Saturday, 31 May 2014

Jude Malecdan's Conversion

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is the conversion story of our brother, Jude Malecdan.  He is from the Philippines and recently converted when he wrote this.

“My name is Jude Malecdan, from the Philippines.  I come from a Catholic family, from the  Igorot tribe from Cordillera in the Luzon highlands.  Aside from being Catholics, our tribe also follow pagan rituals which are part of our culture.  These rituals are inherited from previous generations.  For example, after a church wedding, we perform ritual slaughter of pigs or cows to be given as offering to our anito, our tribal spirits.  We call this halad.  I was never actually baptised.  But I had been searching for a religion that I could have faith in.  I was looking for something to believe in.

Anito is a collective name for the pre-Hispanic belief system in the Philippines.  It is also used to refer to spirits, including the household deities, ancestors, various nature-spirits, nymphs and diwatas, which are a form of dryads.  We kept statues to represent these spirits, asked guidance from them and sought magical protection.  Our traditions were Christianised into a form of Folk Catholicism.

I had a co-worker who happened to be a Muslim.  I noticed that every time the food served had pork, he never ate it but instead, ate alone.  He would not complain but he would not eat.  That was how I found out that he was a Muslim.  I thought to myself, what if I was like him, so that he would have a companion when pork was served.  Eating alone, separately did not seem to be a happy event.  And so, it all began there.

I studied the lifestyle of Muslims, and the religion.  From there, I found Islam: the religion of peace.  I embraced Islam last November 2013, with the help of Sister Shorouk Abdel.  I am still new to Islam, but I felt that this religion is the one I was searching for.  My sister was the first one to know about my conversion, and she laughed at me, thinking I was not serious.  Eventually, she realised that I was serious about it.  Then my parents found out.  They said, ‘Whatever my faith is, for as long as I feel I am on a right path, then I must commit to it.’

On my shahadah itself, I cannot recall what exactly how it went.  I remember saying, ‘Ashhadu an laa ilaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah,’ pointing my finger up.  After I performed wudhu’. I was thinking to myself, the hardest part of being a convert would be to adjust to everything: prayer times, foods, and leaving other things I had been used to.  The first week of my conversion, I practiced my swalah a lot.  I used to pray in English, then tried it in Arabic, following a video.  I remembered once, I tried to pray on my rooftop, not realising that my 11-year old niece was watching.  After I finished, she laughed and asked what if I had farted when I bowed, because I did a lot of bowing.  And she told to my family how I prayed and they all laughed.  It was new to them.

I embraced Islam also, because I really want to make something of my life.  I wanted to my place in this world and discover why we are here.  I can say I am fortunate.  What my people see of me before and now, after my conversion is still the same.  My family is still my family, and my friends are still my friends.  Most of them never questioned me about my decision to convert because they respect my choice.

It is hard for me being a convert.  Some people would say, ‘You’re going to miss the best dish in your life.’  Some would tease me, saying, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ or, ‘as-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,’ and then laugh about it.  Some would tell me, ‘You’re crazy, you’ll never find happiness in your choice.’  The hardest part, is when a born-Muslim told me, ‘You’re just a wannabe, a 10% Muslim.’  But there are still understanding people who respect my choice.

Embracing Islam has changed my way of life.  From waking up early in the morning for fajr, the food I eat, no pork, no alcoholic beverages.  But I still smoke, and hopefully would be able to quit sooner or later.  Despite my challenges, I know I am in the right path.  There are time when I do lose my hope and  my faith due to the continuous problems I face.  I miss my prayers sometimes because I feel as if all the problems in the world are on my shoulders.  And then I remember Allah.  I have thought twice or thrice what to do about whether I should stay or leave, but leaving Islam is not the solution for me.  So I asked Sister Shorouk, and Brother Terence Nunis, who runs The Sharing Group.  With the help of The Sharing Group and the converts here in our place, I was able to carry on.  They all told me to be strong and to have faith.  Whatever I face in this life, I know Allah is Here beside me, Watching my steps and Guiding me in my decisions.  There are still some challenges in my convert journey, but I am trying my best.,  I know Allah is the Most Merciful, is Waiting for me.  And I know we will all Return to Him.  As for now, I am looking forward to having an official conversion at a later date.”


