Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Jewels and Pearls of Al-Fatiha

To quote al-Ghazali's "The Jewels of the Qur'an" again, it is important to read the final chapter of the first part of the book entitled "The Reason for Stringing the Jewels and the Pearls of the Qur'an on Two Separate Strings" within the context of the famous hadith transmitted by Muslim, Sahih, Sala, 38, which is as follows:

"The Messenger of God (may God bless him and greet him!) has declared that God (may He be exalted!) said, "I have divided ritual prayer (in which the Opening Sura is read) into two halves between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks. When the servant says, 'All types of perfect praise belong to God alone, the Lord of all the worlds', God (may He be exalted!) says, 'My servant has praised Me.' When he says, 'The Most Gracious, Ever Merciful', God (may He be exalted!) says, 'My servant has lauded Me.' When he says, 'Master of the Day of Judgement', God says, "My servant has glorified Me.' When he says, 'You alone do we worship and You alone do we implore for help', God says, 'This is between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks.' Then when he says, 'Guide us along the straight path - the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your favours, those who have not incurred Your displeasure, and those who have not gone astray', God says, 'This is for My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks'."

It is within the context of this hadith that al-Ghazali offers the following:

"We shall now string the jewels of the Qur'an on one thread and its pearls / on another. Both may sometime be found strung in one verse by chance, and since it is impossible to divide it we shall consider the greater part of its meaning. The first half of the Sura of Opening belongs to the jewels, and the second half to the pearls, and this is why God (may He be exalted!) said, "I have divided the Sura of Opening between Me and My servants..." (to the end of the Tradition). We (should like to) remind you that the purpose of the string of jewels is only to gather the light of knowledge (of God, His attributes and His works), and the purpose of the pearls is steadfastness on the straight path by action. Thus the first is cognitive and the second is practical, and the basis of faith (iman) lies in both cognition and action.

~ Excerpted from "The Jewels of the Qur'an" (1977, p. 87).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Al-Fatiha is the key to all doors of Paradise

In a second chapter in al-Ghazali's book, "The Jewels of the Quran", translated by Muhammad Abdul Quasem, he reflects on a saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that "The Sura of Opening is the key to Paradise." In al-Ghazali's words:

"At this point we (should like to) make you aware of a subtle matter. So we say that this sura is the opening of the Book (i.e. the Qur'an) and the key to Paradise. It is the key only because the doors of paradise are eight, and the meanings of the Sura of Opening (too) amount to eight. So know with certainty that each of of these is a key to one of the doors of Paradise. This is testified to by Tradition.

If you are such a one whose mind by chance does not have a belief in this (i.e. that the Sura of Opening is the key to Paradise) and yet you seek to understand the relationship (between the two), then abandon what you understood about the outward aspect of Paradise. (Should you do so) it will not be hidden from you that each meaning (of the Sura of Opening) will open the door of one of the gardens of gnosis (ma'rifa), as we have indicated in (our discussion of) the signs of God's mercy (May He be exalted!), the wonders of His works, and so on. Do not imagine that the repose of a gnostic (which proceeds) from / delight in the watery meadows of gnosis and its gardens is less than the repose of the one who will enter the Paradise which he knows and in which he will satisfy his desires for food, drink and sex. How can they be equal? On the contrary, it cannot be denied that among the gnostics there may be one whose desire for opening the door of gnosis in order to behold the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and the glory of their Creator and Disposer is more intense than his desire for women, food and clothing. How cannot the former be predominating in the discerning gnostic when it is shared with the angels in the highest Paradise, since they have no enjoyment in food, drink, women and clothing? Perhaps the enjoyment of animals in food, drink and copulation exceeds the enjoyment of men. If you consider sharing with animals and their pleasures as more necessary to seek than sharing with the angels in their joy and delight in the study of the beauty of Lordly Excellency, then how great are your error, ignorance and stupidity, and how lowly is your ambition! Your worth is in accordance with the worth of your ambition.

