Thursday, 19 February 2009

Is Comparative Religion Necessary for Da'wah?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

For the longest time, there was this prevalent belief in certain Muslim organisations that to engage in da’wah, it is necessary to have knowledge in comparative religion.  It is a veil and irrelevant to the issue of faith.  Some people believe that to bring someone to Islam, it was necessary to point out in an intellectual discussion what is wrong with their religious beliefs and why Islam is the answer.

Firstly, as much as we would like to believe so, any discussion involving a belief system is anything but emotionless.  We are talking about the ideas, and passions that rule our lives intrinsically.  Look at the Muslims for example; because of cartoons that insulted the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), they were ready to burn down whole neighbourhoods, torch an embassy and send death threats.  Ironically, to defend Rasullulah (s.a.w.), they violated the tenets of the faith and transgressed the sunnah.

Secondly, many Muslims who try to use this tactic only highlight their ignorance.  They do no know enough of their own religion to talk about others’ faith.  Bible study seems to be the rage, even amongst asatidzah.  In fact, some of them seem to have made a name for themselves as ‘experts’ in Christianity.  Unfortunately, just as any person who does critical analysis of the Qur’an by not referring to the Arabic text is dismissed, quoting a few lines in English does not constitute Bible study.  Much of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic.  Much of the New Testament was in Koine Greek.  Just as you cannot understand the Qur’an in parts without reference to the hadits, exegesis and historical knowledge; there is a whole body of liturgical works that are ignored by believing that the Bible is central to every Christian belief.

So what is the key to da’wah?  Muslims believe that it is fithrah, our natural disposition to believe in Allah (s.w.t.).  But they do not fully understand what that is.  Fithrah is not merely the intrinsic belief that there is something out there, it is the recognition within our souls the very Nature of Allah (s.w.t.).  It is the memory of the time when Allah (s.w.t.) brought forth the souls of Bani Adam to affirm that he is ar-Rabb.  We remember the Day of Promises at a deep spiritual level.  The Truth is intrinsic.  But since the hearts are not pure, the light is distorted or dimmed.  That memory slumbers in the deepest recesses of our subconscious.  We will know our Maker and His Signs when that memory stirs to consciousness.  It is the state of ma’rifat, gnosis.  To some, it is more developed than others.  Perhaps only a shaykh may show you how to open the door.  But a da’i may show you that the door is there.

People become Muslims because of the quest of spirituality.  Each and every one of us is a seeker, a traveler trying to find the way Home.  We are in the desert trying to find the Garden.  So we follow the ways of the Sufis.  They will show us what da’wah is.  Da’wah is humility, kindness, surety and a belief that we are instruments of the Will.  Comparative religion as a method of da’wah is like the man who makes endless comments about your mode of transportation instead of pointing the way.

Coming Back to the Fold

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Some couples are together for so long that it seems inevitable that they end up married because those around them cannot imagine them with anyone else.  And they were a couple.  They were in a relationship since they were in school.  The girl was a Muslim.  The guy was Sikh.  Being together for such a long time, their respective families knew each other.  However, religion was still an issue.  Although there was pressure to, both of them could not get married since neither would convert to the other’s religion.

Heartbroken, the girl went for hajj.  She made a du’a at the Ka’bah and those are amongst the most powerful of du’a.  She made up her mind that when she got back, if he were not a Muslim, she would forget about him and move on.  In this, the lesson is to be careful what we ask for.  Allah (s.w.t.) Grants it.  But it does not mean we understand what we have asked for.

When she got back to Singapore, to her shock, she found out he had converted to Islam.  The problem was, in her heart, she had already moved on.  They did get married but she did not love him like before.  But she felt responsible since in her mind, it was her du’a in Makkah that resulted in his conversion.  That was the ego.  Everything is Written.  We are only the means Ordained.  He became a devout Muslim.  Her family loved him.  But she found love elsewhere and was caught having an affair.  It is the tragedy of the human condition.  And this eventually caused her family to turn against her and side with him.

Several years later, the marriage finally broke down irrevocably.  And she asked for a divorce so that she could marry the other man.  It was a painful break up and he lost his faith in Islam.  He refused to be addressed by his Muslim name at Shari’ah Court when he was there to drop the thalaq.  He formally left Islam soon after the divorce as finalised, a bitter man.  Soon after, she got married again.  Her family did not attend the wedding.

Years later, a friend of mine was in the mosque in Ramadhan.  They were getting ready for tarawih prayers and he was trying to find a place when he bumped into the person behind.  It took a while but after the bitterness dissipated, he came back to Islam.  In his case, his relationship with his Muslim ex-in-laws was excellent and that was the catalyst for everything.

The lesson here is that as long as a link is maintained with at least someone in the community, there is a chance that someone who left the religion can come back.  In this case, the ex-in-laws accepted his decision and gave him support in a difficult time in his life.  We never give up on those who have left.  Until the day they die, they can still come back.  And verily Allah (s.w.t.) Loves the Return.  In the same vein, we must not be complacent in the Path.  Hold tightly to the rope of faith and remember that Shaythan deceives even until the moment the soul is taken.  The self is in rebellion even until the Day of Standing.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Seeing with Both Eyes

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from Seeing with Both Eyes, a text of a lecture give at the Cardiff conference in May, 2000, by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad.

