Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

“The Favor of Allah: To be with the Truthful”

The following essay was submitted by Adil 'Khayal Aly' Dhanidina, a graduate of McGill University, Canada with an M.A in Islamic Studies. Khayal is an aspiring scholar of the Holy Qu'ran. This essay amplifies the depth of meaning of some of the finer qualitative aspects of Siratal al-mustaqim:

"The Favor of Allah: To be with the Truthful."

Many times throughout the day and night, Muslims the world over pray to Allah and make the following supplication (du’a) as taught to them in the Holy Qur’an:

Ihdina as-sirat al-mustaqim
Sirat allatheena an‘amta ‘alayhim…

Guide us to (or along) the straight path,
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favors…

In order to better understand the spiritual and esoteric reality of this prayer, it is important to investigate the ways in which the Qu’ran speaks about the favors of God and those who receive them. The greater one’s knowledge of the favors of God is, the greater the strength of one’s prayer for them will be. It is my hope that the following, which is only one perspective on a subject about which much more can be said, will allow for a greater appreciation of what it means to ask to be guided to or upon the straight path of favors.

In verse 12:6 of the Qur’an, Hazrat Yusuf (Joseph, a.s.) is told:

Thus will your Sustainer (Rabb) choose you and teach you the interpretation (ta’wil) of stories (and events) and perfect His favor (ni`ama) to you and to the posterity of Jacob - even as He perfected it to your fathers Abraham and Isaac aforetime! Indeed, your Sustainer is knowing, wise (‘aleemun hakeemun).

The above verse reveals that the Divine favor (ni`ama) upon Hazrat Yusuf (a.s.) was not complete until he was taught the ta’wil (esoteric interpretation or spiritual hermeneutics). The names or attributes of God mentioned at the end of the verse ('knowing, wise”) give an indication as to the nature of ta’wil, namely, that the ta’wil reveals profound knowledge and wisdom. In the following verse, Hazrat Yusuf (a.s.) confirms that he was indeed taught the ta’wil, as he says: “O my Sustainer! You have indeed bestowed on me of the kingdom (al-mulk), and taught me of the esoteric interpretation (ta’wil) of dreams and events…” (12:101).

It is interesting to note the usage of the term al-mulk, which means 'kingdom'. This is the very same kingdom (mulk) that God conferred upon Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) and his righteous family (aal-e Ibrahim) mentioned in verse 4:54: “But indeed We have given to Abraham's children the Book (al-kitab) and the Wisdom (al-hikmat), and We have given them a grand/supreme kingdom (mulkan ‘azeeman).'

In this verse is one of the clearest indications that the special and supreme kingdom of God, entrusted to the guardianship and authority of God's Vicegerent (khalifa), continues in familial descent, as it has from Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) and through his progeny, to Hazrat Yusuf (a.s.) and, as indicated in verse 12:6, through the posterity of Hazrat Yaqub (Jospeh), who was the father of Hazrat Yusuf.

The verse also reveals the nature of this kingdom when God first mentions that He gave Abraham's children the Book (al-kitab) and the Wisdom (al-hikmat). The Hikmat is indeed the Wisdom as it is the inner reality (haqiqah) of the Book, and in this way, the Hikmat is itself the ta’wil or esoteric (batini) interpretation of the Book, which reveals the Truth of the Kitab. The Wisdom that was conferred upon Hazrat Ibrahim and his children is not something additional to the Book in the sense that the Hikmat is derived from a different source. To say so is to claim that God's Book was lacking in truth and wisdom. Rather, the Hikmat is the esoteric knowledge of the Book that is with the Book but is 'given' in the sense that only God and those whom the Qur'an calls rasikun fi’l-‘ilm (“well grounded in knowledge”, 3:7) know the ta’wil. Those who are 'well-grounded in knowledge' know the esoteric knowledge or wisdom of the Book because they have received this knowledge from the Hand of God; and this knowledge is Hikmat and ta’wil in the sense that with this knowledge (‘ilm), the Truth of the Book is very clear for them. As God says in verse 29:49: 'But it is clear signs (ayat) in the hearts of those who have been given knowledge (‘ilm).' This verse is extremely significant as it help us to understand a specific attribute or characteristic of the Prophets and Awliya (Friends of God), who are “the Truthful” (as-siddiq) or full of Truth (sidq).

