Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Category: Islam

The Beatific Vision – Sickness, Suffering and the Divine Names

Over the last years, as I’ve dealt with furiously fluctuating (ill)health and occasional moments of despair, not least the other week when I was laying on that hospital trolley. Whilst I was there, and in the moments of lucidity I had, I started to read (via Kindle (c) ) and article by a modern-day mystic, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, On Suffering and Divine Wisdom.

Here are some passages I found particularly interesting, and occasionally profound, from sections 4 and 6 of his text. I can’t say I always agree with his particular (and occasionally austere) Sufi vision, but in the broad scheme of individual suffering in Light of the Divine, it certainly offers food for thought). The first passage is somewhat complex, just because of the Arabic terminology particularly in reference to the Names with which the Divine Addresses Himself, but can be summed up in these three excerpts that I have taken. These names seem to interplay in the world, and the world seems to be a kind of theophanic revelation of God’s Self-Disclosure in these Names, and so it takes someone with discernment, gnosis, ma’rifa to be able to see which Names are in play at any time, and what they could mean.

There is, also, a kind of serenity with which he accepts ‘Fate’ in so far as it applies to God’s Will/Command and His Names. Perhaps, like with mindfulness-type projects, it is this non-resistance to the world that can benefit the chronically troubled or sick. All is in His Hands, and all that we have to offer is the best that we can do. The best, that is, in terms of heightening what dignity we have, and to efface our egos in the Face of His Majesty, which strikes so blindingly, especially for the chronically ill.

  1. “The particular significance here for theodicy is that the perfection of this world and the next lies in the totality of the myriad interpenetrative and interconnected modes, factors, and implications of these names. For each particular existent’s “perfection” is only over others, which to that extent must be subject to some privation, whether experienced as pain, evil, or suffering.”
  2. The believer, the saint, the ‘arif or knower of Allah directly and experientially–all know Allah in His manifestations and determinations, each according to his own illumination and consciousness of the Divine. They are patent in the wondrous balance in the natural world between species, whose interests are inextricably intertwined by feeding, parasitism, symbiosis, and most dramatically perhaps, predation…
  3. “A “good job” for example, only exists in contradistinction to the less rewarding ways in which other people have to earn a living. Moreover, a certain complementarity imbues the very terms in which the perfection of particulars is construed. Thus triumph has no meaning without the possibility of ruin, or friendship without the possibility of enmity, peace without war, health without disease, safety without peril, might without abasement, or life without death. So privation and evil exist in order to elucidate their opposite, human felicity and perfection; not as any “absolute standard” to measure the Divine, which rather in its entirety measures them. Servanthood means that one accepts that they pertain to man, not to God…

The text:

4. THE CONEXT OF THE DIVINE NAMES

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman taught that the divine names vie over existent things to manifest their implications in them. Consider the example of a young man from a good family, who falls in with bad company and drifts into their way of seeing and doing things, under the influence of the name al-Khafid, the Lowerer, and finally al-Mudhill, the Abaser, until the day comes when he can sink no lower and disgusts even himself. The name al-Tawwab or ‘Relenter’ deploys, he remembers how he was, sees what he has become, and finds himself ashamed before his Maker, to whom he repents. The days and weeks see him improve, under the implications of al-Rafi‘, He Who Raises. He seeks better company, unplugs from bad old ways, and passes into the sphere of al-Wadud, the Solicitous and Tender, to al-Karim, the All-generous, and so forth. The interactions of the names and their determinations are complex and interpenetrative. The name al-Musawwir, for example, the Bestower of Forms, the Fashioner, the Ingrainer, the Organizer, manifests its implications in all existents; while al-Warith, the Inheritor, remains after the implications of the former have been lifted from any particular existent and it has been annihilated, effaced, and dispersed. The name al-Muqaddim, the Advancer, makes one existent precede another, in works, in rank, or in time of appearance; while al-Mu’akhkhir, the Delayer, the Demoter, postpones existents and events until after others, or keeps them back, or lowers them. The name al-Wahhab, the Liberal, the Bountiful, the Giver, dispenses His bounties perpetually, freely, universally, and for nothing in return; while al-Mani‘, the Preventer, stops, denies, checks, and prevents attacks. The name al-Nafi‘, the Benefiter, promotes, helps, and does good to whomsoever He wills; while al-Darr, the Afflicter, damages, harms, and mars whomever He wills. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Verily, Allah has ninety-nine names. Whoever comprehends all of them shall enter paradise” (Tirmidhi (19), 5.532: 3508. S)….

