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]

Advertisements

Introduction to Ethics and Theology – II

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

Cont’d from here.


Multiplicity of Meanings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arguments for/against the Tongue Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Selective Quotation

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

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

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

Arguments for/against Heart + Tongue + Actions Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Running the Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Reconciliation: Tatbeeq and Tarjih

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boundaries of Iman

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

  1. Inclusivism
  2. Exclusivism
  3. Pluralism & Tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law and Ethics

  • Authority
  • Legitimacy
  • Validity

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


Introduction to Ethics and Theology

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


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

Defining the Premises 

This series will cover three approaches to Islam:

  • Historical
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

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

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

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

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

  • Faith-Based
  • Secular
  • Divinity School Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical v. Analytical

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

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

Introduction to Theology

In Arabic, there are two words used in theology:

  1. Aqidah
  2. Kalam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadith-e-Jibrael & the beginning of Islamic Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disciplines of Islamic Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tools of Analytical Interpretation

1. Intellectual Approach

a. Turning the knob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Building the workshop

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

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

c. Linguistic Analysis

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

2. Historical Approach

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

3. Spiritual Approach

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

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

Positions on Iman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defining the Boundaries: Inclusivism & Exclusivism

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

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

[Cont’d here]

Free-will and Predestination

Introducing the Debate

The debate is how helpless is the man vs. how much authority he has – this is a very vast topic. Philosophers have debated it in different ways, for example in Existentialism.

There are two premises we have to take into account at the onset. First, Allah (swt) is al-Aleem; He has all the knowledge, including what has come to pass and what will happen in the future. Allah (swt) has Transcendental nature which means Allah (swt) has created time but Allah (swt) is pure from the limitedness of time. There is no past, present or future for Allah (swt). We understand past as a time that has elapsed, and a new time that will come as our future. Allah (swt) does not view time like that.

Imagine there is a board and on that board you draw past, present and future linearly. The time represented on the board is linear, but at the same time if you look at the board, past, present and future will be visible at one glance. This is a bit difficult to grasp but crucial in order to understand the nature of this debate.

Secondly, Allah (swt) is al-Qadir; He is the Faail-e-Haqeeqi i.e. the Real Doer. Any action can only occur by the allowance and decree of Allah (swt).

The Paradox

Considering Allah swt is al-Aleem i.e. His knowledge encompasses everything from past and future, and Allah swt is also al-Qadir over everything, so what is the standing of a man’s effort? How much control do we have?

One position could be that Allah swt has control over everything and man has no control whatsoever. Allah (swt) will choose for us and force us to do the action.

وَلَوۡ شِئۡنَا لَأَتَيۡنَا كُلَّ نَفۡسٍ هُدَٮٰهَا
And if We had so willed, We would have led everybody to his right path (by force). [32:13]

If we assume that the human race is completely helpless i.e. it does not matter how much good deeds they do, they will still go to hell, if it was destined for them, then the root of our deen will be dissolved. Because then there is no need to work hard or to do good deeds.

A person may think that I will not do anything because Allah (swt) will make me do it anyway, so I don’t have to bother. Such a person while doing grocery shopping may keep standing in line saying that Allah (swt) will get everything done so I’m just waiting. This is a ridiculous situation.

Second position could be that the man is in complete control over everything. Imagine what life on Earth would be like in this case. If a man could control everything, then he would want to know the future. There is a certain kind of knowledge that a man cannot handle, for example, to know when and where a person would die. With the constant fear of death looming over him, it would be very hard for him to take any action. Second, if he knows before-hand this person is going to betray him, this will be the outcome of this decision, this person will have these situations in life, it will make no sense to reward him for his choice because he already had the knowledge.

Third position is that Allah (swt) knows everything completely and absolutely, but the man is in control of his own actions. However, there are some parameters that Allah (swt) has set for the man and he will act within those limits. They are not majboor in their actions. You should be clear about this because sometimes people are not able to differentiate between knowing and doing.

For example, Allah (swt) knows how we are going to spend this Ramadan. But will this knowledge effect our actions? Even the person who is close to you can easily predict what you are going to do next, and in fact that is exactly what they do. Because of their closeness to you, it is easy for them to make the predictions.

A mother knows how her child will respond to a certain situation. Allah (swt) knows a man better than he knows himself. So Allah (swt) knows what we will do in future. But this knowledge does not mean that this prediction will have an effect on our actions. This is also because Allah (swt) is not bounded by time. We are time-bound and for us events happen sequentially. For Allah (swt) past, present and future are all existing together.

Another example is of a professor who knows before-hand about a student who has not attended any class that he will fail the course. And he does. He does not fail because the professor had predicted that, rather he failed because he had missed the classes.

Role of Nature & Nurture

Nature: If a man has the genes of generosity and his child also inherits it, or a man has a genes of excessive anger, and his son also inherits this, so people debate that what is the fault of the person if this is in his genes and nature?

For example, if there is a person in Philadelphia who is very angry by nature because of which he is often violent with his wife, we would naturally say that he should get himself treated even though he claims he inherited it from his parents. If you have a problem then you should get yourself treated accordingly.

Nurture: If how you have been brought up is the only thing that effects your actions then the son of Nuh (as) should not have been an infidel. Nature and nurture kind of encompass us but within those boundaries we have a choice for our actions.

Every heart has the ability to accept haq (the Truth). Whenever we come across haq, our hearts recognize it as the truth. Then we have a choice to either accept it or reject it. When we keep rejecting the truth, then our hearts are hardened.

وَلَا يَكُونُواْ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ مِن قَبۡلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيۡہِمُ ٱلۡأَمَدُ فَقَسَتۡ قُلُوبُہُمۡ‌ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ فَـٰسِقُونَ
They must not be like those to whom the Book was given before, but a long period passed on them (in which they did not repent), therefore their hearts became hard,
and (thus) many of them are sinners. [57:16]

Allah (swt) has sent prophets (as) so that people who do bad deeds would start doing good deeds. This was the sole purpose of sending guidance. The people in history have killed prophets and have gone at wars with them. Despite this constant rejection, Allah (swt) still sent His guidance. Every person has already seen Allah (swt):

وَإِذۡ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۢ بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَہُمۡ وَأَشۡہَدَهُمۡ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِہِمۡ أَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ‌ۖ قَالُواْ بَلَىٰ‌ۛ شَهِدۡنَآ‌ۛ
(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.” [7:72]

Everyone has the seed of love for Allah (swt) in their hearts. With a little grooming that seed will grow. Everyone holds the potential to accept haq.

Role of Consent in Being Created

Another debate is people object why was I created in the first place when I did not agree on being created? A lot of Existentialists ask this question. By being created we can get the opportunity to get qurb (proximity) of Allah (swt). For example, when a child is taken to a park, he is being given the opportunity to have fun there, but if the child keeps on crying in a corner, that’s his choice. Being born is a thing of joy because every child is a potential wali of Allah (swt).

وَإِذۡ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬‌ۖ
(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels,
“I am going to create a deputy on the earth!” [2:30]

Christians have this concept that our creation was to compensate for the original sin. Look at what Allah (swt) is offering you! He is saying that you have been sent here as the Khalifa (representative) of Allah (swt).

Why Forever?

Some people have panic attacks thinking they will live for an infinite amount of time. To understand why the afterlife is forever, let’s take the example of an old man who is an Atheist. You go to him and say that you have spent your whole life denying Allah (swt), now that your time of death is near so why don’t you take imaan at least now? He does not take imaan and says even if I were to live forever, I would continue to deny Allah (swt) (nauzubillah).

Then there is a pious old man who has been worshiping Allah (swt) his entire life. And you tell him that you have spent enough time worshiping Allah (swt) so why don’t you just relax now? He will say no, even if I was given forever I would never stop worshiping Allah (swt).

Hadith: ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (sws), say,

Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. [Agreed upon]

So the reward according to the intention is that the pious man will forever live in heaven because he intended to obey Allah (swt) forever. And the Atheist will forever remain in hell because he intended to forever deny Allah (swt).

Now imagine there is a third old man who is a Muslim, but sometimes he does good deeds and sometimes he does bad deeds. The way to purify a sinner who has not repented is that he will be burnt in hell (illa mashaAllah i.e. Allah (swt) may forgive them out of His Mercy) till they are purified, then they will go to heaven. This is because the intention of this man was to go to Jannah but unfortunately his actions were not up to the mark. Contrary to this, the pious old man had both his intention and actions up to the mark so he would directly go to heaven. And the Atheist had neither intention nor action so he will go to hell.

Allah (swt) is Infinite – Allah (swt) has been since time immemorial and will remain for evermore. Allah (swt) created man who is time-bound but Allah (swt) wants the man to be infinite as well. Allah (swt) created man so that they are granted Jannah, which is a place that will last till eternity. The asal (real purpose) of insan is Jannah, and with the right actions his destination is also heaven. But Allah swt is also al-Muqsit (the Just One), which means that someone who has done no effort should not get the same reward as the person who has done the effort.

The Question of Evil

People say that if Allah (swt) is the All Merciful then why is there evil in the world? So imagine the world with no evil in it. For example, a man is going to kill someone, but Allah (swt) intervenes and stops him because He is al-Qadir, He has the power to do so, and says no you cannot kill this man. Then will imaan bil ghayb (belief on the Unseen) remain? Imaan is definitely only on the unseen, and if people were able to see and witness directly the power and might of Allah (swt), that is mushahida. On the Day of Judgement even the kuffar will say that we believe:

وَلَوۡ تَرَىٰٓ إِذِ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمُونَ نَاكِسُواْ رُءُوسِہِمۡ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ رَبَّنَآ أَبۡصَرۡنَا وَسَمِعۡنَا فَٱرۡجِعۡنَا نَعۡمَلۡ صَـٰلِحًا إِنَّا مُوقِنُونَ
And (you will wonder) if you see the sinners hanging their heads before their Lord (and saying,) “Our Lord, we have now seen and heard, so send us back, and we
will do righteous deeds. Surely, (now) we are believers.” [32:12]

But Allah (swt) will say now it is that you believe? It means that now it’s too late to believe because now you have seen. Now you have done mushahida – it is not belief when you have seen something clearly.

قُلۡ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡفَتۡحِ لَا يَنفَعُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوٓاْ إِيمَـٰنُهُمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يُنظَرُونَ
Say, “On the day of decision their belief will not be of any use
to disbelievers, nor shall they be given any respite.” [32:29]

At times Allah (swt) does send help from ghayb (unseen). But this is not the norm. Allah (swt) has created a system to stop the evil and that is called ehsan, shariah and sunnah. Allah (swt) wants evil to be removed from this world. One man who was in IMF of some organization of this sort, and he was saying that if all the rich people gave away a small portion of their wealth then world poverty will be eradicated. If the system created by Allah (swt) was followed, poverty would be eliminated.

