Wednesday, 1 March 2017
Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller on Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyyah
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following was extracted from Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyyah.
The following question was asked of Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller: “Many Pakistanis and people of the Naqshbandi thariqa’ consider the Prophet (s.a.w.) to be ‘Nurullah’, the ‘Light of Allah’, and find it offensive that we call the Prophet (s.a.w.) ‘bashar’, a ‘human being’, even though the Qur’an States him to be so. I have also been made aware of a hadits in Jami’ at-Tirmidzi that states that the prophets were Created from the Nur of Allah and the first amongst them was the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Do you have any knowledge about this matter?”
The following is adapted from his reply.
The Prophet (s.a.w.) is the Light of Allah (s.w.t.), something a believer can say because the Qur’an Affirms it in the verse:
… there hath Come to you, from Allah, a (new) Light and a Perspicuous Book. ― (Surah al-Ma’idah:15)
Here, the word “Light” has been explained by a number of classic Qur’anic exegetes as follows. Imam Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuthi (q.s.) said, in his Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “It is the Prophet (s.a.w.).”
Imam ibn Jarir ath-Thabari (r.a.), in his Jami’ al-Bayan, said, “By ‘Light’, He means Muhammad (s.a.w.), through whom Allah has Illuminated the truth, Manifested Islam, and Obliterated polytheism; since he is a light for whoever seeks illumination from him, which makes plain the truth.”
Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (r.a.), in his Tafsir al-Kabir, wrote, “There are various positions about it, the first being that the ‘Light’ is Muhammad (s.a.w.), and the ‘Book’ is the Qur’an.”
Imam al-Baghawi (r.a.) wrote, in Ma’alam at-Tanzil, “It means Muhammad (s.a.w.), or, according to a weaker position, Islam.”
Imam al-Qurthubi (r.a.), in his Ahkam al-Qur’an, and Imam al-Mawardi (r.a.), in Nukat wa al-‘Uyun, mention that interpreting “Nur” as “Muhammad” was also the position of the imam of Arabic grammar, Imam Ibrahim ibn Muhammad az-Zajjaj (r.a.).
This is the interpretation of the earliest exegetes; Imam ath-Thabari (r.a.) was the shaykh of the salaf in tafsir. The interpretation of “Nur” as “Islam” came later.
As for the Prophet (s.a.w.) being “bashar” “a human being”, there is no doubt of this, because it is Qur’an and ‘aqidah. Yet, the Qur’an does not simply state that he is a human being, but rather Says:
Say, “I am but a man like yourselves, (but) the inspiration has come to me, that your God is one God ...” (Surah al-Kahf:110)
The important qualificatory phrase in this verse shows us that the Prophet (s.a.w.) was a completely different sort of human being from anyone else, then or now. None of us can say he is Divinely Inspired as the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) was. Rather, as is said in a poetic ode to the Prophet (s.a.w.), which is often sung at gatherings, after singing the Qaswidah al-Burdah by Imam al-Buswiri (q.s.):
“Muhammad is a human being, but not like humankind;
He is a ruby, while people are as stones.”
Though the Prophet (s.a.w.) is the Light of Allah, he is, of course, a Created light. Someone who believe otherwise has made the mistake of the Christians with Jesus (a.s.), or the Hindus with their avatars. An idhafah, ascriptive, construction like Nurullah does not show that this “Nur” or “Light” is an Attribute of Allah (s.w.t.). Rather, the ascriptive construction in this case is a kind called idhafah tashrif, or an ascription of ennoblement, such as the title, “Baytullah”, “The House of Allah” for the Ka’bah in Makkah, named this for its nobility, not that Allah (s.w.t.) lives inside, much less that it is Divine Attribute. Or like the she-camel that was Sent to Tsamud, which was Called, in the Qur’an, “naqatullah”, “The She-Camel of Allah” as an ascription of ennoblement; namely, because of its inviolability in the shari’ah of that time — not that it was ridden by Allah (s.w.t.), or was a Divine Attribute.