The believer, the saint, the ‘arif or knower of Allah directly and experientially–all know Allah in His manifestations and determinations, each according to his own illumination and consciousness of the Divine. They are patent in the wondrous balance in the natural world between species, whose interests are inextricably intertwined by feeding, parasitism, symbiosis, and most dramatically perhaps, predation…

Here, the good Shaykh provides an example of how the Divine Names seem to interplay with one another; that in this realm of finite possibilities, of life and death, perhaps it takes time to achieve a balance. However, the passage of time appears to allow us to apprehend the beauty of the way things are, a manifestation of infinite Wisdom and Perfection.

“On Isle Royale, for example, a forty-five-mile-long wilderness sanctuary separated by fourteen miles of open water of Lake Superior from the coast of Ontario, there were no moose until 1908, when a number of them swam across the channel to escape wolves on the mainland. By 1915, their numbers had increased to two hundred. The population, unhindered by natural enemies, kept steadily increasing until 1930, when they had eaten up so much of the vegetation on the island that they were starving in droves, emaciated and diseased. The eight hundred or so moose continued, miserably famished and ill, until the winter of 1948—49, when a pack of some twenty timber wolves came across the ice and began to prey on the herd. They were soon reduced to some six hundred, or thirty moose to each wolf, which is the natural balance between the two species in the wild. The outward ferocity of the wolves bringing down the individual moose and eating them, the inevitable fear and blood and suffering of the prey at the fangs of the predator, proved to be a divine mercy resulting in the recovery of the species as a whole on the isle. Within a few years, the herd was better fed and healthier than any time in the previous half century it had lived there (The Seven Mysteries of Life (13), 474—75)…

“The particular significance here for theodicy is that the perfection of this world and the next lies in the totality of the myriad interpenetrative and interconnected modes, factors, and implications of these names. For each particular existent’s “perfection” is only over others, which to that extent must be subject to some privation, whether experienced as pain, evil, or suffering.

“A “good job” for example, only exists in contradistinction to the less rewarding ways in which other people have to earn a living. Moreover, a certain complementarity imbues the very terms in which the perfection of particulars is construed. Thus triumph has no meaning without the possibility of ruin, or friendship without the possibility of enmity, peace without war, health without disease, safety without peril, might without abasement, or life without death. So privation and evil exist in order to elucidate their opposite, human felicity and perfection; not as any “absolute standard” to measure the Divine, which rather in its entirety measures them. Servanthood means that one accepts that they pertain to man, not to God…

Imam Juwayni, Ghazali’s sheikh in tenets of faith, expressed this by saying, “There is neither good nor evil in the actions of Allah Most Blessed and Exalted in respect to His divinity, for all actions are equal in respect to Him; while their levels but differ in respect to created servants (al-‘Aqida al-Nizamiyya (11), 35—36)” [Emphasis mine].

“This supreme sovereignty of Allah is ultimately the reason why theodicy, if earnestly discussed by divines of other faiths, has far less relevance for Muslims. The ethos of Islam or ‘submission to Allah’ does not reduce the order of created being, with all its complexity, to pleasure or pain, joy or suffering, good or evil, for these refer to created individuals. It instead acknowledges that the universe is a larger context, a theater, an examination room, for human actions to mirror the degrees, shades, and nuances of the Creator’s love or wrath. The theophany of Allah’s love is in human tawfiq or ‘divinely given success’ in obeying Him. The theophany of His wrath is in human khidhlan or the ‘divine abandonment’ of a servant to his own pride and folly. There is no mystery as to which is which, because Allah has sent us messengers to make it plain, given us eyes and ears with which to apprehend their message, an intellect with which to understand it, and a life and death in which to realize it. Acting upon what one thus knows brings about an illuminatory hal or state in which the wisdom of suffering and privation is taken for granted, because the resultant qurb or nearness has transmuted the experience of them into tawfiq rather than khidhlan.

If you cannot, then, reduce God, to the kind of anthropomorphic vision of the Divine through which to examine Him, then perhaps the only recourse we have is His Names, and to see how they Manifest.

 

6. THE DIVINE WISDOM IN SUFFERING AND EVIL
“Someone just and good would not allow suffering and evil if he could prevent them,” is contradicted by many examples of Allah’s wisdom, justice, and goodness, in creation that entail suffering and evil, of which the following are only the most plain after a little reflection.

