From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction – 1

[These are rough notes from the first session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) on Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) text ‘Al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl’ on March 10, 2013 in Karachi].


يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ‏
O you who believe, fear Allāh, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

Al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl
DELIVERANCE FROM ERROR
And Attachment to the Lord of Might and Majesty

Translation by W. Montgomery Watt

BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORKS OF IMĀM AL-GHAZĀLĪ

Allāh (swt) blessed this ummah with raḥmatan lil ʿālamīn, khātam an-nabiyyīn Rasūl Allāh (sws). Just like Allāh (swt) gave this ummah the greatest Prophet (sws), He gave this ummah the greatest companions (ra), and the greatest ṣiddiqīn and ṣāliḥīn in the history of any ummah. The greatest of the ṣiddiqīn is Syednā Abū Bakr as-Ṣiddīq (ra) — the imām of ṣiddiqīn. The ṣiddiqīn will continue to exist until the end of times. Ṣiddiqīn are the true believers and true followers of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws), and true lovers of Allāh (swt). How they come to this level is a very interesting story for us, especially pertaining to Imām Abu Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (rah).

In a ḥasan ḥadīth Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said that at the turn of every hijrī, Allāh (swt) will bring forth from the ummah a person who would do tajdīd — who will revive the dīn. That person is known as the mujaddid. This is something all the ʿulamā have accepted — although some have argued that there could be more than one mujaddid in one century, others have said there will be one mujaddid per century but for each field. Different ʿulamā have written who they feel, historically before them, was the mujaddid of their time. Perhaps one of the most agreed upon candidates for being a mujaddid of the 7th Islāmic century is Imām al-Ghazālī (rah). It means he revived the dīn in some way which was critically needed at that time in order to keep the baqā or the sustenance of that dīn. Many people who study Ghazālī in western universities and academia focus on his text Tahāfut al-Falāsafah (refutation of the philosophers). However, from the perspective of Muslim intellectual tradition and our understanding of our own history, that is not Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) major work. His major work was Iḥya ʿUlūm al-Dīn in which he revived different disciplines of Islāmic learning. Tahāfut al-Falāsafah was just an icing on the cake. Some of the greatest aspects of his legacy of tajdīd are:

  1. Revival of the spiritual aspect of dīn; bringing people to the feelings of dīn, particularly bringing the ʿulamā and ṭulabā (teachers and students of formal Islāmic learning) who knew the meanings of dīn to the feelings of dīn
  2. Articulation of tasawwuf and tazkiya i.e Islāmic spirituality
  3. Refutation of the false philosophical ideologies prevalent at his time

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was born in 1058 or 1059 AD and passed away in 1111 AD. He was born and raised in a place called Ṭūs, which is now in modern day Iran, which means he was ethnically Persian. In Persian society, the language spoken at that time was Arabic. In a way, he was a native Arabic speaker without being natively Arab. During this time, he was studying ʿulūm al-Islāmiyya — the different branches of Islāmic learning. He left Ṭūs in 1077 AD at the age of 19 years and lived the next 14 years in Nishāpūr, which is another city of modern day Iran. From 1077 to 1085 AD, he taught at Nizāmiyya college. He also served as an adviser to a very famous Seljud vizier known as Nizām al-Mulk from 1085 up to 1091 AD. In 1091 AD, at 33 years of age, he moved to Baghdād and was appointed as the sadr mudarris, the dean of academics, at the main Nizāmiyya college in Baghdād, which was the cradle of Islāmic civilization at that time.

In the year 1095 AD, at the age of 37 years, he experienced a “crisis of faith” which eventually caused him to stop teaching. He traveled and went to Damashq, Bayt al-Muqaddas, Makkah Mukarramah, Madīnah Munawwarah and Hebron. This traveling took about one to one and a half years. Around 1097 AD, he returned back to Baghdād where he spent the next nine years, up to 1106 AD, in khalwah and ʿibādah — in solitary devotion to worship. He also wrote his masterpiece Iḥya ʿUlūm al-Dīn during this period. After that nine year hiatus, in 1106 AD, when Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was 48 years old, he was called back to Nishāpūr to teach. He resumed teaching in the Nizāmiyya madrassah in Nishāpūr after a gap of eleven years and continued until he died in 1111 AD, at a relatively young age of 53 years.

To give you a bit of a context, before Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) there was a philosopher known as al-Rāzī. There are two Rāzīs; the first one is Muḥammad Ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī who lived from 865 till 925 AD. This philosopher was deeply engaged with the works of Plotinus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; let’s say the early Greek philosophy. Impressed and overwhelmed by that, he renounced his īmān and became an atheist. The person after him is Ibn Sīnā who lived from 980 to 1037 AD. Interestingly, this is one of the forgotten aspects of Ibn Sīnā that he severely critiqued the atheism of al-Rāzī. Although today people love these two together, Ibn Sīnā was not an atheist, in fact far from it. Although, there may have been certain other problems, but he was definitely a theist; he did not deny the existence of God. In one of his writings, he extensively critiques al-Rāzī. One of the early philosophers, al-Bīrūnī, also critiques al-Rāzī. Some say Ibn Sīnā was Shi’ī, some say he was Ismāʿīlī, a minority opinion also suggests he was Sunnī, Allāhū ʿālam. Imām al-Ghazālī’s concern with him are not these things. His concern with Ibn Sīnā was a mistake he had made, which is very important for us to reflect upon because we make a similar mistake today; he tired to reconcile the philosophy of neoplatonism and aristotelianism etc., with ʿilm al-kalām and come up with a type of fusion so that great thinkers like Muḥammad Ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī would never become atheists. On surface this intention is noble; he was actually worried about atheism. Hence, he articulated very rigorously his philosophy. In fact, this was his main impact on Thomas Aquinas who also thought he could reconcile rational thoughts with Christian theology.

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was living at a time when a lot of the learned, intellectual and educated people — regardless of being educated in dīn, science, astronomy or medicine — went through a craze of being inspired by al-Rāzī. Later, Ibn Sīnā turned the direction away from atheism to a more philosophical type of Islām so people were increasingly inspired by that. Then Allāh (swt) raised up Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) to turn the direction again back to a classical and spiritual form of Islām. There were thinkers even after Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) who were trying to find the right mix between different types of thoughts and different articulations of those thoughts. Just to show you a few names afterwards; another person was Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī who lived from 1149 to 1209 AD. He is also in the line of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah). Then there was a person called Ibn Rushd as well. You may end this with al-Dūsī [?] who critiques al-Ghazālī and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī.

BACKDROP AND SUMMARY OF THE TEXT

This is Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) text al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl — rescuer from error or from being astray. Some people translate it as deliverance, but it means the deliverer or the rescuer which brought him to salvation from ḍalāl i.e. from being astray or  from being in manifest error. Some view al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl to be Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) very last work, some have put Minhāj al-ʿAbidīn after this, others have put his letter Ayyuhal Walad after this, either way this is one of his latter and final works. There is another title after this but it is unclear whether it is Imām al-Ghazālī’s own title or whether someone has edited it after his death which was Musilu ila Dhil-ʿizati Wal Jalāl — that which is going to connect a person to Allāh (swt) who is the Being of incredible honor and majesty. Contrary to what some people say, this is not really an autobiography of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) because he does not mention everything about his life. However, you could call it a spiritual autobiography; he wants to share with people a certain part of his life and his journey which we have titled here in English From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction. To actually pen down on paper the doubts, skepticism and questions he had and how he managed to reach a level of certainty in his conviction, is a very honest and generous thing for him to do.

A backdrop to this text is when Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was teaching in Baghdād, all of a sudden he experienced a crisis that made him question the knowledge that he previously believed in. Initially, he felt he could not even rely on his own sense-perception. He started questioning knowledge, information and data that he had acquired through his sight, smell, hearing or from his touch. Then he began questioning his basic beliefs in Allāh (swt) because he felt that he had merely inherited those beliefs and he was following them just because he was born into it. This is the “crisis of faith” that he had:

  1. He doubted his ability to know
  2. He doubted the knowability of Allāh (swt)

Amazingly, he does not go through this crisis while being a secular student, he goes through this crisis while being of the most reknowned ʿulamā and scholars of his time; he does not go through this crisis as someone who hardly knows anything about Islām, he goes through this crisis with his deep ʿilm of tafsīr al-Qurʿān, ḥadīth, sunnah and shariʿah; he does not go through this crisis living in New York or Los Angeles, he goes through this crisis living in Baghdād — the cradle of Islāmic civilization of that time — a city of ʿulamā and awliyā’; he does not go through this crisis having not met real practicing Muslims, he goes through this crisis having seen real Muʿminīn and Muslimīn. Thus, one cannot overstate the profound magnitude of this crisis. During this time, he continues teaching and he will share with you how he pretends whilst going through the motions of praying, teaching and lecturing even though inside he is wondering and questioning. Eventually, he realizes this routine to be unsustainable and decides to experiment and experience; to interact with claimants who claimed to know Allāh (swt) with truth and certainty, and investigate their claims to see if any of their methods of knowing the truth would work for him. Thus, he goes through four predominant categories of seekers of truth. He is going to share with us how he interacted with each one of them and what his views and experiences were. He is also going to share with us how successful he views each of these four paths to be in bringing a person to the truth and a certain conviction in Allāh (swt).

You will notice that this risālah, like many of Imām al-Ghazalī’s (rah) other works, is written in response to a question. This was one of the most famous stories of that time that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) left the Nizāmiyya college in Baghdād, disappeared for one and a half years, came back to Baghdād and refused to teach and interact with people, then after ten years he resumed teaching in Nishāpūr. His students knew this and all of them must have been curious; may Allāh (swt) reward this one fellow who did not just have the curiosity but also the courage to ask Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) regarding what had happened. This is what we call barakat al-saʿil; sometimes the questioner has so much sincerity and ikhlās that he elicits a whole risālah for the person who is asking.

i. INTRODUCTION

All praise be to that Being with whose praise begins every single epistle, treatise and every speech; and may Allāh’s (swt) salutations and blessings be upon Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws), the chosen one, the one who is bestowed with prophethood; and all of those who are of his spiritual brethren; and all of his companions; all of whom were guides to guide humanity away from being astray and bring them to the path of Allāh (swt). O my brother in dīn; this is Imām al-Ghazālī’s humility that he did not say O my student, or O my lowly follower, or O my fan. This is also because Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is opening up and he is going to share with him a very personal experience. You asked that you should show to me the objectives of disciplines of learning and their inner nature. You have begged me to relate to you the difficulties I encountered in my attempts to extricate the truth from the confusion of contending sects and to distinguish the different ways, methods and ventures I made in climbing from the plain of naïve and second-hand belief (taqlīd) to the peak of direct vision. The word  taqlīd here has nothing to do with fiqh. Imām al-Ghazāli (rah) is talking about taqlīd in aqīdah. The Arabic word that is translated as vision is istifsār — ṭalab of tafsīr; seeking clarity of depth for oneself.

You want me to describe, firstly what benefit I derived from ʿilm al-kalām, secondly, what I disapprove of in the methods of talīm (these were the Ismāʿīlī of the time, later he is going to call them Bāṭinīyah), thirdly what I rejected of the methods of philosophy, and fourth, what I approved in the way of tasawwuf. You also want to know what essential (primary) truths became clear to me in my manifold investigations into the doctrines held by men, why I gave up teaching in Baghdād although I had many students and why I returned to it in Nishāpūr after a long interval. I am proceeding to answer your request for I recognize that your desire is genuine. This is barakat al-saʿil — he said the only reason I am responding is because you have ikhlās. But in this I seek the help of Allāh (swt) and I place my trust and dependence on Allāh (swt), and I seek refuge in Allāh (swt) meaning he is doing it in the name of Allāh (swt), for the sake of Allāh (swt). What he is really saying is that I want Allāh (swt) to give me ikhlās in responding to you. This is the barakah of kūnū maʿa ṣādiqīn [Q. 9, 119] — Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) and his student have no ethnic, linguistic or family ties. There is a relationship of ikhlās. This is also Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) humility that he made duʿā to Allāh (swt) to grant him ikhlās in his efforts and attempts to answer the question. May Allāh (swt) perfect you on the right path and soften your heart to receive the truth. As the first answer, he makes duʿā for the person. In fact, this is the real answer which he has given at the outset.

The different religious observances and religious communities of the human race and likewise the different theological systems of their religious leaders, with all the multiplicity of sects and variety of practices, constitute ocean depths in which the majority drowns and only a minority reaches safety. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is writing this 900 years ago, and this is something people ask today that there are so many different views out there, so many movements, so many ideas, so many ideologies; what am I supposed to do? This is not something new. This is something the ʿulamā have been aware of and have addressed, and they have even experienced and gone through this process themselves. I will say what Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) said back then is still true today; those who try to investigate this, the majority of them will drown and only a minority will be able to navigate these murky waters.

Each separate group thinks that it alone is saved. ‘And each party is rejoicing in what they have’ [Q. 23, 55]. This is what was foretold by the greatest of the prophets Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) who is as-Ṣādiq al-Amīn — who is the truthful one and trustworthy — when he said: ‘My community will be split up into seventy-three sects and but one of them will be saved.’ What Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) had foretold  has indeed come about. This is another famous question we get that the Blessed Prophet (sws) said there would be seventy odd, or seventy-two, or seventy-three sects and only one of them will be saved. In another work of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) Faysal al-Tafrīqa, he mentions another ḥadīth which we traced as being an authentic ḥadīth which I had actually never heard myself until I came across that work of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) that Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) has also said: ‘My community will split up into multiple sects all of whom will be saved but one.’

The way Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) joined these two ḥadīth in that work was that he said there are two types of differences in sects; one are the differences of creed and theology which are so critical that it puts a person either inside or outside īmān; the other are differences of methodology within the ahl al-īmān but those differences do not put a person outside īmān; they all remain inside. I am amazed at how few people know and even I myself did not know the second ḥadīth while everybody knows the first one. Certainly, there is a notion here that Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) is very much trying to show that there are a lot of ways to go astray; there is a lot of ḍalālah. Someone who is a sincere seeker who knows this ḥadīth would naturally be very hesitant, cautious and afraid. Today’s rational mind would think I have only one out of seventy-three chance of getting it right.

From my early youth, since I attained the age of puberty before I was twenty, (this is also showing you the understanding of youth in Islām; youth ends before your twenties after which you are considered an adult) until the present time when I am over fifty, (this is an ishāra for those involved in Ghazālī studies that this is one of his last works since he passed away at the age of 53 years) I have ever (meaning he is still doing it) recklessly launched out into the midst of these ocean depths, I have ever bravely embarked on this open sea, throwing aside all craven caution; I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss, I have scrutinized the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community. All this have I done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation. This was what today you would call his intellectual curiosity, or even his intellectual honesty in seeking truth.

Whenever I meet one of the Bātinīyah (the people of talīm; the Ismāʿīlī ), I like to study his creed; whenever I meet one of the Ẓāhirīyah, (this was another movement of that time of literalists who took every thing at its face-value meaning; for example, if Allāh (swt) uses the word in Qurʿān: The hand of Allāh (swt) is over their hand’ [Q. 48, 10], not all but the most extreme position they would take is that Allāh (swt) literally has a hand that is a part of a body and Allāh (swt) has a body) I want to know the essentials of his beliefs; if it is a philosopher, I try to become acquainted with the essence of his philosophy; if a Mutakallim (which is translated as a classic theologian; a person of ʿilm al-kalām), I busy myself in examining his theological reasoning; if a Mutasawwif (a person of tasawwuf), I yearn to fathom the secrets of his tasawwuf. You can see that I do not like the English translation Sufi and mysticism, we prefer to stick to the Arabic); if a mutaʿabbid (a person who is doing ʿibādah all the time; sometimes this was called zuhd; sometimes this was also taken to an extreme and even though Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said: la rehbānīyata fil Islām; there is no monasticism in Islām’, there were some individuals historically who lived a monastic life and they were known as mutaʿabbidīn), I investigate the basis of his intense practices of ʿibādah; if one of the Zanādiqah or Muʿaṭṭilah, I look beneath the surface to discover the reason for his bold adoption of such a creed. You can imagine that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) probably did indeed investigate seventy-three sects, here he has given us a few names.

To thirst after a comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very early age. It was instinctive with me, a part of my Allāh’s-given nature, a matter of temperament (abā) and not my choice or contriving. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is making it clear that my journey, which I am going to share with you, is descriptive, not prescriptive; I am not prescribing or telling you to do these things; I am merely describing that it is my nature to go into every single detail.

Consequently as I drew near the age of adolescence the bonds of mere authority (taqlīd) ceased to hold me and inherited beliefs lost their grip upon me, for I saw (this is also a classic question asked by university students) that Christian youths always grew up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jewish and Muslim youths to be Muslims. In Iran and Iraq there were significant non-Muslim minorities living at that time completely peacefully. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was clearly interacting with them and asking them about their behavior as well. I heard, too, the Tradition related to Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) according to which he (sws) said: ‘Everyone who is born is born with a sound nature (fiṭrat al-salīm) but it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.’ My inmost being was moved to discover what this nature (fiṭrah) really was and what the beliefs derived from the authority of parents and teachers really were. He thought of taking guidance from that ḥadīth that there is something called fiṭrah; some internal, inherent, intrinsic humanity. He wanted to discover that inside himself which was inherent so that he could distinguish it from that which was acquired from society. The attempt to distinguish between these authority-based opinions (that is what he means by acquired knowledge) and their principles developed the mind, for in distinguishing the true in them from the false, difference appeared. When he saw what was true and what was false, he began to see the differences in different methods, methodologies and sects.

I therefore said within myself: ‘To begin with, what I am looking for is knowledge of what things really are, so I must undoubtedly try to find what knowledge really is.’ He asked himself this question that what does it mean to know; what is knowledge; how do I know the knowable; is something knowable; am I able to know it; how will I know the knowable? This is also called epistemology which is concerned with how do we know what is knowable and how do we know that knowable. It was plain to me that sure and certain knowledge (ʿilm al-yaqīn, ʿilm al-ḍururī, ʿilm al-qati’; sure, certain, absolute, unequivocal, irrefutable knowledge) is that knowledge in which the object is disclosed in such a fashion that no doubt remains along with it, that no possibility of error or illusion accompanies it, and that the mind cannot even entertain the possibility of error or illusion. He is now defining what certain knowledge should be; he wants to get such a knowledge that has no doubt, no skepticism, no possibility or even a hypothetical possibility of doubt in it; something that is absolutely sure. Secondly he says, certain knowledge should also be infallible (no scope or possibility of error) and this infallibility or security from error is such that no attempt to show the falsity of the knowledge can occasion doubt or denial; if I really know something with certainty and someone else tries to refute or disprove it, none of their refutations and proofs will make me budge at all; I can never doubt or deny what I know. To know something with certainty means every refutation, every counter-argument that may come to you does not even put the slightest doubt in that thing which you know. He has come up with an extremely high benchmark for what is certain.

