Saturday, 22 September 2012

Islamic Sufism, is it a modern phenomena?

The Deconstruction of Sufism.

The Philosophers.

Many people decry the impact that Hellenistic thought had on the Islamic World. Too often they see this impact as taking the form of Philosophy and its proponents, the Philosophers. However perhaps that impact also took on a subtler and more damaging form in the thread of Sufism, that has come today to be seen as the centre-piece of the whole Islamic experience.

Sufis themselves are keen to trace the lineage of their knowledge down to the very roots of Medina. Often they cite that terminus to be none other than the first Caliph, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra). But the question of Sufism’s origins is clouded by the fact of its similarity to the less worldly religions that pre-dated the coming of Islam.

Sufism Defined.
Irrespective of that debate, Sufism is generally agreed to be underpinned by several broad concepts, that in our age have become synonymous with the very thought of Islam. These are:

· That there are hierarchies of Knowledge.

· That the Higher Knowledges comprise Hidden Knowledges.

· That the way and path to access such True Knowledges is through the annihilation of the Self.

· That the greatest of struggles is that between the pure Soul and the corruptible Self.

And it is because these concepts wield such a great influence on the Muslims, of today, that they remain invisible to scrutiny. However, when they are critically examined each and every one of them will be found to be alien to Islam.

The Parable of the Gnat.

“Surely ALLAH is not ashamed to set forth any parable- even that of a gnat...” S2,V26.

“What means ALLAH t’ala, GOD Most High, by the use of the parable of a gnat?” is the question that in that very verse is raised by the disbelievers, whilst the believers readily accept that it is from GOD, most high.

Does that necessarily mean that the believers did not raise that question or does it rather mean that they found a ready answer?

When I think on it that parable says much about the perfection that can be found in all of creation no matter how small or insignificant. I remember a verse of the Qur’an (but not being a Hafiz, I cannot give it’s reference) where ALLAH t’ala informs us that HIS care extends to those places where we cannot see. That verse, as it were, answered the then future philosophers who asked “If a man does not hear the tree fall in a forest, did it ever truly fall?”

And for me it is by way of the parable of the gnat that ALLAH t’ala instructs man in the sacredness of ALL Knowledge, however small, however insignificant. The presence of GOD and His infinite care is evident everywhere (even that is in the accountant’s balance books). To know GOD is only to look, and HIS existence is a self-evident truth. Just as the Bedouin who when asked where GOD is, points up to the skies: “GOD is most high, above all” those are the words we remember in the sujood, thrice.

There are no hierarchies of knowledge, as the Sufi would have you believe.

However, every Muslim believes in the hidden World which is mentioned in kernel of Baqara...”Those who believe in the Unseen, and spend out of that which WE have given to them.” And it is that unseen that has been made clear by the coming of Muhammad (saw) and the revelation of the undeniable book, the Qur’an. Not a Hidden Knowledge, but a clear open source of guidance for ALL of Mankind.

A Hidden Knowledge.

“Neither does he (Muhammad (saw)) withhold grudgingly any knowledge of the Unseen” S81,V24.

The Sufi would have us believe that their knowledge is a secret knowledge passed down through the centuries by way of their Tarikahs (systematic paths of training for the opening to the hidden realms).

And yet Muhammad (saw)’s life was an open book, and he (saw) commanded his companions to pass on all the knowledge that he had divulged to them and this happened in some of the most remarkable of circumstances.

Abu Dharr Al- Ghifari (ra), the most stalworthy of all of the companions passed on a hadith in which he asked twice for the Prophet (saw) to confirm that which he had already declared, to the extent that Abu Dharr even reported the Prophet’s then rebuke “even if Abu Dharr al-Ghifari hates it”.

And Muadh ibn Jabal (ra) did not release the knowledge of hadith bittaka until he lay dying. In this Hadith Muadh, who was then a young man, was riding behind Muhammad (saw) when he asked Muadh if he would like to hear of something which would guarantee a person paradise, to which Muadh assented. The Prophet (saw) informed him that it was the declaration of faith, and then told him not to tell the people lest they come to rely on it. Muadh held the burden of that knowledge until death approached, and then released it that we might all benefit from it.

If these foremost men, in those the most difficult of circumstances, felt the need to pass on and make clear all of the knowledge that came from Muhammad (saw), to the whole of the people then what of the rest of his companions? Would any of them have hid aught?

There is no hidden knowledge.

The religion is open and clear for all to accept.

The Way to Higher Knowledges through the Annihilation of Self.

When ALLAH t’ala blew the spirit (ruh) into the corporeal body (jism), HE created the self (nafs). And it is that self that will taste the bitterness of death, whilst the spirit (ruh) will live on.