The Dajjal, as everyone knows, has only one eye.  Those ‘ulama who are concerned to understand and apply their intuition rather than simply to act as historical relay stations have sometimes interpreted this attribute as a reference to the characteristic sickness of decadent religious communities; a sickness that will necessarily be at its most prevalent as the end of time approaches.  The human creature has been given two eyes for reasons of obvious biological utility: the capacity for focusing so splendidly produced by the ciliary muscles, a superb technology most of us never pause to give thanks for, in the eyeball.  It is nonetheless not a perfect instrument for the gauging of distance.  Human beings need perspective: for hunting and for fighting; and for the efficient monitoring of children.  And hence we have two eyes, as the Qur’an notes, asking for our faith and our thankfulness:

Have We not Made for him a pair of eyes? ― (Surah al-Balad:8)

The Dajjal, however, has one eye only; for he is sick.  He represents, in human form, a cosmic possibility which occurs throughout history, gathering momentum as Prophetic restorations are forgotten, until, for a time during the last days, he is the one-eyed man who is king.  There are several esoteric interpretations of this, but one in particular is perhaps the most satisfying and profound.  It points out that the latter days are the time of a loss of perspective.  Distances and priorities are miscalculated, or even reversed.  The name of Adam’s (a.s.) ancient enemy, Iblis, signals his ability to invert and overturn: yulabbis, he confuses and muddles mankind.  And the Dajjal is in this sense, a physical materialisation of Iblis: he is the Great Deceiver insofar as he dresses virtue up as vice, and vice-versa.  Examples spring all too readily to mind.  For instance: once the old were respected and admired more than the young; today, it is the other way around.  Once unnatural vice was despised, now it is the only practice that cannot be criticised in the films or in polite society.  Once humility was praised, and pride was a sin; today there has been a complete inversion.  No longer are we asked to control ourselves, instead we are urged to ‘discover’ ourselves.  The nafs is king of the millennium.

It is the principle of the Dajjal that brings about this kind of evil.  It is an evil that is worse than the traditional sort, which was simply the failure to practice commonly-respected virtues; because the new evil, yulabbis; it inverts: it turns virtue into vice.  It is, in this sense, one-eyed and without perspective.  The sight by which we observe the outward world is composed of information from two separate instruments.  When we speak of religious understanding, we speak of baswira, perception guided by wisdom.  And it is characteristic of Islam that wisdom consists in recognising and establishing the correct balance between the two great principles of existence: the outward, that is, the form, and the inward, that is, the content: zhahir and bathin, to use the Qur’anic terms.

The Dajjal sees with one eye.  In this understanding, we would say that he is therefore a man of zhahir, or of bathin, but never of both.  He is a literalist, or he is free in the spirit.  The most glorious achievement of Islam, which is to reveal a pattern of human life which explores and celebrates the physical possibilities of man in a way that does not obstruct but rather enhances and deepens his metaphysical capacities, is hence negated.  The miscreant at the end of time is, therefore, the exact inversion of the Islamic ideal.

At the beginning of our story, the balance between the zhahir and the bathin was perfect.  The Messenger (s.a.w.) was the man of the Mi‘raj, and also the hero of Badr.  He loved women, and perfume, and the delight of his eye was in prayer.  The transition between moments of intense colloquy with the supreme archangel, and of political or military or family duty, was often little more than momentary; but his balance was impeccable, for he showed that body, mind and spirit are not rivals, but allies in the project of holiness, which means nothing other than wholeness.

The companions manifested many aspects of this extraordinary wholeness, the traditional Islamic term for which is ‘afiya, and the proof of whose accomplishment is the presence of adab.  The luminosity of the Prophetic presence reshaped them, so that where once there had been the crude, materialistic egotism of the pagan nomad, there was now, barely twenty years later, a unified nation led by saints.  It seemed that the crudest people in history had suddenly, as though by a miracle, been transmuted into the most refined and balanced.  The pagan Arabs seem almost to have served as a preview of the temper of our age, and the man who came among them, unique among prophets in the unique difficulty of his mission, is the alpha amid the omega, the proof that an Adamic restoration is possible even under the worst of conditions, even in times such as ours.

The superb human quality of the companions is one of the most moving and astounding of the Blessed Prophet’s (s.a.w.) miracles.  Receiving alone the burden of Revelation, and bearing virtually alone the responsibilities of family and state, he maintained such sanctity, humour, and moral seriousness that his world was transformed around him.  Had we spent all that is upon the earth, we would not have reconciled their hearts, the Revelation tells him; but Allah (s.w.t.)  has Brought reconciliation between them.  The political unification of Arabia, itself an unprecedented achievement, was only made possible by the existence of a spiritual principle at its centre, which melted hearts, and made a new world possible.

The companions, as the most perfect exemplars of the Islamic principle of seeing with both eyes, were, as the saying goes, fursanun bi an-nahar, ruhbanun bi al-layl, cavalrymen by day, and monks by night.  They united zhahir and bathin, body and spirit, in a way that was to their pagan and Christian contemporaries extraordinary, and which, in our day, when balance of any sort is rare, is hard even to imagine.  Their faces radiated with the inner calm that comes of inner peace:

“… in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (Surah ar-Ra’ad:28)

Among the companions’ own miracles was the creation of an astonishingly new language of beauty.  The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built while many companions were still alive, triumphantly announces the Divine Will to save humanity through a new religious order.  Under Islam, the world was made new.  The war on the flesh, manifested in the new and strange shape taken by Christian celibacy, was at an end.  The sunnah, emerging as a barely imaginable climax of human flourishing, became the ideal for the ancient world; an ideal all the more impressive for having been achieved.

When Islamic civilisation was buoyant, everything touched by the hands of believers turned to gold.  The Dome of the Rock is probably the world’s most beautiful building, the subject of countless studies by astounded art historians.  Through its octagon, the square outline of the ancient Solomonic temple is resolved to a circle, and thus to the infinity of heaven.  It announces the supremacy of the Muhammadan moment, the time out of time when the station of Two Bows’ Length, Qaba’ Qawsayn, was achieved.  No earlier religion had preserved the memory of so exalted and so purely spiritual a climax to its story, as a mortal man ventured where even the highest angels could not step.