Even though the attempt is made by someone who turns stones into gold or a rod into a serpent. The only result is that I wonder precisely how he is able to produce this change. Of doubt about my knowledge there is no trace. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not saying that people can turn stones into gold or a rod into a serpent necessarily; rather that I should be so certain about it that even if an alchemy or a miracle worker were to come and do something like that and say this proves that I know what you are saying is wrong, I would still be 100% sure of what I know; Allāhū ʿālam how you turn stones into gold, but your ability to do that still does not give any credence to your refutation of what I know to be true; what I know to be true is still true. For example, you know that 2 + 2 = 4 — were someone to come in right now, wave their hand and make the chair fly across the room, you might be amazed, but even then if he says 2 + 2 = 5, you will say that is incorrect. If anything would amaze you it would be that someone who can make a chair fly with the wave of their hand does not even know that 2 + 2 = 4. By changing rod into serpent Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not in any way referring to Syednā Mūsá (as) that if a nabī comes to me and says something I will not believe it. He is saying even any miracle worker will not be able to shake me from my knowledge, that is what I call certain — I witness, I see it myself first hand, even that will not budge my certainty. After these reflections I knew that whatever I do not know in this fashion as I have described above and with this mode of certainty is not reliable (if all these things I cannot say about a knowledge, that knowledge is not reliable) and infallible knowledge; and knowledge that is not infallible is not certain knowledge. Now he has set a very difficult task for himself. He is not setting this for himself in his fifties, he is recalling to the person what standard he had set for himself as he had embarked on his journey to know.

ii. PRELIMINARIES: SKEPTICISM AND THE DENIAL OF ALL KNOWLEDGE

After he decides the definition of knowledge, he says, thereupon I investigated the various kinds of knowledge I already had and I found myself destitute of all knowledge with this characteristic of infallibility. I looked inside myself what are all the things that I al-Ghazālī think I know at this time. None of them met the criteria I had set up except two things; for none of the things could I say that I have certain knowledge except two things:

  1. Sense-perception: if I see something as white, I am certain it is white; if I see something to be a table, I am certain it is a table; if I hear a clapping sound, I know it is a clapping sound.
  2. Necessary truths: These are also called maxims; for example, 2 + 2 = 4.

Other than that there is nothing I know with certainty. Most important thing missing from this list was īmān. That was the key thing. You can imagine what is going to happen to him; he sets up a criteria for certainty of knowledge using this definition; he looks inside himself and decides the only thing I am sure of is what I can see. This is way before people even came up with the English term empiricism; the word empiricism does not exist in English language at this point. Nonetheless, Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is saying something which today philosophers call empirical; you can only know for sure that which you can see; that which is demonstrated in front of you; that you can perceive. So I said: ‘Now that despair has come over me (because īmān in Allāh (swt) did not make it into the list; he was a sincere person and if someone who has belief all of a sudden sets up a definition for which they no longer have certain belief, they are going to start panicking; which is also a good thing because it shows sincerity), there is no point in studying any problems (investigating them has no benefit because I will never be able to resolve it to a level of certainty) except on the basis of what is self-evident, namely necessary truths (maxims) and the affirmations of the senses (sense-perception); these are the only two tools I have, therefore I should not take up any issue which I cannot access without these two tools. I must first bring these to be judged in order that I may be certain on this matter.

Then, he asks himself another question, am I even certain about these two tools? Is my reliance on sense-perception (sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste) and my trust in the soundness of necessary truths (2 + 2 = 4 etc.,) of the same kind as my previous trust in beliefs I had merely taken from others and as the trust most men have in the results of thinking? Do I really know what I see is certainly what is there? Maybe I should open this up for investigation and questioning also. Do I really know that 2 + 2 = 4? That is something my Math teacher told me; that is also something I have accepted on authority of elders, teachers and transmitters, therefore, perhaps I should question that as well. Or is it a justified trust (can I justifiably trust these two tools) that is in no danger of being betrayed or destroyed?

I proceeded therefore with extreme earnestness (I made this the passion and mission of my time) to reflect on sense-perception and on necessary truths; now Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) feels the need to question the tools of knowledge; first he had questioned what knowledge itself is; then he questioned how do you know knowledge; now he is questioning whether the tools of knowing ever really know anything; to see whether I could make myself doubt them; remember how he had defined certainty; no matter what refutations or questions are raised, you would not have any doubt. Here, he is saying let me raise questions against sense-perception and see if any doubt arises. If the doubt arises, it would mean I cannot trust my sense-perception at the level of certainty. The outcome of this protracted effort to induce doubt was that I could no longer trust sense-perception either. Doubt began to spread here and say: ‘From where does the reliance on your five senses come? The most powerful sense I have is sight; this is something everyone today in media will also tell you; vision is the most powerful of your senses. When it looks at a shadow, it sees the shadow standing still and judges that there is no motion.’ But in reality, in terms of astronomy, the earth is always moving, and therefore in relation to the earth and the sun, this relationship is always moving and so the shadow is always moving. In theory, when Sun is at its zenith, there will be one second when the shadow does not move. Depending on the curvature of earth; latitude and longitude, after the shadow comes down and before it starts extending on the other side, there are certain minutes at the time of zawāl when you do not pray; for these 5-7 minutes it remains stationary, but normally, if you look at the shadow at lets say 10 A.M., you will say the shadow is not moving or extending; your brain will give you the data that it is stationary but astronomy will tell you it is moving. Therefore, he starts questioning that is sight even reliable?

Then by experiment and observation after an hour it knows that the shadow is moving and, moreover, that it is moving not by fits and starts but gradually and steadily by infinitely small distances in such a way that it is never in a state of rest. What a beautiful mathematical explanation; infinitely small distances — later when calculas was discovered in the mid-17th century, that is what was called the limit of X as it approaches 5 (a constant); there are infinitely small steps X takes to reach 5 but because Math cannot handle that, it says X is 5. Math teaches you that you cannot handle the infinite so you should go back to the finite. If the ʿaql cannot fathom the infinite divisions you can make between 4 and 5, then how can you expect ʿaql alone, without wahī, to understand the infinite nature of ākhirah? Another example Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) gives is when it looks at the heavenly body (i.e. astronomical objects that are in the sky) and sees it small, the size of a shilling; yet geometrical computations show that it is greater than the earth in size.’ For example, you look at the sun perceiving it to be the size of a quarter. Your eye cannot tell you how big the sun is; it is the geometrical computations or astronomical algorithms that show you it is greater than the earth. Similarly, your eyes will tell you the star is there but in the astronomical reality that star may have died out many years ago and what you see is the light it sent out millions of years ago; or you see the star as the size of a dot while that star may be millions of times bigger than the sun.

In this and similar cases of sense-perception the sense as judge forms its judgments, but another judge, the intellect; ʿaql, shows this sense repeatedly to be wrong; and the accusation of being wrong cannot be refuted. Since the ʿaql said the sun is not that size; the star is not that small; the shadow is moving, therefore, he moves to another tool which is the ʿaql — the rational intellect; because if the rational intellect can prove the sense-perception to be wrong, he now wants to check if the rational intellect can also be wrong.

To this I said: My reliance on sense-perception also has been destroyed. Perhaps only those intellectual truths which are first principles (or derived from first principles) are to be relied upon, such as the assertion that ten is more than three, that the same thing cannot be both affirmed and denied at one time; if I say it is raining outside, you cannot say ‘yes, it is raining’ and ‘no, it is not raining’ at the same time, that one thing is not both generated in time and eternal; you can either say that this world did not exist and then big bang brought it into existence, or you can say this world has always been around, you cannot say both, either we were born or we have always been around, you cannot say we were born on this day and we have always existed, nor both existent or non-existent; something cannot be maujūd and ghayr-maujūd at the same time that this mouth exists and does not exist at the same time; you will have to go to some really wild philosophers, and there are some people in California who can argue this to you, that is a very strange understanding of life, nor both necessary and impossible. All of these are what he was calling the intellectual truths; that I can no longer rely on what I sense and the only thing that is left for me are these types of truths. That is the only thing I know with certainty.

Sense-perception replied (he is writing it as a story that my sight, hearing and touch etc., said to me): Did you not expect that your reliance on intellect truths will flare like your reliance on sense-perception? Fine, you are not trusting us because you say sometimes we maybe wrong and you are so happy to side with this big thing ʿaql thinking it can never be wrong, so let us show you how your ʿaql, too, can be wrong. You used to trust in me, then along came the ʿaql and it proved me wrong. It proved that the sun really is not the size it seems. If it were not for the ʿaql, you would have continued to view whatever I said to be true; you would have thought that the shadow is not moving had you never known astronomy, had you not known that the earth is moving; for example, certain people even today believe that the earth does not move because they perceive it to be still. I had a teacher in the madrassah who had spent years there never leaving the madrassah compound. Once we were doing a text of old philosophy which said that the earth is not moving and gave many refutations of the counter view. The students were having fun with me because they knew I was from abroad. They said: ‘Ustād Jī this fellow thinks that the earth is moving.’ The teacher looked at me and said: ‘Aḥmaq! Is it moving? Can you feel it move?’ This is also a type of empiricism; he was saying that because his vision was showing him that if the earth was moving on its axis at the speed science tells you, things would be flying off of the surface of the earth. It means that without that particular ʿaqlī understanding of whatever the centrifugal forces of gravity are, you would have trusted your vision. That is what the vision is saying. May Allāh (swt) bless that ʿālim; he may not know that the earth is moving and you may think in one aspect of your life you have a juzʿī knowledge of this particular thing more than him that planet earth is a sphere that rotates around its axis and that the whole earth is orbiting around the sun. That ʿālim knows more about Allāh’s (swt) mercy moving into the hearts while we may know more about this piece of mud rotating around its axis. This is the difference; this is the choice we have made in our life.

Perhaps behind ʿaql there is another judge who, if it manifests itself, will show the falsity, fallibility and possibility of error of ʿaql in judging, just as, when ʿaql manifested itself, it showed the falsity of sense in its judging. He calls it the suprarational faculty; there is a faculty beyond rationality; just like there was a faculty called rationality that showed sense-perception can be wrong, what if there was a faculty beyond rationality that can prove rationality to be wrong?

Me and myself hesitated a little about the reply to that (here, nafs does not mean ego; it means he himself), and vision heightened that difficulty by referring to dreams. He gives the example of a transrational suprarational experience a person has: Do you not see how when you are asleep your mind believes things and imagines circumstances, holding them to be stable and enduring? Even modern neuroscience will say the brain (ʿaql) functions while dreaming. In fact, that is how they can tell you are dreaming; by putting instruments on your head they will record the activity of your brain. Your brain was functioning when you were dreaming that you were in, for example, Madīnah Munawwarah. At that time your ʿaql, your mind, in that dreamlike state fully thought that it was there while you were actually in your home. So long as you are in that dreamlike state, you have no doubt about it whatsoever.MāshāʿAllāh some of you have very complicated (lucid) dreams; that I was dreaming and in the dream I realized I was dreaming, then in the dream I realized that I realized I was dreaming! However, normally when people dream, they do not realize it is a dream, especially when they are having vivid dreams.

Is it not the case that when you woke up you realized all that your mind had believed was unfounded and untrue? Therefore, another judge can come and tell you what your mind held to be true was something that was untrue. Why then are you so confident that your waking beliefs, whether from sense-perception or from intellect, are genuine? What your mind thinks to be true is true in respect to your present state; but it is possible that a state will come upon you whose relation to your waking consciousness is analogous to the relation of the latter to dreaming. When dreaming, you were confident what your mind believed to be true in a dream to be true, but when you woke up you knew it was no longer true, then why are you so confident that when you are awake what your mind thinks to be true is, in fact, true? Maybe, you will wake up from this wakefulness; maybe one day you will see something beyond this life which will make you realize that many of the things that you thought to be true in the wakeful state were, in fact, untrue. Can you deny the possibility of such a thing?

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) had said that I will only view to be true that thing which can withstand all doubts. The sense-perception is now putting doubts in ʿaql using the example of the dream — that maybe this whole life is a dreamlike state and maybe we will wake up on the Day of Judgment and realize that many of the things that our mind thought was true in this world are not true, can that not be a possibility? If Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) response to that is: ‘Yes, that is a possibility.’ Once he sees the possibility, he will no longer have certainty in ʿaql either, because certainty in ʿaql meant, as Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) had himself defined it, that you can never entertain the possibility of the ʿaql being untrue. Now, by this analogy of dream, Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is going to have to entertain the possibility of yet another state of being which will make him realize that his merely rational state of being was not true.

When you have entered into this (transrational and suprarational) state, you will be certain that all the suppositions of your intellect are empty imaginings. It may be that state that the people of tasawwuf claim as their special ‘state’; when they reach a certain level of fanā, ʿistighrāq and ʿistihḍār; when they go deep into this state of dhikr of Allāh (swt), which has nothing to do with ʿaql, it has to do with their qalb; so there were the five senses, then there was ʿaql, and now he is bringing yet another faculty of perception which is called the qalb; when they entered into the state of their qalb, in that state they realized what their ʿaql had thought was wrong. Until one enters into that state, they will never know, just like the person who is dreaming only on waking up will realize what they held to be true in the dream was wrong, they will never be able to realize that until they wake up. The only way to ascertain what one feels to be true in their current state to be really true is when they enter the next state. Vision is saying that just like after your state of vision there was a state of ʿaqlī analysis, is it possible after that ʿaqlī analysis there is a state of qalbī feeling; and it is only when you enter into the state of the qalbī feeling that you will know that your state of ʿaqlī analysis was wrong? That is a possibility because if you have demonstrated its reality in the dream-and-wake analogy, it means there is a possibility in the ʿaql-qalb analogy, and when it is a possibility, the ʿaql is no longer infallible in the way Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) defines infallibility.

This is a bit difficult that is why I am repeating it in different ways, but as long as you get some idea, that is sufficient for now.

Not only is this a possibility, there are a group of people who are laying claim to this. They are saying: ‘When I do dhikr of Allāh (swt) in my qalb, I get a feeling of qurb even though my ʿaql will tell me Allāh (swt) is baʿīd.’ Your ʿaql will tell you that you are a lowly mortal creature on earth and Allah (swt) is a transcendental Being; huwa warā al-warā, thumma warā al-warā, thumma warā al-warā; but when a person enters into the sate of the qalb, of heart-felt dhikr, they will feel that Allāh (swt) is qarīb, as He Himself has said in Qurʿān: ‘Fa innī qarīb’ [Q. 2, 186]. What can perceive that qurb? Your eyes cannot perceive the closeness of Allāh (swt), the sense-perception cannot do that; your ʿaql cannot perceive the closeness of Allāh (swt), rational-intellect cannot do that; there is another state, the heart, qalb, that can perceive the qurb of Allāh (swt). What’s going to happen here, I am just going to lay it out for you at the outset; the existence of Allāh (swt) can be known with certainty through the faculty of heart’s perception which is called qalb. It cannot be known with certainty, in Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) understanding, through sense-perception nor from ʿaql’s perception.

The use of the word ecstasy here is interpolation; the translator is inserting words. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not saying anything about union or ecstasy. The translator has interpreted the word ḥāl as ecstasy because that is their non-Muslim understanding of Sufism. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was not talking about that, he was talking about tasawwuf. Ḥāl means ḥālat al-qalb; ḥālat al-fanā; it does not mean union or ecstasy. It may be that that state, which is the state that lies beyond the state of ʿaql, which the people of tasawwuf claim as their ḥāl which occurs when they have withdrawn into themselves; ‘Wadhkur Rabbaka fī nafsik’ [Q. 73, 205], and are absent from their senses: ‘Tabattal ʿilaihi tabtīla’ [Q: 73, 8]; they are unaware of their vision, their eyes are closed, their ears are closed, their tongue is not tasting, their nose is not smelling; they are unaware of their senses, they witness states (or aḥwāl) that do not tally with these principles of the intellect.

One example Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has given us is of ḥāl of tasawwuf; another example is that perhaps that state is death. Maybe after a person dies, they enter into a state which is beyond the state of the ʿaql, in which they can critically assess what the ʿaql thought to be true and realize it is untrue; just like when a person wakes up they can critically assess what they thought was true in the dream was actually untrue. Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) has used the same analogy in a ḥadīth: ‘The people are dreaming; when they die, they become awake.’ So perhaps life in this world is a dream by comparison with the world to come; and when a man dies, things come to appear differently to him from what he now beholds, and at the same time the words are addressed to him: ‘We have removed your veil from you; so your sight today is sharp’ [Q. 50, 22]. In life, things that appear to be real are actually unreal. People perceive that the dunyā is the be-all and end-all of existence. It is only when they die that they will fully realize that the ākhirah is the be-all and end-all of existence. Right now, they do not feel: ‘Qul matāʿu al-dunyā qalīl’ [Q. 4, 77]; that this dunyā and all that it contain is but a trifle, that realization will come when they enter the next state which is after their death. 

Let’s just pause here. This is something that Allāh (swt) knows best. When a person dies and their rūḥ and body is laid in the grave, there is some type of perception that remains; I am not saying that the person in the grave knows what is going on on the planet earth, but it also does not mean they are completely unaware. Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said: ‘When a person dies their grave will either be a garden from the gardens of Jannah or a pit from the pits of the fire of Jahannam.’ In that sense, there is some shaʿūr; there is some perception that the person in the grave is going to be able to feel and perceive that garden from the gardens of Jannah or that fire from Jahannam. In that state, in either of those cases, the person would realize that the dunyā was untrue. If they are, inshāʿAllāh, in the garden from Jannah, they will realize that all of those things that they thought were pleasurable in this world were nothing. Similarly, if they are, al-amān al-ḥafīẓ, in the state where their grave is a fire from the fires of Jahannam, they will also realize that all those things that they thought were worth it in the world were truly not worth it at all. This is why Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has mentioned the verse about the veil; it means the veil on perception that existed in this world will be lifted, ʿIllā māshāʿAllāh if someone really has ḥaq al-yaqīn in the ākhirah; otherwise we cannot really perceive ākhirah while living in this world. However, on the Day of Judgment it will be crystal-clear that ākhirah is Real.