The Sufi holds that true Knowledge lies with the pure ruh (spirit), and the means of access to that spiritual knowledge is through the annihilation of that which covers it, being the nafs (corruptible self). It seems that they equate the kaffara (that which covers) of disbelief with the self that covers the pure spirit.

However, can the spirit be said know?

Memory is a function of knowledge, for a man cannot hold a memory
of a thing he cannot name and hence cannot know. For knowledge to be useful it must held, it must be known.

And if knowledge belonged to the spirit would we not all remember our time before birth, whilst with our father, Adam (as), in Heaven? And if it cannot be remembered is there any worth in terming it knowledge. We do, in fact, know that we spent that time with Adam (as) because we have heard it from a reliable source: Muhammad (saw), may he forever be blessed, as he related his journey to the Heavens of Isra and Miraj.

And we also know that Allah t'ala made Adam corporeal and THEN gave him the capacity to know, through teaching him the names.

If knowledge is through direct sensation, and through the actions of our intelligence on that which can be known, can our spirits be said to know aught except through the self that sees and feels?

“Nay, if only you were to know with certainty (then you would beware). You shall see hell-fire. You shall see it with the certainty of sight.” S102,v5-7.

We believe and then we will come to know with certainty, when we behold.

The Sufic search for their Holy Grail of an Ilm-ul-Yaqeen (certain knowledge) is not so much a fool-hardy endeavour, but it most certainly is not an inward journey but an outward expedition. It is the expedition of a lifetime spent striving to do good to the people and striving hard to understand GOD’s ways (HIS plans) and SEEING and FEELING their effects both on yourself and those about you.

The Greatest of Struggles. (al-Jihad al-Kabir).

The year of grief is so named because in it Muhammad (saw) lost his greatest benefactor / protector and his greatest comforter / supporter.

The latter was Khadija bint Khuwaylid (ra) who comforted him whilst he suffered the first burdens of Messengership and the pangs of self-doubt that come with it. The first was Abu Talib, Muhammad’s paternal uncle, a Chief of Quraish.

I remember the time when Abu Talib was pressured to rein in his nephew by the other Chiefs of Quraish. And he called Muhammad (saw) to account, and Muhammad (saw) grew emotional and said: “I swear by ALLAH (GOD, Most High), if they were to put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand on condition that I abandon this course of action, before HE had made it victorious or I had perished therein, I would not abandon it.”

And then Abu Talib said: “O son of my brother, go and say what you have to. For by ALLAH, I will never forsake you on any account.” And they suffered, the whole of the Clan of Hashim, the years of banishment together with not a word of blame ever uttered against Muhammad (saw).

And then in that year of grief Abu Talib passed away.

Present with him were all the Chiefs of Quraish, and his most beloved nephew Muhammad (saw).

And Muhammad (saw) asked him as he lay dying to declare the Shahadah that he might be able to intercede for him before ALLAH t’ala on the Day of Judgment. He bent close and Abu Talib whisphered. And later Muhammad (saw) said “I heard him not”.

We know from the words of Muhammad (saw) that Abu Talib, for his non-declaration of faith, will suffer the least of punishments- that of a flame placed under the soles of his feet morning and evening- and he will feel that he suffers the most and his brains will boil.

This for a man who dearly loved the Prophet (saw), and whom he too dearly loved.

This for a man whose undying support, of the Prophet’s project, lasted until his last breath.

For though he never declared faith, he also never denied the truth of Muhammad (saw).

A sobering thought for us all.

That our measure in the World to come, is not what happens in our hearts but the mead of our hands.

And Muhammad (saw) said “Every deed is judged is judged by its intention” and “There is one organ in our body if it is corrupt than the whole of the body is corrupt and if it is pure & good then the whole of the body is pure & good... being the heart”.

The Heart & The Hands.

The heart is the greatest of organs. An organ that defines and enables us to do good.

But it is the hands (and the other organs of action) that bear witness to that.

For is not the Shahdah accompanied by the pointing of a right-handed finger?
And will not the hands be made to talk, and bear witness either for or against you, on the day that matters?

All knowledge from the first to the last is Shudud, the bearing of witness.

It is the greatest and the least of them (from the bearing witness of the Oneness of GOD, and the truth of HIS Messenger (Muhammad (saw)) to the naming of a thing that you might know it (or get to know it)).

And the finality of the greatest of those is the impact that it has on the community of men, and thereafter the impact that it has on our selves when Munkar and Nakir approach and ask.

Fundamentally we all can only teach the spirit (ruh) to know through recourse to it's self (nafs), that feels and hears and sees. And Shudud is not separate nor distinct from the impact it has on the community of men, wherein we all strive and live and die. For the Shudud needs must be heard and felt.

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