Friday, 30 May 2014

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) & Imam Malik (r.a.) on Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) attained great blessings from his teacher, Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.).  It is narrated that once he asked Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) concerning who would be considered an intelligent person.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) replied, “He who can differentiate between good and evil is an intelligent man.”

Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) said, “Even animals have the ability to differentiate that.  It can differentiate between those who love them, beat them or instill fear in them.”

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) then asked, “O my shaykh!  Would you please explain to me who is truly intelligent?”

Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) replied, “An intelligent person, is one who can differentiate between two good things and two evils, so that he may choose the better of two good things and that he may be able to repel the worse of two evils.”

It is also recorded in Tadzkirat al-Awliya’ of Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Aththar (q.s.) that Imam Malik (r.a.) said, “I spent a long time serving Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq, and I always found him in one of three acts of ‘ibadah: either he was engaged in swalah, engrossed in reciting the Qur’an, or he would be fasting.”


Imam Malik (r.a.) & Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) on Hypothetical Situations

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ


Before Imam Malik (r.a.) and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) encountered each other, Imam Malik (r.a.) used to say, “Beware of the people of opinion.”  Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) madzhab was called the “school of opinion.”  Before their meeting, there was a lot of talk and exchange of letters but they only met during the rituals of the hajj.

When they finally met, they chose to address three issues which were viewed differently by each party.  The first jurisprudential issue was about how to address hypothetical questions; things that had not taken place yet.  In Imam Malik’s (r.a.) madzhab, one should not imagine situations and ask about things that have not happened as this distracts people from already existing issues and could lead to controversy.  Imam Malik (r.a.) brought his evidence from various ayat and ahadits.  He stated the ayah where Allah (s.w.t.) Mentions regarding them asking about a certain phenomenon and how they understood it to mean such questions were meaningless.


They ask thee concerning the new moons.  Say: they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for pilgrimage... (Surah al-Baqarah:189)

His other evidence was that ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) scolded the ones who asked about situations that have not happened and used to say, “Do not engage us with things that have not happened; keep people busy with the truth instead.”

People used to come to Imam Malik (r.a.) and ask him hypothetical questions and he used to get angry and tell them not to ask about things that have not happened yet.  Those people were usually from Iraq where Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) was, who supported these kind of questions.  As for Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.), his approach was based on hypothesizing situations that could happen.  He thought up 60, 000 such situations.

In their meeting, Imam Malik (r.a.) disapproved Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) view.  Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied that the circumstances in Iraq are different from Madina.  Iraq was the capital of the Caliphate and everyday there are new things being introduced and they had to be prepared, while in Madina, problems are fixed and limited.

Then, he gave an example when he discussed with his students a situation of a woman whose husband travelled and was absent for so long that she thought he was dead and hence she married another man.  Suddenly, the man returned.  What should be done then?  Imam Malik (r.a.) wondered why they would ask about things that have not happened, but Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied that in Iraq, when soldiers went on campaigns, this could occur and they had to be ready for such a situation.  Imam Malik (r.a.) was silent.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) reminded him of what the Prophet (s.a.w.) said when a man came to him saying, “Imagine if a man comes to take my money, what shall I do?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told him not to give it to him.

The man asked again, “Imagine if he fights me?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told him to resist.

The man asked, “Imagine if he killed me?

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that he would be a martyr.

The man asked once more, “Imagine if I killed him?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that the man killed would go to the Hellfire.

Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) said that the Prophet (s.a.w.) was asked by about a hypothetical situation four times.  When Imam Malik (r.a.) said that this was for a purpose, Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied, “In Iraq we do it for a purpose also.”

Then, Imam al-Layts ibn Sa’ad (r.a.) said, “Glory to Allah.  By Allah, you are enriching Islam.”

Imam Malik (r.a.) kept people away from indulging in trivial issues and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) hypothesized the future to protect people.  That was what the Prophet (s.a.w.) did.  He forbade asking about things that are hypothetical and yet trivial but replied to an important situation that could happen.  Both a’immah reached an accord of holding on to the respective principles of their madzahib, but then integrated both approaches for the benefit of the ummah.