Sometimes we suffer because of the nafs of another person [i.e. injustice]. Nabi (sws) says that mu’min has good even if some blessing comes their way or some evil comes their way. Because when they are grateful, they get reward and when they show patience, they also get reward.

On the authority of Suhaib (ra) he said: The Prophet (sws) said:

Amazing is the affair of the believer, all of his affair is good. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls
him he is patient and that is good for him” (Sahih Muslim)

Allah (swt) has told us what we should and should not be doing. If the people do not stop their evil actions and Allah (swt) has to forcefully stop them then imaan bil ghayb will not remain.

One reason for having evil is that people can recognize and appreciate goodness. When we look at evil in our society, we crave for goodness all the more, and will be motivated to achieve it, and it is also a way to test us.

Some people debate that Allah (swt) has not created evil, because creating evil is bad, and attributing it to Allah (swt) would be wrong. It is important to distinguish between creating evil and doing evil. Creating evil is not a bad thing. Doing evil is a bad thing. The university system has both an F grade and an A grade. The university wants its students to get A’s. However, some students do not work hard enough and end up getting F’s. It’s a failure owing to the choice they have made which cannot be attributed to a fault in university’s system.

Marriage Workshop – Session II

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


Importance of love between Husband and Wife

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

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

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

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

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

Story of Umm Sulaim (ra)

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

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

Spiritual aspect of Marriage

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

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

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

Reflecting on the Khutbah of Nikkah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taqwah: How to get that fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different levels of khashiya

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

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

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

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

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

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

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


Marriage Workshop – Session I

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


What does a woman want

Attention
If you divert your attention and only listen to her half-heartedly, she would know. That’s not respect. That’s disrespectful. The wife feels like I’m his life companion, here I’m sharing my thoughts with him and he’s not even listening to me. So she gets upset and frustrated. And she’s right in doing so. That’s her taqwah that she keeps talking to you. If you don’t listen to her there will be someone else out there willing to lend her the ear. You can fill in the rest of the blanks yourself.

Respect
Just like a man feels that the wife is not fulfilling me, the woman can feel the same way. The husband should be a means of bringing her to good. Scolding your wife in front of the children is disrespectful. One thing is to reprimand her, and one is to do it disrespectfully. You can make her understand. But if you do it disrespectfully she will only feel hurt. Sometimes the husband does it in a bragging way. It means he is flattering himself by hurting his wife’s heart. He is showing that he is the man and can talk to her in front of others like that.

Devotion
The woman’s emotional need is devotion. She wants his devotion. How do you express your devotion? Expressing devotion means you give her priority. If you pick up her phone on 1st ring, she would acknowledge it as a sign of devotion. If there’s a problem, instead of beating about the bush, you can just tell her clearly that I’m busy at such and such time etc. But she needs to feel she is not at the bottom of the priority list.

Husband should never say: I’ll find someone better than you.

What does a man want

Support
A husband wants support from his wife. He needs emotional support. When he makes a decision, he doesn’t want her to second guess him. He needs her to support him even if the decision is wrong. He doesn’t need you to tell him that you can’t do anything right. He already has too many people against him. He needs support in how to get out of that blunder. Saying you don’t do anything right is like kicking the man when he’s down. You don’t know what that support means to him. That’s when you should bring your co-operative side. When he’s down bring in your support.

Wife should never ever say: You don’t do anything right. If you criticize your husband like that he will automatically turn away from you.

Acceptance
The husband wants that his wife should accept him. The job of husband is to change for the better, the job of the woman is to accept him as he is. We are not talking about haram stuff. But generally the certain way he does things, maybe he’s not the most handsome, refined person to walk the face of this earth. The same way wife feels he should accept her, the same way the wife should accept him. Many good wives are exactly precisely like this with their husbands.

Praise
A husband wants the wife to emotionally praise him. Especially in front of her own parents. You are mistaken if you think he doesn’t have emotional needs. He will never ask you for it. But he needs it. If a woman communicates to me for help and all she does is complain then I turn my ears off – there’s something wrong there. Wife should never be all complaining and never praising. Once I even asked is there anything good? And she said no! Never be all complaining.

This is also a kind of gheebah. You should not say my husband did this. If you sincerely want advice say what if a man does this or this? That woman who doesn’t complain behind her husband’s back, won’t do it in front of him either. If you do it in front of them then he knows you will do it behind his back also. Men know this.

Never to be Second Guessed
When it comes to children, sometimes the men will enter into the realm of the wife. The wife should never second guess the husband. If he tries to get involved with the kids, don’t stop him, don’t laugh at him. You can observe silently and wait and talk to him later. That will also give you a more relaxed tone. It would not become an unwelcomed comment.

Sometimes a man wants to embark on something good but he’s a little bit unsure. The role of the wife is if she feels this is best for his akhira, she needs to encourage him to that deed, she needs to play the famous role of the woman behind him.

DON’T treat one another the way you want to be treated

The wife makes the mistake that she treats the husband the way she wants to be treated. He is not a woman! This golden rule does not apply when there is a gender difference! Fulfill his male emotional needs, not female emotional needs! Same for men: don’t treat your wife the way you want to be treated. If there’s a car that runs on gas, and you put diesel in it, it won’t work.

Mistake a man makes

Husband does not spend enough exclusive time with his wife. You have to make time out to sit with your wife, alone, separate from the joint family. Sunnah: take her out for a walk. Because a woman needs her own dedicated time when the husband sits, eats, talks to her.

Mistake a woman makes

If the husband makes a decision she doesn’t agree with, she doesn’t follow it. If you live in a country and there is a law you don’t agree with, you still have to follow it. You have to follow it even if you don’t agree. This has a lot of barakah in it.

Suspicion 
Sometimes women get overly suspicious of the husband. She doesn’t believe anything he says. She starts denying and spying. Can you imagine the effect it can have on a person? How will the investigation affect him if he is innocent? How will he feel about those who make those charges against him?

Husband makes the mistake that he becomes overly possessive of his wife. Not talking about cases when someone is guilty, there the spouse has to be cautious. Once there was a case of a fellow married man in UK. He imprisoned his wife at home. She was literally locked in the house. He made sure the home was stocked with food and other requirements but the woman could not leave the house for a long period of time. The result was that the marriage fell apart. That was the husband being overly possessive. This is if the wife is innocent. She couldn’t even call her own mother. Even the husband attested to this that she was completely innocent.

Example of Misunderstanding
Once some children were talking with mother and had a disagreement. They were asking whether to do something this way or that way. Husband walks in and he doesn’t know the wife had already told the kids to do A. Husband says do it B way. Wife gets upset. This is completely unreasonable! This shows a lack of respect.

Example of Respecting One’s Wife
Once Syedna Rasool Allah sws was travelling with Safiya ra, in a wedding procession she couldn’t climb on the camel. Prophet sws went there and asked her to step on his sws thigh and then step on the camel. This is a way of respect. If Syedna Rasool Allah sws can offer his body then why can’t we do something like this for our wife?

Example of Devotion to the Wife
Syedna Rasool Allah sws married ummul momineen Syedna Khadija ra when he was 25. For so many years of his life, he was a one-woman man. This is also a sunnah that you have to do. Women need to be deprogrammed. They need to stop accepting this! What would you love for your own daughter? Love for your wife what you would love for your own daughter. The women are young they don’t understand this. This is a big problem in UK.

So after marriage, Syedna Rasool Allah sws married Syedna Aisha ra and loved her so much. Then Khadija’s ra sister came and he (sws) heard her voice and said Aisha Aisha its Khadija’s voice! She asked him (sws) later why were you so happy when you thought it was her voice? He (sws) replied Aisha she was with me when everyone was against me. Allah has put so much love for her in my heart there is nothing you can do to take it away from me. This is the sunnah devotion. Syedna Rasool Allah sws gave so much devotion to his (sws) wife.

Example of Accepting Husband the Way He is
Prophet’s (sws) daughter Zainab ra was married to a non-believer before the manifestation of naboowat. During migration, Zainab ra did not migrate to Madina and lived with her husband. She wanted to go to Madina, wanted him to accept imaan but she showed him that I accept you the way you are. She offered her mother’s necklace to free her kafir husband who had gone out on badr to kill prophet (sws)! (He (ra) later accepted Islam after Zainab (ra) passed away).

Example of Praising the Husband
Syedna Aisha ra once told Prophet (sws) that you (sws) are more dear to me than butter and dates.

Example of Support
When Syedna Fatima ra and Syedna Ali ra were really poor, one day they made some simple basic food for iftar. Syedna Ali ra gave all the food to a beggar but wife didn’t say anything.

Easy and simple way is to make your life the sunnah way. That’s easy. Making point by point notes is difficult and is the long way. The more and more husband and wife follow sunnah, the more their marriage will become successful.

Investment and communication
Example of investment is like a gardener. When a gardener puts seed in the ground he is always putting water and fertilizer to nurture it. No one else knows. People trample the seed with their food. But he keeps caring for the seed because he has faith in it. Then when the seed sprouts, he puts a stick and trims the leaves. The more and more he invests time in it, the more and more he can bear fruit and flowers from it. The couple is the co-care-takers and gardeners of the seed of marriage.

Husband and wife also have to learn the body language of the marriage. The gardener can look at the color of leaves and shape can tell that something is going wrong. Sometimes husband and wife are not able to read one another’s body language. Sometimes they can’t say too many words. Ideally, be so much tuned into the needs of your spouse that you understand what they want even before they talk about it. This can also happen. But that’s up to us if we want to give that level attention. Husband also sometimes doesn’t understand the signals or expressions of the wife.