One question that students have at this point in text is that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is talking about doubts, skepticism, journey of faith, how can he along the way also use Qurʿān and ḥadīth when at this point he is not even certain that Allāh (swt) exists; therefore he is not certain that the Qurʿān is true; therefore he is not certain that the Prophet (sws) was a prophet; therefore he does not believe that the ḥadīth references are truths? Simple answer is that at this point Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has become uncertain of everything and he is stuck with all types of things that are in the realm of possibility. He is considering different possibilities and seeing which possibility will lead to certainty; just like he makes use of sense-perception at the level of possibility; he makes use of his ʿaql at the level of possibility thinking may be that will give him certainty; then the state beyond ʿaql is also something he accepts because technically it is possible because of the dream analogy — even now he is accepting Qurʿān at the level of possibility that perhaps it will lead him to certainty, similarly he is using ḥadīth at the level of possibility. The crux is going to be that from all of these possibilities, the one that leads him to certainty, he will view that to be certainly true. He is not trying to prove Qurʿān through Qurʿān; he is exploring the concept of certainty through whatever he has in front of him because at this point, everything that is in front of him is viewed by him as equally possible, yet equally uncertain. People say he should not have used Qurʿān and ḥadīth, rather he should have used his ʿaql alone, but why? For Imām al-Ghazālī (rah), at this stage, ʿaql is not certain, that is also at the level of possibility, so why then can he not use Qurʿān and ḥadīth in his journey towards certainty even if he holds them right now at the level of possibility? There is no circular logic taking place; he is not using the verses and ḥadīth to prove the existence of Allāh (swt). He is also open to existence of other positions which shows his intellectual honesty; he is open that those too could lead to certainty and he keeps questioning, keeps considering, keeps pondering, keeps percepting.

Cont’d in Session II

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Duties of Brotherhood – Session I

[These are rough notes from the first session of Duties of Brotherhood conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in 2011]


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

This is an excerpt from Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) work Ihya Ulum al-Din. He was born in 1058 AD and passed away in 1111 AD which, in solar years, was 900 years ago. It’s quite amazing that 900 years later people are still translating his work to English, Turkish, Persian and Urdu. They are still studying and learning from him.

Previously we had mentioned that there are continually new methods, but sometimes there is so much barakah in an old method to reach your goal that the ummah keeps using that old method. Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) Ihya Ulum al-Din is like that. The ways of all awliya and mashaikh; Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jillani (rah), Imam Bahauddin Naqshband Bukhari (rah), are like that. Their ways and methods are old but they have a lot of relevance and barakah in them even today.

There is a concept known in Qur’an as akhuwah, or ikhwah. It means that the mu’minin are brethren. The word here used is brotherhood, but without having to go into the whole discussion of gender interaction, in some sense some of these things are going to apply to all of your fellow mu’minin; it applies to women believers and fellow women believers in the sense of sisterhood; it applies to male believers and their fellow male believers in terms of brotherhood.

I’m not going to highlight them right now because our audience is all men, but a few of those things would also apply to a fellow Muslimah who will also have some rights over you, not necessarily in terms of interaction and emotional engagement, but in terms of khidmah, or some help, should she require it. For example, if there is an aged woman, there are many rights that she has over her fellow believers, even including the male believers.

Here Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is generally talking about the rights believers have on one another, but every now and then he is also talking about the adab of salikeen; the brethren on the path; the fellow seekers of the pleasure of Allah (swt); the fellow travelers of the path of tazkiyah, ehsan, tasawwuf and suluk, the adab they should have with one another. These two things are not separate. In fact, this is supposed to be the greatest model of brotherhood and the greatest model of compassion, love, respect, kindness and gentleness that two fellow students of the same teacher, or two fellow seekers on the same path leading towards Allah (swt) should have with one another.

You are going to find that Imam al-Ghazali (rah), along with quoting the Qur’an and Sunnah, is also going to site sayings of the mashaikh of tasawwuf, of the awliya ullah, of their teachings of adab and akhlaq, and sometimes site examples of the comradery, chivalry and close-nit relationship between fellow seekers on the path. Some of you might find that quite intense. Certainly, the modern mind is going to rebel at a few things. In fact, the very first chapter is going to hit you very hard. It has to do with money.

The contract of brotherhood is a bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage between two spouses. Nikkah is an aqad, an actual conscious contractualization of a relationship, that a person consciously enters into a bond. Here, just by being a fellow Muslim, whether you know it or not, you actually enter into a bond with every single fellow believer, and one-to-one bond with every single one of them. In marriage, you get a bond with one spouse. By entering iman, you get bonds and links with 1.2 billion mu’minin and muslimin all over the Muslim world.

Just as marriage gives rise to certain duties which must be fulfilled, so does the contract of brotherhood confer upon your brother a certain right over your wealth and property, your person, your tongue, and your heart, by way of forgiveness, prayer, sincerity, loyalty, relief and considerateness. So he has pointed out eight items and has written about each of them in separate fasl i.e. chapter.

1. To Grant Them Right Over Your Wealth and Property (Asset; Maal)

Blessed Prophet (sws) said that two brothers (i.e. two fellow male mu’minin, or two fellow female mu’minat) are likened to a pair of hands, one of which washes the other. First of all, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) through this hadith shows a simile, the likeness, the metaphor of the example of two hands, because the pair are mutual assistant towards a single aid. So the first thing to know is the nature of this bond in theory; just like in chemistry we have covalent bonds in theory, every single Muslims is a part of this huge molecule known as the ummah. We have bonds with every other atom of the ummah.

This is radically different from the secular philosophy that teaches the concept of individualism, which, at its highest articulation, was called atomism that actually suggested that every human being is a separate atom; not part of any molecule; not part of any broader substance. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) makes it clear that it’s not like that. The second you enter iman, you become a part of a very large group. You form bonds with every single one.

What is the purpose of the hand? To grab something, to stave off something, to protect oneself against harm, to acquire something that one needs such as food. So two hands mean the two mu’minin have the same goal. Their goal is Allah (swt) and they are going to be mutual assistants to one another. That’s why throughout our deen you will find an emphasis on jama’ah. Allah (swt) does not want you to take a solo flight towards Him. Allah (swt) doesn’t expect you to be successful in that. He wants that you should link yourself with others. Especially for men, their prayer is in jama’ah. Hajj is also offered in jama’ah, although it could have been at any time of the year had Allah (swt) wanted you to come alone. Anyone can come to Arafah alone. Allah (swt) makes us go there in a jama’ah such that all the ummah stands there on one single day; Yaum al-Arafah and pray to Allah (swt) as a jama’ah. That’s why Allah (swt) also says in Qur’an:

وَتُوۡبُوۡۤا اِلَى اللّٰهِ جَمِيۡعًا
And repent to Allah O believers, all of you. [24:31]

You should make tawbah to Allah (swt) collectively.

So it is with two brothers that they are like two hands. Their brother is only complete when their comrades, i.e. their fellows, assist one another in a single enterprise, since the two are like one person. Another hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) is that the whole ummah is like one body. The entire ummah is like one entity.

This entails common participation in good fortune and bad. It means that if good befalls you, remember this is the chapter about wealth, so he is going to take it in the sense that if one individual in the ummah has been blessed by Allah (swt) with wealth, or a good fortune financially, then that good fortune must also fall on his brother. How can one Muslim have wealth while the other remain poor? How can one Muslim receive any bounty and blessing from Allah (swt) and the other person remains unaffected by that bestowal? It means to share; there should be mutual sharing. Similarly, if a tragedy, travesty, in this case financial poverty, afflicts a Muslim, it should afflict the heart of the other one, although it may not afflict the lifestyle of the other one.

And they should have partnership in the future as well as the present moment. This partnership and sharing isn’t just for the here and now. It should last all the way till a person is alive. That requires an abandonment of possessiveness and selfishness. You should have to abandon greed, that I want this for myself or that for myself, or I want to save so much for myself. When it comes to donation, I give a little bit. When it comes to savings, I save a lot. We should view our savings account, although it might be in our name, as if it belongs to all of the brothers.

Now he gives these three degrees for sharing property and assets with one’s fellow Muslim; three darajat or levels which a person can do.

i. Below Parity

The lowest degree is where you place your fellow Muslim brother on the same footing as your slave or your servant in attending to his needs from your surplus. If some need befalls him, and you happen to have more than you require to satisfy your own needs, you give them spontaneously, not obliging them to ask. To oblige them to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duties.

What does he mean by treating him like your slave? It means you don’t give them parity, you are not treating them as an equal. You are letting him live in a lower financial state than you. You don’t feel it’s necessary to raise him up to an equal egalitarian financial status as yourself. But, while he is lower than you, if he falls in a state of need, hajah, then you will fulfill that need. This means charity will be given on an as-and-when-needed basis. Charity will not be given to empower them socially, to uplift them economically or to take them out of the class they are in. Lowest level is that charity will be given just on need basis.

You will find that the best of people today are like this. The best are only on the first degree. But Imam al-Ghazali (rah) speaks about something that even the best of us lack i.e. the adab of being on the first degree — that you give to him spontaneously such that you are not obliging him to ask. You don’t put him in a position where he has to ask. To oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty. This is what a lot of us don’t do. If someone gives only on as-and-when-needed basis, when do they determine the need? They think if they ask me, I will give it to them. They even think that because I’m really good friends with that person, so if they needed something I’m sure they would ask me. If he hasn’t asked me, he must be fine.

Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is saying that is too laid back. That is too passive. Our job is to know the condition of our brother, and our job for ourselves is to be able to check whether they have this need or not. We should not put them in that position where they have to present their need to ask us. You should want for yourself and for your fellow Muslims that the only being we ask is Allah (swt), and whenever we need something in this world, I should give it to him without him asking.

The crux of all of this is this hadith that none has perfected his iman unless he loves for his fellow believer what he loves for his own self. What should we love for our self? Let’s suppose he is as good a friend to you as you think you are to him. Put yourself in the role-reversal, if you are in need, despite the fact that he is a good friend, would you be comfortable asking him for money? I think most of us will say no, I would be embarrassed to ask him for money no matter how good a friend he is to me. So why did you think so quickly that he would come to you if he ever needed it? This is the adab of the lowest degree.

ii. Equalizing

You place your brother at the same footing as yourself. You are content to have him as your partner in your property to treat him like yourself to the point of letting him share equal. It means to tell him that what is mine is equally yours. You are free to take whatever I have. I have two sweaters, one is yours. Al-Hassan al-Basri (rah) the great Tabi’i – one of the greatest leaders of the followers of companions of Blessed Prophet (sws) – said that there was once a person who would split his wasteband between himself and his brother. Those of you who are desi may understand apna kamarband adha kar k dusre ko de diya. It is not exactly a belt, otherwise he would just be standing there with two halves of a belt not knowing what to do! It’s like a long rope used to tie loose and baggy trousers. So even that he would share with his fellow Muslim.

iii. Preferment

The third degree, highest of all, is that you prefer your brother to yourself. You set his need before your own. You would rather have them benefit from it. You would rather have them enjoy. So let’s say you have enough money that only one child can go to a good school and the other child has to go to a poor school, you would rather have your brother send their children to the good school and you will deal with the situation sending your child to the less good school. Can you imagine who could think like that? We work so hard and strive to earn money for the education of our children. We would never even on the farthest remote reaches of our imagination have made that intention that I will not do it for my children, instead I will do it for so-and-so’s children who lives in a disadvantaged location, and I will pay for his children to get the good education and I will send my children to the disadvantaged school. Never could we even dream like that.

Self-sacrifice is one of the fruits of this degree. So at this third degree the person slaughters their nafs. They lose their own desires, wishes and their own ambitions. They prefer their fellow Muslims to their ownselves.

Now here tradition tells how sufi fraternity, I will just comment here once on the translator. Obviously when people translate certain things in English, some people give it their Judeo-Christian equivalent. I would never like to use the word fraternity and not only because of what happens in American universities where they have JCRs and MCRs. Tradition here also doesn’t mean hadith, it means the reports from earlier Muslims.

What happened was that there was a group of people seeking pleasure of Allah (swt) and they were slanderously misrepresented to one of the rulers of the Muslim Empire at that time. The ruler ordered that they should be executed. He must have found in his view that they were guilty of committing apostasy; unbelief.

One of the accused was Abu al-Hussan al-Nuri (rah). When the group was called in front of the ruler, he recognized Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri (rah) who was standing at the front. He was a bit surprised because he knew him to be a pious, righteous, mutaqi, saleh, mu’min, but since he had already issued the order of execution, he had to continue with that. The ruler thus ordered the group to line-up again in the opposite direction. His intention was that at the end he would spare Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri (rah) and say in front of the court that so many people have been executed so the one left can leave.

However, when the people moved and the order was changed, Abu al-Hassan (rah) quickly moved to the front of the line. The ruler ordered them to line-up several times but every time Abu al-Hassan (rah) ended up at the front. Now the ruler thought that what am I going to do? He finally called him aside and he asked him that howcome he kept moving to the front? Abu al-Hassan replied that I wished my brothers, rather than I, should have a few more moments to live. In other words, now it’s a question of life. Whoever dies first will have a less life. The one who dies at the end of the line will have a few more moments to live. I would prefer my brothers to have life itself, to live more minutes than me, that’s why I present myself first.

The end of the story was that the ruler was impressed by Abu al-Hassan’s (rah) adab and akhlaq towards his fellows. He saw that he was the living embodiment of the hadith that you should love for your fellow believer what you love for yourself. And he realized that if this person is the associate of this whole group, this whole group must be righteous and pious and I must have been misinformed. He waved his order of execution and all of them were spared.

The lesson of the story also shows that there is barakah in adab. Many times we don’t realize that. Sometimes, when some of the joint ventures and projects that we do fail, or they collapse, or they don’t take off as much as we want them to do, it’s because we didn’t have adab with our fellow project workers. Sometimes loss of adab leads to a loss of barakah. Even if you are doing a project of khidmah, you will end up doing less khidmah because you will have less barakah in that khidmah, because you had less adab with one another.

If you do not find yourself in any of these relationships with your brother, that at the very least we should help them when they are in need, then the aqd, the contract of brotherhood has not concluded into innerself; inside you don’t really view that person as your fellow Muslim. You don’t really view them as your fellow believer. You don’t really treat them as your brother. All that lies between you is just a formal connection.

We love to say “assalamualaikum, brother, how are you doing brother?” That’s not brotherhood. Brotherhood isn’t just the mere exchange of salams. Is that all you would do with your blood brother? With your blood brother, you would try to keep a track of him, you would know what’s going on in his life, you would make sure you find out about his worries before he has to tell them to you. If you don’t have any of these three, then all that lies between you two is a mere formality, a superficial connection, lacking real force that has no haisiat, no haqiqat, no value and reality, in reason or religion. Even deen will not give any value to such a relationship, and even aql will not attribute any value to such a mere formality type of a relationship.

Then one who is content not to put his brother first might as well be the brother to the people of the graves. We would not want to use the word tombs here. Ahl al-qubur means the people of the graves; the people of the cemetery, the people of the graveyards. It means that he himself is also as good as dead for those people. He is not a real or living brother. As for the lowest degree, it is also unacceptable for truly religious people. If you really want to be salihin, siddiqin, sadiqin, the lowest degree is not going to cut it. You have to at least view the fellow brother as equal, if not prefer him to yourself.

Utba’ullah Ghulam came to the house of someone whose brother he had become saying that I need 4,000 of your money. The other said to him take 2,000. He declined the offer saying you prefer this world to Allah (swt)? Are you not ashamed to claim brotherhood in Allah (swt) when you say such a thing? Sometimes, some people would form a nisbat or a bond of brotherhood with one another. For example, this is sunnah, when Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) and Sahaba (ra) migrated from Makkah Mukaramah to Madinah Munawwarah, the migrant were called muhajirun, and the receivers, the helpers, were called ansar. Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), for the large majority of them, paired each one off in nisbat-i-mwakhat. One muhajir brother was made brother with one particular ansar. One Makki Sahaba (ra) was made brother with one particular Madni Sahaba (ra).

Sometimes, later on in history, some people revived this sunnah. So at some point this man was paired off with Utba’ullah and he needed some money. The implication being that he had the money. Notice that we do this sometimes with people who are close to us. We bargain with a person on their need. This is not a financial transaction; we are not selling him a commodity. They need 4,000 and for us the cold calculation of money starts; I am not the only person he knows, he could probably get 500 from X and 300 from Y and 200 from Z and 1000 from T, so I will give him 2,000. The mathematical cold processor which is the love for dunya in the mind makes all these calculations just in a fraction of a second.

Utbah said what kind of brotherhood is that? If you have 4,000 and I need 4,000, then I should get 4,000. It also shows you how frank the earlier Muslims were. He gave him, like we say in Urdu, khara jawab. He responded immediately and frankly. You prefer the world to Allah (swt)? Are you not ashamed to claim brotherhood in deen lillah fillah with me for the sake of Allah (swt) and say such a thing?

Then Imam al-Ghazli (rah) gives advice. Who is he giving advice to — just to be clear, so we don’t feel too hopeless — he is giving advice to those mentioned above when he said if you want to be truly religious people, the lowest degree is not going to be good enough for you.

Secondly, you ought to avoid muamalat with a person who is at the lowest stage of brotherhood. He is not saying spiritual feelings, feelings of love, but you should not want to become business partners with such a person. You should not want to have a joint entrepreneur venture with such a person.

If you have a spiritual brother, do not deal with him in his worldly affairs, he means if he is at this stage. This is a well-known thing, unfortunately, that if you have a close Muslim friend, one of the best ways to lose him is to make him your business partner, and for university students, by making him your roommate. They can’t even share one kitchen together. They would have been great friends when they lived separately, but when you put them together then you will see.

Imam al-Ghazali saw people and knew these things, like a person with 50 years of experience as a woodman would know all the different types of wood. He would know maple, oak, cherry etc. He would know which two would look good with one another, which ones can be joined with one another. These people were the masters of hearts. They had worked with so many different types of hearts of so many different types of sinners that they knew what would work with what. So he is advising that if the person has not gotten on the first level, don’t engage in muamalat/financial dealings with them. They will be a source of hurt, grief and sorrow for the both of you.

As for the highest degree, this corresponds with the description of the true mu’minin mentioned by Allah (swt) in Qur’an. That is this concept of shura.

وَاَمۡرُهُمۡ شُوۡرٰى بَيۡنَهُمۡ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنٰهُمۡ يُنۡفِقُوۡنَ‌ۚ‏
They agree on their affairs by mutual consultation and they spend freely of what we have bestowed upon them. [42:38]

The interesting nisbat Allah (swt) is mentioning here is that they do mutual consultation, shura, in Urdu mashwara, because they are viewing themselves as equals. And they also spend freely. They may decide and discuss the issue together as peers but they spend freely on one another. This is the highest degree which is to prefer our brothers to ourselves.