Their difference of opinion is a natural phenomenon because the minds and environment of Iraq are unlike those of Madina.  Their difference of opinion resulted in an environment that enriched Islam.  The respectful dialogue helped in presenting the various opinions and truths from all aspects.


Sources for the Tijaniyyah Dzikr

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Sources for the Dzikr of the Tijaniyyah.  This is from the introduction by Shaykh Hasan Sisi (q.s.) of Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas’ (q.s.) “Revival of the Sunnah”.

It is recorded in Swahih Muslim that ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) said, “One day we were sitting in the company of Rasulullah (s.a.w.), when there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothing; his hair was extraordinarily black.  There were no signs of travel on him and none of us knew him.”

He sat before Rasulullah (s.a.w.), his knees supported against the Prophet’s (s.a.w.), his palms placed on his thighs, and said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) said, “Islam is to testily that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and that you establish swalah, pay zakat, observe the fast of Ramadhan, and perform hajj to the House if you have the means to do so.”

The stranger said, “You have told the truth.’”

‘Umar (r.a.) commented, “It astonished us that he would ask and then verify the truth.”

The stranger asked, “Inform me about iman.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) replied, “It is that you believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Day of Judgment, and that you believe in Divine Preordination, whether good or bad.”

The stranger responded, “You have told the truth.”  He then asked, “Inform me about ihsan.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) said, “That you worship Allah as if you see Him, for though you do not, know that He Sees you.”

The stranger asked, “Inform me about the Hour.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) remarked, “The one being asked knows no more than the questioner.”

The stranger said, “Tell me some of its signs.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) said, “That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, and that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herders vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings.”

‘Umar (r.a.) said, “Then he went on his way but I stayed with him for a long while,” meaning he stayed with Rasulullah (s.a.w.).

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) then said to him, “Umar, do you know who the questioner was?”

‘Umar (r.a.) replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) replied, “It was Gabriel.  He came to teach you your religion.”

It should be obvious from this hadits that a human being has greater needs than an animal.  In the same way he needs food for his body, he also needs food for his spirit; and the best food for the spirit is the dzikr of Allah (s.w.t.).  Dzikr provides the direct link between the servant and Allah (s.w.t.).  Surely there is wise counsel in the saying, “The dzikr of Allah is the means to acquire wilayat.”

The Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah is based on three principles: istighfar, tahlil and swalawat.

The first, istighfar, asking Allah (s.w.t.) for Forgiveness, is the foundation.  It is forbidden for a Muslim to stop his brother in Islam from saying. “astaghfirullah.”  None of us are infallible.  The same way we do something right today, we may do it wrong tomorrow.  Consequently, the Prophet (s.a.w.) has directed us, saying, “Your sickness is the sins and the remedy of your sickness is to say ‘astaghfirullah.’”  In addition, there are many verses in the Qur’an Advising us to say astaghfirullah.  For example, in Surah al-Hadid, we are told:


Be ye foremost (in seeking) Forgiveness from your Lord ... (Surah al-Hadid:21)

And then, there is the example of our most excellent guide, the Prophet (s.a.w.).  This is in spite of the infallibility of his station, and what Allah (s.w.t.) has Stated clearly in Surah al-Fath:


In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Verily We have Granted thee a manifest victory: That Allah may Forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow; Fulfill His Favour to thee; and Guide thee on the Straight Way. (Surah al-Fath:1-2)

Despite this, the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked Allah’s (s.w.t.) Forgiveness more than one hundred times every day.  If that is the case with him, what about those of us who live in this corrupt time of disbelief and sin?

The second principle is to say, “Laa ilaha illa Allah,” “There is none worthy of worship but God.”  In a hadits, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “The best words I have ever said together with the previous prophets are the words, ‘laa ilaha illa Allah.’”