Hadith: Story of 11 women 

Once 11 women got together for a gathering and a meal. Each one of them said today we will talk about our husbands openly and clearly! This is the gist of it:

  1. My husband is like the camel on top of the mountain. There is no easy path (to climb up to him) and he is heavy and fat (doesn’t come down). [They are talking in symbols.]
  2. I’m not going to spread the news, what if he leaves me? [She didn’t say anything but said a lot with this statement. Shows her insecurity.]
  3. If I speak, he will give me a divorce, if I keep quiet then he will keep me [he is short-tempered and my only solution is to not say anything].
  4. He is like the cool spring night but I’m still afraid of him [She felt comfortable with him but at the same time he still had his jalal]
  5. He is like a lion on the outside, but he is generous on the inside. [Very strong personality, but very soft and generous in house].
  6. My husband eats all the food and drinks all the water, he drools when he sleeps and doesn’t even inquire about his partner.
  7. Either astray, and wounds people easily [he argues a lot and hurts others].
  8. Soft like a rabbit and fragrant like summer grass [very handsome and fragrant]
  9. Very tall and very generous [well-known and people would come to him for advice].
  10. My husband is maalik and he is beyond any praise.
  11. My husband’s name is Abu Zara and he has pleased me and I have become so happy that I feel proud of myself. My children are also very nice. [End of story is that Abu Zara ends up leaving his wife. She gets married for the second time, she says he still gave me more than the 2nd husband has ever given me].

Lessons from the hadith

a. Women speak in symbols. They have a symbolic language and men sometimes need to read between the lines.

b. A woman needs the assurance that you will never divorce her. It’s a sunnah way of saying, I will keep you like a queen and I will never ever divorce you.

What Women Say and What They Mean

We never ever go out: Husband will say we just went out a month ago! Actually she means symbolically. She never speaks literally. She means I need some time to go out of the house. Don’t treat her words on face value. She means take me out. You need a translator for this.

Everyone ignores me: Husband says I don’t ignore you! That is not the answer. It means I need your attention now. She means you have gotten so involved in everything I don’t know when you are coming and when you are going. She means don’t spend too much time on work.

This house is always a mess: Husband says not always. She means I want you to make it tidy NOW.

Nobody ever listens to me: Husband says I listen to you… sometimes! It means listen to me NOW. This is called melodramatic behavior, no offence to women. This is a tendency in women. That’s the way they are. She is not giving factual historical statements. She means I like spending time with you. I miss spending time with you. If the husband could translate that he would be happy to know this.

There’s no point in me saying anything anymore: Different husbands will give different reactions to this (laughs). What she means is that it’s not your words that will help me, it’s your actions that will help me. I don’t want your words I want your love.

What Men Say and What They Mean

Give me some space I don’t want to talk: That’s what they mean. In some sense this is a sunnah of Syedna Rasool Allah sws. We want to escape and go into khalwa (solitude) during stressful situations. Example, Prophet sws used to go to Mount Hira. Men are like turtles, they retreat into their shells.

Men have their own way of dealing with this. Women have their own way, she says don’t go away, be here with me, I need to talk about it. Man needs time and she doesn’t understand his need for space. She starts probing and she starts thinking what’s going on. Then shaytan tries to answer for her. Whenever you ask the question that what’s going on? Shaytaan will answer for you, maybe he is having an affair etc. Then she insists even more forcefully. Maybe he just genuinely needed that time. Instead of drawing him into conversation, turn to Allah swt and make dua for him and make ruju to Allah swt.

When woman is upset she starts global broadcasting. She broadcasts it to anyone tuned into her channel. This is the complete opposite way of dealing with stress. A man consoles himself by dealing with grief individually.

Similarly, men should not say to women deal with your grief on your own, stop telling anyone, stop complaining, stop whining. She is going to share her grief. The man should give the wife the ear she needs. He should say, broadcast it to me! Share it with me. I should be the first one you should share it with.

Responsibilities of men

Allah swt has put certain responsibilities on both men and women. Spouse should understand this that these responsibilities need to be fulfilled!

Earning rizq-e-halal. The wife needs to understand and give him space for these responsibilities. Sometimes he may not pick up the phone. Deal with it.

Caring of parents. This is the Haq of mother over him. It’s a responsibility he has to fulfill. He simply must DO it. Sometimes these rights will make him spend time out of the home longer. Sometimes it will be out of his control.

Huqooq Allah. There are some things that he MUST do. He must go to masjid to offer salah. Yes you could say that I know you were chatting with friends after maghrib, come home early . But you cannot say don’t go to the masjid at all.

There are also some types of worship that are not a must do. But some men need to do them. They need it for their own salvation. Like sometimes he has to be in good company, getting ilm of deen and spending time in dhikr. All nafal ibaadah I’m calling it dhikr here. A person does dhikr in two sense.

One is for spiritual purification to stay away for sin that is fard.

Then there is another dhikr that is to get closer to Allah swt it’s strongly recommended, but it is not fard. But if husband feels its keeping him away from sin then it becomes wajib for him.

Men should remember to have a balance in these activities with the family. Give and take. Sometimes you have to be away to be with dawah or to be with the shaykh. Sometimes you have to take away time and give it to family. But it has to be give and take on both on both sides. Wife should realize that he needs it. And especially if it makes him better at deen. The more he will be better at deen, the better husband he will become.

Responsibilities of women

Haqooq Allah. Let her fulfill all of her faraid and wajibat. Sometimes it happens that the woman has not yet prayed her isha, let her pray isha. Have sabr, don’t put her in that situation that it becomes difficult for her to pray it.

Haqooq ul ibaad. Children have rights over her too. If the child wants to sleep with her, the man should let the child sleep with her. It’s her duty and she must fulfill it. Her parents also have rights over her. Going to her parents’ home and spending time with siblings etc. within a reason and certain level is also haqooq ul ibaad.

Managing the house.  I’m saying this openly that this is the woman’s job. Woman’s responsibility is managing that. If she needs to do something for the house you need to give her space for that.

A woman needs taqwah as much as men. But she can take less time out for that. If she can do it online then husband should be more lenient with her that you are not going anywhere and the children are also with you. The husband should be more accommodating in these things. If she feels she doesn’t feel anything in prayer, my tongue gets into backbiting then, it’s also wajib for her to engage in religious pursuits that will curtail these sins.

Cont’d in Session II 

Science, Rationality and the New Atheism

[These are rough notes from the second session of the workshop on Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, on Jan 05, 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.

Does Islamic Scholarship have a perspective and a vantage point on science? Is that perspective and vantage point academically robust, is it significant, is it able to address those issues where outwardly, initially and apparently science seems to contradict areas of Islamic belief and faith?

Basic Terminologies

First we will begin with some basic terminologies. I am going to read these things out to you and then we are going to look at them one by one; truth, reality, objectivity, subjectivity, relativity, true and false, and verification and falsification. These are some of the words that are used in the discussion of science and rationality, especially when people are discussing the concept of religion.

1. Truth and Reality. There are many philosophical ways in which a person can describe truth. One way to describe it is that truth is that which corresponds to reality. Interestingly, this philosophical formulation is there in ilmul kalam. Ilmul kalam is a science of theology which you are completely unaware of. Because people are more interested in ilmul aqaaid – Sunni sect, Shi’a sect, this sect, that sect. But ilmul kalam is almost virtually unknown still in the majority of educated Muslims today. In ilmul kalam, there is a huge discussion on what is sidq and what is kizb, or sometimes it is called kazib in Arabic; what is truth and what is falsehood. You will find volumes on this.

I am going to start with this, because science operates on the principles of rationality and empiricism and demonstrable proofs. So truth is that which is demonstrated, through some scientific method, to be that which corresponds to the reality. In Arabic we call this mutabiq al waqai; or mutabiq nafs e amar; in correspondence to what exists in reality.

So what is reality then? Reality is that which exists separately and independently from us. That’s what is called real. Now if you want to go into the ilmul kalam discussion on this, a very interesting discussion is when they talk about Allah swt’s attributes of Asma ul Husna, and one of His attributes is that He is al-Haqq, to the extent that He is Real, and relative to that everything else is unreal.

However, from a scientific and empirical perspective, that reality should be separately observable and known. But if you move into the area of Neuroscience and Psychology, it is a big question that are my hopes real? Are my dreams real? What empirical basis do my dreams have? If I tell you that I had a dream last night, is that real? Is it true? Am I speaking the truth? Is there any way you can empirically test that? Is that empirical? Is it falsifiable? It is a claim I will make.

If you insist on taking this way of life, that every single thing has to be understood by science; this is a perfect example that your dreams to what extent are they real, and to what extent did you truly see them, this is not fully able to be captured by science. No doubt, cognitive science will try to deconstruct the brain to different neurochemical reactions in different parts of the brain. But still, no true cognitive scientist will tell you that we have a complete exclusively scientific understanding of how, and exactly why, do people dream.

In layman’s terms, if I asked you if dreams were a reality, you would say yes. I would ask you why. You would probably say because I had a dream myself. I say, but that is not empirical. It is not falsifiable. It does not pass the scientific method. What you are actually saying is something called knowledge by experience. That is something different from knowledge by demonstration. We will come back to this later.

2. Objectivity, Subjectivity and Relativity. Is there any such real thing as objectivity? Is there one single perception, understanding of reality that can be called “objective”? A lot of philosophers will say no. On the other hand, if every single thing is subjective, and you have complete subjectivity, then you end up in this notion of complete relativity.

Let’s say if I try to put forth a proposition to you, like in philosophy and logic they put forth a proposition, that there is no objective reality. There is no way that I can have an objective way to prove that statement. If I take the opposite extreme, that there is no subjectivity, there is no objective proof that I can use to prove that statement.

So logic was the tool that we used, and this is a very important thing that we should know that in the Aristotelian world, logic was the litmus test for any “scientific” type of a statement.  And this is one of the great things that Imam al-Ghazali rah incorporated, and he took all of Aristotelian Logic in its entirety.

When you take that logic, you will realize that a lot of statements that you make, they are claims, but you cannot logically prove them. If I say there are both; there is both objectivity and subjectivity, I cannot prove that. Although that may resonate with us. But that is something else. That is not called science. That is called intuition.

Intuition means that statement that resonates with you to be true based on your own experience and understanding of the world. When I say “your own experience” then again we are back to subjectivity. But shouldn’t truth be something that is objective?

Then if you ask the question of religion, is Allah swt actually suggesting that in Qur’an when He says:

أَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُونَ
Have you then no sense?

That Allah swt has given you an aqal (intellect), and if you use it you will arrive at the single objective truth, which is the belief in the existence of Allah swt. Believe me, in ilmul kalam they talk about this a lot. It is a mistake that you think Philosophy and Science are the only ones to talk about these things. But you are not conversant and versed in the Classical Arabic Scholarly Tradition of your own deen.

3. True and False, Verification and Falsification. By this I mean to declare something decisively to be true, or to declare something decisively to be false. If you can definitively declare something to be true, that means you will invalidate everything else. There is no multiplicity left. If you definitely declare something to be false, you will end up in a process of invalidation and elimination.