And yet he returned to earth; and this is the secret of the sunnah’s majesty.  He had been redolent in the splendour and power of the Divine Presence, but he nonetheless returned to the lower ranks of the created order, to reform his people.  Not because he preferred them, but because he loved them.  He had seen with his purified heart, as the Qur’an Reveals.  The heart did not deny that which it saw.  He bore a truth which hitherto they had only dimly intuited; the core of the human creature is the heart, and the heart is the locus of a vision so transcendent that even the Revelation speaks of it only allusively.  He saw, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest.

When we take on the sunnah, and reject flawed patterns of behaviour which have been shaped and guided by the ego and by fantasies of self-imagining, we declare to our Creator that we accept and revere the profound revelation of human flourishing exampled by the Best of Creation.  Every act of the sunnah which we may successfully emulate declares that our role model is the man who had no ego, and to whom Allah (s.w.t.) had Given a definitive victory over the forces of darkness.  Modernity holds out lifestyle options centred on the self, and on the lower, agitated possibilities of the human condition.  Every word of every magazine now breathes the message of the nafs: explore yourself, free yourself, be yourself.  Buy a Porsche to express your identity; dress in a Cacharel suit to make a statement about yourself; be seen in the right places.  The result, of course, is a society which pursues happiness with great technical brilliance but which puzzles over spiralling rates of suicide, drug abuse, failed relationships, and ever more aberrant forms of self-mutilation.  It is a society in denial, a society in pain.

By taking on the sunnah, a human being accepts a deep and total reorientation.  For the sunnah is not one lifestyle option among many, simply an exotic addition to the standard menu.  The sunnah tears up the existing menu by defying its assumptions.  By living in the Prophetic pattern one pursues a paradigm of excellence that demonstrably brings serenity and fulfillment, and hence silences the babble of the style magazines.  Living in credit, knowing one’s neighbours, and holding the event of the Mi‘raj constantly in view, confers membership of Adam’s (a.s.) family of khulafah.  Living in debt, chasing mirages, and serving the nafs, renders the human being a definitive failure.  We can be higher than the angels, or lower than the animals.  The sunnah, as the uniquely efficient vehicle of human improvement and illumination, hence embraces every aspect of man.  Outward serenity is impossible without inward peace; and inward peace, conversely, is impossible when the body is behaving abusively.

The Muslim, who sees with both eyes, and hence sees the modern world for what it is: a naive victim of the oldest of all illusions, which is the belief that human flourishing occurs when the needs of the outward are met, and that inward excellence is nothing but the vague myth of intangible religion, is hence truly Muslim to the extent that he rejects imbalance.  Loyal and loving adherence to the details of the fiqh will change to obsessive and neurotic behaviour when the inward meaning of the sunnah is absent.  Hence the Dajjal is often an exoterist.  But he may be an esoterist also, when he falls prey to the fatal myth that religion is about inward perfection alone, and that this can be achieved even when the outward conduct is deeply flawed by a failure to be shaped by a pattern of courteous human life manifested by the supreme figure of a more contemplative and dignified age.

In our times, thanks to a dajjal-type lack of perspective, some Muslims are suspicious of the traditional talk of a zhahir and a bathin.  It seems too esoteric, mysterious and elitist.  The word bathin itself appears faintly heretical.  One thinks of extreme antinomian groups such as the medieval Ismailis, for instance.  And yet the concept is purely and entirely Qur’anic, and was never controversial among the classical ‘ulama.

In fact, an important part of the healing that the Qur’an offers can be found in its insistence that religion includes, and unites, an outward and an inward dimension.  Some examples, which no-one in his right mind could describe as controversial are here.  For instance, Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

"… and establish regular prayer for celebrating My Praise. (Surah ThaHa:14)

He tells us that the prayer is not an arbitrary command, a set of physical movements which earn us treats in the hereafter. It has a wise purpose, which is to help us to remember Him.  The believer at prayer is not just offering his physical form as a token of submission to the Divine Presence whose symbol is the Ka’bah.  He, or she, is worshipping with the heart.  The body of flesh bows towards the Ka’bah of stone; while the invisible spirit bows to the invisible Divine.  Only when both of these take place is worship truly present.

Another example, Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

O ye who believe!  Fasting is Prescribed to you as it was Prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint. ― (Surah al-Baqarah:183)

Fasting has a zhahir and a bathin, an outward and an inward.  And neither is of any use without the other.  As a hadits says, “Many a fasting persons gains nothing from his fast, apart from hunger and thirst.”  In other words, without a bathin fast, an inward fast, the fast is only formally, mechanically correct.  It is like a body without a spirit, which is nothing more than a corpse.  The one who fasts, or prays, or performs any other religious act, without his spirit being in it, is like a zombie, whose mind and spirit has gone away from the body, to another place.  And this is not how Allah (s.w.t.) wants us to be when we worship Him.

Another example, regarding the sacrifices on the day of ‘Iyd al-Adhha, Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him... (Surah al-Hajj:37)

Without correct intention, and presence of mind, in other words, without a proper disposition of the bathin, the sacrifice is just the killing of an animal. In a sense, it is worse, since a slaughter that did not pretend to be religious would at least be sincere; whereas one that purports to be for Allah (s.w.t.), but in its inner reality is not, is a kind of hypocrisy.