And, again, in Surah al-Baqarah:


Then do ye remember Me; I will Remember you.  Be grateful to Me and reject not faith. (Surah al-Baqarah:152)

And in Surah Ali ‘Imran:


Men who celebrate the praises of Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) Creation in the heavens and the earth, (with the thought), “Our Lord!  Not for naught hast Thou Created (all) this!  Glory to Thee!  Give us Salvation from the Penalty of the Fire.” (Surah Ali ‘Imran:191)

And, again, in Surah al-Jumu’ah:


… and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that ye may prosper. (Surah al-Jumu’ah:10)

Surely, when Allah (s.w.t.), Who has no limit, Says to remember Him “often”, it is not to be taken lightly.

And the third principle is swalawat ‘ala an-Nabi, the offering of salutations upon the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Allah (s.w.t.) has Ordered the community of the believers to offer prayers upon the Prophet (s.a.w.) just as He has Himself Done together with His angels:


Allah and His angels, Send Blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe!  Send ye blessings on him and salute him, with all respect. (Surah al-Ahzab:56)

Moreover, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said in another hadits, “Whoever offers one prayer upon me, Allah will Offer ten upon him.”  In another report, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Whoever offers one prayer on me, Allah will Offer ten on him; if he makes it ten, Allah will Make it one hundred for him; if he makes it one hundred, Allah will Make it one thousand for him; if he makes it a thousand, he will enter Paradise shoulder-to-shoulder together with me.”

Support for the dzikr of the Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah thus is solely derived from Qur’an and ahadits.  We are Muslims looking for the Truth, and wherever we see the Truth, we shall follow.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Difference between Respect & Worship

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from the teachings of Shaykh Muhammad Nazhim Adil al-Haqqani (q.s.) from Liberating the Soul.

Worshipping Allah (s.w.t.) is one thing and respecting people is something else.  But in our time, many ignorant people never make a distinction between worship and respect.  When those people see someone respecting another, they say, “You are worshipping him.”

How is it that they do not understand the difference what is respect and what is worship?  Even regarding kissing hands of a shaykh, they say, “Shirk!” but they are the ones who are mushrikin, polytheists.  Whoever accuses a mu’min, a believer, of shirk, polytheism, he is a mushrik.  So many Shaythani people, and they claim that they are Muslims, are trying to destroy everything that Islam brings of respect to people.  They want us to be like communists, with no respect among themselves.  Islam just brought respect and honour to people from Allah (s.w.t.):


O mankind!  We Created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and Made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).  Verily the most Honoured of you in the Sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.  And Allah has Full Knowledge and is Well Acquainted (with all things). (Surah al-Hujraat:13)

We must respect the one who fears Allah (s.w.t.).


…And do not forget kindness between yourselves.  For Allah Sees well all that ye do. (Surah al-Baqarah:237)

As Shaykh Nazhim (q.s.) said, these people may understand Arabic but they have no wisdom.


Spiritual Courtesies of a Murid with His Shaykh

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Foundations of the Spiritual Path by Imam Ahmad az-Zarruq (q.s.).

The spiritual courtesies of a murid with his shaykh and fellow wayfarers are five: Following the directions of the murshid, even if it is contrary to one’s own preference; avoiding what the murshid forbids, even if it would appear to be highly adverse to the student; maintaining utmost reverence for them in their presence and absence, during their lives and after their passing; giving them their due according to one’s ability without stint; and relinquishing one’s own understanding, knowledge, and leadership to that of the teacher, unless these are already in accordance with one’s teacher.

Should the seeker not find a murshid or find one who is lacking in any of these five conditions, he should depend on him only in those conditions the shaykh fulfills.  As for areas he is wanting in, he should treat him like a brother regarding them.  Thus ends the five foundations with the praise, help, and perfect success of Allah (s.w.t.).


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Meeting of Prophets during the Mi'raj in the First Three Heavens

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted “From the Gardens of Tafsir” by Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.).

Why did the Prophet (s.a.w.) see the prophets he saw and why did he see the ones he saw on those various levels of Paradise?  Whatever an ‘arif of Allah (s.w.t.) sees externally is a reflection of his spiritual state.  And the other prophets the Prophet (s.a.w.) on the Isra’ wa al-Mi’raj was a reflection of his inner state.