In Science, at one level, they put forth a hypothesis. When they are fairly sure that something is true, they call it a theory. But as you know that there have been time, and up till right now cutting edge of science, they are constantly revisiting and reconsidering their theories. Sometimes they disprove their own theory.

The most famous example of this was the Theory of the Universe by Ptolemy. He felt that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. When you look at demonstration, his model that puts Earth at the centre of the Universe and the Sun rotating around the Earth, that did perfectly, and still today can perfectly predict the stars and constellations that appear in the sky.

If you say that science is about demonstration and empiricism, actually that method of astronomy passes the test of empiricism and demonstration. All of the astrologers, and all astronomers, may use these models – putting the Earth at the centre, knowing and thinking the Earth to be the centre, and that the Sun is rotating around us – and they could actually perfectly predict the stars and their constellations in the sky.

Today me and you know that is not true; Earth is not the centre. Sun is the centre, and because the Sun is the centre, it is called the Solar System, and Earth has been revolving around the Sun. I 100% accept that. But interestingly that additional scientific truth did not in any way help the humanity in being able to observe the stars.

The prediction of the constellations of the stars, the navigation from stars, was perfect in the Ptolemaic System, which was scientifically untrue. So what is untrue and what is false? We have used the untrue system to perfectly navigate through the oceans for centuries. So it is a relative thing; you are talking about frames of reference here.

Let’s suppose that I say that all truths are relative, even for that there is no scientific, decisive, empiric proof. So basically, all of these things cannot be determined and decided by science. These are the fundamental things; what is true, what is false. It does not mean that science can never do this. When science realized that in some things it can make the determination, so it is called verification and falsification.

How do you test the hypothesis? The first thing is that the hypothesis should be constructed in such a way that its premises are falsifiable. As in, what you do is that you keep trying to falsify them. You run these experiments, and you keep doing it, and you keep getting these sets of data, and you constantly try to falsify. But even then, strictly speaking in terms of pure Philosophy of Science, you are making the highest approximation of the certainty that you can, but you still cannot say that you have achieved certainty.

For example, if I tell you that science says that xyz is the speed of light. What if I say that did you factor the particles of dust in that light? Did you calculate the speed of light in a vacuum? You are talking about the light from the stars that do not exist anymore, and you calculate the distance of those stars also using the speed of light, but how much particles were in the way? Along the way, maybe there was some asteroid belt; there maybe so many things.  Did you factor these things in your speed of light? They will say no.

It is like Calculus; the limit of X is that it approaches 5. I say, it isn’t X=5, it’s X is approaching 5. They will say that no but if X is approaching 5, then you will just take that approximation as a certainty that it becomes 5. All of the Maths is based on this principle. X isn’t 5 though. The limit of X as it approaches 5, reaches 5.

That is what they are saying in the first example. Basically, at the very higher level of approximation, this is the speed of light. We have no idea that what type of asteroid, or space matter, or star burst and that light travelled from the reminiscence of that star matter to us, and how that star matter may have effected the speed of light. We have no idea about these things. It is an approximation. It is an approximation based on human ability. It means that to whatever extent the human is able to falsify these premises, he must try all of his ways to falsify it, and if it passes the falsification test then we will verify it.

You may ask a philosophical question that is the human ability to falsify that hypothesis, is it complete? I say no it is approximate. You ask is it absolute? I say no it is approximate. If I ask science this question that could science itself in another 10 years possibly find a way to falsify this hypothesis, they will say yes. In fact we are trying, that is what we love to do. This is the area of scientific invention and progress that they try to discover new ways to test “tried and true” theories. So it’s all relative. It’s a frame of reference.

In terms of present, they will declare a theory of a hypothesis today, because to whatever ability the scientific method is able to falsify that hypothesis, it has attempted to falsify it and has not been able to falsify it, therefore they will view the theory to be true and they will verify it. But they don’t say that it is definitive or decisive for all of eternity.

Actually the realm of religion and revelation is totally different. There is no encroachment here. Encroachment would be that science is also trying to capture eternal truths. No, science does not make that claim. Science can change any day.

In ilmul kalam, and also in Philosophy and Science, people have written tons of books on these; what is subjectivity, what is objectivity, what does it mean to falsify. There are huge workshops on this.

Now, when you are building this workshop, it does not mean that the workshop only needs to have Qur’an and Hadith. If you want to play this game, and understand this, you are perfectly allowed in Shari’ah, and in certain cases you may very well need to, put the writing of the scientists and the philosophers in the workshop. The only difference is that the Qur’an takes a higher level of precedence on that workshop, but it does not mean that these things are not allowed.

Imam al-Ghazali has mentioned that his own personal view about Science and Maths was that there was nothing in it that was against religion. But he did observe that there were some individuals who got misled by some myths and realities and misunderstandings about Science and Maths. In themselves, science and maths have nothing in them that is against religion. I will come to this later that there are certain things that science has put forth today, such as the human evolution, that are clearly, directly against the scriptural revelation.

That is also a very interesting thing; this may also be the issue why the vast and overwhelming majority of humanity were not atheists, because the scientific discovering and understandings and theories up till that time do not actually have anything in it that would necessitate Atheism.

But obviously if a person comes to believe in the human evolution – a belief that Syedna Adam (as) had parents – it is not even a question of man being a descendant of Apes. Islam says Syedna Adam (as) did not even have human parents. It is a totally different thing. It is not even about evolution, if you think about it that way. It is about miracles. We believe that Syedna Adam (as) did not even have human parents. It might happen 23 years from now, that science deny evolution. Maybe they would do it. But they will still say Adam (as) had parents. They will not accept that he was created from nowhere. That itself is the difference.

That is the same case here; that most of the scientists were comfortable with their Jewish or Christian faith, because the science of their time and day did not really have anything that necessitated them to abandon their faith. That is why we have mentioned this term of New Atheism because it is not like there were no Atheists before, but there were atheists before for philosophical reasons, not for scientific reasons.

The Question of Whether Science Necessitate Atheism

The New Atheism, and this is a term used in Academia, is that Atheism which is purportedly, supposedly, born out of science. That confuses a person because we all agree with science. The earlier Atheism, which was born out of a particular philosophy, it was not a problem for Muslims, they would say I do not believe in that. I believe in Qur’an and Sunnah. But the New Atheism becomes an issue because a person may think that if the New Atheism is really born out of science, and I believe in science, then what does that mean? This is the question that does science necessitate Atheism?

Three Criticisms of Atheists to the Claim of Existence of God

Let’s go step-by-step. So if you ask this question that does God exist, or for us does Allah swt exists? If you answer yes, you are going to face three criticisms from the Atheists:

  1. Your claim is not scientific and therefore false, for only that which is contained in science is true.
  2. Your claim is not logical. You cannot give me a logical proof for the existence of God. Therefore, your claim is false.
  3. Your claim is not rational. There is no rational basis for the existence of Allah swt, so therefore it is false.

You have your science, logic and rationality. These are basically the first principles. We are going to look at all of these three things.

Brief Introduction to Scientism 

There is a word that has been coined; it is called Scientism. It is a worldview, it is something different than science. That is why its has the suffix ‘ism’. Scientism is a view which holds that whatever you will view to be true, or false, will be on the basis of science. Scientism means that science is the way in which you understand everything.

Science normally meant that this is the way you understand the material world. And normally the scientists did not try to investigate the immaterial world, or have questions about that. They did not try to investigate the ruh, or the qalb, or even mind and thought and consciousness.

Classically, scientists did not have the realm of neuroscience. It was created as a part of Scientism. Otherwise earlier, ideas were understood through Philosophy. But now Scientism is a belief that every single thing can be understood on the basis of science. So instead of Psychology, it is Psychiatry. And instead of Philosophy, it is Neuroscience, or Cognitive Behaviour.

Genetics is also a very important aspect of Scientism, because the cutting edge of genetics is trying to discover behavioural genes; the notion that a human being is genetically programmed to certain kinds of behaviour. Allahu Alam, if they ever discover the taqwah gene, or the haya gene, they might take it out!

They will not say that this is a theory. It is a hypothesis; it is research. They are not saying it is a fact. But like I told you in the ideology-based approach to knowledge, some of them are doing this as an ideology. Another way I can explain it to you is that when you choose to deny Allah swt, you have to come up with an alternate understanding of the world. And when you take that denial so far – like in scientism that science alone can understand everything – then you end up denying a lot of philosophy, a lot of psychology, a lot of other things.

Scientism is not just denial of religion. It is a denial of any way of understanding, explaining and engaging in the world. It is inherently against aesthetics, arts and creativity. Or it tries to explain all aesthetics and arts and creativity in terms of neuroscience and cognitive on the left side of the brain.

But the artist will tell you, no, it is because of my creative spirit. It is not because I have a different set of neurons in the left side of my brain than that one does. They will say I have a more creative spirit than that person does. I have a greater imagination than that person does.

Scientists will say, no this is all bunk; all of your creative imagination is fluff. It is all due to difference in your cognitive behaviour; your cognitive thinking power on the left side of your brain. That is called Scientism. It is not just the denial of religion. It is an entire world view.

Most Atheists are not following science. It is Scientism that they are following. And there are definitely many scientists who are following it. There are Atheist scientists who follow this. And those of you who are aware of it would know that they have a huge literature on it in English language; Dawkins, Hitchens – there are so many of them. Some of them were pure physicists, some of them were pure Mathematicians, some of them were pure Philosophers, and they are on both sides.

Mostly this is taking place in the Christian world; you have completely believing Christian evolutionary biologists, completely believing Christian pure particle Physicists, completely believing Christian Philosophers. I have studied under one of each at Oxford. And you have completely Atheists for all of the above. You have several, or dozens of them. And there is massive literature that they are writing, engaging and discussing each other.

On the fringes, there are certain extremists. It would seem like terrorism to you; the way they talk to you with the fatwas of kufr. Some of them have extreme hatred, and there are extremely horrific tones that they use. But on a very large scale, there are many discussions and debates taking place in a considerate and thoughtful manner. And volumes have been written on this.

The point of telling you all of this is that do not fall into an assumption that every Mathematician, every Physicist, every Philosopher is an Atheist. This is nowhere near the case in UK, US or Canada right now. Those people do not deny science. It is about scientism; it is all about this thing. That is why they coined this word.

They say it is not about science, I am also a Scientist, or I am also a Physicist, or I am also a Biologist. It has nothing to do with science. It is about Scienitsm; the question is that how will you choose to understand things that are outside the realm of science? Scientism says that nothing falls outside the realm of science. Therefore, everything would fall in the realm of science.