They are co-owners of worldly goods without distinction in status. Again, to take the roommate example, if they have a fridge, if you are on second degree, whatever you put in it, you would be happy if your roommate shares in it, and whatever he puts in the fridge, you would be happy to share in it. If you are on third degree (highest) you would notice what he likes and you would buy that for him. Let’s say you like orange and he likes apple juice. Next time you shop, you will not just buy orange juice, you will also buy apple juice. Third degree means you only have £2 from which you can either buy orange or apple juice. You will buy apple juice and put it there for him.

Finally, you will not do, what we call, ehsan jatlana; you will not let him know. That’s another problem with us. “O brother, you know I went to the store and I only had £2 and I knew that you liked apple juice, so I bought apple juice.” We are losing points with Allah (swt) to gain points with makhlooq. Do it for the sake of Allah (swt), no need to tell. When you made him feel it, you lost. You are supposed to do it in a way such that he never knows. He should be thinking seems like my roommate started liking apple juice. Maybe I am rubbing off on him.

All of you may never say it, but you feel it in your heart. When you open the door and see he has taken the last crescont, do you feel it? Does it hurt you a little bit? Do you get a little sting? Then you are not at the right level. How much does a crescont cost? You should be happy that Alhamdulillah I thought that was Allah’s (swt) rizq for me, ya Allah I am so grateful that You made it a means of rizq for my brother. I love you Allah, you are so kind to me. That’s how you should feel when you see the crescont is gone, when the ben & jerry’s ice cream is finished.

There were those who would shun the fellow-ship of a man because of his expression ‘my shoe’, thereby attributing to himself. It means he views the shoes as his? I can’t be his roommate.

Fatal al-Mausuli (rah) once came to his brother’s house when he was away, and asked his wife to bring him his money-chest. Opening it, he took from it whatever he needed. He went to someone’s house, and he probably needed some money, but the man wasn’t there. He told the wife that wherever he keeps the money, bring that bag to me. He opened the wallet and took whatever he needed. When that person came home, he was told of the incident. He had an attendant, a slave, to whom he said, if what you say is true, then you are free. He was so happy that Allah (swt) made this fellow brother of mine so comfortable with me that when I wasn’t home he felt he could take my wallet and take my money. I’m so happy he took my ATM card without even asking me and he made as much withdrawal as he needed. That’s what it means. So delighted was he at his brother’s deed. 

Once a Tabi’i (rah) came to Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) and said that I wish to take you as my brother in Allah (swt). Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) said do you know what that means? He replied, no. He said, you have no greater right to your dinar and dirahim, to your money, than I have. Once we are brothers, we are the same. What is your maal is my maal, and what is my maal is your maal. So he said I’m not ready for that yet. Then Abu Huraira (ra) said that you can leave me. 

Ali ibn Hussain (rah), the great grandson of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), once said to a person that does one of you put your hand in the pocket or purse of your brother and takes what he needs without permission? They said none of us do that with one another. He (rah) said then you are not brothers. You are not brothers until you are at that level of closeness that you can take money out of the wallet of the other person. I told you the first chapter will be difficult for you. This is the most difficult one for the contemporary Muslim.

Some people called upon al-Hassan al-Basri (rah) and asked him, Abu Sayid (this was his kunyat), have you prayed your salah? He said yes. They said we are asking because people in the market have not yet prayed. So Hassan al-Basri, one of the greatest ulema of the Tabi’in, said who takes his deen from the people of the market? I hear that one of them refused his brother a penny. And al-Hassan said it as if it amazed him. He wasn’t denigrating them because they were market people. What was the thing that made him scoff at the people of the market? What was the thing about them that made him think they should not be followed? They had refused their brother a penny.

Once a person came to Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) as the latter was leaving for Bait al-Muqaddas, (may Allah (swt) restore Bait al-Muqaddas to us and enable all of us to visit it one day) and said that I want to be your companion on the journey. He said you can come on the condition that I have more rights to your goods than you yourself do. I see you have a nice, big suitcase with you, and I have a little rucksack with me, so I will have more rights to your goods than you. He said no. He replied I admire your sincerity.

Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) would never differ from a person who would accompany him on a journey. He would only choose a companion who would be in harmony with himself. It also shows that a person can, and maybe should, look at what we call munasibat. Munasibat means compatibility, congeniality, affinity. I’m not talking in terms of required muamalat. But in extra muamalat, extra interaction with fellow Muslims, you should interact with those you know you can successfully, mutually, beneficially interact with.

On one occasion, his traveling companion was a sandal strap merchant. At a certain resting post in the journey, someone presented Ibrahim ibn Adam with a bowl of soup. He opened his companion’s bag and took out some of the straps — as you know the strap is a piece of the sandal so this person manufactured and sold those particular pieces that were used in assembling the sandals — and he dropped them in the bowl and returned it to the person who had given him the bowl of soup. When his companion came along, he asked where are those straps which were in my bag? How much did the soup cost? You must have given him 3 straps. Be generous and generosity will be shown to you.

What he did was that after eating the soup he put those straps in the empty bowl. After eating the broth, which was a gift from the person, he wanted to return the bowl in which the broth was given. Then he decided that I have to give that person something. I have nothing to give him, but my companion is carrying his business goods, his straps, and  wherever he goes he will trade them. So I will take two out and put them in the bowl, that way we can do khidmah of the person who sent this soup to us.

When the companion came back he noticed that two of my straps are missing. So he said that no we have to be generous to them. Be generous and generosity will be shown to you. This can mean two things. One was Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) was teaching him that if you give the straps, Allah (swt) will continue to show generosity to you. Or he was trying to do ’amal on it himself; that this person has sent soup to me, he is being generous to me, I should now become the second half of this generosity, I should also give him a gift. Even though he gave it to me not selling the soup, not expecting any return, but since he was generous to me, the adab of my deen teaches me that I should be generous to him. I had to take two of your straps in order to fulfill that teaching of deen, to become generous back with him.

Ibrahim bin Adam once gave a donkey belonging to his companion without his permission to a man he saw walking. Can you imagine that I take the keys of your car and give it to the poor fellows on the bicycle? When his companion came along, he said nothing and did not disapprove. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is teaching by way of example that what is the munasiba; travel with that person who knows what you are going to do.

The greatest story for this is of Khizr (as) when Sydna Musa (as) tries to become his traveling companion. Khizr (as) tells him that you are not going to be able to have sabr with me. You will not be able to handle me as a traveling companion. Musa (as) insisted that I can, he took three chances after that:

 هٰذَا فِرَاقُ بَيۡنِىۡ وَبَيۡنِكَ‌‌
“Here is the point of parting ways between me and you.” [18:78]

This is now the separation, the parting of ways between me and you. You can see that lesson from Qur’an also that if there is no munasiba (understanding, there is no trust), then it may not be a well advice to pick that person as a companion.

The son of Syedna Umar (ra) says that one of the companions of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) was given the head of a sheep. That companion thought to himself that my brother such-and-such, who was also his fellow sahaba, needs it more than I do. He thought that though I am hungry and somehow Allah (swt) has sent this food for me, but I know that so-and-so must also be hungry so I should send it over there. When he sent it over there, the person who received it said that so-and-so is also hungry so he sent it over there, it kept getting sent round and round till it came back to the first person after going through seven hands.

Seven Sahaba Karam (ra) preferred their fellow companion over themselves. Now we don’t know maybe when the first companion got it back, he thought maybe Allah (swt) wants to give it to me so he may have eaten it at the end, but seven people got sawab out of it. When you have more adab, you have more barakah. Had he eaten in the beginning, that would have also had barakah, but giving it away initially granted reward and pleasure of Allah (swt) to seven other Sahaba (ra) by preferring their fellow believer to themselves.

Masruq (rah) owed a heavy debt. His brother Khaytama was also in debt. It doesn’t mean his blood brother. Masruq went off and paid khaytama’s debt without him knowing and Khaytama went off and paid Masruq’s debt without him knowing. They both paid each other’s debt. They were more worried about the debt of their fellow brothers than their own debt. Can you imagine that today? I don’t want to get into that because 99% of loans that are taken today are not okay, but let’s say someone took an interest-free education loan to study and he is graduating and thinking I have got this £5,000 loan and the other friend also took interest-free education loan to study and he is also graduating knowing he has this £5,000 loan. But he thinks I will work and I will pay off half of his loan and he will never know about it. The other one also thinks I will work first and pay off his loan and he will never know about it. Can we find such an example today?

In the example of the ansar and muhajir, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) made nisbat-i-mwakhat between Syedna Abdur Rehman ibn Awf (ra) and Sa’ad ibn ar-Rabi’ (ra). The latter offered to put the former i.e. Syedna Sa’ad (ra) offered to put Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) first in preference, both materially and spiritually. He said may Allah (swt) bless you in both respects. Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) responded that may Allah (swt) bless you in both respects, thus preferring his brother the same way as his brother preferred him.

What happened first that Syedna Sa’ad (ra) made du’a for Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) that may Allah (swt) bless you both in monetary rizq and also spiritually give you higher ranks of taqwa, higher ranks of sabr, higher ranks of tawwakul and may Allah (swt) bless you with ease in this world. Then Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) responded back that may Allah (swt) bless you. This is the concept of preferring and equalizing. The first gesture was preferment, to give tarjih to your fellow Muslim. The first is to give tarjih to your fellow mu’min — even in du’a.

Let’s say both you and your fellow Muslim brother have an interview at 9 AM for the same job. You both show up at 8:58 AM and are both sitting in the waiting room. You both have two minutes to make du’a. So you spend two minutes making du’a that he gets the job. That’s preferment; that you prefer him over your own job. Equalizing would mean you spend one minute making du’a that you get the job and one minute making du’a that he gets the job.

Abu Sulaiman ad-Darani (rah) used to say if I own the whole world to put in the mouth of a brother of mine, meaning if I could take the whole world and make a morsel out of it and feed my fellow Muslim, even then I would feel that I have done too little. He also said that when I feed a morsel to a brother of mine, I am feeding it to him but I feel the taste of it in my own throat. That is what in Arabic is called ita’am — feeding another is even more pleasurable — akal ta’am — than eating it yourself. In Urdu you can say khilany ka maza khany k maze se zyada hai.

Spending on fellow mu’minin is even worthier than giving sadaqah (not zakah) to the poor. Syedna Ali (ra) said that twenty dirham that I give to my fellow mu’minin are dearer to me than the hundred I give to the needy. This may be that special case of nisbat-i-mwakhat; Syedna Ali (ra) was a mahajir who was paired with an ansar (ra). He also said to make a meal and gather my brothers around it is dear to me than freeing a slave. This shows what we are well-known for all over the world, especially our Arabi brothers, this is how we show our joy and affection to each other, over meals.

In putting others first, everyone should follow the example of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). He (sws) once entered a thicket with one of his Sahaba (ra) and gathered two toothpicks one crooked and the other one straight. It’s not a toothpick, it’s actually a miswak. He (sws) gave the straight one (i.e. the nicer one) to his sahaba (ra). Sahaba (ra) said ya Rasool Allah (sws) you are more entitled to the straight one than I am. The Blessed Prophet (sws) responded that when a fellow accompanies a fellow, when a friend accompanies a friend, if only for one hour of the day, he will be asked on the Day of Judgment to account for that time that he spent in the company of his fellow; that whether he fulfilled his duty to his brother in that hour or whether he neglected it.

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) was thinking that about himself. He (sws) is the prophet while the Sahaba (ra) was an ummati — obviously the prophet should get the nicer one. But the way Blessed Prophet (sws) viewed it was that he is not just my ummati. He came with me on this journey. He is my travelling companion so I have to prefer him. You see that especially in children that they don’t like to do this. If they get something, they would immediately pick the better one for themselves. It maybe the case with adults too. Go back to your fridge where there are two crescont; one is slightly bigger than the other. You will go for the slightly bigger one and leave the smaller one for your friend.

Back when we used to eat meals together in our madrassah, it was known which students you should sit with and which ones you should not sit with. I was of the ones you could sit with Alhamdulillah. But that’s because I was a slow eater and not because of the other reason. I remember one student particularly said this to me when we were doing takhassas course that it seems you don’t like meat. I said, actually I do like it but you guys finish it by the time I get a chance to eat. He smiled and ever since he got this information he used to love to sit with me!

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) indicated by his own example that putting the companion first, putting ones fellow first, was to fulfill one’s duty to Allah (swt), because Allah (swt) has rights over us in terms of our traveling fellows and companions.

On another occassion, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) went out to a well to wash himself. Syedna Huzaifa (ra) took a robe and stood screening the Blessed Prophet (sws) while he washed and bathed. Then Syedna Huzaifa (ra) sat down and washed himself and Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) took the turn to hold the sheet to screen him. Syedna Huzaifa (ra) said Ya Rasool Allah (sws) what are you doing? May my father be ransomed for you; literally it means I would give up my own father for you and my mother too. He meant don’t do khidmat of me. Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) insisted and said each time two people are accompanied together, the more beloved to Allah (swt) — ahabbu — is that one of the two who is kinder to his companion.

There is a hadith of Sahaba (ra) that whatever Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) taught, he (sws) wanted to be the first one to do ’amal on it himself. He (sws) did ’amal on every hadith himself. He (sws)  did it to teach others, yes, but also because he (sws) too was a servant and slave of Allah (swt). Like we say ash’hadu anna muhammadan ’abduhu wa rasuluhu; first and foremost he (sws) is the servant and slave of Allah (swt) and then His prophet and messenger. When Allah (swt) inspired him (sws) with this meaning that the more beloved to Allah (swt) is the one who is kinder, he always wanted to be the one who was kinder, and he always succeeded.

بِالۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ رَءُوۡفٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ
And for the believers he is very kind and merciful. [9:129]

Allah (swt) said in Qur’an that he (sws) is with all believers ra’uf ar rahim; kind and gentle; soft and merciful — and these qualities are mentioned about Allah (swt) as well.

Malik Deenar and Muhammad ibn Wasi’ al-Azdi went together to the house of al-Hassan al-Basri but he wasn’t there. Muhammad bin Wasi’ took out a basket of food and started munching on it. Malik said to him, clap your hands to fetch the master of the house. Muhammad paid no attention to his words and went on eating. Malik was more for politeness (formality in manners).

Then Hassan said, my dear Malik, we are not used to being so shy of one another than you and your fellows appear i.e. you are doing takalluf with us and we are not used to that. We would like it that you should walk around the house and start eating food. So with this he indicated to make oneself at home in a fellow Muslim’s home is part of true brotherhood. This is why Allah (swt) in Qur’an al Karim has mentioned which homes, the buyut, you can enter: your own home, or that of a friend, or the home to which you have the keys. The ishara Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is giving is that although one’s brother would give the keys of house to another permitting him to act as he saw fit, a brother felt piety required him to refrain from eating.

There was one Sahabi (ra) who had given the keys to his home to another Sahabi (ra). Even though he was trying to show him that my home is like yours, the Sahabi (ra) who received the keys was still feeling a bit shy and hesitant. In his mind, he was thinking even though he has been so nice to give me the keys, still it is not nice of me that I should treat his home as my home. Allah (swt) sent wahi down in Qur’an and said you can go into it freely. If he is opening up his home to you like that and giving you the keys, you should feel that you should be able to go in as freely as you want. This was the first duty which was pertaining to material sharing — sharing our wealth, property and assets with our fellow believers.

2. To Render Personal Aid

Personal aid means not to hire somebody to help, for example, not to call the cab when you can drive the person yourself. Do it yourself. DIY khidmat of your fellow mu’min. To render personal aid in the satisfaction of their needs to fulfill and the fulfillment of their need, in attending to them without waiting to be asked and giving them priority over private needs. Same thing that which he said before, to oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty — that your fellow Muslim has a need, and you know of that need, or rather it should have been your duty to have been informed about that need, but either you neglected to do that duty being unaware of his need, or you knew but you still waited for him to ask — you waited for him to ask — that is the ultimate neglect of brotherly duty. It also means to give them priority over your own needs.

Here, too, there are different degrees as was in the case of material support. Lowest degree consists of attending to the need when asked and when in plenty. It means I will help this person when they ask me and when I have time to do so. This is the classic case of my experience in this country; over and over we get this message: if you need something, let me know. I have never responded to any such SMS. Even if I am in the most dire state of need, I will not respond to such a person. People love to send this. They are waiting to be asked. And, if they have time, when in plenty, then they will tend to your need. But at least it is showing cheerful joy and pleasure and gratitude. That is a good thing, they have one degree that they will genuinely, joyfully, happily, kindly, generously, showing pleasure and gratitude do what you have asked.

Someone said that if you ask your brother to satisfy a need and he does not do so, then remind him for he may have forgotten. If he still does not do it, pronounce Allahu Akbar over him as if he is a mayyat, and recite this verse:

وَالۡمَوۡتٰى يَـبۡعَثُهُمُ اللّٰهُ
As for the dead, Allah shall raise them up. [6:36]

If a person is sleeping and you shake him, he wakes up. If you shake something and it does not wake up, it does not mean it is sleeping, it means it is dead. You asked him once, then you reminded him the second time, you shook him, he still did not remember so you should pronounce Allahu Akbar over them.

Ibn Shabruma (rah) once satisfied a great need for one of his brothers. That brother later brought him a present. Ibn Shbruma (rah) asked him what is this? He said this is a present for you because of the great favor you did to me, you helped me in that great need. He said no, keep it, may Allah (swt) preserve you. And then he told him, if you ask your brother for something you need, and if he does not exert himself to satisfy your need, then wash for prayers, meaning make wudhu for salah, and pronounce four takbirs for salat al-janaza over him and count him among the dead. I think we would have a lot more janazas were we to do ’amal on this!

Ja’afar ibn Muhammad (rah) said that I make haste to satisfy the needs of my enemies lest I reject them and they do without me. Enemy means, let’s say somebody has envy or jealousy for you, or they did backbiting to you or they are in a cut-throat competition in school, cut-throat competition in the office with you — you know they have something against you. But you also happen to know they have a need. Ja’afar ibn Muhammad (rah) would actually go and fulfill the need of the person.

What would we do? We would be angry that why does this person have envy and enmity towards me? If we found out about their need, we would be happy that they have this suffering. We would revel and enjoy the fact that they have a need they are waiting to be fulfilled. Lest I reject them and they do without me — he was worried that what if I reject them and they try to make it without me? I don’t want them to be mustaghni/independant of me. Even if they are my enemies, they are still my fellow believers.

For example, even in certain masajid their are committee members competing for elections. If one member finds out the other one has some difficulty, the former would be so happy and overjoyed that maybe he will get caught up in that, maybe he will not be able to campaign enough, maybe he will not be able to get enough votes. Actually, we rejoice when we find out our enemies have needs. They did not think like this — they thought even if they have enmity towards me, I am still his fellow Muslim. If he has a need, I will fulfill his need. That is how they used to win over the hearts.