On the first level of Paradise, he saw our father, Adam (a.s.).  Adam’s (a.s.) home and all he knew was Paradise.  He lived in Paradise which was his home until his enemy, Shaythan, drove him to leave his home to then dwell in a new and strange place which was the world, dunya.  The same it was with the Prophet (s.a.w.) who was from Makkah.  And Makkah was his home until his enemies drove him to leave Makkah and go to a strange place he was not familiar with and made to dwell therein which was Yathrib, now known now as Madinah al-Munawarah.  This is why he saw Prophet Adam (a.s.) on the first level of Paradise.

After arriving in Madina, he was met with more enemies who tried him and tested him even more than the Quraysh of Makkah.  When the Prophet (s.a.w.) entered Madina, he was met with harsh opposition of the Jews.  The Jews were well known for their harsh treatment and even killing and attempted murders of past prophets such as, ‘Isa (a.s.) and Yahya (a.s.).  And this is why he saw these two cousins on the second heaven.

After returning to Makkah victorious, the Prophet (s.a.w.) opened Makkah and all his enemies who were actually near kin, who tried to kill and abuse and plot against him for so long, were made to submit to his authority.  And with that, he forgave his near kin the same as Yusuf (a.s.), who was plotted against by his brothers but we he returned as a victorious authority, he forgave them all.  And this is why the Prophet (s.a.w.) saw Yusuf (a.s.) on the third heaven.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Three Kinds of Actions for the Servant

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from the Purification of the Soul, compiled from the works of Imam ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (r.a.), Imam ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (r.a.) and Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (r.a.).

There are three kinds of actions that the servant has:  First, the acts of obedience which Allah (s.w.t.) has Commanded His servants to do since He has Made them the means for rescuing them from the Fire and their entering the Garden.  These must be done, while at the same time, still relying on Allah (s.w.t.) when doing them and seeking this outcome, for there is no strength and no power except from Him.  Whatever He Wishes to be has already happened, and whatever He Wishes not to be will never happen.  Whoever does not fulfill one of the duties which have been imposed on him by Allah (s.w.t.) deserves to be Punished in this life and in the next life in accordance with the shari’ah and as Decreed by Allah (s.w.t.).

Shaykh Yusuf ibn Asbat (r.a.) said, “Do what you do like a man who can only be saved by his actions, and rely completely on Allah like a man who can only be afflicted by the afflictions that have already been Decreed for him.”

Second, the actions which Allah (s.w.t.) has Made a part of life in this world, and in which He has Told His servants to take part such as eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, seeking shade in the heat, keeping warm in cold weather, and other such things.  Being involved in such actions is also a duty.  Whoever does not do so, to the extent that he does himself harm by abandoning them, even though he was perfectly capable of doing them, has been negligent and deserves punishment.

Third, the actions which Allah (s.w.t.) has Made a part of life in general, without their being essential.  Allah (s.w.t.) can Make exceptions for whomever of His servants He Chooses.  There are several kinds of these actions.  One of which is taking medicine.  The ‘ulama have given varying answers to the following question: Is it better for a sick person to take medicine or, in the case of those who rely completely on Allah (s.w.t.), to abstain from taking it?

There are two better known answers to this question.  Imam Ahmad (r.a.) said that reliance on Allah (s.w.t.) for the one who has it is better.  The imam cited the saying of the Prophet (s.a.w.), “Seventy thousand people of my ummah will enter the Garden without being taken to account or being punished.  They are the ones who do not make talismans, or seek them, or look for omens, or treat their body by burning, and who completely rely on their Lord.”

Those ‘ulama who approve of taking medicine say that the Prophet (s.a.w.) used to take it, and he only did what was best; and that the above hadits only applies to the use of talismans, which are rightly regarded with suspicion because they can lead to reliance on other than Allah (s.w.t.), and which are accordingly equated with looking for omens and treatment by burning.

Imam Mujahid ibn Jabr (r.a.), Imam ‘lkrimah mawla ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.), Imam an-Nakha’i (r.a.) and several of the pious predecessors said, “No one has been given permission to totally abandon trying to use the ways and means of this world for treating his afflictions, except one whose heart has altogether ceased to relate to the Creation.”