In fact we could say that the zhahir without the bathin leads fatally to nifaq.  If we are not enjoying the Divine Presence during our worship, if our minds are elsewhere, if we have switched on a kind of autopilot, then we are practicing rusum, outward forms, a husk without a kernel.  To any visible or invisible onlooker we are proclaiming by the outward form of the act that we are worshipping Allah (s.w.t.); but in our inward reality we are doing nothing of the kind.  Riya’, ostentation, is possible even if we are alone.  Even if we know that no one knows we are praying, or fasting, we can still commit riya’.  How?  By showing-off to ourselves.  By going through the motions of the prayer, we gratify our own self-image as pious, superior people.  To the extent that the prayer lacks a bathin, that will be a mortal danger.  Even if our minds are concentrated on the meaning, our souls may be disengaged.  And to the extent that the prayer, or the fast, or the hajj, or the qurbani, does have an inner reality, we will be less interested in showing-off to ourselves, in taking the nafs as our real qiblah.  The act will lead us, we will not lead the act.

This is what ‘Umar (r.a.) meant when he said, “The thing I fear most for the safety of this ummah is the learned hypocrite.”  When asked how one could be both learned and hypocritical, he said, “When his learning does not go beyond verbal knowledge, while his heart remains untouched.”

Another example, from the Qur’an, and remember, this teaching of the interdependence of zhahir and bathin is purely Qur’anic.

And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captive ― (Saying) "We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.” (Surah al-Insan:8-9)

Here the Revelation is insisting that charity, too, becomes ‘ibadah only when it has an inward reality as well as an outward form.  And that inward reality is not primarily mental.  That is only the most basic requirement.  The passage states that charity is to be done ‘ala hubbihi, out of love for Allah (s.w.t.).  That requires far more than the simple silent formulation of aniyya.  It can only be achieved when one’s heart is in it, since love, hubb, resides in the heart, not the mind.  Charity without love is heartless.

Hence, part of the brilliance of the Qur’an is its insistence that Allah (s.w.t.) is not worshipped by outward forms, but that He has Established certain outward forms as a context within which we can do ‘ibadah; since ‘ibadah, as an expression of devotion and servitude to our maker, reposes in the heart.  A disposition of the heart is always true; a disposition of the body may be true or false.

The Qur’an’s message is unmistakably that the human creature is a composite whose dimensions must be brought into harmony with each other if our Adamic possibility as true worshippers may be realised.  So ours is a religion of zhahir and bathin.  Our enemies see only the outward forms, and assume that this is hypocrisy, ‘Pharisaic formalism.’  Some use the traditional New Testament language by which Paul attacked Judaism: ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’  In fact, this is a common theme of a certain kind of traditional Christian criticism of Islam.  As such, it clearly represents the borrowing of an even older theme in Christian theology, that of anti-Semitism, as a weapon which will serve in the battle against the Saracen.  Muslims, inconveniently, are not mentioned in the Bible, but some Christians have instead used the anti-Law polemic of Paul as a stick with which to beat Muslims, by situating us in a Biblical context.  It is evident, however, that this will not serve.  There are some Muslims, it has to be admitted, whose preoccupations are mainly or even exclusively with outward form - a Pharisaic Islam, we might say - but that is not the way of traditional Muslims.  For traditional Islam has always cultivated in a rich and profound way the inner dimensions of faith.  Most of our poetry, for instance, is about the bathin, not the zhahir.  If Islam was as they suppose, then most of our poetry would be about wudhu, or the rules for inheritance.  But it is not.

I hope that the Qur’anic insights I have cited are quite enough to explain why the traditional ‘ulama of Islam speak of the religion’s having a zhahir and a bathin.  Shaykh Shahidullah Faridi (q.s.), the great English saint of the 20th century, put it as follows: “If it is necessary to observe the outward ordinances of the faith, it is equally necessary to develop within ourselves those qualities which are their soul.  These two are complementary and one cannot exist in a sound state without the other.”

Shaykh Shahidullah Faridi (q.s.) himself, like virtually all the educated converts to Islam in this country, was attracted to the religion primarily because of its inner riches.  Those Muslims who today spend most of their time talking about shari‘ah, and regard the bathin as peripheral, are unlikely to make many such converts: there is no reason why sensitive, educated people should be attracted to the husk, if the kernel is so well-hidden that it might as well not exist.  They may even, by wild, merciless and hikmah-less behaviour, repel thousands.

Zhahir and bathin are the terms I have used.  They are concepts clear from the Qur’an.  There are other terms which convey roughly the same distinction.  For instance, the terms ‘shari‘ah’ and ‘haqiqah’.  Outward act, and inward state.  Again, the distinction is Qur’anic.  According to Imam Abu ‘Ali ad-Daqqaq (q.s.), it can even be derived from al-Fatihah.  Allah (s.w.t.) Asks us to say:

Thee do we worship, and Thine Aid we seek. (Surah al-Fatihah:5)

‘Thee we do worship’: this is shari‘ah; and ‘Thine aid we seek’: the Divine Response, which is from haqiqah.  The pairing of the principles gives us this fundamental distinction - the initiative from man, which is shari‘ah, and the Generous Outpouring from Allah (s.w.t.), which is haqiqah.

Imam al-Qushayri (r.a.) makes a still more subtle point.  He says, “Know that the shari‘ah is also haqiqah, because He Himself Made it obligatory.  And haqiqah is also shari‘ah, because the means of knowing Him were Made obligatory by His Command.”

In other words, this bifurcation, indicated in al-Fatihah, which we repeat every day without pondering its depths, is in reality two sides of one coin.  Shari‘ah is not shari‘ah without haqiqah because without an inward reality and an approach to Allah (s.w.t.), the outward forms are useless; and haqiqah is nothing without shari‘ah, because shari‘ah is the set of forms by which haqiqah can be known.  Each is sound only when it points accurately to the other.