These believing scientists are saying that there are some things that fall out of the realm of science, and we are happy and comfortable understanding those things on the basis of revelation, scripture, and prophethood, in whatever faith system they may personally believe in.

So, Scienitism is a world view that only science and knowledge derived from science contains truth. Everything else is merely belief, superstition and myth. These are the three buzzwords that they use.

The Scientistic approach has trickled down to Liberal Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. So then you will find Scientistic Anthropologists. So the Anthropology of Religion would be that all religion is just superstition and myth and a product of culture.

You will find Scientistic Sociology which says that all religion that exists at the societal level, like Karl Marx said, is the opium for the people. The words that are used in Scientistic outlook enters the Humanities, Social Sciences and Liberal Arts; that everything else is just belief, superstition and myth. By belief they do not mean imaan, by belief they mean anything that is not knowledge; it is fluff.

Scientism Explored

Let’s examine this notion of Scientism. Like I told you, there are believing scientists who have tried to refute Scientism. Nobody is trying to refute science. I will come to the history of evolution at the end. Understand this very clearly, I am not talking about science now. I am talking about Scientism.

Applying the Self-Refuting Test on Scientism

The first thing is called the self-refuting test. How will Scientism be refuted? It is not going to be refuted from Qur’an and Sunnah. Scientism is going to be refuted by logic and philosophy. So you have logic and philosophy taking on Scientism in this discussion, that can everything be understood through science, or are there some things that cannot be understood through science?

Self-refuting test means that if you accept the proposition, like I told you about the box; that if you accept the position and flush out its consequences, the consequences itself negate the position in the box. It is self-refuting. And the self-refuting test means you take the proposition, you flush out its necessary logical implications and consequences. And if it turns out that its logical consequences actually would necessitate refutation of the proposition in the first place, then it is a self-refuting proposition. I did not even need to refute it.

The proposition that claims to be true actually refutes itself. If it just claims to be a hypothesis, then it is not going to work. But it will work if it claims to be the truth; this is what Scientism is. This is why the self-refuting test is applied to Scientism. Because they are not giving another hypothesis that maybe it is Philosophy, maybe it is Psychology. They are saying this is it. This is the ultimate demonstrable, rational truth; the only way to understand the world is the Sceintistic method.

Let’s take some claims of Scientism.

  1. It is their statement that true knowledge is only that which is contained in science and found through scientific methods. This sentence itself is not a part of science. This sentence itself cannot be proven through the scientific method. This sentence itself cannot prove itself. Therefore, if this sentence is true, then this sentence is false. Do you understand? This is called a logical fallacy. It is pure philosophical logic and syllogism that is used in the self-refuting of the sentence. It has nothing to do with religion vs. science. Do not count this debate in religion vs. science domain. The way you frame a debate, often that itself decides the victor and the loser in the debate. If you talk about religion vs. science, all the Muslims who are studying Engineering and Chemistry and Physics would be like I have been accused! It is not religion vs. science. It is religion vs. scientism. It is science vs. scientism. It is logic and philosophy vs. scientism.
  2. Second claim is that true knowledge is only that which is observable. Can you observe that statement? Is there any empirical observation to prove the statement that true knowledge must be observable? Can you observe the truth of that? You can accept that as a first basis. So actually Scientism is another religion. It requires imaan in these things. It requires you to accept something as your first principles, and then understand everything on the basis of those principles. Actually the choice is whether you want to accept Allah swt’s first principles in Qur’an, or you want to accept the scientism’s first principles.
  3. True knowledge is only that which is testable. Can you test this sentence? Is this sentence in itself testable? No, so then it is not true knowledge. Because if true knowledge is only that which is testable, this sentence itself is not testable, therefore it is not true knowledge.
  4. True knowledge is only that which is empirically verifiable. It is slightly different. Because scientific knowledge may have some things that are beyond empirical senses. Like saying that if you see it, you will believe it. Only that which I see will I believe. This sentence itself, did you see that somewhere? We could say that we saw it in Qur’an, but what would a scientist say if they were asked, where did you see it? This is self-refuting.
  5. True knowledge must be refutable. Is this sentence itself refutable? How will you refute that sentence? This is a bit tricky one. Let me keep it easier for you – true knowledge must be falsifiable. Can you falsify this proposition?

For example, if we take the example for true knowledge must be observable; can you touch, smell, or hear that concept? Not if you take empiricism at its basics. Empiricism can be more than that. But if you take it from that level, you will say no. This is a very small thing, but its going back to what I showed you – these things are not easy to figure out; truth, falsehood, relativity, subjectivity, objectivity.

Basically these are claims, but as I have shown you, they do not pass the self-refuting test. They are not objective truths. These are the subjective truths adopted by the Scientistic worldview and approach. And they are free to do that. But they pick the claim of objectivity for that, and then to take an exclusive claim of truth for that, and then to falsify and invalidate every other thing, there is no basis within their own system to do that. And it is not based on logic either.

Science Explored

Next is the question of what exactly is science? How do you separate science from non-science? For example, you will find this question in the Western academies that why were some of the Liberal Arts called Social Sciences, and why were the other ones called Humanities? Is Psychology a Social Science? Some Psychology departments are unhappy. They say we want to be in the School of Science and Engineering, we are science. Scientists say, no you are not a science, go to the Social Sciences school.

So what is science and what is non-science? Is there any objective, falsifiable, verifiable, absolute way to determine this question? Or is it relative? There was a writer, his name is Larry Laudan. He has written an article Science at the Bar. What he talks about is very interesting, or let me put it this way, it is a very enjoyable piece to read about this notion of what is science and what is non-science.

Now let’s suppose someone says a statement like true knowledge is falsifiable, let’s suppose I were to say this proposition to you that Martians will land on Earth in 2050. Or for that matter, humans will land on Mars in 2050. You cannot refute that. Maybe it will happen, maybe it will not – we do not know. So what does that mean, is it science now?

For any falsifiable test to be applied, you have to be open to the possibility; science is when you keep falsifying till you get an approximation of certainty, because to the best of your knowledge you have eliminated any possibility of truth or falsehood. How can you falsify that statement?

Let’s suppose I say in year 2500 humans will be living on Mars. You cannot falsify that. Does that make it science – because you cannot falsify it? Can I call it a scientific statement? You would say no, you cannot call it a scientific statement. But I say no science is what you cannot falsify, and you cannot falsify this statement.

These are internal contradictions on these issues. I am not talking about what you read in your Chemistry textbooks. We fully accept the Periodic Table – that’s science. I am talking about Scientism. What is in the Physics and Chemistry textbooks that is science. This is Scientism; trying to negate any understanding of truth and claiming pure objectivity only for themselves. That is Scientism.

Intuition and the Fallacy of Falsification

Let’s look at some other things that we may accept as knowledge. One issue is that of intuition. Your intuition is going to guide you on how many factors, or causalities, you have to look at in a scientific experiment.

For example, somebody told us that science says there was an earthquake in China, and it measured 8.2 on the rector scale. And if I tell them, did you take into account the weight of coal mines in China? And maybe because the weight of the coal in the coal mines of China was heavier, it was a 8.4 scale earthquake, but it came out at a reading of 8.2 because of this reason. They would say, no that is a negligible factor. These things are negligible.

Then I could come up with something nonsensical. I could say, did you write any scientific test to see that did the prices of tea in China effected the level of the earthquake? They would say that is nonsensical. I say, but it is a hypothesis, I want you to falsify it. If I talk like that then there are a billion factors that will have to be examined. This is intuition.

This is also a fallacy of falsification that we did eliminate everything humanly possible. First, you used your intuition to eliminate the nonsensical and the absurd. Then you used your intuition to eliminate the things that had a negligible effect. And only those things that your intuition told you possibly could have a tangible effect, you ran your falsifiability test on those things that you thought had a tangible effect. How did you decide that what was tangible and what was negligible and what was nonsensical? That was done on the basis of intuition.

In our tradition, we call it zauq. This is why in the Hadith Studies, you cannot just copy somebody in 20th Century that this hadith is weak. The Muhaditheen had zauq; they had an acumen, they had a flare for this. They were hafidh of Hadith; they had memorized 100,000 chains of narrations. They had seen that narration being narrated from so many people. If they did not tag it as zaeef, you cannot do your database researches saying I have discovered today that so-and-so scholar in the 20th Century decided that so-and-so is zaeef. He does not have that zauq. He is using a laptop. He is using a library. He needs to have it up here – zauq is the intuition.

If you ask any scientist who has won a noble prize, or any great inventor, how did you do that – was it just an empirical method? He would say it was my intuition. I had a hunch. I had intuition that this would work. All the way from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison; whoever it is, whatever they have invented, it is through intuition. Intuition is the creative force behind science.

This is what I was telling you about this empirical adequacy – or if you want to call it, the empirical inadequacy. If you insist that they should factor the negligible and the nonsensical, then we will say it is empirical inadequacy. But they say, no it is empirical adequacy. Why is it adequacy? If the factor was tangible, how did you define what is tangible? That was through intuition. That’s not science.

Scientists are fine with that. Scientism is not fine with that. Scientism is shattered by this. Scientists have no problem with this – they would say yes 100% we use intuition. We did not make any claim that every single way of knowing is going to be captured by science. They believe in inspiration. And many of the greatest scientists in history were believers, and they would write in their autobiographies that I was inspired by God.

Now the scientist today will say this is all fluff. He explains it as a cognitive moment – a surge of neurons and electrons activity in his brain, which he thought was an inspiration by God, in an attempt to falsify another person’s understanding of an event that actually lies outside the realm of science. I mean, are you a greater scientist or is Einstein a greater scientist? If science necessitates Atheism, then why in the world were these great scientists not Atheists themselves?

Arguments for God’s Existence

Theory of Uniformity & the Role of Intuition and Approximation

There is this thing called the Theory of Uniformity. For example, you take the law of gravity, to make it a law, the theory of uniformity means that these things will have to be uniform. It means that gravity must be universally the same in any corner of the Earth, baring some other external circumstances and conditions. But empirical method would mean you have to test it in all of these conditions. You cannot just make a claim like that. Then if you have a latitude inadequacy; let’s say how many points on GPS of Earth has the gravity been measured, it is probably not even on 10% of the places on Earth. So what is that? It is their intuition.

Very interestingly, in the ilmul kalam tradition, this intuitive element – that you have tested something at a level which is sufficient to give you certainty – that concept is called tawatir in our deen. And the tawatir concept is actually used in our deen, as well, to bring certain knowledge.