Imam lshaq ibn Rahwayh (r.a.), the imam of the ‘ulama of Khurasan, was asked, “Can a man engage in warfare without making any preparation for it?”

He answered, “He can, if he is like ‘Abdullah ibn Jubayr - otherwise he cannot.”


A Good Opinion of God

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

One of the most difficult things for many people is to have husn azh-zhann, good thoughts, of Allah (s.w.t.).  He who has a good thought of Allah (s.w.t.), it is like a du’a, a supplication of the highest magnitude.  Shaykh Hamza Yusuf said, “According to a beautiful hadits, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said that on the Last Day, when the last two souls are brought forth before God, they are both Condemned to Hell.  As the angels escort them to their final fiery abode, one of them wistfully looks back.  Thereupon, Allah (s.w.t.) Commands the angels to Bring him back and Asks the man why he turned back.  The man replies, ‘I was expecting something else from You.’

Allah (s.w.t.) Responds, Commanding the angels, ‘Take him to My Garden.’

It is our expectation of Allah (s.w.t.) that determines where we are.  This points up the need for thinking well not only of Allah (s.w.t.) but also of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Creation, despite the fact that we are all messy, imperfect works in progress, struggling along in this journey.”


Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Book of Revelation: Paradoxical Symbolism

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Revelation contains a lot of symbolism.  It is an allegorical work that requires much thought, knowledge of scripture and history and a spiritual state to understand.  It is the most difficult book in the entire Bible to decipher.  The early Church fathers debated greatly as to its status, whether canonical or apocryphal, such was its controversial nature.

Paradoxical symbolism refers to a seemingly contradictory representation of an object, or a person.  It is a reversal of expectations or nature.  These symbols often involve two statements where the first refers to something of a particular known nature related to or combined with another object of an opposite nature.  This is a literary device meant to highlight an important prophetic point.  It is not unique to Revelation.  It was a common device in prophetic language of the Near East and was not limited to the Revealed Religions.  It is not used in the Qur’an.  Thus here, we are trying to understand these signs from an Orthodox Christian perspective with some explanation on the differences with the Muslim understanding, if any.

Revelation Chapter 5, is a case in point:

Revelation 5:1-5
1And now I saw that he who sat on the throne carried in his right hand a scroll.  The inside of the page and the outside were both written on, and it was sealed with seven seals.  2And I saw an angel of sovereign strength, who was crying in a loud voice, “Who claims the right to open the book, and break the seals on it?”  3But there was no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth, who could open the scroll and have sight of it.  4I was all in tears, that none should be found worthy to open the scroll or have sight of it; 5until one of the elders said to me, “No need for tears; here is one who has gained the right to open the book, by breaking its seven seals, the Lion that comes from the tribe of Judah, from the stock of David.

It is one of the twenty-four elders in heaven who came to John of Patmos and revealed that it is the Lion of Judah.  This ‘Lion of Judah’ is found in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis:

Genesis 49:8-9
8“But thou, Judah, shalt win the praise of thy brethren; with thy hand on the necks of thy enemies, thou shalt be reverenced by thy own father’s sons.  9Judah is like a lion’s whelp; on the hills, my son, thou roamest after thy prey; like a lion couched in his lair, a lioness that none dares provoke.”

There is the added reference above of the ‘stock of David’.  This makes it clear from a Christian perspective that the elder is referring to Jesus of Nazareth, who was both from the tribe of Judah and claimed to be a spiritual descendant of David.  The Christians also claim that Jesus (a.s.) is the direct descendant of David (a.s.) though Joseph.