As to the gnostic, when eight of the doors of the Paradise of gnosis are opened to him and he (enters and) secludes himself in it, he will never pay heeds to the Paradise of the fools, since most of the people of Paradise are fools and the 'Illiyyyun' are indeed the possessors of intelligence, as is held in a Tradition.

O you who fall short (of the highest stage), your ambition for pleasures is also excessive and oscillating like that of animals! Do not deny that stages in Paradise are obtained by different kinds of gnosis. If the watery meadows of gnosis do not themselves deserve to be named Paradise, they (at least) deserve to be the means of obtainment of Paradise, and thus they will be the key to Paradise. Do not, therefore, deny that in the Sura of the Opening are to be found the keys to all doors of Paradise."

~ Excerpted from al-Ghazali's "The Jewels of the Qur'an" as translated by Muhammad Abdul Quasem, Ph.D (1977, pp. 73-74).

Al-Ghazali on the secrets of al-Fatiha

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Quasem's translation of al-Ghazali's Kitab Jawahir al-Qur'an includes two chapters on al-Fatiha. The first is entitled: "Secrets of the Sura of the Opening, and How It Comprises Eight of the Ten Valuables of the Qur'an." In al-Ghazali's words, then:

"When you have considered, you will find that the Sura of Opening, despite its shortness comprises eight well traced roads. Thus the words of God (may He be exalted!), "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful", give information concerning His essence. His words, "Most Gracious, Ever Merciful," give information concerning one of His special attributes. The characteristic of this attribute is that it requires all other attributes, such as knowledge, power, and so on. This attribute is also connected with those men upon whom mercy is bestowed, in such a way that this connection familiarizes them with Him, fills them with longing for Him, and encourages them to obey Him. This is not like the attribute of anger, has He mentioned it instead of mercy, since anger grieves men, excites fear, depresses the mind, and does not delight it.

The words of God, "All types of perfect praise belong to God alone, the Lord of all the worlds" include two things. One which is the basis of praise which is gratitude. This gratitude is the beginning of the straight path, and, as it were, a half of it, since practical faith (al-iman al-amali) has two halves - half is patience and half is gratitude. The real meaning of this you will know with certainty, if you wish to do so, from the work, The Revival of Religious Sciences, especially from the 'Book of Gratitude / Patience'. The superiority of gratitude to patience is like the superiority of mercy to anger, because gratitude proceeds from joy, whereas patience under God's decree proceeds from fear and awe, and is not free from distress and sorrow. To walk along the straight path to God by way of love and to perform actions of love are much better than to walk along the path of fear. The secret of this will assuredly be known from 'the Book of Love and Yearning' taken from the work, The Revival. That is why the Messenger of God (may He bless him and greet him!) said, "The first of those who will be called to Paradise are those who praise God in every condition". (In addition to this) the words of God (may He be exalted!), "The Lord of all the worlds", indicate all His works and their relation to Him. The phrase which is most concise and which most perfectly encompasses the various types of divine works is "the Lord of all the worlds."

The words of God, "Most Gracious, Ever Merciful", the second time, indicate His attribute once again. Do you imagine that this is a repetition? There is no repetition in the Qur'an, for repetition is defined as that which does not contain any additional benefit. The mention of mercy after mention of "all the worlds" and before "the Master of the Day of Judgement", has two great benefits in expounding the channels of mercy. One pays attention to creation by the Lord of all the worlds - He has created every one of these according to the most perfect and best of its kind and has given it everything it needs.