In the Qur'an, God refers to certain individuals as being people of Truth (siddiq). For example, in verse 12:46, Hazrat Yusuf is asked about a King’s dream:

O Yusuf! O man of Truth! (siddiq), expound to us (the dream) of seven fat kine whom seven lean ones devour, and of seven green ears of corn and (seven) others withered, that I may return to the people and that they may understand.

It is significant that in this verse, Hazrat Yusuf (a.s.) is first addressed as siddiq (man of truth) and is then asked to explain or give the interpretation (ta’wil) of the King's dream. It is precisely due to Hazrat Yusuf's knowledge of the ta’wil that he is called a man of truth, for he is able to reveal the truth of dreams and events (see also verses 12:36-7, 12:44-5 of the Holy Qur’an). Therefore, important questions for reflection are 'what does it mean to be Truthful in the eyes of God?' “Is Hazrat Yusuf - the one who was chosen by God (12:6) to be taught the ta’wil (12:6, 101), the one upon whom God perfected His Favor (12:6), the one who was given the Kingdom (12:101) - is he to be understood as Truthful only in the sense that he does not tell lies or that he has an upright character?

Certainly the Prophet of God is righteous and trustworthy. But if we accept only this minimal and limited understanding of what it means to be called siddiq by God, and if we imagine that there could be a situation where the Prophet Yusuf (or anyone else called siddiq by God) is asked about the true meaning or the Wisdom of the Book or of dreams or of external events, and if we imagine that he may be ignorant about its true meaning, then, in this case, he would not truly be a man of truth. In other words, the praise of Hazrat Yusuf as a man of truth has to do with his Divinely bestowed knowledge and the fact that he knew 'the Truth' in the all-encompassing sense of the term as used in verses 39:33-4:”And he who brings the Truth (as-ssidq) and (he who) accepts it as the Truth (saddaqa bihi), these are they that guard (against evil, al-muttaquna).”

I make this point because it helps us to understand better the significance of the term siddiq, so that we may realize that when God mentions someone as being 'truthful', it is not to be understood simply in the general and limited way mentioned above, but rather as a term that relates to Prophetic or Divine Wisdom.

This understanding of what it means to be siddiq is brought out by another verse which speaks of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.). In verse 19:41, God says: 'And mention Ibrahim in the Book; indeed he was a truthful man (siddiqan), a prophet.' Here again, we have the attribute of Truth linked with Prophecy. Another magnificent verse that reveals what it means to be called siddiq by God, and how the person who is Truthful knows Divine Wisdom through the special “Given Knowledge” (‘ilm laduni), is the verse in which it is revealed that God first taught Hazrat Adam (a.s.) the Names of all things, and then challenges the angels to tell Him the Names if they are truthful (saddiqina). Verse 2:31-32 says:

And He taught Adam all the Names, then showed them to the angels, saying: 'Inform Me of the Names of these, IF you are truthful (saddiqina).' They said: 'Glory be to Thee! Of knowledge We have none, except what You have taught us: Indeed you are the Knower, the Wise’.

In this verse, a great wisdom is hidden/revealed, for the angels could prove themselves as being truthful (saddiqina) only if they can show that they have the “knowledge of the Names” (‘ilm al-‘asma). As most of us know, the Qur'an continues and shows that Hazrat Adam, by the Command of God, teaches the knowledge of the Names to the angels. Thus do we know that those who are siddiq know a special Wisdom (Hikmat), i.e., they know the Truth of God's Names and are thereby able to teach it to others.