Matthew 1:1-17
1A record of the ancestry from which Jesus Christ, the son of David, son of Abraham, was born.  2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac of Jacob, Jacob of Judah and his brethren; 3Judah of Phares and Zara, by Thamar; Phares of Esron, Esron of Aram, 4Aram of Aminadab, Aminadab of Naasson, Naasson of Salmon; 5Salmon of Booz, by Rahab; Booz of Obed, by Ruth; Obed of Jesse; 6and Jesse was the father of king David.  And king David was the father of Solomon, by her that had been the wife of Urias.  7Solomon was the father of Roboam, Roboam of Abias, Abias of Asa, 8Asa of Josaphat, Josaphat of Joram, Joram of Ozias, 9Ozias of Joatham, Joatham of Achaz, Achaz of Ezechias, 10Ezechias of Manasses, Manasses of Amon, Amon of Josias; 11and Josias was the father of Jechonias and his brethren, at the time of the removal to Babylon.  12And after the removal to Babylon, Jechonias was the father of Salathiel, Salathiel of Zorobabel, 13Zorobabel of Abiud, Abiud of Eliacim, Eliacim of Azor, 14Azor of Sadoc, Sadoc of Achim, Achim of Eliud, 15Eliud of Eleazar, Eleazar of Mathan, Mathan of Jacob, 16and Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary; it was of her that Jesus was born, who is called Christ.  17Thus there are fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the captivity in Babylon, and fourteen from the captivity in Babylon to Christ.

This does contradict the Christian assertion that Jesus (a.s.) is begotten not made but they see no dichotomy in it.  From a Muslim point of view, the genealogical descent from the House of David through Joseph is rejected since the Qur’an states explicitly that he is of virgin birth and there is no mention in all the sirah of a ‘Joseph’.  Muslim commentators believe that he is retroactive addition to ‘fulfill’ the Prophecy of David.



She said, “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Surah Maryam:20)

Based on what John of Patmos had been told, we are led to expect Jesus (a.s.) depicted as a lion, the conqueror.  But it is not the case.

Revelation 5:6
6Then I saw, in the midst, where the throne was, amid the four figures and the elders, a Lamb standing upright, yet slain (as I thought) in sacrifice.  He had seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, that go out to do his bidding everywhere on earth.

This represents Jesus’ (a.s.) resurrection, as the Christians believe, since the Lamb stands.  This juxtaposition of the Lion and the Lamb is wholly in line with the Christian theme of conquest through submission and peace.  Here, Jesus (a.s.) is the Lion from the tribe of Judah who has conquered even death.  He has conquered by assuming a position of vulnerability, by serving as the sacrificial Lamb and slain in the vicarious sacrifice, and then raised again to stand despite this.

Matthew 5:3-4
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  4Blessed are the patient; they shall inherit the land.

Later, John of Patmos saw a great multitude of people around the throne in heaven, wearing white robes:

Revelation 7:9
9And then I saw a great multitude, past all counting, taken from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages.  These stood before the throne in the Lamb’s presence, clothed in white robes, with palm-branches in their hands.

Then one of the twenty-four elders spoke to him:

Revelation 7:13-15
13And now one of the elders turned to me, and asked, “Who are they, and whence do they come, these who are robed in white?”  14“My Lord,” said I, “thou canst tell me.”  “These,” he said, “have come here out of the great affliction; they have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.  15And now they stand before God’s throne, serving him day and night in his temple; the presence of him who sits on the throne shall overshadow them.

We have been asked to envision a multitude of people from all nations in white robes.  We are told that their robes are white because they had washed them in blood, as opposed to water.  Water would have been the symbol of baptism.  Whereas white symbolizes purity, the washing in blood here specifically refers to the blood of the Lamb, again a reference to the vicarious sacrifice.

As for the people in white:

Revelation 19:18
7“Let us rejoice and triumph and give him the praise; the time has come for the wedding-feast of the Lamb.  His bride has clothed herself in readiness for it; 8hers it is to wear linen of shining white; the merits of the saints are her linen.

We know now, that they are the saints, the martyrs who have died for their faith.  This is their washing of their robes in the blood of the Lamb, they have been annihilated in the shedding of Christ’s blood on the Cross.

In Chapter 19, John sees Jesus (a.s.) on a white horse in heaven:

Revelation 19:11-14
11Then, in my vision, heaven opened, and I saw a white horse appear.  Its rider bore for his title, the Faithful, the True; he judges and goes to battle in the cause of right.  12His eyes were like flaming fire, and on his brow were many royal diadems; the name written there is one that only he knows.  13He went clad in a garment deep dyed with blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God; 14the armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses, and clad in linen, white and clean.

