Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, February 29, 2008

Benazir Bhutto's "Reconciliation."

In Benazir Bhutto's final work, written just before her life came to a tragic and untimely end, she notes:

"Shias offer Fataha, the Muslim prayer, at the burial places of imams and their descendants. Many Shiites go on pilgrimages to the burial places of important imams to pray to God that in the name of the beloved Imam Hussain they may be blessed to overcome their troubles."

It should be noted, by her own recounting of the Bhutto family's religious profile, that Benazir's father was Sunni and her mother was Shia.

~ Excerpted from "Reconciliation - Islam, Democracy and the West" by Benazir Bhutto (2008) p. 53.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Miracle of the Straight Path

A renowned Qur'anic scholar in Pakistan, Allamah Nasir al-Din Nasir Hunzai offers an esoteric interpretation of

Ummu'l-Kitab as "Keys of Miracles: One of the meanings of ayat, is "miracle". Thus to the people of insight every noble verse is a heavenly miracle full of the marvels and wonders of knowledge and wisdom, and Ummu'l Kitab, i.e. Suratu'l -Fatihah and the Revealed Light, is the treasure of the keys of miracles. In this treasure, the phrase "sirat-i mustaqim" is a principal fundamental and luminous key, because every kind of exoteric and esoteric guidance depends on it.

Bewilderment of the Particular Intellect: The Divine teaching in which : "Ihdina's-sirata'l-mustaqim" (1:5) is mentioned causes bewilderment to the particular intellect. Because when a mu'min succeeds in praising Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and believes in His being the Beneficent, the Merciful and the Master and true King of the Day of Judgement and worships Him alone and seeks help from Him alone, then is this not the sirat-i mustaqim, i.e. guidance of God's religion? What more is required?

Answer: One characteristic among many of Suratu'l-Fatihah is that all its words are from Allah to teach His servants and to favour them with knowledge and good deeds. The basic teaching of the Qur'an starts here and everybody knows that only the basic of a thing is not enough, and that more is necessary.

The Real meaning of "Ihdina (Guide us)": This is the prayer not of those outside the religion of Islam, but of those fortunate ones who have entered Islam. Thus the real meaning of "Ihdina's-sirata'l-mustaqim" is: "(O Lord) make us walk on the straight path!" Because in this verse the simile and parable of the true religion is given by a straight path on which every Muslim has to walk and the provision of every such travelling Muslim can be taqwa only, i.e. God fearing (2:197). The Prophets and Awliya' have attained the special closeness of God by traversing the stages of this path in their life time (4:69). The purpose of the above mentioned prayer is obvious in that, the people of faith have to follow the path of the Prophets and Awliya' to attain success.

Purpose of the Light of Guidance: Study the verse (57:28) carefully: Is it not the same light of guidance which is permanent and everlasting and the purpose of which is that both the community and individuals have to walk on the straight path and advance in its light? Indeed, Islam is that straight path in whose stages of sharia't, tariqat, haqiqat and ma'rifat, every travelling mu'min can progress to its ultimate limit."

~ Excerpt from "Rubies and Pearls" by Allamah Nasir al-Din Nasir Hunzai" (1994) pp. 118-119,
translated from Urdu into English by Faquir Muhammad Hunzai and Rashida Noormohamed-Hunzai.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Al-Fatiha recited to enter the Temple Mount...

On a recent visit to Jerusalem as part of an inter-faith mission to the Vatican and Jerusalem, Dr. Nur Amersi of Los Angeles, CA describes her experience when she was asked to identify herself as a Muslim before entering the Dome of the Rock:

"It was 5pm and Shabbath services were going to start soon at the Hebrew Union College. My soul was uneasy as my gaze turned to the distant skyline of Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock beckoning me. Rabbi Diamond got an instant ulcer when I told him that I was determined to go through the Arab Quarter via the Damascus Gate. I slipped my prayer beads in my coat pocket and realized how privileged I was to be a Muslim as that was my passport to enter Temple Mount. The Israeli guards at the barrier were not to take the responsibility for ascertaining my religious identity. Two Muslim guards were summoned and after checking my California driver license asked me to recite Sura-al Fatiha. With my eyes shut and prayer beads in the palms of my hands, the beautiful words of the Holy Qur’an gushed out from the depth of my soul. They nodded, I followed, and we entered a small door and I could see Temple Mount. But it was not yet over!