The Next World

“The value of one over infinity approaches zero. So too, the time one spends in this world pales to insignificance before eternity, where in the next world, each of us will realise that in this one, “you bode but little” (Qur’an 23:113). Allah [and really, this is just the Arabic term for ‘God’ if taken more generically] has placed the story of each particular human being, the creative theophany of the Rahman or Most Merciful, in the larger context of forever, the special theophany of the Rahim or All-[C]ompassionate to those who were His true servants in this world. The eternity of the afterlife furnishes the true measure and context of the transitory sufferings of this life, which are ephemeral in comparison.

“Rumi alludes to this ‘global answer’ to suffering in his parable of the sapling in the midst of the leafless winter, shivering and muttering to itself about the misery of the biting wind and cold, unable to think why God should do such a thing to it. The answer finally comes in the form of the warm and verdant springtime. IN the trajectory of a believer’s life and afterlife, when springtime comes it lasts forever.”

Of course, this isn’t a suggestion for complacency or a fideistic vision, for who knows whom the Almighty will take to be their true believer?

Joys and Suffering as Signs

“Abu ‘Ali al-Radhabari used to say, “What He has made manifest of His blessings indicates what He yet conceals of his generosity.” The experience of those with ma’rifa [I guess, for want of a better term for it, gnosis] in this world is but a foretaste of the incommensurability of beatific vision of God in the next…. [emphasis mine]

For its part, disease is a harrowing ordeal, especially psychologically, since most of us tend to identify closely with our bodies. Yet through its pain and travail we come to understand how little we could bear endless suffering, teaching us to implore Allah to spare us from the hellfire, thus serving as a means of our deliverance. As Ibn ‘Ata Illah [a famous and important mystic, d. 709 AH]  has said, “Whenever He loosens your tongue with a petition, know that He wants to give to you.” (Hiram (8), 37: 102).


Prayer

“Central to worship is supplicating the Worshipped. “Say, ‘My Lord would not even concern Himself with you were it not for your supplication” (Qur’an 25:77). Unlike friends, relatives and virtually everyone else, Allah loves to be asked and dislikes not to be. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Truly, supplication is what worship is, “then he recited, “And your Lord says, ‘Call on Me and I will answer you: Verily those too haughty to worship Me shall inevitably enter hell, utterly humiliated” [40:60]

“…if not for the problems, fears, inadequacies, and pain man faces, he would remain turned away from the door of the Divine generosity, and miss an enormous share of worship that benefits him in this world and the next.”

The death of a true saint

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This weekend was incredibly sad; the lion of the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia was executed, along with forty-six other poor souls, on trumped-up ‘terrorism’ charges. What he did was called for a peaceful uprising against the government.

Watch this speech. I would much rather that our Prime Minister support a man as principled as the late Sh. Nimr and not those odious Kings and Princes that spread widespread takfirism and were the precursors to the so-called ‘Islamic State’

This is a man of principle. May the Almighty Embrace this saint and warrior against imperialism and tyranny.

Friends, there is another Islam that you don’t see. Please always remember this.

Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than when it sprang forth.

My Arabic is sadly not where I’d like it to be, so I have to rely upon a translation (by Ralph Austin, see here for original link and commentary by Austin).

That said, I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did. I don’t tend to read much of poetry – the sheer exertion to decipher them can send me spiralling into overthought!

However, in this case, I had to make an exception. This is from the writings of the great Andalusian Sufi master, Abū ‘Abd Allāh, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Arabī al Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭā’ī, better known to most as Muḥyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1165) who is said to be among the most sophisticated and original thinkers the Islamic tradition has ever produced, and whose insights into the Divine, received to regular ‘unveilings’ through which he composed some of his most important works.

The following poem was constructed at some point after he buried his seven-year-old daughter, with his own hands, and his reflections on the matter. Often I’ve heard critics level profound judgements on those mystics, perhaps because they have no sense of perspective nor have not suffered, which is why they felt they could always see the Divine, His Beauty, His Love, etc.; ibn ‘Arabī himself writes what is a moving and (for me) devastating piece of poetry regarding his relationship to his Creator on such a tragic occasion . He seems to foray into his perception of the Divine Reality in the middle somewhere (and for someone like me, uninitiated, I cannot dare to comment on the specifics), but I’ve highlighted to you verses that spoke to me, giving this poetry significant poignancy given the occasion upon its composition.