I will give you the example which Imam al-Ghazali (ra) gave that if one person walked in this room right now and said it is raining outside. Lets just pretend there is no window, lets pretend there are just four walls. Now when one person says it to you, you may not have certain belief. But if two people come in, three people come in, or five people come in, at some point it will be the ‘tipping point’; at some point you will reach a number of reports and narrations – it is not science – your intuitive heart will feel the feeling of certainty. You will look into your heart and say yes, now my heart feels certain that indeed it is raining. That will also have to do with how well you know those report givers; how true you know them to be; how upright you know them to be.

This is what the muhadith was doing when he was tagging. Yes, the Hadith scholars made a few comments, that so-and-so is this, and so-and-so is that, but those comments are just a drop in the ocean of the knowledge about that narrator and their feel about the narrator. Modern day researcher goes to the books of ilm al-rijal and looks up the narrator and sees the muhadith’s comment, and says I have discovered this hadith is dha’if which all these fuqaha had been using for the past 1,200 years.

No, you did not discover anything, you just discovered that the muhaditheen all accepted this hadith, even though for all of these centuries they knew that one narrator, critic, did make that one comment. They disregarded that comment on the basis of their intuition. And you think you are a hero because you discovered that comment, and you want to change the gradings of the hadith of the great hadith scholars?

So tawatir; they are saying that when we reach a certain level of tawatir, we will view that these things behave at a uniform manner, but actually it was just the individual thing that you saw behave in that way. You dropped a ball, you saw that it behaved in a particular way in the gravity. But you would extrapolate; it’s an extrapolation. Science is doing it right. A reasonable level of approximation, a reasonable amount of falsification based on the intuition, until they reach the level of certainty, but when they have reached that level of certainty, they take a leap and then they make a claim of uniformity, and we are fine with that, and up till now it bears out.

But strictly speaking in terms of Scientism, that leap is not warranted, that leap is unfounded, that leap is not acceptable. But for us, and for science, it is acceptable.

The Raven Paradox

This is something called the Raven Paradox. Raven is a particular type of a bird, and the notion is that all ravens are black. If you make a statement like that, how would you do that? Science will tell you that we used observation; we kept looking at the ravens and we kept seeing them to be black. We travelled around and we looked at raven populations; we went to raven’s nests, we tried to discover where they lived. And we kept seeing that they are black. At some point they made this statement that all ravens are black.

How many did you see? You saw a hundred, a thousand, the point is, you did not see all of them and yet you said that all ravens are black. You saw some of them, even many of them, you may have even seen a great many of them. Remember we are talking about Objective Absolutism now. I did not put the relativity in the absolutism. This is an absolute statement; all ravens are black.

It is possible that today somebody takes out the gene matter of a raven, and tries to analyze its genes, and maybe suggest that the pigment in the genes is only programmed to be black. Still, the question would be, that could there be any alternate sub-species of raven out there that have a slightly different genetic make-up? So, there is a certain intuition – a certain tawatir principle – with which you will end up saying all ravens are black.

All of science is based on these things; the Theory of Uniformity, The Raven Paradox, they all have this notion of approximation with certainty. The way science regulates itself is with certain standards, it is not arbitrary, there will be peer reviews, there will be articles written in the journals, the scientific community will have to accept the research of that scientist, and that may take a few years, and then they may say yes, we accept that theory and now uniformly we will also use it in our own research and our experiments. It is a process, it takes time. It is not arbitrary. It is a structured, governed, regulated process. So this covers a few more concepts in the philosophy of science.

This was to suggest to you that the existence of Allah swt is beyond science. The question was ‘Does God Exist?’ The Atheist’s response to this was that your claim (that God exists) is not scientific and therefore false, for only that which is contained in science is true.This is how you will face this question:

Your reply is that no, not only what is contained in science is true. The question of the existence of Allah swt is beyond science.

Next was that your claim is not logical and your claim is not rational or logical. Lets take this. There is a whole range here. I will give you a couple of things from a whole range.

Fine-Tuning Argument

Like I mentioned to you, I attended a whole bunch of series of lectures at Oxford; probably 40-50 of them, one by a Professor of Pure Math Theory, and one by a Christian Professor who taught courses on Philosophy of Religion. Now, this is one notion of creation. Some of you, who are aware of these debates in America, you may know of the Intelligent Design, Creationism vs. The Blind Watch Maker vs. No Watch Maker. There are certain buzz words that are used in this literature.

One such term is called the Fine-Tuning Argument which was put forth by Fred Hoyle. It means that the Earth’s conditions are so finely tuned to create the possibility for the existence of life, and although science, certainly, and it is not that I have to negate this, but science is open to the possibility that life may exist elsewhere, what we call the extra terrestrial life. But up till now science says that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to prove the existence of terrestrial life. So even from today’s state of the art science, the current knowledge, although open to the possibility that there maybe life in other planets in the world, but the current knowledge says that there is only life on earth.

Fine-Tuning means that if the Earth was a bit closer to the Sun, or even a bit further away from the Sun, life would not be possible on Earth, because the temperature and climate would not be suitable to Earth. Fine-Tuning means that if the speed on which the Earth rotates around its axis, if it were somewhat slower, or somewhat greater, it would be more difficult to have life on Earth. There are so many factors, which even science will admit that we have only identified  some, there are also going to be some factors that science yet has to identify.

No scientist claims that we know all the laws of the universe. No scientist who does anatomy in physiology can claim that we understand everything about the human body. There are so many diseases – still – of which we have not identified a cure for, nor do we know the cause. What does that mean? I accept also, that the disease is happening through a scientific process. But science itself is saying that we do not have the full understanding of this process. This is one disease, what causes the disease? We don’t know. How are you going to cure the disease? We don’t know.

I am not saying that the disease is some paranormal, psychal, spiritual thing. I am hundred percent saying the disease is physical, material, it is within the realm of science, it is the subject matter of science, but science does not know about it yet. This is a fact for so many things. So if it is true about the human body, then you can imagine the extent to which it is true about the universe. But they say that from what we know right now, there is no life anywhere else.

Multiverse Argument and the Law of Probability 

The counter to the fine-tuning argument, which some Atheist scientist put forth, is the Multiverse Argument. And literally, one of them actually has this idea that imagine that there is some machine that just creates universes. Sooner or later, the law of probability would demand that a universe will eventually be created in trillions, and trillions, and trillions of years, eventually a universe will be created where life could be obtained. Or they say you take any universe, that eventually over a period of trillions and trillions of years of galaxy formations, star formation and star death, and star collapse, it is a matter of probability, that sooner or later a solar system would be formed in which there was one planetary body – the planet Earth – which would be so fine tuned that life would exist.

I accept that, but what is the probability? If you ask the Mathematician, he would say the probability is 1 over, you know, like in Maths, 1 over infinity equals zero. Now strictly speaking, why are you negating that one? Strictly speaking, in Maths, 1 over infinity should not equal zero. Zero is zero, and 1 over infinity, no matter how small it is, it is still something. But it is so negligible when you keep dividing it, it is infinitely divisible by infinity, so when you keep infinitely dividing it, it becomes so insignificant that it is treated as zero.

So we do the same thing. We take the 1 over infinity argument on the Multiverse; that probability is so infinitesimal, so extremely small, we will treat it as zero using this principle of Maths that 1 over infinity equals zero. The chance for such a finely tuned condition for life to have happened on its own is 1 over infinity, we will treat it as zero according to Maths, that means there is zero chance that this world came into existence on its own, that means that it is logically necessary that there was a Creator who brought it into existence.

You would be amazed if you ever research this Fine-Tuning argument. Even if you take a human being, any doctor will tell you that how incredibly fine-tuned the human being is, and as soon as the tuning goes out, that is the process of death beginning. We are just a speck; human being is a speck on Karachi, Karachi is a speck on Pakistan, Pakistan is a speck; we are a speck, on a speck, on a speck, on a speck – this is our reality in the universe.

I took three courses in Astrophysics as an undergrad in Chicago, way back in 1992, and my TA was an Atheist. Me and him used to sit back in the lab and have discussions. These are jokes sometimes, this is not a serious argument. But I am sharing to lighten this a little bit for you.

Some of the things that I used to talk to him about, and other such people, was the creation of Big Bang, and all of that stuff. I have no problem with the Big Bang. I believe that when Allah swt said kun fayakun; so He just said kun and the Big Bang happened, and fayakun – the universe came into existence. I said, you have a problem with the small bang. He said what is that? I said that you accept that the universe just came into existence, and I am telling you Adam (as) – one small speck (compared to the universe) – came into existence, and you say that is not possible, he must have evolved from apes. So, you accept the Big Bang, and you do not accept the small bang.

When we came to this issue of probability, I said lets suppose I accept the Multiverse argument that eventually the laws of probability, over trillions of years, would be that the universe is created, and the finely-tuned system is created – all of that stuff. I am telling you it is 1 over infinity, but I accept that. I say, in recorded human history, roughly from 2,000 or 3,000 B.C. up till now, lets just take it at 500 B.C., everyone would be happy with that, it was the time of Socrates, 2500 B.C. Shouldn’t one paper clip could have come into existence? I mean, if the whole Big Bang happened, and the universe came out of nowhere, couldn’t a small paperclip have just come into existence?

This is a quote by Fred Hoyle himself who came up with this Fine-Tuning argument:

The probability of the universe emerging out of random forces or by chance is less than the probability of a hurricane sweeping through a junk yard and assembling a 747 Jumbo aircraft.

If an infinite number of hurricanes pass through a junk yard, forget even the junk yard, lets say the Boeing factory, I will go a step further than him, a Boeing factory where all the parts are laid out perfectly, what is the probability that if a hurricane sweeps through, it would manage to assemble and screw every nut and bolt into place? If the universe could happen through such random forces, then it should at least be able to make a perfectly formed paperclip. Has anyone ever recorded in human history that a pencil came out of nowhere, or a paperclip came out of nowhere?

The reason I’m giving you these names is because you should know. Everybody just knows about Richard Dawkins, you should know there is a whole other world out there. We have a big problem in our university campuses here in Pakistan, that there are Dawkins-toting, I myself have seen it on a campus, like they sometimes have Bible-toting, so Dawkins-toting professors who carry Dawkins around and put it around their desks and they are totally preaching Dawkins in their classes, in the class that has nothing to do even with this topic.

They are completely abusing their position as a professor and a lecturer at a university, to preach atheism to the Muslim students. And there is no one who can even speak about this, you are not even allowed to raise your voice about this. This is the situation in the, very few, but the more ultra-elite class, high-academic universities in this country, only about 2-3 of which basically would fill all that description, there is some serious atheism going on.