Imam Abu Bakr al-‘Aydarus (q.s.) explained it in terms of the Qur’anic verse:

And those who strive in Our (Cause)― We will Certainly Guide them to Our Paths... (Surah al-'Ankabut:69)

He wrote, “The ‘striving’ is the shari‘ah, and the active response to its injunctions, which will cause one to be led to His ‘Ways’, is in turn a reference to the haqiqah.”

Imam al-Qushayri (r.a.) drove home this vital point by saying, “Every shari‘ah which is unsupported by haqiqah is unaccepted.  And every haqiqah which is not controlled by shari‘ah is unaccepted.”

Imam al-Haddad (q.s.), in one of his most famous poems, said:

“All of the righteous were on the straight path,
never violating any Command, holding to shari‘ah
For truly, the man who does not follow shari‘ah,
Is in every case the slave of his nafs and his own desires.”

Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) spent much of his life making this point, in some very sophisticated ways.  In his very passionate defence of this Qur’anic principle, he wrote, “If you are educating yourself, take up only those branches of knowledge which have been required of you according to your present needs, as well as those which pertain to the outward actions such as learning the elements of prayer, purification, and fasting.  More important however, is the science which all have neglected, namely, the science of the attributes of the heart, those which are praiseworthy and those which are blameworthy, because people persist in the latter, such as miserliness, hypocrisy, pride and conceit, all of which are destructive, and from which it is obligatory to desist.  Performing these outward deeds is like the external application of an ointment to the body when it is stricken with scabies and boils while neglecting to remove the pus by means of a scalpel or a purge.  False ‘ulama recommend outward deeds just as fake physicians prescribe external ointments [for virulent internal diseases].  The ‘ulama who seek the akhirah, however, recommend nothing but the purification of the nafs and the removal of the elements of evil by destroying their nursery-beds and uprooting them from the heart.”

A key component of the Ghazalian agenda is the restoration of balance between outward and inward.  And the Imam himself realised that the balance comes about primarily through cultivating the inward.  For a balance, which is the true meaning of asw-swirath al-mustaqim, is a subtle thing, and requires wisdom, and wisdom only exists when the soul is illuminated.

The crisis of the modern world is a crisis in both zhahir and bathin.  It takes different forms amidst the ruins of different civilisations.  In what was once the Christian world, zhahir has been lost or even turned on its head: homosexual marriages in church, the approval of the lottery by bishops, and other symptoms of collapse.  The symptoms are more advanced in formerly Christian countries than elsewhere, because, as Paul of Tarsus believed, Christianity has no shari‘ah.  It is always reinventing itself as something that can be believed, as T.S. Eliot put it, and nowadays this inevitably takes place under pressure from secular ethics.  In the Islamic world, there are also deep problems.  But these arise not through lack of shari‘ah as such, but through a lack of balance between outward and inward.  Much Muslim revivalism today focuses on the outward, and appears to regard the inward as of secondary importance.  The result is wild behaviour and consistent failure, for Allah (s.w.t.) Proclaims in the Qur’an that the success in the world of religious communities depends on their spiritual condition.  He does not change us until we change what is within ourselves.  The failure of any Islamic movement is decisive proof that that movement has not gained the required inward harmony, wisdom and spiritual depth.

The modern world therefore offers, in mad abundance, both of the Dajjal’s aberrations.  There is preoccupation with form, and there are also, in increasing varieties, a preoccupation with ‘spiritualities’ which require no irritating moral code.  In the West, New Age spirituality is replacing Christianity as the faith of many young and educated people.  It promises a typical Dajjalian deceit: the gifts of the spirit may be had without paying a price, or changing one’s treasured ‘lifestyle.’

The sunnah is the Dajjal’s great enemy in the modern world, because it rejects both of his promises.  No human being can flourish on the basis of pure Law, or pure physical satisfaction, or of spiritual practices devoid of implications for society and personal conduct.  For us, religion is about integrity and completeness.  And yet, there are no grounds for complacency.  The sunnah itself is today a contested concept.  A materialistic world necessarily influences the forms of religion which grow within it; and some Muslims today adopt forms of Islam that define the sunnah in a one-eyed way.  Either such advocates are pure esoterists, with a cavalier attitude to the formal duties gifted by revelation; or, and this is among mass-movements more frequent, they mutilate the sunnah by minimising or even negating its inward dimensions.  Any following of the externals of religion which is not made profound, compassionate and wise by an active and transformative spiritual life, will be a mere husk without a kernel: abrasive, hostile, self-righteous, lashing out at the innocent, and thriving on schism and controversy.

May Allah (s.w.t.) enable us to open both our eyes, and hence to see things in due proportion, and to respond in a way that brings reconciliation, light, and wisdom among the descendents of Adam (a.s.).

Traditional Stories of Jesus (a.s.) from Muslim Sources

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is compiled from “Traditional Stories of Jesus (a.s.) from Muslim Sources.”  Many of these stories are taken from the Isra'iliyyat, narration from the Ahl al-Kitab.  They are considered weak since these narrations are not from the Prophet (s.a.w.).

Shaykh Ka‘b al-Ahbar (r.a.), whose full name is Abu Ishaq Ka‘b ibn Mati’ al-Humyari al-Ahbar, was a prominent rabbi from Yemen who converted to Islam.  He was of the clan of Dzu Ra'in or Dzu al-Kila.  He is counted among the tabi‘in and narrated many Isra'iliyyat.