The themes of the world of multiplicity, the ‘other-ness’ in relation to God, how His Names manifest in a world so relative, and so on are beyond my scope.

If you are unable to read the whole of the commentary, might I suggest you look at just those below verses 19-20, and 21, the latter of which seems to suggest that these profound mystical insights came to him, were triggered by, the demise of his daughter,  which are both gripping and shocking in content. I’ve pasted these below in block quotes. All credit goes to Ralph Austin.

Is it really possible to see His Agency in everything then, when even such a sad happening brings out such depths?I pray this is as edifying for you as (I hope it will be) for me.

With love, and wishes for a thoroughly blessed year ahead, meanwhile. I shall try not to leave it a year before I write again.

1. With my very own hands I laid my little daughter to rest becauseshe is of my very flesh, 

2. Thus am I constrained to submit to the rule of parting, so that myhand is now empty and contains nothing. 

3. Bound to this moment we are in, caught between the yesterday thathas gone and the tomorrow that is yet to come. 

4. This flesh of mine is as pure silver, while my inner reality is as pure gold.

5. Like a bow have I grown, and my true posture is as my rib. 

6. My Lord it is who says that He has created me in a state of suffering and loss. 

7. How then can I possibly hope for any rest, dwelling as I do in sucha place and state? 

8. Were it not for that state I would be neither child nor parent. 

9. Nor indeed would there be any to compare with me as is the casewith my Creator. 

10. It is surely a case of the qualification being one with respect to an essence which is full of implicit multiplicity. 

11. Because I am for my Creator, in our creation like one of a multitude. 

12. Then my God alighted between us, in the very fabric of existence – not merely a figment of belief.

13. All with a firm, well established emergence, to which I may trace my antecedents with confidence.

14. Thus, on the one hand, I can say that I am a mortal like yourselves, while You do vouch for me.

15. Always, however, on the understanding that I am not ultimately a ‘like’, thus to maintain my integrity.

16. For You have banished all ‘being like’ from me in the pre-eternal state; and that is my conviction.

17. See how sublime and lofty is my garden of paradise, secure in the company of matchless beautiful maidens.

18. He speaks of this as we have also in our book the Maqsid ai-Asmā’.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One? 

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together
upon my being, so that it split asunder. 

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but have been a part of me eternally.

22. It was none but the apostle of the Eternal One who activated them within me.

23. He it was who dictated it, leaving me to write it with my hand.

24. Thus is the matter, and none truly knows it,

25. Save a leader of the spirit surpassing in goodness or one of the
golden mean.

26. Indeed, one who is ‘other’ cannot know it now or ever.

27. Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than whenit sprang forth.

Commentary to verse 19-20:

Verses 19 and 20 are really quite shocking in the context of Islamic religion. They are extremely paradoxical and are perhaps the most powerful two verses of the poem.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One?

Nature, as representative of creation, is in this line a feminine word. As Ibn ‘Arabi points out in the last chapter of the Fusūs, the male God or the male element is surrounded by two female elements-created nature and the very essence itself of God which contains all the essences that we are. It is also a feminine word – dhdt. Nature, the creation itself and the sophic basis of that creation – the deep inner wisdom which provides all the material for that creation are as a family, like a wife and family for God, the Reality. He speaks then of His family. His ahl – His household. The creation is compared to a household – a family or a wife to God but, also the very innermost essence. Here we have the union of the two things that were contrasted in the earlier part of the poem – the worldly state and the pre-eternal state are brought together. They are both a ‘consort’ for the Divine One and therefore, very much a part of the Divine. This is a very difficult idea to articulate without causing certain misunderstandings which is rather compounded in the next verse.

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together upon my being, so that it split asunder.

‘Her’ is Nature on the one hand and the Essence on the other. In this verse, the Arabic word ba’al is used meaning a husband or a consort. (The Arabic word ba’al is the same word as ‘Baal’ used in this way in the Old Testament.) God is seen here as the consort of the double but single feminine. Therefore, the rest of the line is concerned with how ‘they’ consummated their union ‘… upon my being’. Here ‘my being’ (wujudi) is the material which provides the wherewithal for a birth to result from this union of God the Divine al-Haqq and His inner/outer consort. The Hindu concept shakti gives a similar taste of what is indicated by this idea for without the shakti nothing would happen and thus, God would be alone and undivided. It is only the shakti –  the female energy (expressed here by Ibn ‘Arabi in terms of the inner essence and the outer world) which can bring about the whole drama of creation. In this respect then, ‘my being’ is ‘my inner essence – my divine pre-existent being’. The words ‘… so that it split asunder’ refer to the fact that because of the coming together of these two elements, the difference between them became apparent. In many ways, this situation is similar to the vivification of the egg in the womb – splitting, dividing into the eternal and non-eternal.