Sometimes there is a misunderstanding between two people which leads to a feeling of hostility or resentment. Sometimes it gets so confusing, you cannot clear it up. It might even be that if you go to clear it up, it gets more confusing. You just mess it up. What you have to do in such a situation is to do something for them completely separate from that situation. You may not get that opportunity immediately, but once you do that, Allah (swt) unravels the knob on its own.

One Muslim in the early days would see to the maintenance of his brother’s wife and children for forty years after his brother’s death — attending to their needs and providing for them such that they missed only the father’s person. They didn’t miss the father’s support because this person was offering that support. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can talk to you about in this country, but we would just tell you certain shuhada who leave behind families, this is their right over us that we should look after their families. Obviously, they will miss the person because that person was their father, you can never replace that personality. But other than that, all of their needs should be taken care of. They should feel as if they have this support and strength of a man in their house even if that particular man has been taken up by Allah (swt).

Indeed, they would try to treat them so well as they may have not even been treated by their own father. Not personal love, it may mean showering them with gifts and support. It was known for a man to go regularly to his brother’s household who had passed away and inquire from family widow that he left behind, have you oil, have you salt? These were staple items. Many times they would just drop off bags of salt and pouches of oil at their door.

If a man was traveling with his brother and anything was needed, he would attend to it unbeknown to his brother. This is how brotherhood and compassion are shown. If a man does not manifest compassion towards his brother in the same degree as to himself then there is no goodness in him. Be as true to others as you are to yourself. Be as caring to others as you wish to be cared for yourself.

Maymun ibn Mehran (rah) said if you reap no benefit from a man’s friendship, then his enmity will not hurt you. This is talking about the reverse side. One side was that we should give, care and help as much as we can. The second side is that if someone else is our friend, we should not try to reap benefits, we should not try to extract help from them. You should not expect it of them, demand it from them, force it out of them. If you don’t do that and that person who is your friend for some reason turns into an enemy, you will not lose anything in terms of personal aid because you were not taking any aid from them from the beginning.

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said surely Allah (swt) has vessels on this earth namely our hearts; qalb; spiritual heart, those hearts considered dearest to Allah (swt) are the purest, the strongest and the finest. Purest means pure from sins. Strongest means strongest in iman. Finest means finest towards their fellow Muslim brothers. In short, your brothers’ needs ought to be like your own or even more important than your own. You should be on the watch for times of need, not neglecting the situation anymore than you would your own.

We always watch out for ourselves. We are checking am I going to be okay? Will I be able to make this month’s finances? Do I have enough for this year? Do I have enough for this summer? We are keeping track of ourselves. Just like that, we should keep track of someone else. These people were also harīth; they wanted the opportunity to help others. They were searching and keeping track, they wanted to monitor when and who is in need because they wanted to help that person.

We are the opposite. We want not to know to the best of our ability. If someone forces us to sit down and broadcast his need to us, only then will we feel some type of duty and obligation to help them out. You should see that he does not have to ask — you can see, over and over again Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is repeating this — nor to reveal his need to appeal for help. Rather, you should attend to it as if you did not know you had done so. You yourself should also not feel that you helped him.

In a famous hadith Blessed Prophet (sws) has said that you should give charity with your right hand such that your left hand does not even know. Similarly, you should help your fellow believer in such a way that even you are not self-conscious and not aware that you helped him. You should not see yourself having earned any right by virtue of what you have done. You should not feel that you are entitled to that person’s support, you should not even feel that you are entitled to that person’s love, or their appreciation, or their gratitude. You should never do something for someone with that intention that you are going to make them indebted to you; whether financially indebted to you, or emotionally indebted to you in terms of gratitude, gratefulness and thankfulness. Rather, we should count it as a blessing and a kindness from him that he did an ehsan on me, it was his favor on me, I am indebted to him that he has allowed me a chance to help him.

You should not confine yourself to simply merely satisfying his needs, but you should try from the start to be even more generous to prefer him and put him before your own relatives and children. It means if he needs £10, you should give him £20. Why are you keeping him on this borderline situation? You only helped him so much that he did not fall, but you are not helping him to walk.

Al Hassal al Basri (rah) used to say that our brothers are dear to us than our own families and children because our families remind us of this world while our brothers remind us of Akhirah. This relationship which is khalasatan lillah fillah — solely, exclusively in the name of Allah (swt) for the sake of Allah (swt) — whenever we sit with those people, all we think about is Allah (swt) and Akhirah. When we sit with family, although that aspect is there, but there is also a worldly aspect to our family relationships.

Don’t get this wrong. He is not saying that you should have any disdain for your family. It means a very high love and enjoyment for family, but even higher than that was the enjoyment they got from those relationships that were purely for the sake of Allah (swt).

Al Hassan al Basri (rah) also used to say that if a man stands by his brother all the way until the end, right till the climax of need or whatever difficulty is afflicting him, then on the Day of Judgment Allah (swt) will send angels from beneath His throne to escort that person to Jannah.

Then in another tradition (tradition here does not mean hadith, this is what we call khabr, the early Muslim non-prophetic tradition) tells that whenever a person visits their brother, fellow Muslim, out of longing and yearning to meet them, then an angel calls out from behind and says that you have done well and there should be a well for you in the garden of Paradise. There is a question of how can you say this about the angels? Only Allah (swt) and Blessed Prophet (sws) can tell us what the angels say. Sometimes when you see narrations like this, it means they are giving an emotional expression to a reality that was mentioned in hadith.

For example, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said in a hadith that when you help your fellow Muslim in any need, Allah (swt) will help you in your need. And in another hadith he (sws) said when you make du’a for any fellow Muslim, Allah (swt) sends an angel who says three things: ameen, wa laka, ameen. For example, you made du’a for X. Allah (swt) sent an angel who said ameen to your du’a for X. Then the angel said wa laka making the same du’a for you and again the angel said ameen on his own du’a. So X got your du’a and angel’s ameen, but you got angel’s du’a and angel’s ameen. You actually got something better. This is expressed in this way that when you help someone, the angel would come and say something like you have done well and there will be a well for you in Jannah.

Ata ibn-e-abi Raba’ (rah), one of the great tabi’in, said seek out your brothers after three occassions. They must visit when they are sick, which is called ayadat al-mariz. If they are busy, help them. If you see them caught up in so much busyness, and you have some fursat, faraghat, free time, try to help them. And if they have forgotten, remind them. Especially if they have forgotten Allah (swt), remind them. If they have forgotten the Sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws), remind them.

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

Allah (swt) says in Qur’an that you must recollect and remind because that recollection and reminding benefits believers. That ayah is basis for all courses, all talks and lectures. It’s not enough just to read Qur’an and hadith on your own, because Allah (swt) said in Qur’an wa zakir — Allah (swt) has commanded some individuals to make nasiha, give advice, counsel, admonish and remind. Because indeed that reminder tanfa’u al-mu’minin — that act of reminding is of great benefit to the believers.

There are many ways to do this type of dawah. There is no one particular jama’ah to exclusively do dawah. We should all have this dawah aspect in our lives. A lot of us slack in this. There are people in our sphere, in our circle of interaction, some of whom are so close that they are even in the sphere of influence, but we don’t remind them at all. Some of the brothers in tablighi jama’at are very good at this. They don’t leave any stone unturned. They go in Pakistan to get a haircut, within one minute they are talking to the barber. Before you know it, the barbar is being given a full bayan about Allah (swt). Most of us would just sit there and will not say anything. That was an interaction and every interaction is an opportunity.

Sometimes you may even be sitting there watching and thinking in your own cynical and sarcastic way that look at the barbar, he is so annoyed. Sometimes you have to annoy people. He is getting annoyed at that moment, he may have forgotten Allah (swt) so much that he may not respond to the call of that reminder. But maybe in a few weeks Allah (swt) may send him some test, meaning Allah (swt) is going to shake him up, and he may remember some of the words that his brother had told him. That brother opened a door for him. He is not willing to walk through that door at that moment, but the door was shown to him whether he liked it or not. Later on, if there comes a time when he is willing to walk through that door, he will remember it.

I’m not saying do it every time and in every situation. It requires wisdom and hikmah also. But most of us let every opportunity go — every barbar, every taxi driver, every Muslim we interact with, we don’t say any word of nasiha to them. It should not be like that either. Every now and then, if you get the opportunity, chat the person up a little bit, don’t say too much but at least say a couple of lines. Share something that you heard, share some ayah of Qur’an, share some hadith of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), share some words of nasiha, share something from your own life to make him personally close. Offer him something.

Maybe he will buy it, you never know. He may not look interested but how do you know? Can you see inside the hearts of people that they are uninterested? Offer him something and, even if he displays disinterest, just leave it there for him as food for thought. Maybe he will take a bite later. First intention to make is that I’m actually reminding myself: If nothing else, I may buy it. I heard this thing, I don’t do ’amal on it myself, but when I told the barbar that day, I realized that I should better do ’amal on it myself, so I bought my own dawah.

It was narrated that Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) was looking about right and left, he was looking around in front of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) asked him what are you looking for? He said there is someone beloved to me who I am searching for, but I don’t see him. Maybe he was thinking Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) came out of Masjid an-Nabwi and he (sws) is sitting with us and he (sws) is going to talk to us, and where is that favorite friend Sahaba (ra) of mine who is missing out on this? Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said if you love someone, you should ask his name, his father’s name, where he lives. If he is sick, visit him and if he is busy, help him.

Blessed Prophet (sws) was teaching Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) that it is not enough just to be fond of him. You should have gotten to know him — ta’arafu — you should have asked his name, father’s name in order to identify him. Otherwise if he gets sick, how are you going to visit him? If he has a need, how will you find out how to help him? How will you keep track of him if you have no idea what his name is? It happens many times, I go places and ask you know this person? Plenty of times I get the reply, no I don’t know him, though sometimes I have seen him in the masjid but I have never talked to him. If I ask the one who knows his name, what does he do? He would say I have never asked him that.

By the way, this is a very special hadith that Syedna Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) narrates about his own interaction with Blessed Prophet (sws). Maybe because he was quite young, Blessed Prophet (sws) had a very special, what we call, andaz-i-tarbiyat, a special way of training him. In another narration, the hadith mentions the words that you should remember the name of his grandfather, his tribe, you should really do ta’aruf — you should really get to know him. He is your Muslim brother. Today we have our work brothers, you work in Cambridge, it should not be that when you get back on the bus and go home you wonder who was that brother with the blue shirt? Ask his name. Ask him what he does. Ask him where he lives.

Ash-Shami (rah) said of a man who keeps company of another, then says he knows his face but not his name (that’s what we say in Urdu mein shakal se janta houn, naam nahi ata hai –same case hundreds of years ago), that is the knowledge of a fool. What type of people were they and what type of people are we?

Syedna ibn Abash (ra) was asked who is the dearest, most beloved people to you? He said the one who sits in my company. Allah (swt) said in Qur’an:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ‏
O you who believe, fear Allah, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

When we adopt taqwa and sit with the sadiqin, we should feel something for the sadiqin and, we are learning here, the sadiqin also feel something back for us. He also said if someone sits in my company three times without having need of me, I learn where he is placed in the world.

Syedna Mullah said my sitting depends on three things: on my approach I greet him, on his arrival I make him feel welcome, when he sits I make him comfortable. They honored the sitting with one another. If we used to love to sit with them, they also used to love it if we sat with them. Allah (swt) said:

رُحَمَآءُ بَيۡنَهُمۡ
Compassionate among themselves. [48:29]

They are full of rehmah — full of mercy to one another. This is the ayah describing the feelings believers have for one another. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) commented that these words point to compassion and generous treatment. Part of complete compassion is not to partake in solitude of delicious food — to go eat your chocolate ice-cream secretly in the corner alone. I’m guilty of doing this; having cookies and Ben & Jerry’s when the kids are sleeping. Rather should the brother’s absence be stressing and the separation sad. You find this when you look at the tales of the lovers of one another for the sake of Allah (swt). They would be in a gathering enjoying and then they would realize that X is missing. The fact that X is missing would make them sad.

So, not to partake in solitude. If Allah (swt) has given you happiness, then share that happiness. When you share that happiness, you will multiply it. Allah (swt) has given you a joy not to enjoy alone — that’s why sunnah walima is a part of our deen — when Allah (swt) gives you that joy, you don’t want to just have that joy alone. In our deen, the first expression of the joy is to share that joy, proclaim that joy, announce that nikkah, gather people to a meal and show them how happy you are.

3. To be Mindful of the Tongue

First duty was financially helping; sharing in one’s property, wealth, assets and possessions. Second duty was helping which Imam al-Ghazali (rah) called personal aid. Third duty concerns the tongue. Sometimes the duty requires that the tongue should be silent. At other times, the duty towards our fellow Muslims requires that we should speak out. It is going to take some learning and some hikmah/wisdom and du’a to Allah (swt) to figure out when is the occasion to be silent and when is the occasion to speak out. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is going to help us here.

As for silence, when should the tongue be silent?

  • The tongue should not mention a brother’s faults in his absence (ghibah) or in his presence.

If you have such a relationship with that person, let’s say your younger brother, in his presence, but alone, not to expose him or embarrass him, not simply to shout at him, rather to rectify and guide him, you can discuss a fault of his with him. In such a case, that’s okay. Here it means to broadcast or expose that person’s faults, whether they are present and you expose their faults live in front of others, or you expose him in his absence, that is not something a person’s tongue should do.

Rather should you feign ignorance. For example, if someone asks you, “Do you know so-and-so? I heard that brother actually did X?” Even though you also know he did it, you should say, “Oh really? Allahu ’alam.” Close the discussion at the start. As opposed to saying, “Yeah I know he did X, but do you know he also did Y?” That’s what we do. Instead say Allah (swt) knows best — that’s always a correct statement, even if you do know.

  • You should not contradict him when he talks, nor dispute nor argue with him.
  • You should not pry and quiz him about his affairs.

On seeing him in the street or about some business, you should not start a conversation about the object of your coming and going, nor ask him about this. For perhaps it will be troublesome to him to discuss it, or he may have to lie about it. Like, “Dude, where are you going?” “Nowhere.” Obviously, he is going somewhere. If he says nowhere to you, he doesn’t want to share it with you. You don’t give him a second and say, “What do you mean nowhere? Where are you coming from?” Now he gets even more embarrassed. What difference does it make to you where he is coming from or where he is going? His right to you when you met him in the street was simply that you say salam to him, not to make him disclose completely where he is going or where he is coming from or what he is about to do.

This is why Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said la tajassasu — don’t have this curiosity. I know people may not ask this question with a bad intention necessarily, but Blessed Prophet (sws) is training us. In another hadith, Blessed Prophet (sws) said min husni islami mar’i tarqu ma laya’ni — that from the beauty, nobility, excellence of the deen of Islam of a person is that they leave the things that don’t concern them. Don’t concern yourself with where he was coming from, what he was doing, where he was the previous night, unless there is a particular reason that maybe of concern to you, but 99% of the times it is not, so you should not ask.

Look at Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) hikmah 900 years ago, still valid today. Perhaps it will be troublesome to discuss it or he may even have to lie about it. May be he did something so embarrassing that when you put him on the spot, although he should not lie, we are not excusing him, but because you put him so much in the spot, he ended up lying. You put him in that position. If there is something he wants to share with you, he will share it with you himself. Look at the adab — they were the people who used to think carefully. They viewed every interaction with every follow Muslim as something not to be taken lightly or forgranted.

We have to have husn-i-sulook. We need to have most noble way of dealing with the person. We should be conscious about what we should or should not say but without being nervous and unnatural. Once a person is trained in these adab, they come naturally. This is one of the gift of iman that every person Allah (swt) has gifted with iman, the sunnah adab and akhlaq comes naturally to them. They just have to learn it, practice it a little bit, then it will flow naturally from them.

The first time you hear it, it may seem a bit difficult to do. Don’t worry. Once you learn and practice it, it will flow naturally with ease. That will become your personality. That’s the power of deen that if you want the personality of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), it can be your personality. It means his (sws) temperament, outlook, mannerism, kindness, compassion, his ways of dealing with people can become our way of dealing with people, if we want to follow his sunnah, his teachings of adab and akhlaq. If we became like that with one another, imagine how united the ummah would be. Don’t get me wrong. There will still be differences. Unity does not mean uniformity. It has never meant that in ummah. Even Sahaba Karam (ra) had differences. Unity is something else altogether.

So we have covered a few things in there: not to mention faults in absence or presence, not to contradict or dispute, not to pry and quiz about his affairs.

  • Keep silent also about the secrets if he confides in you and on no account divulge them to a third party, not even to his closest friends.

This is the hadith of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) al majalasu bil amanah. Some of you may be wondering in these few lines, I have mentioned several hadith to you that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did not mention. Why did he not do so? This is our contemporary problem. We want that everything should be extremely well documented with references to all hadith. It is understandable for us. But in Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) time, and the people he was talking to, they all knew hadith. Hadith was standard education for a Muslim. Every hadith I’m saying, they all knew it.

These types of books and works were just to take them to the final step to live those hadith and to feel those hadith. The purpose of these books was not to teach them the hadith. Because many of us don’t know hadith, it would be nice for us to have those hadith added to the translation so that along with getting Imam al-Ghazli’s (rah) help on living the hadith, we could actually do the knowing of the hadith as well.

You should understand this, it’s not that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did not know hadith or he was not concerned with hadith or he just likes talking his own words. He is talking to an audience that knows hadith. In fact, the vast majority, if not all of his works, were addressed to ulema who were formal students and scholars of hadith. In many of his letters he addresses them point-blank directly by name and chastises them that you spent so many years studying and you still don’t feel it, what have you gotten from the sunnah? You have known thousands of hadith and you still don’t have the adab? He goes after them by name, point by point, and he does it in many other places in Ihya. In fact, this is universally accepted by all Muslim and non-Muslim historians that Ihya Ulum al-Din was written primarily by Imam al-Ghazali (rah) for the ulema. It is such a tragedy that the ulema don’t read it anymore.

So, al majalasu bil amanah literally it means gathering, but even conversations that you have with one another, are an amanah, unless it’s understood that you are talking about something that does not in any way require confidentiality. What does it mean that don’t even talk to it about to their close friend? For example, you may be friends with Abdullah, Abdullah is also friends with X. Abdullah tells you that I lost my scholarship for next year, and has some discussion with you about that. Because you think outwardly Abdullah is equally close friends with X, don’t assume Abdullah has told X. When you see X, don’t say, “Hey did you hear Abdullah lost his scholarship?” He will say no. So you breached a trust. When Abdullah told you, he was telling you, he wasn’t telling you to tell X. In fact, if Abdullah is close friends with X, he will tell him in his own way, in his own time.