As for the Prophet (s.a.w.) being the first of Creation, among the Islamic scholars who have compiled works on his characteristics is the muhaddits, Imam Jalal al-Din ad-Din as-Suyuthi (q.s.) with his two-volume ahadits work, al-Khaswa’isw al-Kubra’, of which the first chapter is entitled, “The Uniqueness of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in Being the First of the Prophets to Be Created, the Priority of His Prophethood, and the Taking of the Covenant with Him.” The chapter’s first hadits was reported by Imam ibn Abi Hatim (r.a.) in his Tafsir, and by Imam Abu Nu’aym (r.a.) in Dala’il an-Nubuwwa, from numerous chains of transmission, from Imam Qatadah ibn Di’amah (r.a.), who related it from Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.), from Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), that of the Prophet (s.a.w.) commented on this Qur’anic verse:
And remember, We Took, from the prophets, their Covenant: and from thee: from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, the son of Mary: We Took from them a solemn covenant: (Surah al-Ahzab:7)
He related that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “I was the first of the prophets to be Created and the last of them to be Sent.”
Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.) recorded nine other ahadits indicating that the Prophet (s.a.w.) was the first of the prophets to be Created; among them the hadits reported by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) in his Tarikh, and by Imam Ahmad (r.a.), Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.), Imam Hakim (r.a.), and Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), that Maysarah al-Fajr (r.a.) said, “I asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), when were you a Prophet?’
And he said, ‘While Adam was between soul and body,’”
Finally, in the metaphysic of the Sufis, or at least those whom I have met, the Prophet (s.a.w.) is both the “Light of Allah” and a “human being”, and the inability to join between the two aspects is a lack of understanding of the greatness of Haqiqah al-Muhammadiyyah, the Muhammadan Reality.
To gain an idea of their point of departure, we may note that the entire universe has been Created by Allah (s.w.t.) in order that His Names and Attributes might be Manifest, that is, in order that He might be known, for He Says:
I have only Created jinn and men, that they may serve Me. (Surah adz-Dzariyat:56)
Imam al-Baghawi (r.a.) wrote, in Ma’alam at-Tanzil, that Imam Mujahid ibn Jabr al-Makki (r.a.) said this means, “except to know Me” which is a sound interpretation, since if He had not Created them, they would not have known His Existence and His Oneness.
Now, the Divine Names, such as “ar-Rahman”, “The All-Merciful”; “al-Karim”, “The Most Generous”; “ar-Rafi’”, “The Exalter”; “al-Khafid”, “The Abaser”; “asw-Swabur”, “The Most Patient”; “al-Muntaqim”, “The Avenger”; and the others, entail and comprise the existence of the entire spectrum of human conditions, but particularly, ultimately, eternally, and at their fullest manifestation, the outcomes of Paradise and Hell.
These outcomes, in their turn, entail a logos or determining order that governs them, an illuminatory law that renders them and the states of their inhabitants transparent and intelligible, an ultimate standard. This is what we call the shari’ah, or Sacred Law, inseparable in principle from its Divine Origin, for it is one with Allah’s (s.w.t.) Speech, the Qur’an, and the sunnah, His Act of Inspiration to the Prophet (s.a.w.). Part of the Law is that “none of you shall enter Paradise by his works,” but rather, through Allah’s (s.w.t.) Mercy, but the levels within it do correspond to works whose qualities and conditions are Given in the Revelation.
From the point of view of Manifesting the Divine Attributes and Names, their ultimate outcomes consisting in the destinies of human beings, without which they would remain unmanifest, the appearance of the shari’ah, in its final and perfected form at the end of human history, is the raison d’être of the whole Created universe; and ontologically prior to it in the timelessly Pre-Eternal Knowledge of Allah (s.w.t.). And the focal point of this light of lights, the head of the whole matter of its appearance, and the site of its manifestation, in a sense the résumé of all Created being and occasion for its appearance, is the Haqiqah al-Muhammadiyyah, the Prophet (s.a.w.), whose consciousness was identical with this shari’ah.
We cannot ever claim to know all of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) perfections, only that Allah (s.w.t.) Describes him in His Book as “light”; while at the same time, he had to be a human being, in order that the Sacred Law could be manifest, and the imperative of obeying it be binding on every human being.