Verses 19 and 20 are very powerful and central forming the actual conclusion of the poem. In the beginning we had the difference between the two things, then the linking of the two things by the worshipped God and finally the identity of the two things in a union which itself again produces the difference once more so that it is really a cycle that is being discussed here. These two verses are concerned with what is known in religion as hieros gamos – the sacred marriage.

Commentary to verse 21:

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but
have been a part of me eternally.

This verse harks back to the constant theme of eternal subsistence in this poem. He is saying, in effect: “I have not sat down and thought: ‘What sort of poem can I write? What has my daughter’s funeral conveyed to me?.'” Ibn ‘Arabi is declaring that this rich and difficult poem that he has written has always been there in his heart of hearts, in his deepest depths – from all eternity. His daughter’s death and funeral simply served to trigger the release and articulation of these thoughts, images and ideas into writing.

Pain and Presence

I’m writing this, not so much as to tell the world about what’s happening with me these days; rather it is so that I might have some-place where it is recorded.

Last night, I went through a (small) ordeal, which necessitated a trip to the Emergency Room to tackle an extreme bout of pain to my abdomen, and chest. In fact, as I speak now, it feels as if it might recur and I’d need carting-off.

Pain,  which I’m not exactly a stranger to, is something that when it seizes your being, it feels as if it consumes you.

Something happened, though, when this particular pain took. It was so intense, so extreme, I was writhing around in agony, sweating, retching, burning, shouting, shaking… it was unrelenting in a way I’ve never known. Its appearance to me was profound as in a sense, it was the one thing by which my reality was defined entirely at that moment.

But I realised something at that moment, when things felt so bleak.

My mother was running around fetching me drinks to cool off, rubbing on my legs to stop them from writhing around, whilst we were waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
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O Man, you make me wonder so!

Sayings by Imam Ali (a)

More wonderful than man himself is that part of his body which is connected with his trunk with muscles. It is his brain (mind). Look what good and bad tendencies arise from it. On the one hand it holds treasures of know- ledge and wisdom and on the other it is found to harbour very ugly desires. If a man sees even a tiny gleam of success, then greed forces him to humiliate himself. If he gives way to avarice, then inordinate desires ruin him, if he is disappointed, then despondency almost kills him. If he is excited, then he loses temper and gets angry. If he is pleased, then he gives up precaution. Sudden fear makes him dull and nervous, and he is unable to think and find a way out of the situation. During the times of peace and prosperity he becomes careless and unmindful of the future. If he acquires wealth, then he becomes haughty and arrogant. If he is plunged in distress, then his agitation, impatience and nervousness disgrace him. If he is overtaken by poverty, then he finds himself in a very sad plight, hunger makes him weak, and over-feeding harms him equally. In short every kind of loss and gain makes his mind unbalanced.

Imam Ali

The Path to God

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I thought I’d share something that I found myself drawn to, this morning.

Some verses as found in one of my most-cherished possessions, a highly-recommended book entitled:

The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, Edited by William C. Chittick as part of the PARABOLA Anthology Series, Series Editor Ravi Ravindra; Morning Light Press (Idaho, Sandpoint: 2007), p. 206.

On Suffering

Tell me what you do with your suffering, I will tell you who you are.

Dr Tariq Ramadan’s understanding of suffering through Nietzsche as a transformational experience.

I wonder, what do we do with our  day-to-day suffering that elevates us above our current selves? There’s something to be said for the current fad of ‘self love’ and ‘self acceptance’; where is the depth of our thinking?  Why do we turn away from the radical power of transformation that our lived experiences can provide for us. The pursuit of material felicity through accepting oneself and thus turning a blind eye to our lower selves is wholly unsatisfying for the soul that is now so clouded by its own self-reverence that it cannot see its innate purpose.

“Man is the proof of God. A man of God is proof of religion.” (I believe that one is from Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad).