Two austere looking men approached me and recited few words of three different Quranic Suras and I was asked to complete the verse. I passed the test and they profusely apologized stating that there were reports of foreigners plotting to blow up the mosque. I was not paying attention. I headed to the Dome of the Rock and took off my shoes. I could not stop crying. This is where it all began - God’s Covenant with humanity through Abraham who was neither a Jew, nor Christian nor Muslim and yet he was closest to God. This was also where Biblical scholars have outlined to be the site of the Holy of the Holies where King Solomon placed the Ark of the Covenant in the First Temple dedicated to our common Abrahamic belief in our One God. And this is where my beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) on his divine visionary night journey, the Isra, ascended to the highest plane of Divine seat in the Meraj."

~Excerpted from Pakistan Link, February 16, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Intellect in al-Fatiha

In footnote 8 on page 4-5 of M. Ali Lakhani's "The Metaphysics of Human Governance: Imam 'Ali, Truth and Justice", in The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, ed. M. Ali Lakhani (World Wisdom, 2006), Lakhani writes:

Those "who have gone astray" can be understood as those who have not awakened to the perception of their intellects and who thereby fail to discern the real from the illusory; while those "who have earned Your wrath" can be understood as those who, in the face of external guidance from the divine messengers and the inner discernment of their intellects, yet refuse to perfect their submission to God, in other words those who enslave their intellects to the dictates and temptations of their egoic wills."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Siratal Mustaqim and Ibn 'Arabi's Al-Fana'

As we continue to contemplate together the depth of the meaning of Al-Fatiha and Siratal Mustaqim which for Sufis is the "Path of Direct Experience," or Al-Fana', it is important to understand what Al-Fana' really signifies.

Rom Landau in his book "The Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi" looks at the Sheikh al-Akbar's perspective:

"Ibn 'Arabi devotes a great deal of thought to mystical experiences and the 'mechanism' within them. The usual Sufi term for 'union' with God is fana' (passing away, or annihilation). But not all Sufis agree on its meaning, nor on the meaning of its opposite pole, the term baqa', or enduring. Most of the Sufis before Ibn 'Arabi use the word fana' to describe a purely subjective state. They agree that in fana' consciousness of the phenomenal world is lost; that fana' leads to a gradual unification with God; and that it involves a giving up of all personal desires, and resignation to the will of God. But, as Dr. Affifi points out, with the exception of Al-Qushayri, no Sufi defines fana' or baqa' as clear psychological states: the one as 'abandonment of the phenomenal', the other as 'concentration of the Divine and spiritual'. As Al-Qushayri says (in his Risalah, p. 32), 'the two states together are like a lover's absorption in the beloved'. Practically all other Sufi statements on fana' were vague.

Ibn 'Arabi was not only a Sufi but also a philosopher, whose intellectual capacities were second to none in Muslim thought. In his views on fana' he disagrees not only with most Sufis but also with Western mystics who describe a state corresponding to fana'. How can even a mystic, he asks, 'die to self', and yet be conscious of God? Consciousness (irrespective of its object implies continuation of self. A passing away of self cannot mean anything but sleep. In such a state, 'the mystic is neither with his "self" nor with his "lord"; he is asleep, he is unaware'. Ibn 'Arabi dismisses as ignorance the assumption that the mystic has become God or dies to himself.