Shaykh Ka‘b al-Ahbar (r.a.) said, “Jesus (a.s.), son of Mary (a.s.), was a ruddy man, inclined to white; he did not have long hair, and he never anointed his head.  Jesus used to walk barefoot, and he took no house, or adornment, or goods, or clothes, or provision except his day’s food.  Wherever the sun set, he arranged his feet in prayer until the morning came.  He was curing the blind from birth and the leper and raising the dead by Allah's Permission and was telling his people what they were eating in their houses and what they were storing up for the morrow, and he was walking on the surface of the water in the sea.  His head was dishevelled and his face was small; he was an ascetic in the world, longing for the next world and eager for the worship of Allah.  He was a pilgrim in the earth until the Jews sought him and desired to kill him.  Then Allah Raised him up to Heaven; and Allah Knows best.”

Shaykh Ka’b al-Ahbar (r.a.) also narrated a version of the story of the “Wise Men from the East.”  He said, “That night, people went out repairing to him because of a star which had risen.  They had been told formerly in the Book of Daniel that the rising of that star would be one of the signs of him who was to be born.  So they went out seeking him, and took with them gold, myrrh, and frankincense.  They passed one of the kings of Syria who asked them, ‘Where are you making for?’ and they told him about that.  He asked, ‘What is the meaning of the myrrh, gold, and frankincense?  Will you present him with these things?’

They replied, ‘Those represent him, because gold is the lord of all goods, similarly this prophet is the lord of the people of his time; and because what is broken and wounded is put right with myrrh, similarly Allah will Heal by this prophet all who are infirm and ill; and because the smoke of frankincense and no other smoke enters heaven, similarly Allah will Raise this prophet and no other prophet of his time to heaven.’

When they said that to that king he decided to kill him, so he said to them, ‘Go away, and when you learn where he is, tell me about that, for I wish the same with respect to him as you do.’

They set off until they came to Mary (a.s.) and gave her the present that was with them.  And they desired to return to that king to tell him where he was, but an angel met them and said to them, ‘Do not return to him and do not tell him where he is, for he only wanted to kill him.’  So they went off another way.”

The Gospels state that it was Herod Agrippa, the usurper king of Israel and Roman puppet, who wanted Jesus (a.s.) killed and for that, he perpetrated the Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem.  However, Palestine was also considered part of the Greater Syria region.

Shaykh Wahb ibn Munabbih (r.a.) was a Muslim muhadditsin of Dzamar, two day’s journey from Sana’a, in Yemen.  He passed away at the age of ninety, in a year variously given by Arab authorities as 725, 728, 732, and 737 CE.  He is counted amongst the tabi‘in and narrated Isra'iliyyat.  Hi full name was Abu ‘Abdullah asw-Swana'ani adz-Dzamari or Wahb ibn Munabbih ibn Kamil ibn Siraj ad-Din.

Shaykh Wahb ibn Munabbih (r.a.) said, “The first sign which the people saw from Jesus (a.s.) was that his mother was living in the house of a village headman in the land of Egypt, to which Joseph the carpenter had brought her when he went with her to Egypt, and the poor used to repair to that headman's house.  Some money belonging to that headman was stolen from his treasury, but he did not suspect the poor, and Mary (a.s.) was grieved over the affliction of that headman.  When Jesus (a.s.) saw his mother's grief over her host's affliction he asked her, ‘Mother, do you want me to guide him to his money?’

She replied, ‘Yes, my son.’

He said, ‘Tell him to gather the poor for me in his house.’  So Mary (a.s.) said that to the headman and he gathered the poor for him.  When they had collected, he went to two of them, one of whom was blind and the other lame, and lifted the lame man on to the blind man's shoulder, and said to him, ‘Rise up with him.’

The blind man replied, ‘I am too weak for that.’

Jesus (a.s.) said to him, ‘How is it you were strong enough for it yesterday?’  When they heard him saying that, they beat the blind man until he arose, and when he stood up, the lame man reached to the window of the treasury.  Then Jesus (a.s.) said to the headman, ‘Thus they schemed against your property yesterday, because the blind man sought the help of his strength and the lame man of his eyes.’

Then the blind man and the lame man said, ‘He has spoken the truth, by Allah!’ and restored all his money to the headman.

He took it and put it in his treasury and said, ‘O Mary, take half of it.’

She replied, ‘I was not Created for that.’

The headman said, ‘Then give it to your son.’

She replied, ‘He is greater in rank than I.’”

Soon after, the headman gave a marriage-feast for a son of his.  He prepared a feast for him and gathered all the people of Egypt to it and was feeding them for two months.  Then when that came to an end some people from Syria visited him, but the headman did not know about them until they arrived and on that day, he had no wine.  When Jesus saw his concern about that, he entered one of the headman's houses in which were two rows of jars and Jesus (a.s.) passed his hand over their mouths while he was walking by; and every time he passed his hand over a jar it became full of wine, until Jesus (a.s.) came to the last of them.  And at that time he was twelve years old.

It is important to note that most Muslim scholars doubt the existence of Joseph and do not believe that Mary (a.s.) was betrothed or ever married.  Like the Catholics, they agree she was a virgin and left this world a virgin.  According to the Gospels, the miracle of the transmutation of the water into wine occurred in Canaan, not Egypt.

The poet, Shaykh Sa’adi ash-Shirazi (q.s.) said, “When Jesus (a.s.) was in school, he used to tell the boys what their fathers were doing; and he would say to a boy, ‘Go home, for your people have been eating such and such and have prepared such and such for you and they are eating such and such.’  So the boy would go home to his people and would cry until they gave him that thing.

Then they would ask him, ‘Who told you about this?’

And he would say, ‘Jesus.’

