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.

Tag: Truth

Living in this world; outrage at evil or seeing the Good of God?

Friends – all three of you! –  I thought I’d share a passage mentioned in the introduction to a translation of a short treatise the great sage and master, ibn al-‘Arabī of Andalusia, wrote to an aspirant. He seems to in some way, renounce the world and somewhat subvert traditional ideas on wayfaring (from what I gather), but this is a subject for another discussion.

I quote a short passage from the introduction, wherein ibn al-‘Arabī mentions his encounters with one of the elite sages and saints of God, one of the ‘abdāl’ about which he wrote extensive passages (as I understand it), in his most major text, the Futuḥāt al-Makkiyya – The Meccan Openings, and their cosmological roles.

Here is an encounter he had with one of them: [from ‘The Four Pillars of Spiritual Transformation,’  trans. Stephen Hirtenstein, (Oxford: Anqa Publications, 2008) pp 14-15]

“Apart from his own personal meetings with such saints, he also relates three incidents regarding other people that he personally knew and one of the abdāl: one as a part of this treatise, which involved one of his companions in al-Andalus…and twice in his Futūḥāt. The Futūḥāt meetings shed further light on the elevated degree of these men of God, who exhibit apparently miraculous powers:

‘I once met one of the wandering pilgrims on the sea-coast between Marsā Laqīṭ and the light-house [near Tunis]. He told me that on the same spot had he come across one of the abdāl walking upon the waves of the sea. He said: “I greeted him and he returned my greeting. This was a time of great injustice and oppression in the country, so I asked him what he thought of all the terrible things that were happening in the country. He glared at me angrily and said: “What is it to you or to God’s servants? Don’t speak of anything but that which is good! May God grant you help and accept your apology for this.”‘

I wonder, then, if this is a way (and I do recommend the text) if the Great Shaykh tells us to try to look past the apparent tragedy and carnage, but simultaneously to find ourselves less attached to the world and its outcomes? We may not need a Benedict Option, if in one way or another we are able to connect ourselves to the Divine through a process of gradual renunciation through some spiritual rigours? What say you? Do we need to be perpetually on-edge due to geopolitical or local concerns, or should we place our trust – though this is a matter of Grace – somewhere else? Someplace…Higher?

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.”

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.”

**

Faith and ‘Reason’

If we are to defend Reason, we must be inspired by more than Reason to do so.

Terry Eagleton

Here’s a fascinating talk in which the dear Dr Eagleton, esteemed literary theorist, furious Marxist and ‘Believer’ (as well as pop-culture savant!) sets about to try to deconstruct grand-narratives that exist outside of the meta-narratives of religion/’Faith’. That said, his analysis in particular about seeing the world as more than its agonising, groaning, self, despite it being empirically so, is an excellent analogy about what a religious worldview might appear to do. Please look out for it!

And then, if you have the time, watch his Gifford Lecture – particularly 43:00-48:00 where he speaks about a religious believer as being in love – is love reducible to ‘reasons’. Reason doesn’t “go all the way down,” he might put it.

Political Language…

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ”

George Orwell.

 

Religion and the 21st Century…

Here’s a recent debate at the Cambridge Union featuring some rather interesting big-wigs – Drs. Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, Tariq Ramadan, among others! A friend once pointed out to me that sometimes, if not often, a lot of these debates are about rhetorical posturing -but we have come to an age where the only way you can make a systematic case, where people will actually pay attention to you, is if you host a public spectacle and allow charismatic people to speak (I’d say this is the tragedy of modern newscasting – although the latter is far more agenda-driven than most of us actually recognise). So, more power to those who partake and actually give up their precious time to engage with people who seem more interested in point-scoring than with any notion of ‘truth’.

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So, this is perhaps the first (and last) time I might find myself supporting Douglas Murray in anything – I was thoroughly impressed by his talk – at least in part- , despite the fact that on the whole, he has a knack for essentialising religion and religious people; however this was one of those rare occasions where I found, one the whole, that the ‘religious’ seemed to make a much more strong case in favour of their views. Now, despite being of a ‘religious temperament’, I tend to find that arguments from science, for example, as being a little lacking (to say the least), however I’m more convinced by Dr William’s/Ramadan’s/Douglas Murray’s (Lord help me for including Murray…!) arguments about human dignity, opposition to dogmatic humanism, and the search for meaning far more convincing and systematically sound – even if the latter disagreed with both the former Archbishop and the ‘Islamic Martin Luther’!

Anyhow, Rowan Williams – for whom I have a great respect – was on peak form (if only he had been allowed to speak like this regularly, and wasn’t demonised by the press as some sort of archaic despot overseeing an influential but fallacious worldview and dangerous power-structure)… Dr Ramadan made his usual case , polished, refined and I think quite fair (but I wish more people would take it seriously – somehow when hardened humanists face a reasonable ‘believer’, their minds somehow short-circuit and they often ignore what he actually has to say.

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Finally, did anyone spot the slightly sloppy “Nobody denies that correlation doesn’t entail causation, everyone who knows anything about it knows that correlation is evidence for causation…” – I’m no philosopher, and I don’t say this with any sort of polemical glee… but do they really let him teach at Cambridge…?! Or is he some sort of quintessential postcolonial subject whom they keep around for display purposes?

…Okay, that was a cheap-shot, I admit; nonetheless this perhaps demonstrates the fallacy, which Dr Ramadan accurately expressed, of essentialising someone with whom you disagree.

…Just in case you’re wondering what problem I have with it – the speaker cited that in Western countries that ‘more religious’ (however you measure that), there is an increase in all sorts of social problems, etc.; of course one could offer a counter-argument that secular states have historically been responsible for wholesale industrial death, in a greater scale than anything witnessed in history; moreover, tremendous demagoguery existed, nuclear weapons were discharged…hmm, correlation between a secular state and atrocity…ironic, ain’t it? Like I said, who in their right mind would let him teach Logic?

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