Kalam Cosmological Argument for God

When you go back, they have other theories (to refute the fine-tune argument). There is a theory that the world was always here, there was no bang, it was always here. If you take that, I will show you another argument of the Kalam Cosmological argument. This is now for the theory that the world was always here. The previous one was if we all agreed that the world wasn’t always here; so there you say that Allah swt created it, or you say the Big Bang happened, that just out of sheer probability the fine-tuning happened.

Second, they will say forget the Big Bang, forget Multiverse, forget the probability; this world was always here. Now the light-hearted response: I believe in an Allah swt who has always been around, you believe in a physically created universe that has always been around. Both of us are believing in something that has no origin; that itself is a non-scientific concept – to have anything in existence that does not have an origin. In the classical texts of ilm al-Kalam they used to talk about this; that Allah swt is the only being that is ghayr masboot bil adam; that He has never been preceded by non-existence. He has always been.

They take the same concept and use it for the world. The second argument that is given by the people that the world has always been there. You want us to give you the proof that who created Allah, yet you’ve created the universe yourself (through this argument)? This is the light-hearted response.

Coming to the Kalam Cosmological argument, very interestingly, one of these Western Christian Philosophers, his name is William Lane Craig, he was trying to discover a philosophical way to refute, one is the logical way, one is the scientific way, and one is the philosophical way to refute a theory. His research led him to our own ilm al-kalam. Our own Muslim youth don’t even know ilm al-kalam, and Western philosophers who are non-Muslims they are going to ilm al-kalam. He calls it ilm al-kalam, he writes it in his honesty, he does not try to hijack it or plagiarise it, and it is taught, I was taught this at Oxford – it is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Our heart was so pleased to hear the word “kalam” from the professor.

Now understand what is the Kalam Cosmological argument. So we have necessity, contingency and logical fallacy. Necessity is what in Arabic we call wajib al-wujub; that what must necessarily exist. Contingency is just a fancy word that means dependant on something else. Let me first show you the Islamic understanding, second I will show how the Kalam argument can respond to that concept that the universe was always here.

Islamic understanding is that, within our tradition we understand that Allah swt alone is wajib al-wujud; He is the only Being who necessarily exists. We are all mumkin al-wujud; we possibly exist, we could also not have existed, our non-existence was also possible. Allah swt not existing, is not possible. Me and you non-existing, that is possible. This is also what so many of the great people, now I’m bringing in the spiritual approach, they used to make du’a to Allah swt just in shukr for this; that Allah swt you brought me into existence. If You didn’t create me, I wouldn’t even exist. I wouldn’t even “be” if I weren’t in your irada of kun fayakun. And then there is another thing called mumtani’ al-wujud; something that cannot exist, and what is that? That is a shareek to Allah swt, that is another god, another divinity, so that means it is mumtani’ al-wujud – it is not possible to exist.

That which is mumkin al-wujud, that which possibly exists, its existence is dependant or contingent on that Being who necessarily exists. Why is it necessary? Because Allahu al-Khaliq; that zaat which is wajib al-wujud, He created us, otherwise me and you couldn’t have existed. There is only one thing, only one factor that determines realizing the possibility or not, and that is Allah’s creative power, there is no other factor, no random forces, nothing else, there is one and only causal mechanism that brought us into existence, while it was completely possibly that we didn’t exist, and that was the will and wish, might and power, and creation of Allah swt.

When we will continue to exist in akhirah, that is because Allah swt is al-Hayyu al-Qayyum; He will live forever, the Pre-Eternal and the Ever-Eternal. Now we will also be eternal, but that is not because of our own ability. It is because of Allah’s irada, Allah’s wish and will and desire that we live forever.

Everything will either necessarily exist, necessarily also means istighna; to be independent, it is not dependant on anything for its existence and its creation. Me and you are dependant on Allah swt; He is our Rabb, He is al-Razzaq. We are something that is contingent, dependant on something else for existence.

Now look at how the Kalam Cosmological Argument works.

Step #1: Setting up separate categories. Everything that exists in our world, everything that exists in this universe, will have to either exist independently on its own, or its existence is contingent and dependant on some other existence

Step #2: Mutually existing categories. Anything that falls in the first category of contingent existence, cannot fall in the first category of necessary existence. You cannot be independent and dependant simultaneously. Your existence is either dependant or it is independent, if it is dependant then it cannot be independent. If your existence is contingent, there is no way it can be necessary.

Step #3: Every single thing cannot fall in the first category. Because, if it did, then everything would be pre-eternal, and that goes against both our empirical and experiential knowledge of the world. Even science wouldn’t think, nobody thinks that every single thing has always been here, that you have always been here, this watch has always been here, the black cup has always existed.

Because not every single thing is in the category 1, then all these things that are in category 2 must have something that brought them into existence. That upon which it is dependant and contingent must precede its existence. Because the existence of B (contingent) is dependant on A (independent), so existence of A must precede B.

When we reach that conclusion, that there are things that exist due to their contingency on other things that must have necessarily existed before them, and those things necessitated bringing them into existence, the question is that which it is dependant on that is itself going to be either necessary or contingent.

For example, your existence is contingent upon your parents. Now we will take a step back, are your parents contingent in their creation? You will say they are contingent, they also depended on something. We go back to their parents i.e. your grandparents. We keep asking this question, we keep going back, until we reach something that must necessarily exist.

Let me now put it for you in another way, if you say that something’s existence is contingent, that means it must be dependant on something else. If it is dependant on something else, you will ask the question about this ‘something else’ – is that something else’s existence contingent or necessary? You say it is contingent. Then I will keep taking it back. You cannot take it back till infinity, that is a logical fallacy. They must be traced back to something that is necessarily existing. You cannot have an infinite regression of infinity. That is a logical fallacy.

In Arabic they call it daur, you can’t have a daur, or what happens is that you are going round and round forever, it’s not possible. In logic we will not accept this, it is a logical fallacy. If you have an endless stream of contingent beings, everything brought into existence by something that itself was dependant on something with contingent existence, you cannot do that, you cannot have infinite regression. It means that it must necessarily be traced back to some being that has necessary existence. You cannot have an infinite regression.

Still a person may object that if all events need causes, like you said every contingent being has a cause, and that cause arises from a being that is necessary, and you cannot have infinite regression, so ultimately you will have to reach a cause that is necessary existence, but your first proposition was that everything needs a cause, so doesn’t that thing that is necessary existent also need a cause? Like some people will ask this question that who created God then? If you say everything is created then who created God then?

This is a logical fallacy called a category fallacy, because Allah swt is in the category of necessary existence. Necessary existence, by definition, doesn’t need a cause. Not only does it not need a cause, it is without a cause. Necessary mean non-dependant, non-causal existence. It’s a category fallacy. It’s like asking, what colour is sound? Sound doesn’t have colour; it’s a question that does not apply to this category. You can say what volume is the sound. To ask the question that what is the cause of that being who is necessary, that is a category fallacy. By definition of being necessary, it means there was no cause. Just like if you say, who made God? It’s like saying who made the unmakeable?

Necessary means unmakeable, non-created, uncreated. It’s like saying who created the uncreated? What caused the necessary existence? If something caused the necessary to come into existence, then it’s not necessary existence; it’s contingent. You put it back in the other category. If you keep putting everything back in that category, you cannot have everything in the category of contingent, because it’s an infinite regression, that’s a logical fallacy.

This is the Kalam Cosmological argument. This basically revolves around these three concepts; necessity, contingency, and the logical fallacy which is what we call an infinite regression i.e. it cannot go back forever, you will ultimately have to have something that is necessary existence.

Imam Ghazali (rah) explains this logical fallacy in the following way. If you look at how many times the earth revolves around the sun, it is once in a year, however if you look at how many times the moon rotates around the earth, that’s twelve times in a year. Lets go back to the lunar calendar, there are twelve lunar months. Now if you say that the sun and the moon have both existed forever, then you will be bringing their number of revolutions in the past to infinity. At the same time, you are saying that the moon has twelve times more revolutions than the sun, i.e. A = 12B, but Maths will tell you

if A=∞ and B=∞
then A=12B
A=B
because 12 x ∞ = ∞

When for the sun and the moon you take infinite regression, they both reach infinity, then ∞=∞ so the number of revolutions of the moon around the earth and the number of revolutions of the earth around the sun are equal, but how can they be equal when we just said that the moon revolves around the earth 12 times the number of revolutions earth revolves around the sun every year? So there are different ways to use this system of the Kalam Argument. This was just a little bit about science, the point was to show you that there is a conceptual understanding in deen that can engage in this discussion. While on the other side, the conceptual science should not be called science, it should be called scientism.

Rationality in terms of Nabuwwah [Revelation and Prophethood]

Imam Ghazali (rah) has explained this concept in a beautiful way. He uses the epistemological approach, which is a fancy term that means studying knowledge and the way we know things. So there is a way of knowing, and then there are things that are knowable by that way of knowing.

  1. First way of knowing, he says, is through our five senses. That begins, even according to the modern human embryology, in the womb where the baby develops different levels of skills. There are certain things knowable that you will know through these five senses. This is what babies are doing all the time. They throw things if they want to check something is loud or not. They take things and put them in their mouths to see if it’s hard or soft, bitter or sweet. This a way in which they are constantly knowing, they are learning through their five senses. We accept the five senses. We accept that certain knowable things are known through that way of knowing.
  2. Second way of knowing, he says, progresses with human development i.e. your aqal (intellect)It is that stage when the child can begin to fathom concepts, and understand and intellectualize them. In our tradition this ability matures at the age of seven. That’s why Blessed Prophet (sws) taught us to really begin the child’s tarbiyyah at seven. This doesn’t mean there should be no tarbiyyah before seven, but you begin it in the earnest at that age. The ability to grasp concepts as right and wrong, moral and immoral, pleasing or displeasing to Allah swt really reaches its maturity at the age of seven. It’s not the peak, it keeps on increasing, but maturity means it has developed — it’s there now. It’s an ability now that the child has. So then through your aqal, i.e. your mind, you are able to know many things. For example, there may be many of you who have never been to New York. Your five senses have never experienced it. You have not smelt it live, heard it, touched it etc. But your mind tells you it exists. You know with as much certainty that New York exists as a person who was born and raised there. We acknowledge aqal as a tool of knowledge and we acknowledge the knowable that are known by that way of knowing.
  3. In the third level, Imam Ghazali (rah) takes it in reverse. He said there are certain things known by the five senses, and there are certain things known by the intellect. Now he is saying that there are some knowables the knowledge of which cannot be traced back to the five senses, and cannot be traced back to the aqal. What makes claim to that knowledge is revelation and Prophethood, Nabuwwah, Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an is not something that came from our five senses, or our intellect. The Sunnah, the teachings of Blessed Prophet (sws) is also making a claim that this is knowledge, but the source of that knowledge is not the five senses, nor is it the aqal.