So they shut away their boys from him and said, ‘Do not play with this magician.’  So they gathered them in a house, and Jesus came looking for them.  Then they said, ‘They are not here.’

He asked them, ‘Then what is in this house?’

They replied, ‘Swine.’

He said, ‘Let them be swine.’  So when they opened the door for them, they were swine.  That spread among the people, and the Children of Israel were troubled about it.  So when his mother was afraid concerning him, she put him on an ass of hers and went in flight to Egypt.”

Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Aththar (q.s.) said, “When Mary (a.s.) had taken Jesus (a.s.) from the school, she handed him over to various trades, and the last to which she entrusted him was to the dyers.  She handed him over to their chief that he might learn from him.  Now, the man had various clothes with him and he had to go on a journey, so he said to Jesus (a.s.), ‘You have learned this trade and I am going on a journey from which I shall not return for ten days.  These clothes are of different colours and I have marked every one of them with the colour with which it is to be dyed.  So I want you to be finished with them when I return.’  Then he left.

Jesus (a.s.) prepared one receptacle with one colour and put all the clothes in it and said to them, ‘Be, by Allah’s Permission, according to what is expected of you.’

Then a dyer came and saw all the clothes were in one receptacle.  He said, ‘O Jesus, what have you done?’

He replied, ‘I have finished dyeing them.’

The dyer asked, ‘Where are they?’

He replied, ‘In the receptacle.’

The dyer asked, ‘All of them?’

He replied, ‘Yes.’

The dyer exclaimed, ‘Why are they all in one receptacle?  You have spoiled those clothes.’

Jesus (a.s.) replied, ‘Rise and look.’  So he arose and Jesus (a.s.) took out a yellow garment and a green garment and a red garment until he had taken them out according to the colours which were desired.  Then the dyer began to wonder, and he knew that that was from Allah (s.w.t.).

Then the dyer said to the people, ‘Come and look at what Jesus has done.’  So his companions and he became disciples; they believed on him; and Allah (s.w.t.) Knows best.”

According to the Gospels, Jesus (a.s.) was a carpenter and none of the twelve apostles were dyers.

Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Aththar (q.s.) also said his prayer by which he was curing the sick and bringing the dead to life was: “O Allah, You are the God of those who are in Heaven and of those who are on Earth; there is no god to them other than You.  And You are the Almighty of those who are in the Heavens and the Almighty of those who are on Earth; there is no almighty to them other than You.  And You are the King of those who are in the Heavens and the King of those who are on Earth; there is no king in them other than You.  And You are the Judge of those who are in the Heavens and of those who are on Earth; there is no judge in them other than You.  Your Power on Earth is like Your Power in Heaven, and Your Authority on Earth is like Your Authority in Heaven.  I ask You by Your Noble Names.  Verily You are Omnipotent.”

ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) said, of the apostles, “They were fishermen who were catching fish, and Jesus (a.s.) passed them and asked them, ‘What are you doing?’

They replied, ‘We are catching fish.’

He asked them, ‘Will you not come with me that you may catch men?’

They replied to him, ‘What do you mean?’

He said, ‘We will summon men to Allah.’

They asked, ‘And who are you?’

He said, ‘I am Jesus, son of Mary, Allah's servant and apostle.’

They asked, ‘Are any of the prophets above you?’

He replied, ‘Yes, the Arabian prophet.’

So those men followed him and believed on him and set out with him.”

Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr (r.a.) was also known as Mus‘ab al-Khayr.  He was a swahabi.  We was from the Banu ‘Abd ad-Dar branch of the Quraysh.  He embraced Islam in 614 CE and was the first ambassador of Islam.  He was killed in the Battle of Uhud in 625 CE.

Mus`ab narrated a tradition as follows: “The disciples were twelve men who followed Jesus (a.s.); and when they were hungry, they said, ‘O Spirit of God, we are hungry;’ then he would strike the ground with his hand, whether on the plain or on a mountain, and two loaves would appear for each man and they would eat them.  And when they were thirsty, they said, ‘O Spirit of God, we are thirsty;’ then he would strike the ground with his hand, whether on the plain or on a mountain, and water would appear and they would drink.  They said, ‘O Spirit of God, who is better off than we are?  When we wish, you feed us, and when we wish, you give us drink; and we believe in you and have followed you.’

He replied, ‘He is better off than you who works with his hand and eats what he has earned.’  So they began to make clothes for wages.”

Shaykh Hisham ibn al-Kalbi (r.a.) was an Arab historian.  His full name Abu al-Mundzir Hisham ibn Muhammad ibn as-Sa’ib ibn Bishr al-Kalbi.  He was born in Kufa but spent much of his life in Baghdad.  Like his father, he collected information about the genealogies and history of the ancient Arabs.  Shaykh al-Kalbi (r.a.) established a genealogical link between Ishmael (a.s.) and Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and put forth the idea that all Arabs were descendants of Ishmael (a.s.).

Shaykh al-Kalbi (r.a.) said, “Jesus was raising the dead by means of ‘O Living One!  O Eternal One!’”

It is related that Jesus (a.s.) went out one day in his wandering accompanied by one of his companions who was a short man who attached himself greatly to Jesus (a.s.).  Then when Jesus (a.s.) came to the sea he said, “In the name of Allah, with health and certainty;” then he walked on the surface of the water.

Then the short man said, “In the name of Allah, with health and certainty;” and he walked on the surface of the water.  Then wonder entered him and he thought, “This is Jesus, the Spirit of God, walking on the water, and I am walking on the water.”