Thus far we have been speaking of Prophets and their knowledge of Divine Truth. However, sincere believers may delight in the Qur’anic fact that it is not only Prophets who are given this knowledge of Divine Truth; rather, the Prophets, their successors (the Imams or Wasis), and even the sincere mu’mins, both men and women, can also attain the level or rank of siddiq. A great proof of this is the example of Hazrat Maryam (a.s.), the mother of Hazrat Isa (Jesus, a.s.).

Hazrat Maryam is not considered to be a Prophet or an Imam, but according to the Ismaili ta’wil, she is considered to be the example of the exalted spiritual rank of Hujjat or 'Proof' of the Imam of her time. Hazrat Maryam was indeed an exemplary mu’minah and, according to verse 5:75, Hazrat Maryam 'was a woman of truth' (siddiqatun). Thus, the Qur’an confers upon her the same characteristic as those Prophets who are mentioned as siddiq, and just as they knew the esoteric or spiritual hermeneutics, the Hikmat, and Truth of God's Books and His Beautiful Names, so too did Hazrat Maryam, who was a Truthful woman and a Hujjat.

Therefore, in verse 66:12 God says:

And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the Truth (saddaqat) of the Words (kalimat) of her Lord/Sustainer and of His Books (kutub), and was one of the devout (servants).

This beautiful verse clarifies the noble spiritual rank of Hazrat Maryam (a.s.) and also confirms what has been said about the term siddiq. Verse 66:12 tells us that Hazrat Maryam - who in verse 5:75 is called a siddiqah or 'woman of Truth' – is a pure woman within whom the Holy Spirit (Ruh) was manifested, and that as a woman of Truth, is thereby able to “testify to the Truth of her Lord’s Words and His Books”; which is to say that she, being at the rank of Hujjat, knew their ta’wil, or their higher reality and wisdoms.

It should also be noted that God specifies her as having knowledge of both, His 'Words' and His 'Books', and the significance of this should not be overlooked, for if they were one and the same there would have been no need for God to be redundant. In truth, not only is God’s speech always wisdom-filled, but so too is very order in which words appear in the revelation. It can be seen that in verse 66:12, God first mentions the 'Words' and then the 'Books'. The esoteric wisdom here is that the knowledge of the special Divine Words came first and was then followed by the knowledge of the Divine Books, and this is because Hazrat Maryam was taught special Divine Words from her Lord to perform as a Dhikr Illahi (Divine Remembrance). These Words were from the Divine Names - one of which is certainly the Supreme Name (‘ism-i a'zam) - and they were given to Hazrat Maryam just as they were given to Hazrat Adam, who then taught it to the angels (Qur'an, 2:33).

Verse 66:12 also teaches us about the nature of the Hujjat of the Imam, who learns the special Divine Words from his or her Lord, and who thereby learns the ta’wil and Truth of God's Words and Books. We must be aware that not only the Prophet and the Imam, but the Hujjats also, are siddiqs; and to the extent that a mu’min obeys and follows God, the Prophet and the Uli’l Amr (“Holders of Authority”, 4:59), he or she can also attain the status of siddiq, so long as one recognizes the Source and Hand of Truth. It is for this reason that in verse 9:119, God commands the mu’min men and women of all ages and times: 'O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the Truthful (ma‘a al-saddiqin).'

As explained above, upon reading such a verse, the mu’min must first determine who exactly it is that are to be considered as 'Truthful' in the eyes of God. One must be careful not to look at this verse only in the minimal or general sense of what in common language it means to be truthful. In other words, this Divine Command is not to merely keep good and honest company. Certainly it is that, but more than that; one must determine what it means to be siddiq, and the first place to search is the Holy Qur'an which illustrates the virtues and qualities and names of those who are considered by God to be Truthful.

In this essay we have seen that it refers primarily to the Prophets, their Family (aal) and also to the exemplary mu’mins who were with the Truthful. In the Surah of the Qur’an which teaches us how to obey God, that is, surah 4 aya 59, God commands:

O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and the Holders of Authority (Uli’l Amr) among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best and most beautiful Ta’wil.