Here is another juxtaposition of blood and white linen, a fetish of the writer.  We already know from the earlier passages that the armies of heaven have been washed in the blood of the Lamb because of the white linen.  It is normally expected that a conqueror riding on a horse, a martial symbolism, would have his robe has stained by the blood of his enemies but in keeping with the symbolism, it is understood that Jesus’ (a.s.) robe has been dipped in his own blood, not that of his slain enemies.

Luke 22:20
20And so with the cup, when supper was ended, “This cup,” he said, “is the new testament, in my blood which is to be shed for you.

John of Patmos further added to his description of Jesus (a.s.):

Revelation 19:15
15From his mouth came a two-edged sword, ready to smite the nations; he will herd them like sheep with a crook of iron.  He treads out for them the wine-press, whose wine is the avenging anger of almighty God.

This is paradoxical since conquerors do not carry their swords in their mouths.  Since Jesus’ (a.s.) sword issues from his mouth, then it is metaphorical.

Revelation 19:13
13He went clad in a garment deep dyed with blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God.

Paul of Tarsus wrote:

Ephesians 6:17
17Make the helmet of salvation your own, and the sword of the spirit, God’s word.

And in his letter to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 4:12
12God’s word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts.

Jesus’ (a.s.) sword, the sword of his mouth, is the word of God.  That is also his title in Revelation.  Jerome of Stridon, of the doctors of the Church wrote in his Homilies on the Psalms, on Revelation, which he refers to as the Apocalypse of John, “Out of his mouth came forth a sharp two-edged sword.”  The word of his teachings is a two-edged sword  that slays adversaries and defends his faithful.  The clear message is that Jesus (a.s.) does not come to conquer through violence but through preaching and living the word of God.

John of Patmos then described the battle between the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth who were gathered to make war on Jesus (a.s.) and his followers:

Revelation 19: 19-21
19And then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth muster their armies, to join battle with the rider on the white horse and the army which followed him.  20The beast was made prisoner, and with it the false prophet that did miracles in its presence, deluding all those who bore the beast’s mark and worshipped its image; and both were thrown alive into the fiery lake that burns with brimstone.  21All the rest were slain by the sword of that horseman, the sword that comes from his mouth; and all the birds feasted on the carrion, and had their fill.

The beast of Revelation is closely identified with the pagan Roman empire and its emperors who persecuted and martyred Christians.  The forces of paganism were defeated and the empire converted and became Christian.  The passage quoted immediately precedes the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints.  Catholic thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo have identified this as the present period, in which Christ and his saints reign in heaven and through the Church on earth through the Church Militant and Church Triumphant.

Revelations 20:1-6
1I saw, too, an angel come down from heaven, with the key of the abyss in his hand, and a great chain.  2He made prisoner of the dragon, serpent of the primal age, whom we call the devil, or Satan, and put him in bonds for a thousand years, 3thrusting him down to the abyss and locking him in there, and setting a seal over him.  He was not to delude the world any more until the thousand years were over; then, for a short time, he is to be released.  4Then I saw thrones prepared for those to whom judgement was committed; I saw the souls of all those who went to execution for love of the truth concerning Jesus, and of God’s word, and all who would not worship the beast, or its image, or bear its mark on their foreheads and their hands.  These were endowed with life, and reigned as kings with Christ for a thousand years; 5but the rest of the dead remained lifeless while the thousand years lasted.  Such is the first resurrection.  6Blessed and holy is his lot who has a share in this first resurrection; over such the second death has no power, they will be priests of God, priests of Christ; all those thousand years they will reign with him.

This is thought to happen not through physical conquest, but through the preaching of the word of God, the sword that issued from Jesus’ (a.s.) mouth.  It was also through the blood of the martyrs that brought conversion to the empire.  It is interpreted here that the forces against God are destroyed by the sword, but the sword that destroys them is immaterial.

From a Muslim perspective, however, we reject the anthropomorphic vision of God.  And we, of course, reject the idea of his death and resurrection since that contradicts our scripture.  We can accept that there are elements here that are congruent with our understanding of Jesus (a.s.) and his role as a prophet.  Overall, however, if I were still a Catholic, I would still hold the opinion that Revelation should have been considered apocryphal.