Thus one of the worlds God has created is the world of animals, the smallest of which are the mosquito, the fly, the spider, and the bees. Look at the mosquito, how God has created its limbs. He has created in it every limb which He has created in the elephant; even He has created for it a long proboscis / attached to its head. Thus He has guided it to its food to suck man's blood. You see it prick its proboscis into him and suck its food from that hole. He has created two wings for it in order that they may be the instrument of fleeing when it is repelled. Look at the fly, hoe God has created its limbs. He has created its two pupils of the eye without eyelids, since its head is too small to contain eyelids. Eyelids are needed for cleansing the pupils from the dirt and dust which reach them. Look how in exchange for the eyelids He has created for it two superfluous hands so that, besides four legs, it has two superfluous hands. When as you see, it falls on the earth, it always wipes its two pupils with its two hands cleansing them from dust. Look at the spider, how God has created its limbs and has taught it the device of weaving, and how He has taught it the tricks of hunting without two wings, for He has created for it sticky saliva by which it connects itself with a corner lying in wait for the passing of a mosquito close to itself. It throws itself onto the mosquito, catches it, shackles it with its threads composed from its saliva, and thus disables it from escaping until it eats it or puts it in store. Look at the spider's (methods of) weaving its house, how God has guided it in its weaving according to geometrical proportion in the order of warp and woof. Look at the bee and the innumerable wonders of its gathering honey and (producing) bees-wax. We (should like to) make you aware of the geometry of its hive. It is built on the figure of the hexagon in order that space may not be narrow for its companies who become crowded in one place in a great number. If it should build its hive circular, there would remain, outside the circular hive, an empty space since circles are not contiguous to one another. Likewise are all other figures. As to squares, they are contiguous to one another, but the shape of the bee is inclined to roundness and so inside the hive there would remain empty corners as, in a circular house, there would remain an empty corner outside the house. Thus none of the figures other than the hexagon approaches the circular figure in contiguity, and this is known by geometric proof. Consider then, how God has guided the bee to the characteristic of this figure.

This is a sample from the wonders of God's works and His kindness and mercy to His creation, for the lowest constitutes an evidence of the highest. (Even) in the long lifetimes of many men it is impossible thoroughly to study these strange events, i.e. that part of them which is revealed to man, and that is surely small in relation to that part which is not revealed. This knowledge is exclusively appropriate to God and the angels. Sometimes you will find remarks of this kind in 'the Book of Gratitude' and 'the Book of Love' (from the work, The Revival). Seek them if you are fit for them, otherwise close your eyes to the signs of God's mercy, and do not look at them, do not graze in the field of the knowledge of His works, and do not be a spectator of it, but be occupied with the poems of al-Mutanabbi, wonders of the syntax of grammar of Sibawaih, consequences of Ibn al-Haddad in the rare matters of divorce, and tricks of argument in theology. These are more suitable to you, for your worth is according to your ambition. "Were I intended to counsel you my counsel would not profit you, if God willed to pervert you", and "Whatsoever of mercy God bestows upon men may be withheld by none and whatsoever He withholds may not be released by any after that".

Let us return to the (main) aim, for our motive (here) is to make you aware of a sample of divine mercy in the creation of all the worlds. Its connection with His words, "Master of the Day of Judgement", is that it indicates His mercy on the Day of Recompense at the time of the granting the favour of perpetual kingdom (i.e. Paradise) in exchange for (belief in) the sentence (of testimony) and for worship. Its explanation would take a long time. What we intend to say is that (really) there is no repetition in the Qur'an. If you see anything that appears to be repeated in it, look at what precedes it and what follows it so that the additional benefit of its (apparent) repetition may be revealed to you.

The words of God, "Master of the Day of Judgement", are an indication of the life to come, which is the concern of one of the fundamental divisions (of Qur'anic verses), together with an indication of the meaning of kingdom and the Master which belongs to the attributes of divine glory. The words of God, "You alone we worship", comprise two great parts. One is worship with sincerity in relation to Him especially, and this is the spirit of the straight path, as you will know it from 'The Book of Vice of Influence and Ostentation' from the work, The Revival. The second is the belief that none other than God deserves worship, and this is the essence of belief in divine unity. This is achieved by the abandonment of belief in (man's) ability and power, and by the knowledge that God is alone in (the execution of) all works and that man is not independent by himself and without His help. Thus His words, "You alone we worship", are an indication of making the soul beautiful by worship and sincerity, while His words, "You alone we implore for help", are an indication of its purification from belief in partnership and from paying attention to (man's) ability and power; we have already mentioned that traversing the straight path is supported by two things: One is purification of the soul by the denial of that which is not befitting, and the other is making it beautiful by the achievement of that which should be achieved, and these two are comprised in these two sentences from the sum total of the sentences of the Sura of Opening.