We have this habit in ourselves of too much broadcasting. We hear and we broadcast. This is what Blessed Prophet (sws) is telling us that al-majalasu bil amanah. It doesn’t mean that only if the person explicitly tells you. Abdullah didn’t tell you not to tell anybody else, yes. But your nabi Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) told you not to tell anybody else. It’s about our habits. We have too loose of a tongue.

Do not reveal anything about those secrets, not even after separation and estrangement. Let’s say you are no longer friends with that person for whatever reason, misunderstanding happens, you part ways, even then you should not betray him. You should not think that the confidentiality of agreement in relationship was only when we were friends and now we are not such close friends. It’s a lifelong amanah. For to do so would be meanness of character, it means it is just bughz, ghil; it is just malice, spite and retribution. You are just doing it to be mean.

For example, you are roommates with someone. What that person does in that flat is not the business of the entire building. They are sharing close corners with you, so you may get to see certain things about them. You may get to know them more intimately. Those intimate details of their close personal lifestyle, their habits, their character, are not meant for you. He does not have to say about every single thing that don’t tell anyone about this. It’s understood that you are not supposed to share and broadcast these things to other people.

Cont’d in Session II

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.

Q&A

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.

XX

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


 

The Spiritual Path; Concepts – I’tidal and Ihtiyat; Training; Practice

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


Today I want to say some very important things to you about the Spiritual approach randomly. Not everything is in the title. We load it up a little bit just for fun.

The Spiritual Path: Effort, Humility & Sincerity

This is the asal (core) of the path. The whole purpose of tazkiya, tasawwuf, dhikr is ‘amal. Sometimes people get too caught up in the concepts and theories that they become an end in of themselves. There is only one end and goal — a’maal; taqwa, ikhlas, sidq, ibadat, akhlaq — there is a whole range of a’maal. Some people get stuck in the theory somewhere, or they get stuck in haal; this has happened to a couple of people.

You need to understand that in 1400 years of Islam, there have been very few people; Mansur Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, and a few others who got stuck in haal. Statistically you are talking about 0.0000001% of people, it doesn’t mean you leave the teachings for that. They got diverted from their goal. They got some feeling along the way, which is called haal or kaifiyah, and they started making that the goal. And they also made a bigger mistake perhaps of trying to make others make it their goal. That’s a problem we are still stuck with today. For example, fanaa fillah is just an Arabic phrase. It’s the same thing that Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

وَاذۡكُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ اِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيۡلًا
And remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with exclusive devotion. [73:8]

Tabattul ilayhi tabteela means fanaa. It means that lose yourself in the remembrance of Allah’s (swt) name so that you remember His name to the exclusion of everything else. Arabs are like that, they just come up with different words. Like the Arabic word for head covering is khimar, today people call it hijab. Arabic word for the gown or the cloak that women wear is jilbab, today people call it abaya. The Arabic word in Qur’an for proper recitation is tartil, today people call it tajweed. This has happened in many other fields also.

The Arabic word in Qur’an is tabattul, people call it fanaa. But fanaa is not a goal itself that you train people to get fanaa. You train people to have the dhikr of Allah (swt) so they remember Him such that they never sin and they constantly do ‘amal. Yes, in the training process sometimes they may have a phase of fanaa.

For example, the purpose of western education is not to give you fanaa in that field. It’s to give you training and expertise so that you practice with proficiency in that field, but somewhere along the way, in final exams’ week or in residency, you might get fanaa; you might drown so deeply in your field that you just forget everything else except that particular essay that you are writing about. But that’s not the goal. That’s just an experience that occurs along the path towards the goal. The asal is ‘amal. The reason people lack in that is due to a lack of effort, or lack of humility, or lack of sincerity. These are the three things.

Some people think it’s because of their lack of concepts or lack of theories or a lack of dedication to the cause or that I’m not a hardcore enough sufi. That has nothing to do with it. You don’t have to be more sufi.  You just need to put in effort, you need to have humility, and you have to have sincerity. If you do this, believe me your a’maal will go up. If you just increase your sufi identity or your sufi theory, your a’maal might not go up. I’ll even go further, if your a’maal go up only due to increasing your sufi identity and theory, that’s a delusion. You will not get istaqamat on such a’maal. That would be a fleeting, ephemeral, transitive stage.

Effort: sa’i; humility: ajz/ajzi; sincerity: ikhlas. Sa’i + ajz + ikhlas = guaranteed formula for your a’maal to go up. This is the summary of how Blessed Prophet (sws) trained the Sahaba Karam (ra). The accounts of Sahaba (ra) are captured in many ahadith. The amount of effort they made for their tazkiya, the amount of effort they made in their ibadah, the amount of effort they made in jihad fi sabil lillah, the amount of effort they made in dawah of deen; it’s phenomenal, so was the amount of humility and sincerity they had. This is the recipe.

If you are after something other than ‘amal, then I could have recited Iqbal’s poetry and Rumi’s poetry and talked to you about Ibn Al-Arabi and wahdat al-wujud, and gotten all philosophical and theosophical and you would have also said we have never attended a dars like this before. But that would not have benefited you. So I’m just using this title to tell you a couple of things.

Concepts

  • Imam al-Ghazali (rah)
  • Imam ar-Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)
  • Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (rah)
  • Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)

I’m going to talk to you about these four people. I’m just sharing with you my own individual journey. This is not all-encompassing. The authentic tradition of Islamic learning and spirituality has thousands of scholars. We are not a group of just 3-4 people. Thousands upon thousands of people have successfully found the path of ‘amal and have guided others to it. I’m mentioning these four for a number of reasons.

  1. Personally I have been able to benefit from them.
  2. These people have published works so it’s something that can guide us. Because we don’t have authentically attributed published work of a lot of great guides of the past.
  3. They have works that are accessible in languages that you people know which is English and Urdu.

Even for the above reasons, there are more than these four scholars available. Even the number of people I have benefited from in my life is more than four, obviously. The number of past great ulema and shuyukh who have their works in Urdu and English are also greater than four. This is just a beginning point. You could choose to begin with a totally different list. But I’m going to tell you some particular teachings of these four. You can find these teachings outside of these four. But the teachings are critical.

Imam al-Ghazali (rah)

Imam al-Ghazali (rah) came in a time in Islamic history when the ummah was ghalib (dominant), which was perhaps the most ghalib time in the history of Islam. We are talking about Baghdad at its prime. We are talking about when Europe was in the drudges of its dark ages. We are talking about an incredible moment in Islamic history.

The second predominant feature of his time was that immediately before him, in fact a century before him, notwithstanding the fact that the ummah was ghalib at that time, a lot of great learners and great minds of Islam started following Greek philosophy and neoplatonism. He comes after Ibn Sina — and Ibn Sina is not the first. There is a whole line of people before him; Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Al-Farabi. These are big names. People are doing PhDs on these guys today. They had a huge impact. This was dangerous because while you had the height of Islamic civilization and, although there were some areas in philosophy that had nothing against Islam, you also had a lot of things that were departures from Islam.

First lesson from Imam al-Ghazali’s particular approach was that if there is a dominant epistemology in our age — for us today it’s called secular liberalism, in his century and the century that preceded him it was the Greco-Arabic tradition — what he did to the Greek philosophy is the same thing that we have to do to secular liberalism. There was a scholar of Ghazali studies that talks about this approach in American terms as the good, the bad and the ugly. So Imam al-Ghazali (rah) took all of the philosophy and he divided it into the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly is outright kufr. The bad is bida’h. The good is perfectly acceptable. The same thing is true for secularism and liberalism; there are some things that are good, there are some things that are bad and there are some things in them that are downright ugly.

What Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did was an incredible thing in his century and that’s why — there is a hassan hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) which mentions that there will be a mujaddid, a person, at the turn of every hijri/century, who will be raised by Allah (swt) from the ummah to renew Islam [1] — the overwhelming majority opinion of that century is that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) was the majuddid of his time.

Second lesson is something he did for tasawwuf. He extracted the good in philosophy and sometimes explained tasawwuf using that good philosophy because he thought that if I have to catch the philosophers in dawah, the closest way I can do that is by showing them that the virtues for which they love the philosophers so much are to be found all the more in the awliyah. I’m not saying that the only dawah in the world is the one done on the English speaking elites, but if you are going to do dawah on English speaking elites, it could be done in the same way in which Imam al-Ghazali (rah) tried to reach out to the people of his time, using something they could resonate and connect with.

Now I’m going to move quickly to his theories, concepts and practices of tasawwuf. Three of the main features of Imam al-Ghazali’s understanding of tasawwuf are as follows:

1. The way he talks and writes about yaqeen; it is one of the most beautiful articulations that when you embark on a path of dhikr and worship, when you start leaving sins, when you start becoming a person of practice, when you start having taqwa and sunnah, it’s only then that you will get yaqeen. A big misunderstanding we find today is that people say the reason I don’t practice is because I don’t have yaqeen. They have reversed it. You will only get yaqeen through practice. His own individual life story is about that. He wanted this yaqeen, he felt he didn’t have it, and he embarked on a journey to increase his own ‘amal and practice in order to get that yaqeen. That life-effort and sacrifice of his is also a big lesson to us. Sometimes you will have to sacrifice. Simply speaking, sometimes you have to pinch your dunya to get more deen. Sometimes you have to squeeze your dunya to get closer to Allah (swt). He was willing to do that. That was one aspect of his yaqeen.

2. His excellent explanation on naboowah. His understanding of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) and the concept of prophethood and prophecy is one of the most brilliant things that we have ever read. It shows that his love and connection with Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) is beyond just emotional. He views Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) as a murshid/shaykh/hadi. This was his relationship with the Sunnah and Hadith. He really took the Prophet’s (sws) entire sunnah, everything. The way he talks about one hadith of Prophet (sws) is the same way some people — and this is a big problem today that we don’t talk about the Prophet (sws) this way but if shaykh says something that blows the person away. He talks about the Prophet (sws) this way. It’s ajeeb when he talks about hadith, although, he wasn’t a hadith scholar and it’s not like he has huge hadith commentaries, but when he talks about tasawwuf and he talks about these hadith about practice, adab, akhlaq, the way he explains it and talks about it — it’s beautiful. It shows the way to get tarbiyyah from naboowah and tarbiyyah from the sunnah.

3. The way he talks about akhlaq. You will have to go a little deeper to figure this one out. Initially, you will feel uncomfortable that he is trying to use the philosophical explanation of virtue, ethics and character to rope in the philosophers. But when you see how deeply he understood the depth of akhlaq of Nabi-e-Karim (sws) and the refinement of character that Allah (swt) wants insan to have, that’s also amazing. His expositions on acquiring good character are also available as a whole book titled Ihya Ulum al-Din or The Revival of Religious Sciences. 

These are the three things: yaqeen, naboowah and akhlaq. I’m not saying Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is the only person who has done that. I’m just using a few thinkers to highlight to you the real content matter of spirituality. You can get it from whoever you are comfortable with.

Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)

Let’s look at the history. If you know your Mughal history, he was living first at the time of emperor Akbar, then Jahangir and finally, just at the latter moments, Aurangzeb. If you look at the history from Akbar to Aurangzeb, you will find a huge transformation. Akbar was a person who had gone way astray in terms of his deen, so much so that he made a new deen which he first called Deen-e-Akbari and later Deen-e-Ilahi. I mean, even to make a new deen itself is wrong. And to name it after yourself is also wrong. But then to call it Deen-e-Ilahi!

One element of that deen was that people should make sajdah to Akbar. I don’t think I even need to go further — that one thing is enough. There is a lot though, if you were to ever see, you would be stunned how it was all made possible, how anyone could incorporate all this. But because he was the Mughal emperor, he had the state, he had the enforcing mechanism, he actually implemented and enforced his deen on the entire South Asian continent — which is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

If you know your history about Aurangzeb, he repealed and reversed all of that entirely and actually revived the Qadhi courts, Islam and Shari’ah. How did this transition happen? How did you go from an emperor like Akbar to an emperor like Aurangzeb? Literally, even Hindu historians write that this transition took place due to one man. It was a one-man show; Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah). If you want to talk about bringing a systematic change, these awliyah ullah have done it. He’s not alone. There are other examples like this. There are awliyah ullah and mashaikh who have done it. That’s one of his major features. But right now I want to use some of his writings to highlight some concepts in tasawwuf for you.

1. He purified the aqa’id. He was able to entirely purge and purify tasawwuf from notions of wahdat al-wujud; that the world is a shadow of Allah (swt), and all these, what in fancy English they call theosophical concepts — trying to insert philosophy into theology. His writings have refuted each and every one of these things.

2. He cleared out the concept of bid’ah; which in English you call the innovative practices. So when you think you are doing practices and a’maal to get closer to Allah (swt), whatever you can think of even today, he has already spoken about it. Be it the concept of milad-e-nabi, tombs and shrines, all such things. He is the first person in South Asia to write about all the issues and to write about them forcefully. These things are still going on today, unfortunately, in many places. But you find that this person tried to stop it. And he was very successful and was able to, at least, save some of the rightly guided awliyah, mashaikh of his time who were beginning to show some of those tendencies. He was able to swerve a lot of them back on to the path of Shari’ah. In fact all of the Chishti, Qadri, Suhrawardiyya, the mashaikh of the time, are all indebted to him and they all acknowledge him like that. If it wasn’t for him, we would still be going that way.

3. He wrote extensively on the notion of Shari’ah. He views Shari’ah not just as law but as a way of life. He says the whole purpose of the path of tasawwuf is to live and practice Shari’ah. For example, in one of his writings he says that those people who live and practice and call others to a Shari’ah life are far better than the sufis who are simply doing their own dhikr for hours in the mountains. He understood that  you can’t just benefit yourself. You have to benefit others. And you can’t just make dhikr. Dhikr is not an end in of itself. It’s a means. The goal of every believer is to follow Shari’ah.

Ihtiyat and I’tidal

Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi & Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)

Now I will show you, it’s not just about tasawwuf, but in every part of religion, I think it may just be the nature of religion. Religion is a very delicate matter and there is always some slight, off-course wearings and leanings, and every now and then someone keeps having to steer the boat aright. That’s what happens in our own journey towards Allah (swt) as well. No matter how learned we might be, no matter how much we want to be sincere, every now and then we have a little bit of off-course leanings, a little bit of departure, and if there is somebody who is looking at us and tracking us, they will try to keep us on track. This is what these two had done, I’m combining them because it was a combined effort on their part as they are contemporaries of each other.

All of the above is done, they have yaqeen, tabiyyah through naboowah, akhlaq, pure aqa’id, elimination of bida’at, establishing and understanding that the true goal is Shari’ah. So they did all of that and a few more things. Not that they were absent in the others, but they added a few more things. I have been talking about this a lot and that is to combine the path of ihtiyat and i’tidal. This is the hallmark of Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). Otherwise, normally a person in the name of ihtiyat loses their i’tidal. And sometimes in the name of i’tidal, they lose their ihtiyat.

What does that mean? Let’s take, as an example, the field of dawah in case of ihtiyat. I have traveled to some places, and without naming them, I have seen some circles in Pakistan that have become very closed-circuit communities. What happens is just 50-300 families, who are all ultra-conservative and ultra-orthodox, group together and basically they think everyone else is completely astray and doesn’t practice properly. Such communities are not able to help others. They are making the same mistake about which Imam Rabbani (rah) said that the individual sufi who is just making dhikr on the mountain — this is not an individual but a small community. That’s not the mission of dawah because Nabi-e-Karim (sws) did outreach.

On the flipside, it doesn’t mean you drop your ihtiyat, but you have to have i’tidal in dawah. Like I used to tease the kids that let’s say I call somebody on Jumu’ah to have a concert in the masjid right before Jumu’ah. In the name of concert you will all come and once I see you there, I will unplug the guitar, plug in the mic and give the azaan and then I got you. That would also be a way to do dawah, but there is no ihtiyat in that. So you have to have i’tidal. There is a certain amount of outreach you can do, and this is a very tricky thing, so I will give you an example.

Once I went to a country and one of these people who I think have ihtiyat, I celebrate and solute them for their incredible taqwa, but they don’t have the i’tidal. So he critiqued me because I do this radio program for South Africa on Thursday nights. The name of the radio is called Channel Islam International, just so you know, it’s an Islamic radio station. I also accept that there are a couple of things they do that may not be strict. They don’t happen on my program, but there are a couple of things they do that I may not necessarily agree with. Although they do have a mufti; they have a Shari’ah adviser who is actually known to be a fairly strict person in that country.

So this person started critiquing me that you are a shaykh and you speak on a radio. I say okay, Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah) used to do a program on Radio Pakistan at a time when on Radio Pakistan there were also, not during his program, but there were musical programs, readings of dramas, plays and all types of things, which is much worse than anything Channel Islam International does — they don’t have any music. Why did Mufti Shafi (rah) do that? Because he had that i’tidal. In his own program, there is ihtiyat. But he is going to use that opportunity for dawah. He is going to do that outreach. He is not going to say that I’m not going to go on radio. This was their foresight. Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah), as you know, is one of the great students of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah). He is in that thanvi tradition.

Now that we have done the example of ihtiyat and i’tidal, there are three particular things: the concept of a Shaykh, non exclusivity and formal dhikr.

1. Clearing the concept of a Shaykh: It is a natural human tendency to do, what you can call, hero-worship or personality worship. There is a tendency towards shakhs parasti. Marx Weber captured this concept when he talks about charismatic leadership — there’s charisma, authority, attraction, persona, etc. Remember, ihtiyat and i’tidal. On the one hand, you need this to inspire and motivate people. If you lower them too much then people will view them as having no authority whatsoever and consequently they will not be able to inspire and motivate others. More importantly, they will not be able to do islah — they won’t be able to correct them. You will not take islah; rectification, correction, guidance, instruction, daant dapat unless somebody has some authority over you.

At the same time, you have to have i’tidal. If you elevate a person too much then there’s going to be a problem. The shaykh is a means, he is not the end, just like a professor is a means, he is not the reason you go to the university. He is a means to help and guide you as an instructor. He is not the end. He is a part of the process. He is not the process. In this particular concept, even more significant than their writings was their own practice. The kind of shaykhs these two were is really a role model for how to be a shaykh. I don’t know how to explain this to you because I am bringing you to this side of the table, so to speak. These are very personal things that I have personally benefited from. If someone wants to know how should a shaykh be, how should a shaykh interact, these two people are perfect role models for this. Nobody’s perfect, but they were near perfect, excellent role models for this. More than their writings, it was their own lived lives.

Sometimes you might experience this in your corporate jobs. If you had a really good manager and you thought that’s the way a manager should be, and if you trained under that person for a long time, then when you become a manager you will use the same managerial practices and things that you noticed in that good manager that you had the good fortune to train under. It’s important that we take an example from more recent past for that. Because Imam al-Ghazali and Imam Rabbani (rah) were living in times so different that to be a shaykh today like they were is just not going to happen. If we tried to do that, it would be very awkward. There would be a lot of, what we call, takalluf and tasanno; there would be a lot of formality and artificiality in that. These two i.e. Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah) are great examples in that regard.