Then he sank in the water and appealed to Jesus (a.s.), so Jesus (a.s.) reached out to him from the water and took him out and said to him, “What did you say, O brother?’   He told him what had pervaded his mind and Jesus (a.s.) said to him, “You have put yourself in a place other than that in which Allah Put you and Allah Abhorred you on account of what you said; so turn to Allah in repentance for what you said.”  So the man repented and returned to the rank in which Allah had Placed him.  So we must be conscious of Allah (s.w.t.) and do not envy one another.

Imam Abu Manswur al-Khamshawi (r.a.) said in his tradition from Mu’adz ibn Jabal (r.a.), that the Apostle of Allah (s.a.w.) said, “If you really knew Allah, you would have learned the knowledge after which there is no ignorance, but no one has ever attained to that.”

They asked, “Not even you, O Apostle of Allah?”

He replied, “Not even I.”

They said, “O apostle of Allah, it has reached us that Jesus, son of Mary, walked on the water.”

He said, “Yes, and if he had had more fear and certainty, he would have walked on the air.”

They said, “O Apostle of Allah, we were not thinking that the apostles came short.”

He replied, “Verily Allah has too high a Rank for anyone to reach His Rank.”

Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.) was also known as Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al-‘Aasw al-Amawi.  He was a swahabi and one of the muhajirun.  He was also Umm Habibah’s (r.a.) wali when she married Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) while she was in Abyssinia.

Khalid ibn Sa’id (r.a.) said, “And when Allah informed the Messiah that he was going from the world he was disturbed at that, and called the disciples and prepared food for them and said, ‘Come to me tonight, for I have need of you.’  Then when they gathered at night, he gave them supper and rose to serve them; and when they had finished eating he began to wash their hands and wipe them with his clothes; but they disdained that, so he said, ‘Whoever rejects anything of what I do is not one of mine.’  Then they left him alone until he finished.

Then he said, ‘I have only done this that you should have in me an example of serving one another.  And as regards my need of you, it is that you should strive for me in prayer to Allah that my end may be delayed.’  But when they wished to do that, Allah (s.w.t.) Cast sleep upon them, so that they were incapable of prayer; and the Messiah began to waken them and rebuke them, but they only increased in sleep and laziness and told him that they were too overcome for that.  Then the Messiah said, ‘Praise be to Allah!  The shepherd is taken away and the sheep are scattered.’  Afterwards he said to them, ‘Verily I say unto you, one of you will deny me before the cock crows, and one of you will sell me for a small sum of money and will consume my price.’

And the Jews had been energetic in searching for him; then one of the disciples came to Herod, the governor of the Jews, and to a company of the Jews and said, ‘What will you assign me if I guide you to the Messiah?’

They assigned him thirty darahim, and he took them and guided them to him.  Then Allah (s.w.t.) Raised the Messiah to Himself and cast his likeness on him who led them to him.”

Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad (r.a.) was better known as Imam ‘Ali ‘Izz ad-Din ibn al-Atsir al-Jazari.  He was an Arab or Kurdish historian and biographer who wrote in Arabic and he was from the famous ibn al-Atsir family.  Imam al-Atsir (r.a.) lived a scholarly life in Mosul.  He often visited Baghdad and for a time, traveled with Sultan Saladin's (r.a.) army in Syria.  He later lived in Aleppo and Damascus.  His chief work was a history of the world, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, “The Complete History.”

Imam ibn al-Atsir (r.a.) wrote in the al-Kamil, concerning Jesus (a.s.), “The learned have differed concerning his death before his being raised up.  Some say, ‘He was raised up and did not die.’  Others say, ‘No, Allah Made him die for three hours.’  Others say, ‘For seven hours, then He Brought him back to life.’  And those who say this are expounding His Saying:

… ‘O Jesus!  I will Take thee and Raise thee to Myself….’ (Surah Ali ‘Imran:55)

And when the Jews seized the person who had been Made to resemble him, they bound him and began to lead him with a rope and say to him, ‘You were raising the dead.  Can you not save yourself from this rope?’  And they were spitting in his face and putting thorns on him; and they crucified him on the cross for six hours.  Then Joseph the carpenter asked for him from the governor who was over the Jews, whose name was Pilate and whose title was Herod, and buried him in a grave which the aforementioned Joseph had prepared for himself.  Then Allah (s.w.t.) Sent down the Messiah from heaven to his mother, Mary (a.s.), when she was weeping for him, and he said to her, ‘Verily Allah has Raised me to Himself and nothing but good has befallen me.’  And he gave her instructions, and she gathered the disciples to him and he sent them through the earth as messengers from Allah and he ordered them to convey from him the Message Allah (s.w.t.) had Commanded him.

Then Allah (s.w.t.) Raised him to Himself and the disciples scattered where he commanded them.  The Messiah's (a.s.) Raising up was three hundred and thirty-six years after Alexander's conquest of Darius.”

It is important to note that Imam al-Atsir (r.a.) was only conveying what he had gathered.  We have historical evidence that Pontius Pilate may have been the governor of Ideorum, what the Romans called Judea.  Herod Agrippa, the usurper was a distinct person and an enemy of the prophets.

Imam Taj ad-Din Abu al-Fath Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Karim ash-Shahrastani (r.a.) was an influential Persian historian of religions and a historiographer.  His book, Kitab al-Milal wa an-Nihal, The Book of Sects and Creeds, was one of the pioneers in developing a scientific approach to the study of religions.  Besides these, he was also a philosopher and theologian.

Imam ash-Shahrastanî (r.a.) wrote from the Christians, “Then four of the disciples, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John, came together, and each of them collected a Gospel, and the end of the Gospel of Matthew is that the Messiah said, ‘Verily I have sent you to the nations as my Father Sent me to you; so go and summon the nations in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.’”