan. [3:102]

It means if you don’t fear Allah (swt) in regards of your spouse then your very imaan and deen is in danger. Your deen is dependent on it. Allah (swt) wants these verses to be recited every time there is a nikkah.

O you who believe! You should have  imaan in Allah (swt) and you should always speak the truth. [33:70]

Husband and wife should always be truthful, they must always have the correct speech. If you fear Allah and out of fear speak truthfully to your spouse, then:

He will make your aimaal saleh, and will forgive you for all of your sins. [33:70]

Being happily married isn’t just on this earth. Allah (swt) says it’s going to be a means of your maghfira (salvation), sakoon (tranquility), muwwada (tender love), all of that.

And whoever obeys Allah (swt) and the Prophet (sws), he has gained a signal victory. [33:71]

If a person does this, Allah al Azeem is saying in Quran al Azeem, you will get magnificent success and joy. They will get jannatul firdous. Scholars say it cannot be anything less than jannatul firdous.

Taqwah: How to get that fear?

Has not the time come for the believers that their (spiritual) hearts should have fear for Allah (swt) whenever they do dhikr of Allah (swt), and for what has been revealed as truth? [57:16]

So one lesson here is that when you do dhikr of Allah (swt) or His dhikr is done in front of you, you should have fear of Allah (swt) in your heart.

Second thing you should know is that the fear of Allah (swt) can save a person from sin. Love cannot save a person from sin. Proof from Quran:

But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination [79:40]

Many people think that Allah swt is Rehman so we should not fear Him. Allah swt says:

The one who feared the Rahman (The All-Merciful Allah), without seeing Him, and came up with a heart oriented towards Him. [50:33]

That the person who fears Al Rehman when no one else is around: that wife will be loyal, that husband will be loyal who fears Allah swt even in seclusion.

This fear of Allah (swt) should also be inside our salah. We think that okay inside salah we should not sin. But inside salah we should also fear Allah swt. Can you imagine that Allah swt who tells us to fear Him in salah, can you imagine how much He would want us to fear Him when we are outside our salah?

Fearing husband and a fearing wife they are a true couple.

This fear doesn’t mean we are afraid in the same way we are afraid of a snake or something dangerous. It’s a fear borne out of love. Fearing that I will not be loved back by my Beloved if I do this thing.

6 types of crying accepted and valued by Allah (swt)

  • A person who sheds tears in hard times. Due to the museebat, they are moved to tears. These are real tears of mazloomeen; of people of Sham, of Palestine, etc.
  • When someone is separated from someone they love for the sake of Allah swt. Greatest example of this is when Syedna Yousaf (as) was separated from his father.
  • When someone is moved to tears by recitation.
  • The tears that are shed in the yearning and love for Allah (swt). Like when someone wish someone could go for hajj.
  • Tears of shukr (gratefulness). When a person is given something and they are so happy that tears of shukr comes out of their eyes.
  • Tears of khauf and khashiya. Tears out of fear of Allah (swt). It comes in a hadith (mafhoom) that a person will come to Allah (swt) and his deeds will be weighed and the scale of his good deeds will start going up and the scale of bad deeds will be so heavy that he will lose all hope. At this point a small piece of paper will be thrown in the scale of good deeds such that the scale will outweigh all of the bad deeds. That paper will have just one deed written on it: a time when that person had cried out of fear of Allah (swt) such that the tear had only wet one of his eyelashes.

Different levels of khashiya

Hope first that hadith is: O Allah, allocate to us a share of fear of You that will serve as a barrier between us and disobedience towards You. [at Tirmidhi]

  1. Fear of the awwamun naas (average people): Fear of punishment of Allah swt. That is the punishment of the fear of fire of Jahannam. All believers have that but some only have that and nothing more.
  2. Fear of saliheen (the pious): In addition to fear of punishment, they fear that we haven’t done enough. They are saliheen that what if I haven’t done enough for Allah swt? What if I fall short on the Day of judgement?
  3. Fear of siddiqeen (the truthful):In addition to the first two fears, they also fear that what if the aimaal that I have done are not worthy of being accepted by Allah (swt)? What if they are not maqbool?
  4. Fear of the nabiyyeen (the prophets (as)): All anbiya were afraid of Allah (swt). The were afraid of the beniyazi of Allah swt. The istighna of Allah swt. What if Allah (swt) simply says I don’t want you. I don’t need you. I accepted your aimaal e saleh. But I don’t want you. Nabiyyeen knew, they had the knowledge, that it won’t happen, but love exceeds knowledge. Imagine a newly-wed bride with everyone praising her, but she starts crying. She says all of you think I have these qualities but what if my husband doesn’t love me? What if he doesn’t accept me or want me?

The first step to launch on the journey of taqwah is through taubah. Make true taubah. We cannot land on taqwah directly. Those who are married, make taubah for all sins you did to your spouse. Those who are not yet married, make taubah for being such a daughter/son. Make taubah collectively. After your first step, then you have to keep moving. This is called tazkiya. So the person must keep taking steps and try to fit in some extra ibaadah in your daily regimen:

  • Daily recitation of Quran. If a passage is too much for you, recite less, but make sure you recite everyday even if it’s just one ayah.
  • Make istighfar everyday 100 times (sunnah)
  • Recite durood and salawat on syedna Rasool Allah (sws) 100 times.
  • Remember Allah swt. You can only fear Him if you remember Him.

How to get dhikr e katheer [remembrance of Allah (swt)]? Two steps:

  1. Try to remember Allah swt in your daily mundane tasks. Keep thinking thoughts, and keep reminding yourself to think thoughts, and remind the heart to have feelings for Allah swt and keep doing it for thousands of times a day.
  2. Do dhikr of Allah swt inside yourself. Take some time out to remember Allah swt with full concentration such that you forget everything else.And remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with exclusive devotion.  [73:8]So we make dhikr of Allah’s name in such a way that you forget everything else.

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