2. Promoting Non-Exclusivity: I’m trying to address some misconceptions that exist in certain circles of tasawwuf. Non-exclusivity means that they were not exclusive — that you could only be their student or that they were the only shaykh or that they considered their method to be the only method. Interestingly, and I’m a very blunt person, everyone, including the traditions that I myself may belong to and respect, and even some of the people today in Shaykh Thanvi’s own tradition have fallen into this exclusivity. They say things like ham sirf Hadrat Thanvi ko mante hein. Jo Hadrat Thanvi kahein wohi sahi hai. That’s completely against his own mizaj.

Someone from his own line once told me that a person wrote to Shaykh Thanvi (rah) that I’m looking for a shaykh. He wrote back saying there is this one Chishti Shaykh, one Qadri Shaykh, and this one Naqshbandi Shaykh. Interestingly, first thing you notice is that he did not mention himself. Number two, he gave him recommendation from each of the three different methodologies that were prevalent at his time. Today were you to write to somebody, they will say we only accept Hadrat Thanvi — ham sirf unhi ko mante hein aur iss hi silsilay mein these 3-4 people exist in Pakistan and you should only go there.

There is a famous incident of a person who goes to Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi to become a student, he sends him to Shaykh Madni. Shaykh Madni sends him back to Shaykh Thanvi. They are just playing tennis with him! Even more importantly, by non-exclusivity they tried, even though some time after the person passes away, the legacy is not as intact as it used to be when they were alive, but they did try that being a student of a shaykh should not become some type of a separate group identity. It’s not sectarianism because sect means a difference in aqeedah and theology. But it sometimes becomes such a distinct group that the Arabic word tafarruqa; making of firqa — can apply, not in terms of theological sect but in terms of some distinct and differentiated group.

This is very difficult to do. I myself have not been able to 100% successfully do this. The sign for this non-exclusivity is what in Arabic we call adm-e-mugha’ira. Mugha’irat means that when two people are sitting, they should not feel ghair-ghair to each other. If I sit next to a person of tableeghi jama’at, I shouldn’t feel that he is in tableegh and I’m not. If I make him feel like that, or if he makes me feel like that, then one of us is guilty of being an exclusivist. Or, similarly, if I’m a student of one shaykh, and I meet a student of another shaykh, and if we feel that he is not my peer-bhai, and it creates a little, not animosity, but some slight fasal (distance). Having any group identity should not create any fasal — it cannot be a faasil in your ummah identity.

That’s much easier said than done. I can’t even 100% manage this. But the point is to at least articulate that and to keep repeating and reinforcing it, and to try your best to practice it and lead by example.

3. Formal dhikr. There are two types of dhikr.

i. Those adhkar that are thabit min as-Sunnah — you can call them masnun adhkar. There are quite a lot of them; Subh’an Allahi wa bi hamdihi Sub’han Allahil Azeem, la hawla wala quwwata illa billah, la ilaha illallah — lots and lots of salawat, durud sharif, istighfarat, du’as etc. Muhadithin have compiled whole books on this. One of the greatest works on this, which was also recently translated into English, and is also available in Urdu and Arabic, is a book by the great Imam an-Nawawi himself titled Kitab al-Adhkar or The Book of Remembrances where he tried to gather a very large amount of the adhkar that are mentioned in the authentic, reliable hadith of Nabi-e-Karim (sws).

ii. The second type of dhikr, I’m coming up with this term myself, I’m not coining or formally launching a terminology, what you call wadha’ mein istilah, that you go and run with this, you can call it izafi dhikr or extra dhikr, maybe you could call it a training method or a tool. Bottom line is, this is that mode/method/form of dhikr which is not mentioned in the Sunnah. If I were to be more precise with you (I have talked about this in the last year’s workshop and established it from the sahih hadith, you can refer to it if you missed that, you can make dhikr that is not mentioned in the sunnah. Otherwise the first question that comes is that how can you make dhikr that is not mentioned by Nabi (sws) or is not part of the sunnah?

It has been established from the same sunnah that it is absolutely permissible and acceptable to do a form of dhikr that was not done by the Prophet (sws). Let me first tell you about the second type. You just have to trust me on this and see because I have established it through proofs and references in slides from last year. But even though it is permissible to do that extra dhikr, how you conceptualize that extra dhikr, how you emphasize and prioritize it, what role this extra dhikr should or should not play in your spiritual development, that is also a brilliant articulation of Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). So I will share that with you.

1. It is permissible. They make that clear also.

2. Its status/darajah is secondary but in the initial stages, its benefit to you might be primary. This is a bit tricky. It’s a unique thing. The way they explain this is that this dhikr is being done first as ‘ilaj meaning it’s a cure. For example, let’s go back to the first type of dhikr which is the masnun dhikr, even greater than that is the fard dhikr, like salah. What happens is that someone even in faraid has an illness of ghaflah, waswasa and heedlessness which doesn’t go away by praying more fard salah, let alone by praying masnun dhikr.

What a person needs is something which is an ‘ilaj/cure. This secondary in status dhikr, which is the non-sunnah dhikr, which were methods of dhikr designed by awliyah ullah (hence vary which is why you have different terms like naqshbandi, chishti, qadri — these terms actually refer to different methods of dhikr) they are of secondary status in terms of their ajr; their sawab is much less than the ajr/sawab you would get from doing the sunnah dhikr, but in the beginning, they are done as ‘ilaj/treatment and they can treat the problem more than the mansoon dhikr because the masnun dhikr was for qurb, which comes later, mutlaq qurb, while these dhikr are designed specifically for specific ailments.

You can say, in terms of medicines, some are target medicines and some are general tonic. But because it is secondary in status, and because it is being used as an ‘ilaj, so it should never be a goal in of itself, it’s only a means and it’s a means to an end of being able to do the masnun adhkar without the ghaflah. That is its purpose. As soon as a person reaches that stage where they can do the masnun adhkar without the ailments and ghaflah, then they no longer need to do the adhkar of the silsila or the adhkar of the awliyah. They simply have to do the adhkar of Nabi-e-Kareem (sws).

Shaykh Gangohi (rah) was also very deeply inspired by Imam Rabbani (rah)  — he wrote explicitly when talking about this naqshbandi method of dhikr that the beginner, the muqtadi, should initially do this type of formal dhikr to cure the illness of ghaflah, wasawa, lust, anger etc. Then, he says, for the person who is intermediate such that his major ailments have been resolved, should do more tilawat of Qur’an al-Kareem — that’s masnun. That’s thabit min as-Sunnah. He should do kathrat-e-tilawat, and should drop that formal dhikr to a very small amount. After that, the person should just pray nawafil; tahajjud, ishraq etc, as far as extra dhikr is concerned.

That was basically what the Sahaba Karam (ra) did. Their real extra ibadat was to pray long nawafil because that includes tilawat — you recite Qur’an inside salah, so it includes the tilawat, and it includes the first thing which is yad-e-ilahi. So you did the formal dhikr to cure the ghaflah in order to remember Allah (swt). Then you did recitation of Qur’an. Now you can pray salah while reciting Qur’an and remembering Allah (swt). He says that’s the best way to go. But it’s a process.

Imam Rabbani (rah) is also very firm on this third thing. In fact, Imam Rabbani (rah) took it one step further which is dawah, that even then when you have reached this level, better than doing a lot of nawafil salah is to do dawah. He is very focused on dawah. That’s why you find that the people who are from his line are more into dawah. And you find that the people who are in other lines are less subdued, let’s say, about their dawah.

Going back to non-exclusivity, one of the things that was there with Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah), which may not be here today in those who claim to follow any of these people, is that they would not judge others according to their own mizaj (temperament). For example, if there is one mizaj, or temperament, that most people shouldn’t make so much dawah. So, fine, I follow the temperament that you should try to make maximum dawah. If someone is on the temperament that I follow a line of shuyukh who don’t believe so much in making dawah, rather their focus is on own ibadat and that’s it. Fine, I’m not going to judge you on my temperament. That’s fine if your shaykh said that, you can do that. Don’t do dawah.

I was talking to you about tasawwuf, but when it comes to usul of dawah, then the greatest person for that is Maulana Ilyas (rah) and his fikr was that dawah should be as much as possible because dawah is what benefits the masses. He took this from his understanding of Naboowah — the anbiya (as) came not just to guide small groups of humanity to Allah (swt), the anbiya came to guide masses of humanity to Allah (swt), and the way to guide masses of humanity isn’t through darul uloom or madrassah, it isn’t through high level tasawwuf. The way to guide masses is through dawah. He is also basically in that mizaj of Imam Rabbani (rah).

The non-exclusivity thing is to not judge others who may have another valid, acceptable, no doubt different to yours mizaj. That’s also something very hard to do, it is much easier said than done. We have not been able to achieve or enact 100% success as I already told you, in the non-exclusivity thing. I will share with you something about that also. Once I asked one of my teachers, Maulana Manzur Ahmed Chinyoti (rah), who passed away a few years ago, a question pertaining to this non-exclusivity thing. I said, Ustad Jee, I notice this in people that whoever is in one line, he just thinks that his line is better. Let me just do this in Urdu first and then I’ll translate it in English for you.

Mein ne poocha k mein ne dekha k har banda apne kaam ko afzal samajhta hai. Tou unhoun ne farmaya k dekhein haqeeqat ye hai k ham deen ki khidmat k har shobay ki fazeelat k qaail hein, kisi eik ki afzaliyat k ham qaail nahi hein. Mein ne kaha Ustad Jee yehi to muamla hai k har banda apna hi shoba, apna hi mizaj, apna tareeqa, apna shaykh, apna idara, apna manhaj, apna maslak — jo bhi hai — uss hi ki afzaliyat k qaail hein.

Unhoun ne kaha k haan, iss zamanay mein aisa hai. Waja yeh hai ab iss zamanay mein logoun ka imaan kamzor hai. Un k imaan ki kamzori ki waja se woh chal nahi sakte jab tak woh apni uss line ko afzal na samjhein. Tou aap un ko na cherein, unko apne iss junoon mein chor dein, aur jo kisi bhi kaam mein nahi lage hein, aap unki fikar karein k woh kahin lag jaein. Jo lagey hein, bhaley hi thora sa tuasib un mein ho, thora sa junoon un mein ho, ya thora sa woh apne hi tarz ko afzal samajhte houn, kam az kam woh uss mein lag tou gaye. Jo nahi laga hai un ki fikar karein. 

Alhamdulillah, I had so much sukoon from this answer. That’s the way I even managed exclusivity, because I told you you cannot eliminate it. For the people who are listening in the other countries who know English, my teacher said that we believe in the virtue and merit of every single branch of deen, and every single way of serving and guiding and practicing deen, but we don’t believe in the unique and exclusive superiority of one way over all the rest. When I said this is exactly what I’m asking. This is what I have seen in people that whatever they practice, whoever they are affiliated with, whatever group they have a membership in, wherever they study, or whoever their shaykh is, they view that to be superior to others. He said that yes, this is a problem in the current age because the imaan of people is weak. Because their imaan is weak, they will not be motivated and inspired and stimulated to do ‘amal unless they think their way is better.

If you think about it, it’s kind of true in your dunya also. When you choose to major in physics, why would you study all night to become a scientist — if that’s your goal? It must be because you think physics is better than economics. And if a person is stuck thinking I don’t know what to major in, I don’t know if I should do physics or economics or philosophy or history — he’s stuck and he keeps going around in circles. Then if the guide says this is the better way, he will quickly make the decision.

That’s a nice, beautiful way and this is why you need the living tradition also, you really need to sit with living mashaikh, shuyukh and ulema. This one nugget, this one sentence from this one person has helped me for years. It was from a 10 minutes conversation. This conversation happened in 2003. For 13 years this 10 minutes conversation has given me immense guidance. There are not many people like that left on this earth that you spend 10 minutes with them and you can be guided for 10 years of your life.

So I jumped back to the non-exclusivity. And I ended up with Imam Rabbani (rah) taking it even one step further — to dawah. There are different understandings. I have already talked to you about dawah in terms of the i’tidal and ihtiyat. The purpose of this was not to confine you to just these four, but to show you that there are very real, substantive things to be learnt from this tradition. I just showed you what I learnt from these four. And I think all of you would agree that that was some real learning that took place. This is real help for us, real guidance and tarbiyyah.

In order to do practice, there are two things. I’m going to do these very quickly for you. The first is the training — to be trained to do a’maal, and the second is for me to tell you what those amaal are, which is called practice.

Training

Training is the motivation, inspiration and learning to become a person of ‘amal and practice is to describe concretely and discreetly what are those a’maal and practices that we should be trying to do.

Sohbah

There is a lot of emphasis on sohbah in our deen. This is something I did in a bit more detail last year, so I’m not going to repeat it, but I would just say those verses and hadith for you.

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ
O you who believe, fear Allah, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

It might be difficult, no doubt, to find out who are as-sadiqeen. But you might be able to find at least relative to yourself, that this person has more sidq (truthfulness) than me. That’s enough for you to benefit from a person. You can actually benefit from a person who may not be 100% siddiq, but if he is more siddiq than you, you can benefit from them tremendously. Whenever there comes the time that you are no longer able to benefit from that person, Allah (swt) will take you onward and guide you further. The words kunu and ma’a — both of these Arabic words are intense. Kunu, as you know, is from kun fayakun. It talks about your very wujud (your Self). That’s an intense level of company — that to what extent you will align your wujud with that person’s wujud. Ma’a is from ma’iyyah which is the most intense and intimate companionship.

Al mar’u ‘ala deeni khaleelihi fal yantur ahadukum man yukhaalil
A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so each one of you should look whom you befriend. [Sunan Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi]

A person will be on the deen of whoever they choose to make their khalil — which, again, is what we call a bosom buddy; your real best friend. So Prophet (sws) further said that each and every one of you should reflect and consider carefully, man yukhaalil, who you choose to make your khalil. Make that a wise choice. This is enough; one verse and one hadith will be enough to establish it.

How does sohbah work? It’s slightly different for men and women. It’s significantly different for men and women. For men, in the good old days, when there was no travel, there were no airlines for Shaykh Thanvi (rah) to fly all over the world to. I’m sure if there were airlines in his time, although his mizaj was not at that level of dawah, but still he would have traveled to some extent. Normally the students would themselves go and travel and spend some time in the sohbah of a shaykh.

That’s another beautiful thing about these two — especially Shaykh Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (rah), that when he felt a person had benefited enough from his sohbah, he would actually prevent him from traveling to him. There’s a beautiful letter between one of his students and him, and you can tell that the student is desperate to go but the shaykh is writing refusing, and this is going on. The Shaykh then finally writes him agar aap ko wahan beth kar mujh se faida nahi mil sakta, aap ko mere pass aa kar bhi faida nahi miley ga.

He said if you are not able to benefit from all that I have already taught you, and instructed you in, and all our prior companionship and sohbah, and sitting in your own home-town if you haven’t reached that level yet (it wasn’t a first time, it was after an association of sohbah), then you are not going to benefit any further by coming to me. He didn’t let him come. Their letters and their lives are a very good behind-the-scenes look at how shaykh-student relationship is when you look at these two shuyukh. Of course bayan, workshops, courses, all of these things are sohbah. For women, it’s confined to that — bayan, workshops, online bayan, recordings etc. There is no question of being in the front row or in physical proximity, physical company or traveling with shaykh etc.

Ta’leem

Ta’leem means that you need the teachings. There are teachings in our deen that if you read them they will have an effect, but if you are taught them they will have a deeper effect. There are teachings on how to control your gaze, how to control your anger, how to improve your concentration in salah, teachings about love for Allah (swt) and love for Nabi-e-Karim (sws). Being taught those things has a deeper effect than simply reading them on your own. That is one aspect of training — to be in a relationship where there is somebody who teaches you.

In our method, teaching is bayan. Because when you are taught something then many times, but not necessarily always, I can completely confess I don’t think my teaching has an effect on everybody, but generally when I was taught by my teachers, being taught by my teachers was more motivational and inspirational to me. In other words, it led me to ‘amal — the asal is practice. Being taught made me practice it. Sometimes reading it wouldn’t make me practice it. That’s the kind of person I was. If you are a person like that, this is the system for you.

Tarbiyyah

Tarbiyyah is slightly different than ta’leem. The way we do this is that ta’leem is bayan and tarbiyyah is majlis. Majlis is a more intensive type of training for those people who really want to be pushed. This is also islah — for someone to be corrected, rectified and molded. One is that I want my practice to change, I need ta’leem for that. Second is that I myself want to change, I need tarbiyyah for that.

If I want my practice to change, I need some instructions on how to practice and some motivation and inspiration to practice that. Second is that I want myself to change, that is tarbiyyah. When a person comes to you with that intention, that’s what I call a majlis. Again I’m not launching a new terminology. Personally this is when I feel there are a bunch of people sitting in front of me or I want to gather a bunch of people who are coming with that intention, that we have been listening to bayans and learning about the practices, now we want ourselves to change. I also call it ragra; islah/tabiyyah.

Tazkiyah

In English it means purification. The reason I put it last is because it’s the asal. All of the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah is to purify oneself of sins and to purify oneself of anything that is even slightly displeasing to Allah (swt). That’s the asal of all these things. In other words, these three things are done for the sake of ‘amal, practice, and for the sake of purification as well. Because the big aspect isn’t just to do good a’maal, but it is to leave the bad a’maals as well. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about tazkiyah. And obviously you need all three. Sometimes being in good company helps you stay away from sins. Sometimes learning how our deen guides us to stay away from sin helps us stay away from sins. Sometimes you might realize that a sin is so deeply ingrained in me that I will never be able to leave it unless I change. It’s not just about changing my company and increasing my ‘amal. Until I change, the sin won’t leave me.

Ta’luq

This is another aspect of training, but it is coincidental, it occurs along and during the process of this training, during the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah, which was done for the sake of tazkiyah and for a’maal. Naturally, the longer you associate with any professor, you sort of get to know them and they sort of get to know you. Then a relationship starts, then it develops, then it builds. It takes place overtime. This also has to have balance.

Purpose of the shaykh is sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyah for the sake of tazkiyah. The purpose of the shaykh isn’t ta’luq that I want to be in a relationship with the shaykh. I’m obviously talking about men, because some of them look at us with puppy dog eyes and they just want to be in this deep relationship with the shaykh. For them that’s what it’s about. This can also have some negative consequences. Then they start noticing that who is closer to shaykh, who did the shaykh pick to make the slides, why didn’t he pick me to make the slides? Then all types of negative externalities and crazy things start coming up — why did he go on his car, why didn’t he go on my car? He remembered his name, he still doesn’t yet know my name.