Ibn 'Arabi considers fana' from both a mystical and a metaphysical aspect. In a mystical sense, fana' is a passing away of ignorance and a becoming aware of the essential oneness of the whole. It is realization of one's non-existence as form (phenomenon). This, he claims, can be achieved only intuitively. In a metaphysical sense, fana' is a passing away of the forms of the phenomenal world and continuation of the one universal essence. It is the disappearance of form at the moment of the manifestation of God in another form', or as he puts it, 'the disappearance of a form is its fana' at the moment of the manifestation of God in another form'. (Fusus, p. 230). It can be said then (on the basis of Ibn 'Arabi's, and the atomists', doctrine of the world as being in a constant process of creation, that is, of destruction and recreation) that fana' is catching the infinitesimal moment between the annihilation of one Divine Attribute and the emergence of a new Attribute. (What Ibn 'Arabi appears to mean is that, since Divine Attributes, by their very nature, exist in time, only the 'instant' between them belongs to eternity - the dimension of pure essence. And so it is only then that the timelessness of fana' can be reached.)

In his endeavour to give an objective assessment of fana', Ibn 'Arabi delineates it as a gradual process which he divides into seven stages. These are as follows:

1. Passing away, from sin. This Ibn 'Arabi does not interpret in the usual Sufi manner as the abandonment of all sin, but as a realization that all actions are right (not in a moral sense but as coming from God). That which is sin, is to regard one's actions as coming from oneself.

2. Passing away from all actions in the realization that God is the agent of all actions.

3. Passing away from all attributes of the 'form' in the realization that they all belong to God. As Ibn 'Arabi puts it; 'God sees Himself in you through your own eye and, therefore, He really sees Himself: this is the meaning of the passing away of attributes.' (Fusus, p.198).

4. Passing away from one's own personality in the realization of the non-existence of the phenomenal self, and the endurance (baqa') of the eternal substance which is its essence.

5. Passing away from the whole world in the realization of the real aspect which is at the bottom of the phenomenal.

6. Passing away from all that is other than God, even from the act of passing away (fana' al-fana'). The mystic ceases to be conscious of himself as contemplator, God being both the contemplator and the object of the contemplation. (This is very different from the common Sufi view of the disappearance of consciousness which Ibn 'Arabi defines as mere sleep.)

7. Passing away from all Divine attributes. The universe ceases to be the 'effect of a cause' and becomes a 'Reality in appearance' (Haqq fi Zuhur). This seventh stage represents the fullest realization of the oneness of all things, and must be the final aim of all mystical endeavour.

It may be objected that Ibn 'Arabi tries in vain to give an intellectually acceptable explanation of the mystical experience, since such an experience is essentially incommunicable. It must, however, be conceded that no individual experience that involves quality and not merely quantity is communicable except by approximation. No one has ever been able to convey to others the essence of the feeling of being in love, or of the sensation of plunging headlong into icy water. All communication is effected by symbols, whether verbal, mathematical, or of any other nature. Though the symbols used by a mystic differ more profoundly from the experience they symbolize than do most symbols from their respective experience, the difference between the two kinds of symbols is not fundamental. If we wish to communicate a mystical experience, we can do it only by employing symbols similar to those we employ when communicating any kind of qualitative experience. These symbols, being media belonging to a plane different from the plane of the things they symbolize, must needs distort the truth of the experience. It may well be that a mystical experience sweeps through the different stages as tabulated by Ibn 'Arabi as though in a flash, and that his detailed tabulation is too complex and artificial to explain it. It may seem too particularized and intellectual, but it contributes to a clearer understanding of the mystical experience.

Summing up, we might say that for Ibn 'Arabi the goal of fana' is the attainment of true knowledge by the passing away of everything phenomenal, that is, everything other than God. Attainment of such knowledge can be equalled with awareness of God. This, however, must not be interpreted as becoming God. Rather is it God's recognizing Himself through, and within the medium of man."

~Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi" by Rom Landau (1959) pp. 51-54

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lord of All Systems of Knowledge

Writing about an interpetation of al-Fatiha by Warith Din Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad, who has successfully led many of his father's disciples back to accepted forms of Islamic practice, Bruce Lawrence in his biography of the Qur'an offers this appreciation:

"He offers a novel interpretation of the Opening Chapter. While the initial verse has been variously rendered as:

Praise to God, the Lord of all Creation


Praise is due to God, Lord of the Universe


Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds,

Imam W.D. Mohammed ponders the deeper meaning of the word 'worlds.' He wonders why the root word for 'world' in Arabic is also the same root for 'knowledge'. He ingeniously chooses to combine the two, offering a unique rendition of the inaugural command of the Opening Chapter of the Qur'an:

Praise be to Allah, Lord of all Systems of Knowledge.

'Worlds' are no longer spheres of outer space or the reaalms of life beyond death. Instead, 'worlds' become 'systems of knowledge'. The stress is not just on knowledge, but systems of knowledge, and redoubled is the accent on all systems of knowledge: no matter what their origin or who claims them or who uses them, all derive from God. Great wisdom, whether from Caucasian writers of the US Constitution or from Arab scientists of the Caliphal era, has a Divine source.

Did not these same groups sometimes function as antagonists to African Americans? Yes, but the achievements of Caucasians and Arabs are no less God-derived. Their wisdom belongs to Allah, since all systems of knowledge belong to Him. In effect, W.D. Mohammd is warning African American Muslims to avoid rejecting everything about whites or Arabs just because the latter have hurt African Americans. His listeners can, and should, claim the knowledge that whites and Arabs have produced. Why? Because ultimately that knowledge and its apllication belong to God; they are vehicles to edify, not stratify, his servants.

The obligation of African American Muslims is clear and broad. When they praise Allah as Lord of all systems of knowledge, they make knowledge the core Muslim value. All systems of knowledge include etiquette, or personal behaviour. They include global history from the rise of Islam to modern world systems. They also include science. Religious knowledge and scientific inquiry become parts of a single package. Both are integral to Ilsam, since the One who is 'Lord of all Systems of Knowledge' is omniscient as well as omnipotent. Divine omniscience extends from the Day of Creation to the Day of Judgement. Just as there is nothing that God did not know before the first atom was formed, so the revelation of the Qur'an anticipates all knowledge that came after the time of the Prophet. That includes modern science. The Qur'an is the Book of Science as well as A Book of Signs. Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammd Iqbal would agree."

'Lord of all systems of knowledge' is more than an apologetic response to scientific prestige. In practice, the followers of Imam W.D. Mohammed make 'Lord of all systems of knowledge" a pedagogical tool from junior school to university. Its purpose is to encourage young Muslims to recognize that the Meta-Book is also the Book of Nature, and part of their own history."

~Excerpted from "The Qur'an - A Biography" by Dr. Bruce Lawrence, (2006) pp. 167-169

Ibn 'Arabi on the Seven Sacred Verses

Bruce Lawrence, in his biography of the Qur'an shares Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi's perspective on Sura 15:87.

"Just as sincerity is marked by degrees - not all are equally sincere, so all seekers do not have the same potential for knowledge or insight. Ibn 'Arabi explains the stages of insight with reference to one of his favourite Qur'anic passages:

And we have given you

Seven verses for repetition,

And the Great Recitation. (15:87)

The Meccan Openings are an extended commentary on this verse. They were revealed to Ibn 'Arabi when he was on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Just as myriad insights derived from this single Qur'anic verse, so its truth was conveyed to Ibn 'Arabi in a single moment, through the apparition of a youth. The youth vanished before Ibn 'Arabi could meet him, but as he left he told Ibn 'Arabi: 'I am the Recitation (that is, the Qur'an), and the seven verses for repetition.' In other words, the youth claimed to be a divine emissary: 'I am the sum total of the Qur'anic revelation, characterized by seven repeated or doubled verses.' Like an earlier dream where Ibn 'Arabi saw himself united with the stars and with the letters of the Arabic alphabet, the youth personified for the mystic seer the sum total of meaning. He was the mediator of the (seven) doubled, whether they be the actual verses of the Qur'an or seven of the Divine Names or seven mystical states induced by those verses and names.