Later in the same Surah, in verse 4:69, we learn who the Uli’l Amr are:

Whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger, they are with those (ma’a allatheena) upon whom (‘alayhim) are the favors of Allah (an‘ama Allah): of the Prophets (nabiyyina) and the Truthful (siddiqin) and the Martyrs/Witnesses (shuhada) and the Righteous (salihina); and a beautiful company are they!'

In verse 4:59, the believers are commanded to obey God, the Messenger and the Holders of Authority. In verse 4:69 God elaborates on the reward of obedience and says that whoever obeys God and the Messenger, will be joined together with those upon whom are the Favors of Allah. It is certain therefore, that the “Holders of Authority” are to be found from amongst the “beautiful company” mentioned in 4:69. According to Shia Muslims, the Holders of Authority are the Imams from the Family of the Prophet, and it is they who are the siddiqin who know – due to Allah’s Favor (ni‘ama) - the ta’wil of God's Words and Books. Along with them are the shuhada, who are the physical and spiritual martyrs who have recognized and 'witnessed' (shahada) the truthfulness of the siddiqin. Also included in the group are the righteous ones, who invite other mu’mins with their good behavior and example.

Therefore, the obedient mu’min may join with those (ma‘a allatheena) upon whom God has bestowed Favors, and by being with them the mu’min is certainly fulfilling the Command to “be with the Truthful” (ma‘a al-saddiqin). In this way, the mu’min may begin to walk and advance, in the real and true sense, on the Sirat al-Mustaqim: sirat allatheena an‘amta ‘alayhim.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

99 Superheroes - A worldcentric perspective on 1:7?

Author Looks to the Koran For 99 New Superheroes

By Faiza Saleh Ambah Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; A14KUWAIT CITY --

Naif al-Mutawa was in a London taxi with his sister when she asked when he'd go back to writing children's books. Mutawa, a Kuwaiti psychologist with two doctorates and an MBA from Columbia, said the question sparked a chain of thoughts:

To go back to writing after all that education, it would have to be something big, something with the potential of Pokémon, the Japanese cartoon that was briefly banned by Saudi religious authorities. God would have been disappointed by that, he thought; God has 99 attributes, or names, including tolerance."And then the idea formed in my mind," Mutawa said. "Heroes with the 99 attributes."He mixed his deep religious faith, business acumen and firsthand experience with other cultures -- his childhood summers were spent at a predominantly Jewish camp in New Hampshire -- to create The 99, a comic-book series about superheroes imbued with the 99 attributes of God. Those traits represent one of Islam's most recognizable concepts.

Mutawa's superheroes are modern, secular and spiritual, moving seamlessly between East and West. They come from 99 countries and are split between males and females.The heroes include Darr the Afflicter, an American paraplegic named John Wheeler, who manipulates nerve endings to transmit or prevent pain. Noora the Light -- Dana Ibrahim, a university student from the United Arab Emirates -- shows people the light and dark inside themselves. Mumita the Destroyer, a ferocious fighter, is Catarina Barbarosa, a Portuguese bombshell in tight clothes.They distribute aid to starving Afghan villagers, battle elephant poachers in Africa, fight the evil Rughal and train to increase their powers.

"I wanted to create something that would be a classic, not another made-in-the-fifth-world product," said Mutawa, 37, who has four sons. "It was either going to be Spiderman or nothing."After returning from London to Kuwait, Mutawa raised $7 million -- some from his old Columbia classmates, the rest from Persian Gulf investors -- and set up the Teshkeel media group in 2004. He hired some of the best people in the industry, including writers and artists who had worked at Marvel and DC Comics.

His current writing partner, Stuart Moore, is a writer on the new Iron Man comics.In November 2006, Mutawa's first comic book hit the newsstands.Since then, his creation has gained many fans but also faced a rumble of criticism across the Muslim world. Some have disapproved of heroines' makeup and tight clothing. Others view the personification of God's attributes as blasphemous.