‘The slave remains the slave’

“Universal man realises eternally in the Truth that he is nothing and yet He is Everything. But such realisation is beyond his human soul, and this is what is meant by the saying: ‘The slave remains the slave.’ The slave cannot become God, since he is either the slave, as in appearance, or nothing at all, as in Reality. Universal man cannot make his human soul divine; like the souls of all other men, but with an outstanding difference of quality, it implies the illusion of an existence apart from God. It differs from them not in kind, but in what might almost be called an organic consciousness that this separate existence is in Truth no more than an illusion. There is a saying that ‘Muhammad is a man, yet not as other men, but like a jewel among stones.’ Albeit the souls remains the soul just as night remains night, or else it vanishes and there is day. But though the soul of Universal Man cannot itself attain to the direct knowledge of the Truth of Certainty, yet unlike other souls it is touched in its centre by a ray of light proceeding from the sun of the Spirit of the Truth; for this perfect soul, represented in Islam by the soul of the Prophet, is none other than the Night of Power (lailatu ‘l-qadr), into which descend the Angels and the Spirit; and the Heart, that is, the point of this spiritual ray’s contact, is as a full moon in the unclouded night of the perfect soul making it better than a thousand months of other nights, that is peerless among all other souls. …

“Universal man with his two natures if figures in the Seal of Solomon, of which the upper and lower triangles represent respectively the Divine and the human nature. In virtue of this duality he is the mediator between Heaven and earth, and it is owing to this function that he is sometimes referred to as ‘the isthmus’ (al-barzakh) as in the Chapter of the Distinct Revelation:

And He it is Who hath let loose the two seas, one sweet and fresh, the other salt and bitter, and hath set between them as isthmus, an impassable barrier.    Qur’an, XXV:53

“In His Heart alone does the sweet sea of the next world meet the salt sea of this; and by reason of this meeting his human nature itself is the noblest and best of all earthly things as is affirmed in the Chapter of the Fig:

Verily We created man in the fairest rectitude. Qur’an, XCV:4

“The nearness of Heaven, by reason of his presence, even causes sometimes the laws of earth to cease perceptibly, just as the moon grows pale at the approach of the day; and it is at such moments that a miracle may take place, such as the changing of water into wine, or the step which leaves a print upon the rock and none upon the sand. As in the Seal of Solomon, his central function as mediator is also figured in the Cross, which is another symbols of Universal Man in that the horizontal line represents the fullness of his earthly nature, whereas the vertical line represents his heavenly exaltation; and yet another of his symbols is the Crescent, for like a cup it indicates his function of receiving Divine Grace, and at the same time, like the horns of the bull, it indicates his majesty, his function of administering this Grace throughout the whole Universe.
Blessed is He Who hath made the distinct revelation unto His servant, that he might be for all the worlds a warner. Qur’an XXV:1.”

Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, The Book of Certainty: The Sufi Doctrine of Faith, Vision and Gnosis, p 8-11

What Mastery of the Mystical Sciences…

Stillness and motion do not apply to Him. How can a thing occur in Him which He has Himself made to occur, and how can a thing revert to Him which He first created, and how can a thing appear in Him which He first brought to appearance? If it had not been so, His Self will have become subject to diversity, His Being will have become divisible (into parts) and His reality will have been prevented from being deemed eternal. If there was a front to Him then there will have been a rear also for Him. He will need completing only if shortage befell Him. IN such case, signs of the created will appear in Him and He will become a sign (leading to other objects) instead of signs leading to Him. Through the might of His abstention (from affectedness) He is far above being affected by things which effect others.

Below, I have typed up Sermon 28 from  the Peak of Eloquence, the vast repository or  collection of Sermons, sayings, letters Imam Ali  (a.s), compiled by Sharif al-Radi.

This version is published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, New York.

I’ve included sections from others that are utterly awe-inspiring (emphasis mine, mostly!)

Sermon 28 – About the Transient Nature of this World and the Importance of the Next World

What a truly edifying, (perhaps terrifying) words of perennial wisdom and admonition; how easy it is to forget the life that is to come; too easily do we live as if we will never die, that we’ll repent tomorrow – yet in whose mortal hand does the power exist to guarantee his tomorrow? Sharif al-Radi, the compiler of this great work,

“So now, surely this world has turned its back and announced its departure while the next world has appeared forward and proclaimed its approach. Today is the day of preparation while tomorrow is the day of race. The place to proceed is Paradise while the place of doom is Hell. Is there no one to offer repentance over his faults before his death? Or is there no one to perform virtuous acts before the day of trial?