The ta’luq is not the asal. These tags can be used for different things so focus on the concepts and forget the tags. It’s not about your personal friendship with the shaykh. That’s a coincidental or incidental, non-essential, ghair-maqsudi thing that can happen. And it might not happen. I benefited from so many teachers in my madrassah about whom I cannot say I had a personal ta’luq with or that they had a personal ta’luq with me. In fact, two teachers just popped up into my mind — one who I did have a personal ta’luq with and second who I didn’t really have a personal ta’luq with, but in terms of ilm, I benefited equally from both of them. That was the asal. That’s why they were my ustad so I would learn ilm of deen from them.

So this is coincidental, incidental, it can happen, it may happen, it may not happen, it might sometimes happen, it may not always happen. Maqsud is tazkiyah and a’maal, as long as you are making progress in that, that’s the asal. Still, the question remains that if the ta’luq happens then what is it? There are aspects of that ta’luq beyond that who makes the slides and in whose car do you go, and whose house do you stay in. That’s totally irrelevant. There is something that to some extent is beneficial in tazkiyah and that is the level of correspondence, a level of individual guidance, a certain aspect of individual counseling, that can and may take place. Two of the structures for that are as follows in terms of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah):

  1. It’tila
  2. It’tiba

It’tila means that when you have someone who you can inform about any spiritual hiccups, any problems, any obstacles, seeking some individual guidance, counseling, but that ittila will only have benefit if you do it’tiba i.e. you follow the naseeha that is given to you. The proof for this is that Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said:

Ad-deenu naseeha
Religion is sincere counsel. [Muslim]

That all of deen consists entirely of good counseling and advice. For that to work, for naseeha to be deen, there must be somebody giving the advice, there must be somebody hearing the advice, there must be some following of that advice and there should be some change and transformation in ‘amal due to that advice. Some people would call that islahi ta’luq.

For example, my teacher of Bukhari Sharif, who was also a shaykh — Shaykh Sufi Sawwar — he doesn’t do it anymore because he has become quite old, but back when I used to study he had this rule that if you want to be my student in tasawwuf, you first have to write me 20 letters and you have to get 20 replies and he might not always reply to every letter. Once you write 20 letters and get 20 replies then I will know you are serious in your desire to change because 20 times you would have reached out and consulted and tried to learn, and 20 times I would have guided you and understood and then I will decide whether I feel there is munasiba, affinity, compatibility, and then I will decide whether to take you as a student. Different shuyukh have different ways of admissions, enrollment, registration and education.

I am very deliberately sharing these things with you so that those who actually are students can understand. It was a failure of ours to not explicitly explain these things to our own students and therefore some of them ended up with their own understanding of these things. This is also a duty of ours. I am still unsure about this because for me personally I have always had a lot of affinity with Imam Rabbani’s and Maulana Ilyas’ (rah) feeling about dawah. That’s why what I used to do was that anybody who would ever come to me, I would think Allah (swt) has sent them, I have to take them because how can I say no to somebody who wants to learn anything?

Anybody who wants to enroll, we don’t have anything — no fee, no criteria, there is nothing, we have open admissions and enrollment — in academics, tasawwuf, dhikr, everything. But overtime, I thought about this and I told you that I also do view Mualana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Mualana Gangohi (rah) to be very excellent examples of ideally how a person should be a shaykh. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) had much more hurdles placed which you would have to pass before you could become their student. There was some criteria to become their student.

Then I reflected (this is also a good way for you to see why I always say historical, intellectual and spiritual — because you have to look at all things) for every person, for every thinker, other than Nabi-e-Karim (sws), what they think is partly due to their context. So I tried to think that although Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) wouldn’t accept everyone as a student, but if he was in this context advising me, would he advise me the same thing?

I found several differences in the two contexts. The first was that in his time there were many shuyukh. If you turn someone away and tell them to find a local shaykh, who also has the same amount of munasibat with them, he would actually be able to do that, because there were hundreds and hundreds of shuyukh. That’s not so much the case in this day and age. Second, the vast majority of people who used to go to him, with notable exceptions, were very practicing, pious people of deobandi adherence. Many times people who come to me, again not all, but a large number who come are people who are not from very religious family backgrounds and maybe from English educated elites, and if I turn them away where are they going to go? And I would be scared to do that.

I am still working this out. Should I still keep the open admissions and teach whatever I have learnt, although what I have to offer is limited, because I am over stretched and over committed nor do I live in one place? Mostly it works. But every now and then Shaytan tries to play with somebody’s head — that you did join and now you are not benefiting, aap ne uss waqt eik jazbe mein kiya, and now shaykh is not in Karachi and you are wondering and you are left to your nafs and shaytan. This happens less than 10% of the times, but it sometimes happens to people.

I accept this is one of the elements of nazool in our times that just like the society is not perfect, the system is not perfect, nothing is perfect. There is no perfection left anymore. There is no perfection in tasawwuf. There is no perfection in ilm. We are all imperfect people living in an imperfect time with imperfect relationships. The question is how to make the best out of it?

For me the easier position, and I still think it’s the true position and that is to do tawwakkul on Allah (swt). And I still think if Allah (swt) puts someone in front of me, Allah (swt) put him there, Allah (swt) is making him say this to me, so I would say yes. Allahu Aalam how it’s going to work out practically. But Allah (swt) is the ultimate guide, and that I have seen with this online audience. That’s an amazing thing so I address all of them. We have people who are online students, who have never ever even been maybe in the same country as me in their life, and the way they write in their emails, and the way they benefit — I’m amazed.

That’s Allah (swt) guiding, it’s not me. It shows me what I told you — effort, humility, sincerity — and that doesn’t come from the shaykh. That’s entirely in the student. You can’t even ride on the shaykh’s humility, effort or sincerity, it’s your own effort, entirely your own humility and your own sincerity that will do it for you. And I have seen that in not just a few but a dozen. Sometimes I’m amazed and I confess this to them also that sometimes I get so busy so I catch up on emails altogether. Sometimes there will be a person whose 2-3 emails I would be reading together, because I couldn’t read them all as they came in.

Let’s take the example of a woman, for example, there’s a woman who wrote that please make du’a I want to start wearing the hijab. I wouldn’t even have read that email, so I didn’t make du’a. Next email that I started hijab, make du’a I wear niqab. Third email Alhamdulillah I’m wearing niqab. I’m reading all three emails together. Clearly you can see it’s not my du’as that make it happen. And there maybe women who may have heard hundreds of bayans of mine in Karachi and they may never think of adopting more haya. It’s not always about only the sohbah and only the ta’luq, without negating these things, it’s much more about a person’s effort, humility and sincerity. In any case, the goal is ‘amal, and the goal is tazkiyah.

Practices

The very last thing to show you today are practices. I’m just going to give you headers. Each one has a lot of instructions, ta’leemat and tarbiyyah about it.

Leaving Sin

The first one is leaving sin. We have several bayans on this topic. You can go and listen to them on our website. This is a constant and a lifelong ‘amal, because we keep sinning. It’s very rare that a person reaches that level of taqwah that they actually say that they stop sinning entirely. At that level there is no concept of leaving sin, because there would be no sins to leave. I would even go further, even if someone reaches that, they wouldn’t know that about themselves, and if they ever think that about themselves, that’s a bit dangerous. That could itself be a door that could very much open into sin.

Ibadah

Second is ibadah. One greatest ‘amal in our deen is still ibadah. Don’t underestimate ibadah. Don’t overestimate khidmat (service) and akhlaq (refinement of character) so much that you think they are substitutes for ibadah. Don’t overestimate good akhlaq that you think it can compensate for bad ibadah. These are very big misconceptions that people have. There is nothing like that in this world. For example, you can be the greatest husband, but that wouldn’t compensate if you are a bad father. Your kid will say, look, I know you treat mom very well, but you are terrible to me. You would say but I’m a great husband. He will say it’s irrelevant. It does not compensate for the fact that you are a terrible father.

Similarly, the most amazing akhlaq cannot compensate for poor ibadah. That’s not the meaning of those hadith. This is why you need to be taught hadith formally. When Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said those hadith about the virtue of akhlaq and khidmah, he (sws) wasn’t negating ibadah. You have to also look at those hadith that talk about ibadah. They are all there and no one is negating or cancelling the other. You have to have a holistic and complete understanding.

Two ways to increase ibadah:

1. In the masjid

For the men, you should try to increase your ibadah in the masjid. Sometimes sit a little bit before salah, sit a little bit after salah, do intezar of salah, that’s also a hadith, that also gives a person reward. When you sit after salah, you linger in the after affects of salah because Allah’s (swt) gaze of mercy falls on the person while a person prays salah, it doesn’t stop when a person does salam, it stops when they get up, they do airaz, when they move away from the place where they prayed salah. As long as you remain sitting in that place where you prayed salah, you are still in shower of the radiant nur of Allah (swt) even if you have said salam. It’s only when you get up and move, which is called airaz, it’s only then you exit from the shower of nur.

You should go before and you should linger after. This is what you do when you go to the dawat of a friend. We like to get there early and we hang out later. You need to have that feeling sometimes, not in every salah as you have to go back to meeting or your class, I understand that, but there are many times we pray salah when there is absolutely nothing that we have to do afterwards and we came from doing absolutely nothing. In a few of those nothings, try to linger. Those who want to do more, sometimes try to sit from fajr to ishraq. Sometimes sit from asr to maghrib, or another time when you get a chance.

2. At home

Second is that you should try to establish some environment of ibadat in your home. For the women it’s only the second one, and for men they should also try to establish the second one. That’s also something your children will see. The children will not see the ibadah you do in the masjid. They don’t see the bayans you give in the workshops. They see how you are at home. You have to have some level of ibadah at home. It was the practice of women in earlier Islamic communities that they would designate a part of their home which they would call masjid al-bait. This is a formal term in the works of the fuqaha which means that they would have a corner or a room where they would have their musallah and it would be their ibadat khana.

We have so many places in our houses; mehman khana, bawarchi khana etc. This is also a place and it helps because you are not that strong and you have to be honest about it. We are not that strong that we feel spiritual in our bedrooms and living rooms. That’s a problem. What is wrong with the interior design of our living rooms and bedrooms or what is wrong with the a’maal of ghaflah that we do that we don’t feel the dhikr of Allah (swt) there? But if you can’t change all of that right now, at least have some room which you can call no-ghaflah zone. This is the room where no ghaflah can take place in the house. When you designate that place, you will feel more closeness and connection with Allah (swt). This is especially for the women, but the men also should do this as a family.

Nafl Ibadah: Group/Individual

Next is group and individual ibadah. Individual ibadah is clear. There has always been a question among the jurists about the extent to which group nafl ibadah is permissible and there is a range of opinions of jurists on many different matters. Here again I will say practice i’tidal and ihtiyat; don’t do entire nafi of it, but don’t be exclusively reliant on it either. Some people only do dhikr when they do it in a group. You should be doing individual dhikr. Yes, occasionally you might join group dhikr. So I gave you a relative ratio for that.

I will even go further, you will only get benefit from the group dhikr if you are a person of individual dhikr. If you never make your own individual dhikr of Allah (swt), you just randomly, arbitrarily, occasionally attend group dhikr, it’s not going to change you in terms of tarbiyyah, it’s not going to remove you from sin in terms of tazkiyah, it’s not going to change your ‘amal. It will still be good — you will get reward, you will stay away from ghaflah, you will get certain benefits from it, but it wouldn’t be able to take you all the way. If a person does individual dhikr regularly, then if they sometimes do group dhikr, it can really give them a boost.

Nawafil Adhkar — Guided Regimen

Next is the nawafil adhkar. Here for example the question is what do I do? If I sit from fajr till ishraq, if I sit from maghrib till isha, what am I supposed to do in that time? We suggest to people that you should follow some guided regimen so that you do it systematically. For example, if someone makes the intention to improve their physical health, they don’t just randomly workout. They do some research or they go to some fitness trainer and they make a plan of action, they decide the exercises, the weights, and they follow that plan of action systematically under some level of guidance and instruction.

If you were to look at Imam an-Nawawi’s (rah) Kitab al-Adhkar, there are so many adhkar out there, and then especially for those of us who are at that earlier stage in that we need a cure for ghaflah and sin, then this means are there any extra, secondary adhkar of the awliyah that actually could directly cure my illness of ghaflah and sin so that I can move on to the adhkar of qurb and wilaya? This is the guided regimen.

We are going to start with masnun soon with a focus on du’as. I want to do the tafsir with you of every du’a in Qur’an. You learn those du’as and you know the translations but you need to understand it to really feel the feelings of du’a. This is one example of masnun adhkar.

Secondary adhkar is tazkiya, qurb and thawab. The secondary adhkar are done for ‘ilaj, but the qurb and thawab of the masnun adhkar is greater than the qurb and thawab that you get through the secondary adhkar. It should also be clear that masnun adhkar are not empty of tazkiya. That’s a general tonic, you get general tazkiya through the masnun adhkar.

For example, a person goes to a shaykh and says that I know the Blessed Prophet (sws) has said in many ahadith that you should remember death but I’m not able to do it. Shaykh tells him every night before you go to sleep, they call it muraqaba-e-maut (contemplation of death) for a few minutes imagine that you have died, you are lying there as a mayyat and people are praying janaza over you. People are taking you up, putting you in the grave and then they are putting mitti over you. One by one each person is walking away and you are left all alone in your grave. When he comes back after a few days of doing this, he says, shaykh can you undo this? Because I can’t work and all I’m thinking about is death.

Now you understand the ‘ilaj part? It kicks a person. This concept of muraqaba-e-maut is not in the sunnah. The Blessed Prophet (sws) never told any Sahaba (ra) that. Some mashaikh and ulema say the answer it’s because Sahaba (ra) already had these things so they didn’t need to be told — they had suhbat-e-Rasool (sws). When they heard about these things live, then:

وَقَالُوۡا سَمِعۡنَا وَاَطَعۡنَا‌
and they have said: “We have listened, and obeyed.” [2:285]

We don’t have access to that so sometimes we need a little jolt. Again, if you start doing that for the rest of 40 years of your life, there is no need for that. This was a tool. Once you get that remembrance of death, you can go back and do some masnun adhkar.

Husool ‘Ilm — Guided Curriculum

There is some place where you should begin. There should be a process for you to attain and acquire fehm — an understanding and knowledge of deen.

Purification of the Heart

This means two things:

  1. Remove Bad Attributes: Can be unlawful lust, envy, jealousy, pride, anger, laziness, negative opinions, doubts, skepticism, there’s a long list.
  2. Adopt Virtuous Attributes: The good feelings in the heart of compassion, softness, gentleness, love for Allah (swt), love for Blessed Prophet (sws) etc.

In these two things the sohbah, tarbiyyah and ta’leemat are very effective. It’s very beneficial to get the training, learning and the practice to do these things.

Practice

The initial part of practice was all about you and Allah (swt). But don’t think a’maal is confined to that. There is another aspect of a’maal as-Saleh and that is about you and others. People love to talk about haquq Allah and haquq al-ibad — but that term is misleading also. It’s not just about the rights. You have to go beyond your rights. It’s not that I will only do what people’s rights are on me. Maybe some things I’m telling you are beyond the rights they have on you.

Interpersonal Relations

It can be marriage, siblings, parents, children, these are the family relations. It can be employees, employer, colleagues, fellow students, teachers — any human interaction, let me rephrased that, any human interaction that Allah (swt) has placed you in has certain adaab, usul, and could be used as a means of pleasing Allah (swt). That’s also a learning, training and a practice.

Professional Societal & Humanist Ethics

This is about how you earn; to earn virtuously, lawfully which Allah (swt) has mentioned as halal and tayyib.

يٰٓاَيُّهَا النَّاسُ كُلُوۡا مِمَّا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ حَلٰلًا طَيِّبًا
O people, eat permissible good things out of what lies in the earth [2:168]

That’s basically what I’m calling ethics. Halal is a shari’ah matter — it’s permissible and legal. Tayyib means it should be virtuous. I have spoken about this a lot in the previous session. Basically, you should have compassion for the mazloom, the poor, and the uneducated — this is just the beginning. These are societal responsibilities, it’s not their haq necessarily, but it doesn’t matter. You are a member of the society and you try to become a person of khyr — of good in the community. I should also add the word ummah. So it’s about practicing ethics in your profession, your circuit, then in the broader sense of society, then in an even broader sense of ummah, and an even broader sense of humanity.

Dawah

This is a major thing. I’m very much in this mizaj of dawah on your friends, colleagues, neighbors, family, random rickshaw drivers — this is a new field of dawah that I’ve jumped into — Uber and Careem drivers. And they are very receptive also. I can just be quiet or talk on the phone the whole time. But Allah (swt) put me with a person for 30 minutes of my life, probably I will never meet him again until the Day of Judgment, may be on that day Allah (swt) decides to send me to Jannah based on those 30 minutes with that guy. It’s quite possible. So having the spirit and feeling of dawah is also important. Maybe another thing to add here could be du’a, because dawah and du’ah work together. You have to do both. They are almost like lazim and malzum as we say.

Khidmah

There has to be some element of service. No doubt, if someone has an opportunity of service right at their homes with elderly, needy or sick parents, you could get it right at home. But if you don’t have it at home, then search for it. It can be orphans, widows, elderly, poor, illiterate, oppressed, refugees, homeless — there’s a whole long list and each one has millions in it.

You will not be able to do all of this instantly. I just gave you the list and some of you, especially the younger people, should not make the mistake of trying to do everything. This is a common mistake so don’t set a plan of action for yourself that is outside your reach. Reach for what is in your range and Allah (swt) will put that which is out of your reach in your range. That’s how it works, as opposed to reaching for what’s outside of your range, falling flat and sitting and crying — which is something, I’m sorry to be blunt, a lot of men in their 20s are stuck in. What I did right now is called ragra — in case you wanted to know what is islah and tarbiyyah.


[1] Surely, Allah will send for this ummah at the advent of every one hundred years a person (or persons) who will renovate its religion for it. [Sunan Abu Dawood]

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

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


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

Land Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arguments Presented by the Government

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

The first reason they gave was this verse:

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

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

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

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

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

Mufti Taqi Usmani’s Reply

First of all, he mentioned another verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic Banking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zakat

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

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

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

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

Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on Zakat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 3

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

[Notes for Session 1 and Session 2]


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

رِجَالٌ ۙ لَّا تُلۡهِيۡهِمۡ تِجَارَةٌ وَّلَا بَيۡعٌ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next letter.

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

أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ ٱلۡمُقَرَّبُونَ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Introduction to Ethics and Theology

[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.