Now what he does is interesting, because this is well before the concept of modern science has even developed, but he very much adopts, what we call today, a scientific method. He goes for the falsifiability approach. He says that there are some things that claim to be knowledge and you didn’t know them through your five senses, and you didn’t know them through your aqal. So what you should do is you should test them out.

He takes one hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) said: If you make pleasing Allah swt your first and foremost concern and worry in your heart, Allah swt will remove all the concerns and worries you have in the world. This is the proposition. It’s not the proper adab to say it, but lets just say it for the sake of understanding that this is a claim to knowledge made to somebody who, at this moment, thinks their only tools to knowledge are their five senses and their intellect. The five senses could never come up with this. They cannot establish this to be true that if you make the sole concern of your heart pleasing Allah swt, Allah swt will remove all your worldly worries and concerns. The intellect cannot establish this position. This is beyond its ken, beyond its ability and rationality.

Imam Ghazali (rah) then says that to find out, you have to adopt this position and see what happens i.e. you run a test. You do it. You make the only concern in your heart pleasing Allah swt and you see if Allah swt removes your worries and concerns in the world. And if you find that Allah swt does remove the worries and concerns in the world, you will realize that this statement is true. He says that you should do this with every single verse and hadith.

Remember when we covered correlation and intuition — that’s the scientific method that you keep running the experiment, and there’s a certain number of times you run it after which you will feel that yes now I know there’s fair uniformity, I will say this is uniform [and I will accept it]. Imam Ghazali (rah) is even more precise, he doesn’t say approximately try 10% of hadith or 40% of verses. He says try it on all – take every hadith and every verse of Qur’an and practice it. So it’s the perfection of the scientific method.

He says if you find that all of the hadith and verses are true through your experience, then you will know from yaqeen (certainty) the source of that knowledge. Now you know the knowables to be true. If the knowable is true, whatever was the source of that knowable is also true. The source of that knowable is Hadith and Qur’an. When you know the knowables to be true, you will know their source to be true, you will know Allah swt and Blessed Prophet (sws) to be true with certainty. That challenge is also there for anyone. Before non-Muslims, the Muslims have to take it up. Allah swt said in Qur’an:

Lower your gaze

Try it. See what happens. You say no I don’t want to lower my gaze, can you give me a cure, shaykh? That’s not how it works. We are also scientific. Deen of Islam makes no claim that you can disobey and still succeed. You say I want haya so I don’t commit these lewd crude sins on the screen but I don’t want to lower my gaze. Deen doesn’t make that claim. There is no hidayah like that, that you disobey Allah swt and you still get obedience. This is also a logical fallacy.

Deen says you try it. Do what Allah swt has told you to do and then see if you get haya. Build a spiritual workshop, don’t just build a workshop for your academic intellectual understandings. You should think I will build a workshop on every single thing in Qur’an and every single thing in hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) taught me on how I can get haya, then I will, following Imam Ghazali’s (rah) approach, practice each and every one of those things. Then you will see, when you get that haya, you will have a certainty in your deen. You will say look at this deen — it’s kamil hidayah (perfect guidance). It changed my heart, it changed my life and it transformed my being. This is called deen.

You have to get real. This whole notion of not practicing Qur’an and Sunnah, and basically philosophizing and intellectualizing [Islamic teachings] — this is not the asal (real purpose). I’m telling you very openly, we just keep these type of lectures to take people out of the jails of their intellect. It’s like jailbreak. I’m breaking you out of the jail of your aqal so you can enter the life of your qalb (heart).

My dream is not that you go home and start building a workshop on Iman and you write me up all types of interesting intellectual questions. Go build a workshop on haya, build a workshop on sabr, build a workshop on taqwah. Then use Imam Ghazali’s (rah) method. Then see what happens. You will come to such a certainty. You will say I was a rock, I thought nothing could change me. I was full of anger, and lust and envy and I did what Allah swt said in the Qur’an and whatever Blessed Prophet (sws) taught me, and I changed. Then you will have true certainty.

This is what Imam Ghazali (rah) is showing through epistemology that knowledge through demonstration is knowledge, but knowledge through experience is a higher form of knowledge, which scientism can never aspire to, because scientism believes in knowledge through demonstration, we believe in knowledge through experience. You will experience the qurb of Allah swt. Anyone who has experienced this qurb does not need to be demonstrated that Allah swt exists. Allah swt says:

فَٱذۡكُرُونِىٓ أَذۡكُرۡكُمۡ
Remember Me and I will remember you. [2:152]

You will feel it. You will feel Allah swt making dhikr of you. You will know He is true, you will know He is real. You will not need any logical proof then, you won’t even need this Kalam Cosmological Argument. That was just a key to unlock the jail. You don’t need these things. This is what Imam Ghazali (rah) is teaching us that Qur’an and Sunnah have to be lived. They are not just to be translated and commented upon and analyzed and discussed — they are supposed to be lived by the heart. They were lived by the heart of the Blessed Prophet (sws). He (sws) brought sahaba karam’s (ra) hearts alive. This is called tazkiya in deen.

وَيُزَكِّيہِمۡ‌ۚ
and cleanse them of all impurities. [2:129]

It means to bring the hearts alive. This is something which is supra rational. Deen is not irrational. It transcends rationality. Rationality and intellect is a weak scale. When you go to the jeweler, he has a small little scale that can weigh up to maybe 10 pounds, because he is weighing in .003 grams and ounces of gold. If I put my suitcase on that scale, it will burst. His scale does not have that ability. Intellect is like the scale of the jeweler. Allah swt says:

عَلَّمَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مَا لَمۡ يَعۡلَمۡ
He taught man what he did not know. [96:5]

Allah swt will teach humanity the knowledge which they never could have known, nor did they ever know. Allah swt gave them a scale. They are running around with their small little jeweler’s intellect scales, trying to figure out what is true and what is real, what is false and what is untrue. Can you imagine? That scale of intellect is big enough, but it is like a small jeweler’s scale relative to Allah’s swt knowledge. So if:

1 = your ability to know
∞ = Allah’s swt knowledge
1/∞ = 0

That 1 is something, because that 1 little, pure, innate intellect was enough:

أَفَلَا يَعۡقِلُونَ
Then, do they not use their reason? [36:68]

…it was enough to understand the existence of Allah swt. If this inherent little small jeweler’s scale that Allah swt gave us is enough to understand and realize the existence of Allah swt, then can you imagine the transformative effect of the human being when he moves beyond the small scale of intellect and gets into the ocean of Qur’an and Sunnah? Imagine what type of ma’arafat (deep understanding) of Allah swt will he have. When he understands Allah swt, as Allah swt has revealed Himself to be:

وَلِلَّهِ ٱلۡأَسۡمَآءُ ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰ فَٱدۡعُوهُ بِہَا‌ۖ
For Allah there are the most beautiful names. So, call Him by them [7:180]

When he understands Allah swt the way He wishes Himself to be known:

وَهُوَ مَعَكُمۡ أَيۡنَ مَا كُنتُمۡ‌ۚ
He is with you wherever you are [57:4]

فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ
I am near [2:186]

What will happen to that person then? This transcends intellect. This is something else when Allah swt grants a person sharah sadr (lit.: opening up of the chest; enlightenment). Allah swt says to Blessed Prophet (sws):

أَلَمۡ نَشۡرَحۡ لَكَ صَدۡرَكَ
Have We not caused your bosom to be wide open for you? [94:01]

It’s your sadr, these understandings come in your chest, your qalb, your spiritual heart. The understanding of the sadr and qalb is way beyond any understanding that the aqal could have. And you want to leave the understanding of the sadr and qalb in deen and just be reading Dawkins and talking about Atheism, which is a matter of the aqal? I’m just trying to unlock you from this solitary confinement, small prison cell of the aqal. When you come out of that you will come into the unlimited expanse in the pastures of the true deen and the knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah, and in the pastures of your heart. You have to understand and keep all of these things in context.

This was a very small drop. In the end what I’m trying to do, I will tell you very openly, my personal view is that this drop is enough. I could sit down and give you a whole course on Atheism and Religion; existence of evil and this or the other, there are so many topics. For me, because I’m addressing you people, if I were talking to Atheists that would have been a very different engagement, but for the person who has Iman in their heart, this drop is enough to know that our deen has an academic and intellectual tradition, and also for you to realize that an ocean lies in the knowledge of spiritual tradition of my deen. My deen has engaged my aqal, but the real engagement is the way my deen has engaged my qalb. Allah swt says about Qur’an:

إِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ لَذِڪۡرَىٰ لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ ۥ قَلۡبٌ
Indeed, there is a lesson in all this for him who has a heart [50:37]

Indeed in this Qur’an there is admonishment and advice, but for who? For that person who has a heart. A person who has a heart will be guided by Qur’an. They will be transformed and uplifted by it. But had I put that topic up only five of you would have shown up. I put this topic up that Science, Rationality and the New Atheism, then you flock to it. This is the problem. If I put Heart, Spirituality and Qur’an — I get only 10% of the attendance.

I didn’t do this just to get you to come. I did it because clearly this is an issue that’s disturbing you so I want to talk to you about it. I don’t want you to think that Islam has nothing to say about these things. I want you to understand it from the vantage point and perspective of deen. This is a speck for us. It’s a tiny dot on the map. This is an incidental discussion. Why something that the deen views as an incidental discussion, people are making it into the be-all and end-all of their decision to stay on Iman, or leave their Iman? This is a big problem and possibly because you hadn’t had these type of sessions, Allah swt knows best. We don’t know. We are desperately trying to figure out how to help these people who are getting distanced from their Allah swt.

May Allah swt accept our sitting here, may He grant us the khayr in it, may He save us from any confusion and error, may He just accept our intention that our intention in any and every Islamic gathering, in every learning and discussion, is only and only to become closer to Him, only and only to become more pleasing to Him, may He let us live on this intention and die on this intention, may He raise us up with this intention, and may He honor this intention by granting us the abode in Dar as-Salam in Akhira where we actually get what we want, and that’s not objectivity, subjectivity or rationality, we get what we want and that is closeness to Allah swt, belovedness to Allah swt and nearness to Allah swt.


وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