The words of God, "Guide us along the straight path", are a prayer which is the marrow of worship, as you will know it from 'the Book of) Mention of God and Invocations' from the 'books' of The Revival. These words of His make man aware of the need for entreaty and supplication to Him (may He be exalted!) which form the spirit of servitude and (also) make man aware that the most important of his needs is guidance along the straight path, for it is by (following) this path that advancement towards God (may He be exalted!) is, as already mentioned, accomplished.

God's words "The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your favours..." (to the end of the sura), are a reminder of His favour to His friends and His revenge upon, and anger towards, His enemies, in order that encouragement may be given and awe may be excited from the depth of the hearts (of people). We have already mentioned that the stories of prophets and (God's) enemies (related in the Qur'an) form two great divisions of (Qur'anic verses).

Thus the Sura of Opening has comprised eight of the ten divisions (of the Qur'an) - divine essence, attributes and works, description of the life to come and of the straight path together with both its sides, i.e. purification (of the soul) and making it beautiful, description of (God’s) favour to His friends and of His anger towards His enemies, and (finally) description of the resurrection. Only two divisions (of the Qur'an) fall outside this sura, namely, (God's) argument with infidels and judgements of jurists - two subjects from which the sciences of theology and jurisprudence stem off. From this it becomes clear that (in reality) these two subjects fall into the lowest of the grades of religious sciences. It is only the love of wealth and influence (obtainable by them) which has raised them to a higher status."

~Excerpted from Ghazālī, & Muhammad Abul Quasem. (1977). The Jewels of the Qurʼān: al-Ghazālī's theory : a translation, with an introduction and annotation, of al-Ghazālī's Kitāb Jawāhir al-Qurʼān. pp. 66-72

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Al-Fatiha at birth

According to al-Qadi al-Numan in his "Pillars of Islam" as translated by Asaf Fyzee, Hazrat Ali reported the following hadith:

"The Messenger of God said, 'When a child is born to a man, let him recite the call to prayer in the child's right ear,and the iqama in the left ear. This will be protection for him (or her) against Satan. The Messenger of God ordered me to act this way with al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and to recite additionally the Fatiha (sura 1), the Throne Verse (2:225), the last part of surat al-Hashr, (Exile, sura 59), Ikhlas (Unity, sura 112), and the last two chapters on Seeking Refuge (suras 113 and 114)."

~Excerpted from "The Pillars of Islam" Da'a'im al-Islam of al-Qadi al-Numan, translated by Asaf A.A. Fyzee (2002, p.185-186). Revised and annotated by Dr. Ismail Poonawala

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ibn Arabi on "the elect" implicated in Sura 1:7

If "those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Grace" is a reference to the "elect" in all religious discourse, Ibn Arabi has some very intriguing revelations to share about the vision of the Lord, which is clearly the final destination of Sirat al-Mustaqim. According to Rom Landau in "The Philosophy of Ibn Arabi":

"This vision, although in itself one and the same so far as the elect are concerned, has, nevertheless, different aspects. Those prophets, who only acquired their knowledge of God through the faith received from God Himself and did not increase that knowledge by reason and contemplation, will behold the vision through the eye of faith. The saint whose faith in God was inspired by a prophet will see it through the mirror of that prophet. If, however, he also gained a knowledge of God through contemplation, then he will have two visions, one of science and the other of faith...Those who obtained from God the mystic intuition only will occupy a grade in glory apart from all the other elect. To sum up, the three aspects which God presents to the elect in these three categories are graded thus: the prophets who received supernatural inspiration from God excel those saints who followed their teaching; while those who were neither prophets nor their disciples but simply saints and friends of God will, if they achieved the desired end by rational contemplation, be inferior in the Beatific Vision to the mystics, because reason, like a veil, will intervene between them and the Divine truth, and their efforts to raise it will be of no avail. In like manner the followers of the prophets will be unable to raise the veil of prophetic revelation. And so it is that the Beatic Vision, pure and unalloyed, will be the heritage exclusively of the prophets and the mystics who, like the prophets, received Divine inspiration on earth..."

~ Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Ibn Arabi" by Rom Landau, (p.80, 1959).