“Beware, surely you are in the days of hopes behind which stands death. Whoever acts during the days of his hope before the approach of his death, his action would benefit him and his death would not harm him. But he who fails to act during the period of hope before the approach of death, his action is a loss and his death will harm him. Beware and act during a period of attraction just as you act during a period of dread. Beware, surely I have not seen one who covets Paradise asleep nor dreads Hell to be asleep. Beware, he whom right does not benefit must suffer the harm of the wrong and he whom guidance does not keep firm will be led away by misguidance toward destruction.

“Beware, you have been ordered insistently to march and have been guided as to how to provide for the journey. Surely the most frightening thing which I am afraid of about you is to follow desires and to widen the hopes. Provide for yourself from this world what would save you tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).”
The Last Portion  of Sermon 83 – The Lesson to Be Learned from Those Who Have Passed Away:

“O servants of Allah!! Where are those who were allowed (long) ages to live and they enjoyed bounty? They were taught and they learned. they were given time and they passed it in vain. They were kept healthy and they forgot (their duty). They were allowed a long period (of life), were handsomely provided, were warned of grievous punishment and were promised big rewards. You should avoid sins that lead to distraction and vices that attract the wrath (of Allh).

“O people who possess eyes and ears, health and wealth! Is there any place of protection, any shelter of safety, or asylum or haven, or occasion to run away or to come back (to this world)? If not, how are you, then turned away (Holy Quran, 6:95;   10:34;   35:3;   40:62) and whither are you averting? By what things have you been deceived? Certainly, the share of everyone of you from the earth is just a piece of land equal to his owns stature and size where he would lie on his cheeks covered with dust. The present is an opportune moment for acting.

“O servants of Allah! Since the neck is free from the loop and spirit is also unfettered, now you have time for seeking guidance. You are in ease of body; you can assemble in crowds, the rest of life is before you; you have opportunity of acting by will; there is opportunity for repentance and peaceful circumstances. (But you should act) before you are overtaken by narrow circumstances and distress, or fear and weakness, before the approach of the awaited death and before seizure by the Almighty, the Powerful.”

*”Sayyid ar-Radi says the following: ‘It is related that when Imam Ali ibn Abu [sic] Talib delivered this sermon people began to tremble, tears flowed from their eyes and their hearts were frightened. Some people call this sermon Brilliant Sermon (al-Khutbatul-Gharra’).

A Portion of Sermon 184 – on the Creation of the Universe

“In His creation, the big, the delicate, the heavy, the light, the strong, the week are all equal. ** So is the sky, the air, the winds and the water. Therefore, look at the sun, moon, vegetation, plants, water, stone, the difference of this night and day, the springing of the streams, the large number of the mountains, the height of their peeks, the diversity of languages and the variety of tongues. Then woe unto him who disbelieves in the One who ordains, who denies the Ruler! These believe that they are like grass for which there is no cultivator nor any maker for their own sundry shapes. They have not relied on any argument for what they assert, nor on any research for what they have heard. Can there be any construction without a constructor, or any offense without an offender?

The Wonderful Creation of the Locust

“If you wish, you can tell about the locust (as well). Allah gave it two red eyes, lighted for them two moons like pupils, made for it small ears, opened for it a suitable mouth and gave it a keen sense, gave it two teeth to cut with and two sickle-like feet to grip with. The farmers are afraid of it in the matter of crops. Farmers cannot drive the locust away even though they may join together in their effort. The locust attics the fields and satisfies its hunger although its body is not equal to a thin finger.”

The Glory of Allah

“Glorified is Allah before Whom everything in the skies or on earth bows down in prostration willingly and unwillingly, submits to Him by placing his cheeks and face (on the dust), kneels before Him (in obedience) peacefully and humbly and hands over to Him full control in fear and apprehension.

“The birds are bound by His commands. He knows the number of their feathers and their breaths. He has made their feet stand on water and on dry land. He has ordained their livelihoods. He knows their species. This is the crow, this is the eagle, this is the pigeon, and this is the ostrich. He called out every bird by its name (while creating it) and provided it with its livelihood. He created heavy clouds and produced from them heavy rain, spreading it on various lands. He drenched the earth after its dryness and grew vegetation from it after its barrenness.”