One Kuwaiti cleric said the series promotes reliance on humans instead of God, counter to the Koran's teachings.Mutawa acknowledges he did not consult a cleric before creating the series.

"We should not allow a very limited number of people to tell us how to practice our religion. An Islam where I can be an active participant is the only Islam I can belong to. I believe in Islam and I also believe in evolution," he said, sitting in his office in a traditional long white robe and headdress. When it was time to raise a second round of financing in 2007, Mutawa sold 30 percent of Teshkeel to Unicorn Investment Bank, an Islamic bank based in Bahrain. "Now, when people ask me religious questions, I ask them to go to the board of Unicorn," he said, smiling.

Over the past year, he said, he has given dozens of lectures around the world, focused on pushing an Islam at odds with no one. "We shouldn't be fighting globalization," he told a crowd in Indonesia at the launch of the series there last year. "We should be participating in it by putting our own ideas out there."Mutawa describes The 99 as a modern tale with an ancient Islamic architecture. Ninety-nine gemstones imbued with the wisdom and knowledge of Baghdad's famous Dar al-Hikma library during the 13th century, the golden age of Islam, are scattered around the world, some on Christopher Columbus's ships, after an explosion of the dome in which the stones were embedded. The stones seem to find the people who become the superheroes, whose mystical link to the gems gives them special powers.

Worldwide sales of the comic in English and Arabic, including in the United States, have yet to exceed 30,000 copies a month, including Internet downloads, but Mutawa has been inundated with licensing demands. An American company wants to brand its halal hot dogs with The 99. He has signed deals with Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian and North African publishing companies.In his office are pencils, rulers, backpacks, notebooks and folders with The 99 logo, by a Spanish company. A Dubai firm is interested in making action figures. A deal for an animated series by a European company will be announced in July, Mutawa said. Last month, he signed a deal for six theme parks.

This semester, the American University of Kuwait offered a class, "The Superhero in the Arab World," that focused on The 99. As a final project, students created their own comic-book heroes.

When Mutawa recently visited the class, a young student in a black head scarf and makeup told him she was shocked by a scene in which Noora the Light said she was going to go pray to God, even though her hair was not covered."Why?" Mutawa asked. "Do you think only people who wear the hijab ask God for help? There isn't just one way to be Muslim. There are at least 99 different ways to be Muslim."

To read more of these features, go to the new Worldview page at

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Integral context for al-Fatiha

Ken Wilber, in his book, the Integral Vision, provides a context for an Integral Psychology. Since this is the beginning of an approach towards an Integral Psychology of Islam, and since the final message of Allah was sent for all humankind, it is relevant to look at al-Fatiha from an Integral perspective. Ken Wilber maps out a model of moral development that is very relevant to the Siratal Mustaqim:

"Egocentric, Ethnocentric and Worldcentric

"To grasp what is involved with levels or stages, let's use a very simple model possessing only 3 of them. If we look at moral development, for example, we find that an infant at birth has not yet been socialized into the culture's ethics and conventions; this is called the preconventional stage. It is also called egocentric, in that the infant's awareness is largely self-absorbed. But as the young child begins to learn its culture's rules and norms, it grows into the conventional stage of morals. This stage is also called ethnocentric, in that it centers on the child's particular group, tribe, clan or nation, and it therefore tends to exclude those not of its group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the post-conventional stage, the individual's identity expands once again, this time to include a care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, which is why this stage is also called worldcentric.

Thus moral development tends to move from "me" (egocentric) to "us" (ethnocentric) to "all of us" (worldcentric) - a good example of the unfolding waves of consciousness."

Just to put all of my remarks in context, for me Islam is a universal faith. The essence of Islam, then is also a universal faith and hence must demonstrate a worldcentric ethic.

~ Excerpted from "The Integral Vision" by Ken Wilber, 2007, p. 34