The seven verses to which the Qur'an itself is referring are likely to be the seven verses of the Opening Chapter of the Qur'an:

In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate
Praise to the Lord of all Creation
Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate
Master of the Day of Determination.
You alone do we worship
And from You alone do we seek alleviation.
Guide us to the path of True Direction,
The path of those whom You favour,
Not of those who cause You anger,
Nor of those who took to the path of deviation. (1:1-7)

Ibn 'Arabi implies a parallel between the Meccan Openings given to him by the 'youth' and the Opening Chapter given by Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. Its three directives encode three stages or levels of sincerity. They are graded from lower to higher. The first or lowest is the sincerity of the masses. It requires sincerity in one's deeds and words ('You alone do we worship'). For the second or higher group, who are the elite, sinceity in deeds and words produces insight into the meaninbg of servitude and dependence ('From You alone do we seek alleviation'). Beyond the masses and the elite there is yet another group. They are the elite of the elite, not because of their social standing or their pious observance but because of their patience. The elite of the elite are sincere, like the masses, and nsightful, like the elite, but they also persist and persist and persist. They embody patience according the Qur'anic dictum:

Persist with truth, persist with patience. (103:3)

Patience is the third step. It derives from sincerity and insight, yet offers its own speciala reward. For th elite of the elite, the outcome of sincerity, insight and patience is awareness of spiritual states. The patient seeker becomes receptive to the full experience of the Divine and so to the meaning of technical terms reserved for those who cry out: 'Guide us on the Straight Path'.

Sincerity, insight and patience take one to the threshold of Ibn' Arabi's approach to Qur'anic truth. It discloses the notion of parallelism that pervades his approach to the Qur'an. Whatever seems to be a pairing or a doubling, such as the two names of God - Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate - or the two groups with God is angry or who have gone astray - such pairings are much more than a mere juxtaposition of similar words or themes. 'For every sign there is an outward and an inward, a limit and a potential,' according to a Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. If the visible world is filled with signs, they remain mere signs, possible beacons of light but still dim or dark, until human creatures recognize their creatureliness as a potential to reflect the attribute of God as Creator. "

~Excerpted from "The Qur'an - A Biography' by Bruce Lawrence (2006), pp. 110-113

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Al-Fatiha - the gateway to spiritual health

Author of "The Qur'an - A Biography", Duke Professor Bruce Lawrence, Director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center offers a more universal interpretation of al-Fatiha than those just mentioned in my previous post:

"The Qur'an was an invitation. It was also an outpouring of Divine Favour into the human domain, into the human heart. The Qur'an announces God's Mercy in the opening chapter. Its seven verses offer the gist, the fine gold dust, of all revelations. It channels Divine Abundance through seven portals of hope, each verse conferring Divine solace on those who remember and those who recite these words. Collectively, the seven verses of the opening chapter became the gateway to spiritual health, for all beleivers, be they Jews, Christians or Muslims:

In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate

Praise to the Lord of all Creation
Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate
Master of the Day of Determination.

You alone do we worship
And from You alone do we seek alleviation.

Guide us to the path of True Direction,
The path of those whom You favour,
Not of those who cause You anger,
Nor of those who took to ther path of deviation.

Vouchsafed by these words, by the intermittent announcements of Gabriel, by the salutary Signs from the Unseen, Muhammad had begun his journey as a messenger of God. He had become a vehicle for the Divine Word."

~ Excerpted from "The Qur'an - A Biography" by Bruce Lawrence, pp. 34-35

Monday, February 4, 2008

Unconscious or conscious anti-Semitism in Al-Fatiha?

Reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book "The Caged Version" in an attempt to understand her wounding and subsequent rejection of Islam, I came upon this passage which relates directly to the politicization of Al-Fatiha by many Muslim commentators:

"As a child I used to hear nothing but negative comments about Jews. My earliest memory dates from the time we lived in Saudi Arabia in the mid-seventies. Sometimes we would have no running water. I remember hearing my mother wholeheartedly agreeing with our neighbor that the Jews had been pernicious again. Those Jews hate Muslims so much that they'll do anything to dehydrate us. "Jew" is the worst term of abuse in both Somali and Arabic. Later, when I was a teenager living in Somalia and Kenya, from the mid-eighties onward, every prayer we said contained a request for the extermination of the Jews. Just imagine that: five times a day. We were passionately praying for their destruction but had never actually met one. With that background experience, and my loyalty to the political, cultural, and religious variant of Islam, which I (and millions with me) inherited from my childhood, I arrived in the Netherlands. Here I came into contact with an entirely different view of the Jews: they are human beings before anything else. But what upset me more was learning about the immense injustice that had been done to the people labaled "Jews." The Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that led to it cannot be compared to any other form of ethnic cleansing. This makes the history of the Jews in Europe unique."

~ Excerpted from "The Caged Version" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, p. 98

One particular commentary entitled "Key to al-Fatihah" published by the Islamic Foundation, authored by Abdur Rashid Siddiqui (formerly a Secretary General of the UK Islamic Mission and a past Chairman of the Shura Council of the Islamic Society of Britain) illustrates how susceptible the hermeneutics of the Holy Qur'an are to being (mis)interpreted, (mis)construed or politicized based on one's personal or a collective political bias.

He begins by discussing the meaning of al-ghadab, then he proceeds with an analysis that
borders on anti-Semitism, exemplifying a current of thinking about Jews and Christians
referred to in the Holy Qur’an as “ahl al-kitab “ or “People of the Book” which is
unfortunately very prevalent in Muslim circles and communities world-wide:

"1. Meaning The literal meaning of al-Ghadab is hardness. Hence a hard rock is called Ghadabah and a deadly poisonous snake is called ghadub. Thus, anger is called ghadab and an angry person is referred to as ghadban. Ghadab is a relative state and varies. The hardness of a rock, the poison of a snake and the anger of a human being differ in their manifestation but all possess a quality of extremism. Allah (swt) is above feelings and sensations that we experience and, thus, we cannot really comprehend the quality of His Anger.

2. Analysis The word ghadab signifies anger, displeasure and wrath. Those who incurred Allah's Wrath are those who were deprived of His Favours and received punishment:
Thus they (Jews) have drawn on themselves Wrath upon Wrath, and humiliating is their punishment of those who reject Faith. (al-Baqarah 2:90) They (Jews) were covered with humiliation and misery, they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allah. (al-Baqarah 2:61)

It is instructive to note the word maghdub is used impersonally and means that their actions are responsible for Allah's Wrath. Thus, the Jews either rejected the Shari'ah of Allah, or if they accepted it, they tried to distort it or mould it to suit their own desires. Thus, they incurred Allah's Wrath. Their worst crime was to conceal the Truth. For this they were deprived of Allah's blessings and incurred His Curse which is signified by the word la'nah.

Those who conceal the clear (Signs) We have sent down, and the Guidance, after We made it clear for the People in the Book - on them shall be Allah's Curse, and the curse of those entitled to curse. (al-Baqarah 2:159) (2001, pp 45-46).

Hamid Algar too, in his "Surat Al-Fatiha - Foundation of the Qur'an" confirms that there are numerous commentators who take a similar narrow approach:

“What groups constitute those two negative categories? Again, many commentators suggest relatively restricted interpretations. “Those who have incurred anger” are said to be the Jews and “those who are straying” are said to be the Christians.” (1997, p. 41)

From the perspective of a more esoteric tradition, the above analysis, in pointing fingers at other Abrahamic faiths, would be considered completely flawed and derelict. In response, one could cite the Holy Qur'an in al-Baqara itself in Sura 2:62:

"Those who believe (in the Quran),
And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),
And the Christians and the Sabians,
- Any who believe in God And the Last Day,
And work righteousness,
Shall have their reward With their Lord:
on them Shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."