**

Modernity as Moral Arbiter

Here’s a comment piece by a hero of mine from the Left, Owen Jones, who indeed celebrates the loss of the case in the Supreme Court by the Bulls today, who lost their final appeal to say that based on their religious grounds, they had a right to turn away a gay couple from their privately owned guesthouse. I’m not sure of what to make of this – though readers will know I’m a regular critic (albeit an unsophisticated one) of ‘Modernity’ or ‘Progress’ or those other Humanistic metanarratives, I do feel very uncomfortable at the precedent that this case will set.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/martyrs-guesthouse-owners-who-turned-away-gay-couple-on-religious-grounds-are-nothing-of-the-kind-8967077.html

Elsewhere, the BBC reported:

“Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Indeed, this may well be true; my question is, on what grounds, and what evidence, can you stake this ontological claim? What in any Modernist discourse actually tells you that the above is the case?

Couldn’t there equally be some postmodern critique to say that these notions of monogamous sexual relationships are merely part of a scheme of oppressive grand narratives? Why then stick to the rather Judaeo-Christian notion of a monogamous relationship, so much in vogue in the Middle Ages,  for which he shows such disdain? Surely we’ve moved past that age of bleak ignorance.

I’m not sure about this ruling, and for once I happen to strongly disagree with Mr Jones; and disgusting and odious as I find him, I think David Starkey has a reasonable solution; I am intrigued as to why the notion of an objection to what is perceived ‘morality’ on say, sexual acts, is somehow conflated with the notion of ‘homophobia’ – what has happened to the state of moral discourse and argumentation?

If indeed one is making a legal case (whether or not the subtext might reek of something more sinister), the arguments should be taken for what they are; I see no point in a judge already coming to a case with a narrative already framed.

I cannot see why, within reason, religious discourse cannot frame one of multiple narratives through which ‘modern’ liberal society can operate. I don’t see why the narrative of ‘modernism’ or ‘Progress’ ought to be favoured over any other; to say that one objects to pre-marital intercourse has nothing to do with the Middle Ages – morality shouldn’t change merely because the times have, and if it does, you ought to be very, very worried if there has been a very small body of thought put into it. Shouting ‘Equality’ is fine – but the term in and of itself is empty.

Religion has been cheapened immensely – what on earth has Southern Cafe owners got to do with this, or the book of Leviticus? Were there moral, cultural, economic (or a combination)  reasons then given? Having taken a course or two on South African history, I fail to see what ‘moral’ arguments were made to sustain those decades of apartheid… it seems to me historical forces were perhaps more important in what resulted in that very bleak period of South African history from which she has not recovered.

Would Jones be happier if they made an economic or utilitarian argument in favour of their view?

Perhaps some solid Marxist argument that the modes of production to keep this liberal edifice, in which his moral framework operates, are better served by stable family model predicated upon a man and a woman whose reproductive capacity is functional and uninhibited? Is that what we’ve come to? What hubris!

Or is he perhaps failing to see that his model of morality, predicated upon some notion of ‘autonomy’ of the self (again, what reason he has to suppose this is beyond me), is fine so long as it does not interfere with the productive capacity of the state; i.e. crudely, do what the heck you want – just keep going to work and paying your taxes and buying things.

An ardent socialist activist with a capitalist framework for ethics? At least he’s not the first. Why he’s buying into a crude economic narrative strikes of something pathologically rotten at the core of some social activists. And it breaks my heart – seeing as I happen to be of the ‘Left.’

Why, suddenly, is religion somehow one of the vestiges of an age of Ignorance – that same tyranny in which the dominant narrative that he found distasteful then is now being re-implemented, only in this case it is his own narrative that has exerted its proverbial agency.

I for one find myself within a moral universe, and though it’s not always apparent what the right thing is to do – though we have a tremendous amount of collective memory and wisdom, traditions and Scriptures that speak to this understanding – I don’t see what privileged access Mr Jones has, considering (in all fairness), that his vision of a moral and liberal world is erected upon very shaky foundations; he would do well to not rest on his laurels for too long.

I wonder what he would say if Mr Jones was informed that those in the Middle Ages found themselves in the same moral universe in which he now exists – would he have to bankrupt himself of any notion of ‘morality’ simply because those in times gone past also attested to its existence?

Jones is committing what MacIntyre (I believe) warned us of – he’s merely speaking a different language to the Bulls; I wonder if by speaking past them and not taking the time to consider the immense body of collected wisdom and thought put into their beliefs, he is indeed oppressing them by suggesting that his narrative ought to displace theirs.

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